Manley Fritz in his home in Sawyers River, Clarendon.
A month ago when 71-year-old Manley Fritz fell ill with chest pains and shortness of breath, it took him three days to walk from his one- room zinc hut at Sawyers River Bottom in Main Ridge, Clarendon, to the main road a mile away.
The usual commute by foot takes nearly an hour.
But being ill and unable to help himself much, and with no family or neighbours to turn to, Fritz’s options were limited — make the trip as slowly and painfully as he could, or stay in his hut hoping that he would be found.
So secluded is Fritz’s dwelling from the rest of civilisation that there are times when he falls ill and is left helpless in his hut, fearing that he may die before help reaches him.
“A three days it take me to reach out,” Fritz told the Jamaica Observer as he sat on his wooden bed covered with dried banana leaves on Thursday. “Mi could hardly help miself. Mi had to stop a road and wait three days without eat before mi could move and reach out.”
His home is a one-room zinc and cloth hut held together by sticks, situated in the deep woodlands. His only companions are two ‘common’ fowls and a goat. At night when the cloth that forms his door is drawn, his companions are grass lice, rats and mosquitoes.
Fritz has no modern amenities — piped water, electricity, nor toilet — nothing to make his life comfortable.
He said that whenever he gets ill he fears that no one will reach him in time, while banking his hope on someone — anyone, who may be looking for stray animals to come his way and to his rescue.
Whenever he is found, it is yet another task getting him up the rocky, mountainous terrain that only animals or foot travellers can make.
“So sometime when mi sick down here they have to carry me on pole to go doctor in Denbigh,” he explained. “They take two stick and throw sheet over it and put me on it and carry me out. Four people carry me. A man always have cow about the place here, so is him find me the last time. Mi in here couple days well before him find mi. Mi couldn’t do nothing, couldn’t help myself, mi just in here so. The knee take me bad man…swell up big big, so mi couldn’t move.”
But Fritz said that sometimes if he feels ill he will make the trip to the top of the road and stay there with a friend. That friend, however, is not in a much better position than Fritz himself, and so staying there means sleeping on cardboard on the cold concrete for a few days until he is well enough to return home.
George Brown, who feels a sense of responsibility towards Fritz for the kind hand he extended to his mother when his circumstances were better, is one of the persons who would carry him out when he is sick, and the only one who cooks and takes food for him from time to time. This, however, is not regular, as the journey covers two miles on foot. Brown said that he promised his mother on her dying bed that he would help to look out for Fritz, for the good deeds he had done for her.
“More time I beg him to come up where I live that we can eat Sunday dinner but he is a man who don’t beg. Him have this proud nature,” Brown said. “Him will take something if you give him, but him not begging anybody anything. The last time he was going to the doctor we had to fix him up. I bathe him and cut him hair. That was about four weeks ago.”
And that, Fritz admitted, was the last time he had a shower.
Brown said that Fitz, who was once well dressed and independent, is in need of help.
“Is long years I am praying for somebody to see his plight and help him because he is a good guy. From him born you never hear any funny things about him. Him always independent and him always by himself,” Brown said. “Him never always stay so, but him just give up on life because him was a nice guy, dress up nice and clean and everything like that and all of a sudden Manley just become a bamboo. So we just call him ‘Bamboo Root’.”
But help for Fritz means removing him from his current home to somewhere that is much easier for him to get to the doctor and have a meal when the need arises.
Fortunately, Fritz, who is the owner of at least three pieces of property courtesy of his father who died in 1963, said that while he has the land, he would need the resources to be able to get a room on one of the properties.
Annette Newman, welfare coordinator in Clarendon, said that she has already started the process but has come upon a roadblock.
“I have a letter drawn up by a pastor and I have a tax receipt (assessment notice) but I am going to ask Food for the Poor because the taxes don’t pay up for plenty years. So I would love if Food for the Poor could waiver that because they require that the taxes pay before they will give you the house to put on it,” Newman said. “I know that I can get the house from Food for the Poor, but is just the payment on the land. That is the only thing I would want assistance with, to clear up the tax on the land.”
