Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jamaica part 2 with no pictures!

This is a continuation, obviously of Jamaica Part I with pictures...
After the gentleman at the former, now destroyed, sugar plantation took us around and told us all about it, he took us back to his table where he pulled out his wood carvings.  They were not very well carved, unfortunately – very crude and unexceptional, nothing I felt interested in buying.  I asked him a bit about how he did them, what kind of wood they were from – cedar, mahogany and one other kind I couldn’t understand – and what he painted them with – black paint then lacquer.  I looked at them a bit, asked what kind of birds one thing was – bling-blings he said – then tried to walk away.  He put a dolphin in my hand and asked me to buy it, said that was what he did – wouldn’t I buy it?  That was how he made his money.  I tried to be gentle and nice and said no thank you, but his face was so sad, so crestfallen.  I could barely stand it.  Doug, who was in the same situation I was, said no a bit more forcefully and we both walked away, leaving him there like a kid on Christmas who has just realized the stocking is, indeed, empty, and will not be filled.  It was painful to see, but I was clear I didn’t want to buy poorly done wood carvings from a man I hadn’t asked to speak to just to make him not look so sad.  AWKWARD!  I was frustrated with Mark that he put us in that situation.
From there we began to drive into the country, up the mountains, around the curvy one land roads with potholes galore.  Apparently the politicians consistently promise to improve the roads in order to get elected and consistently then do nothing about it once they are elected.  The people who live in the interior have very few decent places to build their houses.  There is so little flat land, and it was never terraced like has happened in other countries around the world.  We saw houses sticking out over the side of the road which seemed to be only one room, but we figured out later that they started much further down the mountain then were added on to one room at a time as the family had more money and materials until they finally got to the level of the road or even above.  It’s a logical way to build, I think, and cost effective.  If the houses weren’t on the low side of the road then they were on the high side, built high enough up that they wouldn’t fall into the road.  That meant that paths were scratched into the mountain to climb up to the house – about 1 ft wide and however many feet high.  Few people have cars there, so there were no driveways.  Occasionally we’d see a burro tethered to a spot on the road munching on whatever was close by.  I supposed their owners would use them to haul things.  We saw a lot of people using machetes to cut back overgrowth.  It was a lot quieter than weed whackers but much more labor intensive. 
We asked what sort of wild animals there are in Jamaica.  Mark said there aren’t really any.  Mongooses (mongeese?) are prolific – they were brought in to kill off the snakes in the sugar cane fields so now there are no snakes on the island. 
We saw a lot of interesting sights in the mountains – a bar called “Easy Corner Bar” painted light blue with tan and white spots, placed in the corner of a curve in the road, surrounded by a stockade fence also painted light blue with white and tan spots.
Logwood trees which were shipped to England to be used in the process of dying cloth.
People in the country apparently often steal electricity from the poles because it’s so expensive to pay for.
We saw a doctor’s clinic, the only one for miles around, which is open each Thursday from 9-4 only.
We saw red acke fruits which, when broken open and cooked, look like scrambled eggs.  I didn’t see the inside – just the outside.
We saw an old protestant church up on a far hill with its graveyard far below in the valley between it and the road.  Mark said we couldn’t go visit the churches because they’re not open during the week (in marked contrast to the churches we saw in Cartegena, a Catholic city, where the churches were not only open, they were in use!)
Dean Jacobs, the photographer we were traveling with, travels all over the world talking to kids about schools and showing them pictures of kids in schools elsewhere in the world.  He asked Mark if he could take us to a school to see what it was like.  I never would have considered that possibility.  Mark drove us to a high school, 7-11 grade, and spoke with the woman guarding the gate to ask if it were possible.  She went to check with the principal.  The principal came out and asked to speak with someone in charge.  I went in because no one else volunteered to.  She was a very strict, no-nonsense type woman, well dressed, with very stylish finger- and toenails.  She asked why we were there, said she had to protect her children, had to know what we wanted before she let us go out among the kids who would certainly go home to tell their parents we were there.  I tried to explain what Dean does then suggested she speak to him.  I told her I respected her desire to protect the kids and said it would be fine if she refused us permission.  Dean went in and must have charmed the heck out of her because next thing we knew, she came out and said to come along.  She walked us alongside a building to see the classrooms in it.  The whole school was open air.  The main gathering place was in the center of the buildings and was a set of wide stairs where the kids would sit and look at whomever was on stage down below.  She said they put up a covering when it’s hot.  Thank goodness!  Otherwise they’d all broil to bits!  The classroom buildings have about 8 classrooms in each of them and are open air- no glass, just cement blocks, some of which have lovely patterns cut into them which allow air to waft through.  The roof is out of tin.  I asked one of the girls what grade she was in  - 8th – and what she thought of school.  She put her hand to her heart and said, “Oh, I love my school!  I love my school very much.”  The other girls with her didn’t laugh or anything, so it seemed like she meant it quite sincerely.  That was nice to hear.  In one classroom there were a couple of young men doing drafting.  They let me see their drawings.  They were of septic tanks.  I was surprised to see them doing such technical drawings.  I asked the principal about it – she said they have a lot of technical classes at the school – drafting, carpentry, etc. – to help prepare the students for jobs after school.  Many of the kids (she didn’t say what percentage) go on to college.  It used to be that the kids were sent to particular schools depending on their level of ability, but she said that isn’t the case now – kids are mainstreamed.  We asked how far they come to go to this school.  There are elementary schools close to each community with about 100 kids in them.  Then they come from 10-15 miles away to this on where there are about 700 kids.  I asked if they walk.  She said, “No, kids don’t walk to school anymore – even if they have to wait two hours for a bus, they don’t walk.  Those days are long past.”  She said they have computers and fast internet service and teach kids how to use them. 
