Another month older, another month wiser

I had about five paragraphs talking about how I planned to cut my hair and how hair is such a big deal for black women and why is it even such a big deal in the first place but it fizzled out when I cut my hair and realized how big a deal it wasn’t. So now my hair is four inches shorter and I am out of a blog post.

In lieu of some introspective self-reflection, I decided to share a snapshot into my life for the last month. So in no particular order. . .

1. In early October I learnt that a family celebration does not, in fact, have to break the bank, and birthdays can actually be commemorated with low-key gatherings and cake. Definitely cake. My purse and heart are grateful.

2. In mid-October Montego Bay hosted its very first Pride march which was also my very first Pride march. I helped carry the rainbow flag and it maxed out my feeble upper body strength. And though the actual marching was pretty short (can’t complain, the sun was brutal) the feeling was pretty incredible.

Pride was definitely an experience – a lot more head top and dash out than I would have expected, along with uncensored dancehall songs on the people dem good good Sunday morning. But overall I had a sense of bittersweet, well, pride. I was proud of the LGBT movement in Montego Bay for coming out and enjoying themselves, even as a good number of them opted to cover their faces. I’m already looking forward to Pride 2019.

3. In late October I recognized a full year of settling into my leadership role at work. It was a good chance to reflect on how much I’ve grown, how many leadership books I added to my shelves (a lot) and how many I’d read (very little) and where I plan to go next in my journey to becoming a girl boss.

4. I’m participating in my high school’s mentorship program for the second year in a row, and I’m excited to see what new adventures and experiences are in store us for in the upcoming school year. Last year was a blast of learning and growth for both me and my mentee, and I expect this year to be no different.

What have y’all been up to?

a word on checkpoints and the assailing of women’s bodies

The State of Emergency is now in its tenth month. Violent crime levels appear unabated. Every issue of the Western Mirror carries a front page headline on some gruesome murder or gunfight.

Twice daily checkpoints are my new normal, since I live and work in two separate parishes. I drive through, waving to the unlucky soldiers assigned to stand in the middle of the road in the grueling summer heat, and smile.

At first I would approach each checkpoint with a sense of trepidation. Would they stop me to search my car? And then annoyance. Would they stop me to try and get my number? My experience was getting harassed by soldiers and police officers alike who appeared to have no other reason to stop me than to chat me up like a man in a bar. It was unprofessional and frustrating.

I used to slow and stop so that the officer or soldier could peer into the car, but these days I slow down just enough to give a brisk wave unless I’m told otherwise. This is just another way one learns to navigate social conventions as a person of the feminine gender.

After a while, when my frustration had faded to good-natured acceptance, I started to notice female soldiers now deployed to man the line. One day while cruising through at my snail pace, I overheard a bus driver call out a raunchy greeting to the lady soldier standing in the road. I cringed, and questioned.

Beyond the sexism that exists among one’s professional colleagues, a sexism that can potentially be challenged and eroded by professional success, is there a deeper and more pervasive sexism in society at large that undermines the execution of professional ‘gender roles’?

Is there a certain level of respect accorded to soldiers and police officers? Do we accord that same respect when the soldier or police officer is a woman? And does the change in tone when addressing a female member of the armed forces imply a lack of respect, or is it simply a neutral cultural phenomenon?

I’m pretty sure that woman was used to getting catcalls in her line of duty, and many women are. Some find it annoying, some find it flattering, and for some it’s just a part of life, neither good nor bad. In my culture there are many things that my liberal ideology struggles to accept, and this is one of them.

Is it inappropriate and unacceptable for a man to calls out ‘Psst, babes‘ when a woman walks by? Is it only inappropriate when he does it to certain Women, or in certain Spaces? Does the acceptability depend on the man’s intention: to objectify and assault, or to compliment and affirm? If the action is allowed, is there an expected response? Is it rude to ignore them? It certainly seems that way.

And is it really such a big deal?

In some spaces it can be. As a general rule I ignore the leaking air and the catcalls, but on certain streets I make damn sure to respond with a polite greeting. At issue here is the concept of danger. On main roads I feel safe enough to ignore the calls; on side streets I am too aware of my vulnerability to invite an uncertain threat. I fear, so I conform. But does this make me complicit in a social norm I desperately wish would change?

I don’t have the answers, but I think it’s important that we start talking somewhere. A catcall on a lonely avenue isn’t the same as being sexually assaulted, but the threads of gender-based violence run deep. Until we can pick up the ends, wherever they are scattered, we will never begin to untangle that knot.

