Still Jonesin’

Yesterday’s post reminded me that I hadn’t finished putting up pictures from my trip.

P1020955So, ‘my’ part of Jamaica is a string of fishing villages that have turned themselves into a tourist destination.  In October, over the course of Heroes Weekend (mid-month), they host a fishing tournament that includes boat races and a who-can-drink-a-Red-Stripe-fastest contest and other funny business.  This trip was the first time I was down in October, so of course I went to the tournament.  Here are a few quick-takes from the final day. 


There were a few different soccer games underway when I arrived.  I was in a growing crowd of people on shore waiting for the last of the fishermen to come back so we could see if anyone had caught anything to top the 4o-pounder that had been caught on day two.

P1020952P1020953P1020988I love how in his own world the boy in the first two photos is … but I was also a little distressed by how he kept disappearing between the boats.  I was sure he was going to be hurt, but he was fine.  It’s a different child in the last picture.  I just liked the way his position in relationship to the boat makes me think of the word ‘longing.’  Definitely a feeling I can relate to!

 P1020961Here’s another shot of Kenrick, who is somewhat annoyingly camera shy (says the woman who is painfully camera shy).  Whenever he saw me raise my camera, he turned away.  The few pictures I caught of him were all from far away so he wouldn’t know I was stealing his image. 

P1020960And then there’s this man, who I don’t know at all, but I was fascinated by how much he reminded me of the actor who played Omar on The Wire.  I suspect Omar would like this part of Jamaica (lots of pretty, light-skinned young men) … though I’m not sure Jamaica would be too crazy about Omar!  (Digression: saying that about Omar reminded me of a young woman I met at the conference on Tuesday.  She was telling us about her work (researcher) and said, “Black men are my main focus.”  It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and not let everyone at the table know that my main focus is black men, too!)


P1020964P1020965This is Ted, one of the boatmen who gives water tours.  I was just snapping photos, not really paying attention (waiting for my next chance to try catching Kenrick), and when I looked back through my photos at the end of the day, I really liked this trio.  I love the look of the boy in the second and third photo, love the way Ted is lifting him so casually, so easily, as if he weighs no more than a handful of seawater!

P1020967P1020966P1020969The first photo is Ted’s boat, Di Evil Tings, another of my favorite boat names.  It’s Ted again in the second two shots, maybe practicing for the boat races, maybe just showing off a little because we were all wanting to see a little action while we waited for those last fishermen.  Either way, I find this one of the coolest (and scariest) things the boatmen do.  I’ve been in one of these boats when it’s been up out of the water in a similar way … and my heart was in my throat the whole time!

P1020968So, as I was saying about Omar … this man is a bit old for Omar’s taste, but you get the idea.  I don’t know who this man is, but his clothes interested me.  I am naive enough to continue to be surprised by how certain parts of American culture are adopted (and adapted) in other countries.  I’m not sure I want to see my students and their friends running around with this adaptation of the low-slung pants, but I’d be happy if my students and their friends stopped running around with any of the more familiar versions!


 I might have found this guy interesting … if he had done anything more than sit beside me and stare at me.  For a LONG time.  Finally I asked if I could take his picture.  He seemed surprised, wanted to know why I wanted his picture.  I went for honesty: “You’re just sitting here staring at me, I figure I should get something out of it, too.”  He thought about it for a minute, then agreed to let me take his picture.  This is his serious, picture-taking face.  And, yes, this face looks just like the other expressions he tried out before settling on this one.  I once heard Sting say that everyone has three expressions (and he then went on to show that he, in fact, only had two) … well, this guy seems to have only one.

P1020975And finally here is a fisherman bringing in his big catch.  This wasn’t the first prize fish, but it was plenty big enough for me.  In the background is the El Tazar (the red boat).  That’s the boat that caught the winning fish.

Sadly, by the time the fishing prizes and trophies were awarded and the boat races were won, it was so late I started back for the house.  So I didn’t get to see the beer drinking contest or any of the other funny bits.  Maybe next year!


On a cold November night … *

Tonight is quite chilly, enough for me to be a bit shivery waiting for the bus home after class, enough for me to pull on my gloves and wish I had a hat.

And that’s ok.  It certainly isn’t COLD or anything, but my body isn’t happy with this.  All I can think of is:


and of how obvious it is that I am supposed to be standing on some beach in Jamaica and not on a Flatbush Avenue corner shivering at a bus stop.  Alas.


* Alternate title: “And I had doubts about AC’s proposal because why?”

One day soon …

… I’ll stop posting pictures from my trip.  But that day isn’t today. 

No plants today.  Today is all for the birds.  I felt so lucky to catch that doctor bird at the house, but I was having so much trouble getting photos of any other  kind of bird.  Along ‘my’ beach — the one closest to the house — I got to see lots of birds, but most made my work hard.  I’m not sufficiently skilled to know how to catch good shots of birds in flight, and the birds insisted on flying all the time.  Ther nerve!

I did get a few mostly-in-focus shots of some flyers, however:


And then, on my last day on the beach, I got lucky.  First there was this guy: P1030094


My little bit of research tells me that this is a Royal Tern.  He sat out there for quite a while letting me take his picture again and again.  And then he decided to phone a friend to share the photo op.




The last of my feathered friends swooped past my perch on the steps and landed in the shade under a tree nearby.

P1030099P1030101P1030102I don’t know what this one is.  I made a lucky guess with the royal tern and Google Images confirmed it.  Anyone have an idea what kind of bird this is?  I like her fawn-like spots.  I also like that she stayed near me for so long.  She didn’t seem to be paying me the least bit of attention.  She hung out in the shade for a while, then went strolling along the shoreline.

P1030135P1030136P1030137Maybe next time I’ll catch that little humming bird I found eating the cactus fruit!

Achin’ for Acres

P1030057No more elders passin’
without my kids askin’ —
“Papa, whose tombstones are those in the yard?”
Family gotta stay close,
all us gotta stay close …

— Arrested Development, Achin’ for Acres

The first time I heard this Arrested Development song, I thought: tombstones in the yardReally?  I don’t think so!  But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve, well … thought about it, and thought about how much this makes sense.  Why wouldn’t you want to bury your dead close to you?  And as the song makes plain, you can’t do that if you don’t own the land you live on.  My landlords are lovely people, but I can’t imagine they’d have been too thrilled if I had suggested digging up the back garden so I could keep my aunt close.

When I went to Jamaica, I started seeing small sections on people’s property sectioned off in some way or other and then noticed that these sectioned-off bits were personal cemeteries.  At first I was a little taken aback, but no more.  I actually find something warm and comforting in this idea.  Why should you have to pay crazy amounts of money to have your loved ones buried among strangers?  Why should you have to follow someone else’s timetable in order to visit a gravesite?  And cemeteries are rarely conveniently located.  Why should I have to travel for hours to sit with my father, his parents, Mildred, her mother?

P1030056This particular burial place was a surprise to me.  It’s at the edge of a beach and doesn’t immediately seem connected to anyone’s home.  My guess is that this bit of land, which is at the base of a hill, sits below the family home.

P1030072This is a gorgeous place to rest.  Shaded by several kinds of flowering trees (including Lignum Vitae, the national tree of Jamaica), facing a quiet beach and the open sea.

Every time I’m in Jamaica, I think of Achin’ for Acres, think about the meaning of family land, of having your own piece of earth and being able to pass that on to the family that comes after you. 

Got land to stand on,
then you can stand up,
stand up for your rights as a woman, as a man.
Man, oh man, my choices expand.
Ain’t got me no money, but I got me some land.

Dick and Jane go to Jamaica


Well, maybe not really, but it’s always what I think when I see these ‘children crossing’ signs.  I took this picture from the car on my way to the airport in Montego Bay.  I’ve been meaning to take a picture of this sign for years.  I want it to be accompanied with text: “Caution, cute and chubby little kids passing!”

And the school children are incredibly cute.  On a cab ride back from town early in my trip, we stopped at the basic school to pick up the three-year-old daughter of our driver.  She was beyond adorable: little green jumper uniform, white shirt, puffy braids and little barettes, black mary janes.  Too cute.  Our car was full (taxis here get packed to the gills.  I always make sure to wait until I can have the front seat so that I don’t have to squeeze anyone in beside or on top of me).  When we stopped at the school, we had four teenagers crammed into the back, and no more room.   I said she could sit on my lap.  She stood outside the car, checking me out, giving me a shy smile.  I opened my arms for her and she smiled wider and accepted my embrace.  I lifted and settled her on my lap and shut the door.  I expected her to be a little squirmy — in the arms and on the lap of a stranger — but no, she leaned right back against me, her body limp and relaxed, and started playing with my bracelet.  I felt that sad little reminder pang (“No, you won’t get to have one of these.”), but mostly I just felt comfortable, happy that she hadn’t hesitated to come sit with me, happy to have this adorable baby in my lap.

There’s a big problem with road safety in Jamaica, lots of billboards telling people to “Walk Good and Drive Good,” telling us that the children are our future … so we should be careful not to run them over on the road.  Seriously.  Of course, it might be safer for walkers and drivers if there were sidewalks anywhere, but I guess that hasn’t occurred to anyone yet.  No, people just have to walk in the road and squeeze themselves into and against whatever is on the side of the road to avoid getting hit.  The Dick and Jane Crossing sign is funny to me, but it’s really not funny at all.  Little kids shouldn’t be out in the road, having to protect themselves against traffic.  There are so many vehicular deaths every year.  The chubby children sign is clearly not getting the job done.

A little less prickly.

It’s not all about the cactus, you know.  So I thought I’d ease off the spiky photos and show you a little something else.

P1020916This lovely plant grows in pots around the front verandah of the house where I stayed, both inside and out.  I love the soft red-brown flowers.  P1020919They’re such a lovely color.  I want fabric and yarn and beads in this color.  I want a long, flowy almost diaphanous dress in this color.  Oh, but wait.  Look a little closer:



They have spikes, too!  Beautiful and aggressive.  There’s one plant that is famous for its spikiness.  It’s not a cactus, but it’s the one I have to watch out for when I’m out on my bike.  Casually riding over it, alive or dead, can puncture a tire … something I’ve learned from experience.  Twice.  Everyone calls it “makka,” but I can’t find anything under that name on Google that looks anything like this self-protecting plant.  If you recognize it and can name it, please clue me in: P1030024P1030033

The first picture shows the dried version, the second photo shows it young and fresh.  These spikes are not playing around.  They will happily poke through your tire — or you — with no provocation.

P1020880Ok, but I was going to be less prickly today.  So.  Away from the spiky plants.  Here’s a pretty thing I saw on my first morning out and about.  These were strung along this tree-high bush, all pretty and red and mysterious.  I have no idea what they are, but they’re nice.  I wonder if they’re edible, but I chose not to risk life and limb to try and pick a few and bring them back to the house for identification.


And then there’s this lovely (click on the photo to see the bonus companion lizard).  This must be half cheating on the non-prickly, however, because it seems to grow from a cactus.  I’ve always called this a starfish flower because, well, it looks like a starfish.  Apparently, it’s commonly known as a carrion flower.  Can I just say: Ewww!  It’s supposed to have a smell like rotting flesh, but I never noticed anything so ugly and this was growing right behind the house.  Maybe it’s a rare, odorless carrion flower?  Who knows.  In any case, I was quite happy when I downloaded my photos to find that lizard.  I hadn’t noticed him when I was taking the picture!

P1030111P1030112P1030133These are the famous sea grapes, offically called the “Coccoloba uvifera.”  I’d been hearing a lot about sea grapes, but thinking I’d never seen them.  Turns out, I just haven’t been around at the right time to see them.  The fruit matures in late summer, early fall.  I’ve seen the plants all over the place in the past, and now I’ve seen the fruit, too.  These plants are wind resistant and protect beaches during storms, preventing loss of sand and dunes.  The grapes are supposed to be really good, too, but I didn’t climb up and taste them.  They were at the edge of some private property, and I chose not to trespass.  Maybe I’ll see some ‘free’ ones next trip.

P1030109P1030110I found these on the beach, too.  I have no idea what they are.  I thought they might be related in some way to the sea grapes because they grow so closely together, but I just don’t know.  Anyone recognize them?  They remind me of milkweed, but I know that’s not what they are.

And finally there’s the orchid tree.  This pretty tree is growing in the front yard at the house where I stayed.  My research tells me that orchid trees are supposed to only be in southeast Asia … but then mongoose are only supposed to be in Eurasia and Africa, and there are plenty of them running around on the south coast.*


I was standing under this tree, just casually taking pictures of the blossoms, not being too serious about it, and then I saw this guy: P1020934P1020935P1020936

It’s a Doctor Bird, the national bird of Jamaica.  I’ve never seen one before.  I’ve seen stylized ones all over the place (the Air Jamaica logo is a stylized doctor bird), but never the real thing.  I took these three shots very quickly and tried to move around to get shots of him from the front, but he flew off the moment I moved.  He’s a cute little thing, isn’t he?

As with the cactus photos, it’s clear to me that I need to spend some serious nature photography time in Jamaica.  There’s so much more to shoot!


* A plantation owner imported them.  Tired of losing his valuable slave labor to snakebites, you see.  And they cleared out the snake population in the area.  Now they live on frogs and crabs and who knows what-all else.  The first time I saw one, I thought I must be imagining it.  How could there be mongoose in Jamaica?  And yet.

Yeah, but it’s a dry heat …

(Which isn’t at all true.  It’s a pretty darned humid heat in Jamaica, I just couldn’t resist stealing Bill Paxton’s line.)

The part of Jamaica I go to is considered the desert of Jamaica.  This surprised me since I would never have thought of a desert being so green and wet, but various things about the position of the island and the mountains and this strip of coast all combine to mean that the area gets much less rain and is considerably drier than the rest of the island.

One result of all this dry is that there are cactus all over the place.  My first trip, I was surprised by all the desert flora, but no longer.  This trip I decided to do a little photo study of said flora.  Here’s a selection:


These pretty things look so deceptively soft at first glance.  One cool thing I learned about them is that humming birds build their nests in between the branches, cleverly keeping predators at bay!




The spike tips fascinate me.  They are no joke.


 I kept waiting for these to bloom in some dramatic fashion.  Aren’t they supposed to do that?  The two Christmas cactus at work all bloom spectacularly, and these looked as though they’d be fabulous.  Sadly, no showy blossoms.


These cactus didn’t disappoint, however.


Here is a cactus fruit!  When I first saw this, there was a lovely, tiny bird having one of the fruits for breakfast.  Flew off before I could get my camera out, however.  I biked back to this spot a few times, but didn’t see him again.


And of course, even the fruit is a little spiky.


And speaking of spikes, aren’t these gorgeous?


Then there’s this curious, almost cabbage-like beauty.  I didn’t even know it was a cactus until I walked past it on my way to the roof deck … and it grabbed hold of my skirt!  Upon closer inspection, I discovered its hidden claws:


I discovered something else, too:


I think I need to spend a couple of months here just taking pictures of plants (and lizards, of course … I still haven’t gotten a shot of the iridescent green ones with the metallic blue tails!).  Mildred would have had a blast in Jamaica.   So many plants for her to learn about and cook!  She would have made an amazing Wild Foods Banquet here, no doubt.