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.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Moving Away from A Lack of Common Sense

I can't speak for those Jamaicans who move back from Canada, England or other place, but there is a certain common-sense that , moving to Jamaica has brought me that did not exist in the U.S.

Living in America has a certain simplicity to it, and newcomers quickly learn that there is a standard explanation that is given for any and everything -- "it's all about money." This logic is pretty much unquestioned, and it leads to some strange behaviours (if it is true.)

Seen from the outside, it actually looks depressing. When I read articles like this one entitled "States Making it Easier for Doctors to say 'I'm Sorry" When Things Go Wrong" from here in Jamaica, I wonder how I used to live so easily in a society with an unquestioned commitment to make a lot of money, as quickly as possible.

A Move Back to Jamaica brings with it a certain kind of common-sense, a return to a life that is more simple and more immediate. Case in point: the advice that your mother gave you to "Say Sorry" makes sense again.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

A New Blog on Time

My regular posting has fallen off recently, but it is not due to lack of effort or output on my part.

For the past several months, I have been labouring to create a Time Management System that fits in with out Caribbean realities.

The result is that I have a blog devoted to the "theory" behind the course that is being developed, which can be found at my new blog:

I am in the process of developing the course that will deliver the programme and having all sorts of fun turning the ides into something useful.

I often get asked how I get the time and energy to do all that I do, and a part of the answer is built into this time management system.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Budgeting and Moving Back

A successful Move Back to Jamaica requires a certain level of bi-lingual ability.

The most obvious requirement is the ability to speak both patois and English.

Not so obvious is the need to be able to speak the financial language of both Jamaica and the country of origin.

One of the most jarring changes that all returnees make is to have to think in both J$ as well as US$/ Ca$ or £. This means being able to remember to multiply or divide, and also to be able to do so with strange numbers such as 67 or 127. This can be quite taxing, especially as Jamaicans have a way of mixing J and US currencies in everyday speech, assuming that the listener can easily follow.

Moving Back to Jamaica does not, as as some assume, mean throwing all common-sense to the wind and burning the ships that brought you, severing all ties between oneself and the country that one is leaving.

On the contrary, I found it much easier to move back with a DSL connection, Vonage, cable, MailPac and relatively cheap air fares. Someone Moving Back would do well to keep as many links as possible to the outside, and technology is making this easier to do than every before.

As the world flattens, according the Thomas Friedman, it is easier to do almost anything from anywhere.

Nevertheless, good old fashioned budgeting is critical in a successful Move Back to Jamaica.

Not only does keeping a budget help with the transition from one currency to another, someone moving home needs to track expenditures so that their habits can once again be aligned with their commitments.

For example, when living in New York, a visit to the beach each week is an expensive exercise that costs only gas money in Jamaica. A trip to go clothes shopping, on the other hand, in New York can easily cost half as much as it costs in Kingston, when searching for clothes of comparable quality.

Doing your own cleaning in Miami is a must. Doing it here in Jamaica is a rarity.

In the two years we have been back, the Jamaican dollar has depreciated from 62:1 to 68:1, further complicating matters. Also, we have seen a rise in food prices above inflation when, as far as we can tell, our eating habits have remained the same.

For someone returning to Jamaica, new buying habits have to be learned, as the consequences for one's habits become apparent.

A budget is the best reality check of all, and we use a very simple spreadsheet to tally up expenditures each month to compare them against our plan.

So far, we have developed a remarkable ability to surpass each budget that we have created... but at least we know that we're ebad!

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Waiting to Lead Our Country

I had a further thought about Portia Simpson-Miller's leadership that did not come through in my prior post on the topic.

Here it is, some twenty-thirty years that Portia has been a politician.

She ran for the leadership of the PNP back in 1991, and lost to PJ Patterson, who was immediately named Prime Minister to replace Michael Manley.

