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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

An American Retiree

This is quite an interesting posting on by an American retiree, who has chosen to make Jamaica his home.

My First Jamaican Birthday Party

Everything Takes Time (a doctor's visit)

Exploring the Caribbean

Becoming a Permanent Resident

It is interesting to read about his love for Jamaica, and Jamaicans.

Incidentally, there is an active chat room on focused on assisting people who are interested in moving back. I tried joining it a couple times without luck as they here appeared to be some glitch in the code.

I met the founder of the site ( some years ago, long before the site became what it is -- the best Jamaican site of its kind. Xavier was quite passionate about what he was doing, and back then it was only something he did at nights and weekends because he loved it. Kudos to him for his success!

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Other Cool Topics

One of the restrictions related to blogging in Moving Back to Jamaica is a perception I have that the average visitor is not interested in every aspect of my life.

There are at least two dimensions that I have been interested in exploring, but don't quite fit the stated context. One has to do with my passion for triathlons, and the other is my interest in exploring spirituality.

I am thinking about starting a new blog to cover the latter topic, and somehow rolling triathlon related topics into this blog, somehow connecting them to Moving Back to Jamaica.

Stay tuned for further developments...

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Writing about Sandals

I am sitting on a flight back into Kingston from working in Barbados, and just read this month’s BWIA magazine.

Confession – while I can barely tolerate BWIA itself (Better Walk If Able) their magazine is very, very cool.

And one thing that is cool about it this month is that a new friend of mine, Kellie Magnus, has 2 articles in it that just caught me up in the joy that I have developed for the written word.

Her first article is about sandals – the wearable kind.

Now, I don’t know for sure if I have some kind of foot fetish, but I find that a woman’s foot can be a thing of beauty. Someplace in my head, I think, I believe that a woman’s feet can tell all sorts of stories about what kind of person she is… Of course, coming back to live in Jamaica has been good for the fetish, as there are plenty of naked feet to look at. (OK – back to Kellie’s article.)

Her article, as I said once before, is about sandals. Apparently there is someone in Kingston who loves them, and who is mastering the craft of making wearable foot-art. While I can’t speak to the quality of the sandals themselves, I can speak to the effect of Kellie’s use of language ….. well, “use” is too harsh a word. It was more like an “artful caress.”

By the time she was done, I could actually feel that I knew what it was like to be a woman who is on the search for just the right pair of shoes, finds them, and goes into absolute ecstasy (provided she can afford them, or better yet, get them on sale.) I have been on shopping trips and seen women go to extraordinary lengths to experience the thrill, leaving me shaking my head in wonderment.

After Kellie’s article, I don’t think that I will be able to look at a woman’s sandals feet the same way -- such is the power of her words on my mind.

Incidentally, she also wrote another piece in the same issue that so reminded me of my “Coming Home to Jamaica” frame of mind. She wrote about “plate-sharing” – you know, when your father sits and waits for someone to share out his dinner, and will literally starve until someone notices that he has “not been fed.”

(I have a feeling that my joy of being the recipient of some nice “plate-sharing” will be coming to an end once my wife reads Kellie’s article…)

This is clearly one of those Caribbean practices that look quite normal up close, but almost bizarre when there is a separation, and a reacquainting.

But, Kellie’s article helped me to see myself so clearly -- a part of me that I rarely see. I saw the love of reacquainting myself with Jamaica after being away for 21 years, and the joy of discovering anew what was so taken for granted. This pretty much sums up why I have this blog, and why I write, and why I think about writing all the time, and why I started this without even caring if anyone ever read it.

She shares that same joy of discovery, I think (I’ll ask her later this weekend when I see her.)

I do know that familiarity breeds contempt, and that over time it is predictable that I will lose this sense of discovery, which requires a certain child-like quality to be authentic I believe. While I know that I will probably one day “grow up” I have got to find ways to preserve this basic love of life.

This weekend is the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, and I am looking forward to being with others of like mind.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tourism, Ghetto Style

Travelling to other parts of the Caribbean is often a powerful experience for this Jamaican.

The "shock and awe" of the experience comes from seeing the ways in which we are similar, and yet very different. These insights tell me about myself as a Jamaican man, and a Caribbean citizen, in ways that just do not happen when I am at home moving around in my all-too familiar environment.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with staying home, but travelling to other countries is for me an opportunity to see me, and my country, and my people in new ways that are transformational... and these "self-discoveries" are the sweetest of all.

I had a huge discovery of this nature when I visited Soweto and Alexandaria townships in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively, and Vila Canoas and Rocinha, both favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

Basically, I paid around US$30 each, on four hour guided tour of these notorious ghettoes, and they were the absolute high point of each of the trips to these countries.

