Jamaica’s Back Page

The first time we traveled abroad together was to Ocho Rios, Jamaica aka Ochi. It was my first time to the Carribbean and my husband’s first time as a tourist in the country where he was born. It was an unforgettable trip, and what I remembered most was not climbing up Dunns Rivers Falls, or eating the best jerk chicken from the guy pushing his grill down the street, or even almost drowning him with my panic attack as we snorkeled in the middle of the ocean, but the “back page.” We saw the Jamaica not featured in tour books or commercials, but as it truly is through the lens of its people.

 

On one of our first days, we met a pair of kids fishing off a ledge where cruise ships dock. They were using home-made poles and reels, and caught merely minnows but were having so much fun. We quickly struck up conversation and after about fifteen minutes, we saw a motor boat approaching with a middle-aged man yelling at the kids. Apparently, he was their father and the true fisherman. He wanted to know who his kids were talking to and before long, he was offering to give us a tour of the “back page” of Jamaica. The back page is where no one ventures and often overlooked, but probably the most informative and interesting part of any book. I was immediately intrigued but my husband was hesitant and cautious.  However, the man offered us such a sweet deal that we could not resist. He would take us on a day long tour on his boat to a nature preserve, then take us to town to a local market where we can buy fresh produce, and finally to his house where he had an abundance of fruit trees in his yard – all for $50 USD. So we hopped in his boat and had a private tour of Ochi. When we docked and started on the trail to his house, he was praising how much time and effort he spent on building it with his own hands and how much he enjoyed living off the land. As he was describing it, I pictured a two-story home with a gate and manicured yard. But as we approached his house, I noticed it was nothing more than a makeshift shack no bigger than an apartment studio with little light and a broken front door. His wife greeted us carrying a baby on her hip, and I could not imagine how two adults and three children could live in this small house. But they happily picked some mangoes off the tree in their yard for us, then took us to the market where we negotiated for more fruits and vegetables at the local price. As long as I kept my mouth shut, the vendors would have no idea we were tourists and could not hike up the price. At the end of the day, he dropped us back where we met by the docks, and my husband gave him an extra $20 for taking such good care of us. He was so grateful and replied that this would help feed his family for a month! We were humbled that what we normally paid for in one meal could stretch him for an entire month. It definitely changed our perspectives and have since decided that no matter where we traveled in the world, we would not forget about the locals who were either benefiting or struggling as a result of tourism.

 

About a year ago, some of my husband’s colleagues were planning a trip to Jamaica and one of their main concerns was how dangerous Jamaica can be outside of the resort and cruise ship. Though in some areas that may be true, I think the same applies everywhere in the world including some places within the U.S. For us, this was definitely not the case. On another day as we were walking around downtown Ochi, we noticed a man watching us closely. He followed us for some time and then approached my husband asking if he could have a few words with him. I was scared thinking he would threaten, hurt, or rob us right then and there, but instead he pulled my husband aside, whispered a few words to him and walked away. As we started in the other direction towards our hotel, I asked what he said and my husband responded that he was proud to see a fellow Jamaican from America return to his home country, and not forget where he came from. Of course, this left an impression on me but more so on my husband, who up until this point never experienced his home country outside the comforts of his family, and therefore had a completely different experience on his own as a tourist. So the Jamaica we know is definitely not dangerous nor is all beaches, coffee, reggae and Bob Marley. It is a country that represents its motto, “out of many, one people” because at the heart of it is truly its people.
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