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Jamaica 2012

Kingston Visit

Friday, January 27, 2012

Where to start?

Mr. Brown was invited by the Cubans to a soiree in Kingston and so he invited me, along with some others, to join him as his guests. We left Westmoreland around 5am to get a head start on the 4 hour drive across the island. I didn’t sleep well the night before, but for some reason it didn’t bother me during the day (thank you CMU?).

We stopped for breakfast at a chain restaurant called something Patties, or Patties something. Anyway, I thought it was a burger joint. Needless to say, I was completely wrong. The menu was completely foreign. Peanut soup? Saltfish for breakfast? Porridge? Since I couldn’t find anything that sounded familiar or appetizing, I just threw a dart and took a good faith effort guess. Darn it! I couldn’t down more than a fourth of the meal. I’m no good at darts anyway… Patties, by the way, are meat filled dough similar to a chilupa at Taco Bell. Maybe I’ll request KFC next time around. KFC happens to be overly abundant in Jamaica— it’s everywhere across the island. As a result, I’m beginning to understand where so many stereotypes originated…

A few hours after our meal, we arrived to our final destination: Kingston, Jamaica. Asa was dropped off with the Army to take their entrance exam. He has aspirations of protecting the law be that in Jamaica or abroad. Mr. Brown’s country driving didn’t seem to fit in well in the most thriving city on the island. It was comical watching people’s faces as they tried to guide him in order to avoid traffic chaos.

Next we went to the ocean. Rather, we drove by the ocean and a large black sculpture, then stopped to do some touristy shopping. Let me step back one second.

Upon entering the car that morning, Asa was driving, Mr. Brown in the navigator’s chair, Noreen (Mr. Brown’s travel buddy) on the left and Mrs. Fenton on the right back seat. I sat in the middle back seat. Ok, well now that you know my crew, we can continue properly.

So the ocean shopping. Noreen and Mrs. Fenton energetically began perusing the offerings of each small shop. Mr. Brown seemed obsessed with mugs and mug accessories. He picked up each one he saw. ha I just observed them, not seeing anything immediately that looked worth spending my money on. I tend to look for unique items or especially useful items. But upon reflecting a bit, I realized that I have friends and family that will no doubt expect gifts from my vacation in the Caribbean. So I got busy. ha Lucky for me I can still use poverty as an excuse for getting small gifts. But they’re all nice, I assure you.

After shopping, Mr. Brown and friends took me to the Jamaican parliament building for a tour. Our guide was very friendly and willing to answer all my questions. Jamaica uses the same system as that of England, and even sustains some ties to their colonial overlord today. For example, if there is a change to the political system as a whole in England, these same changes would be applied to the Jamaican court. Also, the queen of England still gets a report on how the Jamaican government is working. All governing is actually carried out by Jamaicans, though. So it seems the ties to England are more so symbolic than anything else. We moved to the building next door to see the historic parliament building. Both were very interesting. The Jamaicans are very proud of their young country. This year marks 50 years of independence! This visit made me reflect about my own country’s start. Was the US in a similar state as Jamaica in its first 100 years? How long did it take us to really start thriving on our own? I’m inspired to reacquaint myself with US history. Regardless, good things take time, and it seems to me that despite the extremely corrupt government (according to my local sources), Jamaica is on the right track.

Next we visited the National Hero Park. This park is fairly large and has monuments to each of the national heroes, people who contributed to Jamaican independence one way or another. Marcus Garvey is a god here. And a few of these national heroes are called “his Excellency.” It shocked me the first time I heard one of them referred to that way. There were some pretty cool monuments. The highlight of the park visit, however, was a chance reunion. Noreen, being a fashion inclined type who makes her own clothes and jewelry, was wearing a very colorful necklace which a stranger asked if she could have. 1) Such a request would never leave a person’s mind in the states 2) Noreen saw no problem with the request and simply took off the necklace and handed it to the stranger. This exchange initiated another exchange which ended with Noreen getting the stranger’s phone number and then the stranger following us to the car to see an example of Noreen’s dresses. Mr. Brown was waiting for us there. Had things happened but a second differently, we may have missed the reunion entirely. Mr. Brown was from the same neighborhood as this woman was from! He knew several members of her family, as well as her children, etc. “I thought you were in the states!” “Yes sir, but I’m visiting my sister” Sincere hugs were exchanged and group pictures taken to commemorate the joyous event…..Only in Jamaica……

We finished up our tourist activities at Port Royal, aka the Wicked City. There we saw Port Charles which is over 200 years old and has withstood hurricanes and earthquakes with no damage besides sinking into the ground a few inches. Good old fashioned engineering. They don’t make ‘em the same anymore. 😛 Our guide was nice and played along with my troublemaker questions and comments. You should check out the pictures I took, which describe the place better than I could myself. I would have taken pictures in the museum, but it was against the rules. Very cool trinkets from around the world were found in the sea floor surrounding the fort. It’s easy to see the attraction to pirates and other troublemakers. But God showed His wrath one day with a major earthquake which sunk a large chunk of the peninsula into the sea. I forget exact figures, but it was impressive. There’s even a story that says a Frenchman was swallowed up by the earthquake and then spat back out miraculously with only a few scratches. Hard to believe, but a cool story nonetheless.

