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<—Olga, Nursing & a Declaration of War

Olga’s Diary (Continued) 

Life goes on:   A strange thing happened this morning, a gentleman called out.

 “Nurse”

It took a few moments before I realized he meant me.  It was a bit of a shock, but a very pleasant one. 

Sister Tutor says even in wartime there has to be a routine in hospital.  The day always starts the same with Sister re-arranging the flowers and potted plants which had been taken out of the ward the night before and put in the sluice room because Matron says they give off poisonous carbon monoxide during the night.  It’s a hospital superstition, too, that no lilies are allowed in the wards because they’re considered to be unlucky and you never have red and white flowers in the same vase either because that means death.

 I have to clean each marble-topped locker next to the patient’s bed and wipe out the fruit bowl that stands on it.   Then the beds are pulled away from the wall for a maid to sweep the floor and which Matron likes highly polished, which is fine if you are wearing rubber sole shoes, but for the patients wearing slippers it can be a difficult.

 I was helping an old man to the toilet yesterday morning and he was fairly steady on his feet to start with, but suddenly he slipped, lost his balance and ended up on his bottom and me with him.   The other patients had a good laugh at our expense and I thought it was funny too, but Sister Tutor was furious with me.

Everything and everyone has to be neat and tidy ready for Matron’s mid morning inspection.  The staff, including the doctors, have to line up in a row and woe betide us if the ward isn’t up to Matron’s standard.  She expects us to know all the patient’s names and their medical condition.

When war was first declared I was frightened, especially because normal every day things changed.  The cinema and theatres closed, and that upset me, because I’m crazy about films and I used to go every week with Joanne, but now we have to find other forms of entertainment.

 Moores discovered a pub near the hospital and she and some of the other student nurses go there quite a bit, but I don’t drink, so I haven’t been there yet.    Moores and I are working on the same ward at the moment, which is fun, and when we’re doing beds together we get the chance to talk and I hear all about what happened  in the pub the night before.

This morning we were changing the bottom sheet of a bed, with the patient still in it, and Moores was telling me about this Canadian soldier who said he can get her some French champagne and silk stockings.  Each time we moved the patient he broke a little wind and at first we ignored him and carried on chatting, but then he did it again and we started to laugh and couldn’t stop and what’s more neither could the patient, which made him break wind louder and more often and then all the other patients joined in and they didn’t even know what they were laughing about. 

But it was a wonderful moment especially as there was no one around to tell us off.   You need little moments like that because it helps to take away the tension and worry for a little bit, and it’s amazing how much better you feel afterwards.  

Moores is such fun, you know, she says to me

 “Olga, eat life or life eats you”. 

So I’ve decided to have some fun and go out with her tonight, but I won’t tell Joanne because she thinks Moores is a bad influence on me.  Joanne says the first year examination is not easy and I should be studying hard for it. 

 

 The Rose Public House:   I’ve never been inside a public house before but, apart from being very smoky, it was really quite nice.  Moores always finds someone to talk to but I was happy to sit quietly drinking my ginger beer.  For the first time since the war started I felt safe there, perhaps, because it’s used by soldiers and watching people enjoy themselves, laughing and having a good time, makes you forget about how worried you are about the war and exams.

I never go out on my own at night because it’s so dark with all the street lights turned off, but at least the lamp posts are painted white so we don’t bump into them and the edges of the pavements have been painted white too.   Moores, Ethel and I each carry a little torch which we have to shine downwards onto the pavement.  But we had a nasty shock on the way home from a night out.

We were passing a doorway when Ethel let out a  scream.  We looked up and there was a woman’s face lit up in the doorway.  She had a little torch pinned to her coat so that the light shone on her face and she was wearing a fox fur around her neck.   The  fox’s eyes were glinting in the light, its tiny teeth bared in a snarl and it had little paws and a bushy tail that hung loose.   I’m not surprised Ethel screamed, it was a frightening sight.  Moores said the woman was a prostitute waiting for clients.   Moores knows about everything, you know.

 

We’re being blitzed:   It has been difficult for me to write because we have been so busy in the hospital and to be truthful I haven’t felt like it. 

Everything has changed.  

Germany’s planes have been dropping bombs on London day and night and the devastation is awful.  Hundreds of people have been killed, thousands injured and hundreds of thousands are without homes.  The bombing raids can last for hours without any let up.  But, most of all I dread it when the Germans bomb at night, which they do frequently. Every part of London is being bombed including here in Camberwell. 

A landmine exploded nearby and several homes were blown up, many of  the casualties were brought here.  There seem to be fires burning somewhere in London day and night.  Other cities are being bombed as well but the Germans certainly seem determined to destroy London. 

I start to shake when I hear the air raid siren sound and even when the all clear is given I’m too frightened to go out.  I’ve been keeping away from Moores and Ethel, using study as an excuse to stay in, because I don’t want them to think I’m a coward, but I’m ashamed of myself too, because the people who are homeless and have lost everything still have their fighting spirit and say they won’t be beaten by Germany.   

