Traveling out of Kingston is always a pleasant change. I headed to Mandeville early this morning. The flow of traffic into Kingston was its usual snake line, and at 6:30, I could only sympathize with the commuters in their cars, taxis, Coaster buses, or JUTC buses. People were navigating their way through traffic.

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It looked like a good hour drive ahead for most, to travel maybe 12 kilometers. In the same time, I hoped to have covered about 80 kilometers.

So, it was. My traveling partner needed some breakfast and bought hominy porridge from a popular Juici Patties store in Clarendon. I bought gas, from a station in a short stretch where prices are often a good J$6-7 lower than the lowest seen in most of Kingston. We continued up the hills into cooler Manchester.

It was nearly 8am as we reached Porus, and children were just headed to school. In contrast, I’d seen children at school gates as early as 6:30, and many were at bus stops at that time. Many of the children were walking in small groups, without any adults. I see much the same each day in town , but on country roads, with few sidewalks, and faster vehicles on winding roads, is a riskier venture. A few children were at their gates, by the road, getting some last-minute preening by mothers. Ribbons, ties, all straight. Hair, tidy. Back packs were joined by some sculptures carefully carried–project day, I assumed.

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Bush cut down to reduce mosquito breeding sites

Traffic was not heavy into Mandeville. I got yo my father’s house and saw two men walking out of the gate with cutlasses. I saw no blood, so figured things were normal. Very normal, in fact. My dad had just gone back home after over a year with me in town. I’d expressed concern about possible mosquito breeding areas. The men had just done a lot of debushing. Old paint cans and plastic containers had been removed.

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Corn from my father’s yard

In our new-found consciousness, clean-up needs to be regular. The house was being repainted and old mosquito mesh was down, so the risk from our buzzing friends would be a bit higher in the near-term. But, alongside debushing, crops were being reaped, and corn had been dried, while ackees and pears had been picked.

I knew I would be running errands later, and wanted to play a few holes of golf at Manchester Club. Thursday mornings seem livelier than other days, and groups were just finishing, and others were just about the start. It was typically cool for Mandeville. Dew is often heavy and water boots are good footwear. But, we loved the little breeze and the dampish air. We heard not a buzz. Mosquitoes were nowhere.

The golf at this club is ‘educational’. I played a match with my partner against two caddies. They know their course well. We trailed early. The course is a hard walk on rolling hills. The rough was thick. The fairways had long grass. We wondered if the tractor was broken again. No, just letting the grass dry out some more, after some heavy rain, recently. The greens are…well, not easy. They are not smooth and have clumps of grass rather than a short, even surface. Your lines and putts are as good as the jumps they avoid making. One caddy told it was like the US Open: over par is normal, but getting on the green usually means two putts. Stay out of the rough, though. I started in the rough.

After about five holes we were trailing by two shots, but playing better. We stayed steady and our opponents began to falter. We clawed back the lead and trailed by one shot headed for the 9th hole. We all hit good drives. Second shots need to navigate a narrow corridor of bamboo clusters. I hit and headed right, into the bamboo. Our opponents hit, one short of the bamboo, the other into the bamboo but bouncing out, still well short. My partner hit, caught bamboo, but landed on the green. Advantage us. We made our par, our opponents made bogey, scores level. Honours even. Manchester is a nine-hole course, so we had done all we needed.

The course is very much part of Mandeville and people walk across it blithely ignorant of what golf means. One young man was strolling across a green a caddy tried to explain why he shouldn’t do that. Last week, we saw a couple with a toddler having a picnic by one of the greens. Clearly, they had no idea of the risks of flying golf balls.

We headed back to get on with errands, mainly paying bills, buying groceries, and getting items from pharmacies.

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Great corn soup and great banter with it

Mandeville is slower, but still lively. The area around the town centre near the market can be crowded and intimidating. But, we were by the bus and taxi park. Drivers looked like they were having a protest. I saw some placards and groups of irate-looking men. Cars were parked and no one seemed ready for a ride. We moved to an area where a few food vendors operate. One does a great, peppery corn soup.

While bills were being paid, we grabbed some piping hot soup. We topped it off with some of the cooked corn. Next, was the supermarket.

I took a detour to the bank, and tried the drive-through ABM. I was bemused to see a vegetable vendor set up in the car park, selling from his little truck.

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I’ve noticed over several months that whatever the general economy is doing, Mandeville is not doing the worst. It’s not that big money is sloshing around, but the town is staying above water. The downturn in the bauxite sector has its effect, but the educational ballast from places like NCU is important. So, too, is the stability enjoyed by the many returning residents, many of whom may be sustained by overseas pensions paid in foreign currency.

But, in the little, local restaurant I like to visit, a hearty lunch is J$300, and the place is always full.

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But, some struggle, and the well-dressed Rasta who wanted to wipe off my car for J$40, whispered his demand, but adds he was willing to ‘work’ for it.

How different is that from a day in the city? A lot, sometimes, other times, not so much. But, if you never leave the capital, you’ve no way of understanding where you are.

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