#COVID19Chronicles-7: April 21, 2020: Facing the costs of staying home

If you lived through the 1960s UK, you know about feeding the meters. Well, no need for cash now, but the bills are piling up as more bodies at home for more hours per day, doing more things means more water and electricity and cooking gas being used, but maybe a lot less fuel for car journeys.

Old fashioned British pay-as-you-go gas meter

For our household, through mid-April (a month of stay-home living) electricity usage and cost are up about 80 percent; water usage is up about 20+ percent and the bill is up about 30 percent. Our household is now twice as large, with three extra women–one teen and two over-80s. Cooking is with gas, but fridge, microwave, washing machine, lights, routers (now increased to deal with my wife’s and daughter’s videoconferencing needs) must all be adding to demand. We’ve enjoyed lots of cool nights (21C/75F), though days have been hot (30+C/88+F), so AC has not been used much (teenagers seem to get hot during the day, so my teen and I have a regular battle to turn hers off). We’ve not had much rain, but the yard gets watered a few times a week, as usual. But, the extra showers and more litres of water drunk are showing up along with all the extra laundry (in part to add extra hygiene to thwart possible infection of clothes).

I filled my car up with fuel about a month ago, and the few trips I’ve made means my usage has been very low; I’ve not been out of town, only about 5 miles round trips.

Our food bills are also higher, but we are able to get lots of fresh agricultural items, much of which may be in surplus so prices should be lower, but we may be facing higher costs if we choose delivery, or just in terms of waiting to get goods wherever we go. We don’t dine out much, but may do so a bit more to help support some of our local businesses, especially those owned and run by friends.

Several people have been commenting on social media about their extra costs, but seem to be unaware of how their own circumstances have changed, being at home almost 24/7 and meeting almost all their own needs at their costs (at least for the moment, though they may have arrangements for reimbursement later). For those whose incomes are not affected, this is not too difficult, but imagine if your pay was day to day and you now have no work; higher bills and less ability to pay. That’s disaster looking you in the face. That’s reality, too, for many in Jamaica. Added to the higher financial burden may be the burden of having less time to do the necessary task of shopping, or that it takes longer because numbers of people allowed in a place are limited. It’s a new and interesting puzzle to daily or weekly life.

Many people do not have savings, and cannot withstand a week without pay, so as the COVID19 stay-home protocols are in place, many more people are going to face financial hardships. Some countries have already put in place and started to disburse funds in support of those who have lost pay and are out of work, but it’s too early to see how well that works in terms of reaching those in need and how long it keeps them afloat.

#COVID19Chronicles-6: April 20, 2020: Feed me! I’m worried.

It’s not just food and drink that the body needs to survive, but in times of stress, food and drink are great comforters, and we know many turn to it readily at such times. One set of muscles that seem to be getting a workout with home confinement are those in the jaw. In our household, we’re aware of the risk, and, thankfully, we have a houseful of people capable in the kitchen. Of course, that’s a blessing and a curse. We eat nice things and we can make nice things from many simple ingredients. While people may be thrusting accolades on French or Italian cuisine, you wouldn’t be true to your Caribbean heritage if you dissed your own cuisine. At times like this, it’s great to not have to fret about whether you have the right kind of cheese, or if it’s single, double, clotted, whipped or another cream that’s needed.

Right now, our household is blending its Bahamian and Jamaican heritage, and that makes for a really nice set of outcomes and also puts our Bahamian visitors more at ease as they adjust to not being at home. It’s always interesting how missing certain food when you travel can be close to distressing. I don’t mean the way that Americans hanker for McDonald’s, but the well-documented way that say travelling teams perform better when they have their own chefs and can offer team members the food they like.

One of the prices that many people are worried they will have to pay after and during the pandemic is an expanding waist line and scales that say ‘No mas!’ 🙂 Many are trying to stay dedicated to exercise regimes, for a sense of normality but also as a good way to ward off the premature Santa Claus look. The number of virtual exercise classes is growing. A friend asked if her son–one of our elite swimmers–could use our pool; he’d not been in the water for four weeks, she said. We discussed how he was eating her out of house and home, as teenagers do, anyway, when being confined to the house all day. Our own teen is like her peers and grazes a lot, but now that school has resumed, it’s food hunting in between breaks and then real dinner and then midnight snacks–“Oh Hi, Daddy. Are you writing?” 🙂 We had a great late-night conversation as she raided the fridge. She’s an athlete and concerned about her weight and physique, so tries not to gorge. Let’s see how that progresses. One clear upside is she gets to have some close-up chances to learn about our food from her elders, which would usually be confined to holidays, but is now part of daily life (indefinitely), and she’s been a good assistant as well as an instigator in the kitchen.

