There’s something very special about my island home. You can’t help but be happy when you’re surrounded year round by sun, sand and sea. My childhood was filled with great food memories, and summer was always the best part. All the Jamaican fruit were in season and I looked forward to indulging in mangoes by the bucket load and the sweetest pineapples imaginable. There’s never a need to force a Jamaican child to have fruit; not when they taste so good.
As I transitioned into adulthood, I took pride in giving my goddaughter both fruit and candy; (because what’s life without balance?) One day I gave her a blue raspberry candy and her quizzical expression after reading the wrapper sent me down the rabbit hole of entrepreneurship.
You see, with all the fruit varietals in Jamaica, we don’t have raspberries. And we certainly don’t have blue raspberries. I wondered where were the candies in the fruit flavors she already knew and loved like guava and pomegranate. Having searched high and low in Jamaica, I discovered we were importing almost all of the candy consumed on the island.
I resigned my corporate job to make candy in Jamaica my goddaughter could recognize; and four years later, here I am. I own and operate Jamaica’s only commercial candy company. We aim to satisfy the sweet tooth of Caribbean people and Caribbean people at heart.
It’s been an enjoyable journey. Experimenting with textures and flavors and seeing the faces of children light up when they guess the flavor of the candy they are eating. It’s been fun to open the factory doors for school tours and family visits, showing people how Jamaica’s only candy gets made. And of course they get to taste.
Starting my candy company, Sweetie, I feel embodies exactly who we are as Jamaicans:-
If every you’re in Jamaica, come stop by my sweet spot on the island.
Jamaicans are resourceful by nature. In the good old days – at least in my childhood – the word “bored” was not in children’s vocabularies. What we lacked in handheld electronics, we made up for with youthful energy and a repertoire of games requiring nothing more than each other. A favorite pastime was ring games: games played in a circle with a group of friends.
Ring games were fast-paced, interactive, and fun for all. They started spontaneously whenever enough children were in one place for a period of time: break time (aka school recess), wash day by the river, or catching water from springs or stand pipes were some of the best opportunities. We would play Dandy Shandy, Bull Eena Pen, One and Twenty, Farmer in the Dell, What Can You Do Puncinella Likkle Fella, Brown Girl in the Ring, and Bend Down Stucky . While variations abounded, the rules of each game were simple and easily communicated, encouraging participation from the very young to adults. Let’s play a few.
What can You do Puncinella Likkle Fella: This game has one player in the middle of the ring, always given the name “Puncinella.” While everyone else claps their hands singing “What can you do Puncinella lickle fella,” Puncinella stops in front of a random member of the ring and performs an action of his or her choosing – a gesture, dance move, or feat of coordination – which all the other players must mimic while singing “We can do it too Puncinella likkle fella…” The person Puncinella stops in front of then takes on the role.
Farmer in the Dell: A ring is formed with one person identified as the farmer. While the ring sings (“The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell, high ho the dairy-o the farmer in the dell”) the farmer slaloms between the members of the ring, darting into and out of the circle. As the ring sings “The farmer takes a wife,” the farmer takes a member of the ring by the hand and continues to zig zag, with the “wife” in tow. As “The wife the takes a child,” they form a line of three. The child then takes a nurse, who takes a dog, who takes a cat, who takes a rat, who takes the cheese. This line then loses members in the same order, to the tune of “The farmer runs away,” and so on. After the rat has rejoined the ring, “The cheese stands alone” in the middle of the circle. The children in the ring then sing “We all take a bite,” as they collapse the circle and crowd around the cheese.
Dandy Shandy: This game is a bit like a cross between dodgeball and monkey in the middle. Two players stand on either end of a group of players who are standing in the middle. The end players use a ball to hit player(s) in the middle. The ball is usually made from tightly crumpled paper and tied with a string or an empty juice box stuffed with paper and then pounded into a roundish shape. Anyone hit is eliminated, and the last player standing wins the game. This can be a long process as some center players are experts at dodging the ball, often producing spectacular gymnastic moves in the process.
It was common place for children to wind up with a good lickin' (spanking), for taking too long to fulfill an errand because they stopped to play and got so caught up in the moment that time slipped away. Fear of corporal punishment was often overcome, though, by the immense appeal and fun of ring games.
