In the summer of 2011, Jave went home to Jamaica for the first time since immigrating to the U.S. two years prior. And of course I went with him. Jave is from Negril, a little piece of Jamaican paradise known for its turquoise clear water, Seven Mile Beach, and the cliffs from which brave tourists and locals alike jump each day. Jave has made the 40-foot plunge several times.
If you head past the main part of Negril towards Sheffield and back into the countryside, you’ll enter into a little neighborhood called Ketto. Jave grew up in this quaint community that’s home to less than 100 people. It reminds me of Walnut Grove from “Little House on the Prairie” – island style.
As with most Jamaican neighborhoods, many families divide a huge plot of land, and everyone gets their own yard on which to build their own houses. Many houses are made of wood, have tin roofs, and no indoor plumbing. Other homes are more westernized as they’re made of concrete, and have indoor plumbing. For those who live in houses without indoor plumbing, they use outhouses and outdoor showers. I remember walking past a house at night and hearing a man’s voice singing nearby. When I looked, I saw a man showering in the nude, apologized, and quickly looked away. Whoops!
Most people in Ketto, or Negril for that matter, are somehow related to Jave. Every fourth person we run into on the streets of Negril ends up being one of Jave’s cousins, aunts, or uncles. I’m not exaggerating! It’s pretty amazing just how big Jave’s family is, which is true of many Jamaicans.
Life in Ketto is very rural. There are sugar cane and corn fields, coconut and banana trees, and all sorts of other vegetation throughout. The morning light will greet you with roosters crowing and yard dogs barking. There are a few neighborhood convenience stores, built in front of the owners’ homes that sell everything from snacks to tampons. One of Jave’s neighbors, Ms. Lolly, also owns a convenience store, and she raises chickens. She has a coop on the side of her house with hundreds of chickens. Whenever someone needs a chicken for dinner, they just stop by Ms. Lolly’s, and she’ll slaughter, pluck, and butcher them. Talk about organic! Most people also grow their own fruits and vegetables like yams, dasheen (similar to purple potatoes), and callaloo (the Caribbean’s answer to black Americans’ collard greens).
The hardest thing about staying in Ketto is that it’s so quiet. There’s a partially paved road that runs through the community, but cars pass by very infrequently. Whenever I stay in Ketto, the slow pace, the quietness, and cold showers are the things that it takes me awhile to get used to. Whenever I’m there, I spend a lot of time sleeping, visiting with Jave’s family and friends, and playing dominoes on the side of the road. There’s never much to watch on television since there are only about two channels. But it’s refreshing to unplug and get back to basics. Oftentimes, Jave and his friends pass the time playing cricket in the middle of the road.
Over the years, I’ve grown to love and appreciate Ketto, and I’d encourage anyonevisiting Jamaica who has family or friends in rural areas, to stay with them. Doing so will show you an entirely different side to Jamaica apart from all of the tourist hot spots and away from the beach hustlers. But after staying for two weeks in Ketto, I was more than ready for some stimulation!
Do you have a favorite off-the-beaten-path destination? Please share…