In Jamaica most people have “road” clothes and non-road clothes. Road clothes are clean and tidy, pressed and nice. Clothes that are stained and tattered are not clothes you will typically see a Jamaican “on the road” in. On the road refers to either leaving your community or going out into the community to shop or attend church or various other activities. It really means leaving your yaard (yard) or your home area. Jamaicans take pride in their appearance, right down to their shoes. Once a week families will wash all their shoes and everyone is running around in slippers or barefoot. For my host family this occurs on Saturday and the shoes are then put out in the sun for all day, sometimes even put out again on Sunday to ensure the shoes are dry.
Going on the road means to walk along the road where there are no sidewalks and the cars drive under a guise of rules which are more like suggestions. The speed limit is merely a suggestion unless there is a traffic stop then it is the law. You will often sees cars passing from opposite directions and the driver will put their hand out and “push” down the air indicating to lower speed for the traffic stops. This is when the “driva” (driver) will ensure the front passenger is seat-belted and they themselves apply their seat belt, which immediately is disengaged once the traffic stop is passed. Once I had a driva put his seatbelt on 6 times in the span of less than 5 miles due to traffic stops, I found it humorous that he would not just leave it on. Another law that is merely a suggestion is the side of the road to drive on. In rural areas road maintenance is not regular. This leaves large potholes in the roads, so drivers know the route well enough that they drive to avoid the pot holes. This often leads to near collisions. The roads are also much narrower than should be for two cars to pass side by side.
I once asked why persons pulled over for the police, who stand on the roadside and point out cars to pull over. There is often no police vehicle and I was curious why drivers would stop. I mean really what will the police do? I was informed that the police will shoot out your tires if you do not stop. I have not actually heard of this happening so it may just be a belief that keeps persons honest. Either way it is probably best to stop for the police. In one bus I was in a police stop occurred. The police made all passengers in the back of the bus get out and they checked all the bags for “criminal substances”. All bags that is but mine and the guy that was in the front with me. I am not exactly sure why they did not look in our bags but we were not even asked to get out of the vehicle. This was the first and only time I have ever had the entire bus searched. *notes that this occurred right around Christmas time.)
Going on the road might entail walking or biking or even catching a taxi. It really means you have business to attend to. You will see persons on the road that look like they are doing nothing or have no reason to be on the road, and that is accurate. Those persons do not consider themselves to be going on the road. They are simply occupying space and time. You will know this by their manner of dress. Ragged clothes slippers and unkempt appearances mean this person is not ‘pon de road fi bidnez’.
Catching a taxi is an exercise in patience and courage. There is one taxi that most person’s in my area try not to use. He drives fast and it feels careless. I suspect he is just trying to get to and from fast so he can make more money, but dying is not on my agenda and I would be really upset if I died from fear and nothing more. When I see this taxi I find other business to attend to if I can. Unless I have been waiting for a long while, or it is a holiday and taxi are scarce, I try to avoid his car. Once there was almost a head on collision with him and the vehicle I was in as he came flying around the corner on the wrong side of the road. I have no idea how he did not hit us. To this day he must have very busy angels following him around because I have not heard of any accident with him.
Catching a taxi out of the community is much different than catching one home. A taxi out of the community may be barely full, or it may have 4 in the back seat and 2 in the front if someone is getting left off at the main road. A taxi home will sit in the taxi park and you wait until there are 5 people in a regular car and 7-8 in the big ones that have two back seats. They will not leave until enough people are in the taxi. At night and on Sundays are the most difficult days to travel. Less taxis come and the taxi park is not open. The taxi stand to be used at night never has taxi to my community because people will walk up to avoid the traffic jams. The taxi turn around and load up the road from the taxi park, unless you know this you could be standing there for hours. Sometimes persons walk even further up and this creates difficulties on top of difficult situations. Also the taxis are not route taxis anymore, it can be a taxi that says Great Pond, a white plate (robot) or it can be a regular taxi. It is harder to determine which taxi I need at night. I am so grateful when a neighbor sees me and assists me in finding my taxi. I know the day drivers but at night it is so difficult to tell.
On the road you will see many variety of vehicles. Motorcyles, cars and I even saw a brand new Corvette the other day. There are delivery trucks, mini bus and coaster bus on this side of the island. You will see yellow plated vehicles, these are government vehicles. You will see red plated vehicles, these are authorized passenger vehicles. You will see green plated vehicles, these are used for business, mostly trucks, vans and delivery trucks. You will see white plated vehicles, these are personal vehicles. There might be all variety of plate colors but these are the most common.
Other things you might see ‘pon di road are animals of all types, goats, chickens, cows, donkeys, horses and of course dogs. You will also see dead animals rotting and bloating which will attract the John Crows, or vultures. If you hit a man’s goat you must pay for the goat, at least that is what I have heard. Do not make curry goat stew of him, that will get you in trouble! Most drivers try to avoid hitting animals as it damages the cars and mess them right up. This brings up my final thought on being on the road! People will wash their cars quite often. It is about appearance and people will judge if your car is dirty from more than just a day or so of road dust. So keep up your appearances ‘pon the road, because the local people will notice and feel disrespected if you don’t!