From London to Ocho Rios: Sweet Jamaica
Hi readers and thank you for taking the time to read this interview. My name is Jules, I am originally from London, but now I live in the sunny and beautiful Caribbean. I have the pleasure of calling Ocho Rios, or Ochi (as we call it), Jamaica my home – the land of wood and water.
1. Why did you move abroad?
From the age of 15 I knew I wouldn’t spend all my adult life in the UK, but I didn’t know where I would move to. I love London, but I think living in London can become a trap where you are always pushing for a ‘bigger and better’ everything, whilst quietly thinking ‘will I over work myself before I am able to reach retirement age?’ From the first time I visited Jamaica I fell in love with the freedom, possibility and opportunity on the island and knew I had to find a means someway, somehow, to call it home.
2. How do you make a living?
I do not currently work in Jamaica as there is some bureaucracy to getting a work visa and setting up a business, if you do not have any ancestor or marriage concessions. But, I am in the process of dealing with it and I have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline. I have ran a construction business in the UK for the last ten years and I have my blog www.sweetjamaica.co.uk and an upcoming business ‘LonJam Trading’ which keep me busy for the time being and enable me to ‘pay the bills’ over here. I also assist with the local community, farmers group and my adopted schools in rural St. Ann and am also in the early stages of setting up a charity over here too.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I am really close to my family and love to keep in touch. It is actually cheaper for me to call the UK than the other way around as there is a great international plan that Digicel offers to call UK landlines, so I tend to do the calling! I usually talk to my Mum every couple of days to catch up with the goings on in London and the business as she stays up late and the time difference doesn’t bother her. I speak to my sisters at least once a week and my friends a few times a month.
To be honest, I have tried Skype but the connection is terrible and it actually becomes an annoying experience instead of fun! I do fly back to London a few times a year as well though and this enables me to catch up and sort myself out before heading back to my beloved Jamaica.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Jamaica?
Being able to experience and immerse myself in a different country and all that it has to offer. Plus, as I was raised, educated and have work / business experience in London, I have been exposed to alternative ways of doing things. This has enabled me to gain a skill set that puts me in a position to encourage and mentor people who haven’t had that opportunity, so that they may realise their full potential and entrepreneurial spirit too. Tackling environmental and recycling issues, sustainable living and alternate farming practices are also of great interest to me and in many ways they are in an embryonic stage in Jamaica, this also gives me maneuverability to get involved and help make a difference in a country that I love so much.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Jamaica?
Sometimes feeling like all eyes are on me as people are interested to ‘pree’ (look and study) me, so you can lose a sense of anonymity. Also some people will assume things about you from things they have heard about living overseas, and others will offer you ‘tourist’ or uptown prices. I would also like to clarify that people from ‘foreign’ (abroad/overseas) do not have an ATM machine in their navel that gives them money whenever they need it, like most people, we have to work hard to earn money to live! I do find that ‘busting a likkle patois’ tends to make most assumptions about me and the higher prices disappear though!
6. What do you miss most?
Aside from thinking about my family and friends a lot and missing out on special occasions with them, I am really happy living in Jamaica so don’t miss much about London. I always wanted to move abroad and I just love Jamaica and all it has to offer. The food over here is delicious and there is so much to do, plus the gorgeous weather is always a massive bonus.
There are times when I do miss the shops in the UK, as good quality items are expensive in Jamaica and on the flip side I miss routing around the £1 shops for bargains! I sometimes crave foods, such as salt and vinegar walkers, party rings, flour tortilla, or deli foods (cheese, hummus, sundried tomatoes, olives, and pesto) which you cannot buy here, or if you can they are at extortionate prices. Plus other things which I wouldn’t normally eat on a regular basis when back in London…. Such as this evening I made home-made pasta sauce and spaghetti (except after opening the packet I realised it wasn’t spaghetti, but macaroni that was as long as spaghetti – weird!)
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I had the advantage of coming here with Jamaican friends the first time I visited on holiday, so we left the shiny hotels behind and stayed with friends and relatives in their homes. Therefore, I immediately immersed myself in the local lifestyle, culture and community and as Jamaican’s are so friendly I always had someone to talk to.
I must admit on the first trip here the language barrier was sometimes frustrating and other times hilarious as we tried to decipher what each other were saying, especially when in the rural areas where they talk faster and their accents are stronger. But, again I took my time, I people watched, I listened keenly and I learnt the local dialect, so that I could converse with people from all walks of life and feel a part of everything. It is also recommended that you learn the ‘going rate’ for things in Jamaica and familiarise yourself with the currency, so you’re not fumbling around when spending.
