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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Talking" Horns

I'm struck when travelling in countries like Barbados by how quiet things are on their roads (the uncharitable would say "dead.")

There is very little of the general commotion and noise that marks Kingston streets. The cacaphony of tires screeching, loud cursing, music playing, sirens wailing, dogs barking and preachers shouting (often in unintelligible tongues) is enough to drive anyone crazy. However, it is the language of the car horn that reins supreme, for its brevity, volume, availability and mysterious origins.

Our ancestors were deprived of their talking drums when they were kidnapped and brought to this country as slaves. We have replaced the drum with the horn.

Here are just some of the common messages that Jamaican drivers send with our horns:
  1. Honk on a green light – a light, perky single tap on low volume: apparently we in Jamaica believe that drivers sitting in front of us at a light need an auditory as well as a visual indicator that the light has changed. It’s not malice, or anger… how can it be, when the person behind you taps their horn lightly to tell you that the light has just turned green…. in case you were too busy applying your makeup, talking to your girlfriend, or exploring your inner ear with your pinkie. Visitors may get visibly upset at this honk, which when performed at a light generally means “You Jerk!”

  2. Hello Honk – a friendly 2 tap at high volume: this honk is reserved for friends, family and colleagues and is bright and friendly. Foreigners will get pissed at this one, thinking that the person honking them is being rude when in fact it is quite the opposite.

  3. Goodbye Honk – another 2-3 tapper at high volume: this one carries with it a sense of relief and says “I made it to my car, and there are no thieves that I can see, so I think I’m safe now, but will call you on my cell-phone if anything happens, so stay awake for awhile.”

  4. Thank You Honk – a slightly long single tap at medium volume: this is civilized way of thanking someone for letting you cut in front them, when there is nothing to gain from them helping you. This honk must have a full, sincere tone and may be accompanied by a casual hand wave. A “Learner” will miss all of this as they stare at the road in front of them, hoping not to hit anything

  5. Watch Your Ass Honk – An unfriendly blast of several seconds at high volume: practiced by truck drivers, this is a pure warning. It says “I am flying down the road at top speed with 50 tons underneath me, and my 24 wheel semi will crush anything in its path so GET OUT OF THE WAY as I only have “air-brakes.”” Some regular car drivers use it to chase away dogs, goats, mad-men and school-pickneys.

  6. So Sorry Honk – this timid two-tapper is done at medium volume, with a sense of regret: It’s offered by a minority when they realize that they have made a mistake and either cut you off, turned without signaling, changed their t-shirt while the light changed from red to green, or mistakenly ran over your leg. It requires practice to get it right, as it can be confused easily with the Sadistic Honk.

  7. Sadistic Honk – a loud obnoxious honk, that may have a nasty, loud “tune” that may sound like something from the horse-track or play an off-key version of "la Cucaracha": this honk is a real “fuck you” honk that is meant to intimidate, overpower and ruin the most sensitive hearing. This honk is all Jamaican and may be augmented with some choice curse words by a machete-wielding mini-bus driver. Sometimes, this honk may accompany a daredevil overtaking move on the Junction or Mount Diablo, and the flashing headlights are just a reminder that when you see four headlights on high beam coming at you, instead of the usual two, the best option is to slow down while somehow keeping your eyes open and looking ahead.

  8. You Damn Fool Honk – a useless, very long, very loud honk used in a defensive situation. I tried this honk once when a driver in front of me stopped in the middle of an empty street, put his car in reverse and hit me in the front causing US$2000 in damage to my hood. This honk is generally useless as the Damn Fool who is meant to be the recipient is either listening to loud music on their CD player or talking on their phone to the children. In my case the fool was talking to his friends at the side of the road.

I understand that in some other Third World countries, they use their horns just as creatively so we might not be unique. But until I travel to that country, we are!

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VOIP: A LifeSaver

VOIP - A Life-Saver for Returning Residents

A major nightmare of returning residents has been quietly overcome.

