July 21, 2009

Drugs, AIDS, Crime, Gangs and Deportees

I began the day yesterday as I often do, with writing. I wrote and revised for three hours. Thinking the bulk of my work for the day was done, I had lunch and got ready to meet a friend for a chat at a nearby café. It turns out I would learn quite a bit more that afternoon.

Suzette, a PhD student at the University of West Indies who is also doing research on deportees, met me around 2pm, and we headed to the Blue Café at Sovereign Centre. The Sovereign Centre is a mall with stores, a movie theatre, and a nice little café in New Kingston. Ken, our taxi driver, told me that is where “society people” spend their time. Also, I have noticed, more foreigners than most places in Kingston.

As we were discussing our work, Suzette mentioned to me that many deportees come back with HIV/AIDS, and that many deportees are addicted to drugs. I haven’t asked any of my interviewees about their drug habits or probed too deeply into their health concerns. However, at least two of my interviewees showed signs of crack use. Suzette told me she visited a drug rehabilitation centre, and that the director told her that many of their patients were deportees. She offered to take me to the centre, called the Richmond House.

When we arrived, Suzette wasn’t sure if we were at the right place, as there are no signs that indicate the name of the place. We met with the assistant director, and she said it was true that they treat many deportees. However, she also said that they have fewer patients at the moment than they have had in the past, so they only had one resident deportee at the moment.

From there, Suzette and I went next door to the Jamaica AIDS Service, an NGO that helps AIDS patients. The people there were very welcoming. They also mentioned that they have many deportees among their patients. In addition, they have a group of five American graduate students working with them, collecting testimonials from their previous patients to put together a report.

I spoke with the director about their program, as I am thinking of eventually bringing students to Jamaica to engage in some sort of service project. I got her card, and we agreed to meet at another time. The director also mentioned she was taking the students to Passa Passa, a dancehall extravaganza Wednesday nights in Tivoli Gardens, a garrison in West Kingston. I am tempted to join then, but the party doesn’t start until midnight, and goes until the post-dawn hours. I am getting a little old for that. Maybe I could wake up early and head down there…

After meeting with the folks at the NGOs, Suzette dropped me back off at the Sovereign Centre, where I was scheduled to meet Quaine, who is transcribing my interviews with deportees. Quaine has been insisting to me for a few days that I obtain a copy of “Born Fi Dead,” a book by an American historian about Jamaican politics and crime. I suggested we try the bookstore in the mall.

The bookstore owner said they were out of the book. There was a local radical intellectual in the bookstore who told us that we will never find the book in Jamaica. Apparently, the book says a number of scandalous things about the former Prime Minister Seago. He has even sued the author of the book. So, bookstore owners have decided it is in their best interest not to carry the book. It is available via Amazon.com. However, I am not sure how long it would take for the book to get to Kingston. Quaine insists I must read it before I leave the island.

It is true that I need to develop a better understanding of crime, drugs, and politics in Jamaica. A consistent theme in my interviews is that neighborhoods have become violent because of “politics.” None of my interviewees have been able to explain exactly what they mean by this.

Another common theme is that Jamaican teens migrate to the US and immediately get involved in the drug trade. Quaine seems to think that this is related to the larger transnational crime circuit. I suppose I will have to get a copy of “Born Fi Dead” to see if this makes sense.

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