Oh, Say it Ain’t ZOSO

The latest buzzword in the Jamaica crime scene is these Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO). ZOSO is an Act recently passed by Parliament which allows for the use of “special measures” to uphold public law within “certain geographically defined locations”.

At face value this Act sounds like an Act of Discrimination, like the Prime Minister is giving the security forces full permission to kick down people door and mash up dem tings, but only within specifically designated areas of course (aka ghettos). But according to the Jamaica Gleaner, the Bill is trying to balance the need for extreme measures in the battle against crime and violence with the fundamental need for the protection of citizens’ rights.

On September 1 the PM declared Mt. Salem, St. James the very first ZOSO. Acting on information that was later challenged by residents of the community (backed up by the Councillor for the area), Mr. Holness may well have moved somewhat rashly. But despite the less-than-sinister statistics, Mt. Salem is still perceived as a tension-driven melting pot of criminal activity. Driving through that community just last week I heard one woman cussing another spit menacingly, “You feel seh ah you one know gunman!”

So there is no question about the need for increased police attention, even with a police station already on the main road. What I do feel needs to be questioned is the approach to the citizens on the left and right sides of the Mt. Salem main road. And yes, I’m talking about a literal representation of the ubiquitous class divide.

After you pass the hospital, on the left hand side going into Salem the side streets display large, well-painted two and three storey houses. There are garages with cars, the houses are populated by a mainly middle-aged and retired set of citizens, and the streets themselves are paved (for the most part) and wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic.

Flip the script, and observe the right hand side of streets. They are narrow and winding, descending sharply into one way lanes and dead ends. There are two and three storey concrete structures at the intersection yes, but as you advance further along, there are more board houses, less space for cars to fit and a dramatic increase in shady characters lurking on street corners. Some taxis don’t even carry people here.

Obviously infrastructural problems have played a huge role in this divide, and real estate prices drive people left and right as their pocketbooks allow but my real contention is that there are two very different classes of citizens living in Mt. Salem and my concern is that one set will end up with the “special measures” while the other enjoys the “protection of citizens’ rights”. So far I haven’t heard anyone cry foul (quite the opposite) but in these cases the voices of the downtrodden rarely make it past the streets where they are stepped on.

What ZOSO excels at is highlighting the blurred geographical lines of Jamaica’s class divide. It is a truth universally acknowledged that beside every uptown is a ghetto: Ironshore has Flankers, Westgate Hills has Mt. Salem, Mango Walk has Paradise and Norwood. . . The list goes on, and this is just in St. James. But as time has progressed, social climbers (including scammers) have managed to straddle these communities and erase the demarcations. ZOSO is a potent and pointed reminder that “ghetto people” are considered criminals before they even open their mouths. Reminds me of that Etana song.

Ultimately, I don’t think ZOSO will be an effective crime-fighting strategy. It is too much of an acute solution to a long term problem, too much of treating the symptom and not the disease.

Man goes to the doctor and says Doc, I have these headaches. Doctor says, Take these painkillers. Man dies of a brain tumour*.

What have we learnt?

Crime and violence in our society is directly related to our social infrastructure: education, employment and parenting, underlined by systemic political and judicial corruption. Opportunities for legitimate engagement are scarce while guns are plenty and every little boy is raised to be ‘tough’. Legal jobs grant you enviable social standing but it’s the under the table stuff that sends your kids to offshore schools. This culture is entrenched and serves far too many powerful people for it to be overturned overnight.

But that doesn’t say we can’t try.

In his Letter to the Editor, Dr. Canute Thompson expounds on the theory that attacking these root causes will ensure a sustainable decrease in crime statistics. He lays out an innovative approach to community development involving skills training and infrastructural reform. Granted it raises a whole new set of questions, but it’s a solution that just might make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.

–*–

*I am compelled to disclaim that headaches are not usually the presenting symptom of a brain tumour. Not every headache needs a CT scan. The point is that you need to rule out a more serious problem. /medic

House-Hunting in Mobay: Part Deux

If you haven’t already, start with Part One here!

Now that you have your game plan, it’s time to dive into the apartment search. But where do you even start?

Scour rental ads in the newspaper classifieds

Western Jamaica, the Mirror is your new best friend. With three publications per week, the Western Mirror is replete with ads from landlords all over St. James, Hanover and Trelawny looking for prospective tenants. Some days (like Wednesdays and Fridays) and some months (like September/January) carry more listings than average. So grab that red pen and start circling because these apartments and homes move faster than Time and Patience bread.