Joanne came to see me at St Giles during a break between bombings and made me go for a long walk with her.  I felt much better afterwards, especially, when she told me that she was afraid too.

“Olga, we must do our job and put our trust in God” she said. 

We talked about our families and wondered if they knew how bad things were here in London.  The letters Joanne receives are heavily censored too and so we think the ones we write home are as well.  It’s heartbreaking; I’m desperate to receive news from Mammie and the family and when I do get a letter, line after line has been crossed out with black ink so I’m left with hardly anything to read.  And you feel as if someone is spying on you.  The censors know more about what’s going on with my family than I do.

Joanne says “We should be grateful, at least they open the letters carefully and don’t tear them.” 

  Any day now Joanne’s waiting to hear if she’s passed her final exam so that when the war’s over she can fulfil her dream and go back to Jamaica a qualified nurse.

“And, if you study hard Olga, so will you”

“Who knows, maybe we can work together in Jamaica”. she said

 I’ll tell you something Dear Diary, I struck gold when she sat down beside me that day in Regents Park. 

 

<—Olga, Nursing & a Declaration of War

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<—A Change of Plan for Olga                     Sydney Comes to London 1939 —>

My Great Aunt Martha was the oldest and not at all like her sisters, Becky and Lucy, either in temperament or looks. She was a short, stout woman with a badly pockmarked face – apparently the result of chicken pox. Every now and again nature produces an offspring that bears little resemblance to either its parents or siblings, well by all accounts, that was Martha Ross.  My mother, Olga,  told that in the early part of the 1930s Aunt Martha worked as a seamstress at the Drury Lane Theatre in London.  Mum told me many times, she didn’t like her Aunt Martha.

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

 

Dear Diary

The wicked witch:  Aunt Martha (AM) being horrible. Very bad tempered.  There are two versions of her, the English version in Paddington (the true one) and the Jamaican version, when she’s with Mammie in Kingston  (the false one). She still says I’m eating too much and I have to eat less even though I’ve given her nearly all of my money and I don’t think I have enough to last until Sydney comes.   

She says I have to pay my way so I must clean the flat and do her washing and ironing.  Now she’s treating me like a servant. 

“You might as well wash and iron Mr Kitchen’s clothes the same time you do mine” she said.

“I’ll do your chores, because I have the time, but I’m not doing his and if you insist then I’ll write to Mammie and Sydney and tell them what you’re asking me to do” I threatened.   

 “There’s no need for that, Olga, just do mine”.  

Good job done, Olga, a small  victory and very nice it feels too. Mr Kitchen is AM’s latest “gentleman friend” and the pair of them go out drinking nearly every night.  They always come home drunk and Mr Kitchen usually stays overnight (in AM’s bedroom!) and I hear him creeping out of the front door early in the morning.  Mammie and Sydney would be shocked if they knew. 

AM says they’re engaged to be married, but I don’t think Mr Kitchen knows that. 

Wonder what the neighbours think? 

AM is cruel when she’s been drinking.  Told me that I would never get a husband.

 “No man would find someone as plain and boring as you, Olga, attractive. Where were you when God was handing out the looks”. She’s not a very nice person, you know. I know I’m not as pretty as my sisters, but Mammie says I have other qualities which are more important than looks. 

Should have said to her “where were you when God was handing out the looks”.  But that would have been unkind too and, anyway, after hearing her give Mr Kitchen a good few slaps with the frying pan the other evening, I stay in my room now when she’s been drinking. 

AM had chicken pox when she was a child and to stop her picking at the sores on her face her parents bandaged her hands.  But AM still managed to pick them and as a result her face is badly pockmarked.  She was teased a lot at school by the other children because of it and Aunt Lucy says that contributed to AM’s “effortless transition from bad tempered child to a cantankerous, mean spirited woman”.  Had to look up in the dictionary what cantankerous meant and Aunt Lucy’s got it dead right.  AM’s bad tempered and unreasonable.

To keep out of her way I spend a lot of time wandering around London and one day I was walking along Baker Street when this car hooted and when I turned round to see who it was, it was Roy McKenzie from Jamaica.   I couldn’t believe it, in fact, I didn’t even know he was in London

I immediately remembered that day when I was hanging from a tree by my knickers and felt embarrassed when we said hello, even though Aunt Lucy and Mammie had got me down from the tree before he saw me. 

 “Olga, look at you, you look good, how nice to see you”.  He seemed really pleased to see me,

He told me to hop in the car and he took me for a lovely drive around London.  He asked me what I was doing in London and how long I was staying.  I told him about the dance school and what I’d been doing since I arrived and he told me he ran a gambling and drinking club in London called the Frivolity.  He knew I had a good singing voice and asked me to come down and sing at his club now and again.  Because I had no money I was tempted.  Maybe I’ll pop down one evening I thought to myself, it might be fun.

I asked him if he thought there was going to be a war with Germany and he said he hoped not because it could be bad for his business.

