Thursday, August 23, 2007

Jerusalem Post must read...

My article from my Jewmaica trip is up. on the front page.
Or visit:
to see the article before it was edited down considerably

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Homeland Security

Apparently somewhere between Miami airport and Kingston airport, some of my stuff disappeared. When I picked up my bag in Kingston, I could tell that it had been gone through because there were things in the outside pockets that I hadn't left there. Fine, a security check. Later in my trip I was looking for my I-Pod charger and realized it was gone. Now I also realize that my camera battery charger is gone. Both were in the same pocket that was gone through. Those things were in my bag when I got to the Miami airport, but somehow didn't make the flight. Thanks TSA for keeping the homeland secure by removing my battery chargers.

Friday, August 17, 2007

So it ends

I spent my last day in Jamaica simply hanging out. I stopped by the Bob Marley museum to pick up a nice t-shirt as a souvenir. I drove Otis the guest house manager nuts as I paid my last bill in combo of dollars, euros and pounds. He and his friend decided that I was a small time drug dealer. Ha. I have now been accused of being CIA and a pharmaceutical distributor.

That evening, I had dinner with some members of the Jamaican Jewish community who wanted to have me over for a last dinner. Vicki, her daughter Esther and her sister Norma hosted me, Alon, Shidus and his family who had arrived that day to visit. The dinner was a lovely combination of traditional jamaican dishes. Over dinner, I found out that Shidus and his family are cousins of an old friend, Danielle Cantor. The Jewish world is too small.

I woke up the next morning and caught a cab to the airport. I had no problems getting out, and I picked up a few last souvenirs. I arrived in Miami and cleared customs pretty easily. No cavity searches and no problems. Annoyingly, when I went to pick up my bag, I found it lying in a pool of Jerk vinegar. I was confused, cause I didn't by any sauces to bring home. Then I realized it was from the bag next to mine. A bottle broke in someone else's bag, and the baggage handlers left my bag in a puddle. My bag reeked if jerk vinegar as I dragged it with me to a shuttle van to take me up to Ft. Lauderdale airport. On my van ride up, I met two Southwest flight attendants, Nat and Kody. They were a cute couple who were just getting back from Belize. We chatted about travel and how much SW rocked. I was reminded of this when i got to Ft. Lauderdale, and the SW folks bumped me on a flight leaving 3 hours earlier than what I was scheduled for. Instead of leaving for BWI at 9:30, I arrived at BWI at 9:30. So meanwhile, I had a few drinks with Nat and Kody, who thankfully bought them cause I had no American cash. I caught my plane home, and received another free drink on my flight courtesy of a stewardess who poured someone a glass of red wine when they wanted white.

All's well that ends well. Big thanks to American Airlines for bumping me and giving me a voucher that paid for my flights, and big thanks to SOP for the lovely severance package that paid for my trip. A big thanks to all the wonderful Jamaicans for making my trip so irie. Also a big thanks to the lovely Mikuzi guest house for putting up with my currency shenanigans. Now gearing up for the next adventure...Argentina.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What the World Costs- Jamaica

$50JD (74 cents): bus fair
$55JD (81 cents): beef patty
$64JD (94 cents): bottle of juice (mango-carrot, pineapple-ginger, cherry, june plum)
$90JD ($1.32): Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee with condensed milk
$100JD ($1.47): flipflops aka "slippers"; one hour internet
$150JD ($2.21): sunglasses
$200JD ($2.94): side of the road jerk chicken; Devon stout I-Scream (ice cream)
$500JD ($7.35): tour of the Bob Marley Museum
$700JD ($10.29): steamed fish, festival (corn bread) and two red stripes on a pier
$775JD ($11.40): Oxtail and beans, and a rum-and-ginger beer at a posh restaurant
$1360JD ($20): room in dorm at Leighton Guesthouse
$1500JD ($22.06): taxi to the airport
$2000JD: ($29.41): cottage at Mikuzi guest house (cold shower, no ac, no tv)

The Black Herzl

"Sons and daughters of Africa, I say to you arise, take on the toga of racial pride and throw off the ignominy which has kept you back for many centuries."
-Marcus Garvey

I was planning on going hiking for my last two days in the Blue Mountains, but I left my shoes in Alon's car and couldn't go trekking in my spiffy new flipflops. Instead, I hung out downtown. I was a little melancholy based on a conversation I had with Alon and Shidos. It was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region at large. It was a tad disconcerting. Alon thought I was disconnected from reality, but I would argue that he was. As they say, "With a Greek, they're always right; with a Turk, you're always wrong; and with an Israeli, you don't know what you are talking about."

