Learning to live like a Jamaican, cultural similarities.

Life in my site is not that different from life in America.  I can get cheese, wine and yogurt just like at home.  Although, I pay a premium price for these items!  Many people own cars here, but many more do not, or a family has one vehicle so a taxi is utilized often.  Ahh the taxi, the first glaring difference from America.  Taxis sit and wait in Ochi to fill up.  That means 4 people in the back seat and one in the front, sometimes two if they think they can get away with it.  The ride is not exactly comfortable but it is not awful unless they fill the taxi up with pickney!  Pickney are children and they will stuff them in tight.  Unlike America where each child has a special car seat, Jamaicans will just smash them up together, the idea is more is safer.  You do not move as much if you are packed in like sardines!

Buses are way worse than a taxi.  You sometimes have to wait for almost an hour for a bus to fill up enough for the driver to consider leaving.  I would rather take a taxi just to ensure it leaves sooner.  The fare for both taxi and bus are similar.   These are decided by the route drivers and should be set in stone.  If a driver try to tell you wrong price and the bus/taxi full most people will call him a teif!  They will accuse him of stealing, so they typically charge correct prices.


Most Jamaicans have electricity and at least water tanks in their homes.  Hot water tanks are a luxury.  Most have a fridge and some form of running water if they can get water.  I still turn the water off to soap up, shampoo and shave.  I actually run a bowl of water before my shower to shave with.  I wet up and wet my soap.  I then turn off the water and soap up and shave.  When I wash my hair the same procedure.  Since we are in a drought it makes no sense to allow the water to run down the drain if you are not using it.  Sadly most Jamaicans that have no water shortage do not do this.  In fact my host family washes cars almost daily.

Unless you own a car there is always a walk to catch a taxi.  They are not always easy to catch leaving the area, but easy enough to get one in Ochi.  Most of the people walk quite a distance to catch a taxi.  In certain areas it can be difficult to find one, often they will be full before they reach your area.  I have learned that it is easier to go to the crossroads than it is to go to the head of the scheme.  I was very spoiled in the beginning when Tressa carried me all over the place.  I now see how much more troublesome traveling can be if you have to rely on public transit.  Unlike Seattle where I just pay one fare and the transfer is good for 90 minutes and most trips do not take hours, here I have to pay multiple fares.  Just to find my way around.  I bought a bicycle to avoid paying all the fares to do the work around my community.  It has helped when the bicycle is not broken!  I did the same thing in America, I would rather bike than pay bus fare, it is a source of hardship for me.

With so much walking to access taxis you would think Jamaicans have great health, this is so far from reality.  Jamaicans suffer from the same diet related diseases Americans do.  Much of a Jamaican diet is canned or boxed.  The rest is carbcentric.  It is not uncommon for a meal to consist of a whole irish potato, a hunk of yellow yam, a boiled banana and dumplings.  There might even be a huge pile of rice on the plate.  Most Jamaicans see vegetables as a little serving of sliced cabbage and carrot or a breakfast of callaloo, which is a type of Amaranth green.  They chop it up fine and steam it with onions and sweet peppers.  This is often the only vegetable served in a day.  If they make a pot of soup it will have okra and scallion and hot pepper sometimes carrots.  Fruit is often juiced so the fiber content is lost.  I have noticed that Jamaican drink cans of Ensure like it is the greatest thing on Earth.  I am guilty of taking a multi-vitamin just to ensure my B-12s are up to level, but I like to eat real food.  I love a good salad, some kale with mushrooms or eggplant and zucchini cooked up onto a pasta sauce.

veg meat

I am fortunate that I live outside of Ochi, where I can get all these things, sometimes the price is very steep, but I have access.  I have learned to enjoy callaloo and okra, I also have found that breadfruit is amazing.  Breadfruit is a major carb so I tend to eat it with my greens and keep my consumption to a reasonable amount.  My host family thinks I might not like it, but I just simply am not going to eat a whole one in one sitting, or two or four.  Depending on size a single breadfruit is about 8-15 carb servings.  I also love cabbage and pok chow (Bok choy).  I eat all kinds of thing probably not on a typical Jamaican diet, but as a vegetarian I am limited.  If I do not want to woof down an entire meal of carbs, I have to be creative.  I do like the vegetarian meat option they have here.  They have dehydrated things called vege chunks that resemble dog food, but once it is cooked it is not so bad.  I can get any Morning Star product, but prefer the Jamaican products because they are way cheaper.  The secret is to not consume large quantities of them.  I have managed to lose over 30 lbs in the last few months.  I still have more to lose but I am feeling pretty good about that.

