I’m not sure what prompted a wave of nostalgia, today, though I have a clear recollection that I was mulling “What if?” things about my life. The first thought that surfaced was to do with my sporting life. I left Jamaica as a 6 year old in 1961 and became a sprinter at school in London. I went on to win the county high schools championships in 100m in the early 1970s. London had a population of 6 million. I then thought about the fact that we have just had the national ‘Champs’ event, when high school athletes compete. Jamaica has a population now of about 3 million–much less back in the 1970s. So, my simple what if was about whether I could have been national schools champion.
I’ve had this thought, often. 🙂
Part of the reason for thinking about it was that I don’t have deep in me any of the common high school affiliations and rivalries that surface, especially, around sports events.
Also, in the UK, there’s no comparable big recognised rivalry between schools across any sports, except between some public (ie private) schools. Of course, in any locality, rivalries exist between schools for a range of reasons, but nothing to spark county-wide interest and certainly not national interest.
Was my life the lesser for maybe starring on the wrong stage? I’m not complaining.
It’s funny how life goes on and we often forget why we do what we do, or the origins of what we do.
Last weekend, I donned a Liverpool FC shirt for the first time ever, yet I have been a Liverpool supporter most of my life. How and why is that? Truth is, it’s a fairly recent trend for fans to wear replica gear. For many years, the most fans did was wear scarves in team colours or rosettes. Things changed from the mid-1970s.
I arrived in England in September 1961, as a 6 year-old; I started primary school a few days after the new school term had begun. (I don’t know if my father had planned our journey with that in mind; my mother had been in England already for a few months.) I had never played football before and I began playing at school in England, in the playground with other kids.
We had matches against other primary schools and I played in them from about age 9. My primary school played in red shirts/white shorts—the same as Liverpool and Manchester United, two famous English clubs, whom I had never heard of before going to England. Neither team had yet reached domination in England or Europe in the early-1960s. That would come from the mid-1960s and, interestingly, Liverpool’s success was also in the era of rising international popularity of the musical group, The Beatles, formed in Liverpool in 1960.
I honestly can’t recall how I came to associate with Liverpool other than through the coincidence of team kits, something that would likely influence a primary schoolboy. What I know to my core is that certain Liverpool (and Man United) players hit my consciousness as models for my play. Liverpool forwards Roger Hunt and Ian St. John, and Man U’s forward force of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law; though I loved the sparkly finishing of Tottenham’s Jimmy Greaves the most. At that time, no black players featured prominently in British football, and my eyes were on Pelé from an early age.
I saw teams play on TV a little; we did not have a TV in our early years and I remember watching at friends’ homes or even gazing throw a showroom window 🙂
BBC TV’s Grandstand was an important part of every Saturday afternoon, as it came with all the match scores of the day, before the programme ended at 5pm. Back then, matches started at 3pm, so ended around 4.45.
It wasn’t common in the 1960s for people who lived in London to support teams from outside London, and truly rare for them to support Midlands or Northern teams—they were almost in a different country for fandom; often they were a fan of the professional team nearest to them—transport access was not a trivial constraint—and if you moved you usually kept your team affiliation. East and West were separate, as were North and South in London football fandom. Over the years, especially since the Premier League formed and the power ranking of London clubs has changed, so has the fan base (ignoring overseas fans). It not simple to analyze, though some have tried.
Televised football in the UK came to the fore in the early-1960s, so I was not able to sit and watch every match, as is now possible. Very few live broadcasts had been done before then, with the exception of the FA Cup and the England-Scotland game. Most football news and views on TV came on Saturdays with Grandstand, which broadcast a range of sport till 5pm, after the football league match results. ‘The newly formed British television station ITV saw televised football as an ideal way of gaining a share of the audience from their only rival broadcaster, the BBC. The BBC meanwhile, started showing brief highlights of matches (with a maximum of five minutes) on its Saturday-night Sports Special programme from late-1955, until its cancellation in 1963.
An early attempt at live league football was made in 1960–61, when ITV agreed a deal worth £150,000 with the Football League to screen 26 matches; the very first live league match was in September 1960. But coverage faltered with smaller than expected audiences and as the Football League demanded a dramatic increase in player appearance payments.