I was revived by visiting the Marcus Garvey Hall, a museum to the Black Herzl. Marcus Garvey was the leading pan-Africanist in the early 20th century. He was an ardent proponent of a back-to-Africa movement, and worked to restore black pride that had been destroyed by slavery and colonialism. Born in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey went on to found the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). There were chapters of the UNIA all over the world, and membership was as high as 4 million. His newspaper, the Negro World was a wide circulating paper. Garvey founded the Black Star Line, a boating line that would bring back Black people to Africa. The Black Star Line had a ship, rechristened The Frederick Douglas.

All of this, of course got him in trouble with the US government and segments of Black America too. J.Edgar Hoover went out of his way to bring the "negro agitator" down. WEB DuBois hated Garvey, and the NAACP opposed his actions. The US government charged him with trumped up charge of mail fraud. He served two years, and had his sentence commuted by Calvin Coolidge. Garvey was subsequently deported back to Jamaica.

Although Garvey never regained his full influence, his influence was seen in those like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and others. Rastafarians consider him to be a prophet, much like a John the Baptist figure. He has a multitude of brilliant quotes, one of my favs is: "Men who are in earnest are not afraid of the consequences."

After touring the Marcus Garvey Museum, I grabbed some curried goat and ate under a tree in the Garvey Hall. After that I walked down to the waterfront, grabbed a dragon stout and rested under a palm tree. The sound of the wind softly rustling through the palm trees, while the gulls chirped and the waves gently crashed put me at peace.

I wandered around the downtown, through the streets of bright colors. I also received a lesson in charity coming full circle. I was talking to a cool security guard named Adrian, when a woman stopped and asked for $100 JD (not much, a little more than a buck). She said she needed it for a phone card and for the bus, and seemed genuine, so I gave her the money. As I was leaving the downtown, I was wondering how I would get in-touch with my Israeli friends because I had no phone and its been difficult to get in contact. As I was sitting on the bus, the same woman who I had given the money to, to buy a phone card, appeared on the bus. I got to use her phone, and find my friends.

I hung out with the Israelis and the Chabad guys for a while. I met them at Levy and Shalom (the rabbis)'s hotel bar. There was a fat Texan twentysomething evangelist who wanted to talk biblical with the Jews. Kind of a funny encounter. I left them, and ended up heading to uptown to grab amazing Jerk chicken for dinner. The tin can bbq kind, sooo good. After, I went to a reggae club, which was having a ladies night. I was practically the only. It was an awesome club, with some great live dancehall music. Lotsa fun.

Now just enjoying the last day in Jamaica.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It came from the Blue Lagoon

The weather report showed rain for the next two weeks, so my friend Alon copied the report and edited in pictures of sun over the clouds. It seemed to have worked, because the rain finally went away. On Sunday I met up with Alon, Shidos and David- a Jew from France studying in Jamaica. We went to the Hellshire beach, a famous point in Jamaica where people go on Sundays. It is a nice beach, with a bunch of shack restaurants that serve amazing fish. We had fried fish and festival (corn bread) and it was fantastic. Possibly the best fish I have ever had. We all hung out on the beach and went swimming in the turquoise water. The water was warm and pleasant. On the beach, there was a huge speakerbox blasting cheesy 80s music. It seems the Jamaicans love cheesy 80s music and I hear it a lot in places I wouldn't expect.

After our day at the beach, we found out that 2 chabad ortho fellows had come to Kingston to meet with the community. We went through the grocery store, scouring for kosher products. We found enough stuff that was properly marked and had a nice evening with the fellows (Levy and Shalom) at someone's house.

