Especially during my childhood and teenage years I experienced severe social anxiety. Asking a stranger on the street for directions was as much of a challenge for me as asking for the bill in a restaurant, doing a presentation in school or starting a conversation with one of my classmates. Whenever I was confronted with such a situation where I was supposed to say something to someone I didn’t know well or where attention was directed towards me I felt an inner paralysis which made it impossible for me to act in a way which is considered to be normal by most. I felt so insecure and nervous, extremely afraid of bad judgment by others.
My whole life I have been confronted with the questions: Why are you so shy? Why are you so calm? Why don’t you say more? Those questions make obvious that introverted behavior is not considered to be the social norm by many. Think about it. How often do you hear the questions: Why are you so loud? Why do you talk so much? Hardly ever. This world is rather made for extroverts. They are the ones who get noticed and they are the ones who are more likely to get what they want. In school most of the times when I knew the answer to a question the teacher was asking I was just too shy to raise my hand and say it. And I knew the answer pretty often. It has always been hard for me to express my needs to people. I felt (and still feel sometimes) like an outsider, I felt strange and disconnected to myself and others.
How Jamaica taught me that talking to people isn’t as bad as expected
When I was 19 years old I traveled to Jamaica for five months to do volunteer work. I had finished school by then and wanted to do something different before I went to university. The time in Jamaica was life changing for me in so many aspects. Of course it was very frightening at first as I traveled such a far distance all by myself for the first time. And everything was so different. The way how people interacted with each other was totally new to me. Everybody seemed to be so familiar with each other as if they were all friends or family. The distance between people seemed to be a lot smaller and easier to overcome, compared to society at home. Social interaction was more natural, more easy-going, less formal. I experienced that it was perfectly normal to talk to strangers everywhere.
In such an environment it was easier for me to overcome my anxiety. Even though I had to get used to the different mentality first, the inviting atmosphere made me feel comfortable enough to talk to people. The warmth of the people, the way they approached me and talked to me made me feel less awkward and less afraid of judgment. I felt welcome. Social interaction appeared natural and less forced.
What needs to be mentioned too is that in fact I had no choice other than talking to people. Because first of all many people talked to me as I was a foreigner and of course I was answering them. But also because talking to people was just necessary to accomplish certain things. For example in order to find the right taxi to go home I had to ask people where it was departing from. Neither were there signs indicating the location nor could I google that. So that was actually an excellent practice for me. Soon I got used to it and found out it wasn’t as bad as expected to talk to people (what a surprise).
My happy place
Nowadays I know that one reason why social interaction in the Caribbean (but also many other places) is so different from the one I experience in Western Europe is because values differ. Because of how the system is functioning family, community and friends play a vital role for survival. People need to support each other as they can’t always rely on the state. On the contrary, individualism is highly valued in Western Europe which does have advantages but which can also cause us to distance ourselves from each other. The result can be loneliness or having difficulties when it comes to social interaction.
The non-judgemental, warm and relaxed atmosphere I experience in the Caribbean makes me feel comfortable in my skin. I feel more able to talk to people and to connect. I feel more secure. The barriers disappear. Whenever I return from a visit to the Caribbean my social batteries are fully charged and social interaction feels so easy. I am full of positive energy. These batteries get weaker over time but fortunately, my social skills improved a lot over time. However, I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to travel to beautiful places like Jamaica to experience things and get to know myself better.
What definitely also helps me to connect to myself and others is the music and dancing I experience in the Caribbean. It just makes me feel so good. Happy and free of worries. The minute the music enters my head I get carried away. Far away. On a beautiful journey which is incomparably mind-blowing. I see the world with different eyes. But that’s a topic for another time.
Oh Gosh how much do I miss the sweet West Indies. The current circumstances have made it hard to travel for more than a year now so I have been suffering from some withdrawal. A huge pain in the ass as there were no parties either which would have allowed me to experience at least some kind of Caribbean culture. So all I can do is reminiscing I guess. Well that’s not quite true, there is actually more I (and also you!) can do. For example Jamaican Rum Punch!
