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.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Tyrannical Shoulds

In recent blogs I have been hinting that a successful Move back to Jamaica is more than just a physical move, it is also a spiritual one.

Not religious necessarily, but spiritual. Moving Back successfully often entails a remarkable inner journey, in which one is confronted with personal barriers, obstacles and prejudices. The real story about Moving Back is not ultimately about how to pack a container, but how to thrive in an environment that is at times dangerous, depressing and dogmatic.

Given that most of the moves back home are from "better places," when the move is a voluntary one it marks a decision to take an action that goes against the prevailing wisdom.

"Yuh mad or what?" is expressed far more often than "Welcome home."

The reason to move home, and the choice to take the road less travelled are just the beginning of a long inner journey that starts with a personal decision, which reminds me of the U.S. Marines motto - ''The brave, the proud, the few."
While everyone should visit an army base at some point, not everyone should join the Marines. Everyone should visit Jamaica, but not everyone should come back to live.

For those who make the decision, however the instant it is made marks the beginning of an intense personal struggle involving one's own doubts, commitments, plus finding a way to navigate the ''helpful" comments of others. Of course, there are also the scary circumstances to deal with - the rampant breakdowns and the mind-numbing bureaucracies.

Obviously, the Jamaica that the returnee is coming home to is going to be a lot different than the country being left (otherwise, why return?) That goes without saying. For the vast majority of Jamaicans abroad, the difference is a negative one that prevents them from ever coming back.

The important question is: How does the returnee stay true to whatever original vision created the desire to return, as opposed to getting caught in the numerous mental potholes that exist?

In other words, are there ways for returnees to better equip themselves to take on the challenge of returning?

I have participated in a couple of courses that have nothing to do with emigrating, but everything to do with creating an inspiring vision and keeping it alive. I recommend them both as possible venues to start to be trained in dealing with the mental or personal challenges that seem to come alive whenever we humans try to take a quantum leap to better ourselves.

The first is a series of programs offered by Landmark Education. The second is based on a book called Loving What Is.

In a former life, I led public seminars as a volunteer for Landmark. The courses I lead followed their basic program called The Landmark Forum. Fortunately, The Forum is offered in Kingston twice a year, and in most major cities in the US, Europe and Asia.

Moore recently, I took a weekend course with Byron Katie, the author of Loving What Is.

Katie (as she is called) focuses her work on dealing with reality, and the thoughts we have about what is happening around us in our lives. Suffering, she says, comes from getting stuck in thoughts that weigh us down, preventing us from fully embracing what is happening at any moment.

When we are able to effectively question our thoughts is when (and only when) we can be free. From my experience, the most pernicious thoughts are those that have a heavy "should" component.

For example, here are the few that run through my head:
- Jamaica should not have so many murders
- The politicians should be serving the needs of the people
- The police should be less corrupt
- There needs to be less bureaucracy
- This could only happen in Jamaica
- De people dem too dyam tief
- Things are too expensive here
- It is way too hot / rainy / humid / dry
- De mosquito / madman / pothole / noise (dem) is unbearable
- Life here is too hard
- The US/UK/Canada is so much better because...
- De people too gravilishus / licky-licky/ wanga-gut/ nayga-like/ lazy / violent / aggressive / ungrateful / greedy etc.

At the heart of each of these thoughts is an unwillingness to accept reality, and a wanting life to be different. Nothing wrong with that... except when we refuse to fully accept life the way it is right now.

That sounds quite simple, and based in common sense, yet there is a powerful human mechanism at work here that takes serious practice to overcome. The vox populi in Jamaica is dominated by strident calls against "what should not be happening."

It is quite easy as a returnee to fall (or relax) into this general, disempowering tone.

Over the past 2 or so years of using Katie's materials (available free from her website) I can safely report that it has helped me tremendously. How? I have found that the moment any kind of anguish or suffering starts, I am now much better at nipping it in the bud using her simple formula - 4 questions and a turnaround statement.

I know expats, returnees and even Jamaicans who have never left who indulge themselves in endless rounds of "what is wrong with Jamaica." This perpetual game is one that prolongs their personal suffering, as new items are sought out daily to be added to a growing list.

Using Katie's tools, I find that I have been able to increase my capacity to remind myself (when I find myself indulging also) that ... Jamaica(ns) should not be any other way that is. Why? Because it is exactly the way that is, and no other.

It has taken me many hours, tens of pages and lots of study to begin to see some consistency of application - my own inner journey has been slow, and I am far from mastery. But this growth is important for us returnees, even critical, if we are to succeed in fulfilling our dreams of returning "in style."

We Jamaicans abroad talk a lot about "setting ourselves up" before returning - preferably with a fat bank account, a 2-story house, a source of foreign exchange and at least a 1-year old SUV.

We might be right about the preparation needed to thrive in Jamaica, but dead wrong in thinking that the things that need to be prepared are tangible. After all, a well-timed hurricane, theft and recession can undo all those kinds of safety nets.

Instead, the best kind of preparation might be the kind that quickens the inner journey, and shows up as a willingness to learn, an openness to new ideas in any area, a love of adventure, an ability to self-reflect and a courage to tell the truth. If our being away in "farrin" has been about getting "set up" with these things, then it would have been time well spent.

Some quotes from Byron Katie

When you argue with reality, you lose -- but only always.

I am the perpetrator of my suffering -- but only all of it.

What is is. You don't get a vote. Haven't you noticed?

Reality is God, because it rules.


Read more!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Sounds of New York

The city that reminds me most of Kingston is New York.

It is definitely not a size thing, although the State of New York is defined by The Big Apple in much the same way that Jamaica is defined by Kingston.

The similarity comes from the frenetic energy that emanates from both cities, and nowhere is this more evident in Kingston than in the amount of noise there is in the air.

