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close this book Daughters of Sysiphus
close this folder Annexes
View the document Annex I - Glossary of terms
View the document Annex II - Overview of the women who served as case studies
View the document Annex III - Lena

Annex III - Lena

The case study of Lena is presented in full to provide an insight into the stories that the women told during their interviews. Her story provides a good example because it encompasses rural-urban migration, the complexities of balancing income generation with parenting and also covers shelter investment by a female head of household in a number of different circumstances. It has been possible to verify various elements of the story with other members of her family in both the rural and urban areas. Terms that are culturally specific are explained in the Glossary of the study.

Lena is 36-years-old. She lives with her four daughters in Cassava Piece which has recently been the focus of a squatter-settlement upgrading programme implemented by the Ministry of Housing. She has her own house but pays ground rent for the spot it rests on to the woman who owns the yard where she lives with her four daughters. She works in a Kingston hotel as a cook.

Origins in Mandeville

Lena was born in Mandeville where she lived with her mother, her grand-aunt and her grand-aunt's son in a rented house built of nog with a stone foundation and a shingle roof. Her mother never spoke about Lena's father, but she knew that he was German and that he used to send cheques for her maintenance.

"I remember when I was about seven years old Mama would always tie my hair, put the cheque in it, and give me to give a man who was a Justice of the Peace man. He would untie my hair, take the cheque, put the money in and tie it back. She never spoke about my father and I never asked."

The house in Mandeville had a water catchment tank which was fed with water collected from the house roof and the toilet was a pit latrine. Around the house grew oranges and bananas. They also grew yams.

The move to Maidstone

When Lena was four-years-old her great-grandmother's husband died in Maidstone, in the mountains above Mandeville, and Lena's mother moved there to be able to look after the old lady. The land in Maidstone was owned by her great-grandmother who had obtained the land through her father's dead letter. However the land appears to have been in the family for many years. As Lena puts it: "It coming from far generations." It is considered family land by the family as a whole.

In 1955, when Lena moved to Maidstone, the house was made up of two rooms or "apartments" with nog walls and a shingle roof. There were glass catchment windows and water ran from the roof into a water tank which was also fed from another house belonging to someone else in the family.

In the yard there was a pit latrine which was eventually replaced with government assistance in 1964. There was also an outside kitchen made of wattle and daub.

One of Lena's earliest memories of Maidstone is of helping to build a new water catchment tank in 1958.

"I remember because I had to carry stones you know, to help the mason man who built it."

That same year Lena's mother married a man who moved in with the family and immediately began work on building a one-room extension to the house. The extension meant that the greatgrandmother had a room to herself, Lena's mother and step-father shared a room, and Lena and her two sisters shared the third room. There was an outside kitchen where cooking was done on a wood fire.

"We always go to the woodland every Saturday. I like to carry the wood, 1 always like to carry the wood. We stacked it up under the house. The house was on columns, high-like, with a wood floor. We called it the cellar. People could have lived underneath there it coming like an upstairs - and the things under there don't wet up and 'ting."

Lena started going to school in Maidstone which she liked because: "I was bright." But before she went to school she had to do chores around the house.

"When we get up in the morning, we usually get up from 5 a.m. in the country, well first of all we mek up the fire and put on the water. Then we parents come out an we sweep up the concrete (yard). I had to look after the two younger girls. Mama washed clothes for people in the area and my stepfather did the farming. He worked very hard. When I came home from school I helped my mother cook. Yes I worked hard, I could do everything."

Starting work

In 1966 when she was 15, Lena's real father died and the maintenance support stopped coming so she had to start work. She moved to Devon in Manchester to live with a nurse and her husband to look after them and their two small children. Lena was paid $9.00 for a seven-day week which also involved taking over responsibility for the household at night as the nurse was often on night shift and "her husband was not reliable. He would Just go out you know."

Moving to Kingston

In 1969, Lena's aunt who lived in Kingston told her about a job "in Town" and Lena decided to try her luck.

"I tek the train from Manchester by myself and tek the bus and go to Jones Town where my great-grandmother's sister was living."

She got the Job as a live-in helper in Duhaney Park.

The head of the household was a woman who worked in a local brassiere factory. Apart from her there was also her daughter and four children. By this time Lena was earning $13.00 a week. The job did not last long however and the following year Lena returned to Mrs. Brown, the nurse in Mandeville, who tried to get her a job in Christiana.


