Honeymoon in Jamaica part 7. The Indian Fortress.
It was official. Poptart and I were coming to the end of our time in Jamaica. *Sigh* We hade made a lot of wonderful friends and had some really great times but what we needed now were some souvenirs for family and friends back home. Considering our options of pipes, kidneys, and feral cats that the vendors sold outside the front gates of the hotel we opted to take one of the hotel’s organized shopping trips. This was going to be great. The hotel was going to put us in a shuttle and drive us over to some Jamaican shops and we were going to be able to buy some great authentic Jamaican souvenirs.
Poptart and I boarded the van with money in hand and smiles on our faces when we came face to face with Chaz and Muffy. We made our obligatory smiles at one another and added a dash of small talk and found out that Chaz and his wife were flying out that night. And goodbye Chaz! The van drove us through the streets of Ocho Rios and pulled up to a huge market place.
“Oh, I can’t wait to get my ring cleaned,” Muffy gushed when she saw the jewelry store. Let’s be honest: Muffy was sweet, but she wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. I get that she was proud of her ring. Good Lord, who wouldn’t have been? It was the size of a boulder. But with the extreme poverty in Jamaica comes higher crime rates, and everybody from our travel agent to the girl who stocked the fridge in our room had warned us to leave the bling in the hotel safe if we left the resort. I winced as I looked down at the rock on Muffy’s finger, and silently bid it farewell. I was pretty sure that the next time I saw Muffy, she would proudly be sporting a giant piece of shiny glass.
The market place was built like its own little impenetrable fortress complete with a gate that opens and closes for the tourist vans. Poptart and I got out of the van and started making our way through the stores when we noticed one very obvious thing about this market place. There was not one single Jamaican in it. Not even one. Every single store was West Indian owned and run. Meaning any money we spent here wasn’t going to go to the people we had come to know and love.
“We can’t shop here. Our money won’t be going to the Jamaicans. It will be going to the Indians and they’re doing fine.” I told Poptart.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s a bar right outside the gate. Let’s go have a beer and figure it out.”
So we left the safety of the Indian fortress and went outside the gate to a little outdoor bar and ordered two Red Stripes. When our Jamaican bartender set our beers down in front of us we asked him where we could go to buy some authentic Jamaican souvenirs. He pointed across the street to a large adobe building and told us to go inside the courtyard where we would find all the shops.
We finished our beers and crossed the street. On our way to the adobe building we encountered some of the Jamaican culture that our hotel and the Indian fortress was trying to hide. Most notably, the poverty. We had already seen much of it on our drive to Bob Marley’s house but now we were up close and personal with the people themselves. We encountered a number of people begging for money, most of them with varying disabilities. One man had no feet. I’ve heard of beggars doing some pretty sneaky things to get money from tourists, but if this was a trick, this guy was either a genius or a psychopath. Poptart and I parted ways with some of our money there and tried to give a little to everyone. We still wanted to get gifts for family and friends, but we dipped pretty heavily into our souvenir budget before we entered a single shop. When it came right down to it, the choice between “buy a souvenir or let this guy eat today” wasn’t much of a choice at all.
We walked into the adobe building and into the courtyard, which almost looked abandoned before we saw a man sitting on the ground down a long hallway. We ventured over to where he was sitting and noticed he was whittling the most beautiful woodcarvings. We went inside his shop and after being blown away by the carved tables, mirrors, chairs, and statues we found a beautiful walking stick for my father. There was so much detail carved into this stick that I knew I was going to have a hard time parting with it. Then we went to a jewelry store and found some gifts for the women in our life. I even scored on this one by walking away with a leather bracelet that was made out of carved bone. Seven years later and I still have it. We hit the motherlode! Not only was our stuff a much better quality, but we knew our money was going to the locals. The places where we shopped were like a family-owned coffee shop, and the Indian market was Starbucks. And as we all know Starbucks is doing just fine.
Poptart and I had to get our butts back to the Indian Fortress before the van left without us. We made it back through their high security fences and piranha-infested moat just in time to hop a ride back to the hotel. As we pulled out of the fortress we saw our footless friend sitting just across the street from the fortress, and Muffy showed me that I might have misjudged her.
“Ohhh, no,” she whispered, as her eyes rimmed. “I wish I would have seen that man earlier so I could have given him something.”
“Honey,” Chaz sniffed with a patronizing tone, “You don’t give money to people like that. He’ll only end up spending it on ganja and alcohol.”
My jaw hit the floor. Dude! He has no feet! If you had no feet you might like a little alcohol and ganja yourself. And BTW, the way you say ‘ganja’ just makes it sound like a dirty word so please never say it again.
I stared at Chaz for a moment, then slowly turned to look at Poptart.
“I fucking hate white people,” I said conversationally, before turning to stare out the window.
“Back off fellas, she’s taken,” Poptart muttered as he shot me a sideways glance. Chaz got very red in the face, and Muffy suddenly seemed to grow fascinated with her toenails as she tried to stifle a laugh. The ride back to the hotel was pretty quiet after that, which was nice.
Once we got back to the resort, we took our loot upstairs. Poptart heckled me for the rest of the day, saying things like “So how long have you felt this way about white people?” and “Does this mean that you’re a self-hating honkie?” The truth was, I had spent so much time and connected so well with the Jamaicans I had met, that I started to wonder how white I really am.
To be continued…….
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