Category Archives: Class politics

Putting Vaginas (And Penises) In Focus

UnknownNewspaper headlines are designed to grab your attention, if not your crotch. So I completely understand why the sensational ‘vagina’ – and not the more neutral ‘body’ – was used by the In Focus editor to brand Ms Karen Lloyd’s provocative column, ‘My vagina isn’t public property’ (Sunday Gleaner, August 3, 2014). Sex sells. Titillation, too.

I had a feeling that the hotty-hotty vaginal headline was going to backfire. It struck me that if your vagina really isn’t public property, perhaps, you wouldn’t want to expose it in print. Of course, that’s not the same as uncovering it in the flesh. All the same, as hard-core pornographers know, the thought of sex can be just as exciting as the real thing. Sometimes, even more so with the right visual stimulation.

Once I got past the seductive headline, I realised it was a case of bait and switch. The primary focus of Ms Lloyd’s perceptive column wasn’t her vagina after all. It was the persistent problem of verbal and physical abuse of girls and women in Jamaica. Across the board: uptown and downtown; black, white and brown; every single ethnic group. All our talk of independence, both national and personal, means absolutely nothing if we can’t cure this widespread sickness.

MALE BACKLASH

images-1Mr Bertlan Reynolds’ letter to the editor, published on Independence Day, is a classic example of abusive male backlash against women who dare to speak uncomfortable truths. The headline, ‘Vaginas public property on ‘Back Road’,’ maliciously challenges Ms Lloyd’s perfectly reasonable claims about a vagina’s right to privacy.

Mr Reynolds, who seems to be thinking with the head of his penis, completely misses the point. Unlike Ms Lloyd, the women on ‘Back Road’ are selling sex. Even so, the vagina of a female sex worker is not public property. It may be turned into a commodity and graphically put on display, as described in such detail by Mr Reynolds:

“Not too long ago, an event was taking place on this renowned road popularly called ‘Back Road’ that caused vehicular traffic to come to a virtual stop. A group of women presented themselves in an almost nude state banging on the cars of male drivers, gyrating and virtually ‘swiping’ the cars, including mine, with their private parts. This was certainly not a clever way to marketise their dismal future.”

FRONT-ROOM SEX WORKERS

Cleverly marketed or not, the vagina of a female sex worker is a private body part. And its owner has the right to determine its use and value. She is entitled to pick and choose her clients even in desperate economic circumstances. Sex workers have rights. They have the fundamental right to be protected from sexual abuse. And selling sex does not mean you give up all claims to be treated with dignity.

Dignity1Self-righteous, judgemental souls like Mr Reynolds don’t seem to understand this basic principle. And they certainly don’t grasp the economics of survival in Jamaica today. You cannot assume that sex workers willingly choose the world’s oldest profession. It’s usually a last resort, especially in societies like ours where poor women do face a dismal future.

And Mr Reynolds ought to know that sex workers come in all grades and stations: from ‘Back Road’ to front rooms in upscale, gated communities. Class covers a multitude of sins. The way some uptown ladies gyrate in public for carnival, they might as well be swiping their private parts on ‘Back Road’!

A SLAP FOR A SQUEEZE

I’m so glad Ms Lloyd had the presence of mind to slap the man who squeezed her breast. I’m sure he’ll think twice about attacking another woman. And his claim that he was only romping with her because she looked so good is outrageous. Presumably, an attractive woman must take full responsibility for provoking unwanted attention.

This is the identical assumption that the self-proclaimed “old fogey”, Mr Cedric Richards, makes in his letter to the editor, published on August 5. The headline is vexing: ‘Vagina not public property, but are women asking for it?’ And what, exactly, is ‘it’? Verbal abuse? Rape? These are acts of power, control and violence.

How would Mr Richards feel if a man grabbed his crotch in public? Would he concede that he’d been asking for it because he was dressed attractively? In a satirical letter to the editor, published on August 5, Ms Meng Na mocks heterosexual men who are afraid of being “checked” out by gay men but think it’s perfectly ‘natural’ for women to be groped.

safe_image.phpThe old fogey ends his letter with an irritating question: “Do the ladies have a responsibility to be more modest in their attire?” It’s not about how women dress. Even in societies where women are covered from head to toe, sexual abuse is a constant threat. Men have a responsibility to exercise self-control and keep their hands and penises under manners.

Instead of falling into the trap of thinking that unwanted sexual attention is a compliment, women must fight back. We cannot passively see ourselves as victims. We have to let men know that they are not entitled to romp with us against our will. And an unexpected response to sexual harassment – whether verbal or physical – can be a most effective deterrent.

On my walk one morning, a man called out to me, “Hi, sexy girl!” To be honest, I think he intended it as an innocent compliment. All the same, I thought I should put him in my place. I pleasantly replied, “Hi, sexy boy!” He almost fell off his bicycle.

Dutty Tribal Politics

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Damion Crawford

Damion Crawford’s “unfortunate” apology is quite inadequate. He takes no responsibility for his words. He “got carried away”. I suppose he was possessed by evil spirits (both JLP and PNP) and ended up speaking in tongues: “Yuh suppose to can look pon a man an” sey a PNP dat enuh, or yuh look pon a woman an’ sey a PNP dat. Some a unnu haffi have on orange fi wi know, cause unnu lifestyle come een like a dutty Labourite.”

11084282-two-cute-cows-and-three-sheep-on-pasture-with-a-wooden-fence-and-landscape-in-background-1Under the influence of the spirits, Crawford highlights a problem that is particularly troubling for politicians who can never be sure exactly how many sheep they have in their pen. Jamaican voters are a slick crew. They follow you up and down on the campaign trial. They wear your T-shirts. They eat and drink with you and, behind, they don’t just ‘susu pon you’, as Bob Marley warned. It gets worse than that. Many of your apparent followers are not even registered to vote. And even if they are, there’s no guarantee they’re actually going to vote for you. They know they’re free agents.

This is a lesson many politicians, both JLP and PNP, have had to learn the hard way. Don’t trust the size of the crowd! So Damion Crawford’s ‘inspired’ words can be interpreted as a pastoral altar call, pleading with his flock for integrity. If you start to kiss your teeth at the analogy, just substitute ‘Christian’ for ‘PNP’, ‘heathen’ for ‘Labourite’ and ‘church clothes’ for ‘orange': “Yuh suppose to can look pon a man an’ sey a Christian dat enuh, or yuh look pon a woman and sey a Christian dat. Some a unnu haffi have on church clothes fi wi know, cause unnu lifestyle come een like a dutty heathen.”

