This, apparently, is a common saying in Jamaica.

When the United States of America coughs, Jamaica sneezes

Driving around Kingston is reminiscent of driving in an impoverished city in the U.S. — the city proudly presents to you dilapidated buildings abandoned with boarded windows, streets begging to be swept, and a few Black Jamaican men loosely clothed, laying on a sidewalk and sleeping in broad daylight. There are similar displays walking around various urban neighborhoods in the U.S. but the difference is that in the U.S. you assume that the man lying in the street is homeless – but in Kingston, he may just be high.

Tall buildings in Kingston can be places of business, such as banks, while others elicit wonder of whether there are squatters inside. Between the tall buildings, there are shantytowns checkered throughout the blocks. Sheets of corrugated metal create some semblance of shelter for hundreds of Kingstonians – its residents wander the streets to pass time as there is no work and nothing else to do.

Taking it all in, I wondered “what do the youth here aspire to be?” My Jamaican accompaniment said “Jamaica is filled with contradictions mon.”

She was right. I thought I’d only see beautiful white sand beaches and cafes littered along a boardwalk. That, apparently, was found in walled off areas like Montego Bay where tourists flood to indulge safely while protected from the realities of the country they are vacationing. On the plane, I met a Jamaican man who had lost his eyesight deep diving. He shared about his life in Kingston and spoke somewhat proudly of American music artists who traveled from the U.S. to Kingston to film music videos. It explained why I often felt like I was walking into a music video. The women were donned with dark eye make up and long, thick, fake eyelashes, bright lipshades and large hoop earrings, scantily clothed and baring their butt crease to the world. Men were dressed in baggy track suits with oversize P. Diddy style aviators shades indoors, gold chains, baggy sweats and expensive sneakers admiring the passing female figures. Empresses – the highest Jamaican compliment for a lady.

Crime is high in Jamaica, especially in the recent 5 to 10 years. Very few young adults can afford higher education and employment opportunities are hard to come by thus attrition rates are high and fast money making schemes are rampant. With fast money comes more problems – gang violence and growth of national security issues. With weak national leadership, opportunities for upward mobility are few and far in between. The brains of Jamaica drain, and usually to the U.S., most of whom do not return to Jamaica.

Reading what I’ve written, I realize how this sounds – jaded and judgmental. This is not my usual tone and so I conclude that I didn’t spend enough time there nor speak to enough people to have a more complete picture of current Jamaica. I invite others to shed light and correct me.