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From Calgary to Jamaica: Jamaica My Way

25 March, 2013 08:14  Erin Erin

jamaica my way I’m Kristi but will also answer to JamCan, Jammie, Krusty and my Jamaican name, Gangsta.  I’m a born and raised Canadian from Calgary, Alberta which is where I currently sit BUT have fled the frozen north more than once to live where my soul is - Jamaica.

1. Why did you move abroad?
Wouldn’t you move to the Caribbean if you were born into a land that provides 8 months of winter?  Truthfully though, I decided to try the move because I had been traveling to Jamaica for 8 years prior and basically adopted their slower paced, carefree lifestyle enough that I saw my corporate government career for what it was…..a trap.  High pay and a fancy pension are the carrots they dangle in front of your nose to keep you as a slave to your work life.  I had been going to Jamaica every 3-6 months for years so moving there was the next logical step.  The rat race was sucking the life out of me and I decided if I was always scared to leave I would die with a million regrets later in life.

2. How do you make a living?
In Jamaica, one has to be a jack of all trades and have more than one back up plan because times are hard.  If you choose to do anything in tourism you must know that the whole island is doing tourism so competition is stiff.  I was doing social media for some Canadian based businesses which was easy because all I needed was internet and a laptop.  But internet (or lack of) can ruin your life in Jamaica because connections aren’t always good so I found myself sitting in a lot of restaurants using their wifi and spending money to be able to occupy space there.  

I also did (and still do) tours when friends and my blog readers come to Jamaica for vacation.  That’s not big money but it’s a hell of a lot of fun!  

The second time I lived in Jamaica I was actually there working on a contract for a villa rental website.  My job was to travel the island photographing and writing about vacation villas.  That was a fabulous job while it lasted - I got to see the insides of places I couldn’t even afford to breathe the air in!  

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I communicate daily with family back home in every way possible.  I always have an international calling plan on my phone - super cheap!  Facebook and Twitter are the two obvious ways of keeping my family and fans up to date.  I also have a Blackberry and my son and I burn out our bbm typing fingers all day every day.  Skype is another awesome way to keep in touch.  While chatting with my mom and son I could see my dog Mojo walking around in my house back home.  I think I missed Mojo the most!!

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Jamaica?
Without a doubt my favorite thing about living in Jamaica is the sense of freedom.  Not necessarily freedom from life back home, it’s more about the vibe in Jamaica.  Of course living there is different from vacationing there; it’s still a daily grind but not as painful as the grind back home.  I naturally wake very early because that’s just what people do there.  It’s almost like if you sleep in until 9 or 10 you know you’ve wasted half the day!  Jamaicans are up with the sun and already outside working, socializing, and going about their day.  I love this lifestyle.  It’s not uncommon to wake to the sound of blasting R&B music in your neighbor’s yard with the neighbor singing right along at the top of their lungs.  It’s so lively and makes you feel alive.  No one dreads the early morning hours like we do back home where the sun doesn’t even come up until 8:30am in winter.  

Another cool thing is that once you’re there to stay people stop speaking proper English to you and start speaking Patois.  I already knew the language from years of travel so it was more of an affirmation than an adjustment.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Jamaica?
Being looked at like I have a money tree growing in my back yard.  Unfortunately times are hard in Jamaica for most locals and some assume times are not hard for foreigners.  A lot of Jamaicans feel free to ask for money, goods, drinks in the bar, Blackberries (because I must be able to get them cheaper ???) or whatever else I may have.  It’s discouraging to not be seen as a person who has to work to earn money just the same as anyone else.

Another of the most painful things about being in Jamaica is the amount of stray animals.  Dogs in particular.  The island is FULL of random street dogs everywhere who scrounge for food and water in any way they can.  Unfortunately many dogs are mistreated which is evident when I try to get familiar with a random dog and it shys away and runs.  It’s very sad because we’re used to treating our dogs like family members.  It breaks my heart and I wish I could save the world!

6. What do you miss most?
My family and “home food”.  I desperately miss my son and my dog!  I know I can talk to my son regularly but it’s not the same as hanging out with him.  Most times when something funny or unusual happens to me in Jamaica I SOOOO wish he was with me to experience it.  He and I are very close and have a wicked sense of humor so some things are not the same without each other.  We’ve had some crazy adventures together in Jamaica when he’s been there with me.