As a child growing up in 1980, I remember going to bed each night to the sound of gunshots. Our political parties and the police were fighting with each other, each claiming to be protecting ''de people dem'' from the other 2 groups. Each and every night brought with it the sound of shots, which were quite scary to me as a young child... at first, but then just became something else to get used to once I got over the initial excitement.

This combination of noise, excitement and more than a hint of danger gives Kingston its very edgy feel -- as if something big is about to happen at any minute.

For example, after 1980 the ''gun salute'' became quite popular in parties in depressed communities. At the high point of parties, a gunman would add to the festivities by firing shots in the air -- much in the way that someone in another country might burst firecrackers (which we Jamaicans also love.) The effect was a positive one, as party-goers would echo the shot with their own sounds and gestures. This bit of onomatopoeia eventually made its way into countless dancehall songs and become a commonplace expression.

Since Moving Back to Jamaica I cannot say how many times I have heard gunshots... after all they may have been firecrackers or cars backfiring.

However, outside my apartment complex there was a bonafide shoot-out that resulted in the police killing a gunman. I happened to be abroad, but my wife was very much here for her first live shoot-out.

Recently, an enterprising businessman decided to add loud music to the offerings at his bar around the corner. The result has been a cacophony of loud music each weekend that is unintelligible, and unceasing, even as it appears that no-one is listening.

One the odd weekend night there is also the loud concert held at a couple venues around the area, with music blasting until the wee hours of the morning, to add to the general ambiance.

Each Sunday morning, however, starting from around 7:00am there is the reliable sound of a very, very loud church next door. The services apparently do not end until around 3:00pm it seems, and the pastor makes it quite easy to follow his sermon from about 200 meters away. The evening service caps off the daily assault on the senses, as we are forced to join his congregation against our wishes.

He has had an interesting schedule. A Wednesday night service of some kind breaks the mid-week silence. Other three day conferences, every-night for a week crusades and all-night services help to ensure that we never quite sure when we will once again become the "remote pew" of this church.

In a country in which calling the police to get a church to turn down the music is almost never successful, rumour has it that the residents of our complex met once with the pastor in an attempt to request that the sound levels be turned down. According to this rumour, he said something like "Why is it that people get to play their loud Carnival music??" (Afta people dem get to play dem Carnival music!)

In other words, he refused on the grounds that Carnival music is also loud. I guess as a Carnival-lover, I would have to choose to keep my one day a year of playing mas to balance out the 52 weeks a year of listening to his church.

Apart from the gunshots, dancehall music and church sermons, Kingston is filled with other sounds -- dogs barking, sirens wailing, roosters crowing, frogs warbling, lizards croaking, tires screeching, bad words cursing as people argue, loud laughing, helicopters chopping, cats screeching, horns talking at each other, crickets chirping, hydrant water gushing... and what else I can decipher over and above the traffic and the music from cars that just about never stops.

My wife lived in a northeast city on a busy intersection with a lot of traffic, and I remember trying hard to sleep over the sound of traffic less than 50ft away.

Here in Kingston, the sound is more interesting than just mere traffic, and for some reason, easier to sleep through.

Read more!


Now and then I feel the need to explore some aspect of the Move Back to Jamaica that I should probably just leave alone.


Not chicken. Not turkey. Not udders.

Breasts - like the ones God gave to Jamaican women.

There I was, driving innocently through a town on Portland's coast. My wife and I were chatting away happily when we stopped at a pedestrian crossing. 2 young women walked across the road, talking with each other, barely glancing at us, wearing T-shirts stretched tightly across their "unfettered" breasts. (i.e. bra-less)

As usual, I tried my best not to notice...

Thankfully, my wife broke the silence with some well-aimed ''Tut-tuts" of disapproval, to which I added my own "wise" judgements. Obviously, I ''informed" her, bras were expensive. This was a basic economic issue.

And there definitely is an issue here.

Moving Back to Jamaica involves getting used to lots and lots of breasts. Not the naked variety, but the kind that surprise you from behind a T-shirt, or blouse in the middle of a typical day because they are not bra-ed.

Everything in your First World experience tells you that this is not happening... it cannot be. "How could she expect to get away with that? Doesn't she know better?''

Of course, as a man I must say that the surprise is sometimes not an unpleasant one. If the surprise is a genuine one, then so is the lingering, appreciative and even (mildly) lustful glance.

But, the fact is -- there are a LOT more unbra-ed breasts bouncing around Jamaica than any other place I have been in the world. I have a feeling (from some of the knowing looks I have exchanged) that this is not a matter of affordability, but one of attraction.

If I were to judge by the length of the skirts and the tight fit of the jeans, I would conclude that the J$1000/US$15 needed to purchase another bra, has instead been converted into a nice new pair of shoes.

However, I could be wrong about the motive.

It is difficult to tell, as the women I am friends, with would never be caught dead "unfettered" in public.

As for those who ARE busy being caught dead in public "unfettered" -- well, they are just not saying.

Read more!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Kenyan Visiting Ghana

There is something very familiar-feeling about the following post.

The original Jamaicans are said to have been brought here from what is today's Nigeria and Ghana.

(Courtesy of my sister Ruth.)

-------------> CTX 06/20 (ANS) A Visitor Amongst Us: a Kenyan Akosua in Ghana
> Jun 19, 2006 (Accra Mail/All Africa Global Media via
> COMTEX) -- Even before the
> BA flight touched down in Accra at 8:00pm on June 5th, a
> few subtle things let
> me know that I was in Ghana. Fellow passengers made
> conversation and exchanged
> contacts with each other. You rarely see this in flights in
> America or Europe.

