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, August 16, 2006

Trinidad and the CARICOM skills certificate

Over on my companion blog, I have begun to cover an issue that has gotten no mention in the blogosphere, and very little in the press.

Apparently, the CARICOM Skills Certificate is not all its cracked up to be, and the people who are finding this out are being told that that they cannot live and work in countries like Trinidad, even when they have a legal document.

See: Trinidad and the CARICOM Skills Certificate or visit

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Working up the Courage to Come Home?

Ever since I found out that my friend Jean Wilson could write like this, I have been in awe of her, and her power with words.

No More Smalling Up of Me

No more meekly saying 'yes'
when my heart is screaming 'no'
No more taming of my feelings
so my power won't show
No more hiding my exuberance from disapproving eyes
No more watering down myself
so my spirit won't rise.

No more 'smalling up' of me
pretending I'm not here
No more running from the music
and the spotlight's glare
No more living in this prison
barricaded by my fears
No more turning and retreating
in the face of new frontiers.

Even as I am speaking
I am taking shape and form
harnessing my powers like a gathering storm
There's no obstacle so bold
as to dare stand in my way
I am taking back my life
and I am doing it today.

Jean Wilson

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Black Web Awards

The following link takes you to a site that is accepting nominations for the Black Web Awards, and they explicity mention Caribbean web sites as those under consideration.

The Black Web Awards -- nominations close TOMORROW!

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Drum Pan Man

While Kingstonians abroad can only water at the mouth at the idea of the drum pan chicken sold on Red Hills Road, I have the luxury as a returnee of forsaking it for even better drum-pan chicken.

I do know that driving along Red Hills Road at night only to be assaulted by the heavy fog of BBQ smoke is irresisttable.

However, the drum pan man across the road from where I live has become my partner on Friday nights, so much so that I can work with him by phone, placing my order for him to deliver of just-in-time, mouth-watering delicious chicken.

And it is not just the chicken that is excellent,although his chicken tastes good all the way down to the bone. He deos a stuffed fish (with skellion, callalloo and okra) that is exquisite. He cooks it slowly in the BBQ wrapped with foil, and when it comes out it is juicy and succulent and full of flavour.

Top that off with some breadfruit or hard-dough bread and it is the perfect way to eat out Jamaican style.

If only he would be open more frequently than on Friday and Saturday nights.

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Let the Beatings Continue

I don't know where the quote comes from -- "Let The Beatings Continue Until Morale Improves" -- but it has always resonated with me.

It brings to my mind the image of an English sea-captain, on the HMS something or other, giving the order to his first mate to continue to use force until the bad attitudes of the grumbling sailors changed.

I thought of it this morning, for some reason, as I remembered a teacher of mine from Prep School, who I will call Mrs. N.

Anyone who was in my class will remember her, especially those who were struggling with the material and their classroom performance. Mrs. N was known for her beatings with the heavy ruler, inflicted on us 9-12 year olds.

Poor performance in English and Maths were dealt with severely, which meant a few good hits with the heavy ruler on the legs, back, arms or buttocks. The key to escaping them was to both behave, and get good grades -- a couple of elements of school life in which I did not have a problem, so I escaped the ruler.

But others didn't. One girl wet her pants in fear after (or before?) being beaten. Another guy, I remember, painfully hobbled about after being hit about the legs.

It got to the point where one girl I knew, who sat in front of me, began to feel guilty about owning a heavy ruler that Mrs. N liked -- one of those 18 inch, metal edged ruler that could do some real damage to someone whose addition was less than perfect.

One day, Mrs. N, in a rage to beat a student, asked her why she was hiding the ruler. Her explanation "Because I don't like to see you beat people," earned her a slap, before she returned to the business of beating the student.

To add to the frequent bouts of violence, there were also the insults. Mrs. N, when confronted with poor performance, would sometimes go over the top and shout "You damned jackass" (with a slightly American accent for effect.) "You are nothing better than the garbage on the street."

Where were the parents in all this?

As far as we could tell... largely supportive. It was an ongoing joke that parents would sometimes ask teachers to tell them when their children misbehaved so that they could double the dose when the child got home. Perhaps a part of the reason was that Mrs. N was preparing us for the all important Common Entrance -- the 11+ exams that all children in the island took in order to gain entrance to high school.