OUTWARD APPEARANCE

dressMy reformulation of Damion Crawford’s damning words is not intended to let him off the hook. Instead, I want to underscore just how foolish his presumptions are. Neither ‘orange’ nor ‘church clothes’ is a sign of character. A wo/man’s true colours are not the ones s/he wears. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:26, International Standard Version). Politician or pastor, Crawford does not seem to understand that outward appearance is not to be trusted. Dreadlocks don’t signify Rasta. And some baldheads are steadily trodding on the path to Zion.

Another troubling issue is Crawford’s assumption that ‘PNP’ and ‘Labourite’ are permanent identities, fixed by your DNA: you are who you vote for. This conviction sustains tribal politics in Jamaica. Voters are not expected to use their intelligence, selecting the best political representatives in any election cycle. Well, best as far as you can tell. Instead, like a robot, you should simply vote generically for your party, i.e., yourself. Complete lunacy!

Talking-out-of-both-sides-of-your-mouthThese days, it’s so easy to get caught up in tribalism. If it’s not politics, it’s religion. We barricade ourselves in garrisons: we and them; saved and damned; uptown and downtown; queer and straight; green and orange; ‘dutty Labourite’ and ‘plyboard-an-zinc PNP’. (In this instance, Crawford appears to be an equal-opportunity chastiser, talking out of both sides of his mouth). Once you choose your camp, it’s not so easy to change sides. Worse, if you don’t choose a side, you run the risk of being shot at from all angles.

CRAWFORD’S TRUE COLOURS

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Robert Montague

JLP Chairman Robert Montague had every right to demand an apology from Damion Crawford for that ‘dutty’ throw-word. He couldn’t allow Crawford to just dish the dirt and get away with it. Montague had to stand up for principle. But it was also a question of party pride. And Montague coudn’t resist the temptation to be tribalist. He had to draw the class card.

36614610In a press release issued on May 27, Senator Montague stated, “We know that generally when the PNP says they love the poor it’s about politics and not development, [sic] but now Minister Crawford has shown his true colours, too. The very same classist behaviour he accuses others of, [sic] is clearly in his heart if the card he draws to make a point, [sic] is one of the worst classist phrases to ever be brought by the PNP into the politics of Jamaica.”

The JLP equivalent of ‘dutty Labourite’ is ‘classist PNP’. Unfortunately, in the tracing match of tribal politics, ‘classist’ just doesn’t have the sting of ‘dutty’. And the reason is quite obvious. ‘Classist’ is English (from Latin); and ‘dutty’ is hard-core Jamaican, with all the authority of a big, phat bad-word. One could easily mistake ‘classist’ for a compliment. It sounds so stush. Not like ‘dutty’.

According to the Dictionary of Jamaican English, the noun ‘dutty’ (doti) comes from the Twi language of Ghana. Its primary meaning is ‘soil, earth, clay’. The dictionary makes it clear that ‘there is no necessary sense of uncleanness”. But it concedes that the meaning of the word has been influenced by English ‘dirty’. And, in fact, the second meaning of ‘dutty’ is ‘excrement, dung’.

sexism1As adjective, ‘dutty’ has come to mean ‘dirty’. But it’s much more than physical uncleanliness. In the Jamaican vernacular, ‘dutty’ covers a host of sins. Classism is dutty. Sexism is also dutty. I’m surprised nobody has challenged Crawford’s sexist view of women as lazy predators, waiting for Friday to telephone men for money.  That’s a whole other load of dutty.

Extortion At Papine Market

Market20130704NGIT’S SO much easier these days to get in and out of Papine Market. Traffic congestion has been significantly reduced. Taxi drivers have been forced to line up instead of sprawling all across the road waiting for passengers. I’ve taken it upon myself to reason with those few delinquent drivers who refuse to play by the rules and stay in line. 

I got an unexpected response when I asked one of them why he was “mashing up” the programme. He said he was a victim of extortion and was protesting. Yeah, right.  But, as it turns out, Mr Outa Order does have a point. The new orderly system is designed to encourage passengers to simply take the first taxi in the line. This innovation has made loaders redundant. Refusing to accept the fact that things have changed for the better (or worse), loaders are still demanding money from drivers to fill taxis. They insist on business as usual. After all, loaders make a living out of chaos.

extortionIt is only in societies like ours that ‘loader’ is a proper job. In fragile economies, disadvantaged people have to come up with creative solutions to the depressing problem of regular unemployment. “We know how fi tek wi hand turn fashion”. We learn how to make do and make work. With grand, sweeping gestures and lots of sound effects, skilled loaders entice hesitant passengers into taxis. I suppose loading is a lot like the ancient art of herding sheep.

One loader stubbornly told me, ‘A long time now mi a do dis ya work right ya so a Papine an mi don’t plan fi stop now’. This redundant ‘public sector’ loader belongs to no union. He cannot go to Mama P to ask for severance pay. Having invested years in perfecting his craft, he is not prepared to retool. Robbed of the work he knows best, he may be tempted to take up a deadly tool. Unemployment often does lead to crime, as we know all too well.

UNCONSCIONABLE EMPLOYERS

timeoffWhen I told the loader I was going to write about the issue, he asked me not to. He didn’t want any trouble. I promised him I wouldn’t reveal his identity and I would give him a preview of the article so he could approve what I said about him. Unfortunately, when I went to Papine last Tuesday afternoon to look for him, he wasn’t at work. Loaders need time off too. And since they’re self-employed, they can regulate their hours. They’re not stuck with unconscionable employers.

Incidentally, since writing the column, ‘Email from a hellish resort’, published on July 7, I’ve got more complaints from frustrated hotel workers. One man used this headline for his letter: ‘Local hotel industry turning dreams into nightmares’. He was terminated, with immediate effect, from his job in management, after two and a half years, without even an exit interview or a proper explanation for why he was fired.

all_workers_should_have_the_right_to_unionize_sticker-r7092a29536e14df783035e10c01900f9_v9wf3_8byvr_324For the last 16 months, he and his industrial relations consultant have been trying to set up a meeting with his former employer through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. As he put it, “all we have been getting appears to be a run around from the MOL”. When I suggested to another aggrieved man that hotel workers need to unionise, he asked a serious question: who is going to take the initiative to set up unions?

Workers are fearful about losing their jobs and trade union leaders seem to be fearful about confronting hoteliers. One woman who escaped the industry described it as “modern-day slavery”. If this is so, it is the employees who will have to emancipate themselves. “Backra massa” isn’t going to willingly allow trade unions to come into hotels unless workers fearlessly stand up for their rights.

