The Bird Lady

I was in Jamaica with Fran and it was my first time there.  I think I’ve already related of  the young Jamaican woman coming down the middle of the road with a huge dish of fruit on her head.  She was topless and it was the custom of that time.  Sad that it has passed.  I think things would be better all around.

I can still remember getting off the plane and taking our luggage to Customs which was a fairly small outdoor building with about 6 long tables for opening our luggage so they could look thru it.  I can still see Frans horror as they examined her underwear.    On the back wall of the room was a sign about 4 by 6 feet saying Ganja was prohibited and punishable etc etc.   I SWEAR…when I picked up my luggage and was met not 8 ft away by a cabbie…asking “Do you wanna buy some Ganja?”.  It was almost hysterical.  And then when I pass thru the exit the police spoke to me but Fran had to interpret them because they sounded like they were speaking Oxford English but I guess it was just Jamaican slang.  I was befuddled.

A few days later, I went to a large outdoor gardens that was a showpiece and was enthralled at the foliage and flowers and so well kept.  A paradise on and island in the middle of the ocean.  That awesome blue water as you looked out over the scene.  Then I heard a bird call.  I have an interest in birds and for sure wanted to photograph a bird I may have never seen or heard of.  I started to look around for it…and I would hear it intermittently  every 30 seconds or so until I was under a fairly large tree.  I heard the call…it was above me…I looked up, and There was a young Jamaican guy…”Hey, you wanna buy some Ganja?”.   It was just too funny.

Anyway…I just happen to ask the cab driver what there was in Montego Bay that was unusual that I might want to see.  He asked if I’d heard of or seen the Bird Lady.  I said no, and he told me he’d pick me up at the front of the hotel at a particular time.  We got in and he drove us up to what felt like the top of the mountain.  There was this small bungalo with open windows and shutters.  There was a flower garden in the front yard which was surrounded by a low fence barely 2 feet high and a metal gate at the head of the path leading to the house.  He cautioned us that we ring the bell at the gate and ask for permission to enter.  We did so and an elderly Jamaican woman beckoned for us to join her on the front porch which was maybe 10 by 12 feet with the doorway (open) to the house and two open windows on each side of the door.  Inside I could see what appeared to be some furniture covered by white sheets.  I didn’t have much time for peeking as she motioned us to sit on the porch and we talked.  She was such a charming lady.  While we were talking all sorts of birds were flying in and out of the house thru the door and windows and making beautiful calling sounds.  It was not chaotic but almost dreamlike.  She would point out the different birds and especially the ring necked pigeon or dove, they were very rare and I can’t remember which it was now.

Then she prepared us for the grand finale as it were…she gave us each a small bottle…clear white, not unlike the small liquor bottles sold then on airplanes.  I saw no labels.  She had us sit and hold the bottle out in front of us.. with our one hand holding the bottle and the other hand cupping this hand in such a position that it formed a perch while the other hand was holding the bottle with the top downward at an angle slightly above the “perch”.   When she was satisfied that we were positioned properly,  she cautioned us not to move and she sat back in her chair.  Now, I don’t know if many or any of you has seen the official bird of Jamaica but it is a hummingbird that is just incredible to see.  It is irridescent green with a tail that is maybe 5 times as long as its body with a wide feathery spot at the end of the tail.  And there it was….sitting on my thumb and drinking sugar water from the little bottle.  I didn’t have my camera with me but the image in my head will never be forgotten.

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