Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cassanova - A Look at the Famous Jamaican Machismo

As a white, straight American male, I grew up in a culture with certain acceptable methods to courtship - how to be polite, complimentary, and when the time is right, make moves. Now as an adult working in foreign countries, I have had the opportunity to bear witness to how courtship evolves overseas and in turn see the differences that exist. Needless to say, it is often quite fascinating.

So. What about Jamaica? Jamaica’s men are famous for their aggressive courtship, bumpin' beats, and "mackin' hoes and slammin cadillac doors" attitude. This is not lost on tourists and apparently is attractive, since a thriving business of Rent-A-Rasta’s occurs in Jamaica, where visiting women can rent themselves an island man. But what have Laura, Ashley, Shawn, and I witnessed first hand? Surely some interesting things have occurred with our clashing of societies. If Jamaican men are used to getting rented by whities, how are they going to react when they find out that Laura and Ashley aren't interested? Well... let's see.


Part 1. The Approach

It was an early Saturday afternoon in the citrus. No one picks oranges on the weekend so we had the place to ourselves. Just like every other day, however, the afternoon sun was beating straight through the orange trees, making life uncomfortable for us humans. Sweat poured down our legs and drenched our clothes - the cool, soothing mist of the early morning seemed like a distant memory.

Thankfully the workday was at an end and Laura and I split up to take down our nets. I went off in one corner of the grove while she went down to the corner nearer to the entrance road. When Laura and I reunited around our banding station about thirty minutes later she said she had had an interesting encounter with two Jamaican men that had been passing through. Laura said that the exchange had gone like this:

- Can I catch a bird?

o No, we haven’t been catching many today anyway.

- Where you from?

o The US. Where? Vermont. Where? Vermont. Up North.

- Are you in here alone?

o No there are a few of us in here right now.

- Are you married?

o Yes.

- What’s your name?

o Laura.

- Do you have any friends I could meet?

o No, she’s married.

- You have no unmarried friends?

o Nope.

- You are very nice looking.

o Thanks, I gotta go check the nets.

- Have a wonderful day.

So what about this interchange? These men were forward, yet respectful. But maybe they were respectful just because of Laura’s answers. What if she had been alone? We need more to understand.

Part II. Getting Pushy

Shawn and I were off by ourselves in the upper plot of the citrus and as we returned we found Laura and Ashley talking animatedly. It turned out that a Jamaican Cassanova had struck. Ashley told us that while off by herself a man had approached her. Unprompted, he began telling her how he loved her body and was ready to sweep her off her feet. She said that he was very persistent in his approach.

A few days later, Ashley came back to us around eight one morning after being off alone doing some point counts. She related a disturbing story to us. While she was off walking around three men had approached her and stalked her through the trees. As she stood there, they stared and talked about her until one man began spouting off about how usually when he comes across rich people he bashes their heads in. They then began a debate about whether she was “clean or dirty.” Thankfully, she was close to the road and eventually they moved off. She had tried to call us on the radio but none of us had answered. Whoops. Won't happen again.

Well this episode certainly takes it to the next level - no longer is the Jamaican man inoffensive. Frightening and criminal is more like it, even if it was just words.

Part III. What a Girl Wants

A few weeks ago our Jamaican phone lit up, saying that we’d gotten a text. Exciting, right?! Not. Turns out that it was just spam from some girl… a blast text, sent to masses of people. Here is how it read:

If I’m fat, I am pregnant. If I lose weight, I’m sick. If I dress nice I am stucked up. If I say what I think, I am being disrespectful. If I don’t say anything, I am boring. If I cry, I am making a scene. If I have female friends, I am a tramp. If I defend myself, I am problematic. These days we just cant do anything without being criticized. If you are proud of being who you are send to all your friends who means the world to you, even back to me.

Well, this Jamaican woman sounds disrespected and mistreated. Jamaican men are supposed to know what women want. How to help Stella get her groove back. Seems to be a disconnect. Something's gotta give.

Part IV. In Review

What do I think? Well, I’ve got mixed reviews. I’ve encountered men on both side of the spectrum. The constant among them all seems to be that they are aggressive and honest about what they think and want. On one end of the spectrum, there are good, honest, hard working men who are committed to their families. On the other end, there are many hyper-masculine, delusional chauvinists who treat women as a booty call and a piece of property. The latter seems to be the dominant majority among the youngsters.

In addition to this, it is hard to ignore the accounts that I have heard from locals. Their analysis runs something like this: Jamaican men are for the most part nothing more than sperm donor absentee fathers, whose single biggest contribution to the country is to the crime rate. Ouch. The single mother must then work enough to be able to provide money for the children and send them to school, a task not easily done. We have met many people who tell us that many children cannot go to school simply because their families cannot afford the books and uniforms required for class. The women toil while the men quarrel.

But enough of my words already. Just recently, we got another unprompted mass message on the phone, a message that threw a wrinkle into this story. This time it was from a guy. It read as follows:

I am not looking for a perfect girl, cause obviously there are none. All I want is someone who loves me, compliment me, who care for and about me.

So, perhaps there is hope after all... this guy sounds pretty decent. When the complicated layers of human interaction are peeled back, there’s really only one thing left. Feelings. Feelings that have no knowledge of cultural boundaries and language, just what feels good, and what feels bad. So maybe Jamaicans go about it a very strange way to us, but deep down they are looking for the same things we are.

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