C. A NGELA
Jamaica Me by C. Angela Cover Design by Atinad Designs. ÂŠ Copyright 2012 SAINT PAUL PRESS, DALLAS, TEXAS First Printing, 2012 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. ________________________________________________________________________ The name SAINT PAUL PRESS and its logo are registered as a trademark in the U.S. patent office. ISBN-10: ISBN-13: Printed in the U.S.A.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. How shall we sing the LORDâ€™s song in a strange land? PSALM 137:1-2,4 KJV
Contents Foreword Chapter 1: Chapter 2: Chapter 3: Chapter 4: Chapter 5: Chapter 6: Chapter 7: Chapter 8: Chapter 9: Chapter 10: Chapter 11: Chapter 12: Chapter 13: Chapter 14: Chapter 15: Chapter 16: Chapter 17: Appendix A: Appendix B:
| 13 Louise Tilson Minibus Miss Tiller the Killer Patty and Coco Bread After School Activities Rasta My First Friends Duppy A Mysterious Brew Dunn’s River Falls Saying Goodbye Stranger Mr. Yampolski Truant Monsieur Monsieur “Must Have Ten Jobs” Jamaica Me Pushin’ and Pullin’ Jamaicans in Schools Abroad
| 17 | 23 | 29 | 37 | 41 | 45 | 51 | 55 | 61 | 67 | 71 | 75 | 79 | 83 | 95 |99 | 103 | 105 | 109
Acknowledgements I want to give all honor and praise to God for teaching me how to submit my life completely to Him and for blessing me with the ability to write this important book. I would also like to thank my family, especially my dear mother, for being my encourager throughout this process. I think one of her special gifts is to be an exceptional mother. She is also one of the most brilliant persons I know. I love you so much, and I am proud to be your daughter. I am thankful for my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Yampolski, who taught me with skill, sensitivity, and kindness. He helped to develop my reading comprehension by assigning students to read a story each night and summarizing it in two or more paragraphs in our own words. In doing this, I became aware of my writing abilities as well. I am also grateful for my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Troiso, who was such a sweet person all around. I
am thankful for how she made me feelâ€”loved and special. Come to think of it, thatâ€™s a skill all its own! Many thanks to Mr. Kelvin Barnes and his wife, Mrs. Opal Plummer-Barnes for using their wide knowledge of Jamaican folklore to edit the portions of this book written in Jamaican Patois. They were a tremendous help, and I am most grateful.
Foreword I have yet to meet an island person who was not a natural born storyteller. It's something innate; handed down from generation to generation. Every man, woman, boy, and girl must be able to deliver an ‘on the edge of your seat’ story and to do so on the spot with excitement, thrill, and intrigue. It's almost like watching an action film: the imaginary camera zooms in on the minutest details of the main character’s clothing, his hidden intentions, and of course, your average every day near death experiences. You could think of it as moving art: a woman's hand rests condemningly on her hips, or for a man, his head is tilted upward towards the heavens, chest puffed out as his fist rhythmically slams down on some nearby table. The woman passionately waves her hand in the air with a song in her voice to express some recent
event in her life inadvertently convincing her listeners that her particular story must be included in prime time news. She may begin to clap her hands together or pace up and down, but she must use dramatic pauses and sudden outbursts of laughter in acting out the unique characteristics of each individual she had encountered. Trust me. It's a sight to see. In the midst of all of this, at least one character absolutely must be declared mad. And when a Jamaican declares you to be mad, indeed you are just so. Itâ€™s nearly impossible for one to go to market and return home with an unreported event. That simply does not happen. Itâ€™s unheard of. And if it ever happens where a professed West Indian leaves his or her home and returns without sharing some startling event, his or her entire heritage must come into question. Their stories will make you laugh, cry, hoop, or holler, and sometimes youâ€™ll find yourself doing all of the above at the same time. For the real Jamaican, the true West Indian who is reading these words right now, no further explanation is necessary. But for everyone else, allow me to explain to you what I mean in the coming chapters. Enter now into the mind of a West Indian; in particular, a Jamaican. This is who I am.
It would appear that the sole purpose of her two teenage boys was to eat Louise Tilson out of house and land. This realization was getting on her last nerve because almost every day she had to go to the market to replenish all that was ravaged in her home the night before. And as was her ritual when leaving in the morning, she said goodbye to her two sons and mumbled under her breath, “Dem pickney belly nah no bottom!” (These children’s stomachs don’t have an end!) Before closing the door behind her, she saw her oldest son, Lynford (pronounced Lin–fud), running speedily toward her. Since the radio was on full blast, she didn’t understand what he was trying to say, but she knew from his fast approach that it must be important. “Mummy!” Lynford began.
“Yes, son,” she sweetly replied. “Mummy, beg yu go buy some red snapper fi we dinner tonight,” he suggested. “Mi fren Jasmine a come ova!” (Mama, please buy some red snapper for our dinner tonight. My friend, Jasmine, is coming over.) With a look of perplexity and irritation, Louise asked, “First of all, who is Jasmine and why she mus come over to my house tonight? She no have no home fi go to?” (First of all, who is Jasmine and why must she come over to my house tonight? Doesn’t she have a home to go to?) “Yes, Mummy,” Lynford replied. “But Jasmine is mi ‘special’ fren and I told her dat you are a great cook,” he pleaded. “What yuh seh?” she asked. The radio in the living room sounded as if it was competing with every word her son was trying to say. Lynford was more than happy to repeat what he said before, because the second time around, he would ‘up the ante’ with his compliments of his mother’s cooking. “I said that you were the best cook in the world!” Lynford shouted. The power of flattery can never be underestimated. The evidence of this was that Lynford secured his mother’s permission to bring his latest love interest, Jasmine, to dinner. Initially, Louise appeared to not be particularly affected by her son’s charms, but she eventually rolled
her eyes and flung her arms up, conceding to his request. Inwardly, she had a warm feeling because she knew her sons adored her cooking, and she enjoyed them praising her culinary skills. A real Jamaican woman takes pride in people knowing that she has complete command over her own kitchen. When they hear the clanging of her dishes and the banging of her pots, they know that something delightful and delectable is in progress. Now there are several staple dishes that a Jamaican woman knows. By the way, this “knowing” is handed down from one generation to the other. But Louise’s abilities took cooking to an entirely new level all together. In fact, people have been overheard arguing about her cooking while standing at a bus stop or in the neighborhood shop. No, they weren’t saying anything unkind. They fussed with each other about which of her dishes was the best. It has been said that her food could almost transport you to Heaven. That claim is still up for debate because, as of this time, no one had been reported missing to either the neighbors or the local constable. Some people declared that Louise’s curry chicken could melt in your mouth. Others argued that her ackee and saltfish, the Jamaican national dish, could bring tears even to a macho man, especially when eaten with her mouth-watering dumplings. And as for her Jamaican jerk chicken, your tongue would catch a’ fire! But that was a good thing. It was almost always
done with so much love. You see, Louise made her own jerk sauce. Much of the ingredients for her seasoning were grown in her own backyard. It was well known that she added some “unknown” ingredients as well, which made eating her jerk chicken a most unique and powerful experience. I say powerful because when jerk chicken is cooked to perfection, it should have a zing effect that is torrents of pleasure to the taste buds and absolute satisfaction to the intestines. Truly, it is not for the faint of heart. “I tell you what,” Louise began. “Tell dat gal, Jasmine, she can come tonight. But mek sure she agree fi invite yu and yu bredda, Nigel, fi eat at her moder’s table next week, alright?” (Tell Jasmine she can come tonight. But make sure she agrees to invite you and your brother, Nigel, over for dinner next week). “And don’t be late for school, boys, yu hear?” she warned. Louise chuckled to herself and mumbled, “After dat de dinner deh, mi sure him and him special fren mashup! Dem gwen eat out all pon Jasmine family table and dem gwen be too fraid fi ever have Lynford and Nigel back again!” (After eating over at Jasmine’s home, I’m sure the two will break up! They’re going to eat all that Jasmine’s family sets on their table and the family will be too afraid to ever invite Lynford and Nigel again!) Unaware of what his mother had just said, Lynford happily agreed. “Alright, mums!” the boys said waving to Louise from the front door.
At that, Louise closed the door behind her and walked down the street to wait for the minibus to take her to the market area in town where she worked. Louise Tilson was a pleasantly plump woman—not too big and not too small. She obviously took great pride in her looks because of all the compliments she received for both her complexion and her hourglass figure from the gentlemen around town. Wherever she turned, men would vie for her attention saying, “Hey sweetie!” or “How yu do darlin?” And rightly so. She had skin the color of rich chocolate pudding, long, full lashes, high cheekbones, a short afro, a smile that reflected the sun’s rays and skin the texture of silk. She was a typical island beauty; an artwork in motion. And when men told her so she enjoyed that. But it’s such a shame that her own ‘husband’ didn’t seem to appreciate her long enough to stay with her. In fact, he might have been Santa Claus for all we knew because he only seemed to come around once per year. I guess Louise didn’t mind him leaving her a ‘gift’ from time to time. She was due to deliver this “gift,” her third child, in a little over four months. According to the word in the neighborhood, her “husband’ left gifts with several women on different parts of the island. As a truck driver he really knew how to get around town. Thankfully, he was a
responsible man. He always worked hard and sent money in the mail to his many ladies so they could take care of his children. The sun seemed to beat down on Louise that day, and the minibus was taking an unusually long time to come. The bus stop was located under a coconut tree, but it was not enough to hide her from the sun. She found herself looking up at the tree from time to time for fear that a coconut would land on top of her head. Wisely, she never left home without her umbrella to shield her from the sunâ€™s rage and perhaps a falling coconut. Before she became too irritated she spotted Mr. Johnny in his white minibus. She realized right away that he was in a hurry because he speedily approached Louise as if he had temporarily forgotten the purpose of his brakes. As he drew closer, she realized that the minibus was already full. But Mr. Johnny knew how to pack and pile people in. This was one of his special gifts: shoving and shifting people and their belongings around so that everyone in the world who wanted to get in his minibus could.
