Health issues are dominating life in Jamaica. We have our outbreak of Chikungunya. You cannot meet someone these days and they not be part of the conversation. “Wha’ gwan? You get it, yet?” or, “Man, mi jus’ get it. Di pain. Worse dan labour pains. No, sah!” There’s hardly a family who hasn’t had it, we hear–though mine is one of those so far free from symptoms. Our economy is feeling the effects, as almost every establishment is reeling from people out sick from Chik-v. I went to get some medical supplies for my father a few days ago, and the company was suffering with half its office staff out.

But, in typical Jamaican fashion, we’ve been very quick to turn a potential tragedy into a near farce. We have a wonderful song written and performed by an 11-year-old, whose main catchy line is “One Panadol, one Panadol, quick,” which has become a catchphrase. A man I met has that as his ringtone. 🙂

But, in typical fashion, too, it taps into one of the peculiar aspects of Jamaican life: people’s unwillingness to accept ‘wisdom’, preferring to go with gut reasoning. We’ve had mosquitoes all our lives, so how is it that mosquitoes come with this new virus? Well, the logical medical reason that we are fresh meat for a particular mosquito is not convincing many people, who instead come up with different theories. I have heard some: it came from a plane that crashed off the north coast a few weeks ago; it was brought here by American missionaries; it’s not mosquitoes, but airborne. Our medical officials are going to have a hard time convincing a people who are already skeptical about information given by government, and already steeped in their own reasoning, no matter how unreasonable the may seem to some.

In the same way, the doctors can prescribe all they want with their pharmaceutical pills, but give a Jamaican a bush tea or herbal remedy any day. One Panadol? One papaya leaf juice, please.

We have the laughable situation where our Health Minister seems desperate to catch the virus, so that he too can “feel the pain” of the people. But, he seems unable to do even that, and instead he’s reported to have contracted a cyst under his eye. As the press reported, it ‘was a result of “something” catching him under the eye during the clean up of the mosquito breeding site in Payne Land, off Spanish Town Road’, so he can say it’s Chik-v related. Woeful, and I was splitting my sides laughing, at how his in-cyst-ance on getting sick got him.

But, moving on from this virus, we have the scourge that is hitting the world news–the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. It touched the US last week, and that meant it was not far from us in every sense. We are not prepared for it, as are many other countries. So, it was little surprise that we have our first scare with it. An American man, travelling to our north coast resort of Montego Bay, after recently visiting Liberia, was quarantined and later released with a report that he had no symptoms, but returned to the USA. Within hours, our Security Minister issued a travel ban to and from the west African countries at the centre of the outbreak–Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. We joined Colombia, Guyana, St. Lucia, and Colombia int akin such action.

While we may have concerns about the effect of health issues on tourism, the world will see it and run with it. Naturally, people are showing some basic fears amplified by the now regular access to stories and images of people dying and lying in the street, and of infected people being tended to by medical staff in protective suits.ebola-workers

People are running scared, but again in Jamaica, we’ve our ludicrous spin. I watched one of the local stations for their evening news. They had polled people about the travel ban. Most people agreed with it, and they felt that we should add ‘screaming’ of all travellers. Jamaicans are one of those sets of people who have challenges with standard English. Most notably, when people have a word that is difficult to pronounce or not well-known or understood, we revert to a near cognate. So, ‘screening’ is now ‘screaming’ for many Jamaicans. That’s not to be confused with the passenger last week, who actually screamed that he had Ebola and was met with a Hazmat-suited team and taken off the plane on which he was seated. A little like with our Health Minister: beware what you wish for.

On the language matter, we get our Health Minister again showing that well-known Jamaican affliction: the superfluous ‘h’. His comments are peppered with them, including telling us how the government was working ‘h-assiduously’ in dealing with cleaning up. I had to take a breath and wonder if he somehow had the Jewish Hasids working for us.

Has Minister Ferguson got the Hasids to help us?

Has Minister Ferguson got the Hasids to help us?

But, taking the whole matter seriously, I’m watching to see how the wave of hysteria is developing. As I noted a few sentences ago, no one wants a dreaded disease in their midst, not least one that is contracted by contact. We are a tactile people, and such things go to our core existence. The notion of having to take care with handshakes may not have seeped into people’s actions fully, but it is coming fast. The fist or elbow bump is getting is getting its day.

Jamaica is a land of strugglers who survive, and I have no fear that we will do so again, but in our inimitable way, screaming and kicking, and screaming everyone at the airports.

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