Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Carnival Coming Just Now

As the end of the year approaches, I've started to do what all Carnival lovers around the world do. Now is the time to engage in a focused study of the new Carnival music.


Well, between December and Febuary the time must be invested in learning the latest songs, so that the right vibe can start to take hold. This is even truer for those of us who live outside Trinidad and must rely on a combination of bootleg CD's, fetes, radio stations and music sites such as

The issue here is avoiding the 1-2 day soca-shock that comes when a visitor to Trinidad lands in their first fete, and struggles with the new music that inevitably sounds (at first) like a bad version of last year's music. By the end of Carnival, however, it all gets wonderfully sorted out as the music works its way into the bones the way no other music does. The result is that I am here in December listening to February 2005’s Carnival music while writing this blog.

How and why does this happen?

After all, isn't Carnival just about drinking too much, wearing too little, suffering in de heat, de dust, de mud and de paint, jostling up with strangers, being tired all the time and ultimately breaking every boundary of decent behaviour?

Well, yes.

It's been almost impossible for me to explain the importance of Carnival to other people, and especially those who are intent on judging it as wrong, evil, satanic or sinful. Notwithstanding verses in the Bible that speak to “making a joyful noise,” most of the Good book’s verses are used to condemn a public activity that millions enjoy in the open. And, hey, there is plenty happening in the average fete to condemn, if that is one's intent.

Trying to explain the experience to people in such a frame of mind reminds me of explaining "computers" to my 90 odd-year old Grandmother (who determined that since I was using one, I had to be "studying" them.)

Grandma - "Francis, what is this thing you are talking about so much - computers? I don't understand. Can you explain it?"
(I at least knew better than to use a bunch of jargon.)

Francis - "Well, it's a little like a typewriter, and a TV and a calculator rolled into one, and it helps you do things more quickly."

Grandma - "Like what things?"

Francis - "Ahm.... like word-processing and programming."

Grandma - "What's that?"

Francis - pause... "Like using a typewriter, but with a TV attached..." - I trailed off when I noticed her blank stare turning into a pitiful look that said "Oh no.... my Grandson is some kind of idiot who is wasting his life with some kind of office appliance...."

Trying to "explain" Carnival is just as hard. Actually, it's harder... as evidenced by the following loaded question from my mother:

"Son, I hope you're not out there at this Carnival thing rubbing up and doing all kinds of nasty things in the street."
Me - "Let me tell you.... dat's one of de be BES' parts!" She wasn't amused at or informed by my explanation for some reason.

(Somewhere, while in recovery mode on past ash Wednesdays, I seem to remember seeing evidence in the form of pictures and videos of someone with my face doing the nastiness that that she had described... and by the way, “It Wasn’t Me.”)

The truth is that Trini Carnival is a multi-dimensional experience with no comparison. My first visit to Trinidad in 1997 was for that purpose and while my passport records over 50 trips for business through 2005, the few years I missed Carnival were the years I forgot.


Yeah. I forgot what it felt like to with abandon -- like you just don't care.
feel the sexual energy of a fete -- to qet on bad
... see such beautiful faces and forms – pretty, pretty
... drink just enough to feel good, but not enough to get drunk-- feeling tight
jam with a stranger, and feel the exhilaration of instant and perfect timing... I'll be your melody, and you'll be my harmony
... singing, chipping, jumping, waving, eating, drinking, resting, running, caring, sharing, laughing and flexing with a mas band for 2 days -- real playing mas
... letting it all go at Jouvert, covered in paint or mud -- Bacchanal
... marveling at how sweet a "free wine" can be -- jamming on some man woman
... loving the soca music, which happens to be the happiest music in the world --
and at it's best, having a spiritual experience of joining with tens of thousands of others in celebrating life, enjoying each other, releasing fears and inhibitions and renewing ourselves for another year... enjoy yuhself in de mas'

And there's more, but words just aren't sufficient.

So, as long as there's a Carnival, and I'm able to experience it, I'll be gearing myself up for it at just about this time each year.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jamdammers -- not too "dam" good to be true

One of the best-kept secrets that I have found in Moving Back to Jamaica is not a beach, person or tax-break. Instead, it is an organization of runners.

