Cars speed past me, I stumble on the rocky resemblance of a sidewalk as I navigate my way through Kingston. Keep your bag close I’m told. “Hey Princess”, a guy calls to me, where are you from? He grabs my hand, kisses it, and I walk on. Sweat. Sweat is dripping down my face. I’ve not stop sweating since I arrived nearly a week ago. Jamaica is hot, Kingston is intense, smoldering, crowded; absolutely opposite of the remote Long Bay beach town I came from. I wanted to see Kingston, it’s just that I don’t know what to do with myself in this unwalkable, dusty madness.
Bob Marley. I mean, that’s why I came here. I navigate my way, skin burning, to the Bob Marley house and now museum. Emotion comes over me as I walk into his recording studio. I’m standing in the space where a great artist created magical music. I ask about what is means to be a Rasta, not realizing it was not accepted in Jamaica when Bob was growing up in Trenchtown. I learn the history of Rastafarianism; distant stories and people become real when you travel. Lives are illuminated and the significance of Bob Marley’s music comes to life.
Now what. I walk to a restaurant that doesn’t exist, and regroup. The Emancipation Park is not what I expected, a small park in the midst of a nondescript area. I find the walkway of national heros, Marcus Garvey, Nanny Maroon, paying my respects to the amazing leaders that helped bring freedom to Jamaica. A taxi brings me downtown. I get out and have no clue where to go, so naturally, I walk towards the water. The harbor is hardly beautiful, crumbling concrete, vendors on the street greet me, fighting for attention as I try to find a clear path. I certainly do not blend in.
I make eye contact and take a risk. Where do I go? What should I see here? Jumping at the opportunity to lead me around, my self-appointed guide locks arms with me and leads me off into the bustle of downtown. My guide is a 6’4 bouncer at a strip club I find out, born and raised near Trenchtown. It’s a good day for both of us – he “got some weed, a free beer, which he leisurely sips as we walk, and now a white girl.” I have protection, and someone to answer all my questions about Kingston. We walk and talk about God, dating, how hard it is to make a living in Jamaica, the minimum wage is appalling, and what we want to do with our lives. I confide my plans to cab it to Trenchtown afterwards and I’m set straight – that’s not where I should go alone.
Safely in a cab on my way home, I realize I’m smiling. Always talk to strangers. While Kingston has been intimidating, harsh perhaps to the pedestrian tourist, I’ve met so many lovely people in just a few days. Talking to people on the streets has enriched my experience, added charm to this bustling, harsh, city. I’m warned of the danger, but it seems that this is all out of place as I walk amongst the diesel fumes and look up at the majestic, peaceful Blues Mountains that surround the city. I’m glad the warnings didn’t prevent the experience, while it may not have been comfortable, it certainly was rewarding. Life is that way it seems.