Thursday, January 10, 2008
Welcome to Jamrock!
Come back to Jamaica…….I have not been to Jamaica in almost twenty-five years! Something happens when you are a child of immigrant parents: you either always go 'home' or you never go 'home'. Somehow I ended up running around the world before returning to my roots. The night before my departure I was speaking with my friend Jamel when I casually mentioned I would be flying on Air Jamaica. This is when the scary movie music should have piped in. 'What! Air Jamaica', 'LL you do NOT want to do this. Can you change your ticket?' He then went on to tell me in great detail about his Air Jamaica nightmare which included no luggage for his entire trip. I laughed, because it was too ridiculous. Surely, things must have changed.
Before I go any deeper with my experience let me just say for the record:
I love my people, BUT…..
You know when something just doesn't feel right and makes you go hmmmm? Well check this out. Due to my explicit warning the night before, I decided to check Air Jamaica's website to make sure the flight was not delayed. The website only stated 'The plane has not departed' hmmmm. I arrive in Newark airport and realize there are no ticket kiosks, which means I had to join the main check in line. Anyone who has ever had to fly anywhere in the developing world knows what that means. To put it mildly just think chaos, crowds, arguments, and lots and lots and lots of 'luggage'. Luggage is a relative term and used loosely in this context. Let me break it down for you:
Step 1: You buy an extraordinarily large suitcase (usually on 14th street), you stuff it with household goods, clothes for everybody you ever met in your entire life, electronic goods you plan to sell but are passing off as personal items, and lots of food wrapped in plastic bags and foil. Once you have done this repeat the process with several more suitcases.
Step 2: Bring as many relatives as possible with you to the airport. Do not have all their documents.
Step 3: Insist your bags are carry on size.
Step 4: Become irate when the counter person tells you you're luggage is overweight.
Step 5: Begin to unpack and rearrange your luggage at the counter in hopes of being underweight.
Step 6: Begin swearing.
Once I finally get to the ticket counter I realize I have entered the Twilight Zone.
I am immediately informed that my 1pm flight has been delayed to…….are you ready for this.......8:30 pm! Not only is the flight delayed (just a little), but I must not leave the airport because if they can fix the plane earlier they will go ahead and leave!? Twilight Zone music.
Do not attempt to use logic because it only gets worse.
Since I have a whole lot of time, I make my way over to the food court with my bogus food voucher. Once seated in the food court I meet what I will now refer to as the Hallelujah women, older Jamaican church women who have sworn allegiance to Air Jamaica. No matter what, they fly Air Jamaica and are part of the 7th Heaven Mileage Club. These women love Air Jamaica because they are ultra patriotic, love the food, and because Air Jamaica waits for late passengers! Ugggh. No matter how much you complain their response is 'but the food is good!'. During the luncheon I am informed by a young woman that Air Jamaica is notorious for the following: fist fights, being hours late, strikes, and forever lost luggage. She goes on to reminisce about seeing passengers with overweight bags begin to layer on clothing (i.e.: four hats on their head to create space in their bag!).
After many long phone calls and reading a book, I decide to go back to the ticket counter and check on the flight. Twilight Zone music. I walk and walk and walk. No Air Jamaica counter. Ok, I must be mixed up, so I walk in the other direction. hmmm. Logic time: Start on one end and walk all the way to the other end, right? I do this several times, and finally I start asking airport employees where the Air Jamaica ticket counter is. Everyone is confused, I'm confused. Newark Airport only has two floors. I've been to the ticket counter before. Has the ticket counter disappeared? Twilight Zone music. Yes!, the counter has disappeared….on purpose. The Air Jamaica employees have taken down the sign and put up a sign reading 'USA 2003'! They were hiding from their customers!
Do not attempt to use logic because it only gets worse. As the day became night I started to notice something peculiar….Twilight Zone music. The departure time on the flight board became later and later, yet I heard no announcements. hmmm. Soon other people began to notice the same thing, and then all hell broke loose. Think of all the bad Jamaican words you have ever heard, then make some up. It got ugly, real ugly, Jamaican ugly.
Finally at 10pm we boarded the plane! Hallelujah! The flight was sold out, they ran out of overhead space, and people were aggravated and hungry. Not good. I noticed two highly confused African-American women walking to their seats muttering 'I just don't, I don't, I don't understand!' The pilot then had the audacity to say 'We are sorry for the delay. You must understand that we had technical problems YESTERDAY and planes take a long time to fix.'
