May 2013 Volume 10

A Sunday in Jamaica

Ray Ford
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There’s something about a Sunday in Jamaica that can never be replicated anywhere in the world. Even what might be considered the most peaceful of Sundays say in North America, can’t compete. A Sunday in America may start out that way with the `Taps-like’ bugle introduction to CBS’s Sunday Morning – one of my favorite de-stressors, especially the last thirty or so seconds where the presenter might sweep you away to a meadow in New Zealand to be soothed by bleating sheep, or to one of the Everglades in Florida to visit the delicate strutting of pelicans. But from there, it’s all downhill.

Soon the Sunday morning political talk-shows take over, with the moderator laying into the guest akin to a full-back on a one-yard goal line laying into his opposing line-backer; then the phone might ring with a business person calling about (quote): `a personal business matter’ translation: `where’s the money?’ Soon after, here comes the sports promos of games, which if you don’t watch, you will be struck dead by some sports network God.

Later on in the day, it’s `Auntie Roachie’ or `Cousin Bertel’ calling with his or her `problems-from-Jamaica.’ To maximize impact, Jamaicans in Jamaica nearly always choose Sundays to parade their distress. And funny, when one comes to Jamaica these `distressers’ are nowhere to be seen. They conveniently have cows to tie out. And, if you do see them, they are armed like gunslingers, with two phones – the Blackberry to show off and the Digicel which invariably has no credit, and so is only for receiving calls - usually those which advise that something either at MoneyGram or Western Union, awaits them. Can I now at sixty-one years old and the standard-bearer of cantankerousness, be blamed when in disgust I say, “Damn di whole lot a dem”?

This Sunday, I fielded only two calls – one from the dwelling’s owner - the usual to confirm that all was still well, and the other from a goodly lady in Mona Heights who indicated that she was frying some fish, and that they were for me. The rest of the day I decided, would be mine. And so besides calling home and then touching bases with `The Sage’ on Havendale Mews, I left no room for distressing intruders.

I got up early, made myself a cup of herbal tea and cranked up the volume dial on Cool 97 FM which according to their self-promotion is the only station in Jamaica that can keep me cool. This is not exactly true. In fact, it’s far from the truth. There are now a slew of FM radio stations in Jamaica which can boast the same.

In the wee hours of the morning they get going with devotional music, and might stir things up with the tambourine-shaking and spiritually rejuvenating: `The lame was made to walk and the blind was made to see, I love that man from Galilee’; `The Holy Ghost just started moving like madness’; or `Bread down from heaven is my daily food,’ by Toots and the Maytals. As the day wears on, things subtly slide into the nostalgic soul of the 1970s. Then in the afternoon, the vibrancy of the Skatalites; Justin Hines & the Dominoes; some early Maytals strummed by Brevett, timed by Knibb and garnished by Moore; the very early Wailers; the Heptones - `Any day now, I shall be released’; and Prince Buster, backed by the blind Roy Richards on mouth-organ reminding that: `Sampson was the strongest man in the days of olden, until a woman took it from him’, and so on, hold court. The music is punctuated only by the listing of the arrivals to and departures from both of the country’s international airports.

“Gleana,” the man on the bicycle shouts as he rides by, even though balancing on his handle-bar are stacks of both The Gleaner and The Observer. Some things are hard to change. This newspaper vendor was probably selling The Gleaner long before The Observer was born, and just can’t be bothered with altering his message. I hasten to the gate, only to hear, “mi soo come back dung.” Obviously his first salvo is just a warning shot for the neighborhood to get their `Gleaner-money’ ready. Soon after, I get weighty copies of both. Mr. Baker – a close-by neighbor, who has just returned from a visit to his native Guyana, brings me a dated (2007) copy of Explore Guyana: The Official Tourist Guide of Guyana. “You have one day to read this,” he says as he hands me the colorful and glossy magazine folded to article beginning on Page 41 – West Indies Cricket: The Guyana Legacy, and then stomps off. And suddenly, I now have more than enough fresh reading material to outlast the day.

There’s nothing like leafing through a physically disorderly Sunday Jamaica newspaper, on a Sunday, and in Jamaica. The phone even though not disabled, somehow knows not to ring, the birds know that it’s their time to chirp, the sun knows that it’s time to shine in brilliance, and the garden flowers know instinctively, that it’s their time to raise their multicolored heads. Like in a symphony, each plays its part, and to nature’s beat. Even the pastel colors on walls, come alive. And I relish it all.

Soon I get hungry, and peel back the lid on a tin of Brunswick sardines laying in olive oil. I chop up some onions, a piece of Scotch bonnet pepper and then commandeer an open pack of Excelsior Water Crackers. The hostess, my niece, has flown the coup to Florida and fend I must. But a tin of sardines provides only temporary respite and so, on with my `Sunday-best’ I must.

I walk to the No. 47 bus stop in Valentine Gardens and wait an eternity. “Dem nuh run su good pon a Sunday,” a taxi man in a Toyota car shouts – both the truth and to drum up his business. In a jiffy and for JA$80.00, I am whistled to Half-Way-Tree and on this Easter Sunday, find bedlam.

It’s in the heart of Kingston and the merchants operating from lifted trunk-lids are out in full force, and in cacophony. My flat feet are killing me and I see an assorted display of footwear and a spread of women’s undergarments and enquire. “One bill,” come, the response to my inquiry on a pair of sneakers. “Dem mek a Japan,” he adds, as he moves in for the kill, and to warn that I will get what I pay for. I advise him that I’ll be back, because first things must come first. “Where can I find something solid to eat?” I ask him. “A hungly Chicken and Tings open tudey faada.” And so upon his instruction, I make my way down from across the massive Transportation Service Center to the restaurant located at 2 Hope Road, just east of, or as he puts it, `top-side’ the Half Way Tree clock-tower. I climb the unkempt stairs. Inside is dimly lit – the restaurant is to the left, a well-stocked bar is to the right, and music is blaring. A small fried chicken with rice & peas (JA$280.00) and a peanut drink (JA$120.00) and I am good to go, but not yet. The patrons are being serenaded by the in-house DJ, as if it’s The Cotton Club in Harlem. Where else in world could I have gotten a belly full for roughly the equivalent of US$4.00, and be serenaded at the same time? Besides, I have meditated on the colorful pair of `made-in-China’ sneakers, and it’s a go.

I feel for, buy a Dragon Stout for JA$200.00, and then take my seat in the back of a taxi beside a fat lady. The driver is on his cellular phone. “Shi dead fi true?” he queries with urgency. “Mi did si di caar a pull out, an mi tink sey a sick shi did tek sick again.” After he is through, I enquire. “Shi a only tirty and dead from diabetes.”

The cause, and the age of the deceased, shock. And I am reminded to take care of myself. In another jiffy, I am back to base.


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