Stet by Ria Bacon

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


(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!