My Jamaican Experience

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As I sat in a cafe in Lima, sipping lemon ginger tea, surrounded by cool paintings and plants. I can’t help think about the events that altered my life and brought me to Peru.

Just a little over a month ago, I was at a job that I have been doing for four years. While I was not happy in the last year, I didn’t have the courage to really quit and do something different. Then something happened when I was visiting Jamaica in March that gave me the ultimate push.

You are literally not the same person on both sides of a truly life changing event. Your interests change. Your goals change. In fact the underlying purpose of your life changes.

Michael A. Singer
Blue Lagoon, Jamaica

What brought me to Jamaica is my love for Jamaican dance genre called Dancehall. I have been obsessed over it for two years, taking mostly online classes because of the pandemic. Little did I know, this trip was going to be far more than dancing and it is a truly life changing experience.

Fruit stand by a highway.

A few days into my Jamaican trip, I was ready to quit my job right there. I realized at that moment what I did back in the states was not living. Ever since the pandemic, I had been working remotely. Every day I woke up to look at my computer. Days would go by without me interacting with anyone outside my boyfriend and his family. 

I had moved from San Francisco to the countryside during the pandemic. The combination of working remotely and living in the country made me feel increasingly isolated. I felt like my life was stripped away of its color. My vitality was slowly dwindling.

I had suppressed a lot of these feelings for at least a year. While I didn’t feel fulfilled at my job, it paid pretty well and the benefits were great. I was not sure what else I would do if I quit my job. However, while I was in Jamaica, it became very clear to me that I couldn’t go back to my old ways anymore.

Me, Jaimee, Johanna came from the U.S. We took a class from one of my favorite dance groups from Jamaica, Overload Skankaz.

Within days of being in Jamaica, I realized something was not right. The country is incredibly underdeveloped. For a country that is so rich in natural beauty and cultural influence, I was shocked to see the poverty and the lack of infrastructure in general. Jamaica reminded me of China 30 years ago. Seeing how much China was developed since then made me question why Jamaica was not developed. 

I soon learned that the Jamaican government was very corrupted and not working for the interests of its people. That’s very apparent when you consider the crime rates and the government didn’t seem to do much about it. It shocked me that Jamaica is still under the rule of the Queen. While I certainly have heard the word “Commonwealth” before, I never knew what it meant. I thought when former colonized countries got independent, they truly did. Apparently that’s not the case. 

Locals told me that the person who represents the Queen in their government has more power than their prime minister. They told me that Jamaicans hardly own any of the lands in Jamaica. The reason the crime rate is so high is that a lot of people don’t even have proper living situations. Stealing is like a job. It broke my heart to learn this. In 2022, people are still being oppressed systematically and taken advantage of. What kind of world do we live in?

This gesture means one love.

Another experience truly shook me at the deepest level. I heard about Rastafarianism before my Jamaican trip, but I really didn’t know much about it. When I visited the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston. Chance had it that the tour guide himself was a Rastafarian. We had an in depth conversation about Jamaican history and the role Rastafarianism had played in it. He really sparked my curiosity in Rastafarianism. He told me there’s a Rastafarian community in the blue mountains I could visit. 

This is the second time I heard about the Rasta camp in the blue mountains. To go there, you have to drive out of Kingston for an hour and hike up to a mountain. It’s called School of Vision. I went there for their Saturday ceremonies. 

The hike up to Rasta camp on top of the mountain.

Smoke of ganja was evident in the temple. There was a decent sized crowd of maybe 30-40 people. Most of them lived there. There were only two other guests besides me. The priest gave a fascinating speech on world politics and the pandemic. He urged people to farm and become independent. I learned later that he bought this land on top of the mountains 25 years ago and built a community there. They planted a variety of crops and built quite a few houses. It’s a self-sustaining community in every sense. 

The priest is one of the best public speakers I have seen. He had the crowd listening tentatively and had them laughing wholeheartedly at times. Despite that I couldn’t understand everything he said, I could tell he was incredibly charismatic. I also talked to the lady working there and confirmed quite a few things I was learning about the oppression in Jamaica. 

