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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jamaica: (Extra)ordinary & Beautiful

It seems that no matter where I go or who I talk to, I continually come back to the realization that we all want the same things in life. I spent the first week in June on my belated honeymoon in Jamaica, and although we were segregated from the majority of real Jamaican life within an all-inclusive resort, like anywhere else, the heart and soul of a people and place always finds its way out, even if just a bit.

I’ve developed a really irritating habit over the last several years that came to a head while I was in Jamaica: compulsive social networking, or more specifically, compulsive updating. I see something funny, I think something smart, I hear a song I like, and it's like I have verbal diarrhea pouring out of my fingertips. I feel compelled to tell everybody every bit of the mundane that pops into my head at all times. My best friend says it's cathartic - that it helps her stop fixating on things if she can just get them out. For me, I think it’s just a case of overexcitement (or possibly an undiagnosed form of Turrets) - a new perverted outlet for my extroverted constitution. Unfortunately, the time and focus it takes me to record 50+ 140-character gems in a day means that I continually find myself not present - living instead in the land of perpetual editorial revision, ensuring I get the most bang for my buck in 140-characters, and also missing out on, well, much of the understated beauty and intrigue I love to share with others. So here I am in Jamaica, in a new place, on a new continent, and while I promised my husband I wouldn't social network on vacation, I quickly found a loophole while on the shuttle to the resort: I decided I’d keep a running note on my phone within which I would record everything I would have Tweeted had I been allowed to Tweet. Some of the finer non-Tweets included:

"Just passed Tits Bar (giggle). Tit."
"Fields and fields of goats."
"Jamaica: chock full of goat."
"I'm an infant. 'Supreme Jerk Center' makes me giggle."
"Man, this is just a whole lot of boob."
"And our room overlooks the NUDE beach."
"Champagne check in, smoke, shower, sex. Get hairdryer fixed. I swear to god I have a thing with broken hotel hairdryers."
"The drinks are strong and everything's free. Also, I think the natives are a fan of boobs."

So not only did I waste precious vacation time I could have spent taking in the sights and sounds, but I'm also apparently a 15-year old boy (with boobs that can't be contained). The good news is that about half way through our first day, after many disapproving looks from the hubs, and after raising my head to ask "What?" far too many times to count, I got it. Put the fucking phone DOWN, and just observe. Enjoy. Connect with my actual surroundings. Breathe.

I was initially struck by the level of poverty at which some Jamaican residents seem to live – tiny one-room shacks with rusted corrugated metal roofs set up on cinder blocks in an attempt to shelter the occupants and the contents from floodwaters. Yet while I saw shacks, I also saw colorful mansions – sometimes no more than 50 feet from a shack. In between, the way most Jamaicans seem to live, were dozens and dozens of single-floor cement-colored cement houses, curiously with rebar poking through the cement ceilings and no real roofs to mention. Why did so many homes seem to be in the middle of constant construction? After our first few hours on the resort, I couldn’t help but feel guilty about enjoying this paradise – one where the lodging was more than comfortable, where all the food and drink is free and only a question away, and where we seem to have the very best location along the beach. While I knew the locals didn’t get to enjoy their country the same way I did, I was sure tourism accounts for a huge portion of their economy and it does seem to provide for a great number of jobs. This realization made me feel slightly better about my extravagant vacation, yet I still wondered about the Jamaican way of life outside the resorts.

As my mom will tell you about me, “She’s always loved people.” As a child I was drawn to other babies and children, and things haven’t really changed in the 30 years since. As the days of our vacation passed, I found that some of the most memorable times I had were when I was talking with the people who worked at the resort. On our first day we were talking with several other couples while sitting on the outside deck of one of the bars, when all of a sudden one of the peppy Entertainment Associates (the resort staff who lead entertainment, games, and other activities) bounced seemingly out of nowhere to scold a woman from Louisiana for resting her jaw on her hand. Apparently, she told us, it’s an offensive gesture in Jamaican culture. “Why,” the woman asked. “Because it means you’re worrying,” our entertainment guru answered. “We’re in each other’s company, so we should enjoy it. No worries, Mon!” Worrying’s offensive??? I think I’m going to like it here, I thought to myself. (It bears mention that the second we walked off the plane we thought people were fucking with us by ending every sentence with “Mon”, however it’s really, truly how Jamaican’s talk.)

