Dawn Scott Flies Home

 

Dawn and her daughter, Nakazzi

 

This week I didn’t have the time to translate my Sunday Gleaner column into Jamaican (Where are the Eligible Men?).  The memorial service for my friend, Dawn Scott, was held on Saturday and I wrote a remembrance for her.

Traditional African wisdom tells us that when a great spirit passes the elements take notice.  So we all acknowledged the torrential rain as a sign of Dawn’s extraordinary powers.

The L’ACADCO drummers and dances performed a brilliant work, “Passion,” celebrating Dawn’s passage to join the ancestors. Artistic director and principal choreographer, L’Antoinette Stines, reclaimed ancient pelvic movements, that have resurfaced in Jamaican dancehall culture, to signify regeneration.

The traditional Rastafari chant, “Fly Away Home,” popularised by Bob Marley, was sung in full voice by the congregation. It gave us the consolation we needed to carry us through:

I hear the words of the Rasta man say

Babylon your throne gone down, gone down

Babylon your throne gone down

Said, I hear the words of the  Iyahman say

Babylon your throne gone down, gone down

Babylon your throne gone down

And I hear the angel with the seven seals

Babylon your throne gone down, gone down

Babylon your throne gone down

I say fly away home to Zion, fly away home

I say fly away home to Zion, fly away home

One bright morning when my work is over

I will fly away home.

 

Dawn Scott batik, 'Gud Fren', a gift on my 50th birthday

 

Remembering My Friend, Dawn Scott

One of my most vivid images of Dawn is seeing her dressed for work purposefully heading down Wellington Drive on her way to Ann Hodge’s Kingston 10 Architects office on Lady Musgrave Road.  Dawn’s uniform was her sturdy boots, well-worn jeans, loose-fitting cotton shirt, a string of beads and her bag slung over her left shoulder.

Now that bag was legendary.  Without warning, I once allowed Dawn to ‘help down’ her bag on me and I almost collapsed to the ground.  In complete disbelief at the extraordinary weight of the bag, I demanded to know what, exactly, was in the dyam bag.  Dawn laughed enigmatically and breezily said, with typical understatement, “things.”

“‘Things’?  How yu mean ‘things?’  Is what you have in that bag?”  Dawn absolutely refused to let me look in the bag.  I recently asked Kazzi, “What yu mother really had in that bag?”  Kazzi laughed, exactly like her mother, with complete abandon and declared, “It was her house.  She had everything in it.”

Kazzi perceptively elaborated:  Dawn’s bag was a sign of her nomadism.  And no matter how much she wandered, her bag, like a tent, provided shelter – both psychological and literal.  And I finally understood the full weight of the burdens Dawn carried on her shoulder.

Dawn knew that wherever her wanderings took her each day, when she set her head down to rest she would have with her the basics for her trod through creation; I use creation here both in the sense of her own creativity; and in the generic, biblically-derived Rastafari sense of the word – creation as the natural world and all that it contains.

Every now and then I would be privy to some of the contents of the seemingly bottomless bag.  On occasion, I’ve seen Dawn triumphantly pull hardback art books out of this bag to illustrate a point she was making about aesthetics.  Or she would take out her formidable mask to hurriedly protect herself from the merest whiff of environmental fumes.

There is an equally memorable image I have of Dawn, dressed not for work, but to party.  Usually in full black or full white or, for really special occasions, in glorious indigo, Dawn would step out in regal splendour bedecked in rows of amber almost as weighty as her shoulder bag.

 

Duke University Press

 

When Dawn and I went to DC for the launch at the Jamaican embassy of my first book, the cover of which was enhanced by Dawn’s batik painting, “Plastic Instincts,” we stayed with my sister, Donnette.  When we saw Dawn pull out her bag of jewellery, wi nearly dead wid laugh.  Wi say, “Dawn, where yu going wid so much jewellery?”  She just laughed and said she wanted to have choice.  And she certainly had some choice pieces.

Unfortunately, in later life, Dawn became reclusive, sacrificing the pleasures of socialising for the sake of her health.  She was allergic to the carcinogenic chemicals that so often masquerade as perfumes.  Knowing how much Dawn missed socialising in comfort, I hosted an unscented birthday party for her a couple of years ago.

No one was allowed past the gate who was wearing ‘perfume’ in any way, shape, form or guise:  no sweety-sweety shampoo, conditioner, soap, body lotion, cologne, perfume.  No clothes washed in high-smelling soap powder or bearing the lingering traces of deadly dry-cleaning solvent.  But, of course, all of Dawn’s guests respected the health code and she had a grand time.

Thanks to Dawn, I live in a reasonably healthy house.  All of the household cleaning products I now use conform, as much as possible, to Dawn’s exacting standards.  My laundry detergent is unscented and though it’s quite expensive I also use it to clean the terrazzo tiles.

Dawn had an illuminating book that revealed all of the harmful contents of every single commercial household product.  I can’t remember the exact title.   It just might be The Safe Shopper’s Bible:  A Consumer’s Guide to Nontoxic Household Products, Cosmetics and Food, co-authored by David Steinman and Samuel Epstein, which I found on Amazon.com.

 

Dawn's Bible?

