What We Must Start In Order to Stop Jamaican Femicide (See Census Idea)

o-violence-against-women-facebookToday, an anti-violence campaign requesting  Jamaican women and all citizens to wear black clothing for a public show of solidarity and protest against recent murders committed against women and girls in the island gathered some support in pockets across the island.

People on social media have also been putting antiviolence message filters around their profiles and posting Stop Violence Against Women memes. A street protest was also planned. 

Let me say, I wholeheartedly endorse and support any stand taken to increase awareness about violence against women and girls that seems to have grown in momentum since December, moving from domestic to something more sinister and serial in appearance and odour.

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As I pause to grieve over the latest image of a partly nude female body with bloody puncture wounds all over her chest and upper torso, it leaves me frustrated that these murders are happening everywhere across the island now, have been happening repeatedly in seasons, but only few are being solved by the police. As a woman’s body is found, the news elicits loud public outcry and then goes deafeningly quiet until another spate happens again.

With the majority of murderers still loose, which of us as women can feel safe?

So this pause for thought made me question whether our collective or individual gestures like social media campaigns, colour code protests and even blog posts like this one make a difference.

My conclusion? These can make a difference if they are pressuring the police and government to do more. It can help if the result is more awareness and urgency to take personal safety and security more seriously. But in the end, these are gestures, and require sustained follow up and deeper study to upend the root of the crimes targeting women and any demographic in the country. If violence affects one, it affects all. 

So, at this juncture the dark forces attacking the wombs of this nation demand that we each examine the crime scenes with much more analysis and from different filters in our search for the patterns of killers behind these murders. I say ‘we’ because this introspection must start at all levels to stop the violence. The solution will not be found only in the forensic science toolbox of the police.

My post will look at the psychodynamics surrounding the femicides and gender-based violence in our country and my take on some possible actions we should commit to collectively and individually to tackle these root issues.

The partially decomposing body of 15-year-old schoolgirl, Shineka Gray turned up in bushes in Irwin Meadows, St James about five days after she went missing. She was last seen on January 29 at the Bogue taxi stand.

On Sunday, the body of another  young woman, a Burger King employee was found in a barrel in St Thomas. And even this evening, more news come via WhatsApp that another young woman’s life has been snuffed out

These are the stories that have been populating news reports since the start of December 2016. Two suspects have now been held in connection with Grey’s murder, something  I’m sure offers little solace for the deceased’s family and her community who now mourn.

Out of the discussions swirling around the airwaves, one of the recurring topics that is coming to the forefront is personal safety. As Shenika was last seen at the taxi stand, the discussion has turned to how to stay safe when taking public transport, especially taking unlicensed taxi operators.

START THESE ACTIONS:

  • Download and use the Stay Alert app. This is a free application made available by the Ministry of National Security for citizens to use. Two of its key safety features allow the user to send anonymous reports to the police and make contact when in distress.
  • Facebook Live. If you have the Facebook app, create a Facebook live video for friends once you get into the taxi or anywhere else you are facing a threat.
  • Keep a Taxi diary noting down the license plate number and any other data you can gather about your driver, location picked up and destination. Let your family members know about this diary so should anything happen, you’ll be helping to solve your case. Sounds morbid? That’s how the cookie crumbles.
  • Pay attention. Stay alert to your surroundings. Look at taxi drivers, strangers, anything odd. Do not enter transportation where you are the only commuter. If you are the last one left after others have exited, exit too.
  • Avoid late travel. If you have to, try asking someone you know and trust to come and get you. If you have to take public transport, keep your family or friends updated on your whereabouts at regular intervals depending on the length of the ride.
  • I propose something that has become cliche these days, and to which we turn deaf ears, and it’s as simple as this. We, each of us, must start to be each other’s keepers. Not just for girls and women, but for our neighbours. Watch out for others.
  • Pepper spray, sharp implement, some strategic defence moves? These will all come in handy. Leave a wound. Scream. Fight for your life.

So let’s turn to the factors that may be contributing to violence against women and what we should start doing to stop femicides, beyond the crime plan.

