I do not recall the exact moment I realized I loved going to markets. As a child growing up in Trinidad, I knew exactly where to go on weekend mornings to view the largest variety of produce vendors, with colorful fresh goods for sale.
I remember how I would stare out the car window at all the buying and selling, to make sure I didn’t miss a single moment. At some point, my Dad, who did the weekly grocery shopping, began to take me on these weekend food gathering trips. I was only too happy to get dressed, grab our market basket and get in the car. “Adventures would abound,” my kiddy brain told me, and for some reason I always wanted to wear these little white plastic boots I owned. I called them my “market boots” or my “pick mango boots”.
Fast forward to Coronation Market in Kingston, Jamaica some thirty years later. I knew this market sprawl existed as it is the subject of quite a bit of local conversation and newspaper articles. It is a market where vendors from all over the island come into “town,” which is Kingston, the city, to wholesale and retail all sorts of goods. This market has a reputation of offering goods for sale far cheaper than you would pay at the traditional supermarket or roadside vendors. In essence, Coronation Market is the venue for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at the most competitive prices.
I was ably warned by Liz, my mother-in-law’s helper, who was to be my escort to the market, “Mek sure yu doh wear nuttin fancy, doh bring yuh purse and we not walking de whole market.” This meant do not get dressed up, do not bring a pocketbook and that we would not be walking around the market like tourists or spectators – we were there to shop and then leave.
Of course, I was disappointed as she had ruled out two of my favorite pastimes – gawking and being a spectator. I wanted to walk around slowly and absorb the unparalleled ripeness of Jamaican culture on the faces and voices of the vendors. I wished I had a video camera to film it all that day, as I could have shared what I witnessed: people working very, very hard to make a living in daily tropical heat. Never in my life had I seen a marketplace quite like this one.
Firstly, this market had a life and energy all of its own, as men of all ages, pushed these very interesting, heavy, home-made pushcarts around. It seemed as if they were moving goods and products from one end of the sprawl to the other, a job that required skills and strength. The vendor “stalls” being utilized were small and tight, as higglers walked around shouting what items were for sale, “Hegg, get you ‘ard boiled hegg!” “Miss yuh wah scallion? Only seventy dollar ahh one.” “Soup, soup who wah ah soup for breakfast?” “Plantin, sixty fi one!” I was amazed as all the prices were almost 50% less than what I usually pay for any item at the supermarkets, and the produce was certainly fresher and more appealing to the eyes.
Music blared from corner to corner with multiple conversations going on in three dimensions. This market was far more exciting than what I remember of my kiddy days at a Trinidadian market place or any of the farmers markets I have experienced in the US, London, Paris or even South Africa. It was beyond exciting, and had a life of color and richness which represented an aspect of Jamaica I love seeing. In reality such a market would perhaps not exist in New York or Washington DC due to stringent health codes, as this market while colorful may not be the cleanest market.
I am indeed now eager for my second trip.
The following information is a Post I did for Talesmag. It is called “The Real Post Report on Kingston” Please visit this site for more on Expats, http://www.talesmag.com
June 2009 Updated January 2010
The contributor has lived in Kingston for almost four years, a first expat experience. Her husband is Jamaican.
Travel time To Jamaica: and best routes to this city from Europe or the US: About an hour and a half from Miami.
Pollution index? Moderate.
Security concerns? Extremely high at all times. I always recommend that people make certain that the house or apartment they choose to initially live in, has bars or grills on all windows and doors. Some of my friends who moved here and tried not installing grills got burglarized within the first month. Jamaica, while a very beautiful country, has the third highest murder rate. Poverty and high levels of unemployment may be some factors driving the criminal element. This may sound strange, as when I first arrived and we were looking at places to live, I found the grills and bars offensive, and told my husband no way can I live behind bars. He convinced me otherwise and a month later I realized how naive I was.
Housing: Most expats who live in Kingston live in gated communities of townhouses or apartments. Having a guard at the gate helps control who comes and goes and may provide you with a peace of added comfort. A guard is also very helpful for receiving of packages, etc.
