Never Alone

Loneliness is the painful experience when you look around and there is no one that you know. For me, it was the moment when I was sitting in the airplane, after being escorted to my seat in a rush by the flight attendant. I was thirteen. That was the moment I realized what my dream costed me. 

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For a long time I wanted to travel on an airplane, to come to Canada. I dreamt about it for so long, but I didn’t know it would happen. And I couldn’t imagine how I would feel. That I would have to be peeled from the grips of my mother’s love, and pulled through the airport to be seated next to this woman with red lip stick with Jamaican accent. My eyes fixated on the tiny window across her lap, staring one last time, wishing for one last glimpse of my mother. The dark-skinned woman pulled down the window cap and I looked at her red mouth saying something but I could not hear her. My bawling drowned her out and my thoughts and my dreams turned to fear. 

Read More: The Land I Love

Fear that I may never see my mother and brothers again. Fear that this pain that I was experiencing for the first time would last forever. I was faced with feelings of loneliness for the first time in my life and I was scared. I was stuck between my first love; of country, of family, and of home, and my dreaming of living in another country. I was stuck in uncertainty. Up until that moment, my life had never been uncertain. 

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It was my mother who woke me up every morning and helped prepare me for school. It was my mother I had slept with at nights that comforted me and shielded me from the pain of the outside world. It was my mother who made sure I had lunch money, uniforms, and even a good school to attend. I knew everything wasn’t perfect, but surrounded by the protection of my mother’s love, I never had anything to fear. Not until now when I couldn’t see her. The part that scared me most was I didn’t know when I was going to see her again.  

The strange thing I learnt in that day was how feelings totally change. I wasn’t thinking of my mother as much. I was looking to a future with my father. As I walked side by side, I believed I was protected again from the world. I was safe. I was too young to know that this was my season of growth. Not mature enough yet to see that I was developing strength, resilience, and my own identity. I would find a new home here. 

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This pandemic has given me time to pause and reflect on my long journey through all the seasons of my own life. That’s why tonight, as I look out at the midnight sky in the comfort of my own home, the countless stars flickering makes me cry. All along, all these years, God had been walking in tandem with me, watching over me, carrying me through the most difficult parts of my life. Guiding me through my transformation, letting my roots grow deeper, mixing the colourful experiences with the ugly. All of it, for Him, for His glory, for me to know that I was never alone.

When it rains…it pours in Jamaica

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“What is going on?” I wondered while finding shelter and looking up at the Sangicor bank, thinking someone must be out of their minds. “Were they watering flowers up there?” Donald quickly stepped into the building next door, the IBM building where he works, and I followed. I was trying not to get wet by the person who was emptying buckets of water from the tower. As I look out the glass door, I saw that umbrellas were going up, and while others run for shelter. In fact, the big drops of water were actually coming from the sky and it was sending people scattering.

I watched as the wind blew the palm trees in an attempt to uproot them. “From no rain to lots of rain, lovely weather” a woman walking into the elevator said aloud. The puddles were now forming. Then, it seemed, someone turned off the faucet. The rain slowed down, and so did the pace of walking. The puddles are the only remnants that the rain was falling. Clouds parted and the sun was out again, at its zenith.

I leave the building to get lunch at the Juici beef restaurant. When it was my turn, I ordered a patty with coco bread and a soda. I take a seat alone by the window. The rain was pouring again. There is no floodwater drain so the water flows on to the sidewalk. I would not be able to cross the street without getting my feet wet. Traffic was building up. Police sirens ring but there is no space to get the vehicle through. Here in the restaurant, the calmness and the slowness of conversations is the complete opposite of the mayhem outside.

“She almost fell because she is barefooted” A woman behind me commented. I look outside the window to see a woman holding her flip flops in her hand while trying to keep her balance. The rain still falling with the same velocity as before and the water build-up on the sidewalk is increasing. The Jamaican flag across the street hangs limp  on its pole now. Another woman slips and a security officer catches her. More umbrellas come out. A customer and I share a joke as we watch a man trying to measure the distance of the flowing water between him and the sidewalk. He took a leap but missed the sidewalk. His feet now soaked in spite his efforts. Others chose to walk directly into the water. Now, more people are carrying their shoes and slippers in hand while walking barefooted on the sidewalk. The rain slows and I watch the water on the sidewalk disappear.

“Excuse me” a restaurant worker said as she mops the floors. I lift my feet for her to mop underneath, and watch her return the table to its original position. I see the water on the sidewalk dries, almost instantaneously. The sun comes up as bright as before and the dark clouds pass. Another server knocks on my table. Instinctively I lift my belongings so she could wipe the table. I look out the window and see the wind causing the Jamaican flag to sway proudly, and I take this opportunity to walk out into the Jamaican sunshine.

