Eyes wide shut

I had an interesting experience last Friday. My daughter was swimming in a national schools meet at the stadium. I’d planned to just watch from the stands; I usually keep time at club meets because it offers the best view of events. However, the school coach volunteered me and another swim parent to volunteer to keep time. We ended up covering the same lane; we were joined by a neighbour of mine. We enjoyed working together.

It was an arduous morning session. The meet had been due to start at 8am. As a good swim parent, my child and I had arrived at 7, for warm up. Delays are common at swim meets. However, this one went overboard. It started with the stalled attempt to get children assembled according to their schools for a procession. Now, Jamaica is a hot country, and at 8 the sun is searing. Nevertheless, the announcer announced and the children slowly understood that they needed to be on the poolside. About 25-30 schools were present. By the time all had assembled and walked the lap of the pool deck, it was approaching 9. The guest speaker spoke; she was not really long-winded but it added time. The children were still in the sun. They were allowed back in the stands after the speech. Soon after 9, the meet began.

National Aquatic Centre, Kingston: water falling on water during Burger King swim meet

The timekeepers timed and the races went well. After about two hours, someone brought us cups of water. Then, soon after, corned beef sandwiches and a fruity drink. Rain started near noon and the meet ran on despite that. Lunchtime was approaching, and I was trying to arrange my movements: i needed to make a short dash to meet someone who’d just done some business for me. I figured that I would have plenty of time because the organizers had given me and other volunteers a voucher for a Burger King lunch–the sponsors usually help with refreshments in some way.

But, when I mentioned this to my two timekeeping partners, they both said “What lunch?” They hadn’t received vouchers. I decided to try to see what had happened and approached the table where I had signed up and been given my bright yellow “Official” tee-shirt and the voucher before the start of the meet. My fellow school parent had been just behind me when I signed in. She had received her tee-shirt, but nada mas.

I mentioned what had happened to a lady sitting clutching a microphone, next to the representative from Burger King (who had been on a constant promotion of the products once he’d been brought into the show since mid-morning). “We had more volunteers than vouchers,” the lady told me. I had an “And?” moment. No lunches were being offered to those who didn’t have vouchers. This pricked my sense of fairness–a sad legacy of growing up in England, I guess. I told the lady that this was not fair: we had all been on the deck for the best part of six hours in the sun and rain, and deserved to be treated equally. She was not having any of that, and decided to give me the good old cut-eye. I have never been good at letting that pass, and felt a howitzer moment brewing. I told her that if she couldn’t run a meet properly, then it would be better if she left it those who can. I don’t know if she was a YMCA employee, given that they were the meet organizers. I also told her that she’d be quite helpless if the volunteers weren’t willing to stand and fill the jobs that needed to be done; some YMCA youths were also in our body. She remained silent and indifferent. I gave her a last point about her attitude, which I wasn’t going to tolerate.

The meet director asked me to step to one side. He tried to explain to me how things “usually” worked, and that schools “usually” provided lunches. I pointed out that ‘usually’ did not apply because an exception had been made at this meet. We agreed to disagree, and I said that I would not be volunteering during the afternoon. (I had personal reasons: I needed my legs for a weekend tournament.) I related the events to my fellow timekeepers. They were resigned to the situation.

Well after 1pm, the ‘morning’ session ended; we would resume at 2.30. I went in the pouring rain to line up for my BK meal; my fellow timers went off to find lunch elsewhere. I went on my errand and took lunch with me. When I returned, I spent the afternoon mainly in the stands–more important, I was off my feet. The meet went on during the afternoon, and I took my daughter home after it finished, sometime around 6pm. She had missed her 5pm piano lesson, and I called her teacher on the way home to apologize. When we got home, both very tired, we did not waste much time after our baths and a quick dinner and headed to bed. I needed to get a bus at 5am to head to Montego Bay for a golf tournament. My legs were aching badly as I went to bed and I had to use some antiinflammatory ointment.

