Monday, March 5, 2012

“It is not the shine, but the moon and the stars.”

For this post I’m going to switch gears and focus instead on the human interactions that we have had in the citrus. We are in the midst of peak citrus production right now and the groves are filled with pickers of all sorts. They get paid the equivalent of six American dollars a day to pick fruit, which they then take to their local market or street stand to sell. Since we are peculiar white people setting up nets all around them, we get approached by a ton of curious people, each with a motive of their own. Here is a colorful account of some of the more memorable and frightening moments…

As we parked the car at dawn the first morning, we were the only ones in the citrus, but on the walk back to the car a few hours later, I passed numerous people. A middle-aged woman draped in colorful, wind blown clothes was singing hymns as she piled oranges into her cloth bag. A young, sinewy Rasta in a green tank top was scaling another tree, tossing oranges down from the crown, his body barely visible among the branches. As usual, some gave a polite hello, some did nothing, and others simply stared.

A few days ago, I had a man come up to me with a check in his hand while I was taking down our nets. At first I couldn’t understand what he said as he blurted out in Patois to me. It took me a minute to realize that he wanted me to cash a check for him. I told him that I didn’t have any money, that I couldn’t do that, and that was that. He then asked me if I was spraying for insecticides. I laughed and told him no, and then he left. Meanwhile, I was fending off a little kid named Mario, who had been tagging along behind me for the past hour. He followed me from net to net, and as I pulled out each bird, all I heard was “Give me that one. I need it. I need to raise a bird.” Every time he said this, I said “No. Not this one. This is a wild bird, and it’s going to stay that way.” It went back and forth like this many times. “I NEED THIS ONE.” “NO.”

Another day, Laura and I met an old Rastafarian man named Renrick Ellis, who approached us and immediately broke into a performance of his memorized Rasta-inspired poems. I couldn’t understand the majority of what he said, but one phrase that has stuck with me was “It is not the shine, but the moon and the stars.”

Renrick then asked me if I could record his poem performance so that I could relay it to a greater audience for him. I told him that in fact I would love to, and that I would bring my camera tomorrow. To his credit, he then engaged us in a long conversation about birds, and he was very interested about the work we were doing. He nearly feinted with amazement when we showed him a black-and-white warbler, explaining that it flew from somewhere in America down to the same grove of Jamaican oranges every year. We exchanged phone numbers, and said our goodbyes, promising to meet up soon. Unfortunately to this date, I have not recorded his poems. I’ve got to make that happen, and will post it when it does.

One person in particular, however, has become the star of our citrus acquaintance. His name is Andrew. He is a giant young man who first introduced himself by staring mutely at Laura and Ashley for over half an hour, peeling orange after orange with his modified dinner knife. After this he decided to tag along behind us for the morning. At first he was intimidating, but has since revealed himself to be a harmless, over grown boy who grins at you if you engage him. He is mostly silent, but if you encourage him, he will talk – he has pointed out different varieties of oranges to us and told us how to avoid the ants, all the while tromping barefoot across the ground. He doesn’t drink all day; instead he eats about thirty oranges, peeling each one as you would an apple and sucking out the juicy pulp.

The next day the gossiping women at the security gate told Ashley that Andrew was “retarded,” and talked scathingly about his mother, who supposedly didn’t even know how old he was, and in their opinion, was the one responsible for his inability to either read or write.

The only serious downside to Andrew’s presence is that it is very difficult for him to resist pulling birds out of the nets. He is obsessed with white-winged doves, which all Jamaicans love to eat, and every time he sees a bird that looks remotely like one, he runs up to it, tugging on it. As I approached a net later in the afternoon I saw that he was guarding a bird that was caught. It was not a dove, but in fact a white-chinned thrush, a pretty large bird, and as I pulled it out I asked if he would like to hold it, thinking maybe it would cultivate his interest. He grinned and said yes, so I put the bird carefully on his outstretched hand and told him to release it. Instead of doing that, however, he covered it gently with his other hand and insisted that he must go show Ashley. There was no way to get around it. I sighed and escorted him to her, where he presented the bird, waiting expectantly for praise. Ashley obliged, and after another trademark grin he disappeared.

A couple hours later I spotted him walking with two women, an empty orange bag in his hand. He veered off from the women to come over and visit us, but as he did, I heard one of the women say – “Where you gwan? You’re not white!” I couldn’t believe my ears. Her voice then rose even more, almost yelling, “Know your race Andrew!” In response, he turned and headed in the opposite direction.

Thankfully he did not take her words to heart and was back at our side in 15 minutes. He kneeled by us at our banding station, saying nothing. Laura and I sat silently, sitting Indian-style amongst our banding pliers, calipers, cameras and binoculars, pulling biting ants off our bodies. As usual Andrew reeked of body odor and his cheeks were streaked with dust, old sweat, and orange pulp. Though usually barefoot, today he had a pair of dilapidated shoes with his giant toes sticking out through holes in the sides. He climbed up to the top of a nearby tree and pulled down a few oranges to eat. After an hour or so we heard someone screaming his name, which wasn’t an unusual thing to hear. People often exploited Andrew’s strength and got him to carry their bags of oranges for them. As the man kept calling for him, “AnDRUH! AnDRUH” he finally got up and disappeared, having not said a single word to us his entire visit.

As early afternoon approached the workday was coming to an end. We pulled down our nets, packed up our gear, and grabbed a few oranges for ourselves. We pulled out of the citrus, and as we wheeled around the curves, passing houses, schools and food stands, our ears caught the familiar sounds of the street - kids laughing, music blaring, and of course, every minute or so the call of “Whiteeyyy!! White woooman!!!! White man!!!!” We shook our heads, laughed, and continued on towards home.

The materials needed to make some homemade OJ, courtesy of the citrus.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad to view this informative blog. Thanks for the sharing....

    air port parking