When it rains…it pours in Jamaica

Photo by GLYSON Thomas from Pexels

“What is going on?” I wondered while finding shelter and looking up at the Sangicor bank, thinking someone must be out of their minds. “Were they watering flowers up there?” Donald quickly stepped into the building next door, the IBM building where he works, and I followed. I was trying not to get wet by the person who was emptying buckets of water from the tower. As I look out the glass door, I saw that umbrellas were going up, and while others run for shelter. In fact, the big drops of water were actually coming from the sky and it was sending people scattering.

I watched as the wind blew the palm trees in an attempt to uproot them. “From no rain to lots of rain, lovely weather” a woman walking into the elevator said aloud. The puddles were now forming. Then, it seemed, someone turned off the faucet. The rain slowed down, and so did the pace of walking. The puddles are the only remnants that the rain was falling. Clouds parted and the sun was out again, at its zenith.

I leave the building to get lunch at the Juici beef restaurant. When it was my turn, I ordered a patty with coco bread and a soda. I take a seat alone by the window. The rain was pouring again. There is no floodwater drain so the water flows on to the sidewalk. I would not be able to cross the street without getting my feet wet. Traffic was building up. Police sirens ring but there is no space to get the vehicle through. Here in the restaurant, the calmness and the slowness of conversations is the complete opposite of the mayhem outside.

“She almost fell because she is barefooted” A woman behind me commented. I look outside the window to see a woman holding her flip flops in her hand while trying to keep her balance. The rain still falling with the same velocity as before and the water build-up on the sidewalk is increasing. The Jamaican flag across the street hangs limp  on its pole now. Another woman slips and a security officer catches her. More umbrellas come out. A customer and I share a joke as we watch a man trying to measure the distance of the flowing water between him and the sidewalk. He took a leap but missed the sidewalk. His feet now soaked in spite his efforts. Others chose to walk directly into the water. Now, more people are carrying their shoes and slippers in hand while walking barefooted on the sidewalk. The rain slows and I watch the water on the sidewalk disappear.

“Excuse me” a restaurant worker said as she mops the floors. I lift my feet for her to mop underneath, and watch her return the table to its original position. I see the water on the sidewalk dries, almost instantaneously. The sun comes up as bright as before and the dark clouds pass. Another server knocks on my table. Instinctively I lift my belongings so she could wipe the table. I look out the window and see the wind causing the Jamaican flag to sway proudly, and I take this opportunity to walk out into the Jamaican sunshine.

Face the Facts

Sometimes the heart makes the best decisions. The first time I returned to Jamaica, I fell in love. And I simply could not stop thinking about going back. It was this recurring daydream. After a series of events, I made up my mind that I would return a second time, and I would have a real purpose while there. I decided on writing a book. It turned out that pursuing an MBA and becoming an author were not realistic to pursue together. So, the MBA took precedence. The thing I love is that, it really didn’t matter what I did, I just needed to live and breathe in the tropical, sacchariferous paradise.

Face the factsNow it’s been more than a year since I have been in Jamaica, and the culture and the people are growing on me. It’s not the first time I’ve been away from home for a length of time, but there is this magnetic pull I feel here that is simply too potent to resist. It’s hard to make up my mind to leave, though I see the months dashing by. I continuously have to answer the questions: “Do you plan to leave when you’re done? or are you planning to stay here?” with hestitation. I seem to be waiting for the sky to open up and to declare: Follow your heart. This I know all too well already, for my heart really does make the best decisions. Yet it is hard to trust it sometimes without facts.

Related: Follow my heart?

Following the heart almost sounds like a musical note in the distance pulling you in the direction of its melody; or the smell of a savory meal calling you to indulge. With grace you are allured to this place of satisfaction, and perhaps, there is nowhere else you’d rather be, at least for that moment.  Reality eventually set in and you have to face the facts.

Face the facts?The fact is: I will need to make money to live and sustain myself. But this is not necessarily encased to any specific geographical region. There is nothing pressing to hurry back to that can’t be taken care of at a distance. But as it stands, I am legally not allowed to work here. However, this dilemma can be resolved. So, what is my heart really telling me? Months ago, I made a decision. I would pack my bags and go home as soon as I completed the program; yet my resolve is shaky- that is not what my heart wants.

I am in love and it’s hard to ignore my heart in this decision, facts or no facts. Living in Jamaica has given me a deeper purpose in life to pursue, and a deeper desire to relish. My heart has made its decision, but my mind is having trouble choosing to follow the heart or wake up to reality. Sooner or later life will unfold in its own special way. Perhaps, my heart will win, but if it doesn’t, I will forever remember Jamaica, and I vow to come back.

