Downhome Magazine

Destination Jamaica

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Someone said "Of all the books in the world the best stories are found between the pages of a passport." My passport was due to expire within a year as on September 28, 2017 we got a 5 a.m. flight from Gander to Toronto. After a five hour stop-over, and another four hours flying we were over the blue waters and white sand beaches of Montego Bay - life balance seemed restored despite having been travelling 16 hours. At Sangster airport we saw "Welcome To Jamaica"; after a 40 minute bus ride we were served a "welcoming drink" at the registration desk of our resort.

Initially, we remained pool-side trying to avoid too much sun exposure. Bar stools were occupied in the pool itself and some celebrated in the pool with a drink in each hand. A guy from Ontario, noticing my Newfoundland Republic shirt, said how much he enjoyed his visit to Twillingate. I was welcomed by a bartender with a fist-pump who inquired where I was from. When he heard Newfoundland he excitedly stated, "We have a history of trade. You sent us your saltfish and we sent you our rum."

The national dish of Jamaica is ackee and saltfish. It's rather ironic that salted cod, which was brought to the Caribbean as cheap food for enslaved Africans, has become expensive gourmet food. From the daily buffet, I sampled the saltfish and ackee, as well as with coconut, and also deep-fried. Being somewhat biased, perhaps, I still prefer my fishermen's brewis or saltfish with potatoes, onions and scruncheons.

A lady bartender said she could not understand why people hung around pools when Jamaica had the most beautiful beaches in the world. By the end of the week I was in full agreement, the beaches were delightful for walking and the water was warm and refreshing.

Jamaica is a popular destination for wedding parties. There were several at our resort usually taking place around five. We were there during the rainy season and every day around four we had a shower. We felt a little sad for the couples, but within an hour the sun was out in splendor and everything was a go. The locals call the rain "liquid sunshine."

We departed October 5th from Sangster 4:15, landing in Toronto 9:15 E.T. Pearson Airport is not exactly senior friendly, a seemingly endless walk to Customs, another long walk to Domestic gate 44, a challenge for an octogenarian with gimpy knees. We finally made it into St. John's 3:30 a.m., got a 9:30 flight to Gander, arriving in Gambo 11:30 a.m., 21 hours after checking out of our resort in Montego Bay. The price we pay for isolation.

In comparing Newfoundland and Jamaica, their extreme locations would suggest a polar tundra as opposed to a tropical climate. The average temperature for October in Jamaica is 89 degrees Fahrenheit; it's less than half that in Newfoundland. Their "liquid sunshine" becomes our "silver thaw" or freezing rain. Two early explorers put it rather succinctly, Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century described Jamaica thus, "the fairest isle that eyes ever beheld, among the happiest places in the world." Jaques Cartier, in the early 16th century, described the mainland section of our province as "The land God gave to Cain."

The histories of Newfoundland and Jamaica have similarities. Both were British colonies that struggled for existence. The inhabitants were exploited, the sugar workers in Jamaica, and the fishermen in Newfoundland. It was difficult to become an independent and functioning country while depending on the British. In 1866 the two-centuries-old assembly in Jamaica voted to abolish itself and asked for the establishment of direct British rule. With the new crown colony, the Colonial Office exercised effective power through a presiding British governor. The council included a few handpicked prominent Jamaicans for the sake of appearance only. Does this sound familiar? The same thing happened here in 1933. The irony is, whereas many in Newfoundland still ask, "What if we had not been captured by the Canadian wolf in 1949?"; Jamaicans ask, "What if we hadn't voted for independence and stayed with Britain in 1962?" Both are still struggling economically.

Historically there has been a diaspora of their people. The most significant dispersion in Jamaica occurred just before their independence in 1962 when many loyal to Britain emigrated to the United Kingdom. About twenty thousand per year emigrate to the United States. It's worth noting that many Jamaican athletes emigrated to Canada, the most famous being Ben Johnson and Donovan Bailey. Newfoundlanders too are scattered, before 1949 many went to the USA; since Confederation to other Canadian provinces.

When the question is asked, "What makes Jamaica special?" the answer invariably is "The people." The same is often said of Newfoundlanders. Both are friendly, big on hospitality and laid back. Both stress the importance of family and are intensely proud of their heritage.

One other ironic twist, the place that produces the rum for our Screech-ins has one of the highest number of rum bars per square mile while N.L. and St. John's both lead the country in the most bars per capita. There is probably a wide discrepancy in the price a consumer would pay for a drink in Jamaica compared to one purchased in Newfoundland and Labrador.

By Charles Beckett
Gambo, NL

 
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