The Land I Love

Following my heart, turned out to be a good decision after all. The moment I said good-bye to one season, the sooner I am beginning to see new opportunities arising with each new day. This last couple of weeks, I have been able to attend events, meet amazing people, spend more time with frindependence dayiends, and explore a deeper Jamaican history.

Just a few days ago on August 6, 2015, I celebrated Independence Day at the annual gala held at the National Stadium. I stared in awe at the numerous performances; including shows about Jamaicans fighting for freedom, and listened to music that aroused my sensibilities and triggered thoughts of my childhood days. I stared at the proud Jamaicans intent on creating a united wave across the stadium. A simple seemingly impossible act was made possible because we were united, I thought, as I watched in astonishment at the hands rising and falling all around the stadium. I imagined it would never end. The lesson of unity gnawed at my heart the rest of the night, leaving me to ponder: What are the other impossibilities that we could accomplish when we work together? Could we use music to break down the different classes and political divisions here?

Suddenly the lights went out, leaving us in darkness while lulling to music such as “Cherry Oh Baby” and “The Land of my Birth”, old songs by Eric Donaldson. I felt sure and proud to be Jamaican that night. A light switch had been turned on, and I realized that this was where it all begun. The spectacular fireworks brightened the stadium with myriads of designs plastered across the night sky, and filling the stadium with wide open eyes staring in amazement. The fireworks shed light within my own heart, causing me to reflect on such things; my first dreams were made on this land. Not just that; my first words, first steps, and first lessons all took place here. And although at this moment I do not know where I will end up, I am sure that all my future steps will leave a traceable trail back to this island.

The following day, I woke up feeling sure that I had made the right decision- to extend my stay. I was introduced to new colleagues, Dervan Malcolm and Leo Gilling- on Power106FM, who reassured me that there is a new option; to embrace  my Jamaican roots, while accepting that I am also Canadian, as an official member of the Jamaican Diaspora. So when it came time to leave the radio set, I was renewed and felt hopeful that Jamaica will always accept me no matter where I am, and will create room for me should I choose to call it home.

Weeks before, I was going through the pain of walking away from this country that I have come to love over the last year, but now with my new awareness, I am realizing that I will never be separated again. I am empowered to walk the Hall of Fame as a proud Jamaican.  The energy and smiles from the people I met over the last couple weeks imprinted something new on my heart- we are all proud, strong and a powerful people. I am charged to be optimistic about a brighter, more united future for my Jamaica, the land I love.

I+am+Jamaican.

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I am Jamaican

11815954_10206111875829888_1385163658_nI had another chance to celebrate Emancipation Day in Jamaica and what a day it was. I woke up feeling groggy, and disinterested in rushing my day. I wanted to cancel the previous early morning plans in exchange for my favorite pastime- making breakfast and then eating it on the balcony. But it wasn’t going to happen this morning. Instead, I decided to go against my feelings and just get on with the day.

The sweet Caribbean breeze grazed my skin the moment I stepped out the door, and I thought, maybe this isn’t going to be a bad day. I walked in serenity to the taxi stand; and ignoring my impatience, I waited inside the cold taxi for the driver to fill it with passengers. When the taxi driver stretched his hand across me to open the door, letting in yet another passenger, and requesting that I sit in the middle next to him, I did not say a thing. I decided, ‘nothing will bother me’.

As I was getting out of the taxi at the JUTC bus terminal, a phone call informed me that the bus was ready to leave and I must hurry. Luckily, I was just in time, to embark on an amazing historical experience.

With a cheerful set of passengers next to me, the bus went on to do its tour of Kingston. The tour guide called out familiar places such as Devon house, and gave a quick history behind the street name ‘Lady Musgrave’ prior to our first stop at the Bob Marley Museum. Although it was my second visit to the Museum, I was not disappointed. The happy tour guide, Susan, entertained us with her singing and history lessons about Bob’s life. Highlighting his numerous awards, the clothes he wore to play soccer, and his favorite hang out spots- where he would have come up with songs like “who the cap fits”. Using songs to desist conflict with his complaining neighbour and general daily life experiences seemed to be the way he made many of his popular hits. The final part of the museum tour led us to the ‘shot room’; so called, as this was where Bob was shot, but as the newspaper article highlighted, “the show must go on”.

