by Basil Waine Kong
Mi Hard Man Fi Dead
You can pick me up and lick me down
And I will bounce right back
While death will eventually have its day, I have had a number of near death experiences that has only strengthened my will to live well even as I tempt fate. The lesson I learned from sky diving is that if at first you don’t succeed, it’s not one of those times to try, try, try and try again. This is not for you.
Can you imagine strapping on a parachute, flying to 2 miles up and jumping out of a perfectly good airplane? The moment of terror that lived in my stomach for 7 days is just before the jump. My wife has died a thousand deaths over my decision to go skydiving. She does not complain, however, about the other passionate little deaths (la petite mort) I experience several times per week.
1. Hopping a truck
One of the pastimes in Jamaica is hoping flat bed trucks and getting a free ride. When this skill is perfected, a man can save a lot of time getting from point A to point B by waiting for a truck to come, run along until you are going the same speed preferably up a steep hill when it predictably slows down. They grab onto a side panel, pull themselves up and get a free ride. I grew up watching very skillful boys do this repeatedly without a problem. It actually looked like fun. The opportunity for me came when I was about eight years old on my way to school. As the truck slowed down on the hill next to Johnson’s property, I went through the familiar routine and was feeling proud of myself that I got on without a problem and without the driver even knowing that I was on board. As the school is on a flat road, the truck picked up speed and was now way past my destination. As no one told me how to get down from the truck, in my panic, I just jumped off the truck that was now going about 30 miles per hour clearly expecting to land on my feet. Instead, the landing was a traumatic collision with the ground and I rolled around in the stone gravel. I was battered, bruised, bloody, crying and in severe pain. When I limped to school, Teacher Fargueson beat me and immediately sent me home.
When I got home and told my loving, patient and forgiving Granny, she beat me as well before cleaning me up with an antiseptic (Detol) that turned the water white. She put iodine on the scrapes and scratches and crushed chick weed on the deeper cuts. I then went to bed and slept through the night. The bumps on my head (hematomas) that Jamaicans call “coco” went away after a week when Granny declared that I was as good as new. Did I stop hopping trucks? No. I just leaned that you have to hold on and run with the truck for a while before letting go. The trouble with learning from experience is that sometimes the exam comes before the lesson.
2. The Bees
I grew up loving to eat brains (fish, chicken, goat, and hog)hearing that it would make me smart. The other brain food was bananas. About a year after my road accident, I placed some green bananas in a secret hiding place and then went back a week later to gather my prize. As I stuck my hand in to retrieve the sweet bright yellow bananas, I instead disturbed a wasp nest. They immediately started to sting me about 100 times. Within an hour, my face arms and legs had swollen to four times their normal size. My grandmother merely crushed a cube of “blue” that she would ordinarily use to rinse and brighten white clothes and dabbed it on each bite. In a week, I was as good as new and brighter too. When it got dark one evening, I got my revenge. Because wasps cannot see at night, I poured kerosene on the nest and killed them all. The best part was that I got to eat my slightly over ripe bananas.
3. Running for my life (Usain Bolt was a boy to I-man).
When I was twelve years old, I got into an argument with a bigger boy who I accused of stealing the watch my mother sent for me. When he ran after me with a machete, I knew I was going to die. So, I did things I never thought was possible like jumping over walls, traversing a pond and outrunning someone who was the fastest runner on our Boys Brigade troop. I learned that day that Jamaicans are very sensitive to being called a “tief” and that I could outrun anyone. After that, whenever I wanted to run fast, I would get the adrenalin going by pretending that “Mad Ronnie” was chasing me with a machete. I subsequently became the sports champion on sports day at Springfield All Age School in 1958 as well as set a 400 meter track record at Madison high school in New Jersey which earned me a track scholarship to Simpson College in Iowa in 1963.
4. I was coming around the Mountain
I had just graduated from Simpson College in 1967 and while I was pursuing a master’s degree at American University as well as got my first job working as a juvenile probation officer in Montgomery County, Maryland. I approached my new job with a great deal of optimism. Because I had met and studied Glasser’s “Reality Therapy”. I asked my supervisor to give me all the hard cases because I thought I could turn water into wine and delinquents into productive citizens. One of my innovations was to borrow the Paddy Wagon from the police department and take seven delinquents at a time to a friend’s cabin in the Allegheny Mountains. We would go on hikes, cook and ate together and at night as well as enjoy great fireside chats. One day, I was taking them down the mountain to buy some provisions when I suddenly came upon an unexpected sudden right turn that I was going too fast to maneuver around and the paddy wagon turned over three times before coming to rest against a tree. It all happened in slow motion. My nose was broken and cut, my ear was severed and there were several severe cuts on my neck and arms. I ran around trying to make sure the boys survived the ordeal.
