INDEPENDENCE

Fifty years ago today a three-year old boy stepped off a ship from London and into a foreign land.  It had been his second ship that year.  The first was from Ghana to London, from all that he had ever known and ever lost.  His Daddy was a few steps behind, shoulders ramrod straight, big hands holding his baby brother.  He was only a babe.  The little boy didn’t speak English.  His baby brother didn’t speak at all.  All that they knew of life had changed overnight.

An air of grief clung to the party of three – the giant man and the two little boys.  The toddler’s eyes would have been as wide as saucers as he was prodded ahead down the gangway.  Trunks and cases would have followed – but not many.  Maybe just one.  Their Mummy did not come with them.

I can imagine him now, forgetting for a second that she was not there and searching the passengers behind him for a sign of her skirt, her hand, the sound of her laugh.  No one had explained to him but he understood – the knowledge broke his little heart as he remembered he would not find her here.  Or anywhere.  She was gone from him.

What greeted him at the end of the pier was another world, another life, another language, another people.  They were dancing in the streets.  His grief collided with their jubilation on this hot August day.  Colourful skirts would have been twirling, women with round figures and heads tied with colourful cloth would have been dancing around with bare-chested or cotton-clad men singing, lifting their arms in excitement, bawling out in prayer and praise.  He heard one word chanted over and over from the boiling masses on land – In-dep-end-ence.  Was it one word or four?  What did it mean?

It must have been something very special but he would not have known for a few more years.  It would not be his first English word.  That word would be “For”.  The first phrase he would speak in the language of his parents would be “For health and strength and daily food we praise Thy name oh Lord, Amen.”  He would learn to sing it from the woman standing waiting on the shore.  She looked a bit like Mummy had but tiny and with more wrinkles.  She wasn’t much bigger than him and she was a good deal smaller than Daddy.  As he walked down toward her she would have bent at the waist and wrapped her arms around him and lifted him into her embrace.

I wish I could tell him to be brave, this little boy, as Mama Birdie held him to her chest and reached for his sickly baby brother.  I wish I could tell him you will grow.  You will learn.  You will travel.  You will succeed.  You will play football with Bob Marley.  You will climb a mountain in Cumbria.  You will race go karts with your children.  You will meet Fidel Castro.  You will know God.  You will know love.  And you will have me.

A daughter who loves you and is proud of who you have become.

Happy Independence Day Daddy.  Happy Birthday Jamaica.

Just A Lil Rain

We’re a tough old flock, us islanders.  Raised on salt water and sea grapes, breadkind and fish, we are hard to beat.  Perhaps this is why we are the ones Hurricanes are sent to – the world hears about the East Coast getting by a little Cat 1 (a mere kitten) for months but a 100 square-mile island being swallowed by a monstrous Cat 4 (much closer to a tiger) gets a few minutes of news time.  And that’s ok.  Because we are ok.  And, God willing, we always will be.

Category 1 hurricanes find us battening down and then going to the beach.  The calm before the storm is usually the best beach day of the year and the beach is best enjoyed with mangoes in the sea, sweet sticky fruit met with salt.  Our damage is usually minimal due to our construction and preparation.  Informed by hundreds of years of experience we know our flood zones and our best defenses and are fortunate enough to be able to afford to employ our knowledge to our protection.  June 1 is a big trip to the supermarket to start stocking up for the season.  But when the storm has passed and we have had minimal damage, it is not uncommon to see adults and children alike bathing in the rain and riding wave runners and kayaks in the flooded streets.

Shipwrecks, pirates, battles and storms tattoo the tapestry of our history.  We have learned to laugh the laugh of the children of sailors.

Funny thing is this little weather event caught me as the only member of my immediate family on island.  This weekend my dad was in Cuba, my mom in Florida, and my brother in Jamaica.  And of all weekends, it had to be this one.  Funny enough, however, this little event affected us all.  My mom’s flight back was delayed and both my brother and my dad were fighting through the same rain on islands to the north and to the south of where I am.

