Life In The Time of COVID Jamaica style: AN UPDATE

In my last blog post, I took the pulse of members of my immediate family in terms of how they were coping with the pandemic and their thoughts on the predicament that planet was plunged into. This was 6 weeks ago, and we had reported 469 cases of COVID-19, 9 of which had died from the disease. We were under lock-down, working from home, unable to go to the beach, and not certain as to what “normal” would look like. I decided to check in once again as more time has elapsed, and here in Jamaica, as with countries all over the world, we appear to have entered a new phase in our response to COVID-19. People are still getting sick, people are still dying, but the restrictions imposed here in the west as at end March are being loosened. Heck, Jamaica welcomed tourists June 15 for the first time in months! So I wanted to see how my people were feeling, what their thoughts were with respect to this impending “new normal” and just how they’re coping as at now.

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Life in the time of COVID Jamaica Style: A snapshot.

Who would have thunk that we’d be here as a planet today? The entire world is grappling with a pandemic which is killing people, decimating economies and baffling scientists. When China first reported this new virus impacting parts of its population earlier this year, I don’t think many of us thought that it would touch us at all. It was a virus, all the way over there. Yet here we are…locked-down, quarantined, working from home, masking up and asking how will this end and when will it end. And guess what? Choose a country, any country anywhere in the world, and someone there is asking those very same questions. It feels as if everything has happened so fast and many of us are just trying to catch our breath and COPE. While I’ve been doing my best to cope, I’ve also been concerned about our children and how they have been coping with this upheaval. So I decided to check in with them and document it as a sort of personal snapshot of COVID-19 in Jamaica. For posterity.

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Why aren’t you working from home right now? Life in the time of COVID.

Are you an employee working from home right now? If you are not, why is this so? Are you working on a production line? Are you delivering a tangible to a customer? If not, why aren’t you working from home?

Many years ago I was employed to one of the more forward thinking organizations in Jamaica. I was part of an initiative that saw several of us being trained in forming Business Continuity Plans. This plan was formed in order to keep business running in the face of any kind of business interruption (natural disaster, civil unrest, etc.) We also had to test it, and it was in executing these simulations and tests that I designed that I came up against what I consider to be the biggest obstacle to so many in the work force being able to work remotely: management attitudes. Sigh.

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Meaningless Guaranteed Standards: My Interaction with JPSCo Ltd.

We had a power cut at our residence on Sunday March 8 2020 at 5:00pm. Service was restored some 17 hours later on Monday March 9, at a little after 10:00am. This was the second such extended power cut in only weeks. In following up on this particular outage, I called JPSCo’s 888 Customer Care line at 7:00am on the Monday morning. I provided the requisite evidence of our initial report the evening before and the response that I got on Monday morning from the customer care agent compelled me to document the entire ordeal and it got me thinking…

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Public Transport Woes in 2020 Jamaica

Public transport in and around Jamaica takes various forms depending on where you’re located and where you want to go. Three people close to me have been sharing their experiences using public transport and it got me thinking. I compared their stories to my own experiences back in the day (3 or so decades ago) and asked myself: Have we progressed? Are our citizens & school children able to move around comfortably and safely at a reasonable cost? Why even contemplate these issues, Kelly, I hear you asking. Get a car! But aren’t you the same one complaining about the horrendous traffic in Kingston? And stressing out in your car when New Kingston becomes a parking lot evening after evening? What is the inevitable result if we all move around in private cars in order to avoid the public transport system?

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“Lest We Find Gold” A book review

Domestic violence is not a novel theme at all. There have been many movies and books that deal with this painful yet very real theme. Melanie Schwapp’s newest book “Lest We Find Gold” tackles this awful reality. But her treatment is anything but trite, tired or trivial. 

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FLOW Jamaica: PR & Marketing Shell. Nothing more.

We lost internet service at our residence on the afternoon of Thursday June 6. We got it back on the afternoon of Thursday June 13. What follows is an account of the extreme effort on my part to have our service restored and a tale of a huge service provider that appears to be nothing more than a PR and marketing shell. Harsh? You decide for yourself.