They turned away from me as if I was a hideous creature. It was a good thing that most of them were in the padded police wagon but these tough guys were all crying: “I want my mommy.” We were all bleeding and the problem that we were on a mountain with no telephone, no traffic and no access to help. Fortunately, in about an hour, another camper drove by and was able to go back and get ambulances. My daughter was only a week old and police called my wife and told her that her husband was in an accident. Not knowing whether I was alive or dead, she left Baby Jill with a neighbor and raced up to find me battered and bruised but alive to see another day. Isn’t plastic surgery wonderful?
5. Runaway Bay with Jillian
Jill was about five years old and we were vacationing in a villa in Runaway Bay, Jamaica. When I came back from playing golf, I quickly changed into my bathing suit and ran to the beach to get a quick dip in the ocean to cool off. As I swam out, I heard someone say “gulp” and realized that my precious daughter had followed me into the ocean without my realizing it. In the wide ocean, she was close enough to afford me the opportunity to rescue her. I call this one of my near death experiences because if I had lost her that day, I believe I would have just gone ahead and committed suicide.
6. Ocean City with Melanie
When my oldest daughter Jill was about fourteen years old and youngest daughter Melanie was about eleven, we were living in Columbia, Maryland and took our summer vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. We were very happy to be at the ocean. As soon as we got to the beach, Jill went with her mother to lie in the shade and read while Melanie (the tomboy) and I immediately ran and swam out into the ocean not paying any attention to the warning signs. We were having a glorious time but when I glanced back to shore, we must have been a mile out. A rip tide had carried us out to sea. We tried to swim back and were making no progress. I was exhausted and now convinced that the situation was hopeless, I told Melanie to swim for shore and not to look back. Just when I said my last prayers, I heard a voice yelling: “Grab the ring”. A lifeguard had appeared from nowhere and rescued both of us. He immediately told us to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the rip tide before swimming for shore. When I reached terra firma, I kissed the sand, thanked the lifeguard profusely for saving my daughter and me and went to join Jill and their mother. We decided not to even tell them what happened. About a year later, I got a panic attack as I recalled my daughter Melanie and I and this very close call.
7. The sleigh ride with Aleron
My youngest son, Aleron, was about 7 years old and we lived in York, Pennsylvania. After a lovely snow fall, we used an inflatable raft that we had used in the summer at the pool and went up and down the hill at the Water Commission Property behind our house. When we came home for lunch, I got inspired to tie “Judy Jet”, our huge husky/Labrador mix to the raft and visualized that the dog would just pull Aleron along at a nice pace like he would when we walked him twice per day . As soon as I uttered the word “mush”, the dog took off at about 90 miles per hour through the thick woods with me running behind in a panic yelling to Aleron to jump off. Aleron was holding on to the inflatable raft having a great time and Judy Jet kept running through the trees at speeds that made it impossible for Aleron to roll off the raft. My wife heard my yelling and running after our son and soon joined in the chase running after me with her apron and house slippers. Our older son Freddie, heard his mother and I yelling and he also joined in the conga line running after Judy Jet and the wayward raft. After what seemed like an eternity and the miraculously making it through the woods and going down a very steep hill, Aleron finally fell off the raft giggling and all of us thanking God he was safe. I on the other hand had my life flash before my eyes as I envisioned my son impaled on a tree limb which would have led to my own death– this time at the hands of my wife Stephanie.
8. Upon the roof
After a severe storm that hit Atlanta in 2002, trees were down, the power was out and there were several limbs on our roof. I decided to be proactive and got my long ladder and went up to the roof to get rid of the debris. I did a great job but when I was climbing down, the ladder gave way and I fell to the stone patio in our back yard. My son Aleron heard the commotion and ran out of the house saying: “Talk to me Dad!” and don’t move. I am calling 911. He went on to say that he had seen an episode of ER and when you fall from heights you are supposed to lay still. In my stunned state, I tested my limbs one at a time and everything worked as my son and I waited for the paramedics who rushed us to the hospital. They notified my wife, who left work probably driving faster than the paramedics. When she arrived at the hospital my Xrays showed that nothing was broken and my brain was in tact. I told them that jumping from a truck in Woodlands had prepared me for the fall.
When I walk through storms, I keep my head high and summon courage. There are a whole lot of angels guarding me. That’s why I continue to “walk good”. Don’t worry; I think I still have one life to live.
Bullet Columnist Basil Waine Kong as written several pieces for this journal and especially likes to expound on his favorite subject: his beloved Jamaica. He is a former Atlien (resident of Atlanta GA), and was the CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) for 22 years before his retirement in 2008 to return to Jamaica. This article is reprinted with his permission from his blogsite; Coming in From the Cold… Bob Marley