17
30

Jamaica

J intro

 

Welcome to New York City!

I should say upfront that I’m a hopeless fan. Ever since I first laid eyes on the place – exactly 25 years ago when the ad agency I worked for as a copywriter in Sydney sent me here for a “creative conference” – I’ve been hooked. It was 1987 and NY was fast and dangerous, ideal for a 20-something eager to experience life.

Since then of course the city has cleaned up and in the process lost some of its weird and gritty edge. But I still love it.

Like many people though, what I really mean when I say I love New York is that I love Manhattan. Because aside from one small expedition to Brooklyn on my last visit to NY four years ago, I’ve never strayed beyond it.

Coming here this time, with a mission to explore the ‘unfamous’ side of the city, I was almost shocked when I looked at a map and realised how enormous ‘New York’ really is. Manhattan is just one of its five boroughs, which are all so large that they could each be considered cities in their own right.

In short, I realised I’ve seen diddly. Time to get off the island and explore.

But where to start? Given the size of the place, my first challenge was working out where to go.

I had some time to think – a strep throat laid me low for a few days when we first arrived a week and a bit ago. But even when I felt well enough to venture out, I still hadn’t decided. Then last Sunday while scanning the papers I read that a neighbourhood called Jamaica in the borough of Queens was celebrating the end of Ramadan that day with a gathering of 20,000+ Muslims for prayer at… 9.30am. It was already 10.30 so clearly I’d missed the mass gathering but I was curious what the rest of the day would be about.

‘Suburb’ No 30 decided: Jamaica, Queens.

Some quick facts… Jamaica is in Queens, which is the most diverse place on earth apparently. Jamaica itself has distinct pockets of different nationalities. White and upper-middle class from 17th century until the mid-late 20th century when it had become working-middle class African American, Jamaican (handy) and Hispanic. The latest and fastest growing group in the eastern part of the neighbourhood is the Bangladeshis, attracted by the neighbourhood’s mosque. (The name, by the way, has nothing to do with the Jamaicans who live here. The Dutch called it ‘Jameco’, a Native American word, which then became Jamaica.)

Let’s go Jamaica!

 

Part 1: Food glorious food

To get to Jamaica you get on the F train from Manhattan and stay on it until almost the very end.

Emerging from 169th Street subway stop the first thing I noticed was that the landscape bore pretty much no resemblance to the NY I knew. Aside from the subway itself and the distinctive yellow traffic lights, there were no familiar cues to convince me I was still in NYC – tall canyons, brownstones, fire escapes, bagels – none of it.

But what really threw me were the people. Instead of the usual mix of black and white and everything in between that you see on Manhattan, almost everyone looked the same here – we had landed in Bangladesh central. A few streets to the south was a whole other world of Jamaicans and Hispanics – but along Hillside Avenue where we were it was like little Dhaka, minus a few million people.

And because the Bangladeshis were celebrating one of the two most important holidays in the Islamic calendar – Eid Mubarak, the end of Ramadan – everyone was decked out in their finest salwar kameez or sari.

Having wondered what happened post-prayers I discovered the answer was, very little apart from eating; having just endured a month of fasting they were wandering around, visiting friends, eating whenever and as much of as they wanted. 

 

 

ice cream truck time again

ice cream truck time again :: 1

 

 

 

 

beards the colour of snow cone syrup

beards the colour of snow cone syrup

 

 

 

 

cookie love

cookie love

 

 

 

 

ice cream truck time again :: 2

ice cream truck time again :: 2

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Sultana’s story

Standing around on Hillside Avenue near the subway stop I noticed a colourful troop of women crossing the street. A very beautiful 26 year old called Sultana was amongst them. I took her photo and said goodbye. Hours later we ran into her again and learned more about her. She’d only arrive from Bangladesh a year ago and missed it very much:

“I work in a nail salon here. I get bored. But you have to work here because everything’s so expensive.”

What would you do if you could do anything?

“Teach.” What? “Subjects.” Like what? “English.”