Jamaica Bitter and Sweet

Now that I’ve been here for close to two months, Jamaica is slowly revealing its flaws to me. It wasn’t long that I accepted that some days I’ll have to bathe with cold water; but I did not anticipate having to bathe from a basin. This was not in the travel books. I not only had to bathe from the container of water, I also cooked and washed dishes from the kettle. Who knew that one could use so little water to do so much?

Jamaica, I felt was a little insensitive to me this week. I had to accept the realization that Jamaica does things differently; not like what I was used to. I have been chasing the digicel representative (the phone company here) who is never at their workstation when I visit. It’s either close in the middle of the day or they are out to lunch. I walk away puffing everytime. Finally, early this week I caught them and for the most part received great customer service; they did not have sim cards in stock, but promised some would arrive by the end of the day. Since other pressing matters came up, I postponed my return until the following day; which left me playing cat and mouse again. The next day, I reiterated my concerns to a another rep. She can only do pay-as-you-go, and not a monthly plan at this location. I rested my elbows on the counter and rubbed my fingers on my forehead. I pulled out my new NCB debit card, deciding that I would take the pay-as-you-go plan.

“We don’t take cards” she said.

At that point, invisible steam was blowing out of my ears.

“I’m leaving now” I said. And I stormed out. I walked towards a bench overlooking green grass and open space underneath a tree; and sat down. It was a minor problem, but overwhelming because Jamaica could not grant me my very small request- usage of my own phone. The Jamaican sun dried up my tears and I accepted that not all my requests will be granted and although I had been patient for the past month, more of it is required.

In spite the minor unkindness I felt this week, Jamaica surprised me over the weekend. I had a chance to walk along the beach in moonlight; and sat at my favorite ice cream garden, Devon House. I was hoping for more of these romantic events, but I guess I can’t always get everything I want. Still, I love you Jamaica.

Finding Balance

Finding Balance For a second, I was loosing myself in all this studying. In the past three weeks I loss focus of what I’m here for, “to rekindle my relationship with Jamaica”. That was the slogan that pulled me here on this island in the first place; yet I go from classroom to apartment each day. At the end of last week, I had enough. I turned down my books, shut the laptop lid, and found ways to spend time with Jamaica.

Walking around in Halfway tree was a delight. I stepped into one of the most famous and long standing restaurants, Tastees. I remember it as a place that sells Jamaican Patties, but as I was observing the menu, I see they have varieties- from chicken and fries, to ackee and saltfish, to calalloo loaves. After ordering my chicken and fries combo, I walked towards the sitting area and scanned the room. There were not many choices of empty tables, so Andrea and I took the only dirty one available. A rasta man was sitting at the table close to us and with the limited space it was hard to make ourselves comfortable.

It was not the way I would like to eat lunch in the city, so I decided it would be best to head back to campus. The two of us, Northamerican girls made our way back by taxi. We had gotten directions earlier, but were still having difficulties finding the Halfway tree square. We asked the hilgars and bus drivers for more direction. Once we found it, we listened intently for our location to be called out by a taxi driver, “Papine, Mona campus”. We hurried inside the taxi and felt safe. The experience took my mind off math and instead, I was focussing on getting to know Jamaica.

The following day, I set my books aside again. This time I went grocery shopping and stopped at the mall to purchase festival and red peas soup. The combination may be odd, but those were just what I was craving. I sat quietly in the food court and a feeling of appreciation and contentment came over me. Jamaica, I see, is revealing itself slowly to me with no signs of wanting to hurry the process. I gazed up at the other levels and reminsced on my experience only a year ago when I was touring the mall for the first time. I no longer felt stressed.

On the third day, I decided I would wake up early to study the day away. But, again, Jamaica requested my company. Early saturday morning, I was drunk with sleep that I did not hear the knocking on the door til seconds later. I jumped out of sleep to open the window next to the door. The voice said, “Good morning” and I opened the door ajar, feeling inappropriately dressed for visitors. “Are you coming to the river with us?” It was David. He had given me a weeks notice and I had declined because I knew I would need the time to study for the math exam.

Still, I closed the door and debated in my tired mind what to do. Study or go swim in the river? I dragged myself around the room, complete my morning routines and hygiene. I saw myself reached for the razor and the shaving gel. Then I saw myself picking a bathing suit and then throwing a sundress on.

“Are you coming?” David called out from the opposite side of the door.

“Yea! Give me a second” I shouted.

I grabbed my purse, filled it with a bottle of water, sunblock lotion, and my math study notes. Yes, I decided I would do both- swim in the river and study while I’m there. The moment I arrived, I torn my dress off and proceeded to walk to the deeper part of the river while holding David’s hand for support. The water was frigid, but in no time I was used to the temperature. While the other girls were sitting on rocks enjoying their morning, I was swimming like a fish. Sometimes, I was floating on the water and observing the scenery, rich with green trees and blue skies. The stress and anxieties I was feeling, floated away. I had forgotten about Math and school and I was enjoying my company with Jamaica.

