When I left Jamaica I felt I was leaving a lover, so enchanted I'd become. It’s beauty had charmed me and I was caught in it’s spell. Not entirely sure why I'd chosen Jamaica for my three month time out, it slowly became clear to me that this place possessed a magic like nowhere else. This is the (love)story of my time in Jamaica.
Although the country is most reputable, I gathered before going there, for its reggae, dancehall, weed-smoking and violence, my most overwhelming feeling of Jamaica is the magic that possessed me from the moment I landed in Kingston. It is intoxicating and elusive, cannot be pinned to the beautiful young man passing, hanging from the open bus door singing the Kartel song that blares from his bus – “let’s do it in the upright position…” – in a moment I want to cling to like the taxi’s sickly air freshener clings to me. Nor the seductive (?) patois lyrics: “Where yuh boyfriend? Yuh need a man inna Jamaica. Yes mi hav 5 pickney but mi never find a ‘oman mi feel fa like yuh”. Neither the combination of jungled mountains and a rum and boom special at 10 am, nor is it the warm welcome offered to foreigners by many Jamaicans with entreaties to try all the delicious fresh fruits, famous jerk-chicken and delicious natural fruit-and- cane juices. It cannot be attached exactly to any of these things; it is an energy un-boxed, the intoxication of possibility, a heady joy lingering in the humid air.
Though undefinable, Jamaica’s magic finds my body in the dancehall wine, the sweet sounds of Alkaline, Vybz Kartel, Mavado and Popcaan’s not-so- sweet lyrics: “Mi love yuh body fleek”, “mi mek yuh pum pum smile”, “we mek love til we wake up de neighbuh”, “de way how yuh wine yuh a tun me on”. These are some of the cleaner lyrics that find one – simultaneously – in the downtown hustle, on Sunday’s booming beach, in the taxi and, of course, in the sound-system fortified wide open spaces where 12 am of every night finds the youtdem dressed to the nines and stepping fine. The four bling and bandana decked young men with their crisp shirts and silver glittered belts are all of a sudden dancing in a choreography lead by the best of their number, a casually fluid movement that steps and weaves ever changing yet continuous like a mantra for the next three hours as they are joined by more and more groups of three to five similarly bedecked boy-men who bring their own version of the dance. The women later, wining up they batty, doing headstands with impressive butt-muscle control, and so casual. It is pure pleasure to watch, tantalizing though it is for me who would like to move so but only rum-aided begin, as the music fades… From Mojito Mondays to Weddy Wednesdays to Stress Free Fridays I follow the trail, addicted to the groove and grind of the dance.
It is certainly not an easy ride for many Jamaicans, yet the country struck me as a land of possibility. “Wha yuh mean yuh cyant dance like a Jamaican? Yuh ha fi learn.
Everyone can dance!” And everyone can sing; if I talked about my plan to lead singing sessions with disadvantaged young people I was always greeted with an attitude of enthusiasm as if it was not a crazy or unfeasible idea, but one entirely possible even without specific training. Creativity in my experience is highly valued and encouraged in Jamaica, and this is evident in the wonderfully wacky styles of striped stockings (on boys), headscarves (also boys) and the girls’ full body suits side-slit and sexy.
Moreover people are appreciated and praised for whatever their skills and quirks may be, called out to with names such as “empress”, “general”, “mi boss”, “pretty gyal”, and greetings like “respect”, “blessed”, “big up”, “prosperity”. This appreciation of one another and desire for one’s bredren to rise up and do well, as well as the encouragement to try new things is something I admire and love in Jamaicans.
Encouraged and buoyed, I find myself leaving this wonderland again. An imperfect paradise whose energy for life is almost too much to handle sometimes, I know I will miss it achingly.
So I give thanks to Jamaica for taking me in, loving me, and I say to anyone who feels they want to come here to do so without hesitation or fear. I came alone, a woman, and left with far more than I came with.