 

 

Bangladesh arrives on Hillside Avenue

Bangladesh arrives on Hillside Avenue

 

 

 

 

'I'm a nail artist but I'd like to be a teacher' - Sultana

‘I’m a nail artist but I’d like to be a teacher’ – Sultana

 

 

 

 

Sultana at the subway

Sultana at the subway

 

 

 

 

wearing her country's colours

wearing her country’s colours

 

 

 

 

mmm, okay so your mehendi is better than mine

mmm, okay so your mehndi is better than mine

 

 

 

 

dear Sultana, I hope this turns into a school blackboard one day

dear Sultana, I hope this turns into a school blackboard one day

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3: A warm welcome

The very first people we met when we arrived in the neighbourhood were Kainath and Nova. I mentioned I wanted to nose around someone’s house to see what went on there during Eid Mubarak and Kainath said, sure, come over to my house later.

 

 

Nova and Kainath, busy organising

Nova and Kainath, busy organising

 

 

 

 

Kainath showed me where she lived and said, come back at 5pm.

 

 

'this is my house, please come back at 5'

‘this is my house, please come back at 5′

 

 

 

 

So we did. Only she wasn’t there, but her mum, Nagris, who’d never laid eyes on us, invited us in anyway.

 

 

'Kainath's not home but come in and have something to eat' - Nargis

‘Kainath’s not home but come in and have something to eat’ – Nargis

 

 

 

 

Then Kainath’s sister, Munira, who we’d never met before either, turned up and said, do you want to come across the road to see my hand being mehndi’ed?

So we did.

 

 

'I don't know where my sister is but come across the road and watch' - Munira

‘I don’t know where my sister is but come across the road and watch’ – Munira

 

 

 

 

After we left them we walked around a little – and then ran into the woman who did Munira’s mehndi and her parents in law.

 

 

'he's my father in law'

‘he’s my father in law’

 

 

 

 

'and she's my mother in law'

‘and she’s my mother in law’

 

 

 

 

Somewhere in between all that we also met Mohammed. We only talked briefly but the next time we visited the neighbourhood we had a long chat standing outside his flat – so long that his wife called down to invite us in for dinner. Well, I ate while Coco raced around outside with Mohammed’s kids. Mohammed explained that he’d done many things but now drove a taxi so he could be his own boss, spend time with his kids and visit the mosque when he needed to.

 

 

King of Manhattan, living in Queens - Mohammed -  "I drive a taxi so I can be my own boss"

King of Manhattan, living in Queens – Mohammed – “I drive a taxi so I can be my own boss”

 

 

 

 

Given how important Eid Mubarak is, I thought perhaps we might have been regarded as intruders. Far from it. Thank you to everyone who welcomed us so warmly during our short stay in Jamaica, Queens!

 

 

 

Part 4: More images from around the hood

 

not the NY Times

not the NY Times

 

 

 

 

same thing minus the mountains

same thing minus the mountains

 

 

 

 

play after prayer

play after prayer

 

 

 

 

Khajida and her mum, Alaya :: 1

Khajida and her mum, Alaya :: 1

 

 

 

 

Khajida and her mum, Alaya :: 2

Khajida and her mum, Alaya :: 2

 

 

 

 

Sujan

Sujan

 

 

 

 

Part 5: From Bangladesh to Jamaica

A few blocks down from Bangladesh central is Jamaica central – on, wait for it, Jamaica Avenue. Two different worlds so close together.

 

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 1

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 1

 

 

 

 

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 2

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 2

 

 

 

 

wow, she looks so beautiful, and she's not even going to a wedding

wow, she looks so beautiful, and she’s not even going to a wedding

 

 

 

 

just streets apart - Pam and Sultana

from Bangladesh to Jamaica :: 3 – Pam and Sultana

 

 

 

 

same faith, different religions

same faith, different religions

 

 

 

 

This part of Jamaica may be full of people from the Caribbean now but it wasn’t that long ago that Jamaica Avenue catered to a very different crowd – an all-white one.

 

Jamaica Avenue - then and now

Jamaica Avenue – then and now

 

 

 

 

her dress is much prettier than mine

her dress is much prettier than mine

 

 

 

 

As distinct as the two areas are, there is some crossover. For example, Fauzia, a Bangladeshi, who works on Jamaica Avenue.

 

 

Fauzia on Jamaica Avenue, servicing a mainly black clientelle

Fauzia on Jamaica Avenue, servicing a mainly black clientele

 

 

 

 

And Meesha from Pakistan who was shopping on the avenue. She arrived in New York when she was 12, a decade ago. I asked her how she got on as a very devout Muslim woman. “No problem in NY, everyone’s too busy to care what you look like. But if I step outside NY, it can be hard.”