From 1991 until 2006 she was waiting in the wings, and after a bitter fight, she won the leadership over an MD and 2 PhD's -- having "only" a Bachelor's degree (according to some in her own party.)

So, she has been waiting years for this opportunity to lead. Preparing. Studying. Strategizing. Visioning.

She finally gets the position and, with a level of personal popularity not seen in our politics in thirty years, she is the choice of her party, the people of Jamaica, and even the Opposition, I daresay.

And in the past year she has done... what, now?

This is perplexing. In the 13 months she has been Prime Minister I can't say what she stands for, or intends to do, or is willing to take risks to accomplish.

I might just be repeating myself, but it is all perplexing, given the number of problems that we face.

P.S. France recently elected a new President and it is quite clear from the little I have read what his agenda is, what he is going to do, and the laws he intends to change -- "more work for more pay." We Jamaicans deserve our leadership to be that focused and clear about what they intend to do.

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Following the Irish

This ad made me really think...

Ireland recently resuscitated their economy after making several structural changes that I haven't yet researched.

It has enabled them to place the following advertisement in the most recent Harvard Business Review, which made me wonder when we in Jamaica will be able to make the same claim.

I can imagine my country placing one just like this in the future, boasting about the progress we are making and asking other firms to come and share in it.

Unfortunately, our business environment remains one of the most difficult to operate in, and there are much better alternatives that exist, in the eyes of many investors.
So far, I can't detect that this particular government understands the issue, as they don't tend to speak in tones that appeal to me, a small business owner.

Interestingly, today the opposition JLP came out with a message that their main emphasis will be job creation, which I think is the only way for us to climb out of the economic hole we are in.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Something New to do with Remittances

Remittances are the lifeblood of the Jamaican economy.

Some US$15 billion has been transferred to Jamaica in the past decade from overseas Jamaicans, keeping afloat an economy that would otherwise be in serious trouble.

Unfortunately, the Jamaican sending cash home is in no position to help determine how their valuable and hard-earned cash is being spent.

Does it go to help Mama pay for her new house? Or is Junior spending it on some bling for his girlfriend to wear to the next Bashment / party?

The Jamaican working 2 jobs in Brooklyn and fighting with the cold, racism and subways has no way to know what is really happening, and whether or not they are really making a difference.

A savvy relative of mine recently turned me on to a link that seems to offer a possible, future alternative. is a website that has been set up to link potential donors with micro-entrepreneurs in the third world that can benefit from receiving small loans.

This seems to be a great idea, and I wonder what it would be like if we were to help Jamaicans abroad to invest in Jamaica, by making micro-loans. The process is a simple one as described at left.

I wonder what kind of difference even US$1billion might have made in the past decade, and how it could be a way to benefit Jamaicans both here and abroad.

Unfortunately, at the moment we are still not a part of the programme -- there is no Jamaican company listed as a partner on the site.

Hopefully that will change soon.

If anyone knows of a local micro-finance organization that could become a Kiva partner, please let me know.

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Displeased with Portia

It's a year later, and I am sorry to say that I have lost a great deal of faith in Portia Simpson-Miller, our first female Prime Minister.

Last year, I was quite optimistic: Click here to see my past posts on Portia.

However, a year later, I am yet to see evidence of her leadership.

Unfortunately, she was in the news again this week with some more semi-spiritual talk, that just didn't seem to be the kind of things that make sense to me for a Prime Minister to say. Apparently, a Rev. Phinn has prophesied that she will win the elections this year. She said at the same church service that some major things were going to happen this year, in much the same vein that the prophet said his words.

And therein lie the highlights of her year in office -- some quasi-religious talk about putting pastors on church boards, being God's chosen vessel and warning those that might not heed her leadership as one of God's elected.

I honestly cannot remember another single thing that she has said or done, that are outside of the normal course of events for a Prime Minister. In other words, she has had twelve months in which to occupy the office, but has done nothing with it other than keep the seat warm.

