The Four Kinds of Information Available in Jamaica
Anyone who has lived in Jamaica for more than a few weeks knows what I am talking about.
There are at least four kinds of information, or in other words, four kinds of answers to an innocent question posed to a company or government entity. Those who move to Jamaica as either expats or returnees are the last to appreciate this fact, and get themselves in all sorts of trouble when they think that their should be only one.
For example, the answer to a simple question such as “How do get a driver’s license if I already possess one from an overseas jurisdiction?” seems easy enough. However, the complexity offered by different answers makes it rough going for someone who is not used to “the runnings.”
The Internet Answer
Only someone living far away would find, let alone believe, this first answer. Everyone in Jamaica knows that the project to put the organization’s information on the “world-wide-web” was launched to further a politician’s career, and once the lights were turned off the whole thing was abandoned due to either mismanagement or lack of funds.
The Written Answer
Once the overseas explorer has determined that the information they are reading online was useful for perhaps only a week or two back in 1999, they start looking for printed information. They might send a friend or relative to ask for information at the organization in question, and ask for it to be “sent up” to them.
Once the information arrives six weeks later they devour it, until they reach the last page where they read the fine print – “Copyright 1998.” It turns out that their trusty agent either picked up stale information, which was all that was left, or didn’t bother to ask whether or not there was more recent information printed.
The Spoken Answer
By now, some important deadline is looming, so the search turns to making phone calls in the hope of finding someone who can help. At first, no-one seems to work at the companies numbers, and it’s curious to find that there are sometimes 10 numbers listed, or more. They all just ring and ring and ring.
The game is on to find a number that actually will be picked up. Time and money are wasted waiting and waiting until the caller learns that lunch-time, child-pick-up-time, work-soon-done time, too-early-in-the-morning-time and too-close-to-lunch-time are all bad times to call. This leaves a 15 minute gap between 9:30 am and 9:45 am when someone will actually pick up the phone, but of course the gap caries between companies.
Once someone is reached, it’s important to know that the person who answers is unlikely to be someone who actually knows anything. Their job is to answer the phone. Don’t bother them trying to hold them to account for having accurate information. That’s the exclusive province of those who don’t ever answer the phones.
They will have some information to give. Just don’t believe for a minute that it’s accurate or complete. It’s not to be believed, but at least it’s based in part on the training they received back in 2005, so you know you are getting warmer.
The Only Answer that Counts
The deadline is now upon you and you are starting to get desperate. You spend your hundreds (or thousands) of US$ to fly Jamaica with all your feelings of frustration and your knowledge of “how things work so well in Toronto.” You visit the offending office in person. As you walk in, your dress, hairstyle and accent give you away as a foreigner.
Behind the counter, the defensive forces start marshaling their tactics.
They know that you are not getting through in time for your flight, whenever that is, and they are not about the change the sacred process to fit your need to catch AJ015. This is bureaucracy at its finest.
You quickly learn that all the information that you gathered before is outdated. Acts of Parliament, new laws and new owners all combine to render your facts obsolete. You inevitably don’t have the right documents with you. You need to visit another office to get a copy of your water bill in order to open a new business. You must come back tomorrow.
If you are loud and obnoxious, the way life in North America has taught you to be, you are in for several trips to the office, each designed to exact a penalty for your failure to “have some manners.” Prepare for the long haul, by bringing something to eat, drink and read.
A nice German man called Kafka wrote some insightful books about being trapped in situations of never-ending torment. One book focuses on a man who woke up as a cockroach. Another is about a man who is forced to answer un-known charges made against him that are never ever shared with him, until he is mysteriously exonerated. You can more than identify as you start to deleriously believe that your tormentors are targeting you by name.
You complain to anyone who will listen. After all while, your audience seems to be getting tired of you.
After delaying your flight home and missing some days of work, you are talking with your friend/distant cousin / high-school classmate who out of the blue remembers that their good friend heads up a department at the office you have been visiting.
You wonder why they are now just remembering this important fact…
They tell you not to worry, and half an hour later they call back with mysterious instructions. Give them your information and all will be taken care of by that evening. So said, so done.
You have escaped from your purgatory and have no idea what you did to deserve it.
On the flight back home you realize that the only information that matters in Jamaica is the information given by someone who actually makes decisions, and all the information gathered before was really just window-dressing, and didn’t really count. What counted was who you knew, or who you knew that knew the right person.
If you are still complaining that this is all not fair, that it is exclusionary, biased against foreigners with your last name, etc. is to engage in the irrelevant. Don’t waste your time.
Instead, learn to fit your tactics into the “runnings” as that’s the only way to be effective.