Closing the gate of the apartment complex as I walked by at 10:00 AM, Saturday morning, the maintenance man gave me an ominous warning: “Be careful out in the streets, pretty girl.”
His warning echoed in my mind as I reflected on the events over the last five days.
Jamaica had now reached eight confirmed coronavirus cases, two of which were through community spread. This number according to Prime Minister, Andrew Holness is expected to grow in the upcoming days.
The communities of Seven and Eight Miles, in Bull Bay St Andrew, have been quarantined.
All schools were ordered closed by the Prime Minister. Employers were being encouraged to allow employees who can work from home to do so. And despite assurances they do not have to, citizens were engaging in panic shopping, convinced that COVID-19 will be the apocalypse.
I recoiled in the back seat of the taxi, careful to not get too close to the other passengers without appearing scornful. My apprehension was unfounded, as they too seem to have the same idea.
“This corona a get outta hand, mek she nuh gwaan back weh she a come from, wi nuh want har ya,” one of the passengers declared, speaking of the virus.
“Yes, and it worse dan wi think. One a di man weh bring it come ya, a two pickney him have, and a when him wife and daughter inna pain and him couldn’t tek it nuh more, him call in doctor. Is a text message him send off, long like wah, all now mi nuh finish read,” another passenger chimed in.
“I bet that text was not as long as this ride is going to be,” I thought to myself, eager to get to Half-Way Tree.
Half-Way-Tree, St Andrew
The streets that would have been seething with people on a Saturday morning were almost deserted. There was no ‘CD’ man pushing his cart and playing music, no long traffic lines, and no crowds at the taxi stands.
In fact, the loudest sounds came from the taxi men and women who all shouted out their destination to anyone who passed by.
“Nobody nuh too deh pan di road, but a suh it guh, people haffi protect themselves,” Marsha, who operates on the Price Rite to Half-Way Tree route said.
“From mawning mi nuh get no customers, dem time ya mi wudda get customers already. But weh mi fi duh, the place dead,” a taxi man whined.
But while acknowledging that they were more at risk of contracting the virus by being out in the streets, they conceded that they had no choice. Their livelihood depended on it. “Weh stay in aguh? When yuh stay in, weh yuh aguh get food fi eat, fi feed di pickney dem?” another taxi operator asked me.
I had no answers to give him.
But a man, handing out flyers may have had some.
The journey to Downtown, Kingston revealed a scene that was in stark contrast to what was observed in Half-Way Tree.
Except for the few ‘Chinese-owned’ haberdasheries that were closed along Princess Street, it was business as usual in the shopping hub of Kingston.
If anything, vendors were taking advantage of the demand for anti-bacterial products, and selling them alongside their fashion items.
“Hydrogen Peroxide, Vinegar a $150 a bottle!” one vendor shouted to potential customers as they passed by.
“Mi still haffi come out come work, same like how yuh come out inna di crowd come duh your work, a suh mi haffi do mine to,” Maxine responded to my question as to why she out in the street and not ‘quarantined’ at home.
But their entrepreneurial spirit was not to be outdone by their awareness of how serious this virus is. Many of them were observed regularly spraying their hands with disinfectants, and wearing masks.
“Mi mek sure seh mi wash mi hand dem regular wid mi spray, as mi touch di money suh mi wash mi hand,” another vendor said.
Over in Coronation Market, shoppers were busy getting their local produce before the market closed.
The Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) was set to close the market on Saturday evening for sanitation purposes. The KSAMC advised that the market will reopen for business by Wednesday.
And although this would mean a loss of earnings for market vendors, it was a sacrifice that Kemesha believes all vendors should be willing to make. “Everbody comes here, so it has to spray. We have to do the necessary precautions,” she said.