Start boycotting Brands Whose Ads Glorify Violence

We as a society have to accept we have played a role in sleazy gender profiling and violence. We may not be the ones physically slitting, slicing, raping and stabbing women

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but do you know that buying into advertisements such as the ones above glorify violence against women by making light of rape, domestic violence, and other misogynistic violence or profile them as sexual objects, we are not as blameless as we’d like to believe.

What are little boys made of?

Marginalised men.

Failing men.

No good men.

More women graduated this year than men.

How many times this year have you seen or heard these phrases on your radio or television? Lots. Repeatedly over the last 10 years, I have been audience to these public castigations of our Jamaican males. 

While there is plenty data to support the perception that many of our men are cruel, prison birds, poor fathers, cheats, lazy and uneducated men and many of our women are progressive, hard working, victims, and independent, perhaps it’s time to realise that we have unintentionally or intentionally planted an impression that men are less worthy and important.

It’s a question begging to be asked: Could the current increase in femicide in the country be the curse of the chickens coming home to roost?

Could our acculturalization that little girls are made of sugar and spice and all that’s nice, and little boys (men) are made of horrid snails and puppy dog tails have set up a fixed mindset in our males that has lowered their sense of self-worth and increased envy towards women?

CONCLUSION: It is quite plausible that the increase in stress levels in the society, female leadership, increasing financial independence of women and the perception of low male inequality and worth has helped create angry men who are now exacting their dominance recovery revenge on their girlfriends, daughters, wives, female colleagues, strangers, female leaders, and female interests in their countries.

ACTION: Make the gender playfield equal for men and women again. While we will always see antisocial behaviours, with some effort we can emphasize and communicate a more positive image about the Jamaican man and showcase more good male models. The media can level the playfield with more balanced discussions, more male presence on panels so the male perspective is heard. 


The Disorders that Make Men Hate, Hurt and Kill Women

It’s time to look beyond the obvious to the root of femicide, the psycho-dynamics or pathology of the criminal who kills women.

Pathology is the study of a particular subject- a disease. It is the diagnosis of an abnormality through careful examination of the constituents of the diseased body. When crime is considered to be a disease, the psychodynamic elements manifest and is precipitated as/by disorder and disruption of existing social norms and values. It is precipitated by mental illness, stress, disorganization in society, and anti-social psychopathological mindsets.

And many times, the first signs appear in behaviour patterns during childhood and youth and left unattended transition into adulthood. One homicide researcher, Vernon Geberth has found a clear link between early manifestations of antisocial personality disorder in the childhood of some serial killers.

According to the DSM-IV, the essential feature of the disorder is to be found in patterns of irresponsible and antisocial behaviors beginning in childhood or early adolescence and continuing into adulthood. Lying, stealing,truancy, vandalism, initiating fights, running away from home, and physical cruelty are typical childhood signs. In adulthood the antisocial pattern continues …

Geberth’s article entitled Psychopathic Sexual Sadists: The Psychology and Psychodynamics of Serial Killers (1995) discussed a study which examined a population of 387 serial murderers, who killed (under various motivations), three or more persons over a period of time with cooling-off periods between the events. The author identified 232 male serial murderers who violated their victims sexually. The author then employed a case history evaluation protocol based upon the DSM-IV criteria of Antisocial Personality Disorder (301.7) and Sexual Sadism (302.84) to examine the population of 232 serial killers, who had violated their victims sexually. The research found certain pattern among killers with Antisocial Personality Disorder.

With findings like this, we are forced to confront the pressing question that is begging to be asked: What quality of parenting allowed these boys to run amok and untreated with these behaviours? Why were these red flags ignored?

Still another expert has also identified the role of parents in the pathology of boys who hate and hurt women. In this case, British psychotherapist, Adam Duke author of “Why Men Hate Women” puts the responsibility for boy’s misogynistic behaviours squarely at the feet of their mothers. In an interview with The Independent, Duke explained that a boy’s hatred against his mother usually begins in infancy when a perception of rejection leads to him later punishing women for not providing the perfect love experienced in infancy before he had to make the psychological separation necessary to ‘learn’ to become a man.

