Kind regards

Baron Stewart

Fish Don't See Water - A journey of self discovery

Beyond Chicken Bones

During my first eight years in New York, I lived primarily in the Jamaican communities of the Bronx and Brooklyn. But when I was twenty-six years old, I took a teaching job at a beautiful, small,  private school in Congers, New York, where I made quite an impression from my first day. One of my responsibilities was to be the assistant soccer coach, and at the first practice with the junior varsity, I played with my bare feet. As a child in Jamaica, I played football without shoes many times, but many of these kids had never seen this before, so I caused a buzz on my first day. I made my next impression on the dance floor as a math teacher who loved to dance. I would show my moves at the Rockland County Day School Danceathon. My dancing became so popular that I started a dance club called Swing and Sway with Stewart. I would teach the kids how to dance to Reggae and Calypso music, and we danced together passionately during every club meeting. I did most of my teaching in the classroom but on Friday afternoons during the winter, the kids had a chance to teach me. I was responsible for escorting a full bus of students as they went skiing on Vernon Valley Great Gorge slopes in New Jersey. I have never skied; I am scared of heights and hate uncontrolled speed. Skiing was not my cup of tea. I fell so many times, and when I wasn't falling, I would be frozen with panic on the icy slopes. My young students would come to my rescue every time. They would teach me how to turn and stop. It was their chance to give me what I had given them. At the end of the year, I was voted co-teacher of the year with Harold Goldstein, the excellent art teacher.


Towards the end of my first year at RCDS, some students decided they wanted to welcome me formally to the school by having a dinner party in my honor. The party, held at a beautiful upper-middle-class home in West Nyack, started with wine, cheese, and casual talk. Everyone was curious about this young, well-educated, black mathematics teacher from Jamaica who generated so much excitement among their children. "What did you study in graduate school?" the father asked. In layperson's terms, I struggled to describe Algebraic Topology, a branch of theoretical mathematics. "How do you like the wine?" asked the host and mother of my students. After struggling to answer the first question, this second one had me ultimately at a loss. I'd had little to no particular experience with wine. I had no idea if the wine was good or bad. I was so far out of my element that I lost social footing. "I don't know if it's good," I sheepishly replied. I did my best to keep my composure, but my answers advertised that I was well out of my comfort zone.

After about an hour of talk, the house's mother called us to the dinner table to partake in a delicious-looking chicken dinner. I sat across from the fathefamily's father, the mother to my left, and their two children to my right. Our light chatter continued over dinner until I grabbed a chicken leg in my hands and tore it into the flesh. It was delicious. I aggressively ate the meat and began to chew the bones. Eating chicken legs was never a tactical knife and folk process with me; it was an 'always eat with my hands approach, and I was a seasoned diner in that department. I held the leg in my hand and continued to enjoy the bone and the marrow because, as a native Jamaican, those parts were the most satisfying part of the meal. I love to suck the marrow, chew the bones, and swallow everything.  
Lost in my bliss, I hadn't noticed the loud silence that had overtaken the room. It was so quiet that all I could hear was myself eating. It wasn't until the young girl to my right exclaimed, "You're eating the chicken bones!" that I came out of my chicken bone-eating trance. At first glance, her face reminded me of someone who'd just seen a ghost. Confused, I responded, "Yes. Don't you?"  The room responded in unison, "No, we don't!"  The embarrassment implicit in the situation dawned on me. My efforts to seamlessly blend in with the Rockland County elite had proved useless because I'd shown my authentic self.

I was the new Jamaican mathematics teacher who ate chicken bones in public. It never occurred to me that there were places where people didn't eat chicken bones. All my friends and family ate chicken bones. Why wouldn't I? In Jamaica, if you were to watch the average family settle down for Sunday dinner, you would see that the complex parts of the chicken are the primary focus. The father and the oldest son would get the legs, and the mother and the remaining children would settle for the thighs, wings, and neck. The complex parts of the chicken were all the rage in Jamaica during the 1950s when I grew up. Eating bones have been going on for generations in Jamaica. It is no accident that I eat them too. I never thought, for a moment, that this behavior was odd at this time in New York. 


The cultural collision hugely impacted other areas of my life. I started to notice things that I hadn't seen before. Soon after, I remember shopping for chicken at the supermarket and was shocked to find a package of boneless chicken. Wow! "Chicken without bones," I thought. "What a novel idea?" I would tell my chicken bone story when I made speeches at luncheons later in life. After almost every lesson, a few people would come to me and say, "We want to see you do it." I did, and some of them would try it too. Others would mumble, "It must be the calcium that makes him do it." I have gained many chicken bone-eating followers, "The bones taste good." "I would never have guessed," they'd say. Over the years that followed, I continued to eat my chicken bones, but only in the privacy of my home among consenting adults. I would tell my American wife, "Honey, I am going to eat some chicken bones." She would smile as she gave her approval.

My chicken bone-eating incident forced me to consider other aspects of my Jamaican personality that may seem odd to others. One trait was my Jamaican cool. My  "No problem, Mon." personality was not going over well as I tried to climb the corporate ladder in America. My managers at IBM often said I was not committed enough because of my relaxed attitude. They would not trust me to implement some of my ideas because I did not have the type A personality that made them comfortable. I remember losing the lofty position of Seminar Director in a company that produced seminars in New York City for around 200 people once a week because I did not look the part. I had the skills to lead these high-profile seminars, but I resisted the expected power persona of a workshop director.   I was so attached to my Jamaican mannerisms. I felt that if I let these habits go, I would lose myself. Why didn't I notice them before? "How was I going to respond to this new knowledge?"  Would I have to shy away from those situations that exposed me to embarrassment, or should I risk looking like a fool so that I might learn and grow?   

