I have to begin this post with the confession that I am not a Jamaican. Nevertheless, I have been so struck by the wonder of the place, I wanted to give a tribute to a land I now love. Earlier this week, Jamaica celebrated 57 years of independence. That’s 30 more years than I have been alive and I am nearing 30 myself. Jamaica is a mature adult in age and so too in influence. When Jamaica represents at the Olympics we all start leaping as if they are ours. People who don’t know a single other place in the Caribbean know Jamaica.
So where are you from?
Is that somewhere in Jamaica?
The worldwide impact of this island bordering the Caribbean Sea is undeniable. The voices of the Marleys. The dreams of Garvey. The lightning feet of Fraser-Pryce and Bolt. The lyrics of Tessanne and Dalton and of course the beloved Chronixx. Jamaica has set the pace by presenting models for so much of what we have today. I grew up riding Vincentian vans hearing Jamaican music. I held Alaine and Chevelle Franklyn in my head for as long as I knew myself. Jamaica was already more than “rasta hats” and the word “irie” to me. It was more than the smear of violence that so many raised as a deterrent to visiting the country. I have yet to visit the length and breadth of Jamaica, but from what I have seen I do love it.
I love that the mountains climb like steeples and then overlap each other in towering strength. Just like my sweet Vincy summits do, where everything is bigger than me so of course I must always look up. I love the narrow winding roads that surprise you at every corner and snake upwards through the dense forest causing me to breathe deep and ask myself am I hoping too much? To see my aunt planting in her water boots. To see my grandmother appear in the yard with an old time cast iron pot in her hands, firmly gripped. I love that I have a chance to survey how the thick brush elevates and joins together in a carpet of green. How the fog floats in like a soup of welcome though hugging you with fingers cold on the way up through beautiful Moneague. Tasting 7 o’clock morning dew towed me straight back to the lingering signs of dawn when I waited in anticipation with uniform freshly pressed for my school bus. I was in two places at once, I was in one place twice. I loved the land the moment I set foot on it.
Trolleying along the red clay roads brought my Geography texts to 3D for me. Oh this is cockpit country? More than what I could have dreamed to be seeing. And seeing is everything, this untampered with idyllic life. A country girl’s eyes seeing everything she knew, everything she knows to show her belonging, to show her the past, to show her home. And the directness, the honesty without the sugar coating. Kindness but realness, just as I liked it. Jokes I could get. The sweet precision of the perfectly crafted sarcasm and the slangs rebounding between something new and something I once knew.
The KFC done right, could it get any closer? I’m so glad that I had very little of the bread or I would have departed fatter than I came. No bread better than Jamaica’s. And to see ackee up close was a wonder to me. The bus stand unfolding before me, leaning against the lofty green, familiar as ever. School children walk swiftly to escape the heat, similar uniforms identifying them in separate clusters, the vans pull in seeking passengers for journeys much longer than I’m used to. Still I cannot help but see glimpses of the road past the Roman Catholic School in St. Vincent and the bridge across the small channel downtown.
Church is done just as I was raised with a guitar, keyboard, drum and the weight of our voices. With so many ministries and meet ups and events you have no time to get yourself into trouble. At night the neighbouring shops are playing dub just like the little girl in me remembers and I’m struggling to hear anything else going on just like I remember.
I haven’t seen enough yet to know all I need to know. I know that there are points at which the similarities end. The grandness of the size I cannot hope to identify with, the length of the history, the detail of the people. Our capitals are truly fitting, Kingstown and Kingston, a one letter difference to remind you that we exist as separate entities. Still, there is enough for me to find them family and find this home, and value it in a way that I wish not to conclude only in my memory. I hope to go back again someday. I hope to see Jamaica again. Whenever my memory wanders back to the land I get the kind of butterflies in the belly you do with a crush, you do when you are an admirer. So when I stand still to respect your anthem. I do it out of more than courtesy, I do it out of appreciation for a country that did not have to try very hard to gain my adoration. I will say the words with you: Jamaica, land we love.
-CiCi (Jacinth Howard)
Happy Independence to any Jamaican who reads this post and to all the Jamaicans I know ❤
Look out for Part 2 next week where I will actually talk about the mission trip we went on to Jamaica 🙂