School Attire Out of Synch!

Beautiful Saturday morning. I have just come downstairs to make my usual morning brew. Blue Mountain today. I saw the “Blue Mountain” words on the label during a recent visit to my local supermarket and was drawn to it. Blue Mountain coffee is Jamaican, and so am I. That is the reason. I am not sure the one I am about to have is pure, though, as the brand is one I have never heard of before. Many companies usurp the appellation due to its world-renowned quality and taste. This one did not turn out to be bad by my standard. Perhaps the real connoisseurs will feel otherwise, though.

While waiting for the Keurig to end the cycle, I open all the blinds to get the maximum sunlight. I love when the house is full of light. It makes me feel like I am bringing the outdoors in. Behind the house is a lake and, from where I am standing in the kitchen, it appears  I can open the window and touch the water. This morning it is glistening, with a slight ripple dancing across it, stirred up by the gentlest of breezes.

Milo is looking outside and barking. It is a bit earlier than his usual time “to go,” so I do not think he is signaling me to let him out for that. Perhaps he has sensed something unusual out there. But I see nothing. No ducks. No iguanas. And indeed not his friend from down the road that sometimes escapes from his yard and comes visiting. I guess it must be the allure of the view outside that is exciting him then. I, too, feel the urge to go outdoors. Sit on the patio with him, sip my coffee and catch up on the latest happenings in Jamaica through the Gleaner on my Android.

Outside on the patio, the temperature is comfortable. A ray of sunlight dodges the column before me, falling on my face, and warming me just enough to make me feel great to be alive. The coffee is good. Milo goes out onto the grass. Sometimes when he does, he lies in the sun. At other times he sniffs among the plants, for what I am not sure. This time though, he quickly comes back and settles at my feet. Maybe he has decided to keep me company, for I am not often out back with him. Good dog. Indeed man’s best friend.

It is now early afternoon. I had a relaxing morning. Only one thing happened that was not part of the plan. I ended up not catching up on the Jamaican news. I got diverted to something else, which made me start to reflect on some of the traditions of my early years in Jamaica. Specifically about my school dress, or uniform, as we call it on the island. School uniform.

Before bringing up the Gleaner on my phone, an article caught my attention. It was about the British monarchy and how its members had to adhere to certain forms of behavior and entirely ignore others. Some of these forms were peculiar to the monarchy, while others reflected British society at large. As I read, it struck me how similar some of them were to our practices in Jamaica. It made sense, though, especially for folk of my generation. We are children of the independence and immediate post-independence period of Jamaica’s history, during which our societal and other norms were still shaped, in great measure, by Britain, the so-called mother country.

In the article, I discovered that little Prince George, always dressed in short pants, would have to do so until he reached ten. During winter, especially, he wears socks up to his knees to keep him warm. It made me reflect on my upbringing in Jamaica, where we used to wear short pants in the lower forms at my high school. So, the British connection may explain why. Mark you, I was ten when I started high school, and my classmates were already eleven or twelve, but it did not matter. For it was not unusual to see the adoption of British practices at home, even when they were out of synch with our Jamaican reality.  Our uniforms constituted one such practice that was out of synch.

When I started attending Morant Bay High School in the eastern parish of St. Thomas, all boys were required to wear short pants for the first three years. Not only short pants, for we also had to wear thick woolen socks, pulled up to under our knees, just like British Grammar School boys. No matter how hot the weather was, we had to have those socks on. And when they had had their one wash too many and became too loose to stay up by themselves, rubber bands came to the rescue. They kept them fully extended and in place. Sometimes the bands were so tight, they would dig into our flesh and sting. On top of the itchy wool. Heat, itch, sting. What torture. No ifs or buts about not keeping them up because discipline was part of our DNA. Plus, our principal’s wife — perhaps the strictest disciplinarian I have ever known — would make sure we complied, even by the sheer mention of her name. “Maa P a come” would scare the bejeezus out of us and whip us into compliance.

Me in first form in high school

But while we endured the discomfort of the woolen socks, there was something far more problematic they, plus the shorts, exacted upon us. It was fear. Not of Maa P, but of the big Town boys. Coming from the rural part of Jamaica, we referred to Kingston as Town, and the big Town boys in question were from there and attended high schools there. Every year we would have Eastern Champs and Boys’ and Girls’ Champs, all high school athletics championships, at the National Stadium in Town. As first-formers at Morant Bay High, we were all eager to travel to the stadium for the first time and cheer for our school. But, the older boys who had by then graduated to long pants told us horror stories about their time in short pants at the stadium. The Town boys ridiculed them — the Country boys — for wearing short pants in high school. Not only to school but also daring to wear them to Town! Not only ridiculed them but also slapped them on their bare knees! What trepidation we felt about the prospects of being mocked and slapped! We had to do something about it!

