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5 Reasons to Visit St. Thomas, Jamaica

I never made it to St. Thomas, located on Jamaica’s southeastern coast, until I was in high school. As part of our graduation celebration, our teacher organized a day trip around the island that brought us not to Morant Bay, its historic capital, but to Prospect Pen to view the Jamintel Earth Station* that had opened some years earlier. I still have the grainy photo of us posing primly in our navy school uniforms with part of the satellite station in the background.

St. Thomas, the 9th largest parish on the island, is bordered on its northern end by the Blue Mountains. Its diverse landscape includes mountains and wetland areas. The island’s only east-west river, the Plantation Garden, is located in the parish.

Bath Fountain plaque, St. Thomas Jamaica

Plaque at Bath Fountain

St. Thomas was established in 1662 and named for Thomas, Lord Windsor, who was governor of Jamaica at that time. It was known then as St. Thomas in the East. The name it was shortened to St. Thomas around 1866 when the number of parishes was reduced from 22 to 14.

St. Thomas has been home to the indigenous Taino Indians, Spanish, British and Maroon communities. Archeologists have found remnants of Taino settlements, dating to 650AD, in several locations in the parish.

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Jamaica @51: Rice and Peas or the Jamaican Coat of Arms

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Today, Jamaica celebrates her 51st year of Independence. There have been many changes in the country since 1962, notably in the way we eat.

Take rice and peas, for example. (Rice and peas is affectionately referred to as the Jamaica Coat of Arms, though I haven’t been able to find out why.) When I was growing up in rural Jamaica, we had rice and peas only on Sundays and on special occasions, like Christmas or Easter. Now, there’s rice and peas on almost every restaurant menu every day of the week.

The Easter bun and cheese that we had only at Easter is just as commonplace.

Rice and Peas with vegetables

Sunday meal – rice and peas with vegetables and meat

Back then the patty, a meat-filled turnover, was our main fast food and a popular lunch item for school children. With international chains like KFC, Burger King and Domino’s, along with the homegrown chains, Island Grill, Tastee, and Juici Patties in almost all fourteen parishes, we have a variety of fast food restaurants to choose from now.

Sundays still are special. For most of us, it’s the day we pause, bring family around the dining table to share the meal.

But it’s not always rice and peas. I’m no longer wedded to the Jamaican Coat of Arms on Sundays because I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. But I wouldn’t plan a Christmas or Easter dinner without it on the menu.

 

How has your eating habits changed in the last twenty years?

 

How to Make Rice and Peas

Ingredients

3 cups of rice
2 cups of fresh red kidney beans (or Pigeon peas or a can of kidney beans)
5 cloves of garlic
1 can of coconut milk
1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper
3 scallion (spring onions)
3 sprigs of fresh (or 2 teaspoons of dried) thyme
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper

 

Preparation

Wash and soak peas overnight or put to boil in a medium saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Add garlic and a little salt to taste.
When peas are soft, add coconut milk and seasonings – thyme, Scotch bonnet, 2 sprigs of scallions, black pepper, and remaining salt, if needed.
Let cook for a few minutes then add the rice.
Cover and cook until the rice is tender and there’s no more liquid.
Plate and garnish with remaining scallion. Serve with your choice of meat or alone.

Everald Brown Dove Harp – Jamaica

It wasn’t hard to miss this colorful object, called a dove harp, that was part of an exhibition on view at the National Museum of Jamaica (formerly the Institute of Jamaica). I thought I recognized the work as belonging to one of our local artists but I wasn’t sure.

A quick look at the caption confirmed that the object was the creation of intuitive artist, Everald Brown, popularly called “Brother Brown.”

Everald or Brother Brown's Dove Harp

Dove Harp

Continuing, the caption noted that Brown’s “art and spirituality are bound together and are distinctly indicated through his work. His art work is the visual representation of a generously all-inclusive world view, in which just about everything is regarded as being spiritually meaningful. Brother Brown’s musical instruments bring together sound and vision, the two most important components of his mystical experiences. Their shapes and decorations are laden with intricate symbolism and were originally meant for collective ritual use by his church band.”