However, ITV moved again into football, tentatively, in 1962 with Match of the Week, which showed highlights of regionally televised matches from around East Anglia. Later, came matches from the North East of England began under the title Shoot. League football was soon to gain a nationwide audience once more. In 1964, the BBC introduced Match of the Day – originally shown on BBC2 and intended to train BBC cameramen for the forthcoming 1966 World Cup. The first match was Liverpool’s 3–2 victory over Arsenal at Anfield on 22 August, and the estimated audience of 20,000 was considerably less than the number of paying customers at the ground. At the time BBC2 could only be received in the London area, although by the end of Match of the Day‘s first season it could be sampled in the Midlands. The programme transferred to BBC1 in the wake of England’s 1966 World Cup win and at last could be received by television viewers across the UK.’
Football results were important for two reasons—to follow how teams did and to get results for the ‘football pools’ sweepstakes. The most we would get were highlights and press reports.
In the United Kingdom, the football pools, often referred to as “the pools”, is a betting pool based on predicting the outcome of top-level football matches taking place in the coming week. The pools are typically cheap to enter, and may encourage gamblers to enter several bets. ’The traditional and most popular game was the Treble Chance, now branded the Classic Pools game. Players pick 10, 11 or 12 football games from the offered fixtures to finish as a draw, in which each team scores at least one goal.’
A big feature of the lives of early immigrants in the UK was focusing on the pools each week, hoping that a big win would come along and springboard people into financial security and better, especially for a passage back home. I recall Caribbean people sitting over their coupons working out their picks and then their possible results at the weekends, whether they were betting singly or in syndicates. See a story reported by Pathe News in 1963 of a Jamaican porter who won the then massive sum of £33,000 (equivalent to about £590,000 in 2020, or about J$105 million).
My parent, who knew nothing about football and did not support any team, were avid punters.
So, it was a round about journey to becoming a Liverpool fan and much had to do with the charisma of its manager, a gruff Scot, Bill Shankly, who lived and breathed football. His famous quote is: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
So, I will claim fan rights with the team of 1961/62; going on 60 years of often quiet fanaticism. 🙂 That’s well before European domination in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Long before John Barnes, who probably catapulted the team into the consciousness of many Jamaicans. [BTW, I knew John as a youth player in Middlesex in the 1970s 🙂 ]
Shankly changed the image of Liverpool FC, first with a change of kit to the now familiar all-red in 1964/65 European Cup campaign to give a more ‘threatening’ image to the team on the Continent, and in making ‘You’ll never walk alone’ the club anthem. The song was from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical, ‘Carousel) and was redone and became a hit song for a Liverpudlian singer Gerry Marsden and his group the Pacemakers in 1963–another feather in the city’s cap.
Shankly began managing Liverpool in 1959, and it was under him that the team first competed in European competition in 1964–65, qualifying for the European Cup by winning the First Division championship the previous season. (After his surprise retirement in 1974, he was replaced by managers who had been his assistants and forging a long tradition of Liverpool being managed by people who had developed within the club’s systems and traditions.)
But, I lived 5 minutes from Queens Park Rangers (QPR’s) ground and they were then going to be my home team…till now…and all the giant-killing exploits in the mid-1960s and the rise from the then-Third Division to the top flight, including nearly beating Liverpool to the title in 1975/6, winning more matches than any other team. This was my point of maximum conflicts of emotions. Imagine, QPR’s first match that season was at home to Liverpool, to which I went and QPR won 2-0. Liverpool fans came in droves and were well represented in the ‘home’ end, where I stood. It was an eerie and surreal feeling.
QPR’s matches were the most accessible and I was able to go many Saturdays after my high school matches, which were played in the mornings, although a good two hour ride away. It’s where I learned most of my play, watching professionals close-up. I went a few times to Chelsea matches (in the days of Peter Osgood, John Hollins, Charlie Cooke), as I also had a local connection to them, being close to my school and the team that many of my school mates supported. Several Chelsea players would travel west to join QPR in the early-mid-1970s, and also form their managerial staff).
Anyone who has a pulse and exists in the world of serious fandom, knows that when your home town is in the mix for greats things, it’s a gift. This is a rare moment in life and it should be embraced. QPR had put little Shepherd’s Bush and themselves on the map with their giant-killing league exploit and then in a cup final, coming back from 0-2 down at half-time against the defending First Division team and League Cup champions, West Bromwich Albion, to win 3-2 at Wembley in 1967. The year after England won the World Cup.
