Sunday, 19 November 2017

Whole and Undivided 2

Whole and Undivided 2

In Marine's family, there was no change in the household business and operations unless her mother was comfortable with it, and she was a traditionalist on every matter except fashion where she was respected for being able to step up to higher levels.

Marine and her siblings enjoyed the admiration of their peers on her clothes that were usually up-to-season and not just name brand, but on the matter of anything else, change was a no-go. At this time they were a family of five. The three children were: Marine the youngest at age 14, her brother age 16, and half-sister age 17 and six months older than her brother; the children shared the same father.

Sundays were her mother's simmer down time. After dinner was cleared, Marine's mother would go out on the back patio and care for her orchids while taking part in two to three consecutive social media conversations by voice and text with her sisters and cousins. If she was not doing this, she was at a social event with her husband, Marine's stepfather. Today was a stay-at-home day and Marine decided to broach the changing her paediatrician. She was the youngest and had been able to learn from her siblings' very different approaches to their mother.

Their brother, for the past year, had simply been doing what he wanted without asking. It started when he decided that he was not going on to Grade 12 but wanted to open a body art business. The matter settled with him being sent to a college overseas for a year to pursue certification as a physical therapist. Her half-sister usually capitulated to everything and went along with the plans that were set for her, as the unspoken suggestion of being returned to her mother easily crept into the aura of a room like smoke when there was a fire raging outside the door.
    "Mum, I want to change my doctor."
    "What? Why would you want to do that? Everything is perfectly fine. A doctor! Where did you even get the idea?"
Her mother did not look up from sending a text, then giggled softly at something that she was reading on screen.
    "I don't think that I should still be going to a baby doctor."
    "Your doctor is quite capable for you right now, it's not like you need a gynecologist."
    "Fine, I'll ask Dad."

It was a card that Marine, or any of the children, rarely played as it sent her mother into a dark mood when they even remembered that they had a natural father.
    "Is there a problem that you want to tell me about Marine? Just come out and say it. I am always open with you children, you are always free to contact your father. We have joint custody even though Leon and I are look about everything for you children. But, if you wish to call your father, go right ahead. Why do you want to leave your doctor Marine?"
    "I need someone who is not going to look at me like a small child, and I do not feel comfortable being the only teenager in an office of babies and toddlers."

Her answer had allowed her mother to quickly think through the matter, and she seemed to have settled it in her mind as a suggestion that had worth. Her composure returned, she smiled and opened her hands.
    "OK baby girl. I understand, I should have suggested it before, so I will make an appointment with my doctor and we will go. She might be able to recommend a more powerful acne medicine."
    "I don't want to go to your doctor Mum. I want my own doctor and I want it to be someone who also knows about neurosurgery."
Marine's sister and brother both went to their mother's GP.
    "What is really going on here Marine? We have a family doctor. If you are moving from your pediatrician, and it is too early for a gynae then ...."
    "I have my own needs."
Marine's mother went into fortress mode. Her eyes scanned the balcony to make sure that no one else, not the servants, not the other children, not her husband was hearing. She needed to lock this discussion down for the sake of her child, and for some reason, winning this conversation seemed to be important to Marine.

    "I seemed to have been forgetting that you are growing up my daughter. If you want your own doctor, I will allow it. A woman doctor, mind you, I am not letting you go to any male doctor as a 14-year old."

Marine's hand shook, just a little, as she held out a business card. Her mother took it quickly and scanned the name.

    "Where did you get this Marine?"
    "I went to the office?"
    "I googled neurosurgeon Jamaica and saw that this office was in the plaza where I do Math tutorials, so went walked across the corridor and got it."

It was a blow to her mother to realise that her daughter can walk from the tutorial classroom to a doctor's office in the same business centre. She thought that she had her daughter's every second mapped out and under supervision. She touched her forehead, it was wet, probably sweat from the afternoon heat, but she felt cold.
    "I'll check it out."
    "That's the one that I want Mum."
    "Leave the matter there for now Marine. Let's talk about this later. You don't have a health crisis, so let it rest for now."   

