Ezekel Alan

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

Archive for the tag “Usain Bolt”

Cheating – in athletics, not relationships or politics

List of Major League Baseball players suspende...

At the end of my chain-smoking day, I put aside my weed, and I sometimes pray;

I say to the Lord, “I have never been gay, but I would like gays to be treated in a proper way.”

There are all kinds of things that come to my mind at the end of each day. These days my thoughts often turn to the Republican party in the US, and what could happen to American society if they were to come to power. I have heard some words and seen some deeds that have caused more than a small amount of consternation in me, a black man. I sometimes wonder what I would be thinking if I were a woman, or gay.

I read a New York Times article the other day that spoke of the dark (in deeds, not colour) road to the White House that some folks seem to be taking, and the devious means being pursued. (See article here.)

But that’s not what this blog today is about.

Neither is it about whether Jamaican men cheat in relationships, which is a subject that draws an awful lot of visitors to this website.

The question for today’s blog is ‘Do Jamaican men cheat in athletics?’

Or is it the question?

Carl Lewis rubbed me mighty wrong before, during and after the Olympics with his less than sincere concerns about the standards of drug testing in Jamaica, and his blatantly nasty insinuations about Usain Bolt’s performance. He wanted the world to take a good look at drug testing standards and facilities in our little, poor, backward, third world nation, because to him, it is unthinkable that we could produce athletes that could not only beat but humble his countrymen.

At the end of my chain-smoking day I started to reflect on the fact that no prominent Jamaican athlete has ever been tested positive for drugs in any international event. So, let us assume that we evaded detection at home, and made it to the world stage where drug-testing facilities are better. Nothing. (Not yet, and I hope not ever.)

The US, on the other hand, has had a long string of domestic and international drug-testing scandals. In fact, I don’t think there is any other country that has reported as many prominent cases of doping.

I found on the internet a list of the top ten sports figures whose careers have been tarnished by allegations or evidence of doping:

10. Shawne Merriman, NFL, San Diego Chargers – USA

9. Jose Canseco, MLB  – USA

8. Rafael Palmeiro, MLB – USA

7. Ben Johnson, Olympic Sprinter – Canada

6. Floyd Landis, American Cyclist – USA

5. Kostas Kenteris & Ekaterini Thanou, Olympians – Greece
4. Barry Bonds, MLB  – USA

3. Alex Rodriguez, MLB – USA

2. Marion Jones, Olympian – USA

1. Roger Clemens, MLB  – USA

(Read more at http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-sports-figures-steroids.php#oSZ8XXj5GYCp8svm.99)

Let’s forget about the unspoken suspicions around a whole generation of runners in the Flo Jo era, and get to BALCO, Marion Jones and a sub-industry producing drugged up athletes. Should we then move to Barry Bonds?

English: Marion Jones - September 30th, 2000 a...

Marion Jones – September 30th, 2000 at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, let us instead look at this Lance Armstrong case – which is interesting for the fact that we are not talking about one person, but a whole network of cyclists who are confessing to the fact that there was some kind of ‘operation’ going on.

I don’t know if Lance is guilty or innocent, and a part of me wants him to be innocent, partly because I want to believe there is some good in us, but mostly because of his fight with cancer, and the fact that I hate to see someone’s reputation and life ruined and destroyed without solid evidence.

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...

Cyclist Lance Armstrong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I find also really interesting is that the great World Anti-Doping Agency and the US anti-doping bodies could have been testing this man for over 7 years and now need to rely on witnesses to testify that he was taking drugs. I really wonder what Carl Lewis and the whole lot of them have to contribute to this issue of the caliber of these first world drug testing bodies.


The worst moment for the US in the 2012 Olympics?

I believe that the men’s 4×100 meters track race might have provided the US athletes with their worst moment in the 2012 Olympics. Let me tell you why.

What it meant

  • Jamaica had won the men and women’s 100 meter races, which are seen as the top athletic events at the Olympics. While Jamaica also swept the men’s 200 meter event, the USA took two of the medals, including gold, in the women’s 200 meters race. This placed the advantage in Jamaica’s court.
  • But the US stormed back by winning the women’s 4×400 in dominating style, and also took the 4×100 in a similar but world record-setting manner.
  • At this point, the bragging rights were approaching even because the US now had one of the only two World Records at the meet, and also had the only athlete with 3 gold medals – Alison Felix. They had also blown away our girls in the 4×100 and 4×400.
  • The 4×100 men was therefore a pivotal race, not only in terms of deciding bragging rights re the number of important track events won, but also in determining if Bolt would join Felix with 3 golds (if not Felix would take bragging rights given that she also had a world record). Then there is also the special significance of the 4×100 as the highly prestigious closing track event of the Olympics. The last race that people would remember. The 4×100 mattered, and quite a lot.
  • The fact that Jamaica won, Bolt got a third gold and a World Record, not only made Bolt the single most celebrated track athlete at the Olympics, but also gave Jamaica a decisive hold on the claim of being the most dominant country in the track events. But this isn’t all that makes that race so difficult for the US.