I remember jubilation in the streets. What a time to be alive! I had been a year at grammar school and bragging rights from a fan of one of London’s ‘little’ clubs were huge.
I carried my support for Liverpool quietly most of the time—though, when I live in North Wales, which is like a Merseyside suburb, it got a better airing—but let it flow fully in these great moments in Europe; none was bigger than the comeback from 0-3 against Milan in the 2005 European Cup final in Istanbul.
That is until the demolition job on Barcelona in Champions League semi-final at Anfield in 2019.
I’ve replayed the winning goal more times than months in the year. That Spurs should reach the final in similarly dramatic fashion was magical—they’re my first-born’s team and we were long-time Tottenham residents.
A sad reality for countries like Jamaica in this current juncture is that economic progress seems unlikely to hold much tangible benefit for most people. Unemployment is highish, at about 14 percent, and much higher for young people–about 35-40 percent. The economy has been stagnant officially for decades. In reality, growth has been happening, but under- or unreported. We all live off the underground economy, and in a stagnant economy, it represents good value for money. We may despise some aspects, like windscreen washer boys, but give us that car boot full of sugar loaf pineapples, as we drive on our way. Most done confine crime, but the petty kind, say involving marihuana, we tolerate. Gun crimes and trading hard drugs, we abhor and hope don’t touch us.
Official data show rising poverty, and that may be taken as a reasonable truth, though how low some people have fallen is hard to gauge. Remittances and illegal activity have bolstered many households.
Most of the world has not seen fast growth for years and Jamaica lives off the coat tails of industrial countries, like the USA, Canada and the UK. They have little prospect of fast growth in coming years, as they come out of recession like worms breaking ground. So, unless Jamaica becomes a full-fledged satellite of China, it’s stuck in this slower growing economic space. So, forget about growth trickling down or pulling anyone up by their bootstraps.
Jamaica has been saved from a total social meltdown by a few things. Significant among them has been emigration. That our labour has been able to head overseas and find work, often at much better wages than at home, has been an important safety valve. Whether we helped build the Panama Canal, or helped the British public services and factories to overcome their labour shortages, or take care of American children, or find favour in neighboring Caribbean countries, abroad has been a welcome place for Jamaicans.
Crime is another, in particular, through its awful coexistence with politics. It was amusing to read yesterday a report about the Opposition JLP spokesman on national security claiming that politicians were not longer responsible for crime. It’s worth parsing the few words and thinking about what it claims and implies. What struck me was the notion that, while in general Jamaican politicians do not get involved with criminal violence, some in particular did and do still. It’s also the case that the criminals want shot of the politicos, as they are a financial drain. That tells you something about the scale of political corruption. But, it also suggests that criminals can survive quite happily without political favour. That’s bad news because they have become self-reliant and perhaps more dangerous for that. Like a laboratory experiment that gets out into the general population, we all now have to live with the creature given life by politicians that now feeds on us all with no regard to its creator.
Those two factors tell you a lot about how this country has been run, not just post-independence. People have long used escape to survive. Those who could, have used education or skills to help lever that exit on a permanent basis. They and others exit on a temporary or repeated basis.
Our record as criminals tends to compromise our desire to travel. Even our neighbours shun us or treat us with undue suspicion, as we’ve seen in some notable recent cases. You only need to come off a flight from Jamaica to sample this. If you’re law-abiding, it’s a galling experience. Yet, the world doesn’t know that a few bad apples have spoiled the barrel. That will take decades to overcome, and the world can embrace Usain Bolt and stigmatize every ‘Delroy McDonald’.
Jamaican political leaders do not have a good record of driving the country well. Most people have given up on them: look at the steady decline in voter turnout in national elections. So, what will people do? Revolution does not seem to be the preferred option. Jamaicans make much vocal protest, but have little stomach for putting bodies in the line for causes. It’s also not a tradition in the region, which has been extraordinary for decades of peaceful electoral change. Politicians have lived off this, well. But, for how much longer?
Jamaicans are getting upset about their treatment by fellow CARICOM member, Trinidad and Tobago, over reports of the recent denial of entry to 13 Jamaicans. Some people have decided that the right reaction is to try to hurt T&T financially. “Boycott!” some have cried and some notable efforts have been started by consumers in this direction. But, will boycotting ‘Trinidad’ really hurt that country? It may sound easy to stop buying a particular country’s goods in the supermarkets, but do people really know or understand the impact that a true boycott of that country would mean? It has to go much wider to work and there lies the problem.