I became vaguely conscious of the rain in the early hours of the morning.  It made sleep sweet and the Public Holiday (Discovery Day in Cayman) even more relaxing so I rolled over and snuggled deeper with a sleepy sigh of the blessed.  And then I woke up.

Kids Kayaking in the rain outside an old shopping center, torn apart by our last big hurricane. Today’s fun on the grounds of yesterday’s disaster.

My back yard was a lake.  There was no walking of dogs this morning.  The water would have near covered their little backs had we tried to step into the parking lot.  My neighbours didn’t move their cars all day but,  me being on the edge of the flood, I pulled out determined to get my day’s errands done.

Not too long into the day did I realize that this thing wasn’t going to stop.  Errands were rushed and plans abandoned and at some point after noon, and after hours and hours of falling sheets of rain, I joined up with my mad family, the ones who never heed a warning to stay inside unless it is called a C.U.R.F.E.W., and drove around the island in a four-wheel drive.

Have a look at how the day went.  Some of these are mine and some are borrowed.

Tubers pulled behind the white truck enjoy the wake left by passing cars.

A cow pen off the side of the main road at Breadfruit Walk with at least four feet of water stained red by the dirt

I had intended to go down this road but turned back after seeing the high water. Passing by later I saw a fellow traveller who missed the memo.

For more flood photos, visit the Cayman27 site.

The Rich Red Earth of St. Elizabeth

I saved this for last.  For a moment when the stress of real life returned in full force so that I could go back to my photos and take a deep deep breath of beautiful St. Elizabeth in snapshot.

In the cool of the morning in St. Elizabeth my cousin Mac would take me down to the Lookout.  We walked 20 minutes down and 40 minutes back up a red dirt road through the hills pregnant with crops taking pictures along the way.

Red dirt road to Lookout

We would pass the odd field, freshly ploughed and waiting for seed, smelling of bauxite (or what I would imagine bauxite to smell like) and the broken stems of plants.

Ploughed field waiting for seed

The tomato fields are bedded with straw and on one of our walks we saw a man weeding, using his machete to slide under the straw and break up running roots of creeping weed.  As they start to change colour the tomatoes are picked because once the ripening begins it is a quick run to red.

Tomato and mellon often grow side by side.

Mac and I climbed to the Lookout point around rocks and cactus flowers to see the breathtaking view of the coast of South St. Elizabeth.

Climb to our favourite spot at the Lookout

CONQUEROR

From this perch the view is AMAZING!  To the West is Treasure Beach.

Treasure Beach from Lookout

Much of the coast is uninhabited and anyone who has survived a hurricane can well imagine why.  The wind against the face of these mountains can destroy like no force of man.

To the East of the Lookout we are able to see Lover’s Leap.  The place is named for two slaves who loved each other very much but whose masters intended to separate them.  They jumped from the place marked with the lighthouse at the top of the mountain.

Lighthouse at Lover's Leap

To the South we see the far fall or steep hike down to the Caribbean Sea.

Far fall to the Caribbean

On the way to and from the Lookout we would pass friendly neighbours and their animals.  This little guy got my heart, bucking and bucking at his mom to let him near enough to get some milk.

Baby Billy getting his milk

And this dainty little one came pushing up toward me.

Curious Kid

We would also pass papaya trees,

Papaya tree loaded

gungo peas,

The Gungo Pea, also known as a Congo Pea, and closely related to the Pigeon Pea

rows of corn,

A row of corn by a tomato patch

carrots,

Carrot head just out of my shadow

rosemary,

Rosemary grown but not often used in St. Elizabeth

and thyme.

Used to cook just about everything in Jamaica, the Thyme plant is a must have in every St. Elizabeth garden.

There is always something small to snack on like the little tomatoes,

Little hands full of snacky tomatoes

and Star Apples, sticky and sweet in their tropical richness,

Star apple, not to be confused with the Carambola known as Star Fruit. Both are grown in St. Elizabeth.

and Strawberries.  Who would have thought, right?

