Wednesday, 29 August 2012

"If Jesus were to come down tomorrow..."

I have had one "typical" Jamaican experience after another in the last week.  Perhaps it is because I've been here long enough to recognize these things as uniquely Jamaican, perhaps it's simply because I've been deep in the world of Anthony C. Winkler's The Great Yacht Race, which is set in 1950s Jamaica at the Montego Bay Yacht Club and the story is achingly close to home (more about that below).

Last week, as a celebration of the milestone of one year in Jamaica, Captain Phil took me out to dinner at a local place: Martina's.  It is tucked away at the crossroads of a major intersection in town, but isn't visible from the road, so it is truly frequented by locals.  (Captain Phil stops there for a beer when he thinks he's going to get rained on while riding his bicycle home from the grocery store.)

We both had steamed lion fish with okra and bammy, which was awesome!  (And no, I did not eat the eyeballs this time, but I did show Captain Phil how to eat the checks.) I will eat you anytime, invasive reef fish!

While we were there, some guys around the bar were arguing about the latest cricket match.  Their voices got louder and Louder and LOUDER until Phil and I actually had to shout at each other to be heard.  At some point, someone made the point "If Jesus came down from heaven tomorrow, what would you say?"  We couldn't stop giggling at the absurdity. And that's not all, later in the week I heard another argument amongst Jamaicans about something inane with biblical referencing thrown in. Too funny.

The restuarant also had a fountain in which several turtles lived.  This guy wouldn't hold still long enough for me to take a picture, so I finally gave up and filmed him instead.

Last week I also had an opportunity to visit a community in the rural interior of Jamaica, Maroon Town.  Maroon Town is about an hour's drive up in the hills from Montego Bay, and the air is fresh and cool and you can see the ridges of the cockpit country hills all around you.  It was interesting to meet with community members there and to strategize how a Cuso volunteer might help them. We were of two minds whether it would be fantastic to be a volunteer located in a village in cockpit country, with stunning vistas and cool mountain air, or whether it would be really isolating with almost no amenities close by.

There are warnings about hiking in cockpit country by yourself: you have to be careful not to get lost because it is very isolated and all the hills are about the same height so it is impossible to see the way out again.

Trying not to get ourselves lost on the way.

Notice the rainwater collection barrels on the roof of the centre - there is no public water or sewer available up here.
Ok - Anthony C. Winkler, one of Jamaica's best known writers.  I've mentioned before that I really enjoyed reading The Lunatic, and The Great Yacht Race was equally pleasurable, if not more so because it was about boats and sailing and the people ("characters") in Montego Bay, which haven't changed nearly as much in the last 50 years as you would expect.  He has a wonderful way of writing the Jamaican accent and patois phrasing, and nothing Jamaican is sacred or free of a sly ironic poke.

I am going to inflict some on you, apologies in advance...

Now it was August.

August: a month when God's searing sun hangs so low over Montegonians that helpless master must fornicate with winsome maid from the country parts, minister must beg scandalized matron for pum-pum after choir practice, surely donkey must stand in the shade and swish grassblade with dangling privates, and decent woman walking to work must be provoked by the sight of animal hood flaunting itself under her very nose as if she did not have crosses enough in her life already without having to put up with disgusting spectacle.

A bad month in Montego Bay, August: hormonal bubbling, anopheles mosquito and, in the old days, death from yellow fever. A month of wanton harvesting for Belial, when sinner is catapulted in a blink from den of iniquity to fire and brimstone, all the wicked brutes bawling out the same lament, "Me never know! Me never know, sah! Beg you second chance, sah!"

But there is no second chance in August.

(Page 123 of The Great Yacht Race, by Anthony C. Winkler, published by Macmillan Caribbean.)

Even the cover illustration looks like it could be the view down the MBYC dock today.
P.S. In case you didn't figure it out on your own, "pum-pum" and "hood" are patois slang for the female and male private parts, respectively.  Maybe be careful about using your new words in polite company....

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