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Reflections on Jamaica

Russ Belville

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I’ve just finished up my first international trip covering the High Times World Cannabis Cup in Jamaica. But as I was not presenting or tabling at this one, I took some of my six days here to explore the host city of Negril and nearby Montego Bay.

There is so much beauty and ugliness, wealth and poverty, hope and despair to take in. You’ll see the most exquisite expressions of nature alongside a fetid creek filled with garbage, luxurious resort hotels next to squalid tin shacks, vendors hawking their wares and foods and ganja—ganja, everywhere ganja.

I found it ironic, as I got into a taxi with an open Red Stripe beer and a half-finished smoldering spliff, that what I was doing would be so forbidden in the U.S. but was so casual and natural here. It’s weird that America has four states where marijuana’s legal, but absolutely forbidden in public, while Jamaica technically still has laws against ganja, but it’s everywhere in public.

Everybody is hustling. The people are so poor and so eager and friendly. Walk down any street, and you’ll find someone inviting you into their shop or offering to sell ganja, but they’re all not so pushy as to refuse to take “no, mon,” for an answer.

I sat at a beach bar and looked out over the ocean. The white sand and the aquamarine water are everything the vacation brochures brag about and more. I enjoyed some rum punch and smoked a spliff, with that gorgeous oceanscape framed like a letterboxed-movie in front of me by the bar’s deck, patio covering and two side walls.

That’s when the old, blind Jamaican man walks into the frame from the left. He’s got his cane in front of him, and he’s walking about five feet away from the water line moving toward my right. He takes four steps, stops, pivots right so he’s facing the bar. He’s about 25 feet away, but I can hear him singing a little song of thanks as he’s holding out the hand not holding the cane, begging for money.

With nobody near him handing him money, he pivots back to the left, extends his cane, walks four more steps, and repeats the process, turning to sing to nobody there. I watched him do this a few more times before I got up and walked out to hand him a couple hundred Jamaican dollars.

“Blessings, mon, blessings. Much respect,” he said, shook my hand and then went back to his routine.

I don’t know if that was the saddest or the most uplifting thing I’d ever seen. I saw him later in the week, miles away at another beach. I’ll never forget this man or his tremendous smile and courage in the face of such adversity.

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