Don’t be afraid to look online

In the beginning I was skeptical about finding a place to live online in Jamaica, let alone Montego Bay. But the top real estate companies have outdone themselves, and the online offerings from the websites of Coldwell Bankers, Victor Brown & Associates, Century 21, and Hoshing Realtors among others are usually quite extensive. Just make sure to sort by price from ‘low’ to ‘high’.

Keep your eyes peeled

Bulletin boards and notice boards are usually filled with boring ads and weird services but it’s possible to find a gem underneath all the irrelevant papers. I found my first apartment in Mobay on a bulletin board at work – very lucky!

Call and/or talk to people

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a new home. Put your social media to good use and crowd-source some apartment or house options. Chances are someone in your friend group knows someone who knows someone who can hook you up. Whatsapp groups can be invaluable in this respect – if the group is somewhat professional members will sometimes share helpful information like rental offerings.

Think slow but move fast

Because listings can appear and disappear in less than 24 hours, it can be tempting to make snap decisions just to secure a spot. But this is generally impractical (especially if you’re house-hunting for more than) and will almost always lead to regret. I often hear stories about tenants who stay for just a few months then pack up and leave because the rent was too high, or the situation was inconvenient.

If there’s no penalty for breaking your rental agreement (which usually lasts at least a year) and if you love the hassle and stress of moving then apartment hopping might be just up your alley. For the rest of us who plan to remain stationary for a year or so, it pays to look twice before you leap. If your current situation is uncomfortable but not life-threatening (whether your life or the life of the landlord who you want to murder) it can be more beneficial to stay put until something that fits your needs comes along.

Having said all of that, as much as I love house-hunting and living on my own (with partner and cat in tow), I understand that we’re all at different stages. I’ve been lucky enough to have a job that lets me live where I want to live, and still put food on the table. (not Mango Walk Country Club money but I really can’t complain). I’ve also been lucky to have a partner who shares the financial burden. I’ve been lucky to find places to live that I have enjoyed, rented by people who were actually kind, if not 100% reliable.

You might have worse luck or you might have it better, but since luck is when preparation meets opportunity I hope these posts help you to prepare for whatever living opportunity comes your way.

Pax.

House-Hunting: the Mobay Edition

Finding somewhere to live is hard, whether you’re in university, freshly graduated or bouncing around with three kids and a stable career. Fortunately or unfortunately house hunting is something I love to do (is that weird? It’s probably weird), and I’ve picked up a few lessons over the years that I think can be useful to my fellow 20-something Montegonians (all five of you who read this blog, if so much).

I only hope that this two-part series will make wading into the waters of independent living a little less scary, and that it will be a guidepost along a path that can be confusing and muddled. If it’s not time for you to leave the nest for one reason or another, that’s okay. Work hard and save. Living with parents is by far the cheapest option – no rent, free food and your mom will probably do your laundry too. But if you absolutely have to get out there on your own, then maybe this little blog will help you do it.

General rules:
  • Be prepared to pay at least two month’s worth of rent up front (sometimes three). This is the rent for your first month plus a security deposit in case you ruin the place and don’t pay bills.
  • Take everything with a grain of salt. I’ve been told an apartment was on Brandon Hill and after following the directions ended up, disgruntled, in the middle of Farm Heights.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is. Look for the catch.
  • Read that rental agreement cover to cover. Get any promises to fix things in writing before you sign. Document any pre-existing damage and make sure the landlord knows about it.

Once you’re ready with that rent money and a healthy dose of skepticism, it’s time to plot your game plan.

Pick an area and know your budget

The first step is to know how much money you can feasibly spend on rent. Be realistic here not ambitious. One of the awesome things about Montego Bay is that you can find a home for any budget, especially if you’re flexible. If you’ve only got $10,000 to spare you can still find a place to live. It will probably be a shoe-box but it will be your shoe-box.

A good rule of thumb is that your budget for rent and household expenses shouldn’t exceed 30% of your total income. Like the pirate code, this is more of a guideline. To find a more exact number, once you’ve figured out 30% of your monthly salary go ahead and subtract an estimate for your utility bills (if not included in the rent) and any associated costs of the rental home like maintenance fees and such.

