First day in Kingston

Welcome to the photo journal of my vacation in Jamaica. The two days before going into the country, I admired the blue mountains, read on the porch, and had lunch at Usain Bolt’s restaurant in Kingston.

View of the mountains from where I stayed in Kingston

I came and brought cooler air from the north into Kingston.  The mornings were crisp and the mountains had a shroud of fog over their peaks every morning.  I can just imagine how cold it must have been up there!

Morning coffee on the patio over Kingston

Juxtaposed right into the busy city street, somehow I managed to absorb what I was reading.  The cat, Calypso, came and insisted on a rub every now and then and helped me adjust to the quiet and comfortable pace of being on vacation.

Lunch at Tracks & Records, restaurant home of the great Usain Bolt

Our very pregnant waitress was clear in her explanations and had a beautiful smile that she shone on to us as often as she came to our table.  The food was excellent!  I recommend the jerk platter and the bungle of fries.  They are a mix of sweet potato, cassava and irish potato and served with a jerk mayo thingy that was divine!

Usain Bolt's NYAMINS! LOL! They rock!

To Nyam is to eat in Jamaican patois.  Nyamins was a truly appropriate name because everything on the menu looked able to make one lick one’s fingers shamelessly after.

The T-shirt of my friend Paul - BEGGING to be photographed!

All I could do was shake my head… and photograph the thing!

 

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WARNING BELLS and THE PROPHET – vol II

“You.  Were you in church on Sunday?”  I shook my head no, for I certainly was not at this church.  “What did you come to church tonight for?”  I didn’t understand the question.  I turned to the friend who had invited me and, glad to not be the person Prophet-man was picking on, his eyebrows reached up for his hairline and he moved his head out of my way to give me a better view of my questioner.  Peter, peter why did you deny me?

Prophet re-phrased his question.  “How do you want the Lord to bless you tonight?”

Stalling, I said “I haven’t thought about it.”  I mean, how can one think with all your jumping around and rebuking?!  No.  Of course I didn’t say that part.

“Think about it.”

And he waited.

Seeing he wasn’t going away I capitulated.  “I’d like some rest.”  Incredulity hit his face and he looked at the rest of the church over his wire-rimmed glasses.  But no, Prophet-man wasn’t getting into any more of my business than that.  “Yes.  Rest.  That’s a big deal you know!”

“Stand my sister and receive your blessing”.  So I stood.  I was told to close my eyes and raise my hands “to receive my blessing of rest.”  The man said “I see you need a vacation.”

I said “Yes.  I leave on vacation tomorrow.”

“Where are you going?”

“Jamaica.”

“Where in Jamaica?  Trelawny?”

Bahahahahahaha (inside of course) “No.  St. Elizabeth.”

“You going to look about some land?”

“No.”

“Do you have land there?”

“No.”  Not until my parents die and Lord I sure as hell don’t want to inherit anything today.  Who knows?  This Prophet man with an interest in my land might well and engineer it.

“Do you need land?”

“No.  I have everything I need.”  At this point I had opened my eyes and sat down, feeling like a fool standing with eyes closed and this man trying to pick my information out of my mouth.  “Well my sister, you are about to receive some land.  Since you don’t need it you should sell it and give the money to the church.”  Resounding amens.

Swiftly moving on from my uncooperative rebellion, and before his failure to crack me gained much notice and put a spoke in his wheel of momentum, he called out “Who has a headache?”  (Classic.)  Closing his eyes, reaching out his hand like Moses parting the sea, and making his face the picture of concentration  he called out “Stand up!  I feel your pain my sisters.  Two of you have headaches!”  (What are the odds?!)  Two women stood up.  (Of course.)

He held out his hand to the head of the one nearest to the front, gesturing for someone to stand behind her.  And blowing wind into the microphone he pressed one finger into her forehead and down she went.  She was so overcome that he left her to the care of her neighbour who fanned her face with a sheet of paper.  Leaving her he twisted snakelike to headache number 2 and said “Sister does your head still hurt?”  She shook her head a quick no and sat down.  “See?  GODDDD  does not WAIT for man to do his work!” he bellowed triumphantly.

