Finding renewal in Jamaica
On my maiden trip to Jamaica in 2006, I was excited, nervous, and anxious with preconceived notions filled in by gangster tales from my then Jamaican boyfriend.
It was a reflection of my state-of-being at the time, a recent college grad set on having a full calendar of worldly travel before settling down to ‘sensible’ living (i.e. a job and steady pay cheque).
Jamaica then, was a fling. A summer romance I secretly harboured, coloured with the sexual/romantic fantasy of picking up a handsome, rogue, rasta writer at the Calabash Festival of my dreams. So thinketh, so doeth. Wild and youthful abandon tempered with enough good sense to know to use a condom.
Fast-forward four years later, and once again a return to ‘Yaad’ reflects my current state-of-being. Wilfully unemployed, searching for answers, and nursing a damaged heart, I was in turmoil and Jamaica too was up in arms and lost. Jamaica would be a mission possible for all things offered, and daily accepted. I would have companions this time, sistrens who I respected and loved enough to invite on an adventure.
Before leaving, the violence in Tivoli Gardens and downtown Kingston had us on pause. As this Third World war tale of drugs, power and politics, so sudden and impactful, rocked our vacation destination, I too was looking forward to inward peace. Our families worried but in my heart, I needed to go. I was at war within my own self, and the showdown was slated for Jamaica.
Finally there, it felt exactly like home. The people just spoke differently, and there are a lot less East Indians, but it was home. Although war raged on a few miles away, fires were being put out by the little events happening to us. Like my smiling friend Kino, who stood waiting patiently outside Norman Manley Airport, although our flight had been delayed for over two hours. Then there was a long-lost college friend who willingly took us to Digicel to figure out why our phones didn’t work, and arranged for our first, local, weed smoke, Rizzla (the national rolling paper) included. I felt blessed.
Our kind and accommodating hotel attendant, Faith who was finally a face to the countless emails exchanged, while I frantically tried to secure Kingston lodging, added warmth to our experience. Mayfair Hotel in New Kingston was our own little abode in a country that, although beautiful, was now unpredictable and dangerous to us. Close enough to major travel routes and food options, two restaurants on site for downtime eating, it was both gastronomic and nocturnal abode. I felt safe.
A journey to Blue Lagoon in the nether regions of Port Antonio was a test to our adventurous spirit. An hour-long bus route through mountain sides that reminisced of Maracas, but dwarfed them in size, it was an exchange of three parts totally lacking of boredom, from the five adults squeezed into a backseat of a maxi in Kingston, the cranberry Wata, newspaper and banana chips vendors who came aboard to hustle their wares, and the houses and their inhabitants impossibly etched into the mountain sides, which we flew around with neck-breaking speed at bottle neck bends.
Arriving almost three hours later in a curtain of drizzle that immediately stopped once we found our seats aboard our bamboo raft, we were rowed to the middle of a lagoon with a 200-foot bottom and a legacy, as a music video hotspot. We swam where Backstreet Boys filmed. The water, a mix of the ocean and fresh spring, with its cold surface, made me keenly aware of my blessings, while the warm bottom soothed my troubled soul. I was suppose to be here, right here, unable to touch any bottom, to see what lay beneath; the pleasure lay at the end of a three-hour trek, floating in this lagoon surrounded by my friends. I felt at peace.
And finally, a return to a familiar place for me, our trip to the tenth anniversary of the Calabash Festival in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth’s. I had been here four years ago, that time alone and open, ready for anything that would come my way. I needed to feel like that again. Directing my friends to find their own personal space in this little seaside community, I separated myself from the group, and explored places that I had once walked, excited to find the same little bar by the great tree at the end of our trace to and from the festival’s location. I had breakfast by myself every morning, relishing the sun in my face, and the fresh Blue Mountain coffee in my cup, working out distinctions between pleasure and purpose. Was this pleasure or would I find a concrete answer here, to what I would do next with my life?
After watching performances by Etana and Freddie McGregor, listening to Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka speak of his time spent in prison for his work, and taking in one of my favourite poets Billy Collins framed by the setting sun in the ocean, I’m not sure if I found an answer – only that I did not feel pressured to find it. I felt inspired.
As I unpack my Appleton rum and run through my pictures, of course it feels like it never happened. As the edges of things familiar curl around me, the skin I once wore does not fit as it should. Unemployment feels unproductive, when a week ago it felt justified. Unfruitful relationships have now spoiled and soured beyond any palatable existence. Jamaica, land I love, is now just another stamp in my passport. I feel renewed.
Image credit: Marc Veraart