On August 2, 2016 movers took the contents of my home and placed them into a shipping container. A few days later, on the 54th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, with one-way airline tickets purchased, my family and I arrived via Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica to stay.
I had planned to document my return to Jamaica by writing about my experience at the Tax Administration Office where I completed paperwork, sat, and waited for my number to be called while the woman in front of me gathered all of her impolite judgment to question another patron about why her “baby so small.” I wanted to write about my experience at the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency where the guard attempted to bar me access because, in his paid opinion, my dress “favor one merino” and merino shirts are not permitted in government buildings, despite the sweltering outside temperature, a topic that Rawle Ramjag takes up in a Trinidadian context here. I had planned to write about my trip to the National Insurance Scheme where I watched the Olympics and we all sat at a large meeting table in a space that looked like it was adapted for Jamaica’s own version of the cult classic movie The Breakfast Club (1985), despite it being the year 2016. I wanted to write about the time when I tried to move money between international bank accounts but was not allowed to because the Jamaican bank red-flagged the transaction because of my first name. I thought I would surely write about the 9 AM to 12 PM installation window that FLOW Internet guaranteed but did not fulfill until after 10 PM and only after a few whistles were blown and a few favors were called in. It seemed inevitable that I would write about my impossible attempts to gain information from a less-than-enthusiastic customs agent whose tone only softened after she asked and I told her my last name. I expected that I would write pon di riddim of the colonial legacy at work at Hopefield Prep, but Kei Miller’s blog post and latest novel Augustown (2016) do such a marvelous job of it already. I considered offering my own take on Jamaican singer Etana and US presidential candidate Donald Trump as a way of demonstrating the downside to having an audience.
On a more personal level, I thought I would write about the sweet voice linked above. It was just last week that my daughter began displaying linguistic absorption of Jamaica as signified by her abandonment of the soft “d” pronunciation of the letter “t” in such words as “beauty” and “creatively” and her adoption of the clearly articulated “t” sound spoken by life-long Jamaican residents. And, for sure, as a Caribbean literary scholar hailing from and returning to Jamaica, I yearned to write about my first drive down Hope Road, through Barbican, over into Manor Park, and high up into the mountains of Stony Hill where I would stop the car, pull over as much as one can, and gaze down at that breathtaking sight of Kingston and of the Palisadoes view that Michelle Cliff captures in No Telephone to Heaven (1987), a book that helped to define my understanding of postcolonial studies.
I did not write these pieces… yet. Everyday of my migration in reverse has had its challenges and rewards and everyday has allowed too few minutes for reflection. But somehow, in the calm before the storm, I am finding some footing.
As I wait for Hurricane Matthew to drench this land, I have been forced to consider what Matthew means to me, which means I have to confess that I do not like storms. They are wet and windy, and they are also viciously noisy. They cause flooding that destroys property and they bring powerful winds that can result in fatalities. They uproot trees and they also uproot people.
Having left Jamaica in 1988 on the heels of Hurricane Gilbert, I face Matthew with some trepidation and some wonder. I consider what might have been. I wonder what would be different if Gilbert had lost momentum and been downgraded from category five to category four or three… I wonder how my life and the lives of others would have been different if Gilbert had changed course and taken a more easterly route… I regain focus and think of what impact Matthew will have on the future as even outer-band gusts and rainfall amounts pose a significant threat to infrastructure… and identity.
It has been two months since I have returned to live in the land I love. Tonight I am waiting on a storm that “soon come” and I do not take any of this lightly. I am here in Jamaica for a reason. Like comedic Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler, I have come home to teach. You can find me formally lecturing in literature at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. But you can also find me offering free, unwanted lessons regarding efficiency at bookshops and furniture sellers. You may even find me providing the diligent bag-packers at any, if not all, of the supermarkets with very much unwanted information about environmental waste and the need to reduce the use of black “scandal” bags.
From Jamaica to the diaspora and back again, I am here. Still decolonial, I shifted locations but sharpened my perspective. Hurricane Matthew would have been new to this place, maybe he is too shy to arrive. Not I. So I’m taking this opportunity to welcome myself back to Jamrock. Mi deh ya.