I’ve been everywhere, man, but did I like being there? England-June 15, 2021

I’ve had the good fortune to live in several countries, plus travelling to a lot more for extended periods. I like to check myself by keeping my situation in context. Living in Jamaica for the past 8 years, has brought me face to face with the realities of life, here. It’s lots of negatives but lots of positives. So, I’m going to try to find 5 of each, here, and in each place I’ve lived. Not living in each at the same time brings up issues of the realities of the specific time.

So, over coming days, I’ll try to trawl my memories to find things I really liked and those that drove me mad. I’ll go chronologically: England, Wales, USA-1, Guinea, Barbados, USA-2, Jamaica. Here goes.

I never chose to go to England, in contrast to almost everywhere else that follows, but did that matter?

Likes

London: so many great place in this city and things to do and find with every trip. I know it like the back of my hand, and can spot most general areas in TV shows or films. Nothing beats sights of the RIver Thames, all of whose (13) bridges I crossed many times, or crossed using one of the few tunnels at the eastern end.

Fish and chips; pie and mash: Fish and chips only taste right served in paper (not newspaper, necessarily) and eaten with the fingers, not on a plate with a knife and fork. Must have plenty of salt and vinegar. Haddock preferred to cod.

Pie and mash is traditional East London fare, with beef mince pies made freshly on site, served with mashed potatoes, and doused with liquor (a parsley sauce made from boiling eels—the core of the ‘eel and pie shop’, where this is served. Oddly, two great outlets by an East London icon, Cooke’s were near where I lived (Shepherd’s Bush & Hammersmith). Now, hard to find in London, but they can be. A must-eat each visit.

English beer, served by pump from a cask, preferably wooden. No great preferences for region of origin, though I love London brewers Fuller’s and Young’s, and rural brews like Boddington’s, St. Austell’s, Marston’s and Greene King. (I’ll deal with Welsh beer, in due course.)

Riding on buses and trains: Whether for short commutes or longer journeys, it’s hard to beat a ride on one of the major means of public transport. As a boy, I used to love jumping on and off London red buses that had open platforms at the back.

Going to football matches: Impossible to try to explain the emotions that come from watching live games being played, including pre-match rituals (pubs, meeting mates, walking to the ground, finding your spot-better when fans stood, not sat-cheering and wailing and crying, after the match). Try to catch a game on every trip to London.

Dislikes

Strikes: Labour disputes are part of British socioeconomic DNA: they’re meant to be disruptive and often are, whether it’s transport, miners, or garbage collectors.

Customs officers: This is throwback to the days when the UK was not part of the EU, and journeys across the English Channel from ‘the Continent’ involved having vehicles checked to see if duty-free limits had been exceeded. Even when all was in order, these people always managed to make me feel guilty. When I was over the limits, the sweating would be profuse 🙂

Post codes: I can’t recall who won the bid to organize mail around postal codes for smaller georgraphical areas, as opposed to the simple designation of larger areas, but something about the alpha-numeric system chosen, eg N17 6TH, seemed clunky, versus numerical systems common across most of Europe.

Flat, warm fizzy drinks: Back in the day, when we did not own a fridge, this was one of the banes of my life-the once opened bottle of ‘pop’, waiting to go flat, and getting warmer. 🙂

No refunds: The biggest shock I had when first living in the USA was the ready acceptance that a returned item was to be met with a return of money or credit to buy something else, no questions asked. In the UK, it was always like the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ taking something back to a retailer. “What wrong with it?” Depending on the reply, it could be a frustrating return home with the toaster that would not toast. 😦 Things have since changed.

#COVID19Chronicles-332: March 4, 2021-Lenten reflections 16-Trains, boats, buses and automobiles can be friends and foes

So, other than hazards of flying, we know about the trials and tribulations of any trips.

On boats, the common problem comes from sea sickness. (We’ll not go apocalyptic and consider major water-based tragedies, like capsizing and sinking.) Many years ago, getting to mainland Europe from Britain was via a ferry to cross the English Channel. It was normal to see passengers huddled over the guardrails vomiting or nearly doing so, into the sea. It was not a pretty sight and tended to induce sickness.