About the food - the novelty of Jamaican food has kind of worn off.  I love it still but in controlled doses.  The fact remains that I was born and raised on a different diet, one which doesn’t really exist in Jamaica unless you want to pay tourist dollars to dine in tourist restaurants all the time.  I can only eat so much rice, chicken and fish before I’m craving a big old plate of macaroni and cheese!  My type of food is available in Jamaican supermarkets but it’s more expensive.  Pizza Hut is my comfort food in Jamaica and up until recently, I had to drive a LONG way to get it - like more than an hour to a major tourist town.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I simply go out and meet them!  I’m not afraid to pull up a bar stool all by myself in a bar full of old men playing dominoes!  Sometimes I’ve been known to jump in a random taxi for no reason but to take a ride and I’ve met some of the most awesome people that way.  Basically I will talk to anyone and know within minutes if that’s a person I want to maintain a friendship with or whether it will just be a fun afternoon chatting and be done.  It’s difficult to meet people there who don’t want something from you (as a single foreign female), whether it be money or a relationship.  I don’t have enough money to spread the wealth and I enjoy my life as a single person at the moment so like I said, I choose carefully who I wish to associate with and who will just be a “hello” while passing in the street.

It took me several years to develop a handful of bonifide, true friends who ask for nothing but my friendship.  These are the people I know I can go to in times of trouble or when I need assistance or just a fun night out!

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

Not sure this is a custom nor a habit but the strangest thing (for me) about Jamaica is that I can buy a flask of liquor in one bar, drink some, drive with it, and then carry it into a next bar.  And that flask - most times they fill it up for you from a larger quart bottle.  The reason this was so weird to me is because my old government career was in business licensing and bylaw enforcement.  This liquor filling and carrying business is SO against everything I worked for!  See what I mean about freedom?  In Canada everything is so governed to death!  

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Just one myth?  I can’t choose just one!  How about that all Jamaicans have dreads and sit on the beach smoking weed all day?  Or how about that you’ll get shot if you go to Jamaica?  Or the myth that all Jamaicans are poor and uneducated?  These myths, or misconceptions bug the crap out of me because they are uninformed assumptions.  I don’t walk around in my bullet proof vest 24/7 nor do I even have a fear of crime and violence.  I’m not blind to the fact that the crime rate is high but the island isn’t one big barrel of hoodlums running around pillaging people for sport!  And I happen to know plenty of Jamaicans who have never smoked weed in their entire lives because they were too busy getting university degrees and working real jobs!  

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living is relative.  Rent is still 25-50% of the average Jamaican income just like back home.  If you look at it from a Canadian point of view earning Canadian wages you’d be laughing.  The rent on my apartment was $350 cdn per month which seems ridiculously low on a Canadian income but would be ridiculously high on a Jamaican income.  Most locals can rent an apartment for around $100 cdn per month.  As a foreigner I would be hard pressed to find that kind of deal because; #1 I may not be willing to live SO local (hot water is a bonus).  And #2, a landlord would jack the price when they see “foreign person” coming to rent the place.  

11. What advice would you give other expats?
Toughen up and get a thick skin.  Unless you’re wealthy and can afford to live in a gated expat community and never want learn the local customs, the learning curve is huge.  You need to learn to haggle because you will always pay more if you don’t.  You need to learn to say no because many will try to “beg you a fifty”.  You need to stop living like you’re on vacation or you won’t last at all.  

DO YOUR RESEARCH!  I get millions of emails from other travelers who have been to Jamaica once or twice and suddenly want to move there!  Their first questions are, “What area should I move to?” and “How do I find a place to live?”  If you can’t answer those questions on your own you shouldn’t be moving yet.  I could never, ever answer those questions for anyone.  

Aside from those few points if you have an open mind and heart, and a backbone you will thrive within the culture.  My entire life has been enriched by my experiences in Jamaica and I wouldn’t trade any of the moments (even the bad and sad ones) for anything.  Jamaicans LOVE when a foreigner tries to fit in so TRY it!  The worst that will happen is they laugh at (and with) you and then teach you the right way.  

12. When and why did you start your blog?

I’ve been a writer since I was a little girl.  In first grade my teacher used to send me to the grades 5 & 6 classrooms to read my stories out loud.  I guess I’ve always had something to say.    
jamaica my way bike
I started blogging about Jamaica more than four years ago on January 1, 2009.  The blog started as an informational guide about things I learned like transportation, currency, food, and things to do.  It evolved into a fulltime adventure comedy!  I’ve done SO much and gone through SO many things in Jamaica - some good, some bad and some hilarious - and I just can’t keep my mouth shut about it.  So I guess that’s why I write about and video everything I do.  Even getting a flat tire in a random place is worth sharing because something funny always comes out of it.

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