“MI SHAME LIKE A DOG”

VoiceMailBack to Papine. I asked if anyone knew where the loader was and explained why I wanted to talk to him. A helpful woman telephoned him but got voicemail. A man who introduced himself as Chief Loader took the draft of the article. He was most offended when I asked if he could read: “Not because we a loader mek we can’t read”. I apologised profusely. “Mi shame like a dog”.

Chief Loader began to read the draft out loud to prove his point. But, to be honest, “im buck”. So I finished reading it for him. He said what I wrote was alright. I warned him: “No bodder tell me seh it alright an when it come out inna Gleaner unu blood me”. He reassured me that it was OK.

All the same, I took the number of the loader I had the agreement with and tried to call him. I got voicemail and left a message. I did get a call-back. But it was a woman saying rather suspiciously, “Is a uman answer”. I thought it prudent not to speak. “Next ting, my man ha fi go gi explanation bout why uman a call im. An is den im inna trouble”.

UNIVERSITY TOWN

Andre Hylton, member of parliament for Eastern St. Andrew, has a big vision to turn Papine into a university town. And expansion and rehabilitation of the market are part of the plan. How will the proposed development affect existing businesses? And who will benefit from the transformation of Papine? Presumably, things will get better for everybody who does business in Papine.

But, as the case of the redundant loaders proves, some players lose when development takes place. The challenge is to ensure that all stakeholders have a chance to take part in the ‘development’ process. But politicians rarely consult the people who will be most affected by the grand schemes they come up with.

logoAugust Town is a genuine university town. Many residents are employed by the University of the West Indies.   And the University has invested in the community, as in the recent Greater August Town film festival. Papine is a thoroughfare. If Andre Hylton does it right, Papine can become a first-class destination.

Email From A Hellish Resort

where-anonymity-breeds-contemptTwo Fridays ago, I got a distressful email from a hotel worker. I don’t know if it’s a man or a woman because the writer hid behind a false name. In certain circumstances, anonymity is essential. Exploited workers who desperately need jobs are often fearful about speaking up for their rights. Here’s the email, which I’ve edited just a bit for grammar. But I’ve kept the writer’s aggrieved tone:

“Good day to you, Ms Cooper. I enjoyed reading your article in The Sunday Gleaner dated June 23, 2013 on ‘Night work for women’. I have a similar problem I would like you to bring to attention for me. I have emailed several talk-show hosts and people in authority and, to my surprise, it has fallen on deaf ears and no one cares. This is the issue.

????????????????????????????????????????“I would like to know if the labour law in Jamaica doesn’t protect hotel workers. The law says that a person must work 40 hours per week, which is equivalent to 2 days off for the workweek. Well, there is a big breach of the law going on because in most hotels, if not all, workers are getting one day off per week at the 40-hour rate. How can this be? Most days, workers even work overtime and no overtime money is paid. What kind of law is this? I am sure that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Tourism are aware of this breach.

“We are grateful and give thanks for our jobs. However, the law of the country goes for all. Workers who are either dedicated Seventh-day Adventists or Sunday worshippers cannot do their commercial activities on weekdays because that one day off cannot allow them. Also, one day off cannot allow the body to get enough rest for the hard work that your employers require of you.

NO LUNCH BREAK

“Some managers even treat staff with no respect at all. Another issue is that due to the workload, we cannot get our full one-hour lunch break. Depending on certain departments like Housekeeping, some staff cannot even take lunch break due to the demands of a busy day. To make things worse, we are not unionised.

deaf-1“I would like if you can highlight this issue for us and let it be known to the relevant authority. Please don’t turn a deaf ear on this issue like talk-show hosts. I assume that they don’t want to lose their regular free passes or accommodation. We need justice. You sound like a balanced person who will take up this issue. Thanks for your cooperation.

“Send me a confirmation email to let me know if you got this email because it’s not all the time we can listen the radio or TV due to work hours. Also, send me follow-ups of your investigations.

Yours respectfully,

Anonymous hotel worker”

originalI did send the requested confirmation email. I also called the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to find out what the employment laws say on these contentious matters. As it turns out, Anonymous Hotel Worker (A.H.W.) is misinformed. The minimum lunch break is 45 minutes, not a whole hour. And full-time employees are not, in fact, entitled to two days off. It’s more complicated.

The National Minimum Wage Order, 1975 states: “Every employer shall, in each week during which any worker, other than an hourly worker … works for him, allow that worker one day as a rest day.” The language of the law is so roundabout. What it means is that full-time workers are entitled to only one rest day per week.

rest-dayFurthermore, the Order states that, “The day on which the rest day of any worker is to fall in any particular week shall be determined by agreement between that worker and his employer.” Agreement is all very well and good. But how easy is it to disagree with your employer? Especially if you’re not in a trade union, you hardly have any power to negotiate deals with your employer. You end up doing what you’re told.

HIGH PRICE FOR ‘FREENESS’

Unionised or not, employees who work for more than 40 hours each week are most certainly entitled to overtime pay. If A.H.W. is telling the truth, the unjust withholding of overtime wages is, indeed, a serious breach of the law. But which employee is going to be bold enough to confront the boss when jobs are so scarce?

BlackLogoJHTAA senior manager at one of our hotels admitted that exploitation of workers is widespread in the industry. Refusing to pay for overtime work is a common offence. Not at his hotel, he hastily reassured me. I called the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association and rather naively asked if they knew of any hotels that were not paying overtime wages or if they had had any complaints from employees about not being paid for overtime work. The person to whom I spoke claimed, without a doubt, that no hotels are in breach of the law. I don’t suppose it would have been reasonable to expect any other answer.

But if it’s really true that many hotels are, in fact, failing to pay workers overtime wages and are not allowing any lunch break at all, the minister of tourism and entertainment ought to launch an investigation. Disgruntled workers are not an appealing advertisement for the tourist industry. And shamelessly exploiting cheap labour just isn’t good for business in the long run.

lost-causeA.H.W. cynically proposes that it’s access to free passes and complimentary accommodation that’s stopping journalists from exposing lawbreakers in the hotel industry. If that’s really so, it’s a high price to pay for ‘freeness’. Depending on the media to help hotel workers get justice is a lost cause. It’s not even a last resort.

 

If Men Could Get Pregnant …

UnknownMinister Lisa Hanna is absolutely right. It’s high time for us to review the backward law that turns women into criminals because they choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The law also criminalises medical doctors and unlicensed practitioners of various sorts who assist women in getting abortions.

