The airport doors opened. Perhaps it was instinct that made us turn around; a sense that humans bearing similar DNA were drawing nigh. Praise the Lord, our ride was here, walking towards us, hands flailing, voices raised with pure excitement, asking us where we’d been.
“Out here for the past . . . ” I checked my watch. “. . . hour, maybe.”
But why were they coming from inside the airport?
“How yuh get inside the airport? Yuh did pass wi?” I asked.
“No! From the plane land, we in there looking for you how long!” they answered.
Anyway, moving right along . . .
So like the persons we’d seen earlier embracing loved ones, loading luggage into cars and driving off into the sunset, we too hugged our loved ones, hoisted our bag and pan into the car and headed off into the night.
The beauty about staying with family is that you feel right at home in an unfamiliar place, very quickly. You also get to spend time with a bunch of people who look like you and have eerily similar traits and quirks.
Another beauty about staying with my family is that they are Jamaican to the bone. Doesn’t matter that they’ve been living in foreign for decades. Their accents are the same. You get a little patois weaved into the English. You get a little of the American diet mixed in with the Jamaican. You can have bacon and eggs for breakfast or you can have callaloo and boiled green bananas. You can have burgers and barbecue wings for dinner or you can have fried fish–with the head still on.
Some of my fellow Jamaicans will be shocked to know that I’m somewhat (not fully, only somewhat) squeamish when it comes to eating fish heads. I’ll eat my way up to the “neck” part and even to the crown of the head where there’s a tiny bit of flesh. But don’t be expecting me to chew on any eyeballs or crunch up any teeth.
. . . I can hear the entire Caribbean gasping and exclaiming, “But a di bess paat a di fish dat, maaan!!”
One of the things I found heartwarming about being in this particular Florida locale was the people. As I did my shopping and other touristy activities, I met both natural-born Americans and immigrants. As a matter of fact, I made it my duty to question anyone with an unusual or recognizably “island” accent about their birthplace.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that people love talking about where they’re from, especially when they’re in a foreign country.
For example, there was the Moroccan cashier at the Florida Mall. A handsome fellow. Very chatty and jovial. He was thrilled that I knew where Morocco was. I felt very brilliant.
Then there was the Walmart sales attendant who I called on to help with a purchase. Turns out she was Guyanese and living in the same neighborhood in which we were staying. Maybe it’s a Caribbean-kinship thing, but I found myself rooting for her and genuinely hoping for her success as she shared details of her US experience.
The cashier handling my purchases at the same Walmart was from US Virgin Islands, a place I have on my wish list of countries to visit. Of course, telling me how much she missed the beautiful beaches and atmosphere in her home town made me want to book a ticket–forthwith–if money weren’t in limited supply.
Funny enough, my first novel (the one I’m tweaking now) has two characters from Guyana, and my second novel (which, as at today, is still unfinished) is partly based in US Virgin Islands. Was that a coincidence or what??!!! I’ve never visited either country. So, maybe, this was a sign. Any readers from the US Virgin Islands out deh? One day a comin’!!
One of my American-born cousins, who I’m sure was Jamaican in another life (and she has the patois to prove it), took us to the Chinese Market one Saturday. Now, remember, in Jamaica, we used to dat kinda ting. But seeing it in foreign was quite fascinating. They had all things Chinese. But the shocker was the stand with the massive jackfruits.
We also went to the Caribbean Supermarket. They had typical West Indian fare. Ginger sweetie, plantain, jelly coconut, you name it, they had it.
Then we stopped at Golden Krust. They had patties, coco bread, spice bun, fruit cake, gizzada, ginger beer, cook food and plenty other things. I wasn’t hungry-hungry. I was actually saving room for the curry-chicken dinner I was expecting later. But I had to sample the beef patty. I had to find out how it matched up to a Tastee or a Juici Beef.
I did this for you, my Jamaican friends who’ve never eaten a foreign, Jamaican patty.
And I did this for you, my non-Jamaican friends who want to know if this particular brand of Jamaican patty that you’ve been eating in foreign is the real deal.
So, I ordered the spicy beef (as opposed to the mild beef). The crust was thicker than what I’m used to, but it didn’t detract from the filling. The filling was nicely seasoned, and the pepper made its presence felt. The whole patty was flavourful. I gave it a passing grade.
But I can hear some of you lamenting ’bout how mi go foreign and eat so-so Jamaican food.
In our neighborhood, we did do lunch at a Chinese, all-you-can-eat buffet. We almost had to roll each other out of there because the buffet was bountiful and luscious. And for a fair price, I hasten to add. (Can we have one of these in Jamaica please, specifically Ochi?)
We also visited Tibby’s. If you’ve never heard of Tibby’s, let me enlighten you.
First of all, I have to mention how perky and welcoming the greeters at the entrance were. And the servers made us feel right at home as well. The restaurant’s decor was funky. It had art on every inch of the walls, including a couple portraits of Satchmo, i.e. Louis Armstrong, with his trumpet in hand.
Tibby’s is a taste of New Orleans and has a menu bursting with staples from its traditional cuisine. They had gumbo. They had shrimp and grits. They had red beans and rice. They had blackened chicken and grit cakes. They had yummy beignets. And they had gator.
Now people, as Jamaicans, we’ll do gumbo, we’ll do grits, we’ll do chicken–any style, any day of the week.
But gator? No chilus, we don’t do gator. Alligators are what we glimpse in swamps and rivers and run from. So when our cousin highly recommended the gator, we boxed down dat idea–flat-flat.
But then I thought of you, my US readers. How could I visit your land and not try your gator? So we beat our chests, yodelled like Tarzan (actually, we didn’t) and sampled the shrimp-and-alligator cheesecake.
To the curious among you who’ve never tried gator, it tastes like chicken.
As I wrap up this final post on my Orlando visit, I’m thinking that there’s so much more I could tell you. Like how amusing it was to hear reggae music at Seaworld. Twas a pleasant surprise indeed.
I could tell you about the shopping and the great deals (in the non-tourist areas, ahem) and the never-ending challenge of figuring out the US coins and trying to separate them from my Jamaican coins at the cashier. But the cashiers were helpful and courteous.
I could also tell you about the Orlando heat and how it’s different from Jamaican heat because it feels like you’re going to combust internally if you stand outside too long. Thank God for the intermittent rain. And, trust me, I rate drivers who can navigate that “white” rain because it almost completely obscures your view when it comes tearing down suddenly.
And, lastly, I could tell you about my long overdue visit to President Obama and the . . .
(. . . sorry, what is that yuh saying?)
Of course, I visited President Obama!
Answered his phone too.
While he was posing for paparazzi.
At Madame Tussaud’s place😊.
He had a great smile an’ ting. But was a likkle stiff–if you ask me.
A big thanks to all my family and friends-those who travelled with me from JA and those whom we spent time with in Orlando.
Catch yuh next time!
Love and peace.