Jamaica remains one of the most desirable vacation spots in the Caribbean. It is hauntingly beautiful and maintains a pulse of life that is transformative for visitors or those domiciled on the island. That pulse which engulfs visitors and encapsulates immigrants from the diaspora, is bewitching to those who experience the charming nature of the people, leaving indelible memories in the hearts of all who have had a taste of island life. When you are in Jamaica, life seems to take on new meaning, offering a sense of well-being and a feeling that this island is the epicenter of an earthly paradise.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I visited Jamaica for my sister’s funeral, and stayed in her home in the Bull Head mountains. A little off the beaten path, the district of Woodsville is nestled between the vibrant tourist city of Montego Bay and Sav-la-Mar, the progressive capital of Westmoreland parish. Here, one is awed by the lush and verdant vegetation and equatorial climate that bathes the mountains in a beauty that seems new each day. Along the valley people live simply, ever mindful of how blessed they are to be part of the Jamaican landscape.
Thanks to the neighbourly practice of kindness and consideration, I had the major meal of each day delivered to me during my fourteen days of isolation. I exercised, danced, and sang along with the musical rhythms that filled the air. Once again, my ears became attuned to the Jamaican dialect (patois) as people hailed one another or reported incidents in their communities on the local television.
The indigenous customs and practices of Jamaicans have not changed over the years. As people pay their condolences at the home of the bereaved on nights before burial of the deceased, traditional folks songs, ring games, board games and dances surface unabated. Nights of jollity and memories reverberate forever in the hearts of participants of these rituals, the celebrations even making everyone oblivious to the critters who have an infinite contract to provide nightly entertainment.
On nights when no one visited, night critters took to the stage providing a cacophony of sounds: the crickets with their incessant chirping repertoire of call-and-answer, croaking lizards and their deep, guttural moaning sounds, night owls ever screeching and watchful dogs, their sleep intermittently interrupted by prowlers. It was hard to sleep at first, but once I was used to the pattern, sleep came easily.
At dawn, the cocks instinctively trigger the alarm – time to wake up! A new day has begun! And the cycle of life continues as birds, large and small emerge from the magnificent flora of the pristine mountains, supplying unlimited oxygen to the caretakers of the land and its resources.
My sister’s funeral took centre stage overlooking the vault for her casket. The viewing and program requirements were carried out by the minister/moderator, and a group of singers from her local church, accompanied by guitarists, sang the pall bearers to the vault where the minister performed the last rites. They continued singing older hymns and choruses until the masons completed the casting.
A repast of curried goat, rice, vegetables, barbecued chicken, and a drink (Malta) was served as closure to the thanksgiving service for my dear departed sister. May she rest in peace as she was transported with recorded gospel reggae music.
Canadians can get information from the Jamaica COVID-19 website (travel.gc.ca) about a visit. (Filling out an online form is required). When you receive permission, take the permit along with you to the airport to show as evidence for boarding.
At the airport in Jamaica, visitors get a temperature check and are advised about quarantine protocol, which includes recording your own temperature twice daily. Any fever must be reported. Temperature is checked again before boarding to leave the island.
COVID-19 poses a challenge to nations battling with the two-edge sword of health versus wealth. Governments must keep their people healthy at a phenomenal cost while, at the same time, explore creative ways to prevent their economies from collapsing. And the fight goes on!
Etty Cameron is a retired teacher and regular columnist for Alberta Prime Times