Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
"Damion, you recognise that if we don't get it right then we will get lost?"
Veteran journalist Cliff Hughes was having the time of his life. At every opportunity he would tease us about our seeming inability to recall landmarks in Brussels, Belgium, and would beat his chest at every opportunity to demonstrate he had got it right.
But there came a time when Cliff no longer boasted, and neither did he seek to continue leading the group of Jamaican journalists. Last Wednesday evening he met his Waterloo. He led us on to the wrong train, jumped off in a haste after he realised, and was left stranded in the subway.
The sight of Cliff squeezing through the narrow passage of a closing train door, and then turning around to fan it down as if beckoning a taxi driver in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, was ridiculously hilarious. The comedic act broke all language barriers and provided entertainment for people aboard; it was as if the most potent laughing gas had been dispersed.
Having realised Cliff's fate, the rest of us decided to take the safe way back to the hotel - a taxi. And miraculously, Cliff was there.
The journey to Brussels, regarded as the capital of Europe, began last Saturday. Five journalists, namely Cliff of Nationwide News Network; Kimmo Matthews of the Jamaica Observer; Kaneal Gayle of CVM; Damion Mitchell of The Gleaner/Power 106 and yours truly jetted off to Europe from Jamaica. We had a rough bus ride from Kingston to the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James, where we boarded the plane.
But not so fast. Most of us barely made it. With the exception of Damion and Kaneal, none of us had printed our e-ticket and the airline insisted it was necessary to have it before we could clear immigration. Thanks to the generous work of staff at Sangster, we were able to recover the information and were soon in the departure lounge.
Again, we barely made it. Despite having not heard any call for passengers to board the Jet Air flight, the airport announcer was to shout the names of all five Jamaican journalists.
"This is your final call to board ..." the announcer said and then went on to warn that our luggage may be removed from the plane.
We made it, and the embarrassment was averted, notwithstanding the fact that Dacia, one of the attendants who helped us recover our e-tickets, smiled at us saying "You again!".
The Brussels experience was the Cliff Hughes show. And he entertained.
Paul Ames, a journalist who was assigned to take us around, asked whether Jamaicans speak a second language. I was getting ready to tell him patois when Cliff said "They teach Spanish in the schools."
Not long after, Cliff was exposed to have been one who warmed the benches in Spanish class.
Paul introduced us to a man and told him we were from Jamaica and Spanish is our second language. Immediately, Spanish sentences were rolling off his tongue; he was speaking to Cliff who really 'comprehende un poqueto Espaņol' (understands little Spanish). Wide-mouthed, he said "Uh?". The man quickly realised the deficiency and decided to communicate in English.
Damion and Kimmo had their language issues as well. As they prepared to collect lunch at the European Council building at the EU Summit, Damion had a difficulty getting the server to understand that he wanted only "a little bit". Kimmo also did not want a lot of food. Having realised what happened to Damion, Kimmo stepped up and said "bon appetit" to the server who looked at him wide-eyed, obviously wondering why he was telling her to enjoy her lunch.
Following Cliff's downfall, I decided to take my rightful position as leader of the group. But somehow Cliff and Damion weren't amused. They unfairly labelled me the "Minister of I" claiming that I spent so much time knocking my chest, sounding so much like a famous politician whom I refuse to name.
Kaneal could hardly carry his weight around. Every time we set out we insisted on him walking at the front of the pack but we would often have to stop and wait for him as he would fall metres behind. On one occasion after we waited, almost to the point of losing patience, I had to ask him 'a where unno did deh?'. He had the sense of humour to deal with us thinking he was four in one.
I detected envy in the group over the fact that every other woman whose eye I caught wanted me. Well, except at a pub where Maas Obi of the African Caribbean and Pacific group had taken us for a drink. Kimmo wrestled Kaneal's cellular phone from him and logged onto Google translator to communicate with the bartender. She had piercings just about everywhere exposed to the eyes.
Kimmo, the silky smooth one, got her excited about visiting us at the hotel for a drink later that evening. We are still waiting for her to show up.
Meanwhile, Cliff did not get it all wrong. For example, in our exchange with Alexander Walford, a policy officer responsible for trade between the Caribbean and Europe who said Jamaica has failed to reduce customs duties on imports as agreed under the Economic Partnership Agreement, Cliff took on Jamaica's case as if he were the minister of finance and did an admirable job at it as he argued that we cannot reduce customs duties, which represent a significant revenue earner at this time.
He pointed to the state of the economy and all but persuaded the EU representative that Jamaica needed more time to implement the agreement.
In the meantime, having been in Brussels at a crucial time in world history, we recognised there was absolutely no time to waste. We worked like Trojan horses, covering briefings, meeting with officials, resource persons and writing stories.
Some of the sessions, however, were far from exciting and Cliff and Damion welcomed those opportunities to nod off into La-La Land.
The fact that we were working for separate and competing media entities did not get in the way. We formed a five-man strong Jamaica team and reported on the issues in a timely manner. The country will decide whether we acquitted ourselves well.
After a hectic week in the European capital, with little or no time available for fun or sightseeing, home beckoned. We could not wait to board the plane for the more-than-10-hour flight back to Jamaica.
Along the journey back to Jamaica was a stop at the Punta Cana Airport in the Dominican Republic. The vast majority of the tourists came off the Boeing 767 aeroplane there and it was necessary for us to get off for a few minutes and be accommodated at the thatch roof airport. The dry-weather facilities served as an eye-opener. For us, it was the first sign that the Dominican Republic had no business calling itself a competitor with Jamaica in terms of tourism.
As for Europe, we left a piece of Jamaica in Brussels. Both Maria Laura Fanciosi, another of our aides, and Paul, got $100 notes as souvenirs from us and they appreciated it.
Maria wanted a banknote with Bob Marley on it, but with no such note existing, she might have to settle with listening to a receptionist in the lobby who, as we left for Jamaica, sang Redemption Song.