In this installment of Our Stories, young resort housekeeper, Abigale Johnson shares how her sole source of income has been affected by the COVID 19… For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise- white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer, and truer image of the Jamaican experience… this is Our Stories!
“Mek Wi Smile & Sanitize!” This is the tagline for a developing communication campaign that will be aimed to promote safety awareness for local hospitality and tourism employees currently employed within the resort parishes of St. Ann and Montego Bay. In recognition of the fact that the hospitality sector is one of the primary contributors to the Jamaican economy, you might be thinking that there is COVID 19 safety awareness, specific for this sector, being promoted through the media, right? –Laughing- Well, through these interviews, we will certainly find out!
Meet *Abigale Johnson – A Cautious Housekeeper; A Protective Mother
At age 24, Abigale Johnson was a contented housekeeper at a small Bed & Breakfast resort in Montego Bay, and a proud mother of a beautiful baby girl. Money in her pocket, food on her table, and shelter over her head – She was completely satisfied with having just the basics for living an awesome life, according to her. Known by her co-workers as ‘smiley’ because it was evident that she loves to laugh. When we interviewed Ms. Johnson, she was absolutely a cup of sunshine.
However, like many of us, things take a turn for the worst when the big bad Coronavirus hit the country. Consequently, this has been affecting Abigale Johnson’s sole source of income, while negatively changing her mindset towards how she has to be currently performing her responsibilities as a cautious resort housekeeper. Below is Abigale Johnson’s story, are you one of her?
Before we get down to the real nitty-gritty Ms. Johnson, give us an introduction to your job title and your specific duties at your company.
Ok, first thing first, I’m a HEART certified hotel housekeeper and my job title at the place I’m working now is Room Attendant. My responsibilities as the room attendant there, mostly involve cleaning and organizing guests’ rooms, address guests’ complaints and help them out with certain things; and sometimes I work in the kitchen area and bring food up to the rooms, although a nuh my job that still (chuckles).
You said that you’re a housekeeper, on a scale of 1 to 5 – one being less often and 5 being more often – how often are you in direct contact with your guest?
I would say four – well – normally (assuming she meant before COVID) it would be somewhere between two or three because most of the guests would be out of the rooms. But now, it would be about four or four and a half since everybody is now locked-up in their rooms because they have to quarantine for couple days. So, when I’m doing room service, majority of the time the people would be in their rooms.
Being a housekeeper means constantly touching and cleaning objects that guests touch. How can you, or what have you been doing to limit the direct contact between you and an object during cleaning? Is this even possible?
Between me and you, if it nuh haffi clean mi nuh clean it, simple as that. Honestly, though, certain things in the room don’t have to be cleaned every week if it’s the same guest staying in there. I try to focus on the objects that would look obvious if dirty. And, as usual, gloves and mask is a must. For used sheets and towels, I would put them in a big garbage bag instead of carrying them with my hand.
Since the reopening of the resort from the COVID impact, have you been trained in how to protect yourself when you’re at work?
(chuckles and in a confused tone) What you mean by train?
Does your supervisor teach or show you anything about protecting yourself from the virus when working?
Well, the only thing that they tell us to do was to make sure that we wear our mask and always sanitize. They don’t train us or anything like that.
Apart from what your supervisor told you and what you said earlier relating to touching objects, have you been doing any other procedures or safety activities to protect yourself?
Yes, of course. I always leave my work uniform at work and sometimes I even take a quick shower before I go home. I try my best not to touch or even go close to anyone especially the tourists that have been recently coming in. Sometimes, the guest would give me something to take down to the front office, but I always refuse if I don’t have any gloves or sanitizer on me.
So, would you say that you try to stay as far as possible from international guests that stay at the resort?
(Laughs) Well, I wouldn’t say that, but I just ensure that I maintain social distancing.
And how these safety activities affected your engagement with your guests?
It definitely affects my tips because sometimes when I refuse to take stuff from the tourist, they see it as me giving them attitude or I’m scorning them – which I’m not. I’m just trying my best to protect myself and they don’t seem to understand that. And because of this, they don’t give me any tips.
But you would want to collect as many tips as possible, right? You wouldn’t want to give the impression that you’re offending the guest, so, what could you do differently to not give this impression while still collecting your tips?
Alright, so as I said before, if I had my gloves on or have my sanitizer with me then I’d more than happy to accept the items from them. But if it’s a situation where mi nuh have nun a dem – (laughs) – then I think it would be better to just take it from them and try my best to not touch anywhere else on my body or cloths before mi get sanitizer. Because even if I have the mask on, the virus can still transfer from the item to my clothes, don’t, and then mi go touch it later.
I’m assuming that doing all these protective measures is to protect not just yourself but more importantly your daughter at home, right?
Listen, I love my job, but I love my daughter far more. If protecting my daughter from COVID means me leaving my work, then I will do it without hesitation. I try to protect myself by every means possible, just so I can protect my daughter at home. I need the work, but just imagine me catching Corona and spread it to my daughter, mi woulda literally cry eyewata cause she sicky sicky bad (chuckles).
Have any of your co-workers caught the virus from working at the resort?
Not to my knowledge and I certainly hope not. We all wear our mask and we are fully equipped with sanitizers. Our temperatures are sometimes checked before we enter the building too.
Why just sometimes?
The securities will just let us in because we are there almost every day, so they don’t bother to check us.
Prior to the interview, you said that you have a sister along with close friends working with you at the resort. How have you been maintaining safety measures with them?
Well, all mi can seh is social distancing is easier said than done, because in the break room during our breaks, all a wi pack up in deh – (we both laughed). But I still wear my mask and there’s actually handwashing stations in the room. Oh, and I have my special spot where I eat my lunch, and everyone knows that’s my spot, so no one sits there.
That’s good! Before the interview, you also said that you knew about the TPDCo. Are you aware of the safety protocols and procedures that they established for workers just like you?
I know about the TPDCo, but I’m not aware of any of these safety protocols and procedures that you’re talking about. (We both laughed to conclude the interview)
Since you don’t know about these safety protocols, would a communication campaign to promote these protocols, help you and your co-workers to become more aware?
Yes, I guess but it all depends because if it’s a long list of things to know about then we’re not going to remember, well, at least me.
So, you would rather short and catchy phrases that can be easy to remember?
It nuh really matter still cause as long as the info is out there, but that would be good of course.
This is what Abigale Johnson and many other hospitality workers are currently experiencing at their workplace pertaining to the awareness of the COVID 19 safety protocols. It is evident that the conceptualization of the communication campaign unequivocally NEEDS to be in its complete execution to protect these hospitality employees, without affecting the positive engagement of international guests.
* Name changed on request