It’s a highly emotional issue, especially in a fundamentalist Christian society like ours. After all, the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” And abortion is murder. But is it? A foetus is not a human being, in much the same way that an egg is not a chicken. The egg does, indeed, have the potential to become a chicken. But if it’s eaten for breakfast, that’s that. It’s a pity some of us aren’t rational enough to see the difference between a foetus and an actual child.

hard_labour_by_rotwang1979-d5ay0v4According to the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, a pregnant woman who tries to abort the foetus in her own body is guilty of a felony and, if convicted, is liable to be imprisoned for life, with or without hard labour. No pun intended, I suppose. If anyone attempts to help her with the abortion, that person is also guilty of a felony and is liable to be similarly sentenced. The ‘druggist’ who supplies any ‘noxious thing’ to be used for the abortion, or even the bearer of the thing to facilitate the process, is also liable to be imprisoned.

This piece of legislation is truly remarkable, especially bearing in mind the history of our country. The act was passed a mere 30 years after the abolition of slavery. All of a sudden, a foetus (not a ‘child’) was much more valuable than millions of enslaved Africans who were seen as beasts of burden and, therefore, entirely fit subjects for protracted abuse. Their lives needed no protection. An unborn ‘person’ now had more rights than actual persons, many of whom still had vivid memories of being brutalised by enslavement. Did this act have any moral authority? Or was it intended to ensure the availability of an unending supply of cheap labour?

THE UGLY ISSUE OF CLASS

7374820-oppression-just-ahead-green-road-sign-with-dramatic-storm-clouds-and-sky-300x200It took more than a century for Jamaica’s oppressive abortion law to be modified. In 1975, the Ministry of Health, in a Statement of Policy on abortion, declared that it was now “lawful for a registered medical practitioner, acting in good faith to take steps to terminate the pregnancy of any woman if … he forms the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy would be likely to constitute a threat to the life of the woman or inure [work] to the detriment of her mental and physical health”. Note the gendered language: the medical practitioner is presumed to be male.

The Statement of Policy called for amendment of the Offences Against the Person Act (1864) in order to clarify the circumstances in which abortion could be deemed lawful in Jamaica – such as in cases of rape, carnal abuse and incest. Thirty-eight years later, the antiquated act has still not been amended. And what about much broader reproductive rights?

choice-300x300-1Lisa Hanna must be congratulated for boldly daring to put on the agenda the contentious matter of decriminalising abortion. And she raises the ugly issue of class. As she perceptively observes, “Abortion is still illegal in this country, and a woman’s right to choose whether or not to keep her pregnancy is, in effect, exercised only by those who can afford a private doctor.”

Quite early in my career at the University of the West Indies, a student fearfully confided that she was pregnant. One of the challenges of being a teacher, even at the tertiary level, is that students expect advice quite unrelated to academic matters. I immediately asked the distraught young woman if she had told her mother. She said she was afraid to tell her. I reassured her that her mother would certainly understand. In two twos, she had an abortion and hardly missed any classes.

ECONOMICS, NOT MORALITY

0e2cbec33784484476_ram6b5siaIf all the middle-class women in Jamaica who have had abortions would speak out on behalf of their poorer sisters who have limited access to safe terminations, the law would have to be changed. But so often in these matters, there is one standard for the rich and another for the poor. If you can afford to pay for a safe abortion, this somehow makes you superior to women who can’t. It’s no longer a matter of morality; it’s all about economics.

Data from the Ministry of Health confirm that approximately 1,200 women are treated each year for complications arising from unsafe abortions. And those are just the official figures. In the 21st century, poor women in Jamaica are still risking their lives in order to claim reproductive rights that middle-class women simply take for granted.

Lisa Hanna has been viciously attacked, particularly by men who seem to presume that they are divinely ordained to exercise control over the bodies of women. Last Wednesday, The Gleaner published a letter by a cowardly writer, most likely a man, hiding under the false name, ‘Oxy Moron’. Headlined ‘Let’s kill every poor pickney’, the truly moronic load of drivel was elevated to the status of Letter of the Day.

Distorting Ms Hanna’s plea for reform, the moron pretends that the minister is proposing mass murder: “Go and fetch every woman and every girl who is pregnant, but lacks parenting skills, and exterminate their babies, even the pretty ones who could become Miss World!” Of course, the reproductive rights of women are not about killing ‘poor pickney’, pretty or not. In Jamaica, it’s ‘rich pickney’ who are aborted.

Florynce_Kennedy_publicity_pic

Florynce Kennedy

The African-American lawyer, civil-rights activist and feminist Florynce Kennedy famously declared, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” What is now a badge of shame for women would become a sacred rite of passage marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. But since it’s women who do get pregnant, we have to turn shame into pride as we claim the right to control our own bodies.

Night Work For Women

images-1It sounds like progress. An old-fashioned law that curtails the freedom of women to choose the time of day (or night) they wish to work is under review. The 1942 Women (Employment of) Act says a lot about both class and gender politics in Jamaica. The act prohibits night work for women. And it’s not about prostitution. These days, sex work is no longer gender-specific. And it isn’t necessarily done only at night.

The act defines ‘night’ as “a period of at least 11 consecutive hours, including the interval between 10 o’clock in the evening and 5 o’clock in the morning”. Work is described as “every business or undertaking carried on for gain, except a business or undertaking in which only the members of the family of the owner or proprietor are employed”. I wonder why women in family businesses are exempted.

In exceptional circumstances, women are allowed to work at night. This is what the act says:

“No woman shall be employed in night work except where the night work is:

(a) for the purpose of completing work commenced by day and interrupted by some unforeseeable cause which could not be prevented by reasonable care; or

PERISHABLE-GOODS(b) necessary to preserve raw materials, subject to rapid deterioration, from certain loss; or

(c) that of a responsible position of management held by a woman who is not ordinarily engaged in manual work; or

(d) carried on in connection with the preparation, treatment, packing, transportation or shipment of fresh fruit; or

(e) that of nursing and of caring for the sick; or

(f) carried on in a cinematograph or other theatre while such theatre is open to the public; or

(g) carried on in connection with a hotel or guest house, or with a bar, restaurant or club; or

(h) carried on by a pharmacist registered under the Pharmacy Act.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

bottomlineThese ‘exceptional’ circumstances are quite a peculiar mix. Nursing and pharmacy I understand. These are life-saving professions. And fresh fruit and raw materials do have a short lifespan. But what’s so special about women working in theatres, hotels, guest houses, bars, restaurants and clubs? Are these night jobs similar to the world’s oldest profession? Making money all through the night clearly takes precedence over protecting supposedly vulnerable women. The law keeps its eye firmly fixed on the bottom line.

