The Young Secretary

Any Jamaican will tell you that learning responsibility and accountability was a crucial part of growing up that we MUST learn, whether in school or at home.

My mother had a rather interesting was of teaching us responsibility. It went a little something like this:


“Hi, this is the Hales residence, how may I help you?

“Let me speak to Mrs. Hales please”

“She is not available at the moment, but I can take a message”

“Oh. Just tell her Desmond called.”

“Ok, thank you.”

“Thank you, ba-bye”


After hanging up the phone, I would take out the “red book” or the “phone book” as we call it. We’d draw lines in the book with column headings such as ‘name’, ‘date’, ‘time started’, ‘time ended’, ‘addressee’, ‘purpose’ and ‘ended’ to keep track of every call made. It was my job to make sure that every week, the book had sufficient lines and columns for everyone to use.

This was back when cell-phones were not a ‘thing’ yet and landlines/house phones were the primary means of communication.

At the end of the month, of course we’d get a phone bill. For every call I made, I’d have to verify it in the red book, and pay for it. If a call was on the bill that wasn’t in the red book, no questions asked, I have to pay for it.

How did a little 10 year old Kayan get money to pay for her phone bill?

Little Kayan used to get JMD$70 for lunch everyday, at the time (equivalent to USD$0.7 NOW, but at THAT time, it was roughly USD$5). I’d set aside JMD$20 for savings, and spent JMD$50 for lunch (I bought something small like beef patty and a box juice or a donut and potato chips). So at the end of the week, I’d have JMD$100 saved :).

There was one day I spent 1hour on a call talking to a school friend. I was very sorry the day the bill came. Not only did I get yelled at for being on the phone so long, but I had to use my CAD$20 to pay the bill. My mom didn’t even give me any change. She took the whole thing as punishment.

There’s more to this story in terms of finances and how my dad taught me responsibility, but I’ll leave that for next week’s post 🙂


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