The tour moved on to show off Bob’s statue at Independence Park, and then to the Government Yard in Trench Town where I learnt about places like Rema and Jungle. Stepping into Bob’s old room and seeing how his life would have been as a young person, showed me how tough Jamaicans are. It gave me a sense of connection and feeling of the Jamaican spirit, and knowing that all of this blood is also running through my veins. I am glad that this trip was done amongst fellow Jamaicans- although they may not of thought of it, there is a deep connection we all have as a people, no matter our values and class. Like Bob, every Jamaican has this raging power to do great things- to change the world.

The tour didn’t stop there, we went on to Tuff Gong, the studio where music is produced- and I learnt from the very interesting tour guide about the meaning of the name Tuff Gong; signifying that Bob is tough and like the clanging Japanese bell, he always command attention from his audience no matter where in the world he went to perform.

Emancipation Day has new meaning for me now, and I will forever correlate it with Bob Marley and his songs. His songs were to uplift Jamaicans out of the struggle and into a reality of hope, as well as a brighter and more united future. I hope that we will come to see ourselves as ‘Princes and Princesses’ and ‘Kings and Queens’. For me, I’m just glad I did not spend the day in solitude, because learning about my history sure puts everything into perspective. I am Jamaican.

The End?

10669219_1163965750286893_2138671327918281461_oAs the days of my tentative departure roll nearer, I find myself pulling further from the inevitable. I catch myself reading about famous people like Ian Flemming who could not pull themselves away from Jamaica. And I listen to friends and family share the same perplexity of not wanting to leave this magnetic island after the vacation has ended. Clearly, it’s not just me. All through the decades, men and women have come to this beautiful island and have fallen in love with the charming and lustrous scenery.

The last couple mornings have been spent walking around Mona Dam, and the afternoons at Hope Gardens or sitting on grass admiring the gorgeous UWI campus. Yesterday, I sat at a place called the Look-out-point encapsuled by mountains. For all the months I’ve been on campus, it was the first I’ve ever sat at that little old gazebo. This is the thing about Jamaica, no matter how many activities you do, there is still lots more to be done. Last Friday, I went to this lovely spot to celebrate the completion of the MBA program with fellow classmates. I can’t say how many times I’ve driven pass that venue, yet it was my first time setting foot in the vicinity. Sitting on the terrace lit with fluorescent lights and great company brought spark to the night. The clanging of wine glasses, loud laughter and constant picture taking is something to be remembered years from now.

Lately, I’ve found myself sitting by the benches at my residence with friends from all over the world, til late hours in the night. Already, we are reminiscing about what we’re going to miss about Jamaica. Leaving is just not easy for anyone. Many have extended their stays, not because they do not miss their homes and families, but because this island is an addictive drug that leaves you intoxicated by the experiences.

Visiting Port Royal last Sunday, for the second time, brought me to a another era. After a scrumptious meal at the all-time favorite Gloria’s Restaurant, we walked around the little town taking in remnants of its history. We stopped by plaques on walls to familiarize ourselves with centuries old events that took place. We touched old canons and captured every moment of the experience with flashing cameras and with our sensory system. Yes, these are the experiences I will forever cherish.

Still, there is much that I would like to do here. Negril and the rest of the South West coast is a place I have not yet seen. I have not visited the famous Mystic Mountains, where I would have loved to go zip lining. The water shoes I had purchased for Ochio Rios, have still not been used to climb the falls. Also, I think it’s about time that I visit the lovely resorts here. And too bad, I might be going back home and still not officially conquered the fear of driving here. Since I’m in the Caribbean, I may as well use this time to go snorkelling or do some kind of deepsea diving, especially because I love water so much.

But now I am out of time, unless of course like those before me, such as Ian Flemming and other friends, I find a way to make life here in Jamaica.

Time to Leave

DSCN0071May as well begin the farewell process. Happiness doesn’t last forever, and neither do vacations. Sooner or later the bliss ends, and reality begins. It’s just the way of life. I’m sad. Yes, I got used to life here; relationships, the sunshine, and the culture. I have come to embrace my own culture; the authentic piece of it, and not what I have been fed while living in Toronto. Yet, it seems I will have to leave behind all that I have learned to appreciate…again.

Each time, I am faced with this severing, it leaves me feeling uncomfortable and in agony. How many times must I say good-bye? How many times must I experience new relationships- and then walk away? How many times must I start over?

