Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 2: LOTSWild's Jamaica 2012 SCIIIx

     Just enough time has passed now that I don’t quite know what day it is or how many days we have left. At some point I’m going to look at a calendar and figure it out so we don’t miss the flight back. The trip has been solid. I suppose I should take up where the other log entry left off, so this is Day 2.

      Everything was fine the morning after the airport fiasco, the whole passport issue and such. Our hotel was really quite nice, and the good sleep was important, especially considering how the first night in Jamaica went.

      The customs process coming into Jamaica is such a crapshoot. Well, to give you an idea of what I mean; They have you fill out a form with all this incoming information - things you declare you are bringing into the country (nothing), the address where you will be, and so on. This is the problem the first group had getting in, remember the address issue? Well, the lady customs official Chris and I had was not impressed in any way shape or form with Chris or myself. She was suspicious of Chris’ hair, my pants, his not talking ever in an audible voice, and definitely NOT my hat, which she told me to remove. When I hesitated on the address for where we were going, or the official name of the ‘Villa’, she promptly denied our entry to Jamaica and sent us to the Tourist Board. So this guy is the tourist board, and his job was to call the number where we were going and see that it existed, and have us get an official name. Evidently people overstay quite often and have to get thrown out of Jamaica and this is how they find you. Mary didn’t answer the first call but on the second try she did. We came up with some name, the guy never actually spoke with her I just gave him the name and he wrote it on a napkin in pen. I took the napkin back to the entry line. With some reservation and more questions about why I only had one student, where’s the class, and so on, she let us pass.

      It was about this time that I was recognizing further changes of attire could have been helpful. Jamaicans are very attuned to the cues people give off at the smallest level of detail. The situation for survival requires they be able to assess a person’s weakness and strength in an instant and capitalize on it immediately. I was hoping to fit in more with the tourists than last time, when I fit in more with the hippies, but now my dress was, well, identifiable enough that one guard lady told me without prompting to bring my military ID next time so I could have a separate line. It’s either the boots or the pants. But either way as I approached the customs area I found myself thinking lots of things. “Should I have declared my trail mix, that’s a separate line, and I don’t want the search line. Look at all those people walking right through the green line all fast, no one is bothering them. But then what if I go to the green line and they search me and don’t like all the gifts and trade items I have. Does trail mix count as importing food. Are Sardines fish?” I went into a more intuitive mode, just flow with it and see what happens and scan for opportunity. Ha! The whole napkin/number/phone call incident reminded me loud and clear that within this third world, sub machine gun matrix of security and suspicion, people also just didn’t care and were all about looking good for the boss or getting their tip. Playing it safe Chris and I got into the red line, where you declare you have something. I actually had the nerve to say, “It’s just some trail mix”, after all, the line was not moving and had come to a stop because they were processing and searching a large group of severely handicapped people. I mean, the Red Line was frozen solid. The inspectors just waved me along, “What’s that mean?” I thought, but I just walked toward the green line like I knew what I was doing. Through the green line we went. I started to say something about trail mix and soup but she just rolled her eyes and waved us past. Was that it? We were in some sort of a lobby, were we out? Out, in, it’s all the same and backwards at the same time. Where were we? We were in Jamaica.

      Montego Bay to be precise. Right away those soft corners of my soul and mind that form in the polite society were roughly bumped, “Where are you going? Want a taxi?” These are the guys that have a permit to ask you while you are still inside the airport. They charge the most. I said that we wanted Negril for $25 per person. He scoffed and mumbled something under his breath and chewed harder on his shredded toothpick. A woman to my left said, “How much?” She nodded, she had an ‘official’ bus booked with some tourists paying lots anyway and just wanted to fill the seats, same is always true. We waited out in the breeze. Everything that is easy and on the surface is made to appear that way, and they charge for it. At the Bar right outside the airport: “How much for a Red Stripe?” $400 J. All I could figure out was with the 85:1 exchange ratio that was something over four bucks. “No thanks.” Then I sat there a while. Whatever, I’m in Jamaica. $400 J later I was helping load the taxi. Chris doesn’t speak a lot so I told him, just for getting through situations if I said something that made him upset don’t take it personally and just forget it. Things like, “No he doesn’t hear very well.” Chris liked that, seeing it as a way to be underestimated.

