I’m in the Caribbean today, experiencing one of the thousands of cultures that thrive along the coastlines and islands of the world. It’s amazing the variety of lifestyle and beliefs that can be found.
Although a laid-back attitude seems common. It’s not universal, but I’ve seen it in Mexico and Malta. I’ve observed it in friends-Fiji islanders, Micronesians, Hawaiians, Tongans, the list goes on.
Maybe someday I’ll visit all those places and find out for myself. A girl can dream, right? For now, I’m finding out about Jamaica.
“Irie, mon,” says the dwarven lady in front of me. Her bright yellow shirt emphasizes her smooth dark skin and coordinates with the black, green and yellow dresses hanging limp along storefronts under the scorching sun. It was so much cooler at the resort with the wind blowing off the ocean. Here there is no breeze and the cement pavement underfoot reflects the sun’s heat, baking us.
She’s persuaded our group to leave the craft mall across from our hotel in Montego Bay to check out her “little shop.” It turns out to be quite a distance away, around the corner from an old entrance to the resort. The gate’s closure has hurt her business.
Despite her small stature, the woman—Nicoia—walks surprisingly fast. She moves and talks with an energy typical of her culture. She focuses on me as we walk, explaining that my name, Renee, is a Jamaican name, too. She seems very happy about this. And happy in general.
“Say, ‘Irie,’” she tells me. “Mean everything gonna be aaaallll right.” Her smile is wide. We’re dripping with sweat as she unlocks her store front. “See what I mean? I got to close up shop and walk all that way to find customers. Nobody wanna come.”
Her shop is smaller than most on the main strip, although a few were smaller still, more like closets, admitting only one person at a time. Nicoia ushers us inside, shows us her swim shoes, wood carvings, Rastafarian hats sporting dreads. Tells us we’re her first customers today. It’s 2 o’clock, but I believe her. Her shop is not exactly on the beaten path and I’ve seen few other tourists while we’ve explored the craft mall.
The hawkers here are aggressive while saying they’re not. They enter your personal space thrusting necklaces or animal carvings in front of your nose, telling you all the while, “take a look. No pressure.” They beg you to come into their shops, and although they’re persistent about it, they’re still really sweet. “You stop on your way back,” they say, “no charge for looking.”
Earlier, an older woman took my hand when I entered her shop, held it for awhile, and asked about my life. Her name is Phyllis. She introduced me to her daughter like I was a new family member and gave me a tight hug. I didn’t buy anything there. Now I’m wishing I had. Phyllis is rail thin, looking like a stiff gust of wind could blow her away if she ventured closer to the sea. Maybe I’ll stop by later this week.
We’re exploring more of the island tomorrow. I’m excited to see the spectacular Dunn’s river falls and ride a tram through the jungle canopy. I’m anxious to meet more Jamaicans, see what life is like for them. I wonder how’d they’d be if they lived in the states. How would I do on the island? I think we’d both thrive. The transition could be difficult, but we humans are adaptable, and can flourish just about anywhere.
The foliage here in Jamaica is gorgeous, even along shorelines where coastal plants must adapt to survive salty, harsh conditions. They’re different from what you’d see inland, bearing coarser bark, and thick, water-retaining leaves. But they’re still beautiful. So it is with all of us. By anyone’s standards, Nicoia’s and Phyllis’s work is difficult. Yet they exude vitality, beauty, and enthusiasm.
They inspire my takeaway for today—bloom where you’re planted.
Humans manage to find happiness or misery, wherever they are, depending on what they seek. Whether in the midst of vacation or struggling with illness, discouragement, loss and misfortune, we can choose to thrive. I’ve seen it here. I’ve seen it at the hospital beds of friends and family. I’ve read it in the words of holocaust survivors. Like Nicoia and Phyllis, we can choose to work hard, choose to connect and choose to smile.