Between a rock and a hard place

Does anyone else struggle with the feeling that life is happening someplace where you’re not? Maybe it’s fear of missing out, maybe it’s an insecurity complex, maybe is bad min’. Maybe it’s just me. But I get so frustrated when I feel like I’m living in a ‘second class’ city on an island less than one tenth the size of that floating trash continent. 

Mobay people, you know what I’m talking about. 

Despite our avid loyalty to the Republic of Mobay, Kingston remains the hub of several sectors: automotives, business, art, theatre, literature, government, civil society. Most organizations and movements start in Kingston and then slowly trickle outward. I have to wonder if they don’t all feel cooped up down there in the little 480 km² that is Kingston parish. 

I don’t want to have to travel to Kingston to see a nice play, or join a book club, or volunteer with a youth organization, or grow my career. I want those opportunities to exist for people in the West. I want activism and art walks, infrastructural development, ideas, nightlife that is accessible to more than just tourists. I want variety, options. 

I can’t honestly say any more that nothing happens in Montego Bay. If you look hard enough we’re teeming with activities. The Rasta Village hosts a gathering every last Sunday (it’s called Irits and it’s great). UWI’s Western Campus has a couple public forums every semester (on interesting topics). Service clubs exist, and though networking is limited it’s there. (if you know of any others please, leave a comment). 

Maybe Jamaica is too small to have more than one thriving city, or maybe I want too much or maybe I’m selfish. Or maybe I’m venting on my blog because I’m too lazy to be the change I want to see. I haven’t quite figured out yet what to do with this yen for greater things. Some tasks are too big to tackle alone, and some feelings are too nagging to just go away. I want change, but I don’t know how to make it. That’s my rock and my hard place.

Someone hand me a chisel. 

Housing at UWI – where do you turn?

This post is about homelessness. No, scratch that. It’s about finding a home. Not the metaphorical place where your heart is, just a roof and two walls where you will be (relatively) safe and sheltered.

In some ways I have so much experience figuring out where to live and in some ways I have none at all. It depends on who you talk to. Whatever amount of advice I have I’ll be dispensing here, and you can use it as you see fit. Just to be clear, this is about finding college accommodations for students specifically for limited time periods, though I suppose my methods could be applied to more grown up living needs as well. You’ll see for yourself.

Real estate is such a scary topic. At least it was for me. And I guess it’s scary for any high school graduate who has decided to leave home and pursue the university dream but who (gosh darnit) just couldn’t get on hall. More on that in a second. I like to break down scary topics into smaller steps. Bite-sized chunks like

  • Options
  • Where to go for help and
  • How to do it on your own

Your two most obvious options for housing when you’re a university student are, of course: on campus and off campus. As cool and exciting as hall life seems, the reality is that only a small percentage of university students actually live there. The majority commute from home or other places either by choice or because they couldn’t afford the fees/got kicked off hall.

UWI (it’s always UWI on this blog, sorry UTECH) has so many halls of residence. And they keep adding more. The quick and dirty list in order of awesomeness (uh, personal preference? More detailed assessment will probably follow when I muster up the research effort):

  • New Postgrad (Marlene Hamilton Hall)
  • Towers (Elsa Leo Rhynie Hall)
  • Mary Seacole
  • A. Z. Preston
  • Rex Nettleford
  • Taylor, Irvine, Chancellor

That’s eight (well seven, MSH and Chancellor are gender-specific) fantastic moderately livable places to choose from all within walking distance of your 8AM and 6PM classes.

There are many advantages to living on hall. It’s also a lot safer to get used to an unfamiliar city when “home” is somewhere that it matters to people when you don’t show up.


But for the rest of us who love jumping in and getting our feet wet, who get a thrill from adult-type independence, there is the off campus route.  Be the master of your own affairs! Pay those bills! Cook those meals! And yes, invite whoever the hell you want to invite over for however long you want (subject to the terms set out by your landlord/lady).

For those of us thinking about living off campus, this is where you start.

The UWI Lodgings Office

I cannot stress how helpful this place is. It took some warming up to their methods (and you better not be in a rush) but they’re great at matching you to a place that fits your budget. Added bonus: they vet all the accommodations that they recommend to students. They’re big on location, so they won’t drop you somewhere in the middle of Tavern Drive or Mona Commons without warning. You’re far more likely to find a Mona Heights address if you go this route (whether or not this is up your alley).

Flyers, Flyers everywhere.