Commute times can vary from 20 to 90 minutes depending on the time of day you leave. Jamaica does not have a school bus system, so many parents are on the road dropping and picking children up in the mornings/ evenings, which helps in creating traffic jams. This only gets worse during heavy rainfalls.
International schools: The American School has a good reputation here, with many local Jamaican children in attendance. Hillel is another good private school. They provide both UK and US based curricula, so when your children return home they can matriculate. We do not have children, therefore no personal experience to share. Research is key, and many say it’s best to have your child sit in for a few weeks after a move before enrolling. You may not want to send your child to some schools in Ocho Rios or out in the country, as they call anything outside Kingston, as to avoid where you child may be the only minority kid or outsider. Some children do well, but many may struggle to adjust. I have heard stories of children crying for weeks. Some even recommend allowing children to spend some time getting adjusted to Jamaica before starting school. Please note, these are ranked as the two most expensive schools in the country.
Preschool/daycare available (with comments about your experience): There are several good ones. I’ve heard that Rainbow Land which is based in Kingston his good, please do your research wisely.
Is this a good city for families/singles/couples? It is good city for couples or single men. Not so kid-friendly or wheelchair-friendly. Many complain about the lack of creative things for children to participate in. Single women should be extremely cautious about whom they date or go out with, which makes it difficult. Another issue is the sincerity level of dating. Be careful, as many expats can be seen as a ticket off the island.
Is it a good city for gay/lesbian expats? NOPE. Extreme caution is in order, many of my DC gay pals vow never to visit me while living in Jamaica. Cultural insensitivity towards this population exist.
Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices? No, not really, but some racial class/color distinctions do exist among the locals. It is a rather complex situation, with many expats often missing the hidden essence. This is not a topic usually discussed with outsiders, as Jamaica is a country based on tourism and survival. Most people are generally more concerned about food and shelter.
What difficulties would someone with physical disabilities have living in this city? Huge difficulties would exist, as special services are minimal to non- existent. Rarely can one find a clean public bathroom with toilet paper, so be warned. Using the bush on trips is now common for me, sad but true, and I always have a knapsack with wet wipes and tissue handy.
Interesting/fun things to do: Yes, lots. Hiking, running, cycling, touring the island, great beaches and water sports. Cricket, plays, food fairs, and even gardening ( orichid & flower shows exist in Kingston). I am rarely even socially bored, as I belong to a great book club, running, cycling and a wine club. Jamaica can be a very social place place.
What fast food and decent restaurants are available? I do not eat at fast food places, but they do exist. Subway, Wendy’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dominos Pizza and many local Jamaican places: jerk shops, drum pan chicken, and all you can eat crab shops. Market Place in Kingston has several great restaurants. Ocho Rios and Montegobay also have several good restaurants, The food here is exceptionally good providing you like spicy food. The Chinese food here on the Island is far better than Chinese in the US. There is also good Indian, Greek, and Japanese food.
What is the availability of groceries and household supplies? As for groceries, I have found most things to be available but extremely expensive ( Huge price hikes in every item on January 1st 2010. GCT Tax( General Consumption Tax) is now 17.5 and the gas prices continue to rise monthly. I was amazed when I first arrived, as we were spending more than we did for food in DC. I have now learned to buy local products when I can, and buy fruit that is in season. It is not like the US, where you get a variety of fruits and vegetables all year ’round. Things are seasonal. You also have to drive to two or three different grocery stores to shop, as some places carry some items while others do not. I often arrive home exhausted after these shopping trips. Many shoppers hoard items they like, as you may see something in stock one week, and when you return the following weeks it’s never there.ex ( fresh Popcorn, breakfast cereals, boxed milk)
What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs? No problem, they are all around town. Just make certain you tell them take out Jamaican dollars when using debit cards, as they might punch in $2,000 and pull out US $2,000 as opposed to JA $2000, which is about US $25.00 dollars. This has happened to us a few times, so be very careful. Thank goodness the bank notified us few hours later, but it took forever to sort out this error. Exchange rate on Jan 25th 2010.one US one dollar $1 is
What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of rugged terrain, lack of parts and service, local restrictions, carjackings, etc? SUVs are best for Jamaican roads. We learned this after it rained for 15 days straight during our first six months here. Do not bring a vehicle at all. Just get an SUV here, it will be easier for parts and repairs. Getting a new car could take 4 to 6weeks or longer; be warned.
Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left? Left. Like UK. Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable? No train system exists here, and I have heard that the bus system is shabby. Mainly Peace Corp types use the buses, and they do fine. Taxis are best, or a private driver. Utilize a taxi service like Express Taxi, do not just flag cars down on the roads. This is not safe at all.
What is the best way to make phone calls back home? Vonage or Skype.
Do you have any recommendations regarding cell phones? Yes, Digicel, Cable & Wireless & Clara. Many of the locals have two phones. Purchase a phone as soon as you arrive and always keep an extra phone card with credit in your bag.
If you don’t have access to APO or pouch, how do you get and send your letters and package mail? Post office or Mailpac, which is a personal shipping service that is extremely expensive.
Items you would ship if you could do it again? Living room and outdoor furniture, rugs, lamps, and planters for my plants. Household items are usually very expensive here, and I find the quality to be shabby. Availability and cost of domestic help: Cheap. 20 – 25 US$ a day, depending on the size of the home.
How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living? While English is spoken, Patois is the language on the street. To get the best prices, one must be able to barter, and using Patois is better, as they find you amusing. I hate this, but many vendors will charge you double or tripple the price that a local person pays. The perception is that all outsiders can afford to pay more or are rich.
English-language religious services available? Denominations? Yes.
English–language newspapers and TV available? Cost? Yes. Varies
Is high speed internet access available? Cost? About US $60.00 a month, not much.
Size of expat community: Not large, maybe 500 folks in Kingston.
Morale among expats: Mostly good, but I avoid bored or frustrated negative people who live in Expat bubbles and complain daily.
Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy? Nope. Work for yourself, as jobs are scarce and even volunteering is like pulling teeth.
Entertaining/social life: Yes, we have several social events to attend yearly.
Dress code at work and in public: Jamaicans are conservative in many work place environments. Stockings can be seen on women with Jackets, long pants, etc. Short sleeved shirts for men appear okay, but open toe sandals may be a no-no in banks etc.
Any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available? Good dental and medical care. We have been very pleased. Health insurance is cheaper than in the US, but many specialists do not take the insurance plans. For any major concerns you may want to fly off the island.
You can leave behind your: winter clothes, heavy blankets and dark suits. But don’t forget: several pairs of kakhi shorts for weekends and sturdy sandals that can handle heavy rains. Tevas, crocks and a few dressier sandals will serve you well. Weekend walking stuff, sun hats, and unscented mosquito repellant. Lightweight washable clothing. No dry-clean-only items, as that can be expensive and your stuff may get ruined.
Weather patterns? A rainy season and a dry season. ( hurricane/ earthquakes)
Can you save money? NOPE.
What unique local items can you spend it on? Art, wine and pottery. A good meat dinner at nice restaurant.
Knowing what you now know, would you still go there? Not sure.
Recommended non-fiction related to this city: Jamaicans.com & YouTube videos on Jamaica. Books by Colin Channer, Anthony Winkler, Andrea Levy & personal blogs. All excellent cultural reads. Cook Books.
Any other comments: Jamaica is not for the soft, tame, or closed-minded types. Sometimes things simply do not work: power outages, internet outages, road blocks and water shut offs. Daily life is harder than where you may be coming from, but not an overall unbearable experience. I often say, that I have an immense love hate relationship with this soil, some days I love it, and some days I simply stare out into the open, wondering if I am dreaming. Surely, this is a dream I tell myself. I was recently told that one must have a Jamaican heart or develop a Jamaican soul, to live and love being in Jamaica. hmmmmm!!! I said.
This past week January (11th-15th 2010), has been stressful for many Caribbean people, as the news of the largest Earthquake to hit the Island of Haiti in 200 years occurred. Devastation is the word being used by many in the media to sum up the tragedy.
