Originally named ‘Xaymaca’ which translates to “the land of wood and water“, Jamaica is the place I called home for my first 21 years of life. I am asked this question every time someone finds out where I am from; “so why did you leave your beautiful country to migrate to the U.S.?” and after a brief chuckle and a short stroll down memory lane, my response is almost always the same; “to pursue an opportunity that became available to me.”
Like many Jamaicans, I was vaguely exposed to the American culture and values by means of television shows, through friends who traveled it’s terrains during the summer break and would come back looking like new money at the beginning of the school year, and through migrant relatives who returned to the island for what was described as a “well needed” vacation.
I would particularly look forward to seeing these relatives in anticipation of receiving the blessing of the crisp and seemingly coveted U.S. dollars which when converted to Jamaican dollars was more than enough to earn me some summer must-haves like bun and cheese, bag juice and prepaid cellular phone cards that I could burn through faster than the time it took you to read this paragraph.
I spent a good chunk of my childhood listening to stories of trips to the United States and daydreaming about the day I could say I was “coming to America”. While I waited my turn, I would fill in the gaps in my mind about what the experience was certainly going to be like. I’ve since been privileged to not only see what the United States is like, but to also live here as well in which I have for over 12 years. (Yikes! Where did the time go?) May I add, I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to live in such a great nation. Though very grateful for access to more resources and an abundance of new experiences, there are some signature luxuries about living in Jamaica that I do miss dearly and no matter how much time has passed, the yearning remains the same.
I know I cannot speak for all Jamaicans currently living in the U.S., but I can confidently tell you that these are easily some of the things I took for granted that I miss the most:
1. The Fruits
In my teenage years in Jamaica, it was a privilege for me to be able to buy American fruits in any of the Jamaican supermarkets. Purchasing grapes and American apples were considered as “a treat” as they were a little on the pricey side. Once they were consumed in their entirety, there would be no more to have until the end of the month when the next paycheck would hit.
Guinep (or spanish lime), pictured above, is one of the fruits that I miss most. I know, it’s probably not that impressive of a fruit to many, but the memory of what it represents means the most to me. I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on a bunch neatly packaged for sale in one of the supermarkets I shop at in the Tampa Bay area. I was delighted at the discovery and as you may have guessed, it did not matter what it was going to cost me to make that purchase, I had to have them. Unfortunately, unlike Jamaica, there was no “taste and buy” so the risk level was pretty high.
The package with the shiny green outer shells of the fruit took me back to some of the best summers I’ve lived through. I always looked forward to the guinep sellers riding around the neighborhood on bicycles selling bunches and bunches of guineps out of a cardboard box. Looking out for these guys by the way, was an extreme sport for me. Though the fruit would leave a stainy residue on the tongue and even on my clothes when the juice fell, it was still a hallmark to a well spent summer.
Guineps aren’t the only fruits I miss. The list is rather extensive to include fruits like sweetsop, soursop, naseberry, East Indian mangoes and of course sugarcane. Making this list was rather torturous.
2. The Food on the Beach
I have a feeling you are probably wondering why is missing the food second and not first. Well, that is because anywhere you go in the U.S. where Jamaicans are located, you will most likely find some semblance of the staple dishes. From jerk chicken, to curry goat, oxtail and beef patties, I have access to them all, one way or another. I do however miss seeing the street cooks out in the busy streets on a Friday night making jerk chicken on jerk pans and the inviting and irresistible aroma that would fill the air fresh off the caramelized and seasoned to perfection chicken. It must be noted how the chicken was always cooked to perfection even though the jerk pans or make shift “grills” had no temperature gauges.
One specific dish that I miss the most out of all, is the freshly fried fish and festival that would be made in the huts by the sea side. There’s no better experience. Enjoying the fish dish while soaking up the cool sea breeze is an experience that even though simple, should be a bucket list item. The Jamaican KFC is another staple experience. You would only understand if you’ve tried it.
3. The Pastries and Snacks
I’ve had some very delicious and beautifully decorated donuts in the U.S., but nothing warms my heart more than the simplicity of the pink berry flavored jelly filled prestige donuts with the lightly sprinkled sugar garnish. Yum! This is only one of the many delicious snacks I grew up on. Pastries and snacks like grater cake, peanut cake, onion bits, big foot, tiggaz, just to name a few, will forever leave an impression on my taste buds. Should I even mention the sweet potato pudding and the delectable fruit cake made at Christmas time? My grandmother would make it a yearly tradition to bake dozens and dozens of Christmas cakes which, in my biased opinion, is still the best I’ve ever had.
4. Working Less
My first major job fresh out of high school at age 19, was an entry level statement renderer position at a bank in the New Kingston area. It was a salaried job. I worked 8 hours per day and one of those hours was a paid lunch. Yes, you read that right. So for all my mathematically inclined readers, I worked on average, 7 hours a day. Maternity leave, as I remembered it through my observation of others, (hold your horses), was 3 months with pay. That meant nothing to me at the time.
