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Part II

The Vicissitudes of Tropical Life

Joy Bailey-Harris

I love being in cool Irish Town, several miles above the heat and flurry of bustling Kingston.  The cool air, the unspeakably beautiful mountain scape, the mist wafting across the mountain range in the early morning, the roosters crowing in the early morning and the distant sounds of dance hall music drifting in and out and up from the valley…very intoxicating.  At dusk I close the bay windows and louvres to keep out the mosquitoes. At twilight the lights of Kingston begin to twinkle and the tree frogs chirp in unison. The quiet of my aloneness is stark contrast to the cacophony and rhythm of night sounds that fill the night. But I hate the strange-looking insects that fly into my space.  Tonight, I saw a cross between a cockroach and a grasshopper flying around in my bathroom.  I kid you not, it was the size of those huge roaches you find scurrying across the ground in Florida, but it had mottled blue-greenish wings. I could not scream.  There was no one to hear or to care.  I had to eliminate this menace on my own.  I grabbed the mosquito swatter and swung it at the speedily advancing creature. It connected with a loud zap, again and again and again as I was determined to wound it and it was equally determined to live. But it would not die. As it lay there wriggling on the floor, I grabbed a piece of tissue, reached for the dying insect gingerly and dropped it into the toilet. It swam around as if it had not had several voltages of electricity visited on it.  I reeled off a wad of toilet tissue, dropped it into the bowl, flushed it down and, just for good measure, poured half a bottle of Listerine after it. EEEW and WHEW!

The tenacity of that insect, whatever it was, amazed me! It wanted to survive, and although I wanted it dead or gone, I was somewhat sorry that I had to nuke it. Every time I kill an insect or reptile (aplenty around here) my mind drifts back to the Da Lai Lama and his entreaty to consider all living things as sentient beings. But it’s hard to think that way when a croaking lizard (otherwise called a gecko) slithers across the windowsill or a huge insect invades my space. Yes, those lizards do croak, and with imperiling insistence to boot.  And those grasshoppers and other nameless insects fly in through the open window nightly, beckoned by the shining lights inside. But how much might the behavior of a wounded insect mirror our own behavior?  They writhe and fight and resist when they are faced with an enemy that they should be able to evade and cannot. A cockroach runs around frantically, up the wall, down the wall under cover of anything until it succumbs in true Kafkaesque manner, unable to find its feet again. We humans believe ourselves superior, but are we? How often do we behave like the “lesser beings”? and eventually must succumb to or flee whatever we fear most.  And so, I hope that I will one day coexist, and brush aside visits from strange ubiquitous insects whose habitat I must inhabit.

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A COVID Pre-lockdown Day in the Rain

Jamaica is a strange and annoying blend of high tech and slow coach action.  One Friday morning, I needed to do two things that should really have taken a few minutes, but they took me several hours. I should have known better.  I had forgotten the word of caution from my niece. It was end of month and most workers get paid once per month, not bi-weekly.  We islanders know how to manage our money well and how to budget.  It’s a necessity. 

So, I was forced to leave the serenity of my mountain retreat and head into the city.  As I wound my way down the mountain after two days of rainstorms, I drove at snail’s pace as I navigated, sometimes with a prayer only, a hazardous road with landslides, downed trees in several places and an ambling goat herd for good measure. I sat on my horn as I rounded deep curves and willed that nothing was coming around towards me as I dodged huge boulders. I found myself having to swerve to the other side of the road every few minutes to avoid colliding with rubble. Notwithstanding the unsafe conditions and sheer drops down the mountainside, a line of impatient motorists piled up behind me, the closest one riding my bumper. Let them go to their maker if that’s what they want. I pulled over and six vehicles, taxis, minibuses, and SUVs sped past me.  A couple of them tooted their horns to thank me for letting them by, but most just swerved around me in annoyance, not concealing their impatience with dis chupid ole ooman. This old lady was fine with herself. 