Minibus Ask any child who has ridden on Space Mountain at Disney World and theyâ€™ll tell you how wild and exhilarating it is. For those who have not experienced it, Space Mountain is a roller coaster you ride in the dark that moves as fast as lightening with surprising dips, twists, and turns. It is a rather unforgettable experience. You just never know which direction youâ€™re going to be taken in and at any moment after soaring the heights, you can suddenly be plummeted several feet to the ground. I will never forget the first time I got off Space Mountain. My family told me I was tilting to one side. I left the ride walking lopsided, having lost my equilibrium, yet excited about the new thrill. To this day, there is only one other ride that I can think of that could rival thatâ€”a Jamaican minibus. Whether traveling in the day or night, it has the potential of increasing your heart rate and will have you praying for its end. But despite the obvious
health hazards, people every day keep returning for more. One could argue that they chose to do so out of sheer desperation. It’s not as if there were many other choices of transport on the island. Since my mother’s car was at the shop for repairs, she sent my sister and me on Mr. Johnny’s minibus that day to go to school. It was already packed to capacity. There was Miss Rosie from across the street. Raylene and I didn’t like her much. She was always yelling at her two children. Then there was Jenny and her daughter. They were up late last night at their church in our neighborhood. They were singing and shouting so loudly that my sister, Raylene, and I had trouble sleeping. All the seats on the bus were filled but again, Mr. Johnny stopped to pick up another passenger. But Raylene and I didn’t mind stopping for Louise Tilson. She was a nice lady. She was good to children and everyone loved her cooking. True to for m, Mr. Johnny made the announcement that passengers rarely liked to hear. “O. K. everybody. Listen up! We a pick up smaddy. Beg yuh squeeze oonoo self an mek space fi Miss Louise! Tek up you bags and put dem pon yu lap!” (Please squeeze yourself in to make room for her. Take up your bags and place them on your lap!") We all knew that this would delay our ride by at least ten minutes. That may not seem very long, but for the worker or the student who had to reach his job on
time or face serious consequences, those ten minutes can be an almost life or death issue. Well, maybe I shouldn’t sound that dramatic. To be fair, let’s just say that one could alter their life’s journey as a result of being late. Wisely, students dared not arrive at school one second after the prescribed time. They could be severely punished for such a flagrant violation of the school’s rules. There is an unwritten code that a minibus passenger’s concern is not necessarily his comfort but for him to mysteriously, yea miraculously, get from point A to point B and to do so all in one piece. Knowing how serious Mr. Johnny was about earning his money, everyone complied. Bags were pulled up, legs were tightly crossed and everyone smashed themselves in like sardines in a tin can. As a matter of fact, I saw a lady and a gentleman sitting so close together that the only appropriate thing to do when they got off the minibus was to get married. I’d even go as far as to recommend that if clerg y were on the bus at that time, a ceremony rightly should have been performed on the spot. Louise managed to secure part of a seat. It was not the most comfortable for her because one of her buns was unable to find a resting place. But being a good sport, she greeted everyone politely and held on tightly to the nearest straps to secure herself in the moving vehicle. She must
have been anticipating danger because she held on like a free style mountain climber dangling from over a hundred feet in the air. Jamaican minibus drivers are a rare breed. They exude a great deal of confidence and possess a unique flair about what they do. Anyone can tell you that their driving skills are second to none. They move rapidly around the curvy, bumpy country roads with both ease and grace despite the fact that passengers frequently let out frightening shrieks. Shock absorbers appeared to be non-existent because from time to time, passengers went airborne when the road suddenly dipped. There was one particular move that always evoked the loudest cries. That’s when Mr. Johnny’s tires would graze the very edge of a precipice. The tires appeared to be halfway suspended in mid air; half of it being on earth and the other half unaccounted for. This would only be visible to those sitting by the windows and it’s from those areas that you’d hear the loudest screams. And loud they were. “Whoa! Mr. Johnny! Watch it! Watch it!” My neighbor warned the driver. “Woy, woy, woy!” was a lady passenger’s shrill screams. “Bungonatty!” one man exclaimed. It was not unheard of for minibus rides to
elicit conversion experiences for some have testified that the neighborhood rum bumper, on occasion, began praying out loud. Some say his conversion lasted only as long as the ride because the same night, the very same rum bumper would be spotted at the local bar. I was too little to know if that were fact or fiction and it really was not any of my business anyway. I enjoyed the ride immensely and never feared death once while a passenger. It was a treat to see what new billboards were being put up. Some were about political concerns and others were advertising products. As I looked at the models, I had the sense that any one of the persons in those pictures could be me. The models were of different shades and sizes, but I could identify myself with them all. We were all Jamaicans. I am Jamaica and Jamaica is me. Sensing the discomfort of his passengers, Mr. Johnny tried to assure them that every thing would be alright. “Look how long unu a drive pon mi minibus. Unu dead yet? Cho! No worries, mon!” (Look how long I have been driving all of you on my bus. Has anyone died yet? Stop worrying!) To that, he turned on the radio which just happened to be playing Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry About a Ting. Cause Every Likkle Ting Gonna Be Alright!”
If there is anything such as perfect timing, this was my first time experiencing it. The passengers had temporarily forgotten that riding in a minibus caused their lives to flash before their eyes; that it was part and parcel for the journey. Thankfully, everyone seemed to calm down a bit while listening to Bob Marley’s song being played over the radio. That’s the special calming effect he has on Jamaicans. By the time the song ended, Louise Tilson had already exited the van and began walking across the street to go to her job. As usual after work, she’d shop for dinner for her two hungry boys. But she would have to get some extras for her older son’s new love interest, Jasmine. “Have a good day everyone,” she waved. “Take care, Ms. Tilson!” everyone responded. “And you do likewise!”
Miss Stiller the Killer For as long as I could, I watched Ms. Tilson walk towards her destination. I so wished that I could go with her. I guess it was an attempt to distract my mind from my pending doom. Putting it mildly, school was not my favorite place to be. In my mind, doing anything else would have been better than having to go. I hated school! I hated homework, class work, writing, pencils, erasers, English, Math, chalkboards and most of all, teachers. Teachers could hit students indiscriminately for the slightest infraction and I did not enjoy being hit. Once I forgot to do my math homework assignment. O.K., let me be honest here. I had more fun things to do when I went home and did not have sufficient time to do my math homework. Fun is very time consuming and there are only so many hours in an evening to work with. We were told to memorize the eight and the nine times table. I was busy playing with my cousins over the
weekend and didn’t care to do my work. But when Monday morning came, the teacher called up each child individually to recite the eight and the nine times tables. When I was called, I was unable to do my recitation and without warning I heard my teacher issue the dreaded command. “Christine, hold out your hand!” said Mrs. Beaser angrily. Back in the day, children did as they were told. It was a widely known fact that if a child did not hold out their hands when commanded, the teacher had the right to hit them anywhere that her cane happened to make contact. The advice around town was to hold out your hand, hold your breath and take your hits with as much dignity as possible. And that’s exactly what happened. I held out my hand and held my breath. But dignity was duly missing. I was hit for not knowing my eight and nine times tables and felt no qualms about public displays of pain. Needless to say, I learned them and was able to accurately recite them the next day without the slightest hesitation. Somehow the threat of being hit again with a dried sugar cane propelled me to study to the point of unshakable confidence. At the age of six, no one in the world, including my dear mother, could convince me that school was not a prison camp where grown-ups banished their little children for several hours in the day. I don’t care what argument was presented in
favor of the institution; I hated school and that was that. Unfortunately, my feelings on the matter did little to prevent my mother from sending me there. Yes, I understand that many children remember their elementary school experiences fondly, but I’m not one of them. Even today, I still wince as I revisit this part of memory lane. My sister, Raylene, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy school. Faithfully, she’d study her subjects daily and do her homework. I’d be hard pressed to remember a single time in my sister’s life that she did not complete her homework assignment or project. I dare say it has never happened. She even performed well on her Common Entrance Exams. For those of you who do not know, the Common Entrance Exam is one of the most internationally recognized examinations. Most significantly, Common Entrance Exams were brought into line with the National Curriculum. They were grueling mental exams administered for the sole purpose of discovering which students were among the top thirty percent in academic performance. For almost six decades, the results of this test determined if a sixth-grader was going to be promoted to one of the best high schools in the country or if they were going to be sent to one of the technical high schools. Students were denied access to high school altogether if they did not
perform well on this exam. You can imagine that many of them experienced a high level of anxiety, depression, and nausea because there was a great deal of pressure to pass this test. The first examinations test the studentâ€™s abilities in English Grammar, Composition and Literature, French Grammar, Composition and Translation, Greek Grammar, Latin Grammar, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, English History, and Geography. Scripture was added in the 1930s and a general Mathematics paper in 1954. The Common Entrance was not made available to girls until after the Second World War and was overseen by the Common Entrance Examination for Girls' Schools, a completely separate committee. Entry to girls' schools was normally at eleven years old and up where they took exams for English and Arithmetic, which were later replaced by Mathematics. Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning papers were made available some time later, sometimes at twelve years and up where they sat for English and Mathematics, French and a General paper. Eventually a Science paper was added to the tests. At thirteen years of age and up tests were actually borrowed from the boys' committee. Passing the Common Entrance Exam was so much of a big accomplishment that names of students who passed it were published in the island newspaper. And thatâ€™s what happened to Raylene.
She passed her Common Entrance exam and her name was printed in the newspaper. My sister has always been a smart and studious person. The bottom line is this: no one should ever have to sit for any exam in the British system without being thoroughly prepared. We arrived at the school a few minutes after the school day began. Walking quietly to class, I hoped that my presence was neither missed nor detected. I noticed that my teacherâ€™s back was turned as she wrote the morning assignment on the chalkboard, so at that moment I tiptoed to my seat and quickly opened my book to begin my work for the day. We had to write a short essay on a theme that the teacher had written on the board. The teacher was teaching us to think independently and develop our own ideas and opinions on different topics. I have a high respect for this type of instruction because our thoughts are a very unique part of our identity and should be developed accordingly. Never before had I looked as studious as that day. I feared the teacher would call me out and hit me for arriving late to her class. A few minutes went by and I had not heard a single word of reprimand from my teacher. So with a sigh of relief I buried my head into my notebook, avoiding eye contact with my teacher. Then suddenly, out
of the corner of my eye, I detected hurried movements. Looking up, I realized that a school monitor had entered our classroom. This left an unsettled feeling in my stomach. I knew bad news had just been delivered. I soon found out that I was right. “Christine, Ms. Stiller wants to see you in her office now,” my teacher stated matter-of-factly. Every student knew that those words carried a great deal of weight and that the only legitimate reaction would be extreme trepidation. It wasn’t everyday that a child was sent to the principal’s office. But when it did happen, that child never returned the same. He or she underwent a change. Most often the child was punished in some way. Usually that meant corporal punishment. It wasn’t by accident that Ms. Stiller earned the name, “The Killer.” But no student would dare call her that to her face. As on other Caribbean islands, sugar was extracted from the long wild sugar canes. The irony of this is that from something sweet a sour instrument was created to inflict terrible pain. The sugar cane was peeled and dried hard. The smaller it was in diameter the more it stung. Disobedient children were heard bawling and screaming when their teachers beat them, but as rumor had it, Ms. Stiller was the worst at dispensing punishment. She was not known for her mercy. Getting up from my seat, I walked toward Ms. Stiller’s office. I feared what would happen to me but I
dared not drag my feet. That would only add to my punishment. My heart rate seemed to increase with each step; I could hear every beat vibrating in my ears. In anticipation of what was about to come, tears began to well up in my eyes. I soon arrived at Ms. Stiller’s office and my escort ran off leaving me alone to face my fate. Ms. Stiller had hair that was jet black and silky like a raven. She greeted me politely and then went straight to the point with her question. “Christine, why were you late to school?” she asked. Her eyes possessed a laser beam quality that seemed to peer into my soul. Feeling a rather large lump in my throat, I struggled to make my words sound. “Mummy’s car wasn’t working so she sent my sister and me to school on the minibus and the minibus was late.” Ms. Stiller looked at me intently for what seemed like an eternity. I continued. “Mr. Johnny stopped to pick up Ms. Tilson even though the minibus was already packed.” I imagined that any second now, she was going to order me to turn over my palms. But if I moved my hands away by even an inch, her cane would sting my legs. That’s when I received the surprise of my life. If I had not witnessed the power of God before
that moment, that would have been my first experience. “Your mother called a little while ago to explain why you and your sister, Raylene, were late to school today. I already spoke with your sister. You may return to your class.” I never quite understood why Ms. Stiller called me in to her office. I mean, why scare a little child half to death? Was she checking to see if all our stories matched? Did she want the other students to think that I was being punished so that they would keep in line with the school rules? It remains a mystery to me even to this day, but I was most grateful to be given permission to go back to my class without injury. When I returned, my classmates first looked into my eyes, I guess to see how red they were from crying. Then they checked out my hands, arms, and legs for evidence of red marks over my body. I knew that they were very puzzled by what they saw—no wails, no crying, and no sadness. In fact, I had a slight pep in my step. (Wouldn’t you after narrowly escaping death?) The secret I held was that I was more puzzled than they were for I had been in the den of a lion and walked out unscathed.
