From Sex to Sexual Intimacy: Arresting the Culture of Violence against Jamaica’s Women

In local music, in the streets, at parties, almost everywhere you could go, Jamaican men assert they are good lovers and brag about their sexual prowess. Yet, if the majority of Jamaican women I interviewed in a survey almost 30 years ago are to be believed, this is just not so, and Jamaican men really are not good in bed.

At the time, I conducted a survey on a limited number of Jamaican women on sexuality. The majority of the women – 70 per cent – had never experienced an orgasm, and 90 per cent admitted to not being satisfied by their partner. All of the women said they would never tell their partner that they were not satisfied because, as one put it, “Mi dear, de man dem don’t want to hear dem not good. Dem think dem doing something, but is themselves alone them doing most of the time”.IMG_7252

Over the last 20 years or so, some Jamaican female singers have made it known that their Jamaican lovers are not giving them the satisfaction they crave and that some men ‘last’ less than a minute, which is sorely inadequate. These proclamations have led to a lessening of the boastful tendencies of many Jamaican men. Still, the image of the virile, long-lasting Jamaican man dominates, and it is this disconnect that has led to the culture of sexual violence prevalent in Jamaica. The hyper-stereotype contributes to disregard for women, their rights, their bodies, and to rape. The widespread sexual harassment on the streets, in clubs, at the workplace, and in the supermarket from all ages and classes of men speaks to this disregard.

Women have the power to dismantle this prevailing culture of disregard, and one way that they can do this is by withholding sex, an act of subterfuge and empowerment which has been used in a variety of ways to bring greater awareness to issues. African-American male filmmaker Spike Lee advocated this stance in his movie, Chi-Raq, to end violence in Chicago. I myself endorse ‘Lock It Up’ and appeal to all my fellow Jamaicans to join me from February 1 to March 8, in withholding sex from their partners in protest against the constant stream of sexual and domestic violence against our women.

The reaction of some men to ‘Lock It Up’ has been both surprising and alarming.  A fair number have freely expressed their objection to the call for women to refrain from sexual intercourse in protest of the escalating rape and murder of our women.  What is most distressing, and speaks to the lack of empathy or concern for the plight of women, is the response by some men, who said that if women ‘lock shop’ and refuse men sex, that it would cause men to get angry and lead to more rape.  As one man put it: “If dem lock it down, dat will force a man fi tek what him want.”

Is that all men want?

Another man lamented: “Why me must get punish for de bad man dem.”

These are but two of the comments from men which demand analysis. That a man who considers himself a “good” man believes any man has the right to ‘take it’, that is have forced sex – rape – a woman for withholding sex, then he is both advocating and condoning rape. He is himself a potential rapist, and, even more egregiously, is effectively saying that a woman has no right to her body and has no right to refuse sex, for she is nothing more than a vessel for a man’s release.

That some men feel that sex withheld is punishment, indicates that such men believe sex is a reward. These two responses point to the entire range of men’s objections. None of them sympathised.  None of them decried rape. None of them said that what is happening to women is awful. All of them were focused on their own needs. It is as if they refused to hear the real story here – that our women are being raped and murdered. I believe their response is not an anomaly but is common and widespread and speaks to the sustained increase in rape and murders of Jamaican women.

More so, it indicates how much more education and awareness needs to happen in our society, even among so-called “good men”. If what Steven Stewart-Williams says in his 2019 article Nurture Alone Can’t Explain Male Aggression “…sex differences in aggression come entirely from the environment: from culture rather than biology, nurture rather than nature. Let’s call this the Nurture Only position”, then we have to work harder to educate men; we have to make men realise that sex is neither a reward nor a right.

I am inviting my conscious men and women to join me in refraining from sexual intercourse from February 1 to March 8 to bring awareness to domestic violence and rape.    Together, we can, and must, make a difference.  During this time, talk to your colleagues, men in the street, in bars, on the tennis courts, football fields, and on the beaches and seek solutions to how we can solve this crime. Write to the Minister of Justice, the Police Commissioner, and other agencies to let them know that this must end, and that you are doing your part. Take this opportunity to understand your needs, your own deep-seated attitudes about sex, and the role sex plays in your life. During this one month of voluntary abstinence, be nonsexual, intimate, find out what your partner likes, express your own desires, understand that sexual intimacy is the great connection between two people when it engages, the mind, body and spirit. Now is the time and opportunity to have these conversations.

