BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment email@example.com
LONDON, England — Beverly Saunders has not been able to return to Jamaica since she arrived in Britain 12 years ago. But on Friday Jamaica came to her and hundreds of homesick islanders who turned out in droves to participate in the historic 'Jamaica in the Square' — a six-day event in Birmingham to celebrate the country's 50th year of Independence from British rule.
The Jamaican national colours black, green and gold dominated Victoria Square, while the pulsating reggae beat and the smoke from several jerk pans filled the atmosphere.
Popular fast food chains, which would normally have been filled with the lunch crowd in the busy commercial district, were empty as scores of nattily attired office workers abandoned the usual sandwiches and salads to wait in long lines to purchase jerk chicken, pork and curried goat meals.
Hundreds of non-Jamaicans abandoned their other tasks to sit in the square and enjoy the electrifying performance of the University of the West Indies Performing Arts Ensemble which had the large crowd dancing to various genres of Jamaican music.
The entertainment for kids was a four-lane track where even the tiniest of toddlers wanted to be track stars like Usain Bolt as they tried to outdo their opponents to the finish line in record time so they could collect their prize — their choice of either a Jamaican or a British flag.
At the other end, manufacturers of authentic Jamaican-made goods stocked home-made chocolate balls, coconut drops and grater cakes, while a 'jelly' man and a guinep vendor did brisk business.
"It's a good thing... a very great thing that is happening here, and my only wish is that it could be a yearly event," Saunders told the Jamaica Observer, stopping just long enough from rocking to the heady reggage tunes to speak.
Adorned in her Jamaican colours, Saunders appeared almost lost in the moment as she waved not one, but two flags high in the air.
"Many Jamaicans here can't get to go home to celebrate, whether it is because of the high [air] fare or other things, and so to be able to have a Jamaican thing like this here is just great," she said.
Saunders said she booked her vacation time from work to coincide with the festival so she will be able to attend every day. And she has done just that, planning her outfits — with the Jamaican flag colours prominent in each — in advance for each of the six days of the festival, which ends tomorrow, Jamaica's Independence Day.
"I will be here every day in my full get up and on Monday I will have something special to wear," she said.
Saunders added that being able to watch the jonkunnu performance and listening to renditions of Louise Bennett (Miss Lou's) poems on the opening day of the festival lifted her spirit.
Marcia Mattis, who has not been able to return to Jamaica in 14 years, said the event was one which many Jamaicans living in this city have been longing for.
"I always dream of this day happening," she beamed.
Mattis, who could hardly break long enough from dancing, said the nostalgic journey was making her even more homesick.
"It just makes me want to go home," she said, adding that she was disappointed at not being able to be in Jamaica for the 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations.
Sylvena Burke said when she first arrived in Britain, in 1976, no one could envision that such a large Jamaican event could be held in the square.
"This would never have happened 30 years ago, and this is a great feeling," she told the Sunday Observer.
Unlike many of the other patrons, Burke, who lives in Derby, some 40 miles from Birmingham, had come to that city to conduct business but found herself unable to tear herself away when she ran into the event.
"It is really beautiful and wonderful and I really didn't think it would happen," she said.
For Yvonne Blake, 'Jamaica in the Square' took her down memory lane of her childhood days growing up in Swansea, Clarendon.
"Our daddy used to carry us on his bicycle to Denbigh, one in the carrier in the back, and one on the handlebar, with wi sardine and crackers from Swansea; so mi haffi reminisce on Jamaica when me hear this music," she said.
Blake, who was there with her adult daughter, said she would also be attending every day.
Meanwhile, Wade Lyn, proprietor of Cleone Foods, operators of Island Delight patties which was recently awarded the Santander Responsible Small Business of the Year award, told the Sunday Observer that a 50-inch patty had been baked and would be on display to commemorate Jamaica's 50th anniversary celebrations.
Lyn said he will be checking with the Guinness Book of Records to determine if the patty is the largest ever made.
The patty, which is made with a special jerk chicken filling, will be given to the city's food bank for people who cannot afford to buy food.
In the meantime, 'Jamaica House' which is being staged at the 02 Arena in London to showcase brand Jamaica, has got off to a great start with a large turnout of patrons on the first day.