I can only imagine what Michael or Normal Manley, Bustamante or Seaga would have done with that opportunity.

Instead, she seems to have followed the PJ Patterson model of doing and saying as little as possible... until election times, all the time relying on the Opposition to get itself into trouble. This safe road would be fine if all were well in our country.

But it's not all well at all, and nothing short of a leader who is willing to stand and make a difference is going to turn the ship around.

It's not that I doubt her sincerity, nor do I think that she is corrupt. And maybe she is the perfect follow-on to the scandals of the Patterson years.

Even the recent Trafigura scandal has not been traced back to a fault on her part (other than that of not acting quickly enough.)

But is it enough to warrant leadership of the country for another five years? I find it hard to justify -- if the past year is any indication.

I imagine the PNP is thinking that she does not have to be a great leader -- all she has to do is to be better than Bruce Golding, the leader of the JLP.

And they might have a point, as he seems to be cut from the same indecisive bolt of cloth.

Portia -- do something -- ANYTHING -- even the wrong thing, to convince us that you have a plan that you are indeed willing to follow, and not just a religious conviction that God has put you there for a reason.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Comments on the Imus Issue

Moving Back to Jamaica means bringing back some of what we have learned about racism from other countries.

It also means gaining some insight into how some people can use victimhood as a professional tool to advance themselves.

This article is a great encapsulation on a very different take on the Imus episode.

I think there are some lessons in this article for us in Jamaica, as our dancehall artistes seem to be thriving on a combination of lyrics devoted to misogyny, gun violence and homophobia, according to this brilliant article from the Jamaica Observer.

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Moving Back to the Third World

After visiting South Africa last December (and especially after touring the Alexandria and Soweto Townships,) I am facing the fact that my Move back to Jamaica has a lot to do with moving from First World to Third.

In Johannesburg, it is possible to move from First to Third and back again at will, simply by driving a few miles down a highway, or by crossing a highway. The transformation is complete, entire and total -- almost like entering an airplane in one country and exiting via the ramp in another.

Everything was instantly different -- the buildings, the signage, the colour of the people, the poverty, the way the cars drove, the smells, the dust. I likened it to flying from Washington DC to Accra on a direct flight.

Moving Back to Jamaica is not very different.

Essentially a Move Back to Jamaica is not only an economic move from First World to Third, but a cultural move from the U.S./Canada/England (mostly Anglo-European countries) to an African-Anglo country.

As an economic move, Moving Back to Jamaica is like moving to live in any developing
country in the world. I have visited a few, and there are just ways in which life is conducted in the developing world (which happens to comprise the vast majority) that are quite common, and widespread.

From my unscientific and limited experience, I can expect the following when I visit a Third World country:
- people living in shacks, barely subsisting
- high crime
- income disparity
- bad roads and crazy driving
- corruption in the police force
- a lot of cheap goods being sold on the streets (most from the Far East)
- power cuts
- government bureaucracy and obstacles to doing business
- illiteracy
- rampant incompetence

Basically, anyone Moving Back to Jamaica from a First World Country must deal with all of the above elements. Although they might have existed in Miami, Toronto or London, here they will undoubtedly find them heightened here.

But this is no different from Moving Back to Lagos, Mumbai, Caracas or St. George.

Each country has its nuances, but the move from First World to Third is bound to be accompanied by a culture shock that comes with a radical adjustment.

Here, we like to say "only in Jamaica," when encountering some aspect of life that doesn't work as it should. However, the truth is that most of what we think is hard about life in Jamaica, is harder someplace else...

- Crime >> South Africa's murders, Colombia's internal strife. (And we still don't have the kidnappings that Trinidad has experienced)
- Poverty >> Haiti (we should be thanking our blessings)
- Corruption >> Nigeria (we are ranked at #61 out of #163 in our corruption index)
- Income Disparity >> Brazil (we are ranked with a score of 37 on a scale of countries with Gini coefficients ranging from 29 to 100)
- Literacy ->> Pakistan (our literacy rate puts us at #99 of 173)

The point is that we are quite an average Third World Country as these combined measures go (except for our exceptional murder rate.)

