Tourism

Going Home: An Afro Existentialist Discovery of Art and Nature at Great Huts, Jamaica

It was in my college French literature class that I first heard a term for a certain feeling that I have wrestled with for a lot of my adult life: mal a l'aise. A simple translation might be something like "uneasy," but in the context of French existential literature, this term is so much more profound than it's English traduction.

It's the inescapable sentiment that follows that final unaswearable "why' at the end of a regression of fundamental questions about our existence. It's the feeling that accompanies the realization of the absurd. To quote 20th century French Algerian philosopher Albert Camus, it is "this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world." It is our human desire to know, yet the world remains indifferent. Not only does this world seem silent and indifferent, it is also crazy. 

Thus, Mal a l'aise could be described as not feeling at home in this crazy world.

I can remember the first time I contemplated my existence. I was no more than 10 years old in the back seat of my mother's car, or maybe my grandmother's, riding down highway 11, which was more of a country rode that connected our small, one stop light town to the 'city' which was actually, by my current standard as a long time city dweller, just a slightly less small town that the one we lived in at the time.

At that age, it was more of a feeling than a well-formulated question. And it wasn't comfortable one. It was quite the opposite. It was my first mal a l'aise.

I don't think I was literally asking mom why the sky was blue, but asking or feeling why anything? I had asked why and finally reached the unanswerable why. In fact, it was the blueness of the sky that I remember most vividly that day. There was hardly a cloud. It must have been the perfect day to ask why is the sky blue... and to be unsatisfied by any answer. At my young age, I was recognizing the absurd, or what Camus described as "lucid reason noting its limits."

Sometimes the mal a l'aise disguised itself as the notion that if I could just move to the right city, I would finally feel at home. Or if I could find the job that I'm super passionate about. But such a fundamental question couldn't be as simple as a job. Nor could it be about a city.

Majoring in philosophy in college only gave more voice and vocabulary to my feelings that man, if he reflected long enough, could hardly answer anything about his existence and because of his condition, he would always carry a certain mal a l'aise with him through life because "at any street corner, the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face." 

But this isn't a story about my mal a l'aise, or not exactly. This is about a special place where I discovered what home might feel like, what ease might feel like. Not home in my career or my environment, but home in my own skin... 

Great Huts 103We arrived at night relieved to be off the road and on firm ground after a grueling, almost four hour car ride that began in Montego Bay on the northwest coast of the island to Portland on the northeast side. Driving in Jamaica is not for the faint at heart; although most major roads are maintained, more or less, the style and pace of driving can be rather fast and aggressive. And with my husband driving, well let's digress.

To be honest, I hadn't researched much about the place, but instead we had chosen based on a recommendation from our mother. Plus, my sister and I are adventurous millennial travelers who create our lives on Instagram; anything with the 'Huts' in it must have quelled any objections because photos would be super legit, right?

Great Huts 102So there we were unsure of what to expect, making our way up to a rather discrete bamboo gate tucked into the corner of a gravel parking lot, through it, and down a sufficiently lit stone path to what must be the lobby where we could check in. Only this was no ordinary lobby because, first off, it wasn't an enclosed building, but open-air structure of bamboo and thatch construction, yet sophisticated in its existence right there with the greenery of lush trees and plants and the chorus of natures sounds that let us know that night had fallen in an exotic place – we had arrived at the Great Huts Resort in Port Antonio, Jamaica.

Marcus Garvey Sculpture Garden at Great HutsFrom the moment we stepped through that bamboo gate, we found ourselves surrounded by nature and artwork, a combination quite simple in theory, yet undeniably powerful in experience. If the city life that we are used to is an alienating, chaotic, concrete jungle, then Great Huts Resort was the answer. It was much like stumbling upon a lost civilization in the rain forest, but with modern plumbing, wifi, clean sheets, and a helpful staff. But Great Huts mission goes much deeper than that...

Great Huts mission is to provide a sense of return for people of African decent, placing the beauty and diversity of contemporary Afro-centric art at the forfront of the tourist experience. The presence of Mother Africa is felt

In the lobby, I first noticed the collection of books that touched on various topics from Africana studies to geography as well as a few potent fiction titles: a plus for us vacationing intellectuals who would forgo Red Stripe and Appletons on at least a few nights in exchange for some high grade and deep, thought provoking conversations like why it was the case that certain styles of masks from African and other indigenous cultures are often deemed creepy, grotesque or otherwise alarming...

...Largely for the same reason that ancient African vodun rituals are reduced to images of cloth voodoo dolls and chicken blood sacrifices when depicted on TV and in film. It's that pervasive notion that any religion or spiritual practice other than christian ones must be evil and scary. While Western people are indeed embracing eastern religious practices like Buddhism and chanting "Namaste" and "Om Shanti" you will rarely hear "Axe!" in any of these circles.

Great Huts 108Great Huts provided the space to have such a conversation as it hosts pieces from a few of Jamaica's most celebrated contemporary artists- Sylvester, Nakazzi Hutchinson, Mazola Wa Mwashighadi, and Gene Pearson- and with the light of the next day, we did discover, in the common area above the lobby known as the Safari deck where we would meet to eat, access wifi, and parler, several oblong shaped masks carved from beige or mocha colored wood into perhaps provocative facial expressions. We were confronted with, or better yet relieved, by the idea that just maybe we could see this masks as spiritual, artistic, thought provoking, and most importantly, worthy. Our ancestral culture no longer had to be weird or lesser...we could feel at home. 

 

Great Huts is a testament to the artistic importance of African, Afro-centric, and African Diaspora art. It's aesthetics combined with its pastoral ecosystem of wildlife, plants, and earth make it a living museum and modern testimony to ancestral African civilization. And Jamaica—with it's unique and pivotal role in the origination and propagation of modern black empowerment culture, from the Zionist movement of Marcus Garvey, to the Rastafari and Ital lifestyle that has touched every corner of the globe, to reggae music—is the perfect place to have this experience.

In that same common area where we saw the masks, we met like minded couples from all over: Toronto, Germany, Sweden, and a handful of other Americans. Great Huts attracted not only an internat