Overlooking the yard from the second floor veranda, we watched the hustle and bustle of the yardies’ below as we shared stories. The island locals went by on bicycle, on foot, and in taxi’s as they all hurried about their morning routines. The ocean breeze was refreshing in the early mornings as we drank coffee with rum cream and chatted about the runnins’ of this quaint little fishing village.
Spear fishermen rode by with their colorful array of fish hanging in tow, enroute to the local market. Wooden fishing boats were out in full force for the early morning catch of the day; some already back with a daily supply to sell, while others’ remained at sea, not to return without at least their own catch for supper. As the sun rose up in the sky, the warmth of the ocean air felt wonderful as we plotted out the day ahead.
I was in vacation mode, taking in all the sights and sounds from the parade of locals moving up and down the road. Each and everyday, I relished spending time on the beach, swimming in the magical calming blue waters. The evenings were spent catching the gorgeous sunsets from the cliff front views. This small, sometimes sleepy town offered its’ own unique charm, bringing many regulars back year after year.
The locals lived a rather difficult existence here, as this was an island of hardship, a third world country. The raw beauty of the area captured the hearts of many who have traveled here over the years, and it has been referred to as the ‘rock’. This beautiful land is a second home for many, and is known as the beloved island of Jamaica.
For my friend, who everyone called Captain, this was just another day in the life of a rather simple but unique existence. Life in this so-called paradise; the land of wood and water, was very different, but as my week progressed, it proved to be anything but ordinary.
I had spent the past 10 years or more traveling to Jamaica, but this trip would be eye-opening; the first time visiting on my own. I bunked with the my friend, inna yard, as it was referred to in Jamaica. It was a far cry from my comfort zone of the upper scale resort that I was used to, but here I would see and experience a different Jamaica. I spend many days chilling and hanging on the wonderful porch overlooking the vibrant greenish-blue Caribbean waters either reading or chatting with new friends.
By day we drank red stripe beer, with the occasional puff of the island's herb, and by evening we drank rum or shared a bokkle’ of wine. I would grab the odd afternoon nap, but certainly spent as little time in my room as possible. We partied with friends and locals most nights, listening to the booming beat of the ‘reggae vibes’ blaring from the massive speakers on the porch.
Up or down the road you could hear the slamming echo of ‘bones’ on the wooden tables. The Jamaican game of choice was dominos, and it was not uncommon to hear voices escalating as they disputed over each and every move. This was not a game to be taken lightly; the sound of the bones hitting the tables could be heard on every corner throughout the night, as the barking of dogs relentlessly howled till day break. The sounds of this fishing village are definitely unique, as are the people of this wonderful village from the past.
Goldie, as she is referred to on the island, was another of the misplaced foreigners who now called Jamaica home, had arrived for a visit in the morning. Goldie basically earned a meger living by ‘turning tricks’ or bumming money from the tourists she met along the way. She quickly dominated the conversation with a never-ending commentary of her crazy life-adventures. She never ceased to amaze me with the drama in her life, which was more than any human-being could imagine. However her stories played out, I listened, shaking my head at what was coming out of her mouth, but I knew that her life was not easy. She spewed obscenities and cussed the Jamaican men up and down, but her colourful vocabulary made me laugh. Captain looked at me many times, rolling his eyes, knowing he had heard it all before. Just to switch things up, he said, “Let’s go get some food”, and in a matter of seconds, Goldie was on her feet and ready to go. No doubt, she was most likely in need of a good meal, and I assumed that I would be picking up the tab.
I didn’t really know Goldie very well, only running into her during my many visits. She seemed to have aged far beyond her actual years. Her overly-tanned, wrinkled, tattooed skin hung from her thin, bony, drug-induced frame which was frightening to witness. Her hands revealed the signs of an old woman who had worked the fields with hard labor, but that was a far cry from the truth. She had done hard labor, but in a way that most couldn’t, or wouldn’t want to imagine. With bleached blonde hair, and black roots, that ‘infamous signature handle’ was well founded. She was known by all the locals and most just shook their head with mention of her name. Her watery, bloodshot eyes, revealed a wealth of fears, deceptions and most likely regrets. She now lived a life of poverty, pain, suffering and abuse, but this is a woman who chose to live this life.
The three of us ventured up the road, a quiet lane far off the beaten path of Jamaica. We were in search of a good ole’ fashioned cheeseburger in paradise. Jimmy Buffet had fallen in love with Jamaica and for good reasons. This impoverished country was paradise for many tourists, but not always for those who spent every waking day living on the island. On the way up the lane, Goldie pulled me over and said “You don’t want to see where I stay or it will put you off your meal”. I laughed at that comment, not even realizing then, the truth of the words she just spoke.
We reached the top of the lane and I noticed along the way, all the beautiful flowering hibiscus trees that lined the small cottage properties. It was quiet, except for the ever-so-present barking dogs or locals passing by. Women strolled the lane with baskets of fruit and veggies for sale, as children played on the road. The day was gorgeous; the natural beauty of the area was vividly evident as we sauntered by the small board houses and properties. It was breathtaking to listen to the sweet sounds of the birds in the surrounding greenery.
We finally reached the small restaurant, and with no other tourists in sight, the three of us bellied up to the bar, all thirsty from our short walk. The pool was empty, but as things have it in Jamaica, properties are sometimes under renovation, new management taking over, or just shut down because of a lack of incoming tourist dollars. People survive with few patrons frequenting the many establishments and day to day life can be tough. Most Jamaicans do what is necessary in order to feed their families, or themselves, but sometimes those less fortune, quickly choose a less than desirable path to make ends meet.
