Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Details of an Irie Vacation in a Coconut Shell

Dear Readers,

I bring you Irie greetings from the tropics, Jamaica! By the time you receive this letter November 2010 will have already reared its head and I will probably need another vacation. I withheld writing to you much sooner because vacation is always exciting especially when it’s a trip to Jamaica. I move to the beat of the island…No problem man, cool runnings and the entire laid-back attitude coupled with reggae music to activate muscles and bones.

I set out from JFK, New York and arrived safely at the Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, Jamaica. My carrier was Air Jamaica now operated by Caribbean Airlines. I will assume that you like me have either read or heard about the change. Mh! To tell the truth as I boarded the plane and took my seat I felt a tinge of sadness, Jamaica’s pride and joy of the sky dubbed the iron bird went like butter against sun. As soon as the plane sat steadily in the sky I decided to host the sweet memories of the old Air Jamaica by purchasing a glass of mimosa, which by all account used to be free of cost on the flights. Can you imagine? I had a few sips of the concoction and then slipped into a relaxed mood, letting my mind roam freely. I gave thanks to Air Jamaica for all the good times, free foods and beverages and believe it or not for its occasional tardiness which no doubt was necessary or within good reasons. Unfortunately, the sorry present came to mind fast as I salivated in Air Jamaica’s glorious past. The change was real. I then said to myself, may the pilot of this plane be an Air Jamaica old timer because bumpy landings are not my forte. I wanted my landing as per usual… smooth and easy like a hot delicious creamy bowl of Jamaican cornmeal porridge. Needless to say I got my wish, and took it as an overture to my vacation.

I stepped from the plane with my natural hair combed in two plaits. Each plait hung from the sides of my head, covering my ears. This would have been an unwelcome site to my mother if she was alive because she always referred to that hairdo, when I wore it, as a donkey dressed with its two hampers (smile). Anyway whether she was around or not I would have still kept it that way because I wanted the tropical sun and wind to hit my scalp as I deplaned. To my surprise that wasn’t the case because the airport has been modernized. I had no breeze, wind nor sun to my disposal until I had cleared customs and entered the outdoors where everyone roamed freely. Heh! This isn’t gossip but between you, me and, the door-post I believe the modernization is a master plan to contain people who conjure far-fetched ideas... lol or bobl (buss out big laff) as taken from the Jamaican dialect text messaging vocabulary.

At the airport I saw many fancy vehicles which bring me to speculate that there is only a small amount of walk-foot people left in Jamaica. Check this out! In Jamaica I heard that the imported used cars are called deportees…lol. Keeping up with appearances one of my nieces was at the airport in her fabulous vehicle, ready to be my chauffer. We made our way in fine style from the airport, stopping a couple minutes later at a coconut vendor to have some coconut water. We were served two huge coconuts which were no match for our grasps. Anyway we handled them well. We drank and gossiped about family members and in doing so I noticed that I was in the vicinity of a beach which I used to frequent at nights during my happy-go-lucky years. This was a popular thing to do back then. Sadly, that beach is not the same as before and even if it was the coconut vendor told me that I couldn’t venture there at nights. By the way it is said that coconut water is the only water that goes straight to the heart. Maybe it is true because I felt instant rejuvenation after my indulgence. I also ate the delicious white jelly meat from the coconut, savoring every bite.

Moving away from Kingston, our next stop was Portmore where I came under heavy attack by mosquitoes but being a straphanger/subway rider from New York I wasn’t deterred by their fierceness. I looked at them and with a cool American accent I said, “Yow man, whasup! You all ain’t go feed off a me today.” Within seconds I was able to crush some of the blood suckers to naught against my fabulous skin. It would be a sin to let the tiny pests spoil my surprised visit with my Portmore nephew and his family also my trip to Rodney’s Arms restaurant where I sat in one of the gazebos and watched the sea rumbled and tumbled as I feasted on steamed fish, bammy and a bowl of conch soup for stamina, vigor and vitality. Oh how I wish you were there with me to enjoy the lovely sea breeze and food. To aid digestion I had a glass of something on the rocks, special amber the name my father used for Appleton Rum. Tee hee hee! I can’t laugh too hard because pastor would be very upset at me for indulging in ravenous drinks. My niece and I left Portmore pregnant with food. Night time was now in place with lots of speeding drivers on the road. Nonetheless she maneuvered her way well and at some point stopped to pick up her high school student son who was waiting at a friend’s home in Spanish Town. We then made our way to Old Harbour where I spent the night in comfort with my niece and her son in their lovely home.