To make matters worst, the global economic melt down has left the beautiful island of Jamaica’s economy in chaos, so much that the country is on the verge of taking out a loan with the (IMF).
The question on my mind is what will this mean for the Jamaican citizens, as prices in every sector have gone up since January 1st of 2010. How can a country so fertile, beautiful and free in so many ways, struggle in so many other ways?
People considering a move to Jamaica need to be aware of this current climate and do your research wisely.
I got the idea to do a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) blog because I am asked several many of the same
question each month.
After doing some research about where my readers are coming from, I was amazed that I now have readers from Italy, Australia, Netherlands, England, South Africa, Canada, Trinidad, Barbados and the United States.
I was initially very excited by this news but also shocked, as it now means that the pressure is now on to get this blog site vastly better. I stumbled across a most frequently asked questions piece which was written by my new pal John Casey, a retired American fellow living here Montego Bay Jamaica and decided to use his responses as a template, while adding some of the additional questions which I am receiving.
John Caseys’s target audience, may be retirees, so the questions he is being asked are often related to more permanent moves. My audience, I’ve concluded falls into roughly the following six major groups.
1.Expats who arrive to take up jobs with multinational companies. They can be male or female, married or single.
2. Single women who arrive for vacations and fall in love with the natural beauty of the land and are determined to relocate after one trip. 3. Women who have Jamaican husbands or boyfriends whose significant others desire to move back home and live in Jamaica. 4. Women whose Jamaican boyfriends cannot for whatever reason get visas to leave the country from the various foreign Embassies. 5.The lone rangers from South Africa, Australia, Belgium, Germany or Ireland who simply enjoy traveling and experiencing life and find Jamaica and or Jamaican women fascinating. 6. The returning resident groups, from England, Canada or the U.S., who are tired of living in ” farrin ” and simply want to come home. Attached are some of John’s questions, along with of the ones I get almost weekly. Jamaica FAQ’s by American Retiree (John & Dale) (firstname.lastname@example.org)1. Can non-citizens purchase property? Yes, no restriction that I am aware of. 2. What are the mortgage rates? I was told a figure of JA dollars of 25% -30% and USD 15% This is a September 2009 quote. 3. Is it a seller’s, buyer’s or renter’s market? Buyer’s market. Many homes are on the market for months before they are sold. It is also a renters market as many properties are available and prices are often negotiable. ( Depends greatly on what part of the Island you plan to reside) 4. Would it be cost-effective to purchase a home and rent it out until I retire? That would depend on where the house is and the value of the house. One thing to be aware of as an absentee landlord; someone needs to be visible to protect your interests. 5. Are there any real estate agents in the area? There are several in Montego Bay and the Kingston area, including Century 21. Most properties are not listed in the paper. The agents will show you homes based on your price range. 6. Is there a vandalism problem with foreigner owned property? No. Vandalism is very low and not related to nationality. 7. What kind of medical facilities are available? Montego Bay has a large hospital. There are also several clinics in the area. Most routine testing can be done locally without going to Kingston. At least one of the clinics will airlift you to the South Miami Hospital in case of a life-threatening problem. There are a few decent hospitals in the Kingston area, Andrews Memorial and the UWI ( University of the West indies) comes to mind.There are also several good primary care doctors available. We have found medical and dental cost to be lower than in the U. S. 8. Is there homeowner’s insurance (Including flood and hurricane coverage)? Yes, but very expensive. If your house is made of concrete blocks, there isn’t much to burn or blow away. Flood concerns would be mainly on the coast and some rivers. 9. What kind of medical insurance is available? Blue Cross has a 20/80 program which is very reasonable. 10. What kind of automobile insurance is available? The coverage is similar to the states, and can be less expensive after the first year. Previous driving records are required from your state or insurance company. You will also need a local driver’s licensee after a few months of living on the Island, so as to be not hassled if you find yourself in a fender bender. 