We’re lucky to have access to fresh fruit and vegetables and we’ve long been people who cook and eat at home. So, eating is part of a normal process that starts with little or nothing and ends with something that most of us find wonderful.

Mango cheesecake, produced by my wife

Oxtail and butter beans

What we miss most with home confinement is sharing food and meals. We’ve tried it a couple of times with what we think is good social distancing–friends came and sat near, but apart, about 5 feet away across the table. They brought a fresh homemade loaf 🙂

My mother-in-law and her sister made hot-cross buns for Easter. My wife–always generous–offered batches to friends; they came and collected from the front gate.

In Jamaica, sharing of food and fruit and vegetables is one of our normal traits, and it’s had to be curtailed a bit with home confinement but it’s possible. I’ve let friends come to collect Julie mangoes, which seem to be ripening early. I know a friend who continues to share his urban garden produce. I’ve another friend due to exchange tomato seeds with me soon. We have farmers sitting on surplus harvests as their prime customers, hotels, have closed. We’re now seeing that food chain redirected as food gets redirected directly to households at pickup points with ordering online. We’ve seen our major beer producer start to sell directly to households, while bars and clubs and places where people used to congregate are closed or have limited openings. So, the food business is changing not just in terms of home consumption but also in getting goods to markets.

Change is the order of the day, however you look at it.

Eat and be happy. Grow food and be happy. Trying to be happy is also the order of the day, to get through this crisis, but also in general. Don’t lose sight of that.

#COVID19Chronicles-5: April 19, 2020: Can’t we all just get along?

We are family!

It’s a family affair

We are with the ones we love but can we love the one’s we’re with? Nothing tests relationships more than when they have to endure stressful situations. The usual stressors like money worries, job changes, moving house, or losing a loved one, usually push the limits and combinations of these often break people and relationships. I think I’m better off knowing that–forewarned is forearmed. It’s also good to have lived through several multiples of them; not that I would wish that on anyone. But, what has that taught us?

Laughter can break many a sour mood or grotty situation, though too much laughter makes some people wonder if you’ve lost your mind. I usually have an ability to see something funny in many situations; sometimes, it doesn’t hit the right notes for everyone else, but it’s my way. It used to be how I defused my own tension, but it’s often a good way to break out of any tension. I’m not good with jokes—-remembering them is not one of my strengths, but I’m a great punster.

Embracing change is often something that causes people anxiety. The current pandemic has forced changes of many kinds–travel plans, study plans, social plans, eating plans (‘we’ll come back to that), work plans, life-goal plans…almost every plan that was in the making. How disruptive the changes have been is personal and circumstantial.

My daughter’s felt badly about her hopes for the spring school term: she had hoped to start softball (a new sport for her) and done training and team bonding in Florida and visit Disney World–lots of excitement. Now, she has only her jerseys to wear to signify that she could have been a softball player. As a 16 year-old it’s not a trivial gap in her sporting profile, but I try to tell her it’s not necessarily critical. She had in her mind being a varsity team member, and that has impact on her transcript. But, she does her team workouts at home in her room. We had a bit of fun this week with some football/soccer, and an hour or so with my trying to show her how to juggle and kick better. I’m a licenced coach, but haven’t coached her personally for over five years. It was a fun break in the afternoon, and one of the rare times she’s exercised in public.

The grands (mother-in-law and her sister, in their 80s, visiting from The Bahamas) are most uncomfortable with all that’s going on, not least because they’re not at home, though happy to be with us–it’s mango season, so that’s a big plus. But, the home- and family-centred lives they lead, bolstered by their church, means they’re now a bit unanchored. They pray and hope their prayers will bring solutions. Fortunately, it’s not their first visit to Jamaica and their ‘hotel’ is pretty good 🙂 They exercise a little but are not as nimble as before, and they have their routines, including their favourite TV shows. They nap mid-morning and like to cool out as the day ends and the heat subsides. They’ve now accepted that–as Easter has passed–the water is warm enough to venture into the pool. But, will they join me in water aerobics?