Hell.  I woulda said no too!  My friend brought his mouth to my ear and whispered “I know you’re ready to go.”  I nodded “A half-hour ago.  Wait till the time is right.”

When we turned our attention back to the front he had drawn information out of other members, one lady in a custody battle for her child, another praying for a family, and turned to target a woman in the back by the door.  “Come up here Mama.  I see your pain and it hurts me too.  The Spirit has told me of your secret sickness.”  She came, all two hundred pounds and five feet of her frame, labouring to walk to the front, swaying with the spirit like the Okonkwo of Chinua Achebe.  Her unnamed illness was targeted as the Prophet put his finger on her forehead, calling out the demon in her, and pushing her down determinedly with one finger while looking over his glasses.  The whole thing happened right before me in the aisle between our row of chairs and the pews across.  She fell into the arms of another member, missing my swiftly drawn-in legs by a hair’s breath.  His face was a fury as he focused all his strength into one finger and I could feel the tension of his arm and of his concentration as he struggled to make it look spiritual. Oh… and also… he blew tongues and holy wind all throughout into the microphone.  “Shambalaambalusha.”

She then began to shake and convulse, her hair braided in rows close to her round scalp falling heavy on the person behind her, bawling out in tongues – once again a line of unintelligible sounds repeated over and over – at my feet.  They brought out a sheet to cover her legs (clearly this church was prepared) so that she wouldn’t expose herself in the Spirit.  My eyes were glued with morbid and removed curiosity at the woman twitching like a murdered calf on the floor when another lady stood to the front.  As the new woman started to sway the woman at my feet quickly scrambled up to the chair next to me given up for her, her performance briefly forgotten,  and resumed bellowing and wheezing out her tongues, shaking her hands and shoulders out to each side and pushing me into my friend.  As the new woman getting her “healing” came down, her hand swept my friend’s face pushing him into me.  And so we were pinned between two babblers, convulsing without care for their neighbours, proving themselves to be deeply spiritual indeed.

“Yo bredrin, this church is a contact sport!”  No one would have  noticed my even voice with all the high volume nonsense words flying about and so I said it out loud this time, looking my friend full in the face.  He turned his head and his shoulders shook against me as he bit his lip against the pending flood, and we both looked up to see another woman on her way down.  At the sight of the last remaining escape route about to be blocked off, I picked up both our Bibles, my handbag, my keys and his keys and said “Let’s GO.”  Climbing over three bodies laid out on the floor (they had run out of sheets by now) I made it to the door not caring to see if he was behind me.  I half-gasped, half-guffawed goodnight to the ladies at the door and ran through the blissfully quiet night air to the car before the body count got any higher.  Two steps out the door the laugh bubbled up and tumbled out in peels like sheets of rain.  He was five steps behind me and as we clambered into the car he laughed out “Speak your mind!  I’d love to hear what you think.”

Tears came out as uncontrollable laughter shook my whole self.  “Take me home bro.  In order to sleep tonight, I have a bottle of wine I have to finish!”

Now ladies and gentlemen, forgive me if I misunderstand.  I do not dare to claim perfection or complete understanding and risk being rebuked like Job.  But I believe deep in my soul that my God doesn’t destroy people, doesn’t demand that they not feed their families, doesn’t get up in their business or rebuke them for using their gifts, isn’t rude and would not have someone wait to apologize for an offense.  The God I serve doesn’t expect me to behave possessed like a voodoo priestess, He praises self-control and consideration, good stewardship and offers grace and not judgment.  He doesn’t demand I tell all my business to every man who calls himself a prophet.  In fact He Himself stands at the door and knocks and waits for us to open it, doesn’t kick down the door and go through the drawers for the cash we have hidden in the sock drawer.