So, what did we do? The fear generated by the horror stories made us, first-formers, form a pact to purchase and wear long pants to the stadium. Defying the school rules. We decided if doing so ended up with punishment, we would all take it together and accept it as a mark of martyrdom. At least, it would be better than suffering the indignity short pants could bring us!

So, off we all went to Town in our long pants, and we had a great time at the stadium. Upon returning home, though, we realized that spending money on long pants and not wearing them after the stadium visit was not in our best interest. Nor in the interest of our parents’ pockets. Terrible return on investment. And so, our year in high school was the year the school started allowing long pants for boys in the lower forms. We forced the hand of the school to change the rules. I think now that we should have a plaque erected somewhere at the school in commemoration!

Our impact on school uniforms did not end with getting rid of the long woolen socks and short pants. Five years later, when we hit Sixth Form, we were at it again. Sixth Formers wore ties. Green and white forming perpendicular stripes. We wore them loose, just below the second button on our shirts. Well, our headmaster, who taught us how to play bridge as an extra-curricular lesson in Sixth Form, schooled us on how to wear a tie. It had to be drawn at the collar, with the collar button of our shirts closed. What? In the Jamaican heat? Even though our school was on a hill just overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the breeze coming up was never enough to keep us cool. He gave us a choice. Either wear the tie how it was to be worn or don’t wear it at all. You can imagine what we chose. We ditched the tie!

So, I was one of the pioneers at high school. Even just for uniforms!

Loving Me Some Reggae on a Friday Night!

I may sound biased, but I don’t think I am. Reggae music is the best. Now, there are different eras of reggae – call them styles if you like — that may have different degrees of bestness, but I am talking about the era of the classic Bob Marleys, Dennis Browns and Beres Hammonds. Some fine Jamaican singers. Incredible lyrics. Among the best, not just on the Rock, but in the world.

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My Norris Friends on My Mind

Two days ago, I got a Facebook friend invitation. I did not recognize the name entirely, although it sounded familiar as I repeated it mentally. The profile picture was of no help because it was too dark. I could not pick out the features. However, I was half-sure who it was. One of my sisters, now living in Canada, had told me just earlier that she had reconnected with a childhood friend of ours. A friend from way back in the day in Jamaica. We lived in Norris, St. Thomas, and this friend was from Gutter Head, an adjoining district up the road from us. On the way to the hills of Windsor Castle on the left at the intersection there, and down to Logwood and Yallahs on the right.  However, we all went to the same primary school — all-age at the time — in Easington, the district on the other side of Norris. Right after going over the bridge that spanned Yallahs River.

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The To-Die-For Jamaican Patty

I just had two patties for lunch.  Jamaican patties. My Jamaican peeps here in South Florida and elsewhere do not need such clarification for they know what I am talking about. But the distinction is necessary for those not familiar with this epicurean Jamaican delight. Patties, to the uninitiated non-Jamaicans, are palm-sized portions of ground meat, flattened and shaped into rounds or squares, then cooked and served, as in hamburgers. For those of us in the know though, Jamaican patties are more exquisite.  More divine. They are a kind of pastry made with a flaky, golden-brown shell, and lightly stuffed with a savory, spicing filling.  One of those I had today was filled with spicy ground beef and the other with ackee.

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Memorable Primary School Lessons

At the age of ten I was already in high school. At Morant Bay High School in St. Thomas, eastern Jamaica. When I did my Common Entrance examination while at Easington Primary School, in the same parish, to try and earn a place in high school, it was because my teachers felt I had the aptitude. Despite my age. It was by dint of faith my teachers put in me, and luck that my name was even put forward, because I was so young, and places in high schools were limited at the time. Some felt that I was taking the space of an older student who maybe was about to “age-out” of being able to do the exam. Back then, the average age of high-school qualifiers was twelve. Anyhow, I did the exam and aced it.

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Smelling the Roses in a Crisis

It is the last Sunday in March. I am listening to Kool97 FM from Jamaica, as I often do on a Sunday. They play some great oldies all day long. A combination of mostly American and Jamaican greats of the crooner variety. It is now after 10 at night, Miami time, and they’ve just started throwing down some super reggae classics. Dennis Brown is on deck, and I am feeling mellow. About an hour or so ago, they ran a Bob Andy segment, featuring a string of his hits. Bob passed last week, leaving behind a legacy that will last forever. He possessed musical wizardry that helped introduce an iconic genre of Jamaican music during an era not so long gone, the power of which may never be superseded.

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Gone Fishing

Last Sunday I went fishing. Down in the Florida Keys. I can’t remember the names of some of the keys, for there are so many. The most popular ones don’t escape me though, like Key Largo, Marathon, Big Pine Key and, of course, Key West. Key West is perhaps the most well-known as there are so many stories about its famous residents, past and present, including Ernest Hemingway and the descendants of his polydactyl cats. And one I will never forget is in the lower Keys. Ironic that I will forever remember it as that one has no name. No Name Key. Yes, that is its real name. A name so unique it is unforgettable. There is where I went fishing. Well, not exactly there, but from the bridge you have to cross to get there from Big Pine Key.

