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, January 30, 2008

Dust in Yuh Face

I remember visiting Accra when I was living in the U.S. and being struck by how much dust there was in the air, and how dirty everything got so very quickly.

Unfortunately, now that I am back in Jamaica I am re-learning that we have the same "problem." Or, to put it more accurately, North America and other colder climates feature clean, dust-free living.

I guess the reasons make sense. In those countries, keeping the cold out is a matter of life or death, so houses must be draft-proof. This means that during the summer, the windows cannot be opened easily and widely, resulting in the use of air conditioning.

Here in the Caribbean, the windows are kept open as much as possible, with the result being that along with the sun, the breeze and the sounds of birds chirping in the trees comes dust.

Yet, this is no consolation for the amount of cleaning that must be done to keep interiors clean. It also means that one must put up with lots of insects, bugs, lizards and other creatures.

Nothing wrong -- it's just another difference that a returnee must account for in their move back to Jamaica.

Read more!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jamaican Greetings

In spite of the aggressiveness and sometimes harsh nature of life in Jamaica, one of the sweet contradictions lies in how Jamaicans greet each other.

Of course there are the regular greetings of "Hello," "How are you," and "Good morning."

Then there are the others...

"Blessed" has become a popular greeting that I have never heard in another country. I suspect that its origin lies in the Rastafarian faith.

"Respect" is another greeting that has been around for longer, and is just a typically Jamaican way of sending a clear affirmative signal to another person.

"Yes" or "Yes, Yes" accompanied with a nod of the head are also popular ways of merely affirming that you are recognizing another. Older similar forms include "Easy" and "Cool nuh."

These are warm greetings of well-wishes passed between strangers who are sending positive signals or vibes between each other. They are uttered over the unspoken and unquestioned assumption that we are in each other's lives forever.

Of course, this vastly different than the plastic-smiling "Hello" that I remember from the U.S.


Read more!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Video Clip of Orane Interview

In 2007 I had the opportunity to interview Grace Kennedy CEO Douglas Orane at the HRMAJ Conference in Ocho Rios.

A short excerpt from the video lasting about 3 minutes can be found here.


Read more!

Why do you blog? and other questions

A college student from Chicago recently asked me the following questions as part of an assignment she is doing. I thought I would share the answers here.

1. Your blog is called "Moving Back to Jamaica." Where else have you lived?
2. Why and when did you first start blogging?
3. Do you think blogging plays an important role in global communication?
4. How has blogging affected your every day life, or how you view the world?
5. What blogs do you regularly read?
6. Do you feel like you represent Jamaican people in your blog, or just yourself personally?
7. Is your blog aimed at specific readers?
8. What could you tell us in Chicago and around the world about Jamaica, so that we can further understand where you live and what it is like?
9. Are there any assumptions about or stereotypes of Jamaica you would like to set straight? Verify?
10. Anything else you'd like to share?

1. Your blog is called "Moving Back to Jamaica." Where else have you lived?

Other than Kingston, Jamaica I have lived in Ithaca, New York, Bridgeport, Connecticut, Tampa, Florida, Piscataway NJ, Fort Lauderdale FL

2. Why and when did you first start blogging?

i had heard about blogging but could not figure out what one was, or why someone would want one. Then I found a few, and discovered (in 2005) that I could create my own. I started Moving Back to Jamaica when I wanted to document all that I was learning about the process of moving home. i could find no information on the process on the internet or anywhere else, and I knew that many Jamaicans wanted to return, but didn't know how.

My first few posts were about the practical aspects of Moving Back and then it grew to include other dimensions, including spiritual and mental challenges.

3. Do you think blogging plays an important role in global communication?

Absolutely. I have some 200 readers per day, and there is no way I could reach them without this technology.

4. How has blogging affected your every day life, or how you view the world?

As I go through my daily life here in Kingston, I find myself looking for topics to write about that I can share with my readers. I am keen to maintain my outsider perspective, even as I get accustomed to life here in Jamaica. Eventually, I suspect that the blog will come to an end when I have finished my move back. Perhaps I could hand it on to someone else?

