The Simple Pleasures of Jamaica
On a morning bike ride around Treasure Beach, Jamaica recently, I was drawn to stop and admire a beautiful hand built sandstone building, surrounded by lush perennial herb and flower gardens, fruit trees and meandering pathways. Shirley, the owner, walked down the hillside, greeted me with a warm, broad smile and welcomed me into her yard for a chat, typical of the Jamaican residents we had met during our two week stay. It turns out Shirley is a well-known herbalist and massage therapist in town, had built the structure herself for her massage business, and within minutes I had signed up to have one of her legendary herbal sweats and relaxation massages. With this vitally important step out of the way, we toured the gardens and learned about the fragrant mixture of wild Jamaican herbs and fruit juices Shirley uses to send her clients to relaxation nirvana.
In Jamaica, the elder women pass their knowledge of herbs and plants from generation to generation, as Shirley’s mother had while she was growing up in nearby Great Bay. Shirley explained the provenence of each plant, either planted from seed, field dug, or gifted from a friend or family member. Her knowledge of the individual characteristics and uses of each plant was remarkable. When we parted over an hour later, I could barely wait until it was my turn to savor her herbal ‘detox’ treatment and relaxation massage.
So it was that the next day, I watched as Shirley chose from her yard the pimento, lemon grass and eucalyptus to help clear my lungs, and lime juice for cleansing my skin. She tossed these and other herbal delights into a cauldron of boiling water over an open fire. She then poured the boiling, aromatic mixture into a clay cauldron tucked inside a three-sided steam room with a cloth door.
In I went, with Shirley’s instructions to stir the mix, ‘breathe’ and stay hydrated with the water she provided. This was not your typical steambath! Immediately, the rich herbal smells filled the small space and I settled in to enjoy a blissful 30 minutes of total relaxation. Next came the oil massage, which included a fascinating philosophical commentary by Shirley about the history of Jamaica, the value of massage, the state of our busy lives, her world travels and education in the United States, and good humored bantering about gender differences. Shirley’s massage combined many styles, and is uniquely her own brand. I dare say it’s one of the finest massages I’ve ever had.
As I ventured back to reality toward the end of the hour, I asked Shirley when she was going to write the Book of Shirley. She laughed heartily and replied, “Everyone wants me to write a book. I say to them, come back and see me and we will continue to talk together and teach each other.” I think I will, Shirley, thanks.