The Jamdammers Running Club of Kingston Jamaica ( was first introduced to me by a Trini friend living in Jamaica who insisted that I come, run and lime. He talked about how great the group was, and how much fun he was having, but the fact is that Trinis have a knack for turning anything into a good lime, so I didn't take him all that seriously.

At the time, the idea of running with others was abhorrent to me. It seemed like it would be a burden, especially if the other people were boring, unambitious or faster and/or better looking (just kidding.)

I really should have known that people who are willing to get themselves up in time for a 5am run would not fit that profile in the least (OK, most of them are faster.) The truth is, that very few people are born runners. There are a select few who are blessed with the right physique, temperament and hormones needed for the mythical "runners high.'' The ordinary person, however, must struggle through pain, fatigue, excess temperatures, and hostility from loved ones over the smell of stale sweat.

Jamdammers is made up of some rather ordinary people, as I found out on my first run. My Trini friend was ''hosting'' the run one steamy August morning, and explained that he would be too busy working to run himself.


I found out that each weekend, a different member ''hosted,'' which to my surprise meant putting on a lavish breakfast spread, and setting up water stops along the 10-15 mile route.

As I expected, I ran into some old friends who I knew as civilians and made some new ones. The pace was steady, but not too fast, as we set off into the dark of 5am that would make me shudder had I been running alone.

As part of a group, however, of mostly women (Jamdammers seems to be 75% female) the space was warm and inviting. It was that early morning conversation that got me hooked.

Ordinary people, to be sure. But the conversation about spouses, ex-spouses, training, spirituality and the ins and outs of life in Jamaica left me with an extraordinary "soul-connection" that I'll never forget. To say I was surprised would be an understatement, as we ran up and down hills, around potholes, past madmen, dodging loose dogs, bad drivers and daredevil cyclists .

This might have been a group of ordinary athletes, but what it took for us to be there to watch the sun rise over St. Thomas that morning made me appreciate the sacrifices that all people who are committed to the extraordinary must make.

When I'm running alone, I feel like I'm just a bit crazy, especially when I run past someone's home and smell the ackee and saltfish wafting across my path from some mother's warm kitchen. As a runner on a regular Saturday Jamdammers jaunt, however, I often feel privileged to be among a group of people who love what they do, and are willing to give of themselves to keep it being great.

And this is where I get nervous.

So far, my wife and I have attended the annual club dinner, been welcomed as members, volunteered at races, tooled around the website and met lots of people who are quite different from each other, but all extraordinary. And my experience has been a first-class one, down to the warmth of the email sent to welcome us to the club.

I just hope that we don't screw it up somehow.

I get nervous thinking that one day I'll wake up to find that we did.

Let me count the ways my ''small mind'' has decided it will happen.

Some nasty but juicy gossip, or some tawdry affair or a financial scandal splits the club in two. Anyone who has seen a divorce close up has seen how it can split the couple's friends into his and her camps, the way I've seen the friends of newly divorce couples split into opposing his and her camps.

Or, it might just be a matter of taking the club for granted, and over time forgetting to nurture and honour the sharing, caring and camaraderie that are essential to keeping human organizations together.

The fatal rot would come from within, I suppose, and come like a
thief in the night, manifesting itself in subtle ways -- a missed run here, a stale homepage there, a half-hearted breakfast grudgingly served.

Excellence is a dam (sic) hard thing to preserve, and an excellent experience is even harder. I believe that we have something special that puts us among the very best running clubs in the world.

Yet, we'd be on shaky ground if we were to merely focus on trying to repeat past experiences, no matter how good they were. Instead, discovering and enjoying new experiences, without the limits of past practice is where things come alive.

Kind of like... good sex.

But that's a topic for a different blog.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Minshall and Mastery

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by one Peter Minshall. In case you are neither Trinidadian nor a "Carnival person," Minsh as he is called, is simply the premier authority on Mas', short for Masquerade.

You might think, as I did, that he would be stuffy, stodgy and pompous. After all, he designed the opening ceremonies at 2 recent Olympics, and one World Cup (that I recall.)