Another study from the University of Montreal has linked boys’ aggression and anti-social behaviour to their mothers. The study established that boy’s testesterone levels in infancy were “not inherited genetically” as widely believed, “but rather determined by environmental factors, mostly early environmental factors which the child experiences in relation to its mother both before and after birth,” the lead researcher reportedly divulged in the May 7, 2012 report published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

CONCLUSION: Too many of our men have been socialised poorly. Many have been emotionally neglected by their mothers soon after being weaned. Poor parenting and unstructured homes have helped created boys who hurt and kill women in adulthood. The red flags were there, but for some reason were seen as inconsequential. Except that now we are reaping the whirlwind of these antisocial behaviours.

START SOME ACTION: So much for the saying, Boys will be boys. This finding will make it necessary for mothers to start scrutinising how they behave around their sons. Parenting education and economic support have to become a priority so Jamaican mothers with troubled boys can gain access to early psychotherapy and parenting interventions if we intend to change the trajectory of these boys before they become men.

Eliminate Male Bias In Classrooms

Some educators believe that single-gender classes and schools, female-dominated classrooms, less attention paid to boys’ learning styles could help promote gender inequity and male marginalisation in our schools. While I have no documented evidence of the gender disparities in Jamaica schools, the education outcomes for boys in this country seem to suggest that girls are advancing and boys are straggling behind. Making our education system equitable for boys and girls have to be a part of the psychodynamics we look at as we contemplate the way forward.

Teacher preparation colleges and churches can also help change the outcomes by upskilling and enabling teachers to teach boys according to their learning styles. Parenting for fathers must be part of the social intervention as well.

Churches have a role to play too in helping with the spiritual development and engagement of males in their communities.

Sexist Cultures Contribute to Femicides -Study

The high rate of sexual harassment in Jamaica, manhandling of women, and the projection and treatment of women as sex objects is often scoffed at as normal male and cultural behaviour. But this next study puts our “sexist cultural practices” under the microscope.

Underscoring the connection between sexism, misogyny, and violence, Rodriguez Gilda, researcher/author of this study: From Misogyny to Murder: Everyday Sexism and Femicide in a Cross-Cultural Context points out that everyday sexism which devalues women does play a role in the culture of violence against women. Gilda had this to say:

 …femicide is not only related to other forms of explicit violence
against women but also to everyday acts of misogyny that contribute
to the creation of a culture of sexism and devalorization of women
and their lives. These everyday sexist acts are often ignored or
minimized, in such a way that their connection to large-scale forms
of violence against women is obscured.

He went on to note that the disconnect between everyday misogyny and femicide in much of popular and media discourse is problematic for two reasons:

the mischaracterization of gender-based murder as simple killing, without a misogynistic component, which makes it difficult to address the root causes of such violence. Secondly, when “small” incidences of sexism occur, they are more easily dismissed as inconsequential and even harmless. My argument is that commonplace sexist practices lay the conditions for femicide and for the political discourse that surrounds it.

CONCLUSION: Sexism and misogynism are root components of gender-based murders.Although we have grown as a society, there are still worrying traits of sexism in our society. We see it being played out in domestic violence and other forms of violence carried against women and girls.

START SOME ACTION: Unmask gender-based murder. The government and leaders of institutions should weed out evidence of sexism in our institutions. The police must treat crimes related to sexism as potential signs of more serious gender-based crimes. Treating the symptoms and addressing the pathology of our crime and criminals becomes mandatory to cinch the problem.

So, how can the police deconstruct the psycho-dynamics of those with a history of violence against women? Read on to see how one country is doing it.

Femicide Census

The Security Minister and Police Commissioner are struggling to fight crime, but I’ve heard little about them collecting and studying the data to develop perpetrator profiles of criminals, including those crimes that are femicides. Maybe, if more data was being collated and tracked, we would connect the dots faster to find the perpetrators of the murder, rape, subjugation, domestic violence, female slave trafficking plaguing our society.

In February 2015, a British campaign group launched a Femicide Census, a database with profiles of every woman who was killed by a man. According to the Guardian newspaper, the campaign initiated by the Nia Project, a London-based domestic violence charity was “designed to force a recognition of the scale and significance of male violence against women.”