All of the kids wear uniforms.  She said they’d changed the kids’ uniforms last year because the girls kept outgrowing theirs, so they created a pattern that has pleats in it so they can be taken out as the girls gain weight over the course of the years.  These were brown jumpers with yellow shirts.  The families buy the material then go to a tailor to have the uniforms themselves made.  All over Jamaica we saw kids in school uniforms, though they appeared to be different in each locality or each school.
When we were ready to leave, we got into the car and talked about lunch and finding a bathroom.  Mark suggested we should go there if we needed to use a bathroom.  I felt a bit shy about it, but figured it was a good idea.  I’d been drinking a lot of water so I could stay hydrated.  I went back to the principal’s office to ask where the bathroom was.  No one was there.  I asked one of the male students.  He pointed me in the direction of the teacher’s office.  Cynthia (one of my travel companions) and I went in there and I asked the first teacher I saw if we could use the restroom – bathroom – toilet.  Her blank look made me use each word, one after the other.  I gradually noticed it was lunchtime and they were in the middle of a teachers’ meeting and we had come in in the middle of it.  She pointed us to the back of the room where there was a door.  On our way there, someone handed me a plastic bag with a roll of toilet paper in it.  Now that was pure kindness!  I don’t know if I could feel more embarrassed.  Cynthia made our way through the crowded stand of desks with teachers eating at them to the white door with toilets behind it.  We did our business then Cynthia let me know her toilet wouldn’t flush.  I checked behind me to see that mine, thankfully, had a handle on it.  I finished up then went to flush.  Uh, yeah.  Mine wouldn’t flush either.  The handle would neither go up nor down.  I wasn’t quite ready to go into the back of the toilet to see what I could figure out there.  Neither was Cynthia.  I couldn’t put the lid down – there was none.  So I came out of the stall, only to see Cynthia waiting for me with a large pitcher of water in her hands, ready to pour it over my hands so I could wash them.  There was no running water in the sinks.  Quickly I used a tiny bit of water, then we left there, ready to burst into laughter from the absurdity of it all.  We made our way back through the teachers who were completely silent as we passed through.  Thankfully I remembered to return the toilet paper, but I couldn’t remember who had given it to me, so I just put it on a desk, and we hightailed it out of there.  We collapsed in laughter when we got to the van and were never so glad to be away from a place as there!  I wish I had a photo of the look on those teachers’ faces when we went in their room in the middle of their meeting.  I can well imagine that they laughed themselves silly at US after we left, and again when they saw we couldn’t even figure out how to flush the daggone toilets!  This is one of those incidents that reminds me that travel opens eyes and minds.  And how!
We were headed to Lucea, a town along the coast which was featured in Cool Runnings, when we saw one of Mark’s former neighbors along the side of the road.  We picked her up and took her with us because she was waiting for a bus to take her to her sister’s house in Montego Bay, but that could last hours, and we were fine with her joining us.  Unfortunately that kept us from going to Lucea – Mark just said it wasn’t that interesting and drove in the other direction until we noticed we weren’t headed there.  I would have liked to have seen it, but oh well.  Not a big deal.
We saw more along the way – a fence out of bamboo cut in half vertically which ran horizontally.  Lot of bamboo growing.  Apparently they had used it to stake the sweet potato plants and it had taken root and grown all over. 
Tires used for planters, painted white and yellow.
Poinsettias 10 feet tall with a profusion of blooms all around.