Finding Stillness In Jamaica

It’s easy to become fixated with making schedules, but it’s much easier to stay calm and let everything fall into place. When I am still, the things my heart truly desires, come right to me. I hear God’s voice whispering…this is the way. 

This morning I woke up early anticipating my first radio interview. I was going to tell my story to others who live in the Diaspora and are interested in visiting or living in Jamaica, but might have reservations. I stood in front of the desk where my laptop and phone were sitting; near the window, overlooking the busy street of Hope Road. I could easily see above the other low rise buildings from the fourth floor, and if I squinted; far, far in the distance, there was Devon House.

Living in Jamaica, independently, was the mission for this trip. It had already been a week. So far, I had taken the taxis on my own, gone grocery shopping, and visited a number of restaurants with friends. Neither did I plan to have a radio interview this morning, nor did I anticipate staying with a colleague from the Business school. All of it just sort of happened. Happening. After the interview, I had my heart set on going to the beach since it was a Sunday, but the rain was coming down, like shards of glass.

With a few minutes of stillness, I found my equilibrium. This trip is about going with the flow, not setting down definitive plans like I often do. With the rain slowing, I decided, No, not the beach. To Hope Gardens instead. On my own. My colleague dropped me at the gates, despite my insistence that I take the local taxi. I walked down the long path leading to the second entrance to the gardens, and a very lanky fellow staggered in front of me, then slowed his pace. “Are you waiting for me to catch up?” I asked as an opener to a conversation. He laughed, and turned to look down. “Are you going to the garden too?” He wasn’t. He was going to another event occurring at the same venue. We now walked side by side, through the gates, and since neither one of us wished to separate, we took the scenic route around the garden…talking about our lives. Where I was from…What was I doing here… Where I worked.. What my plans are for the next two weeks of my trip…until we found his event, and I saw the entrance to the Zoo. It’s funny how things happen. Always, when you don’t plan on it. These are the situations I tend to find myself in, which makes me feel that I am never truly alone. There is always someone who come along my path.

The Zoo was just as I last recall three years ago. The same paradise with bright colours bursting out at me. My eyes soaked up the beauty.pdwm.php

It’s how I feel about Jamaica. Even though I arrived alone, I’m not. I’m surrounded by so many friends to help me enjoy my home. On the first day, I thought I was going to starve. It was my fault. I should have asked George to stop for food, on the way to the airbnb where I was staying. When I arrived and settled in, I thought I would have time to walk outside on my own. I forgot that it was dark by 6pm. There was no way I was going to leave this house, to go out there alone, by myself, to wander…No way. I decided I wouldn’t die from hunger. Thankfully, it wasn’t the case that I would go without food overnight. An honoured friend came to my rescue, and took me out to the jerk chicken street vendor, further down on Hope Road. It was later in the week I realized that the vendor was only a five minute taxi drive away. That’s what I ate for dinner, with coconut water.

King's House edit1Before the sun came out the following day, I was wide awake..whether from hunger, or the fear of it. I was determined to get to know my surroundings. By 6:30, I went out for a walk. I turned on Musgrave Road, then walked across Hope Road. It always scares me to cross the streets in Jamaica. It reminded me of when I was ten years old, and needed someone to hold my hand. I wish someone could still hold my hand as old as I am. The streets are just so damn intimidating. I was glad I was still alive on the other side of the street, where less cars were travelling. I saw the outskirts of the Kings House…where I believe the Prime Minister has his meetings. On my way back home, I decided to call George to take me out to get breakfast, and help me run my errands. It would make my life easier, as costly as it would be.

Sovereign Mall was not open at 9am in the morning, so I requested to go to the University instead. It was a good idea, because I reconnected with the staff, and with friends, plus there was a Digicel store and a bank side by side. It was my first day of independence, and even if I wasn’t certain about each step of the way, I intended to figure it out. Things went smoothly as they often do. The best part was when I visited the grocery store after my trip to the University.  There, I purchased all that I would need for a week, and by 5pm, George took me home, in time for me to start getting dressed for dinner. Truly, it wasn’t a bad first day. My check list of errands were completed: I ate breakfast at Juici Beef, I now had Jamaican currency, a Phone with credit, groceries in my room, and now I was going out with friends for dinner. It was an ordinary day in Jamaica, just the way I wanted it.

 

Jamaica: Overcoming All Odds In The 18th Century

There has never been a dull moment in Jamaica’s history. The amount of transitions the country has undergone over the centuries can be drawn as a series of fluctuations, which inadvertently, creates economic instability. As a World-player, Jamaica’s competitive advantage is that, it truly knows how to thrive, especially when the possibilities are grim. Thus, Investors will simply have to be comfortable with extreme volatility, to do business with Jamaica.