Once you know what your budget looks like, go ahead and pick an area (or a few) where you’d like to live. Bear in mind that location is everything in real estate and nice areas usually come with really nice price tags. There are ways around this, like smaller homes in uptown areas, or sharing common spaces. Which brings me to my next piece of advice. . .

Be cautious about sharing utilities and common spaces

The first rule will help you in weeding out your prospects. Once you have an amount and a location in mind, you’ll quickly skip those listings that don’t match your specifications. But even though you might want to compromise on that one bedroom apartment in Westgate Hills where you ‘only share a kitchen and the light bill’ take a minute to think about what sharing a kitchen means: dirty dishes in the sink all the time, and people eating your food from the refrigerator. Sharing the electricity bill means constantly arguing over who burns more current. And if you’re anything like me 2AM on a weekday morning will find you angrily trying to calculate the estimated energy consumption of your toaster oven vs her microwave.

Just don’t give yourself the headache.

Be cautious about living with a landlord

People can be . . . sensitive about their homes. Which is understandable. But as a tenant it can be frustrating to have someone constantly looking over your shoulder. This might be okay if you’re a fledgling graduate just starting out in the world of independent living (almost like having a surrogate parental figure – if you have a good relationship!) but gets much more tedious once the independence really settles in. Their ‘friendly advice’ turns into nagging, and all of a sudden you’re desperate to move. My advice would be to avoid living with the landlord altogether.

In the same vein, try to find landlords that are reliable and respectful. Avoid the ones who flake on fixing infrastructural problems, or go into your home when you’re not around. Ask other tenants (if you can) what their experience is like, and when you meet the landlord make sure their temperament is one you can work with.

Make a list of your preferences/needs

This helps to refine your search, and comes in handy when you’ve viewed a prospective home. After you’ve done your ooh’s and aah’s on the walk-through it’s important to drill the landlord with some hard-hitting questions. How stable are utilities? Is there parking available? How do you feel about extra guests or loud noise? Pets? Smoking? The list is endless and subjective. Knowing what’s important to you comes with time and sadly a little trial and error. The awesome thing about moving is if you absolutely hated something about your last apartment you can make it a definite deal-breaker with your next one. Hurrah for starting over!

***

That’s it for part one! The second installation, where I talk about how to find these elusive apartments, will be posted tomorrow. Stay tuned, and feel free to share your strategies for house hunting. Do you agree with me on the shared spaces? What was your worst landlord experience? Let me know in the comments!

 

“Senior” House Officer: Doc, where’s my steth?

Firmly in the category of Things No One Asked For (wedged between merchandising coffee mugs and your annual pelvic exam) this one is all about how I spent my Senior House Officer year. If anyone is still reading this to get some idea about medical life in Jamaica, you’re in luck. Everyone else, bear with me.

For my SHO year (the second year of relative supervision, coming after internship and before postgraduate study), I spent four months at the hospital in Internal Medicine and eight months in primary care bouncing around the clinics of St. James and Hanover. I had wanted an even six month split but the powers-that-be changed the schedule from two six-month rotations to three rotations of four months each, likely as an incentive for doctors to spend at least some of their time in primary care (which is woefully understaffed).

While I enjoy solving the diagnostic mysteries of Internal Medicine and relish the mental challenges of our limited resource setting, I did not particularly like my time at the hospital. One of the reasons is the aforementioned limited resources, which made it exponentially harder to get the job done (the job being getting the patient better and out of the hospital) but another more important reason was the unhealthy and sometimes toxic working atmosphere.

Doctors in hospitals across the world have to battle against so many barriers to effective patient care. Sure there are administrative and technical hurdles, but one of the most damaging and pervasive problems doctors face is other doctors. We can be unkind and unsympathetic toward our colleagues, we can be harsh and critical where kindness and compassion are needed. We can be overly competitive, deliberately misleading, and frankly aggressive. Specialties often argue instead of cooperating, departmental heads are sometimes overbearing and the support staff is at times less than supportive.

I frequently left work feeling like I spent the last 8-36 hours running a hamster wheel, exhausting myself and getting nowhere. For all my efforts I was yet to see any noticeable improvement in the quality of care being offered, and in fact quality of care was on the decline as Cornwall Regional was on the brink of a crisis by the time I had moved to my next rotation.

Unlike its older brother, primary care has no pretensions about the level of care it is able to offer. Clinics don’t promise CAT scans and then tell you the machine isn’t working; or promise urgent lab results that take hours to be processed. Primary care understands that its role is to prevent and screen, to catch the life-threatening emergencies before they become life-threatening. And that pace is so far suiting me just fine.

