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House on Fire!! ?? and other safety stuff

Day Two. Oct 5 2023

The image is digital artwork from the Myanmar Food Not Bombs gang. This grassroots group (made up of a lot of artists and punks) goes into the danger zones and distribute food, joins in on the cooking, and entertains kids while the bombs fly overhead. I am just too new to Jamaica to have relevant photos to attach to a safety and security blog, so thought you might like this. It was part of my 2022 Language of Art exhibit in Kelowna, BC (used with permission)

Its 7pm. I have cranked open all of the horizontal wooden shutter louves on the windows because it has only cooled to 31°c outside and maybe 30° inside. My phone rings and I answer it, but quickly have to end the call. I hear this earth-shattering, generator-like wail reverberating across the neighbourhood, and when it stops there is this huge, 2-story plume of white white smoke billowing up like a thunderhead.

I race to the balcony doors and step outside. The billow is heading my way, but no flames. A couple of neighbours have also appeared only to rush back into their homes. Thats when I smell it. A strong chemically smell. ... like burning plastic with a hint of perfume. Time to de-crank. The shutters are stiff, and reluctantly cooperate, but not before some of the smell sneaks inside my second story apartment. Is this safe?

By chance, today Liam and I began the safety and security component of our in-country Cuso training program. This is a country where racism is almost nonexistent. But there is no getting around the fact that Kingston in particular needs clearly defined security protocol for us to ensure we remain safe. We are given reading homework after our session, and forms to sign, stating that we will comply with all set out rules including:

NO walking after 5pm anywhere in Kingston - use a chartered (approved) taxi, even if it is a block. During the day route taxis are fine (they carry 5-9 passengers at a time and have drop off points) Public busses are out, but certain busses are allowed for out-of-town trips.

NO cycling day or night anywhere in Kingston - unless I joined a Lycra pack. Waaaaaaaaaaaaa. Will I get desperate enough to do that?

NO participating in or attending protests/demonstrations.

NO admittance under any circumstance, to the designated no-go zones (inner city residential areas like Trench Town.) They are hotspots for shootings, fuelled by gang activities and spontaneous anger outbursts between gang members. Jamaica has one of the world's highest murder rates, at 43 per 100,000. To put in perspective, in 2021, there were 1474 murders in Jamaica (pop.2.82 mil), compared to 788 in Canada (pop.38.25 mil)Volunteers re highly unlikely to be targeted for shooting, but rather if a shooting occurs, the area will be locked down. And who wants to be in a lockdown area where gang members and police are sorting things out?

NO wearing orange or green on election day (party colours). It used to be more of a problem, but still best not to provoke, so stay home and chill.

Always have extra water, candles, flashlights and snacks on hand in case of hurricane, earthquake or lockdown order.

Have health insurance card with me at all times.

Memorize Cuso Jamaica emergency hotline number, and phone - never text. (oh and most Jamaicans phone and not text because texting often costs more in phone plans)

Use the emergency line any time your health or safety may be compromised. Do not hesitate.

Which brings me back to the smoke.

I smile. Because, imagine. A Day 2 call to the emergency line.

I did not call. Not because I had just arrived in country, but because I took enough time to assess the situation. There were no sirens, no flames or the smell of wood. It was not a house on fire. And the smoke was fading. (While working in Myanmar, a nearby building fire filled my apartment with choking smoke. I had to go to a hotel, and called the emergency line from there). The only concern was the toxic smell, but very little had permeated the house so I felt ok about it.

This morning Mr. Mason, the Cuso taxi driver, explained it out. Not smoke. Fogging. It is the city-wide fumigation program aimed at controlling the hatching mosquito population that occurs after the rains. Prior to my arrival Jamaica had a week of daily heavy rains, which is not the norm. Rainy season here is rarely daily rainfall, and normally just for brief periods in the late afternoon or evening.

The fogging chemicals are deltamethrin and anvil, and apparently safe for humans. In fact, well, read on, from a Jamaica Daily Gleaner article ...

" ... even though the teams will be fogging, persons do not normally heed our request to open their windows and doors to allow the fog to drift in ... so the chemicals are effective, but the process of fogging may be affected by the fact that mosquitoes are on the inside, but persons do not necessarily open their windows and doors," she said." (Dr Sherine Huntly-Jones, medical entomologist with the health ministry).

Hmmmm. Not sure I can do that.

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