By Anna Gaskell Observer Staff Writer (Charlestown, Nevis) ” His eyes smile out from under a lopsided baseball cap. A flip-flop dangles off his left foot and a disintegrating trainer grabs his right. He’s an unlikely charmer. You will usually find him in town, tapping his stick on the ground; the rattle of the can at its top makes a tinny beat.” A little of his own music to sweep the steps to. Nobody asks Jamdem to sweep the steps. But still he comes. Lately he’s been shaking hands with most passers-by, congratulating them on 25 years of independence: “25 years, 25 years more,” he says. I”m sure he wants Nevis and St. Kitts to stay independent beyond 2033, but he will have found something new to say by the time we get there. Jamdem told me that after he finished at St. James” school, he did construction work for Public Works for two years. He didn’t want me adding up his years, so he refused to tell me which year that was. Much of the work he did was on buildings in town, which is perhaps one reason why he’s so protective of them, why he cleans and cleans. He then worked in the Agricultural Department for many years, and made it his personal mission to bring many species of plant from one side of the island to the other. He hoped to show that Nevis could provide food for all its people. From where we”re sitting in town now he can see the Dominica boat, and I think it disappoints him that we still rely on it for so much for our food. Later on in his life, he worked for old Mr. Bellot in Bush Hill, looking after his sheep and goats and overseeing the place. When Mr. Bellot died in 1992, Jamdem says he was ‘stoned off the land” and made to return to his home in Cotton Ground. “So from then I jus” come town an” I sing an” I sing, I don’t go back” he said. (I don’t blame him. I hope one day too, to sing and not look back). His mother died in 1994, so coming to town to sing, surrounded by people going about their business, must have made him feel less alone. Four years ago, Christina, the woman he lived with for many years, also died. Now he lives up in Fountain with his daughter. But these are all just the bare crosses on a map, which tell nothing of the journey itself. Jamdem’s story to me is more about the part he plays in Nevisian society as the “Town-Crier,” and about the gentle farmer who hopes for a better, fairer Nevis. And about madness, too. Jamdem is so alive to his surroundings, he hears everything, communicates everything. He’s been used by all kinds of people, just to get word around about some new thing. Even the governments of Nevis, and this is the third he’s seen in office, have used him to pass on information. As a friend told me, “He’s how you get things circulating.” Of course, many won’t believe a word of what he says, but apparently he tells the truth just as often as he embellishes it. So he is known as the “Town-Crier.” I heard of this one instance, about 5 or 6 years ago, when he was lying with his eyes closed in a gutter up in Cotton Ground, and a man saw him and he walked over, and told Jamdem to get up out of the gutter for Gods” sake. Jamdem stood up, annoyed. He had been listening to two people talk near him, and now his cover was blown. But this role as “Town-Crier” ” commentator on society and passer-on of information – does not make him a gossip. No, he passes on his information discreetly; you might not even know that you heard it from him. I have no doubt he’s selective in these disseminations, too; he would never pass on something that could harm anybody. He says he always tries to help the police and the media in investigations, simply because “it’s better to make peace than to make war.” Jamdem often says we should “go back to agriculture” and I think this is more than the simple hope of someone who is himself a farmer at heart. I think he wants Nevis to provide better for herself. And this is not just about farming and food, it is also about social equality. Of ‘this paradise,” he says, three quarters of the land could be used for growing food, and that land should be allotted to the people, so they can “build small houses and live off the land and feed themselves, and their neighbours.”” As if he already knows that this crusade might sadly be a solitary one, he goes around planting fruit and vegetable seeds anywhere he thinks is too bare, as if he holds the balance between famine and plenty in his own hands. I heard that people at Nevlec had to tell him to stop because the melon roots were interfering with their electricity cables. Aside from the comedy, this story does prove one thing: Jamdem the compulsive planter is not just growing things for himself. He just wanted the staff at Nevlec to have some melons. Imagine all the places not near electricity outlets and conflicting interests, what fruits and vegetables could be thriving there. He might think that his two hands are attempting to make up for the work of the many pairs of young hands that disdain to touch the soil. He says the young people would rather have guns in their hands. That must seem like madness to him, always finding opposition to such reasonable hopes for a more peaceful Nevis. He keeps finding people with guns and people who don’t give a damn. And yet, it is Jamdem that they call mad. People always say that Jamdem is a little crazy, but at least they aren’t afraid of him anymore, as they once were. Now they have a lot of affection for him, they give him lifts in their cars, making it possible for him to appear almost everywhere on island all in the same day.” I think that makes him seem more magical than mad, the way he appears to be everywhere at the same time.” He knows the best way to treat a cold, Hammond and lime, he says. I don’t know what his actual condition is, I admit. Some people say he is schizophrenic, and that he hasn’t got a good grasp on the difference between truth and delusion. But does any one of us? If you ask him three times in the same day why he puts bottles and cans on the trees branches, he will probably give you three different answers. But it keeps us guessing. I didn’t know much about Jamdem before writing this, only that I liked him. His presence in town is reassuring. I find myself looking for him when I pass through town, even if not to say hello, just to make sure he’s still there, sweeping the steps. If he disappeared one day, people would notice. We would miss him. We would be surprised if one day the steps were empty. So he sweeps and he sings and he stays. I think tourists pay him something for his singing, but I doubt he needs that much, what with all the secret plots he’s cultivated around the island. He does need new shoes though. But he says with pride: “I come to town and I sing and I sing.” One day, when I”ve really had enough, maybe I”ll join him.
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