Early Mornings (are a health hazard)

I’m hoping this becomes a trend.

Waking up early, I mean. Not suffering from smoke inhalation. It’s day six (?) of the Retirement Dump fire in Montego Bayor as we who live close by call it, “too damn long”. It’s really uncomfortable to wake up and go to sleep in the smell of smoke. Even more uncomfortable to do yoga in it. Not to mention the laundry. My bed sheets are soaking up the smog as we speak, and I don’t even want to think about my hair.

 

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DEATH FOG

One of my favourite things about our house-in-progress is that we finally have work desks right in front of the windows. But peering out my windows to contemplate the flowers in the garden is now a health hazard because I have to contend with emissions of carbon and god only knows what else in the air.

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Please ignore the cables and focus on the haze of death fog.

So on top of the probably indefinite State of Emergency, St. James is now slowly choking to death or at least serious illness. If bad things come in threes, I can’t wait to see what else is going to kick us when we’re down. That’s not true, I can totally wait. At least until I can breathe again.

 

 

 

Hopefully we come out of this with no serious ill effects. You know, other than migraines, chronic cough, upper respiratory infections,  exacerbated asthma. . . I could go on, but run on sentences are harder to do when the air is full of noxious fumes.

Til next time.

House-Hunting in Mobay: Part Deux

If you haven’t already, start with Part One here!

Now that you have your game plan, it’s time to dive into the apartment search. But where do you even start?

Scour rental ads in the newspaper classifieds

Western Jamaica, the Mirror is your new best friend. With three publications per week, the Western Mirror is replete with ads from landlords all over St. James, Hanover and Trelawny looking for prospective tenants. Some days (like Wednesdays and Fridays) and some months (like September/January) carry more listings than average. So grab that red pen and start circling because these apartments and homes move faster than Time and Patience bread.

Don’t be afraid to look online

In the beginning I was skeptical about finding a place to live online in Jamaica, let alone Montego Bay. But the top real estate companies have outdone themselves, and the online offerings from the websites of Coldwell Bankers, Victor Brown & Associates, Century 21, and Hoshing Realtors among others are usually quite extensive. Just make sure to sort by price from ‘low’ to ‘high’.

Keep your eyes peeled

Bulletin boards and notice boards are usually filled with boring ads and weird services but it’s possible to find a gem underneath all the irrelevant papers. I found my first apartment in Mobay on a bulletin board at work – very lucky!

Call and/or talk to people

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a new home. Put your social media to good use and crowd-source some apartment or house options. Chances are someone in your friend group knows someone who knows someone who can hook you up. Whatsapp groups can be invaluable in this respect – if the group is somewhat professional members will sometimes share helpful information like rental offerings.

Think slow but move fast

Because listings can appear and disappear in less than 24 hours, it can be tempting to make snap decisions just to secure a spot. But this is generally impractical (especially if you’re house-hunting for more than) and will almost always lead to regret. I often hear stories about tenants who stay for just a few months then pack up and leave because the rent was too high, or the situation was inconvenient.

If there’s no penalty for breaking your rental agreement (which usually lasts at least a year) and if you love the hassle and stress of moving then apartment hopping might be just up your alley. For the rest of us who plan to remain stationary for a year or so, it pays to look twice before you leap. If your current situation is uncomfortable but not life-threatening (whether your life or the life of the landlord who you want to murder) it can be more beneficial to stay put until something that fits your needs comes along.

Having said all of that, as much as I love house-hunting and living on my own (with partner and cat in tow), I understand that we’re all at different stages. I’ve been lucky enough to have a job that lets me live where I want to live, and still put food on the table. (not Mango Walk Country Club money but I really can’t complain). I’ve also been lucky to have a partner who shares the financial burden. I’ve been lucky to find places to live that I have enjoyed, rented by people who were actually kind, if not 100% reliable.

You might have worse luck or you might have it better, but since luck is when preparation meets opportunity I hope these posts help you to prepare for whatever living opportunity comes your way.

Pax.

House-Hunting: the Mobay Edition

Finding somewhere to live is hard, whether you’re in university, freshly graduated or bouncing around with three kids and a stable career. Fortunately or unfortunately house hunting is something I love to do (is that weird? It’s probably weird), and I’ve picked up a few lessons over the years that I think can be useful to my fellow 20-something Montegonians (all five of you who read this blog, if so much).