Life in Jamaica had started long before the 18th Century, but let’s begin there. By then, the British took over Jamaica, from the Spanish who had been occupying the island since the late 17th century. Subsequently, the British brought over hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans from Africa to work on the Sugar Plantations. For every plantation, there was a median of approximately 150 Africans, all owned by wealthy Englishmen.Jamaica

When the Spanish left, there were remnants of enslaved Africans who fled to the mountainous interiors of Jamaica. They were known as the Maroons, a term meaning a slave who escaped. So, while there were new enslaved Africans brought over to work on the Sugar plantations, there were these Maroons that were living independently in the same country.

The Maroons were thriving under their own organized structure. Settlements were created. There were intermarriages with native people of Jamaica, and their livelihood came  from subsistence farming and raiding the plantations, looking for food no doubt. The First Maroon War took a toll on the British troops; and as such in 1739, an agreement, between the British and the Maroons, was written. The terms included: (1) The Maroons would remain in their 5 towns (Accompong, Trelawny Town, Moore Town, Scott’s Pass, and Nanny Town),  (2) They had to live under their own ruler and a British Supervisor. (3) They could not harbour runaway slaves, but to catch them instead. (4)  They served to protect the Island from invaders. The leader of one of the settlements, Cudjoe, “felt that the only hope for the future was honorable peace with the enemy, which was just what the British were thinking.”

Jamaica Given the fact that the wealthy Englishmen were living in England, they hired buccaneers or pirate to control the plantations. Obviously, this arrangement did not go so well. It’s similar to having criminals head an organization. Who does that?! Naturally, the results weren’t pretty. In 1760, the Tacky revolt broke out. These uprisings are generally the result of working under difficult conditions, and the enslaved workers were not being treated well. One of the slave overseer on the St. Mary Plantation, Tacky, most-likely a mixed race individual, led a group of enslaved Africans in taking over the Frontier and Trinity plantations while killing their enslavers. This uprising ended poorly because approximately 70 to 80 mounted militia came along with Maroons (bounded by treaty) to suppress the rebellion. Tacky was shot, and his head cut off as deterrence to any who dared the same. The rest of Tacky’s men committed suicide, a better solution than to go back to slavery.

Jamaica

While the First Maroon War resulted in Cudjoe’s Treaty of 1739, the Second Maroon War started because there was a breach of the said treaty. Two Maroons were flogged by a Black Overseer because they stole two pigs. When the grievance was taken to the British by six maroons, they found themselves held prisoners. This led to a five month guerrilla warfare. Both sides were strong; the British outnumbered the Maroons 10-1, but the Maroons knew the mountains and forests well, and used the terrain to their advantage. In the end, the Maroons surrendered because of the stalemate. The British told them they had three days to “beg for apology”. Beg? These brave heroes were going to beg? Well, the Maroons surrendered in there own way, and not my the rules set out by the British. It was not until two months passed, mid-March, before they decided to thrown in the white cloth. Why did they? I would like to think it was because of so many years of fighting, and there leader was now old and not as brave as he one were. When they did, the British chose to remove them from the island immediately because of the risk of more rebellions. The first ship was sailing to Nova, Scotia, Canada, and history had it, the Trelawny Maroons were sent to live there for approximately four years before they were returned to Africa. If not, there would certainly be more rebellions in Jamaica.

RelatedPort Royal

The take-away in this time period is that the Maroons (fellow Jamaicans) demonstrated continuous perseverance, courage, and unity to stand up to the British. Additionally, the uprisings from the enslaved Africans are actually notable victories; and demonstrates the immense  desire to survive, the willingness to risk it all (including life), for the sake of freedom. Jamaica’s history speaks volume about the gene that is still running in every Jamaican’s vein, down to the very soil that can tell the story of the countless men and women it has covered. Obstacles are not obstacles, only another challenge to demonstrate the vivacity of the people. It is why the businesses and the people that come from this country thrive. If you can be successful in that small island, you can be successful anywhere in the world.

The best of both worlds

Shauna Cassell's Journey

I decided to stop at Devon House this past Friday at mid-day,  as I was about to walk by it to take a taxi back to campus. I was travelling with my course text-book and thought, how different it would be to sit and read in a garden. I picked a solitary spot where unoccupied benches were gathered, then took a moment to gaze around. Perfectly manicured trees and grass everywhere just slowed my heartbeat to match the calm rhythm of nature around me. I began to contemplate about how nice it would be to have my very own future backyard look this way.

It’s not easy taking this MBA program, but living on a tropical island balances everything.

The best of both worldsI needed a change in my life and I have found it here in Jamaica. When days are stressful, a look at the breathtaking landscape and the feeling of the blazing sun alone, puts things into…

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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 friends, 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?

The Land I loveSuddenly 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.

Related: A Taste of History

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.

I+am+Jamaican

I 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’.

I am Jamaican

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”.

I am Jamaican

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 have 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.

Related: Me And Bob’s Family

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?

As 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 EndThe 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.

The EndVisiting 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.

Related: Longing for you, Jamaica

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.