Mind games and mental exercises are more than just ways of keeping the brain chugging along–but not the negative interpersonal ones–‘time to stop that shit’, some would say. I spent most of my days thinking and trying to solve problems in my mind; it’s my way of coping with all the nonsense I see around me. If I ‘crack’ the puzzle I see, I’m usually content; I can know that my argument is well-thought through and am then happy to tackle anyone. I don’t back down readily and have happily pounded ideas with others. If we agree to disagree, so be it, but don’t expect me to just say yes or no because you’ve said it. I’ll sometimes engage the household in some deep thinking–it’s kind of didactic–simply because I believe and know that most things in life are simple. The challenge isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but let’s try to see other options. My wife is often on the other side of the exchange, partly because we often don’t agree but also because she sometimes has a bureaucrat’s tendency to hit what strike me as ‘sound bites’ and then I bite back. She said the other day that “We had gone back to basics”, so I asked “What basics have we gone back to?” It was a good hour of discussion.

Keeping things in perspective is not what many people do, especially when they forget context and history; memories are short and they tend to exaggerate. Panic or thinking of extreme outcomes rarely helps in solving a problem: I’ve never seen any onrushing train stopped because of screams and waving arms.

Time controls are one of life’s persistent problem, often in the negative as we often work at the whim or directions of others about how we use our time–in the workplace or at school, or with anything else to which one is committed. On the positive side, we know about things like ‘10,000 hours’ or ’10 years’–the amount of time it takes to master a skill. Most people are good at what they spend time doing, and in work and school that can show up with positive or negative results (I’m not going now into poor work environments or poor schooling, but getting out what you put in can often be seen in people’s lives, even if they want to pass blame onto others for results they don’t like).

Being at home is usually associated with doing things ‘in our time’. But, working at home compromises that notion, as pressure from other demands now intrude. We all now have to adjust to the simple demonstrations of that: we overhear my wife’s teleconferences and plead with her to either close the landing door (lucky we have that) or use the headphones. It took a while but we got her to understand, and now we have to deal with her also walking around with her mobile phone and earphones in as if she’s listening to music or a podcast. My daughter’s school day starts at 8.30am and we see her before as we urge her to have breakfast, which is not a problem as she’s good about eating. But, then she has to hunker down and we may not see her till classes end at 12.30pm now (it was 2.30 for the first 2 weeks of virtual school). She may have breaks in her school day but she may chill in her bedroom and not mix with us. I try to check in with her periodically, as that’s a privilege not available usually, and I think the real contact is important. She often takes a nap or grabs some good downtime after class: she got some paintings on her floor that she’s doing. We usually get her full attention close to when we have dinner (about 5.30/6) and she’ll hang till it’s time for ‘study hall’ and homework, about 7.30pm our time for a couple of hours. It’s a long day.

Days at home tend to merge and people often have problems distinguishing where they are in the week, and the other routines of life help us to tell the difference between Sunday through Monday. It’s doing other things that often give a week its structure: Monday is washing day, etc. Now, things don’t have to follow those patterns, and that can throw some people off, especially when they’ve hardly ever had the need or opportunities to do otherwise. I’ve been a stay-home person for years, and know that when I decide to do things can make all the difference.

One little trick I have is to decide when the weekend starts; this week it was Thursday and I just approach my use of time differently. Given that writing is my main activity that others get to see, that means I approach it a bit differently. In normal times, the weekend involves sports for many people, and what is now possible is to have sports any day, so this ‘weekend’ I started my sports consumption on Thursday. 🙂 However, my mother-in-law will not be moving her Sunday for anyone. We’re lucky in the Tropics as our days don’t change length that much; we tend to have 12 hours of daylight all the time, with dawn getting a little earlier as we head into summer and dusk a little later, but not the extremes of dark and light that one gets in the northern hemisphere. That’s a major stabiliser as you can plan your days well, though the bigger issue is heat (and maybe humidity). We are as interested in the weather as anyone, especially when we don’t get rain, as now.

Reprioritising is something that many are doing for the first time is a long while, apart from when they make ‘resolutions’ at new year. Some are doing some long-overdue re-evaluation of life and what is really important.