Marine assented.

Whole and Undivided

Whole and Undivided

Marine checked her shared bedroom door, it was locked, no one in the family could barge in. Then she closed the curtains, even though their condominium was on the 10th floor, and no other buildings were close enough for peering eyes.

Her menstrual cramps would ease in another ten or so minutes because she took her pain tablets after breakfast, the acne breakout on her cheeks made her aware that pus was building up in the pores, and it would get worse as the temperature rose during the day, but it was the headaches that were the most concerning of her ongoing discomforts. 

Cramps and acne she shared with her friends, complaining and consoling each other's adolescent maladies and engaging in a morbid past time of discussing remedies and palliatives.

It was the third pain, the headaches, that were frightful to Marine, because she could not share those beyond the secret circle of her mother, her father, Auntie Lips the hairdresser, and her pediatrician. At 14 years of age she still went to a baby doctor as her parents did not want to expand the small circle of people who knew.

Her vanity mirror was wide and had a built in tubular lamp that had the luminescence of natural tropical daylight. Although it was a clear ten o' clock morning, Marine turned the lamp on, and sat down before the mirror. She pushed aside Auntie Lips' carefully sewn in hair piece that covered the last area where the human skull fused into one casing - the area that we call the mole - and looked at the dome of growing bone that was causing her pain.

The tests that were done years ago were conclusive. Marina's bare skull in the centre of her head would grow into a horn during adolescence, and over the past year, it had started. Auntie Lips had been filing down the horn as it emerged, in addition to stitching down a hair piece that lay flat over the extruded bone.

From she started kindergarten, Marine had learned how to keep her bare skull bone as a secret. Her mother would have hidden it from her father as well, had the doctor not insisted that he had a right to know. The year that she started her period, her doctor and her mother made her aware about the coming growth and she had accepted that as well without thinking about it. But now that it was here, and Marine was sure it was responsible for the intense headaches, she had been thinking about it a lot.

    "Live with Integrity"

Her class had had this phrase drilled into them from the first day of secondary school. It was an attempt to encourage the students to have an internal regulator that would stop them from being cheats and sociopaths. It reminded them that their online activities and their unique national identifier would find out deception, and that mistakes will follow them through life. It was a voluntary call to action, a word to the wise.

Marina accepted the code and followed it, she did not practice cheating and she simply told the truth on any matter that would come up and face the consequences. But concealing the growing horn on her head was a different matter, that was a secret outside of the integrity code.

"What if I made it a semi-secret?" Marine wondered.
A "semi-secret" would mean expanding the knowledge to her big brother and sister, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles and cousins. What were the consequences if they knew?
"Semi-secret" could also be her best friends at school and club, she had three to four really close ones.
Wouldn't they understand and defend her? She also felt sure they would, they were decent people.

"But is that what living with integrity means?"

Marine used her cell phone to take a selfie photo of the bone. She had to snap quite a few times until she captured one that was in focus and bright enough to examine how it really looked.

It was not pretty.

She wished that, at least, the bone would have been a noble ivory or a shiny enamel like a tooth, but it was a grey, brown, tough horn. It seemed better after all to keep it covered up.

Marine fixed back her hairpiece and thought again about the word integrity. From she was a young girl she had had a lot of exposure about self-pride, racial pride, national pride, they repeated that everyone was special in their own unique way. Her family treated her, and each other, with respect and gave care and attention - love.

In the media, society was at pains to tell young people about the dangers of bleaching and that at school, bleached students would suffer consequences. The schools could not force students who bleached to stay at home until their skins regained their natural colour, but they found creative ways to discourage the practice. Students who wore weaves and extensions suffered the emotional distress of having it cut off and confiscated at the nurse's station, so no one wasted time and effort or bravado to style themselves for life in institutions in that way. The same applied for the age old breach of nail polish and makeup.

