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Discovering My Roots in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica

Bull Savannah, Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica

Before I flew to Jamaica, I told my friends and family that after that one trip, I would never go back. Having to visit the country for the worst reasons meant that I only associated it with misery, and knowing that any future visit there would remind me of that meant I'd already ruled out returning. But it turned out to be a journey of unanticipated self-discovery, leaving me with a strange sense of belonging and a renewed love of the place I come from.


My family are from Saint Elizabeth parish, equidistant from Kingston and Montego Bay, meaning it takes 2.5hrs to get to anything that even closely resembles a big city. It's not just about distance though, it's about infrastructure. The roads are littered with potholes, which caused us a grand total of three flat tyres in just two weeks, and when you're somewhere with very little phone signal and zero street lighting, that basically equals some unexpected Bear Grylls-style adventuring.

Roads in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica

Roads in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica

'Rural' conjours images of quaint little provincial villages, but this area is sparse with big swathes of space in between small, one-storey homes and unfinished buildings. We stayed with family in an area called Bull Savannah which has a grand total of about 40 houses, a small school, convenience store and a bar with a tin roof and no license every 100 yards.

Stray dog

Ackee tree

Roadside bar in Jamaica

Bull Savannah Square, Jamaica

I could imagine my dad being in this environment. The whole area explained so many things about him that I previously hadn't known: he walked so slow, even when he was in good health, but if you walked fast in St Elizabeth, you'd probably pass out from dehydration. He was known to his friends as Redman; well, it turns out that the earth in St Elizabeth is red, and the people are known as red-skinned.

Tin shack in Jamaica

Bull Savannah, Jamaica

Bull Savannah, Jamaica

Even more special was meeting people who knew him all his life, before he moved to the UK, and who knew my grandmother as well. We don't have any photos of her because she died during childbirth in 1947, but somebody told me I look like her and I cannot begin to tell you how happy that made me. It made a place that had initially felt alien, feel like home. I didn't expect to have such a bond with a place so far away and so different from where I grew up, but thankfully I do.

Red Stripe

So I'll go back. To eat jerk chicken with the family I now know, to check on the tree we planted with my dad's ashes, to prop up a stool, drink a cold Red Stripe and listen to stories. I'll go back.

11 comments

  1. can i go back with you please and be the whitest human they've ever seen?

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  2. Charlie Elliott14 July 2017 at 09:34

    Please! I'd love you to see it first hand. There's a bar up a mango tree with our names on it.
    Cx

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  3. Oh this is such a lovely post. I'm sorry again for the sad reasons behind your trip but glad you found so much while you were there! xx

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  4. This reminds me of Home (Nigeria)! I love it! Your photos are so crisp! What camera/lense did you take the photos with?

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  5. Such a wonderful pair of posts. I'm so happy you enjoyed it there, and that you look like your grandmother! (She must have been very beautiful)

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  6. Charlie Elliott17 July 2017 at 11:16

    Thanks Kel, that's lovely of you to say
    Cx

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  7. Charlie Elliott17 July 2017 at 11:17

    I'd love to visit Nigeria sometime!
    I take photos either with my iPhone 7 or Olympus Pen-EL7 (with 45mm lens), and edit with Adobe Lightroom.
    Cx

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  8. Charlie Elliott17 July 2017 at 11:17

    That's such a lovely thing to say, thank you!
    Cx

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  9. I am so happy you ended up feeling closer to your roots when you were out there. Hopefully next time will be full of only happy memories xx

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  10. Oh nice! You're welcome to Nigeria anytime. I am looking for new camera. I really love your photos!

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  11. Beautiful post Charlie, it was incredibly moving to read. I hope you're alright and I'm glad you found things in your trip that have compelled you to go back. My family are from Mauritius and Ethiopia- both quite sparse and rural areas in a similar way to how you've described Saint Elizabeth. I've always found it an enriching experience to go back and it helps slot my family members (and myself) into a new context I didn't always have. xx

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Thank you for your comment, I read every single one and they always make my day!

Don't forget you can tweet me at @charlienin or email at charliedistracted@gmail.com if you have any other questions.

Cx

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