Walk good 'til wi ketch yuh next time.
For many in Jamaica, Christmas Eve is a big event. As a child growing up on the island, I could always feel the Christmas spirit in the air once December hit. There was just a kind of excited buzz. The adults would be making all the food preparations for Christmas Day while my siblings and I offered "guinea pig" services, happily testing everything to make sure that the flavors were just right. We lacked the constant visual and musical reminders of the season that I now experience in the States, so while there was a palpable feeling of anticipation, Christmas cheer took its time coming.
Once school closed for the holiday, however, it was on. In our home, we would redouble our efforts to get everything done before Grand Market Night because to us kids, that was the climax of the season. Other families in other towns participated in events during the day as well, but for us, it was all about the night of Christmas Eve.
Come evening time, we'd dress in our finest clothes and head into the city with all of the pocket money we’d been saving. It always felt so liberating to go out and choose the gifts that “I” could purchase to give to the people I loved. When we arrived at the town center, our parents would tell us where to meet them and at what time, and then we were set free in little groups to go be consumers.
There was a lot happening. I remember walking around in Twin Gates Plaza, The Springs, Tropical Plaza, and sometimes King's Plaza. The higglers (street vendors) were everywhere, haggling with frenzied shoppers vying for the best deals. Street dancers were out dancing to reggae and dance hall music, and sometimes if we were lucky, we might even see Jonkunnu performers. This was Black Friday, Carnivale, and Christmas celebrations rolled into one night.
Vehicular traffic was restricted to make way for the throngs of pedestrians, so crossing multiple streets to get to the different shops was never an issue. We kept up with the crowd, bobbing and weaving from shop to shop, stall to stall, and to the occasional jerk stand or food vendor peddling the last of the day’s portions. It was always a thrill to furtively buy a gift for one of the siblings I was shopping with, and hiding it before they noticed.
No matter what we bought, we always saved a little money so that we could buy our favorite fire crackers: Starlight Rockets. After all the shopping was done and we were home again, we would sit out in the driveway, light our firecrackers, and set them off. We weren't the only ones.
Even though I moved away from the city and haven’t been to a Grand Market Night since I was around 12 years old, it left an indelible impression on me, and gave me many enduring, vivid memories. Life and I have both changed since then, but a scene, smell, or recollection can bring me right back to Grand Market Night. Those who’ve experienced one probably know what I’m talking about, and those who haven’t should jump at the chance.
It’s all well and good to discuss transportation, security, food, and healthcare, but everyone knows the boss sets the tone for the camp experience. That’s why we want you to meet Bobbi Rossiter , who founded the camp and has nurtured it from concept to reality . Here are the answers to a few questions you might have for her:
1) Why did you start Irie Camp Jamaica ?
I needed a place like it and found that none existed.
Living abroad, I found that my kids weren’t getting much exposure to Jamaican culture. They were missing out not only on many of the experiences I valued growing up as a kid, but also on their own heritage and identity.
I researched and asked around for opportunities to put my kids in touch with their roots and thought a summer camp would be the ideal way. There wasn’t one that fit the bill. I’m a problem-solver by nature, so I started one.
A guiding principle in designing the camp was “Out of many, one people.” I want to bring people together – locals, diaspora Jamaicans, and other people with an interest in Jamaican culture - from across the world and give them a hands-on experience with what makes Jamaica great. For my kids, it was a matter of giving them a taste of my childhood, and an appreciation for where I came from.
2) What should we expect when we arrive?
Your children will be immersed in something authentically Jamaican, exposing them to things they’ve forgotten about or never knew existed. Kids from overseas will experience a Jamaica they wouldn’t have believed existed, while those from the island will gain a new appreciation for what they see daily. Both sides will quickly come to understand Jamaica through the eyes of their peers .
3) Why are you limiting camp to two weeks ?
We’re very excited to get Irie Camp Jamaica going, and wanted to make it extra special by running it during the Independence Day and Emancipation Day celebrations. In our inaugural year, in addition to giving our campers a great experience, we wanted to build a foundation and raise awareness for future years. We’ll try new things, incorporate campers’ and parents’ feedback, and spread the word about the camp so that we can attract enough campers to increase the number of available sessions in years to come.