The next day, Alon, Shidos, the orthos and I went to Portland in Northeast Jamaica. We drove through the mountains, over crazy huge potholes. We stopped for some jackfruit, a giant spiky fruit with a yellow pungent inside. We also stopped at the beach, where played with a goat. We also drank coconuts and ate the meat. We drove all the way to Port Antonio and went to the blue lagoon. This was the blue lagoon of movie fame. We took a boat out to go swimming in the crystal clear water, and went splashing around in the blue lagoon. I got some great pics of Levy and Shalom (the orthos) with the Jamaicans. Someone asked them if they were Sikh or Muslim. On the way back I grabbed some jerk chicken on the side of the road. The hot sauce was HOT. It made my mouth burn and my lips numb. I was impressed, and that says something.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Gomorrah of the Caribbean

I woke up to a bright beautiful morning, hopped on a bus downtown then another bus to Port Royal. Port Royal is an old settlement that was the big city of Jamaica in its initial history of the 1600s. On only 60 acres, it grew to a bustling city with 6,000 inhabitants. It was the most cosmopolitan city in the English Americas, with rental costs that rivaled London. It was the main commercial outpost of England in the Americas. Its wealth came from pirates spoils, and Port Royal was notorious for its decadence. It quickly gained a reputation as both the richest and wickedest city on Earth. Threatened by Spain and powerless against piracy, Jamaica's first English Governor Col. Edward D'Olyet negotiated with the buccaneers to protect the island against the Spanish and transformed the buccaneers into privateers in service of the Empire.

In 1670, following the signing of the Treaty of Madrid between England and Spain, piracy was outlawed. Sir Henry Morgan, the most celebrated pirate of his day, became the Lt. Gov of the island and violently suppressed piracy. After piracy ended, Port Royal turned to slavery, "black gold." It was a major center in the slave trade.

Yet this Gomorrah came to a sudden end with an earthquake in 1692. Almost noon on June 7, 1692, there was a massive roaring in the hills, then three shock waves tore open the ground and seas came rolling in. Immediately, a third of the settlement was swept away. The earthquake took 2,000 lives, and another 3,000 perished in the following day due to injuries, pestilence and vandals. The destruction of Port Royal led to a mass migration to Kingston, which soon after became the dominant settlement on the island. Kind of like Galveston, its hurricane and the rise of Houston.

Anywho, I toured around the old Ft. Charles (once Ft. Cromwell). It was a place where one Horatio Nelson was once stationed. There is a plaque there, stating:

"In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson
You who tread his footprints
Remember his glory"

I toured around the museum and climbed up to the top of a lookout post to get an amazing view of Kingston and the bay surrounding it. After the tour, I walked around the old city and had a true Hemingway lunch at a local restaurant on the water. I had an amazing steamed fresh fish with okra, tomatoes, onions and peppers, with festival (like cornbread) and a few red stripes to wash it down. I had my lunch on the pier, and watched the clouds roll over the mountains and the kids play "king of the pier." The clouds were sitting in the mountains like volcano's smoke, and pelicans flew over head fishing for lunch.

After lunch, I hopped the bus back into town. I tried to visit the synagogue but it was closed. It started to rain, so I hid out in a patty place called Mother's. It started to pour, and literally rivers were running through the streets of Kingston. I waited it out for a while, but it was close to shabbat. I threw all my stuff in my bag, took off my shirt and swam my way to shabbat services. I was trudging though water as high as my knees. The Jamaicans who were hiding under ledge cover couldn't stop laughing at the site of this bare-shirted whiteboy trudging through the water. I even lost my new flipflops in the running water and had to splash after them.

I finally made it the synagogue, drenched but otherwise okay. The synagogue has white sand for floors. It was a lovely synagogue with a mahogany bimah. The service was nice, and there were Jews of every hue. After dinner, I was invited back to shabbat dinner by Alon, the Israeli shaliach for Jamaica. I went back with a lovely Jamaican family to their house. I had a hot shower (my first hot one in days) and they lent me some clothes. We had a nice shabbat dinner with some other Israelis and Jamaican Jews, it was very pleasant.