And why are women in management exempted? It looks like a class issue. Women who are “ordinarily engaged in manual work” are not allowed to do night work. But better-off women are? Or is this exemption really just a sick joke? In 1942, how many women actually held “a responsible position of management” in any “industrial undertaking” in Jamaica? Relatively few, I suppose. So why make such a big issue of exempting them?

In 1961, new trades and occupations were added to the list of exceptional jobs that women could do at night. It all seems quite random: for example, manufacturing of sugar, rum, cigars, cigarettes, cordage, rope, twine, butter, cheese, condensed milk, soap, margarine, lard compound, edible oil, textiles and paper. The list goes on and on without apparent rhyme or reason.

images-4The only occupations on the new list that obviously provide essential services are in civil aviation, public passenger transport, telecommunications, and the fire brigade. Newspaper publishing is also exempted, but some sceptics will say that journalism these days is not an essential service; it’s more entertainment and less hard-core news reporting and analysis.

 

EXPLOITING CHEAP LABOUR

At the rate the Women (Employment of) Act is going, we might as well speed it into extinction. On the face of it, amending the old law is a good idea. In these enlightened times, women ought to be free to choose when they work. But there’s definitely a downside to freeing up women for night work. It’s not all about emancipation.

In fact, night work seems to be just another form of exploitation of cheap labour. A few years ago, I met a female security guard at Devon House who was on the last of three consecutive 12-hour shifts. Yes, 36 hours straight, day and night! Talk about ‘pop down’. She could barely keep her eyes open. She explained that she was doing it for the money. She had children to look after.

images-2Is there a hidden motivation behind the seemingly progressive plan to remove the restrictions prohibiting night work for women? And will all women, rich and poor, equally benefit from the new legislation? Not likely! The revision of the act seems to be intended to force poorly paid women to work for 12 hours at a stretch – without the full benefit of overtime pay as usual. It’s all about flexiwork.

The present labour laws require an employer to pay time and a half on Saturday and double time on Sundays. In the new flexiweek, overtime will be calculated only after 40 hours of work. So, in effect, you could employ someone for two 12-hour shifts with no ‘overtime’, then exploit them further by employing them on weekends and not paying overtime. This is a total reversal of all the labour rights our foremothers and forefathers struggled for.

Not surprisingly, David Wan, president of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, enthusiastically supports the proposed amendment of the act, as reported in a Gleaner article by Daraine Luton, published on June 5: “Take it off the books! This is a different day, different time.” But how different are these times? With our long history of exploiting cheap labour, we should be very cautious about enacting legislation that threatens to weaken workers.

123According to Labour Minister Derrick Kellier, flexiwork will increase productivity. But at what price? Will physically and emotionally exhausted workers actually be more productive than healthy ones? And will poor women doing night work for next to nothing be better off now than in the old days? “Jackass seh di world no level.” It’s a pity that jackasses of the human kind refuse to listen.

JTA Bark An Bite

There are two spelling systems used for the Jamaican language below.  The first, which I call  ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling.  The second,  ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been slightly amended by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

  • CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING
ddimages

Doran Dixon

Mi sorry fi JTA. Inna disya hard time, govament waan cut tiicha pay! No sah! Notn couldn’t go so. Mi do understand wa mek Doran Dixon an Paul Adams ha fi a bawl out. Yu can’t sidong mek mongrel daag rush-rush yu an waan bite-bite yu up. Yu ha fi run di daag! Worse if di daag look like seh it deh pon cocaine! Dixon seh JTA a no no likl puss weh fraid fi mongrel.

Puss an daag no av di same luck. Govament can do an seh anyting dem waan. But teacher no fi seh notn. Dem fi just sup it. Dat can’t right. All Bible tell yu seh yu no fi provoke yu pikni to wrath. To rahtid! An JTA a no govament lickle pikni. Dem a big smaddy. Dem have chat.

Inna fi wi Jamaican language wi love use metaphor an simile fi describe how wi feel. An mi no waan nobody lost dem pass come tell mi seh ‘metaphor’ an ‘simile’ a no fi wi Jamaican word. If English can tief so much word from Greek, Latin, French, not to mention fi wi owna Jamaican language, wa mek we can’t tief too? Pon top a dat, wi no ha fi use no label fi talk bout how wi talk. Wi no ha fi seh, ‘Dis a metaphor.’ Wi just dweet.

When Paul Adams seh, “The minister must be temporarily injected by cocaine”, dat a metaphor. How im fi go know if di minister deh pon drugs fi true? Im no mean it dat way. Fi real. Im mean to seh, di minister sound like seh im lik im head. Im no righted. Or like wi seh inna one next metaphor, it look like duppy a follow him. Di minister nah behave normal.

‘PAGE 2′ MONGREL

Same way when Dixon throw word bout mongrel, a bex im bex. An im right fi bex. An im know weh im a seh. Yu mighta no like di metaphor im use. But yu ha fi admit seh im mek im point. Di best joke, though, inna Jamaica, daag-mongrel an man-mongrel a two different kind a mongrel. Daag-mongrel a di bad-breed mongrel weh no got no pedigree. Wi mek up nuff proverb bout dem deh careless mongrel. Tek for instance, “Sorry fi mawga daag, mawga daag turn round bite yu.”

images-2Man-mongrel now, dat a one different-different story. Dem deh mongrel a di high-class mongrel. A dem run tings inna Jamaica. Look pon ‘Page 2′ inna di lickle beenie nyuuspiepa. A deh so yu see man an woman mongrel. Dem mix-up mix-up. Dem a no so-so black; an dem a no so-so white. Dem a no so-so Chiney or so-so Indian. Dem a lickle a dis an lickle a dat. Dem a ‘outa many, one smaddy’. Dem a di real-real tapanaaris Jamaican. An plenty so-so black people love mix up wid dem an gwaan like seh dem a mongrel fi true.

Anyhow, mi no know a which mongrel Dixon did a talk bout. Like a spite, it could a go two way inna dis ya case. If me was di minister, mi would a just go wid di man-mongrel an no bodder nyam up miself. After all, every daag have im day an every puss im 4 o’clock.

  • PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN
Paul Adams

Paul Adams

Mi sari fi JTA. Ina disya aad taim, govament waahn kot tiicha pie! Nuo sa! Notn kudn go so. Mi du andastan wa mek Doran Dixon an Paul Adams a fi a baal out. Yu kyaahn sidong mek mongrel daag rosh-rosh yu an waahn bait-bait yu op. Yu ha fi ron di daag! Wos if di daag luk laik se it de pan kokien! Dixon se JTA a no no likl pus we fried fi mongrel.

