Kingston

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Getting There

We left Fairhope about 7:30 a.m. for a 9:35 flight from Mobile to Atlanta. After a two-hour layover there, we proceeded to Miami (another two-hour layover) and thence to Kingston. The first two legs were on Delta—nothing new, but the Miami–Kingston leg was on Air Jamaica, which proved a novel experience. We hadn’t realized that Air Jamaica was famous for serving a hot meal on every flight (this is no longer true). Sure enough, even though the flight was just 40 minutes long, we were served our choice of beef, chicken, or fish (Barney got beef, Matthew and I fish), along with some side dishes we took to be Jamaican but did not recognize at the time (callaloo and yam, if I remember correctly). Beverage choices included champagne and Red Stripe beer, as well as the fruit punch we would later come to realize is ubiquitous in Jamaica.

Our arrival at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston was complicated somewhat by our vagueness about our plans. We hadn’t really done our homework and arrived unsure of the address where we would be staying. As it turned out, we could have picked an address at random from the Kingston phone book, and that would have satisfied Immigration. Once past that hurdle, we had to claim our bags. Since we were bringing gifts, Barney was loath to go through the “Nothing to Declare” line, but we were soon spotted as clueless tourists and ushered through Customs unceremoniously, leaving behind the long lines of returning Jamaicans with gigantic duffels and huge cartons wrapped in blue plastic, all filled (we were later told) with the merchandise they had purchased at great savings in Florida.

When we finally emerged from the lightly air conditioned terminal into the steamy Jamaican night, we were met by Evelyn Damdar, who had been waiting patiently who knew how long since our 6:40 arrival time. She’d borrowed a Rover from her office; luckily its capacious trunk just sufficed to hold our many huge pieces of luggage, and we were soon on our way.

During the half-hour drive to the Russells’ house, Evelyn pointed out landmarks along the way, but of course it was quite dark (the summer days are shorter in tropical Jamaica than in Fairhope, and there is no twilight), so we gained only a general impression and in any case were distracted by the novelty of riding on the “wrong” side of the road and observing at close hand the Jamaican style of driving.

The First Night

Upon our arrival at 17 Ottawa Avenue, the home of our hosts, Grace and Gordon Russell, we were shown to the rooms we would occupy for the next week, and we began to unpack. It soon became evident that we were going to be fed again. Not wanting to hurt Grace’s feelings, we trooped to the dining room for a magnificent spread of jerk and barbecue chicken, rice, and “festival,” accompanied by fruit punch. We later learned that the chicken and festival were takeout (probably from Island Grill), but the mangoes we had for dessert (Bombay mangoes split, hollowed, and serving as cups for a variety of flavors of ice cream) had been picked from one of the trees in the Russells’ back yard. By the time we’d stuffed ourselves on all these luscious treats, we were ready to call it a night.

Day Two—Saturday

Gordon Russell had not been home when we arrived the night before, so we met him for the first time on Saturday morning. He and Sherwin Damdar, who was also staying at the house (the Damdars’ house being full of Canadian relatives), were rolling strips of newspaper and stuffing them into short lengths of PVC pipe. Curious about the purpose of these “cartridges,” I learned that they were intended to create bolt holes in cast concrete parking lot bumpers, which Gordon’s asphalt paving company was making to save money over purchasing them readymade. I joined in and “helped” for a while; Barney came in late and only much later got an explanation of what we told him were “pipe bombs”!

Presently Grace served us a breakfast of spicy sardines, cheese, and other breakfast foods, after which Gordon left for work, taking Sherwin with him. When he returned, he took us on a driving tour of nearby Kingston, stopping at several places where we could purchase (or at least scope out) souvenirs. Unfortunately, at the time we had no idea what sort of souvenirs we might want to buy and so were just window-shopping. Even so, we might have bought some things if we’d realized the stores would accept U.S. money (we had not yet had time to get any money changed).

Our last stop was at Juicí Patties, where Gordon purchased an assortment of beef, cheese, and vegetable patties for our lunch. We waited awhile for Ray Damdar, who would also be staying with the Russells, but his plane was not due till 12:55, so about 12:30 we went ahead and ate.

We spent a lazy afternoon, reading and napping. Ray arrived, along with Andrew, the second of the Russells’ three sons. Andrew had brought a board game called Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers, and the four young men played that most of the afternoon. At some point Barney and I presented to the Russells the gifts we’d brought—natural and roasted pecans from B&B Pecan Co. (a Fairhope company) and a wooden replica of the Fairhope downtown clock made by the Emperor Clock Company (another Fairhope business). We were chagrined to realize that the clock was not running—not surprising when we discovered it had not come with the necessary battery. We were quite annoyed by this since the battery it requires (size “N”) is not readily available even here (I later bought one at Radio Shack and sent it to Grace).

Around 4 Barney and I went out for a walk around the neighborhood. Although Ottawa Avenue appears to be a quiet residential street, it is quite near the business center of the Liguanea (pronounced “Ligony”) section of Kingston, and, since it connects two busy streets, it is more heavily trafficked than we expected (with quite a few potholes in need of the cold-patch asphalt mix Gordon’s company sells). The houses ranged from modest to elaborate, but all were surrounded by hedges, fences, or walls (some with razor wire, others making do with scratchy bougainvillea or serious cactus) and locked gates, reminding us of our proximity to crime-ridden Kingston.

