Thank you for bearing with me through such a lengthy hiatus. This is a largely incoherent attempt at catching up with you before resuming regular blogging. Enjoy!
1. Sleeping with strangers inspired me to travel
Since joining CouchSurfing on May 4, 2009, I have had an insatiable urge to sleep with strangers. Well, I started off by letting them sleep with me, free of charge. I had my first guests while sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a cranky landlord who was, surprisingly, okay with this. They were two girls from Finland who were severely shy and only one knew basic English, I did not know what to expect but we ended up walking around a lot of Kingston, discovering Jamaica together and cooking some delicious vegetarian meals. The rest, as they say, is history. At this point in my life I had not traveled very much so it was very exciting for me to host people my age who had been traveling for months, even years, people who had seen the natural and architectural wonders of the world, older people who wanted to retake the journeys of their youth and others who were on their very first journey abroad. Before CouchSurfing, I would have thought it impossible that a working class girl from a developing country could find the one of the most obscure countries in South America and make it her home for a while.
2. Home is internal – fantastic and imaginative
I had no nation now but the imagination.
—– Walcott, Derek. “The Schooner Flight”
I explored the west coast of the United States, lived in Uruguay, visited Brazil, Argentina (a few times) and Chile; then I endured the erratic weather of Colorado for two months in pursuit of an airman’s certificate. Now, I didn’t imagine that I changed much during my year abroad but within days of my return, I realized that, in my mind, I had reinvented Jamaica to a utopic place that it isn’t. I projected the elements of Jamaica that I missed – picking my own tropical fruits, the warm weather and cooling river water, the toothless yet charming old men I often encounter in the open-air markets, the leisurely days spent at the beach reading and watching people and weaving fantastic stories about their lives, the lively parties that pop up at random points on the street, the numerous bars in even the smallest of communities and the ever so cheap rum. I wove these things in my imagination and crafted a new Jamaica. I even made my dysfunctional family, well, functional. I longed to return to my idyllic, far-away home – a place I, it turns out, had never been. Until I took my first bus ride on my return home, I had forgotten how violence and aggression had permeated ordinary aspects of my Jamaican existence.
3. Uruguay is too tranqui and Jamaica is a loathsomely violent place
Uruguay runs on mate, just like New York runs on Dunkin. Wait, that is a horrible metaphor. Uruguay does not run, it ebbs andflows but mostly it ebbs. The banks are only open for half the day, businesses close for two hours at lunch and two weeks up to a month in January during the mass exodus to the east coast for a tan and a dip in the Atlantic. The national pastime is sitting on the Rambla, clutching your termo1 and passing the mate around, or a bottle of beer depending on the mood of your group. Bus rides are usually smooth, not literally as the public transit system has not yet discovered shock absorbers, but they are usually uneventful. The only violation I have seen is a man sharing his mate with the driver at around 11pm with a clearly illuminated sign right in front of them that stated it was prohibited to drink mate on the bus. I don’t know why mate and not any other beverage but this was not allowed and they were doing it.
Now my first bus ride upon returning to Jamaica was a completely different story. Not even 10 minutes after we drove off, a woman reached across a man to close a window, supposedly because it was too windy for her. He said “you wahn mi buss of yuh face meck yu ha fi g’a station gyal? Ef yuh want di window lock you nuh ask me gyal?” This was followed by the lengthiest string of expletives known to mankind while the classic Mother’s Day mix CD blasted in the background. She eventually took him on and expressed her hatred for going out with him because that’s how he behaves under his liquor. So clearly they knew each other. Baffling. But these things happened everyday on my commute to work in Kingston and I wouldn’t even budge, Uruguay re-sensitized me to bus preaching/begging/cussing. Any form of drama that would’ve been a staple to my Jamaican existence have now become… quite frightening. I am no longer accustomed to the multiple murders being reported on the news each night and the john-crow journalism that still persists on television networks.
4. We work all through siesta and happy hour yet are still poor
I am happy, however, to be back in a slightly more productive society – Jamaicans demonstrate some serious work ethic, unlike many of our Caribbean neighbors who seem to live for happy hour2. The great mystery is why the hardworking nature of our people doesn’t seem to be reflected in the state of our economy. In Uruguay we kiss everyone we meet on either cheek before doing anything else; however large the group, each person is expected to kiss all others in greeting before any activity takes place. I was lined up in the supermarket and a cashier was late for her shift but she couldn’t start working until she went down the line and kissed all six of her colleagues on either cheek. To this day I remain mind-blown. In general, Jamaicans are not publicly affectionate and avoid touches, especially same-sex touches, yet I will admit to missing the guaranteed Uruguayan daily kiss.
5. I am happy to be traveling in my 20s
I turned 25 the day after Nelson Mandela died; I had just began a weeklong stay in Rio de Janeiro. On hearing news of his death, I spent some hours reflecting upon how the world had changed drastically during just one lifetime, how just one man who faced the ultimate oppression managed to touch so many lives, even in confinement. I gave thanks for my freedom, for the brilliant decision that I made to take this trip in my 20s, while I was old enough to embark on such a journey yet young enough to have nothing holding me back from taking it. I gave thanks for his life then I affirmed to myself that I would be present in each of my remaining days, being attentive to my thoughts and feelings and appreciating the actual moment that is life.
P.S. My next stop is Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil where I will be volunteering at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I promise to update you on my experiences before it becomes a distant memory.