It’s such a gift to be on this island and I simply can’t get enough of it. Over the pass month, I’ve felt deprived of seeing Jamaica but this past weekend has changed that completely. It’s funny how the simple experiences can make life such a blessing. Jamaica gives me that each day, and I can’t help but fall head over heels for this island.

Shopping Downtown Kingston

Shopping downtown I was determined to get the best bang for my buck so I went shopping in the heart of Jamaica- in it’s most renowned city, Kingston. For an early Monday afternoon, the streets were clear, except for the vendors that lined the streets. People have come from near and far to sell their goods- from ground provisions to seafood, to pots and pillows. All of these things were on my to-buy-list for school. I needed pots to cook, fruits and vegetables, and everything to start my life on campus. I still needed more household products and items to dress up my bathroom. After putting my $225 into the Jamaican economy, I am satisfied with my purchases. I bargained two dutch pots for a price of $20, the original prices were $15 and $13. I have converted the amount into the Canadian dollar equivalent. I walked away feeling pleased about my negotiation skills, but saddened because this is the vendor’s livelihood. I know I would not get a pot like that in Canada for $10. The price would have been doubled. Am I contributing to stealing from the poor? When I was unpacking the same pots and preparing to cook, I thought about the man. I hoped he made many more profits after selling to me.

Shopping Downtown

Seeing a woman pushing her cart filled with okra and callaloo, in her unpushy voice, she looked at me as I stood by the fish stand and asked if I wanted okra. I thought about it and told Tallia’s friend (the one holding my money and actually doing the shopping for me), that she should buy the okra and the callaloo. The lady gave me my change and continued on. I am standing next to the fish lady, who is scaling my fish, and listening to her.

“How many years are you studying…three-four years?”

“Just one year”

“Come on, it hot” Patrice said in her Jamaican accent. The woman ignored her and continued her interrogation.

“So how many months you gone now?”

“I just started yesterday” I replied and then ask questions of my own.

“What time did you start to work today?”

“I started after 9am, I have to be with my family.” Upon further inquery she meant that she had to send the children off to school before she arrived at the market.

By the time she handed me the fish, Patrice packed it away in the black plastic bag and walked away. The woman was offering words of encouragement as I was walking away. I tried to listen, but Patrice was building an uncomfortable distance from me. I bid the woman farewell and went on my way.

Shopping downtown The day was hot and my feet started to hurt from all that walking. It was getting later in the evening and the crowd started to build. Maneuvering my way and keeping up with Patrice, was a bit hard. I saw the water melon cart and I had to stop to purchase some. Then a woman stood by me with her bags of lettuce. It wasn’t on my list, but I had to buy one from her. Patrice suggested I choose the one I wanted, then took it from me and added it to one of the black bags. Patrice held the bulk of the groceries and I had my hands filled with a crate of eggs in one and water melon in the other. We go back to the wholesale shop to retrive the rest of groceries I had bought and with no hands to carry them, Patrice asked Lisa, the woman working in the store, to carry the groceries back to the store Patrice works at- the one my cousin, Tallia owns.

RelatedNight Market Culture In Taiwan

After Tallia drove me back to campus, I sat down on the sofa, removed the shoes from my burning feet and let the breeze from the fan blow on them. It was a long, hot day downtown, but the hustle and bustle wasn’t too terrible and it was worth the trip. It helped tremendously to have someone else do my shopping while I follow and make final decisions. The experience was a good one and now that I’m back in my apartment, I am thinking that it’s beginning to feel like home.

Jamaican nuisances: Things that bugs me here

1. Ants:

The ants are not my friend. They go everywhere.. in my clothes, my food, they bite me and crawl on my computer. I hear they chew electrical cords so I have to make sure my computer is safe. They make rows on the walls but I have no idea where they are going- there’s no visible food source. Thet are on my cotton swabs. I had to go through all my belongings to get rid of them. There is something called Naphthalene balls- or (canphor balls?) That’s what I place everywhere so let’s see if that will keep them away.

2. Mosquitos:

I expected them but it’s not nice they leave big bumps on my skin. Let’s hope this vape mat works. It’s an electric plate-like thing you put on the ground and it is suppose to shock the mosquitos I think.

…that’s it so far- but this is only day 5.

The End: Thank you

Thank you to all who followed my journey to Jamaica. For the most part I have accomplished everything I set out to do. Unfortunately I did not stay in any resort and I did not visit 5 parishes in the south west part of Jamaica. I’m not completely unhappy about that because of all the other things I experienced. I had a chance to see many places, and to do many thing durings the last 45 days (April 22-June 5). There are many persons I’ve met that it will be hard to forget- new friends in the community (YMCA & Webster Memorial United Church) and also at Bethel United Apostolic Church (Portmore & Kingston).

