June 5, 2009

The JUTA Taxi and other ways to get around Kingston

June 5, 2009

Many people have warned me that, in Jamaica, you are only supposed to take the JUTA taxis – the official ones operated by the Jamaican Urban Transit Authority. We took one from the airport to the hotel. They are safer than the unmarked taxis, but often pricier. Thursday night, I left the hotel at about 10:45 pm. Outside, a JUTA driver asked me if I needed a taxi. I said I did – to go the six blocks to my apartment. He said it would cost US $5.00. That struck me as a bit much. It's not that I mind paying the gringo tax, but there are limits.

I thanked him and kept on walking. I was not sure what I was going to do, but another man stopped me at the hotel gate and asked if I needed a taxi. I told him where I was going, and he said JA $200 – about US $2.50. I thought that was reasonable, so I asked him if he was a JUTA taxi. He said he wasn't, and that if I didn't feel comfortable, he didn't mind. I quickly sized him up. He was in his fifties, and looked like a nice gentleman. So, I asked him if he was sure he wouldn't kill me on they way home. He assured me he wouldn't, and I got in his taxi.

During the ride home, I told him I usually walk back home. He said that was fine during the day, but that I shouldn't at night. He pointed to the block just before mine, and said that it was frequented by crackheads. I found that believable, as the other day I woman who had all the signs of heavy crack abuse asked me for money. And, on the corner of my house, he pointed to several young woman and told me they were prostitutes. When we arrived at the gate of my apartment complex, I paid him and went into the house. The kids were still up. Apparently, a day at the beach wasn't enough to get my girls to bed early.

Because of my fairly late night and my two glasses of wine at the reception the night before, I woke up a bit late on Friday morning, and didn't arrive at the conference until 10:30 am. On the way to the conference, there were two women who clean the street who asked me for money to buy some juice. I pointed out that they had a cooler of drink next to them. The women didn't understand me, however, so I just said I didn't have any change. I do think it might be a good idea to give them some change sometimes, as perhaps they would look out for me. However, I don't want to have to pay a tax for walking down the street. Perhaps next time I see them, I'll give them JA $50.

Today, I decided to wear a black dress that is perhaps a bit risquee, along with my lovely aquamarine earrings my husband, Nando, made for me, and a large necklace a friend of ours in Peru made. I put a scarf over my shoulders that can be strategically used to cover myself if need be. In general, scarves are essential conference-wear, as some rooms can be frightfully cold, whereas it is hot outside, and in some of the conference rooms.A woman told me I look glamorous, so that was nice. Normally, when people say that, I think they are saying that I usually look frumpy, and that it is a surprise to see me well-groomed. This woman, however, only saw me yesterday, when I was dressed fairly nicely, as I was presenting.

At the conference, I went to a panel on reggae in Brazil, with the hope of meeting two Brazilians who were listed on the program. They were both listed as being at the Federal University of Goias, and that is where I will be going in February. As luck would have it, neither of them were there. I listened to a panel on reggae and rap music. This panelist had the excellent idea of speaking in his native language – Portuguese – and putting up power point slides that translated his talk into English. So much better than the interpreter experience from a couple of days ago! At the end of his talk, I tried to ask a question in Portuguese about black cultural capital and authenticity in Brazil. The fact that he responded in Spanish indicates that I didn't do such a good job of speaking Portuguese.

I will have to brush up on my Portuguese skills before my trip to Brazil next week, and especially before I travel to Brazil to do my research. The issue is that Portuguese and Spanish are so similar, that sometimes I don't notice that I am speaking Spanish when I mean to be speaking Portuguese.

After that session, I went to the plenary, where an ambassador was speaking. It was a bit dull at points, so I worked on my blog. I used to think that I could only write in the morning, in relatively uninterrupted settings, and with encouragement from others. However, with this blog, I find that I can write anywhere, anytime. Writing on it throughout the day helps me empty my “Psychic RAM” as Meggin McIntosh “The Ph.D. of Productivity” calls it. She has this neat idea that your mind has a RAM (Random Access Memory), like a computer does. When your computer's RAM is overloaded, it works slowly. The same goes for your psychic RAM. One way to clean out your psychic RAM is to write things down. I have always been a fan of to-do lists. However, writing down my random thoughts on this blog also helps me to keep a clear head by getting all of my thoughts (not just my plans) out of my head and onto the computer.

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