Ferries had massive seating areas under cover, but often also had outdoor seating. It was sometimes better to feel the bracing air to ward off nausea. I was never bad on ferries, except when there were bad storms, and the rocking and rolling and yawing was really rough.

Hovercrafts came along later, cut travel time sharply between England and France, and were smoother on the water:

They were smaller and all seating was inside. You paid more for those gains, but my stomach memory tells me it was worth it 🙂

Quite different, though, was taking a ferry from Brindisi in Italy’s east coast to Igoumenitsa, on the west coast of Greece. It was about 8 hours and at night. It was followed by a hairy 7 hour bus ride through the mountains to Athens. But, we were young and just out of college. 🙂

Trains can cause some odd reactions, eg the persistent clacking of metal wheels on the joins in track can trigger some people. But, the joys of train trips come from watching the world go by, usually at good speed: cows and fields of crops and sometimes workers. My last train ride was along the east coast of Scotland when I went to watch golf at The Open, at Carnoustie, and the train passes over the wonderous Forth Bridge.

There’s a ‘local’ train that stops fairly regularly, or an express. My first trip was on a full local and I did not get a seat, as I’d hoped–it was about 90 minutes of standing. I fixed that on my next trip, also by going to the terminus in Edinburgh city centre, not joining at the station closer to where I was staying with friends.

But, trains were part of my school life for years, taking commuter trains and Underground. I also enjoyed a few trips within Britain, but more trips were taken through Europe, including using InterRail passes as a student. Yes, I travelled on The Orient Express, whose modern version is far less exotic:

The great dreads are missed stops and wrong trains (including locals instead of express).

Missed connections. How do you miss the train that you booked to travel on? Easy. Have too good a time to notice that the departure is in 15 minutes and you’re 15 minutes away, enjoying lunch. So, it was, when visiting friends in France and tucking into oysters and wine. My daughter and I then had to race back up the street with our friends to their house where we were staying, throw out bags into to car and do the Paris-Dakar rally run ASAP. The problem? I’d copied the booking, but inadvertently omitted the departure time column and had the arrival time column showing. 🙂 We got to the station and kissed and hugged our hosts in the car, before jumping onto the departing train, while my friend threw on our bags! It wouldn’t have been that bad, but I had done something similar when I visited them on my own before. They’re great friends.

Wrong platforms. Travel by train enough from major cities and this is not a big thing; it’s a bit more embarrassing when a station has just two platforms. I’ve been on a train leaving London where I had gone to the platform designated on the departure board, but then heard “The train leaving from platform X (where I was) is going to (somewhere other than my destination)”. Grab bags and get off, pronto! Things are harder when you can’t read sign because of the language.

On a train ride in Jamaica, from Montego Bay to Kingston, the train broke down and passengers were asked to help push! Certainly memorable.

Commuting by train is more common in many developed countries and it’s easier to work and ride now that Internet access is available.

Trains have made air travel more bearable in London, because there’s now the Heathrow Express between the terminals and Paddington. That non-stop beats the Underground and day.

But, trains are also the great connector, as I’ve found going from London to Paris to La Rochelle, for instance, though yomping across Paris to change stations can be a hassle.

I love train travel for allowing you to move around and see other people and not get too hassled for it. I’ve met many people just walking between carriages. When I first travelled on trains, it was a thrill to try to peep and see what was going on in the first class cabins. On a good day, you could get up to see the driver. Sometimes, people share their food with you, and you with them. Such fun!

Buses also pose missed stops issue :). I had partaken of too much ale and had fallen asleep, so only woke when my late night bus arrived at the terminus 🙂 It was a long night.

In grew up west London and jumping on and off the red London Transport buses was one of the joys of growing up. Those buses are iconic features of London life. I remember when the Daleks came to Shepherd’s Bush:

Life wasn’t the same once these buses stopped having open platforms.

But, the joy of bus rides was sitting upstairs and seeing the world from on high.

Bus travel is declining in the UK.

