Left Jamaica this morning. Bittersweet Goodbye. So much of the experience of the place and people was so wonderful. And some parts were incredibly challenging.
The Caribbean Sea is exquisite. Getting in it everyday, usually two or three times a day, was such a gift. The minute I enter that water, everything in me feels so calm, happy, and perfect. It is some of the best medicine I have ever experienced. When I am in that water, I feel home.
The lush jungle in Portland Parish, where I spent most of my time, is a cornucopia of colors, sounds, flavors, and feelings. Crystal clear waterfalls, every shade of green imaginable, vines growing around trees filled with birds chirping and singing, flowers of bright yellows, oranges, and reds. Papayas, bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, and ackee—my new favorite fruit—although it is used for savory not sweet. This place is truly beautiful in so many respects—a piece of Heaven on Earth.
As for the people, in Jamaica, like everywhere, there is such a mix. It was interesting learning the culture of Jamaican people, and then getting to see the variances within those cultural dynamics. The joy, humor, and vibrancy of many of the people, even in the most challenging of situations are truly a delight to experience. Not to mention that I saw more absolutely physically beautiful people in one town than I usually do in a huge city, 10 times or more its size.
I had to be extra mindful because more than once I realized I was staring at someone, completely enthralled with their beauty. My experience was this made people either uncomfortable or they saw it as my coming on to them and then tried to “link up”—Jamaican term for actually connecting with or meeting up with someone about anything, but often used to reference sexual hook-ups.
The biggest challenge in Jamaica for me was around having huge problems with my lungs from dust, smoke, and pollution. It is ironic that I had such problems with my lungs because one of my biggest reasons for wanting to move to the tropics is that normally, my lung problems, which I experience all too frequently in my life, disappear when I am in the tropics near the sea or ocean. But this trip, my lungs got worse, not better.
Another challenge for me is the extreme religious fundamentalism that pervades every part of Jamaican society, accompanied with the usual huge hypocrisy that goes along with the rigidity of religions worldwide.
As many people know, I am not a huge fan of religions in general, although I am deeply Spiritual, and do my best to honor the Spirit that is within all the different religious traditions. My issues with most religions is that they don’t recognize that they are not “THE TRUTH,” but rather are a tradition passed down from previous generations of the “truths” of that time. This does not negate the truth that does exist in every religion I have studied or explored because, of course, there is wisdom and inspiration in them all.
It is just the belief that certain religions own the rights on what “TRUTH” must mean for everyone, everywhere, forever that makes me sick, hurt, and sometimes angry. And add to that, the fact the world’s most known and recognized religions are based on a male, patriarchal system and God (except for Hinduism and Buddhism that also have female deities—even though they too are still male deity dominated), what little interest I had in the tradition to begin with, pretty much disappears. I am interested in truth and learning from anywhere and everywhere, it just gets hard when it is always told from the male perspective and delivered by men and saying that the Higher Power is male.
As a woman, I challenge this belief system frequently, and have since I was young which was problematic considering my father is a preacher and my mother is an intense adherent to her beliefs around Christianity—regardless of how I expressed that I experienced her religious intensity as negative and even abusive. I am constantly amazed at how few women challenge the patriarchal religious systems, and how many women embrace lower status in societies directly related to religious beliefs. Somehow, many women, all over the world, have embraced a subservient standard by accepting and supporting and adhering to belief systems that link men and male energy to power and to the Divine so that a woman’s place is always as the servant to that male-dominated system.
In Jamaica, religious beliefs are fierce. And they are prevalent, and they are proselytized. And many people are homophobic to the extreme. And meanwhile, from what I could tell from my time there, most families are made up of many children, none or few who share the same father and sadly, all too frequently, no father present at all in their lives. And it is a common, accepted practice that men cheat on their girlfriends and wives with regularity. And then say, “Praise Jah” or quote scripture when it is convenient to back up some narrow-mined belief. Women are seen as something to be used for sex and producing children—and many of the women seem to feed right into this belief. The status symbol of the man’s virility is how many kids he has—even though too many do absolutely nothing for their children once they are born.
I am not trying to say these beliefs and behaviors are true for everyone, of course. But they are prevalent and pervasive—enough to really stand out. And it makes my heart sad.
As for trash and waste, much of it is burned causing massive amounts of pollution—hence my lung problems. What isn’t burnt is often thrown on the ground and in the streams. Jamaica exports its trash to I am not sure where, shipping it out on barges, and meanwhile, the only thing it recycles is plastic bottles and doesn’t do a very good job of that.
And of course, there is the huge discrepancy between the haves and have-nots. Individuals and businesses in the tourism industry are making millions while workers building the hotels and resorts and working at them live in shacks. All of this is supported by a corrupt government—as many governments are wont to be (including the US government and the Obama administration. )
And, really, what much of the aforementioned challenges point to is how numerous threads of similarity run through so many places that I have been, and experiences I have had. Everywhere, there is beauty and devastation close by. Everywhere, there is profound power of the human spirit to rise above the most intense problems with laughter and love, and yet its close neighbor is the ability of the human being to be manipulative, exploitative, violent, and cruel. The dance of duality is part of the human experience. It is part of my journey in this lifetime to try to find a way to dance this dance with grace, compassion, love, and at the same time, my fierce commitment to integrity and not shying away from calling out injustice and unhealthy choices wherever I see them.
I say goodbye to Jamaica and head out on tour across the US. I am still in search of home in the Caribbean—a place within walking distance of the sea (preferably right next to the sea) where I can also grow food and have my own place with kitchen, and add to that very cheap rent or the ability to barter for rent. Where are my ruby, red slippers? If you find them, will you let me know?