Ezekel Alan

This blog is about: cotton candy, cold milo, midgets, mangoes, sex, aged rum – everything but writing my next book

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Could Jamaica win gold, silver and bronze in the men’s 100m in London?

English: Yohan Blake during 2011 World champio...

Yohan Blake  (Photo credit: Wikipedia). There is a reason he’s called the Beast!

There is some speculation that Jamaican men could win gold, silver and bronze in the Olympics. There is no doubt that we have the talent to do this – if you look at the number of times athletes have run below 9.85 seconds you will see that Jamaican athletes dominate, and the trio of Bolt, Blake, and Powell lead the field. (I also think it will take a sub-9.8o time to win, though London may be a tough environment for anyone to run these times.)

The 9.85s barrier

The question is therefore not whether we have the talent, but whether we are ready to perform in London. Leaving fitness aside, there are some factors for us to consider.

The first is what my old man used to say, “If you eat your money and fart, don’t expect any change.” I never understood half of the things my old man said because he was often smoking weed when he said it, but this one I understood.

We, as Jamaicans, have a tendency to waste what we have (eat our money) and still expect to have things left over (fart and expect change). This problem has dogged Jamaican athletes and musicians for years. They will hit upon success, spend all their money on the latest model cars, girls, clothes, houses, etc, help maintain all their 50 close followers (or ‘hangers-on’ as we call them), party ’till them drop every night, ‘splurt’ like crazy, etc, and then look surprised when they find that they have nothing left.

As Jamaicans we all know that the most chronic problem of our athletes and performers is mental discipline. Few of our ‘stars’ seem to be able to see success as a start and not as an end; few see fame as an opportunity that requires them to continue working hard, training hard, and staying focused on excelling. This has dogged our Reggae Boyz footballers for years – the sense of being too important to listen to anyone, too important to focus on getting the job done, too important to be disciplined by a manager.

It is, I think, also for this reason that many Jamaicans are concerned about Usain Bolt in particular. Bolt is a phenomenon, but he is also young, and perhaps doesn’t fully appreciate just how much his success is Jamaica’s success. Brand Jamaica is built on names – Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Jimmy Cliff, the Bobsled team. For many of us it’s not just that we want a Jamaican to win the Olympics 100m, we want Bolt to win because of the effect on the brand. Bolt winning gives a collective lift to all our identities. Deon Hemmings might have been the first Jamaican woman to win gold at the Olympics, but when we tell people that we are from Jamaica no one asks, “Isn’t that where Deon Hemmings is from?” Sad, but true. This is the reality: Bolt has charisma and appeal, and he has built a brand that helps Jamaica.

Usain Bolt 03

Usain Bolt (Photo credit: pirano Bob R). In form, no one runs beside him.

Hence Bolt partying, Bolt crashing his BMW, Bolt buying a cheetah, Bolt staying out late at night, Bolt dating a white girl, etc seems to all of us as Bolt eating his money. It bothers us much more than the usual foolishness of the Reggae Boyz, whose momentary and flamboyant flirt with fame fizzled a long time ago.

We want Bolt to win. Plain and simple. And so we want Bolt to remain focused and disciplined, and we want him to train much harder than he parties. Some of us fear that he may be rusty.

Bolt

A rusty bolt (Photo credit: Mathew Knott)

Blake, on the other hand, seems to have a hunger; he’s still in the stage where he is reaching for fame. All of us will remember Bolt at that stage, the look on his face when he won gold in 2008, the concentration and training that went into seeking that big prize. I feel that Blake has had this hunger now for some time, while Bolt is trying to reconnect with it. You need that hunger to succeed, and you need to stay hungry if you want to continue to excel. Bolt has been eating, a lot, and doesn’t seem hungry. Blake looks hungry, and my fear has always been that he may feel so famished that he might do something foolish to win. (Many Jamaicans know what I mean.)

The conditions in London may also favor Blake – with a lower centre of gravity and an explosive start out of the blocks, he may be very hard for Bolt to catch in sub-ideal weather.

