AT 110 years, Ethlyn Samuels is still motivated to work, a trait she has held since childhood.
The woman, who worked on at least two sugar plantations in her early years, said had it not been for her poor eyesight, she would be out working now at her current age.
“If mi eyes did bright, mi go look work because mi have mi strength in mi body and mi no lazy,” Samuels told the Jamaica Observer during a recent visit to her home in Edgehill, St Ann’s Bay.
Many marvel at the strength of the centenarian who still has a sense of independence at her age. Although she did not have a birth certificate to prove it, Samuels said that she was born in 1903.
“Mi a nuh trouble to them,” Samuels said, adding that although she has caregivers, she is not a burden to them.
At 110, she still manages to take a bath by herself, and if she is allowed to, she would wash and clean.
“Mi love work. You have to work to come out to something. You can’t sit and achieve something,” she said.
Samuels said that she was always a hard-working person and never had a problem working.
“Mi a hard-working idiot,” she joked.
She added: “Mi no depend on no back-door deal. Mi never depend on no man. Most times a mi mine dem.”
The mother of 12, seven of whom have predeceased her, believes that the hard work she did in her youth may have helped to keep her healthy all these years.
She also believes that her long life is a result of the lifestyle she practised.
“Mi believe in the Father. Mi have a Christian mind to do everything to please Jehovah God. I live a clean life,” she stated.
Samuels also believes that the food she consumes has also contributed to her good health and long life.
“Mi eat nuff food, plenty fish, yam, and drink porridge,” she said.
She said that food was affordable in former years, and so she enjoyed having it in large quantities.
“Not fertiliser food eno, good food,” she pointed out.
“Ethlyn care herself, feed her body and when night come Ethlyn go a her bed,” the jovial woman said.
Reflecting on some of the meals she had then, Samuels said that “the old time days were nice and beautiful.”
She recalled having chocolate tea and coffee with cow’s milk.
“I was well fed,” she stated.
Samuels said that as a child, her mother took care of her and her siblings, ensuring that they had a healthy diet.
Although life was not easy for her family, Samuels said her mother ensured that her children were well fed and believed in God.
“If you gone to sleep and don’t pray, my mother wake you up to pray,” she said.
It is therefore no wonder that whatever Samuels does, she prays; this includes receiving visitors in her home and seeing them off.
When she became a mother, Samuels ensured that her children received the same teachings that her mother gave her.
She also worked hard, doing various jobs to support their needs.
She said that her earliest employment was on the Seville Estate in St Ann’s Bay, where she cleaned the banana walks, the canefields, carried coconuts and picked limes and tomatoes.
While many considered working on estates a major challenge even in post slavery, for Samuels, she was working to accomplish what she wanted and work was never a bother.
Her father left for Cuba while she was a young child and she never shied away from working to help her mother, she said.
Samuels also worked at the Richmond Estate in Priory before moving on to become a household helper. She then went on to work with a laundry establishment before deciding to do business on her own, buying and peddling ground provisions and fruits throughout St Ann’s Bay.
Samuels also recalled her time working on the construction of the original St Ann’s Bay Hospital, which she said is now a tax office. She said that she also worked at the present St Ann’s Bay Hospital during its construction.
“Mi work up a hospital till it done,” she said.
Although Samuels raised 12 children of her own, her love and care for children did not stop there. She recalled that as an elderly woman, her home was always filled with children, as many parents chose to leave their child with “Miss Ethlyn” whenever they went out.
“They use to call here crèche,” her youngest child, Sylvester Ogle, recalled.
Ogle said that his mother got along with community members and was well loved and did not refuse to care for the children of the younger women while many of them went out to work.
The member of the St Ann’s Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church still enjoys the company of children, many of whom from her church visit her at her home. She also enjoys her over 30 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
Samuels admires hardworking young people. Her most common word of advice to young people is “work”.
“Try your best to get a good work to help yourself,” she advised during the Sunday Observer visit.
“Put yourself in your church; don’t put the world on your head too soon. Make sure you work to help yourself,” was her advice to young women.
Samuels believes that many young women and teenage girls are not putting value on their lives, as many parents are not as strict as in the past.
She explained that dating and marrying took on a different format in the past.
“If dem love the girl and want talk to them, dem have to go see the mother and father. Dem have to know the family before dem go in a it,” she said.
Samuels said that family life in Jamaica has changed.
“Family was number one … them no notice family nowadays”, she said, explaining that as a child and young adult, the value placed on family life was much higher than it is now.
“If you sick, dem a come look fi you. Old time people, even walk with walking stick,” she said.
“Dem share. If dem kill a goat dem send piece go give the other person. Dem live loving,” she added.
Samuels believes in serving and so she joined several charitable groups and clubs, like the burial scheme.
“It’s good to live good with people,” she said.
“Every little thing mi push myself in,” she said, insisting that she often leads from the front. She said also that she ensured that her children were involved in things which helped in their development.
The hardworking woman also admires some of the great Jamaicans whom she believed helped to uplift the country. Marcus Garvey and Sir Alexander Bustamante were two persons whom she spoke highly about.
“He was a good man,” she said of Garvey.
For Bustamante, “A him mek we know ’bout pension. If you want vex, you vex. A the truth me a talk,” she added.
As Samuels looks towards her 111th birthday, she said that her life is in God’s hand. Not even when she is feeling pain, which she thinks is as a result of her age, does she worry about it.
While not concerned as to how long she will live, Samuels wants what is best for her country.
“The black race (is) strong. We (are) strong but we need to live good with each other. Rise and give God the glory and live good,” she stated.
“You have to be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove,” were her words of wisdom.