Patty and Coco Bread I may have detested school, but I surely loved recess and lunch time. My mother always made sure that her two little girls had their lunch money for the day. Being older than me, Raylene was in charge of our money. Patty and coco bread was my most favorite lunchtime meal and I was fortunate to enjoy it as often as possible during that time. The entire school had lunch and recess at the same time so Iâ€™d meet Raylene at a designated spot and sheâ€™d buy lunch for us both. Patties are usually made out of ground beef or chicken and baked in a pastry shell. That particular morning seemed unusually long and I thought lunch time would never come. Being both tired and hungry, I looked forward to having lunch with my big sister. As soon as my class was dismissed I looked around for Raylene. She was in line and as usual, there was a long line for the patty and coco bread. But I didnâ€™t mind
because I knew that before too long, I was going to be able to sink my teeth into it. “Christine!” Raylene waved her hand and called me over. Raylene, my dependable big sister, was dutifully holding my spot in the line. As soon as I came close to her, she held my hand as we walked up to the front of the line. I just knew that everything was going to be alright as long as my sister was right next to me. “Oh, that patty looks so good!” I exclaimed as I saw other students eating. “Christine, you say that every day,” Raylene sighed. “Just pay attention and stand close to me.” Finally, the moment came. Raylene exchanged our money for her order of two patties, two coco breads, and two soft drinks from the vendor. Raylene handed me my order and we exited the line. Children were running all around the playground in every direction so Raylene was careful not to move too quickly for fear that our lunches would be knocked over. “Where are we going to eat today?” I asked. “Hold on,” she began. “We’ll see.” Like every younger sister, I looked up at Raylene waiting for her to indicate where we were going to have our meal. Raylene turned her head for just one moment and my eyes followed in the direction she was looking. Suddenly, the
unthinkable happened. No, our lunches werenâ€™t knocked over. Out of nowhere, someone grabbed my patty and coco bread right out of my hand with so much force that my fingers could have come off with it. Raylene and I stood in silence for a few seconds trying to digest what had just taken place. Then, realizing the terrible loss I had experienced, I burst into uncontrollable tears. Raylene immediately sprang into action and gave me some of her lunch. I was grateful that I still had my soft drink, and Raylene successfully distracted my mind from the unfortunate event. Somehow, she had me smiling again. By recess time, I had forgotten the whole experience while playing dodge ball with all my friends. It was obvious that whoever stole my lunch was extremely hungry. My sister was once again my hero and saved the day.
After School Activities After school hours were joyful times in my everyday life. That’s when I’d play with Raylene and my two cousins, Alley and Genava. Now, that was my definition of fun. We all stayed with our grandpa in the housing complex where he lived until my mother and aunt came to take us to our respective homes. We all made good use of the time we had in our grandfather’s yard playing hide and seek, dolly house and dress up and tag. We also took time to watch Granny Lynn do chores around her home: wash her clothes and sheets, cook and clean. Granny Lynn was an older lady who was a family friend from the time my mother was a little girl. On occasion she’d even taken her to school. Washing clothes back then, without the use of a washing machine, was a sight to see, especially if Granny Lynn was washing whites. She’d pour scorching hot water and soap into a huge metal tub and scrub endlessly to make sure that her whites
sparkled. She’d squeeze out the soap from the clothes and without giving them a final rinse, she’d hang her whites on her clothes line in the yard so that what her hands couldn’t finish, the blazing hot sun would complete. This procedure may sound rather strange, but it all made sense after an hour had passed. The sun had a bleaching effect on her whites so they practically sparkled after drying. After this, Granny Lynn would rinse them thoroughly in her large metal tub and hang them up on her clothes line for a final drying. There was a chicken coop in the back of the complex, so my cousins, Raylene, and I sought out every opportunity to visit them and to see if any new chicks had hatched. From time to time, Granny Lynn allowed them out of the coop for us to pet them. They were so fluffy, they resembled yellow powder puffs. Sometimes we held them in the palms of our hands, just to get a better look at them. How much fun it was to stroke their smooth feathers. Mother hen welcomed our visits, but father cock seemed to have different ideas all together. But to be fair, the cock never liked anybody, especially anyone who came close to him. We obliged by staying out of his way. To show us his displeasure, he’d charge angrily at us, flying over to peck at our toes. Well, no child wants their toes pecked on so we were constantly on high alert for
the cock. It really was no fun having to watch out for our toes, so our visits were never too long. Not all of our after school hours were used in play time. We were given little chores to do from time to time such as picking out the gray hairs from Baxter’s head. Baxter was the son of the man who owned the housing complex where our Grandpa lived. Like most people I know, Baxter was in no hurry to turn gray so he enlisted the help of little children to go through his head of hair and pull out by the root, every gray follicle. I learned then this is an ineffective method because Baxter’s gray hairs not only grew back but multiplied when they reappeared. To reward us for our labors Baxter shook the nearby plum tree so that plums would fall to the ground. Happily, we’d pick them up and eat them. Growing up, we didn’t care much for candies because we had such a wide variety of sumptuous fruits from which to choose. I had several favorite fruits, but for now I’ll just mention my top four favorites. First, one bite into an Otaheite Apple, which has an oblong shape, midnight red skin and white flesh, would bring joy to anyone’s heart. Second, Guinep, which on the outside, almost looks like an American green grape, only a little larger, had a large seed surrounded by a thin layer of sumptuous fleshy pulp. Third, the June Plum,
which is a little larger than the size of an egg, was eaten either green or ripened yellow and was fleshy with a prickly seed. Fourth, I would not be a true islander if I did not mention the Mango. There are different varieties and colors of mangoes. When ripened, they are smooth and succulent. I almost feel guilty not mentioning other marvelous fruits that island children enjoy eating according to their season. We ate tamarind, papaya, naseberry, pomegranate, sour sop, star apple, sweet sop, and jackfruit. Fruits were what most island children craved to eat. There wasn’t much of a demand for candy. Between eating, playing with chickens, watching Granny Lynn, and doing our chores, we watched Noel fix Baxter’s car. Come to think of it, every time Noel came to visit, he was usually fixing Baxter’s car. Either Noel couldn’t do the job or Baxter’s car was unfixable. Then again, maybe the point was not to get the car fixed, but rather the conversation that took place during the time that Noel was fixing it. I’m not quite sure, but we enjoyed sitting and listening to them speak. For some reason, we found it fascinating to hear grownups in conversation.
Rastafarians are as much a part of the Jamaican culture as ackee and saltfish. People mostly know them for their dreadlocks. No, I’m not speaking of cultured dreads or twists. I mean real dreadlocks where the hair is washed, never combed, and allowed to grow freely. Growing up, I heard people say that Rastafarians washed their hair with eggs and mayonnaise. I’ve never conducted such a personal interview with a Rastafarian so I can neither confirm nor deny their claim. Rastafarians live all over the island of Jamaica so it would be most unusual for a Jamaican to say that he has never met one, is not related to one, or is not friends with one. Well, Noel was a Rastaman who was great at fixing cars. Every time I saw him his head was either hovering over or under a car turning a screw or tightening a bolt. As you can imagine, due to Noel’s useful skills, he was a very popular man in the neighborhood. I’m not quite
sure how Noel got all his work done. Folks passing by the yard where he worked usually greeted him. Islanders know what that means. A greeting is not just a brief “Hello!” or “How are you doing?” and then walking away. Stopping to say hello to someone means just that. You stop. You share what’s happening in your family, island politics, the cricket team and end with blessings and well wishes. Somehow, Noel was always able to do his work and chat with the neighbors at the same time. It humored me to hear Noel end every one of his sentences with “Jah! Rastafari!” I was equally tickled when he’d refer to himself as “I and I.” I never understood why Noel spoke like that. I just knew that it would seem strange if he didn’t. I do like Rastafarians. My mother, Raylene and I however had another kind of encounter with another Rastafarian one day. Fortunately, it was not enough to erase my positive experiences with Noel. I’ll begin by saying that my mother was always a safe driver. In fact, she is such a safe driver that she rarely ever went over the speed limit. It’s not in her nature to do such a thing. My sister, cousins and I often felt the need to encourage her to move just a little faster down the road. We hated it that we were the slowest moving vehicle and it was just so embarrassing to us to see all the
other drivers pass us by effortlessly. One balmy evening, while driving to our Grandpa’s home we encountered a rather terrifying experience. We were less than a quarter of a mile from our home when my mother stopped at the last intersection to see if it was safe to move on. The road was clear, but suddenly a Rastafarian on a motorcycle came towards us at full speed and rammed into our car. Bam!! He never stopped at the intersection. When I looked down I saw the motorcycle and its rider half way under our car. Fortunately, this incident was unlike one I had witnessed before where the two parties involved nearly came to blows. In fact, there was so much yelling and cursing between the two men that reason seemed to have been banished from the conversation. One man went to the back of his car to take out the Jamaican’s weapon of choice, a cutlass. I mean, you can’t make your point with the necessary emphasis without one of those. And to demonstrate his argumentative skills, it is imperative that he waves it wildly in the air while shouting and every now and again, motion it just a little closer to the face of the one with whom he argues. At that point, only one or two things can happen: the men begin to fight, or one man backs down to spare his life.
