Being pushed into a crowded train this morning at Grand Central Station, I saw a smile looking at me from the beautiful face of an older black woman. I didn’t need to hear the voice to know that this was a Jamaican smile on a Jamaican face. Cheekbones high and full, Ghanaian in their shape, skin brownish-red, and a hat that would work for church same way it would work for a commute to the job. The smile spoke to me and said… What a way the train is crowded, eee… And I couldn’t help but smile back.
Jamaican people have a reputation for being somewhat rough, bold, often out-of-order, violent, and almost always proud to the point of arrogant. Maybe this why entering a Jamaican restaurant and ordering food can require as much courage and strength as hunting a lion to prove your manhood if you are a Masai warrior-to-be. Maybe this is why the Jamaican soccer teams for the Intramural games at Howard University had names like Born Killers and Deadman’s Posse, instead of the names other West-Indian teams had like Flying Fish (Bajan) and Soca Boys (Trini).
In short, to say that Jamaican people are not easy is sort of an understatement.
And Jamaican woman can be strong to the point of being Amazonian in their approach to life.. which means that as hardcore as Jamaican men can be in a fight, they are nothing compared to what a Jamaican woman can be in one. (There is even historical evidence to support this thought.. Of all the gangster warriors we had in Jamaica, not one of them was as hardcore as Nanny, the Maroon queen who could kick your ass with just a roll of her eyes)
Yet, having said all of this, there is also something about Jamaican people that often times goes unmentioned. I am talking about the Jamaican smile. And as with many other things in Jamaican culture, it is a thing that is not given away for free, but that has to be earned. So you may not see it often depending upon your point of view, but when you do see it, it is something that can embrace you and inspire you all at the same time.
And when you see it on the face of an older Jamaican woman, a woman that was raised in what now seems like the time of ancient gods, a time when people said Good Morning and Good H’evening as much in Kingston as they do in Clarendon, a time when it was still safe to walk in the early morning hours of Maypen, when the worse crimes that took place was the theft of a fowl or of a mango from ones yard and a time when the church in Jamaica was still a truly Jamaican church and not a foreign-church created by the American Evangelists, the ones who taught us more about judgment and hate than about love and compassion, when you see this golden smile, this golden Jamaican smile, your heart feels like it can fly.
This is what I felt this morning as the Jamaican granny spoke to me from behind that smile, telling me how impressed she was with the fact that I was reading such a long book. And when she said to me, You must be good in H’english, you writing a book or what,” I forgot how crowded the train was and felt for a brief moment completely at peace. Every beautiful Jamaican woman, all of them hardcore like I don’t know what, all of them lionesses in their own unique ways, all of them who raised me and loved me and chastised me and taught me, all of them who blessed me with their Jamaican smiles, came back to me in the smile of this Jamaican granny. I was not 47 as she spoke to me, but I was a child again, a likkle-bwai in the kitchen with my grandmother, Mama, a woman who could knock down mountains with her fierceness if need be, but also a woman whose smile protected me and strengthened me and raised me.
I pray that all of you have wonderful, amazing, fulfilling lives, but most of all, I pray that one day you can be on the receiving end of a smile that feeds your soul as much as it does your heart, and as far as I am concerned, that smile would have to be a Jamaican smile.
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