Jamaica definitely has a lot of issues within its society and there are some things which are hard to get used to when you first arrive, but despite this, Jamaica is a place with a lot of character and life, and I find myself laughing and smiling at a variety of things on a daily basis.
- The nicknames that are given to complete strangers. Basically, it’s normal in Jamaica to refer to someone by an aspect of their appearance or their job etc. This means that, for example, in downtown Kingston, when the man who sells natural juices on a kart is going past you and you’re sitting on a step so you want him to come to you, you shout “JUICY!” to get his attention. Similarly, someone who sells pineapple at the market could be called “Piney”, I (a white girl) get called “Whitey”, a short guy passing by will normally be referred to as “Short Man”, and if you want the girl in the blue shirt to come over to your market stall to buy something, you’ll probably shout “Blue Blouse! Blue Blouse!” to get her to notice you. My personal favourite will always be the multiple cries of “Yo… Juicy!!” every day when the juice man passes the clothes vendors who want to buy from him on Beckford Street in downtown.
- The speed at which people run to pick up fallen mangoes. Mango season in Jamaica runs from around April to around July, and Jamaicans generally have a love affair with mangoes. The trees are tall so if you want to pick them, you need a big stick to poke them down with, or alternatively you can throw rocks at them until they drop, but that’s not normally too successful. This means that the easiest time to get them is when they’ve just fallen. I thought I loved fruit, but you should see the sudden enormous smile and lit-up eyes of whoever is near the tree when a mango drops. Kids often sprint towards the mango and almost dive for it so they can get it before their friends. Maybe that’s where Usain Bolt’s talent started!
- The obvious breaking of the law, without a care in the world. (Obviously this isn’t funny when it involves serious things like violence, but that isn’t what I was referring to). For example, in most parties and musical events, there are men walking around selling cigarettes, peanuts, chewing gum and weed (or sometimes just weed). When I say weed, I don’t mean they have a few bags in their pockets… I mean they walk around holding about 20 branches of weed for the whole world to see. The law changed in 2015 meaning that possession of less than 2 ounces of weed has been decriminalized, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to go around parties waving 20 branches of weed in people’s faces. I just find it funny how un-discreet it is. (Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting that everyone in Jamaica is a criminal. I’m sure a lot of people follow the law too.)
- The street art (this makes me smile, not laugh). I feel like I have a new appreciation for art since spending 3 months in Jamaica. In Kingston, you can see street art all over the place, and the main reason why it makes me smile is because it’s often used to empower/inspire Jamaican people. For example, you often see paintings/murals of inspirational Jamaican people such as Marcus Garvey and Usain Bolt on walls in underprivileged communities, I guess with the aim of reminding people that they can achieve things in life and they shouldn’t give up on their dreams. The phrase pictured below is found in Parade Gardens, a community in downtown Kingston with a lot of social problems. I like it because it reminds people that they shouldn’t let their area define them, and that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
- The enthusiasm of the street vendors. A lot of people in Jamaica make their living by selling things on the street, mainly clothes, shoes or food, and I really respect the effort they put in, especially when you consider how little profit some of them make. My favourite place to buy clothes is Beckford Street in downtown Kingston, which is basically the unofficial area for clothes and accessories vendors. Beckford Street is a crazy place…on a busy day you basically can’t move and can’t hear yourself speak, but I love the energy there. There are some really charismatic vendors who will try pretty much anything to make a sale. My friend sells flip flops (called slippers in the Caribbean) and he literally jumps up and down and blows a horn like an absolute mad man to attract attention from 8am-8pm six days a week. He sometimes even throws a pair of slippers into the middle of the street! My favourite vendor is the guy who sells shavers. He shouts “SHAVE UP YUH PUM PUM!!” (aka shave your vagina) and “PRETTY PUM PUM!” to every girl he passes, and I just have to laugh every time.