He stopped the car round the corner from Chilworth Street and wrote down the address of the Frivolty on a piece of paper and handed it to me. 

He asked me how things were going with Aunt Martha and I just shrugged my shoulders.  He took out his wallet, which, by the way, was full of money, and took out one of the notes in it.

“Here, take this, but don’t tell Aunt Martha you’ve got it or she’ll talk you into giving it to her and, definitely, don’t tell her that you’ve seen me.  I’ve seen her operating in the Den of Iniquity and I don’t want her in my club.”  I looked in my hand and there was a lovely big white £5 note.  I hugged him.  I told him Sydney would be over soon and would repay him.  

“Remember, Olga, anytime you want to earn some money singing, you know where I am now”. And then he was gone.   I had such a lovely afternoon with Roy, but most of all it was comforting to know there was someone who would help me if I needed it.

 <—A Change of Plan for Olga                       Sydney Comes to London 1939 —>

 

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<—- Sydney Shoots a Burglar                 Christmas in Jamaica with John Canoe —->

 

1938 was a very diffcult and dangerous time for the Browney family living in Kingston.  In May of that year workers all over Jamaica went on strike and the unemployed joined them marching and demonstrations.  The banana trade had declined drastically and unemployment was high, there was only occasional work, bad nutrition, poor housing, very little health service and a high cost of living.

The strikes started with the men working on the Kingston docks striking for better wages and the unemployed joined the strike demanding work.  It was a brutal time with strikers and demonstrators being imprisoned or beaten to death. 

In that year, Mammie (my grandmother Becky) made a decision regarding her daughter Olga (my mother) that was to have far reaching consequences for Olga that no one could have foreseen and changed her life irrevocably.

 

 

Family Tree

Click to Enlarge Image

Mammie’s (Becky) Diary

Today started with some astonishing news in the newspaper.  Several passengers on the train from Kingston to Montego Bay were seriously injured and taken to hospital when the train they were travelling on derailed at high speed.  A trackman, who witnessed the accident, said the train was going very fast, so much so that he said to the rail man next to him “that the train is moving as fast as an aeroplane.” 

Passengers reported that they had to hold on to something when the train went round bends because it was going so fast and the carriages were wobbling badly. 

What made this news so startling to me was that Olga should have been travelling on that train.  She had wanted to spend the weekend with Cissie and Dyke but because of the riots in Kingston she didn’t want to leave me and her sisters alone, even though Boysie had promised to look in on us from time to time, assuming, of course, he could get through the mobs uninjured himself.   So she didn’t make the journey.  Olga has a guardian angel, I’m sure of it. 

Strikes and Demonstrations:   The rest of the news is still very bad.  Industry is in decline and conditions are terrible.  Unemployment is high, there is irregular work, wages are low, and there is poor housing, poor nutrition and a high cost of living.  This, of course, only applies to the blacks.  We middle and the white upper classes still manage to live quite well. 

There is rioting on the streets of Kingston and I have forbidden the girls to go outside unless they are accompanied by Boysie. 

No cargo has been unloaded from the ships in the harbour for days.  The dock workers in Kingston and the sugar workers in Westmoreland and Clarendon have all gone on strike for better wages and working conditions.     Everywhere on the island, workers are asking for jobs, higher wages and better living conditions. From early in the morning, yesterday, thousands of men and women marched in procession through the streets of Kingston visiting public offices and stopping at the various wharves and forcing work to stop at Myer’s Sugar Wharf, where some labourers had broken the strike. 

The owners of the businesses have threatened that if a solution is not found soon, they will close their businesses down altogether and move off the island    By all accounts it was an ugly scene.  The security forces are everywhere eyeball to eyeball with Alexander Bustamante, who is organising the labourers now.  Mobs are forcing shops to put up their shutters and molesting people in cars, sometimes robbing them of their money.  Mobs are pulling people off the trams and buses and forcing the drivers to take the vehicles off the road.  Last night this leaflet was slipped under our front door. 

 Vengence 

Later on I stood on the veranda upstairs and watched an enormous crowd gather at the end of King Street and then march up the street headed by a large negro with a big drum which he was beating vigorously.   Right in the middle of King Street the crowd was met by a line of police all armed with batons.  Behind them were a line of police with rifles.  The mob was stopped and cleared right off the street with hardly a blow made. 

That same night dozens of cars full of “special constables” armed with any and every kind of weapon patrolled the streets of Kingston and St Andrews.  Stones and bricks were hurled at them from all sides, but they chased people off the streets and beat up those who resisted.  These are frightening times in Jamaica.   

Later that evening:   Sydney came to see me, the first time I’ve seen him since our quarrel, because he is concerned for our welfare and safety.  We talked, rather uncomfortably at first, and Sydney explained at some length what I had failed to realise.  That his business is also feeling the economic downturn,  just like most others in Kingston.   He has agreed to resume helping me financially providing I agree to move to a smaller house.   