In each case the story was the same.

I boarded a bus to go on a guided tour of the absolute worst parts of these cities, places wracked by crime, violence and drugs. In each case, the tour-guides had to routinely arrange for safe passage with local drug-lords, to whom they paid "fees" to make sure that the tours would operate safely. Also, if there was some local disturbance, they would know to avoid certain areas.

After each tour I was a different person.

In Soweto, I visited a witch-doctor (a Sangoma) who showed us his license to practice from the state. I saw the inside of several hovels, with 10-20 people living together in impossible conditions. I remember a shopping cart with maybe 50 pigs heads, flies buzzing around and a stench that made my knees weak. It was dinner to a few hundred hungry mouths.

In Alexandria I saw an area of slums that could have easily covered every square inch of Kingston -- it extended as far as the eye could see. I toured the inside of some of the people's huts, and saw where they covered the walls with paper to insulate themselves from the cold. I saw a single pipe that served 75 people in the community, and little children begging for anything we would give them.

Both of these slums were separated by 15 miles of empty landscape from the major cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town, looking more like Washington, DC than anything else. This legacy of apartheid left me angry and resentful, and I could being to imagine what it was like to travel from a Third World country to a First World country in the space of 20 minutes, without crossing a border.

In the favelas of Rio I found houses built together (up to four stories) like hutches in a beehive -- stacked on top of each other. People were literally living on top of each other, and yet they seemed quite happy (and also had the best views of Rio and its beaches.)

I came away schocked, as it was not the Rio I had seen from the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

But the biggest insight was not what I saw, but what it taught me about myself and my people.

In each case, I understood from well-meaning middle-class people that these areas were dangerous, and not to be entered. I remember working and living in Caracas for a few weeks, and being warned to stay out of the subways because "they were so dangerous." I travelled them without incident for weeks. I lived for 2 weeks with a host family, and when I told my Venezuelan colleagues where I would be living they were appalled and begged me not to stay there. Once again, it was "too dangerous." And I never witnessed a single incident in 2 weeks.

While it is true that I have developed a certain ability to blend in when I want to, I remember laughing at their fears, comforting myself with the notion that "dis no worse dan yard!" (transl "this is no worse than Kingston!")

But it was a bitter-sweet laugh, because I would be in their shoes if the tables were turned. A few months ago a couple of female German students visiting as volunteers toured Jamaica via public minibus, as they could not afford any other means of transportation. I was amazed at their courage... and I caught myself doing exactly what my middle-class colleagues in these countries had done -- projecting my own ignorance and fears where they just did not belong.

But this is the power of travelling abroad, and seeing oneself in the mirror.

The idea I came away with was that it would be powerful if we in Jamaica could get over our embarrassment long enough to realize that we are the ones in the way of giving structured tours of places like Trench Town (which is more famous than Montego Bay) to thousands of visitors with an interest in learning more about the forces that shaped the great Bob Marley.

It is only because I have observed the reverence that people have for the reggae star first-hand, and heard people ask me what Trench Town is like innumerable times, that I know that this is an idea whose time has come.

The formula has already been set in other countries for how to do these tours successfully, and we are sitting on treasures like Trench Town, more concerned about hiding its ugliness from the world than we are about sharing its truth.

I saw a mention of the potential of Trench Town in particular in the talk about the upcoming cricket World Cup, when thousands of visitors are going to be clamouring for these tours right here in Kingston. Here "in town," we have never had to worry about any number of tourists coming through in large numbers,.

In a year, I predict that our taxi drivers are going to hear the request: "please take me to see Trench Town" more often than we are are prepared to mentally imagine.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

'Tinking Toe

My wife tasted her first 'tinking toe this morning.

She had been wondering what was stinking up the place, until I told her that it was the fruit she was about to sample.

After sampling the local delight, she rinsed her mouth out twice, once with water and the second time with Listerine (orange flavor.)

She has sworn never to eat 'tinking toe again, and has taken it off her list of Jamaican fruits to try, or ever eat again.

Moving Back to Jamaica sometimes involves getting through miscues, just like this one.

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The Missing Generation

Earlier in this blog (March 18th) I talked about how we Jamaicans have exported our Creative Class, and did so unwittingly.

I was watching a small part of the very funny movie -- Coming to America with Eddie Murphy, John Amos and others. John Amos, as the father, was telling his daughter that he "just didn't want her to have to go through the struggles that he and her mother went through."