It took me about forty minutes to make the twenty-minute trip, but I made it to Papine, a mass of dilapidated buildings and narrowed “main” road with vehicles parked on both sides with abandon; but who is watching?  I navigated around the mass of humanity stepping into the road, defying cars and taxi drivers that speed through as if it were uncluttered passage.  And the taxi drivers?  A law onto themselves. They pull out in front of you, move within inches of grazing the side of your car and blaze on to terrorize the next poor driver. I affirm Divine Order and slow to a crawl as they move around me. It’s still raining so my blades are gliding across the windshield as I dodge potholes that had emerged following days of steady rain.  I leave the free-for-all as my GPS app guides the way with amazing accuracy, taking me around the expected congestion to my destination. As cars speed past me, I remember that I still have not heard from the insurance agent who had given me a cover note for my car, now long expired. I call her and leave her a reminder to issue my policy. Didn’t want to be uninsured in this unholy mess!

There were no parking spots when I got to the plaza where the bank was housed. As I drove around and around, a cruising driver, much nimbler than me would nab any spot that freed up.  This seemed hopeless. What to do? I had taken this perilous ride down so I would not give up. I drove up to the adjoining plaza and, following the example of the many drivers that had fleeced me out of a parking spot, I expertly positioned myself and reversed with agility into a free spot. Whew! Didn’t think I had that in me, but adversity is the mother of great talent. I was so proud of myself!

I locked my car and walked the fraction of a mile in the drizzling rain toward the bank. I had no umbrella, but the need to complete my errands made me shrug off the damp and soldier on.  I was shattered when I arrived.  The line for the bank was about 30 minutes long. But being flustered would get me nowhere. I settled in with the book I’d put in my bag. Each person held their place in the queue as I stood patiently and hoped the missing security guard would come out soon. There was no fussing, only polite conversation. After about 10 minutes the guard pushed open the door and braced it with his lanky frame.

“Anyone for customer service?”  he shouted.  I waved my hand and stepped forward. 

“Soon let yu in. Come stan here.”  He beckoned me towards him.

After another five minutes I was allowed in and sat in the foyer to await my turn. Soon after, I sat in front of Peter, the same customer service agent who had failed to complete my account registration two weeks prior. I’d been in a hurry, and he was trying to please. He remembered me.

“Hello Miss Harper!” What do you need today?

I smile. “Ahh…you’re the same young man who did not give me my password three weeks ago, right?  I have not been able to access my account. You remember me!”  But he cannot see the smile on my masked face so my attempt at humor is lost.

“Yes, that was me. Of course, I remember you. Sorry about that.”  I cannot see a smile behind his mask either, but I could detect a cordial lift to his tone.  Isn’t it amazing how COVID-mandated masks push us to utilize all our senses, and more, to communicate!

It took another forty-five minutes to complete the transaction. Name applied to debit card. Reset password for card. Give password for online banking. Issue token for access codes. Token? What is that? Never heard of it before. It creates a code that you enter when you need to access your account. Hopefully there would be a way to generate a text code later. I would ask another time, but right now I’m squirming because I need to use the bathroom.  This is the bank so there is none here for me to use.  Less 2% later, courtesy of the Bank of Jamaica, I deposit cash into my US dollar account, thank Peter and dance through the door to go find a bathroom. 

I walked into the supermarket next door and headed for the rest room.  The staff inside waved me in its direction. As I opened the door I squirmed as I stepped into a sea of clear water. Looks like the toilet was blocked. Oh God! I can’t go a step further in this state! What am I to do? The water on the floor did not deter me, could not deter me. At least it isn’t discolored!  As I squatted over the overflowing bowl I sighed with release and cursed as my cell phone fell from my pocket onto the toilet seat. Dear God! As I picked it up, I gave thanks for unexpected miracles. It was dry. I zipped up, washed my hands, washed my phone with soap and water and waded through the river to the exit door. Thank heavens for my near waterproof piece of technology!

I shouted to the staff that the place was flooded and went off to do my grocery shopping. I grabbed a cart and went down each isle. This was no Target or Whole Foods Market and I had to make do with what remained on the sparsely stacked shelves.  “No movement days” were ahead, so I needed to stock up for the upcoming stay-at-home days. The government and police took things seriously.  They said we should stay off the roads, so I’d better stay off the roads. Unlike my adopted country, no one would be on the street protesting about their right to go where they wanted when they wanted. Violations invited very stiff fines or a few hours in jail. And you do not want to be in a sweltering airless jail in Kingston.  No movement meant no movement.  And everyone complied.

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