In part 5 of "The Other Side of Tourism", Myrna Loy explores if there is "discrimination" against black tourists to Jamaica by people in the service industry.
Trip Reports

The Other Side of Tourism – Part 5

Chapter VII – TORMENT ‘PON TORMENT, AND ROOF TOP

I had been given a book to read as a present. It was entitled: “Women on Top” by Nancy Friday. I took it out of my knapsack and continued reading it.

Erotic undulations radiated out of the book and sent stimulating currents into me. I closed the book, I had to diffuse the thrill.

A voice mercifully intruded on my train of thought. The sensations subsided:

“A weh yu fram?” I winced at the coarse dialect and unrefined tone.

I opened my eyes to see an open cavernous mouth entrenched in thick overhanging lips. His eyes enigmatically obscured by dark glasses. As he turned to look out into the ocean, I noticed that what should have been the white of his eyes, were a mangy orange. I shuddered. Out of all the people on the beach (I looked around) why come to me? Why not seek someone of his own caliber? Had the situation been reversed I would have never dared to approach someone as fine as I felt I was. I gave him credit for one thing only, his confidence or in more colloquial language, ‘guts’.

I sat up to evaluate myself. It has to be these braids, they needed redoing, or maybe taking out altogether. I slid my fingers through them, one got caught in my fingernail, I shoved it in my bag quickly, praying that he did not notice the synthetic entrail. My braids were starting to look like dreadlocks, untidy.

Maybe it was my nails. I examined my nails discriminately. I was in dire need of a manicure. I scrutinized my toes with discern. The varnish was chipped. Yes, I deserved to be approached by this type of nonentity. Assassinating my disdain and accepting my fate, I decided to entertain his imbecilic exchange.

I looked at his morbid anatomy, he looked emaciated. His skin had turned white from the sea water, he looked undernourished.

“Excuse me, missee, a weh yu fram?”

[“missee?” so colonial!] Brought up to be courteous, I asked for clarification:

“Do you want to know where I was born or where my parents come from or where I live?”
I was hoping that my speaky spokey accent would throw him off.

“Ah weh yu barn den?” The emphasis on the word ‘born’ made me wince again before responding.

“I was born in England of Jamaican parents.”

“So a Henglan yu live?”

“No, I live in America.”

“So why you don’t swim?” he said changing the subject.

“Because I can’t swim.”

“me caan teach yu fe swim.”

“Really?” I said sarcastically, “Well I’m not interested in learning to swim right now”

“Look pon de sea man.. you don’t see how beautiful it is? Look a de pickney dem a play in a de water… you doan wish you could swim? The water coooool and nice. If you cum hearly tomorro, me wi teach yu fe swim.”

Admittedly I would have loved to learn to swim, had my teacher been a tall, clean cut, strong, handsome, virile, well-spoken man, but this was not the case. The water did look cool and nice. I pondered, wishing for a moment that I had been escorted by someone; someone romantic who would lift me up off of the towel and swim out into the sea with me on his back. Someone who would know instinctively how to…. I was lurched into reality:

“Deh is a dance later pon ‘roof top’ downtown, you wan walk wid me go deh?”

I shook my head.

“Yu safe you know … no-one na kidnap you — yu wid your people dem.”

“No, it’s alright.”

“Pure ole time music, Sugar Minott, Pat Kelly, Slim Smith.. yu know dem artists deh?” he persisted.

(Of course I knew those artists and I loved their music. I knew I would enjoy myself had the propositioner been more attractive — I wouldn’t be seen dead with this one.)

I drifted back to consciousness.

“No, I really cannot go”.

I used the opportunity to ask about the beach party.

“The tour guide at the hotel, informed me about a beach party on Friday night. Do you know anything about the beach parties? How do they regulate people coming on an open beach and how come they charge US$45?”

“Well iz a private ting for touriss… dem ‘ave a gate and people ‘ave fe pay fe get in… dem play likkle music still, dem mek hole heap o’ money off hit..”

I was disappointed that it would just be tourists, I thought there would be all kinds of people on the beach joining in. I decided not to go, besides, hopefully I would be with Uriah having fun in Mandeville.

