Each Caribbean country has a unique culture and language. In Aruba, for example, the native Arubans speak their native language of Papiamento, in addition to English, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. In Jamaica, the predominant language is English, but there is a slang version of English which is spoken that the native Jamaicans call their own language.
For my interviews, I chose to speak with several Jamaicans that have families in Jamaica, but who work in America in order to earn money and support their families back home. The first person that I interviewed is a nanny for one of my friend’s families. Her name is Pam. My first observation about Pam was her eyes. She squinted a lot and one eye seemed to be blood shot all the time. I asked her about that and she told me that eye doctors in Jamaica demand a fortune for care and that she would rather send her money back to her family then “selfishly” (yes, she really said that!) use the earned money on her eyes.
Pam told me about her life in Jamaica. She has two children from the same father, who she never married. Her son’s name is “Bunny” and her daughter’s name is “Tash” which she said was short for “Tatiana”. Bunny is twenty years old and Tash is sixteen and in two years will be finished with school and will have to start earning a living. Bunny works for a construction company in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, and, earns the equivalent of one hundred dollars USD) a week. By Jamaican standards, Bunny is doing very well. Both Bunny and Tash live with Pam’s mother in her house. I asked her about the house and she said that it was a two bedroom, single level house with no yard and a “gate” in front of it. She said that the gate was used to keep unwanted thieves and thugs away from the home.
Pam told me that she wires money home every week for her mother and children and every six months or so packs a barrel with food essentials to ship home. I asked her about the contents of the barrel and she told me that she puts in mostly canned foods and that the two most beloved canned food items are corned beef and Vienna sausages. In addition, she includes items that Tash and Bunny have asked for. Bunny loves his Nike shoes and Tash really likes slacks and tops from Old Navy. She told me she would love to be able to include perishable items like fresh vegetables, fruits and meats, but that they would spoil before reaching her family. Chicken, if available in the market in Kingston, which is “never”, she said, would cost the equivalent of fifty USD and nobody can afford that.
The revelation about chicken struck me as odd, so I asked her about the type of food they eat instead. She told me that fish was plentiful and therefore, when meat was served at a meal that it was usually some kind of fish, with parrot fish being a favorite. She said that if they saved for a while, they could afford to buy ox tails and from them, they would make an ox tail stew and enjoy the marrow from the bone. Potatoes were also plentiful, and she called them “Irish”. Evidently, this is the Jamaican word for potatoes. I chuckled about that and told her to tell me more names of foods that she enjoyed eating. “We love to eat bush, rice with peas and dumplings”, she answered. I was intrigued! Bush is any type of green, including lettuce. Rice with peas is white rice made with coconut milk, spices and kidney beans. Dumplings are simply flour and water boiled to the proper consistency.
Wondering if it might be cliché to ask her about Reggae, I wanted to know if she and other Jamaicans enjoyed this type of music. I heard a resounding “Yeah man!” from her when I asked. She told me that Beenie Man and Shabba Ranks were two of her favorites. Then she told me a very funny story about running into Sean Paul at the airport. She said that he was as high as a kite and was acting like a fool. “Jamaican man love his ganja” she said, looking down. Then she looked back up at me, suddenly seeming somber and said: “Bunny and Tash dad, he love his ganja too. And he love his rum too. He’s a rumhead like dem rest in Jamaica”. I understood a lot from that one phrase. It was the look on her face and the sadness in her eyes that really touched me.
The second person that I interviewed was Pam’s aunt, Laureline, who was visiting the family at the time so that Pam could show her how she cared for the children and did the housekeeping. They seemed to have a great system that they worked out together whereby Pam would be able to go home to Kingston for a couple of months, while Laureline came as a visitor to manage Pam’s duties and household responsibilities. Pam was so excited about going home for a couple of months for some much needed relaxation. I needed to know how much time she actually spent at the beach during her free time. She told me that she was terrified of the ocean, and therefore didn’t swim! She also said that the sun was too hot and that she burned easily, and so, if she ever did go to the beach, it would have to be after four, when the sun was not as blistering. I was blown away that native Jamaicans had some of the best beaches in the world, but didn’t take advantage of that! And we pay small fortunes for the pleasure of going there for a week!!!
After introducing me to Laureline, Pam helped herself to a bowl of bing cherry ice cream. She told me that ice cream was something that they simply didn’t have in Jamaica and that she wanted to get her fill before leaving to go home. I could see that Pam and her aunt had a close relationship and they were speaking to each other in a language that I couldn’t understand. Every once in a while I did catch a phrase or word that sounded like English, but, I presumed that they were speaking Jamaican. It was Laurleine who told me that they were speaking Jamaican, yes, and that the language was called “Patois” ("What is Patois").
Laureline asked me if I had ever seriously listened to any Reggae music, because if I did, then I would have heard Patois in the songs. There was a CD player nearby and Pam reached over and pushed play. The song that started playing was “Who am I” by Beenie Man. From the first couple of words, I could tell that this was a whole different way of speaking and I was having a hard time keeping up with what Beenie Man was singing. Once again, I caught a few words here and there, but I missed the intended meaning of this song. I loved the beat, as did they, but the words were those from a foreign language.
Such is the life of two Jamaicans who have come to America in a n effort to have employment opportunities because their country offers them no such ability. Socially, Jamaica is characterized by high unemployment, low self esteem and children being raised by their grand parents who often are not able to offer much by way of direct supervision ("Issues of Concern in the Jamaican Society: A Literature Review").
"Catch GR8 Travel Tips." . N.p.. Web. 5 Apr 2014.
"What is Patois." Visit Jamaica. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Apr 2014.
"Issues of Concern in the Jamaican Society: A Literature Review." . Hope Enterprises, n.d. Web. 6 Apr 2014.