Of my travels in Jamaica one thing I can say is …Jamaican people love to “hang out” on the street.
There is a special bond that exists between these people and a need to congregate whether to stop and shop, chit chat, lean on a wall, cook up a pot, play a hand of domino, listen to music or just be there to take in the action and goings on.
Although Jamaica is our next door neighbour, when you visit it you realise there are a lot of differences between here and there.
Jamaicans are not afraid to hustle and they constantly challenge you to take look at their wares. “Give me a little look, there is no charge for looking, or lady, just visit mi store yu will find something,” vendors call from individual stalls selling tourist souvenirs that are actually all the same.
One thing for sure, they make the best jerk chicken and pork I have ever eaten. The Pork Pit in Montego Bay offers no frills jerk pork and chicken made the traditional way using pimento wood. The establishment might not be the best but food coming from under the covered zinc is ummmmm delicious.
The unity and culture is as colourful and vibrant as their Jamaican flag of black green and yellow.
Although poverty is a part of life in Jamaica, which can be seen mostly everywhere, these people don’t look stressed. They dance, they eat, they talk and they party
Jamaicans never hesitate to stop and debate using their strong opinions about practically everything from politics to sports to the weather.
Jamaican have lavish weddings and their send offs for dear departed ones are just as colourful and spectacular.
I admire the country, the people who make life on the streets, the rich and famous, retirees and especially the Rasta who made sure I did not miss my visa appointment because I had so foolishly turned up without photographs.
Lined up on the sidewalk in front of the Embassy I was asked by the officer to produce my papers and pictures. “What pictures,” I exclaimed foolishly. “Pictures for your visa or come back tomorrow at ten,” she said as I slowly shrunk from embarrassment. About then I felt a sharp tug on my shirt tail and turned to stare into the red bloodshot eyes of a Rasta. I nearly fainted.
“Come, ya need picta,” he whispered hurriedly as he stopped traffic with one hand for us to rush across the street.
“Stand there,” he shouted while another held a soiled white T-shirt as the backdrop. Out came the tiniest digital camera I ever saw as he made a hasty attempt to get my hair in place. Snap, I blinked rapidly like a scared bunny caught in the headlights of a car, “Go,” he shouted, “Where are the pictures,” I asked as I ran across the street to join the line. At that time the street photographer ducked behind a car and I thought that was the end of that. Before I could get my place in the line to my astonishment the Rasta was hastily, weaving and dodging traffic making his way back to me while waving my two pictures for all of Jamaica to see. “Yu ga $20 dollars,” he asked, “Jamaican dollars,” I quickly responded, “Yu wan go Embassy or not,” he responded with irritation, “wha do you, its US$20,” at that time I would have gladly paid US$50 just to get those two pictures.
The officer accepted the two pictures without a glance and I entered the building with trepidation. After all that drama I did not know what to expect inside. All I could think to myself was, imagine today is my birthday.
One thing I can say they have a smooth operation going on in that visa department. In less than half an hour I was presented with a visa and ushered out of the building.
In Ocho Rios I had the opportunity to witness what Jamaicans call “nine nights or dead yard”…if you think anything is remotely dead about this massive get-together that draws a crowd from all over Jamaica you are mistaken. Loud boom! Boom vibrating music fills the air as men in low cut pants and wide buckle belts and women with fancy hair dos and skimpy clothes congregate to dance, eat drink and hang out. It was enough to literally “wake the dead,” as they paid homage to a passing one.
Mostly everywhere I went someone had a “spliff” in hand or the strong scent of the burning weed proliferated the nostrils.
I am an adventurous traveller and journeying from one place to the other has always been my interest when visiting other countries.
But a bus trip from Ocho Rios to Kingston 5am one morning was a little bit more than my middle aged heart could take.
Speaking like a born Jamaican I quickly got the attention of my driver “ “Lawd God mi ga hav hart attack,” I shouted for the driver to slow down as the bus tires struggled to catch grip on the edges of a mountain-top precipice. With my eyes shut tight I imagined the driver losing control and the slow motion drop of the bus to the valley below.
Over the hills we went dancing around hairpin turns narrowly missing four wheelers carrying huge loads of building materials and other items and speeding through foggy turns which turned the bus windows a foggy hue as the driver skilfully wound his way through the morning mist.
“I ga be in Kingston 9 am for another run,” said the driver as one passengers who had been attending an all night party mumbled she would be violently sick. That was all it took for the driver to find the quickest stop to give us all a breather and anxiety break.
Finally my friend and I made it back to the hotel, flopped out on the bed and gave a sign of relief as thoughts of home flashed through my mind.