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A Freelance Writer’s Life Abroad: Inside Peek at My Life as an American Living in Negril, Jamaica for a Year, Part XXX

I can’t believe I started writing this series in 2010. June will be 7 years, which makes the title of the post kinda incorrect. I’d only planned to update it for a year, but readers kept requesting more and more and more information.

And to be honest, I have so much fun sharing what I’ve learned about living here on this gorgeous island that the series just kinda took on an Energizer Bunny life of its own – ie, it keeps going and going and going. LOL! 🙂

Access all posts in this series: They’re at the end of this post.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Here’s the site’s affiliate disclosure policy for full details.

Living in Jamaica Full-Time: Almost 4 Years & Counting

At any rate, here we are at the 30th installment of this travel series. I’ve been living in Jamaica full-time now unofficially since 2013; officially since 2014. What’s the difference?

In 2014, I registered my business here. I had to in order to be in the country year round. As a non-resident, you can be in Jamaica for up to three months legally. You can extend that by another three months by paying for an extension. It costs $10,000 JMD (about $90 U.S.) as of this writing, and is done at the Immigration office.

Before I became “official,” I’d do this at the immigration office in MoBay, as the locals call Montego Bay. MoBay is about an hour and fifteen minutes away from Negril, so it’s closest to me. You can also get it done in Kingston, and a couple of more places on the island I think.

Getting a Work Permit in Jamaica: You Need One to Live Here Full Time

Once I registered my business, I was official – which meant that I can be on the island year round, as long as I pay my taxes and adhere to all stipulations of my work permit.

You can read about that process here, as well as other ways you can legally live here full-time as a foreigner (be sure to read the comments on this post).

7 Things I Know for Sure after Living in Jamaica for Almost 4 Years

In this, the 30th installment of this series, I wanted to do some reflecting on what it’s like to live in a foreign country.

After a few years, some ideas have changed; some have been reinforced and others have caused me mixed emotions. So, here goes …

1. America Will Always Be Home

“Wanda,” a part of my name (Yuwanda) means “to wander.” So I guess you could say that traveling is part of my DNA. I’ve always loved learning about new cultures.

This was fostered by my parents growing up. Even though we never had much money, we were always on the go – to Disney World, Sea World, Bush Gardens, weekend car trips to relatives, etc. In case you haven’t caught it yet, a big part of my childhood was spent in Florida, where I was born.

I’ve visited 11 countries – not a lot by “world travel” standards – but more than many. And, I lived in New York for almost 20 years. I mention that because NYC is like a mini universe of its own. You meet people from all different walks of life from all over the world. And if you’re lucky enough to become friends with some (as I have), you live their culture through them – the food, the dance, what the politics are like, etc.

With all of this being said, there’s no place like the United States for me. I will always visit other cultures; I will always be curious about the world at large, but my permanent home — where my heart is — is America. I miss it with a passion at times, and never feel quite as comfortable any place else as when I’m in her borders (even as a black American – and that’s saying something cuz she ain’t exactly been the kindest nation for people who look like me).

2. Human Beings are Malleable

And what I mean by this is, you can adjust to things you never thought you’d be able to adjust to. I particularly like living in Jamaica because it’s considered a third-world country. There is abject poverty, for sure, but Jamaicans are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. It’s the corruption that makes poverty so rampant here – but that’s a subject for another day. Back to being malleable.

For example, for the last month and a half or so, there have been water problems. I haven’t had a shower in this entire time because the water pressure is not sufficient. During the day, you may get a trickle or a stream for a half hour or so – if you’re lucky.

I feel like a “water whisperer” these days because I leave the tap on with a big jug under it to capture water when it does come on. And I drop whatever I’m doing to go to the sink and fill up all bottles that have been emptied within the last 24 hours or so.

Ever since I’ve been coming to Jamaica, there have been sporadic water problems. I’m talking every month you may have a day or two where you don’t have water for a few hours. But this situation here has never happened before. But it’s my new reality.