4) Why is attendance at your camp so inexpensive ?
Because of my two kids, I have a pretty fair idea how expensive it is to find quality activities after school or over the summer. So it wasn’t difficult for me to see the world through the eyes of parents wanting to help their children learn more about Jamaican culture.
I wanted to make sure that prices for this camp would never make parents with multiple children feel like they had to choose which child to send to camp. And by making our camp so affordable, it’s an easy reach for families abroad, as well as for families "a yaad" who are looking for quality summer activities for their children.
5) Have you ever lived in Jamaica?
Oh yes! I’ve lived half my life in Jamaica and the other half overseas. I spent my formative years in Jamaica, including a few years at St. Hilda’s Diocesan High, the site for Irie Camp Jamaica’s summer sessions. Jamaica is the one place in the world I’ve lived the longest, and is always my first choice of where to return to. In fact, no matter where in the world I go, Jamaica will always be my home.
6) Will your own kids be participating this year ?
My youngest is a toddler, and isn’t quite old enough yet to be a camper at Irie Camp Jamaica. However, I have a feeling I won’t be able to keep my 5-year-old out of some of the activities this summer... especially since her older cousin will be there as a camper.
7) What does the future hold for the camp?
We see this year as just the beginning of a long, grand, and glorious family reunion for children. Irie Camp Jamaica is destined to be a global beacon, serving as a bridge between island culture, kids on the island, kids of the Jamaican diaspora, and children of parents who value cultural tourism. We’re inviting the world to come learn about Jamaican culture and pride, and want you to be part of this adventure.
You know we’ve got your transportation and security under control, but the kids want to know just one thing: What’s to eat? No worries; we’ve got your back.
Like everything else about Irie Camp Jamaica, we’ve made food an enjoyable adventure. To help shed some light under the stove hood, we sat down with the lady in charge of both our food and our healthcare to ask a few questions that are probably running through your mind about now:
1) So…what’s on the menu for this summer?
You want to talk about food? Great! Let’s talk about food. From breakfast to dinner at Irie Camp Jamaica we will be living up. The plan is to become totally immersed in our culture. We might have fried dumplings and callaloo one day, then switch to roasted bread fruit with Ackee and salt fish the next day. And we’ll wash it all down with a nice cup of hot chocolate.
Our meals are going to primarily be island food, all homegrown and freshly made. But we also recognize that not everyone will be adventurous enough to eat like the natives do, so we’ll also have more popular staples like pancakes and sausages.
But no matter what they’re eating, our guests will be served meals geared towards optimum health, flavor, and pleasure of the palate.
2) How do you handle kids with food allergies?
All campers will be required to submit health history to include all allergies (environmental and food). Based on this information, we’ll be able to address all food allergies, including methods of transmission. We’re prepared to separate campers from particular allergens, and will also have medications and antidotes on-hand to counteract basic allergies symptoms like hives.
3) In addition to overseeing the camp’s kitchen, you’re also responsible for everyone’s health care. What’s that involve?
I’m a great believer in the philosophy “We are what we eat,” and recognize that the kitchen and good health are very closely intertwined. Having healthy food properly prepared reduces stomach issues and headaches.
My goal is simple: allow campers to enjoy camp life with minimum down time from illness. This means I’m going to ensure everyone is adequately hydrated, has enough time for eating, and is eating properly. Having a healthcare background gives me the opportunity to balance both hats.
4) What are your qualifications to be a nurse?
I’ve been in healthcare for over 10 years. I was a nursing assistant for four years, and have spent over six years as a licensed practical nurse. Over that time I’ve simultaneously managed over 50 residents with varying health issues.
My primary job is geriatric care (elder care), which in many ways is like dealing with little children. Added to that is my hospital experience and my current training to become a registered nursing and you’ve got a pretty solid background that ensures everyone in the camp will be in capable hands.
5) Ever had any health problems with your own kids?
You ever meet a mom who didn’t? Fortunately, my kids were generally pretty healthy, suffering from the usual minor colds after playing in the rain. My son had to be hospitalized now and again for unexplained dehydration, but most of that was dealt with using herbal remedies. As a parent you learn that nurture combined with nature is a strong medicine.