What added fuel to that situation was the fact that witnesses to the accident felt compelled to put their two cents worth in and were extremely vocal while declaring which driver they believed was clearly in the wrong. To say the least, it was a most dramatic scene—so Jamaican and worthy of a Broadway performance. Putting it mildly, they used some of the most colorful adjectives, nouns, verbs, and adverbs to express their thoughts and feelings on the matter. On impact, my chest violently slammed into the side of the passenger seat and I became speechless. I was so stunned by the suddenness and the severity of the accident that I lost my ability to speak. Recognizing that something had gone terribly wrong with me, Raylene decided to check to see if I was fine. “Christine, are you alright?” she questioned. I was unable to produce sound. I heard everything that was going on around me, but I had lost my ability to communicate. Everyone in the neighborhood heard the clash of metal in the collision and came outside to investigate what had happened. Instantly, my mother moved into action. There was blood spilled on the pavement so it was obvious that the rider needed immediate medical attention. Neighbors from every direction offered their assistance. That’s
how it is in the islands. Everyone was part of the community. The neighbors helped to lift the man up from the ground and one of them drove my mother’s car to the hospital as she gently held the Rastafarian's head in her lap. With my mother gone, Raylene became more and more worried that I had yet to utter a single word. “Christine, are you feeling o.k.?” she asked. I had heard what Raylene said, but I was still unable to formulate words in my mouth. I stood looking directly up at her not knowing what to do. “Christine! Christine! Say something! You have to say something!” Raylene’s tension began to build with every word. Suddenly, she grabbed my shoulders and began to shake me like a rag doll with my head bobbing up and down. I could almost feel the dislodgment of my brain matter; whatever was located in my frontal lobe was now thrown to the back and whatever grooves and convolutions were present were now as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Raylene was going to fix me real good because I was not acting right. You may raise your eyebrows at her methodology, but you’ve got to give her an “A” for heart! “Christine! Talk! Say something!” Despite her rather unconventional method, I will forever be grateful for my sister’s ability to
recognize that I was in trouble that day and that she was able to help me. Well, let me be a bit more clear. Sound involuntarily escaped my lips from the fear I had of Raylene when she grabbed me. As it turned out, the Rasta man was in the hospital for a few days. Then one day, he decided to pay my mother a visit near the scene of the accident where my grandpa lived. She was not there at the time but my grandfather was at the house gate to meet him. It didnâ€™t take long for my grandfather to understand what the Rasta man had up his sleeve. Believe it nor not, despite the fact that the Rasta man was at fault, he somehow reasoned in his mind that he deserved compensation. Let me just say it this way. Grandpa was not a man to be fooled with and he rather convincingly and definitively communicated to the Rasta man to never set foot near my mother or our home again. Wisely, the Rasta man took heed and was neither seen nor heard from ever again.
My First Friends At five-years-old, my first two friends, Mrs. Claffy and Mr. John-John, were both nearly ninety years old. You see, my grandfather at one point belonged to Mizpah, a friendship society which housed several retired persons in individual apartments. After school, Raylene, my two cousins, and I walked there and stayed with our grandfather until our mothers left their jobs and came to pick us up. More than anything, we enjoyed playing in the large courtyard. And when we got tired, weâ€™d go visit with our grandfather and the other residents. My memory is a little foggy about the first time I met Mrs. Claffy, but I still have vivid memories of her. A fair skinned blue-eyed woman with cataracts in both eyes, she possessed a soft melodious voice that made everyone feel warm inside and was especially welcoming to little children. She lived in a tiny apartment which only had room enough for her, a bed, a little bathroom
and a small kitchen. Every day, without fail, I’d knock on her door for her to let me in so that I could visit with her. I don’t recall our conversations. I just remember how she made me feel—loved and special. She cared about whatever I had to say and I liked that a lot. More than likely, considering how shy I was at the time, she probably asked me several questions about my day and I either nodded at her or gave her a one-word answer. The important thing is that we did communicate. I loved to visit with her and she looked forward to my company. I know the latter to be true because after a while, I didn’t have to knock on Mrs. Claffy’s door anymore. She’d leave her door slightly ajar so that I could walk in. And walk in I did! Everyday without fail, I entered Mrs. Claffy’s apartment, said hello and sat down for conversation. “Hello, Mrs. Claffy,” I quietly greeted. “Hello, little darling,” she replied. And that was our friendship. Although I was five and she was almost ninety we were like two peas in a pod. Mrs. Claffy was my dear friend. Age didn’t matter because we related to each other from the heart. Now, I’ll tell you about my second friend. Facing the courtyard was the apartment of a pot maker. I’ve always been fascinated by those who can fashion materials into various shapes just for the purpose of telling a story or for sheer
aesthetic pleasure. To me, Mr. John-John was an artist, having the ability to form pots, pans, utensils, and bake ware out of aluminum. Up to this day, I can’t look on my pots and pans without fondly remembering my numerous encounters with Mr. John-John. Mr. John-John didn’t need a pattern to make his pans. Mostly, he made them by “feel” and sheer brilliance. He sold most of his pans to various people in the area for a small fee. It was fascinating to watch how Mr. John-John bent and shaped aluminum into whatever he imagined in his head. All his pots and pans were one of a kind and so was he. Truly, they don't make them like Mr. John-John anymore.
Duppy When I was little there were two activities that I was unfortunately always forced to do: go to school and go to bed. I’ve already explained why I hated school so now I’ll take a little moment to share with you why I despised being told to go to sleep. Being the younger sibling has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, I was the cute little sister who brought a smile to your face and could not do any wrong. (Some have theorized that the novelty of having a child disappears after the firstborn so by the time the second child comes around, we can get away with a lot). Whenever there was any trouble, my mother would call for my big sister, Raylene, and talk to her about it. I didn’t have to worry about such things. You see, I was born to have fun and live free of responsibilities. I didn’t have any real chores to do. I only watched other people do them and provided the entertainment they needed to keep
them motivated. Life was beautiful and it was my desire to let everyone know it; that is, until night time came around. Night time was prime time in our house. That’s when mom took us home, gave us our dinner, and talked with other grownups like my aunt and my grandmother about happenings in life. I found grownup conversation to be quite interesting, because every now and then, something we little kids were not supposed to hear slipped out of their mouths. We’d know this to be so by the sudden silence that would follow a particular remark or the frightened look in the eyes of those in the conversation. It was usually at this point that the dreaded question would be raised—“Are the children in bed yet?” If the answer was no, the first name to be called was mine. “Christine, sweetie! It’s time for you to go to bed now,” Mummy would say. To that I had only one reply. “But, Mummy, I’m not sleepy yet. Please let me stay up a little longer,” I’d plead. “Remember, you have to get up early to go to school tomorrow,” she reminded me. She acted as if I cared about school. If I never returned to school again I doubt I’d shed a single tear. No, not one! “Christine, you must go to your bed now,” she said matter-of-factly.
Every child knows, by looking at non-verbal clues, when their parent is open to negotiation. That night my mum was as closed to negotiation as Castro was to democracy. But I didn’t care. “How come Raylene gets to stay up longer than me?” I asked. “Raylene is three years older than you. She does not have to go to bed at the same time as you,” she replied. Feeling a sense of injustice, I did what younger siblings do best. “That’s not fair!” I cried. “I want to stay up too!” I could tell that I was wearing out my mother’s patience, but I needed to explain the unfairness of her actions in this very serious matter. After all, nothing in the world was as important an issue as the matter at hand. Pulling me away from all the excitement of the night life which caused me to miss out on fun was almost criminal in my book. I mean, why should one person be singled out for exclusion, leaving the rest to roam freely into the night to do whatever they please just on the basis of age? That is discrimination! I was being unfairly treated. “I don’t want to go to bed!” I bawled. And just in case they didn’t quite grasp my point the first time, I reiterated it with emphasis. “I don’t want to go to bed!” I screamed.
If it was going to be the last thing I was going to do in this life, I was going to stay up that night ‘til I saw the light of dawn. I was determined to do this even if I had to prop up both my eyelids with bamboo sticks. Didn’t they realize that my room was pitch black and scary? Who in their right mind would tell their little girl to go to bed alone in a dark and scary room for an entire night? That just didn’t seem to make any sense. And besides, I never went to sleep right away. Finding a comfy spot takes time and effort and I really wasn’t up to it that night. I’d much rather stay up with Raylene and the grownups to see what I would be missing if I were in bed. Realizing that I had made a firm stand on my argument, my mother resorted to trickery. But before I continue, I must preface this portion of the story by saying that my beautiful and loving mother has never before or since resorted to scare tactics to get me into compliance. My mother called me closer to her and said in a spooky voice, “You’d better go to your bed or the Duppy Man will get you!” Frozen with fear, my eyes began to well up with tears. Up to this day, I have no idea how my mother could tell me such a thing with a straight face. “The Duppy Man?” My voice cracked as I
questioned her. “Yes, the Duppy Man,” she nodded twice. A few seconds passed as I imagined a scary duppy flying around my bed because I didn’t go to sleep right away. Reluctantly, I gave my mother my hand and she led me to my bedroom where it was dark and lonely. After taking a few steps into the room, I saw a huge white duppy walking slowly toward me. From the pitch black scary room it made low moans with a slow vibrato and sounded like an old man one minute shy of his grave. Terrified, I screamed and ran behind my mother’s skirt for protection. Realizing that I was truly frightened, my mother and grandmother began to laugh uncontrollably at my reaction to their trick. The whole thing was confusing to me because I thought that my mother was going to fight the duppy and kung fu him out of my room. But when I finally worked up the courage to allow one of my eyes to slowly open, I saw my grandmother come from under the white sheet that she used to scare me. Granny was the duppy. Needless to say, I never quarreled with my mother about being told to go to bed anymore. I decided from then on that I’d go to sleep in her bed as often as possible. This way, I was positive that no duppy could ever scare me again and my comfy spot was assured being cuddled right next to my mummy.
A Mysterious Brew When I was six years old, I developed a persistent cold that refused to go away. As the days and weeks passed, my cough sounded more like the low tones of an angry bear than a little girl. It became more difficult to breathe because I felt my air passages constricting and that caused my chest to hurt. My mother took me to Andrews Hospital in Kingston to see the doctor. His name was Dr. Ramasing, a man of Indian descent. But our visit only diagnosed my problem. A solution was not found at that time. “This is the worst case of pneumonia I have ever seen!” Dr. Ramasing declared. “Your daughter needs to be admitted in a hospital right away. I recommend that she goes to the specialized Children’s Hospital for chest complications,” he added. With that pronouncement, my mother and I left Andrews Hospital and shortly thereafter, gained admittance to the Children’s Chest Hospital to get medical help with my bout of pneumonia.
