I have an American friend. Yes, just the one. She’s one of the friendliest people I know. She can strike up a conversation with just about anyone and within 5 minutes, she can tell you their life story. She’s not faas (Jamaican patois translation: nosy); she’s actually a connector. But as friendly as she is, she almost never stays at people’s houses when she goes to visit cities where she has friends or family. Instead, she always chooses to stay at a nice hotel.
This is very counter-culture for Jamaicans. We typically don’t travel to places where we don’t know anyone, unless it’s for a business trip. And we always stay with family and friends when we travel. Hotels are for when we’re on business trips or on the occasional holiday retreat to Ocho Rios, Montego Bay or Negril.
I’ve known about my friend’s no-home-stay policy for quite some time now, and I got it. But now I really get it.
When I packed my stuff and left my house at the dawn of 2015, I had 1 resolution: that I will not cook until I have my own kitchen again. At first, it was a subconscious resolution then it came decisively to the forefront of my mind and took root there. I didn’t know then and I still don’t really know why I feel this way, especially considering that I like to cook for others and that I love to try out new recipes. I just knew that I have no interest in cooking until that day comes when I have my own kitchen, pots, pans and appliances again. I don’t even cook in my mom’s kitchen. Last Christmas, I did the ham, but other than boiling water for tea and frying a few boiled dumplings (fried boiled dumplings – the best category of dumplings ever!) at my sister’s house a few times, my cooking has been on hiatus and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
A couple of weekends ago, The Jamaican invited me over to his house again. That Saturday evening, I gladly packed my backpack and hopped on a Go-Jek to his house. Over the course of 2 nights and a day, I shaved my legs and coloured my hair in his guest bathroom without having to keep an eye out for roaches, I romped in his gorgeous pool, and I relaxed in the coolness of his courtyard while watching movies on my iPad. Then it was time to pay the piper. He asked me to cook the chicken for Sunday’s dinner.
In one of our previous conversations several weeks before, I had told him that I currently don’t cook. I honestly don’t know if he forgot I said that, if he thought I was joking when I said it or if he just didn’t care. In any case, I immediately thought of my friend and why she doesn’t stay at people’s houses: because it creates all sorts of obligations.
Here I was, eating this man’s food, using his water and electricity, and generally partaking of the lovely environment that is his house and neighbourhood. For free! Twice! How could I tell him, “Nope. Not gonna cook the chicken”? I said OK and sat and thought about obligations for a while.
It was such a small thing but so impactful. I had put myself in a position where I was obligated in a way that I didn’t want to be. This made me very aware of the need to think things through at a deeper level than I have been. Instead of only thinking, “Is this something I want to do?” I also need to ask myself, “What obligations will this create and am I willing to be bound by them?” This might seem obvious to you but for someone who hasn’t been a deep thinker all her life, it’s quite big.
I didn’t end up cooking the chicken; a few hours after our conversation, he spontaneously invited a couple of extra people to dinner and I told him that I was having cooking performance anxiety (I totally was – I haven’t even cooked for myself in over a year, much less for anyone else) so I’d rather not cook the chicken. He graciously said no problem and I returned to my contemplation of obligations.
I’m thinking that I may take a page from my friend’s book and apply the brakes on staying at people’s houses.