I only hope that this two-part series will make wading into the waters of independent living a little less scary, and that it will be a guidepost along a path that can be confusing and muddled. If it’s not time for you to leave the nest for one reason or another, that’s okay. Work hard and save. Living with parents is by far the cheapest option – no rent, free food and your mom will probably do your laundry too. But if you absolutely have to get out there on your own, then maybe this little blog will help you do it.

General rules:
  • Be prepared to pay at least two month’s worth of rent up front (sometimes three). This is the rent for your first month plus a security deposit in case you ruin the place and don’t pay bills.
  • Take everything with a grain of salt. I’ve been told an apartment was on Brandon Hill and after following the directions ended up, disgruntled, in the middle of Farm Heights.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is. Look for the catch.
  • Read that rental agreement cover to cover. Get any promises to fix things in writing before you sign. Document any pre-existing damage and make sure the landlord knows about it.

Once you’re ready with that rent money and a healthy dose of skepticism, it’s time to plot your game plan.

Pick an area and know your budget

The first step is to know how much money you can feasibly spend on rent. Be realistic here not ambitious. One of the awesome things about Montego Bay is that you can find a home for any budget, especially if you’re flexible. If you’ve only got $10,000 to spare you can still find a place to live. It will probably be a shoe-box but it will be your shoe-box.

A good rule of thumb is that your budget for rent and household expenses shouldn’t exceed 30% of your total income. Like the pirate code, this is more of a guideline. To find a more exact number, once you’ve figured out 30% of your monthly salary go ahead and subtract an estimate for your utility bills (if not included in the rent) and any associated costs of the rental home like maintenance fees and such.

Once you know what your budget looks like, go ahead and pick an area (or a few) where you’d like to live. Bear in mind that location is everything in real estate and nice areas usually come with really nice price tags. There are ways around this, like smaller homes in uptown areas, or sharing common spaces. Which brings me to my next piece of advice. . .

Be cautious about sharing utilities and common spaces

The first rule will help you in weeding out your prospects. Once you have an amount and a location in mind, you’ll quickly skip those listings that don’t match your specifications. But even though you might want to compromise on that one bedroom apartment in Westgate Hills where you ‘only share a kitchen and the light bill’ take a minute to think about what sharing a kitchen means: dirty dishes in the sink all the time, and people eating your food from the refrigerator. Sharing the electricity bill means constantly arguing over who burns more current. And if you’re anything like me 2AM on a weekday morning will find you angrily trying to calculate the estimated energy consumption of your toaster oven vs her microwave.

Just don’t give yourself the headache.

Be cautious about living with a landlord

People can be . . . sensitive about their homes. Which is understandable. But as a tenant it can be frustrating to have someone constantly looking over your shoulder. This might be okay if you’re a fledgling graduate just starting out in the world of independent living (almost like having a surrogate parental figure – if you have a good relationship!) but gets much more tedious once the independence really settles in. Their ‘friendly advice’ turns into nagging, and all of a sudden you’re desperate to move. My advice would be to avoid living with the landlord altogether.

In the same vein, try to find landlords that are reliable and respectful. Avoid the ones who flake on fixing infrastructural problems, or go into your home when you’re not around. Ask other tenants (if you can) what their experience is like, and when you meet the landlord make sure their temperament is one you can work with.

Make a list of your preferences/needs

This helps to refine your search, and comes in handy when you’ve viewed a prospective home. After you’ve done your ooh’s and aah’s on the walk-through it’s important to drill the landlord with some hard-hitting questions. How stable are utilities? Is there parking available? How do you feel about extra guests or loud noise? Pets? Smoking? The list is endless and subjective. Knowing what’s important to you comes with time and sadly a little trial and error. The awesome thing about moving is if you absolutely hated something about your last apartment you can make it a definite deal-breaker with your next one. Hurrah for starting over!

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That’s it for part one! The second installation, where I talk about how to find these elusive apartments, will be posted tomorrow. Stay tuned, and feel free to share your strategies for house hunting. Do you agree with me on the shared spaces? What was your worst landlord experience? Let me know in the comments!

 

Bonfires and Other Gateway Drugs

One thing leads to another and suddenly I’m on a beach under the full moon at 9 on a weeknight, swaying around a bonfire to the sounds of Rasta youths spitting troots and the soulful melodies of Kali Grn and DReblz.

