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, August 31, 2007

Facebook Caribbean bloggers group

There is a recenty formed group for Caribbean bloggers on Facebook, for those that write blogs.

It's called Caribbean Bloggers Massive, and it's started by the author of caribbeanbprblog -- Karel McIntosh.f you are reading this, and haevn't yet joined Facebook, you are missing something that I wish I could properly describe.

All I can say is that it is VERY useful, and that this kind of social networking is VERY different from anything I have encountered before.

Read more!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Non-Jamaican Newspapers in Kingston

As I was brucking my pocket this afternoon at Suzie's Bakery, i stumbled upon something interesting -- Paper Boy Jamaica.

This is a service that brings foreign newspapers to Jamaica.

The prices are high, but the number of papers is outstanding, making me think that they are importing digital files rather than the physical papers themselves.

Is this better than just reading the paper on the internet?  I think so.

The truth is that an actual paper gives much more information than an online version, which only keeps the major stories and columns.

And for someone who has just returned, the link could keep them in the loop of the things they are missing from their country or city of departure.  I know after I came back, I still visited the Florida Sun Sentinel just to catch up...

Read more!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An Interesting Chat on the Runaway Bay Forum

I was sent the following link by a friend who came across it on TripAdvisor, speaking to whether or not it makes sense to move back to Jamaica.

The thread is called "Wishing, Wanting, Dreaming of Moving to Ja.... Why?"

It picked up on the post I did on Reasons Why Moving Back to Jamaica is Easy.

Interestingly, I wrote that post after writing The Top 7 Reasons that Make Jamaica a Tough Country to Move to and got an email from a reader in semi-protest.

But this is to be expected here in Jamaica -- vehement (sometimes violent) opinions in opposite directions. We are in election mode after all, which is the Mother of all differences!


Read more!

Go West


A friend of mine who shopped only once at Go West on Constant Spring Road, just got a call on her birthday. They thanked her for being a customer and reminded her that she was entitled to a 30%discount on the next trip, which is a regular offer they make all customers on their birthdays.

Now, this is impressive.

She also told me that they send her regular text messages with sales advisories.

The cost to them? Almost nothing.

The benefit? Well, here I am wishing that other stores in Jamaica would begin to be this savvy.

And, here I am telling anyone who will listen that here is a store that is getting something right, and creating an experience that is special. I can't remember any store in the U.S. making a live birthday call, and doing it this well.

Too often we in Jamaica are afflicted by an abiding "don't care attitude" that characterizes what I called "Res a Dem" Service (detailed in a few entries in my Chronicles blog.)

Go West is clearly making an effort, and I want to find other stores that are also trying this hard.

I welcome any hints of the upcoming service revolution!

Read more!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bilingual Skills

Earlier, I mentioned the need for bilingual skills when Moving Back to Jamaica.

On the very superficial level, there is the need to be able to understand and to speak patois, the dialect of the majority of Jamaican people.

At another level, however, lies the ability to be able to move between different levels of standard English.

To say that the Jamaican education system is weak, and is not serving the Jamaican populace is to make an understatement.

I recall my first time working with groups in Trinidad and Barbados, after an extended period of working in Jamaica.  My American colleague said it first - "these people are a LOT smarter."

I noticed it too -- their facility with spoken language (i.e. their vocabulary and diction), and ability to think logically were much more developed than we had seen when working in groups in Jamaica.

There are many reasons why this is, and many ways of measuring the difference, but the way it manifests itself on a daily basis is by the two kinds of English that one learns to use when operating in Jamaica.

There is a simple English that one must learn to speak that can be understood by almost all Jamaicans, that is not patois.  Instead, it consists of simple words, simple sentences, and simple logic.

I don't normally speak that way, but I find that I have to rephrase what I am saying when I happen to lapse into language that is too complicated to be readily comprehended.

What I have learned is that a proud Jamaican will not say "I don't know what that word means."  Instead, they will either ignore the speaker, repeat what they had said or just hear what they want to hear to do what they think makes sense.

This causes havoc in the Jamaican workplace when an expat manager gives what he/she thinks are easy-to-understand directions to a local employee.  The employee acts as if they understand, when in fact, they don't, resulting in a failure to execute the task.

Underlying a Jamaican's response is a feeling of embarrassment -- they think that they SHOULD know and understand, and feel as if they should hide their apparent ignorance. 

A recent arrival to Jamaica therefore not only needs to learn to speak patois as well as simple English, but they also need to be able to pick up the very subtle cues that tell him/her when they are not being comprehended.

The very worst thing to do is to pretend that no language difference exists, and to proceed as if you are benig fully understood.  The results are sometimes comical, are both parties think they are communicating when in fact they are not!

(I can't think of an example at the moment, unfortunately.)

Read more!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Discovering Facebook

OK now, they aren't so bad after all.

I just joined both FaceBook and MySpace this past week, without knowing exactly why I should, expect that everything I was hearing told me that it was important.

And sure enough, it is.

I have been browing around, finding friends of mine that I had no idea were into social networking.

Then, I discovered friends of theirs, some of whom I have met, and a few others I have seen here and there.

Most, I have not met, but based on the networks that I am finding, I have probably been in the same party with them at some point or the other.