“So, yu a come back tomorrow so me can teach yu fe swim?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Although he seemed innocuous, I dared not challenge him with harsh words. His intrusion on my privacy continued to frustrate me, although I refused to allow his persistence to drive me from the beach. This situation warranted apprehension and my adherence to the British code of decency would not allow me to express how pissed off I felt.

Someone called him and he went away. “Thank God” I whispered. I tried to relax again, putting on my dark glasses, accepting just how prejudice and pompous I had become.

“Wa’appen, African Dawta?”

“Oh, no! not again.”

“Yu look nice in your cut-up cut-up jeans.”

I opened my eyes. It was a cooley-dread; his dreadlocks tied up with a colourful towel. His complexion a ginger biscuit brown, his form defined. He wore frayed baggy jeans (imported from America) and no shirt.

He grinned, assured of his ‘pretty smile’:

“So yu a enjoy de beach?”

“Yes, I am enjoying it” [and I would enjoy it better if I was left alone] I said, disaffected by his pleasantry.

“Yu dey pon yu own?”

I wished that I wasn’t, but I was, and I admitted it.

“So, is what yu a do later? Yu waan go a ‘roof-top’?. Dem play some nice music.”

“Someone else just invited me there.”

“Oooo? De bwoy me see a talk to yu, de one dem call Mikey?”

“We didn’t exchange names.”

“Well, one likkle maaga bwoy me see a tawk to yu earlier, is him invite yu?”

“Yes” I said, rather embarrassed.

“So, yu a go wid him?

“No”

“So, you no waan go wid me?” he asked as though he was an obvious alternative.

“No, I don’t want to go with anybody.”

“Wah? Yu doan come here to enjoy yuself?”

“Yes, but I can enjoy myself on my own, thank you.”

“Pon your own? So your sittin naa scratch yu?” Sensing my disgust, he continued.

“Well if you change yu mine, me a go dyah.”

[Yes, roaming the beach, you no-good layabout!]

He walked away defeated. He knew I would not be back.

Time passed and ‘maaga Mikey’ returned with a large green leaf, spewing out gooey substance.. which, unauthorized, he rubbed on my shoulders:

“A de real ting dis, Aloe — good fe yu skin, proteck yu from de sun.”

For a moment I forgot who he was and what he looked like. The substance felt cool and refreshing on my shoulders. It was very considerate of him to go through all the trouble to make sure my skin was protected. I took advantage of his temporal kindness, forgetting the contemptible thoughts of a few moments past. When the leaf was dry, he got up and beseechingly disclosed:

“A twenty dollars fe dis yu know, let me know if you waan some — me ‘ave fe see if me can mek some money off it”.

[Well, you definitely are not getting any money from me for that little dirty piece of green leaf — probably picked it up off the street anyway and come to think of it, my shoulders didn’t even feel cool, they felt uncomfortably sticky!] He got the hint that I was not interested and walked off. I decided I would go get something to drink.

I passed a little hut that advertised mango juice, fruit punch and other things. “Mmmmm, fruit punch” I thought. I asked them how much it was and they told me 45 dollars. I had stopped thinking in Jamaican dollars, it was the American dollar I used as my yardstick to determine whether or not the price was fair. I surmised that drinking and eating in Jamaica was expensive. 45 dollars for a glass of healthy fruit punch was reasonable.

I was allowed to chaperon the fusion of fruit into juice and watched her put in pieces of banana, papaya, watermelon and some other little insignificant bits of fruit (no mango) and then liquidize them together in an electric blender. To test the consistency and taste, the lady dipped a spoon in the concoction and tipped some into the palm of her hand so she could taste it. (I liked the way she did that. My mother always did that when she tasted the soup she was making — I don’t see people do that much anymore. It gave me confidence).

Satisfied with her composition, she poured it out into a long glass and handed it to me and waited for my approval. I exchanged the 45 dollars after confirming its validity with a large smile. It was as thirst-quenching and as tastily nutritious as I had expected it to be. I guzzled it down hungrily, and then proceeded to the Pelican where I would have my dinner.

Part 6 will be published next month….

About the author

Myrna Loy