And we are definitely not a First World country.

Moving Back to Jamaica means accepting wholeheartedly that a move from First to Third World is difficult for anyone who expects the new country to be like the first. I have met people who have moved here to Jamaica and struggled to fit in, not because Jamaica is particularly difficult, but just because they are unwilling to accept the difference.

They dearly miss the shopping (Target! Marks and Spencer!), the roads (I-95!) and the security of living in a developed country, among other things.

The part that many seem to miss is the fact that when they leave the First World, to live in the Third, they are actually leaving the elite of humanity to join in the majority, and that the life lived in New York, Mississauga and Manchester is not typical of most people in the world live.

In fact, according to the website Causes of Poverty:
  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
  • 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods.
  • A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World.
The hard thing to face, for those of us who left Jamaica to live in the First World, is that we often become accustomed to the privilege of living in an the elite country, completely forgetting that we are enjoying a rare and unique privilege. Instead, we follow the crowd and take the wealth that is around us for granted, and come to expect it as some kind of norm.

The indignant cries that "you just can't buy good quality clothes anywhere on the island" from those who move to live in Jamaica, therefore sound to me like a complaint based in an ignorance of how most people in the world live, rather than in an inconvenience.

A move to live in Jamaica is bound to be a hardship unless the reality of world poverty is embraced, and the fact of First World privilege is acknowledged.

I'd recommend that, long before the Move Back to Jamaica occurs, a returnee should:
  • become acquainted with the statistics on world poverty
  • travel to other Third World countries
  • start to acquaint themselves with the depths of poverty in Jamaica
When I hear of people who have failed in their Move Back to Jamaica, to return to the their country, I often wonder... what did they expect?

A successful move relies on having the right kind of expectation, and being able to deal with the reality of life in this particular, not but so peculiar, poor country.

P.S. More on moving back to an African-Anglo country in another post.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Andrea Levy's Books

I just completed my third Andrea Levy book and recommend them all highly for anyone who is thinking of Moving Back to Jamaica.

If I had the gift of beautiful prose I would write a book review, but ... seeing as I do not, here is a great book review of the last one I read.

She writes with an insight into Jamaica and the experience of migrating that is unique, and although she writes about the British experience, there is a great deal to learn from any Jamaican who has left home to live in another country.

Incidentally, this month's Jamaica Journal also has a short story she wrote.

I also recently read a book called Ugly by Constance Briscoe, who is now a judge.

From reading these books on the English experience, I started to detect a certain "dead-end" kind of experience that Jamaican immigrants experience in England that I do not recognize in the U.S. Maybe because the U.S. is "a land of immigrants and opportunity," the doors to something better always seem to be open.

From these books I have read (which together comprise a short list, unfortunately) it seems that the British experience has more to do with accommodating oneself to something foreign, that is "not about to change for the likes of you."

The racism that exists in Britain also seems to take a different form than that of the U.S. It appears more personal, and less open to change, and overtly intended to exclude.

In today's American society, the worst thing that you can call someone is a racist.

I don't sense that Britain is anywhere near that kind of sensitivity.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has direct some experience, either to support or refute my little evidence.

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Using Force in Jamaica

Recently, my Move Back to Jamaica has caused me to think more and more about the difference between Force and Power, and the degree to which the energy of Power has lost ground to the energy of Force here in Jamaica.

Power might be said to be the ability to exert action over another, when it is exercised with the willing consent of those who are affected.

Force, on the other hand, is energy that is used when it is external to, and has no regard for, those over whom it is exercised.

(Here is another useful definition.)

To illustrate, at the heart of democracy is the idea that the privilege to exercise power is given and taken away by the ballot box. Those who grant this permission do so freely.