Though she was unable to say just how much the amount of back tax on the property was, two unopened tax assessment notices from the Inland Revenue Department addressed to Manley Fritz for two pieces of land in Sawyers River and Cool Spring in Main Ridge, when opened by this reporter, showed one property of 4,046.8560 square metres (one acre) and the other 10,117.1410 square metres (2.5 acres) owed $7,780 and $17,717.50 respectively.
The payment notices were received by Brown who has been helping Fritz to get his affairs in order.
A third assessment notice was addressed to Fritz’s father for another property in the area. That remained unopened.
Newman, who said that she was made aware of Fritz’s condition a few weeks ago, and who has been trying desperately to make his situation better, said that she is also trying to get him on the PATH programme, as this would help tremendously.
“The other day when he went to the doctor they could only beg half of the prescription, so I am going to take it now to see if he can get the rest, because the hospital didn’t have the one he was supposed to get,” she explained. “At the PATH programme they told me that if I get a letter, along with his school record and take it to them, then they would try to get him on the programme.”
However, because Main Ridge Primary, which he attended, is one of the schools the Government ordered closed this week, she explained that getting his school record is something she needs to do before the doors are sealed.
Fritz has another problem. He explained that though he has been known as Manley Fritz all his life, Basil Fritz is the name on his birth certificate and the one the school would have on record. Thus, it is hoped that this too will not be a major issue.
“But if we could get one of the taxes paid off, even the one with the lesser amount, then we would be given the Food for the Poor house to put on the property,” Newman said. “But they are not giving it unless they get the tax receipt. Under the circumstance I wish they would bypass that because he desperately need somewhere to live.”
Brown said that Fritz’s property in Sawyers River adjoins his and he would be more than happy to see him relocated there.
“So when mi eat, him eat, because he would be so close. Now I can come down here but not often, because of the arthritis in my knees,” said Brown, who lives alone and who himself does a little cultivation.
Fritz said that the property he now occupies also belonged to his father and is a part of his inheritance. He said that he has been living there all his life, since the environs were densely populated.
“Down here was a big district. But everybody move and leave me and another Rastaman up the top, but him gone since few weeks,” Fritz stated. “His people them take him, but is this little goat why I have to sleep here because dog eating goat so mi have to sleep with him and my two fowl ’cause that is all mi have lef. Mi always have plenty things but them dead off, and sick come take me now so the place a mash down and mi can’t do anything.
“Nuff time mi down here sick and feel like I am going to die before help reach mi, nuff time,” he said.
Fritz said that all his life he has been a farmer, planting crops and raising animals. However, after a time and as he got older he realised he could not manage the larger animals any more. As a result, his life started to deteriorate.
“I used to plant food and sell, but now even if I plant food I can’t even carry it out because I don’t have any donkey like one time,” he explained.
Fritz was never married and never had children. He said though, he has five brothers and two sisters, who all have their own lives and do not visit him. He said that one brother visited him three years ago but he has not returned.
Fritz said that a few months ago he got the chikungunya virus, caused by an influx of mosquitoes, which rendered him helpless for days.
“If you don’t have fire here you mad man. Mosquito would kill you. If mi have one stick of matches leave mi fret. You have to have smoke around you at all times.”
The wood fire that is constantly burning inside the hut which serves as a stove, light at nights and mosquito repellant throughout the days and nights is what Newman and Brown believes could be the reason he has been having shortness of breath and chest pains so badly.
“The doctor warned him not to smoke because it’s damaging his lungs, but is not the cigarette that him smoke sometimes, is the smoke him inhaling,” Brown theorised.
Fritz said that he gets drinking water from a gully that is located nearby that has never gone dry. His food is whatever he can find on the property around him. Sometimes he only manages to consume a hand of green bananas with water.
“I really want something to work out for him,” Brown stated, even as Newman strategised how to get him grocery so deep into the woods before the day was out.