Beyond the Jamaica cruise stops of Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, there is an island world of richest stories, stories of suffering and dark struggle but told with lyric heart. Who hasn’t danced to the reggae music of Bob Marley and the Wailers or been schooled by their torchy ballads of yearning for freedom and their songs of resistance? These melodies have won the entire planet to a backbeat rhythm. Seasoned with jerk flavors.
Follow the mountain roads into the lush Jamaica interior past the bauxite mines, the Great Houses and cane fields, and you’ll stumble on the tradition of the Maroons who long ago fled their plantation servitude for the ridges of Cockpit Country where they established villages with names like ‘Me-no-sen-you-no-come’ to stand off the slave-catchers and the British redcoats. They covet the freedom of their fastnesses to this very day preserving a way of life that descends from the Ashanti of West Africa.
The island motto, ‘Out of many, one people’, is much more than a tourist brochure tagline. Visible in the fabric of those who now call the island home and walk its streets run the bright threads of Indian, Chinese, Spanish, Irish, English, African, Sephardic Jew, and German immigrants. Even a hint of the indigenous Arawak and Taino. Not to speak of today’s Ralph Lauren, Naomi Campbell and Usain Bolt.
Our first grandchild, Elia, was born in those hills, a celebrity event we could hardly resist. It was a perfect setting. Parentage mingling southern China, the Swiss Jura and Nordic ne’er-do-wells spliced with Javanese, Tswana and Indian ways. It all happened in a provincial hospital just down the road from ‘Me-no-sen-you-no-come’ and hard-by some jerk chicken stands. Cool runnings.
We dressed to the nines and sang calypso carols to the sound of steel drums. Ate our fill of rum cake. And opened the daily paper, ‘The Gleaner’, to the following post-Christmas story:
A young man in the Kingston suburbs went out to the latrine for his morning constitutional. No sooner had he settled himself than he began to hear what sounded like music rising from the depths. A Christmas carol. ‘Silent Night’, no less. Stricken at the thought that sorcery was at work, he fled to the house where family tried to make sense of his account about an outhouse haunted by Christmas carols. They went together to get to the bottom of all this, the bravest gingerly lifting the lid of the ‘long-drop’, confirming the clear strains of ‘Silent Night’ from the darkness below. The sound appeared to be coming from … a postal bag. The authorities were summoned, the bag retrieved. It was stuffed with greeting cards from distant places. And one of those cards had a novelty feature. It contained a hardy little chip that played ‘Silent Night’ – even in adverse conditions.
There’s a life lesson in this story somewhere, but I will leave that to the discerning mind of the reader.
The mail has since been delivered. And the postal carrier, who felt too burdened to complete his rounds, dismissed.