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by Venesha Johnson | Associate Writer
The typical Jamaican backyard is very spacious and a place to explore and have fun, you never know what you may find. One thing the majority of homeowners in Jamaica won’t complain about is backyard space, especially those living in the country areas. Our backyards are like mini-farms, gardens, and herbal centres. Feeling sick? Just step outside the door and pick some mint to make some tea. In a bad mood, go sit under a tree and listen to the bird's chirp. Hungry? Go grab a mango, it's that simple. Stepping outside to get a breath of fresh air, can lead to surprising discoveries.
Here are a few things you may find in almost every Jamaican backyard.
It is common nature to go outside and find a stray dog or cat lingering around or searching for something to eat. For those who live in rural areas like me, we often see livestock that have gotten away from the farmers in the area. Seeing goats, chickens and, sometimes even larger animals like cows and pigs in our backyards is quite normal.
Fun fact, I once went outside to get some herbs and found a peacock, with its beautiful feathers spread wide open. It visited every day, sometimes up to 3 times per day for around 3 months then it stopped. I have no idea where it came from but I hope that it visits again soon.
If you are Jamaican or have spent a good amount of time visiting around Jamaica, you will know that you can usually tell tell if a person lives urban or rural Jamaica by the fruit trees in their backyards.
Those living in the urban areas tend to have fruits like East Indian and Julie mangoes, ask almost any Jamaican what their favourite mango is and they are more than likely to say one of those two. Another fruit that is typically found in the backyard of people living in the city but not as much in the country, is almonds. Breadfruit and ackee trees are seem to always be in season in these areas too. Getting a plate of Ackee and Saltfish with fried breadfruit on a Sunday morning is usually the order in Jamaican homes.
In the countryside of Jamaica, you will find so many fruits, regardless of what season we are in. Some of the most common trees are banana, plantain, coconut, plum, starfruit, lime, orange, grapefruit, and my personal favourite apple trees. Not just any apples though, our Jamaican Otaheite Apples or Malay Apples.
Many Jamaicans line their gates with flowers. Some even use flowers as a way to mark property borders. Some popular ones are Water Lilies, Bougainvillea, Ixora, Jamaican Wildflower, and the most popular of them all, the Hibiscus. Hibiscus flowers can be found in almost every backyard, on every school ground, and pretty much everywhere around Jamaica. They might even be more common than our national flowers the Lignum Vitae.
While fruit trees are more common the vegetables in our backyards it is still very normal for a Jamaican home to have a little backyard garden with a few of the most commonly used vegetables and seasonings planted there. You can always find escallion, thyme, a scotch bonnet pepper tree, ginger and countless other seasonings, When it comes to vegetables you can usually find tomatoes, carrots, cabbages callaloo and sometimes okra and some kind of peas or beans, most likely Red Kidney Beans.
Water Catchment or Storage - Homes in rural areas will most likely have a concrete tank in the backyard that pumps water to the house or where you can carry water from with a bucket. If not a concrete tank then a big plastic black tank or as we say black drum is used.
But in the urban areas, they rely mostly on the National Water Commission to provide water to their homes. In some parts though it is not reliable and you often have to have a little back up to tide you over until the service returns. More often than not, it is a black drum just the same but sometimes it is a barrel (usually from your most recent shipment from overseas) or gallon oil jugs than have been thoroughly washed and dried.
I know this may sound odd to you but it is quite normal for us to have graves in our backyards. Sometimes you may even find a small family cemetery. As a matter of fact, the digging of the grave is a big deal, and family and members of the community will come together to drink, eat and listen to music while the grave is being dug by a few persons. These graves don’t have a plain headstone either, many times the headstones are built in the shape of miniature but elaborate houses.
Another great feature of the Jamaican backyard is our outdoor cooking spaces. You will have coal pots, a place to store dry woods for building a fire, outdoor ovens and charcoal grills made from scrap metal.
With the cooking being done in the backyard, it is only right to have an area for the family to have the meal outside. This usually doubles as the hangout spot as well. You will find benches made from bamboos or pieces of wood and concrete blocks. It's a place to gather with friends and family for a few rounds of beer, dominoes or ludo (ludie) or to gossip with the neighbour.
Again, this might be odd to you but we do still wash with our hands in most cases, even when we own a washing machine. And while washing machines are common, dryers are not. So, what we do when we wash on the weekends, is hang the clothes on the line outside to dry in the sun.
So you see, the backyard is not just an empty space, it's a place filled with memories, nourishments, and wildlife. A place to observe and bask in nature's beauty. To reminisce on loved ones that have passed on while you enjoy moments with those that are still here.
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