I didn’t know what being admitted to a hospital entailed, but I sure found out the first night when my mother kissed me goodbye and left me alone in the care of nurses. The nurses spoke kindly and softly to us children, but they couldn’t replace the warmth of my mother. They didn’t know how I liked to be tucked in, and they couldn’t cuddle me and kiss me like my Mummy did. It was a cold and lonely night on the floor where I slept and when I looked around there seemed to be a sea of beds with other sick little children covered in white sheets. That night I dreamed of the time that my mother took my sister and me on an outing to visit her good friend, Naomi. Her house was on a large piece of land with numerous acres of trees. While my mother was in the house visiting with her friend, my sister and I would romp around the fields playing hide and seek and any other game we could think of. Sometimes we would climb up a tree. My problem was in getting back down because my navigational skills were always a little shaky. There was a big bull named Hector who always remained behind a wooded fence. He didn't seem to have any friends so I figured that I should go into his pen to introduce myself. Now, it just so happened that I was wearing my favorite dress at the time for our visit with Naomi. It was a bright, rich red dress with tiny white polka dots. My sleeves had a slight poof to them but my
greatest enjoyment came from the flare I got from the bottom of my dress when I twirled around. I loved to do that so much that I did it over and over again. Raylene hadn’t realized that I had lingered behind her until she heard my frantic screams. You see, I had slipped into the bull’s pen and began walking toward Hector. And it didn’t take long before I saw Hector digging one of his paws into the ground. Prior to this experience, no one had ever explained to me what bulls do before they charged, so that was my first lesson that day. The look in Hector’s eyes stopped me cold in my tracks and instinctively I knew that something bad was about to happen. Hector charged quickly toward me. Now, that was the second lesson I learned that day. A bull may be big but he can surely run very fast. At full speed, Hector came toward me to get me out of his pen. He really didn’t need to convince me to make an exit because I was more than happy to oblige. But I was paralyzed with fear so I screamed. When I did so, Raylene suddenly turned around and instructed me to get out of Hector’s pen. “Christine!” she shouted. “Run to the fence and get out!” I’m sure I outran Hector that day because in a second, I was out of his pen, never to return again. Now I understood why Hector was all alone without any friends. Suffice it to say, I did not have my best sleep
on my first night in the Children’s Chest Hospital with memories of a charging bull invading my thoughts. I soon learned that the new plan of action regarding my care involved an invasive procedure to scrape the thick mucus off my lungs. My condition seemed resistant to conventional drugs and my wheezing intensified. When the morning of my procedure came, I waited for my mother to arrive. I told my nurse that I knew that my mummy wanted to see me before I went into the operating room. For a short while, the attendants noted my request but before long, I was given medication to make me go to sleep. With sheer willpower, I fought the effects of these drugs as long and as hard as I humanly could so that I could see my mother before being wheeled into an operating room. In my fight to remain conscious I began to see everything in doubles. Perhaps my doctors questioned the effectiveness of their drugs because when I was eventually placed on a gurney and wheeled into the operating room, I was still alert and conducted conversation with the leading physician. “What’s that?” I asked while looking at the numerous instruments. I may have been six, but I believed I had the right to ask what all the sparkling knives and clamps were going to be used for. I don’t recall an answer
from the doctor so I imagine that my fight to stay awake had come to an abrupt end. I awoke to find two hospital workers looking over me and I began to feel afraid. My mother soon came to my bedside to comfort me and explained that the doctors had decided not to perform the procedure anymore but recommended that I see a respiratory therapist. Mrs. Putty was an extremely well-skilled therapist who knew her job well. She had an uncanny ability to relate to children. Mrs. Putty was also blind. With her help, I began to cough up a little of what seemed to be embedded in my chest since I became ill. However little, I enjoyed the progress that I was making. Meanwhile, the members of my church began to pray for God’s healing in my life. I was not out of the woods yet and their prayers were much needed. As the saying goes, “Be careful what you pray for” because the answer God sent came straight from left field. While visiting with Granny Lynn one day she offered to make a special tea for me. This special tea was supposedly made from a plant that grew in a nearby bush. Granny Lynn had taken care of my mother when she was a little girl so we never questioned her good intentions. In a few minutes, Granny Lynn approached my mother and me with a steaming hot cup of a brown brew.
Apparently she had been boiling it in a pot in her kitchen in preparation for our visit. She handed me the cup and after smelling its contents, I decided that I could not drink it. But Granny Lynn and my mother had other ideas and when they shared them, I had to comply. As if I had any choice in the matter, my mother commanded, “Drink it!” And so I did. I held my breath and drank the horrendous brew as fast as I could. I didn’t see any sense in prolonging the experience. I wanted to end it as quickly as possible. After a few days had passed, every resemblance of my cold exited my system, and I was not only restored to good health, I was better than I ever was before. In fact, I didn’t have another cold for at least ten years since drinking that tea. It was later in my teenage years that I discovered the main ingredient of Granny Lynn’s brew. It’s not an ingredient that I would ever use again but one with healing properties that can never be refuted.
Dunn’s River Falls With the heart of the little train that could, there I was, barefooted on slippery wet rocks following an upward trail of excited tourists to the top of Dunn’s River Falls. For the natives, the climb was another form of exercise; not really a challenge. We had reached the top several times over. But for tourists who placed this on their ‘must do’ list while on their tour of Jamaica, every step was made with awe and wonder and at times, trepidation. Our church group of over fifteen adults and a handful of children walked hand in hand, clad in bathing suits, carefully and ever so slowly ascending the rocks one by one. Water appeared to gush out from everywhere and at times it seemed to want to prevent the climbers from moving higher. But with determination and a competent guide, all climbers made it to the top and were able to get the coveted T-shirt which boasted: “I Climbed Dunn’s River Falls.”
Climbing sure works up a big appetite and at the earliest possible opportunity, the group dispersed to take care of this need. But no one had to go very far. Vendors were positioned at nearly every corner selling all the Jamaican delicacies: festival, fried fish, jerk chicken, dumplin, plantain, bun and cheese, and so much more. And of course, Bob Marley’s music was blasting loudly enough for everyone to hear. Off in an open field, men played cricket and soccer. It was obvious that they took their game seriously because of the level of concentration exhibited by the intensity on their faces. And if that didn’t give it away, one could observe that they brought their uniforms, bats, shin guards, gloves and head gear. It was an impressive sight to see. Not long after the climb I managed to find my way to the shallow part of the water below. The crystal clear water almost seemed to have a magnetic pull to beach goers. But it’s not as if I needed much encouragement to go in. At eight years old, I knew the rules: stay in the shallow part of the water. But every islander knows that the shallow part of the water actually extends several feet. In fact, if you walked several feet away from the shore, you’d still be in shallow water and see your own toes below. That day I took a long time to walk around and look at sea shells. I suppose I wanted to take in all of its beauty because
somehow I knew that I would not be seeing it again for a very long time.
The tension in the air was as thick as molasses, not to mention the worried look in my grandfatherâ€™s eyes. His silence gave it away. All I wanted was to see my mother and have her tuck me into bed once again. But for one night in my life as a little girl, that didn't happen. My sister and I were at my grandfatherâ€™s home waiting for our mother to return. From time to time the adults in the room whispered together, but I managed to overhear some of what they were saying. I learned that my mother was in a crowded minivan on her way home but the roads had been blocked off. There was a threat of danger because she and the other passengers were not allowed to pass through the streets that night. Political activists had thrown tires onto the streets and had set them on fire. Travelers were blocked from going to their destination and this was done to protest the rising gas prices. I later learned that Noel, our family friend, was
also on the minivan. Fortunately, he knew some of the protesters and this aided in de-escalating the situation. Thankfully, no harm came to my mother or to the other passengers. Although she and others were not permitted to drive on the roads, by the break of day they were granted permission to resume their journey. There was some political upheaval going on in Jamaica at that time between persons from opposing parties. It was during this time that my father, who was studying at a university in America, sent for us to live with him. He was near completing his accounting degree, had already secured a good paying job and had made a down payment on a house. This was always the plan: for my father to pave the way in America and then send for his family to live with him. For our family, it was the right time to leave. But saying goodbye to relatives that you love is not easy. In particular, it was traumatic for me to leave Genava behind because she and I were so close. There seemed to be such a huge hole in my heart at the thought of leaving her behind. The pain was indescribable. I wondered what ever happened to Lynford and his sweetheart and imagined the new dishes Ms. Tilson would be cooking. Maybe she opened her own restaurant. If she ever decided to do that, her only problem would be to keep up with the demands of her very large clientele. I still had Mr. Johnny on my mind and was curious to know if he was able to keep his minivan running for a
very long time. Did he continue to scare his passengers almost to death? And what ever happened to Noel? Did he open his own garage? And what about my first two friends, Mrs. Claffy and Mr. John-John? Did they die soon after we left Jamaica? I wanted to find the answers to all of these questions but the economic and political situation was pushing us out and my fatherâ€™s new opportunities for economic advancement were pulling us to America.
Stranger To travel across the seas was a big deal for a Jamaican. For weeks prior to our leaving the island, my mother consulted a dress maker to make special traveling clothes for her two daughters to wear on our trip to America. I mean, you can’t just travel on a plane across the seas looking like a poor thing. The idea was to step foot onto American soil with dignity, so we wore some of our best clothes to travel on the plane to America. That’s how Jamaicans traveled back then. But it didn’t take long for me to realize how remarkably overdressed we were. Americans on our plane were mostly dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt. I distinctly remember looking down on Americans as having a low class dress code. I felt sorry for them for it was obvious that they were unaware of how self-respecting people should be dressed when flying.
As I looked around, I was amazed at how white people actually looked. Now, donâ€™t get me wrong. Many Whites live in Jamaica. The island is a mixture of people of African, Indian, Asian and European descent. But no one looks pale in Jamaica, courtesy of the hot sun. I began to feel cold, somehow, while looking at the pale skin color of the white folks on our plane. It seemed unnatural to me. Fortunately, my mother had the foresight to have told us to bring a sweater for our travels so I was able to warm up as I snuggled next to her. The plane took off from the runway and I made a point to look down on my beautiful homeland that I was leaving behind. My last thought was that of my dearest cousin, Genava. She and I shared secrets, blew bubblegum together, played hide and seek and ran around the yard together. We were as close as sisters so I missed her most of all. My heart was sad and broken at the thought that I no longer would play with her each day. If I had my choice, I would have stayed on the island and lived there forever, but my father and mother had other plans. For the Caribbean immigrant, it is not entirely unusual for the head of household to enter the desired country first and leave the children behind in the care of trusted family or close friends. Then after he has worked and earned enough money, he sends for his children to join him. This practice has been named
“serial migration, which is the practice of individual family members migrating sequentially” (Mitchell, N., & Bryan, J. p. 401). In our family, my father migrated to America first, worked low paying jobs throughout the day and attended school at night. He was determined to provide a comfortable life for himself and his family, and at the right time, he sent for us to come to America and live with him. Despite these noble intentions, children experience life altering changes when they have to adjust to the structure of a new household. They reunite with their mothers or fathers and are placed in a new school setting where they understand English perfectly but often speak in a dialect. Sciarra (1999) states that “this reunion of young adolescents with biological parents who have not held an active parental role with the child can lessen family stability, especially when the biological parents are attempting to discipline a child with whom they have spent little time” (Sciarra, D., 1999 p. 31 – 41). Conflicts may arise between the child and his “new” parents in the area of discipline. After years of having my mother as the only disciplinarian, my father suddenly became the head of our household and disciplinarian. The transition was anything but smooth which added much stress to my life as a child and as a student. My father was no more than
a stranger to me. I was unaccustomed to having a man in our lives who was now responsible for our care. From the first time we met him, he established himself as the one in charge of discipline. His version of discipline was drastically different from my motherâ€™s and it created much unhappiness in my life for many years to come. Up until then, I only knew my mother and my sister as my nuclear family. My father was a distant stranger who we spoke of fondly as one who cared for us and who would send us gifts from America. He was an accomplished pianist who from the first day we arrived in this country, told us that it was mandatory that we learned to play the piano. Fortunately, despite the manner that music was initially introduced to me, I developed a passion for music that served as a vehicle for self expression that has continually been a source of personal enrichment. Our school provided no counselor to help our family during this period of transition in our lives. I was a frightened child in a new country with a new parent and no friends. I had more emotions than words to describe them. I was insecure about my future in a foreign land.
