An Aside on Jamaican Culture (potentially upsetting imagery)

When I was on my Junior Surgery rotation, we had a 94 year old lady who presented with Stage IV breast cancer after having had a mastectomy for cancer in the other breast.

The tumour this time was a rock solid, fungating mass that had already changed colour, and I had to wonder as I often did and will how a patient waits at home for their situation to deteriorate this badly before coming to the hospital. Breast cancer is a terrible thing – any illness is. But patients keep presenting at such late stages, all hope is almost lost.

Just like the countless diabetic patients who present with severely infected feet days or weeks after the initial problem. Sometimes they show up so late, the only option is to amputate the limb.

We have this pervasive culture of “I going to watch it likkle first” whenever we see something going wrong. Then we sit and watch and watch until it becomes so much bigger than anything we thought we could handle. Like another patient who had to piece together brassieres to fit her growing tumour until she finally presented with one breast twice the size of the other.

I don’t know if it stems from the general antipathy toward doctors that we have as a nation (especially Jamaican men!) or if it is just that we underestimate the problems we are faced with. Jamaicans do have a tendency to put troublesome things out of their minds until we can bear it no longer.

Whatever the reason, we need to stop it. The business of healthcare is prevention, not intervention. Doctors don’t want to have to cut the foot off. Or remove the breast. We want you whole and healthy and happy.

But your health is your responsibility.

You know weh Sammy plant im cahn?

Our culture has been relegated to knick-knack status: a decorative memento.

Is it only natural, this shelving of our songs and stories like old photographs? Something to be dusted semi-regularly and forgotten? Handed down until its significance is lost, and all that remains is the chipped enamel shell of our history?

the issue of sexuality

It seems like the universe has conspired to have me write this entry. On the same morning I stumbled across Raising My Rainbow, a blog about a gender non-conforming 5 year old, I had an enthusiastic seminar on sexuality and HIV.

Raising My Rainbow really struck a chord in my mind because it was the first time I was ever confronted with the reality of such a young child being allowed to opt out of his predetermined gender roles. If you haven’t before, take a moment to consider what this means and check out the blog in the meantime. This five year old boy gets pedicures done with Mummy, dresses up as girls for Halloween and generally spends a lot more time in skirts than most other boys his age.

I am hard pressed to put my finger on what exactly weirds me out about the situation, but I definitely had a moment of “WTF?”. Generally speaking, I encourage people not to let themselves be tied down by the constraints of society and not to let themselves be pigeon-holed into a role they’re uncomfortable with. But I’ve only ever given a thought to adults in this situation. Because grown-ups are assumed to know what they want. But a child?

So I guess my real issue is his age: is a child that young capable of making these kinds of decisions? And should we trust the decisions they make? The family is the earliest institution of socialization we’re exposed to, and that gives parents the enormous responsibility of turning out functional members of society. In effect, parents are expected to guide the child on the path to becoming an appropriate adult.

But how can I fault this boy’s parents for letting him express himself, especially when the alternative would be to force him into society’s idea of the ‘real man’? Too often in Jamaican society, we toughen up our boys too much, robbing them of much-needed emotional expression. The concepts are diametrically opposed. Is one approach the right one, or does the issue fall into the shady grey zone of human experience?

I will not deny that hearing about this little boy’s first pedicure didn’t sit comfortably with me, but that reaction is largely a product of my environment. I believe in advocating the right of a person to be whatever gender he/she wants to be without judgement. That should include little girls and boys too.

Shouldn’t it?


How would you react if your 3 year old son decided he wanted to dress up as Snow White for Halloween? 

Tales from Paradise {i}

Every time I venture into Paradise, where my stylist/groomer lives and operates her style salon, I always end up hearing the most outrageous discussions. There is no one who can spin a yarn or labrish like ghetto people. Or hairdressers. Luckily, my trips to Paradise have both.

The last time I went, the discussion between my groomer, V and one of her guy friends, YP turned to the topic of virginity.

V made a comment about how you could always tell when a boy lost his virginity. He starts walking taller and acting like him big.

“One time mi son fren come over,” she began, “and mi notice him a ak one way, and him tell J seh him have sum’n fi tell him.” She laughed. “So mi ongle hear J shout out, and when mi ask him wha’pn him seh ‘Mummy, da one ya too big fi yu’.” She laughed again and continued re-tightening my locks.

“But ah dat fi hap’n,” YP said to her. This after mentioning shamelessly that he uses the date of his ‘first sex’ to remember the birthday of one of his many women.

“Man cyaan a lose him virginity when him ah 35 an 40. Dem time deh di woman jus a come in har own. Him a miss out.” He was so passionate about this topic, I tried not to laugh. But I failed when he continued with,

“And di woman dem, by time dem reach 35 all dem breast deh dung a grung – who a go waan dat?”

“So nuh di same way mi have a frien,” V interjected, “who a 28 and her husban a 35 and di two a dem a did virgin when dem get married.”

[YP did kiss him teeth here so]

“Mi jus tell har fi tell mi whe di wedding night a go be,” V continued with mirth, “caw mi waan come prips and see wha dem a go do.” She dissolved into fits of laughter.

“All man wha reach 40 and nuh have a youth,” YP continued to lament. “Cho, man, dem jus lucky seh man can have pickney all when him a 90. But di woman dem egg nuh dry up long time.”

I was outright laughing by now.

“Ah egg powder,” V added. “Ah nuh egg again, ah egg powder now.”

If I wasn’t in a chair, I’d have been on the floor. YP continued to complain about not wanting to sleep with virgins, and when V asked him why, he was quite determined in his response.

“Dem too clingy and emotionally needy. Dem a go be too curious bout all kind a tings an odda man buddy an cho, it just nah go nice.”

As V nodded in agreement, I didn’t bother to think about the cultural heritage and socialization we’ve inherited to get entertaining discussions like this one. I could only sit back and enjoy the repartee.

Trying something new with this. Tell me if you like the story thing and I’ll keep the anecdotes coming!