June 9, 2009

A trip to National Heroes Park

June 9, 2009

The other day I said I had trouble reading class status in Jamaica. That is not exactly true. Today, I realized I could recognize poverty when I saw it. This afternoon, we went to National Heroes Park, because I had heard they have built a new playground there, and thought it would be a good place to take the children.

The children at National Heroes Park were noticeably different from the children we saw on Sunday at Devon Park. At Devon Park, the children were dressed up in clean, quality clothing, had on shoes, and were with their parents. At National Heroes Park, some of the children were barely clothed. One had on an old pair of gym shorts, nothing else. Another was wearing stained, old, unmatching clothes. Granted, these were play clothes, but they were raggedy even for play clothes.

The playground at National Heroes Park is ordinary by US standards, but impressive compared to other play areas I have seen in Kingston. It is made of blue, yellow, and red plastic, with five different slides, plus has a wide variety of climbing equipment. And, it is in a relatively poor area of Kingston.

I should have thought of that when the children insisted on bringing their Fur Real pets – a cat, a dog and a baby panda that move when you touch them. These toys caused quite an uproar among the children, who gathered around our table to play with these toys. As Soraya pointed out, it was nice that the children got to play with the toys. However, it meant that I had to keep an eye on the children and the toys the whole time.

I didn’t have to worry about Raymi, though. Raymi had brought her Groovy Girls backpack with her, which had lollypops hidden in one of the pockets. When Raymi found them, she decided to offer one to one of the girls. Then, several children began to stick their hands in Raymi’s bag. Raymi shouted “Don’t grab!” and put all of the suckers back in her bag. I was hoping she would give away the candy, but was pleased to see she could hold her own. The children pulled back, but followed Raymi around until she finally offered them the lollypops again.

There weren’t enough to go around. There were over a dozen children at the playground, most of whom did not seem to be attached to any adults. Well, there was one small child, about 15 months old, who was with her daddy. Her daddy was sitting on the playground equipment smoking ganja. The other children, the same ages as my kids, it seems, had come to the playground by themselves.

When it was time to leave, we walked out onto the street. As I was trying to determine which way to go, a young woman approached us and asked if we were okay. I asked her where we could get a bus to New Kingston. She said we needed to take the number 76, on the other side of the park. She was going that way, and offered to take us. As we were walking across the park, she let me know that, after a certain hour, this place was not safe.

Unlike Emancipation Park, National Heroes Park is not crawling with security guards. In fact, the kids could freely jump on the picnic tables and the big kids could climb up on top of the monkey bars without anyone telling them to get down.

We made it across the park to the bus stop, and to our luck, the number 76 pulled right up. When we got on the bus, Tatiana wanted to sit by herself. A few minutes later, I looked back, and she was sleeping on her bench. Fortunately, the bus was not very crowded, and she could sleep the whole time. The park is only a couple of miles from our house, but there was stop and go traffic, so the bus ride took nearly a half an hour. On the way home, I saw a public library, which looks like a possibly good next destination.

Fieldwork in Kingston with the children is working out pretty well. This outing today got me a bit more familiar with Kingston. Although I could have gone to National Heroes Park by myself, having the children with me allowed me to sit in the playground and get more of a feeling for the place. It would have been a bit odd for a single woman to sit in the playground alone, and likely would have been cause for people to question my presence.

When I am with Nando and the children, people seem less likely to bother me or question my presence. For example, today, on the way home, Nando walked ahead of me when I stopped in the cell phone store. Thus, I walked the last couple of blocks by myself. A young man said “Cinderella” to me as I walked by. Perhaps I look like a chambermaid. Or, maybe that was the only blonde Disney character he could think of. I ignored him, but this is an example of something that wouldn’t have happened if I were with Nando, and likely not if I were with the children.


  1. Loved this post. I was struck by the part about the man calling you "Cinderella".... When I am in Trinidad, this freedom that men feel to address lone (or small groups of young) women by nicknames is most disorienting to me. I have been called everything from "Legs" to "Spots" (bathing suit design) to "Manhead" (buzz haircut); a friend of mine was often referred to as "Fattie"; there is none of that self-consciousness about referring to the physical body that one finds in the U.S.

  2. Thanks, Giselle! Yes! I forgot to mention the young man who said to me - "Hey Whitey, Give me ten dollars!" outside of National Heroes Park. This is also the case in Latin America - people's nicknames can be "fatty," "big nose," or even "cripple"!

    Now, I have been called "white girl" in DC, when I was a teenager, but I doubt anyone would shout that at me today in DC. Unless they knew me; maybe then they would say: "Look, there goes white Tanya!" In any event, it is definitely less common. Thanks for your thoughts.