Sunday, January 4, 2009

Draft: Begin

Because it's what I want most.

We were on our way to introduce the newbies to Ocho Rios, or "Ochi", as I hate to be told by people that don't know I know.  The four of us were seated comfortably in our little Hi-Lux half pickup - Jamaican Style...a pick up with four door cab, but small, like a Toyota...in fact, it was a Toyota.  I was driving fast.  And on the left side of the road.  Comfortable, cool, windows down, sun shining and the most striking beauty and tragedy immediately available.

Taylor and her "man" were down to the Island for the first time on recommend of the Americans and we, my wife Sally and I, were the ones who knew about these things...We were on our way to Ochi to show them the spot she would be running and to catch them up on life in the Islands, the "ex-patriot" lifestyle; it was our job to convince and we wanted to convince and we couldn't help but convince, because we were in the honey moon stage, still.

The roads on the Island, well, "The Road"! typically followed the coast and followed it as if a child, the kind that loves the lines and loves to follow the lines with his crayon, would draw, immediately hugging every nook and bay and inlet.  In the Caribbean a span of 1000 feet can take 5 or 10 minutes (depending on weather...and people and just about anything) and that simple truth is one of the reasons life is different in the islands.  Whether poverty or preference to follow an inlet with a road versus building a bridge over it demonstrates the opposing ideals of the "American" lifestyle and the "Island" lifestyle.  

The trip was going to take us 2 hours from the City Center.  It was 40 miles.  The journey, for a first timer with an experienced driver is a majestic one.  You feel the ocean air as always to your left, just a slight turn of the head will deliver consistent breathtaking views and induce inspiration to day dream.  In the island sun and sea wind your troubles melt and you can feel them running down your leg and out your body as soon as you get out into the wind and smell the sea.  As we flew along passing and being passed, all as like a video game, jokingly close to other cars is the norm.  Our guests were expectedly impressed.  The type of impressed that comes from seeing one of your own in an unfamiliar and, to some, hostile place, and doing well and turning it good or even great.  That's what we did.

The drive to Ochi will take you past chicken shacks and abandoned sea side villas, rusted out buildings and miles of cane fields and coconut farms.  There is nothing so majestic than a palm tree against an open sea.  It will take you by black people with white and staring eyes.  It will take you through towns that are 300 years old or more.  Towns that stories about pirates and plunder are, today, written about and made into movies.  Towns that had slaves and swashbucklers and murderers and travelers from far places.  The buildings in these towns were thoroughly authentic and you could feel it.  There wasn't money to rebuild or renovate so these 300, 400, 500 year old buildings would sit in different stages of disrepair which is where they got their authenticity from.  And then streets so close, like in the movies, people on top of you bustling everywhere, stop go, stop go, madness, gladness.

We had been on the road for about 45 minutes and were coming into our first "big" town since we left the City.  Hopewell was a town as described above.  You come away from the sea with the main road and the first thing to notice is the feel of traveling back through time.  The houses are square, with peaked roofs, the good ones are wood, others concrete.  A good number of the town buildings are made with wood.  You don't see a lot of wood buildings in the islands.  And the wood lent just enough oddity to the picture that it drew your eye in more.  And then you began to really see.  Picket fence here, but run down, but neat, 300 year old stone church, town square...and you think to yourself, such civility in engineering in such an "un-civilized" place and then you realize it was the English that owned this island and the English money that developed much of it, properly, on the backs of the slaves who now consider the island their home.

You never know what's going to happen in Jamaica.  The country is so poor, people are so desperate and much closer to survival and survival is a very primal and explosive state.  Such is the state of Jamaica.  At times the people would demonstrate in great mobs of passion and anger and violence and indignation.  They would burn tires in the road or move burned out cars from the last protest into the road, a roadblock.  Yes, this disrupted the tourist and business flow.  The former having emotions that ranged from genuine regard for what was a new way of life for them, the later simply moving like the lifeblood.  Lifeblood can't be stopped, if it reaches a barrier it simply re-directs itself and keeps flowing.  That is what the Jamaican people are like, they are much more satisfied with life than many I have met.  

And that day, the day we were showing the newbies around, enjoying the splendor and freedom of this beautiful island, that day, we ran into a road block.

