Finding home in Jamaica

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Diana Evans (Harper’s Bazaar) writes about the joys of traveling through Jamaica with her family. “The author travels to Jamaica to introduce her children to their paternal heritage, and is swept away by the island’s music, cuisine, and natural beauty.”

There we were one day on a river, my daughter and I, gliding along the Rio Grande in a raft made of bamboo, with cup-holders by the seats and a spray of pink flowers in the centre and the Blue Mountains in the distance. On a second vessel a little further on were my son and his father, similarly bathed in a rippling pastoral peace while our boat captains plunged their long oars down to the river floor, surging us onwards, over rocky terrain where the water rushed, past quiet swathes of banana-trees and silvery coconut palms. It was a world away from the concrete thunder of London. Here we were at last, in the place across the sea that was also home, more distantly. 

We had come by night, arriving at the airport in Kingston just as its indigo blanket was falling, then travelling three hours by road to Portland in the north-east of Jamaica. We took on dark hills and mysterious steeps, circling around bush-lined bends leading into little towns where people were out in the streets, music playing from the bars and corners (Leona Lewis, Beres Hammond, Sizzla). It’s always an adventure arriving somewhere at night, the way it closes around you with its secrets and quiet threat, guarding the surprise of morning; a gift, an unveiling. And what a gift it had been—waking on a Sunday at the luxuriantly tranquil music-oriented Geejam Hotel in the hilly district of San San, with a view from the balcony of lush green palm fronds and the Caribbean Sea.

There comes a point, in the raising of children of mixed heritage, and if their parents are so inclined, when a question emerges, or perhaps an imperative. When will they see it, that land? When will they walk the soil and feel the air of the other place, where their grandparents came from in the Sixties, arriving on British shores to work and make new lives? My children are lucky enough to have two of the world’s mightiest cultural superpowers in their blood: Nigeria and Jamaica. We had already made it to Nigeria a few years earlier when I had taken them with me to a book festival in Lagos. They are now aged 17 and 12, so it was high time for them to see Jamaica, the setting of their grandfather’s rural childhood stories of fishing, climbing trees and collecting coconuts and ripe mangos from their branches, instead of paying for them on overpriced import from Tesco.

The Rio Grande is one of Jamaica’s major rivers (there are well over 100 in total), and the Blue Mountains, named for the mist that cloaks them, are the highest of its ranges (nearly half the island rests 1,000 feet above sea level). The country’s 14 parishes spread westwards from Portland and Saint Thomas, through Clarendon and into the rugged Cockpit Country, to Hanover and Westmoreland, with the city of Montego Bay on the north-west coast and less populous Negril on the western tip receiving much of the year-round tourist influx. Portland is a quieter affair, comprising the dreamy turquoise bay at Frenchman’s Cove, the magical Blue Lagoon, which offers an ethereal swimming experience, and the pretty, charismatic capital city of Port Antonio, with its colourful houses ascending on the hills and the bustle of shops and local eateries (Piggy’s Jerk Centre and the popular fast-food chain Juici Patties). 

One of the most delicious meals we had while on the island, though, was at M10 Bar & Grill in Kingston, not far from the Bob Marley Museum on Hope Road. Think rich and spicy curried goat with traditional rice and peas, luscious fried chicken and saltfish sun blazing down on the main road running through the village, the children got to meet this new distant uncle of theirs, to sit in his self-built house and eat chicken patties in his backyard. It filled us with a special kind of joy to witness them being taken around the village being introduced to shopkeepers and extended relatives, to watch them standing outside their grandfather’s school building that is now a church, see the house in which he was born, and sit for a while on a stoop outside the convenience store. It felt like some meaningful osmosis was being facilitated, that they might hold on to this memory and it could feed them and in turn be fed by yearnings in their futures, a possible desire to return, to sense this geographical blood connection and be grounded by the weight and positivity of it. A piece of a jigsaw had been gently inserted into place. [. . .]

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