People say you learn something new every day, but I imagine I learn much more during this great experiment of life. My dad always says, “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know,” to which I always reply, “Guess it doesn’t really matter then, does it?” What I do remember from what I’ve learned pon dis rok, though, I’d like to share; I find it stunning how differently we humans live our lives, yet all still smile at a pink streaked sunset, laugh when our 86 year old Grandma farts, and cry in the security lane of an airport’s Departures terminal, glancing back to see our Mom crying too.
And so begins my first installment of Jamaican Lessons…
- Carrying a machete down the street looks strange.
Every time I have to go to the farm with my machete, I awkwardly and unsuccessfully try to hide it behind my thighs, holstered under my arm, or placed in my shadow. Apparently passerby can still see my machete in my shadow. Oops.
- FRUIT! The fruit we consume in the US and Europe barely scratches the surface of what exists globally.
I listed some of these fruits a few weeks ago. Since then, I have realized how sad our dearth of fruit options is in the US. See below.
Hairy, common, black, and more! I currently live in the unofficial mango parish of Jamaica (St. Thomas), aka Heaven, and May is Mango Month. Last night, I tried the universally lauded East Indian mango. I had a lisp as I talked to two friends, because all the mango hair stuck inside my teeth and gums, making me look and sound like I had swallowed the contents of a Golden Retriever’s hairbrush. Fortunately, East Indian mangoes taste nothing like dog hair. Their orange-golden, sticky sweet juiciness caresses you from cheek to cheek, leaving a tasty mango kiss all around your mouth that makes you look like a jaundiced Big Bird.
Some say the Julie mango is better than the East Indian. I haven’t tried it yet, but this first day of Mango Month, I am pleased with the mangoes I’ve munched thus far. To come: mango recipes.
- The ability to be anonymous is taken for granted by most.
If you are white in the US, black in Jamaica, or brown in India, you look like you belong, whatever your ancestry. White Jamaicans exist (as well as Chinese, Indian, and more), but they are an extreme minority, so most people outside my community will assume I am a tourist. That is a statistically logical assumption with unfortunate side effects. I may long to take a morning walk without a comment or go to a party and dance to my booty’s content without a second glance. This is not possible as a white North American in Jamaica. I will only be here two years, though. I can now conceive, if not fully comprehend, the immense attention those who are minorities in their countries receive. They must be so tired of the constant looks, hisses, and worse!
- Tropical countries aren’t uniformly hot.
I learned this after a sticky-sweaty hike to the Blue Mountains above Kingston. Once I entered their misty embrace, I put on my windbreaker, and not because it was raining. The temperature probably hovered somewhere in the 60s °F, but it felt much cooler compared to the humid 80s °F I have grown used to. Now, when I walk outside, my upper lip starts to glisten within a minute; after an hour hoeing on the farm, I look and feel like an unwrung sponge. After that hike in the Blue Mountains, I stretched out on a bed to edit photos, then had to ask for a blanket, because my toes were cold. I never thought I would need a fuzzy blanket in Jamaica.
- As a matter of fact, jerk chicken is the tastiest way to prepare chicken.
I’m not a gifted enough writer to describe the chicken. Just trust me on this one, and in the meantime get yourself to Jamaica, a Jamaican restaurant, or a Jamaican friend’s house, and try it!
- Goat milk can only be produced by a certain breed of goat if you want it to taste good.
I haven’t followed up on this tip, but I will. To come (I hope): Cash brings goat cheese to Jamaica.
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, thankfully :*
“Once you have on your short-shorts, and you show off the cute [back] dimples lookin’ sexy and nice, people are like, ‘O my God!’” my host sister Shanty said to me, after asking her to describe the ideal Jamaican beauty. Of the people I’ve talked to, most prefer a thicker woman, with curves everywhere, not just on her breasts and butt, like in the US. I find this refreshing compared with the de rigueur obsession with impossible-to-achieve flat abs.
That other cultures have different ideals of beauty proves to me that we are all beautiful in our way, and more importantly, beauty is not just skin deep. Perhaps someday someone will even find my bad puns, messy eating, and awkward limbs beautiful, and that day, I’ll find them beautiful right back ❤