Everald Brown, a self-taught artist, was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1917. He embraced Rastafarianism and Revivalism and founded the Assembly of the Living, a mission of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in Kingston.

In 1973, Brown moved his family from Kingston to a community in rural St. Ann where they lived off the land. There, his art and spirituality flourished and he painted and carved his dreams and visions of the world around him. He also created handmade musical instruments, like the dove harp, and star banjos.

Following his death in 2002, the National Gallery of Jamaica mounted a retrospective of his work in 2004. It featured more than 100 paintings, carvings and musical instruments.

 

This week, I’m linking up with Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out other photos from locations around the world. Enjoy!

Lucas the Lion Finds a Home at Hope Zoo

Lucas the lion was the talk of the town last week. The four year old African lion arrived at Hope Zoo in Kingston the week before from his home at the Monterey Zoo.

Many of the animals at Monterey are trained to perform in Hollywood. Lucas, apparently, was too “aggressive” to be trained but instead of keeping him at the zoo as is the normal practice, Charlie Sammut, his former owner, donated him to Hope. Sammut, who was seen with zoo officials near Lucas’ enclosure the day I visited, is helping the lion settle into his new home.

When I heard that Lucas had been described as aggressive, I said to myself, he’d fit right into Jamaica. As a side note, the previous lion at Hope was named Scrappy but I’m not sure if he was called that because it described his personality.

Lucas was on his side, when I arrived, his back to the world, quite oblivious to the hubbub that was going on just beyond the fence of his home, which was decked out in yellow ‘caution’ tape. As I joined the small knot of children and adults, a zoo employee standing near the cage announced that Lucas was sleeping. I noticed then that everyone was staring straight ahead, as if willing Lucas to wake up.

Lucas the lion at Hope Zoo

Lucas waking up after his nap

“Lucas sleeping?” a boy asked.

Before the employee could reply, someone put in words the thought in head, “It must be the heat.”

It was about 86 F but felt more like 100 F, even in the shade.

“Yes,” she replied. “Just think about how you’d react if you went to London in the winter. You’d need time to adjust to the cold, right?”

“Yes, Miss,” a little voice replied sheepishly.

Just then, a group of about twenty chattering and excited school children, no more than 9 years old, approached. They walked in an orderly line two by two, each boy’s hand loosely holding a girl’s, their teacher walking behind them.

As they neared the enclosure, the zoo employee put her index finger to her lips.”Shhhh, Lucas is sleeping.”

Lucas the lion settling in at Hope Zoo

Getting used to his new home and climate

“But he should know heat, he’s from California,” someone shouted bringing us back to the original exchange.

“Well,” the employee started out slowly as if searching for the right words to appease the disconcerted group, “the climate where Lucas was is very different from here. He traveled several hours in a cage and needs time to adjust to our climate. He needs to sleep so he can be active when you come to see him.”

“What you mean adjust?” a woman asked roughly. “I come all the way from St. Elizabeth (about a 3 hour drive) and he sleeping? Wake him up! Luuu-cas!”

“Please don’t wake the lion, Ma’am. He needs to rest.”

“Lucas need company,” a man said emphatically. The woman he was with glared at him. “No, is true. If him get a female, him will liven up.”

The kids, disappointment written all over their faces, walked away. Soon, there was only the employee and me. We chatted for a little then she moved closer and whispered conspiratorially, “Lucas got a cut from the cage and it was infected so we tranquilized him to take care of it. That’s why he’s sleeping.”

As we talked, I noticed Lucas’ tail flick. He moved his head, then pulled himself up slowly to rest on his front paws.

A few children who were nearby saw him and hurried to the fence. One of the women who’d been in the group also saw and moved quickly to take up a position, her little boy in tow. “Don’t pass the crime scene tape,” I heard her say to him.

We watched Lucas come to life. He looked around, shook his head as if to dislodge something from his thick mane then looked off in the distance, not even acknowledging us. Yes, I thought to myself as I walked away. He’s perfect for Jamaica. He’s already acting like our politicians.