“Returning residents” to Jamaica were given special status in 1993, if they fit certain eligibility requirements; that status helps defray some possible financial costs and administrative headaches associated with moving home and family from one country to another. The government now has a unit to deal with the returnees. It’s not easy to measure this group or judge the importance of such persons to Jamaican society or if their influence is growing and positive: data on voluntary returnees were not collected before 1993 and they are incomplete, based on applications for Customs privileges and covering the applicant not the household. (In the raw data, deportees now far outnumber voluntary returnees.)
I visited Rockfort Mineral Baths on Tuesday morning, with my 9 year-old daughter. We’d planned to take her maternal grandparents to sample the waters, but their ailments were hampering them and they decided not to go. How ironic, I thought: the waters should make them feel better. Anyway, we arrived and got ourselves changed and into the main pool in no time. I reminisced about how things had been when I was a boy, in the late 1950s/early 1960s, when my father would take my mother and me on his motorcycle. I have a vivid memory of being ‘taught’ to swim at Rockfort, when my father threw me into the pool. You sink or swim 🙂
The bath water was cool and refreshing compared to regular Kingston heat of over 32 degrees C. As I waded and she did hand stands and splits, a man nearby started a conversation, after he overheard one of my daughter’s remarks. We ended up talking quite a while. He and his wife live in the southern US and his wife wants to return to Jamaica; he’s reluctant. We talked about the pros and cons. Would his health benefits be transferable? What about the cost of living? He noted that many goods and services are much more expensive in Jamaica (about 50% more, he estimated) and unlikely to be offset by cheaper goods such as local fruit and vegetables. He was especially concerned at how costly housing may be, even though he hoped that his long-time membership of one of the building societies would convey benefits in lower borrowing costs. He hoped that their US home would be paid off before any move, and the proceeds would then cover a large percentage of the cost of buying a home in Jamaica. He talked about how desirable Mandeville seemed, and I told him something about my parents’ return and how they had been very happy to have settled in Mandeville, which has a large population of returning residents. Great climate. Small town, but big enough to meet many needs. Nice pace of life. Not difficult access to most parts of the island, especially with the highway covering most of the journey to Kingston. He had plenty to think about. I joked with his wife and sister-in-law about the ‘burdensome’ decision he was trying to make. They laughed: “Jus’ come, man!”
I explained to this man some of my concerns ahead of our recent move. I’d wondered a lot about the disruption to my daughter’s education and other aspects of child development. I’d thought a lot about the level of crime, and had a firm refusal in my mind regarding living in any barred house. I’d reflected on my father’s experience of coming back to Jamaica and being considered a foreigner: I did not have a long history like him before leaving, but I could understand the possible emotional pain. It’s funny that a dear cousin called me an “alien” the other day. But, my concerns found their place on a shelf and I decided to go with the flow of enthusiasm that my daughter showed and her excitement for a new adventure.
When we came out of the pool and were getting dressed, we met two ladies who’d also been enjoying their baths; they were taking photographs. I asked if they’d take pictures of my daughter and me; they agreed. While we joked around, one of the ladies prompted me to point out that I had just returned to Jamaica to live. “Be patient with us! It’s worth it,” she said. She told how she’d returned in 1973, after living in NW London, and how friends had told her she’d go insane once she returned to Jamaica. “It nah ‘appen yet,” she told me, gleefully. I tried to reassure her that the patience needed here was much the same as anywhere, and the problems were usually people, people and other people 🙂 So far, my need for patience hadn’t really been stretched. She laughed.
Returning residents have no clearly identifiable marks, but that does not mean they cannot be identified. Stories abound about how they have been targeted for robberies: followed from the airport; trailed when they go to banks, building societies or post offices to collect or cash pension payments.
It’s easy to understand that it would be challenging for someone who had left Jamaica when was relatively peaceful and returned to find a social environment that is turbulent or violent, and an economy that is supposedly faltering most of the time. The police, for example, have realised that they have to the needs of the returning community, whose expectations are consistent with the countries from where they are coming.
