Culture has been characterized as the beliefs, arts, morals, customs and traditions exhibited by a group of individuals within a particular society (Langness 1987). It has long been believed that culture has been associated with one’s ancestry. My trip to Jamaica has made it evident that this entirely is not the case. There are a number of other factors that could cause two groups of individual from the same ethnical background but living in different societies. My paper will be discussing my experiences and realization during my short but meaningful trip to the island of Jamaica.
My Cultural Background In order to show that people who come from the same ethnical background do not necessarily have to have the same culture, I will first provide information regarding my own personal background to serve as the basis. Although I am an American living in California, my ethnical descent is African. The roots of my family are embedded in Mississippi. It is for this reason why the food and way of life I have been brought up with resembles those that live in the southern part of the country.
In fact, even if I do come from a single parent household, our traditions are very much Southern from the food we eat, the importance we give to our religion and spending time with the family. Day One of My Trip This trip was not just my first time to Jamaica, but my first trip outside of the United States. The moment I had gotten out of the plane, I could say that I was immediately shocked with what greeted me. When I left California for Jamaica, I went through an airport that was air-conditioned and my full of the latest security precaution devices and machines to pass through.
I did not see anything of this sort when I arrived in the airport at Jamaica. No high-technology security equipment and no air-conditioner running in the airport. I was greeted by a man named Darwin Mills who was going to drive me to the house of Mr. and Mrs. James, my host family. Mr. Mill’s disposition was as warm as the weather. He was more than happy to drive me first around the Montego Bay area of the island to show me around. Although he was extremely enthusiastic about everything in Jamaica, I could not help but notice how different it was from my hometown in California.
It was if I was in another world. For starters, the vehicle used by Mr. Mills to bring me to my destination was right-handed, which was why they were driving in the opposite lane than I would back in California. I also saw people walking on either side of what was supposedly their main highway. When I meant that they were walking on either side of the highway, I am not talking about them walking on sidewalks on either side of the highway. They were literally walking on the side of the highway. What really caught my attention was how underdeveloped the area was.
It was not anything like what you would see in tourist brochures and magazines. The streets were filled with pot holes. Houses were small and the fences were poorly made. There were no skyscrapers or large business establishments back home. It made me realize just how fortunate I was living in a sturdy well-built house with a sturdy fence and driving on a well-paved road, despite the horrendous traffic. My first taste of authentic Jamaican cuisine was at lunch time when Mr. Mills brought me to the Rock House Hotel.
I was blown away on just how fresh the food was. It tasted deliciously different. After which, I was taken to Rick’s Cafe, which is known more for the daredevils jumping over the cliffs into the wide blue ocean. At the background was a steel drum band playing Reggae music, which is one of the signatures of Jamaica. I was fascinated on how something so simple could be able to develop wonderful, upbeat music. When Mr. Mills dropped me at Mr. and Mrs. James’ house, I nearly jumped at the sight of the dogs that Mr. James keeps loose at the front yard.
He apologized for them and explained to me that their dogs were allowed to run loose for their own protection. Although their homes were equipped with two air-conditioners, he explained to me that this is rarely used since electricity is rather expensive in Jamaica. This is the reason why they only use electric fans. As I retired for the night, I kept reminding myself not to immediately judge my life back in California and what I have initially seen in Jamaica so that I would be able to fully understand more about living in Jamaica. Day Two of My Trip
The highlight of the second day of my trip was when Mr. and Mrs. James introduced me to Mr. James’ uncle, Charles and his cousin, Brenda. It was through my conversation with them that I begun to slowly learn more about Jamaica. According to them, for a long time, Jamaica had been a colony of England. It only gained its independence in 1962. Majority of the inhabitants of the island were predominantly of African descent, like I was. Although they live far away from Africa, they still hold dearly to their African traditions and customs.
Celebrations of the various African festivals are held annually. Despite its booming tourism industry, Jamaica remains to be a third world country. This conversation had answered a lot of my questions when I had first arrived in Jamaica and it had opened my eyes and my mind and developed an understanding and appreciation to the people living in Jamaica. Despite everything surrounding them, they remain to be warm and extremely accommodating to me and more than willing to help me learn as much as I can about Jamaica and Jamaican’s way of life. Day Three of My Trip
My last day in Jamaica happened to land on a Sunday. The day started with a day at the beachside which Jamaica has long been known for. But I did not go there to swim, because I do not know how. Instead, I had been taken by Mr. James to the beach to do some shopping. Unlike in California where everything is bought in the local grocery or seafood market, here in Jamaica, it only takes a matter of a few hours for the food to be caught, picked, cleaned, cooked and served. Speaking with meals, my last meal in Jamaica was something similar that one that I would usually have back home.
We were served a feast of greens, jerk chicken, rice and peas. Just like back home, Sunday was a time when families get together and enjoy each others’ company over a wonderful spread of home-cooked favorites. Reflection Taking the road less traveled by American tourists in Jamaica, I was able to learn so much about their way of life. Back home, I have been fortunate to have access to a number of amenities and privileges that most Jamaicans would only dream about. Yet, their situation has not diminished their warm and sunny outlook towards life.
Despite their limited resources, Jamaicans are able to make the most of what they have and keep a positive outlook. For instance, some African Americans to this day hold a grudge against Caucasian Americans for the prejudice, racism and oppression the older generations have experienced since the time of the slave trade. While Jamaicans had also experienced the same oppressive treatment in the hands of the English, they have placed the oppression behind them and instead celebrate on the fact that they are now free from the oppression. Reference Langness, L. L. (1987). The Study of Culture. Novato, CA: Chandler & Sharp.