The heavy coursework has abruptly been reduced; leaving me nothing but perceived free time, and mentally I am not prepared for this. So many things I had wanted to do- planned for, yet I do not have the drive to captivate myself with more vacation-activities. The MBA program drained every ounce of my energy; and has placed me in another frame of mind, “more work and less play.” I am trying to figure out what to do with my days now- as there is so much reading one can do for one class. I am left to my own thoughts- sometimes feeling uncertain about where my future will take me, and other times, excited that I will use my new skills and experience to make a world of a difference.

Someone told me that crossroads are good. Because they are always brimming with possibilities. This I am hopeful for. But at every crossroads, it seems, you have to give up one thing for another. And you can only hope that your decision is the best one. It has to be. This program coming to an end is pushing me to make a decision about the next phase in my life. I am torn. My emotions have been wrapped up on this experience and letting go isn’t so easy. It has been a tough journey to be here, and after experiencing all kinds of emotions- anger, when things aren’t going so great, frustration about the things I have no control of, and joy when life doesn’t seem it could get any better- I am now feeling sad and disappointed that this season of life is coming to an end. Because, I am not ready to move on. Yet, when the program ends, so does my purpose for being in Jamaica.

Making the decision to change directions is really hard. I have been in this state of calamity too many times; perhaps because I have travelled and have called many places home. When I left Jamaica the first time, it was like ripping a band-aid from a fresh wound. But I regained stability, and found a new place to call home. Now, it seems I am about to endure a similiar process. I am looking for a way to find harmony in my soon-to-make decision. Because building relationships and then cutting them is just not okay. Is there a solution? Must I journey through life, emotionless?

Perhaps, I will have to take my own preventative measure to overcome ‘this’; by making periodical visits, and be sure to take remnants of the experience with me- like, photographs of the memories, and contact information to stay in touch with those I cared about. Yes, it is inevitable that “all good things must end”, but it doesn’t mean that I have to lose all the people that played a part in my life. I simply cannot go through that again. Although I am saying good-bye to one season- maybe this is the door to another amazing experience. And maybe, just maybe this time, it is not ‘farewell’ afterall, but ‘welcome home’ instead.

I have come home

DSCN0082My dream of living in Jamaica has come true. A year ago, I recalled seeing a sign in the airport beckoning me to return; so I have answered! With new adventures, especially extended ones, it is hard to get excited when you are leaving friends and family behind. It’s hard to be excited after giving up your apartment, resigning from your job, and giving away your car, to live in the unknown. Yet, I have said my good-byes and I have given up my life at my former home and now a new one awaits. This time, Jamaica is just as I left it.

I have found the same “marketplace” outside the doors of the airport; and I am greeted with the hot Jamaican sun as I make my way out. This time I am prepared. I tried not to seem as if I was struggling to remove the two suit cases and a small hand luggage off the trolley. One of the suitcases is almost as tall as me. I managed to get myself together and pull my luggage, along with my laptop bag swung over my shoulder. For a petite girl, my trying to pretend I have everything under control is painfully foolish; as I see one man steering at me. He had helped me lift the larger luggage from off the trolley and as I wheel them out on my own, I see him staring still. I scanned the marketplace and found a few empty spots in the row of chairs, so I make my way there. My face is stern, attempting to give the facade that I know what I’m doing, and I am no foreigner. I walked pass men sitting comfortably on a high ledge, designed to hold large plants. They watch me organize my luggage next to the chair I was going to sit. I took my seat next to my luggage, exchanged my eyeglasses for sunglasses and did a quick scan of my surroundings. The men were now staring out in the distance. I remove my sweater for at this point I was sweating profusely, and I pulled up my long brown dress from revealing so much cleavage. I could feel the caribbean breeze blowing on my skin.

A few mintues ago I started to wonder whether I was ever going to leave the airport. The customs officer needed an address for the place I was going to stay at, and I did not have one to give her. She sent me down to the information centre to have my cousin, Donald, paged over the intercom. I had left my passport with the same officer because as she puts it, “this is the process. You go down to get the address and you come back to see me.” I walked off in the direction of her finger pointing. Donald didn’t respond. While I was standing at the counter, still waiting for a rapid reponse, I examined my letter of acceptance from the University of the West Indies, and starred at the university’s address printed on the letterhead. Since it was hard for me to remember Donald’s address; the place I had stayed a year ago, I decided to write the name of the hall I had applied for and the address of the university. I told the woman at the counter who had paged Donald, who was no longer paying me any attention, that I would come back just in case she was wondering what I was up to. I walked towards the same custom officer; and after the person in front of me left, she beckon for me to come. I handed the scribbled address to her and she happily wrote it down and said, “all I needed was an address. You are a Jamaican”. Then, she returned the customs form to me. I was free to leave.