That struck a chord with me for some reason, as I recently heard an interesting fact from a good friend. He said, that of the 85 alums in his 1982(?) class at Campion College (arguably the school with the best academic results here in Jamaica) there are only 4 remaining living in Jamaica

That took my breath away.

He went on to explain that our parents' generation did an excellent job of equating migration with a better life in the mind of our own generation. While the vast majority of them had never lived in the US for extended periods, they determined that it had to be better than living here in Jamaica with its violent crime, poverty and high tax rates.

This was once a widespread sentiment. In the 1970's, when the country's middle class lost confidence in the government and the economy, fear led to a disruptive migration that the country is still reeling from to this day. Flights to Toronto, New York and Miami were filled with Jamaicans eager to leave with a bad taste in their mouth about their homeland.

Some of them are still bad-mouthing Jamaica to this day.

When they left, many in my parents generation were able to move up in many ways, as those that left created "holes" or opportunities behind them. A resident of Cherry Gardens (an upscale, middle class community) sold his house for a song, and a family was able to move into a house that they never could afford. A manager at a bank abandoned her job, allowing a younger person to be promoted. A doctor closed his practice, and turned his patients over to another physician who instantly doubled his practice.

My parents benefited from these changes, and our family lead by 2 teachers was able to move into the solid middle-middle class.

By contrast, many who left were unable to recapture what they once had, at least not immediately. Storied abounded of doctors working as janitors, and bank managers on welfare. Gradually, I am sure, most made it by working very, very hard in a country that probably surprised most Jamaicans with the degree of racism and alienation they found everywhere from their workplace to their neghbourhoods.

Incidentally, when I arrived at a US university in 1984 I was amazed at how much Jamaicans who had recently left Jamaica talked about the racism they felt they were encountering on a daily basis (more on this is some future blog.) It was taught to them by their parents, and their peers.

Apart from a small minority, most of the middle class Jamaicans who remained at home had probably at some point entertained the idea of leaving. Some actually left and came back. Others got visas they never used. All who remained were encouraged by those who left to leave before it got too late, and only a small minority refused to even consider migrating.

But, it seems in retrospect, they still wanted the best for their children and that meant going abroad.

For some of those remaining, it meant sending the children abroad to study -- at the very least. For others it meant sending them abroad to live. I imagine that most ended up at some point in between, knowing that a better education was available and half-hoping that their children would be so successful so quickly that they could live anywhere they wanted.

After all, with a lot of money, you could get a nice place up in Jack's Hill with a security guard and a dog and be more or less safe, and with enough money in US accounts, they could live any lifestyle they wanted.

The end-result, however, is that very few Jamaicans return home, mostly because it is so very hard to get to that point of success. The deal is: return when you are a big success and have fully "set yourself" up. So, no-one does.

While the conversation for sending one's children abroad to study or to live, is strong and vibrant, the conversation about returning home before the fortune is made is weak or non-existent.

Yet, there are a number of powerful reasons for Jamaicans to return, before they have "made it."

One is to raise children. The fact is, a child raised in the US is more likely to become completely Black American than anything else. Some Jamaicans try to remedy that outcome by sending the child to live in Jamaica with the grandparents and attend school, because the overwhelming sentiment is that Jamaicans want to give their children some semblance of the upbringing that they had (which looked a LOT better when viewed from afar.)

The second reason is to re-unite the family. My parents' generation has rapidly become the generation of "absentee grandchildren. " In other words, they are unable to participate in the lives of their family, and to give their newest offspring one of the benefits that they had growing up -- a close, nuclear family. Instead, they have a family flung to the far reaches of the earth, with grandchildren that they hardly know, and may never ever come to know well.

The third reason is that there are opportunities in Jamaica that are just unavailable in North America for reasons related to race and ethnicity. I see this clearly in doctors and other professionals who migrate and then must go through the painful process of re-qualifying themselves.

The fourth reason is probably the most powerful one, and is the one that brought me back (against the tide.) Ultimately, each person must answer the question about the purpose of their life for themselves, and it strikes me that people who work and live in Jamaica are no unhappier or more depressed than those working and living in ANY city I have visited in the world. I believe that the Jamaicans who left in the 1970's might relate to what I am saying here.

Back then, migration was meant to be THE answer.

But at the end of the day, in 2006, some 30 years later... is the Jamaican who fled the country in 1976 to live in Toronto, happier living and working there than their counterparts who remained?

For the most part, I would think that they would say... no. They are not necessarily unhappier, (although I once spent a very depressing winter in Toronto) but I think they would not say that they are happier either. I imagine that many of them are looking at what happened in Jamaica after they left and asking themselves if they made the right decisions.

