At my internship I have adopted the role of very very part-time filer and resident weird white girl who asks people lots of questions. I am set up in my boss’ office because she mysteriously left the office for the week. No explanation why. About 40% of my day is spent writing field notes or poetry, 30% reading Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild or the Jamaican Observer, and 15% doing interviews with my genuinely interesting co-workers, and 5% staring out the window at downtown Kingston or walking to random places in the office. I especially like to go up and down the stairs so my leg muscles will not melt into fat in the Caribbean heat.
So this morning I’m sitting in my (?) office and I hear the woman who’s husband owns a restuarant coming in to take food orders for lunch. She doesn’t know me yet because for the past few days my co-worker has been ordering food for me. Today I decide to assert my independence and order on my own.
I ask the woman selling food if I can order something, trying to appear casual, like this isn’t only my fourth day in the office and my first time traveling outside the U.S.A. She reads off the choices in standard English instead of Jamaican which most people use in casual conversation here. The list includes, roast chicken, fried chicken, beef soup, and curried goat. Curried goat…that explains the massive amount of adorable goats running around the countryside.
The woman turns to my co-worker Nicolette as I’m thinking about the options to say something in Jamaican that I only catch pieces of. Basically it sounds like “she know none of deez dishes.” Before I can process what she’s said, I go ahead and order the roast chicken. she gives me a look. “Okay Bethany. We’ll get that for you,” the woman says with a look.
After I order I want to say, I do know what you’re offering me! I do! I’m not a stupid American. Even though I ordered the boring roast chicken and didn’t choose your goat curry, I would still eat it! But instead I walk back to my desk.
Even though I’m the tannest I’ve ever been in late May, I’m still not tan enough to be a Jamaican.
I don’t feel bad about his interaction. It’s just the reality of race and class divisions shaping our world into neat little boxes. The boxes give us a framework for interacting with other people who are different from us. This was a moment when the line between my box and that of the woman selling food was made clearly visible.
For me, these types of experiences where we recognize tension or difference stand in opposition to moments where people feel connected, something my pastor calls, “thin moments.” They’re thin because the lines we so often draw between people fade a little.
I believe in personal freedom, and you can do what you want, but as for me, I’m buying an eraser.