Off the beaten path in Jamaica: What life is like away from the resorts

CBC reporter Blair Sanderson travelled to Jamaica to document the travels of a Nova Scotia farmer, Josh Oulton, who visited his temporary foreign workers in their homeland.

Blair Sanderson's personal reflections on travelling to Jamaica to tell the story of a Nova Scotia farmer

A Nova Scotia farmer travels to Jamaica to understand more about the home lives of the migrant workers he hires each year. 3:20

CBC reporter Blair Sanderson went to Jamaica to document the travels of a Nova Scotia farmer, Josh Oulton, who visited his temporary foreign workers in their homeland. Tony Robinson was his Jamaican driver for much of the journey. 

Trouble at the start

We get pulled over by Jamaican police just outside the Kingston airport. I've been in the country for 45 minutes and my mind is racing. Why this is happening?

I'm in the back seat of a 1990 Toyota HiAce minivan with all my gear. Josh and Tony are up front.

Josh has already been in Jamaica for a week now, and he keeps leaning over Tony, our Jamaican driver, answering questions in a mix of Canadian English and his best attempt at Jamaican Patois.

When you're an outsider off the beaten path in Jamaica, people notice you. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

Turns out, the sight of two white guys in an unmarked van is cause for alarm. The cops wanted to make sure we were in the vehicle "voluntarily."

Throughout my week with Josh, that feeling of being an outsider never dissipates. But after a while I come to enjoy it. Driving through remote villages, people stare at me — I stare back and smile.

The sounds

One of my first tasks in Jamaica is to create a short video montage that can be posted online. My CBC producer emails and says she likes the choice of music I laid over the landscape shots.

"That's no mix," I reply. Music is everywhere in Jamaica, and it's hard to get a shot that doesn't have reggae bleeding in from somewhere.

Richard Kensley bought this sound system in Canada. He blasts it over the valley to entice others to visit and help renovate his house. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

The sights

The reason for going to Jamaica is to see how the lives of migrant workers are shaped by the time they spend in Nova Scotia.

I'm looking everywhere for connections.

But it was only after I went over the tape that I noticed some glaring examples I'd missed completely while in the field. Their clothes!

I'm so used to seeing the word Canada on everything at home, I didn't even notice ordinary Jamaicans wearing clothes brought back by the workers. 

A boy in a Jamaican schoolyard and a grandmother. They’ve never left the island. And yet they sport the maple leaf. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

The smells

You don't see people smoking marijuana as much as you smell it.

Before arriving in Jamaica, I'd compiled a list of ways to say, "No thank you," in the event of being offered a toke. But I never needed it.

Unlike in Canada, joints are rarely passed around. Jamaicans who smoke marijuana do so like we would smoke a cigarette: solo.

He’s not sharing. (Blair Sandrson/CBC)

Fitting in?

When I first arrived in Jamaica, I wasn't sure what to make of Josh talking the way the locals did. Imitation can sometimes feel like mockery. But after a while it's hard not to do it yourself. Jamaican Patois is so musical. It's like hearing a song and subconsciously tapping your feet. After a while it's just easier to give in to the rhythm.

About the Author

Blair Sanderson


Blair Sanderson is a nationally syndicated current affairs reporter for CBC Radio. He's based in Halifax, where he's worked for 10 years.