* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Jamaica Nuh Easy: A Case Study

We have very rarely written blog posts describing the events in our day, but today I am making an exception. This is a true story of one afternoon this past week, which I think will enlighten you to a number of things that happen in this country.

JA bus town story

Our story begins at 2:37pm on a school day. The bell should have rang seven minutes ago to dismiss classes. Instead, for no apparent reason, it is rung just as rain starts to dance on the zinc roof.

I pop open my trusty umbrella, one leg of its frame permanently out of joint, causing it to dangle like a loose limb. I bee-line to the front gate of the school yard where the south coast “highway” (think: small, two-lane farm road) is quickly amassing more and more puddles.

I have one mission this afternoon: get a new phone. In Jamaica, you cannot have more than one mission in a given afternoon. You can try, but it’s not recommended.

As I stand on the side of the road with my crippled umbrella, waiting to flag down a bus going into town, four students (all of whom have been in my tutoring groups) crowd under my precarious shelter. The wind picks up. The rain gets heavier.

One bus passes us by and it’s not even full. Probably figured it’s too much hassle to let in a bunch of kids. Some drivers just don’t think it’s worth it to deal with their misbehavior, especially since children pay a discounted rate. Plus, kids are notorious for “losing” their bus fare and getting on the bus anyway.

Well, the rain falls so hard that my umbrella has lost its essential function; we have to sprint back to the school building for cover.

In less than ten minutes, the rain is more manageable and I catch a bus with about seven students from my school. Drainage on the road is very poor in some areas, and our bus is dodging massive puddles and creating wakes.

Suddenly, the two ladies in the bench seat in front of me (who happen to be my neighbors) cry out and gesture dramatically. It takes me a moment to compute.

They’ve been splashed.

From the inside of the bus.

The last giant puddle we drove through- the one where we kicked up a five foot wave on either side- the splash also hit the under-side of the bus, and there must be a hole somewhere. Both ladies are wiping off their faces and shirts. I hear one of the mutter something about her drawers being soaked. The students around me muffle their giggles, and we silently exchange looks of bemused bewilderment.

Rain is still falling when I get off the bus in the middle of town, as close to the phone store as possible. I prepare myself for a typical experience: lots of waiting, unenthused customer service, various forms of road blocks, high prices. I was not disappointed.

There are no lines in stores like these. You just push your way to the counter and if you’re bold, start talking to an employee while she’s clearly working with someone else already.

I get lucky and one of them approaches me to see what I need. She shows me their cheapest phone, but tells me I can not get my phone number back without the ID of the person who originally purchased my SIM card. I tell her Peace Corps purchased it. I’m certain that many other volunteers have successfully gotten new SIM cards on their own. There must be a way. The lady hands me off to her co-worker. I wait at the counter maybe 20 minutes while this new lady processes transactions for other customers.

When she gets to me, she confirms that my request won’t go through because the SIM was not in my name and I need the person who originally purchased it. That’s not going to happen, so I settle for a new phone number on a new SIM.

I walk 15 minutes with my new, dinky, highly-over-priced phone and SIM card to Jedd’s community center. We call Peace Corps and find out that there should not have been a problem getting my original phone number back (plus that number is linked to the PC closed-user group which allows me to call and text anyone in Peace Corps for free).

We decide to attempt getting my phone number back (again) and walk to a second phone store in town (same company, different franchise location). They seem willing to help but have run out of SIM cards.

We walk all the way back to the first phone store. On the way, I spot the very same bus that drove us from the market on Saturday- the most likely place that my phone fell out of my pocket. So I accost the driver while he’s picking up passengers, hoping against hope, but neither he nor his ducta (bus assistant) admit to seeing my phone. It was worth a shot.

Back at the first phone store, half of the staff is mysteriously missing now, while the customer population has not dwindled. Did I mention that their phone credit machine was out of order? And their most popular phones were not in stock?

Anyway, Jedd and I wait about 30 minutes at the counter. We give the lady a phone number that connects directly to the phone company’s account manager for Peace Corps, which she does not call. Instead, she gets most-of-the-way-through a call with the customer service center when her phone battery dies. The next 30 minutes are spent trying to reconnect and repeat that conversation.

Is there a way to refund the brand new SIM card, which I purchased less than an hour ago at that very same store? Apparently not. Why couldn’t my original phone number be transferred the first time I made the transaction, which would have saved me from purchasing an additional SIM card and trouncing back and forth around town? Who can say.

Well, things finally fall into place and, apart from the 15 minutes of processing my passport and debit card, I am finally good to go. Three hours and $50+ later, I wonder if it’s worth the trouble.

I just pray that my phone lasts through the end of our service.

This kind of “once-in-a-lifetime experience” can stay just that. Once in a lifetime.


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