We talked about Olga wanting to go to England and I have told Sydney I think she should have the opportunity.   He agreed that with all the unrest on the island and the bicycle  business being quieter these days, it would be good for Olga to go now, particularly, as the threat of Britain going to war has receded since Neville Chamberlain secured Adolf Hitler’s promise that he will not invade Europe further (Munich Agreement).   Sydney has agreed to pay Olga’s fare, providing she only stays six months.  We both agreed this unrest cannot continue for much longer and he is keen that Olga should continue doing his business accounts. 

As Sydney was leaving he bent down and picked up an envelope with my name on and had been slipped under the front door.  In the envelope was a note from Henry and a newspaper cutting.

 Report 3

Henry wrote that the top half of the newspaper was missing, so there was no way of knowing how old the article was.  I decided not to send it to Vivie as she is well and happy in America so why stir up bad memories.  But it demonstrates the power of suggestion. Vivie thought she was Obeahed and suffered genuinely as a result, but here is proof that the act was thwarted, so is Obeah all in the mind?   I have always thought so. 

I know my sojourns into Obeah are of great concern to Father Butler but there is a method to my madness which I have not confided in him because I know he would disapprove.   I believe that psychologically Obeah is very powerful and I learnt from Lucy and John to use Obeah to get the results I want.  I knew that once Aggie Burns heard I’d been to Annie Harvey, she would change her tune and encourage Sydney to be reconciled with us.

 

<—- Sydney Shoots a Burglar                Christmas in Jamaica with John Canoe —>

 

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<–Kingston Riots                                                 Sydney & the Cook —>

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

“Mon Repose”:   Every Saturday Mammie and I come to Aunt Lucy’s.  Aunt Lucy took over running the plantation when Uncle John died because Bobbie and Adam, their sons were already living in America and didn’t want to come back to Jamaica.  They want Aunt Lucy to sell up and join them, but she won’t.  She says her heart belongs to Jamaica and anyway she wants to be buried at “Mon Repose” with Uncle John.  

 

My Aunt Lucy smokes ganja in a white long handled pipe.   She smokes ganja in it.  She’s been smoking it for years and calls it her “wisdom weed” because it was supposed to have first been found on the grave of King Solomon. The law considers it a dangerous drug because they say if you smoke it you can go mad, so it’s illegal and you can be sentenced to prison and hard labour if the police catch you with it, but that doesn’t stop people from smoking it.  

There was a break in at Kingston Police Station recently and someone broke the padlock of a wooden box that had eight bags of ganja in it which had been found by the police when they raided a house a few days earlier.  

“Did you arrange the break in” Boysie asked Aunt Lucy.  She roared with laughter.  

“If I’d known the ganja was there I might have done and saved myself the trouble of growing it at the back of the plantation”.  

The report said that all day an intensive search of vehicles was carried out.  But out of the blue nearly all members of the local force were suddenly transferred to other police stations while the Superintendent carried out an investigation.  Dolly and Pearl are with us today because Aunt Lucy pays us for picking pimentos and we’ve brought Maurice along, Chickie’s son, because small boys are very useful for a job like this.

Pimentos are a very strong spice and a pimento tree is very distinctive because the trunk of the tree is covered with a greenish grey bark which is smooth and shiny. The leaves are a dark and very glossy green and if I crush some in my hands they give out a lovely strong smell.  It’s easy to grow pimentos because the birds do all the planting of  the seeds.  They eat the ripe berries and then drop the seeds onto the ground and that’s how nearly all Aunt Lucy’s pimento trees have been planted.  The field workers say that if you plant by hand the trees will not grow, but I think the workers are being very smart saying that it’s hard work planting seeds;  they’d rather the birds plant them.  The pimento berry is small like a black currant and grows in clusters on the tree and when there’re ripe for picking they are of a glossy black colour, sweet and very spicy and peppery to taste.   

The berries have to be collected by young lads going up the tree with long sticks and a crook at the end.  They catch the long outer branches and bend them back till they can reach the smaller ones with the pimento berries on and then they’ll break off the small branches so that the grown ups, that’s us, waiting below with baskets can gather up the small branches, pick the berries and put them into our baskets.  You have to be very careful not to damage the berries though.  

At the end of the day the baskets are all brought to the barbecues, so the berries can be dried and prepared for market, and each person’s basket is weighed.  Aunt Lucy enters the weight of each basket into the barbecue book and then pays us depending how much pimento is in our basket. The barbecue is a large paved area divided into ‘beds’ so that recently picked pimentos are not mixed with previously picked ones.  When enough have been thrown on to a ‘bed’ they are spread out and exposed to the sun, and a man with a wooden rake keeps turning them so they dry evenly.  You know when the berries are thoroughly dry because if you take some in your hand and rattle them near your ear, you should hear a sharp, dry, rattling sound.

We’d all been working for a couple of hours when Dolly noticed Maurice wasn’t moving.  He’d climbed much higher than the other boys who were helping out.

 “He’s frightened, he can’t go on” Dolly said. 

