Wild Jamaica

Seidist Symbol

 

Let’s get this out of the way: I never wanted to go to Jamaica. Truth be told, I was roped into one of those all-inclusive deals with my folks that was both too good and too valuable to pass up, like a Popeye’s buffet or a free month of Cinemax. To be fair, you never woke up and said to yourself “before I die, I want a Cinemax subscription” or “gee, I’d like all you can eat chicken strips and middling biscuits”. Jamaica occupied a similar if not comparatively disproportionate place on my bucket-list with respect to a cable service and chicken. To clarify, Jamaica ≠ Popeye’s (if anything, It’d be KFC, but I digress completely).

 

One of my Jamaican guides “Topman” argues that the mammoth 2-story KFC in Montego Bay is the highest producing KFC on Earth.

On the surface, I knew the things most people know about Jamaica. It’s a Caribbean, island-nation comprised largely of the descendants of African slaves who fought and won their independence from England, the natives spoke a curious and lyrical, yet largely unintelligible creole-patois, smoked loads of weed, and consumed a variety of spicy meats in their original jerk style. On its face, these facts should warrant at least a modicum of interest from anyone calling themselves a “traveler” as I do. Part of my hesitation was that Jamaica had been somewhat overwrought in the contemporary Black American consciousness, especially among New Orleanians and in various corners of the interwebs had acquired the veneer of being a dangerous place. Whether it was the thought of somehow finding Taye Diggs in the Jamaican bush to get one’s groove back, being reincarnated into my new animal-spirit avatar à la Snoop Dog/Lion, or developing a predilection towards hemp, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of exoticizing and or profiling the country and its people in any of the familiar ways. To combat this, I told myself that I could take my cameras (as I tend to do when I travel) and try to capture Jamaica and by doing so, better understand the place, and its people. With that in mind, I set off.

 

Louis Rankin’s portrayal of “Lennox” from Hype Williams’ cult classic Belly or Basil Wallace’s “Screwface” in the 90s Steven Seagal flick Marked For Death have contributed to the perception of Jamaicans as evil or villainous.

The day before the trip to Jamaica, I came to the devastating realization that I forgot my passport in an apartment I had been maintaining for work in the Midwest. The entire week before, I had spent time researching and preparing information for my family to ensure they were well informed and able to travel to Jamaica safely and smoothly. For all of the obsessing and occasional anxiety, I had spun into a larger web of uncertainty about visiting Jamaica, it was deserved karma for me to have left the most critical document for traveling internationally. I had heard stories of people doing stupid things like not checking to confirm possession of their passports until the day before travel, but I never thought that person would be me. My family was rightfully bewildered, justifiably disappointed. I had to fix my mistake.

The day of the trip, I ushered my family to the airport and set off to get to Jamaica by any means necessary. Speeding and focused down I-10, I acted on a plan I put together based on a tip I had received from the American Airlines concierge desk. The attendant told me that in rare instances like mine, the passport office could issue me a passport the same day. Anyone who has applied for a passport knows the amount of time that it takes to process the document. Naturally, I was skeptical, not only because of the haloed reputation of the passport itself but the more sobering reality that nothing happens quickly in New Orleans. It’s the “Big Easy” for a reason. This couldn’t be more apparent than trying on short notice to have the necessary documents and photos for my new passport printed at Office Depot.

When I got to the Office Depot on St. Charles in the downtown New Orleans, there were no other cars in the parking lot. I actually beat the store staff. Like waiting for the signal to burst in and trample over my neighbors for a $2 dollars savings on a blender for Black Friday, I shot in Office Depot once the associates who were moving about with all of the zest of a sloth. As if at once, all the machines stopped working because of course, and the earnest yet foggy staff shrugged helplessly as if resigning that the rest of their day would go down from there. After some troubleshooting and wrangling, I was able to print my documents and continue on with my plan. I raced out of Office Depot faster than cake at the office, than cake at fat camp, than cake…ok, people like cake and eat it quickly. Despite my doubts, I put my best foot forward, and sprinted to up to the office in New Orleans’ posh Canal Place mall, jet through security, and perhaps anticlimactically, got my queued number and breathlessly waited in line.

The room was sterile and a bit too well lit for 8 am and registered to the senses somewhere between an operating room and the DMV. Inside, everyone wore the same mixed expression of frustration and fatigue. Once called to the window, I explained my situation and, with more disbelief and desperation in my voice than I would have liked, made an impassioned appeal to have my passport processed so I could make it to Jamaica. After some cartoon-like huddling and whispering, the staff said they could accommodate my request. Relieved, followed their instructions and paid a costly, yet altogether worth-it fee to have my passport processed same day.

With my new passport in hand, I felt a pinch of relief and with a renewed sense of hope, believed I could make it to Jamaica behind my family, albeit later than initially anticipated. I once again made my way to the airport to see if the airline could get me on another flight to make up for the one I had missed earlier. It took some time, and I had to suffer through the usual indifference and stubbornness of the check baggage staff, but eventually, a manager came through sorted things out and got me out on a flight the next day out of Dallas. I was tired, I was relieved, but most of all, after the effort I exerted, I was finally excited to go to Jamaica.