As for Prophet-man, something my God told me Himself  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  See, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20)

These are the fruits all Prophets in the Holy Spirit should have:

WARNING BELLS and THE PROPHET – vol I

Please forgive the irreverence with which I recount the following experience.  Truth is I found nothing at all reverent about it and try as I might have in the days following the most reverent response I could find was a nervous chuckle.  I know God has his flock in many pastures but the story I’m about to relate (as factually and as untainted by opinion as is probably possible for someone like me) reminded me much more of the lion David killed to protect his sheep than any green pastures or still waters.

On a whim and on an invitation given on short notice I found myself in what had once been the living room of a house.  At the door a camcorder recorded and relayed the images of the main room, pewed out in chairs of blue upholstery much like those of my own church, into the other room or rooms of the house.  Bibles open and ready for Bible study, worshipers filled the two rooms tight, two bottoms to a seat, as a team of four women led an emotional praise and worship session.  The Pastor welcomed me to his humble church with a gentle and heartfelt squeeze of my hand and I decided to like him.  I have since decided also not to hold against him what took place thereafter.  There was much kindness coming off this teacher and I had heard a little of him from the friend who brought me to this place.  The bottom of this friend and my own shared a seat at this very moment in the little pentecostal church.

But this Tuesday night was different – neither my host (nor the Pastor I’d like to think) had much clue about where the night would eventually end up.

During the music I looked around and saw quite a few faces I recognized.  Mothers of some of my friends, one or two young professionals, domestic helpers, labourers, teachers, all mixed in but mostly humble and devout women.  The music seemed to have possessed one lady over by the window and she chanted quietly to herself, swaying her slender back side by side against the wall facing me across the church.  Two hands in the air and braids spilling long and pretty over each shoulder onto her long black and yellow dress.  I remember looking at her furrowed brow thinking wow – that’s some pain she’s going through.

The music was ended by the signal of the Pastor up front in a space saved from the overcrowded seating for him to stand in.  As the ladies took their seats he had the church greet each other.  A sweet lady, one of the singers, came and greeted my host and shook my hand with genuine pleasantness that still lingers in the smile of my memory.  I thought later, and in fact still think, she is a lady I would like to know.

Up to this point everything fit.  I was in the house of God with His people and was most excited to break bread together and feast on some good Word.

A guest speaker was announced.  There would be no Bible study tonight because we were blessed with the presence of Prophet Evan Macomb or something similar (but not quite).  (The word “PROPHET” set off warning bell #1.)

A man about 5 feet 11 inches tall with a bald spot shining stark and small surrounded by hair that threatened to be an afro in the weeks to come stood to speak.  He wore shiny black leather shoes, a black pair of trousers with white pin-stripes about four inches apart that you would find at a higgler stand, and a classy black shirt with white stripes, white collar and cuffs with onyx cuff links.  A black alligator leather belt held the pants to his wiry frame.  His watch caught my attention – I had seen one just like it in a recent sale at a duty-free store and balked at the price.  The brown band and gold setting over a black face struck me as odd and I couldn’t figure out why immediately but the feeling lingered.

It was much later that it sank home to me.  Nothing this man was wearing matched anything else.  It came to me as he was speaking and the discord had become too powerful to ignore.

He began by complimenting the Pastor – the gentle greeter – for all manner of good purporting to have knowledge of the man that had been given him by the Spirit.  He then went on to raise a frenzied response from the congregation and they were to greet the Holy Spirit.  “Jeeeeeezus must be welcomed properly!  You’ll get THAT by midnight!”  The commotion that followed wasn’t good enough and so he called for them to try again.  And involved the musicians – a man on a strange-looking electronic drum and another on the keyboard.  He started to jump and shake like a man possessed and “speak in tongues” (warning bell #2).  Then he drew his hand across his waist and the keyboarder missed the cue and didn’t stop.  And then he called for more drums and the drummer could only find the sleigh bells setting.  And the “Holy Spirit” took him on a rampage of biblical proportions.

