Jamaica is a Harsh Mistress

I spent the last week lying, with my beautiful companion, on a beach in Jamaica.  I was particularly struck by the kindness of most of the customer service employees I encountered.  Granted, they do live in paradise, but they are clearly not very wealthy by our standards here in the States.  Given the fact that they must deal daily with twenty-something trust fund yankee brats and middle-aged, over-pierced euro-punks trying in vain to speak "Jamaican" and asking incessant questions about Ganja, they must truly possess saintly levels of patience.   There are some cultural barriers that must be overcome in order to navigate the island successfully.  First of all, everyone is on "island time", meaning that no one is in a hurry.  That includes the man crossing the street in front of oncoming traffic and, unfortunately, your waitress and bartender, so you have to get used to it.  Second, rule ambiguity abounds to the point that negotiating an all-inclusive resort can even be a challenge.  Schedules are incredibly loose, directions are unclear, rules are unspoken, and most prices are unlisted and negotiable.  Finally, their dialect of English can be quite difficult to understand.  This is amplified by the fact that they tend to speak in very low tones.

With Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress fresh in my mind, I could not help but notice some of the beautiful anarchy that exists on the island.  Since I spent most of my time on the beach I may have an unreasonably rosy picture of the island as a whole, but the "Jamaican Authority" seems to be virtually nonexistent on the beach.  The police presence consists of the slow parade of two officers, clad in very distinctive white uniforms, up and down the beach.  If you are very lucky, you will see them twice per day.  If you watch closely, you will also notice that the Ganja vendors have mysteriously disappeared in anticipation of the daily "crackdown".  You should really have no fear at this point because you can still purchase a wide variety of items without moving from your lounge chair.  In the course of a day you will encounter several ladies wishing to serve you fruit, some enterprising men with sacks full of assorted cigarettes and cigars, some young women hoping you would like to have your hair braided or your neck massaged and a multitude of artists covering Bob Marley hits or selling wood carvings.  We encountered one man who had the vision to diversify: "Seashells?...Parasailing?...Ganja?".  The list goes on, and there is some variety from day to day.  I don't know for sure, but I don't think any of these people had licenses to do their business.  I doubt the fruit ladies had food handlers' cards in spite of the fact that I saw them cut up and serve fruit to patrons beach side.  I doubt the hair-braiders had beauty school diplomas or certifications in massage therapy.  To me the scene exemplified the beauty of self-organized society in the absence of force.  

As one would expect, the Authority has a massive presence at the airport.  This is also where the jolly customer service stops and the threat of force begins.  On top of the typical shoe and laptop removal security theater we have all become accustomed to, I was randomly selected for additional security screening.  I was lucky enough to be locked in a room alone with a surly security agent who, without any kind words or eye contact, ordered me to open my bags and give her the palms of my hands.  I was summarily dismissed without any invitation to have a nice day.  At the gate my bags were searched again, and I was ordered to remove my shoes so they could be searched and I could be patted down.  All of this was done with the manners due a presumed terrorist.

The Authority is also ever present in the citizens' pockets.  I carried a piece of it home with me in the form of a 1000 Jamaican Dollar bill which is worth less that US$ 12 .  According to wikipedia the Jamaican dollar peaked in its early years of issue (1969) at J$ 0.77 to US$ 1.  This means my beloved fruit lady, given her age, has had virtually all of the savings sucked right out of her pocket.  That means years of hard service in the hot sun, with the weight of mango and papaya weighing down on her head, stealthily seized by the state.  I doubt she is even aware.


 
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