We Jamaicans are among the highest consumers per capita of tele-communication services, evidenced by the amounts spent on long distance calling. Staying in touch is critical to our lifestyle.

A Jamaican living abroad who is contemplating a return to live back home lives in fear of sitting in Jamaica and running up thousands of dollars (or pounds) in international phone calls.

Fortunately, Cable and Wireless has come to the rescue with its new Voice Over IP (VOIP) offering. For approximately US$30 per month for VOIP service and another US$30 for DSL service, at a combined rate of US$60 the following become possible:
  1. calling North America for free, or no additional cost

  2. calling the UK for 3-5 cents per minute

  3. calling the eastern Caribbean for as low as 11 cents per minute

  4. calling other VOIP users in Jamaica for less than it costs to make a local land-line call or cell-phone call (!)

  5. having a US number that rings in Jamaica, and appears to everyone in the world to be a number based in the geography of the area code
This is all quite remarkable, and has happened quietly, without fanfare. It has tremendous ramifications, however, for a returning resident who must spend hours on the phone, and be reachable by others at a low cost.

It might not be a reason to move back, but it certainly takes away at least one major obstacle.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

MailPac -- Business Excellence

I'm not sure if I should be doing this, but here goes -- MailPac is excellent.


MailPac is a company that does one thing -- they transfer mail and packages from a virtual post office box in Florida to addresses in Jamaica.

I was referred to them by a friend who had used the service heavily, and had recommended them heartily. He made the whole business sound so easy, that I was secretly hoping that I could continue to get my mail in Jamaica without having to use a very expensive service such as DHL or FedEx.

One of the first things that they told me was they don't advertise. Instead, they rely on word of mouth advertising. I thought this was pretty remarkable. This is why I wonder if I should be even mentioning the company public. Shhhhhh.... don't tell them I told you they were this good.

So far, their execution has been flawless. Once they receive a package or piece of mail, they immediately send me an email to say that they will be sending someone to deliver it to my home. Often, that delivery takes place on the same day.

I've received items as diverse as a pair of shoes, a battery, tupperware and a piano. While the costs are resonable, some of the items I've sent this way were of a sentimental nature, and probably not worth the cost in retrospect. But that's my choice, not theirs.

So far, they have been excellent.

A friend of mine tried an identical service to this one in Trinidad. After several months, he had a funy feeling that something wsa going terribly wrong, as he had received no mail, and he knew that mail had indeed been sent.

He visited the company, and a front-line clerk began to share with him that "Dey have plenty mail around the back sah!" In other words, they had bags and bags of mail sitting around doing nothing but gathering dust.

He quit the service, it went out of business and he lost several months of mail in one fell swoop.

Excellent business seems to be the rarity in our Caribbean countries, so I'm going to "big-up" as many of them as I can, once I've had a personal experience I can share!

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Living the Good Life

When I'm in Barbados, I'm reminded how lucky I am to be working here in the Caribbean.

I woke this morning at about 6am and went for a swim in the sea just as the sun rose. That by itself is not so unusual, and the fact is that most hotels here in Barbados are right on the water.

As I was swimming I was thinking about the news I heard that a major snow-storm is heading towards the north-east. Memories of a project I was part of several years ago in December, in Toledo, Ohio came to mind...

I also know that people coming here to the Accra Beach Hotel, have saved for years and months for the opportunity to come to the Caribbean on a vacation. I come here every other week or so, and barely blink an eye.

It made me think of how good life is here in the Caribbean, and how easy it is to convince oneself that the grass is greener on the other side -- over there in the US, Canada and England, where most migrating West Indians end up. The tragedy is that most are able to fulfill only the first part of the dream -- to leave.

Part 2 of the dream almost always includes an intention to make some kind of successful return, and this is where the challenge lies. It's relatively easy to leave the Caribbean to live outside the region, but quite hard to return.

