Here are a few random photographs I took recently, while wandering around our Kingston yard. As the hurricane season approaches, there is change in the air…
As the month of June closed up shop for another year, and before we forgot to truly celebrate, we decided to recognize our wedding anniversary by getting out of town – just for a couple of days – to a small guest house in White River, which is close to Ocho Rios in St. Ann, on Jamaica’s north coast. The house is snug, encircled with flowers, a soft powder blue like the sky. A forest stands behind, filled with birds. The hosts are kind and the staff gracious, and the food – well, I could devote several blog posts to the meals we ate, but you, my dear readers, would be salivating too much, and that’s not healthy! Or is it?
An account of a very lazy two or three days may not be exactly riveting for the reader, but this is really a hymn of praise to the innkeeper, Ms. Elise Yap, and her brother – known as the Barefoot Chef. I would prefer to call him the Incredible Amazing Gourmet Chef, or something like that – although, in truth, I did not see him wearing footwear of any kind. It is hard work keeping such high standards as these, and the Yaps succeed admirably. The rooms are all tastefully furnished with sturdy, local hand-made furniture that we much admired. The colors are bright and cool – tropical pastel blues, greens and earth colors. The garden is a carefully cultivated riot of green, dotted with pinks, reds and golden yellows.
And, most importantly for a guest house, it feels like home.
We settled comfortably in within minutes, with a warm welcome and a complimentary Ting (Jamaica’s best soft drink made with real grapefruit juice). We stayed in the Cozy Cottage, at the back of the house, which has a private and secluded feel. You can laze in a hammock under the arbor in the daytime. You can sit outside in the evenings with candles burning and listen to the astounding orchestra of tree frogs, backed up by the occasional chorus of cicadas. We also indulged in some football – the Euro 2012 semi-finals – as the house has cable television. Later, we stirred ourselves, still a little stiff from the two-hour drive from Kingston, and walked down to the White River, which is just a couple of minutes away from the house, walking past a lovely spreading guango tree down to the water’s edge.
White River is well named. It has a light, almost silvery quality as it froths over the stones. Even the deeper pools shimmer like polished metal. The rock is bone-white limestone and the tree roots curl at the edges of the water like knuckles. The water is cold – there is nothing more delicious than river water on a humid summer day in Jamaica. We did not bathe there this time, but you can. It was tempting.
Instead, we walked back and moved to the swimming pool for a leisurely afternoon swim. The water was deliciously lukewarm. My nose, of course, instantly burned red – as it always does – with my forehead also emitting a pinkish glow later that evening (not quite bright enough to read by). I retreated (too late, damage already done) to share the shade of an arbor draped with sugar-pink bougainvillea with my husband. This is one of those pools where you don’t need to bake on an expanse of achingly hot concrete, unless you are seriously into tanning; there are shady spots, which we appreciated.
As I said earlier, to write about the tantalizing breakfasts and delectable dinners, cooked by the afore-mentioned Barefoot Chef, would take me a very long time. But just close your eyes and try to imagine cassava pancakes with caramelized banana and walnut topping; lychee cake and the most mouth-melting chocolate cake you can imagine; sweet and sour fish, piles of stir-fried Chinese vegetables, flavors of lemongrass and other fresh herbs and spices; grilled mahi-mahi (which Jamaicans unfortunately call “dolphin,” but it’s not) with feta cheese and watermelon salad; French toast and juicy jerk sausage. And of course (always very important for me) really good coffee. A sustained period of rousing applause for Mr. Yap!