FYI: “Across the country (The Unites States), employees who are paid an hourly wage for their services account for 82.3 million workers 16 years and older, representing well over half (58.1 percent) of all wage and salary workers in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hourly workers have always been the backbone of the U.S. economy, and the importance of the work they do has only become heightened during this pandemic crisis.” (source).
All of this does depend on the choice of career but if you know, you know.
5. The All Inclusive Resorts
Summer of 2021 was when it dawned on me that I could not have the all inclusive vacation I wanted if I was not in Jamaica. To be fair, I have not traveled to many tourist destinations in the world or even here in the U.S., so I am not saying Jamaica is the only place that has great all inclusive experiences, but I first experienced this kind of vacation in Jamaica. What I payed for one night at a beach resort in St Petersburg Florida, which shockingly did not even have complimentary breakfast, I could have possibly paid for at least one night at an all inclusive resort in Jamaica with the guarantee of getting three meals. Yes, food is important to me because “belly ungrateful”.
6. Living Debt Free
Don’t get me wrong, you can live debt free in America, but unless you were guided properly before your arrival, you will most likely understand how finances work in the United States well into a few credit card mistakes. The financial backbone of the United States, from my vantage point, appears to have planted it’s feet securely on a credit score system which bases your financial fitness through your ability to manage debt. You only start to build a credit score when you start to borrow money and avoiding debt is difficult because your credit score is like a boarding pass to a flight to your next major purchase. Please correct me if I am mistaken.
I personally believe this approach is a set up for present and future financial failure. If you have not moved to the United States as yet but are planning on doing so soon, may I suggest a very careful approach to acquiring debt. Less is more in this regard. I am no financial expert nor am I qualified to give financial advice, but I would be selfish to not bring some awareness to avoiding the money mistakes I made. On the flip side, it can be very beneficial to not have to wait indefinitely to save up enough money for something that is needed asap. This of course depends on who you ask. Whatever you decide to do just remember, “a borrower is a slave to the lender“.
7. The Diction
I just miss using the letter “u” in words like neighbor (neighbour), color (colour), and favorite (favourite). I know, this is probably not a big deal to you, but it gets annoying having to explain it was not a typo and that you can actually spell.
Feedback from Jamaicans in Tampa
To gain some perspective, I took to the streets to locate other Jamaicans to chit chat with about what they had missed most about their beloved island.
My first stop was at a local Jamaican restaurant. Trudi, the first person I spoke with, was a server at this spot was brought to my attention as the only Jamaican available at the time, so I took a few minutes to talk to her:
Me: What is the thing you miss most about Jamaica?
Trudi: The atmosphere. I am from the country part of Jamaica (my interpretation of country is anywhere except Kingston or Spanish Town). The air in the mornings is so fresh and clean. I don’t experience that in America. I also miss the authentic food. I cyaah (can’t) stand anything out of the tin like tin ackee.
Trudi lost me at ackee. Fun fact about me: I cannot stand the taste of ackee. This is unfortunate because it makes up the Jamaican national dish.
I left this local spot and headed to a beauty supply store close by as I remembered there were some Jamaicans who worked there. After I had made my purchases, I once again sought out the Jamaicans that worked there. I found two very polite young ladies who were more than happy to participate in this conversation.
Me: Hi Sade, I’m just curious to know, what is one thing you miss the most about Jamaica?
Sade: The food.
Tanika: Deinitely the food.
Me: Is there anywhere that you can go locally that can provide you with food that is close to the original?
Sade: A mi yaad! (At my home) – this response tickled me
Sade: I also miss seeing how much pride we take in how we dress. People are a lot more casual in America.
Me: I agree. I was mostly surprised by the laid back dress code policy in many professional settings. This of course is not necessarily a bad thing and it does take the pressure off having to impress anyone by having to buy expensive attire when the money could be used for other important purchases.
Sade: Yes, Jamaicans know how to dress like fowl foot. (Jamaicans go hard with their attire)
Me: True, not to mention the church attire. No one went to church dressed casually. (this I personally do not miss)
Tanika mentioned a few things that, in true Jamaican style, I will leave unmentioned. Trust me, it is for the best.
Things I Do Not Miss About Jamaica
“Then if you miss there so much why are you here?”, some may ask.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not all sunshine and warm friendly smiles on the island. The media has paraded enough shortcomings about Jamaica to raise enough concerns and fears about the possibility of even visiting. Like any developing country, Jamaica has room for improvement.
Among the things I do not miss are the high cost for food and utilities. I also do not miss having to wait monthly for the salary to hit my bank account, and most certainly do not miss the limited resources and the lack of opportunities for advancement. Jamaica as mentioned earlier, is still developing, so I say these things with as much grace and love as possible. No matter the shortcomings, I would not change the experiences of my early years on my beautiful island.
As the Jamaican proverb encourages, “strive for a happy blend between the old and the new” and that is what this post is all about.
What do you miss most about living in Jamaica? If you still reside there, what is one thing you love about living there? Please share your thoughts below. I would love to hear from you. Until next time, have a blessed week.
Updated: November 26, 2021
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