5. What blogs do you regularly read?

I don't have a regular diet, but most of what I read I do to catch up on friends and their writing, and also to research new ideas for my other blogs. I tend to read a lot of business blogs, and news blogs. Barbados Free Press blog is one that I enjoy as it has a Caribbean theme, and features incisive reporting.

6. Do you feel like you represent Jamaican people in your blog, or just yourself personally?
I think that I represent Jamaicans who have just moved back to Jamaica from living abroad for more than a few years. They tell me that I capture their experiences well. The average Jamaican really could not care less, I think.

7. Is your blog aimed at specific readers?
Absolutely. The people who read tend to be located outside of Jamaica, and are mostly Jamaicans thinking of moving back. Some who have already returned also read it as I share their experiences.

8. What could you tell us in Chicago and around the world about Jamaica, so that we can further understand where you live and what it is like?
We are a country of contrasts. The beauty of the country is stunning. So are the social ills, in the form of poverty, crime and violence. It makes for an excellent experience for tourists, but a risky and chaotic one for local Jamaicans.

9. Are there any assumptions about or stereotypes of Jamaica you would like to set straight? Verify?
We don't all smoke ganja (pot!) Jamaica is safe for tourists who want to experience a different culture. The ones who want it to be like Disney will be disappointed.

10. Anything else you'd like to share?

Nope -- thanks for asking!

Read more!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Bullet for Obama

There it is -- I said it.

That is my greatest fear in this presidential election.

I just watched an Obama video and have concluded that yes, he is the real article. He is just about everything that an American could want in a President. He is an authentic African American man, with all the credentials to be President, and all the skills to be a statesman, and all the wisdom to be a great leader.

The stronger he gets, the more confidence he generates.

And, the more confidence he generates, the more fear he stirs up. I felt it.

I felt afraid that somewhere deep in the bowels of America someone is making bullets with his name on it.

Obama's candidacy is frightening, in that he is calling people to take a tremendous risk and to trust that supporting him will not end up in crushing disappointment if one of those bullets is shot his way.

Is America ready again to believe in someone who seems to be that purely committed to its highest ideals? Are African Americans willing to take up their burdens and follow someone who is creating hope for them all... again?

If I were back living in the U.S. I like to think that would be giving him my time, money and energy. I like to believe that I would have the courage to support him, and what he stands for. I like to hope that I would overcome my fears and vote for him.

But I wouldn't forget that there are people who are saying "I'm not a racist or anything, but I would never vote for a colored man." And there are others thinking that they are not racists for thinking that they should try to kill him, but "patriots."

Because the hope he is creating needs to be bigger than a bullet, or a racist, or even his own life. It needs to be big enough to transform all who dare to believe, regardless of who wins the Presidency. That is exactly what America needs, and that is what the world needs.

Click here if needed

Read more!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Labour Shortage in Trinidad

In Trinidad, hoteliers are complaining that they have unable to find qualified personnel to work in their companies.

Apparenly they are looking to bring in Phillipinos.

Hotelier confronts shortage

Owner of the Arnos Vale Hotel, Bill Bronte, said in a December 2007 Business Guardian article that several of Tobago’s hotels are in need of service staff: waiters, waitresses, housekeepers and maintenance workers.

 The challenge is not only to find people willing to work, but also those who understand the meaning of service.

 “We pay from $12 to $17 an hour. Maintenance staff and barmen earn $17 an hour.”

 Last month, he recruited an accountant from a Trinidad-based pharmaceutical company to join his hotel staff.

 According to Bronte, the Government’s billion-dollar Community Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (Cepep) is to the island’s tourism sector’s detriment.

 “Cepep has absorbed most of the labour you can find. Most expensive cost in running a hotel daily is labour. Four years ago, we paid a worker $8 an hour. It’s almost double today.