Staying informed might not have been what some thought important but more now want to know at least where has the pandemic reached in their national or local space. I’ve not said much about the change in the spread of the virus in Jamaica, partly because the facts can be found elsewhere. However, the family mood is connected to the spread of the virus, with anxieties shifting as news comes in about infections, deaths, recoveries, plans to restrict movements, arrivals of protective clothing etc. For many, it may seem that they are in some kind of apocalyptic movie but without any script to follow. We take a lot from how the political leaders and medical experts present themselves. There’s danger in information overload, but it’s a delicate balance between getting too much information and not enough (especially of what matters to you). We’ve been lucky so far in Jamaica to have seen that aspect well done, but there are signs in recent days that smooth PR and good planning are not the same and logistical mistakes and information snafus are appearing as curfews and lockdowns and need to repatriate citizens come into play. I may take a look at that, specifically, later.

Being in Jamaica, it would be easy to say that one way of getting through this–and we have to hold onto the idea that we will get through this–is to say ‘Don’t worry, about a thing. Because every little thing’s going to be all right.’ It’s not going to be that simple for most of us, but it’s perhaps not a bad mindset to have.

Let’s reflect on that positive message from Bob Marley awhile.

#COVID19Chronicles-4: April 18, 2020: Stress-busting

‘Tain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

That’s what gets results, so goes the song. What the COVID19 pandemic has shown is that many of the ways that people insisted on doing things were neither essential or efficient; many were about control of people’s time and actions. Interestingly, before the current realization that remote working was a feasible option, I’d had some long discussions with people who insisted that face-to-face was vital to conducting business well. Well, guess what? When someone tells you that you can sign a death warrant travelling and meeting like that, the mind is amazingly refocused. But, as an advocate, I am one of the converted going on over a decade; admittedly, as a happy retiree. But, my point was often that working away from the noise and distractions of a ‘work place’, people could be much more productive. Many people are now finding they are working longer hours and/or getting more done in less time. Working at home demands focusing on different processes, including not duplicating or repeating tasks. But, let me leave that treatise aside.

The other thing I mentioned to a friend was how even top level sport could become a virtual reality. Along comes COVID19. Lo and behold! Professional sports are embracing virtual sport.

So, adjustments are the norm and nothing is static. What’s happened in our lives, and those associated with us?

Technology has been the big saviour is many ways. Video conferencing and online school are the major daytime activities for my wife and daughter. The software has become much better in recent years, but it is a major user of Internet access, and bandwidth issues mean that my wife has had to boost the routers she uses; my daughter has become a privileged partner, as her school sessions are as, if not more important. We all make use of phone software such as WhatsApp to keep in touch with a wide range of contact; the phone is also used, but is less of a go-to means. I’m an avid user of social media such as Twitter and Facebook and the former is a great conduit for current news from all points as well as a communications platform. My blog is also an important window. My teenager is also keeping tabs on her friends with the likes of TikTok, and also side chats in teleconferencing software.

But the bigger winner has been videoconferencing software like Zoom, which has now fitted into family life as regular family sessions are part of our days: a dozen or more chattering and giggling and intense visual contact is keeping many of our family sane. Of course, it’s also part of the ‘work’ space, and it’s been the meeting space for an increasing number of people, even though security risks are there and we at least are using Zoom with passwords. Funnily, technology like email has become a sort of dinosaur. Finally, businesses have realized that they need to step up their use of online access, and again, it’s amazing how the veil of impossibility has been removed to display a world that many asked for but were told couldn’t happen: I’ve had several invitations to online. AGMs, something I asked for years ago concerning overseas companies and is now on offer.

Finally, businesses have realized that they need to step up their use of online access; again, it’s amazing how the veil of impossibility has been removed to display a world many had asked for but were told couldn’t happen–I’ve a few invitations to online AGMs, something I pleaded for years ago and is now on offer.

Banking and finance were ahead in that game and probably still are, in general, and will stay so with the demand for payments methods like contactless cards, as people’s concerns about touching public surfaces increase. We’re also seeing a range of retailers are making online buying possible, beyond the already flourishing giants like Amazon. My wife is glad that she can order fruit and vegetables that way, pick them up locally, though lining up for that, but not for selection.

Other things that have gained importance is simply moving around, because a home can seem oddly confining when one cannot leave. I swim, ride a bike, walk around my yard, swing a golf club, garden a bit. I enjoy the outdoors and have moved my work space there this week, and benefited from seeing how the plants and creatures large and small get about their business and barely notice me.

My wife’s tennis is on hold, but she wanders around while she works and often works standing up, as she would in her regular office. My daughter, an athlete, has workouts from school which she does in her room (though I want to see pictures 🙂 ). The grands take a stroll outside occasionally, especially once it’s cooled down. Our housekeeper is always on the go. I was already in the habit of making myself move around, and needless trips up and down the stairs were part of that.