Rape is a crippling disease that has infected our society and is wreaking havoc in many lives. It thwarts our development and our potential to be a great nation. It has stymied one half of our population, many of whom live in fear for their lives and their bodies. As a people and as a nation let us say no to rape and domestic violence.  Join me in refraining from sexual activity from February 1 to March 8. Show your support and empathy for your mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins, wives and lovers.  Let us expose the ugly and damaging impact of rape and general disregard many men have for women.  I thank you for your support.

Five reasons to support ‘Lock It Up’IMG_7251

  1. You believe in human rights.
  2. You abhor violence.
  3. You love and respect women.
  4. You know and believe that rape and domestic violence are wrong.
  5. You believe in a woman’s right to say who and when another person interacts with her body.

The Virgin Islands Daily News July 15, 2019.

Below is the review of my children’s book, Dance Quadrille and Play Quelbe, based on some of the cultural traditions of St Croix, the US Virgin Islands where I lived half a year from 2010-2017.  I consider it my third home, and find myself going back there repeatedly.Newspaper Review

I love how many of the Crucian people take pride in preserving their culture, and I love how I am welcomed there.

The above book is the second in a trilogy about iconic VI culture.  The first is entitled Look! A Moko Jumbie, which tells the story of Moko Jumbies from a boy’s perspective.  All two books can be found on the publisher’s site, as well as on Amazon.

I am working on the third, tentatively entitled, My St Croix, and which I hope will be released in 2020. Caribbean children need to read about themselves and their culture if we are to develop as independent nations.

Granting Me Permission to Write My Stories: Toni Morrison’s Influence

download“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”  Toni Morrison



No single book has impacted and influenced my writing more than Toni Morrison’s Sula, 1973, which I have read numerous times, and have taught at least five times in different literature classesWhen I read Sula, I was a poet, with no ambition to write prose. I did not even think prose was in me, even after reading Sula. Sula haunted me after that first read and still does. I see the image of this young woman, bold yet afraid but willing to risk it all, to break free from her community with its rigid and binary beliefs about right and wrong.  Nothing is that clear cut, Sula, believes, and I concur. Yes murder is wrong, and rape is barbaric, but the other daily choices we make are often more nuanced, depending on the circumstances.

Imagine then my surprise, when I met Toni Morrison in 1988, at the Berkeley home of the late Professor Barbara Christian, fellow Caribbean woman, mentor, friend, and literary critic who wrote and taught Toni Morrison’s work before she was canonized. I was pursuing my doctorate and I, along with a handful of other graduate students were sitting on cushions around a low egg-shaped table, plying Morrison with questions.  It was my turn and I prefaced by saying how much I loved Sula, and was sex Sula’s tragic flaw. Morrison looked at me and said, and this I will never forget, because I was so blown away, “Sula is not someone I really like, well it took me a while to really like her, as she is too reckless.” Stunned. Morrison’s words were like a hammer at the back of my neck.  I wanted to protest, how could you write this amazing character then declare you don’t like her. Over the next few months, I re-read Sula, and could somewhat understand what Morrison meant, but I still love Sula. Period. Unapologetic.

My attraction to Sula was/is based on my own deviating and veering away from the hypocritical conventions of society –rejection of  the oppositional good versus evil paradigm, and the suppression of feelings and desires, especially women’s sexual appetite.  Sula scoffs at the narrow and limited definitions of what it means to be a “decent” woman and instead chooses to live her life outside the boundaries of those imposed restraints. Naturally, she reaps the scorn of the community that is constantly projecting outward, rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.  Hence Sula becomes their scape-goat, the evil lurking in themselves that they fear. Morrison uses irony like a blacksmith uses heat. How can Sula, a girl/woman from a place called the Bottom, not fight against conventions that are meant to handcuff her very existence? As a character, Sula symbolizes the struggles of all women who work to unlock the handcuff and run free.

Morrison was a Chancellor Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was studying and earlier that night before we all went to Barbara Christian’s home for literary conversation , Morrison had read from Beloved, 1987.

