Growing Up Jamaican

In the Schoolyard

Through my second-floor bathroom window, I can see the neighbour’s puppy playing with coconut trash. Yes, coconut trash.

His kennel is by a coconut tree which drops dried leaves at his feet. He’s bouncing all over the place, butt flying up in the air, tail wagging, playing touch and go with the trash and frequently pausing to see if the trash will reciprocate his unbridled excitement.

He does this everyday, and his sprightliness never diminishes.

This sighting takes me back to prep school before the days of cell phones, tablets, iThis and iThat, when there was one TV station called JBC (Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation) which didn’t “sign on” until 6pm, and you had to be in bed by 8pm—no argument because is not you give birth to yuh mother.

I attended a Catholic, girls’ school.

Yup, wore a uniform which included a pleated skirt, butterfly-collar blouse, clip-on tie, buckle-up shoes and shin socks. We were dressed like little girls.

We wore bubbles, clips and ribbons in our hair, even if our hair was barely an inch off our scalps. We didn’t look like potentials for a Britney Spears’ video. No jewellery except for a wristwatch and pin-head-sized earrings. No makeup allowed. Not even lip balm. If your lips were dry, you licked them and kept licking them, as needed, until they cracked.

I remember the kindergärtners having their own special play area with monkey bars, seesaws, swing sets and other colourful, cartoony, spring-rider things. The big kids, on the other hand, had an empty yard. . .

Well, it wasn’t empty-empty. It had a tree, hedges and dirt. Not sand. Dirt. Because the grass died.

Hush. Dry your tears, my beautiful readers. Don’t be sad for the big kids. Don’t weep at what appears to be a paltry excuse for a playground. That playground wasn’t a barren field. It was a red-rover-cops-and-robbers-hopscotch-1-2-3-red-light-chasing-Chinese-jump-rope-double-dutch field.

Close your eyes and visualize with me for a moment.

On your left, there’s a bougainvillea hedge with bright pink blooms. It’s a cops-and-robbers precinct, complete with coves for “police” and “tief” to hide from and frighten each other. Imagine the screams, the yelps and demands to ‘don’t move!’ It’s more excitement than puppy’s dry coconut trash.

On your right, there’s a humongous banyan tree. Underneath it are concrete benches and tables. There are students having lunch, maybe a patty and a box juice, or cheese sandwiches and a thermos full of ice-cold Quench-Aid from home. Others are playing hopscotch, swinging on the banyan tree, flipping open notebooks to record and compare lyrics to the latest pop songs or practising dance moves for the next penny concert.

In the middle, straight ahead of you, is a vast field, tantamount to a stadium where teams square off in sporty challenges which involve tons of running, racing, chasing. . . and shrieking. The big kids are troopers, born to be wild, letting nothing—not even white uniforms—inhibit their performance. They’re wearing bloomers or track shorts under their skirts, so they’re moving with confidence.

A tiny stash of Jamaican-made sweets consisting of sweet and tangy tamarind balls, icy mint (i.e. peppermint candy and busta, a firm yet chewy coconut confection.
A tiny stash of Jamaican-made sweets consisting of tamarind balls, icy mint (i.e. peppermint candy) and busta, a firm yet chewy coconut confection.

Somewhere on the field (you pick the location), team selection is in progress. It’s serious business. All contenders are in a tight circle, each sticking one, dusty, brown-shoe-clad foot in the centre. Their heads are bowed to observe the leader make her selections.

Here's a close up. These sweets have been around for ages. I remember the days when shop and supermarket cashiers would give icy mint for change when they were short on coins.
Here’s a close up. These sweets have been around for ages. I remember the days when shop and supermarket cashiers would give icy mints instead of change when they were short on coins.

The team leader is stooping in the centre of this ring, probably sucking on an icy mint or a sweet and tangy tamarind ball and poking each person’s foot with an index finger.

Listen carefully. She’s counting. Can you hear her? What is she saying?

“. . . Mickey Mouse built a house. How many bricks did he use?”

Or is it:

“Eenie, meenie, miny, moe, catch a crab by the toe. If you ever let him go, eenie, meenie, miny, moe. And the king and queen said so. And out you may go. . . “

No, none of these? Which counting rhyme are you hearing in the distance? Share with us.

Catch yuh next time.

Peace and love.

Some notes you may find interesting:

1. Quench-Aid was a tart, powdered drink mix owned by Grace, Kennedy and Company Limited in the 1980s and available in many flavours.
2. Busta is made from shredded coconut, ginger, nutmeg, molasses, sugar and vanilla. After unwrapping, don’t forget to peel off the thin, white paper affixed to one side of the candy.
3. Tamarind balls are made from tamarind and sugar. They have seeds in the middle.



6 thoughts on “In the Schoolyard”

  1. I think busta is what we used to call bust-me-jaw… mys gosh, it could pull out a loose tooth, but we used to love it, along with fowl toe, another treat made with flour and spices to look like slim bread sticks, but hard like a rock. I can relate to all these posts, as I grew up with many of those memories. And oh god, don’t mention quench aid…I used to drink that stuff thinking it was nectar from the heavens. Little did I know….

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, this one doesn’t have coconut, but I remember it was just flour, water and spices. It was very hard to eat; bit like dog biscuits here. As children we loved it, but I wouldn’t eat it now 🙂


      2. Hmmm, I was wondering if it was jackass corn, but jackass corn has coconut. I shall add fowl toe to my list of things to go in search of. Bwoy, the names we give our food sah:-)


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