No one knew Staceyann's mother was pregnant until a dangerously small baby was born on the floor of her grandmother's house in Lottery, Jamaica, on Christmas Day. Staceyann's mother did not want her, and her father was not present. No one, except her grandmother, thought Staceyann would survive.
It was her grandmother who nurtured and protected and provided for Staceyann and her older brother in the early years. But when the three were separated, Staceyann was thrust, alone, into an unfamiliar and dysfunctional home in Paradise, Jamaica. There, she faced far greater troubles than absent parents. So, armed with a fierce determination and uncommon intelligence, she discovered a way to break out of this harshly unforgiving world.
Staceyann Chin, acclaimed and iconic performance artist, now brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a brave, lyrical, and fiercely candid memoir about growing up in Jamaica. She plumbs tender and unsettling memories as she writes about drifting from one home to the next, coming out as a lesbian, and finding the man she believes to be her father and ultimately her voice. Hers is an unforgettable story told with grace, humor, and courage.
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1 . Great Read
Posted September 12, 2009 by KIm , LincolnWhat an excellent book. Amazing story of survival and triumph.
April 12, 2009
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Excerpt from The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin
Suffer the Children
Everything good always happens to my big brother, Delano. He starts school for the first time tomorrow. He is the one with the father in Montego Bay. He is the one who is a boy. And he is the one who gets to wear a full suit of khaki tomorrow morning. The only things that we share are our deaf grandmother and a mother who has run away and left us.
Grandma presses the face of the iron onto the damp clothes and the smell of fresh rain on dry dust fills the small room. His new school uniforms are just back from the tailor. She smoothes the wrinkles from the khakis as she mutters a word of prayer. "Lord, I beg you, deliver me from the heat inside this house. Jesus, watch over these children mother. Keep her safe in your bosom." She wipes the sweat from her shining forehead and turns to me. "Stacey, the Good Book tell us, In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Father God, bless these children and keep them, make your face shine upon them. Lord, you know they need food to sustain them, shoes..."
Grandma prays all day long. I say amen when she is done, but I know that many of the prayers won't be answered. God works in such mysterious ways that you never know which prayer he will answer. When I pray, I just ask for one thing. That way God can't pick and choose what to give me. He has to give me the one thing I ask for.
When each crease is as sharp as a knife, Grandma drapes the khaki suit over the back of the wooden chair. Then she runs the iron swiftly over my only church dress. When the iron is stored safely away, I jump to the floor and race to find my brother.
Unawares, he corners invisible thieves and shouts orders with his gun at waist level. I tap him on the shoulder. "Delano, everything is ready for you first day at school tomorrow."
He presses the imaginary trigger, delivering a round into my belly.
"Delano! You listening?"
"Stacey, me shoot you already! You dead! You can't talk anymore, because you dead!"
"Delano, how me must be dead if me wasn't playing no police-and-thief with you? You hear what me say 'bout you clothes them?"
"Everybody have clothes -- that is nutten fi talk 'bout! Now you is the thief and me is the police. Brapbrapbrap! Me just shoot you so you haffi dead!"
I fall to the floor and close my eyes tight, wishing it were me going to school tomorrow. I don't want to be dying here on the floor. I want to be starting a new life with pencils and books and new clothes made especially for me.
Grandma pokes her head out to the veranda. "But Lawd Jesus! Stacey, get up off that floor! And come inside here right now!"
Two plastic teacups of hot mint tea sweetened with condensed milk sit on the table. Delano blows into his before he sips. I take a sip and burn my tongue. I look to Delano for help. He sucks his teeth and reaches over for my cup. "Stacey, you have to blow on it like this, and take a little at a time. If it still too hot, give me back and me will blow it, all right? But don't take all night fi drink it. Remember that Grandma have to wash the cup them before we go to bed."
Nighttime in Lottery is both magical and scary. There are no streetlights. By sundown everything is so black and quiet I worry that I won't ever see or hear anything ever again. I drain the cup and follow Grandma out into the soft darkness of the yard. Under the moonlight, the backyard does not look like the one I know. The cool night breeze makes the leaves of the banana trees wave about like strange night-praying people. The bigger trees look like duppies. Duppies are the unsaved souls of dead people. Grandma says that we shouldn't be afraid of duppies. "The Bible tell you that a duppy can't do anything to a child of God."
I am still afraid because Delano says that there are some really terrible people who live for the Devil when they are alive. They kill other people and blaspheme and behave like the lawless people of Sodom and Gomorrah. When these children of the Devil die, they are so unwilling to pass over into the eternal fires of hell that they stay here on earth and walk about at night, frightening anybody who happens to see them. The mango tree looks like a big fat devil-duppy waving at me. But then I hear Grandma singing. I can't see her in the dark, but her clear, sweet voice floats across the pitch-black yard.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.
