A nostalgic reflection on my life as a girl growing up in rural Jamaica.
Country Girl Evolved
When I was a teenaged girl I hated where I lived. I couldn’t stand the people, the place or my life for that matter. Being a teen in a tiny, rural, nowhere town in Jamaica is no joke. With no supermarkets, shopping malls, fast food places or movie theatres in sight what was a girl to do? A lot of the girls did boys, I can’t say why but I’m going to assume it was out of sheer boredom. For me it was a bit different, being perpetually bored somehow did not cause me to notice the burry headed boys running around trying to get with every girl.
Being bored made me read. A lot. A whole lot. So much so that my father said that’s what caused me to develop myopia at age eight. Incidentally it was around that same time that I discovered and fell in love with writing.
Writing saved my skinny ass in more ways than I care to divulge, especially during the seemingly everlasting summers. Besides working in my dad’s coffee fields, all I ever did was write and when I wasn’t writing I read. God how I hated picking coffee beans and lugging around a heavy, half-filled bucket!
I remember grumbling and complaining the whole time but I didn’t dare do it loud enough for my dad to hear. I suppose the late 90s were a lot different from now, kids couldn’t talk back to their folks or tell them “I’m not picking coffee beans and you can’t make me.”
I promised myself I’d get the heck outta there the minute I turn 18, I actually did make it out closer to 19 but still.
Kingston city excited me then, I’d spent my whole life in Westmoreland and I was so happy to finally live in a place where things were modern….at least to me they were. I was now taking the bus daily instead of walking everywhere like I did when I was a little girl. Of course I didn’t know that it was the best exercise and that I was better off than kids who stayed indoors playing video games and watching TV.
I was also eating fast food frequently (I developed a special liking for Burger King and Pizza Hut). Growing up I never had junk food, all the fruit and vegetables I ate were planted right there in Westmoreland. A lot of the meat I ate came from cows, hogs and goats I knew personally. Most times I watched these animals being slaughtered and we made meals of them before they were ever refrigerated. I didn’t like that I wasn’t having burgers and French fries for dinner like kids who lived in ‘modern places.’ But of course I also didn’t know how blessed I was to grow up healthy with no illnesses, allergies or any disorder that required frequent doctor visits and a lifetime of medication.
Kingston city was great until it wasn’t. I quickly discovered that not only was the grass NOT greener on that side but also there was no damn grass. I started to appreciate and miss grass….literally and figuratively.
The city was where I got robbed of a ‘gold’ chain that wasn’t gold by the way. It’s where I had to be mindful of where I was 24/7, when I was downtown a few rules were enforced. Hold my purse close, the same way one would hold a newborn baby and that was done at all times. Otherwise it might be dragged from me and if I panic and hang on I might lose my fingers or my arm. The city was where I NEVER use my smartphone in public, in fact I turn off all message alerts and put it on vibrate just so its not obvious I own one of those Samsung Galaxies. The city was where I was often surrounded by a pack of pickpockets while standing at the bus stop. It became such a frequent thing I was no longer afraid, just overly cautious. I was working for an airline and my nice looking uniform made me stick out like a sore thumb. I knew these pickpockets by face, they’d circle me and I’d make eye contact as if to say “I can’t believe after so long you’re still circling me daily trying to rob me. Don’t you realize I know you by now?” I once caught one of them with his hand in my pocket, I was shoving my way into one of those overcrowded Portmore JUTC buses. All I said was “I only have a lip gloss and a used napkin in there though.”
Waking up in the city didn’t help my depression one bit, I was now there simply because it was the only place to get the sort of job I had. I’d wake up and get dressed for work, stepping outside I’d be hit by a blast of humidity that didn’t seem to let up even in the wee hours of the morning. I’d take a deep breath and then quickly exhale the air that has been permeated by the scent of exhaust and garbage. Then it was on the road, a road occupied by crazy bus and taxi drivers. I once said the only reason some of those ‘drivers’ had licenses was because they found them. They’ve probably never heard of a road code, Jamaicans don’t read and Jamaican drivers can’t. Not a fact, just my opinion.
