Mandeville blog - 2008


StopArriving on a Sunday means no food in, other than the odd bits and pieces that I brought with me (ground coffee - it's either unavailable or really expensive in the Caribbean; or the salt, pepper, sugar and powdered milk taken from the hotel in Newark from whence I'd come; or - a stroke of genius I thought this one - the left over sliced ginger and wasabi from the sushi I'd bought from NY Penn Station). Arriving at the apartment, it seems self catering means a kettle and a plate. Monday morning therefore, means a trip to the other end of Mandeville town centre, and a visit to Manchester Shopping Centre, where there are rows of shops specialising in various items.

ManShopCentThe row of furniture and homeware shops furnishes a chopping board, bamboo steamer, pan and coffee pot. The row of cafes provides breakfast. At eight in the morning they are all open, but even locals haven't started to arrive for breakfast yet; thus only the chicken dish or the baked beans and saltfish are ready. I choose the latter. This means commerical tinned baked beans, with the odd piece of red pepper and a tiny bit of fish through them, together with a chunk of potato, two steamed dumplings of terrific weight, a ball of deep-fried dough and a piece of plantain, all contrived to be as tasteless as possible. It seems this is why Jamaicans put pepper sauce on their food.

They say that in the event that human-kind blows itself up in the apocalypse, the critters that will outlive us will be those which skulk about on the sidelines of our current lives, waiting for us to expire. In the daily Darwinian drama - the Jamaican equivalent of scissors, paper, stone - in which cockroaches, ants and human co-exist around the bathroom door, ants trump cockroach, and ants beat bathroom door (judging by the piles of sawdust), but a kettle of boiling water beats ants, as years of gardening with my father had taught me. Unfortunately, the victory is only temporary. And using the bathroom in future will not be quite the same relaxed experience.

StopThere remains a fundamental disjunction of attitudes and perceptions between those who live in the West Indies and those who visit it or imagine it from a distance: the latter find it hard not to associate the Caribbean with indulgence - vacations, sunshine and heat and the lethargy they induce, beaches, leisure and leisureliness. For residents, life is day-to-day work, industry and effort to make something of one's life. The images projected to potential holiday-makers present first world luxury: the reality for most is third.MandHighStCokeDr
The new guilt on the part of residents of the developed world is the pollution and wastage that their affluence produces. The stark meeting of developing- and developed-world attitudes, however, forces us to think a little differently. The self-catering apartments in which I am staying are, in British terms, very cheap. They come with 'maid service': the immediate response of the travelling-liberal is that it is degrading to expect someone to wash up after you, make your bed daily (with blanket and nylon coverlet always put back, with the different perceptions of temperature), change the towels, empty the bins, mop the floor. The independent person would expect to have to do such 'menial' tasks oneself. But this is someone's job, and without this service she is another unemployed person in a low-income economy.

All shopping is packed for you, and everything comes wrapped in several plastic bags. But bag-packing provides a job and the heat makes all the food drip as soon as it leaves the chill cabinets. Chilling cabinets, freezers and air conditioning use more energy. Food starts to rot at room temperature, so each plastic bag provides the best way to keep rubbish airtight, tie the bag each evening and put it out to be collected. The floor is mopped every day, the bathroom scrubbed and towels replaced, but dust, skin-cells, crumbs, and spillages attract mites and cockroaches; the cockroaches that get upturned are soon a barbeque fiesta for hundreds of ants; the ants nest in the wood, such as door frames and the floors become Golgotha. The streets are plastic bags, energy lines and black fumes, but the roads are uneven, impassable after rains and pot-holed. There is little incentive to buy energy-efficient cars, keep them up, and one can't afford to be too precious about them.


StopThere are advantages to staying in Mandeville, amongst the most affluent parts of Jamaica owing to its upland cooler climate which historically attracted colonial ex-pats and its current proximity to the bauxite areas around the Rio Minho, which continues to attract Americans to work in the area. Amongst the downsides is the fear of break-ins by the owners of the grand villas with their manicured gardens, who all keep big dogs behind their electrically-operated gates. At regular intervals throughout the day, a security car drives around those who have (presumably) paid for a private watch (how very seventeenth century!), in a car marked 'Armed Response'. After dark, through the night, the area is a cacophony of barking, baying, howling and yelping, and the polyphony of police sirens as cars zoom up and down the main Manchester Road.

InstituteStopThere are several churches and chapels in Mandeville, many monumental masons and funeral homes and several schools and private colleges. Down a path away from the Manchester Road, on the south side of the town is Davandre's Vocational Institute, which is advertising that it now offers the Heart NTA funded level-one NVQ in Housekeeping (Room Attendant). This takes eight months of training. The working day runs from eight in the morning to either two or three in the afternoon. Each morning starts with half an hour for 'devotion', and then timetabled classes. Tuesday morning students were discussing the 'meaning of economic integration': Thursday morning was double 'Food and Nutrition', with a great deal of attention being paid to garnishes, including the hard boiled egg with two eyes painted on it to create a 'snow-man' which should be placed at the side of the plate. Examinees - I wouldn't recommend this one.

Images of Mandeville

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