Over the weekend, my legs worsened. During Saturday’s practice, I needed to use more ointment, and on Saturday evening, my host, a doctor, had given me some other antiinflammatory ointment. I spent the afternoon applying RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to my knee. I went to bed in a knee brace. By Sunday my knee was swollen and I could barely walk; my knee brace was on all day. I spent the day in a golf cart, limping occasionally to get a better view and being admonished by one of my lady teammates to “Get off your feet, and stay sitting down!” I obeyed, for the most part. Rain washed out the end of morning play, delayed the start of afternoon play, then washed out the whole match. I got a ride home to Kingston, earlier than expected, with another doctor.

By Monday, I had a knee that looked like a water melon. I did without the brace, but was in severe pain whenever I tried to walk. I was due to coach soccer to kindergartners in the afternoon; they run like ferrets and did not need me to be more than patient and funny. I managed to do my half-hour session with them without too much pain. I then collected my daughter from school and waited on her while she had her usual double training session with her swim club. I sat down for most of the 2 1/2 hours she was in the water. By Monday night, the pain was down greatly, and I was able to bend the knee about halfway. By Tuesday morning, the pain was negligible; the knee had more flexibility; and I could walk with only a very slight limp. I needed to practice and planned to just chip and put balls. I surprised myself by walking without pain, and played 9 holes, though a little slower than usual. A Jamaican friend, visiting from the USA, was with me, and she inspired some great shots. I coached soccer with elementary kids at my daughter’s school during the afternoon, not running a lick. They looked at my knee, which was now more like an ogen melon, and compared my swollen knee to the normal one: “Wow! That’s big!” said one of the girls.

The story has several morals. But, I will flag two.

One is a tendency in Jamaica to make children suffer while adults go about their business, blithely ignoring the imposition they are putting on frail young bodies. The announcer gleefully told the spectators that one of the children “was only three” (she might have been five, in fact). It as a meet for preparatory and primary schools, and one of the categories was ‘under 6’. But, here we were having them bleach in the sun for nearly an hour before they were expected to perform athletic events. Duh! The organizers could have just had each school group stand and be recognised where they were installed, and that might have taken at most 10-15 minutes; the speech shortened to 5 minutes, and we save nearly three-quarters of an hour in the baking sun. I spoke to my child’s club coach during the meet and there was a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking. I don’t want to be insensitive and make a parallel with a tragedy that happened in Montego Bay over the weekend, when twin boys were washed away in a gully and found washed up on a beach yesterday. But, in that tragedy are all the elements of child neglect. The trouble is that Jamaicans are not very honest about this aspect of our society, preferring to see ourselves as loving and caring for children, even though much evidence points the other way. I heard the exasperation in Dionne Jackson-Miller’s voice last evening, during ‘Beyond the headlines’, after listening to an extract of the Minister of Youth and Culture’s contribution to the Budget sectoral debate, which covered the matter of disappearing children. Our focus is on those who return. But, what of those who don’t? She said “We are not serious” about the issues of child abuse and neglect. I, for one, agree, whole heartedly. (There were two distasteful examples of that during the same swim meet, which I have shared with some child care professionals.) We love masquerade.This_Masquerade_by_perfect12386

Another, is an unwillingness to own mistakes and correct them. Instead, we love bluster. I will be aggressive, but I want a result. I don’t do indifference well. Telling me that water is coming through the window and leaving it open because the floor is already wet is another example of the ‘cyan bodda’ (can’t bother) mentality. You have more volunteers than vouchers? Then fix that, and do it openly, or apologize openly to those who are volunteering, even making an offer to sweeten the pill. Instead, we have the ‘just keep your head down’ or ‘don’t move, the wind will stop’ approaches. I see this in many places as an excuse for customer service, so it’s a part of our culture in dealing with problems.

My knee is as old as me, and has been abused by too much sport. Its chronic state is something to manage.