Tourism, defined is “the practice of traveling for recreation or culture”.
The other side of tourism, as referred to herein, is when the objective observer (namely myself) whilst traveling to Jamaica, for recreation, saw tourism in a different light — a blatant form of pandering at the expense of the integrity of ones’ own people.
I had visited Jamaica on two prior occasions. The initial time was 20 years ago. I was meeting my biological father for the first time, and my extended family. Evaluating Jamaica in this emotional climate was impractical, besides which, it never dawned on me to evaluate my experience there. Jamaica was fun, innovative and interesting.
The second time I visited Jamaica was while honeymooning. Once again, an emotional time. I was in love, and one expects to be catered to while honeymooning in an expensive hotel – everything seems ‘perfect’ when one is in love, especially when celebrating such an auspicious occasion.
My most recent journey to Jamaica, however, was different because I went alone, and spent most of my time alone throughout the duration of my visit. It is this vacation that inspired this short story. I believe, as a result of this visit, I ‘saw’ Jamaica for the first time.
I traveled, as a tourist, in that I booked into a hotel. I did not want to feel like an encumbrance to my relatives and perhaps, more to the truth, I wanted ultimate freedom. However, I was not treated like a tourist, maybe because of my colour, or maybe because of the way I was dressed, which, for the most part, was mediocre.
I do have a Jamaican dialect (when I am ready) and I used it sometimes hoping not to be exploited as a tourist, but I found that when I used it, I was either ignored or treated shabbily.
Spending two weeks in Jamaica was an exhilarating and enlightening experience that I wanted to share with others.
I am a 41-year-old black woman, born in London, England of Jamaican parents. Until about five years ago I resided in London where I was raised, educated and where I received my working experience. I now work for the United Nations Population Fund, at their Headquarters Office in New York, in an official capacity.
I would like to add that it is not my intention to demean or demoralize the island or its/my people, but to accurately detail how the experience affected me.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Retaliation, spite, spontaneity, impetuosity… Call it whatever you will, but I decided to go to Jamaica alone and I would not repeat the experience. The faces of the local people told me that it was not proper, a single woman on the loose — what could she possibly want, except our men, our husbands??
My two sisters and I had planned a vacation in Florida, so I had reserved my vacation days to accommodate this, however, at the last minute they both changed their minds for different reasons. They started to make proposals for alternative places to spend a holiday, nothing definite, just: “I was thinking of going to… or maybe we’ll end up at… I’ve never been to… we have to find somewhere to go”… suggestions and ideas only, nothing conclusive.
This was not the kind of holiday I had been planning for. I had been so excited; I had never been to Florida before, and I would be vacationing with women, women after my own heart. I had been looking forward to this for weeks, and then, as I was trying to confirm dates and meeting places, I sensed indecision and abandonment. So, as usual, if I wanted something to go as planned, I had to organize it myself. I didn’t really want to go by myself, but my peers were unreliable, and experience had shown me that to have company would only impose limitations, whether real or implied. I reserved a package deal (no food or tours included) just hotel room, flight and transportation to and from the airport — two weeks in Montego Bay for US$1300.
The flight was smooth. Contrary to what they show in the movies, the femme fatale was not being wooed by a super-looking stud. The man who sat beside me had a face as red as a tomato and continually apologized for belching. I accepted the blue flannel-type blanket with the compliments of American Airlines and covered my head with it attempting to minimize the discomfort, but to no avail… intrepidity seeped persistently into my ears.
The plane arrived on schedule in Miami, and the transfer to the connecting plane was straightforward.
JAMAICA, A NEW CULTURE
I had an early flight arriving in Jamaica about lunchtime.
“Taxi, miss — Taxi, ma’am — Hey, miss, you waan a taxi?” distorted mouths and expressions, moulded in black shiny faces, spouted from all directions, competing against each other for a fare. Outstretched palms, ready to snatch reluctant suitcases from rivals. I followed my nose, which didn’t have any sense of direction and sighed with relief on seeing ‘Tourline’, the agency responsible for transporting me to the hotel.
I took out my transportation ticket and waited (there was one person in front of me). He left shortly afterwards. I tarried patiently while the representatives engaged themselves in unofficial chatter and unbefitting bouts of laughter. Intermittently, I glanced at my watch trying to draw their attention to the fact that I required attention. After about 10 minutes they asked for the vacation documents, and instructed me to fill out a couple of forms.
“Wait, right here… someone in a blue suit will soon come tek yu to de ‘otel”.
I lingered. Twenty minutes passed. I crouched uncomfortably on my hand luggage and then stood up displaying my presence and agitation with tacit composure. I saw plenty of men attired in blue suits; so, desperately seeking acknowledgement from the agents as to whether any of them could be my driver, I strained in their direction. Involved in indecorous liaison, they ignored me.
I approached the desk:
“How long do I have to wait?”
“Im soon come, im soon come”
“Never see come see” I mumbled under my breath.
After about ten minutes I heard:
“See im deh” she shouted jubilantly, pointing to a man in a brown overall. (I don’t know how she managed to see him anyway since her back was turned — must have been the smell of perspiration he blamelessly exuded).
“But I thought you said my driver would be wearing a blue suit?”
“It don’t matter, a yu driver dis”
I stood there puzzled. I stretched my neck out to see if there were any identifying marks on the vehicle… “Line-tours” was sign-posted on the side of the van. I shrugged my shoulders, picked up my hand luggage and walked towards the bus.
“Me a come wid you..” she said beaming (as though I was desperate for her company) I didn’t answer. “…Me haf fe talk to you. Mek sure yu meet me in the lobby at 4 o’clock, o.k.? It is very important”.
I always had reservations about people who wanted to talk about something ‘later’ when the opportunity presented itself immediately, an automatically created an atmosphere of foreboding.
She bungled herself in the front seat and I kept a suspicious eye on my luggage.
“No-one else for this hotel?” I asked wondering if it was indicative of tyranny.
“No, not until tomarrow” she replied, curbing her lingo.
I kept silent and looked out of the window.
“It’s only five minutes fram de airport”, she offered, as if, after waiting so long it really mattered. I don’t know why I was so aggressive… well I do know. They seemed to have no sense of commitment or obligation — it was their nonchalance… their total disrespect for time and inattention to details.
My eyes peeled the window of the bus… dusky hills in the background; large stretches of land; bulls grazing; a young boy walking barefoot, a man riding a scooter, two youths conversing, (it was a man’s world).
We stopped. I was ready to get out when she told me: “Is me one a get off here you know… you still ‘ave a little way to go”.
She had previously told me that she was accompanying me (implying that she was procuring my safe arrival to the hotel) when it was just an excuse to use the transportation I had paid for to get a lift to her office.
I reseated myself
“Don’t feget… 4.o’clock!” she repeated with warped rhetoric.
What was this 4.o’clock business? I just wanted to go into the hotel and lie down. The whole point of me leaving America to come to Jamaica was that I didn’t want to be bothered with time… I wanted to do things at my own pace… now she was inflicting restrictions, and I was allowing her to do so. 4 o’clock! The way I felt, she could wait in the lobby all night for all cared. It was 2.15 in the afternoon. Almost two and a half hours to get to a hotel five minutes away!
Part 2 will be published next month….