 

These days, when I go into the supermarket, I literally turn up my nose at the run-of-the-mill household products that are brandishing on the shelves – to use a clever dancehall verb I first heard DJ Shabba Ranks draw.  Dangerous chemicals claim to be ‘natural’ by being branded in the deceptively metaphorical language of fruit, essence and breeze.

So you have air ‘fresheners’ named green apple breeze; fresh mountain scent; island breeze; summer breeze; early morning breeze; invigorating breeze; cherry blossom; vanilla and blossoms; lemon; jasmine; lavender; potpourri; citrus meadows; citrus zest; summer citrus; clean scent; outdoor scent; spring waterfall; ocean paradise; ocean bloom;

I learned to comply with Dawn’s directives.  Not just for the sake of my own health.  I never knew when Dawn would imperiously announce that she would be coming to stay with me.  Like another famous houseguest, Ras Dizzy, Dawn would arrive for a few days and, before you knew it, she would have spent a good few months.   Only some carefully dropped words would make her pull down her tent.

But Dawn’s extended visits had their distinctive pleasures.  Dawn was a gourmet cook who was generous with her recipes.  I learnt to cook exotic dishes, thanks to Dawn.  Her baked fish was legendary.  I have now mistressed the art and science of that dish and I willingly share the recipe with delighted guests.  The key ingredient is garam masala.

Then there was Dawn’s pumpkin rice seasoned with the unusual galangal, an Indonesian relative of our much more common ginger.  As for Dawn’s tofu in peanut butter sauce; it would make the most anti-tofu sceptic a complete believer.  And Dawn’s homemade salad dressing, so easy to concoct, put a zing in the most basic mix of greens.

Here’s the recipe:  blend together

Juice of 2 fresh limes

¼ cup cider vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon mustard

2 gloves garlic

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ scotch bonnet pepper

2 stalks skellion

1 tablespoon brown sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

Right at the end, add a sprig of basil.  Enjoy!

The balance to Dawn’s nomadic life was her unrelenting quest to buy a piece of land and put up a little house where she could settle her body, mind and soul.  The closest she came to this dream was the time she lived in Portland in a beautifully situated house that she’d rented.  There Dawn engaged in activities like pollinating flowers by hand.  She wasn’t leaving it up to bees.

On that score, Dawn remains the most knowledgeable person I have ever met.  Dawn read widely and deeply.  I used to tell her that what she knows is worth several PhDs.  In Portland, Dawn spread out, finding space for her books, her art supplies and her wide range of specialist cooking utensils.  I must tell you about one of Dawn’s absolutely unforgettable parties at her home in Portland.  She’d invited us for lunch and long past three o’clock there was no sign of food, except for tantalising smells.

Dawn was holed up in the kitchen cooking each dish serially, it must have been, and refusing to let anyone enter her domain.  To be honest, there were quite a few uninvited guests who, knowing Dawn’s reputation for extraordinary cuisine, had brazenly appeared out of the blue.  I don’t know if it was to spite them that Dawn was taking her time with the meal, hoping they would give up and leave.  But we, the legitimate guests, were dying of hunger.  So I decided to courageously storm the kitchen and asked for reinforcements.  I clearly remember Donna McFarlane volunteering to come in with me.

To much protestation from Dawn, we rushed the door and told her in no uncertain terms that this was dyam foolishness and we were coming in to help her.  She relented and in about another hour or so we settled down to a sumptuous meal that included delicacies like heart of palm.  Certainly not from a can but lovingly harvested in the neighbourhood by Dawn.

Dawn could be so stubborn on even life-threatening matters and we sometimes ended up in big quarrels.  There is an African proverb from the Nupe people that says it so well, “Even the tongue and the teeth quarrel now and then.”  In the last months of her life we had fierce quarrels about her staying at St. Joseph’s hospital.  It was I who had gotten her in there in the first place because that’s where the orthopaedic surgeon I’d found operated.  I felt obligated to get Dawn out alive.  St. Joseph’s is like a once-beautiful woman who has fallen on very hard times and who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge her graceless decline.

Dawn insisted that she had to have a private room, a luxury that was not readily available at either the University Hospital of the West Indies or the Kingston Public Hospital.  Her fear of chemical contamination was intense. So I asked her if the potential damage could be as great as what I considered to be the actual compromised care she was getting at the ‘hospital.’  She was adamant and refused to budge.

I haven’t come to terms with the fact that Dawn is gone.  I still expect to see her striding down Wellington Drive.  I know her wanderings are over.  But mi wish she was still here so she could fight lickle more to get her owna piece of ground.  There is a West African proverb that can console us all:  you never truly die ‘til no one remembers you.  Dawn, we will always remember.

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2 thoughts on “Dawn Scott Flies Home

  1. Celebratory!!!

    There is no Might nor Power except from the Creator, from Whom we come and to Whom we return, and it is He Who re-takes the creation at death; and Who tests the creation by way of life, and verily in its life and in its death the creation is aware of its state but more so aware of its state it is in its death, than in its life. And verily the knowledge of our arrival, our sojourn and our departure, in what land, state and what we will earn on the morrow is with Him.

    For you, for your friend, for your ever…

    Peace in your houses, all your houses…

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