Trinidad & Tobago has had the manufacturing edge over Jamaica for many years, and, not surprisingly hold a clear edge in trade, with Jamaica importing many goods from the twin isles. Trinidad has also had the edge in many services, with its companies taking over several Jamaican providers.
Many ‘Jamaican’ goods and services are actually owned by Trinidadian entities or have Trinidad connections. For example, Air Jamaica, until recently, our national carrier, is now folded into Caribbean Airlines. Would the boycotters stop using the ‘regional’ carrier? If so, at what cost?
Jamaica Beverages Limited pushes Trinidad-made soft drinks in the local market: it distributes Chubby, Fruta, Busta and Viva beverages for its parent manufacturing company, SM Jaleel Limited, based in Trinidad. Anyone, thirsty?
In 1999, Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) took a majority stake in Jamaica’s Caribbean Cement Company. Anyone thinking of doing some building work?
For instance, the Trinidadian Neal & Massy conglomerate acquired Jamaican business such as H.D. Hopwood (a 70-year-old Jamaican-based manufacturer and distributor of pharmaceuticals and consumer goods), Gas Products Ltd and a 40 per cent stake in Cool Petroleum Ltd. In 1999 Trinidad’s Guardian Holdings Limited acquired the insurance trio of Dyoll Life, Crown Eagle and Jamaica Mutual who were all ‘Finsaced’ and merged them under the banner Guardian Life. Insurance, anyone? In 2000, Trinidadian banking giant, RBTT, acquired FINSAC’s 99.9 per cent shareholding in Union Bank of Jamaica and changed its name to RBTT Bank (Jamaica). Union Bank was the result of a merger of the business of four FINSAC-controlled commercial banks and their three allied merchant banks, all seven of which sought Government intervention when faced with insolvency: Citizens Bank; Eagle Commercial Bank; Island Victoria Bank; Workers Savings & Loan Bank; Citizens Merchant Bank; Corporate Merchant Bank; and Island Life Merchant Bank. Where will people put their money or find other banking services.
Trinidad leads Jamaica in many key areas: in petroleum products, mixed juices, detergents, baby diapers, prepared foods, bread and cakes, copper wire, urea, and sweet biscuits. Consumers may well be able to source some items from in Jamaica but are still likely to need to import. We will still be paying another piper.
But, if Jamaicans stop buying Trinidadian goods, the first pain will be felt by Jamaican retailers and importers–Trinidadian companies may well already have the money for the goods–who may well be left with stocks unsold? The negative impact will be on Jamaicans. In the short run, what will happen to them and who will be under threat? My eyes turn to Jamaican workers in those retailers and importing groups.
Alternatively, Jamaicans will be without certain goods and services, at least temporarily. The items people want to buy that are not from Trinidad cannot be provided from elsewhere in an instant. So, will shoppers decide to do without certain items? What goods will they turn to, instead? The importers may need to go to US, UK, China and other major producing countries to fill the gap, or maybe other countries in the Americas, say Brazil, or Caribbean countries, before they turn to Jamaican providers–if they exist.
The impact on Jamaican workers and their incomes may be large. I’m not sure how consumers will react when they realise that neighbours and friends are in the firing line of what may seem to be well-intended actions. It’s not necessarily the case, either, that the impacts would be reversible, if sustained and successful.
The links that bind Jamaica and Trinidad are many but often not clear, and if the boycott is to be successful it will need to be complete. Jamaica has to hurt itself in order to try to hurt Trinidad.
It’s something to think about–and might not have been considered much, if at all. For a country already in dire economic straits, and just showing the first signs of turning a stagnant economy towards growth, I wonder how ready people will be to mash down the seedlings that are starting to sprout in terms of upward moving economic activity.
The term is ‘no pain, no gain’. Are we ready to inflict wounds on ourself?
Veronica Campbell-Brown (VCB): The JAAA ended its four day hearing into the positive drug test of VCB by recommending that she be given a public warning. They found she did not take the drugs to gain a competetive advantage. The decision is subject to IAAF confirmation.
