What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Guinea Bissau?
Interviews

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Guinea Bissau?

Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Guinea Bissa? On our “Jamaicans to the World” Facebook Live show, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy spoke with Claudette Duncans. She is a Jamaican living in Guinea Bissau.

Xavier: What is it like being Jamaican in Guinea Bissau? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaicans.com. Today in ‘Jamaicans to the world’, I talk to Claudette Duncan who is in Guinea Bissau. Welcome, Claudette.

Claudette: Thank you, Xavier. Thanks for having me.

Xavier: So, which paat (part) a Jamaica yuh (you) come from?

Claudette: I’m from Melba District, Leeds in St. Elizabeth. That is exactly three miles from Santa Cruz and three miles from Malvern. I’m smack in di (the) middle between Santa Cruz and Malvern.

Xavier: Let me tell yuh (you), I went to St. Elizabeth some years ago and I went down to Treasure Beach. It was such a journe, quite a journey from Kingston.

Claudette: Yes, it’s a long way from Kingston.

Xavier: Oh indeed. How long have you lived there?

Claudette: In Guinea Bissau, I’ve been in Guinea Bissau for four years and eight months now.

Xavier: Man, that’s a — You’re in. You’re definitely been there for a while.

Claudette: Yes. I’ve been traveling Africa.

Xavier: Okay. For folks who don’t know, where is Guinea Bissau?

Claudette: Well Guinea Bissau is in West Africa. It borders Senegal, Mali, and Guinea.

Xavier: Okay, yes. I think we have heard of Guinea. When I first heard of Guinea Bissau I was thinking, I wonder if Guinea changed its name or something. I kept thinking — You know, I mentioned it to my wife and I seh (said), “You know I’m interviewing a young lady from Guinea Bissau” and she’s like, “Where is that?”. I said, “You know, I think it’s a name change.”

Claudette: No, it’s always been Guinea Bissau.

Bissau, Republic of Guinea-Bissau – January 6, 2020: Street scene in the city of Bissau with people at the street market, Guinea Bissau

Xavier: What do you love about Guinea Bissau?

Claudette: Well, its’ people. Guinea Bissau have some beautiful, warm and loving people. Yes. I love the people most of all. I just love them. They are beautiful also. Very beautiful black people.

Xavier: Is it not only the outward but is it inward?

Claudette: Yes.

Xavier: Good. The next question is this, what do you like the least about Guinea Bissau?

Claudette: The underdevelopment in the country.

Xavier: Are you in the countryside or are you in the main city?

Claudette: I’m in the main city, Bissau.

Xavier: But the country you say is underdeveloped.

Bissau, Republic of Guinea-Bissau – February 5, 2018: Street scene in the city of Bissau with people walking along a street at the Chao de Papel neighbourhood, in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa

Claudette: Yes, totally.

Xavier: Is the city a busy city, a big city, a lot of traffic or is the Capital a small city?

Claudette: It’s not a big city and it’s busy. Yes, because most of the activities in Guinea Bissau is in Bissau, in the city.

Xavier: Are people moving from the country side into the city? A lot of people trying to get out of the city now and develop in the country side?

Claudette: No. Most people are in Bissau and most people want to be in Bissau because that’s where all the activities are.

Xavier: Next question to you is this. The people, there, when they find out or someone finds out that you are Jamaican, what is typically the reaction, and what are some of the questions they ask when I find out that you’re from Jamaica?

Claudette: They are so excited to know that I’m from Jamaica. Because I don’t think Jamaicans really know how they are respected abroad, and the locks. They think everybody in Jamaica wears dreadlocks. They want me to cut it. Mine was very long and they keep asking me to cut it and give it to them.

Xavier: What about the music? Do they know the Jamaican music?

Claudette: Wow! They love it. Especially Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

Xavier: Yes. It is a trend or I should say– Every time I talk to, Africans or people from the continent of Africa, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. They know Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. They know the music, know the lyrics, because they take it as their own. I mean, they love it. They love it.

Claudette: Yes.

Gabu Region, Republic of Guinea-Bissau – February 7, 2018: Group of women dancing at a community meeting in the village of Mandina Mandinga in the Gabu Region, Guinea Bissau

Xavier: The people itself, you know, you said they’re beautiful, they’re nice inside and outside. Tell me the typical thing that if you would seh (say), I’m comparing them to my Jamaican people, what would you say is similar?