“MUSICIANS KNOW YOUR PLAAAAACCCCCE!  Play di drum man!”  He was so pissed off he lost his accent AND his tongues and slipped into Jamaican patois (warning bell #3).  At fever pitch he continued “I rebuke you!  You may be what stands between a person in need and their HEALING!  Don’t you know that MUSIC is what ushers in the HOLY SPIRIT?!  Especially the DRUMS?  The SPIRIT enters me through the DRUMS!” punctuated by foot stamps and jumping, and then turning to the congregation he hushed down to a half crouch and a cheeky whisper “You’ll get THAT by midnight.”  (warning bell #4?  Or did I lose count?)  “PLAY DI DRUMS!  Musicians you are ALL replaceable.  ALLLLL of you.  No matter how good you are or how well you sing God doesn’t NEED you.  He ALLLWWAYYS has someone waiting to REPLACE you”, he continued with much animation in his spirited body to some nervous amens.

“This is not a rebuke my brothers but I am in the Holy Spirit.  I will apologize for offending any of you later but not now, not in the SpiriT” (with a capital T and a rrrrolled Rs.)  “So musICIANS.  PLAY or get off the SPOT!”  (warning bells and alarms and all hell breaks loose inside me at something sounding very much like the Caribbean phrase piss or get off the pot) “YES church, you’ll get THAT by midNIGHT!”

Then he turns his stern and angry eyes, to the palpable relief of the room not least of all the musicians, to the Bible.  “Today I have been led to speak to you about Interceding.”  And then some more “tongues” that sounded much too familiar now as they  were clearly the exact same “tongue” phrases he’d enunciated at least twice now before this point.  Now you see why I put quotation marks around warning bell #2?

His sermon went something like this:

  1. Selected verse with “interceding” in it, clearly pulled out of a quick internet search of a Bible.
  2. Some incoherent tongue speaking.
  3. An explanation or clarification that was clear as mud – e.g. “Christ is the only intercessor (interrrrcessaaaaa) so don’t let anyone talk to you about interceding for you.  For they CANNOT DO what he has ALREADY DONE!”
  4. Some more tongues.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 four times.

None of his “interceding” verses related to each other.  Context was neither acknowledged nor discussed.  At one point he was reading one version of the Bible and the version on the church screen was different so his verse said “interceding” where the screen said “intercession” and he yelled at the people out loud saying “it doesn’t say intercession, it says interceding.  Interceding and intercession is two different things.”  I looked at my friend but he couldn’t look at me for by this time my eyes were wide open as the wonders unfolded and his carefully held laughter was shaking his shoulders.

If the Prophet were to be believed it was Elijah and not Elias that was a New Testament church member, Isaac and not Abraham who was asked to sacrifice his son, Jesus alone can intercede, intercession and interceding are two different things (ok so tenses are different sure but COME ON) and he implored us to intercede for each other (see note on Jesus above) and for the church building project…

DONT. EVEN. TRY. TO. UNDERSTAND.  That’s what I GOT by midnight!

Then the Prophet launched into the building fund that the Holy Spirit told him about.  Didn’t take the Spirit for me to notice we were meeting in someone’s house, and I am no Mentalist!  He asked the membership how many members there were.  Pastor responded saying 100.  He calculated swiftly that $1,000 from each member would equal $100,000.  He called on members to pledge $1,000 a month right there and then.  “I know you are all building and providing for your own homes but provide for God first and HE will provide for YOU”.  He saw my coach handbag on my lap (Yes.  I watched his eyes.) and called out “see you ladies who like your pretty handbags?  Give your thousand dollars to the Lord and he will bless you with SIX HANDBAGS!”I was dumbstruck.  Jaw literally dropped.  And not a little annoyed. I saw domestic helpers and gardeners who make less than $800 most months walk up to the front of the church to pledge their thousand dollars because they were told by this fire-and-rebuke-breathing minister in the “spirit” that they would be given 100 times what they have given back.

And as my eyes widened even more the man turned on me.

More on what he said to me in tomorrow’s post.

