In Defense of Jamaican Driving

This post is dedicated to newbie, Cory Enger. I don’t know you yet, but you wanted a blog post. Here is my not-so-timely and completely daft response.

I preface this by saying I do not have a death wish. I love life. Especially in Jamaica. If I died tomorrow, the me of today would be pretty bummed. The me of tomorrow would just be dead… and probably ruing the day I conceived this blog post. What a horrendously morbid digression.

[Insert butterflies, bunnies, warnings of hyperboles, and pink (beating) hearts here. Tra la.]

Traveling in Jamaica means dodging potholes the size of small craters (sometimes filling with water making them lickle ponds requiring fjording), hairpin corners taken at 100 kph, clouds of sand and dust blowing into the window and covering your entire face, never, never, never wearing a seatbelt, and suicidal (or drunk?) bus drivers who pretend they are driving roller coasters rather than 35-passenger, mostly-functioning vehicles.

JA public: where we like it fast and dirty.

So this is where my defense of the drivas, ductas, and taxi men (and sometimes women) begins.

1. Swerving to avoid potholes and nearly killing yourself, your passengers, and the goat tied to the tree on the side of the road

When we talk about potholes in Jamaica, we are not referring to the cute little divits that remind us in the states that winter is over (but man was she a bitch). No, no! These are craters with diameters of feet and depths of the same. They can easily ruin cars, buses, small artillery vehicles. So when my large, Belgium-crafted JUTC bus squeals to a stop, or my taxi driver decides to tempt fate by driving precariously close to the edge of a very tall cliff, I don’t fault them. Many of these drivers are responsible for their own vehicles. If their car or bus gets mashed up by attempting to drive over one of these abysses, they could potentially lose their ability to generate an income for days if not weeks (or longer). Yes, life is important. But what is life if you cannot care for yourself or your family? Moral: Avoid potholes like your life depends on it, even if it means perishing in the process. (Or… try to live in an area that is represented by the majority, and thus has a chance at decent roads. Hooray for politics?)

2. Driving so fast that half the minibus literally flies around narrow, hairpin corners

Imagine this: You are an honest person trying to provide for your family. You live in Port Antonio and drive a bus to Kingston and back every day. The first bus to Kingston usually fills up around 6am, the last bus to Port Antonio around 8pm. You need to get as many trips back and forth in that timeframe as possible. Are you going to drive like a happy, middle-aged New England couple out for a Sunday ramble? Hell no. You are going to try to give your vehicle wings. Most drivers do this by standing on the gas pedal for the duration of the journey. I find this to be advantageous for both the driver and the passengers. Why would I want to lengthen my time spent sitting next to a leering old woman while passing a sick child between the aisles? Drive on driva man! Get me to our destination quickly. Moral: Embrace speed.

3. Why you should have a water bottle and sweat rag with you at all times

Sitting on public for 2.5 hours with one leg numbly pressed against the side of the bus, and the other propped on an old (incredibly excited) man’s thigh makes for a hot bus ride. Window seats can be sweet little saviors when you are stuffed into buses like sardines. (Five to a row is standard, and this can increase if there are children who can “squeeze” into the negative space next to you, or better yet, sit on top of you). Window seats are your friend. Yet, beware (and surprise!) construction does happen on Jamaican roads, leaving dry, dusty piles of sand and dirt to come flying at your face as you zoom by. I once came off a bus with the entire left side of my face darkened by red dirt. For once, Jamaican men were not looking at me out of curious lust. It was more like fear. Who is this blonde girl with the half gray-brown face? Believe me, a curiously lusting leer is better. Defense & moral: Road construction = good. Windows = great. Water and sweat rag to wash face after disembarking = priceless.

4. Who needs a seatbelt when you have fluffy women?

At a recent gathering of PCVs, it was suggested that the safest place to sit on a bus is between two fluffy women. Why, you may ask? Well, dear friends, seatbelts do not exist on any kind of bus and are rarely worn in taxis. Fluffy women are they key! Perhaps a spot near the window or even the front seat might seem more comfortable, but if you are nervous about your safety, make friends with the two larger ladies smalled up in the middle of the bus. Try to snuggle right in between them, and put your bag in your lap. Say a quick “Good morning,” smile, and not only will you have your human seatbelt (there is no possibility of movement when you are packed in that tight), but perhaps a shoulder for a pillow when you inevitably nod off. Bonus: If you have no idea where to go after you reach your destination, these ladies also tend to take you by the hand and lead you to wherever you need to be. Moral: Fluffy ladies are Jamaican favorites. 

5. White rum + Human Drivers = Best New Amusement Park Attraction

The title speaks for itself, no? In all seriousness, I am not advocating drunk driving at all. If your driver is drunk, get out of the car. We learned this in high school, and just because you are in Jamaica, does not mean you are invincible. Yet, occasionally you get a driver who (if not drunk) certainly has some fun on the road. Swerving when there are no potholes, trying to mow down goats as they pass, wineing (dancing) to the Usher and Celine Dion mixes that plague the airwaves, and trying to pass a line of traffic while driving around a corner—these are telltale signs of a driver who is just a little bit bored. And why wouldn’t he be? Could you drive the same route multiple times and day, every day? I couldn’t. And this goes for the ducta too. If he wants to sing off key to a lickle bit of Beyonce while hanging out the door of the bus—enjoy it! Moral: The bus ride may be boring for you, but it is even more so for the people who do it every day. Revel in the hilarity that is provided.

So, obviously this post is meant to be slightly humorous. If you ever feel truly unsafe in a vehicle while in Jamaica (or anywhere I suppose)… get out. Nobody is forcing you to stay on board. Yet, I defend public and its zaniness. I certainly am amused whilst traveling to say the least, although I sincerely hope that this blog post does not instigate the almighty transportation gods to act against me in any way.

Walk (& drive) good.

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4 responses to “In Defense of Jamaican Driving

  1. It’s never too early to think about the Third Goal. Check out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir. Oh! If you want a good laugh about what PC service was like in a Spanish-speaking country back in the 1970’s, read South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir.

  2. Good Day Valadora!

    Sorry to bother you. My name is Ray Blakney and I am a RPCV from Mexico. I am working on a 3rd goal project with the PC regional offices and the main office in DC to try to create an online archive to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost. I have created a sub-section on the website my wife and I run – http://www.livelingua.com – with all the information I have been able to get to date (from over the web and sent to me directly by PC staff and PCV’s). I currently have close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios and even some videos.

    The next step for this project is that I am trying to get the world out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV’s or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site they can send it to me and I can get it up for everybody to use. I was hoping that you could help getting the word out by putting a link on this on your site at:

    https://valainjamaica.wordpress.com/

    so that people know it is there. There should be something there for almost everybody. It is all 100% free to use and share. Here is the specific page of the Peace Corps Archive:

    http://www.livelingua.com/peace-corps-language-courses.php

    Thanks for any help you can provide in making this 3rd goal project a success. And if anybody in your group has some old material they can scan or already have in digital form, and want to add to the archive, please don’t hesitate to pass them my email. Thanks and have a great day.

    Ray Blakney
    blakney.ray@gmail.com

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