This is the second in a series of blogs as part of the #BloggingAbroadBlogChallenge I was given the prompt about the Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story“.
I want you to close your eyes and think about what Jamaica means to you? Does it mean fruity rum drinks? The sand and sea? Does it mean jerk chicken and fish fry? Does it mean posh resorts and craft markets? Does it mean high crime rates and marijuana smoking in public? Does it mean poverty and dirt roads? Does it mean children in no shoes going to school? Does it mean low education levels? To me Jamaica is all of this and so much more. As a joke this is considered Posh Corps in Peace Corps lingo. Site envy is a thing among volunteers and many seriously think we spend our days at the beach and our nights drinking rum. Sometimes that happens, most often we spend it trying to make some sense of how a country that by all outward appearances is rich and wonderful could be so impoverished and hard.
You see when you come here as a tourist, you are limited by what the leaders want you to see. They want you to take back stories of fun and fabulous times. They do not want you to talk about crime rates, accidents or poverty, they wish you not to see any of that. This is true for most tourist destinations. You see only the fun and beauty, but you miss the poverty and struggles. This is the single story that most people have of Jamaica. It is where Bob Marley came from, Reggae, Rum and Ganga, beaches and beauty. But Bob Marley could not have been such an icon without the struggles of crime, poverty and despair. His music would not still haunt us to this day if he had no message to share. The movie Cool Runnings, as silly as it is and hyped up Hollywood overdone, it still is a story of the great spirit of the Jamaican people. To face such adversity and still get back up, only a people who have struggled their whole life could do that.
The diversity of the people here is similar to almost everywhere else. You have rich, you have poor, you have a struggling middle class. You also have criminals and scammers. What you do not have is a single story. You cannot say you know Jamaica if you come here and spend the entire time at the all-inclusive resort. You meet Jamaicas, sure, but they are working and conforming to standards that are set forth for them. It is a job for them to interact with you, not to get personal and share their true feelings. They smile as though they are having a great time, but maybe they have a sick child back home and cannot wait to return their family. They might agree with whatever you say, but deep down they know you have no idea what happens outside the walls of the resorts. Even if you leave the resort it is typically by charter bus or taxi where you are taken to specific locations. You will not be taken to the small school that has children who have not eaten since breakfast and will not likely eat until nearly bedtime when they get home. They will not take you up into communities of captured land, where the electricity is tiefed from JPS and the cost is put back upon those who have legal electricity. They do not take you into areas where scammer are polishing shiny new cars and looking for their next victim. They do not show you how, much of Jamaica lives.
You will not see domino games that go on into the wee hours of the night, often ending in a drunken brawl. You will not see a dead yard (ded yaad) or meet a local family (yaadies). You may see a few Jamaicans along the roadside bagging up trash and debris, but you will not stop and share a drink with them. No you are going to be shown only what they want you as a tourist to see, what you came to see. What you came to see is not really Jamaica, it is the brochure you bought when you purchased your tickets. Not one place on this beautiful Earth will you ever see the real “” in a brochure. You see what you want to see. It keeps you coming back, because, hey you are on vacation and you paid to live in paradise for a week and forget about the worries of the world. Sadly the worries of the world might be a direct result of you ability to forget about them. How do you think you can find such a wondrous way to forget if not at a cost to someone/something else? Do not kid yourself the cost is so much higher than any of us would ever want to pay.
The beaches in Jamaica are mostly pay beaches. The spots on the river are starting to be the same. This equates to pushing the poor away from their own inheritance of a beautiful sea and fresh water resting place. Imagine if you had to pay $100 every time you wanted to relax with your family? How do you feel now that you have to pay for day passes or a yearly pass to most state and federal parks in America? I resent it. That land is owned by us, why do we, the taxpayer have to pay? The same is happening all over Jamaica and it is frustrating.
So now go back to your original thoughts on Jamaica, but add watching the catch from the fishermen coming in, cooking fresh fish on the beach on a Sunday morning, buying produce from the farmers at the market, buying callaloo from the Rasta peddling it from his back or bicycle. Imagine instead of fruity drinks an icy cold Dragon Stout blended with some Foska Oats, peanuts and Supligen vanilla milk, this is called Strong Back and if a man is drinking it run ladies run! Imagine lazily floating down the river without a care in the world, looking at the canopy of fruiting trees overhead.
Imagine the back breaking work in the fields to bring in the harvest just to make enough money to pay the children’s school fees. Imagine being a small child in an overcrowded, hot classroom that is not separated by actual walls but by chalk boards, imagine being the teachers trying to talk over the noise from the other classrooms. Now imagine all of this hardship and struggle and you still having a smile on your face? Why? Because Jamaica, No problem, mon! It is really hard to keep a Jamaican from enjoying the simple pleasures in life, because for many of them, it is the only pleasures they have ever known.