Barbara Christian had given a brilliant introduction to the book as well as situated Morrison’s body of work within the context of Black women’s writings. We were all excited and knew we were participating in a historical moment.  Morrison read several scenes from Beloved. I remember feeling as if my head was swelling, as if I was in the presence of a duppy, Sugg’s ghost.

Toni Morrison is a phenomenal reader of her work, and I had the pleasure of hearing and watching her read her work about four times, live, and each time, the texture or her voice and words would immerse you on a journey. Toni Morrison’s tone is the husk of a dry coconut, but it is not brittle.  Imagine the husk being soaked in molasses water, imagine a December breeze wafting the Portland hills, imagine the swell of the Rio Grande and the lush sound of the water gliding over rocks, and add the smell of thyme and mint growing in abundance.  That is the timbre of Toni Morrison’s voice and hearing her read, especially from Beloved, I got chills, and had to be nudged from my seat when she was done.

Beloved  is a demanding novel to read, not just because of its subject content and volume, but more because of Morrison’s style; her layering, her fusion of history and various literary devices, her ardent desire to not just write literature but render history personal and hot and sordid and emotional. Morrison wants to remind us  that  slavery was not a thing of the past, but is very much present with us, and all of us are haunted by its ghost, its duppy that clings to us like Sugg to Sethe, parasitic, needy, seeking redemption. I bought Beloved, after Morrison’s reading at UC Berkeley and attempted to read it several times, but could not get beyond the first few pages so I decided to leave it alone.  Then when I was coming home that Christmas I brought it with me, and put it on the night table in my mother’s house in Hampton Green.  One morning, I picked it up, and with my large mug of Blue Mountain coffee, I sat on the veranda, where I always had my breakfast, broke open the pages, and it held me captive the entire day. By day three I had read every word, some passages more than once, haunted, weary, beset and besieged with grief and admiration too for the enormity of the resilience of my ancestors.

“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it,” is perhaps one of Morrison’s quotes that serves as a mantra for me, and which I think speaks to the genesis of my emergence as a writer. My first short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava stories, 1985, was already out, and had received a good review in the New York Times, when I met Toni Morrison, so I gave her a signed copy at Barbara’s house. She said that she would read it, and I was told on good authority that she read everything given to her. Getting BFOGS published was the initiative of Barbara Christian, who wrote the introduction to the first edition. But the genesis of this collection is connected to Sula.  The last semester, when I was completing my MA in English/Creative writing at San Francisco State University, one of the few female faculty in the all-white male programme (and I was, until the last year, the only Black student, then two more were admitted) who taught short story and prose encouraged me to take her class, since I had both space and time in my schedule; reluctantly, I conceded.

At the first class meeting she said we would be required to write four stories throughout the course of the semester. They should focus on home and memories of home.  Then we each were asked to talk about our favourite book by an author who was most like us, and of course I mentioned Sula which none of my classmates or teacher had read or even knew of Toni Morrison, as in 1980 Morrison’s name was not yet a household name in literature.  I wasn’t surprised by this as I was concurrently waging battle with my thesis director to receive  permission to do my Orals on Claude McKay, whom he said was not a major writer, because he hadn’t read or heard of him, and I had to prove to him and the three-member all-male, white committee that McKay had in fact written more than most of them. I also won that battle.

Sula was set in Morrison’s place of birth, and I knew I wanted to write stories that were set in Jamaica, stories about Jamaican women that I hadn’t read as Morrison’s quote above instructed. I decided in that class that I would write them, and write them I did to my own surprise and the appreciation of my teacher and classmates who all praised the stories, although most admitted they were not familiar with the setting or culture. I earned an A+ in that course and was told to keep writing stories, which I have. But I can’t help but think if I had not read Morrison’s Sula, and the way she depicted the community, and her development of Nel and Sula and their friendship, then perhaps I would not have been able to so easily dredge up Bake-Face and Joyce from the sugar estate community of my childhood, where I recognized I had always been keenly paying attention and making mental notes.

