Monday, March 7th 2016
The rays of the setting sun accompany our trip along the coast, heading North first, then straight East. As long as there is still a little light, I relish in the beauty of nature flying by, but as soon as darkness falls, the sound of the engine and the voices of the people around rock me into sleep. From which I drowsily wake up around 9 pm, when we are stopped by one of the notorious police controls just outside of Ocho Rios. I witness first-hand how the efficient bribing system works: one officer torch-lights into the car and asks for the driving license and car papers, which are duly handed to him, a 2.000 Jamaican $ deposited between the sheets (around 15 €). He brings the documents over to his colleague, who checks it all thoroughly, and then officer Nr. 1 gives it all back to our driver, minus the money. We are then allowed to leave. I ask what would have happened without the money and am told that they would find anything to hold you up, an unpaid parking ticket, a passenger not buckled, a broken light, anything really. And you can easily get stuck there all night! As much as our German bureaucracy often is lamented, in moments like these I really appreciate its incorruptible firmness.
In downtown Ocho Rios, we stop to eat at a small restaurant hidden in the upper level of a business mall. Again, a delicious vegan meal waits for us, followed by a still more delicious cake. When we continue our ride, I almost regret to be wide awake, since now the breakneck-speed of our driver becomes obvious. We are not alone, though – even when it’s dark, it seems completely uncool to drive slow or even just careful. However, our guardian angel is with us, and hardly two hours later we arrive at Bastet’s home in Port Antonio. She tells me that she plans to turn it into a Yoga Guesthouse, and our travelling party of four tests the capacity of its rooms. Before we retreat to bed, Peter suggests a trip to the beach close by, and since none of us is really tired, we go for a midnight swim on Jamaica’s North Coast.
Tuesday, March 8th 2016
After a fruity breakfast, we pack up and leave, stopping over in Port Antonio to pick up another passenger. Tchiya Amet is visiting from the US and just finished practicing with her Jamaican band Kasha Rootz. Her heavy luggage (you’ll find out later what it contains) hardly fits in the already crammed car, but with a little squeeze it works and we are heading towards Kingston. We haven’t come far before we stop again, this time for lunch at yet another vegan spot in Hope Bay. Sista P, the friendly and competent lady in charge, serves a delicious meal of rice & peas, veggie stew, “chunks” (Tofu in a rich sauce), salad and plantain, and while we wait until everyone gets their share, I observe the relaxed Portland country life pass by. Two girls in school uniform on their way home ask an elder with a bunch of bananas on his head and a machete in his hand to cut the sugar cane they carry – a wish he gladly complies with.
After eating, Bastet points out to me a house a little further down the road, suggesting that I go and meet the owners. It turns out to be an art shop called Phineline, run by the twins Joavan “Yaga” and Sheldon Puran. They do “art in opposition to destruction”, as they call it, and in their shop there is plenty stuff to look at: T-Shirts, pictures, posters, crafts – a rich display of their creativity. One of their pieces has even made it to be chosen as the official Reggae Revival poster, and right now they are working on a few album covers, they tell me. Time is too short to dive into deeper conversation, though, and so we bid each other farewell when our travelling party comes over to continue the ride.
Half an hour later, we stop again, this time for liquid blessings. Bastet tells us that the water set in concrete at the roadside comes directly from a beneficial spring in the Blue Mountains, and all available plastic bottles in the car are filled with it.
The sun is about to set when we reach our lodging in Kingston, up on Constant Spring Road. We unload the car, and in a swirl of hugs and hellos, old friends are greeted and new ones met. Over a little refreshment, I catch up with Joan Webley, whom I’ve last seen during the Up-Tour in Germany, in summer 2015. She is an amazing woman, one of her many achievements being the creation of a cultural space called Nanook, short for Nurturing All Nuances Of Our Creativity. I’ve heard so much about the place that I’m thrilled to finally be able to go there, since this is our destination for tonight. It’s International Women’s Day, and the Nanook will host an event dedicated to the female gender – showcases, art exhibitions, panel discussions and more.
We reach the place early, which is a good thing, as it gives me enough time to revel in its beauty. In the middle of the circular backyard, a huge mango-tree dominates the picture, and everything else seems to adjust to its presence: the beautifully painted stage in the back, the stalls which are busily set up to the right, even the wooden bar through which we entered. Peter shows me its upper storey, an airy space that, in the coming days, will be my preferred interview-spot, and which offers a perfect overview of what’s happening below.
A fire is being lit (I learn during the next days that there is hardly any party or event without one), and slowly people start trickling in. Before the showcases start, I take a look at the artwork on display. A special eye-catcher is the stand of an artiste who does “pum pum petals”. To all of you who are not fluent in Jamaican Patois: “pum pum” is the term for vagina, and indeed, the tiny hand-made pieces created under the tutorship of artiste Chandice Natalie vaguely resemble these hidden body-parts. Paintings, jewellery, buttons and clothes complete the dazzling experience.
Meanwhile, the panellists have arrived and Joan takes the mic to welcome the audience. We then follow a passionate presentation by Nattali Rize, all the way from Australia, who talks about the situation of the continent’s Aborigines and, more intensely, about the injustice happening almost unnoticed by the world in West Papua (for more information, check this page). We then hear it from Tchiya Amet, speaking about spiritual awakening and the need to heal your self, inviting the people present to a sound-healing workshop she’ll do the next weekend – with pitch-forks! So that’s what is in her heavy bags… Last but not least, the ladies on stage are joined by Bastet Iyabinghi, adding some thoughts about the importance to know your culture.
When the audience is done asking questions, the musical part of the evening is about to begin. First to perform is Charmaine Lemonious, who opens with some acoustic vibes. Up next is a girl of around 9 or 10 years of age who, as soon as she starts to sing, has the listeners in awe. “Thank you mama for the nine months you carry me…” she interprets a well-known song (check here for a live recording), and I’m not the only one who inquires about her name. It’s Xylophone, and, just like the instrument, she plays with her voice until the more mature singer Rayven Ahmani takes over.
The band that’s entering stage after her turns out to be my favourite of the evening. In a firework of joy and positive vibes, 5 girls rock the event to the core. Their smiling faces are infectious, and I find out that they are called Adahzeh. Who could have known that, not even half a year later, I will see them again as participant of the World Reggae Contest in Ostroda! But back to the now. After a dance-performance including a Yoga interlude, Isha Bel is closing the live part of the night, and when the last notes of the band trail off, people mingle and converse until early morning. I am excited to meet Gladstone Taylor, author of the book KingSun, a lyrical masterpiece I devoured since I’ve laid my hands on it. We arrange for an interview one of these days, because for this night, I am happy to drive home, fall into bed and just sleep.
More Kingston adventures in part 3 next week!
Text & Photos: Gardy Stein-Kanjora