 “You are always doing maintenance. Where we got a brick a few years ago for $2, it’s now $8.”

The question I have, is why this is not common knowledge in Jamaica, were we have massive unemployment?


Read more!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Plastic America

What makes Jamaica so very beautiful, and so unique is the fact that is has not undergone the "plastification" that abounds in the US, and other developed countries.

Over the holidays, I had the chance to visit Reach Falls. It was beautiful, with blue and green pools of water, caves behind falls, natural rock bridges... just amazing to see. It was the first time I was visiting it in many years, as it recently opened after being damaged in one hurricane after another.  The attraction now has its own homepage:

What is remarkable is that there were only 2 signs pointing the way to this beauty spot, and both were small and easy to miss.  They were truly understated, and did not do justice to the place.

Yet, this was a damn good thing.

My mind travelled back to a variety of over-hyped US attractions I have had the misfortune of visiting with high expectations.

South of the Border:  this tourist trap on the border of North and South Carolina was one I visited as a teen.  The numerous billboards that we saw describing the place en route only served to heighten the disgust we felt at this t-shirt haven, supposedl a "Mexican" themed "park" plumb in the middle of the Carolinas.

Ron Jon's Surf Shop:  the highway from Jacksonville to Cocoa Beach is relentlessly flagged by billboards letting driver s know how far they are from this surf shop that no real surfer would be caught dead in (so they tell me.)

The Road to Hana:  the Road to Hana is hyped as a one-of-a-kind, but to anyone from Jamaica it looks like nothing more than a regular piece  of  unremarkable road.   It was so disappointing our party drove right through it, and beyond, without realizing that it as all over.

In Jamaica, we are lucky.

We are not only blessed with an abundance of natural beauty of all kinds, but we also benefit from a general lack of "development" which include the "plasitification"  that I witnessed in the USA.

Plastification includes:
1) investing huge sums of money to make the place presentable and available (i.e. santized and neutered)
2) using in-your-face advertising and hype to drive traffic to the site
3) increasing prices to keep profit margins up

The result of all this is that a Reach Falls would look like any other falls in Jamaica, in the same way that all theme parks, attractions, movie theaters and parks look so much the same in the US (with few exceptions.)

Plastification renders everything it touches into a numbing similarity.  Reach Falls would be selling the same McDonalds hamburgers as the ones sold in New York, and this would somehow be seen as a "good thing."

If there is any strange benefit to be derived from scaring away investors from our country's crime, then this would be it.  Doing so protects us, and our people, from  the plastification that comes from over-investment.

It is STILL more than possible to  discover all the wonderful places that exist in our country, and to feel a sense of surprise that such beauty seems to pass by unrecorded.

Read more!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hurricane Dean's Impact on the Cows of Jamaica

Recently, my wife has remarked that milk has been extremely difficult to find on store shelves.

Apparently, according to this newspaper report, the fault lies in Hurricane Dean and in the emotional disturbed state he left the nation's cows.

Well, I guess here is tangible proof that our economy has been affected, and remains impacted several months after the face.

The cows have been producing less milk because they are still in a state of shock due to the hurricane. Also, they are eating less grass than usual because th rains have left th grass wet.. and apparently they don't do well with wet grass.

Is this all anthropomorphism?

Apparently, not, although we humans have been experiencing the same post-Dean feelings.

It's too bad that a hurricane doesn't bring something interesting like "tender, mouthwatering beef" as our Jamaican been could benefit from a LOT of tenderizing.

Read more!

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Case Study on Crime

Just in case any Jamaican is scratching their head wondering where much of our crime comes from, it's not only from a poor economy and significant disparity.

As I have noted in prior posts, the vast majority of murders come from interpersonal disputes that grown out of proportion into full-scale warring and killing.

In the case of these two communities, Southside and Tel-Aviv, the killings of the day can be traced back to an event that split the gang at the time in two:

"He was walking past Rosemary Lane and Barry Street corner, when some of the Max man seh, blood fire fe dem pants deh, only b...boy where dem pants deh," said Tallman.