St. Elizabeth strawberries. There are two varieties in the family garden - these are the smaller ones.

What comes to the table depends very much on the season.  In another season it would be Ortaniques (a unique orange variety), Star Fruit, Mangoes of every variety, Naseberries, Sweet Sops, oh my goodness I could go on but not without getting very hungry.

Aunty makes Bammy, a Jamaican cassava bread rich in fibre and mild in taste, to go with my lunch, a simple variation of the Jamaican national dish of Ackee and Saltfish – without the Ackee.

Handmade Bammy - I am truly blessed!

At the end of a blissful morning with a long walk to get my blood flowing, fresh air to fill my lungs, the sight and smell of crops and animals to give me a sense of peace, I sit down to a lunch of traditional Jamaican food, fresh off the land and out of the pot.

Lunch off the fat of the land

Lunch off the fat of the land

I hope you’ve lived vicariously and enjoyed my time in St. Elizabeth with me.  It won’t be long before I’m back there in another season with other fruits and learning new things.

Related Posts:

  1. First day in Kingston
  2. Journey to St. Elizabeth
  3. Flowers of St. Elizabeth
  4. Life in St. Elizabeth

Life in St. Elizabeth

These are photos of the life of a St. Bess family.  It could be any family in St. Elizabeth, but it is mine.

One day I will tell you the stories of my cousins.  They are a rainbow of colour in their characters; men with strong shoulders, easy smiles and dedication to their children and women who have toiled with love and determination to feed and provide for their children side by side with their life mates or on their own in their abandonment.  One day I will share.  But not today.  Today the photographs will tell all.

Looking out on the garden from the porch

There is a lane in a village up a hill and out of the way in St. Elizabeth.  In that lane there are several houses and fields of crop between them.  One or two of these houses have electricity, brought by wires run through the hills from the village.  The electricity is very weak and flickers every time you plug in the kettle or the iron or anything really.  But there is no need for air conditioning here.  Here you smell the cool and deep inhales and exhales of the mountain spiced with rosemary, thyme and scallions.

The Mountain in the kitchen

There is a mountain in the kitchen.  The house was built into the mountain but this particular stubborn piece just would not be moved.  In the really cold mornings the mountain sweats.  In heavy rain the water seeps in.  But hey, if you can’t move it DECORATE IT!

Mid-morning snack

A piece of fruit cake and coffee.  MMMMMMM!

Water Truck

For homes without a tank the need to call for water is very real.  We sat on the porch and my cousin told me she’s so glad we don’t need to pay out for water any more!  The tank holds all they need and rain comes, thankfully, frequently enough to fill the garden tank as well as the house tanks.  The tank is filled with fresh and clean rain water and everything we eat is cooked with it, our clothes are washed with it, and we bathe and wash our hands in it.

Running the hose to the house

The freshly ploughed red earth of St. Elizabeth

Red dirt rich in bauxite and rejecting nothing is ploughed up by tractors and sowed with seed.  But there are great mysteries to farming.  For instance, the man down the street who plowed up what was once a carrot field and planted nothing but woke up one morning to a growing crop of callalloo.

Camped out on the front porch

Waiting for the kids to come home from school, I sat with my book, my pen, and my popsicle watching the breeze dance over the mountainside.

Walking home from school

Transportation is no easy thing.  Much walking is done in St. Bess as roads such as this country lane are steep and gouged out with water trails in rainy season.  Many an undercarriage has been torn up turning up this little lane.  To get to school my cousin walks to the end of the lane and takes a taxi.  Other taxis pick up primary school children like a bus and take sometimes 8 sometimes 10 little kids to school sitting on each other’s laps.

Good grades make Grandma proud

St. Elizabeth people value education and prize their educated.  Every family is proud of their doctors and their lawyers and the whole parish is proud of their esteemed such as Colin Powell, a man from Lover’s Leap.  Those who love farming will farm and those who do not must educate themselves out of it.  But there is great pride in every occupation as long as it is honest.

