Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Mon 14th Aug, 2006

Being an Australian Overseas

My interest was piqued when I saw the news on the ABC website about a Melbourne man being murdered in Jamaica. Mainly because I've visited Jamaica and I wondered what had happened. The article's a bit sparse on that actual detail of course - much more interesting to talk about what kind of a fun-loving, innocent-abroad guy he was. While I would have liked to know what had happened, I'm glad that at least the ABC hasn't been reduced to making stuff up, baiting the audience with pure conjecture.

But what I really took offence to was the step-mother's comments to trust no-one overseas. "You can't be an Aussie overseas," she says, and "they have a different value on life." Yes, folks, life is cheap in Jamaica and us cool, forgiving Aussies don't stand a chance against those naughty darkies. They have 'different' values, 'different' obviously implying 'inferior' here. Just stay home, be Australian in Australia, and thank your lucky stars that you were born in the Greatest Country On Earth and not some shithole like Jamaica.

It's jingoistic guff like this that makes me ashamed to be Australian.

I've been to Jamaica. The best time was watching big sweaty guys roast Jamaica Blue Mountains in a halved 44-gallon drum over an open fire, stirring with machetes and having a smoke. This stuff sells for $9 per cup in Japan. I laugh to think what the Japanese would make of their quality standards. I gladly paid the equivalent of about $30 per kilo for the coffee, knowing that 90% of this was going directly to the owners of the very farm I stood on. That was a great time.

The worst time was walking home one evening, by myself, from the local equivalent of KFC - serving the island's specialty, Jerk Chicken. ('Jerk' is a blend of spices including Jamaican Pepper (Allspice or Pimento) and as hot a ground chilli as you can get. Mmmmmmmmm!) About five metres from the door, a guy shook my hand and started walking with me the entire 200 metres (or, more accurately, 45 kilometres) back to the hotel gate. He was begging for money the entire time. As politely as I could, given that I was in a country where my very skin labelled me a foreigner, I declined. To know that generations of tourists have rooted the place over until the known best way of getting a quick buck is to beg it off tourists is a terrible thing that sits like a acid snowball in your gut. Once you read the Lonely Planet guide and realise there were months of anti-American and anti-Tourist rioting in the 1970s, you don't treat the place as just another bright, green countryside.

But, to put that in perspective, the entire time we were there that was the worst I ever suffered. Kate got one or two more suggestive comments until she learnt to wait for the bus inside the hotel's gated compound. No holdups, no drive-by shootings; and we walked from our hotel through Kingston about 1.5 kilometres to go to Devon House. The thing that impressed us was the total friendliness of the people there. We had one car stop and wait for us to cross the street that he was just about to turn down. Tooting the horn there means anything from "I've seen you, you can go in front of me" to "Just letting everyone know that I'm overtaking uphill on a blind corner so just slow down a bit." It all works perfectly, and our driver on our final tour to the coffee plantations was as nice a guy as ever I've met.

Yes, it's different there. They're still struggling to be a country without also being America's social dumping ground. There are places in Kingston that I would never enter without a local escort. Maybe Bryan Johnstone went to one of those places. There are people I'd never invite up to my hotel room. Maybe Bryan Johnstone got friendly with a local guy who he thought was just his bestest pal and had to show his collection of carved coconut shells. I don't know. It's entirely possible he just had a heart attack and died. We don't need some arrogant jingoistic woman telling everyone that the world is a naughty, naughty place and to only go places that you don't need a passport to enter.

So, yes, travel to Jamaica. Don't go there assuming that the streets are as safe as your own suburb, or that you can make jokes with the locals. Yes, tread carefully, and realise that there are still plenty of people who see travellers as a walking money dispenser, but don't let that stop you going and seeing and doing all those cool things you want to. And don't spread the fear.

(This also reminds me of that article in the YHA newsletter that basically said that if you're over 30, then you can forget about travelling altogether. All the cool people inhabit all the places that you want to go and they don't want you there. Besides, your slack elderly body can't cope with all the skiing, waveboarding and other hijinks that only the young can apparently do without embarrassment. To add insult to injury, there's the photographs of the author beside it, this young 20-something girl who's been all over the world and whose only concept of getting old seems to consist of medicines, complete incapacity, and senility at 35. Way to go, YHA, way to market yourselves.)

Last updated: | path: society | permanent link to this entry

All posts licensed under the CC-BY-NC license. Author Paul Wayper.

Main index / tbfw/ - © 2004-2023 Paul Wayper
Valid HTML5 Valid CSS!