Saturday, June 02, 2012

Jamaica Travelogue Part One: Yet I am who I am

Like many others on this trip, I came to Jamaica, fully-wound, stressed and concussed. But being the explorer that I am, I also came with an obscure list of things that I would never be able do in New York. Once we hopped off the plane, I was on the lookout for coconut trees to climb, cliffs to jump off and locals to chat with about politics.

We arrived at the Club Riu Negril Resort and were swiftly welcomed by a light breeze in the form of a collective exhale radiating from the place. Already half-drunk from the yellowbird drinks we were given while in line, we were greeted by Rochelle, who with her calming voice and endless smiles, paralyzed my memory, as I forgot the first half of my day. I involuntarily tested her with my ‘but what if’ rebuttals but was cooled off by the soft words “You’re in Jamaica. No problem.” At that point, all worry had evaporated into space.

I could have left my bags at the lobby, where a bellhop would take them to my room, but I was too impatient to wait for the real day to begin. I threw everything over my shoulder and sprinted to my room to simply dump it on a bed and head to the watersports hut.

I met Sheldon, one of the sailing instructors, and I began my plea to get the biggest windsurf sail and the smallest board available. I wanted to go fast and although I didn’t see a strong wind that would support my plans, I had to believe it was coming. After some smooth talking on my part, I was able to convince Sheldon to get me a 4.5 square meter sail (still too small) and a hi-fly magnum board (still too big and heavy) ready for the next morning. I walked out of the watersports area rubbing my palms together and licking my salted lips. I hadn’t windsurfed in over a year. My time to fly was so close.

Later, I met up with friends at the main dining room for dinner, when excerpts from “A small place” started to trickle in my ear.

“When you sit down to your delicious meal, it’s better you don’t know that most of what you are eating came off a plane from Miami. And before it got on a plane from Miami, who knows where it came from?”

I fell in love with ackee and saltfish. I spent the next week eating all the different dishes in the seafood buffet: red snapper, tilapia, steamed cod, and other fresh dishes that even if shipped from Miami could only taste as good as the chef makes it.

I passed up the buffet of buttered cakes and sweetened puddings—a miracle in many ways. I was drawn to the fruit table. Aside from the usual tropical drink ingredients, the mangoes, bananas and pineapples; there were fruits I had never seen before. Fruits that I assumed got lost in the floods under Noah’s ark. The starapples were an initial favorite and the easiest to eat—sweet and mushy with the texture of a dented pear. It wasn’t until someone from the waitstaff showed us how to eat a jackfruit that I truly appreciated it’s sticky yellow goodness. I guess I never really gave the white pineapple a fair shot, since none of us could figure out how to eat it. Imagine a tougher, stringier pineapple, where the juices and meat are nearly impossible to retrieve, but the taste is just good enough to want to figure it out. What a tease!

The first day of vacation, where everything is new, yet you still can’t erase from your mind that yesterday was less fun. There’s nothing better than today except tomorrow. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Jamaica Prologue-- "I am an ugly human being."

Several years ago, I saw Life and Debt, a documentary about Jamaica and it’s struggle with capitalism and poverty. In an effort to maintain it’s independence, the Jamaican government made a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to borrow money with a high interest rate with the additional stipulation of expanding their exports, so local farmers would be competing globally, which they weren’t capable of doing—globalization.

The film shed a dim light on tourism, taking quotes from Jamaica Kincaid’s essay “A small place” which penned US tourists as gluttonous and “incredibly unattractive, fat, pastry-like fleshed” beings, completely ignorant to the problems taking place outside the resort gates.

As a kid, barely out of college, this film was my first exposure to the complexity of economic problems, and the US government’s willingness to compromise the livelihood of others out of capital gain. (The US and Europe make up 80% of the IMF vote.)

I felt so angry at my country for continuing to have a major role in stealing others’ freedoms, and I was uncomfortable in my pastry-like skin, ashamed of the little money I had, and unworthy of my passport and my belongings: for whatever I had won along this life journey had been at the expense of others. Who was I to own it?

This feeling brought me back to the day I realized that life isn’t fair. The little league wouldn’t let me play, because I wasn’t a boy, and my parents couldn't fix it. It just was. But now, the feeling was much deeper and carried more layers. This wound didn’t heal over by throwing my mitt in the dirt and having a good cry. I felt responsible yet hopeless.

Time had gone by, and although the passion faded when others surfaced, I still carried this wound in my heart.

When asked if I would consider traveling to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica for a destination wedding, I was thrilled to explore a new place, meet new people that I would otherwise never meet, but I feared morphing into what I’ve come to learn what every US tourist is, “an ugly human being.”