I called out to him to come down. 

“I can’t move” 

“Yes. you can Maurice.  Aunt Lucy’s made some lemonade.  Come down and have a drink”.

“Olga, go and get him down” Mammie said. 

So up the tree I go to help him down.  Poor Maurice, by the time I got to him he was so frightened he couldn’t stop crying.  Gently I coaxed him down the tree and the nearer we got to the ground the more his confidence returned until he’s on the ground and I’m sitting having a little rest on a thick branch when, my heart leaps because in the distance I can see Boysie’s best friend, Roy McKenzie, walking down the hill towards “Mon Repose”. 

As I go to jump on to the ground my knickers get caught on the branch, tear and leave me dangling four foot off the ground, unable to free myself, my backside exposed to all the young boys still up the tree, the old man raking the barbecue, my sisters and worse still, I can see Roy McKenzie getting closer and heading straight for “Mon Repose”. 

Dolly and Ruby were laughing themselves silly.

“Help me quickly, Roy McKenzie’s coming down the hill”.

In a flash Dolly was beside me on the branch and while Mammie lifted me up a few inches, Dolly hooked my knickers and, with only seconds to spare before Roy McKenzie arrives, I made it into the house all of them still laughing at me.

Later:     Roy decided to stay and visit and after a while, with my knickers repaired, I felt composed enough to join him and the rest of the family sitting on the steps of the veranda watching the peenie wallies, little fireflies.  They’re about the size of a beetle and give off a brilliant light from two orbs just above their eyes and when you see millions of them fluttering among the trees on a dark night it is a spectacular sight. 

My Aunt Lucy is a great Anancy story teller. 

Anancy tales are famous in Jamaica and were brought here by the slaves.  Anancy is a kind of folk hero because he is a survivor.  He is a spider man, clever, intelligent, quick-witted and cunning who likes to trick people for his own benefit.  As a special treat, and to make up for my embarrassed hurt feelings earlier today, Aunt Lucy’s promised to tell us a story, so Maurice and I collected lots of peenie wallies and put them into jars, with holes in the top so air gets in, and then we put the jars in a long row in front of the stone barbecue, so they look like footlights. 

Everyone sits cross-legged on the ground in front of the footlights breathing in the spicy fragrance of the pimentos in the evening breeze and Aunt Lucy sits behind the footlights and in front of the barbecue, comfortably settled in her chair, sucking on her white long handled pipe, which no doubt is full of ganja, and we all waited silently for her to start her story. 

To tell an Anancy story correctly you have to use the Jamaican dialect and have lots of grand and dramatic gestures which Aunt Lucy does perfectly.

“A man plant a big field of gub-gub peas (bush peas).  He got a watchman put there. This watchman can’t read.  The peas grow lovely an’ bear lovely; everybody pass by, in love with the peas. Anancy himself pass an’ want to have some. He beg the watchman, but the watchman refuse to give him. He went an’ pick up an old envelope, present it to the watchman an’ say the master say to give the watchman. The watchman say,

“The master know that I cannot read an’ he sen’ this thing come an’ give me?”

Anancy say, “I will read it for you.” He said, “Hear what it say! The master say, ‘You mus’ tie Mr. Anancy at the fattest part of the gub-gub peas an’ when the belly full, let him go.’  The watchman did so; when Anancy belly full, Anancy call to the watchman, an’ the watchman let him go.

After Anancy gone, the master of the peas come an’ ask the watchman what was the matter with the peas. The watchman tol’ him. Master say he see no man, no man came to him an’ he send no letter, an’ if a man come to him like that, he mus’ tie him in the peas but no let him away till he come.

The nex’ day, Anancy come back with the same letter an’ say, “Master say, give you this.” Anancy read the same letter, an’ watchman tie Anancy in the peas. An’ when Anancy belly full, him call to the watchman to let him go, but watchman refuse. Anancy call out a second time, “Come, let me go!” The watchman say, “No, you don’ go!” Anancy say, ‘If you don’ let me go, I spit on the groun’ an’ you rotten!” Watchman get frighten an’ untie him cos he think Anancy Obeah man.

Few minutes after that the master came; an’ tol’ him if he come back the nex’ time, no matter what he say, hol’ him. The nex’ day, Anancy came back with the same letter an’ read the same story to the man. The man tie him in the peas, an’, after him belly full, he call to the man to let him go; but the man refuse, all that he say he refuse until the master arrive.

The master take Anancy an’ carry him to his yard an’ tie him up to a tree, take a big iron an’ put it in the fire to hot. Now while the iron was heating, Anancy was crying. Lion was passing then, see Anancy tie up underneath the tree; ask him what cause him to be tied there. Anancy said to Lion from since him born he never hol’ knife an’ fork, an’ de people wan’ him now to hol’ knife an’ fork.