My Chicken Bone story is the catalyst for this blog; Fish Don't See Water. The story has implications for all of us. We all have behaviors that are so much a part of us that when we are doing them, we don't even notice. We often discover these invisible habits when they are others point them out. Many of these unusual mannerisms are not our inventions but our culture's traits. We don't choose them; they choose us. We are recreating the behaviors of our ancestors. In different cultures, these practices appear very different. In one culture, we use our hands to express our passion and convictions. While in another culture, any expression of emotion is unacceptable. Still, in another culture, we kiss on the cheek when we greet each other. While in Jamaica, we say, "Ire Mon"   We are all fish that don't see the Water.


I would love to hear from you. Write a comment. What are some of the symbolic chicken bones in your culture? What are some of the habits you cling to that may not always work for you? The truth is that most of these traits are invisible to us, and in many cases, they limit our freedom. Finding them and making a conscious decision to keep them or lose them gives us freedom and expands who we are. Explore these concepts with us. Share your perspective in a comment, and I will respond to you. 


26.10.2022 21:51

Susan Kahn

I certainly will. Well, with Larry, anyway. Our dad’s been gone a long time now. Thanks so much, Baron.

26.10.2022 01:59

Susan Kahn

Very interesting, Baron. I think my father and brother were especially impressed by your bone-eating. They talked about it for years. (We’re all carnivores in my family.)

26.10.2022 05:59


Please share the stories with your dad and Larry. That dinner party was the catalyst for this blog. They might find my perspective interesting.

09.11.2018 15:56

Mike Hotchkiss

Very interesting Baron and enjoyable reading.

09.11.2018 17:44

Baron Stewart

Thank you, Mike. It was nice to meet your wife and friends today. There are many stories here. Keep reading.

20.11.2017 04:34


It is something that should make you proud. If you had the forethought to educate your white” parents of your students they would have seen your eating chicken bones as beneficial

20.11.2017 04:31


Jamaica has few sources of calcium. Locust pods being one and chicken bones the second. Your brilliant teeth and strong bones are indeed the result of eating chicken bones. It is something to be prou

20.11.2017 04:35

Baron Stewart

Hi Sandy,
How are you? I am proud of my chicken bone eating. It is nice to hear from you.

03.10.2017 12:12

Brian "MeSeh" Morrison

Baron: I have many of those stories which I sometimes incorporate in my Poetry. Bless!

03.10.2017 12:21

Baron A Stewart

Hello Brian,
I would love to read some of your poetry.

03.10.2017 12:08

Brian "MeSeh" Morrison

Baron....I pictured the moment - you caught up in the bliss of devouring your chicken bones with your bare hands and understood both the horror of the hosts and the embarrassment of the dinner guest.

03.10.2017 12:15

Baron A Stewart

Haha. You are right about that. I was this new black math teacher in an all-white school. I must have looked like a cannibal.

25.06.2017 17:29

Baron Stewart

Thank you, Fe. Do you have any stories you would like to share?

25.06.2017 15:37


Wow, great stuff for all

17.04.2017 18:17


mostly bones are still not directly eaten in nyc, but you can easily purchase the latest foodie staple - bone broth!

16.06.2017 11:08

Baron Stewart

Bone broth! That's a new one. I never had that. Did you have some, Berkeley?

31.03.2017 15:47


Hello Baron. Jamaica has become a favorite place to visit for my wife and I. I have always wondered why they chop the jerk chicken, bones and all. Perhaps now I know!

01.04.2017 06:47

Baron A Stewart

Haha. I am in Jamaica now, and I just finish eating some good jerk chicken tonight. I can't seem to find any oxtail, though.

05.05.2016 14:18

Rich Arco

Baron, These are terrific photos. Reach out to me when you have some time.

05.05.2016 14:49


Hello Rich,
I am so happy to hear from you. Thanks for the kind comment on my pictures. I would love to see you.
When are you available for a visit?

23.03.2016 06:11


You just reminded me that I used to eat chicken bones too! And it was abnormal...I don't remember when I dropped the habit or if I only did it at home, but I'd forgotten I'd ever done it until now.

23.03.2016 08:06


Hello Laurie, Thanks for sharing. Chicken bone eating is common in many cultures. When I tell this story , other people would tell me they did too. Ha-ha.

21.03.2016 22:28


I remember Chesters from the other side of the fence. Kwame asked me if I was Joan Jett! I didn't know who that was because I listened to Reggae.

21.03.2016 22:35


Hello Sandy,
How are you? I would love to hear some of your stories about Chesters. I have so many good memories from those days.

21.03.2016 13:49


Baron, keeping it real and grounding the vision. Keep going and best of success

21.03.2016 13:51


Thank you, Fred. I am enjoying the journey. It is great to share my journey with you.

20.03.2016 23:08

Sandra rosselot

Enjoyed your chicken bone story. When I stayed in Jamaica for a few months I became calcium deficient and had to search out locust tree pods.

21.03.2016 02:43


Hello Sandra,
I don't know Conway Stewart. I also lived in Kingston. However, I would love to ear more about locust pods and Ital food. Do you still eat Ital?

20.03.2016 23:21


Where were you staying in jamaica? Are you saying that eating locust tree pods gives you calcium?

18.03.2016 22:00

Baron A Stewart

Let's have some fun with this. What are the chicken bones in your culture?

20.03.2016 23:40

Sandra (Kay) Rosselot

Negril locust tree pods are calcium. I ate ital in Ja. Are you related to conway Stewart? He lived in Kingston. And moved to Negril.