Mr. Yampolski Great teachers are a rare breed, but I was fortunate to encounter the best of the best, the crĂ¨me of the crop, when I first entered the American public school system. His name is Mr. Yampolski and he was my fourth grade teacher. He was a kind, fair, intuitive and understanding gentleman who was a blessing to me and to all of his fourth grade students. I did not find his class challenging in the least but I did find his kindness and care for me to be worth remembering. One of the things that I will always be grateful to Mr. Yampolski for was that every night, he required his students to read a short story from a prescribed book and then write a paragraph or two in our own words about what we had read. This not only helped to develop my reading comprehension skills, but my writing and spelling grew to a new level as well. I can honestly say that Mr. Yampolski planted a seed in my life to
write that grew into my love for journaling, writing poetry and later on being the author of several books. His nightly homework requirements improved my writing abilities to the point where I developed the confidence to put on paper my thoughts and feelings. The British system of education, for the most part, which was adapted by Jamaica, was a far more academically rigorous program than that of the American education system when I first entered the country. I was consistently placed on the honor role for high achievement in every subject but I could not understand why. What I achieved I did so without effort. Therefore, I did not develop an appreciation for being placed on a list to indicate academic distinction. Truly, I did not care about grades at that time. I was simply trying to find my way through a new school system and a new country. When I first entered my class and was asked to participate in their activities, my classmates quickly realized that I spoke differently than they did. The difference was also clearly evident during casual conversations between myself and my classmates. Feeling a little hungry one late morning, I asked a classmate, Imani, what time it was. “How much a’ clock?” I asked. “What?” she questioned with a puzzled look. Thinking that she did not hear me I repeated
my question. “How much a’ clock?” “What?” she again asked. That’s when it hit me. I spoke to my friend in Jamaican patois because I felt comfortable with her as a friend. That’s what Jamaicans do. Because I was from a home with educated parents, I was able to quickly make an adjustment in my communication and then asked my question again. “What time is it?” Imani never raised the issue with me so I can only assume that she just thought that she did not hear me well the first two times I asked her the question. I was spared embarrassment and ridicule by having the ability to speak in Standard English so that communication between myself and my teacher or myself and my classmates was never hindered. I did have an accent and there was one girl in my class who was uncomfortable with what she perceived to be different. She thought it was her job to make my life a hellish experience. One day after returning from lunch, Mr. Yampolski instructed us to have a seat. Standing in front of my chair I sat down as he told us to only to land harshly on the cold hard ground. The class erupted in laughter because the mean girl had purposely pulled my chair from behind me to make sure of my fall. I was stunned at this level of cruelty and could not understand why anyone would try to do me harm.
I remained on the ground for a few seconds wanting to cry at what had happened and also because the sudden fall had caused my tailbone to hurt. I also felt betrayed by my classmates for laughing at me even after I displayed signs of being in pain. As soon as Mr. Yampolski realized what had taken place, he summoned the mean girl to the front of the room. He yanked her by the back of her shirt color, took her outside the hallway and scolded her. I was happy that my teacher stood up for me and that the mean girlâ€™s actions were not ignored. He made sure that I was okay and I was grateful for that. In my short time in America, I had assessed that this was a strange country with cold-blooded children living in it. They seemed to have a toughness to them that I could not identify with nor did I ever want to. I was used to playing little girl games, but American children seemed to be in a big hurry to grow up. I did not fit in well. I didnâ€™t belong.
Truant My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Pendish, had a penchant for reading dark and dreary themes. Edgar Allen Poe was her favorite author so she assigned her students to read, “The Cask of the Amontillado,” along with some of his other works. Mrs. Pendish led us to analyze this work by Poe frontways, sideways, upside and the backside of every line, phrase and sentence. She may have had an itch for us to analyze commas and periods, but she somehow managed to restrain herself. Now, don’t get me wrong. Poe is one of the greatest American writers in my opinion. I just didn’t want to focus my thoughts on death, evil, or revenge. For the first few years of my life living in a foreign country, I never really felt as though I was a part of that country. I was already a bit sad during my transition and Poe’s depressing themes did not help me much at the time. If only my teacher could mix things up with more upbeat and
hopeful themes. In retrospect, Mrs. Penish usually appeared to be a bit depressed herself. She often screamed at us and I do not seem to recall her smiling. No, I have no recollection of her ever showing her teeth. Math class with Mr. Coolidge was no different despite the fact that he was handsome. He was also a very strict teacher who students rarely fell out of line with. And even if they did take that risk, they were so quickly reminded about who they were dealing with that they were discouraged from a repeat performance. What I found to be strange was the fact that the influence he had on children in class didn’t extend to outside the classroom. Fights occurred during the transition from one class to another. It was during these times that I discovered the “n” word for the first time. I learned the power of the “n” word while listening to two boys talking one day. This was not a word that was used in Jamaica but in America; it was a word that practically guaranteed being punched in the nose by an African American. That intrigued me because I had always been taught that it’s not what people call you but what you answer to. I did not understand the animosity that African Americans appeared to have had towards Whites. I later learned that our experiences were somewhat different. Jamaicans also experienced
slavery some time before but when it was abolished we took control over our country, and later gaining independence in 1962. I grew up seeing people of color being prime ministers, models, news anchors, singers and more. To me, hearing statements like ‘Black is Beautiful’ was strange because in my mind, that was an already established fact. I could not comprehend why some Blacks felt the need to shout that statement on the hilltops as if to convince others that it is true. In my mind, I couldn’t imagine another group of people who could be as beautiful as Black people. After all, they come in all shades. In America, it appeared that many persons of color were not free to truly live and be. They carried the burden of an imposed identity; the residual effects of slavery and dehumanizing Jim Crow laws. But the Jamaican, who has not experienced this, believes that he is unstoppable; that he can climb every mountain and cross every sea. To him, there are no barriers between him and those in the dominant group. As one saying goes, “I may bow to you now but I’m going to rule you later.” All that is needed is the opportunity to do so. My Math class had the same exhausting effect on me even though our new curriculum combined algebra with logic and geometry. One would think
that that would make things interesting, but it didnâ€™t. I resented sitting in the same spot for each class, keeping still for the entire time, and listening to a boring teacher go over the same old problems. To combat my boredom I brought books to entertain myself while the teacher retaught previous lessons to insure his class learned them well. He wanted to prepare us for our upcoming citywide exam. It was my unwritten policy to not do homework at home. This activity I reserved for my classes. For example, I did my English homework during my math class and my math assignments were completed during social studies. Between passing notes to friends and reading a novel, I was able to make it through. I realized that I was mentally checking out of school as the months went by. I could not take it anymore, but I was expected to go so I went. That is until I had a run-in with Sherita Exum. From the first day that Sherita met me, she told me that she did not like me because she thought I was pretty. I didnâ€™t know what to do with this newly found information so I did not respond to her. Every now and again she would say unkind things to me, but I ignored her and hoped that she would leave me alone. I need to tell you a bit about Sherita Exum. Sherita was a street kid who was part of a gang of middle school
and high school aged students. One day, during Art class, I noticed that Sherita was taking off her earrings and she began to cornrow her hair. She was quite a hairdresser at that age and she did a very good job with her hair. Puzzled at her actions but not particularly interested, I continued doing my art assignment. Nearing the closing school bell I looked up and realized that there was cause for alarm. You see, after she cornrowed her hair and took off her earrings and chain, Sherita greased down her face and neck. Sherita looked like someone preparing for war and she was. One boy in our class made the announcement that Sherita had told a girl in another class that she was going to beat her up, pull out her hair and scratch her face with her long fingernails. In preparation for their encounter, Sherita greased up her face and neck so that when her opponent tried to scratch her, her hands would slide right off. Sherita was a warrior from the hood and everybody knew it. I was told that Sherita prevailed in her battle that day and I decided to stay clear of her. Unfortunately, Sherita did not oblige. She tried to get me into an argument with her to justify wanting to beat me up, but that didnâ€™t work. I simply walked away. Then one day, she plainly stated that she was going to beat me up because she thought that I was pretty and I also thought that I was better than her. In my defense, I had never said such things or even thought them. But I have learned that when someone hates you for no reason, they will create one. And thatâ€™s what Sherita did.
Sherita was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my life. I was bored to tears with school and found it to be a senseless place to visit each day. I constantly felt like an outsider of the American culture and did not fit in with the values or the pace of every day life. My classmates seemed cold and hard, especially Sherita, who was bent on doing me bodily harm and on top of that, I had not adjusted to my new home life with my father as the head of our home. All these factors converged upon me and I made a conscious decision to remove myself entirely from school. To me, school was pointless and unnecessary and I was an extremely unhappy child. I was truant from school for almost three months of my life. Being truant in the winter time is not ideal. In our home, my mother was the first one to leave and then my sister followed her. That’s because Raylene was in high school at the time and her classes started earlier than mine. My biggest problem was with my father. He was the disciplinarian. Although I was terrified of him, at that time, I hated school more. I was the next person in the house to leave so I would usually tell my father goodbye as he was getting ready in the bathroom in the mornings. I knew he would be listening out for me to close the front door so I would oblige by closing it loud enough for him to hear. “Bye, Daddy,” I dutifully said. “Bye, Christine,” he always answered.
In the beginning of my truancy I pretended to walk toward school every morning. I waited at bus stops pretending I was catching a bus, or I walked around the area for hours until it was time to return home. One terrifying encounter with a man of obvious ill intent convinced me that that was unsafe for a child. Driving up close to me at a bus stop, a man of about thirty years or more called out to get my attention. “Hey you!” he yelled. I quickly turned my head hoping he would drive away and leave me alone. I had never met the man so I felt I owed him no response. My mother always told us not to talk to strangers. “Hey, girl! Come here!” he said. The man motioned with his arm for me to walk toward his car and ride with him. I was too afraid to speak. I continued to turn my head away from him. “I know you,” he insisted. “I know your mother. She was at the party last night,” he continued. If there was ever a doubt in my mind about this man, his final comment confirmed that he was making up a story. My mother has always been a devout Christian who did not attend a single party where that man could possibly have been invited. Recognizing my resistance, the man suddenly became very frustrated and angry. “Come here, girl! Come here!”
