A wonderful thing about being a new or nearly new arrival is that you can often see what the long-time ‘residents’ don’t see, or see but don’t challenge. Like arriving late at a party, and sober, you can see that everyone’s happy just because they are all blind drunk and falling over like idiots, but they all think they are acting normally, and that you’re the idiot. By nature or nurture, I am someone who puts up resistance to things that border on the less-than-useful.
Jamaica is one of those places where, to get almost anything started, officially, you need to have someone verify who you are and where you live. Organizations often require you to present a utility bill to show proof of address. In Jamaica, with shanty towns or other dwellings where people may have a ‘cord drop’ to connect to power, and plenty of places where public utilities do not feature as a standard part of life, that sets up a marginalisation or exclusion that can be very counterproductive. If you are new and have access to public utilities, you will have no bills for a while so have to wait at least a month, say, to get such ‘proof’. True, that’s not a long time, but nevertheless, it’s time lost. Then, again, the bills may not come in your name. Then, again, the digital age has done away with the need for paper billing, and online invoices do not always show addresses, only account number, name, amount due, and date by which payment should be made, in many cases. Oh, dear…
You also need someone ‘reputable’ to verify who you are. The list usually includes attorneys, justices of the peace, religious ministers (but anyone can set up a church), etc. You do not have to be known by these persons. The list does not always include doctors, who may well know a person very well. Police officers are included. Their status makes you trustworthy. I offered to commit a crime and then the policeman, having taken my particulars, could verify who I was for the library. Presumably, if you commit a crime, the police don’t wait for you to send them utilities bills to decide where to send the summons. Maybe, you have to go to a station to pick it up, with some trust involved that you will show up and not abscond. The Librarian chuckled at all that. You can even have a librarian verify: she did not immediately warm to that idea in my case, but I felt a gap opening.
Well, when I went to register at the library, I could not meet any of the criteria. I also had a serious problem with the process, which really made no sense, if I could offer two pieces of ID, including the all-too-important TRN. That did not seem to be acceptable, so I said to the librarian, “Why don’t you sign and verify me? After all, I’m here, you can see my ID and we’re getting to know each other.” After some humming and hawing, the lady got a stamp and there we are. Registered! Now, I don’t think that everyone will get the same result, but she got my point. She took it more to heart, perhaps, because she was the boss.
Well, with that nearly impossible feat accomplished, we were ready to go to get some books: my daughter could get 1, I could take 3–a stark shift from the 50 we were allowed in Maryland. Off went my little reader, and back she came in a hurry. She was inappropriately dressed for the Junior Library. She was sporting a singlet and shorts in Jamaican colours, proudly still sporting the look she had for Independence. But the shorts were deemed too short. Oh, well. She had to stay in the Adult Library. She came back clutching a James Patterson novel. Take it back! We had a few other false tries. Eventually, I strolled to the shelves and got three volumes of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings series. Enough reading for the week, for sure.
I like problem solving. I really do.