Today I woke up and it was still pouring. I caught a ride with Alon to services. The roads are like lakes at the moment. After services, we picked up some great Jamaican lunch of fried chicken, chicken foot soup (we had the feet removed) and Allon got cows foot (which I tried and was gross) and ate back at his place with his friend Shidos, who is visiting and staying with him. Now just waiting for the rain to go away.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I keep traveling further because I find it is the only way I remember where I have been. Things one place always remind me of something somewhere else. Vistas of lit up splendor overlooking Kingston's hills remind me of the sparkling view over El Paso. The rolling clouds over the Blue Mountains remind me of the majestic Table Mountain of Cape Town, which reminds me of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio. The old colonial downtown strikes a reminiscent cord of San Jose in Costa Rica. As I pass through Kingston's corrugated tin neighborhoods I am reminded of the South African townships, which makes me think of small Vietnamese tin villages that I saw on a long train ride down the coast. Sea on one side, jungle on the other. Sao Paulo's leafy garden jungle brings me to the jungle I am currently in. Just a tangent of global reminders.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Trenchtown Rock-ower

I woke up early today and talked to a fellow hostel mate from NZ. He mentioned there were some travel agents down the road with trips to "the island that can't be named." I wandered my way down the road, and grabbed some traditional jamaican breakfast of ackee (a soft yellow fruit) and salted fish in a stew with yams, plantains and potatoes. I checked with a few travel agents, but it was pricey to get to Fidelland. $500 a flight, much more than I had planned. They said that prices had risen since a company that flew there went out of biz. Woe is me, stuck in Jamaica. I guess I will never have a stogie with the old bearded one.

I have never been anywhere where the first language is English, yet I can't understand a word people are saying. I'm befuddled. I took a shared taxi to Half Way Tree and a mini bus to downtown. I was the only on the minibus, and I just sat joyfully listening to the reggae and sing-song chatter that bounced around the small bus. It reminded me of a Palestinian mini bus I took from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem. The only on the bus. I think I understood the Palestinians better. But they didn't have beautiful reggae music. Just lost in a sleepy reggae day dream under the sleepy rain.

I grabbed some lunch at a patty place, two beef patties and a ginger beer. Yum. I wandered through the Jamaican national gallery. It was interesting, with a caribbean realism and some great photos. As I was getting ready to leave, a piece called the introspective muse made me realize that as the only one in there, I could touch all the art work. I wandered around and touched all the statues. The smooth, cool vases with the stale air inside. The soft wood and rigid bronze statues. That is the part I am always missing from art museums, the element of texture.

As I was leaving, my flip flops broke. They served me well, and came a long way. I got them in Van-Viang, Laos fo 20,000 kip ($2) after my last pair broke in Cambodia. Those broke at Angkor What? in Siam Reap after a long sloppy night of debauchery, brought on by Scottish girls and Malaysian chaps. I walked bare-foot through the puddles of Kingston's dirty streets, with both eyes out for glass.

I found my salvation at Busheo's, a Jamaican Wal-Mart. Shopping in Jamaica was surreal. The attendants were behind wire. They found me a pair of "slippers," and gave me a receipt. I took the receipt to a hole in the wall in the back, where I handed the receipt and 100 Jamaican dollars ($1.30) to get my receipt back stamped. Then I brought it back to the wire girls and got the slippers. Far from efficient but it worked. I then hopped a minibus back up amid the gale rains. I stopped in a grocery store for shelter from the gale, and grabbed some overproof Jamaican rum and tropical fruit juice, and here I am having a cocktail and recounting while I wait for the mid-afternoon storm to pass. All for now, tings is eire down here.


After a nice flight over the caribbean, where the sun cast dark cookie dough shadows beneath the clouds and over the blue ocean, I arrived in fair Jamaica. Since long ago, visiting Jamaica was always a dream. I landed down, and was a little disoriented at first, as if I needed to regain my traveler's wits. And like that, I felt like me again.

I got through a long line at customs, and made my way to the bus stop. While I was waiting, I was talking with some American airlines workers. They ended up getting a ride, and I hitched with them. A free ride, saving either taxi or bus fare. I got a ride to Half Way Tree, an area near where I wanted to go. I trudged with my stuff down the road and to the Mikuzi guest house. Dripping with sweat, I arrived and asked about a room. The price was $35, more than I planned to spend. I bargained it down to $30, but decided to try the guest house I saw online. I trudged my way on, and stopped by the side of the road to check my guide book. As I was stopped, a woman pulled over and asked where I was going. Deborah was going nearby and she let me in. As we were talking, I found out she was a Jew. The story's always find me- usually lost on the side of the road. It's like I have a Jewish bat symbol above me.