> Passengers mostly stay cautiously quiet and stick to their
> own business as if
> the person sitting next to them had a deadly, infectious
> disease. A man behind
> me ordered four bottles of wine to the surprise of the
> airhostess.
> We all smiled to ourselves knowing that some of the bottles
> would probably go
> down with the fufu and light soup that he would have later
> that night. When the
> plane successfully landed, everyone clapped. "We also clap
> when the plane
> touches down in Nairobi!" I excitedly told Gifty, the lady
> sitting next to me.
> You must have guessed by now where I am from. I am a Kenyan
> visiting Ghana for
> the next two and a half months. For purposes of anonymity I
> have named myself
> Akosua since this seems to be what everyone, especially the
> men in the streets
> call me. Unlike the beautiful Ghanaian lady called Akos
> whom I saw on a TV
> advertisement the other day in an advert for panther or
> some other condom brand,
> I am always prepared.
> To deal with the cold season at this time, I was advised by
> a friend to bring
> warm clothing and this I did faithfully. I regretted it as
> soon as I stepped
> outside the plane and was hit by a blast of hot air.
> Akwaaba! Welcome to Ghana,
> the air seemed to say. Because it is so hot in this cold
> season, there are
> always people selling cold, satcheted water in pans on
> their heads.
> I don't think they realize how much balance and grace in
> takes to run after a
> tro-tro with these loads on their heads. They call out,
> "pure water pure water!"
> Sometimes I want to tell them to spare their voices because
> everyone knows the
> water is pure. In fact, so far I have bought water called
> "so pure, so fresh,
> sooo clean, and so nice."
> I am determined to blend in with my Ghanaian brothers and
> sisters; we are all
> Africans after all. I am doing everything to learn about
> Ghana and Ghanaians. I
> started by watching television. After three hours of
> patient viewing, I gave up
> after finding myself having memorized the official black
> stars song, and singing
> along to something called mentors In an episode yesterday
> someone was evicted I
> think. There was cheering in the audience, which I thought
> was bizarre since an
> eviction is a serious deal. In Ghana people are very
> polite.
> On my way to work every morning, the little children in the
> estate always say,
> Please Madam, Good morning. And I always pause, looking at
> them with pity,
> wondering how I can help them because if they say please,
> it means they need me
> to do something for them. They always look at me strangely
> and then continue
> playing. Sometimes this politeness confounds me. I will
> give you yesterday as an
> example, when a taxi driver along Ring Road yelled at the
> driver of the taxi I
> was in, when he accidentally cut a wrong turn and blocked
> his way.
> -----------------------------====================-------------------------
> Copyright (c) 2006
> Page 2 of 2
> The angry taxi driver said, "Please, I think you are an
> idiot. Excuse me but
> please, I think you are the most stupid man I have ever
> met!" And this seemed to
> make our driver angry, although the angry driver had said
> please! I am convinced
> that God lives in Ghana. He is everywhere, in "God is Great
> Preparatory School",
> "God is my Provider Chop Bar", "Onyame Adom Cyber Cafe",
> "Blessed is the Lamb
> Associates", and "Precious Gift of Christ Bar and Lodging".
> Sometimes these men
> and women sing on TV.
> I have learnt that Awuradee and Onyame mean God and if I
> hear them in a song,
> then it means that they are gospel songs. I always wish
> there were subtitles
> because I want to understand these songs that make people
> very happy. Instead, a
> bold caption will occasionally appear announcing that their
> clothes and hair are
> courtesy of Blessed Grace's Fashion Consultants. Mepa wo
> kyew (Please), Read
> this column next week for more impressions on Ghana and
> Ghanaians .
> by Gladys Onyango

Read more!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Seeing from Afar

In an earlier blog, I mentioned that one of the great things about travelling to another similar, but not altogether bizarrely different country, is that you can learn so much about the country you are leaving behind.

Being away from Jamaica allows one to see so much about our country that it benefits everyone to have our people so mobile.

Conversely, Moving Back to Jamaica has also meant moving from America, and now that I am away, I can see quite a few things about that country much more clearly.

This conversation between A Trini and an American Christian conservative is quite illuminating, and quite far away from what I think the prevailing Christian viewpoint is outside of the USA. it is long, but perfect for what we are wrestling with here in Jamaica with the passage of our new Charter of Rights.

Click here for part 1

Click here for parts 2 and 3

Cat: Spirit

Read more!

A Slow Moving Travesty

I was reading the following link from the Alien in the Caribbean blog, and could only feel sad at what is happening to the new Charter of Rights proposal that is before a joint select committee of parliament.

The Alien blog entry is a thoughtful analysis of what it means to be homosexual and to be a Caribbean person. Given that in our region, male homosexual sex is still outlawed, there exists significant anti-homosexual feelings fueled by bible quotes promising a long roast in hell, and the fact that many gay people have migrated because of fear, it is hard to see how anyone in their right mind would choose to pick such a lifestyle just because... the sex itself was so sweet.

I mean, you would have to be very, very stupid to "choose" to be gay in our region, and risk being convicted for a crime (which actually happened to two men last year who were convicted for buggery.)

She makes this point better than I can, from a Trinidadian perspective that looks a lot like it could apply here in Jamaica.

Incidentally, we now have our first organized anti-gay groups, in the form of 2 groups called the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and the National Church Alliance.

From all appearances, they seem intent on doing a couple of things:
-- ensuring that the current buggery laws are never overturned
-- ensuring that marriage between same-sex couples is never legalized

Their way of supporting these two ends is to lobby for changes to the proposed Charter of Rights to explicitly prevent these two possibilities from ever occurring.

According to the Observer: The church groups' proposed the insertion of the words, "and in keeping with the aspirations and norms of the Jamaican people" as a qualification to the phrase "free and democratic society" in the Charter.