Failure to gain a coveted place could be disastrous, so the stakes were very high and everyone knew that Mrs. N produced results. If it took beating, then so be it. If more beating would help, then parents would be willing to help the child pass the exam by adding to the mix back at home. Mrs. N's class was the one that parents wanted their children to be in, and "us kids" feared being placed in it because of what we had heard from other kids.

To some reading, this may all sound ridiculous.

However, we were lucky, because we knew from the grapevine that there were much worse things happening in other schools. At one school, a teacher was arrested by the police for beating a child excessively. At most other schools, instead of a ruler they used a strap or a cane. In fact, I remember being beaten with a cane when I was 5 or 6 at my prior school.

Things did not change when I graduated and went on to Wolmers Boys School, either.

There, the ruler was not used -- instead, it was the cane and fan-belt.

While I escaped both instruments of punishment, I recall two public beatings, both at the hand of a vice principal.

One was administered to a friend of mine, who was hit with the cane across the back while we were assembling. This was an extremely quiet fellow, who just happened to be talking at the wrong time. Fortunately, he was wearing a heavy denim jacket and was spared something awful.

Another was administered during a prayer being read by the vice principal. He started, and then seemed to pause. We all stood reverently with eyes closed, supposing that he had lost his place.

The next thing we heard was the sound of 3 strokes.

As we opened our eyes in shock we saw him marching back to the podium from the back of the assembly muttering under his breath, from a student whom he had just beaten. For what I will never know.

He mumbled an apology, and continued on with the prayer.

I also remember an English teacher of mine recalling for us in vivid detail, and horror, a beating he had witnessed that day. Although the authority was not mentioned by name, we had no problem guessing who it was. A different vice principal was well known to be a bit mad, sometimes beating students by mistake who, according to legend, had only gone to ask him for a piece of chalk.

In the story recounted by the English teacher, who was clearly appalled, he shared how he saw the vice principal raise up on his toes as he mustered all his strength to deliver the whipping. "His face was bright red" was one line I remember.

Yet, once again, we were lucky. At other schools we heard about, things were much, much worse.

So, the question is -- does this have anything to do with the high crime rate that we have today, with the highest per capita murder rate in the world?

Multiple studies suggest that violence breeds more violence, and so does common sense.

On a much broader scale, I believe that the US is finding out this truth in Iraq.

On a miniature scale, I recently read about a study that showed a connection between corporal punishment, and later dating violence. The study states: "The results indicate as corporal punishment experiences increased, so does the probability of approving of partner violence and of actually assaulting or injuring a dating partner."

A child that is taught not to hit, but in turn receives corporal punishment receives a mixed message, and is more likely to follow the demonstrated example than the teaching.

The shame, guilt and anger that accompany the beating continue long after the pain disappears, and into the adult years. At that point, the adult turns the buried feelings into action themselves.

They beat their kids. "It was good for me, so it should be good for them."

They beat their wives and girlfriends. "They should behave themselves and know who is in charge."

They beat homosexuals. "All battyman fi dead."

They advocate whipping as suitable punishment for crime. "They mus' feel it also."

And then they throw scriptures behind the beatings to justify the violent behaviour.

Of course, this is not about "THEM," but it is really about "US." Here in the Caribbean, we are all on a continuum of those assisting in creating an environment of violent behaviour and there is something that each of us can do to reverse the situation that we now have on our hands.

The absolute worst thing we can do is to insist on our innocence, and refuse to take any responsibility for our behaviour. That will just allow our contribution to the problem to continue... unabated... and concealed from our eyes. Maybe this is where most of us are at the moment.

One of the better things that we can do must start with looking at the issue for ourselves to see our own part more clearly.

I am grateful that there are some government initiatives that have been implemented since I was a child. Beating is now outlawed in schools (although I suspect it still continues.)

Parents are being encouraged not to hit their children. I recently saw a programme focused on that effort and I think we can all contribute to finding improved methods of parenting.

I do not have children, but it struck me a few years ago that in the same way I do not tolerate smoking in my home, I could refuse to tolerate beating. Thankfully, I have never had a show-down with any friends who have tried to beat their kids on my premises, although I have imagined what might happen many times.

If I had children, I would teach them that physical violence is unacceptable behaviour, outside of say, the boxing ring, where it involves willing participants.