Hanover is the smallest parish in Jamaica, splitting its geography between enchanting sea vistas and rolling hills of green green bamboo. I spent my four months here really sharpening my clinical skills and patient interactions. I honed my management of chronic illnesses and developed some much-needed confidence (from all the time spent in clinic by myself because there weren’t enough senior doctors available). Hanover’s narrow, winding roads are where I learnt to drive and the country clinics reinforced all the stories I hear about the generosity of rural folk. I was sad to leave it behind.

(Spoiler alert: I’m stationed back in Hanover for the foreseeable future)

The camaraderie and team spirit were like a breath of fresh air after Cornwall’s sometimes hostile overtones. I felt more comfortable offering care at a less urgent pace (even though we had our fair share of emergencies!) and I appreciated the opportunity to effect behaviour change before it got to the stage where tertiary or secondary care was needed.

Despite challenges with patients’ educational level and access to care I still believe that primary care is where our efforts need to be concentrated if we are ever going to make our country truly healthy.

But enough about me. SHO year is all about testing the waters and seeing where your passion lies. It’s about picking up skills you think are important and spending time with physicians or surgeons or anesthetists who you think can teach you a thing or two. Internship is merely meant to be survived; SHO is where you thrive. Attack the smorgasbord of hospital specialties like an all-you-can-eat buffet, or settle down to dine at one specialty for the whole time – it’s up to you. Just remember that along the way you’re molding yourself into the medical officer or resident who will be the ‘senior’ by the start of the next year.

What kind of senior do you want to be?

Oops, (UW)I Did it Again

Despite claiming in February that the refurbished halls will not priced out of the range of a student budget, the UWI has implemented a 30% increase in hall fees on the recently remodeled Irvine Hall, a traditional hall of residence at UWI, Mona.

Earlier this year, Principal Archibald McDonald asserted that the cost of the new fees would first be approved by the UWI council. But in July a group of students started a petition to protest the unfair price hike of 30% for the new buildings. Deputy Principal Ishenkumba Kahwa argued that the fee increase only affected the minority of students who would be assigned to these new accommodations, mostly those in their final year. He added that subsidies would be considered on a case by case basis, saying (unwisely) that there are student who can afford the new cost.

I have noticed over the last few years or so that UWI has developed the habit of using financial means as an unofficial matriculation requirement. I first noticed it with medical school where students who didn’t make the cut for the government subsidy would be offered a place at the full-fee tuition (meaning if you can afford it, you’re in). Then lately, their costs of accommodation have steadily been increasing, with the addition of several new (and therefore expensive) halls. The traditional halls like Mary Seacole, Irvine, Chancellor and Taylor were substantially less expensive, less well-maintained and had obvious limitations on number but they provided an option for students who needed on-campus lodgings.

While it is high time these older halls were refurbished, I do think more could have been done to offset the cost of refurbishing so that the student wouldn’t have to absorb such a significant increase in price. The cost of accommodations on campus increases annually anyway, but I can imagine that many students didn’t budget for this level of inflation. And it is unfair that final year students who should be concentrating on completing their degree are now forced to find extra funds to pay the raised price or risk being barred from their exams for owing money to the university.

It is unfair, but unsurprising. University is a business, after all, and the bottom line is profit. Those who can afford it will always pay, and it makes no never mind that we are once again headed in the direction of elitist education that is limited to foreigners and the upper class.

 

 

Sources: here, here and here.

Jamaicans Dream, Just Not the Way You Think

Recently the Gleaner ran an article reporting the results of their own self-commissioned poll on ‘the Jamaican dream’ at 55 years post-Independence. The entire (horribly subjective, barely factual) piece can be found here; what follows is my summary.

The results of the poll were quickly dispensed – 51% of respondents had “no real Jamaican dream” – and the rest of the article focused on dissecting the results in great detail. The Gleaner seems to be taking itself way too seriously. Writer Syranno Baines pulled quotes from pollster Bill Johnson (never heard of him) and psychologist Dr Leachim Semaj (of whom I remain decidedly skeptical) who gave their strangely misdirected opinions on the outcome. The piece raised more questions than answers, leaving itself open for criticism and ridicule.