The record is a culmination of several years of work by Karen Ingala Smith, Nia Project’s Chief executive, who started counting Britain’s murdered women and putting their names on her own blog back in 2012.

The database collates details of the perpetrators and the murder incident itself, including the date, names, police force area and information about children, recorded motive and the weapon.

The campaign was run in collaboration with another women’s organisation, Womens’ Aid and a legal firm. The Femicide Census Report presented several recommendations aimed at prompting the government to stem the rise of violence against women.  Explains the Guardian:

. . . this will mean a public tally of the dead is kept in a more formal manner, using police statistics as well as court reports. The site will be used to store as much information as possible on the background and the crime, available for approved subscribers – the first time such details have been held together – to make research and studies easier.

Find more details on the content of the released Census here.

CONCLUSION

There’s no question as to whether the Jamaican Police has crime data. We occasionally hear crime statistics reported,  but what is the quality of this database and how thorough it is in capturing all the data remains a mystery to me. How acccessible is it? Then there is the issue of tracking, evaluating  and reporting on that data. A recent request I made to access statistics to  explain the uptick in domestic violence related crimes I was tracking for a blog post late last year did not yield a response from the Constabulary Communication Network. That was after two documented tries in December and January.

START THIS ACTION: I’m calling on the government to lead a Femicide Census to collect and publicise statistics on female victims of male violence. Not just numbers but records  that will put a face to the name and details of her life before she was killed. This will not only provide a record of the incidents and track the patterns that emerge in the murders but humanize these deaths. This kind of action is also necessary in order to move the debate from what some may see as a polarised feminist viewpoint, towards a purposeful search for solutions.

Media Influence

And of course, the silent facilitator in this constructed mayhem is our mass media (including online and social media) who profess to just be society’s mirror. You deflect responsibility very well. But you too are often culpable. Yes, you are our society’s reflector via your news coverage, when you are reporting on events that have occurred. 

But in the arena of programming that mirror role disappears, and in its place stands media as facilitator or enabler. All rhetoric has the ability to persuade and appeal. So whether it’s an opinion programme like a talk show, the lifestyle and entertainment content (music, movies and documentaries) or news items you select and share, media influences its audience. 

For good or evil, the media we tune into and allow our children to absorb  has the capacity to impact how a society interprets and accepts the moral, values and laws of society. Media helps and harms parenting as it could ultimately define the character and behaviour  of those who are part of the audience.

How we use broadcast and social media at the end of day demands responsibility. How does it benefit you to spread videos of someone butchering a woman, show the exposed lifeless body of a young woman or video of child or teen being sexually abused exposed. How is it being responsible when you spread false news about a girl gone missing? What all this exposure does is minimize public trust and promote hopelessness, fear, and inaction.

CONCLUSION

Stopping the violence against women and kids call for an acceptance of personal responsibility for our role in preserving our society. You can start today to work with your spouse and children, your community and state agencies to re-implement law, order, and respect for yourself and others in your part of your city. Love, respect, protect, and preserve the life around you. It starts with me and you.

START RESTORING LOVE, PEACE and ORDER  

  • Take personal safety actions to protect yourself. Avoid unsafe behaviours
  • Be your brothers’ keeper.
  • Make men know they are important and valued. Respect them. Engage their views.
  • Vow to stop perpetuating and facilitating crime, especially with your social media actions and entertainment choices.
  • Choose to help save instead of being a bystander.
  • Help settle disputes, not ignite or fan them.
  • Report signs of violence and victimization of women and girls.
  • Protect all children. Get help when troubled behaviour appears.
  • Start some action to stop gender-based violence and femicide.
  • Examine the psycodynamics of women killers, start using and tracking our crime data for patterns
  • Humanise and respect the dead.
  • Aim to be blameless.


Then, and only then will violence and murders, gender-based and otherwise decline in our communities.

