Inside outside


The homes on both sides of the social divide are being internalised to a degree which is absurd when considering the climate. Houses built before the fear of violence became endemic have attempted to reverse their generous centrifugal geometry with grillwork and boundary walls. Verandas and windows have been rendered lifeless by endless security bars and so-called “rape gates”. Uptown Kingston has become a zoo for the benefit of the have-nots, or worse, a monument to a Pyrrhic victory: their wealth obtained at the expense of its riches. Houses built more recently have crept together into the angst-ridden compounds, facing inwards and relying on tall walls and a huge and largely anonymous workforce of guards who sleepily regulate access through a single barred entry. Don’t worry, my neighbour said to me when I first arrived, everybody on the compound owns a gun.

            The poorer areas on the other hand, where the endless supply of helpers come from, have also become labyrinths of endless zinc fences. Boundaries to eternally temporary structures, the fences are there to ensure at least a modicum of privacy and to ward off the criminal and the outcast. Streets are mere channels, life happens in hidden corners for the fearful and in the wider streets for the fearless. In the stifling heat, single mothers sleep with their windows closed. The air-conditioning system in uptown Jamaica, having begun as a measure of social status, has now become part of the paraphernalia of security: it allows the house to be sealed off. Uptown Jamaicans and ex-patriates move around in air-conditioned cars and rarely venture into the areas dominating their television screens at news time.