I’m sitting on the campus of the University of the West Indies, latte in hand, writing this. It’s time to continue reflecting on my recent impressions of Jamaica. How do they relate to my previous perceptions?
During this trip, I’m mixing with a certain kind of educated and privileged people. So my picture of Jamaica will reflect their world, not the world experienced by less advantaged sectors of society. That’s a side of Jamaica that I’m unlikely to see much of. But then I suppose the same could be said for many foreigners who visit here.
Over breakfast this morning, the conversation turned to social class. Rohan, a Jamaican Muslim from Mandeville, told me that Jamaican society is heavily class-based. People move in their own little ‘bubbles’, consisting of their personal networks of family, friends and acquaintances, It’s reminiscent of the Chinese concept of guanxi, or perhaps of wasta in the Arab world.
Within that bubble is where things get done. Those who move within privileged bubbles have access to the top levels of society. Perhaps they went to a good school with a classmate who later became part of the Jamaican government. That’s an important member of the bubble right there. Those from less privileged backgrounds still have bubbles, but they don’t have access to the influential classes. Getting a decent education is their best chance of making it.
Jamaica has a population of just 2.7 million. That’s a mere drop in the ocean. Thanks to the country’s small size, many people know each other. There’s a strong sense of community here.
Sabrina arrived from New York yesterday evening to join our group. At Norman Manley Airport, the guy on immigration asked her the purpose of her trip. She told him ‘meeting a friend’ and he asked which friend. So she flashed him a What’sApp photo of said friend, Hume, whom he immediately recognised from her numerous appearances on Jamaican TV and assorted other media.
So that gives some idea of the scale of life on the little island of Jamaica, compared to the bigger cities I’ve gotten used to. But that’s certainly no bad thing. As the famous Jamaican saying goes: ‘Wi lickle but wi tallawah.’ To me, Jamaica already feels like a small place with a huge character. In nation branding, having bags of personality means you’ve already gotten off to a good start.
And finally, I have to say, Jamaicans’ idea of a rush hour traffic jam is quite a joke compared to Istanbul or Jakarta! LOL 🙂