So, I am Tamar Dixon and this is my second visit to Jamaica (after 15 years). I first visited with my mother and brother and stayed with my aunt in Montego Bay. Finally, I have returned to my family’s home; the proverbial land of wood and water!
I am British-Jamaican, born and raised in England (born and bred as they say). My experience here in Jamaica so far hasn’t been a huge culture shock, but more a refreshing trip that has allowed me to fully embrace Jamaica as a nation. My family has done a great job of nurturing my understanding of Jamaican culture and heritage from a young age. However, I won’t deny that growing up, my perspective and outlook on Jamaica have been shaped by others (‘others’ meaning family, friends and associates all who are of Jamaican heritage). Mostly through sharing personal stories, experiences and yes, to be brutally honest, assumptions of what Jamaica and Jamaicans are or could be like. I now realise that, at times, those assumptions were judgemental and ignorant. The 8 weeks I spent in Jamaica was eye-opening, refreshing and challenging (I’ll explain later).
The truth about perseverance…
I came to Jamaica for 2 months on an international mobility programme to utilise my creative skills in dance and the arts. I successfully gained sponsorship to travel to Jamaica from Brouhaha International via Manifesto Jamaica, an art and education-focused organisation in Kingston that brought the opportunity to my attention. The exchange was funded by a European Commission programme for capacity building in the field of youth and festivals as a platform for community development.
Honestly count your blessings because dreams really do come true. Two and a half years ago I kept telling myself I must travel to Jamaica. At the time, it was wishful thinking. I merely wanted to visit to be engaged in the performing arts industry, emerge myself in communities, youth and of course to learn more about my heritage. I found Manifesto Jamaica online 2 years ago and joined their mailing list because I love their work with local communities and with young people. Two years later…REPEAT… 2 years, I received an email from Manifesto Jamaica notifying me about an international volunteer programme that could get me to Jamaica to work with them. I applied immediately and boom! My application was successful. I am still speechless ’till this day. I give thanks for this unique experience because it truly is unique and rare; rare to embark on an Erasmus-funded cultural exchange outside the European Union.
My work with Manifesto Jamaica involved facilitating workshops and project coordination for a series of community-based festivals called MiniFestos. Exactly what I wanted to pursue and the skills I hoped to enhance. My experience has been extraordinary and I now feel more grounded, as an individual and as a dance artist.
For the Jamaican love of music
I am staying with family in Spanish Town, St. Catherine. Luckily, it’s just one bus ride away from Kingston’s city centre/Half-Way-Tree. Apart from the blazing sunshine at 6: 30 a.m. every morning, the riddims and beats of reggae, ska, dub and dancehall are constantly on play. LEFT RIGHT AND CENTRE. This is one of many cultural differences I have noticed in Jamaica vs. the UK; an immense love for music. I remember I saw a young boy riding on his bicycle. One hand on the handle and the other clinging onto his rather large speaker (struggling) blasting Chronixx outside my aunt’s home at 7:00 a.m. Another day in Crossroads (Kingston), I saw a coaster (minibus) overly packed with passengers with a speaker squeezed into the back window. The speaker was pretty much hanging out of the window, blasting loud music. I couldn’t believe my eyes, though, I should have known better since my father blasts reggae and dub music all day, every day, at home. Dat nah run inna England.
I love the freedom and carefree attitude towards life that many Jamaicans I encountered exude, and how music plays a big part in everyday life. After all, the music is powerful and has the power to shift your mood. Another cultural difference I noticed was the mannerisms, the constant greetings. It’s like religion to say good morning, afternoon and good evening to everybody you encounter. That and the random, humorous conversations with strangers in the taxis. (Route taxis are shared with other passengers, unlike in the UK where you book your own taxi). Furthermore, many fellow Jamaicans are passionate, hard-working and ambitious about work and or general aspirations towards their career. Especially related to one’s working within the arts, whether that be dance, music, dramatic art, dub poetry and more. The nation is naturally artistic, which explains why I seem to have attracted quite a few like-minded artistic individuals who I enjoyed connecting with. For instance, Ladysounchat from Irish and Chin radio, Kimiko Versatile, I.DANCE company, Latonya Styles at her studio, Dance Jamaica Academy, students from Edna Manley College, Dr L’Antoinette Stines and more. All of whom have a dance background like myself.
Dem hustle n bustle
I was overwhelmed by the overall encouragement, empowerment and general love and support I felt when conversing with people about my reasons for travelling to JA. Many people would say, ‘welcome home’ and were keen to introduce me or educate me, on all things Jamaican. My personal experience has been positive – 90% so. Delving a little bit into the 10% of my experience that was not so positive, I had a hard time processing the ‘hustling mentality’ and begging; the basis of many encounters I had with several individuals. I’m not talking about beggars, as in people living on the streets, but anyone…random people. From strangers walking past me in the city centre to religious zealots on public buses; preaching, and then later, soliciting donations from passengers. No disrespect, do what you need to do in life to get by. I know there is a phrase ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’. In other words, speak up and don’t be afraid to ask for (financial) support and guidance. But for me, it just felt like some folks were too inna mi face and expecting X amount of money, just because. But, who am I to judge. I don’t know their life stories.
Another part of the 10% not so positive is the plot to pack more passengers in the route taxis than should be humanly possible. I found this quite distressing. It was like a hustle ‘n’ bustle rat race.
In all honesty, money and wealth are abundant in Jamaica. Once you have an abundant mindset and see money, wealth and anything else you desire in your life as everlasting then that hustle ‘n’ bustle lifestyle shall (hopefully) fizzle away. This doesn’t take away from the fact that it all boils down to an individual’s financial circumstances, their livelihood, environment, upbringing and so on. At times, it just felt like a ‘money worries’ situation everywhere. Furthermore, so many taxi drivers lamented the amount of space they had left by chastising people’s weight and body shape. Wow! The number of times I heard taxi drivers loudly and bluntly comment. ‘yuh too fat / too skinny’ was…well, shocking (lol). The brutal honesty of fellow Jamaicans is real. It’s all love though. I too was called too skinny, on numerous occasions, and pushed to the back of the taxi or bus, since that would apparently create more space for others. This blunt honesty was the cause of many humorous ‘culture shock’ moments for me.