Welcome to Jamaica
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Life is funny. You meet someone “amazing” but after several months of “reality,” you realize they actually DO have some flaws. The same is true of many aspects of life, including a move to Jamaica. Sometimes, we are left disillusioned, depressed or flat out angry at ourselves for being so “blind” to the “the truth.” Occasionally, we get lucky and our initial good impression was right on. Most of the time, our experience falls somewhere in the middle. That’s how we have to look at life in Jamaica…in the middle.
Before I began my transition to Jamaica, I ran across a book written about a couple who always dreamed of moving to a tropical island for retirement. They chose an island they had visited many, many times, bought a home, sold their place in the USA and off they went.
As I thumbed through the pages, I was horrified to find that they were miserable almost immediately in their new home. Skipping to the end of the book, I found that about a year later, they packed up and moved back to the USA. They couldn’t make the transition.
A shockwave went through my system. Would this happen to me? What caused this “failure to thrive” for this couple and many others like them? More importantly, how could I prevent this tragedy in my own life?
I came up with this: Instead of moving to a foreign country and trying to integrate into that country, people expect the country to mold life around them as Americans. Stomping feet at the locals for “being different,” rather than adapting, is a failing strategy. I determined that I was NOT going to be the classic “ugly American” when I started a new life in Jamaica.
So, yeah. I’m currently tearing up the rule book in my head that has guided me all these years on “how things are supposed to go.” I’m going to fill you in on a few of the surprises I’ve come across thus far and my current adaptations to maintain my sanity.
Arriving for my first stay in my rented house, I was hot, sweaty and tired. After a three hour drive from the airport, a day of flights and lugging suitcases around…oh, and sitting at the airport for two hours because our driver “was late” (typical)…I just wanted a shower.
I turned on the shower and stepped in. Honestly, it was the most disappointing shower I’d ever had. There were literally two streams of water, smaller than pencils, dribbling from the shower head. I thought to myself, “This is going to be a really long stay.” But then, and this is key, I LAUGHED. After my daughter got her “sprinkle” we laughed together. Welcome to Jamaica.
Lesson 1. Learn to laugh, even when you feel embarrassed. Your sense of humor…don’t leave home without it.
Recently, I took a taxi “to town” to gather paint and other supplies for the house. The hardware store that literally had nothing on display. Everything was on shelves, behind a glass partition, with sales people sitting there to “take your order” When was the last time you saw someone use carbon paper to write a receipt? Do you even now what carbon paper is? (My daughter didn’t.)
This is how it usually works. Get in line and give your order to a clerk. You will be given a number, usually written on a piece of cardboard. You take the number to “the cage,” waiting in line to hand it in. You are given your total and you pay. You get your receipt and then go wait in the first line again, hand in your receipt and receive your goods. I’m told it’s done this way because employers don’t trust employees to handle cash. Welcome to Jamaica.
Lesson 2. Write a list before you go and make sure it uses the local terms. (Did you know a faucet is often called a “mixer” here?) Plan LOTS of extra time into every errand you run, figuring it will take most of a day. If you get done earlier, you’ll be elated. If not, you’re mentally prepared.
I’ve yet to experience any institution that tries my patience here more than banks. It’s such a slow process to check a balance or get some money out that they actually provide CHAIRS, so take a number and sit down. There’s a different clerk for every type of transaction. Accept the fact that you will likely get in the wrong long line and waste a lot of time until you get the system down. Welcome to Jamaica.
Lesson 3. Think happy thoughts and breathe deeply. Take a book to read. Bring your knitting.
If that fails to help, refer to lesson 2. EVERYTHING takes longer here. Don’t worry. Often a vendor will pass through the waiting area with snacks for sale, so you won’t die of hunger.
If lesson 2 doesn’t help, refer to lesson 1. Laugh about how silly you were to expect the style of service you are used to. Reflect on how frantic and stressful your previous life was. Embrace the slower pace.
It gets easier as you totally wind down and learn the lay of the land. After a while, you’ll find your rhythm and will actually enjoy this new life.