But, the mind needs its exercise too. Some of that comes from conversation and just normal interaction. I like to challenge people and sometimes do it too much, but it’s to build that brain muscle. I always took heart from my father after his stroke when he was fixing for an argument, as it showed the brain was really active. I like other mind games, too; I’m a seasoned punster, and I can string arguments along quite easily and I love word play just in the form of arguing about the real meaning of words. But, I play Words with Friends, too. My mother-in-law craves her word search.

Finally, we’ve found the importance of cooking and communal dining; we were always a family that appreciated the importance of food as social bond, but now it’s even more important. Preparing food is often both challenge and adventure. The kitchen can look like a surgical ward, all neat and tidy, but soon gets transformed into a battlefield, with the ‘bodies’ of preparation strewn all over.

We have a family dinner, outside, every evening, and it’s time to reconnect and check in, so my daughter has to say how her school day went (like on the drive home). It’s ‘open mike’. It’s usually a jovial time. We took a chance and had friend come for dinner, at a good distance apart at the table–they were opposite us and about 5-6 feet away 🙂 It was nice for them as a couple to spend time with a bigger group, and they brought homemade bread; we also enjoyed the different company. But, generally, that wont be happening much for a while.

Being at home all the time is a challenge, for most, and confinement is just not what people normally choose. So, I’ll look a bit at some of the downsides of all that family time when I next write.

#COVID19Chronicles-3: April 17: Getting used to house confinement

From late-March, we began to understand the severity of the pandemic on local life.
Restrictions had been tightened from March 23, with effect from March 25:

  • Schools would remain closed until the end of the Easter term.
  • All persons 75 years and older must remain at home. This order will be in force for an initial 14 days and is an acknowledgement that the older population is more susceptible to the disease.
  • Additionally, all public sector employees 65-years-old and older must work from home effective March 25. Holness also announced that every person who entered the island as of March 18 will be quarantined for a further 14 days after the initial seven days.
  • No public gatherings shall exceed 10 persons. This is down from groups of 20 that was previously allowed.

Within a week, the restrictions were turned up another notch. It was April 1, but the government announcement wasn’t a joke: from 8pm (through 6am) there would be an all-island curfew, running initially for 7 days till April 8. It was later extended and tightened during the Easter weekend, limiting movement and access to beaches, etc.

It is an understatement to say our routines had to change. It had been clear by mid-month that travel plans were shredded, and we were making plans for hunkering down and an uncertain end-date to severe restrictions. So, what have we done?

We have limited our general exposure outside the house. The world has discovered it can operate quite well virtually, without face-to-face contact and travel.

My wife does the shopping; that’s supermarket and now a range of locations to get fresh produce, as agricultural surpluses emerge after hotels closed and cut off a major source of demand. She has set up an office at home, and had her internet access substantially upgraded to handle teleconferencing; she’s shared that access with our daughter. We found early on that the increased demand for WiFi was causing problems within the household and buffering became the norm too often. We live with a lot of borrowed discussions from IDB-related work but the headphones are now more in use.

The rest of us staying at home have our own activities.

The visiting Bahamian in-laws are not nimble and live within the confines of the home, occasionally walking areas outside and enjoying their extended Jamaican holiday. My mother-in-law was pessimistic from early on: “People will need psychiatric help after.” But, she and her sister have levelled off their concerns, although they’ve been increased by developments in The Bahamas, which are not quite the same as in Jamaica, with earlier curfew restrictions and limitations on when people could shop.

My daughter and I venture out a few times to get some driving hours in. She resumed school from April 1, online. She was due to head back to school on March 29 but school had decided to stay closed and offer online schooling till April 13, initially. Of course, she is not able to do extracurricular activities like softball. She starts at 8.30am our time and for the first 8 school days went on till 2.30pm; this week the end time is 12.30pm.

Beyond that, I exercise (swim, walk, practice golf in the garden, garden and watch nature, and absorb the world outside as best I can, sometimes with a short bike ride around the neighbourhood).

The limits on contact and movement have opened other avenues, and the world including us has discovered Zoom and other group teleconferencing software. The family here now has 2-3 sessions with the Bahamian family, mainly in the late-afternoon/evening; they’re animated and funny for the most part. Everyone tends to enjoy seeing each other and catching up on the important and the trivial. Some aspects of Bahamian life that the grands controlled (such as some private savings groups) now have to be handled by others.

