Thu | Dec 2, 2021

Diasporans upset about being scorned in Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | September 1, 2020 | 12:19 AMDave Rodney/Gleaner Writer
New Jersey resident Curline Smith says she felt scorned by her mom’s church in Kingston
New Jersey resident Curline Smith says she felt scorned by her mom’s church in Kingston

A growing number of non-resident Jamaicans are complaining that they are being scorned while visiting the island.

Denise Mitchell, 46, who arrived on the island early last week for her father’s weekend funeral said she felt scorned at every turn.

“My family has a home in Manchester and the next door neighbour always keeps the house key. When I arrived to get the keys after calling ahead, the neighbour barely cracked the window open and asked me to step away from her verandah. She then quickly opened the door halfway and flung the keys so hard and so far in the front yard that I almost got knocked over”, Mitchell complained. “And with a cold howdy, she slammed the door shut in a hurry and retreated inside, murmuring something about leaving the keys in a verandah flower pot”.

Jamaica is famous for the warm welcome that is normally lavished on visitors. But the new cold shoulder that Mitchell experienced appears to be directly related to an alarming spike in the number of COVID-19 cases across Jamaica.

“I understand the concern about the coronavirus”, Mitchell, who lives in Queens, New York, said. “But this is not social distancing, this is scorn from people I’ve known my whole life. Even taxis, for some food shopping, are hard to get if they know you’re coming from overseas. This is madness!” she added, admitting that on previous trips she was always assailed and showered with love from those who now shun her.

Curline Smith, a Jamaican resident in East Orange, New Jersey, recently returned from Kingston for her mother’s funeral. She told The Gleaner that her grief was compounded by the treatment she received on the island. “A Catholic church my mother attended for years in the Waltham Park area refused to accommodate the funeral service on their premises if it meant her children who live overseas would be attending”, she sobbed, still grieving. “What is the point of travelling all the way from the United States to Jamaica for our beloved mother’s funeral if we are not allowed to attend? Our family was then forced to pay J$20,000 for funeral service space at a Seventh-day Adventist church in the Waterhouse area. Generally, we were made to feel unwelcomed in Jamaica, as if our purpose there was to infect the whole country,” Smith lamented.

“Foreigner come dung and a spread the virus bad,” Smith overheard vendors say in the downtown Kingston area, to no one in particular.

PARANOID

Cathy Kleinhans is a Jamaican who is not accustomed to being scorned. She, too, is a Jamaica-born New York City resident and a former finalist in the Miss Jamaica Beauty Pageant. She’s a teacher in Brooklyn and she is spending two months on the island, between Kingston and St Ann, for the summer break. She feels that some Jamaicans have gone completely paranoid with coronavirus fear, resulting in the scorn of those who are visiting. But coming from Brooklyn, where she saw people dying from the virus, she completely understands.

“Of course, I feel scorned here in Jamaica”, the vivacious, outgoing beauty revealed to The Gleaner. “The home I was to stay at in Kingston was suddenly no longer available as I was unable to produce evidence of a fresh COVID test. My friends who I usually hang out with in Kingston have not invited me over. And a guy who was chatting me up at the gym in St Ann lost interest and ran like a thief in the night when he realised I was from Brooklyn, New York,” Kleinhans divulged.

Despite the disdain, she has taken it all in stride and has high praises for supermarkets, retail stores and some business establishments, some of whom have been super efficient at doing temperature checks and installing handwashing stations with sanitisers. And she can’t stop thanking a kind and cordial couple who hosted her for a fun day while others were cold, distant and full of contempt.

Still, not all experiences are similar. Irving Connell, a former hotel owner on Negril’s West End, has just returned from Negril and Savanna-la-Mar on a leisure trip with his family. He said he has not experienced anything remotely resembling scorn. “While I was there, I saw friends and relatives, and in all cases folks were polite and respectful. We were respectful too of the COVID-19 protocols, so we always wore masks. Everyone who visited did, too, and we all adhered to the ‘six feet’ rule for social distancing and the handwashing,” he pointed out. “In fact, the trip was so enjoyable that we are already looking to return before the end of September.”