I had been to Jamaica before, but I’d never really experienced it until my most recent visit, said Andrea Sachs in The Washington Post. Previously, I had stayed at one of those all-inclusive resorts that “encourage guests to remain on the property.” My interactions were with my mostly American “poolside neighbors,” and when I wanted to explore any of the Caribbean island, I signed up for a tour and basically got a “bubble-wrapped view of the country.” But why travel somewhere if you’re not going to mingle with the natives?
I finally got to, thanks to the Jamaica Tourist Board’s “Meet the People” program, which arranges meetings between visitors and residents based on shared occupations and interests (though “an eagerness to make an acquaintance can be enough of a commonality”). My first introduction came at Robin’s Bay Primary School, a “simple concrete structure” overlooking the shimmering Caribbean Sea. “Dressed in crisp khaki” and “shoehorned into desks,” the children greeted me in unison. I spent the morning with them and later had lunch with Brother Lion, a follower of Rastafarianism. After serving me a plate of vegetarian cuisine “rooted in the religion’s beliefs,” he led me to Reach Falls in Portland Parish. As we walked the banana trail toward the “Slinky of cascading water,” he explained that his dreadlocks were “antennae” transmitting “feelings of love and peace.” I responded with a smile.
The next day I met Hedley Jones, a 92-year-old “musical polyglot” who got his start performing in Kingston in the 1930s and ’40s. He told me how he had built the first wooden electric guitar—years before Les Paul invented his—offering as proof a newspaper clipping from 1940. Although he never jammed with Jamaica’s best-known musician, Bob Marley, it was at Hedley’s studio that the reggae singer recorded his first hit, “It Hurts to Be Alone.” As I listened to him talk about his life, I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to find the true Jamaica. I may have arrived a stranger, but I was “departing a friend.”