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Selling 'swims' in Middle Quarters

Published:Tuesday | November 8, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Shrimp vendors in Middle Quarters, St Elizabeth. - File
A sign lets you know you've finally arrived in shrimp country. -File
Well seasoned and prepared to satisfy the appetites of many. - Ian Allen/Photographer

I'm not big on shrimp but there's something about Middle Quarters, St Elizabeth, that I really like. It could be the atmosphere or the look of the place, but I think it has more to do with the people who live and work there.

On a recent trip to the area, I stopped for a while next to a bubbling pot of something-or-the-other and a woman wearing a white apron. She had a wide grin and smelled of spices. I told her I was just passing by and didn't plan on spending much time there.

"No man!" she said, her grin transforming into a grimace. "Yuh caan just pass through Middle Quarters, yuh haffi spend time and eat food!" she said.

We were both standing next to what I assumed was her pot at the side of the road in the area known best for its shrimp vendors. They lined the roadway, women and a handful of men holding up clear plastic bags of red shrimp. Some were selling soup as well.

I told the woman that even though I'm not a big fan of shrimp, I was enjoying the smell of it quite a bit. "Den dat is why yuh must spend time in di place, man," she said.

A man sauntered up to her. He had on a pair of sunglasses and wore sandals. "Eem, how much for di shrimp?" he asked. The woman looked at with him disdain.

"Don't meck me and yuh have nothing!" she said.

Without saying anything else, the man walked off. The woman looked at me.

"Mi tell him seh no more credit till him pay off what him owe and him have a heart come ask me bout how much fi shrimp," she said.

"I shoulda loud him up, but true mi is a God-fearing woman, him feel like him can get weh wid me. Him soon learn bout mi," she said.

Cackling merrily

Across the road, two other female vendors appeared to have seen what happened and were cackling merrily.

"Woi!" yelled the larger of the two. Her bosom bounced as she laughed. "Him know seh him caan come back to mi, so is a good ting him nuh come over here so," she said. The other woman chuckled even louder.

I noticed a car approaching. Every vendor in sight held up their hands, showing off the treats. The car passed by without stopping. The driver honked the horn as it went by.

The woman I was standing next to, yawned. I asked her how long she had been out at the roadside that day.

"Not too long yuh know, but di sun hot so yuh find seh mi tired out," she said, yawning a second time.

I suggested she have a nap.

"Yuh mad!" she snapped.

"And when customer come fi buy swims mi lay dung yah a sleep?"

I speedily retracted my suggestion.

A man wearing khaki pants and a thin white shirt rode up on a bicycle. He dipped into his pocket and then handed the woman some bills. She took them, gave him a small bag and he rode off.

Not a word was spoken between the two.

"Well, at least mi get a one sale fi di day," she said, smiling.

I asked her which was the best day of the week in Middle Quarters, where sales were concerned.

"Well, weekend time, yuh know. And holiday, like when people going to di falls, dem always stop and buy swims and eat," she said.

The woman spotted a fly hovering near her bubbling pot and reached for a towel. She snapped the towel over the pot and the fly disappeared.

She looked up at me.

"Middle Quarters boring, nuh true?" she asked. "Not at all," I told her.

She grinned. I told her that I was enjoying her company and the atmosphere of the place.

The woman beamed. "Well, mi glad to hear dat!" she said.

"Middle Quarters people have to love stranger, for dat is our business. Dat is why people must always feel comfortable around here. Mi glad yuh seh so. Very glad," she said.

Where should Robert go next? Let him know at