Your Turn

The question I want each of us (parents, teachers, citizens, ministers, government representatives, state protectors, employers, workers, media communicators and users) to ponder today is this:

  • Are you entirely blameless in the gender violence? Are we enabling or helping to perpetuate this mushrooming problem?
  • How will you start taking responsibility at the level, in the space, and in the role you occupy now?
  • What can you do now to stop not only violence against women and girls but violence against the people you come into contact with daily?
  • How do you plan to protect yourself from threats?
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18 Unforgettable Christmas Memories of my Jamaican Childhood

vintage toy truck made from juice boxes

juicebox-truckdollmarblestruck

At this time of year, Jamaicans far-flung across the globe will share some common recollections and stories relating to unforgettable Christmas traditions that defined their childhood years. I grew up in the 70’s and this season was no less special for me. Hands down, Christmas was the most magical time of the year.

Today, many of the activities and products that existed then have either been replaced or amplified with more modern versions. Nevertheless, these 18 memories I’ll share in this post have remained with me. Maybe they will trigger some of your own Christmas nostalgia that you can share stories about with your children tonight.

Memory #1. Toys to Play With

Which child didn’t love Christmas when it was the only time of year he or she got toys? Here are the toys we loved:

  • Blond-haired Barbie dolls with marble looking eyes that rolled and closed; or, if you were lucky to have family overseas and received what we called walkie-talkie dolls that cried. Whether they were skinny Barbie and Ken or cabbage patch dolls, it was all joy as we oohed and aahed over our presents every day. They became appendages we couldn’t put down. Cash-strapped parents didn’t stop our determination to have a doll at Christmas either, so when Santa didn’t send us any, we got very creative and with our mother’s help, turned perfume or bay rum bottles into dolls. We stitched up dresses from fabric scraps our seamstress mother had discarded from her client’s dresses; picked yard grass and stuck it into the top of our bottle doll’s neck, dressed her ‘hair’ with ribbons and snuggled down to nurture our own Made in Jamaica babies.
  • Marbles, yo-yos- spinning gigs, and juice box trucks with Seville oranges or bottle corks for wheels kept the boys happy. They too made what they couldn’t buy.
  • Balloons, fire-crackers, party- blowers (we called this fee-fee after the sound they made).

Jamaican children today play with iPads and Tablets. They like to play inside; our play was outside. But for me and my playmates, these simple joys were objects of our desires as children, and Christmas wasn’t complete unless we had them.

Memory #2. The Christmas weather/breeze

About midway through November, you would begin to feel it. A distinct shifting in the temperature, a mellow chill in the air. The breeze becomes more playful as though in anticipation of the Arrival. Whether you lived in the countryside or the city, it was noticeable to everyone – the cloudless sky, seemed bluer; sunsets were balmier and the sun warmer. Maybe because we saw it with children’s eyes, there seemed a certain magic and romance in the air, a special thrill that intensified as it got closer to Christmas and made everyone’s mood merry and bright. My mother would sound excited when she and the neighbour bantered across the fence asking: “Ms Mary, Yuh feel de Christmus breeze?”

“Christmas in the air.” is still a phrase commonly heard as Jamaicans welcome the approaching holidays.

Memory #3. Christmas Carol Parodies

yellow-christmas

In my days, society emphasised the religious meaning of Christmas significantly more than it did the commercial. So, the first Christmas carols I learnt were all traditional: “Go tell it on the mountain,” “Oh Holy Night,””Away in a Manger,” and “Star of Wonder.”These timeless Christmas hymns makes me nostalgic about those growing up years whenever I hear them play on radio now.

But there were the reggae cover versions of traditional  Christmas carols as well that resonated with me. (As I’m writing this, I’m playing through playlists of these on YouTube.) They are still popular today.

Almost on cue, radio stations would start playing these from late November. Who doesn’t remember Neville Willoughby’s “It’s Christmas in Ja.”, or “Joy to the world” medley (reggae version) that we sang along to? And the hilarious parodies that are so part of our ability to laugh at ourselves, like  The 12 days of Christmas or Yellowman’s Breadfruit roasting over an open fire? Here are some of the most popular ones:

  • We wish you a Merry Christmas Album– a punchy medley of Christmas reggae songs in one album performed by the Ras Family,  Don Carlos, Peter Broggs, Freddie McGregor, Michigan and Smiley, JC Lodge, Eeek-a-Mouse, Gleneice Spenser, and Pablo Blacks.
  • Have a Joyful Irie Christmus in the Sun
  • Santa Claus do you ever come to the ghetto? by Carlene Davis
  • Santa ketch up in a mango tree– Faith D’Aguilar

And so many more I can’t mention now.

