Short Stories: Memories of Jamaica – Geoff Burrowes

Memories of Jamaica – by Geoff Burrowes

       When I was 16 years old I was selected to represent Guyana at Rugby in the first West Indies Rugby Cup which included Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. It was held in Kingston, Jamaica the Northernmost of the West Indian Islands, a country of rare beauty and diversity. As this was 1961 my memories may be timeworn and faulty. They were fresh at the time and I hope to recreate them here, on this page!

        We flew from Guyana in the brand new Vickers Viscount Turbojet. I was nuts about planes at the time and the sleek design of the aircraft with its slim Rolls Royce turbojets on the wings was exciting just to look at! When the captain fired up the engines, instead of a deep roar there was a sibilant whistling thrum and when we finally took off there was not the usual deep growl felt throughout the plane but instead the whistling of the turbojets.           

Every surface in the new plane was gleaming and fresh and the cabin crew seemed to wear their smart BWIA uniforms with extra pride. It was a long flight, but before we had the time for boredom to set in Gerry Gouveia had a Trup T’rall school going full blast that lasted until the approach to Palisadoes as Kingston Airport was then called. As we got closer to Kingston a Hurricane warning was announced.  Instead of feeling fear I experienced excitement as I had never experienced the destructive power of a hurricane before. The full power of that Hurricane destroyed a large swathe of North Coast of Jamaica before wreaking it’s vengeance on the Cuban Mainland. I for one was grateful that it had missed Kingston, while I peacefully slept.

        We approached Kinston over a beautiful range of mountains  that I found afterward was called Red Hills and landed on a runway that was on the seaward side of a blue bay. Comfortable buses took us alongside the bay to the terminal building on the city side of the bay where cheerfully dressed volunteers  offered us cocktails of excellent Jamaican rum.

        Me and my buddy Sam Driver, ages 16 and 17, were the babies of the tour and we were billeted in the Jamaica Regiment mess.  The Regiment were known, up to the year before as The West India Regiment and many of the officers were from other countries in the Caribbean. The Regiment was now The Jamaica Regiment and most of the officers and other ranks were Jamaican born, including many of the Rugby team who were now representing Jamaica in the Tournament. The Mess was run like British Officers Messes anywhere else in the World and the food and service were top notch. We stayed in temporary Officer’s quarters overlooking a hilly, bushy path that ran between soursop trees and papaw trees, both with their broad leaves trembling in the hot Jamaican day. We never had the time to explore, the path so it will have to remain a mysterious path disappearing up a hill , into the thick bush overlooking the Officer’s quarters!

For our complete stay we were treated like senior officers, with a combination of deference and reserve.   That evening we were invited to a party at the Police Commissioner’s Home. When we arrived we were in awe as the house was an old colonial home in large garden-like grounds with a police steelband playing.  There was full bar set up with a smart police barman and no Police Commissioner in sight. We were introduced to the Jamaican Rugby team and there were lots of pretty girls to dance with.  Unfortunately they were all quite a bit older than Ed and I and so we sampled the beer and the rum and chatted with the barman and whichever rugby player was interested in talking to two juniors. Ed disappeared for a while and I didn’t realize that he was having an adventure of his own. but more of that after! In the meantime I had used the upstairs bathroom and discovered a utensil that I had never seen before. I discovered after that it was called a bidet and readers more sophisticated than myself will know of what I speak.

        Meanwhile my friend had found himself in a delicate situation. After a number of Red Stripe beers he had felt the urge for a snooze and finding an unlocked car in the parking lot had settled in the comfortable back seat. He surfaced from his nap to find the car on the move with two strange girls in the front seats. He decided to stay quiet while the unfamiliar ladies parked the car, laughing and joking and then, while he pondered his next course of action, they returned and mercifully drove back to the Police Commissioner’s palatial home. Who knows how they might have reacted to an unknown passenger!

        Ed and I marvelled at the beautiful scenery of Kingston in the glorious light of next morning. An old friend of ours from Guyana who had emigrated to Jamaica some years before and married a beautiful Jamaican girl, Paulette, took us to lunch in a mall in the shadow of Red Hills. At that time there were no malls in BG and we revelled in the experience. I had never enjoyed lobster tail before and found that delicacy washed down with a Red Stripe absolutely delicious! Thanks Peter!

        Kingston nestles in the shade of Red Hills and up to that time I had never experienced a West Indian island where you could be literally baking in oppressive heat one minute and an hour later shivering in a sweater on the hills overlooking the city. The day after, Peter Gorinsky’s sister, Pixie, who was at UCWI and her fiancee Geoff took us on a drive to the North Coast. We wound through the foothills if the Northern Range, through Linstead Market and some literally terrifying veiws of mountain gorges through valleys with pastoral plantations and placid rivers. I was astonished to see such a variety of scenery in a relatively short distance and have always thought of Jamaica since then as one of the most beautiful places on earth. The North Coast is completely different from the other side of the island and we splashed in the cold waters of Dunn’s River falls before floating in the Atlantic surf off the long beaches of the North Coast.

        Pixie and Geoff were excellent hosts and did their temporary home proud. In BG we often heard negative reports of Jamaica but I for one found Jamaicans to be more like Guianese than any of the people of other West Indian Islands! Warm, friendly and hospitable!

        The rugby was excellent and we left Jamaica 2 weeks after with the most favourable of memories. West Indians are wonderful people and Guyanese are most fortunate to be sometimes viewed as West Indians, particularly in cricket!

        Thank you Jamaica!

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