From Dystopian Visions to Soothing Beauty and a Little Laughter: Jamaican Life in the Time of COVID-19


“World gone suicidal.”

So said our cleaning lady as we scrubbed the bathroom from top to bottom this morning. I think that sums things up pretty well, don’t you?

A short video clip on Twitter last evening gave me chills. Darkness had fallen over the community of Seven Miles/Eight Miles in Bull Bay – a community now under quarantine, but not, the Prime Minister says, under curfew. A soothing voice echoed eerily from a large vehicle with flashing headlights, followed by several others. They wound slowly along the main road, between the sea and the hills. You are now under quarantine, the mellifluous voice said; please, do cooperate with the health officials…

Someone commented on Twitter: “What movie does this come from?”

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A patient in a biocontainment unit is carried on a stretcher from an ambulance at the Columbus Covid 2 Hospital in Rome, on Tuesday. Italy’s health system is straining to keep up with quickly rising coronavirus cases. (Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Indeed, we are living in a world of Netflix surreality: strange videos on social media of people singing from balconies; someone in a dinosaur suit taking out the trash in Spain; orang-utans washing their hands; images of Europeans wearing plastic water dispensers over their heads on public transport. A recent report from the worst-hit area of Italy showed doctors and nurses trying to save people, lined up in an emergency ward. It was not only the sight of the patients, each isolated in his/her plastic world of tubes and masks, unable to communicate with each other. Worse still were the sound effects: a wheezing sound from the machines that are helping to keep their lungs working.

I am watching a series called The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime. It is loosely based on a short but very intense novel by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, published in 1962. Although called “alternative history” (what if the Nazis had won the war?) it is essentially sci-fi – as is Dick’s “Blade Runner,” also a cinematic classic.

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In “The Man in the High Castle,” Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) investigates a strange alternate reality — ours. Where are we? (Photo: Amazon)

In one scene, a nightclub singer sings, in a mixture of Japanese and English, a 1960s hit called “The End of the World.”   The song was actually recorded on the date of the book’s publication. The nostalgia has a sinister ring to it; the singer floats in a smoky vacuum. Where are we? What is happening? Is it? The End of the World, I mean?

There is a loneliness about this COVID-19 period. It is like living in an abandoned building.

I am also having strange dreams. One recently had a fierce, black-eyed, hook-nosed warrior with a samurai sword as its main character.  He wore a strange kind of headgear, rather like the makeshift head protection people have been wearing. His helmet closely resembled one of our lampshades – hard plastic, but stained with what looked like nicotine, or coffee. The warrior’s eyes flashed. We (the good guys) were hiding in plain sight, but somehow the warrior did not see us. I woke up.

sunset at home

But there is beauty, and there is calm in the beauty of nature. On my walk around the yard (we are so thankful for it) this evening I took a few photos. A White-winged Dove looked down at me from the moringa tree with its dangling seed pods. A cloud – a cloud of the changing weather – turned from shining white to blurry grey to rose as the evening light dispersed. You can find a few of these photos on my Instagram page.

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Flamingoes in Jamaica. (Photo: Vaughn Turland)

We also shared another photo of flamingoes amongst our birding group. These were on our still relatively unspoiled south coast, again). We shared a video of the Grey Kingbird (the Petchary in local parlance) – just arrived for the summer, preening his feathers in a rain shower in Westmoreland. And every evening, the White-chinned Thrush sings for us, his broken but melodious song, with short pauses between each phrase. And earlier today, the cool rain was welcome… I stole this photo from Susan Goffe’s morning meditations on Twitter…

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The traditionally raucous Jamaican sense of humor seems to be rather muted, at the moment. There are attempts at a “COVID-19 song” (there was a very popular ditty after Hurricane Gilbert, which cheered everyone up) – but I think it’s a little too soon for that. The problem is, we feel as if we are by no means past the worst. It may have only just started.

So, many memes and jokes are more of the “black humor” variety, such as this:

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Be safe and well, everyone. And as Jamaicans would say: “Tan a yu yard!” (Stay home).

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A kind of loneliness: “Blade Runner,” starring Harrison Ford was Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir film, adapted from Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

2 thoughts on “From Dystopian Visions to Soothing Beauty and a Little Laughter: Jamaican Life in the Time of COVID-19

  1. Emma, congrats on this beautiful sensitively written blog! Resonates powerfully with me. I live in Bull Bay but in a community called Wickie Wackie, also in 8 miles, on the seaside, much further east! Knowing and understanding these communities quite well, I feel that your blog makes scary sense. Keep healthy and safe. Judith PS I am self-quarantined, and am thankfully able to drive past the worst affected areas, although slowly, to observe and sometimes ask questions- from a distance!

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    1. Dear Judith: It’s wonderful to hear from you. We have of course often driven through the area on the main road heading east. It always seems such a fragile community, in an environment that is so prone to disasters. I know it’s not like that where you are. Please do keep healthy and safe also! We are also isolating ourselves as much as possible. We have to stay here me. I am hoping that this will be over. What strange times we are living in. Please give my love to Bull Bay! We both send warm wishes.

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