May 2017 Volume 14

The Caribbean: Somewhere In Between

Ray Ford
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L et the truth be told. I left Jamaica in August 1970 – close to forty-seven (47) years ago, and except for a three-year working-stint there, beginning back in 1980, I have lived all my adult-life, outside of the region. And so, despite a life-long aspiration to be, on-the inside, I’ve always been on-the-outside. But, I’m getting to like it that way, because being on-the-outside, allows me to see things from the outside, and comment on them without fear or favor. And it has mostly always been through cricket’s lens, that I’ve seen things.

Does the Caribbean have one simple identity? Despite what’s said, that has never been, and will never be. But if there’s one, it probably lies somewhere in between Jamaica to the west, and, Barbados to the far-east. I would never have taken-on the odyssey just like that, of exploring both countries back-to-back. But, two back-to-back cricket Test matches provided me the perfect alibi, for doing so.

My first stop was in Kingston. And despite the unnaturalness of it all, I like the overnight Caribbean Airlines flight out of Toronto, Canada, that gets me there before-day, at 4:30am. Jamaica to me is a place which I have to get up-to-speed to. And arriving before the city awakes, allows me to take my guard, and have a look around the field. That entails, having a cup of coffee at the oasis just outside the arrival-doors. There I moor until Island Frydays – a real Jamaican eatery down by the police post, opens its doors. This vantage-point allows me to see the yellow Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus, dropping-off early-morning airport workers. Between them and the students attending the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) at their campuses on the Palisadoes strip, this bus-route is heavily used. And with no heavy-luggage to cart, I unabashedly take one for J$100.00 into town. And because at that hour, most of the passenger traffic is heading west, and not east, I virtually have the bus to myself. The same applies to Barbados, on my way out. There’s an Airport blue-bus which I boarded out by Black Rock, St. Michael where I was staying, which snakes its way east past the George Lamming Primary School, turning right at the Nita Barrow Roundabout, going through the Garrison Savannah, then up the east coast, through Worthing, St. Lawrence, and Oistins, and then on to The Grantley Adams International Airport, all for B$2.00. The route is scenic, and shows exactly why Barbados is a popular tourist destination for vacationers worldwide.

On reaching the Indies Hotel in New Kingston too early to check-in, I go-down to Sabina Park to collect my media accreditation for the Test series. In years gone by, the day before a Test, Sabina would be teaming, but not anymore. It’s supposed to be a grand occasion – the cricket ground staging its 50th Test mach, and besides, it’s the 50 th Test encounter between the West Indies and Pakistan. I am directed to the offices of the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) in the George Headley Stand to find out exactly what will occur. There, one of their big-men says he will send me an e-mail which will explain all `the festivities’ that will take place come Sunday. What I receive is gobbledygook, and what transpired on the Sunday, was even worse. “Who cares anyway?” asked Fazeer Mohammed sarcastically in his `Galvanizing incompetence’ piece in the Trinidad Express. Not even a souvenir leaflet to later say, `I was there’? Come-on Jamaica, you could have done better. And as to seepage leaking through the covers to hold-up play one day, longer than it should, the Jamaican journalist Orville Higgins commented in his Jamaica Gleaner piece titled `Sabina 50’, “I was so embarrassed.”

But what embarrassed me more, was, what exists across the street from Sabina, on exiting the press quarters going east and on to South Camp Road – a little ramshackle shack which has signage marked `Bar, Pastries, Restaurant’. When that unsightliness is compared to the Herbert House in Fontabelle, just south of the press quarters at Kensington Oval, I feel like weeping for my beloved Jamaica. Herbert House is home to `The Cricket Legends of Barbados’ – a well-appointed cricket museum and gallery, gift shop, and pavilion bar and restaurant, where the former West Indies opening batsman Desmond Haynes, meets-n-greets. “I do this for free, because the older guys can’t do it,” he told me. Haynes is the right man for this overseer position – ebullient and talkative. All this reinforces to me that Jamaica’s biggest cricketing mistake remains, in building that so-called Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Ten (10) years out, and it’s still struggling to serve even one useful purpose. The funding used to build that north coast goat-field, could have been better used to shore-up an ailing Sabina Park, and its environs.

On the last day of the Test, I am invited to have lunch with another former West Indies Test batsman – Mr. Easton McMorris. `Bull’ drags me around the JCA’s hospitality room introducing me to all and sundry, as a journalist, and quite embarrassingly so because I do not consider myself, as such. The last time I was so paraded, was when my mother would drag me around the parking lot of St. Luke’s Church after Sunday-service, introducing me to all and sundry as her son in whom she was well pleased. “We need a man who can drop a fat-bomb,” was Mr. McMorris’s take on what the West Indies were lacking, after their first Test defeat.

The layover between the two Test matches allowed me to do a little wandering around in Jamaica. First I went over to my alma mater Kingston College, to see their new synthetic running track. I then went down to the barrenness of Nain, St. Elizabeth to the Jisco China Alumina Refinery - formerly called ALPART.

Close to four (4) years ago, I read a Jamaica Gleaner report - `Rejected By Jamaica – Pathologist Snubbed Locally, Embraced By Yale’. And the reception I received at the alumina plant and the snub by the Jamaica print-media, reinforced in my mind - that overtures in the press by government officials towards the Jamaica diaspora, are smoke-and-mirrors. If anything, the real overtures are towards the savings of Jamaicans abroad, and not to any skill-sets that they might have toiled to acquire. And if my suspicion rings true, then, Jamaica will always be boxing with one hand tied behind its back. In 1992, the Bajan scholar George Gmelch in `Double Passage’ wrote on the lives of Caribbean migrants abroad and back home. And so, assimilation of, or receptiveness to returning Bajan residents might also be an issue. “But not to any great extent,” said cricket journalist Keith Holder, when I asked.

There was something noticeably different too when in general discussions in Jamaica and in Barbados. In the former, more often than not, I was being told how things are, as in a fait accompli matter-of-fact manner. No wonder one popular saying in Jamaica is, `a su di ting set’. In other words, `what it is, is, what it is’ - `granite-culture’ I’ve now chosen to name it. In the latter though, there was much more intellectual inquisitiveness, as if to suggest, people in Barbados, were open to at least hearing new ideas.

Despite what’s said and written, there’s still peace-and-quiet to be found in Jamaica, where I could just cross my paws, and watch the world go by. In Kingston for breakfast, I found solitude in the dining-area at the Indies Hotel, and down Chelsea Avenue at the pastel-colored palm-tree fringed Pick’s Cafe. And in Mandeville, it was at the Clear Choice Restaurant in the Manchester Shopping Center food court. And for lunch and dinner, I could be found more often than not, at the well-appointed Oleeka’s Garden Café on Hargreaves Avenue, also in Mandeville, whereas in Barbados, I would have my fish-cutter and cappuccino at the deli inside Supermarkets Carlton in Black Rock. Food in the latter is quite expensive, and dare I say, not as tasty as Jamaica’s. For a welcomed change, I went to Oistins – the sea-side fishing-town one evening. It’s their `Hellshire’, and a snapper-fish dinner set me back B$35.00. I also found a little side-walk open-aired bar in Black Rock, at which I felt most comfortable after-dark. The Cheapside Public Market there is orderly. And at the minivan terminal nearby, one is not hauled-n-pulled.

“So Sam, what do you make of all this?” the laid-back David Brinkley would ask on his ABC Sunday-morning talk show. That there’s wealth in modesty, may be? But what do I know, who not only of cricket, does not know?

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