Jamaica Magazine

My Eight Years in Jamaica – Part 2: An American Retiree in Jamaica

 The community I live in has its own local government with duly elected officers.  Dues are collected to pay for any outlay of funds such as road repairs which the government can’t afford to do.  I was asked to attend their meetings a few months after moving in.  They meet monthly to address any concerns the citizens have regarding assisting someone with special needs or a community beautification project.  There have been several community projects to repair our aging pothole ridden roads.  The community association also helps in dealing with problems with the local government or one of the utilities.  We get far better response as a group than trying to fight “city hall” by ourselves. 

Hiring someone to do work on your property can be a harrowing experience.  It is easy to find someone of any profession who is willing to do the work but the outcome may not be to your satisfaction.  It is important to get recommendations from friends and neighbors but even that doesn’t come with a guarantee.  I needed a plumber and an electrician to install a dishwasher and clothes dryer after moving in.  My friend suggested two such people for the job and he even came with them.  Right from the get go I had doubts about the ability of the plumber to install a dishwasher.  He assured me had installed several in the past.  Without reading the instructions, which he probably couldn’t do anyway, he hooked up the cold water to the dishwasher instead of the hot.  Duh!  The electrician did the connections on the dishwasher but when they pushed it into place sparks flew everywhere from underneath the dishwasher.  It seems the floor was wet and the wires weren’t properly joined and when the two met….. well.  Of course after that mishap, they were unable to get the dishwasher to work.  Later I called the local authorized repair service but they were no help.  So there I am with a brand new top of the line dishwasher that never washed a dish and no one has been able to help me.  After weeks of haggling with the manufacturer in the U.S., I was given a brand new bottom of the line dishwasher without being reimbursed for the difference in price.  At least the new dishwasher worked. 

Getting back to my electrician and plumber I had the plumber hook a utility sink to cold water only.  Can you guess what happened?  Yep, he hooked the sink up to hot water instead.  Now the electrician’s task was to enable me to use my electric dryer.  However, this proved to be more than he could handle.  The dryer does work but for that to happen he cut the plug off the pigtail and wired it directly to a 220 outlet.  I should have realized that he wasn’t an experienced electrician as his electrical tester was nothing more than a single ceiling fixture with two wires coming out of the back and a light bulb in the socket.  Pretty simple, don’t you think?  All you do is stick the two bare wires into an outlet and if the bulb doesn’t light up you have a problem.  Or, it could be that his bulb burned out!  That was my first lesson in hiring workers.  I have since made sure that at least the principal of the company is either registered or licensed.  It may cost me more but it is well worth it. 

Sometime later I had another project to be done.  This time I got an estimate first so there wouldn’t be any surprises.  We agreed on the price but in the end he produced a much higher bill.  Surprise!  It seems all contractor prices are for labor only unless otherwise stated.  More than half of these workers expect to use your tools as well!  Sometimes the contractors add a little extra on the price of the material they procured.  Some occasions they may even get a contractors price on the materials but pass on the retail price to you.  Generally speaking, what I do is purchase the material myself so there isn’t any questions later.

Now for a look at the social life of this upscale community I live in.  It is far different than back in New England.  On the plus side, the people are much friendlier in Jamaica and are more willing to help each other.  It matters not whether it’s a community project or helping a neighbor with a personal task.  The mentality is I’ll help you today and you’ll help me tomorrow.  There are friendships here that go back over 30 or more years but on the negative side, missing is social interaction.  There aren’t any backyard barbecues or block dances.  Missing too are the dinner parties or ladies’ afternoon teas.  Two of my neighbors have known each other for decades.  They talk to each other nearly daily but I have never known either one of them to set foot on each others property for social reasons.  Instead they talk to each other  over the closed locked driveway gate, one on one side and one on the other.  Once I saw two neighborhood men talking over the garden wall with glasses in hand and a bottle of scotch sitting on the wall.  For men to gather around someone’s TV set to watch a soccer game or cricket match is unheard of.  I’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with the house being a mess or anything like that.  It is just their culture. 

Wherever I am or whatever I am doing when it comes to dealing with the majority of the Jamaicans, I feel they are thinking that I am “a rich, white American.”  Beggars will bypass throngs of Jamaicans just to approach me with their hand out.  Prices for food in the produce market are often raised because of the color of my skin.  I counter this by getting more than one price from the vendors.  Once the higglers in the market got to know me, the less often they overpriced their goods.  It also helps that I deal with pretty much the same people week after week.  Even so, I still will ask for prices from other vendors to make sure I pay a fair price.  I also know that Jamaicans are quoted different prices from stand to stand too as all the vendors want to make as much as they can.   

My life in Jamaica has not always been a bed of roses.  Less than a year after enjoying my retirement I was thrust into a murder case.  My wife and I had met a white woman at a deadyard (wake), who had recently married a Jamaican.  Her and my wife hit it off right from the beginning not only because they were close in age but this woman lived in a town near us back in Massachusetts.  Within six months after they were married, she wanted out.  However, he married her for her money and didn’t want to lose it.  The only way out for him was to slit her throat.  After several years in court and two trials, he walked away a free and rich man.  My involvement came as a result of the police not being able to contact the woman’s family in Massachusetts and my wife’s phone number was the only personal number in her phone book.  It was my dubious task to identify her body and to testify to it in court.  Because of the length of the case and the nearly thirty court appearances I have come to know a large number of attorneys, probably more than any regular person.  Anyone need a recommendation? 

With all that said and done, why am I still living here you may ask.  It is really quite simple.  I love the people and the beauty of the island and the weather’s not too bad either.  I have found I can live a lot cheaper here than in the Boston area.  In fact, we would both have to be working to support ourselves if we still lived there.  Life is less stressful and uncomplicated here.  People have asked me over the years through this medium if I have any regrets and would I do it over again.  My answer has always been the same, I have no regrets and I would do it all over again.  Jamaica, Jamaica, land I love.  Later….     

About the author

John Casey