So who do I thank for this journey into writing?  Serendipity. That first teacher at Hunter College who taught African American and Caribbean women writers; the faculty at SFSU who said, “I think you have some stories in you;” Barbara Christian who said, “Come and do a doctorate at Berkeley, and write and teach,” after I shared my two manuscripts at the time with her, the stories, which she shared with an editor friend without my permission, and who called me up six months later to say she wanted to publish them. Perhaps it is meeting Toni Morrison?  Or the sum total of all. As writers –as people in the world, we are often influenced by others, who inspire, nudge, provide another way of seeing and being. Toni Morrison invited me to look at home, to look at women, to look at ancestry and what it means to step out the box, conventions and respectability, so I could write about child sexual abuse, domestic violence, women in rural, marginal communities striving to find themselves, their voices and me ensuring that they had a platform from which to speak.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, February 18, 1931, Chloe became Toni Morrison while at Howard University because is it said, many had difficulty pronouncing Chloe.  However, I want to believe Toni knew, given the times, that she was more likely to get traction as a budding writer with an ambiguous name such as Toni.  Is that a man or a woman?  Is that a black or a white person? Whatever the reason, I thank the ancestors for intersecting our paths, for Morrison’s uncompromising insistence on writing about Black life and that we matter and must continue to excavate our demons and pains as well as our resistance and survival, our right/write to live fully and celebrate all of ourselves.

Although officially declared dead on August 5, 2019, I believe like our Egyptian ancestors who took more than 20 years to build a pyramid to house the dead, that death is merely a transition to the next phase and Toni Morrison’s books, movies and essays are the blocks of her pyramid that will outlast time.

you  toni opened a space

called it safe   called it self

you said write    your truth   all of it

you held up a mirror   and there were

the lived memories –Pecola and Bake-Face

Nel and Joyce and the many more levitating

waiting to be captured

you whispered run girl    run   pick yourself up

if you stumble.  run and don’t ever let them gag you…


I’m running toni    running to outpace you

as you said i should

 Professor  Opal Palmer Adisa is University Director, the Institute for Gender & Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Office, UWI Regional HQ, Mona

Published in The Observer, Sunday, August, 18, 2019, Bookend section.

Paule Marshall: Iconic Caribbean Writer of the People (April 9, 1929-August 12, 2019)

Dear Paule:paule-marshall-82c23b76-d605-4b66-8c21-4854fcc7032-resize-750

You gave me Brownstone, Brown Girl, 1959 and Praisesong for a Widow, 1983.

In all your other nine books, you kept giving me pieces of myself and my people to see and cherish, but mainly to understand what drives us, what stops us, what chokes us, what keeps us bound and how and why some have to be bound so others can be free, and that the walk to this freedom is never an easy, clear path; it might include defiance and consciously going against all you have been taught to hold dear, as Selina had to do, silencing Selia, the mother she loves and hates, and to whom she is closer that she can yet admit.

Paule, you also told me that sometimes I have to jump ship like Avey to find herself back home in Carriacou and dance the Juba Dance to the Big Drums.

But always you wanted to remind me/us that we are from The Chosen Place, The Timeless People, 1969 and yes we are the timeless people, inextricable linked to our enslavement but determined and fighting, refusing defeat.

You Paule was a sweet gentle soul, A Lady – a suitable title for you who was always elegantly dressed, always soft spoken and who spoke with spaced precision as if every word was important.

I can’t imagine you ruffled or shouting.  You represent that Caribbean disposition of womanly calmness, reliable and sturdy as our yams, hardy like our cane, resolute like our mountains.

You gave me a view of the first immigrants to America; you taught me about Barbados and your Bajan heritage.

You gave me Ursa from Daughters, 1991, so I could better understand that regardless of where I live, my present and future are fissured by the Caribbean that birthed and reared me.

Most only know you as Paule Marshall (April 9, 1929), but your people know all your names (aka Valenza Pauline Burke) and they welcome you home, (August 16, 2019), the Bajan girl who would never fit into any box.

An Introductory Letter to Dennis Haysbert:


Dear DH:

From the first time I saw you, on the screen, you aroused me, and still do. Love the beard with the grey – the maturity and appeal – it’s scotch bonnet hot – you that is!

I am sitting in my office recovering from knee replacement and just finished watching you in Secret Obsession and have been a fan since I first saw you in Love Field — confident, defiant, riveting.

You have aged sturdy like a mahogany tree, a solid welcome, a come lean on me girl, I’m here.