Bragging rights

After this victory, no one would speak of Felix being the dominant track athlete

How it happened

  • The defeat was made fifty times worse for the US because of how it was done. The US had an excellent game plan – start off extremely strong, execute baton change well, and give Bailey a lead to try to hold off Bolt. This lead was to come from Gatlin and Gaye.
  • Gaye was therefore a crucial part of the US strategy. Gaye, perhaps the most talented US athlete never to have won an Olympic medal, was hungry for that prize. He said it many times before the games. Having failed in the 100m final, this was his last opportunity for gold. The race mattered significantly, and his role in it was crucial. His job was to give Bailey a lead that he could use to fight off Bolt, give Gaye his gold, and swing the bragging rights pendulum firmly back to the US.
  • Gaye got the baton first and took off around the corner. I believe the single worst moment of his life, and for the US athletics team in London, is when he saw the gold jersey of the Jamaican Beast, Yohan Blake, pull up comfortably beside him. I cannot imagine anything more demotivating that the certainty of knowing that with Bolt about to receive the baton at the same time as Bailey any remote opportunity for an American gold medal had then completely vanished.

Is Usain Bolt the greatest athlete of all time?

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record ...

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record in the 100m at the bird’s nest, during 2008 Beijing olympics, august 16th (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since his famous and electrifying victory in the London Olympics 200 meters race and his comment that he’s the greatest athlete ever, Usain Bolt has stirred up considerable debate in the media and across social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

After the race Bolt also made the comment that he’s now a living legend. He said it without caramel, honey or sugar-coating, and as a result his comment hasn’t gone down well with many folks who seem to be choking on it.

The first quick reaction came from a familiar source, IOC chairman Jacques Rogge, who was less critical than in 2008 but equally clear in his views – not so fast young man, he says, you have to prove yourself over a career and not only over two Olympics. Rogge was quoted as saying, “The career of Usain Bolt has to be judged when he has retired,”  noting that Carl Lewis amassed medals over 4 Olympics and therefore has a greater claim to the title of being greatest.

Jacques Rogge

Jacques Rogge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carl Lewis, for his part, has commented that Bolt’s times were essentially nothing special. His views were echoed in some parts of American media, where commentators have been saying that because timing equipment were not that good in bygone decades, then no one knows how fast people have run before. Lewis has, on more than one occasion, also hinted at the possibility of drugs being the reason for Bolt’s exceptional performances. Other commentators online have said that as soon as Bolt’s world records are broken then Bolt will be forgotten.

While others have gone even further to say that Bolt may be the best Sprinter but he’s not the best Athlete, often citing Michael Phelps and his 18 gold medals as another candidate for the title ‘best athlete’.

These are those who have been choking on Bolt’s comments. On the other side of the fence we have not only Bolt and thousands of Jamaicans, but people such as Lord Sebastian Coe, who have said that what Bolt has done in pulling off back to back Olympic victories in both the 100 and 200 meter events makes him a legend. (See Coe’s comments here.)

What should we consider to be the truth? First, let us say that as a general rule athletes should let the world be their judge rather than try to be the judge of their own greatness. I don’t think it was necessary for Bolt to make those comments about himself, and would agree that it was lacking in taste and good judgement.

Second, we can also safely say that Carl Lewis, as always, appears to hate the fact that the world’s attention is centered on someone other than himself. He was a great athlete but has never been truly likeable to the rest of the world, and we can see why again. All his statements hinting at drugs point to Jamaica – yet he was never the one to make allegations against Marion Jones, Flo Jo, or any American sprinter. There is nothing honourable in his comments, they are inspired by petty malicious jealousies, and should be seen for what they are.

Carl Lewis at the "green carpet" for...

Carl Lewis (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Likeable?

These aside, we should also recognise that:

  •  We view excellence from the perspective of the point in time in which we live

As human beings we tend to bestow the title “greatest ever” on those athletes that live in our own time. This is why, for instance, if you do a casual browse of different websites which rate best footballers of all time, the greats of years gone by tend to fade in the lists, and get replaced by the Lionel Messis and Zidanes etc. It is simply harder for someone who knows little about Eusebio (Portugal, 1957-79) to see him as a better football player than Messi who they might have watched play, without even looking at goal scoring stats. This is also why just about every decade the lists of the 7 Wonders of the World change and bring in more contemporary Wonders.  We give a value of 100 to our time, and we undervalue both the past and the future. This is simply how humans are conditioned to behave.