But, for adventure, what beats a bus ride from the west coast of Greece to Athens, through the mountains?

Car sickness is common, usually with passengers, rarely with drivers (why?) But, driving can be tiring–nothing like dozing off and suddenly waking up at the wheel, nearly in a ditch or heading for the median. Late night driving when passengers can’t stay away are really tough.

Getting lost, or misreading maps, makes for great adventures–in the days before GPS. Nothing like your navigator having the map upside down. If he or she cannot track landmarks or simple road signs, you’re in doo-doo. 🙂

Road trips and camping were part of my life in England and it was usually more fun abroad, especially as camp sites were much better.

France road trips often got mixed with visits to vineyards.

#COVID19Chronicles-329: March 1, 2021-Lenten reflections 13-Jamaica enters new phase in pandemic control

PM Holness addressed accusations of being missing in action by leading a long press conference yesterday afternoon that outlined new measures to deal with a health crisis that has pushed the hospital system to its limits. Hospitalisation of COVID patients is now at a critical level. The replay of press briefing can be watched below; it ran for over 2 1/2 hours.

Curfews remain unchanged (8pm-5am) and a slew of other measures limiting movement and covering public gatherings, face-to-face teaching at schools, entry to Jamaica, and including the vaccines programme were outlined:

The latest vaccines situation was detailed:

Repercussions on funeral homes from burials and funerals being banned and storage costs will be a cause for concern:

Ivermectin use has been approved in COVID treatment:

#COVID19Chronicles-315: February 15-No way! On my travels: When in Rome..

Accept good luck. As a student, in the mid-1970s, driving back to England through Luxembourg, we had enough money for petrol or a meal. We decided to eat. We finished and waited for our bill. “Please, you leave now,” the waitress said. We looked at each other; we hadn’t paid. The system in many European countries is for the bill to be torn when settled. She showed us the torn bill. We looked at each other and pondered if we should argue we hadn’t paid, which we couldn’t prove! We left. We got petrol before loading onto the ferry to head to England. Both needs satisfied. 🙏🏾👍🏾

I’ve a soft spot for Switzerland, where I learned to ski and had several memorable and enjoyable trips. It’s true the Swiss love precision. But, that goes to having some strict rules. I recall being told in Geneva that I was not allowed to sit on the grass, I had to sit on a bench. 😳🤣

I’ve written before about dealing with life in the former Soviet Union in the mid-1990s. I still chortle about being told that our official hotel reservation in Moscow, Russia, for a team of six people meant that we had to share rooms.

Similarly, in Moscow. We were taken aback often at restaurants when the choices were really limited. The menu showed ‘meat’ and ‘chicken’, but every dish we tried to order was met with “We don’t have it.” In the end, the honest answer was that only cabbage and potatoes were available and we could have the potatoes done however we liked. It was back to the hotel to eat the very expensive food or bread and cheese. We soon learned that options included a McDonald’s (opened in 1990); it’s where I ate my first Big Mac 🙂

In Guinea, we always enjoyed our trips outside the capital, not least at the weekend. Fast food meant something different when you saw it racing around the grounds. If you ordered chicken, the first thing that had to happen was one of the staff had to catch it; food was prepared freshly. It’s called ‘bicycle chicken’ (poulet bicyclette) for good reason.

I first went to Athens, Greece, as a university student in the 1970s; it was travel around Europe on a tight budget. In the heat of summer, we arrived at a youth hostel and asked for lodging for the night. We were offered a ‘premium’ price to sleep on the upper floors. We thought it would nice to enjoy some ‘luxury’. We climbed the stairs with our backpacks, and continued climbing to the door that led out onto the roof. There we say others already in their ‘rooms’—sleeping bags on the floor. We were on the upper floors—the roof was the coolest place to sleep on hot Greek nights! 🙂

I don’t like meetings much. But, my views on meetings were tested when I was invited to have them in a sauna in Estonia. The basic principle is that people’s level of honesty is somehow higher when they are seated naked together. 🙂 I loved it, though it took some getting used to plunging into the ice bath every few minutes. No complaints about the vodka and peanuts, though.