- Goats. Goats are everywhere in Jamaica! Obviously it’s to be expected in the countryside (pictured below is a man I walked past in Long Bay, Portland, who was herding his goats), but I wasn’t expecting there to be so many in the capital city. The ghetto where Bob Marley spent a lot of his life, Trench Town, has loads of them! One day I was walking from my friend’s house there to the main road to catch a bus, and I passed a whole line of about 15 of them casually lying down along the wall of the police station as if they were an extra barrier of protection for the police.
- The way people pose for photos. Social media has had a big impact on people’s behaviour in most countries in the world, as far as I know, but Jamaicans are actually something else when it comes to the photos they take to put as their Whatsapp profile picture or to go on their Facebook etc. For example, my friend (shown below) was carrying my giant travelling backpack for me – something which I don’t think is particularly ‘cool’ or worthy of a photo… but he insisted on posing several times at different angles so I could take photos of him wearing the backpack! Other funny ones include when people pose holding their KFC bucket, looking as proud as if it was their newborn baby… and when the club photographers go round at the parties, guys who were laughing before they came tend to put on their most serious face ever and do one or more of the following: a) hold out their gold/silver chain, b) pick up the most expensive (possibly secretly empty) bottle of alcohol (often not even theirs) and show the label to the camera, c) pretend to be in the middle of sipping from a cup which actually wasn’t even in their hand before the camera appeared, and d) make some kind of sign with their hand such as one that represents the ‘clan’ of their favourite dancehall artist.
Jamaican fashion. The picture above is a great example of this! In Jamaica, it’s very important to have new-looking and fashionable clothes. The thing is, even though the clothes are supposed to be fashionable, it’s even better if you’re wearing something that NO ONE else has. This means it’s basically a constant competition of who can find something new that no one else has found yet, and sometimes people wear absolutely crazy things JUST because no one else will be wearing them. New bright patterns are always emerging on the clothes you see being sold, and it seems like it’s going to keep getting crazier and crazier. My male friend wanted to buy new shoes with his pay cheque, so I thought he might buy some Nike trainers. I was very wrong… He (somehow) found a shop selling a few pairs of what I’m pretty sure were ‘snow boots’ or whatever those padded boots are called that you wear on the snow on a skiing holiday. They were purple and he was tucking his jeans into them when he was trying them on, and they looked absolutely hilarious to me, but he was happy with himself for finding something that no one else had.
- The fact that pretty much any location can turn into a temporary beauty salon. The best example of this is if you go to downtown Kingston, especially on a Friday or Saturday, you can find several side-streets full of women getting their hair or nails done right there on the road, sitting on a bucket, old wooden home-made stool, empty beer crate, or sometimes a chair. By the end of the day, there’s weave blowing across the ground in the wind. I wish I’d taken a photo, but I don’t like being that person who makes a spectacle out of people’s everyday lives. I think it’s awesome that people have the option of either going to the salon or getting it done on the street (obviously there’s a price difference), and that women who do hair/nails but maybe can’t commit to working in a salon can still find a way to make money. Shown below is me combing my friend’s hair downtown:
- Dancing, and the fact that such epic dance battles can suddenly start out of nowhere at any time. This is what makes me smile and laugh the most out of all the things I’ve mentioned. Music and dance are very important aspects of Jamaican culture, and it’s clear that they provide an escape for a lot of Jamaicans. I have some male friends who often seem quite serious/aggressive, but when they dance, it’s like they’re an innocent, happy child again, and you can see that in that moment, they’re not worrying about anything in life. The dancers I see at the parties are awesome, but there’s something even more awesome about the spontaneous dancing that happens on the street or with a group of friends outside someone’s house etc. Dancehall music is often playing from shops or speakers systems during the day on the street, so sometimes one guy will just dance a bit, but then his friend will decide to compete with him and try and do something more impressive, and then suddenly 20 people are watching them battle for a few minutes, taking it in turns to try and do something better than the other person’s previous move. It doesn’t matter who ‘wins’ – it ends in laughter and smiles anyway.
It was actually hard to choose 10 things because there are plenty more things that could go on the list. My conclusion after 3 months here is that Jamaica has a lot of social problems and in general the people are going through a lot of struggles, but they’re really good at smiling through the pain, taking each day as it comes and just trying to enjoy things in the moment.