By Kristi Keller
Having been a flight risk since 2003, it’s perfectly clear to me that although I’m bound by love to my Canadian home and family, and although I wouldn’t trade them for the world, quite often I do trade them for a taste of the world.
I’m a Jamaica-holic — plain and simple. I would have said “end of story,” but there’s never an end to this story. It’s almost like the universe wants me on that island for some reason I have yet to uncover. Every time I decide that 16, 17, 18 trips (and so on) have been enough, something amazing falls into my career path that drags me back to the island.
Returning home from Jamaica every time since day one has always been a difficult pill to swallow. That first trip rocked my foundation in at least a million ways. I distinctly remember the first few trips, coming home and knowing how blessed I am to have what I have. That started the inner revolt against materialism and keeping up with the Joneses. I’m thankful I had that small revelation because my life has been more peaceful for it, and I’ve changed into a person who could care less what others think about how I live. I’m just here on this planet to LIVE! And to learn as much as I possibly can before passing onto the next life (which I hope is a tropical island in the sky!).
Since becoming a Jamaica travel writer in 2009, I’ve developed an intrinsic appreciation for human life and different cultures. Although my cultural experiences are limited to one country, I can’t deny my complete immersion into that culture — at home and abroad. I have no idea how some people can go on “vacation” and come home the same person.
On two occasions I have quit life in Canada and hauled myself to the island to attempt real-life extended stays in Jamaica, and I won’t ever tell anyone it was easy-breezy and luxurious living in the tropics. That’s a misconception of people who have vacationed there without fully immersing. I can’t tell you how many times I get emails from people who have gone there just once or twice and say they’re ready to move. Unless you’ve won the lottery and wish to seclude yourself to the elite upper echelons, there’s a HUGE learning curve to life as an outsider in Jamaica. But at the same time, if you’re willing to live as a local and blend into the culture, you will find riches in your soul.
Escaping the rat race of North American life probably had the most profound effect on me. I left a ten-year government career to become an islander and quickly discovered there’s a rat race everywhere — it’s just a different kind. A slower kind, which I’m very fond of. But it’s definitely no less of a hustle. In fact, one has to play the game a hundred times harder in Jamaica to make ends meet and again, that’s where my appreciation for the local people and their endurance is heightened. I, too, had to hustle on a limited budget and quickly found out I’m no good at it, which is why I tried it twice — because the first time didn’t work out so well.
There are so many ways of life I wish I could bring home and use in Canada. There’s no such thing as picking your dinner off a tree in Canada, negotiating on a store price, buying a fish right out of the water. I love that it takes three hours to cook a damn good meal in Jamaica, but we’re in too much of a hurry at home to slow down and appreciate the process. Instant boxed food is like a religion in North America.
In Jamaica, every day is a celebration with music and noise in the street and sadly, at home we don’t even know our neighbors’ names. We keep our doors shut to keep the cold out. There’s at least one good watering hole on every street in Jamaica where the music is loud and people gather any night of the week. North Americans are so tired after long days of work that we go straight home and turn on the TV while eating boxed food.
I appreciate the spirit of anyone who’s dared to pick up and leave their lives behind — even just to try it and see if that’s what they really wanted. You’ll never know unless you try it, and if you fail and come home, streamline your process and do it again! They say life is too short. No, it’s not! It’s the longest thing you’ll EVER do, so do it well and have no regrets. There will always be another job to come back to when you’re done being a wanderer. •
Get to Know Kristi Keller from Jamaica My Way
What item can’t you travel without?
My camera is a given so my answer is my Ipod dock.
Most interesting person you met?
The street person I met who used to be a tattoo artist until his hands were crippled in a car accident. I raised money for his surgeries and years later I got a big tattoo across my back done by him. It was the most awesome “full circle” story ever.
What did you miss most from canada?
I missed my son and my dog the most.