Before taking on the island of Jamaica in 2005, I had already been there five times. I knew it was a desirable place and there were nice people, but I was tremendously naive about the true culture of the island. I usually associated my trips to Jamaica with typical tourist fun, such as jet skiing and parasailing.
Never did I stop and think about the night-long parties and exciting nightlife as an active part of their culture. Late night neighborhood parties were thrown to honor a death in someone’s family, live reggae bands played at modest local clubs most nights of the week, and it was not uncommon to see people dancing- in clubs or out on the street. When I would visit with my mom and sister, I did not have a care in the world.
The fact that the government was corrupt and that Jamaican citizens were in severe poverty did not occur to me. The gruesome truth of Jamaican life was far from the appealing tourist life I began to favor. A few days into our trip we would usually visit family.
I always assumed it was their own fault they were poor because my grandparents did not save for retirement and my uncle drove a taxi- not exactly a respectable, well-paying job. It seemed like they should have simply gone to school or made a better life for themselves, but it was so much more than that. It was clear that I did not have an understanding of the culture at all.
There were three occurrences during our trip that year that properly informed my about the current state of Jamaica. It only took my sister and I a few days to get settled in before we wanted to go shopping. We decided to go to the flea market where men and women sold their hand-made crafts.
The market took up a vast amount of land, was spotted with blue and white tents lined up in perfect rows, and rested on a dusty, clay-colored dirt surface. As we entered the great flea market, we looked around in every way deciding where to start. After about one row of looking at hand-made arts and goods, I realized how desperate these people were to make a living.
Each tent of goods looked exactly the same. Every time one of us would pass by a tent the owner would walk out hazing us and trying to convince us to buy their items. They looked so desperate and worn from their long days at the market.
These people were trying to make a living and simply could not. Towards the middle of our ten-day stay, it was time for my mom, sister, and me to visit my sister’s real mother in George’s Plain, up in the country, about an hour from the beach. Her mother’s house was the last house out of four in the far back of the minuscule piece of property. Constructed out of planks of wood painted bright turquoise with no insulation, and a sketchy-looking, rusted roof made of a few sheets of zinc did not suggest that the home was even livable, yet this is where my sister would have otherwise grown up.
The most unpleasant experience was having to use the bathroom while at Niyoka’s mother’s house. Due to their severe state of poverty, they used a chimmey. A chimmey, the Jamaican term for a bedpan, was a plastic toilet that slid under the bed, used, and emptied in the morning. The smell was horrific in the stifling heat of the country without the cool beach breeze to lighten the odor. I intelligently decided to wait until we either stopped at a restaurant or returned home. When I became conscious about how horrified I was at the sight of the chimmey and realized that this is the way people had to live, I felt an immense amount of sympathy towards them. They were so poor that they did not have a toilet with running water, something I as well as others in various well-developed countries take for granted. The trip that year truly opened my eyes to the current state of countries in the world other than privileged America. Everyday I wake up knowing how lucky I am to live where I do and have the opportunity to make a life for myself as well as a life that benefits others and makes a difference in the world.
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