The Faces of Trenchtown, Jamaica
By Naomi Isabel
…A Continuation of How The Trenchtown Stirring Occurred
The first week of my most recent trip was spent in Ocho Rios in a horrible resort I will not return to unless I am paid to stay there! The only reason I slotted this all inclusive resort into my travel plans was to relax and recuperate after spending the past 10 days in a Colombian hostel with all types of traveling folk. To be honest I felt better sharing with 6 others than I did those few days spent at the resort in Ochi. I remember lying on my bed listing off the things I needed for the Christmas party and our craft sessions I had planned and thinking to myself how I would get to and from the centre safely and efficiently from Portmore which can be about an hours drive away depending on traffic. This really was the only thing I was concerned about, the expense and the safety. I asked my friend if he would come with me to act as a safeguard and he refused. Yeah even a local wouldn’t go there at Christmas time! My only choice was to have faith that it would take care of itself. As luck would have it when I met up with a friend of a friend from Australia on the day I arrived in Kingston she offered me her own house to stay in (about 20mins from TRC) and to drive me there with her boyfriend.
When things are meant to be everything seems to fall into place. From the moment I started fundraising and planning things out I met so many people who appeared out of nowhere who could assist in some way or another. Some of the connections I made over a 6 month period with people I never knew before I will hold onto forever.
Driving there on my first day I was surprised how after just turning a few corners the city turned into a forlorn and pitiful place. The large buildings exposing their interiors, rubble, trash, graffiti, dirt and absence of life. The smaller ones seemed better cared for, some painted brightly, made from assorted materials kind of like patchwork. I like the patchwork look, it tells wonderful stories just by looking at the different things for eg. a car rim coffee table, outdoor chairs made from an old car seat or milk crates, a front gate made from a infants cot. Reminds me of the cubby houses I would make as a child, one was an outdoor “dunny” typically Australian toilet! The other an old water tank housing which my father kindly cut a doorway into for me. Living in the country as a child makes it easy to adjust to Island life, its simpler living and you don’t have any qualms about getting dirt between your toes or watching them chop up a live chicken haha.
Trenchtown looks exactly like the pictures I have included. There are awesome paintings of “famous” mentors along the wall of the cultural yard museum (which I didn’t have time to look in!) and typical Jamaican colored houses of aquas, yellows, greens etc. The streets filled with people each with their own strong character. You will find the loud and boisterous teenagers at each corner fussing or fighting over which song is better or who’s boyfriend is whose and the elderly lady with creases in her face so deep you know she has been to hell and back 100 times over. There is the pickney dem (children) who run from house to house as they please shouting profanities or praises some with no shoes, no pants or manners and some sweet, shy and curious.
The character who stands out most in my mind was the man fixing or putting together car parts who looked like he could fall at the weight of them at any moment, He was extremely thin and sickly looking, his eyes bulging and red (clearly from the spliff he was smoking) and the grease he was covered in seemed to be affecting his skin with a form of dermatitis. I wondered how long he had being doing this, whether it was his job or his hobby and whether he simply did not eat. The other character which broke my heart was a baby. She was dangling from the arms of a mother who was dressed in little attire and holding a bokkle of rum in one hand and the baby in the other. She was talking or fussin’ about something in her loud Jamaican voice, pointing her rum bottle as though it were her extended finger. It was late. Getting dark. I wanted desperately to take that baby girl home, bathe her, change her and let her sleep in non-disrupted splendor. I cried myself to sleep thinking about her and beautiful big eyes that captured my attention on the way home.
So, the Trench Town reading centre is a fabulous building with amazingly strong spirited staff who deal with trials and tribulations every day. I was there to get my hands dirty, so I jumped in and did whatever was necessary to get the job done. Finding the strength to be louder, stronger and a step ahead of the children was hard. They are such a lovely intelligent bunch! Questioning everything and challenging you at every step of the way! I admired the staff more and more each day as I realised they were not just dealing with the children but their entire families, and keeping them progressing meant keeping their interest because it’s far too easy for them to run off down the street with no supervision and do whatever they feel like!
One of the days an extremely loud and violent fight broke out on the street and the children and staff ran out to see what the fuss was about. I stayed inside and watched wondering why? Mostly why did the children have to see this? But it’s part of their day to day to life. I questioned myself as to whether I could have had the strength to build the centre and have it still standing despite the politics, fighting and other factors opposing it. I would have given up a thousand times over in tears, although I can see why you wouldn’t want to back down. I found out later that the fight was about a man who got shot the day before, which explained the pimpin’ gangster vehicle that drove past earlier with the scary looking bald headed dude with big sunglasses driving.
None of this phased me, I was a little annoyed that the children stopped what they were doing to see about a fight but I should have spoken louder in my attempts to tell them to stay. I am soft spoken generally (big downfall in Jamaica LOL). Without so much help from one of the workers there, I would never have gotten the children to quiet down at times! Speaking of quiet it is time to take a break. Enjoy the pictures I have included so far and the beautiful faces of Trench town.