Moving home to live in Jamaica has revealed to me that American friends are for a reason, but Jamaican friends are for life.
Here is my evidence: as a fully addicted Facebook user I have 179 friends (after joining in August.)
1 is from my Cornell days (I found him) (4.5 years)
1 is from my days as an employee at AT&T (he found me) (5 years)
1 is from my days working as a consultant in the US (12 years)
71 have joined the Jamaica network on Facebook
18 have joined the Trinidad network
3 have joined no network and have no connection to the Caribbean
This is after living 18 years in Jamaica, 20 years in the U.S., and 4-5 years in Jamaica including time spent transitioning home.
It has made me ask all sorts of questions. The most compelling one is -- "where are my American friends?"
My first thought was -- they are too busy to join Facebook. I searched for them, but they don't seem to have joined. I looked for friends at all times of my life, starting with college and working my way up to today -- but no luck.
Then I thought that I should invite them... but I realized that I had no contact information. I have Googled the odd one here and there, and found them when I could get lucky, and even sent a few emails in the past. But the response was weak -- kinda like, "Oh yeah, I remember you." (As if that were the point.)
Yet, I count in my Facebook friends childhood friends I had when I was five, here in Jamaica. Talking to them is like picking up where we left off. They say "How is everything going?" as if it is understood that I have been thinking about you and your welfare for the past 20 years, keeping track of what's been happening through mutual friends.
Why the difference?
I've come to believe that part of what makes coming home so very sweet is that a returnee is immediately plugged back in to a community that cares, and puts a great deal of value in contact.
Recently, my wife commented that if she doesn't reach out to her American friends, then they are content to have the relationship just wither away.
As I have commented elsewhere -- the relationships in America are like tin foil, plastic containers, broke appliances and used tires -- disposable.
For whatever reason (size of country, number of people, etc.) relationships abroad (unless they are with Caribbean people) are created for a purpose, and once the purpose is over, the relationship withers.
My old college roommate? The guy I shared a cubicle with on my first job? My neighbours in New Jersey? My former business partner? A training partner in Florida? The hundreds of people who took courses that I taught?
And the thing is, I don't think they are sweating the fact that I am not in their life, the way I am. It's not that they are bad people -- hardly. Instead, Americans are content to let "friends" drift in and drift out, without making any special effort to stay connected.
Once the purpose is over, the effort stops.
Here in the Caribbean, we see relationships very differently. As I explained to a fellow consultant at one point, when we West Indians meet someone for the first time our assumption is very different -- we see it as the first meeting of many. We assume that the person will be in our life forever.
Americans seem to think differently and I remember thinking that way when I lived there -- "this is someone I will never see again."
The actions taken are quite different from that point on. We Jamaicans notice that Americans want to know (and tell) everything in the first introduction.
Americans notice that Jamaicans are reticent in the first meeting, and don't seem to make a special effort.
It's just that the background context is very, very different leading to almost opposing actions.
I guess they also lead to a very different idea about relationships.
Coming home, and especially doing so for the holidays, reminds Jamaicans living abroad that while they live in foreign, there is only oneplace they really _belong_ -- and that is, right here at home.