A View of Life and the World through a Jamaican's Eyes…

The Port from Where I Set Sail: The Beginning

My name is Peter George Smith. My life began quite a number of years ago in eastern Jamaica. It was almost Christmastime when I  arrived at the world’s doorsteps, hastily, in a little district called Norris. Norris is in the town of Yallahs, part of the historic parish of St. Thomas. It was at a point in time just before Jamaica cut the Union Jack’s flutter for good one August night; on that night she declared to George, her father,  that she was all grown up and, as such, big enough to move out on her own.

I cannot remember much about my infancy, except for what I have picked up from a dim silent movie occasionally running through my head; it is of rains and of water rising on the slightly sloping swath of land that separated our house from Collier’s Spring.  Once, years ago when I rewound the movie and ran it for my mother, she told me it reminded her of Hurricane Flora, which had devastated the eastern part of Jamaica a few years earlier. That’s when I started learning the game of connecting the dots. I had gone through my first hurricane so fearlessly that I only realized I had after the fact. Thanks to the movie.

Easington Bridge

Easington Bridge that I had to cross every day on my trek to and from primary school in rural Jamaica.

Primary school time I remember quite well though.  The school I went to was on a little hill in Easington, a district across the big iron bridge that separated it from Norris. At both ends of the bridge still stand today the towers that formed part of an old swinging bridge, relics of the days when plantation owners needed to traverse the Yallahs River. Whenever rain caught my friends and me on the way to or from school, the one at the western end provided shelter, for there were no houses in its vicinity that we could dash to in order to keep our books from getting soaked. The school itself was beside Buryin’ Grung, where, we were told, slaves had been laid to rest when they had grown too tired to carry on and the earth had called them home, but no ships were available to take them back across the ocean.

We used to occasionally take short-cuts through Buryin’ Grung to get to school in the mornings, especially if we were late.  After school, we would take that route home only if we didn’t have extra lessons for Common Entrance; for whenever we had those lessons, the sun would have gone down by the time we were done, increasing the risk that we might run into the odd duppy that would be getting an early start on his nightly jaunts. We did not think kindly of duppies; in fact, we were terrified of them, so we kept out of their way. We did not want to upset them either: If we pointed at anything in Buryin’ Grung, like a bird or a lizard, unthinking, we immediately had to bite on the offending finger. Chances were either of them could be a duppy, who, in retaliation to being pointed at, would make that finger rot till it fell off our hand. A firm but gentle bite was the antidote.

Summers were long back then, broken up by carefree days spent with friends catching janga in the Yallahs River. On the days we were tired of the river, we set springes with dried gungo peas from my mother’s corn and peas crop to trap ground doves, white wings and barble doves. Janga soup and fried birds were culinary specialties we prepared in butter pans on wood fires, seasoned with salt and scotch bonnets. Salt was cheap and scotch bonnets were free. (Thinking back years later, I realized that the adults had lied to us when they tasted our food and told us it was good)… Gathering mangoes in the hills and transporting them in cartoon boxes on our heads back down to lowland made our necks crick. But it did not matter, for the spoils of the sweet mangoes would numb the stiffness and the pain later on. So long were the summers that by the time free paper bu’n and we got back to school, girls walking stoosh on the first day in their sugar-starched pleats, and boys strutting with seams standing proud like the twin towers, many of us had forgotten the lessons of the past term. Our teachers saw to it though, that the switches from the willow tree growing by the fence at the front of the schoolyard and the leather straps, said to be soaked in water, quickly plugged and refilled the holes that summer had punched in our heads, causing our times tables, verbs and predicates to leak out.

It is life in those formative years, growing up with my parents and siblings, my village parents and friends, that created the foundation for successfully wending my way to the present. I left Norris for good when I moved away to university in Kingston, but I still go back quite often, sometimes several times a year. So much so now that I feel, at times, like I had never left. I spend time with family and old school friends that still live there whenever I go. My parents are now dearly departed, my mother years before my father, but some of their peers are still there, and showing up on their doorsteps in some of the most inaccessible places to say hello tickles my heart every time. They peer at me through squinting eyes until recognition propels them towards me with shuffled haste. “Oh Laad, a no Peter dat! Mi glad fi si yu. Yu no figat wi at all!”  And I wait for the inevitable hugs and back-pats from the men, and the hugs plus wet kisses on my jaw from the women. And though sometimes they have just come from the farm, sweaty and smelly and grimy, I yield unhesitating, and I feel joy.

