Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jamaican 47th Independence Ceremony

As is the norm at this time of the year, my aunt prompted me about the church service in celebration of Jamaica’s 47th year of independence. This year, the thanksgiving service was held at that bastion of gothic monstrosity – St. John the Divine Cathedral in Harlem. Don’t get me wrong, I love that church – in fact it lays claim to being the largest gothic cathedral in the world. Its ornate stained glass windows, cool marble interior and venerable air of welcome to all who want to worship should have been the ideal setting for such an auspicious occasion, but unfortunately, it was not.

The church is currently undergoing major renovations. As I was ushered to my seat, I gingerly lowered myself into the plastic folding chair that replaced the beautiful pews I remembered from my last visit. As the service commenced, there was something wrong with the setting and I realized that all the ‘specially invited guests’ had been placed in the high alter section - far removed from the ordinary folks who were seated in the well of the church. Part of attending the church service has been to see and recognize our Jamaican dignitaries, politicians and easily recognizable celebrities. Somehow this treat had been denied and I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat – thinking that my patriotism was being called into question with a relegation to second-class seating.

The performances from a Bronx school steel-band, stirring solo by Sonya Headlam and renditions by the ever popular Independence Choir led by choirmaster supreme Lloyd Chung tried their best, but their valiant efforts succumbed to the awful acoustics. Cannon McIntyre a favorite of past proceedings tried to lighten the mood of the attendees, but no one could hear what he was saying.

I understand that perhaps the choice of venue was predicated by the fact that its Jamaican Bishop E. Don Taylor was retiring from his post of 15 odd years to return to Jamaica where he will take up the position as Rector of Kingston Parish – but honestly, in a final act that added insult to injury, it was announced that the usual repast would not take place. Given the fact that the three hour plus service had been moved from its traditional time of 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm and it was now approaching minutes to 9 o’clock, the barely disguised mumblings and awkward shuffling testified to the disappointment felt by many that the opportunity to meet folks you probably would not see for another year was dashed.

I’ve attended independence church services for the past 8 years and I’m disappointed that the high caliber of entertainment, spirit of camaraderie and aura of reverence seemed to be lacking this time and can only hope that next year will bring a return to the wonderful outpouring of gratitude for another year of independence that I know those mandated to bring to life can do.

Professor Gates Arrested for Disorderly Conduct

Honestly, I can say that I was not surprised to learn of the arrest of Harvard Professor "Chip" Gates in his Cambridge, MA home for disorderly conduct. When a Russian colleague wanted to hear my opinion on the matter, I had to add my two-cents and explain that yes I believed the arrest was based on racial profiling. The fact that the neighbour who called the police in the first instance didn't recognise the person trying to gain entry was in fact her neighbour to the fact that the officer felt he had to bring things to a head by arresting this 5'2" slightly built, obviously disabled man (he walks with a cane). I see Prof. Gates as no more a threat, than my 5 year old nephew. Regardless of whether Dr. Gates was belligerent or unco-operative, bottom line, he was arrested for being an 'uppity n..ger'. The officer had to teach him a lesson!

I'm sure that black men in American have hot wired into their psyche there are certain lines not to be crossed when dealing with law enforcement officers, for fear of being a statistic, the litany of countless victims who did not learn or succumbed are too many to mention here.

The fact that an esteemed citizen like Prof Gates could be disrespected in his own home, paraded like a common criminal in front of neighbours in his oh so genteel environment is yet another wake-up call for people of color (not that they need a wake up call) and also a slap in the face for white Americans who feel that the advent of a black president has somehow magically disappeared all acts of racism and racial inequality.

I Washed His Shirt

I couldn’t stop the tears that had been threatening to fall all day. What triggered this wellspring of emotion? It seemed bizarre, but my lip started quivering, and my heart constricted as I remembered how I washed his shirt!

I can’t remember who suggested it, but it seemed such a natural thing to do. Love and passion is not constricted by age or circumstance, paupers and princes can love with a fierce intensity and hate with unparalleled vengeance. After months of conversation, we’d settled into an easy, but passionate relationship. Like young lovers, we’d both been given a new lease on life and boy did we behave like a pair of love sick puppies, frolicking, nuzzling, with nips and bites, touching each other to reinforce that we weren’t dreaming - this was real.

He’d taken the shirt off and thrown it carelessly across the bed. As natural as changing my underwear, it was a reflex reaction for me to take it into the shower and lovingly rub the cake of soap over the collar, cuffs, underarms and front. Scrips, scrips, scrips as the water and soap suds, made the natural squishing sound when forced through my clenched fingers.

I lovingly washed that shirt, wanting to prove myself worthy of the honor that had been bestowed on me. A man doesn’t give any and anybody the opportunity to wash his clothes, my Caribbean sisters will know what I mean! Washing for a man means that you mean something to him. There’s a level of trust that’s bestowed and also a test of sorts. Are you someone who learnt your lessons well, are you able to maintain the whiteness of a white shirt without it looking dingy and neglected while flapping on the line. No electric dryers for us women in love – we have to see our laundry blowing in sweet breezes, fragranced by pimento, wood smoke and mangoes ripening on the vine.

Rinsing and checking that there were no smudges of dirt or other stains, smelling that there were no residual tell-tale odors, then lovingly pinning the shirt on the wire make-shift clothesline. My work was done, I’d somehow transferred my love for that man into the washing of his shirt. The love I felt manifested itself in the good job that I’d done and I gained my reward to see the approbation as I presented him with the fruit of my labor.

My ex boyfriends will laughingly attest that I’ve finally lost my mind, see how the great feminist fell willingly into the role of submissive weaker vessel, but this time it was different. This was something that I did willingly, no one forced, coerced or made me feel through guilt that I had to do this act. I did this of my own free will, moreover, I did it without questioning and was so happy to please this man of mine.