Although I became frightened, I stood my ground at the bus stop, avoided his eyes and prayed that he would go away and never come back and thatâ€™s what he did. He drove off speedily, seemingly angry at his inability to get me into his car and drive off with me. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if he had succeeded in taking me away, but out of emotional preservation, my imagination refuses to go further than the bus stop. After that unsettling incident, I realized that walking around the streets of Brooklyn can be an extremely unsafe thing to do so I came up with another plan. I still got dressed each morning to pretend to go to school. But when I left, I watched the time carefully because I had calculated when my father would leave our home to go to work. When I was satisfied that he had already left to go to work I went back home and stayed in the warmth of our house for hours until my sister arrived home from school. By the way, I hid from Raylene too when she came home. She never had any idea that I was hiding in the closet when she came home. But come to think of it, I was hiding from everybody back then: my parents, teachers, Sherita, my sister, and most of all, myself. As the weeks and days passed by I grew tired of leaving and returning home so I devised yet another plan. Our downstairs closet was packed with several thick coats, shoes, boots and shovels. I decided to organize the closet
in such a way so that I could hide myself in it until my father left our home. This way, I didnâ€™t have to leave home at all. I could just pretend to leave by slamming our front door, hide in the closet and wait for my father to leave. Thatâ€™s exactly what I did. I hid in the corner of the closet using the largest shovel to hide my feet below. So when my father opened the closet to take out his coat for work, I was just an arms length away from him and he never knew it. As soon as he left the house, I waited for just a minute or two to make sure that he was gone and then exited the closet and began my stay at home. This was a much better arrangement than parading up and down Brooklyn streets until the school bell rang. I was able to watch television, read books that I liked, and get an afternoon nap. My parents, like most other new immigrants, had to work long hours in order to earn enough money to ensure our survival. Because of this, they didn't detect my challenging transitional issues. During this troubled time in my life, I began to call out to God in a way I had never called out to Him before. In my desperate state, He became all the more real to me. I know this will sound rather strange and perhaps a little comical, but God reached me through our family cat. At that time, we had a cat named Razmataz who became my confidant. When I was unable to share my feelings of fear and anxiety with anyone, Razmataz, strangely enough, seemed to understand. When I was particularly sad, she would rub against my feet more and jump on my lap to stroke her. Razmataz and I watched
television together. For me, it was an escape from the reality I had to face each morning. Each new day was like a nightmareâ€”another day of pretending to go to school, hiding out during school hours and lying about what happened in school. It was emotionally exhausting trying to keep up with a life filled with deception. Not that this justifies what I did but at that time, I felt as if I was drowning in a sea of loneliness and despair and I was vulnerable enough to do whatever I beleived it took to survive. I often couldn't think beyond each day and questioned whether or not I could actually make it from night to morning. I have always had a love for the piano and I longed to play when I was home alone. However, our town home, had thin walls and our neighbor, who was home during the day, would have surely told my parents that they had heard someone playing the piano. It was painful to be so near the emotional outlet I needed at the time but not being able to make use of it. For as long as possible, I tried to delay the inevitable. Mail was delivered directly to our home and I intercepted all letters that came in. After several weeks of being truant from school I began seeing letters from my school addressed to my parents. I opened these letters and learned for the first time the word, TRUANT. It was such a strange word to me when I first saw it, but it didnâ€™t take
long for me to understand what it meant. In the letter, it listed the number of days I was absent from school and then came the request from the principal to meet with my parents. I never forwarded a single letter to my family and I am still unclear how they discovered my arrangement. Many days and weeks went by before I was finally found out and my parents told me that they were going to take me to meet with the principal the next day. If it were up to me, I would have continued being truant from school for much longer than three months, but it had abruptly come to an end. The burden of pretending was weighing heavily on me and as much as I despised school and was unhappy about other things in my life, I was most grateful to have had the opportunity to end my charade and get on to the business of living an authentic life. After meeting with the principal, I was terrified that my father would punish me, but he didnâ€™t. I guess he figured that I had already learned my lesson and it was time to move on. I did, however, notice that he checked the closet one morning to see if I was in there. I had not left home yet, and upon observing this, I found it rather amusing. I returned to school to face the same boring math problems, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sherita. It was as if I had never left in the first place; as if time had stood still. My class was not ahead of me in
any way. The only thing that changed was that Sherita had a change of heart. Although she still was not pleased that I was a pretty girl, she had no desire to beat me up any longer. Her anger had diminished from the last time I had seen her. I think both she and I went through transformations that year.
Monsieur Monsieur High School did little to alter my impressions of school but my interest perked up when I entered my French class for the first time. Prior to High school, I had taken three consecutive years of French in middle school. Prior to high school I had studied French for three consecutive years, but French suddenly came alive for me in the person of Monsieur Moise. Monsieur was a magnificent specimen; a tall dark and handsome gentleman. As an eleventh grader, I was captivated by his muscular physique, boyish good looks and self-assured tone. Monsieur had my undivided attention; not so much on my school work, but most certainly on him. With every opportunity, I greeted him in French so as to demonstrate my love for the language. I donâ€™t recall much of what he said in class. I was too mesmerized by him to be concerned about the minor details of a lesson. I
thought that my crush on my teacher was a secret known only to myself until one day, he looked at me with an embarrassed smile acknowledging that he had caught me. If only I were a bird to fly far, far away! After months of trying to hide my crush on him I was found out. But as I look back, propping my head up in my hand and practically drooling at my teacher was a near dead give away. Thankfully, Monsieur Maurice never confronted me with his discovery. I do believe I would have instantly fainted had he done so. As time went on, I refused to look at Monsieur Moise in the eye. I decided to keep my head down and bury my eyes in my books. That worked for the most part with the exception of my occasional stolen glances at Monsieur Moise. But whenever he would catch my eye, I would quickly turn away. I am thankful for my parents, the good looks of Monsieur Moise and the encouragement of my other teachers. I had â€˜checked outâ€™ of school many years before, but I had began to sense the urgency to prepare for my future. Deep down inside, I knew I was going to make a mark in the world. I still studied for tests the night before and managed to pull out a decent grade. I remember my course in psychology had gone by the entire year without once opening my textbook. Up to this day, the fact that I passed through high school without ever flunking a class is still a mystery. I never worked for a
single grade and rarely ever studied for a test except in times of utter desperation such as my final test in psychology. Much of my school life, with the exception of my three months of truancy, is a blur. In my final year, I was led by God to apply to a university in the midwest. I was accepted and my life has been extremely enhanced as a result of this decision. I majored in Music Performance and performed in several solo recitals. I befriended students from at least twenty or more countries, developed my musical talents further and became a trained educator. I may have mentally checked out of school for many years, but I am most grateful for the attractiveness of Monsieur Maurice to have kindled a fire within my heart for French and for the encouragement of my family to reach for the stars that has endured throughout my educational journey.
“Must Have 10 Jobs” The story is told of a fellow who asked for a young lady’s hand in marriage. Being a respectable young man, he asked his intended to introduce him to her father so that he could tell him a little about himself and why he wanted to marry his daughter. The young man shared with the father his many travels, his educational accomplishments, and his current occupation. Pridefully, the young man declared that he also worked on the weekends and was saving up his money so he could one day buy a house for his future bride. He continued by sharing some of his great dreams but was abruptly interrupted by the girl’s father. “Wait, wait, wait!” the father began. “How much job yuh say yuh have?” With his head held high the young man replied, “I have a full time job during the week and I also work on weekends so I can save my….” Once again, the young man was not allowed to continue because the young lady’s father rudely interrupted him. But this time, the father looked
as if he would charge at the young man. The young man could not comprehend what was going on so he asked the father if he had said something wrong. The father was not pleased with the young man’s line of questioning. “I am the only one fi ask questions in here!” he shouted. “Yes, sir!’ the young man quickly responded. “Boy, where yu from?” the father asked. “Sir, I was born in Kingston and…” he began. Again, the boy was interrupted. “You mean fi tell me that you are a Jamaican and you only have two job!” the father started. “Is what kind of Jamaican yuh be?” he inquired. “It is a well known fact that every Jamaican must have at least ten jobs!” he continued. “You cannot marry my daughter; she will starve with your work ethics!” “But sir,” he began. “But nothing!” the father replied. “Out de door yu go and out mi daughter’s life!” I wasn’t told this story while growing up. I suppose it was something that I understood from watching my father. For as long as I can remember, my father worked during the day as an accountant, a piano teacher on most evenings, conducted choir rehearsals on Thursday and Friday nights, and played for church on Saturday and Sunday mornings. And from time to time, he worked at helping people file their taxes for which they paid
him. That was normal in our home and I am no different. There has always been a burning fire within me to succeed. There is a quote by Ellen White that has always propelled me forward. She states that “the development of all our talents is our first duty we owe to God.” With this understanding, I cannot be lax in how I live my life. The talents God has given me for music, writing, art, poetry, speaking, counseling, teaching, and other things must be developed to their highest potential. Success is a given when I stick to this formula. Develop the gifts that God has given me and I will be successful. Proverbs 18:16 clearly states that “A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men” (KJV). I have been guilty of being a workaholic at times because I am so driven to be my best and accomplish everything that I believe I have been born to do. I have had many of my dreams fulfilled along the way. I have performed with an orchestra. I have written a music piece for the organ titled “Fanfare” which was performed by one of the finest organists who ever lived, Dr. C. Warren Becker. I have composed a choral work titled “Psalm 23,” which was performed by my university choir and played on the religious radio station. In addition, I composed a setting for stringed instruments titled, “Variations for a Heart Yearning to Burst Free.” I have been tremendously blessed to be the author of now seven books. I preach whenever I can in various denominations, give seminars on education topics and also on life improvement, and
I am about to complete my doctorate in education. One of my biggest accomplishments is, despite the fact that America labels some citizens as minorities, which for some, carries negative connotations, I have never been enslaved by the perceptions of simple-minded people. I am free to be who I am, independent of preconceived ideas or misguided projections. My identity, which was mostly formed in Jamaica, has remained intact. I am and will always be a Jamaican. “Out of many, one people.” If there is a just cause, I will fight. If you hold prejudice in your heart against me, I know that the problem is in you. When obstacles arise, I know that with God’s power flowing through me, they are removed. I am neither fearful nor can I be deterred by anyone’s devices or tactics against me. I will continue to achieve all of what God wants me to achieve in the life that He has given me. Proverbs says, “There is no insight or wisdom that can succeed against the Lord.” I am a child of God and I am safely in His care. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to live in this country. I am very loyal to America and its ideals. However, in my soul, I will always be a Jamaican.
“Jamaica Me” Questions of identity come every now an den You mus be ready fi declare who yuh be mi fren Yu try fi dodge the question ‘cause yu say yuh too shy Fi give a clear account fi yuself before yuh ever die. Since yu at a loss fi words mek we tek dis very slow. “I was born in Kingston an der is where I grow. Mi fadda was a butcher man and mi madda sewed we clothes We wonder weh him money go but only him really knows. Mi bredda and mi sista pick mangoes from de tree But I prefer to wait til fimme come to me There’s tambrine, guineap and guava too All so delicious; the ones mino like are few.
Mi moder favor chocolate; mi fader look like cream Mi broder like an almond, him somewhere in between Mi sister is to hazelnut what mi cousin is to tar ‘Out of many, one people both near and far’ De climate is so nice almost all year round Sof breeze, cool winds mek whispers of a sound Coconut trees dem strong and tan up very tall' But look up an watch yuh head for dem wi fall. Many famous heroes we proudly call our own Garvey, Manley, Seaga, our soil has grown Den dere's Ananci, duppy and pantomime too Miss Lou, Oliver and Marley just to name a few.” I believe dis ansa mi question bout yuh identity When yuh know who yuh be yuh truly livin free When dem ask yuh who yuh are yuh say, “Watch and see!” And if dem press the issue, say, “Jamaica is me!”