I have personally have no patience for the specie of human that requires constant stroking in order to keep a massive ego stimulated. I have always suspected that he was this way.

I was so very wrong (and am so very glad.)

His lecture at UWI Cave Hill was nothing short of an encounter with Mastery and Genius.

It reminded me of other encounters I have had with other people I consider to be Masters, and what they seemed to have in common.

Love and Courage
Mastery does not come to the faint of heart. It takes courage to fall in love, and even more courage to love what many others both deride and disregard.

For every single person that loves what they do for work, it seems that there are thousands of others who are working in their jobs just for the money, the bills, the weekend and retirement. Their hearts are not in what they do

They are actively wishing they could be doing something else, while going through the motions required by their job. To be in their presence is to be with someone who has enslaved themselves to their fears.

According to The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, they bake a bitter bread.

Masters are able to love even the unlovable job. They have found a way to commit themselves to their calling, and to "take it for all it's got'' according to Virgin Airways. I don't know that they necessarily have more talent or luck than the rest of us, but at one point they all seem to have made at least one courageous choice in favor of their calling.

Minshall moved back to Trinidad from London to design costumes. Eric Williams left a teaching position at Howard University. Norman Manley left his legal practice. Brian Lara accepted a special slot at Fatima, an upper-class school, when his parents were from the humble working-class.

It takes courage to love so much, and to step out in spite of one's fear, and that of others.

Masters seem to be always having fun playing with the instruments of their craft. They are constantly tinkering with, and continuously improving their craft, or their tools.

Like children, they are always pulling things apart to try to put them back together and thereby learn its secrets. They become engrossed in what they are doing at every opportunity and are unwilling to settle for anything less than full, 100% engagement.

Masters often seem not to suffer fools gladly. They have patience with those who are willing to learn, but are not interested in wasting time.

They call it as they see it, and their interest is in gaining the shortcuts to further mastery wherever possible. They tend to be absolutely unwilling to indulge in harboring criminal thought, behaviour and habits; the crime being the destruction of their own mastery.

This strikes most of us "hanging out'' in the mediocre middle as harsh. After all, we allow mediocrity in our own lives and that of those around us in spades. Along comes a master who is unwilling to "drink the Kool-Aid" along with the rest of us, and who starts being loud about it, and our natural reaction is to resist them, and in the odd case, to kill them.

Minshall took me so far beyond my concept of Mas' in that lecture that... well, no, I've already paid my deposit to Tribe (a beads and feathers band.)

But I'm wide open, now, to expanding my experience of playing Mas' so that I can engage my brain along with the rest of my body!

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Landings" by Air Jamaica

Air Jamaica has absolutely the best landings.

No, I haven't taken landed on every airline. I've rarely flown to Africa and Europe and have never flown to the Far East or Down Under.

But I have flown a lot on American Airlines, USAir, BWIA and Continental and a bit on AirTran, Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, British Airways, Virgin and a bunch of others I can't recall.

And, of those that I have frequented, Air Jamaica has the best landings.

They are smooth, and seem to have a soft double bounce that does not provoke that arm-rest grabbing feeling that comes with a teeth-rattling, harsh landing.

Now, I can't prove this, and given how much we Jamaicans defend Air Jamaica, I could be biased. Also, Air Jamaica is a former client of Framework Consulting, my firm. An Air Jamaica flight has pleasant memories which also make me doubt my impartiality, and I always feel at home on our flights.

So there are lots of reasons why I could be full of it.

I'm not claiming that Air Jamaica is the best airline around, as there are plenty of mistakes occurring all the time on flights that I've been on.

And... there are these landings. They are not always up to the high standard, but only rarely so. There is that slight acceleration at the end that turns downward motion into forward motion at the last minute, making the contact between wheels and tarmac feel like a skimming, rather than a "dropping."

And, there is the usual round of clapping.

I've flown with all sorts of national airlines, and we Jamaicans are the only ones who I've flown with that clap when the planes land in Jamaica. But who began this clapping? Who told us to do this? Where and when did it start?

Are we clapping the landing (unlikely) or the fact that we are happy about the destination in which we are landing?

I cannot tell, but I do know there is no better way to travel into and out of Jamaica than on our national airline.

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