As one gets older, the question of life purpose becomes more important, and I believe that if Jamaica did not have the crime problem it has, we would see a tremendous influx of returning Jamaicans, now retired. Is the purpose of one's life to get as much stuff as possible -- if so living in America is the best place on earth to live a bling bling lifestyle on almost every level. Alternately, is the purpose something to do with family? Or is it about making a difference? Or is it even about finding the most comfortable life possible?

Answering that question is critical in determining life-changing choices, such as whether to migrate to another country -- which happens to be one that virtually every Jamaican makes, or hopes to make.

For my parents' generation, I think that they are now faced with an unintended consequence. I cannot think that my parents intended for my sister to live in South Africa with her family, yet that was one possible logical outcome of sending her to college in Pennsylvania, where she met a Ghanaian and migrated to Africa. For them, spending time with the grandkids involves spending thousands of dollars, and only occurs infrequently.

As I look around Kingston, they are not alone. The majority of their friends have their children abroad, and now that the grandchildren are being born, they are experiencing a separation that they never intended to create.

While this is a bit sad, the good news is that we can all start a new conversation for returning to live in Jamaica, and come up with our own four reasons as to why it is a good idea to reunite our families. Also, we probably should not be so ready to encourage our children to migrate, selling them on the idea that happiness lies across the border. Instead, we might encourage them to stay true to their life purpose, and have that be the guiding light.

Perhaps, the struggles that they went through when they were younger were not so bad, and are actually part of becoming adult, and are necessary for one's children to come into their own. The struggle is necessary to be profoundly happy, in the sense that happiness in the long term has more to do with fulfilling life's calling, than it does in owning a big house or new car.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

T'is the Season

Bombay. Julie. East Indian. Stringy. Number 11. Blackie.

These are the varieties of mangoes that I have tasted so far this season, and we are already up to the point where the fruits are falling off the tree, hitting the roof of the shed outside and falling to the ground where they are ignored -- as we are already tired of them!

The sound they make at night hitting the roof of that shed is a little disconcerting... but it is a reminder of how plentiful mangoes are when they are in season.

Dem nice yuh see... come home and check it out!

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Third World Blues

Moving Back to Jamaica has everything to do with where you are moving from.

If you intend to move back home, the experience will largely be a function of whether or not you are moving from Accra, Ghana or Atlanta, Georgia because a lot of what one has to deal with has to do with the transition from a so-called First World country to a so-called Third World country.

In other words, much of what is different has nothing to do with Jamaican culture per se, but has more to do with a culture of perceived poverty, and awesome disparity. I imagine that a move to St. Lucia from Atlanta is a lot like a move to Accra from London.

Another way of looking at this is to understand that most countries are not developed, and most people do not live the First World lifestyle. They don't have iPod's, laptops and digital cameras. They often live very close to people who feed their dogs with more and better food than they can afford to give their own children.

In truth, this blog could really be entitled "Moving Back to a Developing Country," and I think this was eminently demonstrated by the recent article posted in my blog on what it was like for someone to move back to Ghana.

Having said all that, as developing countries go, I think Jamaica is quite typical -- and we think we are special in ways that we really are not. We like to boast how difficult things are in Jamaica, when in fact, from my experience, we are better than many other countries in the region in many ways.

Some examples:

People complain about the bureaucracy here in Jamaica, and I have had my encounters, to be sure. But, when I look at the larger perspective, I see things differently:

Immigration -- my wife was able to get a TRN, work permit and stamp in her passport after about 4-5 trips to different agencies. It took some time to figure out the process, and to see what we were still missing at different points, but the process made sense and no-one was rude or unintentionally helpful to us at any point.

This compares to a US citizen and US Armed Services veteran and friend of mine whose wife was turned back from entering the US as they were going up for their honeymoon. She was sent back to Jamaica.

After she finally received permission to live with him in the US, she waited for 12 months just to get a Social Security card, which is something that used to be granted on the spot. During this time, she could not work.

Crime is terrible here in Jamaica, marked by our high murder rate. The high level of kidnappings in Trinidad are particularly frightening, as is their rapid increase in all crimes (even as our murder in Jamaica has fallen by almost 20%.)

The chaos of driving on the roads here in Jamaica bears little resemblance to driving anywhere in the North America. However, I worked in Caracas, Venezuela long enough to swear that I never would drive there, having seen a level of wanton decisions by drivers that made our chaos a joke in comparison.

I an thankful that I have traveled a bit, as it allows me to place my experience in Jamaica inside a context that is empowering.

