getting back on track and cursed at
march, being a popular vacation time in the states, and jamaica, being a popular vacation destination, conspired to bring us a constant stream of visitors this month. nick arrived on the 2nd (and departed on the 8th); charlie and fern came on the 7th (and left on the 22nd); and my mother flew in on the 19th and remains here still (we left her in ocho rios today). becca and i had been looking forward for the chance to have a little vacation of our own. we had some favorite spots to share with people (lime key, kush's place, world of fish) and some new places to check out (portland, irie beach). visiting parents and siblings presented good opportunities for both. after three straight weeks of entertaining (and, to be fair, being entertained), however, i am feeling pressure to get back to my projects full-time (fortunately, participant-observation never ends, nor does brainstorming my dissertation, nor does listening). at this point, it is time for a vacation from the vacation.
the last several days have been rather packed with activity. my mother arrived last thursday evening. that night, we had dinner at heather's (a fine, but fairly unremarkable, outdoor restaurant in new kingston), where i talked mom into eating escovietch fish--a favorite of mine with its pepper-and-vinegar sauce. we finished with ice cream at devon house, a short walk from the terra nova, her big-house-style hotel (formerly the residence of the blackwell family, i am told). the next day we went out to port royal and lime cay with becca's folks. everyone loved the beach. warren brought snorkling equipment, affording me a chance to see lime cay's incredible reef, thriving just beneath the surface, yet completely invisible to me on two previous visits. filled with beautifully-colored tropical fishes, intimidating urchins, and the occasional bottle of rum, the reef was a feast for the eyes. it was my first snorkling experience, and i enjoyed watching the darting fish as i listened to my slow, deliberate breathing, amplified by the deafening silence of an ocean in my ears. we returned to port royal and had dinner at the y-knot, a bar on the outskirts of port royal with dock-side seating, a great view of kingston (from across the harbor), and a decent soundsystem (we were treated to late-80s dance music--anybody remember technotronic's "pump up the jam"?). i recommended my mother try the roast fish and bammies, which becca and i also enjoyed. it was a full day, but not our fullest. yesterday earned itself that distinction.
yesterday was our first full day in ocho rios, having arrived the evening before with enough time to have yet another knockout dinner at world of fish. our first stop yesterday morning was kush's place in exchange. having heard such glowing reports from me and nick (who singled out our stay with kush as his favorite slice of jamaica), my mother and warren were both excited to meet him, see his land, and eat some fresh fruit. kush gave us a tour of the yard, peeling naseberries for us as we walked. we ate tamerinds off the tree, and kush picked a sour-sop and a custard apple for my mom to eat once they ripen. we also had jellies, a favorite treat. one obtains a "jelly" by cutting a fresh, young coconut in half and scraping out the soft, jelly-ish meat (after, of course, drinking the sweet water through a hole cut in the top). using a machete, the jamaican utility-tool par excellence, i got the chance to split-open my own coconut, a performance which, i must confess, lacked the subtle touch kush brings to it. (each half went flying. usually, the trick is to penetrate just enough that a small turn of the blade cracks the coconut gently open.) after only about an hour or so, kush had to make his way to an art-opening where he was to perform, so we thanked him for the tour and the fruit and promised to try to make it to the show to see him. before joining kush, however, the four of us had to hike up to irie beach, the amazing, abandoned waterfall i described in "little brother's visit." warren, my mother, and becca were all astounded and delighted by the secluded mountain cascade. it is an absolutely gorgeous spot--an old fashioned, non-violent source of 'shock and awe.' we swam against the current, much stronger than on my last visit, and found peaceful eddies in which to rest. we saw not a single other soul during our stay by the mountain-fed white river.
from irie beach, we caught a taxi to harmony hall, a couple miles east of exchange. harmony hall sits quaintly on the shoreline, sporting a fancy italian restaurant and, on this day, a nice space for "international" jamaican artists (those with reach outside of the local market, i suppose) to display their work. there were also a number of skilled local craftspeople who worked wonders with wood and wicker. becca and i bought some artful coasters from a man who fashioned all kinds of colorful, flexible objects from various types of local woods. more significantly, becca found a piece of "real art" that she really liked (and by "real art" i mean something you can hang on a wall and that costs more than $100). the "piece" is actually quite pretty--a delicate arrangement of tiny starfish and silk threads. she deliberated about buying it for several minutes, feeling like it was a bit extravagant but also feeling like the piece was something she really liked and something she would have--and enjoy--for a long time. i am glad she decided to buy it after all. (see pictures here.) we had lunch while we listened to kush play solo guitar in a style that mixed reggae, blues, and classic rock but avoided tangible chord progressions and continually subverted its own rhythmic pulse. after lunch, we sat on the lawn with kush and some friends. becca and i decided, and announced to kush, that we must organize a week of work and play, repairs and retreats, and entice some of our handy and talented friends to help make his place into a functional eco-tourist resort. i had discussed such plans with kush previously, and he had shared tales of his past efforts and frustrations. it is too big a job for him alone, but not too big for a small group of generous, hard-working people. (email me if you're interested. we're serious about this.)