Superstition and sport often go hand in hand. But, it’s one thing to rub your lucky rabbit’s foot as opposed to having a sacrifice performed before the match. So, it was as we were inaugurating a new soccer field in Conakry, Guinea.

When you’re travelling, finding good road food is part of the rich experience of discovery. I was playing football in Malawi and we had to make a stop. Young boys raced up to our bus with skewered ‘meat’ on sticks. They were yelling in a local language and we didn’t understand. Our host bought handfuls for us and passed them around. “What is it?” many of our team asked. “You’ll like it; it’s rat.” It was tasty. Why does everything taste like chicken?

The world is full of kind people. I had a great train journey in the late-1970s, through Yugoslavia, from Greece, when the ticket inspection shared his food with us—poor students, who’d never asked but weren’t eating during the journey.

Experience shapes us. Camping isn’t for everyone. I spent many nights sleeping in a tent as a Boy Scout. I got used to strange sounds at night and being scared in the dark, especially after a night hike that included ghost stories. I’ve woken to water in the tent and a soaked sleeping bag. As an adult, I was wakened during a bad storm and has to abandon a night in the tent because the weather was too bad. We took refuge in the house of friends in whose garden we were sleeping, in Cornwall. We woke the next morning to see our tent dangling from overhead power lines 👀😳😩 What else should we have expected during summer in England?

During a driving holiday in France, my college friends and I made a rest stop in a village in France. Having been on the road a while, we were in need of a nature break. As we found toilets, we discovered for the first time so-called ‘Turkish’ toilets, which are pedestals, used by both genders. A friend found her cubicle and was soon letting out a scream. She explained that her wallet had fallen out of her jeans and gone down the hole. We soon realized that the her personal belongings were now in the sewer system. It was an embarrassing time going to a police station to explain the loss and hope that somehow the wallet would be handed in. It never was, as far as we know. 🙂

Many odd things can and do happen when you’re a competitive athlete. I raced in many places in the UK and played football all over the UK and in several countries. I lived in Wales for a while and loved playing in remote villages around the northern part of the Principality. I never enjoyed playing in Bala, in the north west; it had far more sheep than people, and the people were hostile to outsiders. Our matches were always memorable for the sense of danger from the time we arrived to find the pitch being cleared of sheep till the end of our matches, where locals came in numbers to watch. Our biggest threat came from stray feet and hands that interfered with us as we played close to the touch line. No one liked taking throw-ins, during which we were heckled and physically harassed. Basic rule was arrive as late as possible and depart for home as soon as we could.

My vegetarian friends should look away. Meat lovers must make a beeline for places like Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya. Its claim to fame is serving all kinds of game, which can include zebra, crocodile, rabbit, antelope or whatever. I don’t feel you need to go more than once, which we did during our honeymoon travels in 2002.

#COVID19Chronicles-258: December 22, 2020-New strains on #COVID19Life

Outside of Europe, countries are still pondering how to react to the new strain of COVID identified in the UK (and Italy). The WHO Europe is to meet to discuss responses:

The UK’s situation is chaotic as the complications for movement posed by the new COVID strain mix with emerging confusion and complications as it moves toward its Brexit deadlines, with no deal yet in place.

Jamaica’s decision to ban flights from the UK turned out to be tighter as the two flight due in today were both cancelled. The 302 passengers who arrived yesterday are in state quarantine facilities for 48 hours:

Indications that the current vaccines would also deal with the new strain have been declared by BioNTech and Pfizer:

Other English-speaking Caribbean countries have, so far, not followed Jamaica’s and Grenada’s lead.

Several major countries, including the USA, are playing wait and see.

Though, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noted that the new strain might well have already been circulating, undetected, in the USA:

#COVID19Chronicles-257: December 21, 2020-Jamaica bans travel from UK

After giving indications yesterday that a decision would be made within 72 hours,

Jamaica has now decided to ban travel from the UK with effect from December 22 through January 4, 2021. Three flights from the UK are due in before midnight tomorrow; one already en-route.

