Among the many questions my parents ask me when I call home, one of the most common ones is; “Are you getting enough to eat?” Luckily, this is one thing that they do not need to worry about. If there is one thing Jamaicans make sure of, it is that I am well fed.
I have always loved to cook food with and for other people – and, of course, to eat it with them too. I believe food has a unique way of bringing people together, and I have noticed this even more since coming to Jamaica. Everyone has to eat, so obviously it is something we immediately have in common, even with people we don’t know at all. Talking about food, comparing the different foods we eat, and trading recipes and cooking tips has been a great way to start conversations and get to know the people and culture. The open, welcoming culture of Jamaica is always evident when it comes to food. No matter where I go, without fail, I am offered food – whether it is chicken, rice and peas, or fruit right off a tree – and trust me, Jamaicans do not take “no” for an answer.
Just a few weeks into my missions, I was at one of my sites a little later than usual. Realizing that I had not packed a lunch, the girl I work with, who I had only recently met, held out half of her lunch, a single bun, to me. “Oh no, I’m not really hungry,” I responded, to which she wordlessly nudged the bread a little closer. I shook my head. “Really, I’m okay.” Her hand remained where it was. After waiting a few more seconds to see if she would withdraw her offer, I took it, she smiled, and we ate our lunch together. Little moments like this have occurred to me countless times in the few short months I have lived here, and honestly, they are some of the most powerful. I am consistently amazed and humbled by the generosity shown to me by the Jamaican people.
In addition to bringing me closer to the Jamaican people, food has brought my community closer as well. Whether we are adventuring out to find neat places to eat, or staying home and devouring half of the brownie batter together before it even reaches the oven, food has been a key player in many of the awesome memories that we have already made in these few short months we have been a together. We also have community nights twice a week where we all come together to eat dinner. This is actually so important when it comes to living in an intentional community. We all have different sites where we work and different schedules, so having that time to check in, catch up, and just be with each other makes all the difference in the world. And what better place to come together than around the dinner table? It’s a way to come back to reality, relax, and be present – all very important things, I have found, when living in a foreign country.
It has also been fun going back and forth with family and friends from home, talking about food. “What is that you’re eating?” “Describe how that tastes,” and “Wow, that’s the biggest avocado I’ve ever seen!” are some of the remarks I usually get from them, and they love to tantalize me with foods from home that I love like apple pie, Cheez-Its, or berries that we don’t have in Jamaica (like blueberries). They love to hear about learning to cook jerk chicken or me scouring every grocery store in Mandeville (like, seriously, every one) to find pickles. We have had a lot of laughs over such conversations.
Basically, the long and short of it is that food has this amazing power to bring people together and my experience so far in Jamaica has been greatly enriched because of it. I feel more in touch with the culture and with the people I encounter every day whether they are Jamaican, my community members, or family and friends from home.