Both households tend to tune in to the daily national briefings updating on local developments with the pandemic.

My daughter is missing the warm interactions with her friends at boarding school, and has arranged some side communications, as teens do, to stay in touch. Some of her new school friends are Jamaican, so she can reach them and feel the literal closeness. She misses hanging out, badly, and we recently had some visits to celebrate a friend’s birthday–parking by her gate and talking at a distance. She and her mother did a quick trip to drop off presents for some other school friends. My daughter asked if a friend could come to visit the other evening: she stood by the front door while the friend came to the gate (about 20 metres away) and they conversed for a while. We may see more of that, I guess. Brief contacts are better than no contacts. She’s coping through art, and has used time to start a few painting projects that are now strewn on her bedroom floor. Earlier, she had decided to redefine her personal space by having a major clear out of clothes and doing a little redecorating.

Normality is being redefined, but we have built on some parts that were present but not as strong as they could have been.

Everyone within the household has carved out some space, informally, and they’re mutually respected. We’ve enjoyed sit-down dinners together as a daily event, which tend to mark the end of ‘work’ and time for ‘recreation’. The grands rest much of the time, then look forward to cooling afternoon to enjoy a sit outside before dinner. I was stationed in the kitchen but have moved outdoors for most of the past week; I find a cool spot, moving as needed, but able to enjoy the best of the garden.

Our housekeeper is in a kind of Nirvana; she loves cooking and has an audience ready to please her as she pleases us with some of the simple dishes we love. My wife and her mother have thrown flour and butter and milk into mixing bowls and created the sort of baking that makes most people happy: hot-cross buns, corn bread, cookies, banana bread, etc. The kitchen was a great spot for me to work in as it has the best smells. My daughter has also chipped in (literally), making some chocolate chip biscuits, recently.

Nature has blessed us. Not only does Jamaica have a wonderful and ready supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, but we have a garden that gives a little, too. Right now, the mango season seems to have begun a few weeks early and Julie mangoes are ready and eaten happily, even greenish in salads, but mostly with their juice dripping down chins.

Food has been a glue and a great comforter. Meal times have taken on added importance as times to associate.

New hygiene protocols are essential and important, including wearing masks and gloves, occasionally, as well as maintaining distances and understanding people’s concerns if any of that is not respected.

Next, I’ll take a look at some of the stresses that are appearing in the household and outside, and how that seems to be managed, or not.

#COVID19Chronicles-2: April 16, 2020: How have we coped? Early days.

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.

Some rules for snitching on your neighbours

Obviously some people believe that the emergency services are currently under-employed and they need something to investigate.  What with this social…

Some rules for snitching on your neighbours

A lovely whimsical look at new social norms during CIVID19, by my dear friend, Mary Jones.

#COVID19Chronicles-1: April 15, 2020: Calm before the storm that we didn’t see coming

I think everyone should be recording memories during this pandemic; for most, this is the most traumatic experience they’ve ever endured. In many ways, it mimics wartime, with restricted freedom, shortages, panic buying, signs of extreme kindness and unbelievable crassness. But, most people have not lived through wartime (though, in Jamaica, some have equated life in high crime areas as similar to living in war zones).

Our memories fade fast and traumatic events are often suppressed. Personally, I think the least one should do is notice what causes anxiety and joy—extremes of emotions. What you do to manage is also noteworthy.

Whatever news media were reporting in late-2019 (the Wuhan cluster of pneumonia was reported by China on December 31), I think most people were really unaware that a viral infection in China was spiralling out of control. That changed for me, at least, sometime in February, after I had made an impromptu long weekend trip to see my daughter at school in the USA. Even then, I had no notion of this disease breaking beyond parts of Asia (cases were being confirmed in Thailand in mid-January). That changed, for me, later in the month, when I travelled to the UK, where (perhaps because of the closer proximity to Asia) news of the virus was more prominent. By the time I was due to leave London on March 1, I was conscious of the risks to travel plans as restrictions were beginning to be put in place. That alone, would affect us as we had plans for March-April travel.

However, this realisation came as during Lent and I was already on a deep personal journey and didn’t have much extra mental space to play with. That’s a bit of a cop out because I was able to grapple with a few thorny Jamaican issues that had been bugging me for a while. Maybe, that was relatively easy because many of the issues had been rolling in my head and just needed organizing. But, my mind had also been on the more immediate issues facing the UK after it had its Brexit day on January 31.