Everyone was very tired, so we took a breather from moving at Mr. Brown’s cousin’s house. He let us take over his front porch and living room couch. I needed a few supplies, so Mr. Brown eventually drove me to a pharmacy. Let it be known that Jamaican girls do not shave. I learned this the hard way, but luckily the only harm is that I’ll smell like a man for the next few weeks. Better to ward off the Jamaican men with. I’ve been warned several times now and I welcome any subtlety which will help me get my way of not being bothered. I enjoy making new friends and fresh conversation, but does it always have to lead to an exchange of numbers? Gosh! But yes, apparently being a white female in Jamaica is unwise in itself. This is why I bring my posse everywhere. It’s actually more like I’m part of Mr. Brown’s posse, but for the sake of this blog, let’s just assume I’m the center of everything. 😛 Before returning to his cousin’s house, Mr. Brown stopped to pick up Asa from the Army camp. He passed every section but the last, so close but no cigar. He says he’ll try for the police force instead. He didn’t like how he was treated by the soldiers administering the exam anyway.

For dinner we had the entire fried fish again. I don’t think I can face those beady black fried eyes again. I barely ate……yet again. Thank God for the tangerine Mrs. Whyte gave me that morning. I claimed that I was full, which was half true. I felt rude for not having taken advantage of Mr. Brown’s cousin’s hospitality, but I didn’t know what else to do, which made what happened next even more embarrassing to me.

So like I mentioned before, I still have a bit of trouble understanding the Jamaican accent, especially when men are speaking for some reason. The deep voices I suspect. Well, apparently Mr. Brown told me I needed to dress “elegantly casual” for the evening’s event. I missed this crucial detail entirely and brought nothing but my dirty jeans and t-shirt for the day. Now, I can appreciate that in the grand scheme of things, this problem of mine is insignificant. However, at the time, it seemed to be the worst situation I could possibly be in. Silly, right?

Regardless, upon realizing my mistake, the Fabulous Noreen pulled out the dress that would save my pride in all of its bright yellow glossy glory. An extra she had brought with her for one reason or another. Not exactly what I would have chosen for a classy mingling event with Jamaican parliament members and other newsworthy figures, but it would have to do. So the outfit was decided, but we had 20 min. until the event began, and I needed to wash my very thick hair. To the shower!! In my rush, I pulled out the bath tub faucet. Woops! I couldn’t get the water to get out of the water head, so I asked the residents to help. T-0 until the main event. Low water pressure was the culprit. I had the option to shower in their outdoor shower in the back with the mosquitoes and all. No way! Indoor it would be, using the half working bath tub faucet. “I’m an engineer!,” I exclaimed, “I’ll figure it out.” Figure it out I did. To the bedroom! The dress had to be taken in a bit in places, but Noreen was finished working her magic by the time I needed to get dressed. I tried stepping into it. No go—hips not cooperating. I tried pulling it over my head. Gaahh!! I’m in a rush, feeling ultra guilty for ruining things, and here I am, 23-years-old and unable to clothe myself. You can imagine the state I was in. Noreen helped me out. The dress was successfully put on, the hair dried and combed. I was as ready as I could be with such little notice. I stuffed my clothes in Noreen’s bag and off we went.

When we arrived, the final speech was winding down. We got drinks in time to raise our glasses for a toast to Cuba. I was pretty nervous about attending an event hosted by the Cuban government, for obvious reasons. Pray that I can keep my job. “I just took pictures, I swear!” Overall, not as awkward as it could have been. We chatted with a Swedish woman 3 months into Kingston living who is working in the Health department. We also took a picture with a sea captain, and I told him about my work for the US Navy (no details of course). I’m beginning to think I speak louder than most people. I feel like I’m constantly screaming at people. Chances are I’m going deaf, like great-grandma Repell. I also felt like my bright dress, along with my white skin, made me stick out more than I would like. I tend to make a significant effort to blend in, so I was feeling a bit (read: extremely) out of my comfort zone. The Latin music helped though. Unfortunately, fun is not allowed, so no one was dancing. L Shame. My mom would have been all over that dance floor. Not that there really was one, but she wouldn’t have been deterred by such an insignificant detail.

The evening was nice, and Mr. Brown got all the pictures he was after. We were all tired and I was ready to get out of the clown dress (sorry Noreen, it just isn’t my style at all). We stopped for gas and I did a quick change, sans sandals though. They were left at the cousin’s house in my rush to leave. So, just picture it: white girl in Kingston gas station running around in a fancy yellow dress without shoes (heels were covered in peanut soup left in Noreen’s purse and tossed to the bottom of the car floor), then pulling on jeans and wiggling out of said dress next to the car while it gets gassed up. It was a hectic stop to say the least. Noreen was cleaning up the mess in the car with her packed clothes while I was taking care of myself. We figured everything out though, and were on our way back to Westmoreland.

I fell asleep this time, so the trip went by much more quickly. I arrived back at the Whyte household around 1am, and quickly proceeded to enjoy some REM cycles. The long eventful day was over, and classes would begin the next day.

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