Rasta carrying palm fronds. Treasure Beach, Jamaica (click for larger view). Copyright: Yuwanda Black.

I used to have a hissy fit when the water went out for a few hours; now, I’m just glad that at least I get enough of a trickle every day to be able to keep water bottles filled so I can do all I need to do, eg, cook, flush, wash dishes, bathe, etc.

And yes, I do bathe every day. I heat water in a pan and take it to the bathroom to complete my toilette. Just wanted to clear that up. It does make hair washing a pain though, so I’ve been washing my hair less. And then, of course, there is the ocean, but you have to bathe to get the salt water off.

My point – I’ve adjusted to this new reality, as I had to adjust to so much when I first moved here; eg, the stifling heat, no AC, no washing machine and dryer, no Walmart to run to to get the 1,001 things you take for granted that you can just pick up at the shopping giant.

Malleable. Just remember, you can adjust to almost anything if you have to. There’s actually something very settling in the spirit about that.

3. Love Is a Cultural Thing

I’ve dated a few Jamaican guys since I’ve been here; even fell quasi in love with one. Jamaican men are some kind of sexy; there’s a lyrical quality to their already sexy (usually deep) voices that can make a girl swoon. And swoon I have! But the culture is so different that I doubt I’ll ever find one that I could build a life with. Why?

Now what I’m about to say is a gross generalization, and its based on my experience of living in a well-known tourist town in Jamaica (Negril). So here goes — womanizing is big here. There’s no other way to say it.

It’s practically accepted that a man will have more than one woman. He has his main woman, who may be his wife or a woman he lives with and/or has children with, and then there are the rest of them – the ones he “deals with” on a regular basis.

One friend said to me once, “You will never meet a ‘single’ Jamaican man. They always have a woman.” From my limited dating experience and just what I’ve seen and heard with my own eyes, it’s true. Being faithful to just one woman seems to be the exception rather than the rule – at least here in Negril where I am.

I see the same guys with their “in season” women – the ones who come back year after year during high season (mid-December to mid-April) and hook up with the same guys. Then, when they go, the guy will be with either another woman (women) he’s found, or his main woman – who he’s been with all along.

This I have SEEN, and I know women it’s happened to – and I’ve heard tons of other stories.

Because it seems to be somewhat of a cultural norm here in Negril, I just could never trust a man I met here to be faithful. And for me, when there’s no trust, there’s nowhere to go from there.

I’ve had my fun, for sure, but I don’t take the guys here seriously. To be completely honest, it took me a while to accept the reality of the way things are, but once I did, I started dealing with the guys differently.

I haven’t dated anyone for almost a year and to be honest, I don’t foresee that changing. So my love life has been put on hold until I get back to the states (2020 is my target move date).

To give a little perspective, I was married to an Argentinian, and culture was a big part of why our marriage didn’t work (infidelity had nothing to do with that). As I get older, I realize I don’t want to take the time to figure someone out.

It’s why I hope to meet a nice, southern black man when I move back to the states. Them, I relate to and have a lot in common with (music, lifestyle, religion, life experiences and expectations, etc.). With some hard-earned knowledge under my belt, I realize how important this is. I just want to get to the loving part; I have less patience for the “figuring out” part.

Living in NYC in my 20s and most of my 30s, I dated lots of guys from other cultures. It was fun and cool and I learned a lot. But the only men who excite me these days are black men – from America.

Again, what I’ve said here is based on my personal experience. I’m not hating on Jamaica and I’m well aware that infidelity happens all over the world (Real Housewives of Atlanta, anyone?”), especially in predominantly tourist towns.

One final thing I’ve learned about love – or lack thereof, in my case. Because I don’t date, I spend a lot of time alone. I’ve always enjoyed my own company, so this doesn’t bother me. What it made me realize though is that I’d rather be alone than be in a bad relationship. I have plenty of opportunities to date (any woman who comes to Jamaica will have no problem finding a man), but I don’t do drama so if I never meet anyone, I’m fine with that.

