My eyes fall on many things every day in Jamaica and I see more than I see. On Sunday evening, when I was driving back from Montego Bay, I saw a taxi parked on the side of Washington Boulevard, as I entered Kingston. The driver stood beside the car with his arms folded. As I got closer to the parked vehicle, I sensed that it had broken down. Run out of gas? Mechanical trouble? It was nearly 10.30pm, so I was not inclined to stop and ask, and I was dead tired, anyway. But, imagine: a taxi breakdown is not that uncommon in Jamaica. It reflects the marginal nature of life as a taxman–from fare to fare; filling the car up with a few litres at a time, depending on how well fares have gone. No way to live and no way to build a future. The scene reminded me of many I’d seen in an African country considerably poorer and less developed than Jamaica. It also reminded me of scenes in countries in the former Soviet Union, when foreign exchange and supplies were so short that no day had any certainty. Jamaica has not gotten very far and it’s still prone to everyday crises that seem out of place in many countries. Car break downs are not unique, but the reasons here are very interesting.
I just talked to the lady who runs the gardening service for the house I rent. I mentioned that the gardener hadn’t come yesterday. She said she’d check on it. Moments later, she called me back to say that the gardener hadn’t come because “she hadn’t sent him”. I guess that if you perform day work, that’s how you approach things. The need for continuity is not your concern: someone needs your service, then that has to be contracted for every unique occasion, no matter how regularly you’ve been doing the job–and grass does not take many days off from growing. I know that the gardener likes to drink a ‘Q’ (small flask) of rum when he can, so I would not have been surprised if he’d just caned himself over the weekend and was really glad to try to sleep it off, rather than slough around in the heat–yesterday was hot. Work ethos is one of those issues that have been popping into my head all too often. Hand-to-mouth existence creates some odd dysfunctionality. My lady called me back to say that the gardener was near and would be coming by soon. As I write, I see his grizzly smiling face as he walks past the kitchen window.
I listened to the radio this morning and heard a report of Ocho Rios high schoolers in the morning shift were having fainting spells soon after arriving at school this morning; their school had been ‘fogged’–fumigated–apparently against mosquito infestation. As someone asked, rightly, “Who would fog a school on a regular school day?” The shuffling to shift blame was already moving at a mad rate as school officials and education ministry officials were quick to point out that they had not authorized the process and were pointing the finger at the Ministry of Health. I’ve written recently questioning Jamaicans’ ability to make good decisions, and see all the time the struggle that seems to go on because of the failure to work things out clearly beforehand. Often, it seems that people in Jamaica just hope that things work out, with little done to make that even likely. Let’s hope that the children don’t end up suffering from some serious poisoning and resulting respiratory problems.
Finally, I love ‘banking by learning’. I discovered yesterday that although I can go around paying for stuff with my debit card, I’m subject to a daily limit in terms of my total purchases using ‘point of sale’ (POS), e.g. buying groceries or paying for gas or other bills. The total POS purchases are limited to J$99,999 I was informed by a Scotiabank representative via Twitter–a very good service, by the way. I don’t know what the rationale is of the limit, and it took a few efforts to figure it out. Having just paid for one doctor’s bill of J$15,000 with my debit card, I was then limited to just over $84,000 if I wanted to make other POS payments. I think the idea is to protect me, if my card is stolen, and limit the damage to my bank balance. Fortunately, it never got embarrassing, such as might have been the case if I’d just had a spa treatment and was stuck unable to pay 🙂