A funny thing happened on the way to the Embassy.

In any country, many things occur that are not seen by many yet may affect many. Today, I got a glimpse of some of these in Jamaica, which I will mention in no particular order.

Good morning, Jamaica. Here comes breakfast. My day started really early: I’d agreed to play golf at about 6am, but needed to get my partner from his house first, so was at his door at 5.40. “Man, this is early!” We headed out westward, and were on the course within a half hour. Traffic was light, but the usual bustle of early morning Kingston was evident: men riding on bicycles carrying machetes and lawn strimmers; school children heading to bus stops; vendors setting up stalls; workers walking up hills towards ‘uptown’ homes, where they would do a day’s work. No other players were on the course when we started; Monday is caddies day, when they can play for free. The course was being maintained, as usual, with men and women clearing dew from greens, replacing flagsticks (they change the style if tournaments are played over the weekends), and raking bunkers. No cutting was going on, as this is not usually done on Mondays. We were quickly reminded why humans are weak: mosquitos began to chomp on our arms. We grabbed our various repellents and started applying them vigorously. The bloodsuckers were fast at work and a few blood-gorged bodies were being slapped on arms and calves. We heard the hum of fogging machines and saw their smoke as we started to play. As the sun came–later today, because of the cloud cover–the mosquitos showed they were in for a real feast and did not back off till around 10am. After several holes, my friend and I stood puzzled and looked up at a tree that was humming. It’s purple flowers hung like mini-orchid petals; we did not know its name. “What’s that sound?” asked my friend. “I think it’s bees getting pollen,” I replied. So, it was. We noticed it for the next hour as we walked through a stretch that had more of these trees. Bees-are bizarre. We should be thankfully that, at least somewhere in Jamaica we have bees ‘working, working, working’. We continued playing and enjoying our many contacts with nature. The course is filled with fruit trees–mainly mangoes, but some other specialities, such as cashews. It’s more than worth the early wake-up.

Cashews, not yet ripe

Chinese workers are popping out of the bushes. I write that not to frighten the average Jamaican, who may be getting the feeling that the country is being run by Chinese enterprises, but to remark on a simple fact. Some major engineering projects are going on, including to run a new water pipeline in St. Catherine, and to construct a new highway. The Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is up to its elbows in getting this work done, along with a host of other projects. They even lent a hand two weeks ago to help control the fire at Riverton landfill/dump.

CHEC engineers are an integral part of redeveloping Jamaica
CHEC engineers are an integral part of redeveloping Jamaica

Several days a week I encounter some of their workers, carrying hoes, and pickaxes, measuring equipment and water bottles, wandering around the Caymanas Park Golf Course, which abuts both projects. They wander across the course, and then disappear into bushes.

Chinese workers walking off to their bushes

Sometimes, from the elevated tees, I can see what is going on in the bushes. Some areas have been cleared and look quite naked. In some places, people have taken the clearing of forest to start making charcoal–for sale, I presume. Then, some of the Chinese workers reappear; they wander in the way of flying golf balls and after a warning I tonked three of them last week. They were excited by what they saw–myself and two ladies playing golf–came closer to take pictures of us playing. China is a fast growing market for golf, so these men may well be a new wave in Jamaica if they could get some clubs in their hands and take a few lessons.

Entrepreneurs are everywhere. My wife and I needed to renew our US visas, and visited the US Embassy in Kingston to do that. The Embassy does not allow visitors to carry cell phones within the building. I forgot to leave mine in the car, so went out to find if I could leave it with one of the security personnel. I took it that the shaking of the head meant no. “Cooeee! Here, mister!” I then heard, as a woman with bleached skin waved at me from the central median on Old Hope Road. She waved at me a clear plastic bag that she ripped from a strip. I walked over to her. “Me cyan tek yu fone. Gimme a four bills.” (Translation: it costs J$400 for her to look after the phone.) I gave her the phone, she gave me a one inch square laminated plastic card with ‘Nadine’ printed on it and her telephone number.

Jamaicans wait in line at the US Embassy in Kingston, and a 'Nadine' is on hand to hold valuables
Jamaicans wait in line at the US Embassy in Kingston, and a ‘Nadine’ (with hat and umbrella) is on hand to hold valuables

My wife had gone ahead through security, and I followed soon after. “Belt? Take off your watch. Any cell phone?” Syllables were in short supply, as the guard offered a plastic tray for my belongings. I’d already had the no-belt treatment last week, so had not bothered with one this time. “No cell phone?” I said no. After, we’d had our application taken, we headed back out to the street. Nadine’s associates, or other freelancers, were handing back phones to others leaving the Embassy; Nadine was a way off, talking to some people. She came to meet me on the median, and was unwrapping my phone. “$300?” I said. She scowled at me. I smiled and she took the J$500 bill from me. “Lemme keep di change, nuh?” she asked. I told her I had many mouths to feed; so did she; she gave me my change. We talked about kids and their expenses, and I went back to stand to wait for my wife’s driver to come back. Eureka! I had my phone, so I called him to rush him back. It was a mistake to keep my phone, but that was not too costly. “That’s a quick way to make $400,” my wife said. I just said it was a good service and power to Nadine and her like. Some people hustle with hand carts, some hustle to hold your phone and hand you plastic cards. This is yet one more clear market solutions that Jamaicans seem to find, simply and effectively.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)