Having said that, I had to then I read the story of the man who was refused entry into Jamaica when all he had was a Jamaican birth certificate and a drivers license. The article entitled No Passport, No Entry had me laughing in amazement, as a US citizen is able to enter Jamaica with a license and birth certificate, but apparently not a Jamaican.

The movie Terminal, in which a man gets trapped in an airport as his country entered civil war and officially ceased to exist came to mind, as everyone knows that you cannot enter the US with a Jamaican passport and drivers license. Luckily, they let him back in, or he might have had to live out the rest of his days neither being able to enter the US or Jamaica, and probably trapped in some terminal someplace.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Revisiting My Ugly Reaction

In an earlier entry, I shared my ugly and hateful reaction to a phone call that I received from a colleague who I thought was gay.

Also, I have been wondering why it is that the label "homophobic" just does not seem to ring true here in Jamaica, whereas in the US I could more readily see why it made sense.

I believe that there is a connection between my Ugly Reaction entry, and the label.

The label "homophobia" implies to the listener that what is at work is a fear of gays, or homosexuality. The average Jamaican man would admit to no such feelings: "star, mi nuh 'fraid of dem man deh at all!"

Today, as I was cleaning my bike in the front yard, I overheard a 'ruptions in the open lot next-door. Several taxis park there, waiting for fares.

It is not unusual to overhear heated arguments in Jamaica that sound as if they are about to turn into immediate bloodshed. They do not (of course) but the effect is still felt on the nerves.

I could tell from the conversation that it was escalating, and that at some point I realized that I knew that I knew something about what was coming next -- that one person would accuse the other or "being a battyman" (the worst epithet for being gay.) Sure enough, it came out loud right over the fence.

It struck me a moment later that the particular kind of homo-related phobia that we have in Jamaica is not of gays themselves, but is instead of "being called gay."

Being called gay in Jamaica is one of the worst things that someone can be accused of.

Accusations can have dire consequences in this country. Lynchings happen from time to time, and less than a mile from my home a man was lynched after he attacked an employee at the tax office. The police only showed up when he was dead.

A thief, once accused and caught, can lose their life on the spot. So can a murderer, a thief and a rapist. And, according to different news reports, so can a homosexual.

So this is not homophobia (unless it is to be understood in the abstract psychological sense.) Instead it is more akin to character assassination, and is driven by a fear of rejection and isolation. Furthermore, it is a fear that is shared by every single Jamaican, whether they are gay or not, because behind the accusation is an intent to attack and do harm. It really is another form of violence.

I think I'll call this fear "homo-name-a-phobia" -- a deep and powerful fear of being accused of being homosexual.

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Looking for Black

A recent trip to the US reminded me of some of what it was like to live there, and to assume entirely new ways of thinking.

I think it was my arrival in the airport when I reflectively realized that I was looking around for other Black people. After living for over 20 years in the US, I had developed a "Black reflex" which is to scan every room I enters to see whether or not there were other Black people. Now that I have moved back to Jamaica, I have stopped doing it.

Interesting, I thought. In an earlier entry in this blog, I spoke about how Jamaicans that migrate to the US (and probably Canada and the UK) have to make a choice as to which group to join: white, black or ethnic. One's habits, choices of food, accents and musical tastes would then fall neatly into line.

Also, in a conversation with few Black Americans I found myself falling into a familiar conversation that Black Americans engage in, about race and racism, and where it is appearing to appear. It could be on the job, on television, in the news, etc. but among the Black community in the US there is a LOT of talk about it, while here in the Caribbean, there is very little.

Not to say that these habits are bad or wrong... they are just very distinct, and very foreign to my experience here at home.

Coming back home necessarily involves un-learning some of these habits.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Carnival 2k6 in Jamaica

One thing that I noticed that may be a recurrent theme in our Carnival that sets it apart is the level of service.

We Jamaicans are truly an innovative bunch, and while our population at large does not have the widespread appetite for soca music and Carnival activities, it was interesting to observe where we have taken the basic carnival formula and improved on it dramatically.

For example, in all my years of playing mas with Harts, Poison and Tribe, I have never witnessed “waiter-style” service. Yet, there it was on the road with the Bacchanal Jamaica band (which in Trini terms is more like a large section.) Men and women were walking around with plates of sandwiches, chips, freshly cut slices of watermelon and cantaloupe, water, juices, and probably a whole bunch of other treats that I did not get to myself.

I thought this was a unique touch that was a far cry from the sullen service one gets in Trini carnival bands on the food and drink trucks.