I personally struggle to see how Christ's love is demonstrated by attempting to remove rights from an innocent and already persecuted group of people, before the contemplation required for these rights to be granted has even begun.

Will these groups also press for the law to be vigorously prosecuted, and that gay men who are thought to be committing buggery crimes should be investigated the way thieves and murders are? Actually, the law as written says nothing about men, which makes anyone who engages in anal sex guilty, including anyone who... (I will leave to rest to your imagination.) Will we be asked to turn in men and women suspected of breaking this arcane and supposedly rarely used law?

I side with Senator Trevor Munroe, who expressed the called the proposals "retrograde." I imagine that as a former communist, he would have found himself on the wrong side of these rights, as certainly communism is not "in keeping with the aspirations and norms of the Jamaican people."

I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington DC once, and it made for a very disturbing day. I remain haunted to this day by the following quote:

First They Came for the Jews

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

Read more!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Blog I Have Been Reluctant to Write

For quite a few reasons, I have been reluctant to write this blog on some happenings involving the police, all of which occurred in the past few weeks.

I was running a few miles from home with a small group one day, when we passed a police car pulled over to the side, and a motorist who was pulled over. We came by at just that precise moment to both see the complaining motorist hand over some money to the policemen, in a way that looked to my untrained eye as if both parties were trying to avoid being seen doing to the handoff.

A week or so later, I was driving through a different neighborhood in the dead of morning, and as many Jamaican drivers do, I paused at the light and went through the red. The number of hijackings in Kingston make stopping at red-lights in the middle of the night a risky proposition.

As I drove through I saw a policemen flagging me down. I pulled over and he asked me "how I could just run through the red light like that?" I explained: "Officer, mi fraid like puss dis time a mawnin'!" (Officer, I am as afraid as a cat at this time of the morning!")

He asked me for my license and registration, and I explained that I had my registration but I did not bring my wallet for safety reasons. He said that I would "definitely be going to court."

A couple of other cars came by, and he pulled them over also. By the time he returned I was getting quite nervous, although not nearly as nervous as I have ever felt in the US whenever I got pulled over (with Rodney King images flashing through my mind.) Basically, he said "I am going to warn you to not go through lights again, and to remind you that we all need to take care of each other, because one hand shakes the other."

I heartily agreed.

Not until I drove off did I realize that I may have promised to support the police with a small cash "contribution" if and when I got stopped the next time, and that the only reason I got off was that I did not have my wallet.

A few weeks ago a Belgian friend of mine told me that she was driving with a European friend of hers when she was also stopped by the police for speeding. She has been living in Jamaica since September.

She was quite direct with her policemen "Is there any way you could take care of this for me, because it would take so much time for me to go in and pay the fine and all that?" She paid him, and was quickly on her way, having saved herself time and money.

I had a mixture of feelings, after my run-in partly due to the way in which the policeman said what he said. Frankly, it felt more the good advice from an older uncle, than what I thought would be a real-life case of "police corruption." It sounded more like a plea for help, than an ominous warning, or some kind of veiled threat. I was quite happy to have gotten off, and felt in my bones that I was so relieved that I might have easily paid over the J$1000 (US16) he was probably looking for.

One thing I am acutely aware of, is how we ordinary Jamaicans contribute to the crime wave that we have experienced for the past 30 years.

As I thought about it some more, I realized that if I had taken the easy way, I would have added to the problem that the police say is at the core of their inability to apprehend criminals -- people do not trust them with inside information.

I could see why.

I felt as if I had the power to buy off a policemen at that stop-light, and that it was just a matter of having the right amount of money at hand. What kinds of crimes could I have purchased my way out of, if I really wanted to, and if I had the cash?

AS I thought about it some more I felt a creeping nakedness... that the barrier I imagined between myself and a criminal out there was simply dissolving before my eyes. It was very disconcerting.

After all, I have already learned that a call to the police is not the first to make. Instead, that call should be made to one's security company. After all, the security companies hire more people than any other industry in the island, and the overall impression is that they are very, very good.

I believe that when it comes down to it that I will gladly spend a day in court, rather than contribute to removing the protection I sometimes like to think I have. Or at least, in my mind I am planning to do so -- we shall see when the time comes.

Incidentally, my reluctance from writing this blog comes from being traces -- that somehow a disgruntled policeman might think I am writing about HIM.

P.S.> There was a cover story in today's Jamaica Gleaner entitled Cop Killings Rise -- Repeat Offenders Causing Concern. The fact is, not a single policeman has been convicted of a shooting crime since 1999. This in a country that has one of the highest rates of police shooting per capita.

Read more! A Year Later

A year ago, just before my wedding, I wrote a short entry on my other blog about the fortune I had in using the online dating service,

A few people have asked me what that was like, and since I only have good things to say, it has made some of them wonder about me (although, now that I am happily married and nearing the first anniversary, I don't think they are worrying as much.)

But I have thought about the experience, and a bit about what made it so... interesting, if not compelling. Confession: even though I am no longer signed up for the service I still go back to website now and again, as if I were visiting my alma mater. I like to see how it is evolving, and what they have cooked up next, and even what they no longer offer.

One of the tests that they used to offered was their Physical Attraction Test. The test was a very simple one.

After starting the test, the program flashed picture after picture of 6-9 average-looking women's faces of all shapes, sizes, colours, weights, horsetail, eye colors, ages, etc. The respondent's job was to pick the most physically attractive face from those being chosen. At first, the pictures flashed slowly, as if to warm things up, and then they would flash faster until the 10 minute or so of test was done. As the system started to pick up the chosen preferences, it started to narrow the choices down, and to present variations that became finer and finer. For example, if one consistently chose blonde, lighter-skinned women, it would start to present lighter-skinned women with different hair grades of hair colours, and blonde-women of darker skin to see what the respondent _really_ preferred.