I guess this makes me a recent convert to this excellent method of keeping up with people who are widely dispersed. As I play around with both services, I can see where they have both created a way of connecting that just did not exist before... this is not the replacement of one method by another.

They both have created an alter-world that I am positive will change the way people relate out here in non-cyber space.

Stay tuned... and look for me on either service if you have a moment, and have already joined. (Facebook seems to be more to my liking at the moment.)

Read more!

Questions from a Dutchman

I received an interesting set of questions from a Dutch reader / journalist who is following the elections here in Jamaica from afar. I thought I'd reply publicly, just for the heck of it.

Here are the questions he sent, and here are my replies.
  1. Background profile: Can you tell me your name, age and profession?
  2. Do you follow the news about the election intensively or not? Do you think it’s important to follow the latest developments surrounding this topic? Explain.
  3. What are, according to the politicians, the big themes on this campaign?
  4. About which themes, according to the public, should politicians talk about?
  5. Are there clear differences between the JLP and the PNP?
  6. In what way is this election different from the previous one?
  7. How has the Jamaican population viewed these election campaigns so far?
  8. Does the media give an honest and objective report about the election process?
  9. Which things strike you the most (positive or negative) lately when it comes to Jamaican politics?
  10. Does the factor ‘first female PM of the Caribbean’ play an important role during these campaigns? Do they look forward or are they hesitant about it?
  11. PM Portia-Miller has been in office for 1,5 year. What has she achieved during her term?
  12. In the beginning of 2007 a Dutch company was involved in a corruption scandal that was linked with the PNP. Has that brought severe damage to Portia-Miller and her party-members?
  13. Due to Hurricane Dean elections have been postponed for at least a week and campaigning been put on non-active. Has this been a good or bad decision? Explain.
  14. How is the aid process coming along for the Dean-victims?
  15. Despite who wins, do you (or the Jamaican people) have any confident in the current generation of politicians who’s job is to create a prosperous,transparent and righteous society? Why so/not?
1. Francis Wade / 41 / Management Consultant

2. I follow the news closely, as do the vast majority of Jamaicans. We are highly politicised, care a great deal about political topics, and vote in high numbers. I think it's important to be engaged because it matters a lot which party is in power in so very many ways.

3. Crime, the economy/poverty, jobs, corruption

4. The same -- they are on target

5. In many ways they are close on the issues and the ideas that they have, with some differences that have longer-term consequences. In terms of leadership, there is a tremendous difference.

6. The previous election in 2002 featured Edward Seaga leading the JLP vs. PJ Patterson leading the PNP. Both have since retired, bringing in a new generation of leaders, and a new level of involvement in politics as there are strong feelings about the new leaders and what they represent, whereas the former leaders represented older ways of leading and running the country. By and large, the primary sentiment that drove voting patterns was people's antipathy against Mr. Seaga. I believe that this was the deciding factor in the three elections that they contested against each other.

7. The country just faced Hurricane Dean, and is tired of the campaign on a whole, which has gone on longer than most thought it would. Most feel that some of the advertising has been over the top, and that the campaigning is necessary, but overly reliant on mass meetings, motorcades and gifts to the party faithful

8. Yes, the media is by and large honest, although hardly aggressive enough

9. Positive -- a LOT of us care about politics and the decision that is before the nation
Negative -- our low level of education allows (forces?) politicians to be very "basic" and overly-simplistic in their appeal, speeches and style. There is an unthinking devotion to each party that is sad to see.

10. I don't think this is a factor at all

11. In the 1.5 years she has been able to give many people hope that even an ordinary Jamaican from a humble background can become Prime Minister and that the government can deeply care for people. Also, last year the economy grew slightly, and the murder rate fell.

12. It definitely has caused damage. In the televised debates a few weeks ago the Prime Minister said that she did not accept money from Trafigura, and in the next sentence she said that she ordered it returned. The whole thing gave the impression that she did not know what was going on under her nose.

13. The country is still reeling from Hurricane Dean, so there was really no choice about postponing elections by a week to allow for recovery. The new process relies on the use of electricity, and only about half the country has power at the moment.

14. It is difficult to say as information is hard to come by. It seems slower than it should be, at this point.

15. I have a certain guarded confidence in our politicians, but I think that at this point they can only play the role of spoilers. In other words, they can mess things up, but they cannot make things much better operating on their own. I think their power is terribly overrated, and that they need to step out of their fraternal/maternal roles in order to provide the deft touch that the country needs to move forward. It's time the Jamaican people stopped relying on them for more than the basics, and blaming them for what they cannot control or powerfully influence.


Read more!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Richest Countries in the Caribbean

Here is an updated list of the Caribbean's richest countries.

Interestingly, Trinidad has just passed Barbados in per capita GDP.

Richest Countries in the Caribbean Rank Country GDP - per capita
1 The Bahamas $ 21,300
2 Trinidad and Tobago $ 19,700
3 Barbados $ 18,200
4 Antigua and Barbuda $ 10,900
5 Saint Kitts and Nevis $ 8,200
6 Dominican Republic $ 8,000
7 Saint Lucia $ 4,800
8 Jamaica $ 4,600
9 Cuba $ 3,900
10 Grenada $ 3,900

Thanks to Barbados Free Press for the information, taken from the CIA Factbook.

Labels: ,

Read more!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Looks Like We Made It

No power, not internet, no phone lines, and water came back today.

