I carry a million pieces inside my heart of the faces I have seen, the sights I have absorbed, and the lessons I have carried. For a vacation destination, I pick new places to add to the over-brimming chest of treasured memories instead of returning to the same place each time.
And yet, here I am, along the sandy beaches, the bamboo trees of Jamaica eating at the same restaurants, staying in the same resort, climbing the same waterfalls. But why?
I realized the reason why today when I and Sahir were battling the thundering, slamming onslaught of Dunns river, climbing atop slippery boulders. My nervousness stemmed from two reasons. One, my husband and I had to split. So, it was just me and Sahir. Second, he was an eight-year old I fiercely protected and just taking care of myself was a task as I am not athletic, never had been and the source of all my adventures stemmed out of companionship with my husband and without him, I was unsure of my sure-footedness.
So here we were. Dunns river had made its way to the beach. The cool water blasted itself into the Caribbean Sea, it came smashing down boulders as tall as four feet. Sahir and I started.
I glanced back at Ali who was taking care of my little two. I followed Sahir but ten feet in, the water roared in maddening fury, it rumbled in trembling seizures, and the water threatened to release the grip of my trembling feet along an almost vertical climb of the falls. Sahir whimpered. I whimpered. I glanced back. Sliding down the falls was not an option and going above made me want to cry.
At that instance, a set of sure hands reached for Sahir. Two girls (teenagers) held him as I mouthed a thank you. Suddenly I realized, taking care of Sahir was not a problem any more. He had already brisked away good fifteen feet from me. The problem was me. I hollered from behind and asked the locals to wait for me. I would never catch up, I was sure of myself.
Another set of hands, grabbed my hand and took me along. They did not leave our sides the whole journey, lifting Sahir in pools more than three feet deep. Some of them did not know each other, but they formed a chain with me and my son, and I knew then why I crave Jamaica anew each year as though it was a whole new destination.
Sure, Jamaica has the beaches and all-inclusive heavenly retreats. But that is not why.
Sure, Jamaica has the green, calm rivers amongst its lush green mountains. But that is not why.
I return to Jamaica because of its people. Midway, we stooped to carve our names at the river bottom, on stones. One girl wrote, Tori 2018. A boy wrote, Gary. Sahir wrote his name. Tori smiled and said, “Next time you come, look for your name.”
I was here seven years ago when I had climbed the Dunns River Falls with Sahir, an eight-month-old infant and all I had to fend for was me. And, here we were seven years later. Maybe, in seven years we will return to find Sahir’s name who visited Jamaica as an infant, now as an elementary-school-aged kid, and who knows in the future as a teenager.
I love Jamaica for its people, for its laid-back culture, for people idling on the street, for children wearing blue school uniforms walking from the school in the evening, for colorful hats, for simplicity known to so many few. The place has endured and yet, if you peek into the eyes of any of the locals you sense true happiness. Back in our car, in the parking lot of the falls, a family opened champagne and cut a birthday cake atop the trunk of their car. They lacked the fancy-themed birthday parties, the luxuries people in the west get accustomed to. The broken shacks along my window on the ride back showed the brunt of countless hurricanes, and the endurance and perseverance of the people who hold stranger’s hands assisting them through the falls unconditionally. I lack a photo with them or the knowledge of their names or their lives or their tribulations, but I will carry them in my overloaded heart and pray they keep their joyful, giving spirit intact through the long, meandering journey of life.
Ya Mon, Jamaica!