It was a tremendous experience and I would love to finally compile all these blogs to create a beautiful book about my love for Jamaica. I truly recommend everyone to venture there, there is something for you. Jamaica is for the adventurous, the romantic, the athletic, the beach-body, the solitary. I can guarantee you’ll be fascinated with Jamaica the way I was. So I wish you the best of luck on your future journey and feel free to share it with me. In case you want advice, you know who to call!

Once again, I sincerely want to thank you for your comments and your encouraging words. It motivated me even more to write.


Shauna-Kay Cassell

Wrapping up: The day before the last day…

Tuesday was my last full day in Jamaica and I wanted to make the best of it. I had a list of things in mind. There was no real highlight because for me each moment was special in it’s own way. First, I revisited the soup kitchen. It was a nice surprise for the ladies that worked there. “I’m back” I said as I pulled the grill door open and let myself in. The ladies were pleased to see me and some who really intended to call me before I leave had the opportunity to give gifts. I suppose coming back was the right thing to do. That lady that gave me the gift, was a dear friend of my mother’s and if I am not mistaken, I believe I saw tears in her eyes. She had not seen my mother for well over a decade and the fact that I showed up to volunteer at her church came as a huge blessing and surprise to her.

Laurleen, my mother’s old friend, walked me back to Medical Associates Hospital. That was my next stop. Just that morning, I made plans to have lunch with a nurse who works at the hospital. Much like Laurleen, my mother worked with this nurse for years. They both were a part of my mother’s wedding, people who she would have taken lunch breaks with, go home with and knew each other’s children. There we were eating lunch together, the three of us. To them it may have been an exact replica of a day in history. For me, it was a way to rekindle relationships that will last well into the future.

When I was little, I would have spent a lot of time at Medical Associates Hospital. It was the place I would go after school to wait my mother;  prior to me mastering how to take the bus from Kingston to Spanish town or Portmore where we used to live. So these ladies were like aunties and in Jamaica, every child has to refer to adults as aunties. I noticed that habit has not changed, as little children were referring to me in much the same way. In fact, when I was speaking to my mother’s friends, I felt the need to be respectful by during the same.

From the hospital, I walked to YMCA which is located on Hope Rd. No more than ten minutes walk and I was there. When I arrived at the YMCA I said my hellos again. My Canadian friend was ready. We also invited a teacher, as we were going to my all time favorite place to relax in Jamaica, Devon House.

This time I had mango ice cream. Can I say that I could almost imagine a real mango if I closed my eyes? I mean the ice cream was the same colour as the mango and the taste was no different. I definitely see why Devon House gets a lot of reviews and why after all these years they are still in business. There is no other place like it. And I was truly happy to sit with new friends one last time in a beautiful park eating ice cream. I learnt about some of the history particularly pertaining to Hurricane Gilbert. This hurricane which took place in 1988, destroyed the trees at Devon House. A large remnant of a tree trunk that had fallen and broken part of the fence is still visible in the park. The trees that were standing were not the same prior to 1988 but all of them have grown to be tall and strong. The house that sits in the centre of the park was minimally damaged as well. Windows had to be changed for instance. I would have never known this. It was an enjoyable conversation and when the moment to say good-bye came I realized that the truth is I don’t have to be sad. “I will see these people again” the thought crossed me. My Canadian friend will be there for another three months which gives me a medium of communication with the teachers and students.

A little after my friends left, my ride came for me. I was going to Cafe blue. I was curious about what the Jamaican coffee shop experience would be like, as I really enjoy sitting at the coffee shops in Canada engaging in conversations. Cafe blue was a little small and I didn’t like that it was emerged with another restaurant. I had a “bluecino”, much like the cappuccino except I can’t recall what the difference was. I had a chance to look back over my time in Jamaica and express the best of my experiences. I had a chance to look at the future and express what it holds for me. The day came to an end when I was returned to my cousin’s work place.

At night, I knew I wanted to revisit the church where I had been devoting a lot of my time and energy. I had a chance to take pictures of the congregation after the service and other individuals I don’t want to forget. I was dropped off at home and I said my final farewells.

But just before the night ended, Jamaica gave me a gift to remember. It was a final opportunity to sit out in the warm Jamaican night air, an opportunity to speak my heart, look into the Jamaican sky and see the countless stars, a final opportunity to share one last intimate moment before I said good-bye. Thank you Jamaica for all that you have done for me, all that you have given, and all that you have taught me. I truly hope that this will not be the end, but instead the beginning of a long beautiful relationship.

Until I see you again…