It’s worth noting that arrivals will be monitored more strictly with PCR test on arrival (negative, issued armbands and quarantined for 48 hours in State facilities, ahead of continues 14-day quarantine at home; positive results, isolated in government facilities until recovered).

As I intimated in my blog post, yesterday, the impact of the COVID infection surge in the UK and the emerge of a mutated virus would likely have an impact on travel from there to the UK. Grenada had cancelled travel from yesterday. Other CARICOM countries may following quickly.

#COVID19Chronicles-256: December 20, 2020–That went south fast: UK travel to and from EU being stopped

It’s ironic that in the week when COVID vaccines were being rolled out in several countries, including the UK, USA and Russia and a second (Moderna) vaccine was approved in the USA for emergency use, the COVID pandemic in the UK appears to be spiralling out of control.

A new strain of the COVID virus apparently is ravaging the south-east of England and spreading significantly faster than was the case before.

The seriousness of that was that London, the East, and the South-East were moved in a tighter ‘tier 4’, restricting most movement.

Early reports were that people were trying to flee the area ahead of the lockdown.

Other EU countries started to ban flights and other travel from the UK.

Scotland banned cross-border movement.

Police presence has been beefed up to help enforce that measure.

Now, EU travel from the UK have been banned.

Freight is already affected at the border with France.

Things were going pear-shaped, already, as the scornful attitude of sneering at thoughts of “cancelling Christmas“ saw PM Johnston accept that fact for a large segment of England:

It’s too early to say how drastic an impact the flight cancellations will have on UK travel; non-EU countries are beginning to ban travel from the UK. It could be a tolling bell for some Caribbean tourism, which is just starting its winter season from mid-December. It’s hard to see countries in the region being indifferent to arrivals from the UK, in light of this latest development.

#COVID19Chronicles-234: November 28, 2020-The west has gone ‘wild’ with cases

We decided to take a short staycation and plumped for Hanover. We usually prefer the rustic charm of Portland, which is where we spent Thanksgiving last year; all three of our daughters were in Jamaica from the USA. We had the bonus of my mother-in-law and her friend. This year’s COVID-affected trip was with just our teenager, plus a cousin and his family. We get day visits from a couple living in Montego Bay.

But, we’ve grown to enjoy some spacious spots in Hanover, which work well in terms of observing COVID protocols of distancing, so several groups can stay in one place but have ample room to exist apart from each other, coming together for meals, which can also be hosted with good spacing at the table, or using several tables.

We were enjoying our turkey dinner on Thursday and praised the parish of Hanover for being lowest for COVID infections: it was the last to report COVID infections. Then, I checked the thread for the evening’s ‘Press briefing and COVID conversations’, which I’d missed. It covered “COVID-19 Protocols at Christmas”:

Well, knock me down! Hanover is now the COVID epicentre!

The west has gone a bit ‘wild’, it seems.

The regional technical director at the Western Regional Health Authority, Dr Dianne Stennett Campbell, gave an assessment of the current situation:

An “uptick in cases in the western end of the island accounts for the overall increase in the country’s figure”.

She added, however, that the increase in cases likely represents local transmission, and at the same time pointed out that no “clear” link has been established with the tourism sector. That should make some sigh with relief as the country heads towards the ‘high season’ for foreign visitors. However, it’s not clear how travel will be affected during the current surge also seen in the USA (from where the bulk of Jamaica’s tourists come), though Thanksgiving travellers seems to have ignored official advice not to travel for this holiday, with about a million people passing through airports each day for the last week. It’s usually the busiest travel time for the USA. But, whether the willingness to jump on planes will be as strong when it comes to travel abroad, we’ll have to see.

Most countries are really in a ‘don’t fly’ category for the USA, sitting at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) ‘level 4’, very high risk–‘Travelers should avoid all travel to these destinations’.