Memory #4. Christmas school concerts and plays

In rural Jamaica, the Christmas concert and play at the district’s all age school was the social event of the year in my district of Scarlet Hall, St Ann. People planned for it; the kids and teachers rehearsed for weeks and on the evening, usually the last day of school, parents and the whole community came out in their numbers to spectate and laugh at the drama of their children playing the Nativity Scene. As there was no other entertainment in the district, you could expect a bumper turn out by the entire neighbourhood.

Memory #5. Very Merry Christmas class parties

st-hildasThe planning, the anticipation before the big day, ogling all the delicious food you don’t get at home, envying  the outfits of the popular girls in the class, the fashion show, dancing, whispering behind your hand at the brave girl dancing with the male teacher we all had a crush on, crashing other class parties, balloons, and decorations. O-0-oh, those merry St Hilda’s high school days…

Memory #6. Christmas work

christmus-work

This initiative was local government- funded and allowed Councilors to undertake clean- up work in their communities in preparation for the Christmas holidays. For the unemployed -men and women- it was a welcomed way to get some Christmas money in their pockets and it was anticipated each year. By the middle of November, everyone would be asking when de Chrismus wuk a gi out (translation: the work will be given out). We never knew who gave out the work, but word got around fast. People were employed on the spot once they got wind of who in the community was holding the payroll bag. With the rising sun, the machete-armed neighbours came out and the community erupted in work sounds and busyness; street sweeping, verge weeding, tree-cutting and whitewashing began in earnest. Then it became like a party – the loud laughter, men fooling with the women and women shouting to each other, stopping to get water and going back to the Christmus wuk. Then it was raked and burned; they congregated on pay day, some cursing out the payer for shortening their earnings, arguing how many days and hours they worked. When the dust settled, Christmas came around, the community foliage had been cleared, streetside verges scraped low, boulders and pavements whitewashed and our street was sparkling clean and ready for visitors.  All that.. for “Christmas deh come.”

Memory #7. Eeek! Jonkanoo!!!

jonkanoo

Oh (shivers) those oh-so-scary masked dancing figures were the worst of Christmas for children who encountered them. And unforgettable. Raggedy-dressed bands of men and one woman with drums, mouth organs, and other instruments sang and pranced through the streets of our little district and chased frightened, bawling children (me) hiding behind their mothers skirts all the way home and right up under their beds: Each band constituted a set of similar hideous characters: the clapping jackass head, the devil with the fork, belly ‘ooman’ and pitchy-patchy. That hideous creature that chased me still makes me shiver to this day. Jonkanoo band still make appearances today but mostly at cultural events. Jamaican children can breathe easy today when it comes around to Christmas.

Memory # 8. Festive Jamaican Christmas food

  • Pre-Christmas Cake and Sorrel Preparations 

In the markets, the red bulbs of the sorrel plant was another sign that Christmas was in the air. The rum-spiked punched from the sorrel plant remains a tradition of the  Jamaican Christmas. As a child, it was made weeks before Christmas day, bottled and preserved using rice. The bottles for the adults were always made with rum, and we were told we couldn’t have any of those. Plenty was made, because Ms Adlin with the plenty children and old Ms Mc down the road who doan have Christmus dinner had to get their sorrel and a piece of cake. And so the food sharing and exchange went in my house and many houses in the district. Everyone had to have sorrel for Christmas, or as we say in Jamaica, “a no Christmas dat”. We still have sorrel today, not as plentiful as it once was, but an innovative manufacturer has found a way to extract its flavour and bottle it, so we now have sorrel drink all year round on supermarket shelves in Jamaica.

Memory # 9. Plummy Christmas Puddings and Spoon Licking 

But soon it was the week before Christmas. Baking week.