The next morning I awoke to a splendid Saturday morning village welcome from all sorts of creatures…donkeys, cows, goats, pigs, roosters, birds, and lizards doing their individual performances to keep things real and rural. Adding to that, my niece made a scrumptious breakfast of ackee and salt fish, roasted breadfruit, yellow yam and boiled bananas. My plans for the day were hefty. I had places to go and more family to see so I ate and then left the dining area to get dressed. My niece being the perfect host entered the bedroom to see how I was doing and as she did so I noticed her staring at the bed with her mouth opened wide in dismay as if she had seen a ghost. What’s the matter with her, I said to myself? I turned, looked at the bed and saw a dark speck on one of the pillows which was easy to see because it’s a trait in our family to use pastel shades of bed linens. “That is a fly and not a bed bug,” I said, reading her mind. “Thank God it’s a fly. I was wondering about that,” she laughed. “I do not have bedbugs at my place in New York,” I told her. “Well, you may not have but your luggage was among other peoples’ on the plane. “

“You have a point,” I said and then quickly shut my mouth. I was on her terrain and not at a hotel. Besides that the news was far and wide in Jamaica that New York and other parts of America were experiencing a bedbug crisis.

Talk about experience! My vacation was of such that it would take a marble cover composition book to write you all the details. The details in a nut shell would be a good choice but on second thought it’s too small. A coconut shell is more appropriate…ahahahaha! Here we go. I ate roasted yellow yam and salt fish purchased from licensed vendors by the wayside as I journeyed from my niece’s home in Old Harbour, St. Catherine to Mandeville, Manchester. While at my relative’s home in Mandeville I ate well. I had juices made from, cherry, guava and june-plum. All these goodies were highly appreciated because natural home grown foods don’t come my way often. According to the old saying “make hay while the sun shines” and that’s exactly what I did, ate all the good foods everywhere I went. It was great to be in Mandeville again, the home of my High School. Walking around Mandeville I saw familiar faces and friends. The town has become so congested with traffic, much different from the days when I attended High School. The supermarkets are so American; I thought for a moment that I was still in New York. There is hardly anything Jamaican in them anymore. You would never imagine the big influence that America has on the tiny island. Jamaica needs to keep its culture alive. Travellers admire this. Sssh! It’s none of my business but the dress mode of some follow-fashion people look rather ridiculous for the tropics...lol. On a rather interesting note I was invited to visit a lab in Mandeville which has been running a sickle cell trait pilot program. Within the few minutes that I was there I found some of the dynamics about the program rather interesting. Before I forget I should tell you that I have pictures but they are mostly of relics, antique things, and scenes from nature. However, at one of the shopping centers in Mandeville, I took a picture of writings found in a stall of the public restroom. The writings obviously done by two people read “Chris Brown is hot”. “Jesus is hotter and sweeter said Princess”. I tell you things of this nature are everywhere these days. People scribble and disappear without been seen.

Forgive me if I am incoherent in my delivery. The vacation fever is still in me. I had several nieces all sitting behind the wheels of their fabulous vehicles, taking turns in transporting me around. I really considered myself a lucky aunt. I cannot forget my seventeen year old grandnephew from Old Harbour sitting behind the wheel of his mother’s truck; he handled the roads and the vehicle like a pro. My other relatives did well too on the winding narrow country roads. Sometimes I wished they had given me the opportunity to use my “foot mobile”…lol. Lord knows I needed the exercise but unfortunately they refused to understand. Their action was all about love, respect and concern. As a matter of observation, the people in Jamaica seemed rather happy despite the contagious hard times and the fact that tropical storm Nicole had ravished the island. Areas remained flooded. Homes immersed. Roads damaged.

I went from pillar to post in Jamaica…here, there, everywhere. I visited the Blue Mountain 22 acre coffee farm which is owned by one of my nieces. I also visited Cinchona Gardens which is in the Blue Mountain Range. It is the most gorgeous place on earth. Beautiful trees, plants, indigenous flora, fauna, and a great house. On a trip coming back from Montego Bay after visiting one of my brothers and his family, we stopped at Border in St. Elizabeth to feast on fish soup, fried fish, and bammy. To complete the feast I drank Red Label wine, a popular wine used for baking needs. When in Jamaica I never leave home without it. I love the taste on the run. Honestly, vacations sometimes court antics, and experiments, maybe because of the freedom or relaxation involved.

My main highlight was a visit to Roses Valley, or the Land of Look Behind as noted on the map. It’s a cul-de-sac village which is located in St. Elizabeth. The way leading to this village is the same way out. It has many mountains, and valleys. I had promised that on my next visit there I would tour the surrounding villages but first I had to attend a relative’s tomb building and then his memorial service. This was a grand two day event which involved going to church, lots of foods, music, humor and family. As soon as that was out of the way I then visited the villages of William Piece, Tanancy (Tan an si), Jenkins, and Lookout. I washed my face with dew drops found on cocoa leaves at Look Out. It felt so refreshing! I sat by the wayside and chatted with the villagers, listened to music and drank and ate. At William Piece I met a lively 103 year old man with memory like an elephant’s. If you think that modern technology has replaced the age of rote in this community, think again. I was invited by the Principal of the Roses Valley Primary school to give a brief address to the children and in doing so I engaged them in some memory gems and let me tell you, the children were stars. I was very surprised but was even more surprised when I was presented with a certificate of appreciation for the contribution that I had given to the school over the years.

