It seems appropriate that my first experiences with dietary challenges and living adjustments be the subject of my first blog post. As a Canadian in Jamaica there are many adjustments, from wearing business attire in the sweltering heat (in January) to ensuring we don’t get hit by the boisterous traffic coming from the opposite direction than we expect. However, this is a story about broken toilets and croaking lizards.

Lessons learned: You must be able to laugh with yourself.

Encounter #1: Toilet Troubles

Arriving to Jamaica, our plane was two hours delayed. Mostly because it needed to be de-iced, a concept I would soon forget considering the sweltering heat of this city. This put us in Kingston after dark when the grocery stores in our area were closed. We decided to grab a bite at a sports bar in our area. The bar was the least sports-oriented sports bar I’ve ever stepped foot in. The evening included a five-piece live reggae band soulfully singing covers of Adele and Celine Dion. Most patrons were facing away from muted TVs flashing through sports highlights.

There were very few (affordable) vegetarian options on the menu. For context, in Canada meat is not a regular part of my diet and particularly not Jamaican fried, spicy chicken. I had already made the decision that on this internship I would have to be less picky about my privileged dietary choices. Despite this I wasn’t expecting to get into it quite so fast.

The next day we went straight to the office and by lunch we were very aware of our growling stomachs. This lead me to my first encounter with Jamaican patties. While delicious this particular venue only offered options that included meat. By the end of lunch, my tummy was a wave pool of deep fried spicy Jamaican cuisine.

As five o’clock approached it was evident that the toilet would be needed. The relief was shortly taken away by my horror at finding the toilet would not flush. I did everything I could. I held down the flusher, I waited, and waited, all the while knowing that my co-workers were standing outside in anticipation of walking home together. Surely they were drawing conclusions about my disposition. Thinking I was brilliant, I removed the back of the toilet and filled a bucket in hopes that I could force some water onto this wreckage. In the process I knocked over the metal paper towel holder which echoed through the tiny bathroom to my now concerned co-workers. Having the back of the toilet filled I went to flush, feeling that this would be my salvation, I waited. The water did not move. The horror! I searched for a plunger tearing apart the cupboards. There was none to be found. I’d have to put down the lid of the toilet and walk away. My first day! Would they ever forget that I had left such an awful statement in their toilet? Everyone would know it was me. Washing my hands and making peace with my situation I put on a brave face and stepped out of the bathroom. No one said a word, but in my guilt I confessed to my roommate what had happened.

Since then, the situation has been nothing but laughs. There is now a sign in the office downstairs bathroom reading that the toilet doesn’t work correctly, and advises how to manually flush (with a bucket). I advise that this does not always work. I now look at this sign everyday, and laugh. No one judges, and it certainly was an ice breaker to my office. I do feel terribly that I could not sort it out at the time, but sometimes you’ve just got to put the lid down and make peace with your mistakes.

Leah's First Day

Encounter #2 The Croaking Lizard

There’s something about four AM that brings out the fear of the boogeyman in all of us. It doesn’t help when you are in a country that is new to you and you have never heard of a croaking lizard before. One of the best things of travelling is not knowing the types of creepy crawlies you may encounter. Here is a clip of a croaking lizard:

It seems like a tame noise, until you hear it very close to your pillow in your dark bedroom in the middle of the night. I awoke to the aaak aaak aaak and was certain death had me in its grips. I fumbled for the light and jumped out of bed, ready to fight the beast. This actually looked like me poking around under the bed, in the closet, and tossing around all of my sheets deliriously— not even entirely sure what I would do if I were to find something. The whole time the aaak aaak aaak droned on into the night. Decidedly it was in the curtains. With dread I approached the curtains, ready to face my enemy. In one swift motion I pulled back the curtains, only to find that there was nothing there. It must be behind the other curtain. I prepared myself and pulled back the second curtain. Nothing was there. Then I heard it again, aaak aaak aaak.

I felt like I was losing my mind. Was this noise actually happening? I spent the rest of the night with my light on, periodically waking up to find that this creature was still in my presence unseen. In the morning it turned out that my roommate had had a very similar experience, both of us roaming around our rooms in the night blindly hunting this noisy creature.

When speaking to our coworkers the next day about our haunting noise problem, they laughed! They informed us of the pesky Jamaican croaking lizard, and we probably had a family of them. These lizards are known to be irksome, mostly because they are often living outside in your gutters and not in your bedroom at all. It turns out that they can be warded off by keeping the air conditioning on for a few minutes before bed. Leaving on a light won’t stop them, despite it making me feel better. Funny the things that stick with you from childhood. Doing some research online this Jamaican tells the tale of a very similar experience of the croaking lizard:

This lizard makes the most annoying sound at night & that has scared the “bedevil” out of Jamaicans and have created more myths than you can count with fingers and toes. Shining a light won’t scare them because they are bold as a ‘bad dog’. […] When the croaking lizard came on the scene and started to make the annoying but scary “acccking sound” I knew I had to change my routine to accommodate him. I had my life to live and no croaking lizard was going to stop this. My new routine became: wake up, walk to the kitchen, turn the light on (this did not deter him from continuing to make his “acccking sound”), throw my schools shoes in the direction I heard the sound and wait for him to stop then continue with my regular routine. This routine worked perfectly for about a year until a second croaking lizard showed up… 1

Fortunately, we have made peace with our family of lizards and they no longer bother us knowing that they are making the noise.

The intention of telling these two silly tales is to highlight the importance of laughing with ourselves. I intentionally say “with” because we should not simply mock our experience and disregard the lesson to be gained. It is important to find humour in our initial reactions and reflect on how seriously we can take ourselves at times. We will fumble and we’re going to make a mess of things (sometimes literally). This way you can be open to experiences and avoid missing opportunities out of fear of embarrassment or discomfort. 

I accept that I will fumble. This includes having late nights hunting unknown noises and embarrassing myself as I learn how my stomach tolerates Jamaican cuisine.

1 George, D. (n.d.) Funny But True: Croaking Lizards.


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