But here she was, with a cosmetic solution for a natural condition that was not contagious and not dangerous.

If I was born to grow a horn, then perhaps I should have my horn if I wish, Marine thought.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Red Hills Road

Red Hills Road


In the years when Movado reigned as the richest voice in the dance, because Banton had not yet been returned, an angel appeared unto a youth, who they called Day, who was the only child left one afternoon in the schoolyard.
His Principal walked to him and said,
    "Youth, your father will not come for you because the Red Hills Road has been split in two and no vehicles can come across. It will be safer to be with the people in a group rather than here alone."
With that, Day left and walked through the Dale until he came to the terminus where indeed a multitude was gathered in distress and dismay.
The major road called Red Hills Road had been split in two from the parish boundary near Sligoville to – Eastwood (called so because it had few trees), a distance of 16 kilometres. Along the entire length of the road, was a chasm 10 metres deep with jagged edges and a rushing stream of filth flowed through the gape.
Day saw his father on the other side and waited for some instruction, for something to happen. He saw his cat Manchester standing by his father, and then, Day realised that the cat was rubbing up against his own Day's leg.
    "How did you cross the road Manchester?" he asked as he bent down to pick up the cat which only loped a few steps away and stopped again. Day walked away from the crowd for his cat and was amazed to see it change into the shape of an angel with rough skin like a ginger root. He was sore afraid at the sight of the apparition.
The angel reached out and anointed the boy on his head with flavourful pimento butter and told him that his mission was to repair the huge breakage in Red Hills Road. The angel, with a silent cry, reshaped into a Barble Dove and flew away.
There was no one to ask how or why, so the boy kneeled and prayed, asking for guidance and strength. He prayed saying:
    "You called me from my humble place of ignorance to do your will and show goodness to the world. Guide me now in a performance, and show that through you, all things are possible."
When he rose, his foot hit a smooth pebble, grey and tough, that had been forged in the centre of the earth and extruded by the force of an ancient volcano from mountains of the East. Day gave thanks for the one stone and threw it hard into the roaring water of the chasm. The earth shook, the people exclaimed and fled away, but Day focused on finding a second hard stone. He saw one kotching a door open and he flung it in. The earth rumbled more. With each stone, a kilometre of roadway was filled in with tightly packed, smooth, grey or white river stones.
In an hour, the rumbling stopped and the chasm, 16 Km long and 10 metres deep, was solidly filled. The flow of filth had ceased, and the road was whole and the infrastructure was more solid than it had ever been.
The people came back, and their throats were filled with praises, then they asked "How will we drive along this road as it is not paved?" They worried for their front end parts, and became angry because of the state of the bad road.
Day had walked over to his father and held his hand, but this time he kneeled again and prayed saying:
    "Do not be angry with us for not appreciating this solid road which is already being used, it is our sustenance. I ask you now to grant us comfort, show me how to make the way smooth."
As he completed his prayer with an Amen, a flock of grackles with shining black feathers flew from the North West and descended in droves. As each alighted, it gave a shriek and crumbled into asphaltic concrete and became Barber Greene. Flock after flock of grackles, and a few John Crows, so did give up their lives.
By night, the road was complete.
    "Give heed to this mighty work", said Day. "Our unsustainable lifestyles put us in danger. We have been taken from this and given firm support, and now comfort. Let us set aside time for fervent thanksgiving before we find another reason to celebrate the joys of life."


"The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands"