Source: CDC

So, Jamaica has been added to that category, which irked some people, but it includes The Bahamas, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, for example. No countries are in level 3 (Travelers should avoid all nonessential travel to the following destinations). Only a few countries are now in levels 2 (moderate–Travelers at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid all nonessential travel) and only a few in level 1 (low–All travelers should wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet from people who are not from your household, wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer, and watch your health for signs of illness). Some Jamaicans may be miffed because some of our island competing destinations are in level 2 (eg Barbados and St. Lucia); while Anguilla sits in level 1.

Getting back to the west. Dr Dianne Stennett Campbell’s assessment continued: “Most of the cases we’re seeing are locally transmitted cases. We do have cases in the tourist sector, but we have not been able to establish clear pictures of whether it is transmission between visitors in our hotel sector and workers or staff members. Usually, it is from the home environment in terms of that transmission that happens locally. So we’re carefully watching that picture. It may change, but that is what we’re seeing right now.”

Up to yesterday, Hanover accounted for 218 (2%) of the total of 10,537 COVID-19 cases reported since March; Westmoreland, 363; Trelawny, 237; and St. James, 1,094 (>10%). So, Hanover may be showing a high rate of infection per head of population–it has the highest parish rate of active COVID cases per 100,000 residents, 62.1; with Clarendon being the lowest at 6.9 –but the totals are really small. St. James has higher rates but is also trending towards significant numbers, especially if one regards what its usually hustle and bustle in and around Montego Bay may mean for possible contacts from overseas travellers–a scalar issue.

#COVID19Chronicles-221: November 16, 2020: Travel authorisations

On the face of it, getting authorisation to travel to Jamaica seems straightforward. Go to a website (https://jamcovid19.moh.gov.jm/immigration.html); complete an online form; wait for authorisation.

However, in reality, the devil is in the details, and the necessary ones can be many. Jamaican COVID protocols have been governed by ‘orders’ under the Disaster Risk Management Act, since March, and the latest are in the ungainly titled THE DISASTER RISK MANAGEMENT ACT: THE DISASTER RISK MANAGEMENT (ENFORCEMENT MEASURES) (NO. 15) ORDER, 2020, effective November 1-16.

My daughter was scheduled to return to Jamaica at the end of this week, but due to sharply worsening COVID conditions at school (and also across the USA), she and other students were allowed to leave campus and she decided to come home this weekend.

So, ordinarily, she would have had ample time to submit the application with a valid negative COVID test that was no more than 10 days old; the process could have started on Wednesday. As it was, she learned on Wednesday about the change of school schedule. She packed and did her school stuff, including some college applications with looming deadlines, and started the travel application process on Friday. She was right to delay because she’d had another COVID test done on Wednesday and was awaiting the result, which did not come until Friday, and was negative.

So, she received an email reply on Friday that her travel authorisation was pending.

It stayed that way until she was due to check in for an early morning flight on Saturday, and did not change. We talked and exchanged messages for a couple of hours, I called the Ministry of Health and Wellness hotline, which had me on hold for 15 minutes, but no human contact. No authorization came through. So, she was unable to fly, was rebooked for the same flight on Sunday, and returned to campus. But, what was the hold up?

Friends who had decided to leave England just before it went into a 4 week lock down a couple of weeks ago had made their applications and received authorisation in about 5 minutes.

My daughter received a message that she needed to supply additional information, but no details of what that should be. 😦 Well, that necessitated some calling around to try to find out what this information could be.

I was playing in a golf tournament but we spent most of Saturday liaising with the Ministry of Health and Wellness at the highest level to get all the information needed, some of which was to verify her residency status–it’s a bit complex but quite normal–she was born in the US and has a US passport, but is also a Jamaican citizen but no Jamaican passport, and is in Jamaica on the basis of her mother’s diplomatic posting. My golf was a total disaster, but I won’t blame that on this process, though my mind was not really on what I was supposed to be doing.

After many questions to do with her passport, approval came through on Saturday evening. She was good to go! Yeah! 🙂 The approval came with a barcode for easy scanning.

