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HOH Feature: Robert Felton

Dylan DelCol, Reporter

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Junior Robert Felton took a trip to the equatorial island nation of Jamaica last summer on a family trip that took him through a multitude of exciting and sometimes frightening experiences. He shared his stories with us as part of the Marionette’s Instagram series, Humans of Harding, but there was too much to fit into a simple three-line caption so we decided to make a story out of it. Here are some of the stories he deigned to share with us from his tropical trip: enjoy!

He began his trip by connecting through Florida, and before he even set foot on foreign soil, the fun began. “From the very beginning, we had a 30 minute layover, which wasn’t bad. The thing is though, we get a flight with Farrakhan.” Felton said. “Yes – the civil rights [Louis] Farrakhan. The one with multiple secret-agent looking bodyguards around him.”

Farrakhan, for those who don’t know, is the current leader of the Nation of Islam, the same organization that Malcolm X led during the civil rights era and was accused of involvement in his assassination. Farrakhan continues to be one of the most prominent Islamic religious leaders through his Islamic nationalist organization, the Nation of Islam. So yeah, he’s a pretty big deal.

“The time from the Keys to Jamaica was about 45 minutes. That has to be the most intense 45 minutes of my life. It was truly intimidating sitting next to all these dudes who can legally carry arms on a plane,” Felton said. “I was scared to go pee. It was that bad.”

Immediately after getting off the plane, Felton was surprised to see an unusual scene waiting outside. “And so we finally land and I finally go pee after 45 minutes There were, like, little kids with their heads shaved asking if he (Farrakhan) can kiss their foreheads and stuff like that,” Felton said.

The craziness didn’t stop at the airport, as Felton describes: “The thing about taxi drivers in Jamaica; they charge money per person in the car. You don’t even have to be a legitimate taxi driver; it can just be your van.”

Since Felton had no other way of getting from the airport to his destination, he soon found himself crammed into one of these “taxis.” “They fit people into that van to the point where you will have people sitting in your lap,” Felton said.

He also recounted how the taxi drivers are sometimes legally lackluster. “As soon as they realize that you’re American because you speak differently they’re like ‘yo, give me more money or I won’t take you,’ and that happened on my first time in a taxi,” Felton said.

The intensity of the ride experience kept mounting as Robert then witnessed a man being shot in the street while they were waiting at a stop light. “The thing is, in New Kingston, it’s just basically become a criminal syndicate ring, so seeing a dead body is normal,” Felton said. “You just step over them or move them off the street. You know that joke about Jamaica’s economy being solely based weed and tourism? It’s accurate.”

Felton points out that the violence wasn’t a mainstay of the trip once he arrived at his family’s town. “About 30 minutes [after leaving the airport] we get to Mandeville. Even though these people are in a bad environment, they are extremely kind,” Felton said. They will cater to you to the point where they will starve themselves in order to feed you because you’re a guest. They are extremely hospitable in that right.”

The experience in Mandeville, Jamaica was drastically different from life in America. “It’s rural to the point that you will see chickens and goats and farm animals just walking in the street” Felton said. “There isn’t any such thing [in Mandeville] as mosquito spray, so this is how you know I’m from a first-world country because I’m sitting here trying to kill all the mosquitoes. My grandmother is just walking around like it’s okay.

Even the food is different in rural Jamaica. “Cane sugar is really good over there. I would happily import some just to cook with it.” For context, the Jamaican island was settled by European slave traders from the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries who organized huge plantations to farm the native cane sugar.

His experience with the KFC on the other side of town was particularly divergent from what one might expect. “KFC is like a delicacy over there,” Felton said. “They love some KFC – they love first- world stuff.”

“So I walk into KFC brandishing about five bucks. It was really funny watching them as I finally spoke. Over there they are, like, black black. Clearly the [Robert’s] skin color finally makes sense. And this 12-year-old boy starts offering me everything off the board like ‘would you like anything else sir?’ Didn’t call me sir before I spoke.”

“Another interesting thing, my grandmother isn’t Jamaican. She’s East-Indian, and my grandfather is Chinese/Jamaican,” Felton said, describing his varied family history.

There is much more of an emphasis on competitive athletics in Middle-America and the Caribbean. “Athletics is their pride and joy, primarily track and field as a whole,” Felton said. “Literally as you land [at the airport] you are seeing a massive poster with Usain Bolt’s face on it. All the local colleges are endorsed by Usain Bolt. He funds everything.”

His impressions of the island were largely positive, however. “Overall the experience was great. Even though they don’t have a car they will see to it that you get to your destination in a timely manner and safe manner no matter what time it is,” Felton said. “I didn’t go to Sandals or anything because there are so many beautiful places just in our town.”

 

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HOH Feature: Robert Felton