Lion said to Anancy, “You too wort’less man! Me can hol’ it. I will loose you and then you tie me there.” So Lion loose Anancy an’ Anancy tied Lion to the tree. So Anancy went away, now, far into the bush an’ climb upon a tree to see what taking place. When the master came out, instead of seeing Anancy he see Lion. He took out the hot iron out of the fire an’ shove it in in Lion ear. An Lion make a plunge an’ pop the rope an’ away gallop in the bush an’ stan’ up underneath the same tree where Anancy was. Anancy got frighten an’ begin to tremble an’ shake the tree, Lion then hol’ up his head an’ see Anancy. He called for Anancy to come down. Anancy shout to the people, “See de man who you lookin’ fe! See de man underneat’ de tree!” An’ Lion gallop away an’ live in the bush until now, an’ Anancy get free.”
 

<—-Kingston Riots                                                 Sydney & the Cook —>

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<—Carlton                                                  Aunt Lucy & Ananacy Stories —>

 

 

Family Tree

In May 1938 workers all over Jamaica went on strike and the unemployed joined them marching and demonstrations.  The banana trade had declined drastically and unemployment was high, there was only occasional work, bad nutrition, poor housing, very little health service and a high cost of living.

The strikes started with the men working on the Kingston docks striking for better wages and the unemployed joined the strike demanding work.  It was a brutal time with strikers and demonstrators being imprisoned or beaten to death.

My grandmother, Becky, wrote in her diary :

Poor Vivie.   The knowledge that Ambrosine Williams had worked Obeah against her for Carlton’s death is having a bad effect on Vivie.  She is ill and has become withdrawn and quiet., she doesn’t sleep at night and has been vomiting so violently no food stays in her stomach.  Sydney says it’s all in her mind, after all, the doctor’s examined Vivie twice and can find nothing wrong with her, but, whether it’s real or imaginary there’s no mistaking that she is wasting away.   She and her daughters are spending their last few days in Jamaica with us here at Mission House before they sail to America to live with Freddie H.  Roy Mackenzie’s family now own the Den of Inequity.

Vivie hates Jamaica and talks as if she is never coming back. America sounds an exciting country with lots of opportunities to make money, but I’m not sure I would want to live there and I’m surprised Vivie does really.  I’ve read that in the some parts of America they are very prejudice towards coloured and black people.

Thousands of blacks cannot find work so they have no money to buy food or clothes for their families.  Smith’s Village is one of the worst areas in the city covered with shacks where conditions of squalor are beyond imagination and made worse by appalling overcrowding.

It makes me furious when I read the Gleaner newspaper and they say the reports are exaggerated.  I have seen for myself, little children and old men, stark born naked, on the streets begging for money and food.  Soup kitchens are springing up over the city to feed these poor people.   Is this an exaggeration?  Of course, the paper is controlled by the upper white ruling classes – these Jamaicans are a disgrace. 

While the Catholic Church is doing what it can, the Protestant Church seems to be trying to conceal the gravity of the painful conditions under which thousands of people are living.  Children are running around naked because they have no clothes to go to school and those that do have clothes, have no food at home, nothing in their little stomachs.  When they come home from school it is to a hungry and crying mother, brothers and sisters and a father almost demented because he cannot feed his children.   Thank goodness for Bustamante.  His constant flow of letters to the Gleaner is making people aware of the problems but I fear for this island’s future. 

 

 Extract of letter written by Alexander Bustamante

to The Editor, Daily Gleaner, Kingston 

…………….shame, and because some have refused to do their duty and they want to minimise that which does not need to be magnified – unemployment.

 The mongoose and the rats in certain parts of the island are being disturbed at nights, because the cane-fields, their resting places, have now become the sleeping place of many workers.  Many of them rush out at nights so nude they dare not come out in the days, just to buy little necessities to return to their shelter – the canefields.

I have been to St Ann,  and the poverty there is something I hate to describe.  Neither minister nor politician should try to prevent it being exposed.  Visit Newton, Kinowl, Mullings Bush Districts in St Elizabeth; Marlie Hill and Plowden and see the poverty – the misery.   But why go to such places when we have them next door to us; go to Trench Pen, Smith’s Village, Ackee Walk and  Rose Town and the apostolic Lanes, etc.

Too late it is for anyone through any peculiar reasons to try and cover up the truth of the lamentable conditions.  Things were bad a few years gone by; they were no better last year, this year they are getting worse, there must be better days ahead.   

I am etc.                       

Alexander Bustamante

  <—Carlton                                                Aunt Lucy & Ananacy Stories —>

 

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<—Becky – Living in Kingston, Jamaica                               Olga’s Diary —>

 

 

When I visited my family in Jamaica in 1996 only six of Mum’s siblings were still alive.  Boysie, Birdie, Pearl, Chickie (christened Kathleen), Ruby and Dolly.  Boysie was living in Canada and I never got to meet him, although Mum spoke to him on the phone. 

 

It was wonderful to finally meet some of Mum’s family – my extended family, the family that as a child I’d always longed for but which, in the main, Mum didn’t like to talk about.  She’d say, “it makes me sad”.  But ironically, when she was sad, that was when she’d open up a bit and I gleaned little bits of information about her family.  I knew that as small children Mum, Ruby and Dolly had been very close and it was interesting to see just how much Ruby and Dolly looked like Mum, as well as being a bit unnerving. 