Another thing I’ve learned for sure is that …

4. Simplicity Rocks!

When I lived in Atlanta, I had a huge house (5 bed, 3 bath, 4,200 sq ft) and all the other trappings that come with living in middle-class suburbia in a cosmopolitan city.

Living in Jamaica among so many who have so little, my view of life has definitely shifted a little. I say “a little” because I grew up poor, so I’ve always been aware of “the struggle” and never took anything for granted. But after I had so much, then downsized to a studio apartment, it reinforced for me all over again how if you have the following – you are beyond rich:

  • Loving friends and family;
  • A roof over your head;
  • Food in your belly;
  • Clothes on your back; and
  • Good health.

Many people pay lip service of gratitude to these simplicities, but I don’t. I am supremely thankful for all of them.

I see people with no running water in their house.

I see hunger (thankfully not a lot of it but enough of it to make me feel grateful for each mouthful).

I know of people who live “in the bush.”

I also see lack of opportunity – which to me is one of the saddest things of all. We take for granted in the states things like public education. Here, parents have to pay for uniforms and books and cab fare to send their kids to school. And it’s not cheap!

I once dated a guy briefly who came from a large family. He said when he was growing up, because his parents couldn’t afford to send all the children to school at once, some of them would go one week; others would go the next week. In essence, they rotated going to school. He was hella smart, but couldn’t read very well – and it was all because of lack of opportunity.

Living here has taught me to take NOTHING for granted, even the stuff we consider crappy in the states (eg, poor schools). At least they’re free, and we can get some kind of education — even if it’s not the best.

I’m so attracted to a simplistic way of living that one of the things I’m considering doing when I move back to the states is to build a tiny house (if I move back to Atlanta). I live in a studio apartment now – about 300, 350 square feet. And there are corners I don’t even go in. I can’t begin to imagine living in a big house like I used to have.

My needs – and wants – are much simpler. I’ll always love Jamaica for rooting this lesson even deeper in me.

5. The “Godliness” of Nature

There is a God (or Buddha, or Allah or superior creator – whatever you may call him/her/it). The reason I know this is when I look out at the ocean from my balcony every morning, or see a storm rolling in over the sea, I know that a force greater than man is at work.

The vastness of it, and the beauty all around here – from the mountains to the sea – you feel the “bigness;” the magic of something greater than mere human beings. I know it’s real because it’s so majestic, and man has a tendency to destroy what he builds and somehow try to make it “grander.”

When I look to the sea, or at the rushing waters below in the canyons when I’m in the mountains, there is no grander to be made; no bigger needed; no imperfection to be fixed. It’s as perfect as the creator meant it to be.

And every corner is a photo op, so if you come, make sure you have a great camera because you’ll kick yourself for not having quality photos. Even a good one can’t capture the magic of this island. I’ve tried – and a photo never looks as beautiful as what you see with your own eyes. It just doesn’t.

My nickname for Jamaica is “The Garden of Eden.” I call it that because – as a Christian – I think that when God created it, he had a place like Jamaica in mind (if not THE place that is Jamaica).

To me, that’s what that commercial means when it says, “Once you go, you know.” Again, the beauty here is indescribable.

Fun fact: Jamaica is known as the “land of wood and water.” The name Jamaica is derived from the original Taino word Xaymaca, meaning “land of wood and water”. So while popular references on Jamaica commonly invoke its culture, music, sports and personalities, Jamaica, as such, is literally defined as its physical and natural resources; everything else came afterwards.

6. Western Medicine vs. the Root Man

I’m a pill-popper. Before you get the wrong idea, what I mean by that is, if I’m having a toothache or a cramp, or a headache, then I’ll take a pill in a minute. I’m not one to shun the use of Western medicines because I “don’t want that poison in my body.”

I have no problem with those who feel this way, but things like giving natural childbirth – when all those lovely painkillers are available – is just pure folly. Again, that’s just me.

