Normal abnormality: Jamaican overview

I woke up ridiculously early on Sunday morning, at about 4 am. I took the opportunity to catch up on the day’s newspapers much earlier than usual, by reading them online. By 5am, I had surveyed the whole of Jamaica, as far as the two main papers wanted to report. If I was a nervous person, I should have been in a cold sweat. Why?

  • The media had informed me that at least four major communities across the country were under curfew.
  • Delinquent behaviour by school children, sometimes with the abetting of adults, was taking over a major bus centre in Kingston. Adult bus riders were disgusted and appalled. The ‘authorities’ seemed helpless.
  • A former government minister wrote about the country’s economic woes because it had abandoned its manufacturing sector. No jobs now. No jobs later…Some future that for the young children. Delinquency has a context…
  • Details of some gruesome violent crimes across the nation were thrown at me.

I felt nauseated by the time the sun was coming up.

I like my Sundays to have a certain calm, and this was not really the way to set the table.

I pondered the adages that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ or ‘where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise’. I knew that many people would be in church, praying for better, praying against the worst.

Was I worried about what awaited me outside in the city? Not especially. I was not blasé, but I’ve seen that the chaos is not something that is spread through every road and place. In fact, if you did not read the papers, listen to radio news, or watch the evening news broadcasts, you might never know of some of the worrying things that seem to be going on under your nose.

When I had been out on Saturday, picking up vegetables from the market and fruit from ‘my little lady’, I had nothing but a smile on my face, as I felt that life was just fine. My lady’s daughter laughed about how her brother wouldn’t help out with the fruit because his mother was at Coronation Market. The market people waited patiently for me to decide which of their offerings I wanted to buy. They tempted me with little displays of kindness. They showed me the best: “Look how the yam white!” My scandal bags were filled and I walked out into the plaza to my car. Taxi drivers were in their usual contest for fares: “Cum sista! Town? Dis one ready.”

I looked around the bustling roundabout at Papine. A line of people had formed behind a truck, as a man was passing out loaves of bread. Makes life easier than having to go to find the hot offerings in a shop. The smell did not reach me, but I imagined that noses were filled as stomachs would be soon. I did not think these were the same people who had been reduced to buying bread by the slice. Women walked past me with bags full of vegetables. Boys walked past with backpacks on their fronts, and towels on their heads to protect against the sun. Music blared out of a parked car that could barely be called that–its door was stripped of all its lining; the driver hung his foot out of the door and talked on his cell phone. Oh, the cell phone! Jamaica’s best friend forever.

I made another set of trips to the University hospital. In the day, it was very quiet–it was the weekend. You realise that the hospital is a business when you see that the car park is almost empty on a Saturday, but filled to the brim on Mondays through Fridays. The nurses all smiled. The security guards flipped between talking to each other and passers-by and checking cars, handing out the parking passes like they were fliers for some company. Those who had shade hid under it. The blistering sun in the daytime was a problem.

By nighttime, the scene had changed as all of the area around the hospital was plunged into darkness–a violent storm during the afternoon seemed to have knocked out a transformer. The hospital was not spared. Though it had lost general power, its backup usually kicked in quickly. But, not this Saturday. The wards and every corridor was in darkness. I saw people with flashlights trying to function normally. People huddled by the few emergency lamps. Others sat in darkness. In the rooms, I heard the strange conversations coming from darkened places. The lights came back…then went out again in a minute. The hospital manager was searching for a maintenance engineer: “He needs to come now!” Fortunately, my father has a battery-operated radio with a big light, in case of hurricanes or other emergencies. It was with him in hospital. For him, at least, light was not an issue. The nurses’ station had a few emergency lamps ready. The nurses wrote their notes quietly, some using the lights from their cell phones to help them see. The cell phone, again; Jamaica’s best friend forever. All of the recent discussion about a new 360 megawatt power project seemed far from relevant.

By the time that hospital visiting was over, light had returned to the hospital. As we left the area, we saw the little street vendors stalls were lit again. Young children were running in the street. The people at the bus stops now had light to see each other. The taxis were still plying for fares, and ready to pile four people onto the back seats. Ladies of the night were now visible on some corners. Life was back to normal 🙂