So, start the travel process again, at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning. Some of her friends had taken her to the airport so she had good company to send her on her way. But, when she tried to check in, she hit another little hurdle: her COVID test results had been communicated to her by school without the details of the test, which should have been available on a website portal, but that was down. After a little liaison with me, she got the airline to check the relevant website and they got the confirmation needed. Checked in. Passed security. Waiting to board. Success! She connected in Miami without any hitch and arrived in Jamaica on Sunday afternoon, ahead of schedule. But…

We needed to get to the airport ASAP because the home quarantine agreement needed to be signed by a parent, as she’s a minor–something that’s not apparent on the form, as presented in the latest Orders. The airline advised that this was a recent change, but, not one stated anywhere.

Well, we were ready and got to the airport in about 30 minutes. Her mother went to find her near Immigration and did the necessaries, then came back out. We had another little hitch getting through Customs, as she was entitled to come through the diplomatic channel but had been taken to another line, and was about to have some Customs fees levied, until I intervened by phone and her mother had to make another trip inside to verify her status.

What seems to be true is that the system doesn’t work smoothly or fast, and there’s little indication of what additional information may be needed. Friends have had issues with the authorisation process, with slowness being one issue, but also the ‘black boxes’ of information needed but unstated.

We’ve heard of issues about the geo-tagging by cell phone that is part of the protocols to check on people respecting the quarantine restrictions. We have no intention of breaking them, and may daughter is monitoring her temperature every 12 hours, and she records the results and checks for any COVID symptoms (details can be uploaded to an and we will see how it goes.

#COVID19Chronicles-171: September 30, 2020-Back to school? Some perspectives from students, parents and teachers.

While most parents, students and teachers in Jamaica wait anxiously for the new school year to begin on October 5 (having been deferred from September 7), several in that category have been back at school for nearly a month already. Many children studying abroad went back in late-August and some private schools in Jamaica went back about the same time. So, how has it been for some of them?

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My daughter started boarding school in the USA, in New England, in September 2019. She was having a great junior year, with excellent grades and a fuller athletics program than she’d enjoyed in Jamaica. She had decided to make the move and had done the research and sold the case to her mother—I was resistant to the end, but bent after I went to visit the school. To our great joy, she was representing well as a Caribbean-US girl and as a self-motivator. She’d found herself amongst a few Jamaican friends and some acquaintances from The Bahamas. She was inspirational in the school having a fund raising drive to aid Hurricane Dorian relief efforts. Then COVID-19 struck.

She spent an unplanned 6 months at home, after spring break, when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant she was not able to return to school. She enjoyed being home in Jamaica, but did not really enjoy when school resumed for the spring term, and she had to continue classes remotely, online. She missed the opportunity to try a new sport, varsity softball, which should have had spring training in Florida in March. She really missed the trip to Disney World that’d been planned as part of the trip. 😩Boo! COVID sucks! 😡

She returned to school in late-August, however. She had to return with a negative PCR test result, less than 10 days old. Testing wasn’t fun, at UHWI, but negative results were a great comfort. 👍🏾🙏🏾

Her own take on the transition was interesting (as shared in a Whatsapp message):

“…as i knew I was going to be travelling to the US by myself, the thought gave me so much anxiety and even going through the airport on the day I was very anxious especially in jamaica because I didn’t know if ppl would take it seriously and be wearing their masks correctly but I was pleasantly surprised and I didn’t know what to expect in ja or in the US but luckily I had an older friend there with me to help me out as well. some people in the miami airport were a little non chalant about wearing their mask and as i passed them while being socially distant I was very passive about them not wearing their masks. but now that i’m at school i’m settling in quite nicely, not a log of ppl on campus but student will be tricking in soon mainly on the 3rd and i’m so excited but the freedom i have will be tightened up (like ordering food).”

She’s a senior now in high school, so is also in the throes of college applications. Broadly, US colleges have decided to make applications ‘test optional’ for 2021 entrants. She has an SAT result, from a test sat last fall; she wanted to resit to try to improve her score, and managed to do that at school last week, adding the essay component, which made the exercise about 4 hours long.

