Category Archives: Jamaica Life

The Poet, the Sexologist & the Jazzman…

It was a lyrical evening under the stars to the backdrop of smooth jazz. Sultry words dripped like honey from lips to eager ears. Hairs stood on edge, skin pricked in anticipation of the next menu of words. I’m talking about poetry. The Literary, Arts & Music festival – “Kingston pon de river” kicked off last night at Studio 38, Pulse Complex in New Kingston. It took me some time to make up my mind to attend but it was worth the sacrifice of an early bedtime. I dont know why, but these days I have been on a journey to explore the inner me and I’ve finally accepted that the inner me is a poet at heart with an insatiable appetite for words. So naturally the next step was to find the community where my budding art can be supported. “Kingston pon de river” – a spin-off of “Calabash” usually held at Treasure Beach – did not disappoint.

I was really entranced by the way ladies like Shelly Ann Weekes, Tanya Shirley & Rosie Murray added flavour to their words. Had to keep my jaw from dropping at some of the content, but hey, you live – you learn:) Shelly Ann Weekes I found out is a sexologist who hosts her own show on radio. Well one thing for sure is that you have to be quite secure as an individual to go into that field and judging from her performance, she certainly is! I think the highlight of my evening was meeting English-based DJ and promoter – Gordon Wedderburn – the man behind the smooth medley of jazz music. Lookng forward to more exciting encounters as I explore this dimension of me. For now, its back to mopping floors and cooking lunch.

Victim Support Unit of Jamaica: Helping Hands

A few months ago, I was pickpocketed whilst going about minding my own business. A few days before this, someone tried to do the same while I was riding the bus but was not successful. The feelings of anger, frustration and invasion of privacy that accompanies such an act is indescribable. Perhaps even more significant is the temporary loss of security that one experiences knowing that someone has gone through personal documentation, only to discard it with complete disregard for the inconvenience, stress and upheaval its loss causes the owner. Until this experience, I don’t think I really understood the range of emotions felt by victims of crime, and more, why they crave a safe haven for dealing with these feelings.

The concept of Victim Support while not new to the Caribbean is possibly not as developed as it should be. A google search with these terms will not reveal much in terms of locations and contact numbers for offices in the region. This is not encouraging. It makes you wonder whether we have yet recognized the psychological, emotional, economic and sometimes physical impact being a victim of crime – no matter how petty – has on our lives.

The Victim Support Unit of Jamaica therefore has to be lauded for its work. Established since 1998, it is an arm of the Ministry of Justice designed to facilitate “Healing and Justice for all Victims of Crime”. Statistics show that over the past 7 years an average of 9,280 major crimes have been committed per annum in Jamaica. Less than 10% result in conviction. Looking at VSU’s annual reports, they have see approximately 40,000 new clients between 2002 to 2010. Sadly too large a proportion of these are children. Categories of offences that the VSU deals with ranges from rape, carnal abuse, murder, domestic violence, human trafficking, arson & property damages to name a few. That the service is completely free and offered throughout the island by a mere 35 staff members is an amazing accomplishment.

The VSU is not the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. There are others in Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados. If there are others throughout the Caribbean, it is difficult to locate them via web presence. I can only say a big “Thank you” for the outpouring of support and assistance from the Kingston VSU when I was coping with my pickpocketing ordeal. Have you ever had a similar experience? I would love to hear about it.

Check out this video for a bit more on the work of the Victim Support Unit, Jamaica:

Forest Trek 2012 – 5000ft above sea level!

Today April 22nd is designated International Mother Earth Day. Earth Day has been celebrated annually since 1969 and is usually observed by events designed to increase awareness of the earth’s natural environment. Throughout the world thousands of persons volunteer their time, energy and efforts to projects such as tree planting and beach cleanups to name a few. The observance however is not without its critics, who see it as only another opportunity to celebrate the marginalisation of environmental issues in the world agenda and for businesses to promote “green” products, without necessarily caring about the real impact of our individual actions on nature.

For approximately 500 persons in Jamaica, it was an opportunity to participate in Forest Trek 2012, organised by the Forestry Department. I was one of the 500, along with eight other friends who chose to rise out of bed by 5:00am, stretch, load up and embark on a 7km journey into the Blue Mountains with the aim of planting a tree in the rare, high elevation botanic garden, located some 4800-5200 ft above sea level – Cinchona Gardens. It is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. Having done this walk some 14 years ago, I could not help feeling nostalgic as I retraced my footsteps.

