Thursday, September 1, 2011

Small Town (Cayman's settlements)

All progress comes at a price. The peaceful boredom of an isolated fishing village or farming community must be surrendered if the locals want a road connecting them with someplace else. Next thing you know, one of the locals sells a patch of ground with a shed on it to a stranger, who fixes up the shed and rents it to weekend visitors. Another local hires himself and his boat out to the visitors and shows them the reef. The next thing you know, it’s happening all over. There’s no more boredom, but there’s no more peace either. The rent-money or the boat-hire pays for a motor for the well, or a bicycle, or a kerosene fridge- and the next thing you know, you don’t know what will be next.

Economic progress and social progress tend to come hand in hand. Were the good old days really as good as we remember them? The smaller the community, the less privacy, and that wasn’t always a good thing. I can recall listening to Loretta Lynn singing about love in a small town, on Loxley Banks’s Country Classics afternoons on Radio Cayman.

Tonight at nine we get married
Friends all say it's a shame and disgrace
That he's loved every woman in Jackson
But Jackson ain't a very big place.

Sometimes it was a yearning for a proper education that began the progress. The first school-teacher in a community was often the best-educated local parent; the children’s learning was limited by the teacher’s knowledge, but it was progress. The usual standby option of home-schooling might be chosen by parents whose knowledge was equal to that first teacher’s. Later, a trained teacher would assume the job. External exams would become available for children with the proper level of achievement.

Cayman’s educational system would have grown from that sort of beginning- as did my own home community’s. In the absence of a school, our mothers taught us the syllabuses set by the provincial authorities and mailed our homework exercises in for marking. A few families paid a neighbour to teach their kids. After a few years of this, the authorities responded to pleas for a qualified teacher. “Build a schoolhouse and guarantee twenty pupils and we will send you a teacher.” So our fathers built a one-room hut with wooden awnings and we got a teacher.

Exactly the same kind of progress occurred in the Cayman settlements that were too small even to be called villages. The pattern must have been common in the West Indies, as indeed it was everywhere. The settlements grew into villages, then small towns. From Barkers to Savannah is a middling-size town now, isn’t it? Will the Shetty Hospital and the SEZ and the new school help fill the gaps to North Side and East End, or will those two small towns always be separate? Will their residents resist the temptation to progress to something larger?

I looked up the last words of Loretta Lynn’s song on YouTube. Loxley, are you there? The good old days really weren’t quite as good as we remember.

Yes, Jackson is a mighty small town
Where gossips and rumors go round
But the gossips are the ones he turned down
And Jackson ain't a very big town...