 

Although I’d warned my aunts before I left the UK that Mum wouldn’t be coming with me to Kingston because she had serious health problems, I think a little bit of them was hoping she would appear at the last minute.  But her non appearance didn’t diminish in anyway the reception they gave me.  They had thrown a “Welcome Home” party for me attended by their children – my cousins – and family and their friends.   It was all a bit overwhelming really.  I was so glad my son Stuart had come with me.  My aunts made a great fuss of Stuart too and it took some of the pressure of me.

 

My aunts made a huge fuss of me and were genuinely excited to meet Olga’s daughter.  They were so excited, like small children, constantly chattering and interrupting each other so they could speak to me, hugging me and always one of them holding my hand.  They’d ask me over and over again “How is Olga?”.  “Why didn’t Olga let us know she was alive”?   It was strange to hear Mum being called Olga, because I’d only every known her as Carmen.  When I asked them why she changed her name from Olga to Carmen, they said they had no idea.  She was always Olga to them.  I was to find out the answer to that one later.

 

the-browneys-tree

 

<—Becky – Living in Kingston, Jamaica                                  Olga’s Diary —>

 

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<–Becky’s First Encounter with Obeah         Becky & Living in Kingston, Jamaica –>

 

During slavery, the plantation remained the most important unit and a rigid class system existed.  You were judged to be important according to the type of work you did, by the colour of your skin and how much money and land you owned. 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, slavery’s legacy was the social structure it had created before Emancipation – a three-tier class structure at the top of which was the white upper class.  Then came the coloureds, followed by the blacks.  Although Jamaican whites did mix with coloureds in official and business circles, because of their colour prejudice, they refused to mix with them socially.  As for the blacks, both the whites and the coloureds treated them as if they were less than human, although there were some exceptions.   

 

Extract from Great Aunt Lucy’s Diary 1902

 
 

 

 

 

<–Becky’s First Encounter with Obeah             Becky & Living in Kingston, Jamaica —>

Becky left “Mon Repose” very early this morning leaving a note asking Martha and me to meet her at the hotel in the afternoon as she had something to tell us.  Martha is considering staying on in Jamaica and opening a dress salon, but is hesitant about taking such a big step. She has struck up a friendship with Thomas Bonnett who owns a large department store on Harbour Street.   Apparently he was very impressed when she told him she worked at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and he realised she had skills he could make use of.  Thomas suggested she stayed on in Jamaica and work for him, until she felt the time was right to start up on her own, or returned to England, whichever she decided to do.

 

Becky’s always been self-sufficient and can amuse herself. Sometimes she takes a boat to Port Royal, the train to Montego Bay or Port Antonio.  One day I asked her if she makes these trips alone and she confessed she had met someone special.  I suspect this “someone special” is the reason she has asked Martha and I to meet her here. 

 

The Constant Spring must be the most beautifully situated Hotel in the whole of Jamaica. It’s as tropical as you can get, set 600 feet above sea level and at the foot of the Blue Mountains amid sugar, banana, pineapple and coffee estates.  

 

As you come up the front steps of the hotel there is a splendid Royal Palm tree standing in the main entrance. Inside it is cool, comfortable and elegantly furnished and outside there are spacious cool verandas where you can sit and take in the scent given off from the exotic and colourful tropical plants and shrubs that fill the hotel’s gardens. The hotel serves wonderful ice cold fresh fruit drinks, like pineapple and coconut or the hotel’s specialty, a drink called matrimony, made with the pulp of an orange and a custard apple which is what Martha and I are drinking while we waited for Becky. 

 

On an immaculate green lawn to my left a group of men and women are playing croquet. On my right, elderly guests, who find the sun too hot, sit under shaded arbours and tropical foliage which provides shelter from the unrelenting sun, either reading or quietly talking; elsewhere some children are shrieking and laughing while playing, what sounds like, a game of hide and seek, in the hotel’s specially designed children’s garden. 

 

Sitting a few tables away from me are some men and women talking and laughing loudly at the tactics that had taken place at a practice game on the polo field that morning.  And in front of me beyond the gardens and shrubbery, is the tennis court from where, in the distance, I can hear a game is being played and the players calling out “well played” and “good shot” as a winning point is scored. 

 

At last I saw Becky coming towards me. She looked beautiful. Her long blond hair tied loosely back with a yellow ribbon and wearing a simple white dress which showed off her perfect, slim figure. She was holding hands with a good looking young man and laughing at something he was saying to her, both of them completely oblivious to the glances the other guests were giving them.  

 

 I knew immediately they were in love. They sat down still holding hands and Becky introduced him to Martha and me. 

“This is Henry” Becky said and then she paused before she added “and Henry has asked me to marry him.”