      Sometimes I hear about people who come to Jamaica, I see them on TV and the internet when I am reading, and I remember watching when I was young. While there is no escaping the fact that anyone who visits is a cold hard virgin tourist, blending can be accomplished quickly if you work hard and pay attention, the reality behind the scenes starts to reveal itself. If I had ever wondered why Jamaicans assume so many Americans are just loaded with money and want to stay hammered all the time, now I knew. Our bus partners were friendly, no doubt, fun and sweet as could be. So sweet they were absolutely stupid. If they weren’t headed straight for an all-inclusive resort I would probably have worried for their safety. They were hammered before, during, and after the bus ride. We stopped for a break on the way to Negril and they were doing shots, and drinking beer. For the second time I got rubbed raw a little by not watching out for myself. I asked for a beer at the little roadside bar. He gave me one and then said loudly, “Four dollars.” I thought no way, what a rip off. But he had already popped the top and in my newbie state I wasn’t even close to being able to let him know what I thought of that. He didn’t give me any change for my five. What is this? He told me he had said five. Ah! Well, as I began to see the situation before me I saw that I was traveling with a group that would keep me from seeing what was going on. More, who you travel with deeply affects your experience. And why not charge $5 for a beer, why not $10. Whatever, these 6 kids paid whatever, they came to spend lots of money and had no reference for what was fair. The Sun was getting lower and I wanted to get to our little mountain top island before dark. As I remember, the walk up the hill is something that needs investigation. It’s not something to do for the first time on arrival. Once again, right in a row, we have a dispute or failure to communicate that had to be overcome.

      This was the bus we were on and where we were going. Anything leaving from the airport parking lot is fairly official, official enough that they wouldn’t drive out to the hills and take your bags. But once the all-inclusives were dropped off at their hotel the bus driver didn’t want to go any further, he had other important things to do. That was no huge deal, I figured we’d catch a taxi from the roundabout, downtown Negril, up the road to our place. However, that costs 200J for two of us, roughly $2.50 US. Since we were in the all inclusive parking lot taxi drivers expecte big money. I argued for a while with a guy because he wanted $20 US for the two of us to get all the way up the hill to the house. I said no and headed to the gate but right as his friend was telling us what they can get from the tourists, that we should appreciate such a good deal, LOL, I glanced at the road. It was a tough walk, especially since Chris’ backpack is a duffel bag. He carries it in front of his body like a person so the strap doesn’t cut into him. Ok, $20 it is, but I’m going to make this guy find our actual house, door side delivery. By now it was dark.

      Anytime I ride in a Jamaican vehicle I am reminded of an experience I had in basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. Drill Seargant’s would load a bunch of us in a 5-ton or large truck, and then go beyond ballistic in their driving, on wet roads. It freaked me out, I couldn’t figure out how it was a good business investment for them to kill their recruits in the first 2 weeks of basic – but maybe they were just that stupid, and it didn’t matter. I was so tense in the back of this truck on these slick roads that I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I let it go. I realized at that moment I didn’t have the choice, given the circumstance, to jump out – well no, I did choose, I chose to stay in the truck. Therefore I accepted that fate in a sense. I chose it, so I relaxed and decided to see it as a roller coaster, whatever. Woohoo! I yelled after one sharp turn where it felt like two wheels were lifting up on the inside curve. A couple of dudes looked at me like I was crazy, this other guy laughed and looked at me, and there was a special camaraderie. Two fellows sharing a surreal experience with no fear, and I had company in that. That golden thing that occurs in the martial arts word with the cadre, the peers and teachers and colleagues, some shared approach to life that allows us to see it’s impermanence. Why is it that those who essentially study killing or injuring can become reverent toward peace, stoic against violence and war. Perhaps we at least keep alive the memory of how precious life is by discussing it’s dispatch and having the mind play out scenarios within the context of history.

      Needless to say, yet again, I was confronted by all these things as Chris and I blasted through the beach road along Negril. Jamaicans drive with the same fluid intensity as they fight. There’s a sensitivity that is mostly reaction to the smallest of visual and cognitive clues, but is so good it borders on outright intuition. The roads are narrower and have more damage than those in the US. Even so it’s not uncommon to have traffic, three lanes wide intermingling and passing with constant honks and jerks and stops and swerves. Bicyclists’ legs are within finger reach from my Taxi window, people drive as fast as the pedal will let them. Now introduce into this scene lots of people, chickens from time to time, some other animal, kids, pushcarts and vendors, and parked cars. It’s like much of the world, really. Most of the cars are taxis, and many people will taxi for the money. So do you get in to a Taxi that you don’t know is licensed? Well, licensed or not, when I look into the window and see the driver and others I immediately have a feeling of their intention and whether or not I could kill at least one of them. If I feel good about it after that, no problem. If I don’t feel good about it gowan me don wan ya.