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Glowing embers and DReblz in action

I think I’ve started taking deliberate steps down a path of cultural appreciation – specifically an appreciation of Rastafarianism and its associations. Rastafari is one of those aspects of our culture that we don’t really notice until we stop and look at it. But it’s all around us, like water to a fish, and it impacts so much of our daily life – from curse words to our reaction to authority to our taste in music. Rasta gave us reggae and weed and locs. In return we gave them Bad Friday and a persistent (though waning) stigma surrounding their lifestyle.

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Hol’ a vibes

I’m not sure when this journey started, maybe the day Obie and I visited the Rastafari Exhibit at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre. But it was definitely after Lyrical Eloquence Reloaded when we discovered (Columbus-style) Kali Grn that we fell down the rabbit hole. First it was the Spring Equinox Festival then a beach bonfire under the full moon then the Bad Friday commemoration at the Civic/Cultural Centre on Good Friday.

The experiences that lie along this path have been, so far, incredible. I used to think – and perhaps it used to be true – that MoBay had little to offer in the way of cultural events. Compared to Kingston where there are reggae concerts practically on a weekly basis, and a variety literary/musical/artistic gatherings we are taking our first tiny steps. But they are definitely steps in the right direction.

My Cup Runneth Over: Lyrical Eloquence Reloaded

The artistic scene in Montego Bay is very well-nourished, or so one would think from the sizable crowd that squeezed into Blue Beat Jazz and Martini Bar last Saturday night for the poetry-and-music affair. I am acutely aware that the coverage is also sorely lacking, as I sit here penning this write-up almost one full week later.

Lyrical Eloquence Reloaded is the sequel to Lyrical Eloquence, a night of poetry and fashion where poets, musicians and designers gathered to share their craft and mingle with like-minded creatives. This iteration, with less fashion and more music and poetry, was thematically centered on Black History – apropos of the month of February.

Like so many events in this country, Lyrical Eloquence could not escape the trap of island time, and the programme didn’t start until an hour after the scheduled 8:30pm. Nevertheless the ensuing performances were at turns delightful and thought-provoking.

MC’d by the gracious Brian Brown, whose quick pace did much to move the evening along, Lyrical Eloquence Reloaded featured performances from Montegonian talent and some further afield. For me, the surprises of the night were two as-yet-undiscovered gems: Kali Grn and D Reblz, and Jeeby Lyricist.

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Kali Grn and D Reblz

Kali Grn brought me the humbling realization that I am more than a little out of touch with the Mobay Art Scene. He and his band are much beloved on the hotel circuit and based on the responses of the audience have garnered quite the local following. Though there are clear reggae influences, their sound is authentically millennial with clear melodious harmonies, dynamic instrumentals and clever thoughtful lyrics.

But if I talk about lyrics, I have to talk about Jeeby Lyricist, who by day is a student of law in Kingston (perhaps this is why he manages such quick-witted vernacular). The back-up singer was a little vocally disappointing (especially coming after those Reblz) but Jeeby weaves superb double entendres — his last song a tongue-in-cheek nod to masculine attempts at flirtation in this modern dancehall environment.

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Jeeby Lyricist in action

There are so many honorable mentions: Jah Meikle – whom I had the pleasure of first meeting some years ago in Kingston – is an excellent drummer and poet who makes combining rhythms look much easier than I imagine it would be. The dub poets Mentor and Fyah Marley, among others. Brian Brown himself. And the ineffable, inimitable Carla Moore who closed the show.

My greatest vexation about this event is that I missed Carla Moore’ performance. For those who don’t know, Carla comes to us from UWI’s Western Campus where she lectures in the Institute of Gender and Development Studies. Before that she was in Canada, keeping touch with Jamaica through her vlog countryfromlongtime. Now she mostly Instagrams @mooretivation. I find her to be unerringly in tune with the ethos and angst of this millennial generation, and her unexpected words of inspiration have never failed to comfort me.

My quarrel, of course, is entirely with myself. My bedtime is around 10 o’clock these days and by midnight (when there were still five more performers) I was fighting sleep hard. I was overwhelmed, in a good way, by the crowd that populated Blue Beat’s modest open air terrace and that swelled with appreciation for the spoken (and sung) word. Next time I will know to wear comfy shoes, bring snacks/coffee, and stake-out a good seat at least an hour in advance.

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All image credits to Di Foto Shoppe