Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Sounds of New York

The city that reminds me most of Kingston is New York.

It is definitely not a size thing, although the State of New York is defined by The Big Apple in much the same way that Jamaica is defined by Kingston.

The similarity comes from the frenetic energy that emanates from both cities, and nowhere is this more evident in Kingston than in the amount of noise there is in the air.

As a child growing up in 1980, I remember going to bed each night to the sound of gunshots. Our political parties and the police were fighting with each other, each claiming to be protecting ''de people dem'' from the other 2 groups. Each and every night brought with it the sound of shots, which were quite scary to me as a young child... at first, but then just became something else to get used to once I got over the initial excitement.

This combination of noise, excitement and more than a hint of danger gives Kingston its very edgy feel -- as if something big is about to happen at any minute.

For example, after 1980 the ''gun salute'' became quite popular in parties in depressed communities. At the high point of parties, a gunman would add to the festivities by firing shots in the air -- much in the way that someone in another country might burst firecrackers (which we Jamaicans also love.) The effect was a positive one, as party-goers would echo the shot with their own sounds and gestures. This bit of onomatopoeia eventually made its way into countless dancehall songs and become a commonplace expression.

Since Moving Back to Jamaica I cannot say how many times I have heard gunshots... after all they may have been firecrackers or cars backfiring.

However, outside my apartment complex there was a bonafide shoot-out that resulted in the police killing a gunman. I happened to be abroad, but my wife was very much here for her first live shoot-out.

Recently, an enterprising businessman decided to add loud music to the offerings at his bar around the corner. The result has been a cacophony of loud music each weekend that is unintelligible, and unceasing, even as it appears that no-one is listening.

One the odd weekend night there is also the loud concert held at a couple venues around the area, with music blasting until the wee hours of the morning, to add to the general ambiance.

Each Sunday morning, however, starting from around 7:00am there is the reliable sound of a very, very loud church next door. The services apparently do not end until around 3:00pm it seems, and the pastor makes it quite easy to follow his sermon from about 200 meters away. The evening service caps off the daily assault on the senses, as we are forced to join his congregation against our wishes.

He has had an interesting schedule. A Wednesday night service of some kind breaks the mid-week silence. Other three day conferences, every-night for a week crusades and all-night services help to ensure that we never quite sure when we will once again become the "remote pew" of this church.

In a country in which calling the police to get a church to turn down the music is almost never successful, rumour has it that the residents of our complex met once with the pastor in an attempt to request that the sound levels be turned down. According to this rumour, he said something like "Why is it that people get to play their loud Carnival music??" (Afta people dem get to play dem Carnival music!)

In other words, he refused on the grounds that Carnival music is also loud. I guess as a Carnival-lover, I would have to choose to keep my one day a year of playing mas to balance out the 52 weeks a year of listening to his church.

Apart from the gunshots, dancehall music and church sermons, Kingston is filled with other sounds -- dogs barking, sirens wailing, roosters crowing, frogs warbling, lizards croaking, tires screeching, bad words cursing as people argue, loud laughing, helicopters chopping, cats screeching, horns talking at each other, crickets chirping, hydrant water gushing... and what else I can decipher over and above the traffic and the music from cars that just about never stops.

My wife lived in a northeast city on a busy intersection with a lot of traffic, and I remember trying hard to sleep over the sound of traffic less than 50ft away.

Here in Kingston, the sound is more interesting than just mere traffic, and for some reason, easier to sleep through.


At 6/28/2006 10:21 AM, Anonymous ian g said...

I think the city that reminds me the most of Kingston is Miami. Some argue (correctly IMHO) that Miami is the capital of the caribbean. The weather, the houses, the hustle & bustle, the corruption, and so much more make me think of Miami as Kingston 21.

At 6/30/2006 4:30 AM, Blogger fwade said...

Hmmm... good point. I never lived in Miami proper, so I missed out on that experience.


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