But living here in Jamaica has changed that for me a little. I look for homeopathic options more. There are so many herb doctors and root men/women here. As far as I can surmise, it’s because many can’t afford to go to the doctor every time an ailment hits. So, they use the roots and herbs found in nature to cure their aches and pains.

One time, a friend and I were walking. He pulled a green leaf off of a bush and turned to me and said, “This has “cocaine-like” qualities. I use it sometimes when I have a toothache.” Another time, I was a little constipated (sorry to overshare) and he gave me some bean-like things he pulled from a tree.

He said, “Chew a couple of these every morning. You’ll be fine.” Sure enough, worked like a charm. It could put Ex-lax out of business. I’m not kidding y’all!

I know where the “root man” is and I’m much more likely to seek him out if I have an ailment than run to the pharmacy – except for sleep. I don’t play with that. I’ve tried some “natural remedies” (if you get my drift), but nothing works like Xanax to help my acute insomnia.

7. I’ll Always Come Back

I have a love/hate relationship with this country. Some things are so frustrating — eg, power and water outages, and the rampant corruption that stunts so much economic growth. But the beauty here — it’s literally stolen a piece of my heart.

Also, I’ve fallen in love — with a little girl who I’ve known since she was three (she’s 9 now). I know in my bones she’s the child I should have had — and I got her, I just didn’t give birth to her. Everywhere we go, people think she’s mine and she even looks like me. I tell her mom all the time that if God forbid, anything ever happened to her, I want to raise her daughter.

Finally, I have roots here. I found out via some family history that one of my cousins did that my earliest known ancestor (from like around 1784) was from — you guessed it, JAMAICA! I was floored. He was my great great great — however many times it goes back — grandfather. And get this, he was a carpenter, like my dad and many of his brothers. A skill passed down from generation to generation, ya think? 🙂

“Black” (my surname) is a common last name here; apparently a name with some “heft” as someone said to one of my sisters. And I’ve seen people who bear a striking resemblance to some of my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side. So I guess you could say Jamaica is part of my DNA. I even asked an Immigration Officer about filing for residency based on that documentation and she said it most likely can be done. Who knew!

For all of these reasons, I’ll always come back to Jamaica; it truly has become like a second home.

Conclusion

I’m sure I could come up with a litany of other truths Jamaica has opened my eyes to since I’ve been living here full-time for the last few years. But this post has gone on long enough. So I’ll just end with this: “Once you go, you know,” and you’ll come back again and again, and again – like I did before I made the move here full-time.

Planning a trip? Following are some handy, what-to-pack tips.

Jamaica Travel Necessities

Swimwear & Cover up: The swimsuit is obvious, but you’re gonna want a coverup when you leave the beach to sit at the bar and watch the sun set while you listen to some reggae and sip on a rum punch.

The aforementioned camera.

Phone: Get one with a good camera if you don’t bring a separate one. Also make sure it’s an unlocked one with a dual SIM card slot so you can buy a Digicel SIM card (about $5 as of this writing), slip it in and use that while on the island instead of incurring hella expensive phone charges if you use your regular phone to call back home.

Note: Digicel is the largest phone carrier in the Caribbean, and the one most Jamaicans use. I like Samsung cuz their phones work seamlessly internationally with Digicel.

Shoulder bag / Wallet / Fanny Pack: Please make it stylish!

Water/sweatproof sunblockI’m black, obviously, and was born and raised in Florida, but let me tell ya, this Caribbean sun is a whole different kind of heat. I don’t play with it at all – I wear sunblock every day.

Beach bag: Preferably one that zips to keep as much sand (and little creatures) out as possible. Also good for security in that no one can just stick their hand in and grab stuff if/when you’re not paying attention.

Umbrella: A compact one you can slip in your beach or shoulder bag. The showers (which usually doesn’t last long) can come out of nowhere; so always carry one with you, especially in the afternoons.