Pus an daag no av di siem lok. Govament kyahn du an se enting dem waahn. Bot tiicha no fi se notn. Dem fi jos sop i. Dat kyaahn rait. Aal Baibl tel yu se yu no fi provuok yu pikni tu raat. Tu raatid! An JTA a no govament likl pikni. Dem a big smadi. Dem av chat.

Ina fi wi Jamiekan langwij, wi lov yuuz metafa an simili fi diskraib ou wi fiil. An mi no waan nobadi laas dem paas kom tel mi se ‘metafa’ an ‘simili’ a no fi wi Jamiekan wod. If Inglish kyan tiif so moch wod fram Griik, Latn, French, nat tu menshan fi wi uona Jamiekan langwij, wa mek wii kyaahn tiif tu? Pan tap a dat, wi no ha fi yuuz no liebl fi taak bout ou wi taak. Wi no ha fi se, ‘dis a metafa’. Wi jos dwiit.

Wen Paul Adams se, “The minister must be temporarily injected by cocaine”, dat a metafa. Ou im fi go nuo if di minista de pan jrogs fi chruu? Im no miin it dat wie. Fi riil. Im miin tu se, di minista soun laik se im lik im ed. Im no raitid. Aar, laik wi se ina wan neks metafa, it luk laik dopi a fala im. Di minista naa biyiev naamal.

‘PAGE 2′ MONGREL

images-5Siem wie wen Dixon chruo wod bout mongrel, a beks im beks. An im rait fi beks. An im nuo we im a se. Yu maita no laik di metafa im yuuz. Bot yu a fi admit se im mek im paint. Di bes juok duo, ina Jamieka, daag-mongrel an man-mongrel a tuu difran kain a mongrel. Daag-mongrel a di bad-briid mongrel we no gat no pedigrii. Wi mek op nof pravorb bout dem de kielis mongrel. Tek far instans, “Sari fi maaga daag, maaga daag ton roun bait yu.”

Man-mongrel nou, dat a wan difran-difran tuori. Dem de mongrel a di ai-klaas mongrel. A dem ron tingz ina Jamieka. Luk pan ‘Page 2′ ina di likl biini nyuuspiepa. A de so yu si man an uman mongrel. Dem miks-op miks-op. Dem a no suoso blak; an dem a no suoso wait. Dem a no suoso Chaini ar suoso Indyan. Dem a likl a dis an likl a dat. Dem a ‘out a meni, wan smadi’. Dem a di riil-riil tapanaaris Jamiekan. An plenti suoso blak piipl lov miks op wid dem an gwaan laik se dem a mongrel fi chruu.

Eni-ou, mi no nuo a wich mongrel Dixon did a taak bout. Laik a spait, it kuda go tuu wie ina disya kies. If mii woz di minista, mi wuda jos go wid di man-mongrel an no bada nyam op miself. Aafta raal, evri daag av im die an evri pus im 4 a’klak.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

pan_logoI’m sorry for the JTA. In these hard times, the government wants to cut teachers’ pay! That can’t be right all. I certainly understand why Doran Dixon and Paul Adams had to protest. You can’t carelessly allow a mongrel dog to rush you and try to bite you all over. You have to shoo the dog! Worse if the dog looks as if it’s on cocaine! Dixon said the JTA is no pussy cat that’s  afraid  of mongrel dogs.

Cats and dogs aren’t equally lucky.  The government  can do and say anything it wants. But teachers mustn’t say anything.   They just have to put up with it.  That can’t be right. Even the Bible says you mustn’t provoke your children to wrath. Hell, no!  And the  JTA isn’t the government’s little child.  Teachers are adults. They have the right to speak out.

images-3In our Jamaican language we love to use metaphors and similes to describe how we feel. And I don’t want anyone to make the mistake of telling of me that  ‘metaphor’ and ‘simile’ are not really  Jamaican words. If English can steal so many words from Greek, Latin, French, not to mention our own Jamaican language, why can’t we steal too? Furthermore, we don’t need to use a label to define how we use language. We don’t have to say, ‘This is a metaphor’.  We just do it.

When Paul Adams says, “The minister must be temporarily injected by cocaine”, that’s a metaphor. How can he know if the minister is really on drugs? He doesn’t mean it literally.  What he’s actually saying is that the minister sounds as if he’s not thinking straight.  He’s lost it. Or, as we say in another  metaphor, it’s as if a spirit is stalking him.  The minister isn’t behaving normally.

‘PAGE 2′ MONGREL

In exactly the same way,  when Dixon provocatively used the word mongrel, he was angry.  And he had every right to be.  And he knew exactly what he was doing. You mightn’t  like the metaphor he used. But you have to concede  he did make his point. The best joke, though, is that in Jamaica, canine mongrels and human mongrels are  very  different breeds. Canine mongrels have no pedigree.  And there are lots of proverbs about those low-class mongrels. For instance, “If you take pity on a hungry dog  it will turn on you and bite you.”

images-9Now, human mongrels are a completely different story. They are high-class breeds.  They are the elite of Jamaican society.  Look on ‘Page 2′ in the tabloid newspaper.  There you’ll find lots of  human mongrels, both male and female.  They are mixed breed.  They are not fully black; and they are not fully white. They are not fully Chinese or fully Indian. They are a little of this and a little of that.  They are  ‘out of many, one person’.  They are the genuine, top-class  Jamaicans. And lots of ‘pure’ black people love to mix with them and get on as if they, too, are really mongrels.

Anyhow I don’t  know which breed of mongrel Dixon was  talking about. Quite contradictorily, it could go both ways in this case. If I were the minister, I would just go with  the human mongrel and  not bother to get upset. After all, every dog has its day and every cat its own time.

 

Raping Virgin Territory

jamaica“Hold down an tek weh.” That’s exactly what it is. Protected lands on Long Mountain that, by law, should remain virgin territory for the benefit of all Jamaicans, for generations to come, have been captured and are about to be deflowered by the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ).

The Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) are mandated to protect conservation lands. Instead of carrying out their mission honourably, it would appear that the NRCA and NEPA have ganged up and held down the virgin so that the HAJ can have its way, back and front. It’s an all-too-familiar scenario.

images-1According to a report published in The Gleaner on Thursday, May 23, the HAJ “posted an environmental bond, valued at between $30 million and $40 million, as part of the preconditions” in order to get a permit for further ‘development’ on Long Mountain. Of course, no environmental bond would be needed if there was [sic] no threat of environmental degradation.

I refuse to use the antiquated subjunctive ‘were’ for ‘was’. I am in no mood for grammatical niceties. The environmental problems with ‘development’ on Long Mountain are decidedly not hypothetical. They are very real. All of the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for the area have clearly identified the risks. It’s not a case of ‘if’ there are going to be problems. And it’s definitely not future tense; it’s present.