But most of us here in Jamaica made it safely through the hurricane.

Hundreds lost their homes and all their possessions, and it was an awful experience for most. Nevertheless, Dean was much kinder on us than he could have been, and did us a favour by veering South.

Now, on to getting life back to some semblance of normalcy before Election Day on September 3rd.


Read more!

2 great Jamaican online comunities

There are two excellent Jamaican online communities that both have very active message boards: and They are the best places to get answers for any and everything Jamaican.

Sent by Francis Wade via the free Email Scheduler service.
Register now at

Labels: ,

Read more!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Adopting from Jamaica

Here is a page of links for those who might be interested in adopting a Jamaican child.

Sent by Francis Wade via the free Email Scheduler service.
Register now at


Read more!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Migration Project - UK

I came across the following website, which is committed to preserving the migration stories of immigrants to the U.K. Here is a link to the website for Caribbean stories on the site:

Sent by Francis Wade via the free Email Scheduler service.
Register now at


Read more!

Power Going Down

In an hour or so (10am Jamaica time0 we are supposed to lose power -- an intentional shut down for safety reasons.

There is also a 48 hour curfew that is in place.

So you might not be hearing from this part of the world in a few minutes, for what could be a while.

What we will have is decent cell phone coverage, however.

So, here we are , sitting and watching and waiting for Dean...


Read more!

Dean tracking site

I think this is the best site on the internet for tracking Dean: the same one as the Jamaica Gleaner


Read more!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dean Bears Down

As you might know, Hurricane Dean, a monster category 4 storm, is bearing down on Jamaica.

Apparently it is intent on becoming a category 5 storm by the time it hits tomorrow at 2pm.

Here in Kingston at 12:00pm the sky is blue, there are almost no clouds and there is a nice cooling breeze.

Perfect beach weather.

And Jamaicans are standing by ready to proclaim one of two things on Tues morning.

"God listens to prayers and decided to spare us, out of his mercy"
"God has sent us a powerful sign, a judgment on our wicked ways"

It's probably just easier for us to accept that God's will is whatever ends up happening, whether we call it good, bad, dry or wet.

It's the first time that I am back in Jamaica for what one of nature's "big events." The weatherman has been particularly excited for the past few days, speaking faster than usual, with a hint of excitement in his voice and the knowledge that many, many people were hanging on to his very words.

Calls are coming from all over the globe from family and friends who are concerned about what is coming.

Flights are filled with people escaping what winds, rains and destruction that is heading this way.

We are fully expecting to lose power, internet, phones and water and that roads will be closed until they are cleared of debris, and until the inevitable looting stops.

So, we sit here waiting, doing the best we can to prepare ourselves.

And it's still a really nice sunny day today, with blue skies and hardly any clouds and a light breeze.


Read more!

Reasons Why Moving Back to Jamaica is Easy

In a reader's comment to the blog today, I was challenged in no uncertain terms.

I wrote about the seven reasons why Jamaica is a tough country to move to, or move back to.

It made me think.

The truth is, Moving to Jamaica is easy, for many reasons, some of which are related to a Move Back, others of which are related to an expat move.

Here are some reasons why a Move Back to Jamaica can been so very easy:

1. Family
One big reason I have always wanted to come back is to take care of my parents.

n an earlier post, I mentioned that we Jamaicans are way too enamoured of the idea of sending away our young to live in "farrin." The separation that results is painful to observe, and I think that many parents regret not being able to see their children and grand-children for more than a few days each year.

It's just not what they had envisioned.

They also aren't too keen on getting into the "rush-rush" life of Toronto or New York by moving there, away from their plants, pets and people they love.

The result? A lonely and slow process of getting old.

As the years pass by, Devon's success on Wall Street starts looking less important than just having an opportunity to spend the last few years living within a few miles of his kids. His sister Andrea's medical degree from the University of Florida is cold comfort when she is treating cancer patients in Orlando, instead of being here now and again to get her elderly mother some milk from the fridge.

Moving Back to Jamaica restores the natural connection that migration disrupts between parents and children.

At one point, parents wiped their children's bottoms, and at a later point it seems natural to expect that ... well... you get the point.

2. Friends
The friends I made in the states are long forgotten. We passed through each others lives like fellow passengers on a long flight. We each knew that the time would be short, and that we would separate, never to see each other again.

Here in Jamaica, at a recent dinner meeting, I ran into my friend Mark who I played with back in 1976, a neighbour on College Common. At the same table sat another fellow I was at JC Hope United's cub scouts with in 1974. Yet another fellow went to Wolmer's with me in 1982. We sat together quite randomly, and I had not seen the first two guys since the years I mentioned.

To say this would never happen in the U.S. is to put things mildly. In the U.S., like everyone else, when I visit I find myself sinking into a sea of anonymous people who don't care whether I drop down dead in one moment or the next.

Coming back has effortless restored me to parts of who I am that I had forgotten.

3. Food
More than the quality of the food back home, is the importance that we Jamaicans place on getting together to eat. We eat slowly, and tolerate, but do not love, fast food (other than patties.)

Eating serves a social function, and the connection that we feel around a shared meal is palpable.