Claudette: Actually, this warmth and di (the) love. Yes and the interest, because when I was growing up in Jamaica, I keep talking about it. The love and how people show interest in you. This is what I see in those people and even, I took a photograph with a young man from Jamaica. The reason why — I didn’t know him from Adam but when I looked at him, he looked as if someone who I left in Bissau. I had to take a photograph with him and take it back with me to Bissau to let the Bissau Guineans see how we are similar.

Xavier: In terms of the interest it sounds like, because I know this, when you in the countryside in Jamaica, when Ms. B or Ms. P or Mas Dan or whoever stops by him going sit and take an interest in hearing your story and what you have to say.

Claudette: Yes.

Xavier: It’s like the people are similar that way where they are going stop and have a conversation with you to understand exactly what’s going on in your life at that time.

Claudette: Yes. Just as that. Yes. They are very interested in you and if you are their neighbor, they look out fa yu (for you). They are such kind people. I just love them.

Xavier: My next question is this one. What’s the biggest adjustment you had to make when you move there?

Claudette: The food.

Xavier: What about the food?

Claudette: Yes. I could hardly find the food that I’m used to, especially yam. Because Bissau Guineans, different from the other countries in West Africa where you can get yam. In Bissau, you only have some small purple color yam. I think in Jamaica those yam, we call them Synvinson (St. Vincent) Yam. But those in Bissau, they are very small.

Xavier: Yu (you) find any yellow yam?

Claudette: No. I also think why this is a challenge because it still is, is because of the underdevelopment of Bissau. Because when I need things, I can drive to Gambia. I will drive to Gambia to get things that I’m used to in Jamaica.

Xavier: How far is Gambia?

Claudette: Gambia is around 450 kilometers from us.

Lovely green trees at the beach at Jackson Bay in Jamaica

Xavier: Okay. That doesn’t sound like a bad trip. My next question to you is this, what food from Guinea Bissau that you like?

Claudette: I like– They have a Lemon Chicken. A chicken that is cooked in lemon sauce. I love that.

Xavier: What food from Jamaica do you miss the most?

Claudette: I miss Jerk Pork and Chicken

Xavier: You don’t get any of the jerk seasonings in Gambia?

Claudette: No. I have to take that with me.

Xavier: When you head to Jamaica you pack that bag.

Claudette: Yes.

Xavier: When you come off the plane, when you head to Jamaica and you get off the plane, what’s the first thing you go for?

Claudette: When I come off the plane the first thing I go for in Bissau, is Roast Fish.

Xavier: Okay. When you come off the plane in Jamaica, is it the Jerk Chicken the first thing you go for when you get off the plane in Jamaica?

Claudette: Jerk Chicken or a Patty.

Xavier: I see.

Claudette: Juicy Patty.

Xavier: Which Patty?

Claudette: Juicy Patty.

Xavier: Juicy. All right. You’re claiming the stake, Juicy is the best for you.

Claudette: Yes man.

Xavier: I know you said the country is underdeveloped, but there must be some interesting sites. It could be even simple you know, I was talking to another lady and she was saying, just the beautiful sunset in the country she’s in. Is there something, an attraction or a place or something that you find very interesting and if I was to travel there or anyone was to travel there, you’d say, “You have to see this or you must experience this if I come there”

Claudette: Yes. You would have to go to Bubaque Island.

Xavier: What is Bubaque Island?

Claudette: Guinea Bissau have several islands, about eighty of them. They have hotels. There are resorts, many resorts there. A funny thing, many of them are not even owned by Bissau Guineans. Yes, Senegalese and Portuguese people. Even Americans own resorts in Bubaque Island.

Xavier: Are there beautiful beaches there?

Claudette: Very beautiful and lots of fish in Bissau.

Xavier: I going haffi (have to) try that roast fish if I come over that side because your face lit up when you said, ‘When I get off, a have to get my roast fish.’

Claudette: Yes.

Xavier: What’s the language? What’s the language they speak?

Claudette: It’s Portuguese. Portuguese is the official language. However, 95% of Bissau Guineans do not speak or read Portuguese. They speak and read Portuguese Creole.

Group of children playing by the beach in the island of Orango at sunset, in Guinea Bissau; Orango is part of the Bijagos Archipelago.