ARMAGEDDON MUST BE NIGH

images-3Just ask the leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, and his wife Juliet who are building what appears to be a fortress in Beverly Hills. They seem to know something that the rest of us don’t: Armageddon must be nigh. In the recent rains, an avalanche of stones from their property rolled downhill, propelled by the flood waters spewing from the Long Mountain Country Club into Beverly Hills and the Pines of Karachi.

Instead of feeding the aquifer, rainwater from the housing scheme runs off the hill and goes to waste, damaging roads along the way. This specific problem was forecast in the EIA for the country club that was done in 2000. But the unwelcome findings were simply ignored. And now there’s the threat of a new ‘development’ that will only compound existing environmental dangers.

12945495986xm08TThe $30m-$40m bond will, I suspect, prove completely inadequate to fix the environmental damage the new scheme will cause. It’s like those television ads promising cures for all sorts ailments. When you hear the side effects of the miracle drugs, including death, you wonder if you’re not better off with the original disease. In the case of Long Mountain, it’s even worse. The fertile land is healthy. It should be left exactly as it is. There’s no need to manufacture an environmental problem in order to try to solve it.

Furthermore, this new development below the country club is even closer to the Mona Reservoir. The 2000 EIA for both the country club and the additional 30 acres or so that are now up for grabs predicted that “[a]dditional storm water will be discharged into existing drainage channels to increase erosion on the lower slopes facing the reservoir … . From field observations, there are a number of drainage channels on the lower slope that are capable of carrying storm water laden with sediments directly into the reservoir during periods of high rainfall.”

images-5

Mona Reservoir and Long Mountain

The EIA also warned that if a sewage line from the proposed development is broken, gravity will feed the waste directly into the reservoir. Even worse, the lift station for the new development is to be located right across from the reservoir. In the event of an earthquake or even a burst pipe, sewage is likely to flow freely into the reservoir. And sewage from the country club has already been flowing freely into some homes in the Pines of Karachi.

NOT THE WHOLE STORY

images-7The Gleaner story on the HAJ permit reports that “[t]he subdivision, which should initially have seen the development of 54 residential lots on just over 29 acres of land, came under public scrutiny more than two years ago after its upscale neighbours – the Pines of Karachi and Beverly Hills – raised concerns over how it would impact them”. That’s not the whole story. And it’s not a class issue: ‘upscale’ versus ‘downscale’. I expect that the potential investors in the new development are quite ‘upscale ‘.

The impact of ‘backlash’ development on existing communities is, indeed, an understandable concern. For example, as far as I can tell, no new access roads are going to be built for the proposed development. This will increase traffic congestion, especially since one of the access roads on the approved plan for the Long Mountain Country Club was never built. How the developer got away with it, I don’t know. In any case, Pines of Karachi and Beverly Hills have been forced to accommodate additional traffic that would have used the missing road.

images-6The much bigger picture is protecting the environment. The most recent EIA, commissioned by the HAJ, admits that “the proposed development site is zoned for public open space in the 1966 Confirmed Kingston Development Order for Kingston while in the emerging Kingston and St Andrew Development Order, 2008, the proposed zoning is public open space/conservation”. But the two-faced assessment observes that “there has been in the past a relaxation of the zoning restriction”. So because there have been breaches in the past, we should just keep on turning conservation areas into housing!

images-8All is not lost. There is still one last wall of defence against the encroaching development: The Cabinet. That’s where the final decision will be taken. I hope Prime Minister Simpson Miller and her Cabinet will find the courage to halt the ravaging of Long Mountain. It all started with another PNP administration. They need to make amends. “Wat gone bad a-morning can come good a-evening.”

‘Straight’ Spouses At Risk

images-1No matter how hard I try to filter out spam, I end up getting all sorts of unwanted email messages: fraudulent appeals from friends supposedly stranded abroad who need large sums of money to help them come home; sales pitches from China offering goods and services I don’t need; notices that I’ve won huge sums of money in lotteries for which I don’t even have a ticket. You know the usual thing.

The most interesting bit of unsolicited mail I got last week was from South Florida Connects, Inc. Its tag line is ‘No Straight Spouse Left Behind: Straight Spouse Awareness’. The language is old-fashioned, but the issues are current. The website reveals that “You are a straight spouse if you are a heterosexual individual married to or dating someone who is secretly gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered.”

images-2I immediately wondered how you would know that your allegedly heterosexual partner is not what he or she appears to be if his/her double life really is a secret. That’s the trouble with being an English teacher. You constantly pay attention to the meaning of words. All the same, I suppose secrets have a way of slipping out, especially if the spouse in hiding secretly wishes to come clean.

The website offers the assurance that “[i]t is better to be hurt by the truth than to be comforted with a dangerous lie”. Then again, proverbial wisdom advises that “where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise”. Anyhow, I called the number on the website (954-815-6563) and left a voicemail message.

Ian Boyne

Ian Boyne

PAINFUL RELIGIOUS HARD TALK

The night before I got the ‘straight spouse’ email, I watched ‘Religious Hardtalk’, hosted by Ian Boyne. It was painful. I saw my friend Annie Kitchin valiantly trying to engage in intelligent conversation with the Rev Clinton Chisholm. She had a hard time. Rev Chisholm defines himself as a “Christian apologist”. This is not the same as an apology for a Christian. Annie declared herself to be an atheist.

The problem with being an apologist for any cause is that you often end up appearing irrational. Even if, as in the case of Rev Chisholm, your cause is proving the rationality of Christianity! An apologist takes a position and refuses to budge. On the subject of homosexuality and the Bible, the good reverend seemed unwilling to concede that the laws of Leviticus which sentence to death perpetrators of “unnatural” acts are unconscionably outdated. Well, that’s how it sounded to me.

images-4Annie was on form, completely dismissive of the backward view that all Old Testament laws have validity in modern times. She systematically demolished Rev Chisholm’s arguments. But, of course, he may not agree. In any case, it is precisely this hanging on to irrelevant biblical codes of conduct that makes us so unwillingly to accept the fact that the human rights of all homosexuals in Jamaica ought to be protected under the law. Not only those whose class privilege usually gives them immunity.

And just as the rights of lesbians, all-sexuals and gays need to be protected, so too ‘straight’ people should be protected from the guile of deceitful spouses. We need a ‘straight spouse’ support group in Jamaica. It’s the flip side of J-FLAG. I searched the Internet to see if we already had a support group here. I ended up right where I started: on the South Florida Connects, Inc website.