I found the experience intriguing as all heck.

As the pictures flashed, I noticed that the speed was preventing me from using the logical side of my brain, and I began to respond from a very different place -- one that seemed much more basic... evolutionary... biological... subconscious. It was a place well beyond thought and judgement, and I had resist the urge to stop everything or try to slow it down so that I could have more time. I did the test twice, and the second time I decided to really let it rip -- and to click as fast I could without thinking.

The detailed results surprised me -- and I wish I had them on hand but the original website: does not seem to exist.

I remember that I found out the following about myself:

  • I had a profound racial bias (which I would have denied having.) I strongly preferred darker skinned women.

  • I had a clear bias against women with red hair (I had a run-in with a teacher back in the day who was a redhead...) I also had no preference for Asian / Oriental women.

  • I preferred younger looking women (than my age of 38 at the time.) I also preferred those who had athletic "tom-boy" bodies

I wish I could find my original results online, but here is the summary that I received via email:

Thanks for taking's Ph.D.-formulated Physical Attraction Test, a revolutionary development in the world of relationships. This scientific system will help you narrow your search for those who are truly compatible with your physical preferences.

Below is the summary of your report. To view your complete test results, click here.
Or click here to search for single members who you'll find physically attractive.

Favorite Qualities
Your photo choices suggest a woman over 40 is probably getting a little old for your tastes
You seemed interested in dating a woman at least 25 or older
Pretty women
So-called "Ectomorphs," or thin angular faces
So-called "Ecto-Mesomorphs," with narrow chins and nicely angular faces
So-called "Mesomorphs," with square chins and wide faces

Favorite Looks
One type you noticed is sometimes called "Pixies." They tend to be slender and somewhat delicate in appearance. Their very short hair frames a long, narrow face. Even without big, fluffy hair, the large eyes, fair skin, and very full lips (relative to their face) convey a natural femininity. This striking look is very popular (40%) among men.

There's something about the energy and youthful appeal of "Cheerleaders" that's hard to resist. We use this name to describe a group of women who's facial features combine feminine beauty with a "tomboy" flair. They usually have blonde or light brown hair--cut short, small button noses, and wide smiles. These aren't "perfect" beauty contest winners. But their vivacious personality comes across even in photographs and makes their overall impression one of dazzling beauty. You won't be surprised to find out that more than 1 in 4 men (27%) still want to date the head cheerleader.

Favorite Face Type
Faces known scientifically as "Ecto-Mesomorphs" repeatedly caught your eye. Women express this type in two ways. One version has a rectangular face shape that is long and narrow. The other type's face shape is often compared to a diamond or a heart, because it is wide at the cheeks and then has a sharply angled jaw. Ecto-Mesomorph women have either delicate pointed chins or chins that are slightly squared-off or rounded at the base. This "classic" face type is one of the most idealized for women and can be found on most movie and music idols. These women also tend to have lean, but shapely, builds when they're young. About 57% of other men especially prefer women with this face type.

While I think it is crazy to go the next step and pick out someone who matches any particular look, did sent out an email with some women that matched the physical attributes that I preferred. I stopped taking this all lightly when one of the pictures they sent me was of someone I had not only been attracted to, but actually had met online through the service, and had a very nice lunch with.


But the power of the experience was not so much in the wizadry, an example of which can be found at this website: Beautycheck. In fact, the picture on the site looks exactly like the ones I had to choose from in the test.

Instead, the power lay in discovering a new aspect of myself that I did not even know existed. This discovery was juicy -- yet another step in the journey of self-discovery, enlightenment or spiritual growth.

And that encapsulates what I gained the most from dating through

The entire experience was an opportunity to open my eyes, and see what it is I really wanted and why. What originally got me started was the free Personality Test that they offered. I took it, and then they offered something like a free week to test the full service, so I took that also, being quite concerned that I would meet a stalker, psycho or axe-murderer.

It was not the meat-market that I feared it would be at all. Instead, it was a powerful way to learn who I really wanted to be with, and why, and what I didn't even know that I wanted in a relationship. I learned that a part of attracting the right person is in having the kind of internal knowing that leads to the most enlightened choices.

This kind of self-knowledge might be more important in attracting the right kind of person than the right resume, make-up or haircut. After a few years of marriage to anyone, and a few thousand "morning faces" all that external stuff gets forgotten.

What does last forever, however, is that which comes from the inside, and (given that no-one is perfect) how one uses self-knowledge to heal, grow and take risks over the years. These inner qualities are much harder to pin down, and unfortunately take a back seat in the typical bar or club to physical qualities that are so much on display.

But again, a part of being able to see these inner qualities in someone else starts with an ability to see them existing or missing in oneself.

And this is the paradox: a search for the right partner necessarily involves a discovery of oneself. When I was open to this aspect of the process, I learned I could make mistakes more readily, recover more quickly, and generally understand what was happening in the search for a life partner in a much larger and empowering context that was, simply, fun for me.

To illustrate: near the end of my "hunting" days, I was surprised to find that the most useful Search-phrase was one that I realized was actually true about me: "Loves Life."

Cat: Spirit

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Memoirs of An Illegal Alien

I just started reading what must be a one-of-a-kind account of a Jamaican who migrated to the US back in what looks like the 1980's.

It's called Memoirs of an Illegal Alien and I have just reached the part where the author, a Campion College graduate and prior resident of Forest Hill Gardens with gardener, helper and satellite dish has gotten his first job cleaning toilets. This after lying to immigration in Miami about how long he intended to stay.

