These guys (or gals) don’t look alike but they respectfully share from the same feeder, while happily chirping away. People could learn a lot from them.
I learned a lot from Jamaicans when visiting their homeland. Most warned me ahead of time to “not go off the resort premises” but strolling down the beach while mesmerized by the turquoise sea, drew my curiosity beyond the boundary line. Haphazard tin-roofed shacks from whatever washed ashore leaned every which way — a yin-yang contrast to the well-manicured all-inclusive that was my home for 7 days.
The Jamaican Patois (pronounced Patwa) beckoned me into the makeshift beach mall. My ear took some getting used to their creole language but I appreciated the creative twist on english. In and out, I scanned the line of booths sand to ceiling but most of the wares were tchotchkes made in China that I could purchase in my hometown dollar store. Still, each proprietor smiled widely while proclaiming, “Tank yuh. Tank you fi looking. Tank you fi di respect.”
Most Jamaicans live in poverty. Tourism, music or selling drugs sadly seem to be the major opportunities to increase their standard of living. I’ve had panhandlers in other countries follow me into the water, ruining an afternoon swim, or camp out just beyond the garden patio, calling for me to buy their goods. (One couple from Manhattan quit their Grenada vacation early, stating, “The panhandling isn’t this bad at home. We came here to relax…”) But, Jamaica was different. The people spoke to my heart and I quickly understood a universal desire for respect.
“I love your food. The Jamaican Jerk is delicious…nothing like back home,” I shared with the merchants. “I’ve been listening to a lot of your music on MTV in my room. I never knew there are so many types of Reggae. Do you have Tanya Stephens or Beris Hammond? I’d love to take some CDs home,” I explained to the last few shopkeepers. (Yes, I’m of the generation that still listens to an armoire full of CDs. Just another segment of my staving off technology.)
Walking back to the resort, a young Jamaican boy ran down the hill toward me, waving his arms. “Yuh di lady looking fi music?” he asked, showing me a handful of CDs.
“Well, yes I am. What do you have there?” The jewel cases sported homemade labels depicting the very artists I inquired about. We exchanged smiles as I paid him then crossed the boundary line to the resort.
That night, I watched a Jamaican grandmother teach her granddaughter the art of basket weaving while a Rastafarian played music of other Jamaican musicians I might like. The next day, the little boy made me nearly a dozen more CDs which I carefully wrapped in the intricately hand-woven two-toned basket for my travels home.
For me, the best souvenir is a meaningful piece of culture. The best vacation is connecting with natives of the homeland. I travel to experience diversity. Maybe that’s what the cardinals and chickadees do too.
It’s all a matter of respect.