Sufferer’s Heights

Diary Thursday 31st July 1997: Father Mac and myself went to Central Village, Windsor Heights, or, as it is known colloquially, Sufferer’s Heights. 300 acres of government land, which had been declared unfit for development because of its inaccessibility and its hard rocky ground. Canadian advisors had rejected it because the ground was too hard to permit any form of infra structure to be put in place. The government had wanted to develop it to house squatters being moved by the great slum clearance projects of the sixties and seventies. Trenchtown was cleared in 1969. Having rejected the ground for proper development, the government simply encouraged the squatters to squat there instead. It is even further removed from economic opportunity and it is hostile and dry. Nevertheless the place has become and extraordinary growth on the landscape. Although the squatters do not own the land they have been given the right of possession, whatever the difference is. Cynically speaking, it means that the squatters are allowed to stay there as the governement can’t use the land anyway, but they are not allowed to buy the land and so perpetuating the eternal cycle of the temporary and the uncertain that keeps the poor rooted to the spot in expectation of being uprooted. There is one difference with other shanty towns.Her they build with concrete block. Thousands upon thousans of huts, of which very vew are finished are sprinkled over the rocks in a seemingly arbitrary pattern. A scattering, a littering of houses, avery vfine urban grain, of concrete boxes, most of which have been begun and few of which have been completed. The reason for the concrete is twofold. Allthough they do not own the land, there is a sense of greater permanence here than in other shanty towns, secondly, the place is so dry and rocky, that wood is not readily available and bits oand pieces hard to transport such a distance. The hills covered with these boxes have a desolate air, everywhere concrete rises from the hard unforgiving rock with its dry vegetation. Here and there an incongruously pretty window, well painted and with carved frills, is inserted into a wall of raw concrete block, heightening the desolation by contrasting its ubiquity against a small treasure. And just above the concrete wall, rusty steel sticks out of the top of the house, not as in Greece where unfinished buildings bear gifts in the form of tyaxt advantages. Here because that is how houses are: always in the porcess of being built, always waiting the next bag of cement, the next concrete block, the next found piece of sheeting. What is most extraordinary, howeve, and I have mentioned it before, is the arbitrary scattering of the houses, their placing. All higgeldy-piggeldy, without apparent logic, a logic which remains unfathomable, presumably, until you yourself live in the area and begin to understand all the factors which influence the placing of the houses, social tensions, climatic considerations, views, chance, topography. We drove through, a grainy carpet of dwelling, post-Babylonian in its dispersal. In contrast to everywhere else in Jamaica, there were very few people on the road. Suspiciously few. Today’s news, insignificant in itself when measured against the endless litany of daily murder, was the notice in the papers of a man on a bicycle who was chopped to death with a machete on the main road through sufferer’s heights. The few people we had seen had been uncommonly unfriendly today. All of them asking us what we were doing here.