Jamaica is an island filled with quirky cultural nuances and a rich, colourful language that often left me scratching my head. I get heaps of emails asking about what it’s really like living in Jamaica. Here are few of the things I picked up along the way.
11 Things I Learnt Living in Jamaica
1. Food: Jamaican food includes some of the best cuisine in the Caribbean. Hell a top, Hell a bottom, Hallelujah in the middle. This is a Jamaican riddle that most local people know the answer to: sweet potato pudding. Mixed with delicious coconut milk and spices, this Jamaican classic is an unmissable treat. Or how about hominy corn porridge? Cow skin soup anyone? Or perhaps some Mannish water – famous locally for its aphrodisiac properties, but less tempting now I know it’s made from goat offal and testicles.
2. Superstition: Obeah, similar to Haiti’s voodoo, is the practise of black magic. Obeah men can still be found practising this outlawed craft in Jamaica. An Obeah man can cast or break a spell, go into a shamanic trance or, it’s said, even bring someone back from the dead. Then there’s the ‘duppy bats’ (or Jamaican Witch Moths) – frequent visitors to the inside of most island homes that are apparently the returning spirits of loved ones. In a land where superstition reigns by day and duppies (spirits) haunt by night, religion is more than just saying your prayers before you go to bed.
3. Rum: It took me almost three years to discover (or risk) the pleasures of over-proof white rum. Sickly sweet and very strong, Jamaicans swear it can cure a common cold and even ward off evil spirits. Whether or not it works who can say? But it goes down far too easy with a splash of Ting.
4. Jamaican men: Like to vocally proclaim their love for women. I’ve had declarations of ‘mi seh, mi can tek care a yuh baby’ from a man wearing no shoes. Then there was the considerably less charming shout of ‘yuh a bad gyal’ from a builder repairing a church wall. I used to get irritated but now I make like a Jamaican woman – roll my eyes, suck my teeth, flash a smile and walk on.
5. Crime: This has to be the thing I get contacted about most. It’s true, Jamaica has a bad reputation when it comes to crime. It’s perfectly possible to live a safe and happy existence in Jamaica but you do need on your guard a bit more than you do in other places. Listen to advice and be careful when travelling and you’ll be just fine.
6. Dancehall Parties: Kingston is world famous for its sound system parties. Lovers of dancehall, the ubiquitous soundtrack of the urban Jamaican party scene, will find the wildest and best parties downtown. I’ve not quite perfected my ‘walk and shake’ and I’m still working on my ‘willie bounce’. Oh, and I’ll never be able to pull off a pair of batty riders. I’ve also learned never to show up before midnight as parties don’t really get going until the early hours.
7. Noise: Jamaicans love noise, they can’t live without it. Most Jamaicans seem to possess an inner zen like ability to shut out the constant cacophony of intrusive sounds. I’ve learned to embrace the ever present sound systems. If you can’t beat them…
8. Street Hustling: In Kingston hustling is a national pastime. At most major intersections groups of young men can be found armed with dirty rags and a squirty bottle of water ready to smear your windscreen for a bit of silver. But lets not forget the flower seller, the peanut man, the guy selling wet-wipes and doughnuts, the candy-floss man (Fridays only), the banana sellers, the roadside artist, the pillow man and of course the trumpeter of Trafalgar road who plays for charity. I always keep spare change in the car and enjoy the banter, fist bumps, declarations of love and the streaked windscreen I’m invariably left with.
9. Driving: Jamaicans, normally the most easy going people on the planet turn into Formula 1 drivers behind the wheel. For many drivers, red lights are advisory rather than obligatory, and functioning brake lights are optional. So I’ve learned that route taxis rule the road (look out for the red number plates) and deserve a wide berth, as do the goats.
10. Shopping: The customer most definitely is not always right; get it wrong and there’ll be much teeth-sucking and lip pointing. It’s not unusual to stumble across a customer in the middle of a solo dance routine or singing along at full volume to the store soundtrack. I’ve never seen so many people enjoying their shopping experience.
11. The mountains: There’s more to Jamaica than the beaches. Living here has encouraged me to head inland to experience traditional village life, quirky roadside bars and to hike some of the best trails in the Caribbean. I love escaping the city for the cool mountain air. I buy my Blue Mountain coffee straight from the rasta-man who grows it, which I’m sure makes it taste just that little bit better.