I also had the chance to attend my third or fourth Frenchmen’s Fete, and as usual the standard was amazing. The ticket system they have put together involves purchasing a ticket in a sealed envelope, the outside of which is printed the message: DO NOT OPEN.

Only when I got the fete did they actually open the envelope, where there was not only the usual integrity lamp, but also a remote bar-code reading system that just blew me away.

Also, upon entering the party there were women handing out champagne and wine (albeit in fluted plastic glasses) to all the entrants. It was a wonderfully sweet touch that set off an evening of music that was just perfect (without live performances,) and food that was also excellent.

The usual fare in Trini fetes around Carnival time is quite pedestrian, with the usual choices: Creole, Indian, Arab, etc. The food at the Frenchmen Jamaican fetes is simply outstanding, and makes the evening well worth the money (which worked out to about US$70.) From the shrimp soup, to the sushi, to the desserts, to the _very_ wide variety of choices… I thought it way above any fete I have ever been to in Trinidad.

And the servers were doing their jobs with the usual good humour that comes with superior Jamaican service.

In these respects, Trinidad has a great deal to learn from us Jamaicans.

On the other hand, on essential element of Carnival everywhere has been taken out of ours and never restored – a stage. The whole idea of playing mas revolves around the concept of building up energy for that 20 or so minutes that are spent on stage, on television, showing off to the world the costumes, joy and excitement at “letting go.” At the moment, we have no stage, or even a judging point, which strikes me as a big ingredient that needs to be restored.

I remember more than once rushing to cross the stage with my band in Trinidad, knowing that that was the high point.

Without a high point to the day, the result was a sort of muted energy without a focal point in time (at least in our band.)

It would not take much to make this correction as there are several points that are natural judging spots that could be converted to “stages” like the judging points around Port of Spain away from the Savannah.

I believe this would give the experience of playing mas the kind of zip that it has in playing mas in Trinidad, and be a match for the excellent service and food that we are so good at providing.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Moving Back to Ghana

My sister who lived in Ghana for several years, sent this one on to me.

Author unknown.

" Some 24 months ago, I finally managed to move back to Ghana with my family and have successfully re-entered the local system. After doing 25 years in the Wild Wild West, this was a life's ambition come true. I have since managed to launch a long-planned business idea and also occasionally undertake financial consultancy on the side.

My little article shares some observations I have made during my time back in Ghana for the sole benefit of those who may wish to follow the rocky road home. Those who have ears to hear let them hear the words I speak.

As a backward, developing country, there is so much that needs to be done that anyone with true discipline and a flexible and analytical approach to problem solving should do well. There is phenomenal money to be made, especially in the service sector where simply being able to provide reliable professional service sets you well ahead of the competition.

Brothers and sisters, believe that Ghana is where the action is. With a bit of capital and a realistic approach to business, you can pick gold bars off the streets of Accra. If you do not believe me, come to Golden Tulip at 6pm and ask yourself what all those Caucasian, Indian, and Chinese hustlers - those who sit downstairs at the bar scheming and smoking ^ what are they doing in Accra. The answer is simple ^ unlike us, they can see the doughnut and not the hole!

Now the reality check. I have to bow my head and say that the majority of Ghanaians are afflicted by a poisonous cocktail of envy, cynicism, laziness, and self imposed barriers to success. The sheer envy that flows through our veins makes a Ghanaian feel happier to see a Lebanese or Indian make a buck than for his own countryman make that same buck. You ignore this fact at your own peril. Spintex Road and the Industrial Area in Accra are full of testimonies and monuments to all those illiterate foreigners who arrived in Ghana penniless and are now dollar millionaires.

Nothing pleases a Ghanaian worker more than to have a white boss. The more abusive the boss, the better, and the more endearing the staff are to them. Go to Melcom, a virtual slave shop and all the girls will be seen literally dancing and singing as they work for their Indian and Lebanese bosses. These foreigners have leveraged our warm embrace (aka Ghanaian hospitality and this deadly trait called envy to enrich ourselves while our own leaders have shut down Ghanaian businesses.

Your poor cousin or even housemaid envies you because they believe you are rich. You may decide to hand over half your wealth to them and that will make them hate you even more! They would rather they gave you that bounty or better still that you were both down in the pits. Instead of a Ghanaian finding out from a successful man the path to prosperity so that he too can become a millionaire, they would rather scheme and plan to pull the person down or discredit his wealth. This is a trait some leading politicians have exploited mercilessly and to great effect.

The cynicism is an even more worrying trait. Most Ghanaians can only see half empty glasses all around them. Show them an opportunity and regardless of what is available, they are blinded by that one missing ingredient, that 1% not available yet, which makes them convinced that the deal will fail.

