Some years ago, I spent some time in Jamaica, and every morning I walked the beaches in the morning. I’d read somewhere that this was good for you. This was in Ocho Rios, before the World Cup qualification disaster, but after the downtown drug explosion and the violence that swept across Kingston in 2010.
I’d gone on the trip as a nonprofit ambassador, which was about as official as the crown they used to hand you with your Happy Meal. The point of the thing was to raise awareness—for the undrinkable water at hospitals in the city! for kids walking barefoot uphill to primary school without lunch!—but what we actually did was tour the premises and wait for everyone to realize we didn’t have any money to give them. Sometimes, the Jamaicans would tell us the stories of their lives: about growing up in hilly Negril or running track on the fields in Trelawney.
We started in Montego Bay. Hit schoolhouses and hospitals and, at one point, parliament, before we made it to Spanish Town, clear across the whole of the island, where we spent the last two nights at a hotel overlooking Portmore. The coast there was as rowdy as South Padre during Spring Break, but once the sun set the rabble-rousing dissipated, like everyone had decided that any trouble after eight was far more trouble than it was worth. It was then that the beachfront settled into something like the Jamaica of Cool Runnings and Carnival cruise commercials.
Yes, Jamaica suffers from crime, rampant homophobia and poverty, but the cliché does exist for a reason. When you’re finally sitting on that beach, the air is crisp, a futbol game’s on, there’s a cookout and somebody’s on the guitar, you might find yourself believing it for a moment.
On a visit to the market, I bought a beat-up, blackened statue of a cat. The woman who sold it to me swore she carved herself, with a knife and four blocks of wood. She swore it had actually purred at her, and even though I’m not susceptible to foolishness in general, I handed a twenty over in awe, amazed at the width of the world. It was only after I got back to Texas that I saw the Made in India stamp under the paw. But I still have that cat. It’s on my desk, beside the bookshelf. Sometimes I’ll just stare at it and wait. Not for it to jump up and dance or anything, but for it to remind me of the island.