Monday, July 30, 2007

Just the facts. . .

At the request of my mother (and maybe some of you as well) I am going to write a bit about the country of Jamaica. I think there are many misconceptions about Jamaica coming from several different sources. The first source is the popular thought and the second would be the numbers. . . yes, the numbers. Popular thought, in my judgment, would be the tourist industry. And by the numbers I mean the "facts" that are posted about Jamaica that I've found to be unrepresentative of the truth.
Let's start with the basics. Jamaica is located about 90 miles south of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea (pronounced by the locals with the accent on the E and not the I). It is approximately 50 miles from north to south and about 80 miles from east to west. The size is slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut. The island is made up mostly of mountains with narrow coastal plains. It's amazing to see the sea on one side of you and mountains on the other nearly everyday (I don't get to see the water everyday, unfortunately). The temperature stays around the mid-90's most of the year and nightime lows I have heard never go below 70. Of course these numbers vary as you reach higher eleveations, but this is mainly true for Kingston. Blue Mountain is the highest peak in Jamaica at just over 7,400 feet and is home to the world's best coffee!! Only coffee grown over a certain elevation on Blue Mountain can legally be called "Blue Mountain Coffee". Given the terrain of the island, and the fact that there is one main road (one "lane" in each direction) over the mountains going north/south, it takes about 3 hours to travel the 50 miles from Kingston on the south coast to Ocho Rios on the north coast. Driving is an adventure (please refer to my last blog) but one rarely get's over 40mph and in Kingston (referred to on the island as "town") it's difficult to even get over 25mph most of the time with traffic and pot holes big enough to swallow a child.
Jamaica was "discovered" by Columbus and started as a Spanish settlement (I'm not going to try to find dates and put them in because I'm not a history buff ) but was later taken over by the British. Jamaica just recently got it's independence from Britain in 1962, which makes it a relatively young country.
Kingston, the capital, is the largest English speaking city south of Miami (anyone who's ever been to Miami and/or the Miami airport may dispute this fact). Although the English spoken here is actually called "patois" and is a mix of mostly slang with English and Creole. It is located on the south coast and is home, among many other things, to about 1.3 million of the island's total (all approximate numbers) 2.8 million people. All these people condensed in such a small area create a lot of problems! Official numbers from several years ago place Jamaica (mainly Kingston though) number 3 in the world for murders. I've heard more recently that it's actually second only behind Columbia. A couple years ago there were 1,500 murders in one year.
The average income PER HOUSEHOLD is somewhere between US$2,000 and US$4,000 A YEAR! But, believe me, there are quite a few wealthy families who are throwing the average off. So take into consideration the even higher number of households/families who are bringing the average back down. Skilled construction workers make maybe US$20 a day. General laborers make maybe $10-$15 a day depending on the work they're doing. I would guess that most of the people in Jamaica live below poverty level. Because of this windows and doors are barred. Yards are fenced off and contain several dogs used as security. Nearly every car has an alarm on it. Funny how car alarms become background music to whatever you're doing. Most of the time I don't even hear them anymore. haha
But despite the poverty, many people are very happy. . . content with what they have. And despite the high number of murders and the high crime rate, I have NEVER seriously felt unsafe. I hear gunshots. . . sometimes near, sometimes far, but they never make me feel like I'm in harm's way. I trust Dennis' judgment and I trust him with my life. He knows what parts of town not to venture into and we don't go out at night often unless we need to. Not that it's necessarily unsafe at night, but it definitely raises your chances of something bad happening to you. In general you just learn to be more aware of your surroundings. You don't flash cash around, you don't wear expensive jewelry, you just don't try to advertise that you have anything of value. Your skin color is advertisement enough!! haha
But the most important thing about Jamaica is it's beauty!! The landscape is beautiful (despite the pollution) and the people are beautiful. Mainstream culture is very respectful and EXTREMELY laid back! The catch phrase for Jamaica isn't "NO PROBLEM" just for the fun of it. haha People say hello, good morning, good afternoon, and aren't afraid to make eye contact or have a conversation. Of course there are the bad apples but they are usually pretty easy to spot. But you always have to keep your eyes open. My opinion is that even good people can do bad things if the situation is bad enough. (refer to my last blog about persecution. . . when you're hungry you'll do about anything to eat!)
Bottom line is I LOVE IT HERE! And I love showing off the things I love! So everyone needs to make it a point to come down here and visit sometime soon! When I'm living here everyone will have a free place to stay (for a few days of course). So, let me know when you're coming!! See ya here!!

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