Cable & Wireless Jamaica

The hiatus since my last post was not (only) due to my lack of time or inspiration, but because Cable & Wireless, owners of the DSL line that I use, cut me off for five days. I had forgotten to pay my phone bill, and ten days later, the line was suspended. I immediately paid the outstanding amount and the phone line was back on within seconds. Not so the DSL. It took five days of patient and persistent complaining to C&W Customer Service (an oxymoron) before the line was back in synch. I had to explain the situation over a dozen times, and each time the response was inadequate.

What is the problem with the line?
It *should* be working.

When will it be fixed?
You are in a queue and will be dealt with in due course.

How many other cases are in the queue and how long will it take before I am dealt with?
Within 24 hours/within five days/between five and ten working days …

WHAT THE …?! (as my six-year-old says)

It’s back up now, so I guess I should just be grateful, right? No way! By the power of Google ranking and Technorati tags I shall have my revenge! Muahahahaha! Oh yeah, and don’t think this is the first time.

Technorati tags for this post:
Welcome to Cable & Wireless Jamaica, the worst company in the Caribbean, I h8 Cable and Wireless Jamaica, C&W sux, Cable and Wireless colonial monopoly, Jamaica rip-off, unable & worthless, no cable, no wire, no service, B mobile, it feels good, it is bad, homefone, exploiter of the poor, squeezing blood from a stone, expensive, cheater, inefficient, antiquated technology, dinosaur, outclassed, Get highspeed internet today, maybe, or in five to ten working days, netspeak, now you’re talking, now you’re not, a fi wi cricket, a wi fi profit, elearning, e for exploitation, pushtalk, pay through the nose, (other suggestions welcome).

Gone crazy gone mad

Following the previous post about poor service, I felt I should balance it with a post about how difficult it is to run a small business in Jamaica, particularly when it comes to getting a loan. Shortly after we arrived in Jamaica last year, we considered taking out a loan to buy a car. Our bank was heavily advertising a loan promotion for buying a new car from certain local dealers. The way it was presented you’d imagine the interest rate was the lowest figure ever quoted in the history of financing. It was 18.75%.

We asked about loans for other purchases (we wanted, still want, some bookcases). In that case, the interest would be 33%! We were fortunate enough to be able to get a loan in Europe … at 6%, but few Jamaicans have that possibility.

I remember visiting a small town in Alsace many years ago. One section of the town had been the Jewish quarter. In the Middle Ages, only Jews were allowed to loan money (usury was considered sinful for Christians), and, what with the rising costs of financing military adventures overseas (plus ça change …), the local princes were all soon heavily in debt to the lenders. No problem. The princes simply banded together, whipped up some anti-semitic feeling, and slaughtered all the Jews. Debts cancelled.

And I bet they charged less than 33%.

Here is another example of high interest rates presented as if you should be amazed and grateful.

Gone crazy shopper

At this rate you can’t wait? In any case, after your “grace” period at 29%, you may freak out when you learn the normal rate is 49.5%. Ooops! Forgot to mention that, did they?

Look at that woman. She looks positively demented, or at least seriously unbalanced, judging by the way she seems to be staggering.

Gone crazy shopper (head)And what about her face?
Is she really happy
or is she actually
running away

(This is the kind of chain-mail I get in Jamaica)

This is to warn persons who intend to go shopping in the plazas this Christmas. Please be very careful, and ladies don’t walk alone. My cousin was held up yesterday (Friday, 8th December, 2006) in the Springs Plaza at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Three teenage boys came up to her, one hugged her (I guess to make it seem like they all know each other) the other two walked up to her then before she could say anything, one with a knife and the other with a bottle of acid. They took her phone and $6,000.00 that she had.

The police are saying this is the new trend of stealing in the Half Way Tree plazas this Christmas season.

Stay sharp!

I had already planned to avoid the area because of the almost permanent gridlock in the car parks at this time of year. Having suffered miserably last year while trying to do Christmas shopping, this year we did everything online. Result: no traffic jams or parking stress, no threats of violence, better quality products and much more choice. The only loser is the Jamaican economy because, apart from local shipping costs, every cent has gone overseas.


Some time ago, I decided to print out a couple of photos at a print shop in uptown Kingston. What occurred there was a prime example of the anti-service culture that is sadly so common in Jamaica.

When I entered the print shop, it was unclear who were customers and who were staff. I asked a gangly youth who was slumped so far back in his chair that he was almost horizontal, one finger clicking PhotoShop long-cuts. He didn’t look up.

Lang yute: What size print you want?
Me: Erm … 4 by 6?
Lang yute: We don’t do dat.
Me: 8 by 6?
Lang yute: We don’t do that.
Me: Well, why don’t you tell what sizes you do or shall I keep guessing till I get the right answer?
Lang yute: *eyeroll* . . . We do 10 by 15.
Me: Centimetres?
Lang yute: Yes.

He was wrong, as I found out twenty minutes later when I was handed a super-sized 10×15 inch print. The irony is that the guy in the back room who actually did the printing had cut the photo paper to order from a large roll — any size was possible.

“Ctrl+A, Del, Ctrl+S, Alt+F4”, I snarled on my way out past the yute.