6) Do we have to worry about snakes, spiders, or insect bites ?
Not really. I have a lifetime of experience on the island and have always found the majority of the wildlife in Jamaica to be harmless. Going back to the time I spent with my grandparents, I can’t think of a single incident where anyone in my family or in the neighborhood was ever harmed by snakes, spiders, or any wildlife.
That’s not to say nothing happened, though. If we annoyed the bees, we got stung. Try squeezing a wasp and they’ll fight back. My only experience with snakes was in a controlled environment at the zoo, and even then there was never an incident. You have absolutely nothing to fear.
7) As a parent, what's the biggest concern I should have?
It’s in our nature as parents to worry about our children when they’re not with us, though we’re typically just worrying about the unknown.
Probably your biggest issues will be homesickness…especially for first time campers. We’ve anticipated this, and will be making Irie Camp Jamaica such an enjoyable and active experience that there won’t be much room for homesickness.
The other concern for first-time campers might be the introduction of new foods. However, as I mentioned earlier, this would be gradual and never forced on our campers.
For the entire time your children are with us they will be treated as our very own. They’ll remember this as a cultural experience, not only because of the music, food, dances and activities they learn, but for the love and warmth they feel and the lifelong friendships they’ll come away with.
A popular Jamaican poem starts by summing up Jamaica weather like this:
We have neither Summer nor Winter
Neither Autumn nor Spring
We have instead the days
When the gold sun shines on the lush green canefields-
We’ll put it another way; Even when it’s raining or hot, Jamaica’s weather is gorgeous.
Our average annual temperature is between 80-86°F (27-30°C). Temperature variations between summer and winter is about 10 degrees.
The “rainy season” is characterized by brief afternoon showers followed by sunshine. We see it as a welcome break from the tropical heat!
Generally, the weather in Jamaica is characterized by a cool, caressing sea breeze by day and a gentle breeze from the mountains by night. Bring a sweatshirt for the evenings and you should be fine.
Hurricanes aren’t typically a problem until we get close to September.
And did you know that many Jamaicans refer to May-July as mango season instead of Spring?
Like we said…it’s gorgeous here. But the only way you’ll know for sure is to come visit with us.
There are only a few slots left for this summer’s stay at Irie Camp Jamaica, so sign up now at www.iriecampjamaica.com.
You’ve booked the flight…packed the bags…loaded up on sunscreen. Now there’s only one question; how do you get from the airport to Irie Camp Jamaica?
Like everything else about our facility, we’ve made transportation amazingly easy. To show you just how easy, we sat down with our Logistics Chief Walter Aarons to help answer a few questions probably running through your mind about now:
1) Why do they call you “Uncle Wally?”
Here in Jamaica “Uncle” is a title given to men who display a noticeable level of responsibility, care, and interest towards those around him. We chat patois, the native language (a combination of four languages) and Wallie, just rolls off the tongue easier than Walter. Hence “Uncle Wallie”
2) Is there anyplace on the Island you haven’t visited?
Jamaica is 4,411 square miles – about the size of Connecticut. There are still a few places that I haven’t been on the island, and I’m still exploring. However, there aren’t many places of significance that I’ve missed.
3) How long have you been driving around Jamaica?
Transportation service is all I know. I have been engaged in that industry since 1991. Visitors to the island have traveled with me once, loved the experience, and returned again and again. Many of them have become my lifelong friends.
4) How many times would you say you’ve crisscrossed Jamaica by car (or bus, truck, etc.)
I lost exact count long ago, but figure I’m close to a million miles on the Jamaican roads by now.
5) How large a fleet do you drive?
I have a team of people ready to get 200 people from Point A to Point B with very little notice. We’ll get you where you need to be, when you need to be there. No worries!
6) What are the best places for kids to go on the island, and what makes those places the best?
That’s a tough question, and it depends on the kid! Jamaica has a lot to offer; from rustic countrysides, unspoiled natural hideouts, and water parks to our 120 rivers, any of which are beautiful and worth of an afternoon. And let’s not forget our miles of white sand beaches!
7) Where should the parents go while the kids are in camp?