Unless there is a party or a dead yard most Jamaicans go home in the evening and just relax.  This is something I do as well.  Sometimes I go to the ball field to watch the young men play soccer, but more often than not I come home make my dinner and put on a movie or read a book.  Sometimes I can get a rousing game of dominoes going with my family at night.  That is always fun.  I will start having game nights with the children, I have UNO and basic cards and Yahtzee along with Dominoes.  Dominoes is the Jamaican past-time.  Beware and keep your hands off the table when playing with Jamaicans!  They tend to slam the tiles down on the table and often I am confused by the rules.  I do win sometimes and since I am not competitive I am ok with losing, but many are not.  Be cautious Jamaican men can be sore losers, especially if there is money on a game.

Just like back home, I kind of fall into a routine here.  Unless there is something going on, I tend to stick around home.  I chat with the neighbors and if I go into the community I chat with the locals.  I tend to avoid certain types of people, mostly young men who are persistent in asking me to marry them.  I simply tell them that I have no time for their non-sense.  This typically ends the encounter.  Just like America there are local watering holes, unlike America typically the only women in them are behind the counter.  It makes it difficult to just start-up a conversation.  Again I avoid these kinds of encounters.

Life here is similar yet very different from America.  The similarities are how the people here live.  They live in homes, most have electricity and running water.   Most have toilet facilities indoors, many have jobs to pay the bills.  The similarities end when you begin to see interactions between people.  The people here tend to seem cold and uncaring.  They tend to not show any or limited forms of affection.  They tend not to trust each other.  They tend not to trust the police.  They tend to just want to be left alone.  This is not like my life at home, yet there are times when you see this in America.  In America people tend to come home and lock their doors and many do not know their neighbors.  The times that Jamaicans show compassion are in times of emergency and death.  It is not that they do not care, it is that culturally it is not appropriate to show concern or care.  That shows weakness unless there is an emergency.  In a country where the culture promotes a certain amount of corrupt behavior, showing weakness sets you up to be taken advantage of.  The people here are not innately bad the culture just promotes an underlying sense of besting others.

In America this kind of behavior is linked to criminal mentality.  Here it is not necessarily a criminal intent, more like a desire to gain above one’s place.  It is hard to explain, but a great example is how men view women.  Here when a man hits on a woman it has nothing to do with desire or attraction, it has everything to do with his right as a man.  He has a right to have her.  She should support him or support him having many women to support him.  It is the strangest twist in a super-religious culture.  For an ultra conservative religious culture the view on sex and relationships does not fit in the same ideology.  There are a few men who are not like this, just like there are a few women who will not put up with this.  There are exceptions to every cultural norm.  My host family and my supervisor’s family for example are not like this at all.  They are secured families with men who are committed to their wives.  So not all cultural norms are displayed by all persons.  I am happy that my family and the families that I am closest to are more in line with how I see normal relationships.  I do not hear beatings of the children daily and I do not see side women slinking around the homes that I frequent.  For this I am thankful.

Babs and Killa prepping chicken, my host family watching.
Babs and Killa prepping chicken, my host family watching.

I do not judge this part of the culture.  Having been in multiple open-relationships, it is not in me to judge others.  I simply find the prevalence of such behavior a little odd.  The acceptance of infidelity among men and not women to be unfair and the relative passive attitude toward safe sex unsettling.  It scares me and even if I wanted to date someone here, I would be very cautious as to what they will give me and what they will take from me.  You see a woman in the relationship has to be willing to open up her purse strings and that is just something I cannot afford.  I also cannot afford to get some STD, no one really can.


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