Circling the crabs
When I was a boy, a man would visit the homes in my area of Brown’s Town and check the buildings. My father said he was a sanitary inspector and explained what sanitary inspectors do and why it is an important job.
A few weeks ago I got a message on my phone that soon went viral. The place in question was a popular, decades-old sidewalk eatery in the National Heroes’ Circle area. It had to do with one of the vendors. The Public Health Department closed the ‘establishment’ and cited a breach of the Public Health (Food Handling) Regulations of 1998 as the reason for the closure. This only after one of this vendor’s competitors caught her red-handed and blew the whistle.
Some years ago I was in a furniture store in Spanish Town. A young lady who was assisting an elderly woman entered. She told the clerk attending to me that she was a customer and the woman with her was her mother. She said her mother had just been released from the hospital and was having an emergency so she was asking if she could be allowed to use the bathroom. The clerk said customers were not allowed to use the bathroom. She said her mother was in great discomfort and asked if the staff bathroom could be made available. In a stern tone, the worker said that was “strictly prohibited”.
In 2019 I entered a restaurant in the Parade area of downtown Kingston. I went to the bathroom to wash my hands. What greeted me was absolutely disgusting. I left the establishment immediately. On my way home, I remembered that a branch of the same business was in the Liguanea area, so I stopped there to check the bathroom. It was in pristine order.
Three days later I stopped at the Liguanea branch again, just to check. It was immaculate. Later, when I was downtown, I went back to that same branch. The condition of the bathroom was sickening. I asked the security guard if the manager knew of the condition of the bathroom. He gave a wry smile and answered, “Yes, enuh.”
I am wondering if these sanitary inspectors, now health inspectors, are still around and whether they cover the entire country or just some areas.
I have fair knowledge of the most depressed areas in Jamaica. In Kingston, I can immediately think of nine communities in which residents employ some very creative measures to dispose of human waste. But these measures can have serious health consequences in the long run.
Human excreta and the lack of adequate personal and domestic hygiene have been indicated in the transmission of many infectious diseases, including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, and ascariasis. The World Health Organization estimates that 2.2 million people (about the population of New Mexico) die annually from diarrhoeal diseases and 10 per cent of the population of the developing world is severely infected with intestinal worms related to improper waste and excreta management. Human excreta-transmitted diseases predominantly affect children and the poor.
The food spot at Heroes’ Circle has been in existence for decades. Recently, some dignitary was scheduled to visit that area. So the idea dawned on an established corporate entity to “pretty up” that space. It was a good idea.
Then comes this video of a vendor relieving herself at her stall and all hell breaks loose. Many of us are still talking about her. But I have something else on my mind. A company decides to improve conditions there. It teams up with the municipality. They have meetings and bring in their architects. A beautiful design is proposed, accepted, and produced. There is an official opening. Great! The problem I have is that during all of this, it dawned on no one that these ladies — toiling from morning till night, every day — just might need to use a toilet? Or wash their hands?
For several reasons I find this deeply troubling.