Five years later when I decided to try living here I moved to a busier area where I didn’t know anyone, to really test myself and see how I coped on my own in Jamaica. This took me away from my comfort zone and the familiarity, but it forced me to go out there and meet people. Luckily for me I have made friends, some of which are my neighbours who live in the same complex as me, but it took a while, so be patient! If you are wanting to mingle in a less in your face way than going everywhere solo, I would recommend attending church, the gym / sporting activities, joining local community groups, or volunteering with local schools, charities, orphanages or environmental groups. You will be amongst like-minded individuals and will easily find kindred spirits to share your time with in Jamaica, so get creative and think ‘outside of the box’.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Jamaicans are very direct and have a custom of giving ‘pet names’ (nicknames) to each other, this is often very literal to the individual’s looks or personality traits and would probably be classed as being politically incorrect in the UK. So don’t be surprised if you hear someone being called Fish Head, Knock-Knee, One Foot Man, Blacks, Miss Chin, Indian, and Whitey and so on. However, far from being used as a derogatory insult, it is deemed to be a term of endearment and is not to be taken offensively! To give example, when in the UK a Jamaican meeting his cousins for the first time said ‘What’s up Fatta’ much to the disgust of the rather plump relative. When his mother scolded him afterwards, he retorted ‘What should I call her slimmer?!’, as he genuinely didn’t mean any disrespect and didn’t know why she was so upset!
Jamaican’s much to their credit are very inclusive of all people, and you will see all walks of life included and socialising together. They do not objectify or disassociate from anyone who is less fortunate than themselves, or who for example, has a disability, although many have homophobic tendencies. It is not uncommon to see the young and old mingling together and you will often see examples of this at night spots, or social gatherings where you will find them huddled together playing dominoes, or you will see a man in a wheelchair getting a wild dance from a fit, sexy woman!
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That Jamaica is still living in the dark ages and is full of Ganga smoking Rasta’s and / or criminals who want to sell you drugs or harm you! OK it is different to London in many ways, and there are problems here and poverty, but Jamaica is up-to-date with what is going on in the world and is full of mannerly, decent, hard-working, inventive, God fearing individuals. We have internet access, cable TV, the latest gadgets and technology, tools and new cars over here. Plus, all the usual things are on offer over here such as cinema, theatre, stage shows, night clubs, bars, good restaurants, attractions, horse racing, car/motorbike racing, cricket and other sports, museums, art gallery and installations, shopping malls, beaches, basically something to suit all tastes, budgets and age brackets. There are excellent education facilities, universities and many highly educated and successful people, living in beautiful residences with all the trappings of a westernised culture. To assume that all Jamaicans are illiterate, violent, non-achievers would be a great disrespect and underestimation of all the hard working Jamaican’s over here.
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?
I was quite surprised at the cost of living in Jamaica when I first came here. Food prices are comparable or higher than in London, for example I can buy 5 plantain in London for £1.00 or $150.00, but it costs $80.00 for 1 plantain in Jamaica! Water and electricity rates are high and I have to wonder how many of the poorer people and business owners here cope with this expenditure. Electrical items, cars and all imported goods (except cheap Chinese goods) are very expensive and much more so than London. But overall my living expenses are lower than in London and I live an enjoyable, but not excessive lifestyle. Like London you can live high class here, 5 star all the way if you want to go all out, but at the same time you can live more economically if that suits you too.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
First and foremost I would say that Jamaicans are very proud, they can be very direct when talking to you and aren’t shy to express themselves. Remember that we are all people and have the same bodily functions, so you are not better than anyone else - you will be setting yourself up to fail and may receive feelings of contempt if you portray yourself as better than others. Get out there and experience the people and the culture, for they will become your friends, colleagues, neighbours and fellow community members. Speak to strangers politely and formerly, as it traditional to use the prefix ‘Miss’, ‘Aunty’ or ‘Mr’ and so on, especially when speaking to those who are older than you. Don’t get a false sense of security, or lock yourself up indoors because you are in another country. I would always advise that using common sense, not getting involved in matters that don’t concern you and not being too ‘out there’ as this will keep you out of most discrepancies. What we would class as ‘chit chat’ in the UK, some Jamaican’s would find as being nosey, so don’t get all up in people’s business or ask too many questions about their personal life.
From the first time I visited Jamaica on holiday in 2006, I made it my point of duty to check out the local EVERYTHING as I knew I wanted to live here! If you are planning to move to Jamaica, I would advise coming here first, live amongst the locals and see if you can manage it. It is important to check out different areas and find out about the local amenities, as at some point you will need food, household and personal items, utilities, a bank, post office and so on, so it makes sense to find out if all you need is on offer. Gated communities offer many people peace of mind, whilst living in more remote places suits others – talk to people who have a connection with the area, or other expats.
Expat websites and forums such as www.blogexpat.com and www.easyexpat.com/forums/ are a great impartial way to glean information about the neighbourhood and get the inside scoop on living there.
Oh, and make sure you buy or bring plenty of sealable containers to store food stuffs, as Jamaican insects and creatures are very wily and will find a way to taste your favourite foods and invest in stainless steel as everything else rusts really quickly!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog in 2012 as a way of sharing my experiences of living in Jamaica.
Jules's blog, Sweet Jamaica
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