Pushinâ€™ and Pullinâ€™
For about half of a century, the words push-pull have been used to explain reasons why people migrate. Most often, there are economic forces which propel the immigrant from his country of birth to begin a new life in a new country. These economic forces are usually due to population increases and a lack of job opportunities. Despite the stress of uprooting oneself from one's family and friends, the immigrant feels pulled to the hope of realizing his dreams. The dire conditions in their homeland pushed them out, and the desire to stay home or to leave all depends on how the migrant perceives his quality of life and his aspirations. â€œWhat underlies these patterns is the incorporation of developing economies
into the international system, the development of aspirations and tastes which cannot be met at home, and the capacity to produce more workers with the training that can be absorbed, whether it be physicians, skilled or semi-skilled workers. These factors mobilized workers for migration to industrialized economies ” (Keely 1972, 6265). Not all migrations are permanent. Some families move according to the season in search of job opportunities. “Today, within the context of globalization, immigration is more likely to be viewed as transnational, involving individuals who move from one country to the next for diverse reasons (e.g., seasonal farm work, people to study, for business ventures, etc.) rather than for the single purpose of settling in an area permanently” (Jaipaul L. Roopnarine and Meera Shi 2003, 123). According to some historians, after Europeans conquered islands of the Caribbean, they tried to force the indigenous people to work as slaves but they began to die out. That’s what marked the beginning of the forced importation of African slaves. When slavery was abolished, indentured servants from Asia were then introduced into the islands. During the years of 18351880, former slaves were allowed to move around in order to seek other opportunities to work. Then between the years of 1853-1914, there was a great need for manual labor to excavate the Panama Canal and build the railroad across the Isthmus of Panama. In fact, from 1899-1928,
approximately 138, 615 Caribbean people migrated from their countries to the Americas to work. In the post-1965 years up to the late 1970â€™s, the Caribbean immigrants who came to the United States were typically middle class, better educated and spoke and wrote in ways closer to American Standard English (Nero, 1996 p. 4). However, as the Caribbean migration continued, doors were opened to those who were not as educated and not as proficient in speaking Standard English.
Jamaicans in Schools Abroad I reiterate the point that Caribbean immigrants who came to the United States in the post-1965 years up to the late 1970â€™s were typically middle class, better educated and spoke and wrote more closely to Standard English (Nero, 1995 p. 3). Many Caribbeans left the islands at this time and some scholars have said that this exodus caused a â€˜brain drain.â€™ Thousands of highly trained teachers in the Caribbean left their homeland in search of economic advancement and other opportunities. Teaching positions that were filled previously by the highest achievers were taken over by some teachers who were not as educated (Nero, p.3). As a result, children, mainly in the lowest socioeconomic groups, were not receiving an adequate
education. The depletion of a highly trained teaching force along with deteriorating economic conditions caused even more people to make the final decision to migrate (Nero, p.3). According to the United States Census Bureau, it is estimated that between 2000-2010, approximately 130,000 immigrant children lived in New York. This does not include the approximately 48,000 undocumented aliens who live below the radar while attending our public schools. Over forty percent of this number of immigrants are from the Caribbean English-speaking population. There is no indication that this number will be declining in the foreseeable future. “In 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the Caribbean population at 3,120,000. However, it is important to note that many Caribbean American population estimates severely minimize this population’s presence because it is difficult to account for illegal Caribbean immigrants. Ho (1991) estimated that the ratio of illegal to legal Caribbean immigrants is 3:1” (Mitchell, N., & Bryan, J. 2002 p. 400). One of the important goals that Caribbean immigrants strive for is to see their children advance educationally. Therefore, they seriously view their first contact with the public school system, seeing it as their child’s door of entry into a new society. It is understood that this experience can have a lasting effect on the child’s future. This first meeting, according to Pearson (1981) should be viewed as just one step in a long process. He says, “Migration and settlement must be seen as an on-
going process rather than a set of isolated actions. Therefore, the ‘short-term dynamics’ of the migrant’s initial contacts with the metropolitan society must be seen against the backdrop of the ‘long-term dynamics’ which blend past and present” (p. 5). Unfortunately, initial contacts with the system often do not go as well as anticipated. The attitude of some teachers comes into question when they seem to be more willing to work with students who speak British and Australian dialects of English. Adger (2001) supports the prevailing opinion that dialects of Britain and Australia are considered to be more acceptable by school administrators and teachers than those of other areas of the world. She observes that although there is no linguistic reason to prefer one dialect to another, the dialects of Britain and Australia are generally regarded as more prestigious than the English of the Caribbean, India and West Africa (p. 2). Adger also believes that this bias may affect how teachers gauge their levels of understanding of Caribbean Creole. Assumptions are often made about the Caribbean culture. Studies have revealed that “Creoles and creolized varieties of English are associated with low ethnic, social, political, and economic status” (Nero, S. ESL or ESD? p. 7). Teachers who are more disposed to helping British and Australian students master American Standard English are, in effect, saying that it is not worthwhile for them to do the same for Caribbean English-speaking children. Ideally, schools should be the great equalizer; a
place which affords all students the same opportunity to learn and develop their minds to reach its highest potential. But as Pierre Bourdieu, a socio anthropologist points out, we are not all born with the same access to opportunities. The playing field is not leveled. Privileges are afforded to groups and individuals because of inherent endowments such as skin color, zip code, socio-economic standing, birthright, and other advantages. These advantages are not earned but they are as valuable or, in some cases, even more valuable than currency in its traditional form (Richardson, 1986 pp 241-258). Some have countered this argument by stating that if teachers can comprehend more easily what certain students are saying, then they will be more disposed to helping them achieve the level of U.S. Standard English considered acceptable. When a Caribbean English-speaking immigrant arrives in America, he feels ill equipped to advocate for his children in the matter of school placement. This is because he is unfamiliar with the system and does not understand their power of influence. One consequence of this is that parents accept, without question, the recommendation of school counselors to have their children streamed into vocational programs and other non academic classes (Mitchel, 2005 p. 215). Other researchers have also concluded that â€œCaribbean parents and children typically do not receive adequate culturally competent counseling services which affect their academic outcomes and ultimately limit their life chances
(Constantine & Gushue, 2003: Gopaul-Mcnicol, 1993; Reynolds, 1999). Foreign born students rely on schools to teach them the American way so that they can learn to assimilate into the culture. But the sad reality of many in our education system is that it maintains their socioeconomic standing throughout matriculation. “It is obvious that education becomes an instrument of social stratification and of regional and racial inequality” (Tyack, D., 1974 p 272-273). Many students from the English-speaking Caribbean are not making adequate strides in education. Instead, they are lagging behind and eventually dropping out of school. According to Mitchel & Bryan (2007), “Caribbean immigrant students, who represent one of the largest subgroups in the Black population in the United States, are experiencing negative educational outcomes that are related to poor academic achievement and high dropout rates” (Mitchel, N. & Bryan, J. 2007 p. 1). This report is also supported by the National Center for Education Statistics, 2002. The vast numbers of Caribbean English-speaking students entering in the U.S. schools has presented a new challenge to the system (Adger, C. 2008). “With this new influx, public schools and colleges are being challenged to educate students whose English seem markedly different from what school authorities have defined as “English” (Nero 1996 p. 1). They speak a dialect of English sometimes described as English-based Creole. According to Nero (1996), “For the first time, American
educators were forced to decide whether Caribbean, English-based Creoles constitute separate languages or can be considered dialects of English” (p. 5). The observation has been made that many English-speaking Caribbean children are adversely affected by the disrespect shown to their language by administrators and teachers. Weiner and Jack (1997) state that “the most devastating effect on Caribbean students is the result of lack of understanding and the disrespect shown to their language and culture by North American teachers” (Weiner and Jack, 1997). Nero (1995) states that “Creoles are rule-governed languages (as are all languages) which emerged out of colonial circumstances. But Creoles, like most non-standard varieties of languages, have never been viewed (at least socially) as languages in their own right” (Nero, 1995 p. 2). Additionally, Nero (1996) shares that when English based Creole speakers interact with speakers of Standard English, “they come to be viewed as deformed versions of the standard and are negatively evaluated” (p. 6). This has caused some to be hesitant about participating in classroom discussions for fear of opening themselves to ridicule. It would be disadvantageous to the Caribbean English-speaking child if his speech is perceived as a block to communication between him and school personnel as well as between him and his peers. As Thomas (2009) observes, “English-speaking Caribbean children in US schools are often faced with teachers who use different words and idiomatic expressions and speak at a different
speed with unfamiliar pronunciation. Teachers, on the other hand, do not understand the children’s speech or use of language” (Thomas, T. N. 2009 p. 3). The lack of encouragement from school personnel may be one obstacle that Caribbean English-speaking students encounter in their quest to be successful. According to Mitchel (2005), when Caribbean Englishspeaking students have expressed their dreams to school personnel their dreams are considered unrealistic; when their White counterparts express these same dreams, they are supported (Mitchel, 2005 p. 5). Dworkin & Dworkin (1999) argue that “More often than not, Black students were perceived by counselors to be unrealistically fantasizing about their future goals whereas White students were seen as having realistic expectations” (Dworkin & Dworkin, 1999). Instead of being affirmed and encouraged, some students experience discouragement and disillusionment. It has been noted that Black children's aspirations are as high as those of White children (Nieto, S. 2000), “but Blacks often are not provided with equal assistance on ways to achieve their goals, which ultimately lessens their ability to meet high academic standards” (Mitchel, 2005 p. 5). Another factor which affects the Caribbean English-speaking student is that many parents migrate to the U.S. years in advance of their children. When these families reunite, the members undergo a period of adjustment which can be unsettling for children. As in some of my experiences when I first entered the American
education system, a counselor would be helpful to families from the English-speaking Caribbean to help them navigate through a new system and advocate for their needs. In the Caribbean school system, interaction between teacher and student is different than what occurs in American classrooms. According to Pratt-Johnson, “Sometimes, students do not even dare to ask questions, as to do so would challenge the teacher's authority” (PrattJohnson, Y., 2006). In an American classroom, such a child may be considered unwilling to participate when he is merely acting in accordance with his cultural norms. He may be more reserved and will answer questions only when directly addressed by his teacher. There are specific teacher characteristics and techniques that have been instrumental in creating environments that are conducive to learning for the English–speaking Caribbean student. First, instead of constantly correcting a student on the manner in which he pronounces words, teachers may respectfully ask the student to repeat his statement or the teacher may begin the statement and pause long enough for the student to complete the thought (Pratt-Johnson in Nero 1999 p. 126). Understandably, when the Caribbean English– speaking student first arrives in a new classroom, he may quietly refrain from participating in classroom discussions (Pratt-Johnson in Nero 1999 p. 126). Second, the effective teacher allows the new student to initially sit and listen to classroom activities so
they can slowly be acclimated to their new environment. Third, in order to facilitate a safe environment, the teacher will overtly demonstrate his desire to understand the studentâ€™s dialect and encourage the student to participate in class. By doing this, the teacher clearly demonstrates to the student that his teacher has respect for his language and culture. Fourth, if a situation arises where other students in the class react negatively to how the Caribbean Englishspeaking student expresses himself, the teacher asserts his authority to curtail that activity; lowering the possibility of that happening again (Pratt-Johnson in Nero 1999 p. 126). Finally, another strategy teachers use to initiate communication with their students is to have students write their thoughts down in journals. This way, the teacher gauges the effectiveness of his instruction which may lead to modifying his lesson to better meet the studentâ€™s needs (Pratt-Johnson in Nero 1999 p. 126). Since understanding the dialect has been at the forefront for some teachers, it is understood that the Englishspeaking Caribbean teacher has an edge over teachers who are less familiar with the language. Although these teachers have the ability to understand and effectively communicate with the students, special training is necessary to assist the student in understanding the differences in syntax between the two English varieties (Winer, L. 1999 p. 112). This knowledge is crucial to the Englishâ€“speaking Caribbean student in order to begin
speaking American Standard English (Winer, L. 1999 in Nero, S. (Ed.) 1999).
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