On Thursday, our group diverged from the standard worksite day to spend time experiencing a unique lifestyle in Jamaica: The Rastafarian way of life. For the past week, we have been building an addition to the Higher Heights Academy, a school in Savanna La Mar for 2 to 5-year-olds. Each day at the worksite, we were digging the area for the foundation, hand mixing concrete, and adding a roof to an existing part of the school. We broke up our week at the worksite and drove out to the rural country. Our guide for the day, Fire, led us away from the busy city life and into his home in the mountains.
Fire tells us he has been living in the mountains for 36 years as he leads us down a road that quickly transitions to an overgrown, steep path. He is 59 years old and has large, calloused hands and deep smile wrinkles around his mouth. He is lean from his strictly vegetarian diet and moves surprisingly quick through the rough terrain. We stop halfway through the hike to a natural spring hidden by high grass. “From the earth” he says as we stoop down to fill our water bottles.
We arrive at his house at the top of a ridge in the mountain. It is a large house elevated above the volcanic rocks. There is a second floor that is held up only by small posts; everything used to build the house came from the jungle. There are no walls, so the breeze passes straight through, jingling the knickknacks he has hanging on the posts similar to the trees right next to us. The house is isolated in nature, but he is able to lead a good life, he tells us, because everything comes from the earth. He farms crops like tomatoes, plantains and yams and picks fruit like papaya and soursop. He describes the cities as too distracting, too confusing for his life. He came up to the mountain to meditate and enjoy the quietness. This life in the mountains, he says, makes him happier. As he is telling us his story, he smiles incessantly and adds in many “Yaa Man.” The rest of us can’t help but match his energy.
I figured that such a life in the mountains would be a simple and lonely life, but it is clear that Fire has a busy and socially vibrant life. He leads us to his bedroom, and we see stacks of books scattered around. Another Rastafarian in the area even came over to hang out with him while he gives us a tour. He mediates often, repairs his house, prepares meals, hosts guests, tends to his crops, and occasionally goes into the city for supplies and visits friends. He has enough guests that visit him to warrant an additional bed next to his. Fire leads a fulfilling life because he is connected. He is connected to the earth, and to the local villagers and fellow Rastafarians. He likes living out here because he knows everyone and there is an air of care for each other.
As I reflect on the trip, I find myself thinking critically about what it means to lead a fulfilling life. For Fire, he finds ultimate fulfillment in the connectedness of his world. Fire and I lead completely different lives, but we were able to have joyous conversations and laugh about mutual topics. By spending the afternoon with Fire, certain aspects of what I find fulfilling were challenged. These exchanges of ideas about lifestyles are important to have to refine our ideas of ourselves.
After spending an hour or so at his house, Fire led us down the mountain. He fist bumped us and said goodbye by saying “Irie”: everything is balanced and well.
Alexander Torres, Lehigh ’21