Asafa’s issues are well-known – the crude among us call it stage fright, the more sophisticated speak of lack of exposure, referring to the fact that he did not go through the Boys Champs process. His problem is not fame or lack of discipline, or hunger, it is anxiety and lack of self-confidence when the big moment comes. I think the critics have been correct on this score, but I also think this is an issue in the past for Asafa. He has been around long enough now, and performed at enough big meets, and endured the vicious tongue of Jamaicans for long enough to be ready. The issue for me is whether he is in top shape and feeling confident about himself. The last 2 races I saw he ran extremely well and nearly had Bolt at the line. If he were to get a similarly good start on Bolt, feel confident in himself, and run the sub-9.8 time that he is capable of, then look out!

But while our athletes may be their own biggest obstacle, we also have other challenges in this Olympics. The Americans are in form, and I suspect that Justlin Gatlin has been to see a voodoo man in Haiti – he too has a lean and hungry look, and the glint of medal in his eyes. Tyson Gaye also seems extremely focused. And there are others.

Anyway, here are my predictions for the final:

1. If security around our training camp is slack and our boys can slip out to party, then we will get bronze and nothing more.

2. If Asafa Powell is again in love with someone very attractive, and feels confident in himself, he may run hard enough to get silver; if he’s not in love then he’ll be 5th.

English: Asafa Powell after his 9.72 win and t...

Asafa Powell (Photo credit: Wikipedia) When he’s in love he can perform

3. If the final is run on a cold, bleak, dreary, typical London day, then we should be happy if the boys finish the race.

4. If there is some quarrel in the camp, and ‘bad-blood’ sets in, then silver is the best we can get. (And all hopes for the relay would be lost.)

5. If the boys are not given Jamaican porridge for breakfast, if there is no yam to be found in Brixton to make their lunch, and if there is no cold milo readily available, then Jehovah bless us! We are doomed!

If all is well – Bolt is not allowed to party, Powell is in love, Blake the Beast gets his 12 bananas with his breakfast, and our guardian midgets are merciful – then its 1-2-3. As for the order of that 1-2-3, I’d say Blake, Bolt, Powell.

So mi seh aya!

—-

Postscript:

Prof. Mary Hanna, foremost literary critic in Jamaica, has published a book in which she lists the 50 best Jamaican books to read for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary. She selected 16 works of fiction, and Disposable People is one of the 16! You can find her book, JAMAICA WRITES 50 Great Reads for Jamaica’s 50th, on Amazon.

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My first conversation with a prostitute

In a life full of ordinary things, I rarely have conversations with unusual or extraordinary people. There is a dreadful predictability about daily conversations which often lead me to drift off into my own thoughts and world. But recently I had a chat with a prostitute. Let me explain.

In one of my earlier blogs I noted that when I walk certain streets in Bangkok and prostitutes call to me I do not go to them because prostitutes are not my calling. I feel my life is to be lived with greater significance than what shadows and seedy side-streets can offer. You may therefore wonder why I recently went to Pat-pong, one of the most famous red-light districts in Bangkok.

For those of you who’ve never visited the area, the street-side food is marvelous and cheap, the night market bustles, and the clubs and restaurants buzz and throb with vitality and excitement.

Thai Food with LoVE..LOvE... for you..."G...

Thai Food Green Papaya Salad. Photo credit: Thai Jasmine. (I like it hot!)

I like good food, and I also like to observe people. I get both energy and inspiration from certain environments, and often bring my laptop in busy places to write, while observing the world as it goes by.

After eating dinner from a street vendor’s stall, I went into one of the gentlemen’s club to look around and have a beer, which is often reasonably priced.

I was sitting alone on a stool by a counter which wrapped around a pole. I ordered a beer from a passing waitress.

She came before my beer arrived.

“Hi honey, how are you tonight?”

Though English wasn’t her first language, the way she spoke suggested that she had learnt much more than what was necessary to communicate with her clients. She eased up to me, coming close enough for me to smell a cheap but subtle and flowery perfume. There wasn’t any empty stools, so she stood, shifting her weight every now and then between her feet. She was wearing stiletto-like heels, which I was sure she would use as a weapon if she ever got into trouble with a client. They were too high, however, and she wasn’t comfortable walking in them. I thought of nudging her and shouting “Timber!” as she fell. I often get these thoughts when I see women in high heels, sometimes I think of cow-tipping.

I told her I was fine, and reciprocated, “How about you?”

“I’m good honey, I’m very very good. But I can be bad if you like.” She said this with enough authenticity that I didn’t feel any urge to laugh.

“You on business here? looking for some action, honey?”