Pieces of Sunshine for Aunty

Aunty J had a stroke.  She’s in the hospital.  Daddy was so upset he sent it to me on blackberry messenger and my blood went cold.

You know the piece of sunshine in the family, the woman who is always doing something, always taking care of others with never a moment for herself.  Always cooking, ironing even my undershirts, scolding me for not dressing for the weather.  Her house always smelled of ripe plantains and was as warm as Jamaica even with the snow falling outside.

Grandma died when my dad was a toddler and Aunty J, even from a distance, has done her very best to fill the gap.  She is the grandmother I know.  Her home was my home when I moved north for university.  She cooked countless Sunday dinners and sent monthly care packages full of her special banana bread, chocolates, coconut cream, ackee and salt fish.  Always ackee and salt fish.  In a brown shoe box.  I would get a slip in my mailbox saying to please collect the large package at the porter’s desk.  Where Aunty got all those shoe boxes I have never thought to ask but there they were in a steady, reliable stream, one for every month of four years.

The cake would last from month to month with the new one arriving just as the last crumb of the old one disappeared.  The rice and peas didn’t come out right the first few times but soon I was a professional.  But the major hit was the ackee and salt fish…

Aunty would be on the phone on a Sunday – we always spoke on Sundays – and walk me through every step of ackee and salt fish until I got it right.  And if I were to take the train ride down to her for the weekend she would have the fish soaking in the kitchen as she boiled the water for my hot water bottle on cold nights.  I would wake to ackee and salt fish on the table with fried dumplings and fresh fruit with coffee and orange juice every morning that I woke up in that house.

Some people light candles.  I, like Aunty, prefer to cook as I pray.  Yesterday while she was in the Intensive Care Unit I was picking fresh ackee out of the red shell. This evening after hearing of her improvement and her move out of the ICU I poured hot water over the golden ackee flesh, boiled the salt fish and shredded it, and threw them together in a pot with thyme, onion, a spoon of oil and family secret pepper sauce.  I will send up savory steam rather than smoke, heavy with the smells of our shared experiences and a bond like no other.

I pray Aunty will soon be back on her feet and taking care of everyone again.  Cooking delicious tropical delights in a grey wintry northern city, ironing, sending birthday cards (never does she forget a date), cooking, walking to the post office, taking the bus to the grocery store, cooking and being the rock that so many of our family have been built on.  And cooking.  But today I am doing her cooking for her.

Get well!

Mango Dreams

© Brent Mclennon, 2011

What woke me three minutes before my alarm was the taste of mango in my mouth and the smell of star apple in the air.  The senses were so overwhelmed that I stretched in bliss, hit the bed-head, and woke up smiling.  Actually smiling.  Three minutes before my alarm.  Small miracle.

I was with a group of friends on a visit to Jamaica and we were being driven cross-country.  I had six weeks off from work and had left the work blackberry at home so the little red dot wouldn’t drive me insane.  We had driven from Kingston through St. Catherine, ever climbing, through Manchester’s mountains, and down the corkscrew of Spur Tree Hill into St. Elizabeth.  In the mountains of St. Bess we stopped at a road-side fruit stand.  None of this actually happened in the dream, but isn’t it strange how dreams come with their own memories and knowledge like a zip file?

In the dream my friends were negotiating with the language of Yorkshire and of Kent over bananas and sliced pineapples with an wide-eyed-with-awe country-man and tasting sugar-dense naseberries for the first time when a car pulled up.  I was called away by name and turned to find an old friend from my high-school days.  He was holding the biggest mango I had ever seen and looking very handsome.  (Probably because of the mango.)  He pulled off the road to speak to me and I remember lamenting to him that it wasn’t star apple season.  He laughed and pointed up to the tree above my head and, as if commanded by his finger, ripening star apples appeared and filled the air with a heady syrup that hit the tongue through the nose.

My magical friend gave the vendor his mango, asked him to slice it in half.  The mango had no seed! He then reached up to pick the nearest star apple.  When my teeth sank into the mango I woke up.

Smiling.  Three minutes before my alarm.