Writing about an evolving situation is tricky as one has to try to step outside the experience while it’s happening. Anyway, I’m going to try to chronicle a little. I suspect along the way it’ll change but let me get started, without further ado.

March began with plans for the Spring. I had just come back from London and was aware of the ‘novel’ coronavirus risk from media coverage during my stay abroad.

Typical London scene; Euston, a little wet 🙂

I was expecting some kind of health screening when I left the UK and entered the USA, albeit in-transit, but neither occurred. I did not get any specific screening in Jamaica, but the concern then was travel from China, mainly. So, with a few concerns about how seriously the spread of the virus was being taken, I decided to do some self-isolation, low-key, for 2 weeks. I went out, but really just the minimum, I thought, except to play golf twice, and then I quickly applied what was then the sanitization protocol of disinfecting surfaces and other things touched–car handles, golf cart, golf clubs, etc. and remove clothing and shoes used outdoors.

Our daughter was due home from school during the first week of March, and I went to the airport to collect her. She came through without any health screen as far as she had noticed.

Airport exterior, Kingston, awaiting my daughter’s arrival

She’d made plans for an American schoolmate to visit JAMAICA for a week and another American schoolfriend not long after; they were due to stay at our home.

So, in the first half of March there was no concern about things like social/physical distance, but more about how contact and hygiene were important.

My wife was due to attend the IDB annual meetings in Barranquilla, Colombia, later in the month, and I was due go with her for company and we’d visit Cartagena. Side trips were planned as were official activities. I was due to fly via Panama; she was going via Miami. We were hearing noises that travel might be compromised and we were readying ourselves for cancellations. Last year’s meetings in China were cancelled at short notice after the USA threw a hissy fit over Venezuela’s representation. A very expensive decision that was for me!!! 😦

We’d arranged for my wife’s mother and an aunt to visit from The Bahamas and stay while we were away to give more ‘parental support’ to a household of teenagers.

Things started to intensify in Jamaica during the first week of March. On March 3, the government issued a travel advisory, giving background on the health crisis and reminding of the restrictions that had been put in place:

‘On 30 January 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC).

Subsequently, on the 31 January 2020, Jamaica placed a travel  restriction on all persons who have been in China in the 14 days prior to arrival in Jamaica. On the 27 February 2020, the travel restrictions were expanded to include South Korea, Iran, Singapore and Italy. Only persons who are Jamaican Nationals or non-Nationals with permanent resident status or marriage exemptions will be landed. These persons will be subject to immediate quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.

Individuals returning from any of these countries who have been granted landing privileges and who show any symptom of the COVID-19 would be placed in immediate isolation. Quarantine facilities for these persons would be designated by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and persons would be required to adhere to all restrictions, in line with provisions under the Quarantine Act. Isolation facilities are operational at public hospitals.’

WHO declared COVID19 was a pandemic on March 11, the first pandemic since H1N1 “swine flu” in 2009.

Up through mid-March, we knew the global situation was worsening but on Friday, March 13, the Jamaican game changed, when Prime Minister (PM) declared the island a disaster zone and that nursing help would be sought from Cuba. The PM also declared he would invoke the powers of section 26(2) of the Disaster Risk Management Act, and put two communities in Bull Bay, St. Andrew (Seven Miles and Eight Miles) under immediate quarantine, deploying JCF and JDF.

Then, things started to move fast. From March 18, arriving travellers to Jamaica were expected to self-quarantine:

“For all persons entering from a country where there is internal spread of the virus [as well as] the containment and restriction of movement, if you have to move, then you [should] manage your movement in a way to reduce the possibility of you transmitting the virus to someone else, should you have the virus,”–Dr. Christopher Tufton (minister of health and wellness).

The Government had extended travel restrictions on eight countries as a result of COVID-19. These countries are Iran, China, South Korea, Italy, Singapore, Germany, Spain, France and the United Kingdom. [Notably, the USA, whose worsening crisis was getting much media attention, was still not on the list.]

We also got advice on applying hygienic practices to deal with respiratory infections–hand washing, not touch face, etc.