When I lived in Oakland, Ca, after my divorce, and I learned you were from San Mateo, and that you were divorced, I said to myself I should marry that man –you of course, all  6’ 5” and to my 4’ 10” –I don’t know how well we would waltz together, but I am sure we would have fun.  I don’t even know if you love dancing. Just so you know I love to dance and laugh out loud, unapologetic.

I am inviting you to come to Jamaica and look for me; we’ll have lunch, hang out on the beach, talk, so I could get to know you. ( This is not a Stella Got her Groove back kind of thing.  I have never lost my groove, and I suspect neither have you).  I have this feeling that you might be the type of man friend I would enjoy having/have been seeking. Who knows, if you are not involved, we could be lovers?  I suspect with those wonderful lips of yours you are a good kisser.

So often we think about people, but we never share our thoughts, our good thoughts –did I say you are a talented actor—about them.  I am a fan, but this is not a fan letter.  This is just to say at this stage in my life I feel free to say what I feel/think publicly, but perhaps I always have as a writer, but too there has always been a sense of censorship – if I say this publicly folks are going to say that Opal is crazy, rather than  brave or open, or an exploring woman casting her net in the dazzle of the afternoon sun making diamond with the water.

Anyway, here’s to you Dennis Haysbert,  and happy to see you back on screen, not just for All State.  Just in case our paths don’t cross soon, I think it is important that you know how I have been undressing you, and cheering you on in your career and imagining what my hands would feel like clasps in yours.

Nuff Respect

P.S.  Also, I envisioned you playing Desmond Burton, the character in my novel, It Begins With Tears…Despite the title, it is a triumphant story about community and love and fear and jealousy, identity and belonging. You see we have business to discuss.

Walk Good,


Toni Morrison: She Belonged To Us, Too


Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:30 AMOpal Palmer Adisa – Contributor

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another,”

-Toni Morrison

Any writer over the age of forty who is worth his/her weight in salt knows of Toni Morrison’s works, and probably would say that one or more of Morrison’s texts inspired their development as a writer.

I was but a teenager when I read The Bluest Eyes in 1970. On that first reading I was not yet fully versed in American history and the tremendous struggle of African Americans to achieve equality and restore their dignity. But it was the ‘70s, and the Black Power Movement was still strong and had spread its energy throughout the world. My older brother introduced me to the works of Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture, Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door, et al.

But in 1971, when we immigrated to New York, and while completing high school, an African American teacher who detected my love for literature opened the world of Black writers to me, introducing me to Jamaica’s own Claude McKay, one of the seminal writers of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes, and suggested the book of the new writer, Toni Morrison, whom she said had Jamaican connections; and who was “a writer to keep an eye on as I think she is saying something.”

Well, Morrison’s connection to Jamaica was through marriage to Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, in 1958, that produced two sons, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin. Although the marriage ended after six years, Morrison, being the consummate historian and mother of two boys would research the history of our island. I suspect her reading about Maroon Nanny and the long, rebellious spirit of Jamaica would inform some of her other works, specifically her most acclaimed, Beloved, 1987, and the character Sethe.

Toni Morrison in earlier interviews about her Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and ultimate Nobel Prize book, spoke of the common practice of infanticide among enslaved women who refused to have their children subjected to the life of slavery.

She would have read Lucille Mathurin Mair and other Caribbean and African-American women scholars who wrote about this practice. Morrison’s works explore thorny areas, and her writing forces readers to look at those dark moments in our history and development. But, mostly, I would say, her work is about survival, riding the waves of the storm, being tossed hither and tither by the waves, being pulled under, but fighting your way up and out, and gulping for breath… water strangling your throat.


Toni Morrison’s novels and essays will continue to inform my work and my teaching. Her young adolescent novel, The Bluest Eye, is very relevant today in the Jamaican society as it was when published in the 1970s. Its theme explores self-hatred as a result of colonialism and white supremacy. The protagonist, Pecola Breedlove, a pre-teen girl, stained by poverty, sexually abused, believes she is ugly. Pecola believes she can only be pretty if she has blue eyes like white girls. This is similar to the pervasive belief that many young Jamaicans now harbour, and as a result, are bleaching their skins, believing that whiteness connotes beauty and acceptance. What Toni Morrison wants all our children to know and believe in the fullness of their hearts is that “you are your best thing,” as she so aptly states.