Conversely, most other forms of repressive government rely on the rule of force, rather than the rule of law. Threats of physical violence are used to instill fear in those who are under the control of those who use force.

Modern day Jamaica is all about the rule of Force.

I performed an observational experiment a couple of days ago. I decided to simply observe the use of force or power.

As I drove around, I observed Jamaicans using a great deal of force to do simple activities like drive down roads, speak to each other and generally go about their business.

The volume of our energy is astounding, as evidenced by what others call aggressive driving and even more aggressive voices shouted back and forth.

The most interesting moment came in a traffic jam in Manor Park Mall. Traffic was heavy, as it was the day before Good Friday, a holiday.

I got caught in a traffic jam along a side street (the one running alongside Lee’s Fifth Avenue) due to a stubborn woman who refused to back up to allow the traffic coming in the opposite direction to pass.

She actually took out a book and started reading it – blocking traffic in the opposite direction. When the security guards tried to convince her to back her car up by a few yards for a few minutes, she plainly refused, while her passenger remonstrated with the guards, arguing for all to see that they should not be the ones to yield.

I eventually was able to back up and take a different route altogether, but others were not so lucky and were stuck with cars in front and behind, unable to move.

Some may say she was rude. Others may say she was operating her vehicle in an unsafe manner.

I think that she was exercising force.

This kind of force is all about trying to dominate others against their will. It takes on several forms, but perhaps the most common is the use of aggression.

Jamaica aggression takes many forms, from the use of naked force posing as physical threats to active verbal abuse sprinkled liberally with curse words. Murder, of course, is just another form of aggression. So is a pastor that belts out his sermons from 7:00am until 2:30pm over loudspeakers designed to disrupt the neighborhood’s silence. So is a parent that beats a child, an adult that strikes an elderly parent or a teacher that strikes a student.

So is a husband that uses fear to keep his wife “obedient,” or a religious convert who condemns others to death, hell or eternal punishment for not following her beliefs.

These are some of the overt ways in which force is used to dominate others.

Other forms of aggression are more subtle, but no less insidious.

These include what I observe as Class and Education aggression. These are more “acceptable” because they do not rely on the need for either physical threats or verbal abuse, but they are deadly nonetheless.

“Class Aggression” is to use the force of accent, dress or skin colour to get one’s way. It works when another Jamaican submits because they think or act as if they are inferior, if only for a moment. It is a tricky one to define for middle and upper class Jamaicans, because the actions taken are naturally taken as normal.

An example: someone affects an upper class accent to get something done by pretending to be important, or by affecting an annoyed tone that connotes an implied threat – “you are in danger of my going above your head and using my relationship with someone powerful to get you in trouble.”

“Education Aggression” relies on the inability of someone being dealt with to think fast enough to be outsmarted. In short, the aggressor uses their superior intellect to run rings around another, thereby confusing, shaming or manipulating them into acting against their own best interests.

An example: someone has an idea, but instead of championing it themselves, they tell someone else that it was their idea, when it was not. The other person is not smart enough to know or to remember anything different.

If there is any flaw in this distinction, it might be in the accusation that it is naïve to think that power based on consent is sufficient to live a daily life in Jamaica, and stay alive. The use of force is accepted as normal, and in fact is seen as the only choice available to those who are trying to get things done.

I know this because I can see myself falling into this same trap – in fact, these two forms of Force are only really because I see myself learning to use them.

The fact is, they work. The downside is that they are shortsighted, as they destroy the humanity and divinity of others.

I have found that I am slowly developing a capacity to see myself use force, and I am trying to find ways to exercise power instead. My goal is to learn to use more power and less force, and hopefully to get to the point where I am not using force at all.

At the moment, I have developed two watchwords: “patience” and “being firm.”

Moving Back to Jamaica has therefore meant unconsciously, and unfortunately, taking a full step backwards. I am using more force than ever before.