 

His name was Henry Alexander Browney and he owned a meat market down by Kingston Harbour. Becky chatted away, telling us how they met and Henry sat quietly listening. There was a pounding in my head and I felt dizzy and slightly nauseous. I reached out for my drink, my matrimony, but knocked it over – an involuntary action or a reaction. I couldn’t say. Becky was still chattering away singing Henry’s praises. 

 

“He’s charming, intelligent, articulate, well read and very amusing” she told us. I agree that any man with those attributes one would consider to be a real catch for a woman. But as Becky sat next to him in her pretty white dress I could only focus on the fact that Henry was as black as coal! 

 

It is not an exaggeration to call Jamaica a paradise. But it has an ugly past. Non whites far outnumber whites and the colour and social prejudice, which was the mainstay of slavery, remains today.  The white upper classes still have all the economic control, social prestige, political power and status. They still see as inferior the middle class, who range from almost white to pure black and who may be lawyers, doctors, business men or women, teachers, clergy, and skilled tradesmen. 

 

 It is true that this class is not barred from occupying a position in any walk of life, including public service, providing they are suitably educated and qualified. Some of them are magistrates of Petty Sessions, and some are Chief Magistrates of their Parishes. In the capacity of their professional positions they can and do associate with white people on equal terms. But that is where the association stops. In their private social life white Jamaican, with a few minor exceptions, refuse to mix with educated and wealthy coloureds or blacks. 

 

It came as a surprise to me that these middle classes don’t want or expect to be invited into white Jamaican circles. Because of indoctrination during slavery, the coloureds believed they were inferior to white people but superior to the blacks and in turn the blacks believed they were inferior to both groups. 

 

But what has changed significantly with the middle classes is the tendency to be very obsessed with skin colour and what they consider to be good European-type features, like the shape of a nose and hair. It seems that with emancipation the question of colour seems to have become more, rather than less, important as a sign of status.  

 

A marriage between a coloured man and white woman would be superficially acceptable if he were very rich and influential, which in itself would be a very rare occurrence, but would also be considered damaging to the purity of the white race. 

 

A marriage between a white man and coloured woman would be tolerated. I saw this advertisement recently in the Daily Gleaner.

 

SCOTTISH MAN, 28, SEEKS ATTRACTIVE WEALTHY COLOURED LADY
WITH A VIEW TO MARRIAGE.
PLEASE SEND PHOTOGRAPH AND DETAILS IN CONFIDENCE TO:
P O BOX 999, DAILY GLEANER, KINGSTON

                 It was not the first time I had seen something like this and I expect the young man will find what he’s looking for since there are quite a few rich coloured Jamaican women. He will get financially security and she will get a very cool and limited entry into white Jamaican society being excluded from the more prestigious events that were held. 

The only relationship between a white man and a black woman that I have heard of was during slavery. White men don’t advertise for black woman to marry, even if they are wealthy and educated. 

 

If Becky, a white woman, plans to go ahead with this marriage to a black man, she can expect, with a possible few exceptions, to be ostracised completely by Jamaicans whatever their colour, after all it wasn’t too long ago that it was against the law for a white woman to marry or have children with a black man. 

 

I knew that with Becky’s news, Martha’s dream of owning a successful dress salon would suffer. I felt sorry for her because she had been tantalisingly close to achieving what she wanted most but being Becky’s sister would ensure that she too was excluded from Kingston’s elite social circle. 

 

Martha said nothing throughout the meeting, but I read her eyes and her reaction was cold fury. I don’t think she looked at Henry but, as she got up to leave the table, she leaned towards Becky and whispered something in her ear. 

 

As Martha left I realised the rest of the guests had all been watching us.   Lucy and Henry were still sitting holding hands and maybe the enormity of what they were about to undertake was beginning to dawn on Becky.  I worry for Becky’s future but am overwhelmed with admiration and so very proud of her.  Prejudice does exist between Jamaicans and it is a strong person whose voice or actions make it clear that they are not part of the colour and social structure that operates here. 

 

As Henry, Becky and I prepared to leave the hotel, I asked her what Martha had whispered.  “Nothing. She was just being silly”.

 

That evening was a typical tropical night, still, beautiful and clear with the moon riding high in a cloudless sky.   A wind slowly started to get up throughout the night and steadily increased in force until by about 2 am in the morning when it must have reached over 100 m.p.h. With it came a ferocious rainstorm and relentless thunder and lightning.

 

The next day the devastation was awful.  Coconut trees that had stood for fifty years were torn up by the roots and thrown yards away as if they were matchsticks.  Plantations, including my own, have been hit badly, but nowhere near as badly as the peasants who will have lost their homes as well as their crops. Years of work wiped out in one night. God knows what these poor people will do without money or means to restore the crops on which their livelihood entirely depends. 

 

Martha called it retribution for Becky’s actions.   A little dramatic, I thought. Shortly afterwards Martha returned home alone to England.

 

 

<–Becky’s First Encounter with Obeah         Becky & Living in Kingston, Jamaica –>

  

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