The reasons aren't legal, either.

They have more to do with the psyche that develops in the minds of those of us who have left. The result is that a return remains nothing but a dream for the majority, who end up drifting into a permanent stage of being "neither here nor there."

Unfortunately, it's difficult to evaluate the pros and cons of migration. Even worse, I've never seen any kind of service, website or book that offers any help for those who start out thinking about migrating, and end up making the decision based on only partial information.

For example, most West Indians moving to the US have no interest in raising their children as African Americans. Being West Indian is different. However, for Black Caribbeans, there is really no choice . The forces they confront at school, the workplace and in the larger society are just too big to resist -- and before they know it, the accent is gone and the kids adopt American values and norms.

Further, most West Indians would say they are not interested in moving to a place where the idea of going to the beach is a rare one, and the termperature drops way below 50 degrees for days at a time -- yet most do.

It seems that these kinds of questions are not openly asked and answered, and most who do migrate end up saving for weeks and months for their own opportunity to return home to enjoy the beaches they, and I, took for granted.

If that's the case, then why leave in the first place?

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Getting Old and Leaving My 30's

One of the benefits of Moving Back to Jamaica is, of course, the much warmer weather.

Yet, at the moment I'm sitting at my desk overlooking Constant Spring and feeling cold -- and as I exit my 30's this year it makes me think about getting older.

I don't know what it is, but with advancing age my tolerance of cold weather has radically decreased. I remember when I was 18, and going to college from Jamaica to a school in upstate New York (Ithaca.) It was a shock, to say the least. That first Christmas away from home was spent in Toronto, and I remember turning back home after attempting a walk to the nearby convenience store. The 10 minute walk felt like torture the minute after I left my aunt's house.

After graduation I gladly moved to New Jersey, to warmer weather, at 22. It seemed to be much warmer.... until I reached 29, and that started too feel too cold (I took to wearing long-johns indoors to try to stay warm.)

A move to Florida was a godsend, but even Florida has winters, and by the time I reached 37, they were just too much.

Now that I'm home in Jamaica, I'm at my keyboard wearing my sweater, sweatpants and socks on what must be the windiest, coldest day of the year. It must have dropped to a "dangerous" 60 something. I seem to remember walking around in shorts and a T-shirt in this weather back when I was in New York, especially when spring came, and the sun made a re-appearance after months of absence.

With age has apparently come an increasing intolerance of cold weather, and hopefully it will get no worse, as there are not too many places I can go that are warmer than Ja...

Also, guys, with respect to aging, have you noticed that the old you get, the more attractive "older" women seem? (I suspect that the same applies to women also.)

I distinctly remember when I was a mature 21 year old, walking through a mall in Bridgeport Connecticut, and noticing that many of the women my age were walking with children in tow. I remember thinking to myself, how "old" it made them seem, and therefore too old for me (a College Junior at the time.)

I guess all that's happened over time is that I, myself, have aged... or is it "matured?"

While a younger woman may seem pretty and even beautiful to the eye, it can all get destroyed in an instance by what comes out of their mouths. Or to say it more accurately, it can all get destroyed by what their minds tell their mouths to say...

My own experience of being married (this is my second time around) has taught me that marriage is more a meeting of mind and spirit, than it is a meeting of bodies. During my interlude between marriages, I dated and met women who might not have been beautiful in terms of their God-given attributes, but revealed a beauty from their words and way of being that has stayed with me until now. I dated and met others who were pretty exclusively....but.... I can't remember anything they said for the life of me.

When it comes to looking for a spouse, for practical reasons it seems to make better sense to focus on the mind and spirit, because one thing we know with absolute assurance is that in the long run, physical beauty is impossible to maintain. It's a mighty struggle for most women to just keep their weight on target.