The themes that Toni Morrison explored throughout her works, her vision for the triumph of Black people, her excavating of the pains that have lacerated and kept us imprisoned, and her flight to freedom through an understanding and connection with our ancestors and our nascent spirit, are characteristics that will make her work continue to be relevant forever and that grounds her work in Jamaica’s journey to being a great nation.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, February 18, 1931, Toni Morrison died on the eve of Jamaica’s Independence, August 5, 2019, leaving us a treasure trove of novels and essays that should be required reading. She believed in the importance of community and working to make it a strong base of support.

She was a staunch advocate for freedom, physical, but more so mental and emotional freedom for black people, and she always asserted that “the function of freedom is to free someone else.”

As we continue to celebrate this Emancipation/Independence period, Toni Morrison’s work has much to teach us about how to walk a new walk by healing the scars and keloids of our enslavement and colonial experience so all of us as Jamaicans can truly experience and live our independence through love and restoring cohesive, safe communities.

Opal Palmer Adisa is university director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, (IGDS-RCO), University of the West Indies.

Were I a Little Girl in Jamaica, I Would be Wondering if I’m Next

pICKNEY hab RIGHTs too _ ADISA 2019

Recently, I was returning from my daily walk in Mona, when a woman ushered a girl about 9 years old out of the car and told her very firmly to move quickly as she was going to be late for school. With that, the woman drove off.


I was terrified for the girl. It was only the day before that I had read about a little girl who was raped and beaten, and I had heard of a high school student who was in the hospital struggling for her life after being raped and beaten with a pipe, and I wanted this little girl to be safe.


I am sure that fear is clouding the vision of many children as a result of the news about what is happening to their peers. I am sure they are wondering why they are being raped and killed and why they aren’t valued.


If I were a little girl in Jamaica now, I would be having nightmares. I would be wetting the bed and asking to stay home. I would be thinking of how to run away if someone caught me, so I might not hear my teacher and be accused of not paying attention while at school. My parents might ask me why it is taking me so long to complete my homework and get ready for bed, and I would be wondering if I would be next.


I stood by the side of the road and waited until the girl crossed the street. I called to her, “Have a good day at school.”  She glanced at me, but did not respond. I wanted to shout I love you and you are loved. I lingered until she was inside the school yard.


Dear Parents:

Make sure your child is safely inside the school or wherever you are dropping them off. Spend that extra time, even if you are running late. Whenever you are leaving your children say you love them. Talk to them about how they might stay safe by walking in groups at all times and staying away from desolate areas. Teach them self-defence skills. Instruct them that if ever they find themselves in trouble to scream at the top of their voices regardless of the person’s threat to be quiet. Guide them how to trust their instincts. Many of us have a gut feeling about persons or situations, but all too often children have been taught to defer to adults, even when they feel they should not trust that adult. Don’t force your child to hug or kiss friends or relatives; respect you child’s right to refuse.


More schools, churches and communities need to engage children in discussions and listen to their concerns and recommendations about how to keep themselves safe. It is our job to keep our children safe, but we can only do so by creating a safe society.  There are a few places in the world where children are not targeted.  We need to examine those societies and the social systems. We need to ask the difficult questions of why men and some women harm children. Each child that is murdered is a potential award-winning writer, a zoologist, an environmentalist, a city planner, or a parent. We need to create a more equal and just society, free of misogyny, blame and hatred.


I am calling on our Prime Minister, Commissioner of Police, Minister of Education, dads and moms, teachers and religious leaders, and each and every one of us to protect all our children, to put proper systems in place, to send the definitive message to would-be perpetrators that harming any child in Jamaica will not be tolerated.


This is a state of emergency and the entire society needs to build a wall of protection for all our children, so they feel safe and valued.  We must unearth and correct what is causing these aberrant behaviour. We must heal.


Every morning when returning from my walk, I pause to observe the children, especially those walking alone and I wonder if they feel safe, and are safe.  I affirm safety for all our children!


Revisiting My Childhood: Going to the Denbigh

One of the fond memories of my childhood is being taken annual to the Denbigh show by my mother.  We would spend all day in the hot sun, looking at fruits and vegetables and animals, then returned after the sun set, loaded with fruits and plants that Mommy always purchased.