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Advice for Securing Justice in a Domestic Abuse situation in Jamaica

Last year, prompted by a woman in distress seeking to escape an abusive and potentially dangerous domestic situation, I did a blog post entitled: “Domestic Abuse in Jamaica: Where are the safe houses for women seeking refuge?” You see, I was trying to identify where she could get safe harbour immediately. I came up empty. Since then, the government has announced plans to establish 3 national shelters and I’ve received confirmation that the Woman Inc crisis center is up and running. However, another recent encounter with a woman seeking to escape and resolve a violent domestic situation caused me to revisit the issue of resources and advice available to women in similar situations.

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Domestic Abuse in Jamaica: Where are the safe houses for women seeking refuge?

Yesterday someone came to me with a real and urgent need. One of her employees had broken down and told her that she was struggling. The employee had been having marital difficulties and was planning to separate from her husband. Her desire to split was not sitting well with him. He had threatened to kill the both of them and now the woman was in urgent need of somewhere to stay while she finalised alternative rental arrangments that would see her living on her own. I promised to make some calls to see what could be done. I thought it should be easy enough. The woman didn’t have children and she was employed. All she needed was a safe haven for a few days for herself and her clothing. She could pay.

Domestic abuse in Jamaica
Where can we run to? Domestic abuse in Jamaica
Photo courtesy Loop Jamaica

I reached out to my Village, a small community of professional sister-friends. They immediately responded. One, a lawyer, gave advice about restraining orders and reporting to the police and offered her services. Another sister-friend, always practical, suggested AirBnB. That was a great suggestion. I found furnished short term accomodation in Kingston, Portmore and Spanish Town for USD35.00/night and up. Another Villager was able to tell of a newly renovated house in an area where the rents weren’t to high which was available for rent at a modest rate. I shared all this info with the person who had come to me for help on behalf of the woman seeking refuge

 

No Where to Run to: Escaping Domestic Abuse in Jamaica

I was still trying to find a shelter or half way house though. New rentals require a 2 month cash deposit and so the woman seeking to leave her husband would most likely prefer options that didn’t put her too much out of pocket.  Plus options are always good, right?

I reached out to a priest via Facebook who immediately responded. He gave me a number for Eve for Life and a name there. He promised to tug on his own network and get back to me. His response was empathetic and caring and he sensed the urgency of the situation. I called Eve for Life, but the person I wanted to speak with wasn’t available. I was put on to anther person though with a direct cell number. She didn’t answer when I rang, but immediately Whatsapped me back with an apology (she was in a meeting) and a promise to call me ASAP. I called Woman Inc. Several times. No one was available. I left a message via Facebook Messenger with a brief description of the issue and all my contact info. I reached out to the Twitterverse. Tweeps immediately retweeted and were quick with suggestions. Most people suggested I call Woman Inc. I was grateful for the quick responses and compassion that my solicitations elicited. The woman from Eve for Life eventually called me back. She too was empathetic, seized of the urgency of the situation and willing to help. She said she knew of an organisation that operated safe houses and promised to call someone there on my behalf. She told me that she would get them to call me directly.  I  remained grateful.

All of this happened between 8am and early afternoon yesterday. It is early afternoon 24 hours later as I type and I have yet to be guided to a safe house. The woman who had originally come to me advised me towards the end of yesterday that the woman seeking to leave her husband was eventually able to get help from her sister. Thank God. I pray that she is safe.

To be Clear: I am in no way condemning Woman Inc or Eve for Life. These groups are doing good I know. And they operate from a small resource base. I know this. And sometimes it is not possible to help everybody.

But I’m putting my own experience in trying to find help for someone out there hoping that someone more in the know than I can tell me definitively where women fleeing a dangerous situation can go to. I was trying to find somewhere for a woman running solo, with money. I thought it was simple. What if she was broke or destitute with children? That would be a much more complicated situation to deal with.

Tips for escaping domestic abuse

Until I learn of a name and number for a safe house resources, here are my own suggestions for women wanting to and needing to leave a dangerous, undesirable situation:

1. Have some cash…easier said than done I know. I know. But even USD300.00 can buy you some time and space via AirBnB.

2. You need a sister friend at a time like this…someone who can and will accomodate you for a few days. Live good with people, confide and ask for help.

If you have more info re: resources that actually work in situations like this, please share. I will also share what you tell me and we could be saving someone’s life. I was grateful for the empathy, concern and advice. But at the end of the day, I got no real help for this woman.

