I passed by many things while walking from my grandmother’s rental apartment in Montego Bay, Jamaica to visit her in a hospital three kilometers down the road. A Hard Rock Café. Five-star hotels with aspirational names like Secrets, Breathless and Sunscape Splash. An old yacht club with abandoned boats sinking into a scum-filled bay. Luxury villas locked like prisoners behind steel bars. A taxi rank with drivers offering rides, drugs or both. A cruise ship terminal with idling jeeps and buses about to whisk vacationers on eco-tours. A police station with a long line of women and girls waiting to see their husbands and fathers who had been arrested in a recent wave of anti-gang raids. A restaurant where I once sat and listened to the pop pop pop of a nearby semi-automatic and tried to pretend it was fireworks. Fragrant gardens. Rank garbage. A gas station. People sitting in the shade of royal palm trees, trying to escape the heat of the day.
Despite all the things I saw, I mainly felt one thing. Fear.
On Sunday, my boyfriend and I are hosting a fundraiser brunch at our apartment for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation and their Friends for Life Bike Rally. We’ve done this brunch twice before and we always serve a full Caribbean meal — jerk chicken, ox tail stew, patties, ackee and saltfish, rum punch (!), plantain, rice and peas and so on. My mother is from Jamaica, so this food is near and dear to me. It’s like my mac-and-cheese or meatloaf — a deeply comforting reminder of childhood.
In a sense, I grew up listening to Bob Marley’s music. My mother was born and raised in Mandeville, Jamaica, and although I wouldn’t say she was necessarily a big fan — we probably listened to The Very Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber more than Legend — I definitely wore a One Love t-shirt in grade school and could probably sing along to No Woman, No Cry, even if I didn’t understand the lyrics. My grandmother was the main source of exposure, though. She managed a hotel in the Cayman Islands where my brother and I would spend part of every summer. To satisfy rum-drunk Brits and Americans, the hotel played Stir It Up, Is This Love and Jamming on a seemingly endless loop. It’s because of this over-exposure that I developed a cynicism about Bob Marley in my teens. I didn’t really pick up on the poetry of his lyrics — the songs just felt like touristy kitsch to me.