Wednesday, February 9, 2011

a day in the Jamaican life

The Jamaican people are a tough and gritty lot, descendants of African slaves stolen from their continent and brought here  to work the sugar plantations.  I stand underneath the broad leaves of a bread fruit tree, a plant brought specifically from European shores by the infamous Captain Bligh to feed the growing slave population. Walking  in the  village I see a range of African nations represented, from pale brown skin with amber eyes and cinnamon hair to deep blue-black hues, heavy-lidded warriors, tall and lithe. This is a beautiful people, and I  talk to the townsfolk and I discover an atlas of other nationalities. Chinese, English, Lebanese, Scottish, Filopino, and these are only some. A shop owner tells me there are traces of the Arawak tribe here, the natives inhabiting the island when Columbus landed and the Caribs, for which the Caribbean is named.  Out of many. . .one people,"  thus speaks the motto of Jamaica.

Everyone in Jamaica carves wood and this vendor has a stunning piece that I must have. The young artist tells me it is "Nanie," a heroine of the Maroon nation. The Maroons were Africans that escaped from the slave ships into the Blue Mountains of inland Jamaica and the British soldiers were never able to recapture them, a remarkable feat considering the differences of weaponry.   Nanie has one arm missing due to a soldier's sword and she is looking steadily into the eyes of a child.  And now comes the traditional form of commerce in Jamaica, higgling and I have no talent or taste for this.  It involves a crossfire of price finagling between seller and customer and this makes no sense to me.  Just tell me what it is worth. I will pay it.  Dave clears his throat and steps up to the plate. He is a wagering fellow and quite adept at this process.  I walk away wondering why he just can't give the guy the extra five dollars. The poor fellow looks like he owns just the one pair of pants.

I am handed a steaming plate of jerk chicken from the road vendor and he ladles sauce onto the marinated meat.  Jamaican jerk is barbecue taken to its highest level and  my tongue readies for the spicy brown bonnet pepper, hotter than anything I would have stateside and I detect cinnamon and nutmeg as well.  The dish begs for a cold Red Stripe.

No comments: