Welcome to Rasta Hill at Guantanamo Bay


[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Leila Barghouty (Roads and Kingdoms) writes a fascinating article about Rasta Hill, a Jamaican restaurant in Guantánamo Bay. Here are excerpts:

It’s common knowledge in Guantanamo Bay that good food is hard to come by. On the remote base in the western Caribbean—a stronghold of surveillance and regulation, where you can eat a Big Mac down the street from a CIA torture site while overlooking a Cold War-era minefield—an off-the-books jerk shack is the only place to go for a taste of the local cuisine.

If you want to eat at the aptly named Rasta Hill, you’ve got to show up early. On a Friday afternoon in July, the menu included goat curry, peas and rice, fried chicken, red snapper, a second unidentified fish, and everyone’s favorite: johnny cakes. Someone asks the cook where today’s special, the fish, is from: “We get it from the ocean, hun!” he says. The only other fish available on base comes frozen on a ship from Florida.

Aside from the fast food options—a McDonald’s and at least two Subways—there are only a handful of restaurants on base: a white-table-cloth sit-down spot serving American staples like Caesar salad and roast chicken; a bowling alley with a menu of burgers, pizza, and burritos; and an Irish pub called O’Kelly’s dishing out a laundry list of deep-fried bar snacks, the occasional plate of Jerk Chicken, and a Cuban sandwich that Cuban-American photojournalist Jose A. Iglesias of the Miami Herald once described as “just wrong.”

At all these restaurants, and at every store, salon, coffee shop, and movie theater, you’ll find primarily white patrons serviced almost exclusively by Third Country Nationals, or TCNs: non-American workers who are contracted by the US Military and private companies to work on base for rates markedly lower than American minimum wage. Though just a stone’s throw over a chain link fence from Cuba, the US’s historic embargo with the country means virtually no Cubans work on base.

The largest single group are, like the staff of Rasta Hill, Jamaican (of the few commercial flights that operate in and out of Guantanamo, a large percentage go to Kingston); many others come from the Philippines, a former American colony. Open only two days a week, Rasta Hill is treated as something like a miracle in Guantanamo, where embargo laws mean that just about every food item on base is shipped in from the US by the Navy, and virtually no acknowledgment of Cuban culture can be detected. Every so often, hiccups in shipments mean a certain product becomes elusive. One day, it was mayonnaise that disappeared. For a week, it was lettuce. For months, Triscuits.

That might be why rumors often swirl that Rasta Hill’s chefs get their supplies from elsewhere. Each visit to Guantanamo, I hear a new, unconfirmed culinary conspiracy: that they raise their own chickens, that they bring frozen goat back from Jamaica, that they go hunting in the more untouched areas of the base. They all seem to stem from a learned disbelief: if it tastes good, it can’t be from Gitmo.

With hours subject to unpredictable tropical weather, Rasta Hill is the only place on base where you’ll find even the remotest touch of Caribbean culture. It’s also the only place where you’ll see uniformed servicemen and women, teenage military brats, and foreign nationals breaking bread at the same table. [. . .]

For full article, see https://roadsandkingdoms.com/2018/welcome-to-rasta-hill-at-guantanamo-bay

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