Gleaner ed­i­tor Adrian Frater (right) with a singer on the Metro suib­way in San­ti­ago, Chile, re­cently. at­ten­tion to the var­i­ous stops be­cause, should I miss the St Lu­cia sta­tion – a des­ti­na­tion I knew only by name – I would be lost in a Span­ish-speak­ing city where I was a com­plete stranger with only a limited grasp of the lan­guage.

Af­ter the young man sang his fi­nal note, pulled out a cup and be­gan col­lect­ing con­tri­bu­tions from pas­sen­gers, I ap­proached him. I pointed to his colour­ful knap­sack and asked, “Do you speak English?” He shook his head in a some­what dis­mis­sive man­ner, al­beit scru­ti­n­is­ing me closely.

I said, “Ja­maica,” pat­ting the chest of the Reg­gae Boyz shirt I was wear­ing, which had ‘Ja­maica’ printed boldly in black.

“Ja­maica ... home of Bob Mar­ley,” I said.

The man’s half-smirk quickly made way for a broad grin and a hand of friend­ship was promptly ex­tended. “Ja­maica ... Bob Mar­ley ... viva Ja­maica! Viva Bob Mar­ley,” he said, as his smile got brighter. I quickly pulled out my smart­phone and asked a fel­low pas­sen­ger to snap a pho­to­graph of us.


When the singer got to his stop, he again ex­tended his hand, re­mark­ing again “Bob Mar­ley ... viva Ja­maica!” be­fore walk­ing away while giv­ing me the thumbs up.

Af­ter I emerged from the sub­way in St Lu­cia, my at­ten­tion was im­me­di­ately cap­tured by the nu­mer­ous his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments, in­clud­ing an im­pres­sive statue of Latin Amer­i­can hero Simón Bolí­var.

I again whipped out my smart­phone and be­gan snap­ping photographs. Af­ter a while, I de­cided it was time to find the shop­ping mall, which I was told had ex­cel­lent sou­venirs. I beck­oned to a young lady, who was stand­ing close by and en­quired whether or not she spoke English. She replied, “lit­tle English,” giv­ing me the ‘head to foot’ sus­pi­cious stare.

As I did on the sub­way I pat­ted the writ­ing on my shirt and said, “Ja­maica.” Her face lit up and she said. “Bob Mar­ley ... Usain Bolt ... fastest man in world.” She sud­denly be­came quite po­lite, blend­ing English and

Span­ish to pro­vide the needed in­for­ma­tion. I got an­other passer-by to snap a pho­to­graph of us sit­ting to­gether. We had be­come friends with­out re­ally know­ing each other.

As I en­tered the shop­ping zone, I be­gan look­ing around for a cam­bio to con­vert my US dol­lars to pe­sos. I was told that the cam­bios of­fered a much bet­ter rate than the banks and sou­venir shop op­er­a­tors. While head­ing in the di­rec­tion of a cam­bio I, walked smack into the mid­dle of a demon­stra­tion, fea­tur­ing scores of per­sons blow­ing vu­vuze­las and chant­ing as they waved plac­ards cov­ered with text and draw­ings. As I looked on, I saw a trol­ley laden with Bob Mar­ley mem­o­ra­bilia on the side of the street.

I walked over to the man op­er­at­ing the trol­ley, and point­ing to the Bob Mar­ley mem­o­ra­bilia and Ja­maica writ­ten on my shirt, said “Ja­maica ... Bob Mar­ley.” He grabbed my hand and shouted out ... “Ja­maica ... Bob Mar­ley!”

He be­gan ges­tic­u­lat­ing to other sell­ers, point­ing at me, say­ing “amigo, amigo ... Bob Mar­ley ... Ja­maica.” He gladly ac­cepted my of­fer to take a pho­to­graph with me, call­ing over his friend to take a pho­to­graph of us with his cam­era.

Af­ter I con­cluded my shop­ping, I de­cided to take a taxi back to my ho­tel in­stead of chanc­ing an­other sub­way trip. The ra­dio in the cab was play­ing Bob Mar­ley’s Buf­falo Sol­dier and the Span­ish-speak­ing driver (who only mo­ments early had dif­fi­cul­ties un­der­stand­ing my English) was singing “Baf­falo sol­dier ... dread­locks Rasta ... fight­ing for sur­vival ... . ”

I turned to him and said, “Bob Mar­ley ... Ja­maica,” touch­ing the ‘Ja­maica’ writ­ten on my shirt. He smiled, gave me the ‘thumbs up’ and said “Bob Mar­ley bueno, bueno!” as his smile broad­ened ... While we could not com­mu­ni­cate fur­ther, when I got to the ho­tel, he bade me farewell with a big smile as though we were old friends.

As I got into the ho­tel and be­gan re­flect­ing on the var­i­ous en­coun­ters I had through­out the day, the great­ness of Bob Mar­ley and his global im­pact dawned on me. Decades af­ter his pass­ing, the man re­mains larger than life – de­spite the lan­guage bar­rier and all.


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