 

 

Jamaica Avenue - now and then

Jamaica Avenue – now and then

 

 

 

 

 

Part 6: Freddy and his bubble machines

Sitting in a restaurant on Jamaica Avenue eating lunch one day Coco noticed bubbles floating heavenward outside the window. When we’d finished we raced downstairs to find a grown man with a bubble gun in each hand – it was ‘General Vendor’, Freddy, demonstrating his wares.

 

 

bubble town

bubble town

 

 

 

 

spreading bubble love - Freddy

spreading bubble love – Freddy

 

 

 

 

Seeing as Freddy was having such a good time, Coco had to have her own bubble gun. So there we stood, she shooting bubble bullets while I shot her shooting them.

 

 

thought bubbles

thought bubbles

 

 

 

 

hands up

hands up

 

 

 

 

battle of the bubbles - Nicole and Carla

battle of the bubbles – Nicole and Carla

 

 

 

 

It was fun but a bit weird to watch my child wielding a gun at people, albeit a bubble gun. All the time I’ve been in NY I’ve been thinking, good lord, they have guns here. It didn’t help that as soon as we arrived in NY someone told me that a mentally challenged man in Times Square was gunned down by police that week. And after our bubble shooting spree, we got home to hear the news that a man had shot a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building earlier that day and then been shot himself. In both cases, police had to open fire in crowded tourist areas, injuring a handful of people in the process.

Two lessons learnt – guns are bad and being a tourist can be dangerous. Stick to the suburbs I say. (And before someone tells me that Jamaica isn’t a ‘suburb’, I know, I use the word suburb in the Australian sense, meaning any neighbourhood or area beyond a city centre.)

 

 

The Wrap

Queens is meant to be one of the most diverse places going and Jamaica was a good introduction to that diversity. It was a pleasant shock to see saris and salwar kameez en masse, swishing along a NY sidewalk, and then to leave South Asia and wander down into Jamaican/Hispanic territory, just ten minutes away. Like my own home town of Sydney, how wonderful is it that a city can support so much difference without too much trouble?

 

 

 

welcome to NY - Winston

welcome to NY – Winston

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

As I said earlier, we arrived in NY and I immediately got sick. Very boring – and the cause for this very late post. Luckily Coco didn’t catch the bug and is perfectly content – in her first week here she manged to squeeze in some playtime while we were out photographing, look after Emma, a beautiful Golden Retriever, for a day, and as we speak is ‘upstate’ with some lovely friends of ours, toasting marshmallows and swimming in their pool. And home schooling? What’s that? There’s been none of it for weeks unfortunately. But I’ve warned Coco – come next week when we move into our apartment (we’ve been camping at a friend’s place) it’s going to be on like Donkey Kong – a phrase Coco likes to use that I’m sure she shouldn’t but in the scheme of things…

And that man in the photo above? That’s Winston. If you’re ever in NY, be sure to call him to pick you up from the airport. He’ll tell you everything you need to know about everything. 646-642-0042.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Margaret Johnson

 —

Assuming no more bugs come my way, see you next Monday.

 

  1. Sarah says:

    On like donkey kong? Oh you cheer my heart!! I have a (facebook) friend who was bemoaning not being in Sydney for Eid… I didn’t intially know what it was, but thanks to you, and a google search I feel like I’m well educated now! The bubble fights were delightful, especially Nicole and Carla – to me, that captured the spirit of NYC!

  2. Peter McConnochie says:

    Some serious great fashion shots from Jamaica – a great suburb you have presented!
    Home school…it’s over rated ;-) honest…..

  3. Rob Steer says:

    Another beautifully photographed entry with your juxtapositions just getting better and better (and they’ve always been fantastic!).

    Feel like I’ve just been on a long walk in Jamaica, now for something to eat…

  4. Kelly says:

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

  5. Pip says:

    Great photos Louise. Enjoy NYC! All of them. Pixp

  6. Chantal says:

    Louise – wonderful! There is something about this post that ‘ sings’…it is bursting with happiness – maybe this is about being somewhere which you love and has a certain familiarity but as with Sydney – you have only known part of it. I think you could do a ’52 Suburbs’ on NY? Why not go see some publishers while there?