we finally returned to my mother's hotel and spent some time cooling down by the pool before heading next door for some dinner at the ocho rios jerk center. we took an after-dinner walk to chris blackwell's "island village," a san-diego-ish collection of small shops and restaurants, most of which were closed for the sabbath. we strolled back to the hotel and hung out on the room's balcony, listening to a chorus of crickets, which i couldn't help but group into dancehall rhythms in my imagination from time to time. (i will soon have some bug music for you.) soon enough, it was time to crash.
we spent this morning relaxing by the pool and enjoying the sun and clear sky. as becca and i nodded off in the taxi back to kingston this afternoon, i rest assured that we had given my mother and warren a particularly rich start to their vacation. i am looking forward to hearing how they like montego bay, which is their third and final stop on the island and one of jamaica's major tourist centers. having spent an exhaustingly eventful couple of days with them, i am ready to get back to the relative quietude of our rather busy life in kingston.
we returned to kingston just in time to get a call from lorna rowe of the jamaica computer society education foundation. we met with lorna last week to discuss ways that we can help each other out on our related projects (she is working on jamaica's participation in the global teenager project). as it turns out, the JCS education foundation had a bunch of computer speakers lying around waiting for a good home. speakers are a crucial piece of equipment for the digital music workshops, and many schools lack the resources to buy them. we jumped at the chance to get better speakers for camperdown high school, our newest site and one that shows great promise but has been held back by the speaker-problem. (we have been using the most affordable speakers we could get our hands on, which allow students to hear the music they make, but frustrate them deeply with an absolute absence of bass. "sir, where's the bass, sir?" "it's in there. you just can't hear it.") although i was dying for a shower and some quiet time back in my own apartment, this was clearly an opportunity we should not have missed, so we hopped on a bus to half-way tree, where lorna was to pick us up and take us to a storage trailer.
on the bus we elicited little attention, though we clearly stood out. as we boarded, a young man, in an apparent attempt to recognize our nationality, said "half-way tree . . . new york . . . florida . . . pennsylvania . . . london." "some bus," i said, as we found our way to a spot on the crowded vehicle where we could grab hold of a pole for balance. school had just let out and the bus, not to mention hope road itself, was filled with sharply uniformed students. we arrived at half-way tree fairly quickly and found ourselves waiting at the bus-stop for some time. the students were walking by in droves, and i noticed quite a few of them take note of me and becca. people seemed to scrutinize her more than me for whatever reason, scanning her from head to toe, regardless of their age or sex. i looked back, registering the various faces and gaits, the playful and the bullyish interactions, the comings and goings through a city-center.
i watched a man approach on a bicycle. he wore somewhat tattered clothes and had his hair arranged into long, thin dreadlocks, which he wrapped around his head in two criss-crossing swaths, almost turban-like. he was so rastafarian in appearance, that i was slightly surprised to notice, as he came closer and passed me, that he had south asian, or perhaps middle eastern, facial features. (many people of "east indian"-descent today live in the "west indies," their great grandparents having arrived as post-emancipation replacements for slave labor.) as the man biked past me, he met my eyes and yelled, "bloodclaat american!"--a curse that seemed to slip into the ether of kingston-noise as soon as it slipped past his lips. none of the students standing around us seemed to notice, and no one joined in on an anti-american tirade. still, it was unsettling. it was the first time i have directly encountered this kind of sentiment here. plenty of jamaicans are anti-war and are anxious about its effects on them (as the saying goes, "if america sneeze, jamaica catch cold."). but this was the first person to associate me so directly with the aggression of the bush regime as to curse me out. ("bloodclaat" is perhaps the strongest curse in jamaican vernacular and is used sparingly by most people. literally meaning "menstrual rag" (blood cloth), in this adjectival context it essentially means "bloody" [british] or "fuckin'" [american].) the man slipped behind a bus and into the half-way tree bustle as quickly as his curse was eclipsed by the sounds of exhaust and conversation. but his curse, his expression, and his anger stayed in my head for some time.
i realize, of course, that whether i like it or not, i am an american (which, apparently, was clear this afternoon). taxi drivers have been asking my opinion on the war since it started. i always tell them that i don't like it and that i try not to pay too much attention to it. they are always surprised. one, on discovering that i was not watching it on television, said, "but you have to watch. it's like a movie." regardless of how much i resist, i am linked to this terrible thing inextricably. and whether or not it is true, most jamaicans consider my position more culpable, more directly related than theirs. for the man on the bike, i am as good a symbol of arrogance, bellicosity, and hypocrisy as anything else. and why shouldn't i be? according to CNN, which i couldn't help but overhear in the hotel (where it was constantly visible in public areas), somewhere around three-quarters of americans support the war. that's a pretty despicable and condemnable number. of course, it's a pretty unbelievable number, too. i don't have a single friend or acquaintance back in the states who supports the war, and when i talk to my friends they report the same. perhaps i just keep bad company. i am not sure what to be more concerned about: the US government's and media's disinformation policy or the possibility that millions of fat, ignorant americans might actually support this unjust and unneccessary violence. i fear no reprisals here against my person, but i resent having to bear the brunt of the hatred elicited and spread by bush and his many supposed supporters. bloodclaat americans.