  • purchase raisins, currants, and Maraschino cherries for the Christmas cake.Check
  • Make candied Seville orange peel. Check.

My oldest sister who had learnt Food and Nutrition in high school and my mother all pitched in to make candied peel from Seville oranges which were then added to the dried fruit marinating in red wine and stored high from the fingers of my thieving siblings. Boy, that sweet smell taunted us. My sister got tired of us asking, ‘When is baking time?’

Most people used the days before leading up to December 25 to get their cake baking done. Some finish baking earlier. But when it was that time, the sound of cake mixers made it known across the neighbourhood.

lick-cake

Best memories of a Christmas baking spree in a Jamaican house on baking night?

  • a chance to hold the keening mixer in the bowl while it curdled the butter and sugar (those days electrical appliances were really loud),
  • lick the wooden spoon and the baking pan when the mixing bowl had been poured. Yum.
  • sibling fights to get a share of the cake drippings.

Memory # 10. Spring cleaning in December

In Jamaican households to this day, Christmas season is when we do what North Americans call spring cleaning. New carpets, new bed linen, new curtains and new settees, and those who could afford it, new carpets. Crockery was taken out of the buffet, washed and dried ’til they sparkled and returned to their show-piece. Window panes were washed and rubbed with newspaper til they sparkled.

Whitewashed tree in back yard c 1965

Every house got a fresh coat of paint or lime. Curbs and garden stones were whitewashed, and even the coconut tree trunks were whitewashed for Christmas. Each family bought kerosene tins of lime from the man who operated the lime kiln, and whitewashed whatever could take a little brightening at the front of their yards. Rinse and repeat every December. Today, sprucing up for Christmas still holds a strong appeal for most Jamaican families, although tastes have turned to decorative paints and finishes. Christmas time continues to be the biggest sales period for paint retailers Berger and Sherwin Williams.

Poorer people swept their dirt yards clean of dust with their coconut bunker broom, red yoked their latrines, and wax polished their floors til it shone “like looking glass.” Tables received new plastic tablecloth.

Inside, the bed would be spread with my mother’s prized and prettiest chenille spread with the big rooster pattern in the centre that her brothers had brought her when they came from farm work in Canada. This prized sheet, which had graced the bed the previous Christmas Day and Boxing Day and packed away for the year, was taken out of storage in the wardrobe or dresser, washed and pressed and spread on the bed for the visitors who may pop in. A floor mat marked “Welcome” had to cover the floor at the entrance for the visitors when they came. This was essential to”take shame outa we eye,” my mother would explain. It was Christmas. Everyone’s yard had to look presentable. Poverty was never an excuse back then.

Memory #11. Grand Market

Grand market is the Jamaican equivalent of holiday shopping that comes to a head on Christmas Eve. It is the biggest vendors’ market, and vendors spilled onto every square inch of road side in town centres. Although the market started from in the morning, throngs of shoppers did their last minute shopping for gifts, clothing or groceries in the evenings which is when the parties also began. Many of us just window-shopped. Grand market is the day when the central bank report how many millions are trading hands. It’s a welcome boon for businesses who ensure they are stocked and have plenty of workers to restock all night long until shoppers call it quits at about 2 or 3 pm the next morning.

grand-market

Even the village shopkeepers did brisk business. Little one room shops were often packed with those who couldn’t go to Grand market in distant towns or who just had enough to shop locally. Even with all the hands behind the counter, shopping in a rural shop on Christmas eve was a torture in those days in rural Jamaica. There were no cashier machines to expedite the process back then. cardboard and pencil were all the shopkeeper had.

Memory # 12. Street dances

Grand market was and still is the venue for Christmas street dances. The popular sound systems pile their huge sound boxes high on top each other on every corner in town; every district square. Live DJs mixed reggae songs for those in a party mood while vibing with the crowd.  Grand Market is an all day event, but most Jamaicans come out for the evening shopping and partying that goes with this intense, thrilling event. For kids whose parents had not taken them anywhere all year, this was bonus entertainment that we waited for all year. Huge pots over open fire served up corn soup, mannish water. Ice cream bikers sold ice cream cones from their ice-cream boxes. Sweets, toys, noise. It was a celebration no one wanted to miss.

