As I already mentioned, the main reasons I wanted to go to Jamaica were that I love their music (dancehall or “bashment” as we call it in London) and food. Every year in Jamaica there’s a musical festival called the Reggae Sumfest, with beach parties, a dancehall night featuring artists like Shaggy, and two international nights with singers like Miguel. I saw it on TV when I was about 15 and wanted to go ever since. This year I had enough money and I didn’t have plans for Sumfest time (July) so I figured it was my time to go.
I asked my “bashment friends” if they wanted to come, but they all said no for various reasons. My sister (who likes bashment when she’s with me) also couldn’t come. The idea of going to Jamaica in July was already stuck in my head so I wasn’t going to give up. I thought maybe Sumfest wouldn’t be possible (‘cos it’s not something I’d go to by myself) but I started looking online for things I could do (cheaply) in Jamaica by myself where I’d probably meet other people and be safe.
I came across a website called http://www.workaway.info which puts people like me in contact with hosts all over the world who are looking for volunteers to help them in exchange for accommodation and sometimes food. I paid about £15 to join the site because you can browse through the hosts without paying, but you can’t contact them. I contacted a couple of hosts in Jamaica but some of them weren’t looking for volunteers at that time etc.
Eventually I saw a new host (after checking the site every day) called Megan whose profile said she was looking for help with an organic farm project she was starting, but also that she owned a bar and would let someone bartend a couple of days a week in exchange for accommodation. That sounded amazing to me – Bartending would mean meeting loads of local people and probably partying at the same time as working. I messaged her and she replied saying I’m welcome to come etc.
The Workaway website doesn’t verify users or anything, so there’s no guarantee that they are who they say they are. I asked Megan if we could Skype to discuss things (and so that I could make sure she was a real person!). I was so excited the morning before our Skype appointment that I went to the bank to transfer money so that if the conversation went well, I could book the flights straight after.
We chatted for about half an hour and she seemed cool and laid back. I booked the flights as soon as the call was over (without telling my parents about my plans). When the booking confirmation came through I was literally jumping around my room in disbelief that I was actually going to Jamaica.
Anyway, my friends and family’s reaction was very mixed. A lot of people (even though they actually don’t really know anything about Jamaica) said I was stupid and it’s a really dangerous country especially for a white girl by herself etc. A lot of people also had doubts about Megan because I’d only met her online. I was surprised at the amount of people who assumed she’d want to make me into a white sex slave! The Jamaican people I spoke to were really supportive though, and said I’d have an amazing time there.
About a month before I was going, Megan messaged me to say the bar had shut down but I was still welcome to come to help with whatever else there was, probably with the organic farm. I was quite disappointed cos I’d been so excited imagining working in the bar, but I was still happy to be going to Jamaica, even if it meant doing some farming! Free accommodation is obviously really useful for someone travelling on a student budget.
I messaged Megan again the week before with my flight details etc and she said she’d come and pick me up from the airport because my flight got in too late for me to take the Knutsford Express (the island’s only “proper”/reliable coach service, a bit like the National Express in England). She told me what make and colour her car was and said I’d find her easily once I walk out of the airport.
Eventually the day came, and I went on a plane by myself for the first time in my life…..