Life Lessons from 5 Jamaican Patwa Sayings

04 Nov Life Lessons from 5 Jamaican Sayings

This post originally appeared on our personal blog while we were still in Peace Corps. It has been revived here as part of our Jamaican culture series.

April 3, 2014: Earlier this month Michelle and I had the honor and privilege of welcoming the newest group of Peace Corps volunteers (group #85; we are 83) to the island. It was a strange feeling as we were at the Peace Corps Office working on paperwork and medical stuff to prepare for the completion of our service while surrounded by excited and nervous faces beginning their adventure.

It was infectious.

I was reminded that just two years ago, I was exactly like them. Everything was new. It was painfully hot. I was completely exhausted. I wanted to start doing everything. I remember meeting current volunteers and feeling in awe of how experienced and calm they were. They seemed to know everything. I had so many questions then. So many unknowns and- in true Peace Corps fashion- never enough information to satisfy my curiosity and need to know everything or to be in control. I had arrived in a strange new world.

So I wanted to give this new group some valuable lessons I’ve learned in Jamaica from Jamaicans that helped me during my time here.  These lessons I will take with me for the rest of my life. None of these things might make sense to this group now, but hopefully they will when they meet new volunteer groups that come to Jamaica, when they become the veterans, when they are preparing to go back home.

“Tek Time” & “Soon Come”

When I first got to Jamaica, I really struggled with the pace of life here. Everything was slower. I had no control. I was so used to getting to my destination when I planned to. I was used to everything else being on a predictable schedule. More importantly, being in control of my own schedule meant being in control of my life. In Jamaica, I felt so dependent upon everyone else. Dependent on an unscheduled transport system, never knowing when I would get a ride anywhere.  Dependent upon the affects of daily thunderstorms. Dependent on other people’s time tables.

In Jamaica, “tek time” translates to “take time” or “slow down.” Don’t rush. You may want things to happen when you want them to happen. They won’t. Sometimes it really is better to just go with the flow and trust. It’s strange, though, I never know when things are going to happen, I can trust that it will happen. Which leads me to the phrase: “Soon Come.” This is one of my most favorite and frustrating Jamiacan sayings because it’s an answer to everything related to time. Want to tell someone you have to do something and you’ll be right back? Soon come. Someone wants to know when you’ll get them that report? Soon come. Want a situation to change in your life? Soon come.

“Mek it Stay”

In general, human beings like to have control over situations. It’s also a very common ideal amongst Americans- that of freedom and independence. This is one of the major reasons why living abroad and, additionally, joining the Peace Corps, is very challenging. You don’t feel like you have control over many things and are dependent upon others in ways you never had to be before.

“Mek it Stay” translated is “make it stay,” meaning: let it be. Leave it alone. Let go. Sometimes things are the way they are and it’s better if you leave it be. Sometimes it’s not ok, and you are supposed to do something or supposed to be in control. It’s important to know the difference between when to act and when to just “mek it stay.”

“Give Tanks”

In a lot of daily passings and greetings with Jamaicans, it’s common to ask one another “Waagwan (what’s going on)?”, “You good?”, or “Ow you do (how are you)?”.  Typically, many Jamaicans (especially older ones), will say, “Giving thanks” or  “Not so good, but have to give thanks.” (In Jamaican speech, “th” sounds come out sounding like “t” so “thanks” usually sounds more like “tanks.” Anyway…) It’s a great reminder for me. Even though times are challenging, there should be things we can give thanks for.  Being thankful puts our lives into a more realistic perspective no matter what the situation. It’s a practice that requires us to be intentional, which is probably why I and many struggle with it. It takes effort.

“Big Up Yuh Self”

Jamaicans say this to you as if to say, “Be proud of yourself” or “You go.” I think the concept of giving yourself some well deserved credit is one of the hardest life-lessons to live by. I think most people are overly critical of themselves or, worse, believe they are not deserving of praise. Self love, embracing self-worth, and self-care, though difficult, is extremely important in life. We need to celebrate where we come from and how far we have grown. We need to find ways to seek the positive side of things instead of focus on the negative. And more importantly, giving yourself credit for a job well done once in a while, teaches us to be empowered and self-reliant. This is especially important during those times in life that, regardless of the situation, you wonder, “What the heck am I doing here?”  Just “big up yuh self,” be proud of all you have accomplished, and press on.

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