At that point a passenger yelled out 'Buy a new one! Mi want a refund!' The woman next to me was sitting with her legs completely wide open because she had an entire Radio Shack store shoved in her bag. She explained to me that last year she packed her electronics in her suitcase and everything was stolen. Not this year buddy, she's got her stuff somewhere safe….between her legs!
I soon began to notice another peculiar thing….It was hot on the plane. I soon remembered Jamaicans hate the cold, therefore there is very little A/C on the flight. I was burning up! Now get ready for this one, it really put me over the top (as if you have not read enough)…..As we were preparing to depart the plane (yes, we actually made it to Jamaica) an elderly married couple were standing in the row before me. The husband began looking around for something, when the wife asked him 'Pop, what you looking for, your teeth?' I swear I'm not making this up! By the grace of God at 2:30 am I finally escaped from the Twilight Zone and met my sleep deprived family in Montego Bay.
Waking up later that day I opened the window and realized I was in Jamaica!
Hot, sunny and lush. What is the first thing I did when I arrived in Jamaica?
I began to eat. Jamaica is without a doubt the culinary king of the Caribbean.
My trip was not only a homecoming but a food odyssey, so I dived right in.
Ackee and saltfish, calaloo, bananas and dumplings, jerk chicken, sorrel, rice and peas, red pea soup, pepper pot soup, spiced bun, Red Stripe beer, Guinness Stout, rundown mackerel, curried goat, rum pudding, black rum cake, roasted breadfruit, festival, conch, escovetiched fish, plantains, and oxtail. After stuffing myself I headed for the beach. The beautiful beach and warm water seemed to erase the previous day away. All I needed was a beach chair, umbrella, and some sun to make things irie.
After a couple of days my family and I jumped in the rental car and began a trans-island road trip. If you want to get a thrill of a lifetime, drive in Jamaica. Just understand Jamaicans drive in an improvisational spontaneous way, especially around blind curves on hills, and you must drive on the left side of the road. Other than that it's a breeze! In Ocho Rios I really got into the beach.Of course while laying out I met a Visa Boy. FYI: A Visa Boy is a beautiful man who thinks you are so beautiful, unique, and special, he would like to spend some time with you and later come live with you in your country (all expenses paid by you of course). hmm…Sorry babe no Stella stories here!
After the beach I ate some more. One of my favorite food finds is the Ocho Rios Jerk Center. Real Jerk and an amazingly spiced Conch fish, which I washed down with a cold Guinness. While in Ocho, we reunited with my cousin Judy who updated us on family business and warned us about the notorious Stone Crusher Gang. She told us Ocho Rios people don't put up with the Stone Crushers. 'They walk in live, but they leave dead. We just nicely put them away' Out in the streets they call it muurdah!
Back on the road we made our way over the mountains and through the bush.
I must say Portland is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The mountains are amazingly high and the dense plant growth is stunning. Once in Port Antonio we are reunited with my Grandmother and Uncle, and began to eat again! Christmas morning I took the liberty of baptizing myself in the Caribbean Sea. A couple of days later we were back in the car heading for St. Thomas. I don't think St. Thomas parish has built a new road… in a while. Nevertheless, as you are driving through miles of sugar cane you don't seem to notice the bumpedy, bump, bump.
Some of my favorite things about Jamaica are the roadside food stands and local bars. Surprise, surprise! I love the hand painted signs, the impromptu DJ's and speaker systems, and the split open oil drums grilling spiced food. At this point I should say, I actually weigh less than 300 pounds, in case you were wondering. While in St. Thomas we stumbled upon the 'Chill Out Lounge' by the sea. Dominoes table, hand painted décor, a beautiful beach view and amazing food! Keeping with the One Love spirit I later spotted a taxi with a hand painted sign on the rear window which read 'Squeeze Her Breasts'.
The other thing I love about Jamaica is the news. Outrageous headlines read 'Thugs Target Dogs', 'Man Runs Up $7,000 Bar Tab, Waitress Chases Him to Next Town'. My personal favorite was a female street vendor being interviewed on TV regarding the relocation of vendors, 'Mi been selling since the time of Genesis. Mi nah go nowhere!' Only in Jamrock.
Unfortunately it was time for my vacation to come to an end. An even more unfortunate thought was that I would have to fly Air Jamaica again! Scary music. My flight was scheduled for 8 am. As I made my way to the ticket counter (scared yet?) I was informed the flight would be delayed three hours! My family and I were now due to depart within a half a hour of each other. At 11:30 I parted ways with my family and actually boarded the plane! I'm happy to report I made it home safe and sound. Around 9pm my parents called to say 'Guess where we are?' $^*&^@%!