The lob in Christiana "never work out." Lena stayed with Mrs. Brown, the nurse. "Then I did get involved with a boyfriend and I get pregnant and went back home to Maidstone." Her daughter, Jacqueline, was born in July 1970 and Lena tried to sort herself out.

"Mrs. Brown didn't feel that the father came from a good family. I find out for myself because he wasn't nice to me. He went away on farm working and he didn't come back and he didn't write me until a long time. He didn't maintain the child. When I went back to my mother pregnant she curse me and say what she thinking. But I didn't have any idea about family planning or contraception at that time. Nobody gave me guidance. I wasn't thinking about family planning. They was talking about it on the radio but I wasn't thinking about it and they didn't taught it in school. When I saw my period first time my mother just told me that if I let man trouble me I will get pregnant - that's all she tole me."

Back to Kingston

When Jacqueline was three-months-old Lena left her with her mother and went back to Kingston where she got a job working in the canteen at the Ministry of Labour. -I had a job round the back to wash dishes and clear the plates for the people dem."

She lived with her mother's sister in Rockfort and for the first time Lena was able to save money.

"So I throw a partner and when I get the hand I buy a bed and then a one-burner oil stove. Then I went and got myself a room on my own in Rockfort."

Lena found an apartment in a three-room, block-and-steel house which she shared with an old lady. Apart from their unit there were another three houses in the yard with a front house that had "about ten apartments - four families live in there." Lena paid $ 15 a month for rent and this payment also covered -light. water and everything." She shared a bathroom which was inside the house and bathed with water collected from a standpipe in the yard.

Setting herself up

She chose a bed for her first purchase because "you can sleep on a bed and sit on a bed." After the stove she then invested in a table which cost her $70 cash and a little table which she bought from a sidewalk vendor for $6. For the next five years Lena stayed in the same house and worked at the Ministry.

"Things was cheaper then than now. I could get six packs of rice for one dollar and something, and a tin of milk for seventy cents. I could always manage with my pay and have plenty change. I was in a partner for ten dollars a week. My aunt was running it and she would give me an early draw. I did buy clothes and shoes and send them and money back for my daughter in the country. Every month or so I went to the country. I didn't feel no way about leaving the child because I know my mother would tek good care of her. But my child didn't know me you know. She called my mother Mama. She called me Lena just like what my sister call me. It's only now she calls me 'My mother'."

A second child

In 1972 Lena had another child, Sandra. She went back to work when the baby was two-months-old and again found that there was no support forthcoming from her babyfather. She still didn't think about family planning.

"I always hear people talk about how it was killing off black people and how it was going to give you two babies one time and so forth."

While Lena went to work, Sandra was left in a nursery.

Another moue

In 1976, when she was 25 Lena eventually tried to find another place to live so that she could leave Rockfort because she didn't like the place. "After work I walked up and down seeking." She had very little luck and also found that she was under pressure from her aunt to go and help look after Lena's grandmother. However Lena had little interest in doing this because of an old rift in the family which had started when the grandmother had married a man without telling him anything about Lena's mother, an outside child, or, consequently, Lena and her sisters.

"When my mother was small my grandmother never came to the country to look for her and she didn't own us. We could never call her 'grandmother' if we saw her. She always said we was not her grandchildren - her grandchildren live in town. She said we must call her Mistress Johnson. By the time she get sick with sugar she still didn't own my mother."

Despite her misgivings Lena eventually moved in to look after the old lady.

Lena's new home consisted of three rooms. Her aunt had one, Lena shared with her grandmother and Sandra, and the third room was used as a drawing room. Lena left the Ministry to "get a better pay." She had a brief job at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital as a ward maid but left after three months to work in a shop off Mountain View Avenue.

She worked as a clerk in the shop for seven days a week and looked after her grandmother at nights. Within three months her pay had been increased from $40 a week to $70. Lena would leave Sandra at the nursery on Mountain View Avenue between seven in the morning and three in the afternoon when she came home. They would be together until seven in the evening when the aunt would take over and Lena went back to work until about ten o'clock.

Moving in with a man

Then in 1978 Lena moved out of her grandmother's house and went to live with a man, Leroy, who had a house in Whitehall Avenue. She decided to do this "because he said he couldn't afford to maintain a woman outside." He had a small "boy child- from a previous relationship living with him as well.