We’d thought it was turning cloudy and a bit cooler, but the sun came back out and made us quite warm before we got back to the house. The Hunters and Gatherers game was just breaking up, and we all sat outside on the verandah till 5 or 6, when Sherwin and Ray left for their home, to help Isaiah and Evelyn prepare for the family dinner they were hosting that evening.

Barney and Matthew and I freshened up and were taken to 55 Gardenia Avenue, the Damdars’ home in the Mona Heights residential district, for dinner. Isaiah was cooking jerk and barbecue chicken outside on a grill, while inside Evelyn had prepared sweet potatoes, tossed salad, mixed vegetables, and festival, to be served with fruit punch and sparkling cider and grape juice. Elegantly appointed tables were set up on the Damdars’ front lawn, but we all trooped into the Damdar house to admire the elaborate wedding cake baked by Evelyn Damdar and decorated by Fionn’s great-aunt, Granny Pat. For now it was still in three separate layers on columns set in bowls of water to repel ants; it would be assembled in all its glory for the wedding blessing the following night.

All that was missing was the guests of honor, Fionn and Virginia, who had been up the coast to Portland (Frenchman’s Cove) for a honeymoon getaway. Evelyn was about to break down and serve dinner to the rest of us when they finally rolled in.

Those attending were:
Fionn and Virginia Damdar
Isaiah, Evelyn, Sherwin, and Ray Damdar
Barney, Suzanne, and Matthew Barnhill
Simeon Damdar, Isaiah’s oldest brother, from London, England
Mae White, a neighbor who was hosting Simeon
Simon Damdar, Isaiah’s youngest brother, from Toronto, Canada
Monique, Naiomi, and Timothy Damdar, Simon’s wife and children
Parbattie (Gramma, Rita) Hirallal, Evelyn’s mother
Hawanti (Granny Pat) Deamer, Rita’s sister
Gordon and Grace Russell, friends of the Damdars
Andrew and Wendy Russell, son and daughter-in-law of the above

This was to be the cast of characters for the next few days.

Day Three—Sunday

In the morning we went to a service at Mona Heights Chapel, the Brethren church the Russells and Damdars attend. The highlight of the 1½-hour service was the message on I Timothy 6: 3–16 given by Simeon Damdar, who when he is at home is the London City Mission’s chaplain to UK Rail staff and British Transport Police. After church we were greeted by what seemed like everyone in the congregation. Naturally it was impossible even to catch all the names, much less remember anyone, though we would see most of them again later that day.

Returning to the Russells’, we had lunch. Grace had put together a tuna-noodle casserole, and we also had the callaloo quiche Gordon had made the day before, fried plantains, and Jamaican pumpkin.

We had a lazy afternoon. Fionn and Virginia came over, and Virginia napped on our bed while Fionn put together a slide show for the reception that evening. Working side by side on their laptops on the Russells’ front porch, Fionn shuffled his own photos and those on the CDs Megan had sent, and Sherwin, with input from Fionn, worked out the logistics of our trek to Whitfield Hall the next day. (Because grocery stores close at 3 p.m. on Sundays, it was imperative to get provisions for the trip without delay, but discussion of how many cars would be needed, who would drive them, and how the passengers would be distributed went on late into the night, even after we’d given up and gone to bed.

Later in the afternoon, Sherwin and Ray composed a folk song–type tribute to Fionn and Virginia to be performed at the reception. I was napping, but through the walls I could hear the chorus repeated over and over as they worked out the wording. It was a great pleasure to hear it in its entirety that evening.

Eventually we changed and went to the reception, held in a lovely open-air hall—a sort of covered portico surrounding a garden. Fionn and Virginia sat at the center of a head table at one end, flanked by their families, and the remaining guests were seated at tables at the same end and on one side. The buffet tables were set up at the other end, but the guests at the head table were served at the table, so we didn’t have to visit the buffet.

The program began with a welcome and grace before dinner and continued after dinner with a charge to the couple by Gordon Russell, the blessing of the cake by Simeon Damdar, the cutting of the cake by Fionn and Virginia, and several tributes in song and dance by relatives and friends. Although the cake was ceremonially cut by the wedding couple, the display cake was not cut for the guests. Instead, individual portions were distributed in gift boxes which the guests could, if they liked, take home with them. These portions were cut from another cake baked by Evelyn Damdar for the purpose. When we inquired about what would happen to the display cake, we were told that the bottom layer would later be cut into portions to be mailed to friends and relatives abroad; the second layer would be saved for the couple’s first anniversary, and the top layer for the christening of their first child.

When the program was over, those at the head table formed a receiving line, and all the guests filed past and introduced themselves. Some of them we had met before, but most were new to us and destined to be forever strangers since it was impossible to carry on a conversation or even hear the names they gave because of the loudness of the “background music.” By the time I got someone to turn the volume down, there were few guests left, and I had abandoned any attempt to make sense and was just nodding and smiling pleasantly. What I did take away was the general impression that all were genuinely fond of Fionn and Virginia and the other Damdars and pleased to share in this important moment in their life.