In the sleepy parish of St Thomas, you’ll find the easterly most tip of Jamaica at Morant Point. En-route you’ll pass Morant Bay; known for the 1865 rebellion led by Jamaican national hero Paul Bogle. Reaching Morant Point is a long drive from Kingston and involves journeying through acres of sugar field on dirt tracks.
Three hours after leaving K-Town we arrive to find a locked gate, an ominous sky, and turkey vultures circling overhead – all very forboding. I convince my husband that a locked gate is nothing if not climbable, that the vultures won’t eat us if we look alive, and that the rain probably won’t come. Except in this case the gate is covered with tangled razor wire. We manage to wiggle through a gap in the fence as a man suddenly comes charging out of the bushes towards us holding a harpoon in one hand, and a machete in the other. My husband looks at me and shakes his head. He’s thinking ‘this is another fine mess you got us into.’ But it’s only a local fisherman, who warns us that deh rain gonna soon come.
We spot the lighthouse keeper, who waves us over and offers to take us to the top of the lighthouse. He tells us the iron lighthouse was cast in London and brought to Jamaica in 1844. Its still got most of the original staircase. Mr Clarence has been lighthouse keeper here since 1975; he’s one of two men charged with keeping ships from hitting these rocky shores. We climb up the creeky staircase to the top of the lighhouse and, apart from the fisherman down on the shore, there isn’t anyone for miles around. After a friendly and informative visit, Mr Clarence walks us out. I’ll open the gate for yeh man, he tells us with a smile.
Driving home through the sugar cane fields we pass an old Rasta standing by the side of the road carrying a machete. He’s got an old sugar sack tossed over one shoulder and plastic water bottles tied together with string on the other. He waves his arm, signalling for a lift. Where yeh go rasta man? I say in my best Jamaican Patois. Pon Daveyfield, meh village, he replies. He climbs in unsteadily, bringing with him the smell of days old sweat and dirt. Mi nuh wanna dutty up yeh car, he says apologetically. Then smiling he announces deh call me Devon. Introductions complete, he leans forward and declares meh belly hurt seh bad, mi need to belch. Before I can think of a response, he omits the unsuccessfull gagging sounds of a failed burp
I offer him some water from the cooler but he doesn’t want it. Meh need soda, he yells, meh belly, meh gas! After a minute of rummaging in our cooler, he pulls out a bag of pecans and eyes them carefully before literally tossing them back in declaring meh spoil if meh open and meh no like.
Mr Devon, it transpires, has spent the morning farming. He delves into his sack and for a moment I’m concerned that he’s trying to retrieve his machete but all he pulls out is half of a grit covered pumpkin that looks like it fell off the back of a lorry and bounced for several miles before ending in a pulp by the side of a tree, upon where Mr Devon retrieved it. Meh wanna give you a gift, he tells me. The gesture of someone who clearly has nothing, willing to give away what was probably his dinner, is an act of kindness and humility that will stay with me forever. No Devon man, I say. meh fi nuh need yeh pumpkin. He shrugs happily and puts it back into his sack.
I notice my husband’s hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly that it might be time to let Mr Devon out. I give him some dollars so he can buy some soda and Lasco – which he suspects will be the real cure for his gas. He then calls out take meh photo, meh photo man, and proceeds to pose by a tree with a glint in his eye – or maybe that’s just the look of a man releasing trapped wind, who can say?
Saint Thomas Parish, Jamaica