It makes very good reading, and even though we may not all have gone through the exact same experiences, every Caribbean immigrant to the US or Canada can relate to some degree to his personal story. There are a full 21 installments to date, and they are in chronological order, starting from the bottom.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

"Plate-Sharing:" An International Response

My recent blog on Kellie Magnus' article on plate sharing has ignited an international storm of emails, starting when I sent a link to the blog to my sister Ruth aka "Rootie" and her husband Kofi in South Africa. Out of necessity, she has a mega-list of world-wide contacts, some of whom responded to her email.


-----Original Message-----
From: Ruth Kwakwa [.]
Sent: Thursday, June 01, 2006 7:20 AM
To: Francis
Subject: Re: Feedback on Kellie's article on 'Sharing food'

I forwarded your article to a bunch of my friends--a lovely mix of singles, married, divorced, african, caribbean male and female friends, because of a topic that came up about 2 months ago. The topic arose in a conversation between two friends living in Joburg. The cast of characters involved were:

  • a black South African 38-yr old girlfriend of mine who attended a prestigious grad school in the US...politically shrewd mind, stickler for process, senior manager and public figure, very single, and getting increasingly frustrated about the prospects as she wants to have children
  • a Ghanaian guy, PhD, senior exec, brilliant man, in the process of getting a divorce. He's been dating South African women for the past 2 years, ranging in age from 20-little to 40-plus
My girlfriend was having a heart to heart with the Ghanaian guy about why good men were so hard to find. He basically broke it down for her, and in addition to telling her to play down her corporate life and her success and her nice car (with all these things, how will a guy ever feel needed?), told her she would have to do nice little "wifely" things like dishing out a man's food for him.

Well girlfriend just laughed her head off, and in a lunch that she and I had together, she reported what he had said, and told me that the guy held me in high esteem, because (not exact quotes, but same idea) "for all the education that Ruth has, and despite the fact that she and Kofi are from different backgrounds, Ruthie treats Kofi the way a man should be treated.

She serves him, and knows when to downplay her non-Ghanaian-woman-ness and play the part of the Ghanaian wife." (Kofi will probably smile and say there's still some work to be done, but my Ghanaian friend was truly impressed).FYI, among Ghanaian men, Jamaican women have a reputation for being as tough as nails and no-nonsense. No compromises, no beating abound the bush. They are happy to meet and date a Jamaican woman, but many are mortified of the prospect of marrying her and carrying her home.

My girlfriend, looking to me to discredit what the guy had said, said "Ruthie? Is it true that I have to do all these things? No way. Unbelievable. Serve him? what, can't he choose and carry his own food? Lord have mercy! (She learned this expression from me, and it sounds so cute coming from a Sowetan!) Girl, I have too much on my plate, to be worrying about serving out food!"

So, I gave her my opinion, about why I serve Kofi, and remembered to point out that if my JA girlfriends saw me serving, they'd probably open their eyes in disbelief and voice their opinion loudly, and probably make a sarcastic comment to Kofi like "Cooyah! What a way yuh life good ee Kofi. Yuh wife love you plenty!". Flip side, is that in Ghana in certain situations, it would be an embarrassment to Kofi if I didn't serve and attend to his needs....[Cultural note...many grown Ghanaian men do not even enter their kitchens, which is a hard-core female space...many guys won't even fetch a glass of water, let alone open the fridge...there's always some female in the house to do that.

In Ghana, if a woman stops cooking for her husband, it is grounds to call in the relatives and start talking about divorce]. Hell, in Ghana, at a social function, if I were caught lounging in the living/entertainment room with the men, while the women all busied themselves in the kitchen, I would get tons of raised "why-are-you-hanging-out-with-the-guys-who-do-you-think-you-are" eyebrows from the women. And in Ghana, before and during any function, whether they are helping to cook or not, the women all stick together, first in the kitchen, and then on the periphery of male conversations. Yep. Women with Phds, MBAs or not, rich, poor or in between. The same applies.

So, ever since my conversation with my girlfriend, we've been referring to "how to get a man and keep him," with serving food being an the centre of our comments.
Right. So here's what I sent out in a massive email to friends, and their responses:

I wrote:
To the chicks who have share out/dish out/serve his food or not to

To the chicks who are looking for partners...have you thought about this (could be a relationship maker or breaker...)

To the chicks who had partners...would it have/did it make a difference whether you dished out and served or didn't?

To the guys...tell me the truth.

What do guys really want??

Having recently had a heated and passionate discussion with friends of mine about why able-bodied and highly competent men need to have their food shared/dished out by their wives and girlfriends, this article was a God send....Kellie the author (who I happen to know) is much more articulate than I am on the matter.

A little background...To my West and East African girlfriends, the tradition of "sharing/dishing out food, has been under threat in Jamaica in my generation. Hence the article and indignation from the author, who went to university in the US.

To my fellow nithe girlth (nice girls)...nuff said. You can fight it, but "sharing out" still brings joy to their faces. We do it 'cos they love it, we love them, and love them to love us.