  7. Kristin says:

    I love this post – so full of happiness and gorgeous people! I agree with Chantal, you could probably do a 52 Subs in NY alone.

  8. Kate C. says:

    52 Suburbs for ever! I am sure you don’t feel that way sometimes Lou, but really, it can never end, brings too much joy. Great shots and I really admire Coco’s confidence and willingness to just get into the moment. I wonder where she get’s that from?! Sultana must follow her dreams! Glad you are. Sip lemon and honey, keep well. xx

  9. Kylie says:

    Wonderful post Louise. I can’t wait to get to NY now. Enjoy the rest of your NY experience.

  10. ellen says:

    cool ny is is the way i saw soem of america get away form the busy landmarks and stuff it is a beautiful place just like aus i know when i was in the us for the charge conf i loved the drive form on the shuttle form la to vegas such lovely scenery and i allwasy love the charge mummys pics of where they all are i have many i know all about the us soemtimes i tell them on there fb pics you could be here in aus LOL love u

  11. Louise says:

    Sarah – I didn’t know about Eid either until I got here. The things a photographic project can teach you.
    Peter – I imagine there’ll be some pretty interesting fashion looks before we’re done with NY.
    Rob – Many thanks. That’s the fun part for me, coupling up my images. I hope I make it look easy because it isn’t! You have to take so many random shots to amass a kind of bank of potential partner shots.
    Kelly – Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    Pip – Thanks missy!
    Chantal – NY does make me happy, it’s true. And a 52 Suburbs of NY would be fun. You never know.
    Kristin – Okay, well that’s two people!
    Kate C – Make that three!
    Kylie – Yes, come on over, the more the merrier!
    Ellen – Oh I love the south-west too. When I was 25 I drove across the US and absolutely loved that part of America. Arizona up into the Rockies, just so beautiful. And Vegas just rises out of nowhere in the middle of the desert, surreal.

  12. Fer Buenos Aires says:

    Louise: all amazing as usual!

    • Louise says:

      fer Buenos Aires – So lovely to see your name pop up. You’ve been following my travels for years now! I love my long-term followers.

  13. Bron E says:

    Love all that Jamaican colour Louise! You add your own colour (or ‘color’, now that you are in the States) and you make everything so enticing. Keep it up!

    • Louise says:

      Bron – Oh, thanks so much!

  14. Gay says:

    Woohoo Louise…I know I’m going to love NYC.
    Great to see rhe vibrancy and friendly faces. I know you are happy Lou….this being yr favorite city for years. A whole new perspective eh what?!
    Will email soon…sorry for being so slow. GG

    • Louise says:

      Gay – Second favourite city after Sydney of course :) But it sure has changed. Even from my last visit here just four years ago. (And as for 25 years ago when the place was pretty dangerous and Times Square was total dodge-ville… Coco dragged me there the other day and it’s so Disney! Very strange.)

  15. nirah says:

    Yes, I agree 52 suburbs should never end…..it is the highlight of my week…and yes 52 suburbs in NY – I second (fourth??) the motion….I also agree that this post seems to have a certain vibrancy and happiness…can’t wait for the next few weeks :)

    • Louise says:

      Nirah – That cheers me no end, being the highlight of someone’s week! Many thanks for saying so.

  16. Lydian says:

    Really liked this post (as all other) and am looking forward to your other posts on New York’s suburbs. Perhaps you can consider 52 Suburbs Around The World Part 2? :)

  17. Deb says:

    This one was the best yet! Love the colours and the clarity and the subjects. Just beautiful.

  18. Amanda says:

    Hey Louise! Loving the fact that you’ve made it to NY already! I love checking to see if there is a new post – I always look forward to finding one and exploring a new place with you.

    In fact, your blog inspired my article about Suburbs :) I wrote about how they are a bit unloved and under appreciated but I also wrote about their history and how we Aussies use the word differently to the rest of the world. If you’d like to have a squiz, it’s here: http://www.inbriefmag.com/in-brief-extras/item/42-the-burbs

    Can’t wait until the next post!

  19. leslie says:

    you should check out steinway in nyc…alot like jamaica

  20. Sean says:

    What a wonderful post! Gorgeous people, photos and musings!

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