The cultural mix

The Good Life

Cayman is a conundrum.

In one sense, developed as it is, it is still a village, but then again, because of the range of cultures here, it’s akin to a big town and these varying cultures, right in your face, can make for some delightful experiences.

OK, unsettling sometimes, but mostly delightful.

For example: Recently, I’m at Foster’s at lunch time getting a cup of red bean soup. Next to me is an English guy filling his container from the pot marked ‘Manish Water’. His buddy, standing expectantly next to him, says (English accent) ‘What is that?’ English 1 replies, ‘It’s manish water.’ Now part of this is that you have to imagine the English accent, which can make trivial things sound quite important – the way it came out ‘manish water’ suddenly sounded like very elegant stuff.

At this point I was just a casual listener, but then came the next question from English 2 – ‘What exactly is it?’ My Caribbean ears were now on full alert for the reply. Unfortunately, however, as there were others waiting behind me for soup, I had to move away without hearing the answer, but I turned back to watch the exchange. Whatever English 1 said to him, the change in English 2 was startling. His head snapped back, his eyes widened, his jaw dropped, and I could swear his knees even buckled slightly. The man reacted as if he had been hit with a 2×4.

That’s the kind of cultural shock that is often part of daily life here. Cayman gets you used to these things – like an English guy hooked on manish water. Beautiful.

Here’s another one.

To live in Cayman is to soon learn many things about the Jamaican culture, including the fact that Jamaicans, generally, are terrified of frogs. Understand I’m not talking about those large moss-covered creatures that inhabit the swamps; the frogs I’m referring to are those small grey ones, often less than two inches long, measuring less than the average human big toe, that tend to hang around windows and doors in Cayman. The blackest Jamaican will turn paler than Anthony Eden at the sight of one of these things.

Here’s how I learned that.

Some years back, shortly after moving into my almost-finished house in Northward, I hooked up with a Jamaican named Golding to do some masonry work. He had done work for me before, dependable guy, good mason, so he showed up this day, put up a scaffold with a 2×10 plank across and set about tackling ‘de wuk’.

Like many Jamaican workmen, Golding had a way of sometimes humming softly to himself as he worked, so here’s the scene: Saturday morning, I’m in the house watching television. Golding is out there wielding his trowel and humming softly. It’s one of those sweet days in paradise.

Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, Golding’s hum migrates into a piercing scream. The bucket with the concrete mix goes up in the air, the scaffolding separates, the 2×10 goes flying; it sounds like the house is coming down. I bolt out the front door in shock; stuff is scattered all over the place, and there is Golding, across the patio, standing in the croton. His eyes are like saucers.

‘Golding. What happened to you, man?’

‘Frog, sah. Mi didn’t see ‘im. ‘Im almost jump on me, sah.’

‘Golding. A big man like you; you ‘fraid a frog not as big as your finger? ‘

‘Yes, sah. Dem jump on yuh sah.’

It was a revelation.

This was a tough guy, 250 pounds, picked up two concrete blocks like toothpicks, and here he was running for his life from a two-inch frog. You could laugh at him all you want; Golding sees a frog, he runs. Jamaican culture.

A few years later, another case: This one involving Vita, a live-in helper, who informs me at 8pm one night that she is not sleeping in her bedroom because a frog is in there. I go in, she shows me this one-inch grey blob on the window and reiterates ‘Yuh ‘ave fi get ‘im out. Mi cyan sleep in dere, sah.’ Remembering the Golding episode, I go in search of a broom, but by the time I return disaster has struck:

The frog is nowhere in sight.

I try to bluff. ‘Well, he’s gone Vita.’

She’s unmoved.

‘No, sah. ‘Im still in here, sah. Yuh ‘ave fi get ‘im out.’

I spend the next 15 minutes, tumbling the room upside down, bucking my foot a couple times, finally dismantling the bed, before I locate the creature, scrunched up in a corner, and dispatch him to frog heaven. You would think Vita had just won the lottery. ‘T’ank yuh, sah.’

And finally, more recently: A woman in Cayman whose office opened two hours late one morning, not because the power was off, not because she was sick, not because she lost her keys; the problem was a tiny frog perched on the top of the door, six feet from the lock. She stood on the sidewalk for two hours, refusing to go near the door, until frog removal help came.

‘Well, you could have walked up very slowly and opened the door.’

‘Oh yeah? Suppose ‘im jump inside?’

What a great cultural mix we have in the life here. Remind me some time to tell you about the Bajans and the Filipinos.

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