Memory #13. Christmas treats

Though not as plentiful as they are now, back in the day in my district, these mostly came from visiting tourists who came with beautiful Barbies and toy trucks and stuff our little eyes had never beheld except in books or on tv. These missions would come to the churches and distribute from there. However, the last treat I remember was, I’m sure, a culture shock, even for me as a rural child. As they tried to hand out the toys they had brought, the poor tourists were stampeded by hordes of children and parents and had to beat a hasty retreat to their bus, many of them suffering scrapes and cuts from the pillaging crowd that pushed and pulled to get the toys from them.

For the most part, though, these donation drives went well and made many children believe the man in the big red suit was jolly Santa Claus.

Memory #14

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Christmas barrels arrive from family abroad.

Memory #15. Christmas Houses

Christmas pepper lights on everything. We were just fascinated by them. We didn’t have Christmas trees, but we string them on windows and doors, inside the house and outside. The bushes and trees were not spared. Then as I got older, the Christmas houses started to appear like this one.

jamaican_christmas_house

Christmas Day Arrives

Memory #16. Caroling by the Methodists and Baptists

Caroling on Christmas morning is not a tradition held by many families back home. But having your sleep sweetly interrupted during the wee hours of Christmas morning with voices under your window singing “O Holy Night” just added more happy butterflies to our stomachs, and gave us an opportunity to wake up early and start playing. After all, it was the day we had longed for: Christmas Day, the day when we’d have a cake feast, drink sorrel, eat ice cream cones, go to the beach (if our father was home) and show toys with the other kids in the neighbourhood.

Memory #17. Christmas Morning Duck Bread 

duck-bread

Breakfast was the same for my entire childhood: I can’t recall what meat kind we got with it, if any, but duck bread and Best butter (not sure whether Best was a brand then, or it was just our judgement of the taste of that golden cream plastered over a chunk of still warm white bread) has been concreted into my earliest memory of the Christmas breakfast we looked forward to at Christmas. It was a tradition my mother carried from her own childhood Christmas. There was milo or chocolate tea  (which funny enough, I couldn’t stand) to go with it. Some people had coconut milk to flavour their chocolate.

Memory #18. Christmas Feast for our faces

The only time we had so much food to eat was Christmas. Christmas dinner memories today are dominated by my mother’s whole roasted chicken which she stuffed with breadcrumbs and irish potato and baked in a pan like the white lady in the cookbook did.

In some homes, they had turkey- the very rich people, mostly. Other times, my mother would pick up a piece of beef roast from the meat market which she then stuffed and turned into pot roast.

pumpkin-servingfamily-eating

If the district butcher had killed a goat, the mutton from this would be cut up and seasoned overnight and cooked down as a spicy stew mutton which Jamaicans know as curried goat. Curried goat is a dish that we acquaint with celebrations and festivities.

Rice with gungo peas is to Jamaican Christmas what turkey is to American Thanksgiving. Other times in the year, Jamaicans will pair their rice with red peas aka kidney beans. But for some reason at Christmas time, many people like to change it up and cook gungo peas which are bought still on the stalk at the municipal farmer’s market, taken home and shelled.

And then just like that, after a bellyful of sheer happiness, it was done. Christmas Day then was the end of Christmas. We were always sad when the day ended, but the warm fuzzy feeling of belonging to a family and that all was right with the world lingered.

Conclusion

I didn’t know then that each experience would have etched itself so deeply in my memory and become so unforgettable that though I grew up, they had stayed with me.

What’s more, I look around me now, just days before Christmas Day. The world has tilted in ways that don’t feel so right anymore, and I’ve long gotten over dolls and balloons. But I can live with that as long as l still have these treasure chest of memories that grew up with me.

Seeing the looks on children’s faces because it’s Christmas and still being able to enjoy most of these traditions that have withstood the modern cultural invasion on my country will still secure me sweet dreams on Christmas Eve. Christmas, my dears, is still the most wonderful time of the year.

Your turn

What is your favourite memory of Christmas from your childhood? 

Feel free to add to the list to share your own favourite memories.