The day was perfect for such an endeavour and allowed for clear, panoramic views of steep plunging mountainsides dotted with homes, vegetable gardens and grazing animals in some of the most unlikely places. Some perched at seemingly precarious angles into the mountainside or almost hidden in the deep valleys – all a testament to human skill in building. Pine trees soared to heights of 30 metres and more, rivers and streams sounded their voice from hidden locations, birds called to us from their perches and exotic flowers greeted us along the pathways. An easy camaraderie and chatter amongst us would often wane as we were overcome by the beauty of it all. Passing through Clydesdale Estate – one of the first to plant coffee commercially in Jamaica – allowed for a few quick photos of the old water wheel and coffee mill. The Estate is over 200 years old and is now the largest forest reserve in Jamaica. Few words can descibe the beauty of Cinchona Gardens, with its soft grass, thousands of flowers, hidden pathways & trails and plunging views. My vocabulary is unable to do it justice. Hopefully my photos will.

I felt such a sense of accomplishment after digging a hole and placing my tree in its new home. A small action on my part, but one which I know will be of immense benefit in the future.  A special thank you to those who shared this journey with me – Irina, Delphine, Shalini, Denton, Wendy, Erin, Marije & Daan. Happy Earth Day. Enjoy the photos.

Kingston Launch of “Marley” Documentary

Bob – legend, musical icon, husband, father, mixed- race boy from the inner city & country. Perhaps most important of all, depending on how you look at it, he was undoubtedly, unapologetically Jamaican. One person, many sides and all of them portrayed in the documentary set for worldwide release April 20th – Marley. Last night the Jamaican population was given the distinct honour of sitting with musically royal Marley family to share their stories, thoughts and moments with Bob (image borrowed from net, no copyright infringement intended).

The venue – Emancipation Park, in the heart of New Kingston – was packed to overflowing as thousands of Jamaicans came out to see their beloved. Most sat or lay on mats, cushions, blankets, sprawled on the damp grass, beneath the night sky and the large screens. Complete strangers, through their love for the man and his music were united in this droplet of time. Two ladies I never met before offered my friend and I a seat on their red blanket. Adults swayed and young ones bobbed to the lure of the Bob’s voice. Scents of boiled corn, pan chicken and other street delicacies filled the night air with, of course, the inevitable smoke of herb.

My pores raised as the song “One love” was sung by various persons around the globe – from South Africa & the Congo to California, and on to India & Nepal. No greater reminder was needed of the far reaching tentacles of the message Bob had to share. As the documentary opened we were taken to Elmina Castle, Ghana – site of slave trade. We were walked to the “Door of no return” where slaves were stripped, branded and taken to waiting slave ships. As we went through the door we exited to images of Bob singing “Exodus”. The journey had truly begun.

Depending on how good a student of history you are, you may well find that not too many “new” details were given, but for many I am sure it was a riveting and very moving experience. Seeing Bob’s first teacher sing his favourite song about a donkey, hearing the reason for the choice of name “Wailers” – because they came from a place where people were always wailing and bawling – and finding out that part of the the group’s preparation for success involved performances in the dead of night for duppies (spirits) in the cemetery – all added to the tale. Read between the lines and it is easy to see where the man who gave himself to the world fell short in being father and husband. Perhaps most priceless of all was the slight tremor when his cousin and half sister publicly admitted that the boy who had been shunned by his father’s family had indeed become the cornerstone of the Marley name.

As images of Trenchtown 50 years ago and at present flashed, one couldnt help wondering whether much had changed in the inner city since Bob moved uptown to 56 Hope Road. Lisa Hanna, Minister of Youth and Culture in her speech described Marley as the consummate student of the sidewalk university. Certainly an apt reminder that in life it’s not so much where you came from but where you are headed. Thanks Bob for sharing one night with me.

Memories of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains

What is it like to open sleep shrouded eyes to the sight of waterfalls, butterflies, lush green grass, fruit trees heavily laden and bent beneath their weight? What is it like to roll over in a hammock, stretch your feet, curl your toes and gaze at a majestic mountain range softly clothed in mist, almost like a soft cotton frock? Could this somehow have been one typical morning of Eve’s life in the Garden of Eden? I wonder…

Sometimes in can be so easy to take beauty for granted. Much like we in the Caribbean do – until we’re away from it! We are surrounded by the vibrant palettes of the tropics, yet oftentimes we forget what a treasure it is. Over the Easter weekend, I joined a group of Hashers at 5:30am and we set off into the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Our desinatation was Hollywell Park & the Gap cafe – located some 3000ft above sea level. Our mission was to make it to the cafe – alive of course! – to enjoy a steaming hot cup of Blue mountain coffee. We started from the Norbrook area and did a gruelling uphill journey for close to four (4) hours, passing through Woodford & Peter’s Rock. My feet are still recovering from this ordeal!