NO SEX ON HONEYMOON

Debbie Thomas-Brown

Debbie Thomas-Brown

Debbie Thomas-Brown, a Jamaican nurse and former schoolteacher, founded the association based on her own experience and the fact that her research showed there was no support for immigrant straight spouses like her. Right off the bat, she said the fundamental problem is that Jamaica makes being gay a crime. Our society does not allow gay people to be their authentic selves. So many pretend to be heterosexual for an easy life.

Their spouses pay the price, especially innocent young women raised in Christian homes who have little sexual experience and no point of comparison to measure their spouse’s performance – or lack of it. Debbie told me about a young couple who had no sex on their honeymoon. The husband had absolutely no interest. Then the wife caught him with a huge erection, pleasuring himself with the help of gay porn. You can just imagine how she felt.

images-8Deprived of sex, neglected wives start to believe that something is wrong with them. Their husbands tell them they are too thin or too fat. They are just not sexy. In some instances, their husbands have sex (with them) only once a year. Debbie argues that gay men tend to marry women with low self-esteem, who often have anxieties about their attractiveness.

Another target group is women in service-oriented professions who have been trained to keep secrets: nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers, lawyers and police. They are not likely to ‘out’ their partners. And if the women do confront their husbands in private, even with very good evidence, the men usually accuse their wives of being ‘crazy’. And the women start to doubt themselves because that’s the last thing they really want to believe.

images-9I learnt that there’s a Grindr app designed for gay men that facilitates quick hook-ups. It’s available all over the world. Say you’re in the National Stadium at a football match and you send out a message that you want a ‘Canadian’. In the jargon, that’s an uncircumcised penis. In two twos, the app will locate several willing members nearby. It’s as easy as that.

Debbie said she would love to be a guest on ‘Religious Hardtalk’. She has a particular burden for Christian women who get caught in relationships with men on the down-low. And it’s not only women who are conned. Heterosexual men also end up marrying lesbians in the church. Finding a ‘good’ man or woman in the house of the Lord is not as straightforward as we once thought it was. Over to you, Pastor Boyne!

Do All Household Helpers Steal?

417656_251659581637258_1041631005_nLast Sunday, the third annual ‘Dis Poem Word Festival’ was staged in Hope Bay, Portland. It was a beautiful setting by the sea. Conceived by Ras Takura, an enterprising poet, the festival was held in honour of the ‘Iancient’, Mutabaruku – poet, political philosopher and talk-show host on both radio and television. In the mystic ‘I and I’ language of Rastafari, ‘Iancient’ means ‘elder’.

Now Muta is two years younger than me. I don’t know about him, but I am certainly not ancient. Although I have to admit that I was once asked by a very imperceptive woman if Muta was my son. She clearly needed glasses. It sweet Muta when mi tell im. Im laugh so till! An im seh im know it must burn mi. All mi could do was laugh.

images-3Anyhow, I was quite happy to accept Ras Takura’s invitation to read at the festival in honour of the ancient. I’m not a poet. But since it was a ‘word’ festival, I figured I was free to interpret ‘poem’ rather loosely. I decided to tell a story I’d written two decades ago, which I’d dusted off for the ‘Kingston Pon Di River’ festival last year. Incidentally, the river winds its way to Hope Gardens on June 30.

417844_10201239447410234_62773901_nMuta likes to throw words at brand-name poets who keep performing the same works over and over. I figured I could get away with it as an amateur. In any case, this was a new audience. My story, “Live-een Helper”, is told from the point of view of both the helper and her employer. It raises the twin problem of theft and trust. It’s a big chance of trust you take bringing strangers into your home, even when they come with superlative recommendations. These are often quite fictitious.

CLASSIC JINNALSHIP

100dollarbillI once had a helper, Gloria, who helped herself to a US$100 bill and replaced it with a one-dollar bill which looked like it had suffered a very long minibus ride through Kingston at rush hour. It was all crushed up, bearing no resemblance to the rest of the notes in the envelope. When I confronted Gloria, she insisted that she had not made the switch.

She then asked me, “How much money yu did have?” Now this question is a classic piece of jinnalship designed to shift attention from the real matter at hand and to create doubt in the mind of the victim. Pure strategy! If you’re not sure how much money you had, how could you be so sure you’d been robbed? Fortunately for me, I had my bank receipt, which I promptly flourished. Gloria was not impressed. She insisted on her innocence.

CallingTheBluffWebBut nobody else had come in the house since I’d brought the money home the day before. I decided to call Gloria’s bluff. I called the police. In a most amusing turn of events, one of the officers who interviewed her offered to give me a US$100 bill that he just happened to have on him if I would agree not to press charges. He must have thought I was born yesterday! But I really couldn’t let them arrest Gloria for a hundred US dollars even though 20 years ago that was a fair bit of money.

lightfingers_smallI commended the officer on his generosity, telling him I hadn’t realised there were men of such compassion in the force who would sacrifice their own money to help out a poor young woman who found herself in a difficult situation. All he was asking in return was that Gloria come to the station for counselling. Miss Gloria had a very ‘healthy’ body, even though her fingers were rather light. I had no idea how the counselling would go, but it was none of my business. I had got back my money.

A RATHER DISTURBING STORY

images-4When one of my friends heard my story, she asked me how come I don’t know that all helpers steal, no matter how well you treat them. I protested. I may be naïve, but I refuse to believe that there are no honest helpers left in Jamaica. To prove her point, my cynical friend told me a rather disturbing story. She knew of a helper who had been working for two days a week at the handsome rate of $4,000 a day.

Things were going along quite well until her employer started to get the uneasy feeling that money was disappearing from her purse. But she really couldn’t believe that the helper was stealing from her. She figured she must be just forgetting exactly how much money she had. One morning, she decided to count the money in her purse, which she then placed in her handbag. Sure enough, at the end of the day, a thousand-dollar bill was missing.

images-6Her helper vigorously denied that she had stolen the money. The brazen question she asked in her defence was, “Why I would take only $1,000?” Pretending not to understand either multiplication or addition, not to mention subtraction, the helper seemed to claiming that such a small sum was beneath her dignity. If she was going to steal, she would steal big. But if, over the course of a year, she stole only $1,000 each time she came to work, that would amount to more than $100,000! One-one coco full basket; one-one thousand dollar empty purse.

images-7And, I suppose, the helper’s justification of her systematic stealing would probably be that if her employer didn’t miss the money, she really didn’t need it. It could be put to much better use. My friend told me that when the helper realised she was going to be fired, she had the nerve to announce that she needed the job. But, of course! If you are well paid and can also get away with theft, you have a very good job indeed! Sounds a lot like politics.