Tony Deyal | Cheapside and Coronation
"To market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jiggety jig." I first heard this from an English doctor who was in charge of the clinic in Waterloo, a village in the sugar-cane belt of central Trinidad where, with the bravado of Wellington but feeling more like Napoleon, I was getting an injection for a broken left leg.
My father, driving an old Ford car he had borrowed from my uncle, had told the doctor we were heading for the market in the town of Chaguanas as soon as the doctor had finished with me. Even at that age, the word 'finished' rang alarm bells announcing my immediate demise, and the stiff upper lip was washed away by a flood of tears that ended with a sweet the doctor gave me together with a pat on the head and a, "Don't cry, you will be all right."
In those days of very few cars, finding a place to park was not the problem that it is in today's Chaguanas, where the market that first stunned me with its noise and chaos has grown in size and volume, a mass and medley of sounds, sights and people that overwhelm all the senses, including common sense, which, itself, seems uncommonly foreign in an environment where buyers and sellers all have something to shout about and do so not just loudly, but raucously.
I did not see any fat pigs but was not disappointed since I saw enough of them across the street by Miss Robinson and other neighbours and had even heard Miss Julia referred to as being one when she and Miss Emily had a loud and bitter quarrel over a man I knew only as Mr Sonny.
I have been in markets all over the Caribbean and fat pigs are still scarce, although there is no shortage of heads, tails, ribs, bellies and other anatomical consumer delights, including various cuts of beef ranging from cow heel to tongue, flies swarming all over them, live and 'cut-up' chicken, ducks, fish and goats strung up like villains in the old westerns. It is a smell you never forget.
Whether French-speaking like Martinique and Guadeloupe, Dutch like Suriname, Aruba, Bonaire or CuraÁao, Spanish like the Dominican Republic, or English like the rest of us, all the markets of the Caribbean are alike in produce, volume, importance, sights, sounds and, for me, a distinct splendour and energy that is unique to the region.
While we tend to exaggerate our differences as countries with each bit of sand and rock proudly beating its chest as a sovereign state and God's country, my own travels throughout the island chain and life on the mainland in Guyana and Belize tell me, shout at me, and demonstrate most forcefully that we have a lot more in common than there are differences. Going into any market, anywhere, makes me realise and appreciate that we are indeed one people. CARICOM, fortunately, is not the Caribbean. The markets in every village and town are.
I never went to the old Linstead Market in St Catherine in Jamaica, but I know the song that relates, in poignant words and tones, an old story about the travails and insecurity that have been the lot of farmers and people involved in agriculture in the Caribbean. It is the story of a mother who takes her ackee to sell in Linstead Market, and since nobody bought them, her children would starve. Yet, despite the tragedy it relates, the song is infectious:
"Carry me ackee go a Linstead Market/ not a quattie wud sell./ Carry me ackee go a Linstead Market/ not a quattie worth sell./ Oh, Lawd! What a night! What a night! What a Saturday night!" But I've been to Coronation Market, the largest in the Caribbean, and while I did not feel exactly like a king, it crowned one of my few free days in Jamaica when I first started as an itinerant consultant in the Caribbean.
According to the Lonely Planet website, "It holds a special place in Jamaican culture as both 'stomach' of the country and the old heart of Kingston's commerce. Indeed, half the country appears to be shopping here, especially on a Saturday. It's a brilliant and lively show of noise, produce and commerce, but leave your valuables at home and watch out for pickpockets."
Forget racial tensions
My other favourite is Stabroek Market in Guyana. Dreylan Johnson, writing in the Stabroek News, a paper that deals with the country and not just the market, wrote, "For 135 years, Stabroek Market, with its peaked clock tower and steel-framed structure, has sat at the edge of the Demerara River, hovering over downtown Georgetown like a prayer. It is a meeting place; a synergy of subcultures. An inheritance passed from generation to stall-holding generation."
It is the one place where Guyanese forget for a while the racial and financial tensions, the mistrust and misunderstandings, the politics and personal enmities and lose themselves in their own culture.
There is St George's Market in the capital city of Grenada, where on the hill leading down to it, a policeman, immaculately uniformed with white gloves on, directed the traffic adding to the crowds and noise. Nutmeg and allspice, cinnamon, and even the aphrodisiac Bois Bande, which I pointedly and a bit proudly disdained.
I grieve for the Old Market in Roseau in Dominica where I bought my avocados or what we in Trinidad call zobocas and Guyanese refer to as 'pears', forcing me to ask my wife, "What? Pairs? You buying two of them?"
The Belmopan market in Belize, where you could buy a Mennonite-made house, bookcase or dining set in one area or used underwear from the United States in another. But bananas at seven for a Belizean dollar and other luscious fruits are why I would still live there if I could afford it. My best is Cheapside Market in Barbados. An Englishwoman in front of me looked at the price of some produce and exclaimed, "Oh, dear!" I could not help my retort, "Yes, and they dare to call it Cheapside."
- Tony Deyal was last seen reciting another version of the rhyme, "To market, to market, to buy a plum bun./ Home again, home again the market is done."