I miss waking up in the country. Back then a rooster woke me up every morning and even after waking I’d still try to lie in bed pretending to be asleep. But I’ve always been a morning person, my mother always said you should never allow the sun to wake up before you do.
Stepping outside I’d be wrapped up in fresh, country air. I liked walking barefoot, stepping in the grass and making footprints in the dew. I miss the smell of grass and earth after a night of rain. The earth always smelled so good after the rain softened it up enough for the earthworms to poke through. All the mango, apple and orange trees would hang heavy with fruit and leaves that still had water dripping off them.
Farmers would gallop past on donkeys, heading to the fields before the sun got too high in the sky. Raising their machetes in the air they’d wave to neighbors and holler ‘howdy do.’ Sometimes hollering about how pleased they were with the lovely shower of rain they got the night before. Some of these men often stopped by local shops to get a shot of rum before tending to their farms.
Back then I was still in Primary school and usually by the time I got home these men would be returning from the fields. Sometimes they’d share crops, one would offer yams and another would receive a breadfruit or jelly coconut or a few cabbages. But by 4pm these farmers would be stone drunk! They’d drink so much of that J.B. white rum they’d keel over by the side of the road. It wasn’t unusual for me to be walking home and stumble upon a drunk farmer sprawled out, fast asleep in the bushes. His faithful donkey standing nearby with two hampers filled with ground provisions on its back, waiting on its owner to wake up so they can roll on home together.
These are some of the memories from my childhood as a country kid and I must say, I’m no longer ashamed or hateful of where and how I grew up. It made me strong and humble, I know now that where one comes from has nothing to do with how successful one can become.
These days I reside In a place where there are no roosters to wake me up, my phone usually does it. No not by way of an alarm but with the forever blinking light announcing message alerts. I roll over and check and it’s usually the same old thing. Facebook reminding me of a birthday I’d have otherwise forgotten. Or an alert letting me know who my latest matches are on Ok Cupid. Or someone from my online Anxiety disorder support group, freaking out over new symptoms. As I approach the end of my 20s I must say I truly feel like an old soul. Instead of a rocking chair I often sit out on the deck, writing or just watching squirrels dart around. Being close to nature grounds me, being too addicted to technology fuels my anxiety.
I’ve made a few changes to my life, small changes but important nonetheless. When I wake up the first thing I do is pray, I give thanks for a new day and the gift of life. I try to do that instead of rolling over and groping around for my cellphone. I take time out to appreciate life and nature and the beauty and wonder of it all; before venturing into the turbulent and depressing world of social media. I’ve been weaning myself off a once steady diet of the most popular social media sites. I try not to join every new site that’s trending just to feel like I’m a part of the modern world. Modern now has a different definition for me, it’s not the same as when I was a teenager.
I’ve changed the settings on my Facebook profile, I’ve restricted most of whom/what shows up on my Time line or news feed. I’m no longer interested in seeing people demanding that I type ‘Amen’ for a picture of someone battling cancer. I’m not heartless but I struggle with severe Hypochondria, you like to be online so much you shouldn’t have a problem Googling to see what that is.
I’m no longer interested in seeing constant doom & gloom or pictures of decapitated accident victims.
Most importantly I do not wish to see the illusion of the perfect lives/perfect relationships many people have on constant display. My number of Facebook ‘friends’ have taken a dramatic plunge, if we don’t know or like each other in real life then we have no reason to be connected via social media. I can never understand people who insist on ‘following’ and ‘liking’ people they can’t stand!
I have changed, I’d like to think it’s for the better. I am silent, observant, more creative, anxious, sometimes depressed, more aware, learning to be ok by myself, mature, patient, reverent. I love all the animals and I respect nature. No I’m not turning into a hippie, neither am I pretending to be ‘deep.’ I simply have a much better appreciation for life and the things that really matter.