Xavier: That’s interesting. So, Portuguese Creole is what now? Is it-

Claudette: It’s a broken language from Portuguese.

Xavier: They understand Portuguese. Does the people from Portuguese understand them?

Claudette: Yes. People from Portugal understands them when they speak Portuguese Creole. But as I say 95% of Bissau Guineans do not read or understand Portuguese.

Xavier: Is there any discussion to make this maybe an official language?

Claudette: I think so. But the government doesn’t budge. I don’t know why. It would be good if they could do that.

Xavier: Yes. Sounds very similar with the battle between us and our language. I call it a language, Patois.

Claudette: Yes man. Just like Patois. Of course, Patois should be an official language in Jamaica.

Xavier: Yes. I agree. I know they’re some people that may comment and say they disagree, but I’m there 100%. Another discussion, another day with some linguist. A gwaan haffi (going have to) do that one.

Claudette: Yes. And Portuguese Creole is very user-friendly. I prefer it to Portuguese.

Xavier: So, it sounds like you learn a little bit.

Claudette: Yes, I have learned some.

Xavier: Give me a term, a popular term, you know like how we say, ‘Everything criss and curry” (Everything is great) or ‘Irie’ (okay) or soon come’ or whatever. Give me a popular term that they like to use.

Claudette: In Portuguese Creole, if I said—Everybady (everybody) will pass yuh (you) and said, ‘I kuma’.

Xavier: And what dat (that) mean?

Claudette: ‘How are you.’

Xavier: I kuma.

Claudette: Yes. It’s just I – I is one word. That is I’ and then k-u-m-a.

Xavier: I kuma.

Claudette: I kuma.

Xavier: All right.

Claudette: Then you would say, if yuh sey (you say) I’m good? ‘Stabem’

Xavier: ‘Stabem’

Claudette: Yes.

Xavier: Okay. Learning a little language today. I’m winding down, but my other question to you is this one. What do you miss the most about Jamaica?

Claudette: My family, of course. I miss my family and close friends and I miss the food.

Xavier: I hear that a lot. Wi gwaan haffi get yuh (we are going to have to get you) some jerk season and some jerk chicken, you know, because yes, I hear that a lot. People missing the food.

Claudette: Yes man. I’m just coming from Jamaica and I stock up. Anytime I go there I stock up.

Xavier: Let me ask you this, suh (so), Gambia, they don’t have like yuh (your) Curry. They don’t have any of dem (those) sawta (sort of) things that you know. I know Curry is different. Maybe they do the Indian Curry, but do they have any Jamaican products in Gambia?

Claudette: No, but yuh (you) get things close to what — Because Gambia is close to the United Kingdom. You will get things that are similar to what we buy in Jamaica. Yes but like the Jerk seasoning and all of that, even the coconut oil, no. Is only food like yam. The yam now I have to go to Gambia to buy yam.

Xavier: My last question is this. If a Jamaican was thinking of moving to Guinea Bissau, what would be the one piece of advice you’d give to them?

Claudette: I would just advise them to just be yourselves.

Xavier: Be yourself?

Claudette: Yes, and you know, you’ll have to move with your jerk sauce and your seasoning. Yes. Yuh (you) have to move wid (with) that.

Xavier: Thank you very much for joining us and giving us some insight on Guinea Bissau and maybe one of these days I’ll get the pronunciation right. Because I know I butchered that last part of it every time. Any closing thoughts? Any closing words?

Claudette: Well, for me, as I was saying to my daughter, if I went to Africa when I had only one child, when I was much younger, I would not go back to Jamaica. I would take my one child and we would move to Africa. Because I went to Africa later in life, I miss family so much and I cannot take them all of them with me so I will settle with Jamaica. But Africa, every Jamaican, I wish they should go to Africa. Yes, it’s such a great experience.

Xavier: Good words here. Every Jamaican should make the opportunity to come to Africa.

Claudette: Yes.

Xavier: Thanks again for joining us. Blessings to you and your family, and we will definitely stay in touch. People, she need har (her) seasonings. So please get her har (her) jerk seasoning. And she wants har (her), what patty was it now?

Claudette: Juicy Patty.

Xavier: She want har (her) Juicy Patty.

Photo Source: DepositPhotos

About the author

Xavier Murphy