Those tv ads for various Jamaican all-inclusive hotels do a fabulous job of making Jamaica seem like an unspoiled island paradise where life is always slow and easy. Those of us who live here know better. Jamaica is a beautiful and unique corner of the earth but its not always the easiest place in which to live and you’ll need to know the “ins and outs” if you’re going to survive and maybe even prosper. So, if you’re determined to live here, or have no choice but to (because you’ve recently been deported, for example) here are some practical tips for living in Jamaica Land we Love:
1. If you see a line of more than 2 cars forming at a gas station, stop immediately. It means tanker drivers are on strike and if you don’t fill up now, chances are you’ll be walking to work for the next couple days.
2. You cannot survive without "links" – i.e. well placed contacts who can help you out from time to time. At the very least you should have a tax-office link, a bank link, a politician link, a lawyer link, a link dung ah wharf, a policeman link, a bad-man link (if your policeman link doesn’t work out) and a US Embassy link if your other links don’t work out and you need to flee the island. (n.b. sometimes your bad-man link and policeman link can be the same person)
3. Learn to give statements made by politicians the appropriate “believability weighting”:
- Statements made by politician in power: 50% believability
- Statements made by politician in power and shortly seeking re-election: 25% believability
- Statements made by politician out of power for extended period and seeking re-election: 0% believability
- Statements made by disgraced politician seeking to avoid imprisonment: -25% believability
4. Your utilities will fail at some point so you must have backup. If you can’t afford a 50 gallon water tank with a pump, you should at least have some big plastic drums on standby. You should also learn how to shower, brush your teeth and shampoo with one 8oz glass of water. Invest in a generator if you can, and if not, always have your flashlight and Home Sweet Home Lamp at the ready.
5. Never disrespect a policeman to his face. Ever.
6. Never race a taxi driver. Your car may be faster but he is definitely crazier.
7. You may want to keep at least a portion of your savings in US$. Over time devaluation may cause your J$ “nest egg” to shrink to the size of a marble.
8. Badmind is real. Learn to rise above it.
9. If a crime happens in front of you then make it known that you’re legally blind and saw nothing. However, if you’re determined to do your civic duty by testifying at the trial make sure you reach out to your bad-man link for protection.
10. Every gate and grill in Jamaica has a trick for opening it. You either have to pull it towards you, push it away from you, lift it up, push it down or jiggle it while pushing it. Experiment till you figure it out.
11. Never have intimate relations with a woman who has a jealous policeman or soldier in her past.
12. Develop a good sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurd.
13. Learn to respect Jamaican banking hours. 2:30pm means 2:30pm, not 2:30pm and 16 seconds. Security at the door has heard every possible story you can invent so saying “MY watch says its 2:29pm” will not get you anywhere. (This illustrates the need for a bank link, but note – a bank link is only good for about 3-5 mins after closing hours. After that, you’re on your own)
14. Everything is cheaper Downtown.
15. In the event of flood rains, random roadblocks/demonstrations and roads being dug up by the NWC please make sure you know at least 3 alternative routes to get from any given location in Kingston to another.
16. Invest in a vehicle with four wheel drive.
17. Develop a nose for trouble. Shots fired in the distance? Smoke rising on the horizon? Half naked man running past you with a crazed mob in hot pursuit? All these are sure signs of trouble. Take immediate action.
18. Other signs of trouble are all-too-frequent visits to the island from IMF representatives, a spiralling exchange rate and Government officials making ominous statements about the “need to make sacrifices". Steps should be taken. Arrangements should be made.
19. Learn to be patient and resilient. Trust in God.