It is a beautiful green garden, the kind that feels like home. Three or four big old mango trees, the tips of their branches dripping with “black mangoes” (and one Bombay tree that I was told doesn’t bear much). The lawns are not flat or perfectly smooth, and a little worn in places.The white house that stands back from the road is worn with memories, but comfortable with them. One can still imagine family members sitting on the verandah on warm afternoons, sipping lemonade. Inside, the wooden floors shine, and walls and screens are adorned with bright posters and photographs. This is the home of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) in Kingston, Jamaica.
For Earth Day 2012, JET welcomed over one hundred young people from several inner-city communities to their headquarters for a special celebration. Most of the children had participated in a special joint project between JET and the downtown-based NGO RISE Life Management Services, which works with at-risk youth. The project, supported by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, is called “Building Appreciation for Nature in Children at Risk.” There is a link to this project below. The program began with the communities of Parade Gardens, Fletcher’s Land and Allman Town; the second phase included children from Drewsland, Tower Hill and Majesty Gardens, and I also met some children from Cockburn Gardens. These are all depressed areas of Kingston; despite their attractive names, there are very few gardens indeed. There is concrete, there is uncollected garbage, there are rats, zinc fences. Hence the need for such a project, which was conceptualized by the dynamic leaders of JET and RISE, Diana McCaulay and Sonita Abrahams. From the enthusiasm and interest of the young people (and their desire to show off their new-found knowledge) I could tell that the program had been successful. It was clear from their faces, from their sheer enjoyment.
One of the highlights of the morning was the reading of two books written by Jamaican children’s author Jana Bent. Well, it was much more than a reading. Jana’s two books, “Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band” and “The Reggae Band Rescues Mama Edda Leatherback” come with music CDs that enhance the narrative and encourage participation. The music is excellent, inspired, written and performed by Jamaican reggae singer Shaggy – rhythmic, fun and well produced. Of course, both the books have strong messages on environmental protection – not just Jamaica-related. The second book involves the poor Leatherback Turtle who has swallowed a plastic bag…. But don’t worry, of course there was a happy ending.
And as one of the old hippy anthems has it (in fact, it was the classic “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell, I believe) … “We’ve got to get back to the garden.” For the children’s sake.
- On Earth Day – Five Reasons I Love Jamaica (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- Mangoes; A source of Roughage!!! (goldenfingers.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamentrust.org/education/building-appreciation-for-nature-in-children-at-risk.html (jamentrust.org)
- Protecting our Fish: Earth Day, Part 1 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.reggaepickney.com/ The Shaggy Parrot books
- Jamaica Musings – second try!! (lifecoachingplus.wordpress.com)
- Celebrate Earth Day with These Children’s Books from Dawn Publications! (susanheim.blogspot.com)
- JN Foundation Volunteers in ACT!ON – Do Good Jamaica Kingston Book Festival (jnbsfoundation.wordpress.com)
- Circles of Hope for Earth Day (readaloudsforallchildren.wordpress.com)
- Top 10 Green Reads For Earth Day (huffingtonpost.com)
- Mos Def Sings About Butterflies and Trees in New Children’s Project, Pacha’s Pajamas (Video) (treehugger.com)
- The best friend (theunofficialversion.com)
The journey is the reward.
The Petchary just returned from her travels, and realized that one of the rewards is often…a simple taxi journey.
The rather mundane, vaguely French (German?) origin of the word comes from the “taximeter” on which the fare is charged. But putting that aside, when you step into a taxi, you enter a fascinating and unpredictable world – one that can be intimate and personal, if you want it to; or brisk and business-like. The nature and quality of your taxi experience depends on how much physical, and indeed mental distance you want to put between you and the driver. And that can very much depend on your mood, stress level…and, of course, where you are headed.
In Ohio, the Petchary family was ferried around by a small taxi firm operated entirely by retired people. There was Ron, a pale and fragile man with a gentle disposition and lots of grandchildren. There was Ken, thin and long-haired, who was highly amused when we had driven a couple of feet before picking up a puncture in the parking lot. There was also a Vietnam vet with a scarf round his head. There was no way you could hold these people at arm’s length. They were much too interesting.
On her travels, the Petchary also enjoyed the company of Barbadian taxi drivers. There was the jovial Denny, and the cool and composed Lascelles (a stately name), whose six-year-old son chirped to himself in an incessant monologue in the back. “Oh yes, that’s my son,” said Lascelles laconically. The Bajan taxi drivers were well-informed about the travails of poor Jamaica, and seemed to be trying hard not to sound complacent. They complained about the “bad drivers” on Barbadian roads; their version of road hogs seemed remarkably docile to this Petchary, compared to the frenzied “robots” of Jamaica.
One more thing about taxis: London taxis, the traditional kind. There is something darkly menacing about them, despite the cheery Cockney drivers that are supposedly always behind the wheel (at least in the movies). The young Petchary was actually afraid of them. For a start, they are a funereal black. And when you get inside, with a slam of the huge, heavy door, and sit back in the huge seat, you are in a kind of netherworld of blurry silence. A sliding glass window separates you from the driver. He rarely turns his head, and if there is any conversation he talks into the rear view mirror at you – the lonely passenger, so far away. Then the glass window slams shut, leaving the traveler alone again. Petchary’s husband once traveled in such a cab where a large German Shepherd dog sat in the passenger seat next to the driver. A long, threatening screwdriver was attached to the dashboard. He couldn’t wait to disembark.
By contrast, yellow taxis are a delight, a cheerfully scruffy symbol of a grimy, cluttered, striving metropolis. And you get a different nationality, a different accent each time. This time an extraordinarily right-wing Iranian; next time perhaps, a rakish Serb. But disappointingly, those New York taxis were originally imported from France; not indigenous, after all…
The last verse of Joni Mitchell’s sprightly, yet wistful hit song of 1970 goes like this…
“Late last night/I heard my screen door slam/And a big yellow taxi/Took away my old man/Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got/Till it’s gone/They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot.”
Warning: If you don’t know this song, it’s unbearably catchy. So approach with caution!