This is not a comfortable thing to write about, but I must. Because it is about our everyday life, our way of life. How Jamaicans manage, daily, on this beautiful island.
It was Twitter that got me thinking. One tweet recently observed that there is a dark and heavy atmosphere. This, despite the COVID era being firmly behind us (we have not had a COVID19 update from the Ministry of Health and Wellness since September 30, 2022); despite the improvement in the unemployment figures, especially for women; and despite the uptick in business activity and confidence. Shouldn’t we all be feeling positive and happy? Yes, but there’s a shadow.
It is the lingering atmosphere of crime and violence. Our fundamental sense of safety and security. No, we don’t feel safe when we are out in public, and sometimes not at home either.
Another simple question was asked:
It’s hard to realise the impact crime has on your life in Jamaica until you leave. What are some things that put you on high alert here that wouldn’t make sense in other countries?
He received a flood of replies. Looking through them, I noted the following everyday situations that make us nervous when we are out in public, and some of the things we do to make ourselves feel safer:
- Motorbikes. Motorbikes. Predatory motorbikes. “Yeng yengs.” How do you know if they are genuine deliverymen? Many of them wear masks and helmets so you cannot see their faces. Motorbikes with a pillion passenger. The sound of a motorbike anywhere nearby.
- Approaching a red traffic light late at night – or at any time of day. I find myself looking in the side mirror to see it anyone is creeping up on us.
- Waiting for your gate to open when you get home in the evening.
- Leaving the bank.
- Going out at night (or rather, avoiding doing so if you can)
- Strangers loitering on the street – watching them
- Locking up back doors before going to bed – or if one is alone in the house during the day.
- In almost every situation, looking over your shoulder.
- Harassment by windshield wipers who lie in wait at several traffic intersections in towns.
- Getting into a taxi late at night.
- Taxis in general, especially getting into one where there is already a male passenger.
- Walking on the street, especially alone, and especially if you are a woman or a senior citizen.
- Waiting for someone in public.
- Having your back towards the door (even at home!)
- A car following you for too long when you are heading home.
- Taking the same route home.
- Driving with the windows down.
- Taking out your phone whenever and wherever you feel like it. You’re an instant target!
- Wearing jewellery.
- Being well dressed.
- Having to clutch your bag tightly (I do this).
- “Talking your business” in public.
- Living alone. Or even being home alone.
- Ordering in food from a delivery service.
- Walking with headphones in my ears.
- Withdrawing money from the ATM.
- Going to the supermarket.
- Asking for directions.
- Other people asking you for directions.
- Parking so you can get out quickly.
- Using any public transportation.
- Waiting for the bus.
- Answering your phone on the bus. I don’t call people if I think they may be traveling on public transportation.
- Waking up in the night to make sure a door or grill is locked.
- Having cash on me.
- Driving from the airport.
- People (men) walking close to you.
- People (men) walking towards you.
- Police and soldiers (no, aren’t they supposed to make you feel safer?)
- Picking up a package from a business place.
- Lonely streets.
- Loud noises (motorbikes or cars backfiring, perhaps?) and wondering whether a loud noise at night is a gunshot, or fireworks – by the way, this is a regular worry in our neighbourhood.
Is that list long enough for you? There are common themes: the fear of motorbikes, of going out at night, of people being close to you, public transportation, cell phones and laptops, and generally doing everyday business, especially if it involves money. I can honestly say that both my husband and myself can relate to 90 percent of the above. We have felt that anxiety, quite regularly.
I have noticed that most of the replies (but by no means all) were from women, who feel increasingly vulnerable, especially when they are alone.
I am not going to make any comment, except to say “Who feels it, knows it.” It is our life – and not only in Kingston, by the way. People are afraid of bushes, too, and trees, and who may be hiding behind them. And strangers, and empty roads.
I think we are all more afraid of strange men, too. Women – not so much. We may all be paranoid and hysterical; and you may say that many of these anxieties apply equally well to other towns and cities overseas. I remember being given a long lecture about security in Rio, years ago, and being anxiously guarded by a Brazilian when I went out to the night market. So, it’s all relative.
However: This is our daily life. We are hunkered down. We are tightly wrapped inside ourselves. We are on the lookout, just in case. Things we used to do – we don’t do them any more.
So – what next? What to do?
As my father would have said, “Answers on a postcard, please…”