Hopefully, now that I am awakening to the difference between force and power, I can tip the scales back to the quiet kind of power that I really want my life to be about.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jamaican Beauty

In my Move Back to Jamaica, I am sometimes struck by a glimpse of a world that I don't completely comprehend.

First these pictures, and the expressions on the young ladies' faces.

Then the full pictures, now showing their outfits.

And finally, the picture in its original context -- a contest for "Hottie Hottie of the Week" in the Star newspaper.

I don't know that I have a point here, other than that as someone Moving Back to Jamaica I am often struck to silence by thing that I see that I cannot put words to, as the thoughts that occur to me come s quickly that they all get jumbled up, without forming themselves into sensible sentences.

Today, I saw a mad-man talking and shouting to himself and no-one around him, and playing with a piece of string. He threw it into the street in front of my car.

Lots of times, all I can do is stare, and seeing this picture in the Star, and seeing the mad-man were just a couple that happened today.

I guess this is what happens when you transfer 21 years of North American living to a daily life in Kingston.

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Crushing the Essence of the Caribbean

This is an article written by a Trini volunteer to the ICC Cricket World Cup (click here to access.)

I think that many of West Indians, including myself, could relate to some aspect of what he has written.

Also, Barbados Free Press, the very best news blog in the region, has some posts describing latest comments on the de-Caribbeanisation of Caribbean cricket, and also on the planned filling of Barbados's Kensington Park with schoolchildren (on a school day.)

In the Trinidad Express, Ricky Singh says that we in the West Indies are paying much more for tickets than South Africans did in their 2003 Cricket World Cup:

For instance, South Africa had determined that admission prices to the games for CWC 2003 be based on its "social and economic realities''. Consequently, it was possible for South Africans, who had been guaranteed approximately 40 per cent of tickets for sale, to purchase for multiple matches at various venues from US$13 for two games; US90-US$100 for five games and US$65-US$135 for six games.

What a contrast to our experience with ticket s for a single match costing US$25 and as much as US$100, depending where you choose to sit! For the finals tickets are being sold for as much as US$300.

Well, (to find a silver lining) it seems that the ICC Cricket World Cup has indeed brought us together, as our people across the region are all cussing to the same tune... that might be a first!

Lastly, here is an excerpt from an interview with the Australian Vice Captain, Gilchrist, and the understatement of the year by the head of the ICC:

"It's funny, it seems like a lot of people are interested in the World Cup. Talking to the locals, everyone is very aware of it and very excited for it to be here, but that is not translating into big numbers at the grounds, which is, I think, a bit disappointing," Gilchrist said.

"You come here, as the spectators do, to taste the Caribbean and the unique atmosphere that is Caribbean cricket. There certainly is an element of a sterile feel about it. I don't know whether that's because the administration hasn't let it flow, or people just aren't turning up. I'm not sure. Hopefully, as it gets towards the serious end of the tournament, we will see more big crowds and atmosphere."

Tickets to super-eight games range from about $24.50 to $123, and at the higher end are roughly equivalent to the average weekly wage in Antigua.

ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed conceded prices were "in retrospect, a little too rich for the local palate". He said the governing body relied on advice from local organising committees to establish them.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

An Attack in a Soca Party

Given how soon this comes after the lynch mob in Half-Way Tree threatened to beat up two alleged gay men, I am a bit dumbstruck.

So, no comment...

Other than to say that the story made the headlines in the Observer and the Star, perhaps saying something about our appetite for this kind of story.

Anti-gay attack
Men chased, beaten after MoBay carnival stage display

Click here to read the article

P.S. This was followed by an attack on a church funeral of an allegedly gay man. See the story here. And another account here.

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The Cricket World Cup "Authorities"

I just read an interesting article that is summarizing the local feeling about the Cricket World Cup, and how the ICC "authorities" are still are not getting it.

There is time, however, to turn the tide (IMHO.)

Click here to read the article

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