No irie Christmas in the sun for some US-based Jamaicans
Normalene Brown has been hosting Christmas treats in a district close to Macka Tree in St Catherine for upwards of a decade. The resident of Wellington in West Palm Beach, Florida, usually shops year round to ship more than a dozen barrels home. This year, such plans have been shelved due to what she described as draconian COVID-19 containment measures in the island.
Brown said that the barrels – which are filled with school supplies, food and gifts for the residents of that section of St Catherine from which she hails – usually cost her a pretty penny, but she is always willing to give back to persons in the land of her birth.
“More than 100 children and their families benefit from this initiative,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
However, this year, with the island battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown said that Jamaica’s quarantine restrictions for visitors has put paid to her plans.
“I have six barrels and two boxes in my garage filled with stuff that I want to give away, but I will not be going home this year. I respect the fact that we have to be health-conscious, but somewhere along the line, I feel those Jamaicans who live abroad are being blamed for the spread of corona, and the rules that they are putting forward makes it impossible for me to give back to the people who need it the most,” she said.
Persons who are not ordinarily resident in the island are required to undergo a COVID-19 test and present the results at their port of departure before being allowed to enter Jamaica. Those not travelling for business purposes and are not staying at a resort must undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Brown thinks that is too harsh.
“If it is that I am required to present a test result verified by the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] that I am negative, why quarantine me?” she asked. “It is as if the Jamaican Government wants to say to us here in the diaspora that we are solely responsible for the spread of the virus on the island and no matter how we have contributed to the economy and want to continue to contribute, we must be held up as the only vectors of this virus. It is an insult, and for that reason, I will not be going back home until the narrative has been altered.
“Yes, persons from the diaspora have brought the virus there, but what about controlling the activities of the Jamaican people, a lot of whom are not adhering to the protocols necessary to curtail the spread?” the mother of two said.
Brown reached for her smartphone and displayed at least seven video recordings she claimed were of parties held in the island in contravention of the COVID-19 orders. The clips showed partygoers dancing, imbibing and having a jolly time while disregarding social-distancing and mask-wearing protocols.
“You see it? No masks and everybody bundle up. ... Jamaica must also control the activities of those who live there, and those who have scant regard for the health risks also, and stop putting all the spotlight on us who live abroad,” she said.
Last week, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie warned party promoters that they would be prosecuted for breaches of the orders.
Kevin Davis, who lives in Ocala, Florida, was in agreement with Brown.
Davis has lived in the US for more than 30 years and has enjoyed his sorrel, ginger beer and Christmas dinner in Jamaica for the last decade.
“Sadly, there will be no irie Christmas in the sun for me this year. I just feel slighted by this argument that we are the ones responsible for the spread of the virus in the land of our birth,” he said. “I support the Government in trying to keep infections and death down and I am proud of their efforts. However, it feels like I will be stoned or treated as a leper if I go home, because all the blame is being placed on foreigners. I cannot get the images of nomination day out of my mind. It looked like COVID went on a holiday.”
Davis said Jamaica had been doing well with curtailing the infection rate initially, but the recent election and the nightly dances could be behind the spike that the island is seeing.
“Just be fair, Jamaica. You are not doing as well as when the virus just broke out. You have dropped the ball and it is unfair to place the blame solely on our shoulders,” he said.