A few weekends ago, Larisa, Wayne, and I went to Lime Cay for a much needed break. The beach, which I’ll describe in more detail in a later post, is really gorgeous–white sand, green lime trees, crystal sparkling blue water. It’s all but deserted during the week, but on weekends the well-to-do of Kingston pour out in droves to enjoy the surf. The small island gets not one, but two big food stands with live DJs, lunch, and plenty of drinks. There’s no taboo on public drinking, which means that everyone is standing out in the water holding a Red Stripe or Smirnoff Ice.
Anyway, Larisa and I eventually get hungry and head to one of the stands. It’s truly taking forever, and everyone is impatient–as Wayne explains here in lots of detail, Jamaicans have a fairly low tolerance of fuckery as a survival mechanism to not get screwed over by the system. People are waving their receipts in the air and shouting at the servers, which of course doesn’t really make things better. In the midst of this, however, one of the black Jamaicans standing next to us starts ranting to his companion about how “We jus need two Chiney inna back!”–in other words, he thought the food was slow because it was being prepared by black people instead of Chinese people.
Other than being totally hilarious, this points to a pretty interesting trend in a lot of Jamaican behavior. For all the pride that Jamaicans have in their country and their culture, and despite the many afro-centric statues that dot the city, it seems that many middle- and upper-class black Jamaicans–especially the men–haven’t fully shed the colonial mindset about certain things. In our dealings with the government bureaucracy, it is frequently the case that the bureaucrats don’t seem to trust Kevin (a native Jamaican)’s opinion on things, but they refer to foreigner Prof. Nesson as “the boss”. The more “formal” or “upscale” something is supposed to be, the more apparent this becomes.
The most flagrant example I’ve found to date was the Sunday Brunch at the Terra Nova hotel, a schmancy affair located within walking distance of my apartment. Sunday Brunch is a pretty big deal for many Jamaicans, who came into the large, pink and white dining room in their Sunday best–our crew, on the other hand, did not try too hard to change the perception of Americans as underdressed slobs. The meal was definitely a pricy one–almost $30 US with service charges included–but it’s worth it just to see how many different types of food can fit in a room. The spread was really impressive and wrapped around half of the room, starting with 10 different types of complex salads (pineapple and cheese? shrimp?) and ending with at least as many delicious-looking cakes and sweets for dessert. Along the way, there were a large number of brunchy dishes, both Jamaican and foreign, some better than others but all as upscale as can be.
There were only really two things that were not, in my opinion, up to snuff with the rest of the brunch experience. The first was the music. Terra Nova did hire a band–two steel drums and an American-style drum set–to play music directly outside of the dining room (perhaps the hotel thought that having them inside the dining room would be declasse, but that’s a different rant). The choice of a steel drum band is understandable to me–dancehall and reggae don’t usually fit the Sunday brunch vibe, and though steel drums are technically from Trinidad, they at least represent the quintessentially Caribbean calypso. However, the set list was a bit more questionable. Rather than playing proper calypso songs that would really showcase the unique qualities of the steel drums, the band only played covers of cheesy American pop songs, which often forced the steel drums into monotonous repetition. In fact, the closest they came to playing an actual Caribbean song was the Beatles’ “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da”, which was the British band’s attempt at a reggae sound. The irony of that, I think, is obvious.
The second disappointment was even more telling. While the buffet had made an attempt to include several traditional Jamaican dishes, the fruit selection was completely devoid of local influence. Though Jamaica is home to a multitude of unique, delicious fruits, the buffet planners had chosen instead to serve mostly imported fruits. Instead of june plum, papaya, mango, coconut, sweetsop, the buffet served cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple. Of the 4, only pineapples grew on the island, meaning that the rest were imported and, predictably, pretty untasty.
I may be biased because I’m allergic to honeydew and cantaloupe, but this decision seems completely illogical. Why give up the tasty, in-season, ripe fruit that would give visitors a real taste of Jamaica for dry, unfresh fruit that people can get anywhere? The answer given to me by local Jamaicans is that the Terra Nova brunch caters to upper-class expatriates, but surely they aren’t so nostalgic for a taste of home that they’d prefer clinky “Heart and Soul” and hard cantaloupe over good Jamaican music and food? In fact, the matter-of-fact answer makes me believe that the choice of foreign over local is the result of an assumption held by upwardly mobile Jamaicans that the upperclass foreigners could not possibly want their local culture and, to imitate them, neither should they. I’m not sure about this–I’ve only been here a month, after all–but I hope I’m wrong. Jamaica is a beautiful land with a wonderful culture and wonderfully strong people who need to bow to no one, and if those in charge of the country start trusting its own inhabitants more, perhaps Jamaica could really start to heal itself. When Jamaica stops putting Stella on a pedestal, perhaps it can finally get its own groove back