When I wrote earlier about survival and the relation between the distance from survival (meaning how you live, how far are you from surviving?  People here, on this island are much closer than we are to surviving.  They go hungry, the go without clothes, they live in shacks on dirt floors.  They do not have refrigeration or reliable electricity.  Survival state is no joke.  And survival state is the state the mob was in when we rounded the corner to chaos.

The roads of Hopewell are narrow, the buildings are right on top of the streets.  So much so that you will routinely hit, nudge, love bumb people walking in and out of the buildings.  If someone gets a flat tire or has engine trouble - both lanes of traffic will come to a complete standstill until the issue is resolved.  There are very few alternate routes.  And even as well traveled foreigners it's we are only one crises away from realizing how poorly "well traveled" we are.

The mob was considerable, maybe 300 people.  Crowding the streets, shouting, traffic stopped in front of us, cars, buses, motorbikes, crawling now, slowly - people everywhere.  Quick and angry faces screaming in deep baritone voices that sound gutteral because you can't understand the patois.  Our guests have regained attention in their back seats. 

We put our windows up as we reach the half way point of the town.  The bus in front of us takes a detour, a hard left - away from the main road.  There are jet black faces all around us peering in the windows and walking, touching the car.  I understand the word "throng" much better now.  We are being re-directed but we are not the only ones.  The re-direction is actually a result of the roadblock - Island ingenuity, there aren't many alternate routes...but there are some.  

We are jolting along at the pace of a fast walk.  Many of the crowd are not paying attention to the cars and buses on their re-routing.  This town, Hopewell, is not a tourist town.  The only white folks these people see are driving through on a bus peering out, in awe, disgust, beauty, inspiration, fear, pity, peering out and gone.  Just like that, every day, day after day, these Jamaicans see the shiny brown and white, tube shaped buses ferrying the money, the Whites, through their town.  But they don't see any of the money - they just see whitey looking out at them and snapping pictures to be forgotten in a year.

They don't get to see a lot of white people close up and slowly.  And this mob was already raging about the shooting of a 13 year old boy by the local police.  That is what the road block was about.  And now, nearly insane with their rage at all things, because that's how it works, the rage of not being able to ever leave your town or your island.  To never experience what it is you can now see is available to you, that is what feeds the mobs rage.

I wonder immediately if they will notice us, the windows are tinted, but not the front windshield.  There is a smashing on our back fender and another on the front.  Two people have swung bottles with enough force to shatter them on our car.  We are going slow, the road is full of enormous pot holes, people are banging on the truck now, shouting loudly at us in a language we don't understand.  There are more bottles upheld and sticks and knives and shouting and bellowing.  Taylors "man" says..."roll down the windows so they don't smash them".  I do it while thinking it's the stupidest thing I've ever done.  The windows are down, we are moving forward at less than 5 mph, screaming anger directed at us is coming from all sides, we are too shocked to panic, the mob has surrounded us, front and back and any minute there will be a gun shot or a hammer to the windshield.  There is no time. 

From the minute we turned the first corner into town and saw the protest to our truck being surrounded and focused on by a mob on fire was 2 minutes.

There was absolutely nothing we could do.

And then, as I looked out at the angry faces looking back at me on all sides, my realization was stopped; by a pounding, pounding on the back of the truck.  Such a violent pounding I had never heard nor felt before or since.  And then shouting, but of a different sort, the shouting of angels.  It was a higher note but crystal in it's clarity and density.  We understand nothing of the words and we didn't need to.  The tone of the voices was enough.  I looked around in astonishment and from the mob had emerged Jamaican women and a few men, many, many of them.  I couldn't tell them from the mob originally but they couldn't have been more different.

They were pounding on our truck and telling us to back up and clearing the road behind us.  It had turned out that we were singled out and re-directed, there were no cars behind us.  These Jamaicans had taken over like light in the morning dispelling the crazed mob and unmasking their insanity.  We understood "come back, come back!!" yelled as they made room, the stress and intensity instantaneously evaporating even though we wouldn't be safe until we were back up to speed on the way out of town (and not then either).

In less than 5 minutes we had experienced acute exposure to opposite ends of the human spectrum.  We were witness to the madness and crazed violence that often times ends without a story or at least without a story written in the first person and we were witness to courage and humanity that thinks only of our one human spirit and is afraid of nothing in the light of that knowledge.  In less than 5 minutes.  It was like the expresso of human experience.


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