Read the noticeboards. All of them. All the time. I have gotten so good at this that Kat takes a firm grip on my elbow whenever we pass one, just so that I won’t slow down. Seriously. There’s always some place for rent. Also? Know your crowd. The apartments advertising at the Faculty of Medicine are not the same as the ones advertised in the Faculty of Humanities.

Google is Your Friend

Once upon a time I used to think that nothing we ever did in Jamaica was easy to find on the internet. I still think that, for the most part, but a lot of the time I am pleasantly surprised. Don’t be shy about searching the websites of real estate agencies for rentals you want. Something might be out there. Pitch in with a friend or two and rent a fully furnished house. (They are not all heart attackingly expensive). Real estate agents do open houses on Youtube now. It’s a brave new world out there, kids.

Useful Websites:

Know Your Own Mind

Before you go house-hunting it’s good to have a list of questions to ask your prospective landlord/lady. Simple stuff like whether bills are included in the rent, if there are frequent water or power outages in the area, if there is wifi, if they have any rules for tenants (most will). Think about your own lifestyle and what you can and cannot put up with.

Just Go For It

The way to feel like you actually know what you’re doing is just to do it. Call the number on the ad, go to the places you want to see, ask questions, take pictures, consult with everyone you know. For every 20 places you inquire about at least one might be sublimely perfect for you in a way you will probably appreciate more when you have been house-hunting for nearly two years. Or maybe they will all suck. But either way you’re getting knowledge that is pretty much invaluable to you as an adult.

Because that’s what you are now: a rent paying, meal-cooking, house-hunting adult. So go out there are be wonderfully, smashingly, amazingly terrible at it.

Good Music, Great Coffee: Bookophilia’s Open Mic

If you’re looking for the hipster demographic in Kingston Jamaica, look no further than the bookstore/cafe Bookophilia on Open Mic night. Replete with converse-wearing, indie-music-appreciating, dreadlocked guys and gals, it’s certainly the place to be for the creatively analytical mind. And non-smokers too.

I’ve blogged ad nauseam about Bookophilia – it’s one of my absolute favourite places to be when I’m in town. How can I not love a store whose staff has loud discussions about a certain Time Lord from Gallifrey? Conveniently sitting on Old Hope Road, only a taxi ride away from where I live, it’s got an impressive selection of fiction, non-fiction, Caribbean and international bestsellers. Plus coffee, cookies and comfortable couches.

They introduced Open Mic Night last year, much to the delight of the alt-teen crowd, first displaying poetry and occasional musical performances. Then somewhere along the line it turned into a kind of basement jam session (if you can call a brightly lit parking lot ‘basement’) for up and coming reggae-indie blend artistes.While I miss the poetry, I can’t complain about the quality of the performers. Most of time. I’m particularly delighted to have discovered Runkus (aka Paula son), a talented and entertaining Campion grad who performs his own self-styled genre of music called, of course, Runkus.

The last two sessions of Open Mic Night were vastly different. It’s like they read my review. Aside from the concert segment they allocated time to invite performers up to the stage giving them five minutes to share their art. No one really volunteered, but it’s the thought that counts.

They also stuck like glue to the time limit despite starting late, but I think it was poor judgement on the part of the MC. The last artiste was angry, rightfully so, (but also a little over the top) because they limited his set to one song.

Bookophilia: time is valuable, both the patrons’ and the performers’, so it’s only right that you treat us both fairly. Start on time (regardless of crowd numbers!) and that way you can end on time without ruffling feathers.

As it pertains to bring poetry back, every time I ask a member of staff they suggest I take to the mic myself. Perhaps one night I will. But until then, keep feeding us good music, coffee and literature.


Open Letter to Bookophilia on your Open Mic Night

Dear Bookophilia,

I love your Open Mic nights. I look forward to having them fill my (otherwise depressingly empty) Friday evenings. But the last one I attended didn’t quite sit well with me. Here are some of the things that rubbed me the wrong way, and some handy tips for next time.

Tamo J.
Tamo J, stirring the audience.

1. Punctuality

We were waiting for 45 minutes before anyone came to explain the delay and then another 15 minutes before something actually started. If part of the problem was an absent first act, then just use someone who’s already there. It would really help if all the performers showed up at least a half hour before showtime, which is just being professional.

Twisted Minds
Twisted Minds, creating Jamaican hip-hop.

2. Set Limits

Sometimes there are really good performers whom we wish would keep going for the whole night. Sometimes there are really bad ones who just need to stop, please, and sit down. (Just FYI, everyone in these pictures was really good). In either case, having a maximum of two or so pieces (maybe even one if the piece is really long or really bad) can only be a good thing.

