Negril Beach Safe Story

To better understand the unique Jamaican perspective on things, we hope you enjoy this Negril Beach Safe Story.

It’s noon, Tuesday: After a really long, disappointing and frustrating few days at a seedy resort on the cliffs in Negril, Jamaica, my husband and I check in to a lovely hotel on Negril’s beach. The name of the place means “paradise” and it certainly looks that way to us – great rooms, a porch area complete with a hammock-swing (I know where I’ll be spending my reading time), beautifully kept grounds, tropical birds to visit, friendly staff… We’re given Room 16 in the middle of this tropical gem, and we move our bags inside and proceed to unpack.

Part of the unpacking process is securing our passports, airline information, cash and credit cards in the safe, but here we encounter a problem. The safe is closed with no visible means of opening it. We’ve not been given a key or a password. I go to the front desk in search of enlightenment.

Zelma is there to hear my problem. Her hand scrabbles in a desk drawer and pulls out a baggie half full of odd keys and we both amble to Room 16. She tries each key from the baggie in turn, trying to open the safe’s lock – no luck. The safe remains closed and seemingly impenetrable. Her solution: we can move to another room that has a safe that works, or we can wait for the manager to arrive so he can fix the safe. He’ll be in “soon”. He’ll open it. No problem.

We’ve already unpacked, so we opt to keep Room 16 and wait for the manager’s arrival. Hoo boy. Meanwhile, we really want to get to the beach but don’t want to leave our “safe stuff” out in the room, so we bundle everything up in a secure pocket of our beach backpack, and head out to sun, sand, sea, serenity – and rum.

Each time we pass the front desk that afternoon, on missions for more rum or more sunscreen, we check on the manager’s whereabouts with Zelma and are reassured that he is on his way. Zelma does say that we can just leave our valuables somewhere in the room instead of carrying them around with us in the backpack all the time, since only the housekeepers and the office staff have keys to our room. Hmmm. Not too comfy with that idea so the backpack remains our constant companion.

3:00 p.m. Tuesday: Waiting for the manager is futile. He doesn’t make it into work that day at all. Zelma goes home.

4:00 p.m. Tuesday: Evening shift has begun and Zelma’s counterpart has arrived. We introduce ourselves and tell him our safe woes. This gentleman brings another staff person, plus the same bag of keys that Zelma clutched a few hours ago, to our room. The two of them fiddle and chat and fiddle some more with no luck. The manager will be in tomorrow. He’ll fix it, we’re told.

7:00 p.m. Tuesday: We’ve just had a delightful dinner and stop by for a safe chat with another Newbie at the front desk upon our return. This Newbie tells us he just has to take care of one thing – just one little thing, mon – then he will come to our room himself and fix our safe. Fifteen minutes and he’ll be knocking on our door.

9:30 p.m. Tuesday: Newbie is a no-show. We’re exhausted and we go to bed.

After breakfast, Wednesday: Back to the front desk we go and see that Zelma has returned. We remind her about our problem. She’ll get right on it, as soon as the manager arrives. He is going to come in today in an hour or two hours. No problem, mon. We suggest that the safe malfunction may be the result of a dead battery. This gets us no reaction from Zelma at all. In her mind, I’m sure, she has already shifted our problem to the manager.

Note: We never noticed anybody writing anything down regarding this safe episode, so as soon as we left the presence of the person with whom we were discussing this issue, I’m sure we, and our problem, were completely forgotton. And of course, there is no message left for people on the next shift. The problem evaporates. It ceases to exist.

After lunch, Wednesday: Zelma is sick (No, not of us.) and she has gone home early. We introduce ourselves to another Newbie in the office and tell him of the problem with our safe. “Mon, I’ll be right there and I’ll see what I can do.”
To his credit, he arrives at Room 16 in a very short time, for Jamaica. He has brought with him the good ol’ baggie of keys. The keys still don’t open the safe. We ask him what can be done and he looks at us like we have 2 heads, then has an epiphany and goes back to the office to call the Big Boss. After much discussion, Newbie reports that the Big Boss says they’ll get a whole new safe for us – no problem – but it won’t be here till tomorrow. They aren’t available in Negril and someone will have to go to a bigger city to purchase one and it’s too late to do that today. They’ll buy a new safe and install it tomorrow. I have my doubts and hesitantly suggest that perhaps there is an override code for the existing safe. Newbie perks up a bit at this idea (I can almost see sparks), calls Big Boss again, then says to me, “He is going to get me the code – I’ll be right back.”

Well, I’m not letting this guy out of my sight for fear he’ll take a detour to Barbados before getting back to me, so I follow him and watch him climb the stairs to Big Boss’s second floor office.

About five minutes later, Newbie and Big Boss (Nice to meet you.) walk with us to our room with – you guessed it – a baggie half full of odd keys. The keys have not morphed since the last time they visited our room – none of them yet open the safe. Newbie and Big Boss leave, but miraculously, they reappear within the hour with a brand new safe! Don’t know where it came from. Don’t care. The key to this safe is in the lock. Progress is being made.