My experience as someone who has returned to Jamaica–though not necessarily what is defined as a returning resident–leads me to believe that patience is needed, though not necessarily an extraordinary amount. Jamaican natural things happen in their own sweet time: the seasons are different from those in Europe and North America, but they give what they give, be it certain fruit or flowers. But, they are mostly worth the wait–mango season will soon be over and then we’ll miss the smell and taste we’ve enjoyed the past few months. Many local foods grow or can be stored so that they are around all year–I’ve never known yam or sweet potatoes to not be available. As fits a country with strong rural ties, people are also aware of the need to make best use of what is available, so pickling or preserving fruit and vegetables is still very common–I’m looking forward to more of my friend’s chutney. Sure, things like fish may be subject to weather conditions and other seasonal variations. But, nature is mostly kind in Jamaica. Will I feel the same as hurricane season takes hold and if we’re find ourselves buffeted by frighteningly strong wind and rain? The sun shines every day and sometimes it’s hard to remember when it last rained: having had two afternoons of heavy showers in Kingston, we’re blessed with really cool afternoons and grass that was browning and burning has a chance to revive.
But, people will try your patience. Every society has its systems or lack of them. The people working those and how they are constructed have often been the reason why the patience of Job has to be invoked. Jamaica has its special needs in this context. Taxi drivers will test the patience of many: stopping when and where they feel like a fare may be. Some bureaucrats will want to show you that they control your life and making seemingly simple tasks as hard as pushing a rock uphill. Some processes seem to be geared to move backwards not forwards: I’m still amazed at how long and tedious was the process of insuring a car, something I did with a short phone call in the US, but which took some two hours in an office in Kingston. I don’t relish the prospect of visiting a tax office. Things that cannot happen without cash payments, whether that is really to make it easier for the provider in terms of cash flow or procuring materials or if it’s to evade taxes, can test my patience: I’ve lived for decades with a wallet that was not stuffed with cash, knowing that my credit card was easy to use. Now, I ask “Do you take card?”
I went to the famous ‘Gloria’s’ restaurant in Port Royal after the mineral baths trip. A friend had warned me that the wait for food would be long, “but it’s worth the wait” she’d added. I can’t remember when I’d last eaten there and I was excited to take my daughter, but gave her the warning. Shock and horror: our food arrived with no real delay–admittedly, the place was quiet, but things seemed to move well for others as it filled up.
Heavy rain seems to slow everything down: traffic leaving town last night was ridiculous at 7-8pm: it didn’t matter much when I was headed in the opposite direction, but I was shocked that it was still there when I was coming back an hour later. Don’t be in a hurry if it rains in Jamaica, whether the delays are caused by potholes or more caution or silly accidents or people just loving the rain.
Yet, by contrast, there are people who want to try to make your life easier and for whom one should have ample patience. On my way to the baths, I stopped at the Gas Products (Gas Pro) depot, which is just nearby. We’d been searching for a cylinder of propane for a barbecue grill. Simple enough in the US: pick one up from a gas station (not any, but many) or even a supermarket at certain times of year. No big thing. In Jamaica, it’s not so. One fruitless Saturday showed me that. When I asked around, none of the suggested places supplied them–hardware store, gas station, etc.. Go to the source, my boy! A very nice lady told me that I had to buy an empty cylinder from Price Mart and then I could have it filled. “A so wi do it!” Solution found.
Not every Jamaican emigrant left on The Empire Windrush in 1948, going headlong to help England. Not everyone fled a country that they felt was being pushed into the ground by socialist policies. Many left in calm and collected fashion. Many left to study or work and stayed much longer than they expected–that’s an aspect of migration to which many can relate. The decision to return voluntarily may have many causes, and will pose many challenges. Returning anywhere is not a simple turning back of the clock. We know that from several jaunts in different countries and managing the return to our home in the US. Nothing remained unchanged, and how one deals with that can be the answer to how much patience is needed. I have plenty of experience to draw on in that regard, but that does not mean it will be smooth and easy, but it does not have to be painful.