The customs line entering Jamaica was an endless meandering of smiling faces happy to arrive in the Caribbean. While the line moved along quickly, it stretched on long enough for me to look around at who was visiting Jamaica with me. It was not difficult to know who was who was visiting and for what reason. I saw two distinct groups.
One group stood close together, in pairs, hand-in-hand. They wore sunglasses, new rings and had Jamaica travel guides attached to their wrists. The other group stood in packs of four to eight people, wore matching T-shirts with smart Biblical slogans and had leather bound scripture attached to their wrists. As I was reminded by the stout gentleman in front of me in the customs line, “There is much to be done in the Caribbean.” He went on to tell me how the people of Jamaica needed to change. He did not elaborate on his plans, but confirmed that he was a missionary — and not surprisingly, had a mission. I suppose he wants the people of Jamaica more inline with his T-shirt slogan and reading material.
I fit into an odd third category as visiting travel writer, I mostly observe, sitting in a group of one with a little spiral-bound notebook attached to my wrist commenting about the writing on T-shirts. That said, I do not want anything to change in Jamaica. I still want to leave the U.S. and find places that have their own flavor of life and show me that my interpretation of the grand scheme of things may not be perfect for everyone.
While I appreciate good intentions, I believe our differences may be our greatest gifts to each other, that differing perspectives offer insights that I could not learn on my own.
After the woman at the customs booth stamped my passport and I wandered out Montego Bay, I was glad to see Jamaica had changed only a little, the food was even better than I remembered — and that tourism is still winning over do-good-ism, for now. Personally, I hoped the man with a mission would try, and leave, the spicy greens and reggae music just as they are.
Wonderfully written article. I am lucky enough to know people who own homes there and have visited the place a number of times over the years. I have traveled the Island from length to width 5 times over, have scuba dived its waters and rode horseback within its mountains, not to mention consuming vast amounts of alcoholic beverages and space cakes. It is truly an island paradise on the surface. The ‘real’ Jamaica however, saddened me because of the poverty and corrupt government. The last time I was in town purchasing food in Negril, a young lady of about 10 years old walked up to me sporting a 5 inch diameter hole in her leg that was stuffed with dirty toilet paper to keep it from becoming more infected and to protect it from the flies. She was asking for some of my groceries as her mother stood by, nodding approval. I gave her all my groceries and spent the night on the beach hungry and in deep thought. I so wish that experience was an isolated incident for me but it wasn’t. It is status quo there once one leaves their tourist shoes safely tucked away in their suitcases and walks in the same shoes, the natives do. “All that glitters is not gold, all who wander are not lost…”
I would agree, sadly, these are not isolated incidents. I have been to many countries where I have seen similar and had similar experiences. Corruption and poverty are nothing new and should be experienced first hand as a means of understanding and compassion — one of my core beliefs as to why travel is so important.
I have two articles coming soon that are exactly what you are speaking about here. Jayne, the inspiration is much appreciated. For me this article was meant to speak to adding another thing, that the people cannot control, who have an already full plate, and whether the do-gooder is helping the people or themselves.
Although I can’t know for sure without having spoken to the do-gooder myself, from his comment my gut is telling me he is one of a myriad of missionaries there who have managed to circumvent the governmental corruption by supplying free food, shelter and medical treatment to the impoverished inhabitants of that beautiful island. And no one need even ‘join jesus’ to receive so much as a crust of bread. It is all as free as God’s grace, itself. Although there are many missions already in existance there, the need unfortunately still far outweighs the supply and so there is ‘much work to be done’. And I guess regardless of where we place our feet when we travel, it only serves to reveal the larger and grander Journey within: “As above, so below” and I will add: “As within, without”. I so enjoy reading your publication. Exemplary. Truly.
Thank you for the kind words, and I am grateful for the exchange. This is exactly how we get to know each other even when we disagree. I love your use of the Kybalion.
I hope that you are correct to the descriptions of the missions. However, it would be different from my personal experience at home and abroad, sometime even at my front door.
I would suggest that wearing the matching T-shirts and carrying scripture may not demand conversion or to “join” a specific ideology but it is the billboard that comes with the “free” services, making the services not entirely free. The charity comes with a specific message — otherwise the T-shirts and scripture in hand would be unnecessary.
During my travels I have met many people in need and have helped when I could. Sometimes I have felt awful for not doing more due to my own lack of resources. I have known many others who have dome the same. Still I have never marketed any philosophy or dogma, subtly or otherwise, with a particular uniform before I tried to help. I think it puts the people being helped in a very awkward position of feeling required to listen.
This is an excellent article…..there are lots of us out there who can appreciate what’s different about another country in it’s REAL state. I’ve told people this so many times when they ask “weren’t you scared?” after reading articles about ghettos and garrisons I’ve visited in Jamaica.
Hey you forgot the other group at the airport….the Jamaicans returning home. You know the ones who got their hair and nails done and are in a competition for the most bling they can return home with LOL!