On March 20, 2020, the Government of Jamaica announced that effective 11:59PM on Saturday March 21, 2020, and for a period of 14 days in the first instance, Jamaica’s air and seaports will be closed to incoming passenger traffic.  Outgoing passenger and cargo will be allowed

On March 30, 2020, the government announced that effective April 1, 2020, from 8pm to 6pm, daily, there will be an all island curfew. The curfew would run for seven days and was scheduled to end at 6am on April 8, 2020. It was extended through the Easter weekend, and was intensified by limit access to beaches and rivers and the provision of major entertainment. So, the normally festive Easter weekend–important on the Christian calendar–was a muted public affair, with many churches extending their offerings of online worship and households celebrating as best they could. We watched and listened to several services, including one by The Pope. We had a wonderful late Sunday dinner and chilled for the rest of the day.

The government cranked up restrictions last night as a spike in positive cases due to a BPO in Portmore, St. Catherine, led to the decision to lock down the parish of St. Catherine from 5am this morning for seven days.

So, that brings us to one month of COVID19 restrictions. Tomorrow, I’ll look back to how lifestyles and attitudes adjusted during that time. Suffice to say, work and school are mostly happening at home, online. Contact with extended family is mainly online (Zoom is the in things) and pay phone. Journeys out are at a minimum. Only one person goes does shopping (with a few exceptions). So, far all remain healthy. Our household has two seniors in their 80s.

For some, curfews mean life as normal

The order of recent weeks has been to stay home and maintain social (physical) distance of about 2 metres or 6 feet. In Jamaica, we moved to restricting people’s movements by having a curfew, which was especially tough over the past Easter weekend, which would normally have been a time for festive church services, entertainment and travel to beaches, rivers or somewhere in the country. Instead, most barely ventured from home, especially as curfew began at 3pm from last Friday. To be confined to home from mid-afternoon wasn’t easy for all. The weekend was very hot and many really needed to get to somewhere cooler. We endured the heat without air conditioning but found cool spots inside or outside. Some downtown complained of the heat in the face of both power and water outages.

But, as much as we humans couldn’t mingle with people, animals just got on with their things. I’m loving that juxtaposition of our restrictive rules and their freedom of movement.

I’ve moved to sitting outdoors during the days since Friday and benefitted by seeing all sorts of animals just taking me for granted. So, enjoy some of my recent visitors.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone: In honour of the Jamaican ground lizard

Many Jamaicans, especially women, it appears, are terrified of lizards: my teenage daughter can barely get out of the car if there’s a gecko on the garage wall, way up high, and looking the other way.

Yesterday, around midday, as I was enjoying some pre-curfew leisure in my yard on a really hot Easter Sunday, I was strolling just to get in a few more steps, when I glimpsed a movement in the bushes. As I waited to see better, I caught sight of a ground lizard (ameiva dorsalis). Usually, I have my mobile phone in hand, but didn’t just then but ran in hoping I could catch my subject. Seconds later, the lizard was still there, so I had the video ready and started recording, then took a still image.

It’s a fine specimen, and its distinctive colour is something I recall from when I a small boy. But, the numbers have dwindled, dramatically, with urbanization and the impact of predators or humans hell-bent on killing an animal that’s more of an asset than a threat. A sad reality of life is that humans are not very good stewards of the Earth; we’ve seen what that means in terms of big global issues such as ‘climate change’. But, humans are less concerned about the preservation of other species, except where sometimes when they represent prime sources of food. So, the fact that the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (established in 1964) has a Red List of Threatened Species, which has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction-risk status of animal, fungus and plant species is likely to get a ho-hum from most people. But, note that the ground lizard is an ENDANGERED SPECIES. Jamaicans are especially bad at looking after their own fauna and flora, but sometimes quick to lament how bad things are in general with their natural environment. Now, the ground lizard has natural predators in the mongoose, introduced into Jamaica the in the late-19th century to deal with snakes in corn fields, but having done that job, found they had few natural predators to fear on the island, and happily fed on animals like rats and lizards. The mongoose also loves fruit like mangoes, bananas, ackees and avocados. That’s not atypical of many solutions humans offer–invasive species take over and native species diminish or disappear. The giant galliwasp is feared extinct. Jamaicans (especially women) have an almost visceral fear of lizards, no matter how often they are told that lizards have no interest in humans, and thoughts of their chasing people are all in the mind. If anything, Jamaicans ought to be looking to rid themselves of the mongoose. But, why let common sense get in the way? So, I am no one-man preservation society, but I will try to protect this lizard I’ve found. I’m not sure it’s the same one I saw a week ago, but I’ve seen a baby since, so we may have a family in-house. I think this lizard only lays one egg at a time, so the baby may be the only one around. If any more news is worth sharing, I’ll keep you posted.