Some 1500 people have been killed since that remark was made in ongoing fighting between these communities.

In short, it has nothing to do with the economic situation.

Instead, it all has come down to a lack of communication and conflict resolution skills.

While this is sad, it also gives me some hope, because these are teachable skills. What i don't know is who is attempting to teach them, and how.

I am aware of the work going on in schools -- PALS (Peace and Love in Schools) -- but I don't now enough about what is being done for adults. I know there are efforts underway, and now I can understand their importance after reading this article.

Read more!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Free to Love Up What Is

As I have mentioned in prior posts, I see now that moving home to Jamaica is an avenue for realizing some personal and "spiritual" gains.

If living in the U.S. had a safe, stable quality to it, the chaos, violence and high-volume of life in Jamaica is more than just a test, but it's also a transforming environment to immerse oneself in.

Today, I realized that living in Jamaica is teaching me to "Love Up" what ever happens.

Violence? Lost business? Hurricane? Argument? Crime?

They all occur in a stream of events, in which I am learning to simply love.

Of course, this is not easy, but I have noticed that it helps to decide to "Love Up" any scary outcome that I find myself protecting against.

After all, what choice is there? Life here is full of surprises, disruptions and shocks. Any decision to come home involves making up one's mind to enter into this environment, and to live in it with its ups and downs. It's better to expect that anything that can happen, and will.

One important aspect is to learn to accept whatever happens, or is happening, and to Love It Up. An effort to change, transform or alter it can (and must) only come later.

Read more!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lifestyle Design

In a powerful book I just read, the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, the author makes the case that instead of focusing on money -- a common American preoccupation -- one should focus on "Lifestyle Design."

He argues that the very American promise of hard work in order to one day retire is a mistaken one.

Instead, one should take advantage of the "good years" and take several min-retirements along the way, spending as much time in foreign countries expanding one's direct experience (assisted by foreign languages.)

It's an interesting philosophy, and he has arrived at a point where many Jamaicans reach after a few years of hard work in the U.S. -- the money is good, but the endless grind and commitment to earning more, buying more, discarding the old stuff and putting the new stuff in the home is tiring.  Statistics show that the US is one of the most productive countries in the world, but they also show that it's because US workers put in more hours than any most other industrialized countries.

He argues that money is no proxy for lifestyle.  And, it's nowhere near as important.

Most Jamaicans who want to return know this keenly -- the 5% raise they get from the job does not make up for the lack of fresh fruits, the proximity to family or the "exotic vacation" they'll have to take to merely return to the island they once called home.  (Just tell the average person in the world that you are visiting Jamaica and watch their reaction...)

We returnees know that Jamaica offers a lifestyle that is, in some ways, superior to that of the vast majority of those lived by Americans. The question raised in the book is an interesting one for those of us who are hoping to return.

Now that a Jamaican is living in the U.S., how can they combine their access to both countries to design the lifestyle the want NOW, long before the hills of Mandeville beckon a retiree home?  How does one design and live a life that gives the best of all worlds?

The book gives some interesting tips on exactly how to do that.

Read more!

Why Migrate to Achieve More?

I just read a brilliant article entitled Death and Underachievement that I think might very well shed some light on the mistaken decision that people make when they decide to migrate from Jamaica.

As I mentioned in prior posts, the transition from being "someone" in Jamaica to being "no-one" in the U.S. is a difficult one to make for most.  It doesn't take too long, however, for a Jamaican to realize what the new rules are for living in the U.S. and to adjust themselves to become part of the new rat race. 

Their first goal is usually to accomplish more  than their peers back home, and to get some stuff that quickly shows that they made the right move.  When they return home, they are sure to bring proof that they made the right decision to leave, bringing back new clothes, new hair, new teeth... anything to show that they are doing better than if they had stayed.

But what has really changed in that regard?  Sure, they have access to better prices for better goods in better stores.  And they can acquire a lot more.