11. How safe is it to live in Jamaica? Most houses are fenced and gated. The windows and doors usually have decorative grating on them. Home invasion is low depending on where you live. Break-ins and high crimes are generally higher in the Kingston areas. Many people own what Jamaican call ” Bad Dogs” for protection. It is not unusual to see six dogs on one property. ( Note, we live in Kingston) 12. Are groceries expensive? That depends on what you purchase. Imported items from the USA are more expensive than domestic. Some of the same brands in the states are available in Jamaica but come through other countries. Jamaica has several large food companies with excellent quality products. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be cheaper when they are currently in season, but it generally takes an outsider some time to figure out what prices are reasonable. 13. What kind of stores are available for hardware, groceries and clothing? There are several large full- service hardware stores with building supplies. Jamaica has several grocery store chains and independent stores. Some quality clothing stores can be found throughout the city, but selection and sizing availability are more restrictive than the USA. 14. Are there large shopping malls? Not as you know them. There are several shopping plazas with a variety of shops. One usually finds out about them by word of mouth.So do not be bashful to ask somebody where they purchased a certain item, or got a certain haircut. 15. What are the water rates? It all depends on your consumption. With septic systems instead of a municipal sewer system, the rates are low. 16. What about electricity costs? The costs in the last few years have gone up a great deal as the power company is 80% privately owned. 17. Is gasoline expensive? The cost is higher than in the states but there is less driving distance in Jamaica. 16. Can I purchase new or used automobiles? Yes, but the cost includes a high import duty. Bringing your own car would be subject to the same high duty rate. 18. Is maid service expensive? No. Maid service can be anything from once a week to live-in, with separate quarters. Cost are less expensive than Canada & the US. 19. Are Jamaicans good workers? Usually yes. If you find one who is not, there are many more to choose from. 20. Are there reasonably priced restaurants nearby? There is generally a wide range of prices between them. 21. Is there more of Jamaica that can be seen once the normal tours are exhausted? Yes. There are countless places to see that most tourists aren’t interested in seeing. All you need is a knowledgeable guide to find those hidden jewels. 22. Can anyone move to Jamaica? Jamaican immigration laws allows you to stay up to 6 months at a time unless you apply for permanent residency. This is a three year process. Each of those 3 years you must reapply until you become a permanent resident. 23. Can I seek employment in Jamaica? Not normally. The exception would be if you had a particular skill not found in Jamaica. If that was the case, a work permit would be required. 24. What is your life like in Jamaica? Daily life in Kingston can be very intense as no two days are similar, but life is what you make it and how you approach what occurs. I find the city vibrant, dynamic and more intense than my life in Florida or Washington, DC. Whenever I travel to Barbados & Trinidad, I always notice how much quieter those Islands are compared to Kingston. Life outside Kingston may more closely match where you are moving from if not more quiet. 25. Do you return to the states often? Usually about twice to three times a year. 26. What do you like best about living in Jamaica? There are many things that make the quality of life good in Jamaica, but I enjoy the year round sunshine and warmth, abundant fresh fruit and vegetables, the Islands creativity, resilience and energy of the Jamaican people. I find the history of the land and the culture truly fascinating and really enjoy doing compare /contrast of two other favorite islands of mine. 27. What do you like least about living in Jamaica? The poverty and intense daily begging, even when you gently say to people ” No, I have nothing to give you today.” I dislike what I perceive to be an educational system which I have concluded to be failing the Jamaican people, and also the very high unemployment rate, which has lead to an environment of helplessness, high crime and despair. I also dislike the intense homophobic ways of thinking and being, it stifles a great country. 28. What are some of the first steps I should take when considering a move to Jamaica? Make several trips and combined these trips outside of vacation all inclusive resorts. These trips are for networking if you plan to seek employment or retire at some later date to Jamaica. Seek out and have discussions with as many expats as possible about what their lives have been like since moving to Jamaica.
This past week while sitting at my desk in Kingston Jamaica, I experienced the tremblings of an earthquake. It was a most unusual feeling, because I had never had such an occurrence in my life before.
