365 days later…

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It is a year since I have been away from Jamaica and oh, what a year it has been.

I’ve made new friendships, but still support those I created in Jamaica with phone calls, BBM, Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype.  I have been assigned the role of ambassador in social settings when my accent reveals my nationality. This is a role I’ve been happy to fill, because I have been allowed to debunk some of the myths people have of Jamaicans. I have been asked questions ranging from my relationship with my family to how Bob Marley’s music affected my life. One particular question that floored me was if Jamaicans know about Canada. I simply smiled and said yes then walked away to prevent any further interaction. To my new friends I am the official litmus in determining if a smell, sound or taste labelled Jamaican is authentic.

My assimilation into the Canadian society required me to disrobe of some of the bigoted world views that I inherited from my fore-parents. I have been confronted with other lived truths and experiences that have forced me to re-evaluate things I have held as true. I started my journey on the 21st of December, 2011 at 5:10 p.m. from my parent’s house in Jamaica and I am still travelling.

Possibly the most frequent question I’ve been asked is if I miss Jamaica. I’ve often responded with a reflexive yes, but recently it hit me that I was lying.

I don’t miss Jamaica.

I miss the familiarity it affords me.

I miss my family, friends and the memories I created while growing up.

I do not miss Jamaica.

I don’t miss the need Jamaicans have to police your behaviour, dress-code and speech.

The suffocating value system that we cloak in black, green and gold and use it to suppress expression and individuality.

Since my journey began I have pierced my ears and I am contemplating a tattoo.

I have a fire-engine red pants in my closet and a jeans so tight it requires a special dance to get into them.

There are things I have done and expressed that I was afraid to consider in Jamaica.

I surprise myself at times, but it gives me a great feeling that makes my heart smile, a rush that makes me feel like I am alive and living. The thought of shelving these inhibitions I have developed over the past 365 days scares me.

I’ve said I love you more in the last 365 days than I have in my entire life. I have cried openly with members of my family and have fearlessly exposed my vulnerability in ways I dreaded. This journey I am on has taught me more about myself than I cared to know.

I have heightened my relationship with my sisters and made me realize how much I love them. My younger sister sent me a card on my birthday which made me cry. She has never expressed the words she wrote to me and just reading them forced me to realize how much I took for granted. I also realized that had I not been away from home, I may never have read those words.

My mother is my life. Yet, I would get annoyed when she told  stories that I have heard a thousand times before. Now I long for them and laugh my ass off as if I am hearing them for the first time while listening to her on the phone thousands of miles away. I picture her warm eyes, the smell of vanilla that I attach to memories of my mother and the way she smiles while reliving these memories as only a mother can. My father and I are also different. He is no longer the man who I fought on a daily basis as a teenager, but instead has morphed into daddy. A man with his own insecurities who never grew up with a father but was required to play the role without a script. Our conversations has become meaningful since I have been in Canada. I recently saw a picture of my dad and it forced me to deal with his mortality. My father has aged so much within a year. The implications of this realization were not lost on me and all his vices seemed irrelevant in that moment. I have him now and I plan to make it count.

This journey has brought people of various faiths into my life, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jews and even Atheist. I have been able to sit and listen to world views and lived experiences that challenged many of the things I questioned, as well as things I held as true. I grew up in church. I taught Sunday school, worked at church camps and served two years as Youth Director, but I had major issues with the tenets of the faith I was socialized with.   Surely this will cause many conflicts with family and friends, but I am ready to live with the consequences of my actions that are decided by my perception of the world.

Just a year and already I can document changes in my life. We often tell people, “don’t change, because I love you just the way you are”, yet change is inevitable, even the dead changes.

I am changing and this fact excites me. I look forward to where this journey takes me and how much growth I will experience…and it r the truth.

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4 thoughts on “365 days later…

  1. Stafford

    what people dont know is that here is where you want them to comment – not on FB. so, here’s my 2-cents…im glad u’ve found this path of self-actualization, u wont get there until another 50 years or so, but a start is a start..good things are in store for you and this i know. i always tell people, it’s good to leave jamaica to goh “farin” if only for a visit – it truly changes people for the better, it did change me in many ways and like Jennifer Hudson , ‘i am (still) changing.’ you are right, you dont have to miss the place ‘Jamaica’ because you are still connected to those you love – (thank god for technology)…continue sharing, i look forward to an update in 365 days 🙂

    • Kerry

      I remember having a conversation with a few of my family members on one of my visits back home and the question was “would you consider living in Jamaica again”. While I am very grateful to have been born and bred there and nothing makes me more proud than when people ask me where I’m from and I am able to respond with “Jamaica”, I don’t think I would survive there. When you leave your cocoon and your eyes are opened to another way of life, different views and beliefs, it becomes difficult, no, impossible for you to return to how closed off you were. I have been fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity to LIVE my life in the way I chose and because I have been granted that opportunity I will LIVE it.
      Just like you I miss the comforts of home like the food and my family. Most of all I miss you and Tyheissa. I think we were brought together to expand each other’s mind, to teach each other to accept people as the individuals they are and to love unconditionally. We were also each other’s surrogate family. I was sitting at work thinking about our friendship recently and I don’t think any of us would have survived without each other at the time when we got close and created “the trinity”.
      At this point in our lives I think we are OBLIGATED to live our lives the way we chose to, soak up all the new experiences we can but never forget the old ones and the people who were there in the beginning. And for that reason you and Ty are not just my best friends, you are a part of my family and I will love, cherish and support you through all our lives have to offer.

  2. Garfield Willis

    Bertus: I share similar sentiments about leaving Jamaica with a twtist. The longer I have been away from Jamaica…I realize that growing up in Jamaica with all its flaws and shortcomings were the same things that prepared me for the challenges and changes that i had to face.

    I conclude that growing in my formative years in a society (Jamaica) where the color of your skin for the most part is not a barrier to achievement does wonders for the psyhic. It protected me from the scourge of racism. Many born in the US, have a lot of material things but in subtle and not so subtle ways have been expose to the concept that your race matters from childhood which plays out in a negative way.

    I cant say Jamaica is perfect. For we as a people have been intolerant of others because of their sexual orientation and ofr other reasons. Jamaicans need to understand that the Jamaican constitution is for everyone and not just church poeple. Every citizen is entitled to the same treatment. Regardless, of race, colo, creed, sexual oriention. If we can get past that we would be far along the way for a more just society.

    I often wonder if I would have taken the same path had I been born in the United States. I gradually come to relaize, that while leaving Jamaica provided me the opportunity and the worldly experience that i needed, I am glad i was born there. I am not sure if I can go back to live in Jamaica, but If i cant…I always will want to give back to make it a better place. Berties–the journey continues.

  3. Ivan

    Al – Thanks for this heartfelt reflection. Reading it allowed me to see you changing. I’m glad you made the decision to move on and I can see the changing path as only getting brighter and better with all its lessons, hopes and prospects.

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