Today I live in Florida. Since Jamaica, I have had the good fortune of living in several countries, either studying or working. Others have been for tours of fun and discovery. Nowadays I mostly visit them for work. Coming from an island described as a dot on the map, hemmed in on all corners by water, my time and adventures overseas have given me the chance to truly understand how vast the world is,  but still ever so tiny. Physically large it is, yet small, because of the similarities of mankind in the most disparate places. Deep down we are the same. I speak several foreign languages, and they have helped pry open even wider for me some of the smallest windows on the world I have peered through. Through it all, this little now-grown kid from Jamaica has seen and experienced a lot of what both Jamaica and the wider world are. And I am open to sharing it all with you. Just sidle up to my periscope and take a look through…lots to discover and experience from what you will see at the other end. Do follow my blog… and leave your comments… please.

Glossary/Explanation of Jamaican Words and Expressions

Buryin’ Grung = cemetery; used in this  context as a place name (proper noun)

Butter pans = round tin containers in which, ironically, cheese is sold, and which are recycled into cooking and eating receptacles after the cheese is removed

Cartoon boxes = cardboard carton boxes

Duppy = ghost

Free paper bu’n = “free papers burnt” signaling the end of the holidays and time to return to school. Akin to slaves having been released and then having had their freedom taken back.

Janga = crayfish

Stoosh = proud, haughty

Switch = typically a twig from a tree branch, used to administer corporal punishment

Village parents = adults, especially women, in rural communities who informally help “raise” the children of their neighbors

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84 Responses »

  1. This is a great start Peter! I am anxious to read the others!

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  2. Wow Peter! Never knew you had this hidden talent! The blogs reads like a good novel….how do you remember so much? And janga soup and fried bird! Can’t buy that in the best restaurants! Bet you never realized you were so ‘rich’! Kudos to you…can’t wait to read more!

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  3. This is great Peter! I look forward to more my ‘parish’.

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  4. Had me smiling and crying as it helps me to reminisce of my youth in Jamaica.

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  5. WONDERFUL!!!!! You have already stirred my soul and filled me with nostalgia. Hope there is enough space for me at the periscope.

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  6. Peter, thank you for sharing so much of yourself. A sign that your blog will be fascinating as it will give us an intimate look at the world. In this way, we all contribute to uniting the world in its humanity.

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  7. Peter, Peter, Peter…I am overcome with nostalgia..I am literally crying..This is really good.Sound like the story of my life

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  8. This is fabulous Peter. I love it. Waiting with baited breath for more. I like that you introduced it to us so we could be here at the beginning. I never thought of doing this for either my sometime blog or my Facebook pages. Great idea; I’m already sold.

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    • Hey Lorna, I encourage you to start writing too. It takes you back on the delightful adventures of your life, taking your readers along with you in the process. Thanks for your kind words, and I hope you will continue to enjoy my posts.

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  9. Hi Peter thank you for sharing your life with us. You are an inspiration. I cannot stop reading. Can wait for more.

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  10. Peter, I’m so glad you are fulfilling your dream, and believe me, I couldn’t stop reading, the beginning is already fascinating. You writing is fluid and easy to read, and the wording is interesting. I’m eager to read more. Thank you for sharing and please, keep going.

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  11. Peter, I really enjoyed this. You succeeded in bringing be back exactly to the time and place. I look forward to seeing more.

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  12. Wow, Peter! You left me wanting more!

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  13. Thank you Peter for inviting us to take journey with you. Looking forward to more.

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  14. Peter, this is really good I love it.

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  15. Very nice uncle Peter

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  16. Wow, Peter!!! I was in
    Norris and then I realized that I was sitting in my classroom, (after school). This is great reading and I do look forward for more. You have whetted my appetite!

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  17. Peter, my latest entry on Planet Earth came a couple of years after our country thought it was mature enough to cut the navel string. However, we still had some security, as the Queen was still looking after us – at least – in theory. Now that us Jamaicans now require expensive visas to go and see where our head of state resides, maybe we should, as a nation, consider seriously Portia Simpson’s words during our 50 years of celebration 2 years ago when she said “Time come!”….

    Anyway, growing up in the parish next to yours, Portland, I see that our childhoods and education were quite similar. I can remember quite a bit from my childhood, however, even things when I was about 2 years old. I better document some of them before the memory starts to fade. Looking forward to re-living some of your childhood days with you.

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  18. Thanks for sharing Peter…awesome!

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  19. A wonderful trip down memory lane, thanks Peter.

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  20. Wonderful Peter!!! And thanks so much for sharing these memories. I’ll be following you my friend!!!

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  21. Wonderful. Cause me to go way back and remember how things used to be simple but happy. Hope to hear much more.

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  22. EXcellent writing. Love reading stories that I can visualize.

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  23. Simple Excellent! Peter this is the very first and probably only blog I’ll ever read. Can’t wait for your next post. 😘

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  24. Absolutely loved i Peter,t really looking forward to reading more.

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  25. An awesome start Peter. I can’t wait to read more.

