Stet by Ria Bacon

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The last post

It's almost midnight. The chirping of tiny frogs rises in orgiastic delight as the soft hiss signals the late night rainfall.

I will no longer post on this blogspot site, having migrated to riabacon.com. The site is in a very primitive state but that doesn't mean you should stop coming by and leaving comments. Wordpress tips in particular will be welcomed.

Thanks a lot to blogspot. I had fun here and learned a lot too.

See you on the other side ...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Yo ho ho

Santa's helpers in Jamaica

Caption competition time.

(Haven't got time for my own text. Soon come.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

All I want from Santa

A long infomercial in yesterday's Gleaner newspaper began with the following photo and headline:
A must for your home

The best part was the following text:
All members of the response team are well trained in firearm handling, tactical shooting, and covert action and customer relations.
Imaginary dialogue:
BLAM!! BLAM!!!
Tanks fe de glass a ice wata, mam.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Waterbeds III: the pics

Apologies for the quality of the photos, but given the circumstances they were the best I could do. Next photos will be back to my usual high standards ;-D

Bubbling walls
This part of the hotel had just been renovated. The force and volume of the rain was such that water seeped through the window frames (?) and poured down the walls inside, causing the paint to bubble horribly.



A touch of Barton Fink and the peeling walls.







Book drying


We laid the sodden books and games out in the corridor to dry out, then later tried blowdrying the pages, but they were just one big pulpy moosh.











By dawn the water had started receding and the pool area began to resurface.
Flooded pool
Our hotel room was at the same level.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Waterbeds II

Back online after a month in the netherworld of the unplugged, after a month of unpacking furniture we no longer need and machines that no longer work. Our house, like many here, has built-in closets in every room upstairs, rendering our re-packed flat IKEA wardrobes redundant. As for the machines, the switch from 220V to 110V was catastrophic on the computers (both now refitted with native power units), half-hearted with the power tools (blender and drill whirr at a mellow Caribbean rhythm) and ineffective on the rest (needed new vacuum cleaner and VCR). We also have two DVD players: the old one for discs produced for Europe and a new one for Region 1, the US. Stupid marketing plot to control when we watch new movies in different parts of the world. Go BitTorrent!

Also in the last month, my feet have been bitten by mosquitos over a hundred times and could now stand in for a photoshoot on the effects of smallpox. I sit typing with a citronella candle burning under the desk, my feet slathered in time-release DEET cream. No more toe sucking for a while.

So previously I left you with a cliffhanger ending, the dark and stormy waters raging round the bedspread...

I then made the second oddest phone call to a hotel lobby, telling them that our room was sinking underwater.

(The first oddest call occurred some six years ago in the Hotel Batafoé in Abidjan when I calmly explained that there was a large brown snake slithering across the floor towards me. The night clerk burst in, grabbed one of my best shoes and pounded the snake to pulp. I then heard high-pitched screams as he ran victorious back to the prostitutes in the lobby.)

"Yes we know about the water," sighed the desk clerk, "we're sending someone over". No sooner said than there was a rap at the door and our hero of the night appeared, the hotel security guard. He first told us to put our stuff on the beds, but it was immediately obvious that the water was rising as we watched. We'd seen shock horror docu-drama reenactments of floods on Discovery after the New Orleans disaster, but still it really was shocking to see how fast the water could rise.

We carried the kids up to the first floor, then thought what the hell and took them up to the top floor, just in case. Mr B and I then took turns to go back down to rescue our clothes, suitcases, toys, books, everything we had. We were sloshing and sliding along the corridors in our underwear, wide-eyed and adrenalin-driven. On the third trip I realized that the water was almost at the level of the electricity sockets. Would the system simply short circuit or would I be fried alive in my underwear while trying to save a suitcase of spiderman accessories? Tune in next month ... just kidding.

I shouted to the security guard who was helping us move out and he got the hotel handyman to shut off the power to our block of the hotel. So there we sat at dawn's first light, soaked and tired, reading to the kids by candlelight.

We managed to save most of our possessions - our biggest loss was some great children's toys and books (The Gruffalo and other books by the same team). We tried drying them with a hairdryer but the pages were just too pulpy to survive. We had left the children's stuff in a ground-level cupboard so that they could get to them easily, but of course so could the water. The suitcase with most of my clothes inside was also waterlogged. The hotel owner offered me a token for the laundromat the next morning. When I complained that one token was not going to cover the damage, she gave me ... two more tokens. Plus a little bag of washing powder.

Still, our losses were minor when we saw the cars being swept down the street before coming to rest six feet under water.

We moved to a different hotel the next day. We took a room on the sixth floor.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Waterbeds

(Delayed post because of failed migration to new Web site.

Tip: do not attempt to emigrate both blog and family simultaneously.
)

.......

As I mentioned previously, on the third night in Jamaica, we were flooded out of our hotel.

It was the fault of Hurricane Wilma, who had teetered back and forth over the Cayman Islands like a wobbly child learning to cycle - she never touched ground in the region (sorry, made land is the term everybody now uses), but as a result of her indecision, Jamaica was subjected to eight days of torrential rain. We were assured that it had never rained so much in living memory. Uh-huh. Just bad timing that we arrive in the middle of it.