Saraya, song-writer & guitarist
Saraya, song-writer & guitarist

3. Be Flexible

With an already late start and a really long show the limits thing I mentioned gets really important. Which brings me to flexibility. Be open to shifting acts around and cutting them short. Be open to not repeating performers you promised a repeat act. Be nice to your older audience members (like me) who just don’t have what it takes to stay out past 11PM any more.

Exile de Brave & de Yard Drive band.
Exile de Brave & de Yard Drive band.

4. The Vibe

This is a conflicting point. On one hand, I expect a certain kind of atmosphere when I go to Bookophilia: a bookstore/coffee shop vibe. The kind of vibe that doesn’t involve Vybz Kartel and people DJing (badly) about life being all about money and wining girls. That kind of vibe kills my vibe.

At the same time you’re a business, I get it. I get that I have never seen so many people at Bookophilia since ever. I get that you guys probably sold more muffins and coffee Friday night than you have sold in a long, long time. So that’s plenty of encouragement to keep doing what you’re doing.

Runkus, who defies genre.
Runkus, who defies genre.

But I think the spirit of an Open Mic is less about crowd-pleasing and more about creativity-sharing, less popularity and more community. Maybe I’m old-fashioned. Maybe I’m a bad business person. Or maybe I just miss the intimate line-up of indie poets and songwriters that made me feel like part of something special.

So, please, make money. I expect Bookophilia to be around long enough for me to take my unborn children to your Saturday readings. But, please, don’t commercialize your product (too much). You’ve got a good thing going (what with the Doctor Who geeks who work there and make me feel like less of a crazy person).

Hold on to that independent-bookstore-coffee-shop vibe. I need that.

Sincerely yours,

A Bookophile Saxophonist.

Colour Me: Quilt is Boldly Going

If colour is just a reflection of light
And all colour exists within my eyes
What colour am I?
-Quilt, Colour Me 2014

The Quilt Performing Arts Company has managed to ensnare and delight their patrons yet again with the performance of Colour Me, at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts on Thursday evening. The production is slated to be their debut on the international stage at the Contacting the World festival held in Manchester, England later this summer. Quilt has spent the last half year attempting to raise enough funds for the entire group to make the trip but this close to the festival date, it appears as if their dream may yet remain unrealized. 10437548_850002021694461_8174548855808551016_n

Compared to previous Quilt shows, Colour Me is brushed with different strokes. Staying inside the lines of their cohesive theme, Quilt has created a design of masterful originality, like watching Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel take shape from a colour-by-numbers book. The company reflects light of all wavelengths, unhesitatingly digging beyond our superficial appreciation of hue to showcase the way colours colour our world.

The cast performs Colour Splash.

Threads of poetry written by Maya Wilkinson (media director) and voiced by Leonie Forbes kept the production tightly woven. Colour Me unfolded like a flower: from seed to shoot and root then blossoming suddenly into an explosively vibrant display.

A few pieces (out of the eleven in total) merit special mention.

Colour Enslavement tackled gender stereotypes like a linebacker, with naked honesty and enough humour to keep the audience comfortable. Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys (led by the charmingly despicable Clarence Peart and Kalia Ellis) was a scathing commentary on the way we sanction masculine and feminine roles. A tad bit literal but perhaps the writer (Odain Murray) decided it was time to do away with metaphors in this particular conversation?

A magnificently irate Kalia Ellis castigates a shy Tiffany Thompson for being "too blue".
A magnificently irate Kalia Ellis castigates a shy Tiffany Thompson for being “too blue”.

A note must be made of the notable improvement in the group’s technique. The obvious gaps between the ‘dancers’ and everyone else aren’t as obvious anymore.

Pinkish-Red carried on the gender conversation by examining the tide of colours that mark a woman’s life and journey through a cancer that pushed her out of womanly red back to a girlish pink. It was an admirable performance by Joylene Alexander, and the voices of Sonishea McKenzie (crowd favourite, or more specifically, Fabian Thomas favourite), Jasmine Taylor and Tiffany Thompson carried this piece up into the heights of real emotion with their rendition of Laura Mvula’s She.

A broken Joylene Alexander bemonas her fate, shadow danced by Jasmine Taylor.
A broken Joylene Alexander bemoans her fate, shadow-danced by Jasmine Taylor.

The trio shines even more spectacularly in True Colours, a performance that garnered a standing ovation after it left the audience breathless.