Little man asks his Aunty for tomatoes from the garden

Neighbours depend on each other and share their crops freely.  Little man has come to ask his Aunty for tomatoes please.

Tomatoes and cheesy chips - yum!

Driving trucks through the gate

Little boys will make toys out of anything!  This time two bucket covers are used as steering wheels and they jostle one another to “drive” through the “gate”.

Star apples get "nyamm" one by one

Little cousin and I follow a Johncrow's circling

As evening falls the sky seems to grow even bigger.  There is much peace to be had in the simplicity of St. Elizabeth.

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Flowers of St. Elizabeth

They deserve their own page – the flowers of St. Bess.  In the words of Aunty Adne, St. Elizabeth earth rejects nothing!  Another post on its own will be the food being grown in St. Bess.  Keep an eye out for it in the coming days.

A working plant worthy of mention - The Marigold is planted between the crops to ward off pests

My little 5 year-old cousin insisted this was a flower. And then took the picture. TOO CUTE!

 

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Journey to St. Elizabeth

For once I took pictures on my way to St. Elizabeth, home of one of my grandparents and where one of my roots is planted deep in rich red earth. We travelled by car out of Kingston and St. Andrew, through St. Catherine, Clarendon, Porus, Royal Flat and Mandeville as I clicked and clicked out the window indiscriminately hoping for some good shots… and boy oh boy was I rewarded!

Moving out of the lowlands to the mountains

You can see the mountains in the distance and the air gets cooler and cleaner the longer you drive.  In Jamaica one misses out on the experience by driving with the windows up – our windows are always down and we never miss the smell of a bush fire, a scallion truck, the chicken farms or the ganja burning as we ride hard through the towns and villages.

The mountains of Manchester loom ahead as we pass through Clarendon

We have been gradually climbing for some time but the mountains of Manchester loom high and dark.  Every day in this season and in the summer rain falls in Mandeville, the main town in Manchester.  This parish and St. Ann compete for the reputation of being the coolest parish in the country.

Rastaman and his goat

I almost didn’t catch him! Driver was flying at this point.

Riding behind a fast-moving truck packed tight with sugar cane headed to the rum factory

This brought back memories of me as a child riding with my daddy and my uncle to visit my grandfather.  They used to call it the Rasta Truck because the cane looked so much like dreadlocks coming off the truck.   My grandfather is on my mind every time I travel this way.  I miss being his girl.

A Jamaican Sports Bar!

Not sure how many flat screens they claim to have but I’m sure West Indies Cricket is NEVER MISSED in this particular watering hole.

Typical roadside shop/bar

Rastaman not supposed to be drinking fire water or eating pork!  What’s THIS?!

A place called Pon Di River - I kid you not

I had to take a stop and get this little Oasis.  At this point we are very near Porus and Royal Flat.

P.O.N. D.I. R.I.V.E.R. See?

Fruit Stand - one of many on this route

I was to find out that the season for certain fruits has come early this year.  Mango trees have ripe fruit, oranges and star apples (the purple round ones) are everywhere, and bananas are on sale.

Road Food

The Jamaican Patty is known worldwide for it’s flaky crust and juicy meat in the middle.  I used to find this particular piece of home in England, take it to my flat and stick it in the oven for a warm and familiar meal.  Here in the heart of JA the patty is enjoyed sandwiched inside a Cocoa-bread.  Hours into our trip to St. Bess we had to make a pit stop.

Spur Tree Hill

This is my favourite hill in the WORLD!  It’s actually not a hill but a mountain and marks the border between the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Manchester.  It has at least three miles of road zigzagging down across the mountain face to the bottom.  It is one of the most dangerous driving roads especially when wet.  In his youth, my dad would fly down this bad boy on a bicycle!

Sunset over the mountains of South St. Elizabeth

Breathing fresh relief and thanking God for travelling mercies as I look over the bauxite-rich valley to the proud mountains of South Saint Elizabeth.  Almost at my place of rest.

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