It’s not that the service is bad in the sense that it is performing poorly on a perceived scale of quality; I lived in France and Italy for ten years and am familiar with the important distinction that many civil servants and sales assistants make when they explain, “Non, Madame. I work at this store, not for it.”

That we can term “a-service”, as in an absence of service.

The difference in Jamaica is that sales people often seem to be actively working against closing the deal; in this sense, we can call it an “anti-service” culture.

To give some more examples: It is pointless calling only one company when you need a job done — you should call at least five because the odds are that only one will have the killer combo of interest-competence-drive to actually complete the job. The anti-service providers will initiate auto-destruct by not answering the phone, transferring your call to an unstaffed office, or simply cutting you off just after you’ve explained in great detail what you’re after. If you’re persistent enough to call back, then be prepared to dictate a minutely detailed message with your personal details and instructions as to what she should do with the information. Anticipate repeating message and instructions in full when receptionist mutters not having pen at hand. Do not accept invitation to call back later because the person you need to speak to will not be available at any time you call.

If you actually manage to set up a meeting with the service provider, try to schedule at least three providers to visit. One will not turn up and you will never be able to make contact with him again. The second will come, measure up the job and leave with a promise to drop off an estimate later in the day; he will never return and his office will have no trace of his visit or of any employee with his name. The third, well, you might strike lucky if you are persistent enough with calling, rescheduling, describing the job, explaining how long it will take and how much money they will earn.

Needless to say, once you find someone willing and able to do the job, cherish them, for they are a rare and precious thing in Jamaica.

Make my day

I spent a chilly morning at the over-air conditioned offices of the National Water Commission offices in an attempt to get my latest bill reviewed.

It was for 22,000 dollars.

It was partly my own fault. Three months in, I noticed our consumption rate had never moved from zero. I had paid each monthly bill, but that was only for the fixed service charge. As a model citizen, I called the Water Commission to alert them to the problem and they promptly came round and changed the water meter. Now, call me stupid, but I didn’t think they’d have the nerve to give me a high estimate for those three months.

OK. I am stupid.

Pay bills or die tryingWhile waiting at the NWC office, we were entertained by a large angry woman in a tight open-backed top. She was more pumped than 50 Cent, although she probably built up her muscles by carrying food, water and children. She was an unstoppable force, striding up and down brandishing her note of final warning and shouting at the security,

Ya cyaah do nutten!
Ya cyaah do nutten!
Ya cyaah do nutten!

Elderly ladies in faded flowery dresses and pillbox hats pushed up their glasses, nodding and muttering,

Is true. Dem tief dem.

I felt I had scored a small victory against the all-powerful utility companies when I walked out two hours later with a new bill … for 319 dollars (US$5).

Vote rustling

Kiss me neck! Me blog is nominated for a Satin Pajama Weblog Award! Go vote Stet!Nominated for
Best Expat Weblog
Most Underappreciated Weblog

It was the blip in the stats that tipped me off. A sudden jump in the late afternoon, Caribbean time. Among the usual google image referrals for girl-on-girl housework and tits ‘n’ bums, kids ‘n’ mums, I spotted the fresh spoor from Ljubljana, Slovenia, referred by A Fistful of Euros. Hmmm. The AFO€ gang must have accepted my suggestion to include Jamaica in a regional category for South-west-west-keep going west till you smell the ‘erb Europe.

Seconds after reading the nomination, I lost my Internet connection for several hours. I can only suspect that the force of six simultaneous visitors bust the elastic bandwidth in Cable & Wireless’ telegraph cable (Morse v.1.0; Marconi priority update c.1936) connecting Jamaica to the rest of the world. Damn C&W – a monopoly left over from days of Empire. I sometimes wondered why they had such a big building in London when they didn’t seem to be active anymore. The fact is that, like imperial companies of yore, they made their money in the colonies and sent it back to London. Until very recently, C&W had a monopoly on telephony in Jamaica and other former UK colonies in the Caribbean. Without competition, C&W grew fat and complacent. The technological innovations, greater customer choice and falling prices in other parts of the world passed Jamaicans by and left them paying top dollah for an aging network and an uncaring service provider. Thankfully, the arrival of a competitor, Digicel (Eire), five years ago has forced C&W to cut its prices by more than 40 per cent! In spite of this, by last year, Digicel had more than double the number of C&W subscribers. Serves C&W right for ripping off poor people.


That’s pretty much how my blog goes.

A spear, a spike, a point, a nail
A drip, a drop, the end of the tale
A truckload of bricks in the soft morning light
The sound of a shot in the dead of the night

A.C. Jobim (Hear here)

It’s not a single issue blog and it’s not about me. I’m a touche-à-tout, a dedicated dilettante, a Jill of all trades and proud of it too.

Up against the likes of Petite anglaise (a one-time colleague at Paris III University) and Zoë in the Best Expat Weblog category, I’m the dark horse, the underdog, the long shot, the rank outsider.

So go forth, roam freely and multiply (my votes). Although, on second thoughts, by my twisted logic, the winner of the Most Underappreciated Weblog should get the fewest votes, thus proving its underappreciatedness. So I’ll feel like I win when I lose. Phew.

While you look around, I’ll be busy with a five-year-old with gastro-enteritis and a lizard who refuses to leave the house. We’re going for a pincer manoeuvre. On the lizard.