On the other hand, the beauty that starts from the inside.... hmmm. If that kind of beauty is noticeable in a woman's, then it's a good bet that (barring tragedy) it will only deepen and expand over time. In fact, I've become a real admirer of the kind of beauty that starts from the inside, and shows itself in physical ways. How? By a woman's chosen level of physical fitness, their choice of clothes, their choice of hairstyle, their choice of nutrition... these have become much more important to me. I'm more likely to appreciate a woman who I can tell has been working on and with herself, than a young 20 something in a tight dress.

Guys: To put it in more basic terms, trust me on this: when physical attraction based on God's free gift wears off (which, again, it must over time) something must be there to replace it, and that "something" does not include more expensive makeup, targeted liposuction, strategic face-lifts, better clothes, cooler tattoos, dental repair, improved hair colouring, etc. The truth is, better sex comes with someone with a better mind (to put it crudely.)

When I was younger, I recall looking at older men and women and wondering to myself, "what do they see in each other?"

Now, I don't wonder as much. Instead, I know that I'll be walking in their shoes. In fact, to some fresh-faced 21 year old, I probably am!

At age 4 . . . success is . . . not peeing in your pants.
At age 12 . . . success is . . . having friends.
At age 15 . . . success is . . . having a drivers license.
At age 20 . . . success is . . . having sex.
At age 35 . . . success is . . . having money.
At age 50 . . . success is . . . having money.
At age 60 . . . success is . . . having sex.
At age 70 . . . success is . . . having a drivers license.
At age 75 . . . success is . . . having friends.
At age 80 . . . success is . . . not peeing in your pants.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

White Guilt (and Black Anger) -- in Barbados

Recently in Bridgetown it was reported that, in memory of the slaves who suffered and died, there was a historical re-enactment. That is to say, there was a re-enactment with a difference.

Over 40 white activists, the vast majority of whom were tourists, came to the island to make an extraordinary act of reconciliation. They took to the streets in chains, ropes and appropriately sloganed Tshirts to act out the experience of being slaves. The slogans included sayings such as "So Sorry" and the marchers suffered in the 90 degree heat as they made the early morning march on the ABC highway.

It was probably rough going... some might have run out of bottled water, and many probably experienced a mild sunburn from the mid-day sun.

By the way, this is a true story and as the humor writer Dave Barry would say... ''I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP." The link can be read here.

It was hoped, I am sure, that this act of self-deprivation and sacrifice would make up, in part, for 400 odd years of brutal European and North American led chattel slavery that transplanted some 350 million unsuspecting Africans to the Americas. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that some of them were my ancestors.)

While I'm unsure of the impact of this march on the average Bajan's feeling of anger and outrage, I doubt that it did much more for the average marcher than waste some sunscreen and further scuff up their Birks. Some of the reactions to the march can be read here:

Nations News

Doan Mind Me
The Voice

Now, to be honest, this whole thing struck me on several levels, all of which seem to be unsuitably contradictory ...

As a "High-Minded" Liberal:
The idea of taking responsibility is admirable, and to be applauded. It starts the process of reversing the trauma caused by slavery on all sides. I'm also impressed by the courage it took to take the stand they are taking. I felt this way especially after reading the article in the Voice above, and visiting the sponsoring organization's website: LifeLine Expedition

As a Carnival man:
Oh God -- but what's de fuss -- dey jus playing Mas'!!! -- in reverse!!
Where is de strong drinks? Throw away dat water -- dat not strong enough. Ahh hear dey bringing out a white man-only "slave section" in the next Minshall band!!!

As a Jamaican:
Clearly, someone had a good idea which island to perform the symbolic re-enactment in (and which islands to avoid.) The same march done in Ja would have probably caused a riot and an international incident, especially if some Rastas or mad men I know got sight of this band of innocent, well-intentioned people... I could imagine foreign embassies having to bail them out of some serious trouble, with UN helicopters undoubtedly.

As a Bredda Anancy Businessman
It's clear to me, as a Caribbean business-person, that the effort did just not go far enough, and there is a sweet opportunity here to make some good foreign dollars, pounds and euros.