So yes – we were lazy, self-indulgent, deliberately indolent, in fact. I was barely energetic enough to lift up my very interesting and amusing book – a novel called “The Sly Company of People Who Care” by Rahul Bhattacharya (I must write some more book reviews, and soon!) It was an effort to find my camera and try to focus it on the antics of the hummingbirds on the upstairs verandah where we ate. A feeder with syrup hung at each end of the verandah. Two Mangos – no, not a fruit, the Jamaican Mango is actually a hummingbird – had taken it upon themselves to patrol the verandah from dawn to dusk, doing their best to prevent the slender and glossy Red-Billed Streamertail (Jamaica’s national bird, the “Doctor Bird”) from taking even the tiniest sip from the feeder. The Doctor Birds always give themselves away with the whirr of their wings, so find it hard to sneak up incognito. The Mangos position themselves one at each end of the verandah – one on the telephone wire, the other on the top of a tree of suitable height – and stand guard, it appears all day long. The only thing that cramps their style somewhat is when human beings like us appear on the verandah to chat or feed ourselves. Jamaica’s national bird hardly gets a look in. Having said that, the Mango is an appealing bird – stockier, darker, but equally graceful. When the light catches its feathers, it shimmers with dull gold and magenta and purple, like an old piece of jewelry that needs to be taken out of its velvet box to be appreciated.
Of course, there are more birds, and a place full of birds is bound to score high marks with me. Tall trees with vines hanging like strings from their branches, with untidy bunches of wild orchids festooning their trunks, stand like a regiment behind the house. It is marvelous to see a group of parrots, their crooked silhouettes swinging on the topmost branches against the pale early morning sky , and to hear them argue with each other in crochety old man’s voices. Or to watch the wayward flight of a Jamaican Crow, cawing loudly as he flies, as he tries to avoid the persistent attacks of a small mockingbird, swerving like a mini bus that is being steered badly, but never managing to shake off the much smaller bird.
There are also flowers, in abundance, pouring over arches, dipping over walls, standing like glorious colored sentinels in the front garden of not only The Blue House, but those of its neighbors. The neighbors are, indeed, engaged in the orchid wars. One house is almost hidden behind a stand of dark purple, white, burnt orange, butter yellow, and startling pink orchids. Orchids stand like soldiers along both sides of the path leading up to the front door of another neighbors. It is a war of flowers.
The Blue House is a home, and it is also a place of intense magic. A clap of thunder cracks the sky; the sun sails behind paper thin clouds; the river flashes across the stones; the tree tops soar. It is not Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, but it could also inspire art. If I had a week to spend there, I would be able to write, and write. No distractions, just to focus on the real things.
Thank you. And do visit there soon. Soon, you hear!
- Earth Day Plus One: Postscript from the Garden (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica, She is Royal (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica’s Rich Biodiversity Faces Multiple Threats: International Day for Biological Diversity (petchary.wordpress.com)
- A Taste of Jamaica: A Recipe for Mango Smoothie (trifter.com)
It’s mango season in Jamaica, and it’s hot and humid. Our trees are still drooping with heavy fruit. The dogs roam around at night, finding fallen, rotting and bruised fruit in every corner of the yard and eating them with relish. We must all enjoy the season, while we can.
Now, entrepreneurship is a favorite buzz word in Jamaica. We are supposed to be encouraging entrepreneurs, despite the many hurdles that are constantly thrown in their way – taxes, red tape, electricity costs, security, you name it. This young lady, with the wonderful name of Gratitude, has seen an opportunity for starting up a business in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here is a a great little article about her from allAfrica.com.
Many often dream of a job. Others create their own opportunities. Standing before the sad cemeteries of rotting mangoes in the Bas-Congo region, Gratitude Ntonda Mandiangu decided to start a business. Today she earns a living by giving the DRC’s wasted natural resources a second life.
“Passion fruit juice there, mango juice here, the ginger and orange juices at the back. And here the honey and mead used as sweeteners,” says Gratitude.
The din of clinking glass bottles fills the 25-square-metre factory, where the young Congolese woman turns surplus fruit into delicious drinks. “We had to find a way to add value to this readily available raw material,” says the 25-year-old qualified food-processing technician.