Donald appeared from out of nowhere and was now standing a few inches from me. We made eye contact. And just in case he did not see me, I waved. He made his way towards where I was sitting, while talking on his cellphone. He removed the phone from his ear and hugged me. “Were you here long? I was circulating the area”.

“No, I sat down five minutes ago”.

He helped me roll my luggage to the road side and left me there to get his car from the parking lot. I did this before. I knew it wouldn’t be long for his return, and the other waiters now know I am no stranger to this land.

Jamaica had been anticipating my return and I’m greeted with warmth and tranquility. I am familar with the long road from the airport, and the sea that sits on the outskirt that borders the land. There is no surprise. I drive through New Kingston, a stop at Donald’s air conditioned workplace, and later we eat lunch at Scotchie’s. My first meal is festival and jerk chicken with coconut water to drink. We sit under a hut, on chairs made from bamboo. I felt the cool Jamaican breeze blowing and when I listen quietly, I can hear the wind singing praises for my return. Yes, I have come home.

Face the Facts?

FullSizeRenderSometimes the heart makes the best decisions. The first time I returned to Jamaica, I fell in love. And I simply could not stop thinking about going back. It was this recurring daydream. After a series of events, I made up my mind that I would return a second time; and I would have a real purpose while there. I decided on writing a book. It turned out that pursuing an MBA and becoming an author were not realistic to pursue together. So, the MBA took precedence. The thing I love is that, it really didn’t matter what I did; I just needed to live and breathe in the tropical, sacchariferous paradise.

Now it’s been more than a year since I have been in Jamaica; and the culture and the people are growing on me. It’s not the first time I’ve been away from home for a length of time, but there is this magnetic pull I feel here that is simply too potent to resist. It’s hard to make up my mind to leave, though I see the months dashing by. I continuously have to answer the questions: “Do you plan to leave when you’re done? or are you planning to stay here?” with hestitation. I seem to be waiting for the sky to open up and to declare: Follow your heart. This I know all too well already, for my heart really does make the best decisions. Yet it is hard to trust it sometimes without facts.

Following the heart almost sounds like a musical note in the distance pulling you in the direction of its melody; or the smell of a savory meal calling you to indulge. With grace you are allured to this place of satisfaction, and perhaps, there is nowhere else you’d rather be, at least for that moment.  Reality eventually set in and you have to face the facts.

The fact is: I will need to make money to live and sustain myself. But this is not necessarily encased to any specific geographical region. There is nothing pressing to hurry back to that can’t be taken care of at a distance. But as it stands, I am legally not allowed to work here. However, this dilemma can be resolved. So, what is my heart really telling me? Months ago, I made a decision. I would pack my bags and go home as soon as the program is complete; yet my resolve is shaky- that is not what my heart wants.

I am in love and it’s hard to ignore my heart in this decision, facts or no facts. Living in Jamaica has caused me to have a deeper purpose in life to pursue; and a deeper desire to relish. My heart has made its decision; but my mind is having trouble choosing to follow the heart or wake up to reality. Sooner or later life will unfold in its own special way. Perhaps, my heart will win. Or perhaps, I will have to face the facts.

Coming to Jamaica: Best decision ever!

Sometimes you never know where one decision will lead you in life. In my case, it’s a blissful place. Making the decision to come to Jamaica has been a rewarding experience. It has been filled with so many learning lessons, and sprinkled with a dash of hope for a luminous future. It’s like my eye lenses have been sharpened and I can see 35 years in the making. Curtains of uncertainty are rolling back and the view is so vivid, at least, more so than before.