I belong to the Jamdammers running club that has a full breakfast after each Saturday run of 10 miles. That's a FULL breakfast. I realized how full it was when I ran with a Johannesburg running club in December, and they served bread and butter after the run. Here in Jamdammers, we almost spend more time eating than running, but the food itself is only a part of what we enjoy.

4. Foolishness

Jamaican life is exciting. On this week's list we have a hurricane that is wobbling its way towards us, an election looming, my car that broke down last night, rain and floods for four days straight last weekend, water lock-offs each day (due to the drought??) and who knows what else coming our way.

The excitement in the air is, as usual, nerve racking, and any kind of what we call "foolishness" can break out and happen at any point. This has the effect of keeping a recent arrival on their toes at ALL times and there is _never_ a dull moment.

For many, this kind of unpredictability is debilitating. For most, the daily foolishness is awakening.

5. Flora (her, another F!)

Tomorrow morning, on my weekly 4:30am ride from Liguanea to Port Royal and back, I'll be riding back to Harbour View just as the run rises over the hills of St. Thomas and St. Andrew.

The hills will all take on different hues of blue-green, while the sun will spill its rays over the clouds, and send bright darts into our eyes. To the left will be the blue calm waters of Kingston Harbour, while to the right will be the rough surf of the Caribbean Sea.


6. Patois (I ran out of F's)

When I lived abroad, I learned to s-p-e-a-k s-l-o-w-l-y so as to be understood.

Back home in Jamaica, I relax and use more words, phrases, tones, abbreviations, grunts and other unnamed sounds than ever before. I am back to being bilingual and it feels ever so relaxed, normal and natural.

7. Fulfilled

No matter how hard I worked in the U.S., it was difficult to get motivated for very long by working long hard hours to make rich people even richer than they were before.

In Jamaica, I give J$50 (=US$1) to a beggar and I can tell from his eyes that this is a LOT of money. Yes, the poverty is widespread and saddening. But the opportunity to make a difference is tremendous, and it makes working and living here in Jamaica an act of contribution and service, rather than an act of personal enrichment (at least in tangible terms.)

Small acts of kindness go a long way.


For someone moving to Jamaica for the first time, in a later post I'll look at why moving to Jamaica can be easy for a first-timer / expat.

Sent by Francis Wade via the free Email Scheduler service.
Register now at

Labels: ,

Read more!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kingston the Ghost Town

August is always a slow time of year for expats who go away to escape the stifling heat, but this year the heat isn't only coming from the sun, it's coming from the elections.

While I doubt that this year's election-period will be anywhere near as violent as those we have experienced in the past, the word is out that Jamaican elections can be dangerous, and that the worst increase in murders came during the infamous 1980 elections.

The result is that expats, and especially non-working expat spouses, have been leaving Jamaica in droves, planning to return right after the dust settles in late August or early September.

It seems like a decent strategy.

Thankfully the elections are not being held in the middle of a school term, which could cause a major disruption in the schooling of young attendees of Hillel and the American School. At the same time, it doesn't look like we are in for a violent period.

The kinds of things that are happening seem non-political in nature, or just tribal. Our fingers are crossed, however, and that includes the expats who decided to stay and weather the storm.

Labels: ,

Read more!

Simpson-Miller vs. Golding Debates link

YouTube is carrying the entire debate between Portia Simpson-Miller of the PNP and Bruce Golding of the JLP at the following URL:


Read more!

Extra Padding

Living in Jamaica requires some extra padding.

Extra time, extra money, extra safety, extra friends, extra help, extra space, extra energy, extra everything.

One big difference I have found upon moving back to Jamaica is that life here is filled with ups and downs.

Things are always going wrong -- daily life has a lot to do with reacting to surprises, mostly of the unwanted kind. Life in the U.S. for me was marked by its dependability.

Even catastrophes like Katrina and 9/11 had only slow-moving tangible impacts on the vast majority of Americans.

Jamaican life is best approached if the assumption is made from the beginning that things will not work as planned, and that something will get screwed up. People who think this way come to learn, for example, to follow the advice of a friend of mine -- she said that you need to expect to hit long lines wherever you go, and to walk with something to read at all times.

It's a good example of how one needs to operate -- with some extra "padding."

Building a house? Allocate an extra 20% for theft of materials. Cashing a check? Carry a portable radio to kill the waiting time. Mailing a letter? Leave time for it to drag out. Going away for the weekend? Secure valuables or just take them with you. Planning to finish a big project? Do it when you have power.

Now and again, there are surprises, and things actually work as planned. The Motor Vehicle department has a caught me unawares a few times, as I happened to go at the right time of month.

By and large, however, it is impossible to live the way I did in the U.S., with the last amount of extra anything -- lean and mean in almost every way. This is very typical Third World living, and the sooner a returnee or expat accepts this, the better they will be able to adjust.


Read more!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Music All Around

Jamaica is a country of music.

Like many other truths about Jamaica, this is best realized by visiting other countries, and especially other Caribbean countries.

In Trinidad, soca music "runs tings" from January to Ash Wednesday, and after that takes a significant back-seat to dancehall music. The fetes just about disappear down, and people go on a nation-wide retreat to prepare for next year's Carnival.

In Barbados the only music ones hears is from the occasional taxi that is risking its license by playing music that is audible when you open a door. There are lots of people waiting to tell the driver to turn it down, making downtown Bridgetown a very quiet place indeed.

