For the first time in more than 30 years, my sister, Donnette, didn’t come home for Christmas. I’m not amused. Like the wise men from the East, she always comes bearing gifts. These are not last-minute, hit-or-miss purchases. You know the obligatory gifts that nobody actually wants.
Many of my sister’s gifts are handmade. She’s a multimedia artist, masquerading as an attorney. Some of her gifts are exquisite thrift-shop finds. She has mastered the art of hunting for treasure in unlikely places. When I go thrift-shopping with her, I wander aimlessly around the store. All I can see is junk.
After a few minutes of idleness, I feel obliged to ‘find’ something. I usually do very well with books. I like hardbacks and you can find lots of them in very good condition. Americans no longer seem to read books much. And I might pick up a barely-used designer handbag which looks like a bargain at $30. And so it goes.
Then my sister comes and inspects my cart. She imperiously tells me to put back practically everything. The handbag is much too expensive. It will be on half-price sale in a couple of days. And if it’s gone, there’ll always be another one. On rare occasions, she actually approves of one or two of my selections. And I feel relieved. My thrift-shop game is improving.
Thanks to chik-V, my Christmas gifts are languishing up north. Like many other Jamaicans I know, my sister decided it wasn’t worth the risk of infection to come home this year. I can think of at least 35 confirmed cases of the ‘no chik-V Christmas for me’ syndrome. Yes, Dr. Ferguson, we all know that 35 is the magic number.
These fearful souls are die-hard Jamaicans who come home every single year. Sometimes, more than once. After hearing so many chik-V horror stories, able-bodied yardies a foreign did a careful cost-benefit analysis of their holiday options. Stay in the cold, far from those nasty mosquitoes; or come to the warmth of family and friends – and risk a deadly bite. The sensible ones stayed put.
I wonder if Dr Ferguson was thinking about Jamaicans abroad when he tried to hide the truth about the spread of chik-V from tourists. If the Ministry of Health had heeded the early warnings about the threat of the virus, we might have protected that sure tourist market of Jamaicans who come home often. Not to mention all those of us here who have suffered so terribly.
One year, my sister came for Christmas and got dengue. It was not pretty. So I completely understand why she decided not to come this time. She went to Florida instead. I reminded her that chik-V is there. And I promised to dead wid laugh if she got foreign chik-V.
DYING FROM CHIK-V
I really admire those hard-core Jamaicans who decided to brave the mosquitoes. Nothing can keep them away from home. They will always take their chances with us. And if chik-V is going to become endemic in the Caribbean, as the experts say, we’re just going to have to learn to live with it or die from it.
On Christmas Eve, I called the Ministry of Health to get the current estimate of deaths that might have resulted from chik-V. Admittedly, this is not a cheery holiday topic. But unlike so many of our politicians, I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss. We might as well know the truth, however unpleasant.
I wasn’t able to get any figures out of the Ministry. The story goes something like this: We haven’t been able to confirm all the cases that look like chik-V. So we can’t know for sure how many deaths are chik-V-related. The Ministry of Health is still in denial.
I was told to visit the website of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). I couldn’t easily see an answer to my question. I did find a Gleaner article by Anastasia Cunningham, published on October 4, 2014: “113 Suspected Chik-V-Related Deaths in Region”. According to that report, “Jamaica has recorded at least two deaths suspected to be related to the virus, which has a fatality rate of less than one per cent.”
With apologies to Elvis Presley, all I can say is:
Every time you give me figures I’m still not certain that they’re true
Every time you talk to me I’m still not certain that you care
Though you keep on saying we haven’t confirmed the chik-V cases
Do you speak the same words to someone else when I’m not there?
Suspicion torments my heart
Suspicion keeps us apart
Suspicion why torture me?
On Christmas morning, I got this gloating email from my sister: “Ackee and salt fish ready. Mackerel run down running down. ‘Food’ cook and breadfruit and plantain frying”. She’s obviously at home. I don’t even have Christmas cake. My friend, Kemorine, who always gives me one of hers, didn’t bake this year. Her hands weren’t up to it. Yes, chik-V.
Two Sundays ago, I bought a tee shirt, designed by a Jamaican living in Florida. On the front, there’s the now-familiar image of a chicken with a gun and the words, “Chik-V Warrior”. On the back, there’s a clear sign of the times: “#mosquitofidead”. Fi true. Mosquito mash up mi Christmas!