I have just completed "The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands" (1850-1857) by reading it in and also listening to the LibriVox audiobook.
Mrs Seacole was an "unprotected" Jamaican woman who followed her passion to serve people through the occupations of restaurateur, shopkeeper and healer. She was particularly attracted to serving the ranks and officers of the British military and their wives. I think that this is an outcome of her personal "Daddy Issues", as she loved to declare that her absent father was a military man from Scotland, and that her industrious traits came from his side of the family...although her Jamaican mother was an accomplished woman.
Mary Seacole became famous during her two years of humanitarian work during the Crimean War in Eastern Europe. Those adventures left her in debt and in poverty for the rest of for life; but she expressed those years as a triumph and had absolutely no regrets. She says, "I am not ashamed to confess—for the gratification is a selfish one—that I love to be of service to those who need a woman’s help."
She responded to the social structures of her time by using to advantageous effect her physical appearance (light skinned black person) and to being a member of a caste of West Indian persons who called themselves Creoles. She defined herself as "I do not know what it is to be indolent", her mother as, "like very many of the Creole women, an admirable doctress; in high repute", and of Creoles "having an affection for English people and an anxiety for their welfare."
Overall, she was attracted to progress, industry, sophistication and development in general. Mary Seacole's orientation, as a West Indian of her generation, gave preference to British culture, but her travels allowed her to appreciate the value of many other cultures.
There was one notable exception. Mary Seacole had an unyielding negativity towards the United States of America, as while she was in the country called the Republic of New Granada from 1851-1854 (the section of it know known as Panama) she lived among men who had escaped slavery in USA, and she heard their stories. Seacole was born during, and would have become an adult during the slave era in Jamaica, but she reserved her ire on this point to the USA, giving the British Empire a complete passover.
Thanks to her account, I have a greater understanding of how it was that - 50 years after her experiences in Central America - Marcus Garvey found fertile ground in Central America to develop his philosophy of black pride and nationalism. He was there from 1910 - 1912. Central America had by that time been peopled with former enslaved persons from the USA and also Central America, and who were instinctively looking for a nation to which they could cleave. Seacole described the persons who held positions of responsibility in the towns she frequented in New Granada as negroes or black people. These were magistrates, soldiers, and other government officials.
    "It was wonderful to see how freedom and equality elevate men," she says of black men in general.
She also said, "Many of the negroes, fugitive from the Southern States, had sought refuge in this and the other States of Central America, where every profession was open to them; and as they were generally superior men—evinced perhaps by their hatred of their old condition and their successful flight—they soon rose to positions of eminence in New Granada. In the priesthood, in the army, in all municipal offices, the self-liberated negroes were invariably found in the foremost rank; and the people, for some reason—perhaps because they recognised in them superior talents for administration—always respected them more than, and preferred them to, their native rulers. So that, influenced naturally by these freed slaves, who bore themselves before their old masters bravely and like men."
Seacole was a hard worker and she seemed to have a knack of building a team who could work with her style, but in her memoir, she afforded only a few words of acknowledgement to them unless they were getting on her nerves. There was one occasion where she described how she whipped a servant. Mrs Seacole employed persons from several ethnicities and races, but the staff members who were longest in her employ were skilled black men and a black girl.
Oftentimes, I found it painful to read her account of plain people, such as the Spanish Indians in New Granada, or the workers on the wharves of Balaclava, or of Greeks in general and French women in particular. On the other hand, Seacole never had a negative word about any titled personage, be that person Turkish, French, British or even Russian. She adored military officers and protected their reputations. Her special love of the military extended to the ranks of young men, who she called her dear sons.
Tenacity and personal contacts were tactics that Mary Seacole used to get around British military bureaucracy, and to secure what she wanted from them. In 1854, after being repeatedly turned down from joining the cadre of nurses to serve the cause of the British in the Crimean War, she simply started a business on a hill in the village of Kadioki in the Crimea, one mile from British military headquarters. She called the place Spring Hill (after Jamaica, island of Springs) and her business, The British Hotel.