UPDATE MAY 12 2019

Since this post was written, I’ve received confirmation that there is one shelter available. The NGO Woman Inc operates the country’s only official facility for battered women — the Crisis Shelter. But the Crisis Shelter is only able to accommodate 12 women and their children at a time temporarily. They run a 24-hour hotline which can be reached at 929-2997.

The government of Jamaica has announced plans to establish shelters in each of the 3 counties of the island. The Government has bought a guest house which is being set up as a shelter for abused women and should be fully operational this year.

Two additional shelters for abused women are to be established during the 2019/2020 fiscal year. This will bring to three, the number of national women’s shelters across the island, with one in each county.

Tourist Harrassment: Not in a Vaccuum

Published in the Daily Gleaner July 11 2017

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/commentary/20170711/kelly-mcintosh-tourist-harassment-not-vacuum

Your July 7 edition carried a report with a damning headline: ‘Major cruise lines pull out of Falmouth Port’. The report went on to detail that three ships had decided to omit Falmouth from their itineraries in the upcoming season and that this would cost the town $5 million per month in lost revenues. Tourist harassment was cited as a major factor in their decision to leave us out. The mayor of Falmouth has said that he is working closely with stakeholders to address the issue.
I imagine that the harassment is along the lines of taxi drivers and tour operators and vendors trying to woo visitors off the ships to spend their money with them. Imagine that you are a visitor to this island. This wooing is likely to take the form of a relentless verbal assault, as it were, cajoling you to look and buy in an environment unfamiliar to you. Perhaps you don’t even understand what is being said, but the tone and body language and posturing have now converted what should have been a leisurely stroll into an excursion into hell, where all you want to do is get back to the relative safety of your cabin.
Now put yourself in the place of the average citizen who resides here driving to work in the morning. You stop at the red light, and one or two or even three windscreen wipers swoop down on you. They yank up your wiper blades before you cyaan even mouth a polite “no thanks” and insist on cleaning your windscreen, turning abusive when you indicate helplessly that you have no money to give them. The abuse is verbal (“Yuh too mean, Mummy!” or “Yuh a gwaan like yuh betta dan people!) and is sometimes physical, damage being inflicted directly to your car.
Or let’s say you commute using public transport. You enter the bus park (pick any one), and immediately, the ubiquitous loader man approaches you, verbally assaulting you with a running commentary on how nice you look, and he knows where you are going, and this is the bus you must take, all the while holding your arm and dragging you to his’ bus, literally shoving you into the vehicle.
The emotional and physical strain and the ever-present possibility of personal danger associated with anticipating and dealing with the harassment meted out by windscreen wipers and loader men are not insignificant, and many of us choose our routes specifically to avoid this sort of trauma. I understand the cruise ships’ decision. Too easy.
It is important to understand why this harassment happens in order to eradicate it. There will never be enough police to arrest every single harasser and keep would-be harassers in check. The craft vendors, tour operators and guides, windscreen wipers, and loader men all do what they do out of need. They are grabbing on desperately to the only chance they have identified to provide for themselves and their dependents.

SELECTIVE BENEVOLENCE

Their relentless assault, though, that aggressive push and determination to make you accept and pay for a service/product that you do not need, is directly linked to the culture of patronage that political leaders have fostered. This practice of selective benevolence, meted out to some of the many existing in a state of depravity instead of creating the environment that allows the collective to level up, has perpetuated the fight for scarce benefits and spoils.
Recipients of the largesse are envied by the overlooked, and the resulting resentment feeds a sense of entitlement. “Why not me?” I imagine that the harassers don’t see themselves as harassing, per se. I imagine that this is how they process the situation: “I need. You have. I ought to have. Take what I am offering you and give me some of your money in return.” The harasser’s need trumps any other variable in the dynamic.
Where development plans are crafted and executed, excluding and ignoring the very real need that exists in communities, rest assured that the justification that I have just outlined will prevail. Until patronage is replaced with enabling, until observing and craving are replaced by real participation, tour operators, vendors, windscreen wipers, and loader men will continue to do the only thing they feel they can do to survive.
It is late in the day to halt, and then reverse, these dysfunctional cultural paradigms that have formed and become entrenched through the years of our national development. But to give up now is to accept defeat. We need our leaders to craft and enact developmental plans in harmony with local communities. It can be done.

– Kelly McIntosh is a procurement manager. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kkmac218@gmail.com.