  • We view excellence based on our connection with the personality

It is also likely that we will see the “best player’ as someone we can relate to, as opposed to someone we find arrogant and offensive. Here I am not even making a comparison between Carl Lewis and Bolt, but rather a general observation. Cristian Ronaldo is a magnificent footballer, and scores as many goals as Messi, but Messi gets rated above him on virtually all lists of the best. People simply like Messi more, and almost all judgements made about who is ‘the best’ are subjective and based on a majority perspective.

  • We view excellence based on our connection with the sport

Then there is also our connection with the sport and its universal appeal. There are no doubt amazing athletes in baseball, cricket, swimming (Phelps, etc), but these sports do not have the appeal of football or of the 100 meters track and field race. Few people in the world will care about or know who broke what baseball record, or the 50m butterfly. Even if we read about it, it simply does not stick in our collective memory.

What does this all tell us? Simply, that this is Bolt’s moment, his time; that the world likes him an awful lot more than either Phelps, or Lewis; and millions of people regard the 100 and 200 meter Olympic finals as the pinnacle athletic events. He is therefore being celebrated for being a great athlete of our time, and possibly longer. His memories will fade in time, make no mistake about it, for this is the fate of all great athletes.  But for those of us who have lived to see him, whether on t.v. or in person, there is no doubt in our minds that he’s something extraordinary.

What makes Usain Bolt and black athletes so good in the sprints?

Jesse Owens shook racial stereotypes both with...

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do black athletes dominate the sprint events?

A few weeks ago there was quite some controversy over this issue because of a comment made by American athlete, Michael Johnson, that black athletes dominate the sprint events because of something in their genes.

It was not a very politically correct thing to say, but more than a few people thought that there was something interesting in the comment. First, there is no doubt that blacks – Black Americans, Jamaicans and other blacks from the Caribbean etc – have held dominance over the sprint events for decades. Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Usain Bolt, Linford Christie, Donovan Bailey, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Gail Devers, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Veronica Campbell, etc – all blacks. What about the current top athletes for the 100m and 200m events in London? Almost all black – look at the lineup for the 100m men’s final as an example. (If you don’t recall the runners, the photo below should help. By the way, the 8th athlete who isn’t in the photo, is Asafa Powell, Jamaican and black.)

The color of the sprint gene?

The comment that Johnson made was this, “Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me. I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”

His argument, and the argument made by others like him, including various scientists, is:

  1. the strongest slaves were selected from Africa and shipped to the New World,
  2. only the very strongest survived the deadly Middle Passage (the journey across the Atlantic in the slave ships.)
  3. many slave owners participated in ‘selective’ slave breeding to ensure that stronger slaves were created
  4. only the strongest slaves survived the terrible conditions of life on the sugar and cotton plantations.

Essentially, the argument touches on Darwinism  – survival of the fittest.

Other commentators have also commented on whether there is something in the Jamaican diet and so forth, but these arguments are more spurious and not worth further exploration. Not every black athlete who has won the Olympic 100m has eaten yam.

So, as I was saying, there is a certain allure to this line of reasoning. One of its failings, however, is that it doesn’t help us to understand whether only West African slaves had the ‘speed genes’ as opposed to, let us say, East African slaves. The East African countries have been dominant in middle and long distance races, but you don’t see Ethiopians or Kenyans in the 100 and 200 meters events. They are unbeatable in just about everything else. This is part of our first puzzle.

The other puzzle is why blacks from America and the Caribbean dominate the sprints, as opposed to blacks from Canada, Britain, Germany, South Africa, St. Vincent, Barbados, Nigeria, Uganda, or elsewhere. This is not easy to explain by simply looking at genes and which slaves went to which countries.

I also don’t know that the Chinese are inherently better at table tennis, badminton, gymnastics and diving, or that Europeans are inherently better at cycling.

Here is I believe:

I believe that certain sports are in the national psyche of a country – the country takes pride in it, and tons of youngsters grow up aspiring to be the best at it. It could be because it represents a way out of poverty for many, or because it is deeply embedded in the very way of life of the people (like football for Brazil and the 100m and 200m sprints for Jamaica). For us, the entire country watches not only at Olympics but at Boys and Girls Championship events, Primary School Championships, National Trials, etc.  Oftentimes Chinese gymnast leave their families and normal schools at a young age to train for the Olympics, because this is somehow an event of national pride. It is the same for us, there is a national movement supporting our young sprinters and relay runners.