Much harder, for me, however would be refusing to participate in jokes about beating, which happen to make up a good chunk of stand-up humour. Black Americans, in particular, like to joke about what their parents did, or would do to them -- in particular "My Momma."

These jokes are funny, because they are so familiar, but as Simon Wiesenthal said "Humour is the weapon of unarmed people: it helps people who are oppressed to smile at the situation that pains them.”

But boycotting Eddie Murphy, Richard Prior and Chris Rock seems to be the wrong action to take.

The humour is real, and maybe there is a way we can use them. As jokes are passed back and forth between us on this Independence Day, we could reflect on those painful memories that are brought up when they relate to beatings we either witnessed or received. Perhaps we could be silently reminded of our commitment to end violence, starting in our own homes, and what we are willing to tolerate around us.

Ultimately, we must each find our own way to end our contribution to the mad idea that beatings and morale are positively related. Small steps are all that are needed.

PS. There was a study done that showed that Jamaica is second in the world in the number of beatings. In a survey done of 11-12 year olds, 97% percent reported being beaten with an "implement" at home, and 86% at school. Among 2-5 year olds in economically deprived households, some 79% of children had been beaten with an implement.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Easy Like Sunday Morning

I used to love that Lionel Richie song... "Easy."

Until I moved to the US, that is, and got into a top 10 university in upstate New York, in engineering.

Then Sunday became a time to study or work. In fact, I spent all of my time either studying or working (I had a variety of jobs.)

When I graduated, Sundays become a time to do errands, odd jobs, catch up on bills, go to the movies, do shopping, tour the malls, etc. American is so convenient! Everything is always open late, and open 7 days a week also. Plus, the society is one in which people like to work, as evidenced by many studies that show that Americans take less vacation than any other industrialised country (and I would say, any country at all.)

So, Sundays become for me a time to get a LOT of stuff done. How convenient.

Here in Jamaica it is Sunday, and it is quiet, although there is more activity than usual because tomorrow is Independence Day.

Sundays in Jamaica actually take some getting used to for returnees from North America, because nothing is open, no-one is working, the offices are closed... and it is expected that one will NOT work on this, the day of rest.

Sure, it's a pain when you want to go out and buy that shirt that you would like to wear to that function on Sunday night, that you forgot you needed.

But with the lack of convenience comes a much slower pace, and a very different expectation.

I remember when I started travelling to Jamaica in 1997 or so. I had to train myself to decompress on the flight down, knowing that I couldn't rush into life the way I was used to doing in the US.

Now, Sunday is a time for exercise, sleep, reading the Observer, Gleaner and Herald, eating with family, blogging, and recharging the batteries.

I am teaching myself to take it easy.

Like Sunday morning, I guess.

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Old Man

While I was at the Blogger's LinkUp a few weeks ago I was told in no uncertain terms that I looked nothing like my picture.

Someone said that I looked like a "Big Man." Someone else said that I looked much younger in person.

So, I decided I had to fix all that by changing my picture to one taken more recently. Perhaps it might also reflect the overhaul I did with my hair, beard and glasses, starting with a nervous decision I made before Trini Carnival this year to "break away" and go bald.

So here is the new pic at right, a year after the prior picture was taken.

Of course, this has some connection to Moving Back to Jamaica. It must...

Oh yes, here it is -- coming back home after being abroad is an opportunity to refashion oneself to some degree. While I don't recommend flying out to buy the latest fashions in an attempt to impress the relatives and friends back home, I think that below the superficial clothes there is something deeper that is possible.

Simply put, a returnee need not be constrained by who they used to be when they left, and has tremendous freedom to define who they are in the eyes of others. This freedom is limited by what the returnee is willing to say and stand behind, of course. Without integrity and authenticity, this will fail.

The question is, how does a returnee think about what these new elements should be? The trap to avoid here is to engineer some kind of logic-based PR campaign that is likely to fail.

Instead, the focus should be on where one's life energy is flowing, and perhaps the new "refashionment" should be in the direction of one's dreams, and slightly outside of one's comfort zone.

For example, writing a blog for me felt like a strange, uncomfortable adventure of sorts, but right in line with my commitment to help others who are transitioning to live in Jamaica (or the Caribbean.) It was bit of a stretch but not enough to burst the rubber-band of my credibility with myself.