Shanique Myrie case: Caribbean Court of Justice found in her favour and awarded her US $39,000 damages, to be paid by the Barbadian government. The CCJ has ruled that the rights of the Jamaican were breached by border officials when she tried to enter Barbados in 2011. by the Barbadian government.
The US government shutdown. The Pentagon will allow back 400,000 civilian staff who support the morale of troops. Congress approved back pay for furloughed federal workers.
Over 100 African migrants died when the boat carrying about 500 people mainly from Eritrea and Somalia sank off coast of Lampedusa. Some 155 were pulled out alive but search continues.
I remember reading and enjoying Andrea Levy’s book Small Island, but at the same time feeling very uncomfortable while reading it. As recurring memories go, I always remember what took my parents to England. Both of my parents were trained nurses when they left Jamaica in 1961; my father was older and more qualified than my mother. When she went to England to fill the need for nurses in the National Health Service she knew she would have to train again there: she was at the bottom of the career ladder and knew it. My father, by contrast, was well-established as a senior mental nurse at Bellevue Hospital. It was a shock, therefore, for him to have to consider retraining. It always seemed an immense irony that he was trained in the ‘British system’, yet this did not equip him to work in Britain.
The comfort came from recognizing so much of the description of life for the Caribbean immigrant. The discomfort came from recognizing so many of the problems faced by the migrants.
One over-riding aspect that strikes me now is how many people travelled with no intention of staying more than a few years, perhaps improving their skills and then returning home to the Caribbean to resume their careers there. Instead, Britain is littered with generations of people who stayed longer than they wanted. The experiences for migrants were often similar, and the congregation in certain areas was one of the ways that helped some to bridge the cultural and social barriers that came their way.
I well remember doing things that were really Caribbean but hidden from sight for most of the British population. For example, going to the barbers on a Saturday, which was in the basement of someone’s house: it was an opportunity to socialize and would be full of people waiting for haircuts and many would be there all day, talking, playing dominoes, eating, drinking rum, and getting haircuts. No fancy hydraulic chairs but hard wooden chairs, perhaps with a board across so that a child could be raised. This was in the day of the leather strop, cut throat razors, and hand-operated shears; when lather was made in a bowl or enamel cup with regular soap and water; partings were in fashion and were made with scissors or razor. For a young boy, like me, this is where you learned to be like the men. The language was not often very coarse, but as the rum flowed, who knew what would come out. My father never stayed very late when I went with him, and we would proudly surface from underground and show off our new cuts, as we walked back to our home. Only West Indians were there: there was no bar on English people, but this was not a world much known to them, if at all.
My life in Britain never had to deal with much overt racism when I was small. I had to endure what seemed like silly statements or questions, which to me showed people to be really ignorant so filled me and my parents with a strong sense of superiority. “Do you live in trees in your country?” was one of those questions. But, the ignorance was no real surprise. How could these people know about our lives in our faraway countries? For instance, they could not understand why our curly hair did not get into our eyes or grow down to our shoulders, unless we decided to have it straightened. I met more ignorance than malice, but I knew many who met plenty of malice with words and blows.
Many of our activities fed stereotypes. We showed prowess in sports and could dance and sing, so we ended up on teams and won competitions and displaced the natives in so doing. Did that lead to resentment and more reasons to dislike us? Probably, in some cases; not so in others. As the face of Britain changed radically in some areas, it was clear that the new arrivals sometimes had attributes that could be beneficial. It was a mixed bag, really. But, we were also stereotyped and abused as a result: “You profile fits the suspect,” a policeman once said to me one night, except I did not, and I made him understand that I did not and that he had no business stopping me for a bogus reason. I didn’t get beaten. I wasn’t afraid. But, I knew the anger generated by being pulled up on ‘sus’.
When I look back over half a century and think about the flow of people from the Caribbean and now back again, I think about the underuse of potential. Jamaica and other Caribbean countries lost many talented people, but Britain did not often get the full benefits of the talent that landed on its shores. People settled for lesser skilled work so that they could earn something. Some managed to do their skilled trade on the side, or were able to find a slot where that was on display all the time. I have an uncle who was a carpenter and managed from an early time since his arrival in England to work in that trade for a major building company–admittedly, not making bureaus and cabinets as he’d done in St. Elizabeth but making stairs and doors and wooden fittings. I remember how proud I was to be given a job by that company when I was on summer holidays and seeing my uncle, now more Anglicised, working hard as a ‘chippie’, and him proud that his nephew was doing well in school and could run mental rings around most of the men who met us.