The bankers do this very well, but journalists and the society at large are not too far behind them. There is a new professional called Social Commentator ^ school drop outs - who sit on FM stations pontificating on every topic under the sun. These people have never set up a kiosk and certainly have no finance training but will analyse a three-way cross border merger between the Government and foreign entities with the conviction of a Goldman Sach investment banker.

If the Government announced that every citizen would get $1mm, the Social Commentator would immediately point out that there will not be enough money machine counters at the banks for a smooth collection of the funds, armed robbery will rise, the country will descend into civil war and therefore the policy is a bad idea.

The Ghanaian is best motivated by personal interest and works best when they have a stake in the business. As such the entrepreneur is a worthy counterpart in any transaction. If the person will get paid directly, you know the business will be done. Even then some sole proprietors run their own business as if they were civil servants managing a Government department.

While the Ghanaian entrepreneur remains a ray of hope, the Ghanaian worker has a dangerous brand of laziness which could easily collapse the average business. Most see no connection between their role in the enterprise and how their salary is paid. As such they will turn up late, skip work at the slightest sign of ill-health, sit on the office phone running up a bill, and do precious little regardless of how well or how poorly they get paid.

Mention an assignment and the Ghanaian does not think of how it should be done to achieve the best or most efficient outcome but rather how much 'juice' they can make on the side. They will therefore complete the job, take their juice, and deliver a shoddy project to you - offering a blank sheepish facial _expression when you ask them the most basic question relating to the project.

And another thing, never count on your Ghanaian employee to give you feedback or suggestions on how to create value or enhance the business. They would rather watch the business collapse, and then complain about unemployment. If you ever get an employee that offers good feedback and constructive input, you must double the person's salary!

When unemployment / retrenchment is announced, SIL members often wail and throw their arms up to the heavens in despair at the doomsday event. However if you had had the opportunity to see these same employees at post, reading their bibles during office hours, chatting with groundnut sellers under a tree and simply shooting the breeze while the company collapsed, you would be less sympathetic.

Worse still, they will never do the little things like turn off a dripping tap, flick the light switch, use the more economical service provider, even when they know their employer is struggling and that they will be unemployed should the business collapse.

This means that all those who dream of building empires quickly realize how
difficult such a vision is to implement. It is nigh on impossible to delegate because the next person is likely to disregard your orders and do their own thing, even if it will collapse your business and wreck their career.

Indecision is another plague in the system. There is an attitude of 'last minute' which starts at Secondary school and travels through university which ends up in the board rooms of our dear nation. Ghanaman will never take a decision until the gun is to their head, then they rush to make a stupid decision. if they know they have to sign a contract, they will dilly dally until the evening before the deadline, then in mad state of panic, you will see the MD with sweaty palms followed by his semi illiterate and
reticent sidekicks scampering around for some lawyer to advice them. You can bet your bottom dollar they will end up swallowing all the penalty clauses in the book because they failed to make an early decision on an unavoidable event! This is the most irritating aspect of life in Ghana. People delaying something that cannot be delayed!

Self imposed barrier to success is something the new age churches have managed to inculcate in the system of the present generation. They tell people that you are not responsible for your success or failures in life. If you are rich, God made you rich and if you are poor, then it is Satan himself drilling holes in your pocket. Nothing happens on its own, it is certainly a curse from ten generations ago when your family members buried something in the family house etc etc.

This is real and people, educated, sensible people believe it and live by such ideologies. This means that most people leave the house at 5am, stay at work from 9 to 5 (note, I did not say work from 9 to 5), attend prayer sessions in the evenings, on Saturdays and Sundays. When they have to review their lives, develop business ideas, or make big plans for the future remains a mystery to me but I am sure after 5 years in the country I may find out.

Remember this - more than money, foreign aid, IMF/world bank, politicians, clinics, roads, democracy or gold, what Ghana needs is human capital. Motherland needs an army of 2,000 sensible, well educated, trained minds, with global exposure and willing to challenge the accepted norms and conventional wisdom, take on Government, family and church and stand their ground to make this land a better place.

Obviously the returnees wanted back home would need to be disciplined themselves. The kind that unfortunately tend to show up at Kotoka are too often are the Kofi Wayo kind, who think because they have been in the US for a few years then everyone here in Ghana is a fool. This overlooks the fact that such a person did precious little back in the US, besides watching cable TV and paying alimony.

We need good people out here so please come home and help fight the war. If you don't the Lebanese, Chinese, and Indians will take our birthplace! You may turn up 20 years hence to retire and find a Chinese president running Ghana"!