Jamaica is anything but. Driving anywhere in Jamaica is to be virtually bathed in music, unlike anyplace I have been in the world. Of course, I have not been everywhere, but of the places I have been, our loosely enforced noise abatement laws leads to a cacaphony of sounds the drives some crazy, and others to delight.

This morning I sat in Oracabessa, overlooking the north coast and listened to a mad man singing a song of his own creation as he walked by. The tune sounded similar to "Pass the Kutchie" but the words were all his, including a line that said something about "unnu B_mb_Cl_t!"

But this is typical -- children walking, cyclists riding, women standing on a corner... all singing for their own entertainment. In Manhattan, there are those who will sing for small change, but I have never once seen that here.

In addition to those who pass by singing, there are cars driving by with music blaring -- almost always with dancehall music at top blast. Add to that the music from cell ringtones, and from car horns set to certain tunes and a normal day in traffic is transformed to a day set to popular tunes. At night, Kingston turns into concert city with soundboxes set outside on weekend and holiday nights, going well into the morning. On Sunday mornings and on crusade nights, the churches take over.

I lived beside a church for over a year that assaulted my senses from 7:30 - 2:30 each Sabbath morning, with more than just music. This in addition to regular Sunday evening and Wednesday morning services. Add to all of this loudspeakers from drive-by advertising, sirens going off, alarms rending the air, dogs barking and car horns used to communicate everything from "hello," "goodbye", "f__k off," "wake up" and "Pull ovah so mi cyan pass yuh."

By contrast, I can't recall seeing anyone in the mall, or on the road singing a song or even humming a tune in the U.S. just for the sheer fun of it. Living in Jamaica is chaotic. Yet, underlying it all is a le of music that is so profound, and so democratic that even a mad man can make up his own song, and make it heard.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Running in Florida

As a runner, there are a few things that I really appreciate for a great run.

Cool crisp dry weather is one.

Dawn or dusk lighting is another.

This morning, while on a stopover in Miami, returning to Jamaica, I ran in the worse of both conditions. The weather was steamy hot, worse than I remember it ever being in the 8 years I spent living in Florida.) Worse than that, was that I started the run at 5:20 and ended it an hour later -- and it was still dark!

I have taken for granted Jamaican mornings, where the sun rises at 5:00am in the June-July months, and there never is the kind of humidity that I felt this morning.

A single female runner ran past me this morning, and I thought to myself -- how brave! I had second thoughts myself about going out to run so early, and I can imagine that for most people, getting up that early to start and end summer exercise in the dark must be a burden.

It must be easier to just stay in bed, if the sun doesn't make its appearance until 6:30am. Then again, the sun also didn't set until 8:30pm -- but I think its safe to say that its easier to exercise in the morning than in the evening.

Does a returnee or expat to Jamaica become fitter upon their move to Jamaica? I have always trained heavily for triathlons since 1997, but I can confirm that I am fitter than I have ever been due to a much increased regimen -- thanks to living in Jamaica.

Read more!

Being Stuck in America

Today a friend of mine shared the following story about a conversation with a fellow Jamaican in Florida: She shared with a friend of hers that she was on the way back home for a short visit, and he pointedly asked her: "Yuh mad! Do you have any idea how many people were killed last month in Jamaica?"

She stammered out a weak reply; "No."

He told her "A hundred and something!" Like many Jamaicans abroad, she responded with shock and told him that "A lie yuh a tell!"

He called Jamaica on the spot, and spoke to someone who confirmed that we did indeed have over a hundred murders. I guess he proved his point. He was factually correct about the number of murders.

However, what is more interesting is that we have some 2 million tourists per year coming here.

In spite of Jamaicans like him.

In an earlier post, I shared the reaction that my wife received when she shared that she was moving back. The most negative reaction came from Jamaicans.

Many Jamaicans in the U.S. are angry that they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They love their country, and miss it terribly. They are angry that they cannot return (for many good reasons.) They are unwilling to assimilate into the mainstream U.S. (which for most means becoming African Americans.)

They are stuck.

They also lose sleep at night wondering what will happen when their children and grand-children lose their Jamaican-ness, and won't be able to tell a mango from a muss-muss. They send their hard-earned money back, hoping that it will make a difference, guilty that they left in the first place, and hurting for those who are living without back home.

Last night on the political debate between Audley Shaw and Omar Davis I heard a good idea for the first time -- an overseas Jamaican investment bond. Perhaps that might be a useful way to contribute?


Read more!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Migrating to Happiness

I am reading an entertaining book called Stumbling on Happiness, that is a smart and funny take on what makes us happy, written by a noted Harvard psychologist.

(Notice how the word "Harvard" gives him instant credibility.)

In one chapter he talks about different studies which show that more money only helps people who are the most poor, and have a hard time earning enough to provide for the basics.

Earning or having more does little for those who are in the comfortable middle class, and some studies even show that happiness declines slightly for those who are super-rich. This seems to make sense in my experience.

He goes a bit further, however, and says that it's a good thing that people don't know this. The vast majority remain quite misinformed by the popular belief that more money is always better.

In this sense, money is not like food, whose consumption is limited by the size of our stomachs. More money always seems to be better.

It is a good thing we all don't realize this fact because if we did, the capitalist systems that we rely on would collapse, or at least stagnate.