Established in 2008, her microenterprise is called Ceptrapal, an acronym for the Centre for the Transformation of Local Food Products. Modest start-up funds from the European Union allowed her to purchase necessary equipment for the business. Today, Miss Gratitude, as she is called, employs a score of women from her native Kisantu to clean, cut, crush, sterilize and bottle the fruits.
On her own
At the start, efforts by some to discourage her only strengthened Gratitude’s determination to prove that women can be successful entrepreneurs. “I charged ahead,” she recalls.
Her parents, also in the agriculture industry, fully supported the start of her own company. A short walk from where Gratitude works, her mother manages a few fields. Does the convenient location open up opportunities for family business? Decidely not.
“She has to succeed on her own,” says her mother. Mixing family and business in this part of the world is a recipe for bankruptcy, she states succinctly.
A plan that makes sense
In the DRC, a lack of vehicles and poor road infrastructure render it almost impossible to get a large share of fruits to the markets and various retail points in time. As such, Gratitude’s business plan makes sense.
But how can such a small company survive? Established multinationals already have efficient drink distribution networks that are cheaper than those any local ones use.
A few kilometres from Ceptrapal at the splendid Kisantu botanical garden, the outdoor café disappoints a customer’s request for locally made juice. They only serve the usual colas at this establishment, which prides itself on contributing to preservation of the Bas-Congo’s agricultural heritage. Yet if adequately managed, the agricultural resources of this fertile region could meet the entire country’s food needs.
Dropping the hoe
Like a number of international organizations and African governments, Gratitude believes the future of the DRC lies in agriculture. However, because it is often perceived as hard work with no payoff, the industry does not appeal to Congolese youth.
But rather than the hoe-toting agriculture “of antiquity”, Gratitude thinks the more modern, mechanized practice should be promoted. According to her: “Once Congolese people can eat well, everything falls into place.”
The entrepreneur dreams of collaborating with large international companies, as well as with her better-established competitors in West Africa. She wants to use them as models “and even surpass them”. A proud victory in itself, her Cetrapal juices are already sold at a supermarket a few hour’s drive from capital city Kinshasa and elsewhere in the DRC.
Still, Miss Gratitude hopes that her juices can one day quench the thirst of the whole continent and, why not, the rest of the word.
- Mango Time in Jamaica: Green Mangoes (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- African Postman: Switching to Cleaner, “Greener” Fuel (petchary.wordpress.com)
- City Profiles: Kinshasa (trifter.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/feeling-fruity/: Petchary’s ode to the mango
- Music from the Democratic Republic of the Congo – Staff Benda Bilili (xworldmusic.wordpress.com)
- Mango season in Mysore (kish.in)
- African Postman: News from Goma (petchary.wordpress.com)
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)
What is the most beloved, coveted, treasured object of desire in Kingston right now? Not a BMW car (although that would be nice) – once called a “Bimmer” in dancehall parlance. Not a fancy Carnival costume, with more feathers and sequins than actual material – Jamaica Carnival is this weekend. Not the latest, tottering, strappy, glitzy pair of designer shoes – the kind that Jamaican women like to strut, slowly, up and down in.
No, it is something more within reach of the average Kingstonian, rich or poor (and sometimes tantalizingly out of reach) – the humble mango. Well, what is humble about a mango, you may well ask? Such richness, such solidity, such a warm glow. It’s mango season in the city, and the mango wars have begun.
The Petchary started an enthusiastic conversation on Facebook earlier this week, just by mentioning the word “mango.” It opened a kind of flood gate of pent-up emotion from my Facebook friends. They each became lyrical about their favorite kind of mango. One declared her undying love for the East Indian, pointing out that even the fibrous flesh between her teeth was a delightfully sensuous experience. Another, while apologizing for his somewhat racist comment, declared that “Blackies are the best.” While the Julie mango was generally acknowledged to be superior both in taste and texture, another announced that the Bombay mango was “the queen of mangoes.”
