Ever so often, I receive emails from Expats who currently live in Jamaica and have a desire to share with others, what life is currently like for them on the sunny Island of Jamaica.
The following piece is from such a person, who lives in Kingston. I am pretty certain that he may have read my Blog before arriving to the Island, and I am thankful that he was willing to share with readers.
I’ve now been living in Jamaica for 11 months.
I was having a drink at the Hilton Hotel in Kingston pool bar earlier this week, and my visiting guest commented that I appeared really comfortable in Jamaica. I asked why he made this observation, and he said I ‘beamed’ when talking about work and living and he confessed that as an occasional short term visitor that he found Jamaica still a very intimidating place.
So I then remembered my first impressions:
1) The ’40 watt’ street lights that made every street a series of dark pools of shadow with the menace of danger
2) The large number of people that hang about on the streets at night – ‘what are they doing’?
3) The lack of police on the streets at night
4) The street vendors harassing me for a sale
5) The lack of street names, directions and ability to find places easily
So here are some observations since actually living in Jamaica
1) Jamaica is LOUD – very LOUD. And loudness is a good thing – it’s a sign that people are enjoying themselves
2) Finding places depends on asking people – as you get closer, stop and ask for directions. People are friendly and helpful. Please do not rely on the maps or non-existent sign posts or street name signs, just stop every so often and check with people on the road
3) Stop and give lifts to hitchhikers – its standard practice. And don’t be offended when they ask you for money the assumption is “you are white” and likely a lot wealthier than the folks you are giving a lift to
4) If you get ‘hissed’ at by people sitting out alongside the road, it is not an offensive act. Rather, it is a ‘come hither’ ie PSST rather than HISSSSSS. Your call if you respond
5) Don’t haggle too hard – average income is $3-4,000 USD and everybody needs to get by
6) Use the street vendors, especially the roadside fruit vendors in the country. You get to taste and buy some unique fruits like Star- apples and Sour-Sop. Ask to taste the fruit first as they will always oblige
7) If booking hotels, book late, use your local residency to get local discounts and haggle hard – there are some great deals to be had. The off or slow seasons in April, May & October is lovely and generally cheaper
8) Coconut water is delicious and THE MOST REFRESHING DRINK WHEN IT IS HOT. The very best place to get Coconut water (apart from roadside vendors) is the shop at the Coconut Institute on Waterloo road opposite Terra Nova – a gallon of fresh coconut water is JMD$520 which is about $5US and by far superior to what can be bought in the supermarkets. They also do fresh squeezed orange juice which is also very good.
9) Wine is very expensive everyplace on the Island. Enjoy rum and coconut water instead
10) Jamaicans don’t (as a rule) drink coffee. So coffee bars are very few and far between outside of Kingston. Make alternative arrangements to fuel the coffee demon (Blue Mountain coffee is delicious and sold at most large supermarkets)
11) Go to the cinema, especially Carib5. Jamaicans are keen cinema buffs albeit that only the majors seem to be screened (but Liguane club often show private screening of foreign film)
12) The best fish restaurant near Kingston is Gloria’s at Port Royal. Go on Sunday at noon; excellent festival as well
13) SweetWood jerk centre restaurant near Emancipation Park is one of Kingston’s best kept secrets. Jo Jo’s on Friday and Saturday is also a great place for Jerk. However, get to Boston Beach in Portland for jerk at its best.
14) Best restaurant? In theory it should be Norma’s but unfortunately Norma’s in Kingston is patchy. My favorite is Mocking Bird Hill – chicken breast in rundown sauce with cinnamon stands out as a unique Jamaican classic. The 6 types of home baked bread and 4 butters plus a cocktail bar woman who really knew her stuff all made can make the event an amazing culinary experience. East Tokyo at the Marketplace is very good and the Wednesday buffet at Terra Nova is not to be missed.
15) Jamaican cuisine is, well it is. Street/fast food, desserts, mains. And for a Brit its great to find another cuisine that is as keen on a cooked breakfast as the Brits. Trini cuisine also stands out (with its Indian influences) but Jamaica cuisine is more distinctive without obvious antecedents.
16) Its a shame (to this 50 year old) that dancehall is so predominant as THE music style in Jamaica at present. That said, Jamaicans like EVERY kind of music from country to classical. Redbones Cafe usually hosts some good bands (or various music styles) each Friday and hopefully it will get back to this arrangement once it re-establishes itself. They recently changed locations
17) Meet and greet everyone as an equal – don’t ignore anyone (from the grocery store baggar to the sales assistant, from the helper to the prime minister). Be clear and direct in all initial interactions and enjoy the subsequent friendliness and openness of everyone you meet. It’s an island so many people often know each other or are related.
18) This is for the Brits – many people in Jamaica have deep and abiding faith, especially in Christian religions. Brits are very secular and will naturally treat faith as an anachronism and usually add an ironic smile whenever talking about faith. Please, be respectful of faith and suppress the ironic smile and latent giggle else you will give much offence and belittle yourself in the eye of the receiver.Do not think that your overtly secular friends and colleagues are Europeans – they are not and will likely attend church as do most of the population
19) Some European habits may be seen as ‘nasty’ – eg washing underwear with the main clothes wash, or even drying underwear with other clothes.
20) Remember that Jamaica is not a rich country and that if you are working here, local people are generating the dollars to pay your salary (in hard currency and at European wage rates). Hence you should be a lot better at your work or unique in your skills than Jamaican colleagues, else why are you here
21) JPS (Electric Company) are nuts. Electricity “cut offs” can occur within days of a late bill payment (despite 10 months of on time payments)
22) At the time of writing, there is a very serious drought in Jamaica, and the government remedial actions seem rather insubstantial. Apartment occupants in my block are being advised to make their own arrangements for water supply despite the fact that the water tank is communal.
23) Summers in Jamaica are intense, especially August and September where the temperature remains at 30 degrees until midnight. Electricity is extremely expensive (provided by imported diesel) so get used to it
24) If you have the choice, live in the North East part of Kingston, either up on the ridge or up the top of Jacks Hill. You will benefit from the views, the cooler air and the easier ride into work (less congested than the West). Mona is nice but suffers from lack of breeze and lots of midges – get higher up if possible.
25) Get the Wednesday paper for the comparison of supermarket prices. Sovereign has the best choice (and an amazing cheese counter) and the Downtown Coronation market is great value if you can get down there on a Saturday morning at 6am. Otherwise Jo Jo’s supermarket has very good vegetable selection.
26) Don’t expect to find lamb – a friend knows a farmer in Mandeville who supplies but I have not seen it in any of the supermarkets in Kingston
27) Flow offers the best value cable TV service (at April 2010)
Hopefully this peep into one Expats Kingston life, can shed some light to many.