Mosquito/bug spray: The higher the Deet level, the better in my opinion. The mosquitoes here are vicious little bastards! And mosquito spray is expensive as heck here, so bring it with you – and keep it with you. I’d buy a travel size to keep in your fanny pack/shoulder bag, and a larger can to take to the beach with you and/or in your room to spray yourself with before going out in the evenings.

Hat/Sun Hat: Get one with good face coverage, especially if you’re fair and/or burn easily. Like I said above, I’m black, and I don’t take chances with the sun. I almost always have a hat and sunscreen on – especially if I’m out during the middle of the day.

Sunglasses: Bring at least two pair. Why? Because you’re gonna lose a pair; you just are.

Whether it’s the rum kicking in and you forget them, or you step on them while they’re hidden in the sand on the beach, you’re gonna always need another pair, and there aren’t the greatest options (style-wise) here. For this reason, leave the expensive designer ones at home and invest in a couple of “cheapy”, but stylish, ones.

Sturdy walking shoes: You’ll be walking a lot here, and the lay of the land is not conducive to non-sturdy shoes. A cute little sandal with a thin strap will break in a minute. Sturdy flip flops or something like Birkenstocks work well for walking.

Also, sneakers – if you like your feet covered and/or like to run on the beach.

Shorts / Sundress: I suggest fabric that is 100% cotton or linen. Anything else (eg, a poly-cotton blend) can make you feel like you’re in an oven. It gets so hot here, and I personally feel like I’m roasting if I’m not in 100% cotton – and that’s hard to find here (besides in t-shirts) believe it or not.

Most clothes seem to be a blend. I never shop for clothing here – always bring stuff back from the states when I visit because it’s hard to find 100% cotton. Also ladies, long sundresses, while cute, you’ll feel hot. So I say knee length or shorter; none of this “maxi dress” stuff. And the less form fitting, the better. I like the flowy ones where if you’re lucky enough to have small boobs and can get away without putting on a bra, the better.

Exposed flesh is just skin here

As an aside, one of the things I do like about living here is people are much more laid back about “sexy” clothing. You see women in the shortest shorts, tightest dresses and butt cheeks and side boob everywhere. Now I’m not saying that style is for you (definitely not for me!), but nobody’s going to look sideways at you if you don’t wear a bra and your boobies are flopping about a bit.

Negril is known as the “Capital of casual,” so don’t sweat it, literally. I go down to my gate to let friends in in my shorty short nightshirt all the time. If I bent over, you’d see my underplunders, but nobody bats an eye – and sometimes, truly, I forget I am in my jammies!

Extra Under Plunders: You’ll be changing them a lot more than you probably would at home (unless you wear your bathing suit bottoms or you like to go commando) because you’ll probably shower more while here if it’s really hot. Here again, I advise going with 100% cotton. Maybe not as sexy as a Victoria secret silky pair, but cool is the goal here, and there’s nothing like non-cotton fabric rubbing against a sunburn.

This happened to me in Barbados — the first time I ever got sunburned. Before that, I never even knew black people could get sunburned. I mean I knew, but I never thought it would happen to me! I’m Florida born and raised after all. But my boyfriend at the time (who was Bajan) said, “I told you — the Caribbean sun is different.”

He wasn’t lying. Cotton draws have been my friend ever since!

Party Hearty! Besides the above, the only other thing you need to bring besides the suitcase carrying it all, is an ability to forget your cares and have some fun!

If you like this post, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share it on Pinterest or your social media outlet(s) of choice – and with anyone you know who may be planning a Jamaican vacation.

P.S.: Get All the Info You Need to Learn How to Live and Work from Jamaica.

How to Work and Live Abroad from the Caribbean: It’s Easier Than You Think to Make the Move to an Island Paradise

Some of the topics covered include:

**When to start planning your move;
**How much you’ll need to save;
**When/why to do a “pre-move”;
**Getting around Negril (transportation costs);
**Job opportunities in Jamaica;
**How to find an apartment and how much you should expect to pay;
**And so much more.

P.P.S.: The first thing you need to have a mobile career — besides a location-independent job — is a blog. Click here to learn why, and how to get one.


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