Land of Wood, Water and Laughter
I want to introduce you to the people.
“Badniss” or badness goes hand-in-hand with Jamaicans as much as pride and a large ego, both traits lending themselves to said badness. Jamaica has been subject to slavery and colonization and much of the country’s history has been entrenched in classism. The outcome of this is folks in the lower class getting the short end of the stick. The government and upper echelons of our society push cultural domination by their standards of acceptability. The system is organized in a way that makes it hard for the lower class to gain elevation, and as such, crime and violence is often attributed to the desire for comfort and basic human necessities like food and shelter.
Deemed “middle class” by society’s standards, I exist between worlds. I’ve been privileged enough to be provided most things; I’ve had the latest clothes, and in high school, I was given my first cell phone. While there have been times of struggle, I’ll never know how it feels to go to bed hungry. “But where I come from, full up a gunman, but everyone a laugh because the likkle youth dem have food inna dem lunch pan… where I come from, everyone’s happy.” This line from Major Lazer and Chronixx’s “Where I Come From”, is how I’ve come to understand Jamaican people: We joke and laugh, because we have to, as a means of escape.
According to the New Economic Foundation’s 2016 Happy Planet Index (HPI), Jamaica is ranked as the 11th happiest country on the earth. The HPI paper states that the research seeks to show how countries across the world are providing long, happy lives to their citizens using natural resources. Though we have those statistics to prove the government is doing well with achieving sustainable wellbeing, as a citizen, it is sometimes hard to see the results.
Going by names such as Wet Sundaze, Uptown Mondays, Mojito Mondays and Magnum Wednesdays, there’s a different dance almost every night. For many, these parties provide a welcome distraction from the harsh realities of life in Jamaica. Despite living in fear with crime at an all-time high, we still laugh, drink, and dance; but we do so surrounded by a gloomy atmosphere and a haunting feeling. The government attempts different efforts at quelling crime, but we hardly see any difference; so, we laugh, and we spend our last, trying to be happy and chasing euphoria.
The happiness index presents statistics that would make the average citizen want to query the results. The country is in debt, the government seems intent on taking its citizens for idiots—I’m speaking to the two popular parties in Jamaica—and too many of those citizens are living below the poverty line. Through all of this, the people of the country put on a mask of happiness.
We as a people tend to frequently make the best out of situations, or “tek bad ting mek joke”. This attitude is a means of survival. To have a light-hearted laugh makes situations so much better, in turn, uplifting your spirit if even for a moment.
If you take a walk through any town, you will see just how our people tek bad tings mek joke. In transit on a daily basis you will always hear laughter. A sure set of people I count on to give the best jokes are drivers of public transport, when they’re not cursing out of road rage they can be the most humorous people. You are very likely to find yourself inside a taxi with a driver doubling as storyteller skilled enough to conjure up plot twists you would have never otherwise imagined. This could cheer up someone’s day, it’s done so for me countless times.
On other occasions you may encounter vendors hawking their wares during your travels. Though they may not look it, many are some of the friendliest and most helpful people you’ll ever encounter. Now, one would expect a grouch, especially from someone who spends the majority of their day in the sweltering heat. But there is joy and laughter in spite of this.
Joviality is a mindset that has seeped into our socialisation and has become a necessary part of the Jamaican experience. Even in the home, the jokes roll in abundance, to temporarily cleanse the bitter taste one is left with from living here. Jamaicans are just like anyone else, we’re human. Depending on the social standing one has, it will influence your personality. From what I see, the conditions here will shape each person differently but we all strive for greater, and while doing so, we laugh. Jamaicans are good-humoured, and can be friendly; through all the adverse factors we have to face, the national pride of the people can still be seen. To me, we are one of a kind.