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.