Meanwhile, college enticements are flowing in; online sessions and tours are being offered; some in-person visits are resuming. It’s an active and exhilarating time, with its full bucket of anxieties over choices and what is the right strategy to get what you what, where you want. Oh, to be 17! 🙂

As the application process advances, one can’t help but focus on how colleges are preparing for entry in 2020 and beyond, with installation of protective facilities (eg isolation areas) in case a major outbreak occurs at the college. Many have medical facilities associated with them, but how they would be used and be available in an emergency is to be tested.

Her first two weeks involved quarantine in her dorm; her room mate arrived after about a week. They had meals brought to them. COVID testing is every 3-4 days, and rapid results methods are being used. The dorm house has a nice porch, so it was at least an option to sit there and enjoy the approaching fall cool weather and the changing leaf colours.

Masks are mandatory and social distancing is applied.

Classes resumed a couple of weeks ago. Day students were registered last week. Online options exist for those who prefer them, and classes are recorded. Face-to-face classes have resumed. Life on campus is resembling normal life, but with many restrictions. For instance, movie night over the weekend was outdoors.

Students were able to walk in the woods around school. But, some organized sports have resumed: my daughter has had a week of soccer practice; a limited schedule of inter-school matches will be arranged for the varsity team, while the junior varsity will play intra-murally.

My daughter was able to leave campus at the weekend for a trip to the plaza and pharmacy—masks and social distancing in force. School will run until Thanksgiving in late-November, students will leave campus and not return until 2021. Online tuition will resume after the Thanksgiving holiday through to the Chrismas/New Year break.

We speak often, including video chats, as the fancy takes us, but often between activities when my daughter is walking to or from her dorm or a class. Her days are full but still fun. I’ve not detected any health-related stress in her voice. She had trouble sleeping in her early days back but Sleepytime tea seems to be working well.

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I have a Jamaican friend, who teaches in a private school in St. Andrew. Her son is at a private university in New England, as a junior (his 3rd year). He also preferred returning to campus because he felt he could focus better. He also felt that the protocols were well thought out, so the safety factor was key. The state requires quarantining or a negative test. The school has easily accessible testing stations throughout campus. They test every 3-4 days and the turnaround time is about a day and a half.

Students have to be creative with socialising as only people who live in the dorm can enter the building. So, friendship circles have shifted somewhat to include persons who live off campus. Add to that, many friends have not returned to campus at all as they have opted to attend class remotely. There is some concern about how this will evolve when winter arrives as outdoor venues won’t be as comfortable. Culturally, New Englanders are very self-conscious so compliance for mask wearing and social distancing is enforced by everyone. If someone steps in without a mask the social pressure is there to get them to conform. Creates a greater sense of overall safety.

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As a parent I have several issues to deal with while my child returns to being educated in the current situation. First, there’s anxiety coming from separation and distance. But, I’m confident in my daughter’s school and how they managed the online teaching during spring term, the summer preparation, and now the fall resumption. I hear confidence in my daughter’s voice as she discusses her days and activities.

She had previously attended AISK, which is leading Jamaican schools on how to bring technology to bear to facilitate resumption of classes.

Interestingly my friend, although she had the same anxiety, as things evolved locally she felt that her son would be in a more controlled environment at school. Their testing procedures are more accessible and the systems are in place should he end up in quarantine.

Her concerns about distance was similar. There is no just jump on a plane anymore. Christmas break may not be an option as quarantining on return to Jamaica will take up most of the time and so he feels that it won’t make sense. She completely understands but it’s heartbreaking when one considers not being able to see him until next summer.

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But what do teachers see? My friend sees that protocols have to be simple for them to work. Classes have to be small. Kids will be kids and will forget protocols and so numbers have to be at a size where they can be easily monitored. The students have been more or less cooperative. Teachers spent a lot of time explaining the rationale behind the systems to students and they get it. Adults have to be on guard all the time to remind kids to social distance. Yes, it’s great to have kids back. The toll on teachers is extensive. Their duty schedule is expanded because the kids are now in self-contained units for the whole day. In addition to the physical toll teachers also worry about their level of exposure everyday and the possibilities of getting sick. The mental health component is real. The level of anxiety is high.