Departing Jamaica and Choking Up
When I lived in the US I found it it difficult for me to care too much about local "anything."
I'd get calls from the local firefighters, policemen, Cornell (my alma mater,) people wanting my vote plus all sorts of others who wanted me to get involved by giving my time or money for
What I realized over time was that I'd weigh every appeal against what I knew was happening at home.
For example, I have never given money to Cornell, because very appeal for funds would only lead me to think of what Wolmers (my old high school) would do with a fraction of the financial
resources that Cornell raised from its alumni and had in its endowment.
I guess the truth was that I always felt like a visitor in someone else's country. I never once made a decision to become "Francis the Black American" and I remained forever "Francis the
Looking back, I think this decision was made when I arrived in the US, intent on returning to Jamaica. The question I always kept in mind was "when" -- there were few moments when it became a matter of "if."
I do recall one such moment, however, when I started to tell myself over a period of months that I could live in New Jersey for the rest of my life. It came at a point when I had
just about everything - a family, a career, a four bedroom colonial, 2 cars... the American dream.
I also remember not having travelled to Jamaica for some time.
I took a 10 day journey home to end this unplanned hiatus and when I got on the plane to fly back to Newark and it started to taxi, I got "a feeling."
I know that many Jamaicans who live abroad know exactly what I am talking about. As the plane takes off and you look out the window to catch a last glance at the mountains, the sea and the sun, and you leave your loved ones behind, you start to choke up.
Gone is the beauty of Jamaica, the pan-chicken you love, friends who know you, family who are a part of your life, the bright sunshine every day, the breeze coming down in the morning with
the rains in the afternoon.
Ahead (in my case) was the state that many call "the arm-pit of America," life as a stranger, the status of a minority, the strange smell driving from Newark airport on the Turnpike, the
everyday lack of connection between people, Burger King, not knowing your neighbour's names, and more.
On the flight that day, I had a serious case of the that particular feeling... a deep homesickness that felt like an ache somewhere just below my heart.
And, like most of us do, and I had done many times before, I swallowed hard and brushed it off.
Until I got home, and walked through the door, said goodbye to the friend that picked me up from the airport, and laid my suitcases on the floor.
And then it cam. Ah bawl, ah bawl, ah bawl.
Crying like a baby.
Out it came, and I was shocked but because I was alone, I allowed it to come.
After about a half an hour, I had the presence of mind to call a few friends, and a very wise one suggested that perhaps I had given up on something important to me.
That made sense to me, and from that moment on I knew that I was bound to return, and that life as a stranger in a foreign landwas coming to a close.
That episode changed everything, but in a way it didn't change anything -- it just made things clearer.
I now understood why I had never developed an American accent, and why as soon as I returned to Jamaica my Trini-American wife started to complain that I had become harder to understand. Back with my own people, it seems as if my accent relaxed back into its natural fast clip, filled with more patois than I had used in the past 20 years.
Not to say that returning home to Jamaica is for every Jamaican -- it definitely isn't.
But if you find yourself resisting becoming an African American, unable to speak with an American accent consistently and crying after trips to Jamaica, make sure that what is keeping you away from your rightful place at home is damned important.
P.S. Digicel recently placed a tremendous advertisement in Norman Manley airport. It takes the form of a mural and it's located is just before the boarding gates. I think it's about 50 yards long, and about 2 stories high, from floor to ceiling.
It has a Digicel logo down in the corner, but the ad itself is a collage of pictures from around Jamaica, divided into sections. It has a section with people, another with sports, and I think
the others are all scenic shots of the island's beauty spots.
It is breathtaking -- and when I first saw it for the first time as I was leaving on a business trip I felt that choking feel again, and I had to smile.