Mass migration from the Caribbean has left a fractured society in the region and a patchy history for its citizens. We cannot turn back the clock on Britain’s needs for postwar redevelopment and the ‘natural’ response of trying pull in resources from its colonies. Caribbean people were invited then it became clear that these dark people were not really welcome guests in a mostly white country. The guests did not always want to stay too long, but many found that leaving was an ever-harder possibility, as lives became set and families grew. Britain got what it wanted initially but then had to live with getting more than it planned. Caribbean migrants found quickly that their hopes and dreams were not going to be fulfilled in Britain, which was no place of castles or with streets paved in gold. Britain might have believed it had an Empire on which the sun never sets, but it was a country where many natives and immigrants found that the sun set too fast and for some the sun never rose again. Those who’ve had their families shifted around over the years because of this migration have been reaping for years things they did not knew they had sown. Yet, the offspring of these migrants are framing a new life and reshaping Britain.
The spreading of Caribbean culture into British life is now a fact. ‘Britons’ now come in many shades and have more varied roots than half a century ago. A happy blending? I wouldn’t want to say that’s so in all eyes. A disaster for both sides? I wouldn’t say so, either. A complicated interaction that has far to run still? For sure. Thank you, Andrea Levy, for elevating my discomfort about the relationship between two areas supposedly joined but truly very far apart.
“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 EmpireWindrush 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.
There’s a simple logic behind many episodes of voluntary migration: a search for better opportunities. My parents sought the same when they left Jamaica for England just before Independence. Before that and since, Jamaicans have traveled far and wide; they and their offspring can now be found in many different places. Jamaica has lost much human capital through emigration, and it’s hard to see that drain of people and their intellectual and physical talent as being an overall positive for Jamaica’s development, even if in cash terms it could be shown that remittances have become the largest source of funds to the economy and provided immense support to families all over the island.I find myself in a location to which Jamaicans have flocked–south Florida. Here I am in Miami. I acknowledge openly that, after all the travel I have done through Miami International Airport over two decades, I had never set foot outside of those hallowed concourses. Today, that changed.
It does not take much to understand the attraction of this area for Caribbean people: sun, sand, sea, hot temperatures, jobs, jobs and more jobs, nice places to live and work, and more jobs. Don’t get me wrong: the place was not immune from the general downturn in the US economy, but by comparison with the Caribbean, things look very good for employment seekers most of the time. True, it’s America and its attitudes and ethos are different to those of the Caribbean, but it’s relatively laid back, in an industrialised way.
It is hard to verify the exact number of people of Jamaican descent living in the USA because most of them assimilate into the wider so-called ‘African-American’ communities. US census data suggest that documented Americans of Jamaican descent and (the high number of) Jamaican “illegal aliens” total close to 1 million ‘Jamaicans’ living in the United States.
Jamaicans refer colloquially to the Miami metropolitan area as “Kingston 21”.
I haven’t seen enough of the Miami Beach area to support that title, but I won’t challenge it. Maybe, as I move around Dade County in coming days, that view will change.
The early morning flight from Kingston today was full–and I understand it’s almost always that way. Makes sense: you pay about US$300 to fly from Kingston to MoBay, but about US$600 to get to Miami. You can do a lot here, even in a day, and if you’ve shopping at affordable prices on your mind, then the US consumer is your friend by needing to change with the seasons, when Jamaicans don’t have the same reasons. Autumn fashions are coming out and the sales are on to move those summer clothes. Buy yuh tikit!
Jamaica’s loss of citizens to other countries has meant considerable gains to those countries. As I walked around this afternoon, I could hear a distinct Jamaican lilt, but not as often as I heard a trace of Haiti or some Spanish. Whatever the Jamaicans here are achieving, it’s on a crowded playground, and some parts Jamaicans just aren’t touching: I only heard Haitian creole amongst the corps of taxi drivers who were standing and hoping most of the day. I heard only Spanish in the shops I entered in a nearby retail area. For that matter, what is striking about Miami is that it feels and sounds like a non-English speaking part of the USA. So, I’m left pondering, after a few hours here, how Jamaicans are faring and how they are maneuvering around this landscape. Continue reading “Welcome to Miami!”