Here, a birthday tradition is to pour a cup of flour over the head of the birthday individual, whatever the age. Recently I celebrated my fourteenth birthday and came to learn intimately what this Jamaican custom involves.
On April 6, I went onto the deck of the Harmony House to do my morning devotion. My friend Ian tiredly ventured out holding his bible and coffee cup. He then poured out of his “coffee” cup of what I soon found out to be flour onto me. The white waterfall cascaded down my head and onto my neck. He smiled, stepped back to take in the whole effect, and walk away snickering.
Then I was mobbed by the North Carolina mission team. They wrapped me in crepe paper, placed a birthday hat on my head, and floured me. Leaving white footprints, I walked from the deck into the meeting room for the morning gathering.
Loyd, our Won by One to Jamaica leader, came in carrying his coffee cup and bible and stood right behind me. Although I saw through his guise, I did not say anything so as not to ruin his fun. Loyd announced our serving assignments for the day: mixing concrete for the Porus house, stringing up peppers at the greenhouses, and conducting a marl haul for a Harmons’ resident. Nonchalantly he turned to me and dumped, what I already knew to be flour, over my head.
By this time I was on the lookout for people who had intentions to mischievously celebrate by birthday. Somehow I missed Junior; he generously dusted me.
Fortunately I did not get floured at my serving site, and when I returned I played basketball with a few Jamaican friends. Setting my hat down to grab the ball, I was immersed in the fun forgetting all about my hat. Stanley brought it in as I was sitting down in the courtyard to take off my work shoes. Ever so smoothly, he turned my hat right side up and put it on my head; the flour came rushing out covering me once again.
After a jerk chicken dinner and a lime coconut birthday cake, I fell exhausted into a deep sleep. The next morning I had to shake flour out of my bed. On Sunday, my Pastor Clinton shared he missed me at Good Friday concert, saying he had intended to flour me while hoping to sing “happy birthday”.
Flour may feel nice when kneading bread dough, but it is not pleasant going down your shirt. A cup of flour goes a long way. It gets everywhere, from between your toes to behind your ears. But I am not complaining, it could have been a lot worse; I could have been egged (another Jamaican birthday tradition).