We ordered drinks and then put in our order for 3 of their famous cheeseburgers. The Jamaican waitress, the owner’s wife, was someone who they both knew and she was anything but friendly. Marriage is a term that is used very ‘loosely’ in Jamaica, but that is how they referred to her. She mumbled a few words to us, barely giving the time of day, before opening the big deep freeze and pulling out 3 frozen beef patties. She plunked them down on the grill, looked over at Captain and Goldie, all the while sucking her teeth and shooting back a look of, “What the hell are you doing here interrupting my siesta?” I just took it all in, glancing over at the two of them in search of any indication of what was going on. I did realize one thing on that day; people in Jamaica are different. Life here is far from what we westerners are used to, so I took it all in stride, watching and learning, but never really understanding.
Just as we were finishing our burgers, the owner arrived and greeted us all. He was a friendly outgoing man, a foreigner himself, and we spent a while chatting and sharing stories with him. His wife instantly perked up, becoming more pleasant every minute; seemed she was putting on a face.
As he walked us down towards the front of the hotel, we noticed this peculiar, but interesting piece of artwork on the property. The towering bamboo poles were colourfully painted in a circle of at least 20 poles, and grounded in a cement base. The owner walked up to his creation and pushed together the poles, setting off a motion and sound that was incredible. The poles swayed, touching each other with a beautiful hollow sound that was music to the ears. Each pole was cut a different length, allowing for a wonderful unique tone which echoed down the lane. The owner quickly told us, “Each pole is a different color and sound, representing each and every one of my girlfriends.” I glanced over at Captain, noticing the grin on his face as I answered back, “Well that is indeed, very interesting.”
It was time to head back down the lane and Goldie was already a few feet ahead of us, not really interested in chatting any longer. She made her way down the road, glancing back at us as we slowly caught up to her. She looked over at me before asking, “Do you want to see where I am living? You have already eaten and I am sure that it won’t make you sick!”
Could it really be that bad? I had no concept of what she was warning me about, but she was insistent that I see where she laid her head at night.
There were only a few houses on the lane, and in a matter of minutes, after agreeing to stop in for a peek, I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined what I would see next.
Goldie walked towards a small opening in the trees and branches and I could see a small, run-down property in the background. I glanced over at Captain as he lit up a cigarette and stood on the side of the road. He said, “There is no way that I am going over there.” I could tell by the look on his face that he was serious. I asked him once, kind of laughing and saying, “Oh come on,” but there would be no coaxing him in this direction.
He lived down the road and knew many of the locals, so he was just here as a bystander waiting for me. I felt a nervous anticipation, but at the same time I was curious about what I would see. Goldie looked at me again, her eyes revealing a sad emptiness as she said, “You are not going to like this, and I just want you to know that.”
My god, I thought to myself, how horrific could it be? Her very words sounded like a warning that you see on television. ‘The following pictures you are about to see could be upsetting and are not for children. Parental guidance is recommended!’ I was an adult, but I felt the fear rising up in my body with what I was about to witness.
I followed closely behind Goldie as she weaved her way in through the sharp overgrown branches and flowering hibiscus bushes which hid the pathway to the house. She looked back at me as I crouched over as not to get a branch in the eye. She quickly said, “there is no front door” as we proceeded to the side of the building.
I stood in amazement at the filthy, stained, tattered curtain that hung blowing over the window sill. I was behind Goldie, looking down at my feet amongst the overgrown weeds that covered my bare ankles. I knew that I was in unknown territory, but I had to see inside for some reason. Goldie turned to me and said, “This is how I have to climb in at night, through the open window. I looked at her, speechless, not knowing what to say, but realizing this was, for the time being, the place that she called home.
She reached back and touched my hand, and with reassuring words she said to me once again, “Take a deep breath” as she slowly pulled back the threadbare curtain.
I was now face-to-face with the inside of a ‘crack house’ and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I covered my mouth, but the rotten stench was overwhelming. I turned away, trying to catch a breath of fresh air before I nervously peeked back inside. Panning the room, I tried to take in everything in, from top to bottom, but my insides were churning with the horrific odour and filth of the room. I was repulsed at the way Goldie had let herself live, even temporarily, it was beyond anyone’s imagination. I took a few moments before I turned back to look at Goldie as she constantly gave her commentary of the whole scenario. She kept saying, “Look at all my clothes in the corner of the room. There is no roof and everything I own is soaked from the rain.” I glanced over at the rummage of clothing and glanced up at the open roof.
The room had only half a thatched roof, with vines coming down the sides of the walls. The floor was covered in garbage and at the side of the open window, sat a single bed with a stained, dirty sheet covering the mattress. This was her home for the time being, if you could call it that. The stench of garbage, rat droppings, and the sight of crawling bugs was more than I could handle. Goldie nervously said, “We better hurry before he gets back.” “Who was he?” I didn’t dare ask and didn’t want to know. I felt the tears well up in my eyes, as she grabbed my arm and quickly pulled me back to the edge of the road.
I walked back down the lane with Captain and Goldie, not saying too much as I looked ahead at the beautiful blue Caribbean ocean facing me at the end of the road.
I took a deep breath, taking in the fresh salt air blowing in from the shoreline. That afternoon, I had been witness to a part of the ‘unspoken Jamaica’, certainly not a tourist attraction, and most definitely not a sight for the faint of heart.
Looking back now, this obscure road was basically a quiet, yet unassuming lane ‘far off the beaten path’. This was my glimpse into the most undesirable truths and tragedies of a third world country.
Jamaica will always be a land of Eden; nirvana as they call it. This beautiful island is a place of bliss for those who travel here, but in reality for many who live this life, it will never be their paradise.