Deborah is a 40 year old Jamaican woman who works for the Bank of Jamaica. Her mother is Jewish and married a Catholic. Deborah didn't know she was Jewish until her father died when she was eleven, and her mother told her.

At first, we stopped at a grocery store. I grabbed some caribbean fruit juice. She was still in line, so she handed me (a complete stranger) the keys to her car. In all fairness, where was I going to go? And in a car that drives on the opposite side, in a country that drives on the opposite side. Deborah gave me the tour as we talked about Jamaican Jewry. We passed through tin shack neighborhoods that reminded me of South Africa. Everywhere reminds me of somewhere. On either side of the road, there were people dressed in green and orange shirts. The Greens were Jamaican Labor Party supporters, the orange were People's National Party supporters, and it was Nomination day. The election is in two weeks. I have 5 Jamaican dollars if anyone can name the current Jamaican Prime Minister, and one Jamaican dollar is anyone can name on Jamaican politician ever. No, Bob Marley was never.

We drove over Kingston's windy ways, up the hillside and Deborah stopped to feed stray dogs. She took me back to her house to meet her family. We arrived and I was fed jerk chicken, rice and peas (beans), smashed bananas and beef patties. Her mother showed me news clippings and articles about the Jewish community. The story of the Jewish community of Jamaica is a story I know well. After dinner, they gave me a ride to my guest house. It was $20 for the dorm, more in my price range. I was the only one there. I watched the tv news and a debate between a Christian theologian and a rasta poet. I also sat out on the porch, listening to reggae and the dogs barking, and watching the jeweled lights of Kingston glitter on the black velvet Caribbean night.

I felt like me again.

The next morning I woke up early (just popped out of bed, like I haven't done in a while). I decided the place was too far out, so I hopped a bus back into town. I love being the only. I love being greeted by benevolent stares. I trudged my way back to the funky little Mikuzi guest house and took the room I could have had the previous day.

From there, I headed on to the Bob Marley Museum. I took a tour of his old stomping grounds, and saw a great little film about him (in an AC hall!). Lots of old pics of Mista Marley. A pilgrimage of sorts for me. I left the house to the sight of plum-colored clouds rolling off the Blue mountains. To avoid the rain, I went to Devon House, the home of the first black Jamaican millionaire- who incidentally had a Jewish merchant for a father. I did a tour of the old colonial-style house, and wandered around the gardens. I had some of their famous I-Scream, some Devon Stout ice cream. Think Guinness ice cream. I also had a fantastic jerk chicken sandwich. I sat out in the gradens and listened to the pitter-patter of soft carib rain. I blogged all this at Devon house, but it didn't post.

I left Devon house, and walked to Half Way Tree- a blue collar area. I then walked through Uptown, and grabbed a cup of wonderful Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee with condensed milk, a treat I haven't had since Southeast Asia. I walked back and chilled out on some pillows as the sun set nectarine past the purple bougainvillea. After lounging around, I took my third shower of the day, and hopped the bus downtown for some nightlife. I grabbed some amazing Jerk chicken on the side of the road, best I have ever had just grilling in a tin drum. I drank some redstripes at loud outdoor bar, but didn't have enough to get into the reggae club so I headed home. A great first day. It's nice to feel like myself again.

Monday, August 06, 2007

COGS for Obama

Move over Soccer Moms and Nascar Dads, there is a new political grouping. While I was visiting my dear Republican grandmother in Florida, the one who thinks Bush is great, Rush is erudite and the Clintons to be Satan's spawn. I asked her who she liked in the Presidential primary, expecting Fred or Rudy to be her top choice. Of course, they were. But then she said something that really surprised me. She said she liked Obama. I almost had a heart attack. My grandma hasn't liked a Democrat since Truman, and she sure isn't the most tolerant of souls. I was too shocked to ask if she knew he was black. She said he was eloquent, and exuded hope. So here is our new focus group: Cantankerous Old Grandmas (COGS) for Obama. If my grandma likes Obama, then he really has a chance.