As the days passed we kept thinking to ourselves how awesome it would be just to work here at the resort, but still we wondered if you were to work here – if you lived here – where would YOU go on vacation? “To the city, Mon!” One of our servers was so kind in helping us to see the obvious. “We’re used to this,” she said. “We see this every day. Yeah, if I have a day off I’ll go to the beach with my family and friends, but when it’s time for vacation, I want something more exciting – different. I go to Kingston, the biggest city in Jamaica! It’s like New York City!” She went on to tell us how she likes getting dressed up and going out to the nightclubs – staying up all night dancing, surrounded by the lights of the city. She also mentioned Niagara Falls as a previous vacation destination. “I’ve seen the Falls on TV, but it’s different to see them in person! We don’t have falls here, so I went there to experience something I can’t at home.” It made sense, and I was slightly embarrassed to have assumed that our lives were actually more different than they are. When the rubber meets the road, we all really want the same things out of life: to make better lives for ourselves, to experience new things, and to be happy. But what really surprised me was that we shared the same concerns for others, even if we don’t know a thing about them.

The night before we left we stopped into the resort convenience store to look for souvenirs, and we wound up talking to the cashier for an hour. The conversation started as usual: when did you get here/when do you leave? We then started talking about the weather and how some neighboring towns had flooded due to all the rain (it rained a lot while we were there). Our cashier said she’d had the same laundry on the line trying to dry for three days, when she eventually wound up stringing it up in her daughter’s bedroom, much to the discontent of her young daughter who could have cared less that she needed clean clothes to go to school. Seems no one in Jamaica has a clothes dryer, because we were told, it hardly ever rains – there’s no need. Our cashier then began to tell us about her two experiences with hurricanes that have hit the island and how the last one to hit caused extensive damage to her “roof”, because they hadn’t yet built the second floor on their house and didn’t have a proper roof. Again, not usually a problem because it doesn’t rain all that much in Jamaica. “But,” she said, “You rebuild.” She then began to ask us about the Gulf coast. “I always see hurricanes miss us and head there,” she said. “Do people live on the coast?” “Of course,” we said. “And because they’re on the coast, there are a lot of resort towns – like here.” Her eyes welled up with tears and she told us how bad she felt for those people whose homes were and could potentially be devastated by hurricanes that had veered off course, previously headed toward Jamaica. I was honestly touched by her genuine concern for the Gulf-coast residents. At first I felt embarrassed that I had assumed our lives were so different, but then I realized it was the same empathy and concern we shared for each other that made us the same, and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I didn’t want to leave that convenience shop, but when I did I told Beth Ann just how much I enjoyed talking with her.

I’m so glad I spent this vacation in the present – that I detached myself from my phone. Had I not, I don’t know if I would have had the same meaningful experience. Correction: I KNOW I would not have had the same meaningful experience. I would have instead amused myself with dick and fart jokes and meaningless Tweets, which do have their place, however I think I’ll strive for that “place” to take up less overall space in my life moving forward. Instead, I want to open my eyes more so that I can see those small things, those simple things, those ordinary things that happen in the course of any other day, and that’s what I want this new blog to be – a snapshot of the world that I see through my lens: ordinary and beautiful.

1 comment:

  1. I recently took a 2 week vacation out to Yellowstone with my boyfriend and it was delightful to un-hook from the internet. Had some access in the evenings to upload a picture or two, but for the most part we tried to be as present with each other and where we are. We kept a journal of what we did and funny quotes that came up. It was a really fantastic experience.