Always direct. The nature of the business was to earn, which required a certain level of turnover. This meant investing a minimum to assess prospects and, once identified, investing the extra to close the deal. If there was no prospect here, she wouldn’t share a drink, nor much more of her perfume.

I told her I was just taking it easy and having a drink. I said it politely, but in a manner I thought would be clear enough.

“You know the girls in here don’t like going with Africans, but me, I don’t mind, I have seen it all. I don’t mind.”

African? Four years in the region and it still hits me hard whenever someone assumes I am from Africa. I thought of telling her I was a bona-fide Usain-Bolt, Bob-Marley, Blue-Mountain-Coffee, Reggae-Music Jamaican, but I didn’t, as I figured it wouldn’t have mattered.

Sprinting legend Usain Bolt pictured in Brunel...

Usain Bolt (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Would she have seen this lightening pose?

Instead I told her I wasn’t looking for any action, just to make it a little clearer.

A stool was vacated a few meters from us and she slipped away and grabbed it, bringing it back and planting herself beside me. I wasn’t sure why.

When she sat, I understood why – her feet were tired. Then she slouched ever so slightly on the stool, and I understood that her tiredness went much further.

She couldn’t afford to slouch too much as she was on the job, and being constantly watched. She was giving the impression that I was a real prospective client, so she could stay there a while and rest.

“So what’s your name honey? You work here?”

We chit-chatted for a little, I told her I was with a consulting firm doing some work with the government. She had gone for the Marilyn Munroe blond curly look, nicely blended with a white tank top and an airy skirt. Some women are pluses, some minuses, but she was definitely a plus, and I could only imagine how beautiful she had been years before she moved into the shadows. Her face seemed pale, but not as though she was bleaching, more as though her skin was losing the brightness of her youthful dreams. Amidst all the make-up and artificial accompaniments (which included implants, hair, eyelashes, eye-color, and ‘gold’ bracelet), her eyes were the only things that hinted at the real person she was, or once was. There was a certain glint and softness in her eyes which, to me, looked like the thing you would find if you looked at a human long enough to see what separated us from the rest of animals. That thing, that soul-gene that makes us cry sometimes when we watch a sad movie. That soul-gene that makes a child let go of her mother’s hand to run back and give her candy to an old beggar on the street. There was that something in her eyes.

“I don’t mind Africans you know,” she continued, but in a manner that wasn’t pushy or insistent. I got more of a sense that she simply wanted me to take her away to someplace where she wouldn’t be watched, and where she wouldn’t have to stand, and where she would be fine giving me her body so she could have a minute with her soul.

“I been with Europeans, Africans, Americans, all these men are bigger than the Chinese and Japanese that come here. The local girls they don’t like the foreigners, they prefer the Asian men.” I understood from this that Chinese and Japanese were not ‘foreigners’ in the same way the rest of us were.

“I go with the big men who work with the oil companies,” she was mostly speaking to herself, but with her face angled towards me to give the impression that she was working a client. “There is a pastor as well, he’s from out-of-town, but he comes here whenever he’s in Bangkok. He doesn’t know that I know he’s a pastor. I’ve been with a Prime Minister with a group of girls. Lawyers, doctors, engineers…”

“So it was in the beginning, and so shall it be in the end,” was the thought that came to me, and I might have said it if I thought she knew who Bob Marley was and could understand the reference. Instead I took another sip of my beer, and nodded as though I was acknowledging what she was saying, which was really for the benefit of her watchers. I wanted her to rest.

“But they all don’t see me.” When she said it I paused. I had by then realized that her English was quite good, and she was articulate. I had, however, not thought of her as someone who quite likely had come from a very poor background and had invested in her own education.

“They sometimes give me big tips, or come to me when they are in town. They’ll say sweet things sometimes, or tell me how if they didn’t have a wife they’d take me away and marry me. But it’s just a role they play, and this is all just a game. They don’t see me.”

When she said this it hit me quite hard, because the truth is, up to that point, I hadn’t seen her either. We had just been two bodies in a bar being watched by people who wanted us to perform so they could earn.

“My name is Ezekel, but my friends call me Kenny.”

“My name is Rita.”

And like this we started to talk.

The first time they took me to an Obeahman (witch doctor)

Matane cemetery

Cemetery (Photo credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu)

They had already killed my father, and drank his blood, but their thirst was not yet quenched. He was buried in the public cemetery, amongst the poor and destitute, as  there was no space in the Baptist Churchyard, and we hadn’t enough money to buy a plot in a private burial ground. His soul could never find peace in a public cemetery, forever roaming with strangers. This is what they had wanted.

