Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Less space between men in Caracas

Published:Sunday | July 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke

A couple of days in a country does not make you even knowledgeable about it, so forget about being an expert. However, there are bound to be observations which remain with you and form the basis of a comparison with the society in which you actually live.

After spending a couple days in Caracas, Venezuela, recently, one of the striking things I saw was the touch of the hands of a policeman riding on the back of a motorcycle on the shoulders of his colleague piloting the machine. It was more than a touch - it was the man on the pillion resting his hands lightly on the shoulders of the man handling the machine as it moved briskly on the road. And while it was not always the case, I saw it more than once.

Immediately, I compared it to how two men on a motorcycle operate in Jamaica. It is something I have consistently observed over time and been highly amused by. No matter how small the machine, they find space to make an obvious gap between them. Sometimes the male passenger sits so far back on the little seat that it seems his rear pants pockets are suspended in mid-air. On a 'big bike' at high speed the passenger can take the 'lean back' approach, hands folded to boot. But there shall be no contact, even when there is nothing behind the passenger to hold onto.

Maybe once I have seen a male passenger lean over and touch the gas tank with the fingertips for balance, but that is it. And there is still a highly visible gap between the male bodies. Not that the cops I saw in Venezuela doing the shoulder touch were snug on each other, but they were definitely closer.

The higher level of contact between cops on a motorcycle in Caracas (and remember, it was only a few instances) and the determination to maintain space on even the smallest of two-wheeled machines in Jamaica could be an indication of the distance between men in the respective countries. For as much as men maintain the 'bred en' bonds in Jamaica, there is an overt effort to make it clear that there is a physical gap between them. So man shall go hither and yon, but there shall be no 'groundsing' - undue touching.

In this light, the football celebrations where the man who scores sprints away from the goal while being pursued by his teammates, who happily pile on him when they catch up, is doubly incongruous. This time of goal groundsing is not specific to Jamaica, but it is ironic that a country in which the tiny spaces between men on a motorcycle is important can rejoice in heaps of sweaty male clutching at each other in celebration of sporting success.

The field of play where masculinity is demonstrated is one of the few places where I see men hug in Jamaica. Not so in Caracas, where the hug of greeting was commonplace. But then, there was something I saw on a street during one ride that I have not seen in Jamaica, except for below the Stars and Stripes at the US Embassy for a day or two.

It was the Rainbow Flag. The difference in obvious spaces between men in Caracas and Kingston go deeper than inches on a motorcycle seat.