But  what does all that amount to?  In the end, we all end up in the very same place and all but a handful of us are remembered for more than a few years.  My parent's gardner died a few weeks ago, and left absolutely no-one behind except his landlord, my parents and another gardener to work with.  While I am sure that he is in a place where it matters not one bit, I can see that his life is ours, with the exception of one or two hundred people.... many of whom would rather go to the accounts receivable meeting than attend our funeral.

he makes the point that underachievement might even be a good thing, because great achievement leads to great failure which leads to great misery.  Furthermore, greater achievement only vaults someone into the company of great-er achievers, making it more difficult to achieve.

He says:
Let’s further suspend disbelief and presume that measuring your success against those of your peers is a worthwhile and significant undertaking. Remember, then, that with each subsequent rise through a social stratum comes an increasingly insurmountable and intimidating group of competitors. And this is just as true of prime ministers and emperors as it is of district managers and fry cooks.

His argument is that seeing as well end up in the same place (i.e. in some form of crunchy dust) why bother to make it hard on ourselves by trying to achieve so much, when it can be shown that an addiction to achievement is such an unhealthy and unhappy thing.

Hmmm... good point.

Read more!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Big Ups

In addition to the need to be "Aggressively Polite" is another critical skill to be used here in Jamaica -- "Bigging Up."

Again, this is a difficult behaviour to explain, other than by way of comparison.

In America, there is an "equality ethos" in the way in which people relate to each other when it comes to greetings. in other words, an American will say "Hey Buddy" or "Yo man, wassup" in a familiar way that denotes a strong feeling of "we are all equal, and are friends here."

Here in Jamaica, among strangers, it is much better to greet someone in a way that "promotes" them in some way that goes somewhat beyond what is expected in the situation.

"Yes, Big Man"
"Nice lady"
"Mr. Newspaper Man"
"Good morning, Sir"
"Good day, Ma'am"
"Boss, what can I do for you?

In high school at Wolmers as 11 year olds, we were introduced to a culture in which teachers would say "Good morning gentlemen," followed by a response of "Good morning, Sir" or "Good morning miss."

The socially accepted practice is to promote someone, especially when they are not close friends, but even then the practice is still used.

I remember vividly a moment when my father visited the U.S. when I lived there, and he and I went to see a boxing match at a sports bar. A few white guys in their twenties sitting with us said not more than a few words to him, and I was shocked -- I had never heard anyone ever refer to him with such an utter lack of what we Jamaicans call "respect." They weren't rude -- it was just remarkable that their way of speaking with him was utterly devoid of what one would expect in Jamaica. After all, these were guys in their twenties speaking to someone of my Dad's age and "stature."

My guess is that this is all tied in with slavery, and the gross disrespect that was promulgated by Englishmen on Africans, Arawaks, Chinese, "Syrians" and Indians. Eventually, the practice of disrespect was passed on by them to everyone else, and it continues today in a multitude of forms.

"Bigging Up" is simply a powerful antidote to the demeaning way in which we Jamaicans often relate to each other.

Read more!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Cash Plus

It looks like those who have loaned Cash Plus money in exchange for the 10-18% monthly return they were supposed to be getting are going to be unlucky as the FSC has issued a cease and desist order, according to the Observer and Gleaner.

The rule of thumb I use whenever I hear about these kinds of "earnings" is that any company that produces mega-returns on that level must result in either:
- headlines in the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times lauding their genius
- complete collapse at some point, with someone left losing their investment because it is essentially a pyramid scheme

I say this without knowing anything about the companies that are offering these high returns, because the world is such that one does not need to know the inner workings of a company that offers these returns to be able to predict one outcome or the other.

It's a little like being able to predict that a lead ball will fall if it's released in mid-air.

Some 18 years ago, I remember a conversation I had with a colleague of mine who had just signed up with NuSkin, a network marketing company.

We were all employees of AT&T Bells Labs which back then was the premier R&D lab of its kind in the world. I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some brilliant people, many of whom had PhD's, and a few (who I never actually worked with in person) that even had Nobel Prizes.