I would call it ''Reality Tourism.''

The Guilt to Reconciliation Experience™ would include:
  • an early morning abduction from the starting point in Trinidad to a waiting Haitian "sailing vessel"
  • a public auction in some hot-blooded, chaotic Caribbean island (not Barbados)
  • immersion in several days of plantation life, working a crop with primitive tools, dressed in rags, eating real-life leftover food refused by local mutts -- all under the "direction" of some pissed-off machete-wielding "bush-man"
  • on the Final Night, a full release from the past with a cut-ass'' from the angriest Black m-f'er we can find!

All-inclusive price of US$15,000 (cash only please, prepaid in full.)

As I was using my many years of formal education to design this business venture, it struck me that in the interest of providing my entire customer base with an equally "life-changing'' opportunity, I should offer a different course. This would be targeted to frustrated Black professionals, rappers, reggae artistes, pre-segregation African Americans, and any other obviously angry Black m-f'ers who have some cash.

It's My Time Now™

This 10 day tropical experience provides a healthy and legal outlet for 400 years of injustice! Features include

  • capturing, selling, enslaving and working willing white people in a plantation environment
  • HIGH POINT! -- on the Final Night, attain full release from the past by "keeping it real" and truly playing "Backra Massa" for the first time...
Price of 10 day program US$10k
Price of Final Night only US$9.5k

Only Bredda Anancy would come up with something like this... but there is a reason that he is a folk-hero whose stories made it from the West coast of Africa, onto slave ships, and to the Caribbean where they are retold hundreds of years later. Frankly, his mind is admired by our people across the region for its ingenuity, and trickster thinking.

One manifestation of this thinking was the popular sentiment expressed as follows: if there is some white person who would sincerely like to make amends, then... just pay my mortgage, cell-phone bill, etc. ... until they stop feeling guilty.

To say the demonstration missed the mark is an understatement, unless its sole purpose was to give a few Europeans an opportunity to get some relief. In that case, Bredda Anancy's
Guilt to Reconciliation Experience™ is right up there with the Mad Hatter's Wild Ride.

If, however, it was meant to transform a historical relationship that has real ramifications in today's world , then it missed the mark as it didn't speak to the concerns that we Caribbean people truly have.

The part I find a bit scary is that apparently hundreds of people in England sat down, really and truly believed that this would be a great thing for us Caribbean people, and then spent thousands of pounds in travel expenses and props to make it happen. Without asking.


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Monday, January 02, 2006

Bad End of Year News

On the news today I heard that Jmaica has accomplished a first -- we now have the highest per capita murder rate in the world.

For the past few years, we have flirted with the title, behind South Africa and Colombia and not including countries in which there is a recognized war of some kind.

To Jamaicans, this will bring no small sense of embarrassment. We are a proud people, and will go to lengths to explain that by and large bad things don't happen to everyone in Jamaica, all the time. We'll also say things like "these things are happening everywhere" and "I felt more scared in New York" to try to escape the essential truth.

The essential truth is that we have the "title" because we have made things this way, ourselves, with only a little help from non-Jamaics. In conscious and unconscious way, we have contributed to this "accomplishment."

Our only job now is to figure out how we did this, and continue to do it. If there were only one thing each of us could discover, it would make all the difference.

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A Sweet Christmas Time in Ja

It's no lie -- Christmas time in Jamaica is without compare.

While I was at the recent Frenchman's fete I ran into a Trini and a Bajan, both of who I knew from before and both of whom confirmed that a Jamaican Christmas is just the best.

My wife and I spent the last ten days or so immersed in events that we just simply love to do, and here are some of them.

Thurs -- I flew back from Barbados/Miami and started the recovery process (from several weeks of very intense work.) We still found the time to go out and buy an (imported) Christmas tree, which looked quite nice once it was dressed.

