I am unapologetically Jamaican, many of you know that, I grew up in Kingston Jamaica, and for most people, that answer is sufficient; but even deeper I am from West Kingston, Denham Town and Tivoli Gardens more specifically. To the world, if you do a Google search for Tivoli Gardens, several gorgeous pictures of Tivoli, Denmark will populate your search. Not that one. According to Wikipedia; Tivoli Gardens was developed between 1963 and 1965 by Edward Seaga. Known as the Rastafarian settlement ‘Back-O-Wall’, he facilitated the redevelopment of the area and dubbed it Tivoli Gardens. Years later, it would also be dubbed as The Mother of All Garrisons.
In any introduction with a fellow Jamaica, it usually commences with ‘Where in Jamaica are you from?’ to which my response is usually ‘Kingston’ as stated if you are truly Jamaican you know that could be just about anywhere, the follow up question is normally ‘Oh what part of Kingston?’, with that being said the response always shocks them, which still puzzles my mind to this day nevertheless ‘Denham Town, Tivoli Gardens area’. This response almost always is a trigger for the question; ‘So, were you there during the incursion?
With that being said, May 2018 marks the 8th year anniversary of the gruesome massacre that happened on my small island, in my small community. What you may mark as 24.5.2010 began before that for anyone who lived through the experience.
May 17th 2010. If I close my eyes, I can think back to when unofficially word got out that the extradition request for Christopher Coke had been signed, I recall everyone around me being in absolute panic mode, knowing if there ever were a World War III, this would be it. My mother called and briefly stated wherever I was, I was to come home NOW. I vividly remember downtown Kingston, being a mad man’s party, known for its usual hectic hustle and bust was on hyper speed. Nonetheless, I made it home to my family where we watched the news and listened to the broadcasters refute the allegations that the extradition request was signed. That was probably the first of so much more propaganda the news would spew to the world.
May 18th, confirmation that the extradition request was signed. Because you know what we say in Jamaica: If a nuh so, a nearly so . The days after, I recall were immensely tense.
May 19th, my family and I watched the build up around us, slowly more unfamiliar faces began to surface in the community, for the most part, all seemed normal, but we knew that this would be the calm before the storm.
May 20th, my family decided we needed to stock up on groceries for the approaching storm, by this time, some debris had been placed on some streets. The roadblocks had begun. The usually bubbly downtown Kingston when we got there to get groceries, was a ghost town even though not much had sparked yet.
May 21st, we were told there were barricades on almost every road, even paths had sandbags. The rate of new faces had tripled on this day, and with those faces, many guns. Despite the increase in persons around and about, a pin drop could be heard miles away.
May 22nd, this is probably one of the most distinct memories I have,that of this young man wearing a red tee shirt, dark blue jeans, clean red and white sneakers casually coming up the street, a can soda in one hand, hair freshly trimmed gun massaging his temple. I also recalled an armor tanker had attempted to clear a roadblock, a trigger most of the new community members were anticipating, and so the musical gunfire began.
May 23rd, Labour Day.
Riot is a strange thing, sometimes it can spread like a wildfire with wind. Reports came in that there were roadblocks far and wide. The entire island had gone abysmally mad. State of Emergency Declared.
That night, my sister and I who shared a bedroom, which was at the forefront of my mother’s home, put our mattresses in front of our window in fear of stray gunshots breaking our louvre windows. We retreated to our mother’s room which was located towards the back of the house. That entire day I kept my headphones in because for a good 12 hours, there was nonstop gunfire. When there wasnt gunfire, there were screams, eerie blood curdling screams. That afternoon, the news emplored with all the ‘good upstanding residents of West Kingston’ to evacuate the area and meet buses along Industrial Terrace to take us to safety. When no one went, it was reported that the community was under hostage. The truth is, physically, we were never hostages.
The West Kingston I grew up in was at times a vile and violent place, indeed it was. It was also a free and fun place. When it was good, it was great. A party on every corner, doors could be kept unlocked at night. It was safe, it was home. The thought of being a hostage in your own home is unimaginable, right?
See you soon for Part 2 Xos.