But they were not finished. Three months after he was buried, they also buried one of their own beside him; an old man who had known no love throughout his life, and whose job was now to ensure that my father got no rest until the day of Judgment. They did not put any marks on his grave, though in our minds we had written the words that belonged there: “Herein lies a Wife-beater, Child-Molester, Thief, and Drunk.”

In 1981 when we buried my father I was 11 years old, and I knew the kind of people who had killed him, and the kind of witchcraft they had used. They were not the normal grudging, malicious ‘back-biters’ that we often spoke about, sometimes in hushed tones, sometimes openly. We all knew who those persons were and the petty acts of spitefulness that were their trade. We laughed at them, and jeered them, and sometimes cussed and scorned them in public to shame them for their petty-mindedness. They were irrelevant cockroaches that scampered away when enough light was shone on their deeds.

The people who killed my father were different. They were to be feared because they kept company with death. They never showed their faces, and never left the shadows. They would sometimes meet you on the streets after dark, or come to visit you in your house, but always wore a mask and strong perfume to camouflage the stench of their rotting souls.

They killed my father, my aunt told us, because we had too much life in us, and their spirits were already dead. We were building another room onto our house; my father had bought a bicycle for my brother and often came home with a large bag of groceries. We had a television – the only one in our neighborhood. We were on the waiting list for a telephone. My father’s business was doing well.

So they killed him.

In 1982 they started to come for my mother. She had gone back to work, started a little shop selling snacks, sodas, cigarettes and such, and it was doing well. She was still sending me to school and I was about to take exams.

She started getting sick often, started losing weight rapidly, started having dark and darker blotches beneath her eyes as the evil spirits they sent tormented her nights and kept her from sleeping. On the morning that she woke up in April and vomited a pile of insects and green phlegm, my aunts came and took her away for the day. I wasn’t allowed to see her the night she came back, nor the day after. Three of my aunts took turns staying with her inside the second room that she had completed building.

When I saw my mother again she looked different, brighter – not in cheerfulness but more as though she had a glow around her. She kissed me and told me everything would be fine. I remember this because of how unusual that act was in the tenement yard where we lived.

She started to read her bible often, and every morning and every evening she sprinkled oils and certain powders around our house from two bottles I could never find after she had used them. Whenever I came home from school and visited her at the shop I would see her sprinkle oils from another bottle that she would then tuck into her bosom where it hid alongside the handkerchief she used to wrap the cash she collected from her customers.

My mother remained healthy after that, and we continued to do fine, staying just outside the reaches of severe hardships and poverty. But we always knew that we were being watched from the shadows.

On Sunday July 4, 1982 I learnt that I had passed the Common Entrance Exams and would go to a good school. The news travelled far, to my aunts, uncles, and cousins in Toronto, London, Brooklyn, St. Mary, Portland; to my elementary school teachers who came to visit and congratulate me at home; to the local pastor who also came to visit (without his wife or young mistress); to my father’s spirit in the cemetery, giving him a rare moment of contentment and pride; and into the far reaches of the shadows. I would be the first to go to a good school. I would be the first to get out.

It didn’t take long for something to stir in the darkness. Months later some people said that they had known that something was going to happen because they smelled a kind of stench in certain places or heard a sound like the rattling of hollowed bones when they passed certain corners.

Something had moved, and the wait had begun.

Sometime in the second week of July my eldest aunt rushed to convey a message to my mother in the middle of the night. By the next day everyone had heard. The pestilence that walks at night was coming.

No one told me what was happening, and much of what I know I found out months and years later. But I knew we were all waiting.

The first strike was not long in coming. The morning of Tuesday, the thirteenth of July, was grey. Ominous clouds tormented the sun and gave cover to a vicious rain which fell hard and pounded shards of silver into the powerless ground. From the depths of the shadows that morning, they threw a harpoon right through the center of my heart. They killed Tommy.

I was a little older then, old enough to love, and I loved Tommy. He was my best friend. (Tommy’s story is told in Disposable People.)

His blood was dripping from the sides of their mouths, but their thirst was not yet quenched. That was only the beginning.

I was the chosen one; they wanted me.

