I learn something new here every day, usually a couple of things. For instance, Jamaicans don't say bless you after someone sneezes! I find it kind of refreshing to not hear it after every little sneeze, but I still find myself saying it to them every time. I also learned what it means to make a "flex." I was at the gas station when someone asked if I was going to flex. I asked them to repeat themselves about three times and then I finally just smiled and said "yes" even though I had no idea what he was talking about. I was later told that 'making a flex' means to go on a small trip or to go out and about.
I also learned how to cook rice and peas and in the meantime found out that the husband I stay with, Blacka, worked as a chef at a restaurant and his wife Annie has her chef's certificate. So now there are really no excuses for not learning how to cook some Jamaican dishes before I leave. Blacka said he used to work at a Joe Grant restaurant, which is a term Jamaicans use for a restaurant known to cater to men and their mistresses. Blacka also told me that the restaurant business is where he acquired the big belly he now sports. He told me when he was younger he used to look at the men with big bellies and wish to be them when he grew up because they were always wearing nice clothes and smoking cigars. He finished his story by saying, "And look at me now, I got my wish and I'm still so fucking poor!" He may be poor, but he is definitely happy.
The three of us often have conversations about our countries to discuss their similarities and differences. A few days ago we were talking about minimum wage. In Jamaica, their minimum wage is determined by week not by hour like in the U.S. Currently the minimum wage is $4,300 per week, but some people are paid less than that. If you're scratching your head right now, that equates to about $50 U.S. dollars per week. So when you're busy complaining about you $7/hr job, think about only making $50 per week.
We also chatted about the process of obtaining a driver's license. The process in Jamaica requires a lot more money than in the states. First you must pay for the book to study from and then you must pay for each test, even if you fail it. You could also go a different route and "buy" your license which means you pay a lot more, but then you are guaranteed to "pass" and walk home with a license. Once you get a license you must renew it every four years and that will also cost you. Each time you go to get it renewed it will cost about 4,000 dollars, so you'll be spending a week's worth of pay to get your license for the next four years. There is yet another disadvantage to this process.. if your license expires and you don't have the cash to renew it or you don't have a car at the moment the next time you go to pay for it you will be "renewing" it form the time it expired. So if you wait three years to renew your license, you'll be paying $4,000 for only one year of driving, until you must go renew it again. I think that is a pretty bogus system and I for one would not be willing to pay a whole weeks salary just to drive for a year; public transit: here I come.
Speaking of public transportation, I took my first lone trip into town (Kingston) yesterday via bus. It was surprisingly easy and not surprisingly crowded. I was walking to the square in Yallahs when a bus passed me by and someone yelled, "town?" I shook my head yes and was on my way. In Philadelphia I would have waited for a half hour at the bus stop instead of being picked up on my way to the stop! Public transportation and taxis are top ways of getting around the island so busses are always packed to the maximum. Imagine the market street subway at 3 p.m. and then picture everyone moving from the subway car into a small van, yeah, that's how crowded. The price makes it all worth it, only $140 Jamaican a.k.a. $1.62 U.S. for a forty minute bus ride. Now that I've done it once, I can see myself making the trip many more times over the course of the next month.
I'm going to top this blog posting off with a popular song in Jamaica at the moment. My Cup by Richie Loop has been playing on the radio nonstop and consequently is always in my head. I wasn't too fond of it at first, but like all overplayed songs it somehow finds a little space in your brain where all the lyrics hang out and resound in your head at various times of the day. I'm sampling this song because it came up as the perfect response during a conversation the other day. I recommend you list to this song before proceeding on ......
I was sitting talking with two friends when I asked if men ever drink out of the same bottle. Jamaicans are known for being quite homophobic and I can tell you, from my experiences that's true. So, I was wondering if they ever take shots out of the same rum bottle when they're all sitting around drinking. The two men responded that they usually pour the alcohol into the cap of the bottle and then take the shot from that instead of swigging right from the bottle. I then asked if they would ever share drinks as a courtesy to let their friends try what they're sippin' on and thats when one of the men replied in song... "What's in my cup stays in my cup."