In Colour Collision, Roxan Weber and Tristan Rodney keep a brisk pace with their sparking chemistry and highly commendable technique to the sounds of Broken Hallelujah (a personal favourite) sung by Clarence Peart and Tiffany Thompson. Perhaps the performance would have benefited from moments of slow choreography as well as fast, but choreographer Tristan Rodney appears to have an illustrious career ahead of him.

Colour Me may have lacked the gut-wrenching emotion of Quilt’s other shows but as Artistic Director Rayon McLean mentioned at the start, this show wasn’t meant to leave the audience sobbing at the end. What they’ve managed to create is a capsule of the human condition that can resonate on local and universal stages. Hopefully they’ll get the chance.

10345990_837313859629944_2148107827506769850_nPhoto credit (except first and last) to: Aston Cooke, playwright.
Photo credit (first and last) to: Maya Wilkinson, media artist.


on Meeting Kieran King

On Saturday night I met Kieran King at a play. I remember thinking that (1) he looked an awful lot like a vampire (pale as moonlight and dressed all in black) and (2) my grandfather had a hat just like that.

He’s soft-spoken and unassuming for the first five minutes after you meet him (I can’t comment on anything beyond five minutes) and he kept his hand in his pockets the entire time he talked, rocking back and forth like some errant schoolboy, scuffing his toes on the ground. I found him to be endearingly cynical and charmingly clever and I think there’s a lot I could learn from someone like him.

We chatted about theatre critique and the disillusionment of our respective generations and we agreed that what is wrong with Jamaica is that the people who are in charge think they’re right about everything. I felt every second of my 22 years and wished for more (I’m not cynical enough to be this old). Discussions like those always leave me feeling like a little girl playing dress-up. Hopefully I come across as mature for my age.

But if I was older I wouldn’t have been nearly as excited about meeting one of my literary idols as I was that night. :)


The rain in Spain . . . falls mainly in Spain and not in Mona

An Open Letter of Complaint to the NWC and UWI Mona.

This drought is like the Never-Ending Story (without the awesome flying wish dragon, because we would all be wishing for WATER).

We are boiling, scorching, dusty, deprived and badly in need of showers. The halls of residence at the University of the West Indies Mona have been dropping like flies, succumbing one by one to the almost absolute water shortage. And you know once it hits New Post Grad, all hope is lost. It has been going on since early April (several weeks at this point), with no end in sight.

Image not mine.

Maybe I’m being melodramatic.

Mary Seacole is down to about 4 functioning bathrooms (for ~200 girls). Water pressure falls to unusable levels every midday to late afternoon and I am about to start learning Native American rain dances. (Unless we’re in Taino rain god jurisdiction).

Maybe I’m not being so melodramatic after all.

I may sound like a spoiled little city girl, but I need my running water. Can’t live without it. At night I cuddle up to the certainty that if I need to spring from my bed at 2AM to go do whatever it is girls do in the bathroom (and we’re not telling) there will be water in the taps. This certainty is gone, and I feel like I’m free-falling towards a bed of pointy, unwashed rocks.

Image credit: jsuley.blogspot

We need action. Of the blocked roads and burnt tires block road and bun tiya variety. I’m hesitant to call UWI out because the last time students got riled, some serious shit went down. But we are in dire straits. We can’t live like this for much longer.

Call the guild.
Call the principal.
Call TVJ.
Call Portia.
Book me a hotel room.
Book us all hotel rooms.

Something needs to be done and soon.


Dehydrated and Destitute.


The title of this post is appropriate because, according to Google, Spanish Town has been experiencing rainfall for most of this week. Clearly their rain gods aren’t pissed at them. Get your act together, Mona.


It’s not just me, either: Final Year Student’s letter to the editor. If she thinks Mona only houses 600 students, she’s waaay off the mark. But otherwise distressingly spot on.



My Jamaica, my Dance: JDU 2014

Jamaica Dance Umbrella happened this weekend! My heart goes out to all the dance lovers who missed it; it was truly a spectacular occasion.

JDU is an annual production by the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts that was created six years ago to celebrate dance as an extension of theatre. It brings together dancers from all over the Caribbean and the wider world.

Starting on Thursday evening with a cocktail launch (I got to dress up and act fancy!), the showcase of dance theatre paid homage to stalwarts of Jamaican dance Patsy Ricketts and Clive Thompson (‘stalwarts’ is kind of a buzzword now).

It was a lovely beginning, made all the sweeter by dancers from our own National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) and the Guadeloupe company Myriam Soulange. Additional performances by Tribe Sankofa helped to round the evening out. Many thanks to the French Ambassador to Jamaica Madame Ginette de Matha for her second year supporting the dance festival.