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Brave, The Proud, The Few

I ran into an old school friend the other day, who upon hearing that I had moved back to Jamaica basically asked me "Why would anyone do that?"

His question was honest, and is one that I am frequently asked.

Sometimes when I hear the question, I wonder if they are not asking themselves that same question as it applies to themselves: "Why am I staying here?" I think they are not giving themselves credit.

Of course, there are many countries that one could leave Jamaica to visit and stay without a visa (Haiti is quite close, for example.) The point here is not that the person wants to leave Jamaica per se, but that they want to live the lifestyle they have in Jamaica with more money and less crime. Call it Every Jamaican's Fantasy Island.

Given that most Jamaicans could leave to live someplace else if they absolutely had to, I conclude that most of us are here because they choose to (even though the polls indicate an overwhelming desire to migrate to North America.)

This does not make us crazy. Instead, it disconnects us from a very North American notion that one's purpose in life is to live as easily as possible.

Given that life in Jamaica is much harder than life in the USA, for example, then one would indeed be crazy to even think of moving back to Jamaica.

But that is just no way to live. It might be a way to survive, but it is no way to live a full life.

Taking on big challenges, rather than always looking for the easy way out seems to be the hallmark of the most admirable people that have existed on the planet, perhaps because it takes such courage.

Whenever I have done things that were challenging and did not involve taking the easy path, I have felt the most empowered and satisfied once the dust had settled down.

Agreeing to be School Captain at St. Andrew Prep was not the easy path. More recently, writing this blog filled with controversial content is also not easy.

Difficult paths that others have taken are also inspiring.

Anyone who joins the marines does so willingly, knowing that they are joining the toughest branch of the US Armed Forces. Anyone who goes to a tough college, or decides to do a marathon, or raise a child or run for office are obviously not doing what they are doing because they are pursuing the easiest option available to them.

In like manner, someone who chooses to move back to Jamaica, is making a conscious choice to pursue an option that is risky, and is not the easiest one to pursue.

And that is inspiring.

As Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood and I --
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Weblog Graffiti

I just read a very, very angry person's comments to Wayne&Wax's blog, which ends with the anonymous commentator threatening to "kick off yuh f***ing face."

While I have had nothing as hate-filled on this site I think I should make it clear that I will delete any posts that I feel take away from the dialogue between myself and the reader, and I certainly don't plan to be having an in-depth conversation with an anonymous commentor who attacks me or anyone else.

To me, it is a lot like the political graffiti of the 1980 election here in Jamaica. Each side had supporters going around town marking up the place with "Vote PNP" here and "Deliverance" there. The result was that a mess was created that took years to clean up (although I imagine that a lot of green and orange paint did get sold that year!)

Also, I doubt that anyone changed their vote because one side had better graffiti than the other.

So, all that to say... I reserve the right to delete comments at will, and I am less likely to respond to anonymous comments, and very likely to delete comments that are anonymous AND hate-filled at the same time.

Anonymous graffiti does nothing but create a mess that takes a long time to clean up, whether it is on a wall, or on a blog.

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More Defensiveness and Anger

The first reaction in the press to the article declaring Jamaica "The Most Homophobic Place on Earth" was printed in today's Jamaica Observer, and the response was an angry one.

The column Heart to Heatt can be found here. (I recommend a close reading.)

The columnist, Betty Anne Blaine, made the following point: "To lump all Jamaicans into one barrel of gay-haters, is untrue, unjust, and arrogant. The writer owes this country an apology."

I cannot recall the writer doing this, but instead he makes the point that Jamaica is the most homophobic place on earth. While I can't say whether or not that is true, I can say that the social environment in Jamaica is the most homophobic (or anti-gay) that I have ever experienced, and I have travelled to some 15 countries in the world or so.

Yesterday, I also happened to read another blogger whose blog I found and then lost, and then re-found. Wayne&Wax's entry on "Killing Fi Stop" is an outsider's view on the homophobia in Jamaica, and it has some useful links to articles like one from the Village Voice, entitled Jah Division
Free speech, cultural sovereignty, and human rights clash in reggae dancehall homophobia debate. Wayne spent several months living in Jamaica and his take on the situation is a fascinating one. He also references an article in the Guardian Unlimited called "Troubled Island" that came out last week.

On the site the following picture appeared, which I found just a little frightening:

How did we Jamaicans, with our proud record of struggling for justice and equality especially for oppressed people, end up on this side of such an important human rights issue?

One day we will wake up and find that we have been supporting the haters against the hated, and that we are alone in doing so.

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