I had not been to a Denbigh show for over twenty-five years, but in memory of my recently deceased mother, and also as part of my newly infused independence spirit, I wanted to see if I would recapture my childhood exuberance.

My niece agreed to take me, and on our way, close to Maypen, Clarendon, the site of Denbigh it began to rain, and that too was a part of my memory– that it always rained at Denbigh.  Sure enough, as we entered the entrance gate, I heard two women talking loudly about how every year it rains at Denbigh and that was a symbol of its blessings.

I don’t remember if the show was organised by parishes when I was a child, but was happy to visit each of the Parishes and see the abundance of fruits and vegetables that are being grown in all of the Parishes.  I enjoyed the displays, was very gratified at the re-purposing of plastic, car tires and other disposable item refashioned and shown how they can be put to good use for home gardening. Mostly what gladden my heart was seeing and sampling the diverse by-products of the many fruits and vegetables. For example, I sampled a juice made from potato and pineapple.  There were numerous hair and facial products, organic and made from home grown products. It has long been said that given the geo-diversity of Jamaica, that if we were to push our agriculture production, we could easily feed the entire Caribbean region, and that was evident at the Denbigh show.

Denbigh lived up to my expectation, especially since I plan to go into farming when I retire from academic life. I can raise two goats, a few chickens and grown the food I love to eat like pumpkin and callalloo and yams. We all need to know how to feed ourselves, and despite what limited space we might occupy each and everyone of us can and should grow something, not just plants and flowers to beauty our home, but some herbs, vegetables and fruit trees. May Denbigh continue to grow and improve and I hope parents will continue to understand its importance and take their children to see and appreciate our food and what we grow.

*My Mother Loved Easter

IMG_2140My mother was a Christian, an  Anglican when I was small and she insisted on us going to church and Sunday school, then she went back to being a Baptist, when I was in my teenage years, as she was reared.

My mother loved Easter and I remember this season fondly.  My mother always changed the curtains and doilies throughout the house to white and purple, even our bedspreads were white and purple. I can still see the living-room back then now, white curtains, with purple tulips patterned, fluttering by the open window in the afternoon breeze, billows and folds like waves dancing over the chairs. The center table, side tables, bookcase top and on top of the piano, were draped in purple and white doilies my mother had crocheted, starched and pressed to stiffness. I loved going into my mother’s room because even in the middle of the day, her white Chenille bedspread with purple flowers, and her dresser with purple and white crochet doilies lured.  Everything had its place, and it made her room a haven I would enter quietly, run my hand over her Chenille bedspread, wrap the curtain around my slender body and sniff the air laced with Kanaga, the perfume she wore frequently. Sometimes, I would go into her closet, pull the door shut, crouch on the floor and sniff her clothes.

My mother celebrated Easter by  baking her own bun that flavored our house, making it smell like a bakery, raisins, currents, maraschino cherries, flour, spices and molasses.  On Good Friday, we usually began the day with salt-fish fritters, hardo bread and hot cocoa, which was grated, boiled, spiced with nutmeg, allspice, brown sugar and milk thatcame from my mother’s village, Flamstead,  in St James.For lunch we had bun and cheese, and then we were off to church to suffer for three hours on the cross like Jesus allegedly did. I hated Good Friday service, and barely survived except in anticipation of the reward of food after the service. I always argued that it  was unfair that I had to suffer three hours of dirge like singing and the preachers droning on since Jesus already died for me, and besides I wasn’t aware I had committed any sins. My mother told me to zip it and off we went, anticipating dinner – Escovitch fish, bammy, fried plantain, all of which were prepared the evening before, because my mother’s rule was no major cooking should take place on Good Friday, a holy day. The irony of course is that it is called Good Friday, the day of Jesus’  crucifixion. “So why is it “good” anyway?” I almost earned a box on the mouth for such abomination.