The reason is that it relies on people working very hard, and then spending a lot of what they earn on cars, houses, Xboxes and the like, all of which helps to keep the economic game going (and going and going.)

Which brings me what drives a Jamaican to migrates.

Edward Seaga, one of Jamaica's former Prime Minister's, is said to have made the point in 1962 that the island needed to export some 20,000 people per year. Whether he actually said it, is beside the point, but the idea seems to make some sense, especially if the 20,000 are among the desperately poor (and unhappy.)

The US, Canada and the UK are fine countries to migrate to for those who are very poor, as there are many, many opportunities to accumulate the DVD's, clothes and cars that make live comfortable. Failing that, there is at least welfare, which is a vast improvement over being poor in Jamaica.

For those in the middle class who migrate however, I wonder. It is the rare Jamaican middle-class person who migrates without a commitment to return home to live, as I have done.

If you are reading this from Miramar, Markham or Brixton, you may concur.

Unfortunately, I think that many middle class Jamaicans who migrate also believe that happiness increases with material success, and that use migration is a means to that end. Unfortunately, along with material success comes other drawbacks such as racism, separation from family and friends, unfamiliar climates, long working hours with little household help and the overwhelming likelihood that they will never fulfill their dream of returning.

The book says that the best predictor of future happiness happens to be other people who are undergoing the exact same situation. This means that Jamaicans who are migrating should be getting the best information about happiness and life abroad from Jamaicans who are already there. Unfortunately, this is where Jamaicans living abroad do those at home a disservice, by projecting an image of how "life sweet a farrin'" -- partly to assuage the doubts they may have about making the choice to leave.

It's just easier to make things seem sweet, and to show off new clothes and give away gifts in kind, and in cash when one returns for Christmas holidays. It is much harder to explain the need for two (or more) jobs, starting life near the bottom, the 2 weeks of vacation, the racism and the cold.

To say nothing of how far they have to drive to buy some "really nasty patty dat a starving dawg wouldn't eat on him death-bed back home." Happiness turns out to be an elusive thing, and perhaps the best thing that those of us who have migrated can do is to stop trying to impress those back home, and instead start telling them the truth.

Read more!

Transforming Jamaica

In a past post in this blog I mentioned that we Jamaicans often display a lack of reflection that I found curious.

I now think that many of our society's ills can be traced to actions taken by a majority that are, sometimes comically, completely disconnected from the wider problems that we as a people face.

For example, there are in too many spots in many spots piles of plastic and garbage that is quite non-biodegradable.

Frequently, I see Jamaicans dropping garbage on the roads adds to these trouble-spots. Yet, I know that I were to ask my country-men in an open discussion, they would complain about "how much garbage there is lying around the place."

What is missing is an understanding of the connection between personal cause and public effect.

And that may be where the ordinary Jamaican is empowered to make a difference. In other words, it might be a simple matter to connect the dots for a large enough number of people between individual actions and country-wide consequences.

On average, I don't think that the average Jamaican behaves very differently than the average American. However, the slight difference on an individual basis adds up to a tremendous difference when taken on a national level. This is hopeful, because if it is true, then it might not take much of a behaviour change for each person to make a big overall difference.

Sent by Francis Wade via the free Email Scheduler service.
Register now at

Read more!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sending the Kids away

As I mentioned in a prior post, there is a fondness that Jamaican parents have for "sending the kids away to school" that I think is mistaken.

The new argument is a simple one, and it seems to be driven by consultants who have an interest in sending increasingly greater numbers of kids abroad. If your kids go to school in the US they will have a better chance of getting into universities and colleges.

This flies in the face of my personal experience.

I remember sitting around the table as a student who entered an Ivy League University straight from Jamaica, knowing that the education I received was no worse than any of my peers. This, in spite of lacking furniture to sit on, chemicals to do experiments and even teachers to learn something from at different points. I did so with a single O' Level and a raft of CXC passes, back when the CXC was in its first year and my schoolmates and I felt like unfortunate guinea-pigs. I also did the SAT and Achievement tests.

Now, it is true that I may very well be an exception for several reasons.

But I question the logic that says that admissions teams in colleges prefer a U.S. private-school student to one who went to Wolmers Boys School in Jamaica. My experience tells me something different.

Instead, from what I understand admissions teams value diversity in the student body, and ask themselves what a student can contribute to the college community. In their eyes, a student who comes to the university from Wolmers has more of to contribute than the thousands who attend an elite U.S. private school and apply to all the top schools.

For example, I remember when I did my college essays, and writing about keeping the standards of Wolmers as high as they had been in the past when the tenure of teachers was falling, and the standards had visibly deteriorated from First to Sixth Form.

I wrote about the role that we prefects were playing, and how we had been giving more and more detentions when the teachers had stopped giving them altogether.

In retrospect, I am sure that it was a unique essay for the admissions committees to read. It was authentic, and it was heartfelt.

I suspect that today's Jamaican parents do not appreciate what these admissions teams are looking for, and that by sending their kids to assimilate and learn the U.S. system before they are 18, they may be doing them a grave dis-service. Much better, (and cheaper) I think, is to let the child stay and then apply as a full-fledged Caribbean product, rather than one that is a culture shocked creature, being neither fish nor fowl.

