Diary: Monday 2 December 1996: Trenchtown, or rather Mexico Town, a housing development built by Patrick Stanigar. It won an award. It is called Mexico Town because of the barrel roofs, barrel vaults made of corrugated iron. Of its type it is one of the best. A town divided by trenches. There is nothing romantic about it. It is desolate, it redefines desolation. A young man wants money, all young men want money. My money. “Eh Boss, Me beg yuh some money” Every young man want money, or rather respect in as much as the two are distinguishable, and bears the scars of the quest for it. Huge scars. One from the crown of a yong man’s head down along the jawline all the way to the neck , a huge narrow lake of scartissue reflecting and rippling in the sunlight as he sits on a low garden wall. He gives me a toothless fgrin through a haze of ganja smoke. His eyes are at once focused on my potential an curiously vacant and dislocated. Another sharp faced young man in better clothes rides a small children’s bicycle and is insistent, as he circles around me, that I should give him money. Everything here appears diided and connected by lines of ginorance and =its manipulation in a meager patronage. Everyone is waiting to get out. Everybody thinks everybody is bad in Trenchtown. Salvation lies up the hill. Up-town. The hill is what is visible in the distance. Their own ability to change things is not seen as an option for progress. Many do not want development for fear that there will be less of a motive to move. Others see development as no more than legitimate loot. Plunder. They hate in tiny fragmented groups and that hate does not reciprocate into an equal and opposite love for members within the groups. Group loyalty is question of pragmatic investment. It is an extraordinary poverty and Trenchtown, does not yet represent rock bottom. There are infinite levels further below, even in Trenchtown itself. Father Maclaughlin, my guide, has been there from the beginning. Confessed to me that he had made many wrong decisions, knowingly. With his hands tied behind his back as director of housing during the PNP era, he oversaw the creation of the garrison towns, growing on the fertile soil of a chaotic, displaced newly urban poor and their confusion and ignorance.
“Everybody thinks we are savages, all the uptown people, we are not savages here you know” A lady from Trenchtown to me, May 1999.
Trenchtown is a desolate place, true to the omen in the name, even though the area was harmlessly named after a Lady Trench. In this area, the birthplace of BobMarley, the geometry of confrontation takes on a dramatic simplicity. A broad no-man’s land circumscribes the entrenched communities. Precariously situated on the edge of one of them is a lonely police station. Before it was built bullets used to fly freely across the divide, especially during the more frolicsome evenings. Aimed only vaguely in the right direction, the kill was an arbitrary piece of luck; the victim’s identity not important. It was enough that the victim be one of them: PNP or JLP. To prevent the main road being used by opposing posse’s, a roundabout was blocked by a house built over the road. The urban haemorrhage was treated by the creation of an urban thrombosis.
The no-mans’ land is still punctuated here and there by the ruins of past acts of futile good-will and foreign aid. A cinema lies in ruins. Community centres are places to plunder building materials. Health clinics disintegrate under the immense and insupportable weight of the problem. The result is a desolation which achieves a brutal poetry echoed by the harsh words and provocative movements of Dance Hall Culture. Further development is discouraged by the people who live in these areas. They just want out. To them Trenchtown is a bad place; the thing they crave above all: jobs and respect, lie beyond its boundaries. (6)
As a result they have internalised their houses. The interiors scream of a desire for normality: photographs of pretty babies plaster the walls, what-nots and shiny ornaments make John Soane’s Museum look like an empty railway station. But outside, young, empty men sit, nothing to do, on fences, smoking the weed and bearing their extraordinary typology of scars as marks of respect and identification.