Travel & Culture

Jamaican Style Summer (Part 1): May 30, 2007

In May 2007, I traveled to Jamaica. It was my first trip off U.S. soil and boy, was I in for a surprise. During my 3 month stay there, I kept a journal. Below, you will find the original journal written on May 30, 2007.

Dear Journal,

I haven’t kept a journal in a long time, but I figured one would be beneficial now as I am in Jamaica for the first time.  In fact, this is my first time traveling outside of the country.  I’ve been here since last Friday, May 25th and my experience thus far has been exciting but it is also teaching me a lot of patience.

This is a business trip.

I am here on a “business” trip as my dad would call it. LOL, no really I am here to conduct research with a university based in the U.S. I was selected from a large pool of applicants to conduct research on HIV risky behavior among individuals who are already HIV positive (or HIV seropositive individuals).

Spelman graduation and preparing for my departure was quite hectic.

Prior to arriving here on Friday, my life was hectic.  I graduated from Spelman last Sunday (May 20th).  On the 21st, I moved out of my dorm, and picked up my degree.  YES!!  I was in so much of a hurry that I not only forgot my homecoming dress, but I also forgot my entire suitcase full of winter clothes.  Which I will definitely need in Boston…(ahh!)  But anyway, I’m here now… and resting (I guess?)

The program suggested that we keep a journal because we would want to refer to it later. But I was a little apprehensive at first because the last few times I’ve kept a journal people have gotten to it and read it and were offended.

But anyway, back to the business.  I left Friday morning at 7:00 to get to the airport.  I was sleep deprived.  My mom wanted me to finish writing my thank you cards for my graduation party, but I was too sleepy.  I stayed up the entire night packing. I was definitely dosing off while writing my host family’s number for my parents.  I got to the airport at about 7:20am and my parents walked me in.  The international portion of the airport was very nice.  First, I said goodbye to my parents.  My mom wanted to walk me to the gate, but of course the security would not allow her to.  I made my last phone calls to Granny; my friend, Willow; and cousin Tisha (she called me).  And I also texted my brothers, Eric and Kobi; cousin and sister-in-law, Kim and Kya.

Traveling to Jamaica Alone on Memorial Day Weekend

I slept the entire way on my window seat.  The seats on international flights were way more comfortable than the ones that traveled within the US.  The happy couple next to me asked if I was flying to Montego Bay by myself.  I was like “Yup.”  I guess I never really thought about it but I was flying to a vacation spot on Memorial Day weekend.  I must have looked pretty weird traveling by myself.  I didn’t even think about that until the woman next to me asked where I was going.  I slept the entire way.  I woke up a couple of times for some water and sun chips.

The landing in Montego Bay was pretty cool.  We were flying over water and then this island appeared out of nowhere.  It was as if the island started where the runway was.  That was pretty cool.  Then it got kind of chaotic and I will use the next section to describe my immigration experience and warn others who are traveling for the first time outside of the country.

Passing through Immigration and Customs

I had to fill out this immigration card: my flight number, destination, address, length of stay etc.  As soon as I entered the airport I knew I was in a different climate: it was so hot!!!  I had a sweater on and definitely had to take it off!  The immigrant personnel wanted to know the address to where I was staying.  But I did not have the address on me.  I had to call them with my calling card and cell phone to ask the research assistant from the University.  I had to stop with all my stuff (including my brand new laptop, $400 in cash and traveler’s checks, I-pod and digital camera.)  And I knew that I stood out like a sore thumb.

That wasn’t all.  Then on to the next phase of interviewing.  The immigration personnel wanted to know the purpose of my visit, who I was staying with, the number to whom I was staying with, what school the program was affiliated with, the school I graduated from, the graduate school that I would be attending in the fall etc.  Then he called my host family to verify that I was staying with them.

Arriving at the HOT Jamaican Airport

It was still hot.  I had to get my stuff from baggage claim.  Some Jamaican men helped me with my bags but I didn’t know what to tip them because I didn’t know how to convert US dollars into Jamaican dollars.  So I just have them 2 US dollars. This was my first contact with the Jamaican men.  Everyone was telling me the Jamaican men were very aggressive and smooth.  Then others told me to watch out because they know how to sweet talk American women, so they could marry an American and come to the US.  So I was expecting them to be fly, but the Jamaican men that helped me with my bags weren’t very fly.  I mean they talked to me very nicely.  “Hi Lady.  Let me help you with your bags.  Do you have a boyfriend?”  But they’re clothes appeared as if it required a good soak in some warm water.

Getting Acclimated to Life in Westmoreland, Jamaica

Anyway, today is Wednesday, May 30th and today Dominique, my partner, and I were getting acquainted with Savanna La Mar.  (The Jamaicans refer to Sav-la-Mar at Sav.)  It’s like the downtown area of the parish we’re staying in (Westmoreland).  I really want to get to know this area because I want to just go on my own.  Because I didn’t take care of business with graduate school before I left Atlanta, so now I must do it all here. I must find an apartment, get financial aide and register for classes.  I have so much to do and it is all very difficult to do when I don’t have Internet access or a phone!  But I should be able to make phone calls from my new cellular phone tomorroww! Can’t wait because like I said I have so much business to take care of in the States.  Plus, I want to get in contact with the other interns in Montego Bay.

Meeting My Research Mentor

Dominique and I met with Dr. C. my mentor today.  She seems nice. She’s young and reminds me of my former mentor from Chicago.

Well that’s all I have for now.

Until Later,

~Yaa Yaa~

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