On being turned down from being an army nurse she said, "Tears of grief that any should doubt my motives—I stood still & prayed aloud," and then she went ahead with a new plan to get where she wanted to be.
The Mary Seacole story is a cautionary tale about entrepreneurship. Mrs Seacole left the accounting side of the business to her partner, Mr Day, while she created the real value in providing hospitality and healing. At the end of two years she was left in debt and weakened health, and was only able to keep body and soul together from the kindness of friends who put on a benefit concert in her honour. Today they could also have established a Go Fund Me account.
Seacole could have made a fortune by setting up her services in a safe and established marketplace, such as Constantinople or Balaclava, instead of on the outskirts of a battlefield. She could have - as some enterprising French women did - moved the business to the city of Sevastopol after the allies had captured it, she chose instead to stay on the hill in the village even as the armies were departing. She cherished declaring that she was the first woman to enter Sevastopol after it had fallen.
Mary Seacole was a proud Jamaican who had very fond memories of her childhood in Kingston, of her mother, and of her husband and life in Black River, St Elizabeth. There are no negatives about the Island of Springs in her memoir.
One remarkable matter of Mary Seacole was her Jamaican eye for fashion. Everywhere she went, she travelled with colourful calico to drape walls and to cover tables in order to create a cheerful atmosphere in her establishment. Even in grim places, she had a wardrobe of outfits. She also paid a lot of attention to her attire, and mentions her dresses and how her bonnets were trimmed.
"I had attired myself in a delicate light blue dress, a white bonnet prettily trimmed, and an equally chaste shawl," she says of how she was dressed as she was about to walk up a hill of mud in Central America. In the Crimea, she gives an account of a soldier giving her a war prize of a dress that would have belonged to a Russian woman. Twice in her memoir, washerwomen are mentioned with respect. At another time, an employee who she hired to do laundry made off with a load of her dresses. Among the few war trophies that she took were buttons that she cut off the uniforms of dead Russian soldiers.
This lady was a "big girl" who loved her size as she says in her memoir, "Time and trouble combined have left me with a well-filled-out, portly form, the envy of many an angular Yankee female."
She describes herself of having "taken Constantinople", "Neatly dressed in a red or yellow dress, a plain shawl of some other colour, and a simple straw wide-awake, with bright red streamers."
Mary Seacole made a point of declaring that West Indian cookery was better than French cuisine, and said of a famous chef, "the great high priest of the mysteries of cookery, Mons. Alexis Soyer. He was often at Spring Hill... and never failed to praise my soups and dainties. I always flattered myself that I was his match, and with our West Indian dishes could of course beat him hollow, and more than once I challenged him to a trial of skill; but the gallant Frenchman only shrugged his shoulders, and disclaimed my challenge with many flourishes of his jewelled hands, declaring that Madame proposed a contest where victory would cost him his reputation for gallantry, and be more disastrous than defeat. And all because I was a woman, forsooth. What nonsense to talk like that, when I was doing the work of half a dozen men."
The details near the end of the book serve as a caution against waging physical warfare. She gives her account of the waste of human life recalling the Russian soldier who died biting down on her finger in pain as she was giving him succor, to her beloved Irishmen left in half-filled trenches and the officers who she venerated. She was not untouched by suffering, and she gave selflessly of herself in order to give them the comfort of a woman's caring touch. She says that it was a privilege to stand in the place of mothers and sisters and wives, delivering comfort to their men. They men in turn called her Auntie Seacole, Mother Seacole, Mami.
She was not a religious person and spoke of Providence, not God, but she offered hospitality, not sales on the Lord's day; took an altar painting and altar candles as Russian war prizes and said, "The Christian’s death is the glorious one, as is his life."
Mary Seacole decided to live a life dictated by her passion to be of service to servicemen. She seemed to have enjoyed the rough and tumble of it all, and the challenge of testing her will power against the many and varied troubles that she encountered. As an old lady, she had more well-wishers and true friends than many other elevated persons of her era. In fact, today when the heroic names of 160 years ago are being buffeted by public opinion, her reputation seems to be rising.
With these thoughts, I believe that the memoirs of Mary Seacole should be integrated in the high and tertiary education curricula in Jamaica. It is easy and colourful reading, and her experiences have value in the teaching of subjects such as business, history, literature, civics, feminism and Garveyism. Her outlook and decisions can make for very useful debate topics in sociology and commerce as it relates to self employment and entrepreneurship in general. I am happy that I am now exposed to its contents.