Likkle More, Jamaica

Before this summer even began, I knew that being in Jamaica for two months would be one of the greatest experiences I would ever have.

Not only was I excited to go because of the work I would be doing, but I also knew that this trip would give me an opportunity to connect with my roots and meet sections of my family that I had never met before. While I was right in believing that going to Jamaica would be an amazing experience, my fondest memories and the things I fell in love with most from the island were never what I would have expected.

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Even though I knew working within Kingston and meeting family would have a huge impact on me, it would be a lie if I tried to say that experiencing Kingston’s nightlife wasn’t the one thing I was looking forward to most. Between all the things I had heard and the countless videos I watched on YouTube, nothing seemed like it could be more fun for me than Kingston at night. During my first few weeks in Jamaica I made an effort to seek out the best parties Kingston had to offer, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that the nightlife that the city was so famous for wasn’t really for me. Most parties didn’t become fun until after 4am, the DJs were constantly screaming at the crowd and seemed to play more horns and gunshots than music, and the fact that I somehow always ended up drinking 70% overproof rum definitely didn’t help make anything else better.

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For my first two weeks I thought I was just having bad luck with the parties I ended up going to so I eventually decided that I needed to go to “Weddy Wednesdays”. According to most of the people I had talked to, this was one of the craziest and raunchiest parties Kingston has to offer and it didn’t seem possible for me to have a bad time if I went. But when I couldn’t get in touch with the person I had planned to go with, a few of the people living in my house said I could come with them to a reggae show. Initially I was a little skeptical, because it took place behind a fast food restaurant, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this sudden change of plans may have been for the better. Although there weren’t that many young people, nobody was really dancing, and it was nothing close to the night of debauchery I was preparing myself for, I had an amazing time. When we got to the concert the first thing I saw was a rasta surrounded by a group of people waving a flag of the lion of Judah in tandem with the music. Throughout the crowd there weren’t only rastas, but people of all ages that seemed to be doing nothing more than drinking, smoking spliffs, and enjoying the atmosphere. The group I was with stayed for about three hours and during that entire period, we barely spoke but simply stood with the people around us and soaked it all in.

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This isn’t the type of night I would normally ever seek out. Besides the rasta in the middle there was no dancing, and not many people my age, but it was so much different than anything I have ever experienced. It was a night that I knew could only really happen in Jamaica and between the sound, the smell, and the overall feel, I loved every moment of it. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my usual idea of a good night out was so incredibly limited, and that there were so many amazing things that I could do in Jamaica that I could never do anywhere else.

As I began to understand how much more Jamaica has to offer, I got to the point where I never wanted to be inside. My whole life I have always been someone who generally dislikes the outdoors so this was a big change for me. Even as a kid, whenever my parents asked me if I wanted to go play outside I would always come up with some excuse to stay in because to me there was nothing better than curling up with my Pokemon blanket and watching cartoons all day. But, between the endless sunshine, warm weather, and beautiful mountains, Jamaica made me want to never be inside.

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I’ve been in places with beautiful weather before but Jamaica just felt different. I couldn’t figure out what it was about the island in particular that seemed to be so enchanting until I went to the Trenchtown Culture Yard, where Bob Marley grew up. During the tour my guide, in between hits off his two-foot long pipe, spoke about Bob Marley and his inspiration behind various songs. Towards the end of the tour he talked about the feel of Jamaica and how it inspired Marley’s song, “Natural Mystic”. In this song Marley says, “there’s a natural mystic blowing through the air, if you listen carefully now you will hear.” Although it may seem ridiculous, the moment he mentioned this I felt like I truly understood what Marley was talking about, and from that point on I couldn’t wait to see more of the island and experience this mystic even more.

Between Portland, Ocho Rios, and the Blue Mountains, every place I traveled to in Jamaica seemed like it was more beautiful than the last. There was so much to see and do across the island and everything I experienced while travelling seemed to be even more exciting, because basically every trip I made was planned on a whim. On my last day in Jamaica four of my friends and I drove three hours to go to the Appleton Rum Factory only to find it closed. Even though it seemed like the trip should have been a bust, I ended up seeing more of the island than I would have anticipated and we had such a good time just driving and getting out whenever we saw something cool. Whether it was in the country, on the coast, up in the mountains, or in Kingston, wherever I went in Jamaica had its own unique sense of beauty not only in the landscape, but also in the people and the sense of community I always felt.

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Although travelling throughout the island was breathtaking, no matter where I went I always looked forward to going back to Kingston. The city is like nothing I have ever experienced before and despite its physical appearance in many areas, it truly is a beautiful place. Regardless of day or time, there was always someone blasting music and people hanging out and partying in the street. The coolest thing though about the incessant partying of Kingston, was that it wasn’t just limited to young people. Whenever I went out, I would see people from 18 to 60 years old and there was this mentality that just because people get older doesn’t mean that they should stop having fun. All the friends I made in Jamaica never seemed to be caught up and just wanted to have as much fun as possible and although many didn’t live a life that would appeal to most Americans, I could feel a sense of pride among everyone in simply being Jamaican. Yet at the same time, it was staggering to see such an immense level of Jamaican pride, but also such a high percentage of people bleaching their skin. It seemed like people felt their Jamaican identity and black identity were separate, and although they were so proud of one, the other needed to be changed. Also, even though the people I interacted with always seemed to be in a good mood, and the city always felt so vivacious, violence in Kingston seemed to be an issue that affected every corner of the city. Whether it was one of my friends getting mugged, seeing “Gaza” spray painted on every other street corner, or memorials for slain youth on what seemed like every street in the community downtown, it seemed that no section of the city could fully escape this unfortunate reality.

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There seemed to be so many contradictions between the way people acted and the way they felt within Kingston, but the one thing that seemed to be universal was that people seemed so much more appreciative and aware of the things that really give life value. Throughout my two months in Jamaica I felt like I had more conversations about love, growth, and spirituality than I have had all throughout college and most of my life before. The people who shared these moments of real introspection with me weren’t only my friends and people I became close with, but many others I just randomly encountered. Whether it was someone I had briefly met on the street, a museum tour guide, or a cab driver, Jamaicans as a whole seemed to be so much more aware and curious about these uniquely human emotions that make us who we are. Being at a school like Princeton, almost everyone I know is so caught up in all these physical representations of success, whether that means getting good grades, doing well in a sport, or getting a job that pays well. I met so many people who seemed to be genuinely happy without having any of the things that we normally deem essential to a happy life. These past two months allowed me to see that the quality of one’s life is so much more dependent on the relationships we create, the experiences we have, and most importantly how we view ourselves — not how the world views us.

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My life in the states has always been incredibly structured, and in between my classes, practice, and other meetings, I’ve never had much time to myself nor had the ability to just do things on a whim. Almost all of my best memories from Jamaica involved doing something that I normally would not want to do or something that wasn’t planned. While things were by no means structured or how I would have initially wanted, these moments were spent with people I enjoyed being with and never made me feel pressured to be anything I am not. Having this time to think and being able to do things I would never do may not just be something I can put on a resume or market to an employer, but it was more valuable than anything I will ever learn in a classroom or a formal workplace. Getting on the plane and leaving that natural mystic was unquestionably hard, but it made things a lot easier knowing that I wasn’t saying goodbye to Jamaica and all the friends I had made, I was just saying “likkle more”.

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