However, it’s late in the day; the staff whose job it is to install such things has gone home, but we are assured he will be here bright and early in the morning to attach the new safe to the wall after they take the old safe out. Newbie delicately places the new safe on the floor, and he and Big Boss admire it for a few seconds before bidding us a good night.

Note: For almost 2 days now, everywhere we go, we’ve been carrying in a backpack all of our valuables. We have to take turns swimming in the ocean since one of us has to stay on the beach and guard the backpack. It is reminiscent of that Parenting 101 project where a couple has to carry an egg around with them 24/7 and keep it safe, just like they’d have to do with a baby.

Fortunately, there is a lot of rum in Jamaica.

Another note: We are getting absolutely no sympathy regarding our plight from friends back home in Ontario who are digging themselves out after a monster storm has left feet of snow. They don’t seem to care how tedious it is to transport our backpack to and from the beach each day. Some friends. We drown our sorrows in more rum.

About 11:00 a.m., Thursday: We’ve had breakfast and have returned from our walk along the beach while carrying our friend, the backpack. (Dora the Explorer has nothing on us!) We’re sitting on our front porch when the Big Boss walks by. We say “Good morning”. He says “Good morning” and keeps walking. My husband calls after him, “So, how’s that safe coming along?”

Big Boss (almost) stops walking, asks with incredulity, “You don’t have it in yet??!!”, pulls out a cell phone and talks into it vehemently as he walks away. We think he may be calling Installation Guy, but who knows. There is a real possibility he is ordering his lunch.

1:15 p.m. Thursday: Installation Guy arrives with a drill, a wrench and 3 extention cords. He speaks a lot of words that I think may be rooted in English, but it might as well be Swahili because none of what he says makes any sense to me whatsoever. They say that Jamaican Patois is related to the Queen’s English. I don’t believe it.

Installation Guy looks in the room. He looks at the safe which is resting on the floor. He leaves, but is making, “I’m coming right back” motions while many very fast sounds careen from his mouth.

3:15 p.m., Thursday: Installation Guy returns with the same drill, wrench and extension cords. I have to open the new safe for him since doing so seems to puzzle him. Not a good sign. I have to find I.G. a power outlet in the room so he can plug in his extension cords/drill. He makes lots of noise in the room with said drill for 5 minutes, then picks up all his tools and speaks to me, again using lots of gestures. I think he’s telling me that he needs a different drill bit – the one he’s using is rusty and has no discernable sharp point. I tell him we’ll be at the beach and when he finds the other bit, to come and get us so we can let him into the room. He nods out of the room. We go to the beach with our backpack, which we have named Marley, after Jamaica’s god of reggae. We’re going to be carrying Marley around till we check out of this room next week – I’m positive we are. No problem, mon. The Red Stripe beer is cold and plentiful and washes away all concerns.

9:30 a.m., Friday: Zelma is in the office with her new trainee, Rochelle, when I check in with her just after breakfast. (Ackee and saltfish, breadfruit, callaloo, fried plantain, johnnycakes, coffee – I need sustenance for whatever scenario today is going to bring!) Zelma is apologetic. It seems that the Safe Guy couldn’t get here from Mo’bay last night, but he is coming today – this morning as a matter of fact – to remove the old safe, which, apparently, has to be done before Installation Guy puts the new safe in. I nod and smile and jiggle Marley on my hip to keep him from fussing and walk to the beach.

11:00 a.m., Friday: I go back to the room to use the bathroom and to fill up our thermal mugs with cold drinks. Our housekeeper is “doing” the room when I arrive and lo and behold, Installation Man is hard at work too. He is drilling away at the wall preparing to install the new safe and is putting it right on top of the old one. Apparently, nobody told him that the old safe has to come out first, and I’m not about to enlighten him. Marley needs to come of age and be left alone from time to time.

I barely talk while I’m in the room – just tiptoe around finding drinks from the cooler, then I leave before I disturb the busy atmosphere of the room. No way I’m kicking these folks out of the room so I can pee. I’ll cross my legs on the beach chair as long as I have to.

One hour later, Friday – 3 days almost to the minute since this entire adventure began: Bill goes back to the room for drinks and he’s gone a little longer than expected. He comes back to the beach and announces that the new safe is in. I can finally lock our valuables away. Bill says he stood in the room and admired it for a while, and suggests I try opening and locking the safe several times before I put our passports, etc. inside of the thing. I do this, and all is well. No flashing lights, no beeping and the safe is still firmly attached to the wall. Unbelievable. Marley graduates to beach-bag-only status. (They grow up so fast!) Life in Jam carries on.

Note: Later that same day, I saw Installation Man and thanked him for his help. He looked at me like he’d never seen me before and had no idea what I was talking about. Instantly forgotton.

Also, Bill and I are taking bets: If the Safe Removal Guy ever gets here from Mo’Bay, will he remove the right safe?!

No problem, mon. We be jammin’ on the beach in Negril.

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