For a few hours, I felt like I was in a different world. Here, like many other communities in Jamiaca, motorcycle is a form of public transport. You can even call the motorcycle man from the bottom of a hill via cell phone and like any taxi service he comes and dutifully takes you home. Alongside many homes are small plots of land dedicated to growing vegetables. The generosity, sincere smiles and greetings of the many villagers could almost make you cry. One orchid vendor stopped for a few moments, and handed out ripe bananas, fresh from her garden, to us. Jamaica has a very large following of the Seventh Day Adventist faith. As we slowly toiled uphill, we passed many old ladies, children and men dressed up in Saturday best heading to church.

At Hollywell Park I dug in to a feast of fresh raspberries and golden apples. Standing at a point dubbed “Mount Edge” I filled my lungs with the cool, sweet mountain air and looked out on the green vastness before me. A short walk along the quiet pathway brought us to the gate of Gap Cafe – a rustic cottage nestled in the hillside and flanked by flower beds, shrubs, a green picket fence and circular flagstones – inviting the eager traveller to step inside the cool interior and sample mixed fare.  The decor was reminiscent of my granny’s taste, simple and faded but with an inexplicable charm that makes you feel right at home.

The step down verandah at the back offers equisite views, a sloping flower garden, tall eucalyptus trees and the possibility of sighting a Doctor bird or two. The Doctor bird is the National bird of Jamaica and one of approx 320 species of hummingbird. Jamaica is the only place on earth where the Doctor bird can be found – a challenge for bird lovers:). (Photo courtesy the internet).

Here, it was easy to forget that several miles away and closer to sea level lay bustling Kingston. It was easy to forget the daily struggles that characterizes life, the many allegations of police shootings, persistent crime, the dons of the inner cities and the appalling cases of sexual abuse of the nation’s children. What a contrast. Crime unfortunately is not only Kingston’s problem, but one that is stifling memories of the carefree existence of a Caribbean childhood. Thankfully there is hope, as we in the various islands continue to pool our collective resources and intellect to battle the problem in various ways. Check out this informative video on the Caribbean Human Development Report 2012. It seeks to look at the link between development and growing levels of insecurity in the Caribbean. One key message that resonates with me – INVEST IN THE YOUTH.

D Island Life: A Jamaican coaster ride!

Island life is one that has always attracted people from all walks of life. Tourists come from every part of the world to experience the supposedly carefree, rythmic, sea, sand & sun existence of the Caribbean. Yet beneath the seeming nonchalance, there is a life, a character, a savvy, a certain vibe that defines the West Indian experience and makes me proud to be a daughter of this collective soil. Having spent some time in Jamaica, I feel it is an absolute necessity to walk you through what is a typical morning commute for many Jamaicans. Please forgive the lack of accuracy of my patois! Here goes with some of my first impressions after the first few coaster rides (I am happy to report no recent sprains, twists or broken limbs:)

Dancehall music blaring from the radio, passengers screaming “buus stap”, “leh go”, “let aff” “ducta, ducta”; the conductor hanging out the speeding maxi bawling “down town” “alfwey tree” “run come mammy” while screaming to the driver “ROAD!!!” (meaning drive off); $20 coins jingling in passengers hands, with those standing have grabbed on to seats, roof, holder and yet still manage to sway in time to the music! The driver loudly converses with no one in particular, while it seems he’s testing every possible technique to crash the vehicle. Yet he too manages to “bubble” to the music, switch CDs, sight the occasional policeman and screech into every bus stop!

It seems Thursday however is a day of peace for coaster rides. I have decided it must be the calm before the avalanche of dancehall lyrics on Fridays. Last Thursday I hopped onto my coaster, fully prepared to lose hearing in one ear and lose control of my heartbeat but to my surprise – and delight – I got Thanksgiving Thursday instead! I was treated to every form of foot tapping, hair raising, soul balming gospel there is – for two (2) straight coaster rides! Lucky me:)

Mind you the soothing lyrics had no effect on the crazy driving, so I had to enjoy my music while standing, gripped to the overhead bar and trying not to fall out the window or door! So there I was enjoying de vibes for what could very well be my last ride before de afterlife! From my vantage point I started to look around to see if the other passengers were enjoying it as much as I was. Well they most definitely were! Curiously though, it seemed that the guys were more into it than the ladies!

There was one rastaman just behind me and I swear he was going to start church up in de coaster! He was flinging those locks, dancing and singing like nobody’s business! A lock or two almost hit me square in the face – at which point I was tempted to pull mine down and start flinging them around too. Almost like – brotha man you cant show me how to pelt locks – take that!! and oh yeah Praise God!!!! Then I thought better of it and just moved around by 1/16th of an inch – it was all I could do seeing that I was packed in like a sardine! Ah, what enviable morning bliss!

You just have to love Jamaica:) If after reading this post you still dont believe me, then do a search for “Two white women pon a minibus” Prepare to smile:)