We'd already been abandoned at the airport, when our appointed driver failed to show (he'd been given the wrong arrival time) and had had to file ever so slowly up to immigration control. We were last in line and had to shuffle forward for an hour and a half before our "interview". We'd been on the go for almost 24 hours at that point, so forbearance was never more needed. The kids played tag between the queue control poles, thankfully unaware of the delay.

Once through immigration with our temporary two-week visa (which expired ten days ago ...ssshhh!), we found our luggage carefully stacked on a trolley awaiting us. Odd. We pushed it straight through customs where we were met by a bevy of redcapped porters who insisted we couldn't take the trolley any further and that we would have to use their services. The problem was that we didn't have any currency that would interest them. (Our three hour stopover in London during which we had planned on stocking up on duty frees and dollars US and Jamaican had somehow been reduced to a mad dash to make the connection after only a 30-minute lunch.)

The porters domain was a 20-metre covered walkway to the outside, where drivers and taxis were waiting. Yet we were not allowed to push the trolley for those 20 metres. Furthermore, if I went outside to see if the driver was waiting, I wouldn't be allowed back in. One kind porter, sensing our frustration, transferred our cases to his trolley and pushed them outside.

No driver.

So we got in the first taxi and headed into Kingston.

The hotel offered us a crappy room, despite assurance from the office that they had arranged everything as we needed. So we were transferred to a ground floor room by the pool. That was a mistake when the waters began to rise ...

The four of us were sharing a room, two per bed. At 4:30 a.m. my daughter slid out of bed and said she was going to look out the window. I grunted. "Mama, there's water on the floor."

Oh no, I thought, more pee. But when I stood up myself, I realized that there was much much more water on the floor - it was actually flowing from the door and had already covered half the room. I ran to the window and looked out into the blackness. Through the wind and rain lashing the window, I could see the pool area was completely submerged under dark waters.

got to go ... moving out again tomorrow and don't know when I'll be able to get online again ...


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

If you go down to Spanish Town

Missed my first blogiversary. Never mind. Way too busy with getting the house ready, transfering the utilities, buying a car, buying a stove, washer and dryer, juggling finances across four countries ... good news is that we may have our stuff through customs by the weekend and we won't need to sleep on the floor (the hotel bills are astronomical).

I'll write another time about the rest of our trip over and the flood in our first hotel. More on my mind at present is the security situation here. It's much worse than we'd anticipated, despite our research before coming.

We had a security briefing shortly after we arrived and were given a very grim picture. In retrospect, I think it was a little over the top, describing the worst possible scenarios each time. Immediately afterwards, however, we felt very depressed, imagining that life was going to be a quick dash from office to car, avoiding all possible human contact, then another sprint from the car to the house in a gated, guarded compound, running with a panic button in hand, which, when activated, calls an rapid armed response unit to your side.

We were also warned where not to go under any circumstances: downtown (south Kingston), west Kingston, and the main road running through east Kingston, which is apparently host to two rival gangs living on opposite sides of the road. "They get up in the morning and start shooting across the street."

Uptown (north Kingston) is the most prosperous and safe area, although we were warned of the serial killer still at large. The security officer then paused and laughed: "Did I say serial killer? I meant serial rapist! Ha-ha-ha!"

Despite these warnings, I have to say I haven't felt too threatened or too isolated from life in Kingston. I have a trio of taximen that are reliable, I stick to main thoroughfares and curb my natural tendency to explore sidestreets, I carry only the cash I need and spread it between various pockets and moneybelt, and I try to look as if I know where I'm going and why, although it's not always easy to pull it off.

While I'm all right, many other Kingstonians have been having a rough rough time. In the short time since we've been here, some exceptionally horrific crimes have occurred, including the arson attack on a family house that killed a ten-year-old girl. The arsonists stood by and shot at anyone who tried to save the people trapped inside. It was a revenge killing. In another case, three women were kidnapped from a bar, then brutally raped and murdered. No motive known. In a third high profile case, two novice priests working with Richard HoLung, the Mother Theresa figure of the Kingston slums, were shot dead by a single bullet while they were washing up in the kitchen. No motive known.

There have been many other less spectacular murders since we've been here.

The largest outburst of violence occurred yesterday, following the killing by police of Jamaica's most wanted man. He had avoided capture for ten years, allegedly with the connivence of local politicians, while at the same time leading the most active criminal gang in Spanish Town, the former country capital, just west of Kingston. The gang, the Clansmen, sought to revenge their leader's killing by burning a police station, shooting at any police in the area, and finally taking control of the streets, burning vehicles and setting up barricades.

It was confusing to me at what point the pure criminal element ended and other citizens began. The streets were full of political party supporters (PNP) and other "concerned" citizens protesting police brutality. One report claimed the Clansmen had ordered residents onto the streets at gunpoint in order to swell numbers protesting.

There is something very very rotten in the state of Jamaica when the politicians recruit gangsters to muscle up block votes and when every small business is bled dry by extortionists.

I was going to add Desmond Dekker's song "007/Shanty Town" with this post, but it seems dangerously naive in the light of current events:
dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail     ( a shanty town )
dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail ( a shanty town )
an' rudeboys out on probation ( a shanty town )
an' rudeboy bomb up de town ( a shanty town )
I'll fill you in on some of the intricacies of Jamaican politricks very soon.

In the meantime, here's a photo of my favourite billboard in town.
Word of god
Too late, Big G!