Not bad!
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What’s in a Name?

I stepped up from the street, scuttled across the sidewalk and slipped through the front door of the small building. The sign hanging over the door had caught my eye from across the other side of the street and magnetized me. It read: Trace Your Ancestry Through Your Surname. I should have known better immediately and not allowed it to pull me in. But sometimes we act on impulse and end up doing things that make no sense at all. As in this instance. This time around, though, I did catch myself before it was too late. My senses slapped me, spun me around and pulled me back through the door. How could I possibly trace my ancestry through Smith?

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Languages: An Avenue for Life Exploration

I speak several foreign languages. Thanks to my teachers at good old Morant Bay High School in St. Thomas, Jamaica, who gave me the start. French is one that I learned. I am fully fluent today, to the point where I switch registers easily, depending on the need, moving from standard to the very informal. While at university in France, a teacher, handing me back a piece of homework, asked me, “Have you ever thought about becoming a diplomat?” Strange question, I thought. “Why?” I asked. Because your French is so élévé,” she replied. My French was at a high standard. I guess it must have been because it was “book French” that I had learned in Jamaica. Very formal French. Though grammatically correct, no one used that level of French in everyday communication, even for school assignments or in the classroom. So ironic, though, that the lowest mark in my academic life was in my first French exam. Got a whopping 17 out of 100! Why do I still remember it so well?

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Missing Jamaica

I have lived more than half of my life overseas. Outside of Jamaica where I am from. I am not that young anymore, so you can imagine it’s been a long time living in foreign lands. But, I miss Jamaica like Day 1. After all these years. I imagine only those who have lived overseas will understand my emotions. When I left Jamaica first for good, it was for a posting to Brussels by the company I was working with at the time, right after Hurricane Gilbert did a number on Jamaica. And I have lived abroad ever since. So, it’s been a while. Gilbert mashed up my beloved island in 1988.

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The Enigma of My Jamaican Passport

The chill of the night air on the outside still clung to the windows of the bus, but it was warming up on the inside. I shed the jacket the driver had lent me earlier when it had started to get cold. I had not expected, and so was unprepared for any weather like this. For it was Africa, after all, and Africa was supposed to be hot all over, and all the time. Even though I knew better — that it was a jigsaw of diverse countries running up and down latitudes – my recessed imagination of it being characteristically the same recaptured my mind. Characteristically hot. Snow-capped mountains? No. Hot deserts? Yes.

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What’s In An Accent – A Jamaican One, That Is?

The cadence of our speech, our accent, is often a marker of where we come from. What country, or even what region of a country. Sometimes, an accent may be an indicator of not only where we are from, but also of where we may have lived outside of our country of origin. Some accents are described as being rough and thick, while others are said to be sexy and pleasing. Guttural or heavy. Lilting, undulating, or sing-song. Some are more well-known than others, easily recognizable, having spread far and wide internationally; some of the others, I imagine, have remained in the confines of small, remote villages. My own Jamaican accent is all of the above, depending on how discerning the listener is, or depending on where in the world I am. Whom I’m talking with, or even what mood I am in, also nuances how my base Jamaican accent sounds when my words pop out of my mouth. The choice of how I modulate my voice is usually not deliberate. The situation I am in at a given time automatically selects how I speak.

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The Evolvement of My Driving

This is embarrassing. Really dreadful. I know the car is going to buck again like a raging bull and shut off in a huff! It has done so already, three times in a row. Each time followed by laughter. From derisive giggles to roaring, fatuous hoots. I have always been good at learning new things, grasping them effortlessly and mastering them quickly; but my one-O-one in driving a motorcar is turning out to be an unforgiving exception, proving now to be my undoing.

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Upon the Departure of My Mother

I did not cry when my mother died. Not when I got the news. I was in the kitchen at home in Florida, tooling around the stove trying to fix a quick breakfast, when the red, car-shaped phone rang. I reached quickly into the corner of the counter where it was parked and grabbed it before it stopped ringing. I pressed the on button and jammed it against my ear, gripping it firmly between my hunched-up shoulder and my head, cocked awkwardly to the side. They were my extra pair of hands, as I needed my regular pair to delicately turn my eggs over so as not to burst the red; I loved them slightly runny, just like my mother used to prepare them for my father when I was a little bwoy growing up in Norris. My brother’s voice came through from the other end of the line: “Miss Lil gone,” were the words I heard, somewhat perfunctory, and the egg red burst.

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Things I Am Grateful For

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to participate in a Gratitude Challenge where, for each of three days, I had to list three things for which I was grateful. I posted the lists on Facebook, per the challenge, and have decided to repost them on my blog. Perhaps my decision to repost them is driven by my conviction that giving thanks is necessary in life and doing so is an affirmation of the items of gratitude I originally expressed.

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