      Does that sound harsh? Why should it. If I feel like a victim then the energy attracts more of that role to play out. If I feel like I can handle myself and let someone see that in my eyes then more of the friend role plays out. Remember Jamaicans will capitalize on both weakness and strength, collaborating with a trusted someone is an important element of the Jamaican experience. So anyway we made it to our house.

      Just in time, after much direction asking and a few wrong turns in a very tough looking neighborhood here was our destination. We were greeted by an incredible feast. Because I have a lot of backwoods buds back home it may be easy for you to visualize what I mean by an outdoor kitchen with tarp coverings, piped in water, and some lamps sitting around without shades. A big picnic table with a candle and plates full of rice and bean, some vegetable mix, and fish just fried. And rum, of course. As my ears were filled with the soundscape surrounding the hill I chuckled, how has the first team taken it? Some people would likely be horrified if they had thought they were landing on a deserted island where endless Margaritas flowed from some clean blue spring on bamboo rafts. I mean, don’t worry, there is that, resorts do that stuff and it’s there if you want to find it. But Whitehall and Good Hope Road is for most untraveled Americans a scary looking place. This initial image is reinforced by the resort personnel who want to keep tourist dollars inside the walls of their exclusive clubs. As I say these things please be alert that I am not outright condemning these clubs, I want to do that sometime, just have a short visit and not think about anything with any stress whatsoever. But the local Jamaicans don’t appreciate the use of fear to discourage people from visiting local shops and markets and things. Where we stay, it’s the real experience of most Jamaicans in that area.

      So as the warm food digests and rum tingles down my gullet I feel great appreciation of what Mary has accomplished on this hilltop. The electricity has its blessings and curses. Personally, I think the most beautiful locations I know of back home lack the incessant wiring and accoutrements of electricity. Lanterns and rechargeable lights, fires and the natural skylight warm nature’s colors nicely. Security changes visual and aesthetic needs, however. In that way it was wonderful that the trails to and from our bathroom, the house, kitchen area, and the pavilion were well lit. Red, green, and gold Christmas lights adorned the house and porch area, intensifying the red and green paint, and golden stained hardwoods. But the sounds -they are, at first, a harsh welcome to the senses. I could hear frustration in Brian’s voice, he wasn’t able to sleep the night before. Since we are on a hilltop with a hundred foot cliff in front and neighborhood all around, we had a 360 degree sonic view. What sounds painted the night landscape! Booming loud bass and thumping speakers from at least 3 or 4 independent home or yard stereo systems with countless others at a lower volume. Revving bike engines and people yelling without discernable meaning, a strip club a block down the main road that didn’t start their music until around midnight - the hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs would begin their chorus sometime after the club shut down, maybe 3 am to 5 am. Then an immediate neighbor, the dramatic story of whom could write another book entirely, rocked out some random TV show at full volume starting around 5:30 am and on through the morning. Like the bamboo being tested by the flowing river beneath its bend, my leaves were not caught by the waters current. I am still that much Jamaican, I smiled at the others’ frustration and quietly asked God to help them adapt and look deeper than these uncomfortable experiences so alien to our world.

      The prayer went on a little longer than usual when I saw Brian’s sleeping surface. The concrete floor, 12x12, open walled Gazebo would make a great training room, but sleeping? I am glad we convinced him to bring two pads, one inflating and one solid.

      The real landing in Jamaica is not that knee weakening air turbulence as the plane rapidly drops altitude and draws the flaps for an imminent landing. It’s not even that brief moment when the plane is half landed and still half flying, the part where my grasp of physics concerns me as to the outplay of any scenario other than absolutely perfect. No friends, the landing is when we bring a rhythm of life and reality into a place where it moves differently. The body language, the mannerisms, the scarcity, the ingenuity and craftiness, and the risk. There was nothing I could do to shortcut the process, so I set up my tent, visited some, and laid barechested against the most perfect breeze and night temperature God had shared in my life story thus far.

Stay tuned to find out about Chris’ first-night fight with the all-Jamaican champion boxer.

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