On the corner of where the blind man begs and where the little girl cries, I solemnly stand on a lonesome street in Jamaica. The sun blazes, but it does not blind me from the culture I somehow stumbled upon, intricately woven with poverty and crime. Elaborate brochures sprinkled with pictures of friendly suns and friendly faces drew us to this not so amiable or brochure-worthy place.
I knew I was traveling to Jamaica, but I didn’t think of it as leaving America. As our family of six shyly bunched together, we dodged stray, nearly starved dogs and the beggars. There were so many beggars. Ribs poked through torn t-shirts as eyes faded into vacancy.
A little dark-haired girl pulls at my shirt while insecurity and nausea pass from her hands to my head. It killed me to say ‘no’ to such a young beggar, but I was told to stay away from such dying spirits. Besides the beggars, I have another vivid image of this country etched into my memory, the stench — enough to make hair stand and a stomach twist from anxiety.
Glistening like black rubies, puddles of rancid garbage cooked on the cracked, pathetic asphalt. I cringed as my foot slashed into a stagnant puddle of rain from the previous night. Water beckoned even the weakest animals in the area.
It was easy to become transfixed by anything in this country, because my eyes have never laid on such a deep spectrum of beauty and deterioration. The first time I saw the Jamaican sun slinking off in a radiant display of color, I was nothing short of mesmerized. My family decided that after the long plane ride we deserved our first trip to the beach, the one the brochure had so willingly promised us.
However, after seeing our current surroundings we did not raise our hopes nor get too excited at the notion of swimming on these ‘perfect’ sands. I gasped. The sand was white, and the sea, a crystal green. How could I have expected such natural beauty underneath a mound of rotting city?
Just as we allowed the cool ocean water to strike our knees, a small band of soldiers came relentlessly marching forward. Carrying guns and dressed in some foreign uniform, the men looked awkward and out of place on such a breathtaking backdrop. It was as if God had cut them out of a TIME magazine I had never read and pasted them right before my unseeing eyes.
Naturally, we all agreed this would be our first and final trip. As my feet were set back upon sweet American soil, even if it was the airports’, I smiled. I contemplated kissing the ground for about 5 seconds, but realized this instinct must be the product of too much ‘Looney Tunes’ watching as a child.
Yes, I know, I should have come back terribly miserable and depressed from all my sightseeing, but I wasn’t. I was thrilled and beaming with joy, not crying for those distraught strangers in a place far a home. I was in such a hurry to get back to comfort, I had accidentally left the souls of those dying people on the plane. Knowing me, I must have left them in the overhead storage compartment.
A few days later, however, I realized they were packed up safely in my brown leather suitcase, just waiting for my flowing tears and broken heart. Every single memory swept over me like a tidal wave, insanely hard and uncontrollably fast. I had been so selfish, and in an attempt to maybe someday love myself again, I cried myself to sleep.
For the first time I saw the decaying bodies, and those eyes — eyes that windowed the most helplessness a human being can know It is easy to see how at some point or another, everyone chooses to overlook detail. But without this beautiful, hand-crafted detail in our lives we would never be capable of seeing big beauty.
In a jumbled crowd, how many people give you sideways glances for wearing those new jeans you were able to buy last Monday? Did you take it for granted waking up to the blare of your alarm clock, and not the firing of a gun? Or did you roll over and wish you didn’t have to go to another strenuous day at work or school while there are others dying just to get a chance at jobs and education?
‘The land of opportunity’ is no stereotype. We are strong and lucky, but most of all, we are blessed. ‘This is America ….. a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky’ said George Bush. We are Americans. Whether it’s showing the way for others, grabbing our opportunities or thanking God for our rights, we are Americans. Traveling away from home allowed me to see the beauty that resides in ‘the everyday,’ in safety, in work, and in compassion.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.