You were born in a hospital, not in the streets.”) * * * * left Jamaica in 1996 to attend college in New Orleans, a city I’d heard called “the northernmost Caribbean city.” I wanted to discover—on foot, of course—what was Caribbean and what was American about it.
Stately mansions on oak-lined streets with streetcars clanging by, and brightly colored houses that made entire blocks look festive; people in resplendent costumes dancing to funky brass bands in the middle of the street; cuisine—and aromas—that mashed up culinary traditions from Africa, Europe, Asia, and the American South; and a juxtaposition of worlds old and new, odd and familiar: Who wouldn’t want to explore this?
The wrong color in the wrong neighborhood could mean your last day.
No wonder, then, that my friends and the rare nocturnal passerby declared me crazy for my long late-night treks that traversed warring political zones.
Kingston was a map of complex, and often bizarre, cultural and political and social activity, and I appointed myself its nighttime cartographer.
I learned how to be alert to surrounding dangers and nearby delights, and prided myself on recognizing telling details that my peers missed.So I had to cobble together my own rules of engagement. My survival tactics began well before I left my dorm. I would see a white woman walking towards me at night and cross the street to reassure her that she was safe.I got out of the shower with the police in my head, assembling a cop-proof wardrobe. I would forget something at home but not immediately turn around if someone was behind me, because I discovered that a sudden backtrack could cause alarm.They trotted out statistics about New Orleans’s crime rate.But Kingston’s crime rate dwarfed those numbers, and I decided to ignore these well-meant cautions.