As I am generally a very optimistic person who always tries to make the best out of situations I was thinking about what I can do to bring at least some Caribbean flavour to my home. And the answer was simple: Let’s make some Jamaican Rum Punch! Jamaican rum is something you can even get in Austria (without having to order it) and the other ingredients are not hard to get either. Furthermore, it is super easy to make. I will show you how in this blog entry and tell you my favourite recipe, which lets me reminisce of the Caribbean every time I smell or taste it. But before we get to the instructions let me tell you about the history of Rum Punch.
History of Rum Punch
Punch is a very old beverage which has even existed before cocktails were invented. The origins of the word Punch are not quite clear: many say its roots lay in the Indian dialect of Hindustani and translates to five. Five referring to the five elements which are frequently used to make punch: sweet, sour, water, spice and alcohohl. Others say the word punch is derived from the word puncheon, which was used to describe a special kind of barrel used for the transport of alcohol.
Although it is not totally clear who really invented the drink, it is said that British sailors who worked for the British East India Company were the first to create it in the 17th century. They were drinking a lot on their long long voyages from England to South East Asia and eventually the beer and wine they brought with them spoiled or they ran out of it.
So they had to find a replacement and created Punch out of Indian arrack and other ingredients which were easily available in India, like lemon juice. The sailors brought the drink from India to England, where it got very popular during the mid 1600s. In 1655, the modern Rum Punch was born, when Jamaican rum was used instead of arrack from the East Indies.
Nowadays Rum Punch is a popular Caribbean island cocktail, typically consisting of rum and fruits or fruit juices. There are many different variants of Caribbean Rum Punch as every island adds its own flavours. I am introducing Jamaican Rum Punch in this article as this the place where I got to know the tasty cocktail (and also because Jamaican rum is easy to get where I live).
Jamaican Rum Punch recipe
Actually there isn’t only one certain way to make Jamaican Rum Punch. Even though the main ingredients are always the same, you will find slightly different versions when you google it. I tried different ways to do Rum Punch until I found the perfect recipe (inspired by Lemons for Lulu)
For about 5 glasses of rum punch you need:
- 1 cup of orange juice
- 1 cup of pineapple juice (I always prefer to use self made juice containing fruits only)
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup white rum, for example Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum
- 1/4 cup dark rum, for example Appleton Estate Signature Blend
- 1/2 cup of grenadine (or less if you prefer it les sweet)
For one big glass (35,5 cl) you need:
- 100 ml orange juice
- 100 ml pineapple juice
- 2,5 cl dark rum
- 2,5 cl white rum
- 30 ml of grenadine
All you need to do is combine all the ingredients (for example in a pitcher) and stir. Then pour the drink into glasses filled with ice and garnish them with fruits. Rum Punch is a great party drink because you can prepare it easily in lager quantities.
Create your own version
As I mentioned already every Carribean island adds its own flavours to their version of Rum Punch. Let me give you some examples:
In Trinidad and Tobago Rum Punch typically consists of lime juice, raw sugar, nutmeg, Angostura Bitters, dark rum from Trinidad (for example Angostura) and water.
In Barbados the ingredients frequently used are lime juice, simple syrup, dark rum from Barbados (for example Mount Gay), Angostura bitters and nutmeg.
As you can see it’s all pretty similar. What you can do too is use your creativity and create your own version of Rum Punch. There are so many different things you can try. For example use Coconut rum or try a different fruit juice like Mango or Watermelon. Whatever fits your taste best. To remember the proportions of the ingredients there is a simple rhyme: One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.
Reminiscing of Jamaica with Rum Punch, music and friends
I love to make Rum Punch occasionally as it’s so easy to make and it reminds me of Jamaica a lot (especially the scent of Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum takes me back immediately). Even though it is not a drink Jamaicans drink frequently it is something you can get at many places. If you like rum and fruits it’s very likely that you will like this beverage as well.
My recommendation for a Jamaican night at home: Invite two friends, hang some pineapple garlands and light chains for a nice atmosphere, turn on some Dancehall music and make some tasty Rum Punch to create the right mood for a night full of dancing and fun. Of course it is not the same as in the Caribbean, but for now it is a good replacement. And the best is yet to come because I will give you more advice on how to bring a little bit of Caribbean flavour to your home. Curious? Stay tuned for Reminiscing Part 2!