Leroy gave her a certain amount of money and also got someone to come in to wash his clothes and clean the house. Lena would wash her clothes on Sunday. The four of them lived in a three-room board house which Leroy had bought from the person who had had the lease on the land before him. Like all the houses around them the house had a roof of zinc but, unlike many of the other units, they could boast a yard of their own even though it was small. He worked as a tradesman and also did gardening and raised fowl and pigeons.

Soon Lena was pregnant again and Suzie was born in late 1978. At first things went well.

"In the first part living with a man made me feel more secure. But he's very aggressive. He started to accuse me that Suzie was Indian because she was born with straight hair. But my grandma was an Indian and my father was a German and he had straight hair. I stayed at Whitehall about three years."

By 1978 Lena had also changed jobs again. She started doing catering work at a hotel and found that she was very good at it. She took a brief break when she had Suzie but was soon back at work afterwards.

Thrown out

In 1981 Leroy threw Lena out of the house and she moved to Cassava Piece where she had a friend who had told her about a "one room." However when she left she made sure to take Leroy's house paper with her so that she would have something.

The "one room" had suddenly become vacant because the police had killed the man who lived in it and his mother agreed to sell it to Lena for $550.00. At least it was better than a tatoo. She arranged to pay $10 a month for the spot rent and moved in straight away. With two children, Lena was worried about living in just one room and she asked the woman who controlled the yard where the house was located if she could "add on." This was agreed to and Lena set about making the additions.

Building for herself

"A friend told me where some second-hand board was and I gave him a hundred dollars and he bought it for me. My brother helped as well. He was working with a man who gave him some bagasse and cardboard for the ceiling."

"I dug a pit and we put two drums in there. We didn't pack it with any stone. Then I got a toilet bowl and put it over it. We use drum water. We don't have a pipe in here. I get water from next door with a hose. I don't pay them anything because they don't pay water rate. The landlady in this yard never had enough money when the Government came in to bring the water to the yard. But she got the land because we'd been living on this capture spot for 20 years. She doesn't have light or a toilet on that side. I applied for a meter and got light early because I didn't like the darkness but they never did get a meter. I put a padlock on my toilet. They use the yard. That's why I want to move - I can't tek it anymore. They don't dig a pit because they say it harbour too much roach."

Other members of the family move in

By late 1981 more people had moved into Lena's house. Cousins from the country moved in, Esmie and Ryan. They all slept in the one room with Lena and the children in one bed and Esmie and Ryan in the other. When the extension was completed the two women and two girl's shared one room with Ryan sleeping in the small extension.

By 1982 another cousin had moved in, Sam. Sam, Esmie and Ryan slept in the extension and Lena and the children stayed in the other room. Esmie's baby son had to stay with his father because there wasn't enough room.

In 1984 Lena had another child, Diane, and it became clear that things were getting crowded. However it wasn't until 1985 that Esmie, Ryan and Sam found other accommodation.

Settling down

Life has settled down for Lena since then. Diane's father helps to maintain the child but Lena doesn't want to live with him "because he had dreadlocks and is a Rastafarian."

She is earning reasonable money working In a hotel and sometimes gets over $200 a week. She has been able to bring her first daughter from the country to live with her and they are gradually getting used to each other.

She has no ambitions to marry at this stage.

"I think I will stay living on my own. I would like to get married but not until my children grow up. I don't want no men come around and harass my children. And then my children don't appreciate me with men. They are jealous of me talking to a man. I'd rather deal with the children before a man."


Asked about loans, Lena describes her feelings.

"I've never borrowed money. I don't like to borrow, to owe debts. I think if I die today I don't want to leave any debts behind me to leave my children in any trouble. If I don't have it then I do without. I would still stay with the Partners but otherwise I would bank my money and cut down to just two Partners. The Partner is my saviour man because If you join a Partner with a nice person (as banker) and you ask for a second or third hand you can get it quicker than if you want a money to borrow at the bank."

Lena has never tried to open a bank account but would like to know more about how the credit union works.


If she got a windfall of $5000 she would

"invest It. I would open up a business but not clubs and bars. I like to do crochet so maybe that. l would leave my present work but $5000 wouldn't be enough to do that."

The future

Lena's future hopes are based on a three-room block-and-steel house of her own. She cannot see herself ever giving up working at something.

"I love to work. I want the children to appreciate me and say I work hard. I want them to come to something good in life and to work hard at school."