Not dressed to impressed

Our eyes often land on imperfections, even when there’s much better around. When I visited some sights in downtown Kingston, I found it hard to not be taken aback by some small, random things I noticed. We were standing in Heroes Park, looking at the cadets in their guard houses. The first thing I noticed was that the inside had bare board where the paint had peeled.

20131001-162856.jpgThe pomp and ceremony of the guards change over couldn’t knock out of my head the thought that our prime site to honour some of our dead heroes was like a beaten fowl coop. I clicked my phone camera, and wondered how I would think of Jamaica if I were a foreign visitor.

The rain came down heavily and our group headed off to the museum at the Institute of Jamaica. I had hardly had time to think about the challenge we had overcome to dodge getting soaked and to be standing looking at Taino artefacts. Then, I heard the dripping of rain coming down near my feet.

20131001-163330.jpgThe staff slowly came behind our group with armfuls of The Gleaner (ironically, their building is just a short walk away) and began laying them down at strategic points. I looked up at the ceiling and saw the many cracks above. It doesn’t rain all the time, but when it does, it’s often very heavy. I wondered how close these exhibits were to being destroyed because no repairs had been done to the roof/ceiling.

I remember an estate agent telling me once to always visit a prospective home during bad weather: that way, many faults would show up.

Who to blame for such little regard? Do those who deal with this daily have no way to improve their lot? Powerlessness can really be crippling. I looked back to the fact that while the guard was in his shack a team of men were weeding and moving plants and trees to make the park more beautiful.

Public funds may be tight but are the uses of those scarce dollars right? Maybe, next time I go to see these sights a tin will be there to take my contributions.

Learning

I was really lucky today: I got to go on a field trip with my daughter and her class. The plan was to see some downtown cultural sights then end the day with a picnic at Devon House. Things started badly. We met the ear,y morning rush hour traffic heading to the city centre: we don’t usually have any business getting snarled up in that. Groans were soon turned to cheers when the driver wheeled and came again to head in a different direction. What a smart man! In no time, we were chugging through narrow downtown streets, towards Heroes Circle. We passed through narrow lanes, with houses almost kissing each other across the street. Many people were walking though not to jobs, it seemed. This was a marginal neighbourhood,
where once lots of working Kingstonians lived. It was just close to where I had lived when a small boy.

We soon arrived at National Heroes Park. I had never been there before in this form. But, I remember it when it was called Racecourse, as it was in the pre-Independence days. Really, I remember my father and older relatives talking about it. I was soon impressed by the sculptures and the simple layout of the memorials to the heroes. We watched what appeared to be cadets, stationed in their guardposts, stiffly to attention. I joked that they were not real, and some of the children peered more closely. The guards should be there all day and night. We got lucky because the hourly change was about to happen, and we enjoyed seeing something many do not see. Not Buckingham Palace, even though the teacher sang the ditty “They’re changing the guards at Buckingham Palace/Christopher Robin went down with Alice.”

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I watched as the children crowded around our young guide to hear his explanations of the brief histories. But, we were not there for a deep lesson: they had a questionnaire to complete and focused on finding their answers. They were excited to be standing on dead people, and some tried to see if they could see inside the monuments. The precise history escaped most of them, but some of the names meant something: Bustamante (his nickname “Busta” meant candy, for some); Marcus Garvey (but why the star symbol? some asked); Nanny was a favourite, perhaps made so for being a woman; Norman Manley (whose wife, Edna, meant much to the children from going to theatre camps). But, they lapped up the snippets. Then, down came the rains. We hustled fast to get back to the bus. We were shocked to see the two guards also running. Hey, who’s guarding the park? We saw that the guard huts were in poor condition and probably leaked. Not a good advert, but that’s how some things have fallen into disrepair, like downtown itself.
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Our bus rolled on to the next stop, the Institute of Jamaica, where we were due to see a Taino Indian exhibit and a history of music exhibit. Rain was pouring so hard that we could not get out of the bus for nearly half an hour. We watched the river of water rolling down the street, and covering the sidewalk. We would have to get wet to get into the museum, so we tried to find a way to get as little wet as possible. While we pondered the options, we thought about making paper boats to sail in the gutters. No adult could remember how to fold the paper, but one child did, and the boat she made was launced into a torrent and, in no time, sank. We came up with a solution for the river crossing: put the bus on the sidewalk and find a narrow way where the water was lower close to the buildings. Line animals heading into the Ark, we got the children, two by two, out of the bus and into the museum. Some shrieked with too much drama, as they felt the water seeping into their shoes, amd between their toes.
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I got the impression that children, being children, really wanted to get out in the rain and play. Adults being adults, thought otherwise.

I think the children enjoyed both exhibits. Some of them knew a fair amount already about Tainos, amd they listened attentively to the historian, who gave a little quiz at the end. We know that caciques led, and that the people ate conies, grew corn, and fished from canoes. That might make the Tainos C-faring people, I thought to myself in a moment. The music was well-known, even though the correct historical position was lost on the kids, who happily moved from ska dancing to disco in the swing of an arm and the raising of a finger.

But, enough already. The kids put up with this culture load and now wanted their promised reward. Rain had really washed out picnic hopes. But, an outlet for Brick Oven patties was on our way and had plenty of space to eat in the dry. Some wanted cones and toppings. Others wanted double scoops. Eyes were bigger than bellies. Some just wanted to spend their money. All were happy. Happier though were those who’d gone rogue, devouring patties, too.