My Eight Years In Jamaica by American Retiree in Jamaica

Before I begin let me give you a little background.  My wife and I honeymooned at the then Sandals Inn in 1994.  I fell in love with Jamaica right from the beginning.  The love grew deeper and deeper each time I came back.  At the same time, I also knew I was approaching the age of retirement and had to start making plans.  By the year 2000 that desire to retire to Jamaica was overwhelming.  With the help of a few of the Sandals staff, we found several real estate agents to show us properties, a lawyer to handle the sale, and a custom broker to assist with the move.  Just about every house we saw had helper’s quarters for either the maid or the gardener to live in.  We didn’t find it necessary to hire help for the house or the yard which left few homes to choose from.  The first home we liked and put a deposit on didn’t work out because the owners decided not to sell after all.  This turned out good for us as we found a house that we liked better and was actually in a better area. 

Now that the house was all set, the next thing to do was to start the moving process.  We packed two twenty foot containers with everything we owned.  And off we went to Jamaica to meet up with our goods and to start enjoying our retirement years.  Well, it wasn’t as easy as I thought.  Unknown to us our containers were delayed because of miscommunication within the shipping company.  No problem!  We had booked Sandals for a week figuring it would take that long to get settled in the new house.  Because of the delay we extended our stay for two more weeks.  If I had to get stranded somewhere in Jamaica, Sandals would be the best place.

When our goods finally arrived, customs advised us to go to immigrations in Kingston to prove that we were actually going to live here.  The next day we flew to Kingston to straighten out our difficulties.  When we left immigrations in Kingston to catch our flight back to Montego Bay, we encountered another problem.  The taxi driver asked us where we wanted to go and I said, ‘To the airport.”  For anyone familiar with Kingston they would know there are two airports but not us.  After awhile I started to wonder if we were being kidnapped because I didn’t recognize any of the places we were passing.  Timidly, I asked the driver where we were going.  When he said the airport I said, “I didn’t remember coming this way before.”  He then asked where we were flying to and he got a little upset when I told him Montego Bay.  By this time we were half way to Norman Manley airport when we should have been going to Tinson Pen which is on the other side of town.  When he dropped us off at the correct airport I made him happy by giving him a big tip.  I’m sure he now questions his passengers before going to the airport.

During that trip to immigrations they informed us that we needed to go back to the Jamaican Consulate in Boston to obtain a single entry visa.  This wasn’t too much of a problem as we intended to head back to Boston for a week shortly after moving to Jamaica anyway to tie up loose ends.  When we arrived back with the visa, immigrations would only allow us two weeks to go to Kingston to apply for permanent residency.  We hired a driver to take us to Kingston to begin the process for becoming permanent residents.  Immigrations gave us a list of requirements and an explanation for the process.  Each year we were required to return to immigrations for our yearly renewal and get a multi-entry visa.  This had to be done yearly until permanent residency was obtained.

We finally moved into our retirement home but it took some time for the dust to clear.  My wife had a million things to do in the house and I had almost as many projects in the yard.  The former owner had so many bushes, shrubs, and trees in the front yard it was hard to see the house through them.  One thing I found out from the beginning is if you want to get rid of anything growing you have to take it out by the roots.  Even that isn’t a guarantee it will never spring back.  When I finished all my projects I was surprised I had lost about 15 lbs.  The yard and I were now in good shape.

Getting adjusted to this new culture was made easier because we had spent a lot of time and energy exploring the island all those years before we moved here plus reading many books.  The hardest change to make was adjusting to the endless long lines wherever we went.  These lines could be found just about everywhere like the bank, utility offices, and even downtown traffic.  What amazed me back then was all the patience the Jamaican people had.  My stress level went way down in no time by following their example.  I have since learned that most of my bills can be paid online or on the phone through a service provided by several different banks.

Grocery shopping was another adjustment that took some getting used to.  Most of the grocery stores say they are wholesale and retail but that is far from my understanding of what wholesale means.  Wholesale in Jamaica means if you buy three or more of an item you get a small discount.  Another difficult area I had to overcome was the numerous out of stock of basic goods for weeks at a time.  I combat this now by keeping my pantry well stocked of things I know have a tendency to disappear from the shelves frequently.  One such item is 1 liter boxed milk which is the most popular way to buy milk.  Another product is dried prunes, no snickering please.  Prunes were recommended to me by my family doctor to help maintain my healthy heart, as well as the other well known advantage to these dried prunes. 

About a year later we decided to find a church to attend.  Before long we became directors of the church’s Mission of Mercy program.  This was and is an outreach to one of the squatter communities in town.  The church provides much needed food items to over a hundred families on a weekly basis.  Used clothing is also donated frequently.  During the Christmas season a huge party is given to the community in their courtyard where toys are distributed to all the children.  In addition to this outreach there was also a school lunch program.  Through the generosity of a local businesswoman, the church provided over 500 lunches to seven different schools in Montego Bay every Friday.  We were truly blessed in this ministry by seeing all the happy faces and hearing all the thanks and we knew that we were making a difference in the lives of those people.  An added blessing that came out of the school lunch feeding program came to us by way of one of the school’s principals.  He told us the less fortunate children often didn’t attend school on Friday because they didn’t have any money for lunch.  So these children not only got a full belly but also another day of education.  

Another school, Jamaica Christian School For The Deaf, invited us to attend a graduation ceremony one year, but we only went because we felt obligated to.  I had never been around handicapped children before and was apprehensive about attending this function.  Boy was I in for a big surprise!  During the program these deaf children signed to a song being played on a CD and later danced a complicated number to perfection.  I was totally dumbfounded.  I learned then that their school motto was, “Not disabled, but differently abled.”  That was then.  Today we are strong supporters of the school and sit on the board of directors.
Continued next month.  Later….