One of my most vivid memories as an undergrad is sitting around meals and talking about high school with other students from the U.S. The theme I heard was consistent -- they absolutely hated their high school. This was true regardless of ethnicity, or geographic location, or size of school.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved my school, and as any Jamaican will tell you, loyalties are strong and deep to the high school that was attended.

I also recall hearing in amazement the way that Caribbean students were treated in US high schools -- falling into none of their natural cliques (which run by race) they were teased for their funny sounded accents, threatened by gangs and called "Coconuts" or worse. Most responded by quickly losing their accents in order to fit in (only to work hard to regain them in College, but that's another topic for another post.)

The point is that attending a High School in the US is a mixed bag of experiences and parents need to be very ,very savvy to ensure that they do the right thing in putting their children in environments they themselves simply don't understand.


Read more!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Portia on the Hustings

I'm not sure what kind of comment this video warrants.

It's left me speechless.

I imagine that even the Prime Minister would not defend this particular display, and would agree that something _must_ change, starting with whatever allowed or caused this speech to happen the way it did on this particular night.

Read more!

An Amen People vs. A Thinking People

As elections near, and the party faithful rally around their party leaders for the election party that is underway, I believe that Jamaicans can be divided between "Amen" people and "thinking people."

"Amen" people are those who do very little thinking for themselves. They do just enough, perhaps, to make a decision about what point of view to hold, and the rest of their lives defending that point of view against all comers.

They can't really explain why they support one party or another in rational terms. They probably can't say why they believe the religion they adhere to, either.

Their response when asked is "that's what my family believes" or "this is what I have always believed" or "the Bible says.... / the party leader says..."

They make up perhaps a half of the electorate, and fortunately for Jamaica, no single party has a tremendous advantage over the other in the size of their Amen corner. This might be why our democracy is such a vibrant and energetic one.

"Amen" people are easy to entertain and sustain -- all it takes is some sustained bashing of those who hold the opposing view, and some reminders as to why the holders of the prevailing view are better.

On the other hand, there are Jamaicans who are "thinking," and refuse to adhere to one point of view or another without giving it some serious thought. They could not care less which party is in power, but they do care what policies are being promoted and employed.

They vote with their minds, rather than with anything else, and support principles rather than people.

In this election, the competition has come down to a battle for those who are thinking, because the Amen votes are largely unchangeable. There remains a tremendous number of undecideds, up to 20% of the electorate by some measures.

In this context, a recent series of PNP advertisements seems to be a huge mistake. They are trying to make hay of the fact that Bruce Golding left the JLP for the NDM in the early 1990's, only to return in 2002. He did so because the JLP did not support his call for constitutional reform. He returned when they agreed to include these ideas on the party's agenda.

The PNP's ads are trying to paint him as a "Flip-Flopper" because he made these moves.

In other words, they are trying to appeal to those who value party loyalty, by emphasizing the fact that he has changed parties twice.

Unfortunately, all the ad does for the "thinking" person is to emphasize that Bruce is also a thinking person. All it does for the "Amen" people is to emphasize that he is not one of them.

The problem is that the PNP needs to be appealing to the thinking people who are undecided, not the Amen people whose minds are forever made up.

I have a sinking feeling that Portia herself is an Amen person, and might be thinking that most people are like her. Unfortunately, someone who values powerful ideas that benefits Jamaica, and puts them above their political future, and party loyalty, is the kind of politician that Jamaica needs more of.

The ad only serves to boost Bruce Golding's reputation as someone who the country needs.

Read more!

Friday, August 10, 2007

I recently bought my first ebook from Amazon, paying an extra $2 or so for the right to view the book online.

This is an important development for island countries such as Jamaica, where it costs way too much money to bring in books from the US.

While I use MailPac, I have noticed that the Customs fees have increased.

This new feature helps out a great deal, as I was able to read the entire book I bought (which I was eager to get my hands on) without having to wait the usual 10 days or so.

Not bad!

Read more!

A Mind Blowing Post

I wrote earlier that I was re-thinking several aspects of my blog -- actually expanding my thinking.

I started this blog because I wanted to help others like me who wanted to return to Jamaica, but had not a single source of information to pull from in the world, other than the odd friend or family member here or there.

In the beginning, I started writing for myself, and was happy that no-one found out what I was doing -- it seemed like a private affair.

Now, 2 years later, my blog gets about 1500-2000 readers a month, I have only just realized.

It serves its purpose, and at the moment seems like the only blog of its kind -- and hopefully this will change soon.

I read the following post from Steve Pavlina's personal development blog, and the following paragraph, and realized that I could possibly do what I am loving to do in my blog, and much more:

The following paragraph jumped out at me:

Consider my current business model. I have no products, no inventory, no customers, no sales, no employees, and no office outside my home. I haven’t spent a dime on marketing since I launched this site in October 2004. But I earn about $40K per month, mostly from joint-venture promotions, advertising, affiliate programs, and donations. Two years ago this site was bringing in about $150/month, and one year ago it was earning around $6K/month, so that’s a pretty nice rate of growth. The income does fluctuate from month to month, but the positive cashflow is high enough that the fluctuations don’t matter. I maintain a substantial cash reserve too, so I could survive a very long time even if all my income suddenly shut off. This is much less risky than having a job.

