When Calabash International Literary Festival came back in 2012, after an agonising absence the year before, I can't tell you how happy it made me. Calabash is one of the things in life I enjoy most. It's going to be held every other year, and while I would love it to be an annual event, I'll take what I can get.
Let me tell you about it.
In May/June, on the weekend of Calabash International Literary Festival, my friends know where I am.
It's the one weekend that I place off-limits, way in advance, to anyone who has a claim on me. I make no promises to do anything for anyone - Calabash is my time!
Three days unlike any other three days, in a place unlike any other place.
A literary festival? Sounds like it might be a bit, well... ho hum, to put it politely. Not so. You don't have to be bookish to enjoy Calabash.
To be honest, although I enjoy a good book, literary discussion has never been my strong point. And I have to admit that I rarely ever read any poetry.
So what does a philistine like me get out of Calabash International Literary Festival?
Well, I am bound, at least once per Calabash, to laugh till I have to hold my side and say "whoi!" For the sake of dignity I try not to slide off my chair as well!
I'm given the chance to see all kinds of interesting looking people. The folks I like to see the most are the ones armed with big hair, and airy cotton clothes - my daughter and I call this "The Calabash Look".
I'm allowed to hear and see how other people view and experience the world. This often means having to mutter under my breath "but dem people yah nuh ordinary!"
I get to enjoy the heat, the breeze, and the beautiful backdrop of sea and sand that is Treasure Beach. The beach is right there, so I can go for a swim if I want.
It's a perfect time and place to hang out with friends and family. My kids have a great time.
On Saturday night, I'm treated to a great musical performance. On Sunday, it's more of a musical exploration by the performers and the audience.
I get to hear great novels, short stories, autobigraphies and poems come alive as they are shared by the people who wrote them, or by expert readers who know how to deliver a heck of a story.
And if the readings get to be too heavy for us lightweights, the lignum vitae trees make a wonderful refuge. Grab a drink, or a boil corn, and cool out.
That Calabash managed to remain free to the public for so many years is amazing, and makes it even more special. For both the bruk-pocket and the full-pocket to be able to enjoy writers from all over the world is something remarkable.
Over the years I've been blown away by the likes of Earl Lovelace, Kei Miller and Lorna Goodison. I also rediscovered Claude McKay's novel, Banana Bottom, after hearing a reading of it one beautiful Sunday morning at Calabash. I've heard and seen Salman Rushdie with my own eyes and ears.
Thanks to the open mike segment, I've been able to experience memorable Jamaican poets and writers that I'd otherwise never encounter. Some crazy things happen on the open mike - usually a lot of laughs!
Calabash International Literary Festival starts on a Friday night, and goes right throughout the day on Saturday, ending on Sunday afternoon. In 2016 it will run from June 3-5. It's held at Jake's/Jack Sprat in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth.
Many people book their accomodation for Calabash a year in advance, but there are usually places that can squeeze you in at the last minute. If your luck runs out and you can't find accomodation in Treasure Beach, you may have to go further afield to Black River or Parottee, which are an easy half hour drive away.
It's usually very hot, so dress cool and drink lots of water. Be warned, if you're touchy about bad language, you're sure to get a dose of it now and again! Don't build a pressure - go get a drink and take a walk by the sea if you're sufficiently bothered by it. It never lasts long.
Almost forgot, there's lots of cool jewellery, clothes and books (of course) on sale as well.
Come to Calabash International Literary Festival with an open mind, and you're bound to enjoy. You may even become a "Bashie" like me!