When we went ashore in Montego Bay, Jamaica, we were told to go out front, get a cab, and ask to be taken downtown. They would take us right to shopping. It worked pretty much like that – although it was a van packed full of people. It was only $5 a person to ride into town, and we were dropped right at the door of a souvenir shop.
The owner/operator was very friendly. I narrowed my eyes. Was he Jamaican? He welcomed us in promising us air conditioning, no pressure, and pointed out that prices were on everything. We walked around for a few minutes. I bought some ground coffee, a refrigerator magnet. Rodney bought a hat.
I have a little problem with souvenirs, as I believe I have mentioned. I like them to reflect the place, but also to have some connection to it besides the name stamped on it. So I wandered out of the store full of t-shirts and out to the street. I was trying to figure out how to cross when I saw a small woman on the other side of the street waving at me. She watched the street, then called me over when it was safe.
“Let me show you where the real people have things for sale,” she said. “Those stores are run by Pakistanis.” (Ah! So he WASN’T Jamaican!)
I got a little worried about where she was taking us. We went down a short alley, took a left, and stopped in an open area ringed by small shed-like booths, most no bigger than closets. She never stopped talking. She took us over to her booth. She had a few pieces of jewelry laid out on a table, some carvings and baskets hanging from the walls inside her booth. And boy oh boy did I learn what the Pakastani meant by pressure. When I turned once to look at a dress, it turns out it was in the booth next to hers and she pulled me back over. “Finish with me before you go elsewhere!”
We were there for a few more minutes, her fanning me with a piece of cardboard when she saw the sweat rolling down my face. She had anything I showed the slightest interest in placed in a bag and in my hands. When I balked, the price kept going down and down and the pressure going up and up. I had the strangest combination of emotions. I wanted so much to support this woman and her neighbors. But there was nothing there that I really wanted and I was totally unconvinced by her responses that people she knew had created the trinkets or that they had even been made on the island. I knew the money would have benefited a Jamaican, of course, but something just seem to keep stopping me. I still don’t know why.
In the end, I followed my gut (hoping that I had just given the Holy Spirit a totally unflattering name) and walked away. She followed us the whole way. Even as I was crossing the street she was calling after me and saying, “I know you want it! You wait right there and I’ll bring it to you!”
I felt terrible. But not guilty. Very unpleasant combination of emotions. We ended up back in the store with the a/c and the man no more Jamaican than I was continually saying, “No problem, mon!” Our $5 return trip to the dock turned into $20. Store dude saw how frustrated I was and got a local fellow to take us back for the $5. And this man made the trip for us. He was older and talked to us about his home, and how much he would like to take us into the mountains and show us the farms, the plantations, the animals. The real Jamaica. He left us with a good taste in our mouths for his country. And he got a lot more than $5 for the trip.