The opening night of the 3-day event saw performances by (locally) the University Dance Society, NDTC, ArabesK Dance Collective and Movements as well as Ashani Dances from Seattle. The pieces were phenomenal, with breathtaking choreography and (for the most part) flawless execution.

I have to assume that Saturday and Sunday nights followed the same pattern of awe-inspiring dance because I didn’t get to see them. Sad face. I have no doubt, however, that L’Acadco, Quilt Performing Arts Company and the Company Dance Theatre brought their all to the performance space as they usually do, finishing off the 2014 installment of Jamaica Dance Umbrella with characteristic flair.

We are only the messengers, bringing you the gift of yourselves.
-Clive Thompson (on accepting his award for significant contributions to dance in Jamaica)

All pictures credited to Maya Wilkinson and the PSCCA.

RELEASE at Philip Sherlock {13.2.14}

On Thursday evening I went to see the QUILT production RELEASE at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts. Since its conception, QUILT has gathered a steady fan base among students of the University of the West Indies and the wider theatre community with its dedication to producing innovative works of performance art. The company is celebrating their fourth anniversary amidst preparations to participate in a UK based international performing arts competition.

The QUILT version of theatre is not any one thread of drama, dance, song or film. Instead the company weaves a tapestry of all four elements to create its trademark patchwork of expressively dynamic pieces.

The first half of the show was layered beautifully with lamentations of colonial heritage and socio-cultural injustices. Noises in my Blood, choreographed by Rayon Mclean and led by Lemar Archer and Tiffany Thompson, explored the denial and eventual acceptance of one young man’s heritage.

In this performance, the inventive use of breath and energy reinforced the themes of fear and powerlessness and was a testament to artistic director Rayon Mclean’s credibility as a director/choreographer.

In Reflections of Red – the blend of a QUILT staple piece with poetry by Jean Small – the veteran poet admittedly lost me along her beleaguered battle for the life of her son. The connection between the Small and the prop – a pair of khaki pants – did not convey the emotion of the poem and though the choir started out with incredibly passionate voices, I felt that the power of this enactment dissipated as it developed.

The second half of the show delved into contemporary commentary, beginning with the short play Vessel, written and directed by Multimedia and Film Director Maya Wilkinson and featuring Ramone Gordon and Kalia Ellis.

Vessel is noteworthy for its abruptly disturbing journey through the mind of a mother facing post-partum psychosis. The stark set design and use of movement and lighting carried this piece far above its compelling dialogue into the realm of haunting surrealism. Ellis must be commended for tackling the role of Karen so thoroughly and with unabashed, unsettling detail.

Loversation followed, opening with a close-up video of hands and lips and bare skin. The first movement, a duet between Roxan Webber and Ramone Gordon, had moments of exciting choreography but ultimately fell flat from the lack of connection between Gordon and Webber.

The second movement picked up with alacrity as a duet between Odain Murray and Jasmine Taylor that positively sparked with chemistry. The duo moved seamlessly through costume changes and communicated with the audience and each other a tension and frustration that were almost palpable.

For me, the most compelling number of the evening was Section Two of Open Closed Doors which, in a style reminiscent of For Coloured Girls, explored the lives of women who have been used by the men who claimed to love them.

QUILT has proven their dedication to avant-garde theatre by not shying away from the gritty themes of sex-selling, unsatisfying marriages and domestic slavery. The act was directed by Rayon McLean and featured Kyesha Randall, Kalia Ellis, Joylene Alexander, Patrice Anderson, Soneisha McKenzie and Tiffany Thompson.

The bitter soliloquies were peppered with words that punctuated like knife points. Stage direction was never more relevant than the apparent confinement of each actor to chalk outlines of themselves – not to be breached until they can close their open doors. The drama climaxed when the actors stepped defiantly outside their crudely drawn lines, but culminated rather darkly and unpleasantly true to life when one actor reopened her door to the same betrayal.

QUILT has promised to go where no performing arts company has gone before and certainly I have never attended a theatrical production where the audience was more engaged, more in tune with the goings on of the stage. QUILT demands attention remorselessly, and seizes it with fervour.

The nature of the pieces delivered in RELEASE inevitably makes this easier; controversial topics will always stir an audience’s blood. Companies tend not to rely heavily on this kind of contentious camaraderie but QUILT has built an entire show around passion – the good kind and the bad. They’ve tapped into the exuberance at the heart of the Jamaican spirit to fuel their climb to further heights of glory.

Bricolage VII