My maternal roots belong to Roses Valley. As a result I found it necessary to visit the family burial sites. Following tradition and to make the “spirits” happy I armed myself with a bottle of over proof white rum also taking along with me a couple of family members as tour guides. We had cups, snacks and water as if we were going on a picnic. We started from Look Out to Class House to Chapel Hill. At each site I washed my face with some rum. I gave some to my relatives to do the same. One relative thought it was a waste. He was concerned that the rum would be finished before he got a shot of it but I assured him that it wouldn’t be finished and if it did I had some red label wine as backup. He finally got his shot of rum. I then held the bottle firmly with the remainder and proceeded to sprinkle the white wash mounds with it and toss it recklessly. Ha! Ha! While the rum went east west north and south I said to the silent bones, “Here take this and be happy and share it with the others. I am not promising to do this each time I visit Jamaica.” To see me in action you would believe that I had power to cast spells and advise…lol. It came time to eat. While we snacked on cassava chips I commented about a dead relative who in his drunken stupor had said that “the bible was written to calm slaves”. Had he been alive today and made such a remark in public, rest assured that he would have faced serious opposition from the Christian world and others. We disregarded his remarks and continued to have fun, reminiscing, talking to the spirits not the ones in the bottles…haha! “We are just passing through we didn’t come to stay,” shouted one relative. “Yes, is true,” I said, laughing at our silly behavior. As we left I had a last minute request for the old bones, “Give me some winning numbers for the lottery. It’s about time I become a millionaire.” The moments at the burial sites were priceless. Where else but in Roses Valley, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica could I have had such expression of self. I was loved, accommodated and well fed by my relatives not only in Roses Valley but also in two major environs, Oxford and Balaclava. We bounced stem wares to good health, wealth, laughter, and longevity.

From Roses Valley I went to Paradise District, St. Elizabeth to visit my 77 year old blind sister, and her 83 year old husband who remains as fit as a fiddle. My sister filled me in on all the current affairs and news that she had heard from the radio and TV. To my amusement when being opposed on a subject or topic, she made it clear that she is right because she read about it in the Gleaner (daily newspaper). Over the years my sister had read the Jamaica Gleaner so much that even in her blindness it is difficult to separate the source from whence the news and information come. Before she became blind I remember her being very spic and span and obviously this trait has followed her into her blindness. She accused her husband of handing her food without washing his hands and for not giving her the proper cup to drink from. She also mentioned that she would never eat cabbage, scallion and callaloo because she can just imagine that every toilet was flushed when Tropical Storm Nicole ravished the island. Hush! Peculiar lady... At this point I can say that my sister has her own style. Her behavior doesn’t bother her husband one bit. He moves about smiling, and takes care of her with lots of love and patience. I took those moments away with me as I left, to put to good use.

My vacation would be incomplete without a visit to my childhood village, Maidstone, Manchester. It is one of the first free villages in Jamaica. I viewed the mountains which have been equated to the breasts of maidens. I could go on and on about this place until thy kingdom come. Maybe one day you will have the opportunity to visit this farming community. I stopped by the Moravian Cemetery where my parents and a brother were laid to rest. I visited the Nazareth Infant and Nazareth Primary Schools. As the secretary of the NOSA (Nazareth Old Students Association) New York Chapter, it’s expected that on my return to New York a full report on the progress of the two schools will be presented to the members. Our organization over the years has been a support for these institutions as well as the community. My time in Maidstone culminated with a visit to the ruins of my childhood home. I then returned to Mandeville.

I had one more day to spare and so I left Mandeville, my strategic point, and returned to my niece’s home in Old Harbour. A few more visits were pending, this time they were in Kingston. As soon as that was done, we went to Portmore for another meal of fish and beverage. We left Portmore and returned to Old Harbour, awoke early the next day and then headed to the airport in Kingston. I checked in, purchased souvenirs, bought a couple bottles of over proof white rum, and Appleton Rum, ate a breakfast of ackee and salt fish and fried dumplins, drank a glass of cherry juice, read a few pages from the book “Usain Bolt…My Story… 9.58…Being The World’s Fastest Man”, boarded Jet Blue. New York bound! Wow!

Yours truly,

From Here To There With Grace

Tah-tah! All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

Grace Dunkley-Asphall, Copyright © 2010


  1. You took me to Jamaica. Your writing makes it so real. Now I must go and soon too.

  2. I need some "special amber" to keep me warm...lol Snow is all around.

  3. This was such a vivid writing that I got my self lost in the reading & for a moment thought I was there. The pictures you have are all very beautiful & make me want to return to my homeland even if it's for a visit. Now I truly see why you return ever so often. Every now & again you need a little R&R & what better place to get it, but the land of wood & water.