If you’re on the island at the same time as your kids, you’re in for a treat. Irie Camp Jamaica is close to Ocho Ríos, where you’ll find a ton of activities varying from serene and tranquil river rafting (not white water rafting) to the adrenaline rush of a bobsled ride. Unlimited options await you, and the only limits are those of your imagination.
Let me put it this way…come to Jamaica and tell us what you want to do. We’ll take care of the rest.
Sending your child to camp can be challenging…overwhelming…even traumatic. Add to that concerns about traveling to another country, and it’s natural to have questions about safety and similar issues.
To help put your mind at ease, we sat with Ainsworth Aarons, our Chief of Security, to get a feel for his strategies for keeping our guests safe this summer.
1. How do you provide security at the camp?
Security will be a combination of well-trained police officers and private security guards. Even if there’s a visit off-campus, every moment will be supervised. We’re leaving nothing to chance.
2. What’s your relationship with the police and other security forces on the island?
I’ve spent over 15 years in St. Ann, and have solid, well-established relationships with security teams and police formations all over the Island.
3. Is there anything to worry about for a child traveling alone?
YES. Children over age 12 can travel unaccompanied, provided an adult has signed a form of indemnity the day of the flight (the form is at the airport’s check-in desk). Under age 12 the child must be accompanied by someone age 16 or more.
But probably the biggest problem we encounter is travelers not actually making the flight. To avoid this, be sure you’re at the terminal two hours ahead for an international flight, and tell the agent when you make the reservations and at check-in that your child is traveling alone. If airline personnel know a child is alone, they can keep an eye on him or her to ensure they get safely to their destination.
4. What can you tell us about the violence we’ve heard about in Jamaica?
Jamaica is paradise in the tropics. Still, it’s not without its share of human involvement, and there are neighborhoods that should be avoided…that’s just common sense. From time to time incidents or reports of incidents are highlighted in the media. We’ve found this does not represent the overwhelming majority of the Jamaican population; people who pride themselves in being part of the beauty, community, and uniqueness of our island.
It's important to know that Irie Camp Jamaica is in one of the safest parts of the island. You might also want to remember that, other than in a case of natural disaster, there has never been a cancellation of a cruise or a flight here due to violence. Neither has any hotel been closed as a result of violence.
5. The US State Department has issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for those traveling to Jamaica. What does that mean to our guests?
The US Travel advisory is well-intentioned as a way to create awareness. With the recent Nor' Easter, we'd want an advisory if we were in the possible path of the storm. Regardless of the situation, security will always be well coordinated.
6. Are there any precautions that families should take before sending their kids to our camp?
A few things come to mind:
1. Ensure your travel documents are up to date. If they’re not, make sure you leave adequate time to deal with the appropriate government agencies.
2. Remember your passport must have at least 6 months left on it.
3. Be sure your child brings enough medication for their stay, and advise the staff at Irie Camp Jamaica about all medications and allergies.
4. Tell us in advance about your child's physical abilities and if there are any activities they're unable to participate in.
5. Last, but by no means least, be sure your child is healthy enough to be exposed to a whole lot of fun, fun, fun. We’re planning to have a GREAT time this summer, and we want to make sure everyone here gets the most out of every moment they’re with us.
7. Does anything keep you awake at night?
Not a thing; I sleep like a baby!
When parents begin their child's registration process, they can choose to opt into the Irie Pen Pal Program. As a military spouse, I know the value of having a connection when I go to a new location or embark on a new experience. I've passed this knowledge on to my own kids and I want to help our campers too.
My 4-year-old has been "writing" letters for almost 2 years now, beginning shortly after our most recent military-related move from one coast to the next. She had a best friend at her prior school and we didn't want her to feel totally uprooted. Over the years, my daughter drew pictures and dictated her communications to me, and then we'd send off the letter, maybe with a neat little something or other. A couple weeks later we'd get a response from her friend and it would continue. The girls LOVED getting mail addressed to them!
Right now we're gearing up to move back to our prior address and we are so glad that our daughter will already have a friend when we get there. This is the kind of belonging I want for the kids that come to Irie Camp Jamaica; from Day 1, they already "know" someone. I think it will pave the way for a whole lot of fun, don't you?
Hi, I'm Bobbi and while I'll generally be posting here, I'll occasionally invite others to share as well.