Life in the Goldfish Bowl
On one of my frequent trips to the supermarket, I had to stop myself from buying a fighter fish in a jar. For sale, bizarrely, at the pharmacy counter; these beautiful purple fish with long fins and tails, are living in small jars, gazing out at the world, or more likely their own reflection. I asked the lady behind the counter if they’d need a bigger tank, or would they be happy to keep living in a jar, and she just shrugged and said they live fine in a jar. Am beginning to know how that feels!
We’ve been in Jamaica for over 2 weeks now, staying at the Courtleigh Hotel in New Kingston, the smarter, business-end of town. We’ve had some brilliant adventures at the weekends, but mainly during the week, here I am in the goldfish bowl of my hotel. Not that I haven’t been getting out and about; I’ve been swept up some lovely ladies, mainly wives of H’s (my husband’s) collegaues, who’ve been taking me out, for lunches and baby groups and coffees, but usually by about 1.00pm (when nursery ends for their various tots) I am back in my bowl.
I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than three days in the same hotel, and it’s very weird now living in one! Great things include freshly prepared tropical fruit at breakfast, clean sheets and a perfectly made bed every day. And free air-conditioning! (This apparently is madly expensive to have on at home, so people tend to only have it on for half an hour before they go to bed… As I write this I have the hotel room’s AC on full blast!) Things that are driving me insane include not being able to prepare my own food (except cheese sandwiches made in our hotel room on a telephone directory with a penknife), waiting about 45 minutes to get served in the restaurant (they seem to have no conception about just how hungry (and grumpy) pregnant ladies can get) and having one room to live in which feels pretty cramped when H comes home from work.
One of our evening activities to get out and about is to do a few laps of Emancipation Park which is close by and well lit at night-time. This pretty square has a 500m jogging track round the outside of it, which at dusk is absolutely full of Jamaicans getting their daily constitutional. Some run, jog, walk, meander, but all go round in an orderly direction, just like the sign says, like a herd of hamsters on some kind of collective wheel. Just how busy it is, gives one an indication of how few places in Kingston there are to walk!
We usually do about 5 laps (a stonking 2.5k!) before boredom and serious sweating sets in (night times are still about 26 degrees even though it’s winter gawd help us!) and we go and find the coconut man by the Sweetwood Jerk shack. This guy sells coconuts for 100 J$ (about €1) but always asks me “do you wannit cold or ‘ot?” The first couple of times I just said, “cold”. But, feeling braver on our 3rd visit to the boot of his filthy Nissan Sunny, convinced I had cleverly decoded his patois through my growing knowledge of coconuts, I plucked up the courage to ask him; “Do you mean ripe or unripe?” He looked at me like I grown 10 heads and said “Nahh man! Cold or ‘ot? Like what temperature you wannit?!” So that clears that up, though why anyone wants to drink milk from a hot coconut it a bit beyond me… Also are they just hot from being in his engine? Don’t think I am brave enough to find out. He thinks I’m a twerp already and he has a very sharp machete!
Anyway, back to the fish tank. We now know the hotel staff by name; from the barman to the porter to the lovely ladies at breakfast who like to keep an eye on me and my bump “gotta be careful not to eat too much, don wanna get fat!” just as I reach for cake… or ‘you havin’ some fresh fruit for the baby?’ as I think for a change I might have a bagel. Breakfast itself is a weird meal; our hotel is definitely a business centre, and there are lots of suits having breakfast meetings as I waddle down in my flip flops behind H, looking very pregnant and unemployed! And half-awake as we are usually down there at 7am so H can get to work on time. And, while the hotel has a small outdoor pool, the constant buzz of business meetings sort of takes the shine off the idea of going for a swim. Occasionally, I brave the suits and waddle past in my maternity bikini like a pregnant white beluga whale performing at Seaworld, but recently I have discovered the relative anonymity of the pool in the hotel next door, and have been going there instead!
Jamaicans don’t seem to approve of pregnant women drinking ANY alcohol either. Not even a bottle of Red Stripe light? Just one – because I’m boiling? On ice? Is that SO bad for babies? Apparently so, says the stern glance of the barman, who’s there every day. Rather than face his judgement, and as a way of getting out of the tank, I am taking regular trips to the supermarket to buy beer for our mini fridge (ostensibly for H of course), purchase all manner of weird snacks (like cassava and plantain crisps, and sour sop juice) and say hello to my fellow gold fish at the pharmacy.
I can’t believe those poor fish are really happy living in a jar. I think in solidarity, when we move into a place, I might just get one. Then it can live in a MUCH bigger tank. With a treasure-chest and pond-weed and everything! It’ll be just like me in our gated community… it’ll feel like freedom initially… till we work out we’re just in a much bigger bowl.