THE Rastaman, with thick grey, white and black locks and beard to match, lifted his head and faced the sky in the burning morning sun. He shut his eyes and shouted: "I only work for one employer from ah born. The sea is my employer." A group of women gathered around him, shouting encouragement as he channelled his rage into the lament. "If dem tek way de sea, who gwine employ me? Is the sea I work for. Mi nuh know nuh more work." The women murmured in agreement like the congregation at a church meeting. They too wanted to know what will happen if one day they can't get access to the sea.
One woman, speaking firmly but a little quieter than the rest, told her story: "I sell fish. Mi husband is a fisherman all him life. Him go out to sea even though dem a mash it up. Fish nuh easy fi find like first time, but we grateful for whatever the sea bring."
She gave thanks that even with the present hardships, they can still find some fish to sell, and with the proceeds feed and clothe and send de pickney dem a school. "But if we cyaan get near the sea again, how we gwine manage? Eeh, you tell me how?" Each question was met with a chorus of sympathy.
It was mid-morning at the Old Harbour Bay fishing beach, and the topic was what will people do when "dem come from farin and tek over di place". The response: "Somebody fi come talk to wi. Somebody shoulda come long time, come tell we what a go happen, what we gwine haffi do."
The beach at Old Harbour Bay is a place of doubts and fear these days. What were the views on Goat Islands? The reply: "Is not so much di Goat Island story. Ah nuh dat mi a worry bout. Is di something... what dem call it? Whatever, that the Chinese people suppose fi build, a dat mi waan know bout... wha gwine happen to we? Why dem won't tell wi? Eeh, Miss Gloudan? You know dem tings. Why dem won't explain it to wi?"
"Fire deh a muss-muss tail, him tink a cool breeze," our ancients say. What really lies ahead with the trans-shipment port? What will be the extent of change, and what will it bring for the women and men who "work for the sea"? A man wants to know what will happen if they buy out the land on which he has built his house, "Whe mi a go live? Dem fi talk to mi. Say sumpn."
Last Friday, when a group of colleagues and I, on a mission for RJR's Hotline call-in show, went to do a broadcast from Little Goat Island, we had to pass through the fishing village before we went over in a motor-powered fishing boat. Last time that I spent an afternoon at the Old Harbour Bay Beach (researching the behaviour of pelicans for a pantomime), the main shed where the newly caught fish are cleaned and sold was not in tip-top shape. Now, the shabbiness of the shed had changed, thanks to a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, which built a spanking new roof and resuscitated some small huts where stocks and fittings used by the fishermen were stored.
Rumours and counter-rumours that the Chinese are coming is the talk of the day. I didn't detect any anti-Chinese sentiment, but a lot of curiosity about the future. Negotiations between Government and the Chinese are supposed to be on the table, but "not everyting good fi eat, good fi talk". We might have to rewrite the proverb soon and very soon: "If it is good to eat, we will need more than talk."
With all the rumours, the Government is still behaving like a young girl meeting her lover for the first time. So, we've heard that they have to tread carefully, but the people's patience cannot be expected to last forever. Will there be a trans-shipment centre or won't there be? When and what will its effect be on the people who are not overnight visitors and explorers, but people who have lived with the 'Jamaican sea' from birth to death?
Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt. Well, it was not so much contempt as "nutten nah gwaan". When we landed at Little Goat Island there was nothing spectacular to see. One man, however, was very distrustful of the motives of at least one prominent environmentalist who, in his estimation, "a chat pure chupidness". As the conversation continued, the fisherman became stronger in his views: "Some a dem a spread propaganda." We avoided the possible clash.
We thought back to the crossing from the bay to Goat Islands. The boat rode low in the water and the village diminished gradually as we crossed the stunningly blue-green water, to the small, uninhabited piece of land. When we reached the little island, the boat was tied up at a favourable spot where a rusty iron stanchion was implanted in a rock in the sand. We were reminded that it was several decades since US seaplanes anchored there. The speculation was that the post is a relic of those times. If there is wildlife on Little Goat Island, we didn't see it. Certainly no goats. Lots of thorny trees and rough terrain where remnants of the concrete foundations of buildings from times past remained stubbornly embedded. We broadcast from the little beach, doing our best to paint pictures of the terrain and cope with the heat.
The Marine Police came by. They don't do interviews unless authorised, but friendly conversation wasn't ruled out, and I got some off-the-record on the workings of the marine corps. The Coast Guard patrols there regularly, we were told, but we didn't meet them that day. Yes, drugs have been hidden, found, stashed on the island from time to time, but that was as far as that topic of conversation went.
Across the bay, to the west, the JPS power plant could be seen, as well as the JAMALCO bauxite installation. The mangroves sat fat and healthy, mirrored in the water. How long before they are chopped out? What will happen if, one day, they are no more? What will the whole area look like if development does come to pass? More jobs, more opportunities; more that but less this. Once there's starting, where will be the stopping? Talk to wi nuh, Govament!