After the priest’s speech, the ceremony went on with drumming and dancing. Surrounded by men with dreads and women in traditional African clothes, the black beauty is undeniable. That is something I have already experienced in Jamaica with all the dancers I took classes with. But something about the drumming and the way people carried themselves really touched my heart. I suddenly got very emotional and started crying uncontrollably. 

The ceremony took place in the temple. People were dancing and drumming.

My crying went on for quite a while. Several women came to me and asked if I was ok. I told them I was. I was crying because of the oppression I saw people endured in Jamaica. Black people were brought to the American continent as slaves. It breaks my heart to know they are still being oppressed today and their country is still not fully ruled by them. I felt black people’s struggle as my own struggle for the first time. I felt their pain as if it was my pain. And it was very painful once I put myself in their shoes.

I was also crying because I realized how much black people had been villainized in the US. Here in the Rasta camp, I felt they were just people like me. There was really no difference between us. The media in the US had planted certain seeds in me about black people that I wasn’t even aware of until then. They painted a very negative picture of black people that is just untrue. That made me very sad. 

While I was crying, a little girl came to my side and sat next to me to comfort me. Someone gave me a hand percussion shaker. After what felt like half an hour of crying, I finally got up, wiped my tears and joined the dance. And I realized why dancing had been so important for black communities across different cultures. You can only cry for so long for your sorrows. At some point, you got to get up and move on. You got to shake off all the negative things that happened to you. You dance it all off so that joy can come in.

At the Rasta Camp overlooking the other mountains.

Another thing I observed and heard in Jamaica is people were so desperate because of lack of opportunities in Jamaica, they would do anything to immigrate to America or some other developed countries. I understand this as I myself immigrated from China to America. I understand the desire to go to a country that has more opportunities. 

Quitting my job is certainly not easy to do. But I recognized how privileged I was to just be able to live and work in the US. So many people dream of leaving their countries for a better life. That can be extremely difficult for most people. What am I afraid of and why am I afraid when I was already given the golden ticket?

Sunset on the way down from the Rasta camp.

A month and half after my Jamaican trip, I put in my two weeks notice at work. It was a very hard decision to leave my financial cushion behind and embrace the unknown. Ultimately, I value life more than money. In recent years, I felt like my health was declining, not dramatically, but I could notice it. Like last July, I tore my meniscus, my knee was just not the same again. I don’t want to wait until I’m older to travel the world. I want to do it when I am still young and able.

I also felt like I needed to lose myself in order to find myself again. Jamaica is such an eye opening experience for me that it makes me wonder what else I don’t know. How do you know what to dedicate your life to if you don’t know the world and the struggle of its people? At age 31, I feel like it is important to find my purpose. Maybe I’ll find it, maybe I won’t. But I have to give it a try. I have to let me live my dream. If I don’t, who will?

That’s the journey that set me free. I choose Peru as my first destination as I have been very interested in the ancient civilizations here. Stay tuned for more blog posts about my travels. 🙂

Bob Marley Museum in Kingston.
Bob Marley Museum

2 comments on “My Jamaican Experience”

  1. I enjoyed your musings on life in Jamaica. As a Jamaican, I relate to so many things you said here. We’re free but not really free. We’re truly under the oppression of leaders who go into politics only so that the problems of the average Jamaican no longer affects them. It’s even sadder seeing how very little the government does in helping the health care of its people, so much so that I desperately want to leave my public hospital job because I feel unfulfilled and depressed not having the resources to help my people. But hey, best wishes! By coincidence, I visited Peru just this year too.

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    1. Wow! That’s crazy! Jamaica is such a beautiful country with very unique and rich culture. It’s sad that the leaders are not working for the benefits of its people. It seems like another revolution is due. Traveling has really opened my eyes about the world. Sometimes it makes me sad once I realize how deep the problem is and what that means about our humanity. But I think each person has a role to play in it, no matter how small, we have to try. Send you love and hugs! And thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment!

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