Months later I learnt that one of them had gone to St. Thomas, and another somewhere on the South Coast to awaken spirits that no force of nature could stop. It was rumored that a baby’s grave was found dug out in St. Thomas, and the grave of an Indian woman in St. Elizabeth. Depending on which one reached me first, the Baby Duppy* or the Coolie (Indian) Duppy I would be dead in either a week or a month. If both arrived at the same time, I could be dead within a day.

My grandmother had no leaves that could protect me. There were no barks of any tree that had powers to stop what was coming. My mother’s love, while comforting, was not shielding. The spirit of my father may have been strong enough to guard against one of those evils, but not two, and certainly not the two most horrifying coming together. There might have been shelter inside a church, but I would have had to live there without ever leaving, because those evil spirits had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, and would wait for me at the gates, for however long it took.

I would be dead before the end of August. My mother knew, my aunts knew, everyone knew. No one told me exactly what was happening, but I sensed it; I sensed a darkness coming from afar, coming towards me, coming for me. I stayed close to my mother who didn’t go to work anymore, and who prayed much more than before.

I never learnt whose idea it was, but before July ended it was decided. We would not wait. There was an old man who had the powers to stop what was coming. The research had been done, all the elders had been consulted, my aunts abroad who still wore their charms of protection had called a neighbour’s house and spoken with my eldest aunt. It was decided. He was the most powerful, and the only one who could stop the two evil spirits that were coming from different directions and drawing closer. He lived in a small village about 3 miles from Vere in Clarendon. We could not wait another minute, we would go to him.

Note: * Jamaicans refer to ghosts or evil spirits as ‘duppies’.
I’m sitting here on my patio, thinking back on the early days and all the times and for all the reasons I was brought to see a Obeah man. Now I must go back to writing the second novel. Almost 3/4 way through!

The things I do when my wife’s away, or asleep

English: A pile of pillows.

English: A pile of pillows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She doesn’t read my blog, and unless someone tells her these things, she will not find out. She goes away every now and then, travelling to Jamaica or the US, and occasionally for a short weekend trip with some friends.

When she leaves I do things that I perhaps should be ashamed of, but I can’t honestly say that I am. I know none of the things I do ‘make me a man’, but I do them just the same.

When she’s away

If she has flown and gone far away, I wear a red boxer to see her off at the airport, and I wear red every day until she returns. I grew up with superstition, and still today I call on God and every force of nature to protect those that I love when they are away from me. And so I wear all my red boxers when she’s away, and wash them to wear again if she’s away for long.

Each morning while she’s away I look in the mirror, to see the life that God has given and the man that she has made. And I am thankful. So I knock on wood, once or twice, but never three times, as this is one of my secret cues to the universe, that I need its help to protect her.

I tell the kids stories about the woman I met, what she was like, and why I fell in love with her. When she’s around it’s hard to tell stories about her, so I use the moments when she’s away.

I sleep with her pillows beside me. There are six pillows on the bed, on an average night 4 are hers, and 2 mine. Sometime I will wake up and she has 5. When she’s away I bring her pillows closer so I can breathe in the scent of her, and feel her essence.

When she’s away I often pray. It is shameful that I turn to God mainly when I need something from Him, and I have often promised to do better. But now I mostly ask his protection for her, and when she returns safely to me I thank my God for his kindness and blessings.

When she’s asleep

I cuddle her. This she knows, because she often wakes up and catches me in the act. What she doesn’t know is what I tell her while she’s asleep.

I start by telling her that I love her, and that I am blessed to have her in my life.

I tell her that I am truly sorry for everything that I’ve ever done to hurt her, and that each hurt has hurt me more. I tell her that I remember the things I’ve done that she may have long forgotten. And that I will never do those things to her again.

I tell her that I want to grow old with her, holding hands in our rocking chairs, perhaps in our own house or in a clean, well-run golden age home where the attendants are kind, and the kids come to visit us often.

Typical Finnish wooden rocking chair.

Wooden rocking chair. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I tell her that I hope that I will die before her, because I couldn’t go on living if I lost her.

Sometimes I ask her why she loves Law and Order so much. But she doesn’t answer, because she is asleep.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I tell her how hard my day was, and how I looked forward to coming home to see her and the kids.

And before I fall asleep myself, I tell her, “I love you booboo, I honestly do. Goodnight my love.”

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