My initial feeling was ” is this really occurring” and then ” yes it’s an earthquake” Little could I have comprehended that what I was feeling, was the tail end of a larger earthquake which was occurring in neighboring Haiti. I now feel very fortunate that Jamaica was not affected by such a large scale earthquake.
In the same breathe, I feel extremely sad and sorry for the people of Haiti. I have known Haitian people from as early as age 12, while growing up in New York City, and three of my dearest female friends are Haitian. All of them still have families living in Haiti, who are still unaccounted for, so this tragedy is very personal for me.
I simply hope that some world good will occur for the Haitian people after losing so many citizens to this tragedy. I’m also aware of Jamaica’s own experience in 1907 of a major Earthquake, so I am now extremely concerned about earthquakes
After 6 months on the island, I learned the meaning of the phrase, “Ah going country dis weekend.” For Jamaicans, this usually means that they are leaving the bustling city of Kingston and traveling to an area where the pace of life is usually slower. “Kingston,” I tell my friends, “is a unique, dynamic city with an edge” and it’s always great to get away on a trip to the countryside.
When I now hear the word “country”, I immediately envision the coastlines of Port Maria, Port Antonio, Negril, or Treasure Beach, all places outside of Kingston where the beaches are simply picturesque and life has a way of meandering like a brook alongside mountains and narrow country roads.
I rarely ever offer to drive on our country excursions, mainly because I like being able to stare at the houses, animals, fruit stands, billboard signs or men pushing carts through the little towns. I get excited when my husband says, “Let’s go away to the country for the weekend,” as my mind fills with thoughts of shrimp soup (or “janga soup” as it’s called here), fresh fruits and huge ripe plantains that we will be purchasing at the roadside stalls along the way.
I am not sure why I enjoy my country outings as much as I do; perhaps because it involves the interaction with the vendors who share fun stories while I purchase their produce. “Mek sure you nuh overcharge me, or sell me fruit wid worms,” I say. This is often greeted with a big smile followed by the answer, “No miss, de fruit dem nuh ‘ave nuh worm,” meaning, “The fruits do not have any worms in them.” This statement is usually accompanied with the look of, “Oh, she’s chatting Patois.” At this point, we both silently establish that no “foolishness” will occur, and while I am from “farrin”, I know what could happen.
These transactions are usually very funny, and I will honestly say to readers that you may be overcharged while making roadside purchases during your early months of living on the island. This is largely due to the fact that an assumption is made that you can afford to pay more. The fact that they may never see you again also facilitates the hike in price. While this does not occur in all incidences, it occurs often enough for me to mention it.
This trip was particularly exciting as I was curious to see how the land or countryside had been affected by the passing Hurricane Gustav. Heavy rainfalls usually bring a change in the land mass as trees fall, boulders move around, rivers expand and entire roads disappear. Sad but all true. We saw where several of the houses along the river banks were no longer there as they had moved or crashed into half.
As we arrived in a place called Port Maria, is was obvious that the storm had left many people feeling tired and weather beaten. The banana fields in a place called Agultavale looked wind blown. “Bananas may soon become sparse,” flashed through my head.
Our first night included the usual great jerk chicken , roasted sweet potatoes and festival from a place called Scotchies in Ocho Rios, followed by a few good hours at James Bond beach in Oracabessa the next morning. We even had the coconut man cut open fresh coconuts for us to drink, and it was great.
We then returned to the house to consume fresh papayas and bananas I had purchased earlier at the local marketplace. “How beautiful the morning was” I told myself, as the breeze was blowing. Outside you could see large avocado pears, red ackee pods, juneplums and guineps holding firm to the branches of trees knowing that their days of survival were numbered, as the school children would be soon raiding the fruit crops.
“Life in the country is not too bad,” I told myself. I wonder what I would say had we decided to live in Ocho Rios or Oracabessa rather than Kingston. How would I have adjusted to living in the “country” of a developing country? “Oh well, I said to myself” as the next thought was how can I go about finding expats to interview.
Last weekend was a good Jamaican weekend I concluded. In fact, I ranked it as a nine on a scale of ten as a good time spent in beauty.