So was cutting off my hair earlier this year. It was definitely a stretch for me, as I contemplated the failed attempts that friends have made to go bald and look cool, only to end up looking like Chimps. But, it was not as crazy as getting a wild tattoo.

So, hopefully I look more like the new picture, less like an Old Man, and closer to capturing the "me" that this returnee has decided to become.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Soon-to-be former US Citizen to be Deported


A naturalized US citizen may be deported to Haiti if he has his citizenship stripped, after being convicted of drug-trafficking.

The story can be found here at

Why this is not in the headlines puzzles me.

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A Year of Blogging

On August 5th I celebrate one year of Moving Back to Jamaica.

But before I get to that, I realized that I missed another important anniversary -- I have now spent a year and a month blogging.

13 months and 120 something blogs later, and what have I learned? Well, clearly I love this creative medium which is pretty much the only creative/artistic endeavour I have stuck with since recorder lessons in prep school with Miss Simpson.

Blogging for me has become a craft -- something I am keen to master. I recently downloaded a program called TextAloud Speak, which reads text from the page. I use it for every blog that I write, plus other things like letters and reports. It is the kind of thing one does when the commitment is to be more than just a dabbler.

In the year of blogging my writing style has changed, becoming more relaxed and nuanced, and less impatient. I owe that to the discipline of completing an entry approximately every other day, for this blog and its companion, Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle.

Now, I think about writing all the time, and when something remarkable in my life happens, the first thought I have is "I have GOT to blog about this!" The juicy stuff gets put in this blog. The business stuff gets put in the other.

And it seems like the more I write, the more I am able to write. Whatever the source is, it keeps giving the more I express myself, to the point where I can now feel a book in my future.

So... I celebrate one year of wild and free expression, an outlet to send thoughts into the world where anyone can find them, and a handful actually read them (which is still a miracle to me!)

Thanks for reading, commenting, and passing on the link to others. Although I cannot ever meet everyone, please know and understand that your presence is what keeps me writing, and The Source giving.

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The State of Triathlon in Jamaica

Inevitably, moving back to Jamaca involves giving up or foregoing some convenience or easy access that life in a First World country affords.

For my wife, it is the convenience of Target, Starbucks, Publix and independent or foreign films.

For me, it is the number and variety of triathlon races I have available to me.

Unfortunately, Jamaica has only a single race per year on its shores... the only other one having disappeared.

The single race, Jakes Jamaican Off-Road Triathlon, attracts about 40 participants, many of whom compete in relays. The race takes place in May in Treasure Beach, a few weeks before the Calabash Literary Festival.

During that weekend, triathletes, JamDammers and other athletic types descend on the small town of Treasure Beach in small but influential numbers. Bikes appear everywhere, the water is filled with swimmers and runners are seen running up and down, warming up for the event and also gauging the competition.

The race is a sprint, meaning that it is shorter than Olympic distance. It involves a 500m ocean swim, a 25k mountain bike ride and a 7k run through some pastures. It is quite hot at that time of the year so hydration is a big issue, to say nothing of the deeply rutted "technical" bike-path... also a big issue.

But it is a lot of fun, as the photo above appears to show, as I exited the water (hoping that I would not do something stupid like trip and fall, or leave my trunks behind.)

And this race is all there is in Jamaica.

Around the region, there are other races to enter in places such as Tobago, Cayman and the Bahamas. The challenge is that they ALL involve getting on airplanes. This means paying plenty, plenty money for a very short visit.

It also means going through the hassle of dismantling the bike and placing it in a box, where hopefully it will be safe until it arrives, if it arrives. A friend of mine recently had his down-tube cracked by American Airlines. They are being remarkably uncooperative as he tries to get something... anything back as reimbursement.

So, there are drawbacks...

I miss being able to jump in my car and go to race just about every month if I wanted. Although South Florida was inaccesible to other states without a long drive, there were still many races to choose from.

I really, really miss that. Especially as through the running with JamDammers, and regular rides at 4:00am on Tuesdays and Thursday, I am fitter than I have ever been in my life. Faster too.

Having said that, it looks as if I will be going to do a race in the Bahamas. It is not what I would call "easy access" but I guess that I am willing to pay the price, reluctantly.

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