Hugs and laughter from Ruth

Here are the written responses I got, and a little context:
> See? Life is all about horse trading! You give people what
> they want (or perceive as valuable) and they'll give you
> want you want (or perceive as valuable)! Cannot be simpler
> than 1+1! ( a divorcing man , late 30s).
> Hi sweetheart - are you a plate sharer? I am not, and I think my husband
> is most upset by this, as his sisters and sister in law are all plate
> sharers, their husbands sit and have their dinner shared after the wife
> has stood up for the better part of an hour preparing the meal, and then
> the hour after that cleaning the kitchen.
> My friends who plate share are definitely happier than I because their
> husbands are happier than mine. Maybe you just have to do it to have a
> happy life. ( 40-plus year old married Jamaican woman )
Loved this article to bits. How I laughed when I read it! I didn’t want to re-start a debate by confessing which category I fell into! (38-year old married, Ghanaian woman)
Thanks for this Rootie babes. Now I know I am sane afterall. I hate hate
hate dishing out food or plate sharing. Resentment fills my heart if I am
compelled to do it. Why can't everyone get their own I ask? I'll cook a
feast. A banquet even, but I will not share the plates. At least now I know
I am not alone! ( 40 year old highly degreed Ghanaian woman, going through divorce)

I had/have no problems with the plate-sharing. It is a personal thing which men adore and since half the time I'm not the one who prepared the food (that's a whole nother story/issue), I might as well share it out anyway. ( 40 year old divorced Jamaican woman)

The only circumstances under which I have ever been eager to "share out" my boyfriend's dinner is when I'm bent on securing the best bits for myself! (38 year old single Jamaican woman with a non Jamaican partner)
Thanks for funny email on plate sharing. Its an Indian gal thing and yup we girls do it! (married Indian South African lady)
I have to say it, I am a plate sharer/server as well but it takes a real man to appreciate that in a woman! (Highly degreed Southern African 30 plus year old woman)
My response to the Indian lady was :Amazing the reaction this 'plate sharing' idea gets....with the most resistance of course, coming from my highly educated girlfriends who are struggling to find partners....they all say "If I have to dish out his food, well hell, I'll just not get married!!!".....I warn them that I said the same thing, but then realised that it was a small price to pay for a warm and fuzzy household, and making the partner worthy of being the father of my kids, happy. Funny thing is, many of them would serve their girlfriends tea and crumpets without a thought.....its just the idea of serving a man that freaks them out...hmmmm. Been there, done that, aint worth waving the flag of feminism for. Serve the damn food and get on with it already!
So there you go, reactions, which are still coming in. Most of the guys have been quiet, because they know the deal....they love it!!!! Kofi just smiled broadly when I told him about the article (he still hasn't read it, but will probably get a real chuckle out of it).

For the sake of argument, let's put the shoe on the other foot....Women are strong enough to open a door, and no harm will come to them if they enter an elevator or room behind all the men. Women can carry their own bags, because they lift weights that are heavier at the gym. Whether a car knocks a woman or her husband down in the street is irrelevant--the injury will be the same, the hospital bills the same, and the bills will be covered with the same bank account. Women often earn enough to buy flowers for themselves. Women can always stretch the budget to buy nice things for themselves, if needs be.

However..... knowing that men will open a door for them, let them enter a room or elevator first, carry their bags, walk on the side of the pavement closest to traffic, buy flowers and simple gifts for them are all optional extras that make men appealing.

The bottom line? All human beings, men and women, love to be cared for and given special service by the people they love. The service has little to do with ability to DIY, and more to do with desire to do a little extra something to make the recipient feel loved and cared for, above anyone else around.

Here's one last sobering thought for all of us, that came from a Jamaican girlfriend living in Joburg, whose mother died here last year, after years of suffering. Her South African husband made all kinds of sacrifice for his mother-in-law, going as far as to move out of his marital bedroom so that the mom-in-law could stay there. He even cut her toenails for her. Go figure.

Plenty sacrifice there, to cut the toenails of your dying, bed-ridden mother in law. Plenty. Through all of this, what stood out above everything else for my girlfriend, was the extent to which her husband would go to make his mother in law feel special and cared for in her dying days, and by extension, to make his wife feel special and cared for. After her mother died, my friend was left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and the secure feeling that her husband was desperately in love with her, and would do anything for her.

As a result, when she's talking to single girlfriends who are on the man market, and who are about to settle down with a man, she always asks them..."Is he the kind of man who will change your (Depends) diaper when you get old and incontinent? Will he change your bedpan? Will he be there for you, at your side, when you are old and shrivelled, and make you feel as though you are the most important person in the room, and the Queen of his life?" My friend, having seen her husband treat her like a queen through the way in which he treated her mother, has no doubt that her husband loves her unconditionally. Do you think she has any issues about sharing out his food? I bet not.

Mercy, I'm exhausted now.

Take care everyone,


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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Letter from a Nigerian Visiting Ghana

This email from a Nigerian visiting Ghana caught my attention, as it captured some of the fresh perspective that I get whenever I travel to a new Caribbean island, our third world country, or Latin American country, or any new country (I guess!)

For those Nigerians given to boasting about the alleged "dividends of democracy" under the present disposition, I recommend a visit to the neighbouring West African nation of Ghana. Their impression, I confidently predict, is bound to be at once sobering, eye-opening and humbling. I should know.

I arrived in Accra, Ghana, on May 17 to attend the 32nd annual conference of the African Literature Association jointly hosted by the University of Ghana and New York University. It was my second visit to that country in four years. This time, as in 2002, I came away impressed by the nation's considerable strides both in infrastructure as well as human development.

Ghana's Kotoka International Airport offers the first glimpse of a nation grounded in civic ethos. Both the immigration and customs officials treated you with a courteousness and cheer that was refreshing and reassuring. Emerging outside, one saw a crowd of people awaiting passengers.

Yes, some of them pressed forward to offer you taxi cabs or help with pushing your luggage, but you didn't feel an overpowering sense of danger. The retinue of would-be helpers retreated when I told them I expected a friend to pick me up. When I couldn't find my welcome party, a total stranger generously offered his cell phone to enable me to ring up my friend.

