Dread Life

Spent a week in Jamaica. It was my third time there, but the first time I stayed outside of an all-Inclusive resort. This time I really got to see the country and to “eat the fruit off the tree.” I grew grey-whiskered stubble on my face, listened to reggae music, swam in the ocean and spent a couple days in the hills. I drank Red Stripe beer, ate akee with saltfish, pineapple, lots of mango, plaintain, gnip, Jamaican pears, and lots of jerk pork and chicken, along with curry goat. By the end of the week I could actually understand the local patois.

I had this conversation with a man on the roadside while my friend’s brodda was in a small market looking for dinner.

Stranger: Wa-gwan-mon?
Me: Nothing wa-gwon.

What’s going on man?
Nothing’s going on.

My friend’s brother came out empty handed. He said. “No fish today, sea ruff.”

He is a Rasta and only eats fish, no pork. Not me.

The roads there are terrible, although they have gotten much better over the years. While they used to be all curvy, there are some highways now that are straight for some stretches. People pass each other at will there. A one lane highway(one car going in each direction) can easily become a two lane highway, and then a three in one direction, and at times four lane. Four cars all flooring it all headed in one direction like a race at Daytona, then you hear the big horn of a truck, and they all whip back into line, always cutting it close.

There are no open container laws there — people can drive with a bottle of Red Strip in their hands. You have a certain feeling of comfort in the matter, as if that’s the way it is and everything is going to be awright, mon. Then you open up the daily paper and read about all the fatalities or start counting the number of burned out wrecks by the side of the road.

The same with the crime there. We stayed one night in the house of a local in an area judging from the graffitti and narrow alleyways and barbed wire, had some crime. While we were safe — I was a little tired from the pounding reggae I heard till late hours — again I read in the papers about gangs of gunmen in another Parrish, invading homes, robbing the places, killing the occupants, then setting everything ablaze.

Walking the streets, I kept a close feel for my wallet, but I had no problems. I felt quite at home. People were very friendly. There was some begging when we went into Ochos Rios, but nothing persistent.

I encountered the same questions I had in the Dominican. One one hand there is a lot of poverty, on another, as one of the dreads I met showed me, what a better life than to go swimming every morning in the ocean with your kids and to eat the fruit out of the trees.

I was talking to another guy named “Stone”, who worked building stone walls — unbelievably perfect walls — he cut the stones himself by hand — and I was telling him how much money he could make in the states, but then I added, you had to get the job done on time, which I think the Jamaican way is more, take your time, take a break, have a beer, light up a spliff, take it easy. I asked him why he didn’t try to get work at the big new all-inclusive being built along the ocean in a nearbye town, he said the wages were terrible, the foremen worked the people like dogs, and that several people had already died during construction — a fact that was being kept from the papers. It was no kind of life, so he was content to make his stone walls at his own pace about his small town in the hills, to work for food, beers, ganja and a few dollars. He seemed quite happy. No worries.

There is something to be said for the simple life — but there’s something to be said for a government that doesn’t seem to look after its people.

Anyway, I’m back, rested, and as soon as I shave, I’m ready for work at 6:00 A.M. tomorrow.

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