Fri -- Took one last business call in the morning. At night, we went out to a free concert in Emancipation Park. The concert had been running for a week, featuring some of the almost but not quite the hottest acts in Jamaica. It was quite enjoyable, and peaceful, with lots of kids and a mild crowd by Jamaican standards. We also sampled a Hellshire-style fish place in New Kingston -- Prendy's.

Sat (Christmas Eve) -- My wife and I started with a ride to Skyline Drive, and after shopping all day we went to the Quad which was dead as a door-nail. Things have changed since last year when I went on Christmas Eve and had a blast. I visited Jamaica's largest sports store in Half Way Tree (whose name I can't quite recall) and bought some weights for my wife. She spent the day cooking her first ham, and got some good tips from her father in Trinidad (e.g .put the cloves in AFTER it's cooked.)

Sun -- (Christmas) -- A Jamdammers 6am run at Constant Spring Golf Course started off the day on the right foot, and set up what was to be a day of plenty, plenty food. We went to church after opening presents, stopped by my parents for a snack, and then made our way to my aunt's for the big family gathering. There was almost no downtime, which left us quite tired at the end of the day.

Mon -- I went biking in the morning with my father, after which my wife remembered to tell me that my mother had planned a big dinner over at her place... oops, surprise! Out went the plan to head to Lime Cay with a school-friend, and we had a really nice day.

Tues -- Jamdammers organized a hike to Cinchona which was just a superb hike. We drove to Clydesdale, and then walked for a couple of hours to the gardens, which offer a great view of Blue Mountain, Jamaica's highest peak. A few unfortunate club-members decided to ride mountain bikes, and they arrived at the top exhausted after getting lost several times on unmarked trails. Cinchona may be 5000 or so feet up, reminding me that one of the great things about living in Jamaica is how close so many good things are (this after years of living in Florida.)

Wed -- We took a breather from the exercising (after still being sore after the hike.) We did some more car shopping, and then went to 3 parties one after the other, ending up at my friend's party at which we got to meet his new South Korean wife.

Thurs -- A beautiful run from Mona Dam up to Gordon Town at sunrise was a great way to start the day... it's many Kingston runners' favorite run. We did some more car shopping, after my doctor's appointment -- the last one regarding my shoulder surgery. I got a clean bill of health, thank goodness. Some Chinese food from a place we were trying for the first time turned out to taste very, very good, and we'll definitely go back. Jamaica has better Chinese than I could ever find in Florida or New Jersey (and it's more expensive.)

Fri -- A bike ride with the Old Man was a prelude to a day at Hellshire, where we devoured the usual fish, festival, lobster, shrimp, oysters, Red Stripe, coconut water. It was to be the perfect day until we got the bill, and either we were horribly ripped off, or the prices at Hellshire have risen tremendously. Our bad -- we didn't ask about the prices before the meal and got sticker shock from the $1300 lobsters and $1000 fish. (US$20 and $15.) That night we ended up liming at Cuddy'z with a new determination to stick to our budget, which has taken a beating.

Sat -- (New Year's Eve) We tried our hand and what I thought would be an easy ride up to Peter's Rock. My memory of that route was that of a quick ride downhill about a year ago. That memory has, of course, shifted over time. The ride is a steep 7 mile uphill slow over rough roads, with very little traffic thankfully. That night we went to a party put on by one of the Frenchmen that was just superb -- a great way to bring in the New Year.

Sun -- Church, and lunch with the parents, came before the big fete of the year -- Frenchman's Christmas Party, at a cost of J$6500 / US$100 per person. I personally know it's the best fete I've ever been to, including Trinidad and Florida all-inclusives, with goodies such as lobster, premium drinks, sushi, cigars, excellent music, beautiful people, amazing ambiance and a very high level of organization and security.

Mon -- A one hour run lead into a day of doing absolutely nothing -- now I've started a recovery process (from a week of very intense partying.)

But wait ... isn't that where I started?

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