Down the way where the

by francine Hardaway on August 9, 2005

Down the way where the nights are gay and the sun shines daily on the mountain top/I took a trip on a sailing ship, and when I reached Jamaica I made a stop..�

Yes, I’m in Jamaica, mon. It’s hot and humid, but I love it; there is nothing not to like. No wonder the reggae culture caught on so firmly in north America. Jamaica’s an island, with most of its development along the beaches. There’s that awesome Caribbean blue water, the ocean breezes, the friendliest people I have ever known, and an endless supply of rum.

All the rumors you have ever heard about Jamaica are true. The big expensive homes are owned by the drug dealers. Montego Bay is full of bars, casinos, and adult entertainment. The ordinary people live in open houses not that different from those in Costa Rica or Mexico. Everyone offers the tourists ganja, even at the family-friendly resort at which I’m staying. People openly smoke in the street, even though marijuana is not legal.

They also break the speed limit, and run through stop signs. It seems that there are, indeed, laws in Jamaica, but most are neither enforced nor obeyed. In fact, crime is the one downside of the island republic�s cities.

The most bizarre thing about Jamaica, aside from the fact that I have a wireless network in my room that’s as good as the one I have at home, is that Jamaica has not been ruined by Americans — although it’s a big tourist destination. Somehow, Jamaica changes its visitors more than the visitors change it.

Jamaicans speak English (or so they say), but you can’t understand them. They shorten every word and speak as fast as they can, producing a language of their own called “patois.” If you listen very carefully, you can pick up a few words of every conversation, much as you could if you were in Mexico and knew a little Spanish.

Harry Belafonte made Jamaica famous even before Bob Marley did. But if you go to the crafts market in Montego Bay, the woodcarvers are carving Bob Marley masks, not Harry Belafonte masks. The island�s philosophy is clearly �don�t worry; be happy.�

Jamaica is only about 250 miles from south Florida, but it seems eons away. There�s a strange timelessness about it that is different from any of the other places I�ve been: it�s neither totally behind in infrastructure, as Africa is; nor a land of contrasts, like China or India; instead it seems to have absorbed the best of the 21st century � of course that�s air conditioning, indoor plumbing, computer literacy and the telecom revolution�and allowed the remainder to detour around the island. Very few cars, no pollution, an ability to make much out of little. And no whining. In India people complain about the roads and the phone system. In Africa people complain of corrupt aid programs, poverty, AIDS and their impacts on the country. In Jamaica, the people seem proud of where they live.

Apparently the Jamaican government is afraid of brain drain among the young people, so it has tightened up on issuing visas to the United States. The young people who work at the resort I�m staying at would love to visit our country, but can�t even get tourist visas.

But the fears of the government seem unfounded. Jamaica does not appear to be a country of potential terrorist malcontents. In fact, I�m not so sure people from Jamaica�if allowed — would emigrate en masse in the way that people from Mexico rush to the American dream. Too many of them like it at home.

After all, in Jamaica people are free to fish for swordfish and tilapia, dive for conch, pick almonds, bananas, and coconuts off the trees, and feed themselves simply and healthily. No one seems to go hungry; the food�s all around them. No one has to be rich.

If a young Jamaican did come to America, one winter of inclement weather, air pollution, and tasteless fast food could send him right back home.

� I�m sad to say, I�m on my way, won�t be back for many a day/My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave��

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