Almost every household is going through a period of major adjustment during the COVID19 pandemic; I’m sure there are some in Jamaica who continue to live in blissful ignorance and relative or total self-sufficiency, to whom I would raise my hand in salute.
Our household is not typical, in many ways, and became less so just before the shutters came down on normal life. We have been ‘meat and two veg’ in a sense for a while: our housekeeper plus my wife and me. My wife travels a lot, so it’s often just meat and one veg 🙂 However, spring was due to bring changes: teenage daughter was due to be home for 3 weeks of spring break, and maternal in-laws were going to come to add to the mix for about the same time. All went swimmingly at the start, as daughter arrived at the end of the first week in March; grands arrived a few days later; friends of daughter arrived over the next few days and found bed space, and a few weeks of expanded household faced us as we headed into the middle of March. No biggie: we’re used to having a houseful now and again and have space and can deal with feeding and watering easily enough. We got onto the usual round of taking visitors to places we like and know often repays the visit in terms of showing off Jamaica. I got back into a few routines like joking some buddies on the golf course. Our vocabulary did not include ‘social distancing’, though we were becoming aware of the need for better hygiene, so hand-washing was more intense as was carrying alcohol or sanitizer on trips and applying to newly used surfaces.
We accepted invitations for social gatherings, went to help clean up a school in St. Elizabeth, and spent a leisure afternoon by a lagoon. I went on a JP training course. My wife went to and from work. Life was near normal. Life was good. Jamaica was great. Really, everything was Irie!
My daughter expected to be heading back to school in late-March for her Spring term. Before that, she’d been due to have a 4-day softball training camp in Orlando, FL, including a trip to Disney World. Excited doesn’t get close to how she was looking forward to a new sport and a much sought-after trip.
She had looked forward to being home in Jamaica and connecting with her local friends, and doing things that she’d grown to enjoy in her 6+ years in Jamaica: going to the beach, to country etc., getting out of Kingston’s bustle, just chillaxing. She looked forward to home comforts and the seeming madness of Jamaica that we experience daily and make us laugh and cry in equal measure.
She was thinking about college planning and planning for senior year; choosing where to go and when to visit; thinking about resisting her SAT in May. Thinking about 4 days of softball spring training in Florida; thinking about the side trip to Disney World. Getting her Dad to take her driving and get some of the needed 8 hours driving with an adult. A list of hopefully futures for a teenager.
My mother-in-law and her sister (both in their 80s) had hoped to be back in Nassau before end-March, after we were due back from Colombia. But, they were ready for a few weeks in Jamaica, especially once they saw that Julie mangoes were ripening on the trees in the yard. My wife promised them another trip into the Blue Mountains–as distant an experience from anything in the archipelago as one could wish. Plus, great home-cooked Jamaican food like oxtail and beans and ackee and salt fish and dumplings, to which they could add their dishes like conch fritters. They’re less nimble these days, so happily spend days at home with Christian devotional time being a big part of life. They like their TV shows and are getting to be good at WhatsApp–as bad as the youngsters or worse 🙂 They like a game of whist.
For my wife, it would be travel planning and meetings and liasing with her HQ in Washington DC and her colleagues around the Caribbean. It would be getting in some more morning tennis–a bonus since our daughter went away, and dawn lessons at Campion were most week days. The occasional snifter of wine on the way home. Some friends coming round for a leisurely meal, with children ready to jump in the pool.
Our housekeeper has her days as full as she wants, and when she has extra help, two days a week, when a guy comes and helps her clean, I just have to keep out of their way. She manages her time well, and loves having more mouths to feed. She was looking forward to what I might call ‘happy feeding’. She sends money to her family overseas and loves to venture to Half Way Tree with another housekeeper and they are sometimes gone for almost all of Saturday.
As for me, it was looking like more of the same: I’m a stay-home Dad and my home is my favourite space. I love the yard I am entrusted with and find something fascinating every day there. Having a houseful, especially my daughter in the mix was going to be fun, plus her visitors and how they would react to Jamaica.
But, Jamaica had its first confirmed case of COVID19 on March 10, and as mid-month approached, we were getting the first taste of our immediate future as warnings were issued about staying home, keeping safe distances, limiting large groups of people, enhanced hygiene, and the closing of certain kinds of establishments. Travel was being cancelled, out of ‘an abundance of caution’. People were being checked at the airport and passengers told to report if they had been on flights with people since found to be carrying the virus. In a matter of days, life was moving to a strange new normal.