Contradictions in Jamaican Culture: Cleanliness

**This is the second in a multi-part series on Jamaican culture. Having lived here for nearly eight months, I can speak to some of the contradictions I’ve observed. This is obviously based on my opinion and is not meant to paint an entire people with the same brush**


This is on my way up the hill to Minard Heights, where I live. Brown’s Town has somewhat regular trash pickup, so this little eyesore is immensely frustrating.

There are a lot of stereotypes that I battle being a PCV, most of them coming from Americans. We’re all granola-eating, vegetarian hippies! We’re tree huggers! We only joined the Peace Corps to run away from something (I actually had a random guy in a bar in the US tell me this not long before I left.)! Jamaicans certainly stereotype Americans, but not specifically PCVs. They all think we’re dirty, filthy people who rarely bathe and don’t keep our living areas clean (this is, of course, when we’re not busy pruning our money trees. Or getting paid for just being American.). Obviously, this is a touch hyperbolic, but there is some truth in there. Today I’ll be addressing the cleanliness aspect of Jamaican culture.

Nearly every Jamaican home I’ve been in is neat as a pin. Floors are almost always tile and are mopped very regularly. The kitchens are spotless (well, bugs would invade if they weren’t!). Beds are made daily and woe unto you if they’re aren’t made up properly. Jamaicans love knick knacks and little souvenirs, and they are displayed proudly throughout the home. After all, folks have worked hard for their money and take good care of what they’ve bought. This was, well, an adjustment for me. I’m a generally clean person, but not always neat. I don’t always wash the dishes immediately (one encounter with a Jamaican cockroach fixed that RULLLLLL quick), I rarely make my bed, I don’t always put my clothes away (or fold them, for that matter), I sometimes re-wear my workout clothes without washing them, I smell bad frequently. I can go on, but you get the picture.

And here’s the contradiction. Jamaica is filthy. Trash everywhere. Even when there’s trash pickup (although this is a rarity), people STILL throw trash out the window of a taxi or on the ground as they’re walking. It took me until I started working on my CASI (Community and Sector Inventory, a report that we do in the first several months of service) that I realized why this is the case. It all comes down to how they define “environment” and “community.” Their houses are spotless, but their communities are filled with trash and rubbish. I don’t think it’s that they don’t take pride in their community or their country, I just don’t think they realize the consequences of trash and pollution. Additionally, trash pick-up is extremely sporadic, if a community has access to it at all. So whereas I don’t make my bed, I hoard plastic bottles until I can find a place that recycles.

So that’s something most of us PCVs work on in some capacity: environmental education. Keeping Jamaica clean and healthy. Now if I can just remember to keep my room clean…

About Elizabeth Riley

It's the wonders I'm after, even if I have to bleed for them.
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