Well perhaps it is a coincidence, but since my mother’s death, Good Friday was the first day I felt as if I were back to my normal self. I awoke and it was as if the sky opened and the sun shone like it hadn’t before. I walked five miles, I marveled at the golden Poui blossoms all over the campus and Mona area, I began to make plans for the new books I had to write. I felt, again, ready for all life has to offer. And then on Easter Sunday, the resurrection, I woke at dawn, went to see the amazing “Movement and Music” performance by the NDTC at the Little Theatre where I also danced, (in another life it seemed), and when I came home, Mommy was strongly on my mind.  So I searched and found the bed-spread she crocheted for me about twenty years ago, and that I had not used in perhaps seven years, and put it on my bed, then I went through the closet and found some doilies that she had crocheted for me. Whenever she came to visit me in California and saw my tables and dresser bare, she would crochet me different color doilies, which I sometimes used as basket mats for food when I entertained. But this Easter Sunday after her death I put a doily on the desk of hers that I inherited, poured white rum as libation for the ancestors, of which my mother is now a member, placed my favorite photo of her taken when she was twenty-one, and two glasses of water, bun and cheese so she will not be thirsty  or hungry on her journey and white and purple bougainvillea in a vase for she loved flowers – an altar in her tribute. Then I placed two other doilies on what used to be my bare side and dining tables, in her honor.

Although I did not bake any bun, I did buy bun and cheese and put curtains on the windows…sorry they are not white or purple…Happy Easter Mommy.

Your loving daughter, Opi (like you affectionately called me).

Catherine l Palmer

* I haven’t written anything for my mother since her death (February 23, 2018), but I know I will write a lot about her, as I have in the past, and will continue way into the future as she was and remains like formidable heroine.


Getting the Kite

IMG_0308I was in Berkeley last week and caught the end of the Kite Festival. This is a wonderful family event to witness the amazing array of kites take over the sky and share the excitement of the kite-fliers, of all ages, and the wonder-gaze of the children.

Being there I was reminded of all the times my ex and I took our children to the Berkeley Marina to fly kites and my mind ruminated over one specific Sunday when we went to get the kite, and I pondered if my children even remember.

While I am uncertain about the specific year when this occurred, I think the children were, 4, 6 and 10 years old, respectively and I had gotten them new kites. The sky was clear, the wind strong, but the air warm. We climbed the knoll and our day unfolded, running and rolling and trying to keep our kites from being entangled with others in close proximity.

JaJa, my son, with his usual zeal and zest, and untiring energy unfolded his kite last and his face lit up as it soared in the sky and his Baba helped him steer it while also cautioning him to hang on tight. The kite took off, its yellow and green tail swirling, the wind tugging and batting it around. Jaja began to run with the kite, and we all applauded the frantic dance of the kite that seemed to be having as much fun as as we were.

And then JaJa stumbled and the kite flew from his hand and ascended further into the sky.  We watched as the kite dipped and soared and spread itself and glided across the sky, free and confident to explore. We kept watching as it sailed across the water and got caught in a tree.

“Let’s go get it!” JaJa shouted taking off. His Baba caught up with him and explained that the kite was too far, and even if we were to walk that distance, there was no guarantee that we could unhinge it from the tree. Jaja pleaded, determined, and as a family, we decided to give it a try.  We walked for well over a mile, sweat pressing our clothes to our bodies.  At long last, we circled the harbor and was under the tree.  We could see the kite, still trying to free itself, but the wind and a tree branch kept it anchored

But luck was on our side.  The string of the kite dangled between the branches, and very carefully, with Jaja giving directions, and the rest of us putting in our two cents, his Baba was able to maneuver the kite and after about half an hour of careful unwinding the kite was free.  We shouted and jumped up and down, praised Baba for his careful mastery of detangling and freeing the kit;  it was an elated moment for the entire family.  We all felt vindicated, but more importantly we felt we had accomplished an arduous feat, and indeed we had.  I was so proud of Jaja for his determination and insistence on retrieving his kite and getting us as a family to buy-into making it happen.IMG_0307

I remember that as one of our very special family adventures, of which we had many. We were all on one accord: to not stop until we get the kite, and get the kite we did. As we drove home, all three children exhausted and asleep even before we exited the Marina, I glanced at Jaja, with the kite tucked under his arm, and I knew that singular spirit of determination and our family working as one would serve us well in the future.

I always tell my children that together they are a fist, unbeatable. As long as they stick together and support one another (and I am confident that they are still being a fist), they will be able to track down any kite, and not allow it to get away.