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  26. Peter, congratulation, you have created a masterpiece with words that are filled with tender emotions, nostalgic images and insightful reminders that true greatness is grounded in simplicity and gratitude. Thanks for this truly inspiring work of art.

    Newton Moodie

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  27. Beautifully written…and you know I love a well-written piece! Vivid, colorful, and real. Love it!

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  28. Great autobiographical piece oozing such realism, you don’t want to put it aside once you start reading. However, do consider appending the glossary that would enhancing deaper and smoother initiation into the Jamaican, so that such lexical items sink more easily: grung, duppy, janga, gungo, stoosh, laad, figat, dat, fi … Anyway, any keen listener of Reggae, and especially Ragga would not face any problem in that area. Congrats, bredren!

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    • Thanks. Several readers, even Jamaicans, have in fact also recommended I include a glossary in order for non-speakers of Jamaican, like you, to get a fuller understanding and feel of the piece… I am now working on that.

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      • That’d just great. Hey, I bawl for more blending of Jamaican Creole and standard English in a bid to exude pure naturalness. To boot, natural dialogue laced with prose has eliminated tedium. Finally, idiomatic phrases and imagery galore have made the text further captivating. Looking forward to reading the next issue! Chapeau!

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  29. Oh my word….what a delight to read this Peter! You are indeed a gifted writer. Thank you as well for encouraging me to write a blog about my experiences.

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  30. Uplifting and a pleasure to read! Thanks Peter. Best wishes to you. Will call soon. – Norman

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  31. I love it Peter, and I am waiting for the book. Please don’t forget about the slingshots, marble, gigs, board and box trucks – we can go on and on…lol!! Our rock is so precious and valuable, and all it needs is to be picked up and shined with OUR dust cloth. Again, thanks for the memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Nice one Etienne. I enjoyed reading your blog. The mango hunting reminded me very much of my own summers in Drapers in Portland. Good memories all. Good luck with the rest and look forward to reading more.

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  33. Great piece of writing Peter, your childhood sounds idyllic indeed. Looking forward to the complete autobiography!

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  34. Very interesting, I am looking forward to more of these interesting articles. It bought back a lot of memories. Keep up the good work

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    • Hi Peter,

      You need to start lining up the actors for this book! It’s going to be a lot of them too. Just let everyone know not to ask about salary, because we’re going to play self just like Pinckney days😂😂👏👏. These stories are our life experiences and speaking of it now I almost can even smells some of those food when I used to run boat. Mmmm!

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  35. Great stuff my friend!! Looks like you just found your calling. Nice read!!

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  36. Hi Peter, oh my! It’s been a while. I’m at work so I not able to read it in it’s entirety. Talk about nostalgia! Anyone who grew up in the”country’ can relate to this. Brings back memories… good ones. Keep it up my brother. Proud a you. I’m sure your dad would too. Too much to say. Just don’t put down your pen. Blessings

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  37. Brilliant work Peter…its like I was there living the moment with you. You are indeed a man of many talents. Keep up the excellent work Sir.

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  38. Really an excellent narrative Peter. I can feel the experience as if it were my own. Keep writing. You have a talent for it.

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  39. Peter, as very good camera shot through the eyes of an dult projecting his youth and the place of his evolution. It is, in fact, a Caribbean story, which speaks to your truth and experiences. Like your story, I have watched you evolve, exercising self-discipline, and having fun when it is warranted. This is the stuff from which literary genius is made. I sincerely hope that you would use the extra time in the airport and in flight to add to this kaleidescope and serve us with a book, perhaps, in the near future. Thank you for sharing your prisms and life viewed therefrom.

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  40. Thanks for sharing. Gave me an insight into your formative years. Glad to be your friend … years.

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  41. Hi Peter. I am impressed, inspired and challenged. Excellent work. A really great book is in the making and I look forward to reading it. You are indeed a gifted writer. Thanks for sharing.

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  42. Excellent writing! I so enjoyed reminiscing with you. The memories put a smile on my face😊
    Your writing brings to life a rich colorful past. I can’t wait to read more. Keep it coming Peter. God bless you my friend 🙏🏾

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  43. Wonderful Peter this is very intresting, hoping to read some more.

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  44. Peter Smith thank you for bringing back memories of our past .I love it so much keep it up.you are doing a great job

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  45. So Peter, I finally got a chance to read your article in full. Listen man, I love it. I’m so looking forward to more of this. Memories. Reading it I could almost taste the mango juice running down my elbow as I tried desperately to lick it off. I’m so looking forward to more…. and the book. Blessings me bredren.

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  46. You go boy! Great work! You’ve ot places to and lives to reach. Keep writing.

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  47. Lovely chronicle Peter. Making me miss home and “Janga Soup”. Great memories you’ve captured here. I smiled reading a few lines 🤓. ” Stoosh”.

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  48. This is great Peter. Please continue…

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