Jamaica is so nice, that unlike New York, it did not need to be named twice 🙂 In keeping with my first blog post during this challenge, I’m going to be ambassadorial. That means being a cheerleader. (I’m not shying away from the bad, but today is a day for the good :)). On that note, let’s get started.
Much of the world came to review its thoughts about Jamaica during the last year, when our singer, Omi, sang his hit ‘Cheerleader’, and it became America’s Billboard number one song of the summer. Music is often what people associate with the island, but mostly it’s reggae or dancehall. Bob Marley…Buju Banton…Vybz Kartel…Beanie Man…This kind of lovey-dovey song was really Jamaica? Sure is. Turn the page. We’re many dimensions 🙂
It’s often better to try to appreciate this small island through your senses, not your intellect. Tastes. Smells. Textures. Sights. Jamaica has much to tickle and satisfy those senses.
Jamaica is lush. Many tourists never get to know that, staying close to the coast and enjoying what is also good, the sea. But, the mountains; the rivers; the trees. You’ve never really touched Jamaica until you’ve been in one of those natural settings. If you still have a bucket list, add that to it.
Jamaicans are often thought to just all be laid back: ‘No problem, mon Everything Irie!’ The truth is the country is poorer than it should be and all is not Irie, for many (too many) people. Everyone wants money, and our last election tapped into the sense of desperation some felt in trying to get a little more money into their hand.
But, we cant knock what is real. We live on a tropical island and for many people that is the ideal they seek. One young Jamaican marketing company, Market Me, posted a tweet a few days ago that says so much: work days here can easily turn to beach days.
That’s all fitting into the narrative of island paradise.
But, Jamaicans are not lazy, beach bums. Many people work so hard, yet gain so little.
Some of the hardest working of those people are our farmers. They put food on my plate. I’m lucky, even spoilt. I can start each morning eating fresh fruit–not from a can, not from a box, not from a jar–often bought or brought from somewhere close to where its grown. Look! This morning, my plate has on it navel oranges, tangerines, and sugar/apple bananas, which I bought on the roadside on Sunday. My gardener brings me mangoes.
The friend who was with me, a Jamaican visiting from US, could not resist as we stopped for my purchases, and also bought a dozen oranges. I had in the back of my car, green plantains, that I had taken from my father’s garden (for porridge–never tried it?–or just fried with a little salt–that’s how it got used, to tantalize the children who were playing with my daughter during Sunday).
As we drove, we discussed her time as a child living with her father, who was the Folly lighthouse keeper, in Portland (northeast part of the island). It’s now part of our National Heritage Trust. She talked about how she and her brothers would go and play cricket, and she had to be at the furthest point, to stop her getting hit, and angering her mother. She talked about eating fruit of the cashew tree (the ‘banana’). She segwayed into the fact that she was going to get a stash of cashew nuts grown by a friend in our ‘breadbasket’ parish, St. Elizabeth. I was really jealous when, on the return trip, she guarded her three bundles of roasted nuts, that were destined for her home in the US.
We’re going through one of our periodic regional squabbles, with our next big ‘neighbour’, the twin island of Trinidad and Tobago. In a nutshell, they are not playing fair with our job seekers, and keep barring their entry. Anger is rising here, and talk of boycott is swirling around. But, that’s also tempered by talk of ‘buy Jamaican’ or at least give consideration to local producers over foreign.
Ironically, this week we have the annual ‘Expo’ (a trade show) that will give plenty of opportunities for people to see what they can get here that is (we hope) at least as good as things sourced overseas. A nice column in one of the papers today, takes on the issue of ‘buy Jamaican’. It’s written by a businesswoman who’s started making old-fashioned Jamaican sweets and packaging small samples of Jamaican delicacies. Ideal for visitors and as gifts. She points out how we beat down local sellers and complain about their (lower) prices, yet rarely if ever do the same when abroad (well, I do try to beat down prices, even in the US :)).
But, that’s also part of who we are. We proudly shout “We likkle but we tallawah!” and “No one nuh betta dan wi!”, yet shrink from really sticking our heads up proudly to show off what and when we can. We’re all ready to be bandwagonists, and everyone is a Jamaican when our athletes are ruling the track. But, the little things that we do and have that are special seem to get scant regard.
I’m biased, but I know no one who has eaten one of our signature dishes who has not asked “Why can’t I get this at home?”
Ackees are the strangest fruit, but with salted fish make a meal that has appeal without bounds. One of our new, young chefs may change some of that by pushing our foods in the Middle East. The tourists who want to learn the ‘secret’ of making jerk seasoning clearly have not been taken to a supermarket to buy a jar, and realise that they do not need to search for pimentos in olive jars 🙂 I would hope that every guide and hotel receptionist has a checklist of things that should be pointed out to visitors to get them to leave their money behind to fill our producers pockets. I know that’s wishful thinking, because we have a hard time linking our major hotels with local producers.
I’m listening to the BBC World Service, and a report on the ‘Starbucks story’. My wife has just made a pot of coffee in a French press, and I have snagged a cup; dark, slightly bitter, aromatic. (I’m really not a coffee drinker, but the smell is hard to resist.) We do not have Starbucks in Jamaica. We grow one of the world’s best coffee beans in the Blue Mountains, and we have a local cafe chain, Cafe Blue, with its three outlets. Maybe, a year from now, the BBC will be running a story about Jamaica coffee. Maybe, the radio crew will have a video showing the views from high up at Clifton Mount, the home of the coffee grower. That cloudy, cool, mountain retreat is also simply Jamaica. Yes, a fire is needed to stay warm 😊