Jammin’ in Jamaica

Nazma Muller helps the Jamaicans add a J'Ouvert to their Carnival


I had a rahtid good time, as Jamaicans would say. It may have been the free Red Stripe beer but even now, sober, I have only good (if vague) memories of Jamaica Carnival. From winging a jumpseat in the cockpit of a full plane to Kingston to getting a foot massage from a Cyprus-born “bredder”, my wild weekend in Irie land was ulcer-stimulating excitement all the way.

When I found myself seated next to a lithe, bronzed first officer as the plane cut through wispy clouds thousands of feet over Barbados. I thought: life ain’t all that bad.

It got even better. From the time I met the first uptown Jamaican, I realised Carnival was a serious thing for them. And this was the first year that Jamaica would be having blue devils. They’ve had Mudders International muddy up the streets before, during the Road Parade on Sunday, but a blue devil band is something else.

Jamaica’s “brownings” were all in a tizzy, only talking about Wet Fete and asking, “So, are you going to Frenchmen’s Fete?” (Everybody who’s anybody was going to be there. But not this Trini. I was saving my body for J’Ouvert, Frenchmen notwithstanding.) By midnight on Friday, New Kingston was hopping. A powerful searchlight sliced through the sky on Lady Musgrave Road, leading us to the Jokers Wild fete.

J’Ouvert in Jamaica isn’t as wild and debauched as it’s getting to be in Trinidad, where you could see a man flat on his back with five women wining on him. But it has potential. Maybe because many of Jamaica’s Carnival lovers come down for Trinidad’s; and well, Jamaican women can really wine.

“Blouse and skirts!” (That’s a mild oath I hear but don’t know the origin of.) When three dancehall divas showed up in the fete, all hell broke loose. They wore long, silver wigs and itsy-bitsy batty riders. The crowd parted for them, and not a single man (or a married one, for that matter) could keep his eyes off them.

Of course the highlight — which I will cherish on my deathbed — was getting the job of applying body paint to the men to turn them into blue devils. I used to tell Trinis there aren’t good-looking men in Jamaica. I take it all back. There are! There are! And all showed up for J’Ouvert.

Maybe they live abroad or they stay in their Beverly Hills homes the rest of the time, but there they were, throwing their bodies at me. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, and the angels had bronze pectorals and muscled backs, because when I told them “Take off your T-shirt”, they did.

The first time I tried it, I held my breath. The fella didn’t even blink. He just pulled the T-shirt over his head and stood up there, waiting. I took a deep breath, bent down and scooped up some paint. Then I slowly and firmly started spreading it over his chest. He just stood there, shifting from side to side so I could rub it all over his arms and then his back. Then he smiled and ran off, happy. I just stood there in shock. Well I’ll be damned — it was that easy to feel up nice men in Jamaica.

Then another one came along. And another. I took my time and put that paint on like I was Leonardo da Vinci’s daughter.
I glanced to my left, where Harold and Keeshan had seized the opportunity to paint the women. They were studiously applying the paint to bosoms pushed eagerly in their faces. “Right there! Put it right there, see? Just a likkle bit so” (finger poking breast). “All right, put a ’and print right there” (pointing to crotch). Harold panicked for a millisecond, then recognised the chance of a lifetime staring him in the face. He seized it, and a dollop of paint.
The blue handprint stared back at him boldly. The girl looked down and nodded. Satisfied, she hurried away to show it off to her friends.

Harold stood, his hand in mid-air, staring after her. Then he caught himself, and turned around to smile at the next girl. “Where yuh want it?”

The blue paint was something new for most Jamaicans, and they loved it. We’d mixed three huge bags of cocoa with oil and petroleum jelly. But the Jamaicans were having none of it. “Blue! We want blue!” they shouted. Everybody ended up with paint on them, even the yachtie types.

By 4 a.m. the crowd was getting impatient. “When we going on the road?” they wanted to know. The DJ was spinning up a storm, but the blue paint was starting to itch, and didn’t the Trinis go on the road from 2 o’clock?

At five o’clock, the call came and the big truck started rolling. It took half an hour to get it through the driveway and on the road. And then it was as if we’d never stopped. The music started up again and we were on the road, Jamaicans and Trini “tutors” alike, wining on each other, backing back, leg up on the truck, hands on the ground, indulging joyously in the carnal (or carnally in the joyous, if you want to be like that) as the sky slowly lightened above the Blue Mountains.