So I am thinking about this who blogging thing that I started as a lark, as something that could be a source of income -- which I would use in part to spend more time doing research, and writing.

I don't think that there are 2 million people interested in reading my writing per month, as Steve has, but I started wondering about the 1500-200o readers that I do currently have.

Ah feel like mi jus' buck mi toe, but in my mind.

Read more!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How Expensive is Kingston, Jamaica?

This is a tough one to answer, but I have been asked the question so many times that I thought I should at least throw out some possible responses.

I tell readers who write to me that the cost of living here seems to be to be almost equivalent to South Florida, when I left in 2005, and before the prices of real estate when through the roof. Of course, this is in US$.

Other measures of how expensive a country is, include the "Big Mac Index" which just compares one country's price for the famous McDonald's sandwich from one country to another, taking into account the exchange rate.

Here is a link from 2003 showing Jamaica at US$1.99, which looks to be the middle of the pack.

Here is another link comparing the cost of living in different cities.

Once again, it shows Jamaica to be in the middle of the pack, just above Cleveland.

If anyone can shed some more light on these measures, please do!

Read more!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Surviving as a Trailing Spouse

In the parlance of the world of expats who move to a foreign country, the "trailing spouse" is the wife or husband who follows behind the partner moving to work.

The welfare of the trailing spouse is critical to a move to Jamaica because studies have shown that some 60-70% of failed moves have nothing to do with the job, the employee or the company, but instead have everything to do with what happens at home, with the trailing spouse.

In my own move back to Jamaica, I have experienced some of this myself. My wife had only been to Jamaica twice before moving permanently, once to visit and the second time to get married. She has a Trinidadian background, but moved to live in the US when she was nine.

Moving to Jamaica was a culture shock for her.

Recently, as we have been interviewing expats and their wives, and doing research into what it takes for an expat to move successfully to Jamaica we have come across some excellent material that described her experience over the last two years perfectly. It was just a little uncanny in terms of its accuracy.

In fact, I think that the research might describe the experience of any couple that moves back to Jamaica -- whether they have a Jamaican background or not. More often than not, there is one spouse that wants to move back more than the other.

They take the lead in finding themselves a job. They move to take the job, either paying their own way or when sponsored by a company.

The trailing spouse (who is a woman more than 95% of the time,) agrees, but perhaps with a lot less enthusiasm than the working spouse.

They arrive in Jamaica, only to find that their working spouse is MIA (missing in action.) (For simplicity's sake, let's assume that the working spouse is a man, and the trailing spouse is a woman.)

He spends all his time at the office, busy adapting to the new working culture. He has to be successful at the job, because that is the reason he came, after all, and brought his family this far.

She, by contrast, is dealing with a new culture, a new language and is doing so on her own. More often than not, she cannot work (more than 50% of the time) due to legal restrictions. She probably left a good career back home to follow her husband, and is all of a sudden thrown into the unfamiliar role of housewife.

She experiences the brunt of the culture shock, and quickly finds that there are few people who can relate to what she is going through, including her old friends back home. The company typically provides few resources, as she isn't an employee after all and has few rights of her own.

In other words, she is in a tough spot.

What many do is to retreat.

The phases of cultural adaptation upon arriving in Jamaica (or any other country) are simple:

1) The honeymoon phase comes first -- the expat loves the warm climate, the friendly people, the beautiful beaches and is in love with the experience.

2) The culture shock comes next as they realize the reality of living in Jamaica -- high crime, poverty, very little quality shopping, high prices, people trying to rip them off, etc. They begin to blame Jamaica for all its ills, and talk about it being backward, or stricken, or even cursed. They see the people as violent, aggressive and ignorant.

3) Most expats exit culture shock by accepting that Jamaica is not going to change, and that it is they who will have to change. They come to see that it is their own expectations and norms that are out of place. They question what they assume to be "acceptable" and start to understand more and more about the culture and its people.

4) Adaptation comes when they change their actions to suit their new environment. When surprising events happen, they have learned to question their own thinking and start asking themselves what they need to do differently. They eagerly look for and accept opportunities to get more and more involved in the world around them, learning the language and getting more and more integrated into Jamaican society.

Unfortunately, many expats never leave the second phase. Instead, they withdraw more and more into themselves, and venture out less and less from the safety of their homes. They mix only with other expats, and surround themselves with what is called "the expat bubble." Their favorite sport becomes "Jamaica bashing" which they enjoy doing with other expats who live in their bubbles.

The count down the days to when they will be able to leave, and leave for good.

They are likely to pressure their husbands to leave the assignment early, and some have left, with children in tow, telling their husbands "I'll see you back home -- I can't stand another day of this."

There is an excellent book called "A Portable Identity -- a Woman's Guide to Maintaining a Sense of Self While Moving Overseas" by Bryson and Hoge that I strongly recommend for trailing spouses of all nationalities.

As far as I can tell, Jamaican wives who are trailing spouses are likely to go through these phases, and I recommend this book to them. Working spouses can also experience culture shock, and there are some good books that address the difference in culture that they are likely to find.

All in all, anyone moving to Jamaica, returnee or expat, is advised to do a LOT of homework before they come, and it's a good idea to assume that there will be some culture shock, and that they should be well-prepared.

Labels: ,

Read more!