My “Likkle” Town in Jamaica
In my little town on the south shore of Jamaica, we enjoy an interesting cross section of people, backgrounds and personalities.
A lovely mixture of people who’ve settled here from around the world, called “expats,” foreign tourists and local Jamaicans, making our little slice of Jamaica especially diverse. It’s been important find my place among these people as I began setting up a home and a “life” here. Jumping in with both feet, getting involved in community service projects, chatting with my neighbors and joining a local church opened doors into the lives of those around me.
The first thing I’ve come to realize is that pretty much everyone from this town is related. If not related, I can bet they know each other. This is a handy lesson to keep in mind when talking to someone new. God forbid I get into a sticky situation with somebody and find myself, let’s say, riding in a taxi only to hear that person’s name come up. Eventually, drawn into the conversation, I could easily find myself divulging some aspect of my frustration towards them. Only then I discover that I am talking to the sister, cousin or auntie of said person. It can be very awkward (don’t ask me how I know…oops!)
I’ve also learned that I certainly cannot judge a book by it’s cover when it comes to expats.
It should come as no surprise that people come to live in Jamaica to have a different life than they lived in their homeland. It’s a mistake to assume I will always understand or agree with their reasons for doing so. Some really want the company and familiarity of fellow expats and others want to immerse themselves in Jamaican culture.
Some expats come to start a new chapter, having raised their children and retired from their careers. Others come to kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labors, living in fancy villas with full staffs or possibly the most simple homes, with little upkeep or worries. A few come to escape reality or their past, often with the aid of the highly available marijuana, referred to as “ganja” here. The “rich” may dress like paupers, blending in like chameleons. People tend to be very laid back and non-assuming down here, making mingling very easy and inviting.
Although they come and go, the tourists add their own special flavor to our town. It’s a common experience to be walking the beach or strolling through town, passing people speaking any number of languages. Often, it’s easy to pick them out from a distance, thanks to their sunburned faces and mosquito bitten legs. They are usually very open and enjoy interacting with Jamaicans and expats alike, expressing their dreams of living the lifestyle they perceive we enjoy.
My personal favorites are the Jamaicans, the vast majority of whom were born and raised right here in this little corner of the island.
They come in all shapes and sizes, all levels of educational background and many differing belief systems. I’ve learned that although it can be tempting, it’s never wise to lump all Jamaicans together. Just when you think you’ve got them “figured out,” they prove me wrong.
Unlike elsewhere in this country, people from my town are generally light skinned and often blue eyed. It’s not uncommon for me, a redhead, to sit leg to leg in a crowded taxi and be sporting darker skin than the Jamaican crammed in next to me. There are varying stories as to how this came to be, from Scottish soldiers who participated in the slave trade to English sugar plantation owners to German immigrants, but it certainly makes Jamaicans from our area stand out.
An contributor in the scenery of Jamaican life are those that they refer to as “returning residents,” and my little town is a very comfortable, safe place to come back to so we have many of them. These are folks who were born in Jamaica but, at some point, “went a foreign” to work, go to school, all with hopes of moving up in the world. Fiercely proud and protective of their homeland, many of them dream of returning home in their older years. They offer special insights into Jamaican culture, having been immersed in it as children, coupled with a life spent abroad.
As for me, I try to mix equally with all groups.
It’s comforting at times to converse with fellow expats. There are times when they are the only ones who may understand what life in Jamaica is really like. They can share in your frustration with the somewhat antiquated ways, yet celebrating the freedoms and slower pace of life. They understand being torn between two worlds, as well.
Expats who have lived here longer can offer wisdom. Those that are newer to the scene can sympathize and share in your embarrassing moments. There are times when it’s simply nice to relax and not struggle to understand patois or thick Jamaican accents. I find that it takes a certain kind of person to stick it out in this country so we all have certain ties that bind us. We all eventually know each other, sometimes celebrating holidays together in our more traditional “American” ways.
It’s surprisingly easy to interact with tourists in this beautiful, relaxed setting.
One of my favorite pastimes is walking our gorgeous beaches, often logging 40 to 45 miles per week. An early morning walk usually starts my day. I follow that with an afternoon swim, and, of course, an evening stroll to catch the stunning sunsets. Spending ample time by the water, I frequently find myself enjoying the company of tourists from all over the world. It’s always lovely to see our town through their eyes. It constantly reminds me of the magic I felt when I first came to this place.
When it comes to my closest friends, however, they are Jamaicans.
After all, what’s the point of moving to a foreign country if I don’t integrate with it’s people? We often sit for hours on my verandah, chatting about local events, laughing, playing dominos or sharing meals. Conversations get interrupted by frequent shout outs of greetings to people passing by.
These are the people who share their mangoes, tomatoes or coconuts with me. We sit in church together. They check in on me when storms come and call me to say hello when I’m in the States. They never ask for anything but would give me all that they have if I was in need.
When I am away from Jamaica, these are the people I miss.
These are the people I worry about. One day soon, I hope to be sharing every day with them. I want watch their children grow and support each other through triumphs and tragedy alike. These are the people I came to Jamaica to find. They are my family and they’ve made Jamaica into my home. I am so thankful to have this life.