All Jamaican mangoes have their merits; but the Petchary confesses to a tremendous weakness for the Bombay. Even before it leaves its comfortable home on the tree, it is already a pleasure. While other varieties of mangoes just sit up there, blushing slowly in the sun, the Bombay dangles, deliciously, from the tips of branches. The Bombay mango tree tends to grow very large, majestic and solemn, with the fruit hanging low from its branches like those long, dangling earrings that swing at a woman’s neck. The Bombay itself, with its small perfect oval shape, sports something like a knuckle at one end that tells you, “Hello, I’m a Bombay in case you didn’t recognize me earlier.”
And the taste – smooth, sweet, sharp – rather like the tamarind balls that the Petchary could eat until she is sick, just like a child. Those are the real gastronomic pleasures in life. For the uninitiated (poor you) the tamarind ball at its best is a fat, juicy sweet, covered unashamedly in sugar, with the brown ball of tamarind and its seeds wrapped up inside, deliciously sour.
Is your mouth watering yet? It should be. But, you know, mangoes really do bring out the worst in Jamaicans, especially the greedy, grasping, ever-hungry citizens of Kingston. So-called friends, whom you don’t see the rest of the year, call and get straight to the point on the telephone, brazenly enquiring after your mango trees. Work colleagues, with a knowing smirk, will say pointedly and loudly, “Oh, you have mango trees, don’t you?” and wait for your halting response. The gardener or other assorted occasional visitors to the yard suddenly develop a neck problem, their heads at a familiar tilt as they quickly scan the trees in what they think is a casual fashion. But I can recognize it for what it is.
Sometimes I feel like saying, “Oh, we chopped all our mango trees down the other day, on a whim”; or, “We picked them all and made juice”; or, “Sorry, the dogs have eaten them all. We didn’t get any.”
That last remark may seem far-fetched, but in our yard this could be the bittersweet truth. Our dogs are extremely fond of mangoes. They have the advantage of a superior sense of smell, and can ferret them out a mile away. If they could climb the trees, they would. On quiet, humid spring evenings such as this one, a muffled thump can often be heard. The dog will inevitably get to the fallen mango before you do. On occasion, I have seen my husband practically wrestle a dog to the ground, prizing a particularly beautiful mango from her mouth. He just couldn’t let her get away with that one.
Our yard recently had an unwelcome visitor – a mango “tief,” plastic bag in hand, one of the most abhorred of his kind. This time, however, an alert watchman saw him vaulting over our front gate (mango tiefs are among the most agile) and called the police. The lawmen arrived astonishingly quickly, catching the tief in the act. He jumped over the next door neighbor’s wall (which is adorned with spikes) but was then trapped behind their walls and security guards. He was hauled off to the police station.
After a brief consultation, we decided not to press charges. But he and his cronies had better not come this way again, or we will set the dogs on them. And they don’t take kindly to human beings robbing them of our fruitful bounty. They love mangoes too much.
- For the Love of Mangoes (communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com)
- Steak with Mango Peach Salsa (tlgibson.wordpress.com)
- Harsh winter hits Indian mangoes (bbc.co.uk)
- Kitchen Counselor: Mango chutney works best with small green mangoes (pbpulse.com)
This isn’t a “tropical downpour.” It’s a gentle pattering in the leaves of our mango trees. It’s a drip from the roof and a scent of the earth. It is dark and cool, and the road outside is shiny.
Here’s a rainy photo I took a few weeks ago in another climate…
Time to go to bed and snuggle up warm and listen to the rain on the roof…
POSTSCRIPT: Much more to write about – the World Cup joys and disappointments; the outcome of the Whaling Commission meeting (why SHOULD there be compromise?); the report that all the men in the world with their engineering degrees CANNOT fix the mess that is the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a lot for the Petchary to cry about, tonight…
And talking of whales, you can take a look at some photos I took in Monterey, California on a whale-watching trip…when we got acquainted with three humpbacks…See Petchary’s Facebook profile (photo album) at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/album.php?aid=34358&id=815889560