Life is so exciting- and it is the mystery of the unknown that adds to this. No wonder why God doesn’t allow us to see too far ahead. It’s that step of faith to walk into the cloud of uncertainty that God loves so much. The ability to trust something outside of ourselves and just know in our hearts that everything will be okay is a real skill. Yes, it takes practice. For me, it was the long 22-hour trips from Toronto to Southern United States that built up my confidence. It was the not-knowing-where-I-was-going-to-live periods in my undergraduate years that strengthened my immune system against fear of uncertainties. What I realized is that, once a decision has been executed, everything always work out ten times better than expected. Upon developing full immunity against the fear virus, I began thinking of other dreams; like learning spanish in a Spanish-speaking country. Initially, I thought of Spain. But a dose of what-ifs made me think about a country closer to home- Mexico. Still, I was going to get the anticipated experience I wanted. I set off to Mexico for two months; ignoring the butterflies of fear in my stomach. It turned out to be the experience of my life. And I didn’t stop there. Immediately, upon returning home I set off to South Korea as an English teacher. I spent a whole year this time- 14 months to be exact. I did not know the Korean language and I did not have a travel companion. It was me, myself, and I. I made it smoothly from off the 14-hour flight to Seoul International Airport to a shuttle bus taking three hours to arrive at my new home in Jeonju. I was then picked up at the shuttle bus-stop by a stranger, an American woman that had conducted my interview for the job. Talking about going out on a limb.

By the time I returned to Toronto, I was a different person. In a way, I created something in my character that most people never develop. I said it already, an immunity to the fear of uncertainties. Turns out, I may need this characteristic more than most.

On January 2014, I resigned from my job and made a decision to pursue a master’s degree in business here in Jamaica. It sure wasn’t a decision for the faint of heart. It feels like I have been living in uncertainity since the day I left my job and here I am 17 months later, still without a job- no interest in searching for one- and simply enhancing my skill set. But I am doing more than that. I am learning about my own culture, and developing appreciation for life in a developing country. To go deeper, I have grown in patience because things don’t always move as fast as I would want them to. I am growing to accept limitations- mine and other people’s or things. I mean, I don’t always have water running through a tap. Or the truth- sometimes, there is not a bathroom to use in certain vaccinities because of closure due to lack of water. These things happen here- albeit irregularly- and they can be frustrating. I am slowly developing this ability to live in less than perfect environments and be happy, because the fact is, there are so many more positive experiences that has contributed to making this trip the best decision ever.

I got to see President Obama approximately one month ago. Not only that, I was invited to sit with the other overachievers and young leaders on the podium. Watching the President’s back and struggling to hear his message was the best experience in two lifetimes! I got a chance- weeks later -to personally share at a forum held by Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM), my reflection on the President’s leadership and the way his visit impacted me. These experiences are merely the cherry on top of the other rewarding experiences that life in Jamaica has awarded me. The sunshine, the strong currents of rain, the new friendships and new connections, coupled with the breadth of knowledge I have gained, cannot be compared or traded in with any prior experience in my life. I am living in my dreams, sufficiently happy with my quaint and comfortable apartment on residence, and the 12-minute walking exercise I do twice a day to get from home to classroom and back. I get the chance to reconnect with family members I had not seen in almost two decades. And the best part is taking a break to enjoy the beaches, something that has to be celebrated from someone coming from a cold country.

But even more recently, in fact, just hours ago, I did something that was just a thought and a desire. I had a tour of Gordon House, the Jamaican National Parliament. Yes, it was small in size, but represented a big opportunity for me. I had a chance to walk in history; a place where many Prime Ministers and national heroes have set foot. Given its name from a social activist, national hero and former Prime Minister, The Right Excellent George William Gordon, alone depicts the rich history of this national heritage site and still officially the place where the Jamaican government meets. Today, I was there to listen in on the senators’ debate. Prior to sitting on the bench overlooking the debate, the President of the Senate, Floyd Morris introduced me to members of the senate in the different national parties; among them were Minister A.J Nicholson and Senator K.D Knight, two prominent leaders in Jamaica’s history.

Today was one of those momentus experiences in my life that is filled with significance. This sensation I’m feeling is too obscure to describe. To put it metaphorically, I am walking on the sea, but unlike Peter, I know who is keeping me atop the thrashing waves. So stepping out into the world of uncertainties isn’t so bad. It does a lot for a person. It develops character, it enhances life experiences, it gives you a story to tell, and the best of all, it puts you in a place to walk into your destiny. And for me, this is why coming to Jamaica has been the most rewarding experience of my life.