When we get back inside, we find Delano sitting on the just-ironed clothes. Everything is squashed between his back and the chair. Grandma grabs him. "Delano, get up from there! You nuh see the press clothes them behind you? You want fi look like crush callaloo tomorrow?"
Delano sighs and throws his body onto the bed. Grandma smoothes out the clothes and lays them flat on the table. "Only God know why you would sit down on the clothes me just fix up for you! Delano, you getting too big for dat kinda behavior! You is a big boy now, near five year old -- and going to school! You have to do better than that, man!"
I want to hit Delano in the head for messing up his clothes. I am not big enough, but if I could, I would sit on him and twist his arm until he says that he is happy to be going to school tomorrow. He just sits there on the edge of the bed picking at his toes. I touch Grandma's arm and carefully mouth to her, "I wouldn't do that to my school clothes, Grandma. I would do better than that."
"Stacey, me wasn't talking to you. Now kneel down there so oonu can say oonu prayers."
Morning arrives with Grandma shaking the sleep out of our droopy eyes. The two of us strip naked and pad out to the dew-covered backyard. Delano tosses a pebble at the stray fowl drinking from the zinc pan filled with water. Delano puts salt on our toothbrushes. Shivering, I push the brush back and forth across my front teeth. I hate brushing my teeth. The hard bristles bruise my mouth and the salt burns the cuts. I reach down to rinse out my toothbrush, but Delano grabs it and adds some more salt. "Brush the back one them! You want to have rotten teeth?"
Roosters crow as Grandma thoroughly lathers us from neck to toes. Her hands move quickly as she washes the suds from our shivering bodies. I am happy when she finally wraps us into one warm, squirming, toweled bundle. We sit with our feet dangling from the bed, eating one slice of hard-dough bread, half a boiled egg, and a cup of fever-grass tea.
Delano looks like a big boy in his khaki suit. I am so jealous I want to yank off his brown and white shoes with the tan laces. Grandma wets his hair and parts it down the middle. Then she combs the sections neatly behind his ears. His head glistens in the sun. Because my hair is not as straight and pretty as Delano's, Grandma has to use Vaseline when she braids it. Delano gets a long pencil, which Grandma has sharpened with the kitchen knife. I want a pencil too, and my own khaki uniform.
On our way to the schoolhouse we pass Marse Jeb's yard, the police station where Grandma works, the big church with the pretty glass windows, and Marse George's yam grounds. The school is a bright blue house with two tiny windows in the front. A tall woman, whom Grandma calls Miss Sis, meets us on the steps. When she reaches for Delano, he shrinks from her and hides behind Grandma. She stoops and smiles at him. That all her teeth are the same exact size scares me. I join Delano behind Grandma's skirt. Miss Sis pokes her head around Grandma's legs and smiles again.
Her voice is soft and kind. "Lawd, Miss Bernice, he looks like a little gentleman! I am pleased to have him here. He looks like he will do well. And this is the little sister! She is as pretty as a willy penny!"
Grandma gently pushes Delano forward. "Delano, I beg yuh, please behave yourself. Do not give Miss Sis any trouble. I will come back for you this evening."
Miss Sis takes Delano by the hand. Grandma and I begin to move down the steps. I look back at Delano standing there, lips trembling, eyes filling with tears. I don't want him to stand there by himself crying. I pull away from Grandma, run up the steps, and grab his hand away from Miss Sis. "Let him go! Is not your brother! Him is mine!"
Grandma tries to pull me off him, but I stick both hands into the waist of his pants and sink my teeth into his leg. Both of us are screaming and holding on to each other. Grandma is so ashamed she can't even look at us. "Miss Sis, is not so me raise them, you know! As there is a God up in heaven, I never see them behave like this at all, at all!"
Miss Sis places her face directly in front of Grandma's. "Miss B, look at me face so you can hear me. It is quite all right, is normal, especially if is only the two of them. Tell you what -- as long as she can say when she need to use the bathroom she can stay with him."
Delano squeezes my hand and we both stop crying to listen.
"Oh, yes, Miss Sis! She can talk plain, plain as day! I never see a little girl talk so much from me born! Her mouth is bigger than the whole of Montego Bay and Lottery put together. That would be a blessing, ma'am, but me only have the money for the boy. Me can't pay for both of them with the little I get from the boy father."
"Don't worry about that, Miss Bernice, money is not everything. Just pay for the boy. If and when you have a little more, you can give it to me then."
"Lord, Miss Sis, this is truly a blessing to me! Thank you very much, ma'am. The Lord will bless yuh more and more for your kindness to the poor and needy."
"One hand wash the other, Miss Bernice, one hand wash the other."
Miss Sis ushers us into the blue house. A table and two long benches almost fill the room. The walls are covered with round red things that sort of look like tomatoes. Miss Sis informs us that there are nine other children in the school. The boys sit on one bench while the girls sit on the other. I don't want to sit so far from Delano, but I am afraid to say so lest Miss Sis send me home.