A few years ago, my wife's handbag had been stolen at Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The bag contained my wife's and son's passports, my green card, all the money we were going to spend on our vacation as well as more than three thousand dollars some acquaintances had asked me to deliver to their relatives. Executed with stunning speed and disarming efficiency, the operation left us at the mercy of philanthropic friends and relatives. One of them even replaced the money I had agreed to carry for others. Once preyed upon, I learned to gird myself around airports. Arriving in Accra at night, I saw a calmer, less chaotic scene than I was used to in Lagos. Even so, I didn't permit my attention to wander.

It turned out that I hadn't seen my friend because he had been caught up in a meeting and had, instead, sent his driver. It's become my wont, whenever I visit an African nation, to inquire about the state of power supply. I put the question to the driver as we drove to my hotel. His report was delivered in a dour tone. Power outages, the driver said, occurred once or twice a week. In the five days I spent in Ghana, I attended events in two hotels as well as the University of Ghana in Legon. I also visited a private home. At no time and in no place did I witness any power outage.

Not once did I hear the drone of a power generator.

Nobody would credit Accra with having some of the best roads in the world. But this much must be granted the city: Its roads are in far better shape than what one sees in most Nigerian cities. Even more impressive is the relative cleanliness of Accra streets. There were patches of eyesore here and there, but the city left the impression that its residents cared about the look of their surroundings.

On the third night of the conference, several hundred participants gathered at PAWA House, the modest quarters housing the Pan African Writers Association. The occasion was the bestowal of this year's Nichols-Fonlon Prize on Nigeria's own Femi Osofisan, one of Africa's outstanding dramatists. It was a stirring celebration, highlighted by Osofisan's acceptance speech, a compendious commentary on the challenges facing Africa's tribe of creative artists and scholars, and also filled with poetry and palm wine, dancing and laughter and good cheer.

The event lasted till late at night. Afterwards, a Nigerian-born businessman drove Osofisan, Biodun Jeyifo, Abiola Irele and me to our respective hotels.

There was nothing of the sense of apprehension, even of terror, to which one is accustomed while traveling at night in, say, Lagos.

Ghanaian police stopped us twice. They demanded and looked over the driver's documents. To my pleasant surprise, they conducted themselves in an entirely professional manner. There was no attempt to shake down the driver and his all-male passengers. There was no ploy to invent a "crime" and hoist it on the driver.

No appeal, direct or covert, was made for the driver to "drop" something in exchange for our freedom to navigate the streets.

This sense of professionalism pervaded every aspect of Ghanaian life. Immigration officers did not bear a snarl on their faces, ready to welcome you, not with a smile but with barks. Customs officers did not threaten to confiscate your personal effects unless you forked over some cash. When a doorman held the door for you at a hotel, he did not make you feel you owed him money for doing his job. When you used a bathroom, the janitor did not ambush you, metaphorically hanging on your shoulder, bowing his head obsequiously and wishing you God's prosperity, all in an effort to ensure that you "settled" him. It was a relief to visit a country where a smile was not paid for, where a bathroom run carried no price tag, where the police did not use their uniforms and guns to fleece innocent citizens.

Relevant Links

West Africa Nigeria Ghana

Ghana chastened me. It brought home the reality that Nigeria, with all its bountiful resources, lags tragically behind. It forced me to ask the question whether oil wealth has not, after all, been a curse on Africa's most populous nation. By most accounts, Ghana is a poor country, perhaps even poorer than the net worth of one or two of Nigeria's ex-military rulers. Why then is this nation able to achieve so much with its humble resources while Nigeria, exponentially richer, continues (in the inimitable words of Chinua Achebe) to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Ghana has been led by a succession of educated as well as highly enlightened, even if imperfect, politicians. By contrast, many a Nigerian derides enlightened, morally astute seekers of elective office as not possessing "what it takes" to be elected. And what it takes, when you ask, happens to be a lot of cash stolen, in the first place, from the public treasury. Why do too many of us deify mediocrity, ascribing wisdom to men and women whose expertise is simply in thievery?

Ever ready to wallow in self-delusion, Nigerian officials routinely wax about producing another Nobel laureate in a few years or putting a Nigerian on the moon or rivaling China's economic strides. Dreaming is not only good, it is a concomitant of any real and substantial progress. But there's dreaming and then there's delusion. The two words begin with the same letter, but we must not confuse one d for the other. Until Nigerians realize that we must get the small things right; until it dawns on both the Nigerian leadership and citizenry that we must first strive to be like Ghana before we can hope to be like China; unless we humbly acknowledge that we are now in the bizarre position of looking up to Ghana, all this talk about adventuring into remote space and mass producing laureates and out-shining China is a whole load of (you fill the blank)!

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Finding Time to Blog

People often ask me, where do I find the time to blog?

My answer to myself is, "When will I ever get to the bottom of the list of things I really want to blog about?"

I keep a list of ideas that must be about 50 items long ... all waiting for me to "find the time."

So my confession is that I find that I don't have the time myself. But there is certain satisfaction that I get from knowing someone out there is reading, and when I get a nice comment that feels like getting a nice calorie-free dessert after a meal.

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Immigration Update

Ah call, ah call, ah call.

I tried over 3 separate days to reach the Ministry of Justice to get an update on my official citizenship filing. The phone was perpetually busy at all numbers, and the few times that I got a ring, it rang without an answer.

On the third day, however, someone answered, and then transferred me to the person in charge of citizenship that I had been trying to reach. At this point, it has been 7 months since I applied, after being told it would take 6 months.

The person I spoke with took my number and promised to call me back.

The following day she did. I was shocked, to put it mildly.

She advised me that it would take a further week to get things completed as they were running behind schedule, and that I would be called when it was completed.

In the meantime, I have been using my Jamaican passport, and wondering if anything will change when the papers finally do come through or if it is all just a formality.

We shall see.

Note to all Jamaicans born overseas: get this process done as soon as you can, as it apparently makes many things "much, much easier."

We shall see.

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