I don’t know what the original trigger was that led certain countries to identify with certain sports, but I think when it becomes a part of the national culture and psyche,  it creates a passion to win that leads to excellence. Perhaps when you combine some genetic predispositions with this national hunger and passion and tireless training, you have a formula that leads athletes from certain countries to shine in selected events.

By the way, with regards to Usain Bolt, my humble opinion is that once every fifty or a hundred years an athlete is born who is simply unnaturally gifted. He is not only a legend, but a unique human being with unnatural abilities. He confesses, for instance, that he trains less than his big rival, Yohan Blake who also, arguably, seemed to have had a greater hunger for gold. Yet Bolt, once again, stepped far ahead of the field.

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record ...

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record in the 100m at the bird’s nest, during 2008 Beijing olympics, august 16th (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d love to know your thoughts.

We are the people of legends – Usain Bolt Strikes Again!

Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser – worth their weight in gold


There is no better Independence Day gift Jamaicans could have asked for than this – Shelly-Ann Fraser and Veronica destroying the field in the women’s 100m sprint, and Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake taking home gold and silver in the men’s 100 m.

Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, but both Bolt and Shelly-Ann came back to the Olympics stage and repeated the remarkable feat of retaining their 100 m titles. Moreover, Bolt set Olympic records on both occasions! Not only has he been able to convincingly demonstrate that he is the fastest man alive, but he has now confirmed his status as a legend and a fighter. Many persons, including yours truly, had doubts about his fitness and focus leading up the big event. But he proved that he had the spirit of a fighter in him! Beaten by Blake in both the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican national trials, we all worried that he might not have been at the peak of his performance. But he clearly went into serious training, locking himself away from the limelight and distractions of the media, and focusing on his game.  And what a Bolt it was that turned up for the show! Relaxed, confident, powerful – he got a decent start and by the 50m mark it was clear that he could not be beaten because he was level with the rest of the field and beginning to open up those famous 2 meter strides. This was certainly the most memorable 100m race I have ever seen – it was simply breathtaking!

From the videos I saw of Half Way Tree Road after the event, the impact of this victory on Jamaica is inestimable. It comes just in time for our Independence Celebrations. It comes with gold and silver. And it comes with a comprehensive whipping of our great 100m rivals, the Americans.

This matters so much to us as a people – Jamaica, the biggest small island. In spite of all our hardships, to see our athletes, men and women, go on a world stage, in the home of our former colonizer, and side-by-side with another giant super-power, and completely dominate. This is more than pride. This is what makes us Jamaicans – the knowledge that our size doesn’t matter, we are as good as or better than anyone from any other country. And it is not only in athletics – Jamaicans stand tall in virtually all fields of human endeavor. We are a special people, we are a proud people, we are the people from which legends are made! Bob Marley and Usain Bolt will forever be seen as two of the greatest legends of this century.

Marley performing at Dalymount Park

Bob Marley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jamaica – the tiny olympic sprint machine

Like all Jamaicans, I’ve also been glued to my television screen since the athletics part of the Olympics start. It’s not that I don’t watch the other events, but there is a special place in my heart for Athletics. Part of the problem is that I can’t watch badminton for 10 straight days, I feel something is wrong with that (when oh when will this constant badminton end?) I also feel that certain sports that already have globally prestigious championships shouldn’t be in the Olympics – I include in this list Football. What more does anyone need than the World Cup? I am happy for Serena Williams, but do we really need two Wimbledon finals almost back to back? And must we have the Tour de France and then watch almost the same riders hustling along another 240 kilometers of lush green countryside 1 week later?

The trampoline looks like it requires athleticism, but I get giddy if I try to watch all that spinning and turning for long. I am constantly expecting one of the athletes to go dizzy and faint or puke.

Beach football also seems to me something you play with friends and then drink beer and party after. I just can’t think of it as an Olympic sport. Worse Handball – it’s as though someone said, “since we have foot-ball we can have hand-ball,” and so it was. It all strikes me as a waste of time.

But that could just be because I am Jamaican as I said before, and I love to watch people running. There is something very exciting about this –  almost like bringing me back to my childhood watching cow thieves running from farmers, or gun-men running from police.

Our athletes have gotten off to an excellent start – Shelly-Ann taking gold in the 100m women, and Veronica coming in with the bronze. Like all true Jamaicans I want more. I am far from content with being a tiny island winning gold and bronze at the big Olympics. I want much more! Call it greed, call it ungratefulness, but my belly is not yet full.

Tonight the big men step out onto the track – Bolt, Blake, Powell. A part of me doesn’t care which of them wins as long as one of them wins, but a part of me is behind Bolt. Last night’s 1-3 results board didn’t look bad, but tonight I am hoping to see 1-2-3. Our women have done it before…

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.


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!



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.

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.

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