Jamaica Magazine

"Everyday Life in Montego Bay" by American Retiree in Jamaica

In the past few months, I have received both positive and negative feedback. A few think my writing is too negative but most people want more of what it is really like living in Jamaica. Please allow me to ramble on about some of the daily occurrences I have experienced.

In Jamaica, everything is in slow motion. This is most likely due to the hot tropical sun that beats down on everyone’s heads. Everything, that is, except the way people talk and the taxis drive. In my three plus years in Jamaica, I am sad to say, I haven’t learned very much patois. It is almost as difficult to understand it when
it is written in the press as it is to hear them speak it. Patois has many different dialects as does the English language around the US. Even Jamaicans have trouble understanding folks from other parts of the island.

Even if they are talking in English, the speed of the words coming out of their mouths makes my head spin. Their use of the language doesn’t help me to understand it at all. A couple of these examples are, they would say, “I will see you in an hours time, or they say “I have to go to office.” In the first example, there is an extra
word, such as the word “time.” I know that an hour is time but they have to tell me anyway. That was an example of adding a word. The second example leaves the word “the” out before the word office.

The taxis drive even faster than they can talk. Jamaican roads are very narrow, winding, and pothole ridden. That doesn’t bother these fearless men. Most of them drive like they own the road. No thought is given to their safety or anyone else’s. The expression “time is money” is their unofficial motto. The majority of these
taxis are called “route” taxis. That means they drive the same few miles all day long. They know the road better than the back of their hands. They know every curve and pothole like it was embedded in their brains. The problem with that is when they come to one of the numerous potholes, they either swerve left or right or nearly come to a stop. It is funny to see them try to protect their car from damage by avoiding bumps and holes because of the cost factor in replacing worn or broken parts but yet waste gas by speeding up and then braking hard often.

Too many of these drivers bought their licenses on the black market instead of taking the written and road exams. Some of them can’t read or write and have no idea, or even care, what the rules of the road are. Too often, it is these drivers who foolishly pass other cars when it isn’t safe, killing themselves and innocent people with them.

Enough about fast. Slow and steady governs everything else. The rule to live by is never plan more than one thing per day. It is the norm to spend an hour or more in line at the bank. Banks are computerized but for some reason transactions take a long time. Paying your utility bills can take just as long. Traffic in downtown
Montego Bay creeps along at a snail’s pace. Cars and trucks parked illegally, taxis let fares out in the middle of the road, potholes make a two lane road one lane, and pedestrians cross the street whenever and wherever they choose. Lines at gas stations often extend onto the street because of the few gas stations in and around town.

Another daily occurrence is the countless number of higglers(vendors) selling everything imaginable from phone cards to loaves of bread to shoes. Every available spot on the main streets, side roads, and alleys of the town are filled with these “entrepreneurs.” With so many of them, it is hard to imagine how they all make a living. If that wasn’t bad enough, every major intersection with traffic signals has men and women selling boxes of doughnuts, newspapers, water, and even beer. Along with them is the “walking department store” man. He sells steering wheel covers, car deodorizers, dust pans and brush, chewing gum, car cell phone chargers, and many other diverse items. Mixed in with them are beggars looking for spare change and the
windshield washing man who rarely takes no for an answer.

Did you ever wonder where the Aruba commercial got the “toot of the angry horn?” It must be from Jamaica! Horns are honking all the time. If you are the first car at a traffic signal that turns green, several drivers will let you know it has changed. It doesn’t matter if you take off immediately or not. All the other horn blowing
comes under a few categories. The taxis honk at anyone standing still facing the street. They are all potential fares. Then there is that “angry” horn. He is the one who wonders what you are doing on his road slowing him down. Lastly everyone else has to say hello to everyone they know. Believe me, they know everyone! The hard
part is trying to figure out if the honk is for you, the car in front of you, or the one behind. It isn’t unusual for two passing friends to stop in the middle of the road to say, “Wha’ gwaan?”(What’s going on?)

You may read all this and say, “How can anyone live like that?” It is easy, my friend, it didn’t take long to adjust to this Third World culture. I have to admit, if I experienced these things in Boston, MA, I would be stressed to the limit. In Jamaica, it is just a way of life. No problem, mon!

About the author

John Casey