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Sweeping in Jamaica

Jamaican Sweeping

Jamaican Street Sweepers Wary of Mad Drivers

by Akino Ming and Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Sweeping in Jamaica, like in most parts of the second and third world, can be quite different than it is in the U.S., as well as throughout Europe and other first-world countries. For one, much or most of the street sweeping in those former countries is typically done manually, by persons outfitted with a broom, wheelbarrow, etc.

Warren Burge Warren Burge is a co-owner of Clean Sweep, Inc., which is located in Baton Rouge, LA. He is also on the World Sweeping Association's Advisory Board. For over a decade he and his partner, Bridget, have maintained a vacation residence in Jamaica. While there, Warren has also consulted with Alcoa on the topic of street sweeping.

"In Jamaica," says Burge, "almost all street and highway sweeping is done manually. The only real exceptions are the airports and some industrial companies. For example, at the Alcoa bauxite mining facilities near Mandeville, as a result of my recommendation they use a Schwarze A7000.

"French and Chinese companies are now building toll roads in Jamaica, for which they also provide maintenance. These are popular with those who can afford to use them because they're kept up in a similar condition to highways in the U.S. Plus, they're much more appealing because, in addition to not having potholes and being swept regularly, instead of going around a mountain they'll typically go right through them. That makes transiting the toll roads much faster.

"It used to be there wasn't much of a litter problem in Jamaica. Bottles and cans all had a deposit on them. Someone could collect soda bottles, for example, and turn them in just by stopping one of the soda delivery trucks. Their drivers would take in the discarded bottles and, at the same time, sell sodas out of the truck, taking off the returned bottles in the price. "Now, though, everything seems to be bottled as well as packaged in plastic. There's no return for money on any of it. If there were, I assure you Jamaicans would scour the landscape for them as a way to make some money. Instead, since outside the cities there are only spotty, if any, garbage pickup, much of the plastic detritus simply gets burned in outdoor trash fires.

"One thing I can tell you from my many years in Jamaica is that the drivers do, indeed, drive like maniacs. That's the reason why I seldom drive my own car when I'm in the country. In Jamaica, it costs very little to employ a driver for the day. In addition to being able to navigate the roads with ease relative to someone used to driving in the States, Jamaican drivers also provide me with a measure of security as I shop or take in the sights.

"Most all of any city streets are swept by workers on the ground if they're swept at all. I can see where that would be a job where you'd have to constantly watch your back for drivers who weren't watching where they were going. It's not a job I'd want to do, that's for sure."

For those of our readers who operate in a first world country, the next time one of your operators complains about their job of operating a sweeper, might we suggest that you provide them with a link to the following story written by Jamaican journalist, Akino Ming. The colorful Jamaican slang has been kept intact...

Diane Pennicook Dianne Pennicook has been cleaning the Hellshire mainroad for the past 14 years. When the 'cleanliness is next to godliness' adage fails, street sweepers like Dianne Pennicook fly out of their beds, like captain planet, in the wee hours of the morning to save the environment.

Braving the dark when criminals usually prowl, Pennicook and her colleagues clean the streets of Jamaica. However, the greatest challenge Pennicook faces on a daily basis is not the picking up after the litter bugs, who sail garbage from their car windows. Instead, it is the 'mad' drivers whose reckless overtaking in the mornings on Hellshire main road, oftentimes causing her to jump into the nearby crocodile-infested swamp.

"The biggest danger mi face is the car them," Pennicook told THE WEEKEND STAR at the break of dawn Tuesday as she tidied the street. "Dem overtaking and not looking out for nobody else. Sometimes mi have to jump over inna the swamp to how them come over pon mi."

Luckily, Pennicook has never encountered a crocodile in the 14 years she has been cleaning Hellshire main road. "I think this road waan police because it is a hotspot. Sometimes them crash with people and kill them.... this road is in need of a police," Pennicook said.

While noting that watching out for criminals when she works early in the morning is also a challenge, Pennicook said that the lack of respect for her profession caused her to be overlooked by criminals.

"One morning some youths rob a group of people and when dem a pass mi one stop and the other one say. Yuh nuh see a sweeper that," Pennicook recalled. "So dem nuh really trouble me like that."

Pennicook said the littering on Hellshire main is getting worse as the years go by. "Mi think say it worse because even them big man deh inna dem vehicle dem just throw things through window," Pennicook said. "And because no one live out here, people dem just come dump dead animals all the time and we have to stomach that.

"And when the grass is high, it's difficult to pick up the rubbish them. But like how it cut now it's easier. I just have to watch out for the car dem."

The 53-year-old said that she will continue to clean the streets as long as it allows her to keep the lights on in her home. "My son is big now and he helps mi out, but it mek mi can pay the bill dem, so mi naah stop," Pennicook said.

Jamaica StarSome of the material for this article originally appeared in Jamaica's Daily Star newspaper and was written by Akino Ming.

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