Houses made of concrete blocks, all with tin roofs and cisterns to catch the rainwater.
Once we got back on the highway next to the ocean, we saw a resort called “Palladium Resort” – walled, gated, sparkling white, with palm trees galore, and lush gardens and perfect villas.  Doug, the travel writer who was with us, uttered the astute comment, “What a difference three minutes can make.”
A man walking down the road with a hook full of octopi hanging from it.
Rainforest Seafood – an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one!
We drove to downtown Montego Bay to find out what it was like.  Busy, crowded streets full of shoppers and vendors who come to sell whatever small things they have to sell so they can make enough for their daily bread.  Lots of poverty.  A town square with a statue dedicated to San Sharpe, a fairly well-educated slave who worked in the Big house and learned to read, etc.  He led a slave revolt which was pretty successful for 7 years until they caught him and hung him in the square where the statue is.  That was in 1832.  Mark thought slavery wasn’t ended in Jamaica until a while after that – so later than it was ended in England.
We went to a church to see if we could take a look inside it.  It was also closed.  The guard at the gate (the entire place was fenced in) allowed us to drive in and look around.  The graveyard was in terrible shape.  The tombstones were falling down and crumbled – perhaps the result of the 1957 earthquake, or perhaps because no one cares about the dead from the 1700’s anymore.  The church was in bad shape too with a window broken and the woodwork dried out and decaying.  A schoolyard next door to it was full of loud and rambunctious children playing full tilt during their recess.  On one of the tombstones was a man who was sleeping the heat of the day away.  He didn’t respond to our being there at all.
Lunch was in a place next to a gas station called Jerky’s.  That was where Mark took us seriously about not going to a tourist spot!  When I saw it, I thought it might be awful because of its location, so I asked him to take us somewhere else. He assured me it would be good and that locals go there, no worries.  I had a choice of Jerk Chicken (spicy chicken) with festivals (I think that’s what it was called) which are friend dough (sort of like a donut without the sugar) or curried goat with cole slaw and rice and beans.  I wanted to get the goat to try something new – I’ve decided to be adventurous – to a certain extent! – on this voyage, but the woman said it was very spicy, so I chose not to order it.  The chicken jerk was good though, so that was a fine choice.  $6 for the meal and we were able to pay in dollars – a good thing since none of us had exchanged any money.  Apparently we’ll be able to use dollars in each port we’re in.  Crazy!  I guess they’re used to it near the ship.  It saves us having to exchange money both ways and lose money that way.  Instead they charge us extra when we pay in dollars and everybody makes out OK.
After lunch Mark drove us up into the hills so we could see where the rich folks live.  It wasn’t a gated community, but it could just as well have been.  The houses were large, gated themselves, with absurd numbers of rooms.  The most interesting thing to notice, for me, was that we didn’t see a single person at all in the entire area.  That was a huge contrast to our trip around the mountains and especially in downtown Montego Bay.  Not a single person.  Presumably they were either in their pristine white houses with the air conditioning or at work or in other countries where they live.  Mark said many are lawyers and doctors, but just as many are foreigners. 
From there we drove to the beach by the airport where one can swim for free.  We saw a lot of people there.  The beach wasn’t wide or long, but it was beautiful, and we had the bonus which fascinated some of our travel companions of having the airplanes buzz us not 30 feet overhead as they landed every ten minutes.
I stuck my feet in the water and wished I had my bathing suit on.  Then I noticed that Gerlinde was actually changing into hers – she had a large shawl and knew how to wrap it around herself just right so she could take off and put on all her clothing and bathing suit so she could swim.  I was so impressed!  She dove into the water with gusto.  I looked at Cynthia who had also waded in and goaded her into joining me in the same, clothes and all.  We both took the leap – then I realized I had money and my notes from the day and my pen and whatever else in my pockets!  I hopped out and gave them to her husband to hold for me then went on it all the way.  It felt fantastic!  It was so beautiful and blue and warm and tranquil and perfect.  I could have stayed all day!  The gentlemen in our party decided most decidedly not to join us, but they did at least watch our shenanigans.  Doug had a picture of his fiancée (who will be joining him in Peru) taped to a plastic straw which he held up next to his face so I could take a picture of the two of them together so she could feel like she was there.  We all got out and dried off then climbed into the van to return to the boat, soaking wet (some of us), exhausted, and exhilarated from the long, fascinating day in Jamaica!

1 comment:

  1. Jamaica is such a study of contrasts. Lots of poverty and neglect, but lots of beauty as well. You have done a good job of explaining what it is like there. When you get back home, let's go to Jamaica House on Broad Street for some excellent curry goat:).