We sat down for several hours to figure out that what this NuSkin thing was all about, and where it was headed.

We arrived at the conclusion that ALL networking marketing companies must experience one of two outcomes if it's based on bringing in more people in order to grow:
1. A LOT of people lose their investment slowly
2. It fails quickly because too much success eventually leads to a shortage of new recruits, which creates a domino effect that causes the company to collapse

It didn't matter that there was a product being sold, as long as hyper-growth was dependent on bringing in more people.

Not that this was a problem per se -- except that apparently neither the new recruits nor the owners of network marketing companies seemed to recognize this dynamic. It IS a very difficult dynamic to distinguish. It took a bunch of highly trained engineering types several hours to arrive at this conclusion.

Whenever I have spoken to someone in a network marketing company I have never been able to explain what we discovered, unfortunately.

Which brings me to Cash Plus. There is no company that has ever produced the returns that Cash Plus did each month without an element of it being a pyramid scheme. There is no company that has beaten the DJIA's annual return on an ongoing basis many times over without that element being present.

Cash Plus' difficulties at the moment are typical of this kind of scheme.

The question I have is whether or not the other investment schemes are also falling into the same trap. The owners don't need to be malicious people to make this grave error in judgement that ends up costing people their savings. They don't need to be convicted felons. They can even be quite smart.

To the other companies that are providing 10%+ monthly returns in their investment clubs or other schemes, I'd recommend that they bring in an independent forensic team to verify that there is no pyramid element hidden in the structure of the organization. This critical step would assist everyone in clearing up the mystery, and help the owner/operators prevent a catastrophe for themselves and their investors.

It would dissipate some of the thunder-clouds that are growing around these companies.


Read more!

Aggressive Politeness

One thing that I have learned from moving to live in Jamaica is the importance of being what I call "aggressively polite."

It's a bit difficult to explain, except by contrast.

In the U.S., people assume that they are strangers, and that they have little in common, and that they need to keep to themselves and out of other people's affairs. (Unless they are famous, in which case the very opposite rule applies.)

By and large, people ignore each other.

Here in Jamaica, sometimes ignoring someone can be seen as disrespect. On the other hand, actively greeting someone, and assertively being polite is a practice that is welcomed, and is usually very warmly returned.

"Good Mornings" and the introductory chit-chat that is often just skipped in the U.S. are essential here, and people are taken aback when this small respect is not accorded in day-to-day conversation. The easy informality and geniality of Americans is seen as typical tourist behaviour when a foreigner oversteps their bounds in a conversation, and tries to get too friendly too quickly.

For anyone coming to Jamaica, these pleasantries have to be learned (or re-learned) as they can turn a simple conversation into a suspicious or even hostile one without warning.

Here in Jamaica, there are few virtues that are more prized than having a sense of humility and of respect shown to others, and these practices go a long way in helping to create it.

Labels: ,

Read more!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Accepting Shocking News

In the Gleaner yesterday, and also on television, there was a story about three men being killed for stealing a goat in Westmoreland.

Or to be more accurate, they were lynched.

Apparently, they were in the process of stealing a goat, when their plans were waylaid by people in the district who spotted the stolen goat in an abandoned building. They decide to wait for the men, and when they arrived, they attacked them en masse with machetes, and probably anything else they could get their hands on.

I imagine that many went to church the following morning, and are probably justifying their attack to themselves and those around them. After all:
-- these men should have known what was coming
-- this is someone's livelihood that was being affected by the theft
-- the Bible says "...."

And the chances that it will happen again are quite high, as a search of the Gleaner archives reveals that this kind of mob action happens every few months or so. I have mentioned a few prior incidents in my blog a few times.

I doubt that anyone will be persecuted either.

Living in Jamaica has taught me how to accept shocking news, and how to move on with life in spite of it. This might just be an essential skill for anyone coming to live in Jamaica...


Read more!