To start with, the article is poorly written (Syranno, this isn’t completely your fault; you’re also a victim here. Our journalistic training is sorely lacking). There are unnecessary and frankly lazy repetitions, and it suffers from biased reporting (both sources essentially said the same thing. Also reporting on your own poll just seems uninspired).

For the opening statement Baines makes an example of the American dream, but the choice of words leaves the reader feeling like Jamaicans are deficient for not sharing those aspirations. Why use the adjective ‘real’ when you describe the Jamaican dream, is there a fake one? Why say “Not so for Jamaicans” after detailing the American dream? Last I checked, we aren’t Americans.

Still in the introduction, the article relays some sample dreams from the 49% of respondents whose dreams counted: variations on a theme of national development and personal security. Why use the American dream (marriage, two children, a house and a dog) as the gold standard (which is what the Gleaner seems to be doing) if you’re only interested in dreams about the country? The American dream isn’t about America, it’s about Americans. A better quote would have been Martin Luther King Jr’s infamous speech during the March on Washington. You know, the one that goes “I have a dream…”

I think it’s a shame that more than 50 per cent of Jamaicans are dreamless in terms of the nation’s dream
–Bill Johnson

The timing and purpose of the poll suggest the Gleaner was trying to elicit Jamaican opinions on national affairs since independence. Both Johnson and Semaj seem to be discussing a national dream – the Vision 2030 goal, for instance. But Johnson’s tone suggests that the average Jamaican should literally be sitting down and meditating on this goal of national development. Who does that?

Social Science Isn’t an Art

Objectively speaking, a poll isn’t any kind of valid scientific report. It is highly subjective, often deliberately leading and results are usually poorly representative of the wider society. There’s no way of guaranteeing that everyone interprets the question the same way, and that greatly confounds the results. Not to mention the paltry sample size of 1500 people. The results should be taken with a grain of salt, not treated like some peer-reviewed randomized controlled trial. Certainly, it shouldn’t be touted in a national newspaper with the implication that Jamaicans lack direction.

In his commentary pollster Bill Johnson (is this his only qualification?) suggested that Jamaicans have “no time to dream” because they are “too busy working hard to put food on the table”. He was eager to point out that the upper and middle class (people with “‘high-level education”) were better at “dreaming”.

For his part, Dr. Semaj blamed the media for reporting too much crime and violence and not enough national development. His contention is that Vision 2030 is the Jamaican dream but Jamaicans are too depressed by the news to notice the development that is already underway.

I might be paraphrasing.

We are not dreamless

I am disappointed in the Gleaner for perpetuating the class divide by publishing these bogus statistics. I am disappointed in Mr. Johnson for trying to back up his bogus statistics with illegitimate claims about the lives of lower class. I am doubly and triply disappointed in Dr. Semaj for trying to deflect attention from the national crisis of rampant violence and terror to talk more about ‘development’. The print and digital media are bedecked with stories of national development, but that trickle of good news is outmatched by the flood of social unrest. I appreciate Dr. Semaj’s concern for the awareness of the average Jamaican but I doubt the media is conspiring to block all mention of Vision 2030.

But what I am most disappointed in and irked by is the idea that even our dreams are owned, dictated and rented out by the (not so) great U. S. of A. If it doesn’t look like the whitewashed Hollywood-packaged caricature we’ve been force-fed our whole lives then it can’t possibly be right.

There is no way Jamaicans could survive our day to day existence without dreams, without believing and hoping that one day things will be different, will be better. We are a nation of dreamers, ambitious survivors, and rising fucking stars.

This may come as news to you Syranno Baines, Bill Johnson and Leachim Semaj, but Jamaicans are not dreamless.

We dream about stepping/clawing/digging our way out of the poverty being reinforced by a corruption so entrenched it strips us down to our bones.
We dream about honest politicians and come-unities that don’t have a murder every two days.
We dream about having children and grandchildren and building a legacy that time and death cannot erase.
We dream about putting food on the table and sending our children to ‘high-level education’.
Our dream is a better life for our children than the life we had and all now that dream caan bloodclaat come tru.
We dream about safety, we dream about love and we dream about stability.
And we have had that dream about marriage and two kids and that goddamn house with the white picket fence and the dog. But wedding expensive, people love plenty pickney and some ah wi fraid ah dog.

Don’t tell the people they’re wrong just because they aren’t white.

Lessons in Womanhood

As a black girl child uncertainty was bred into my bones. I was taught to doubt my every thought and decision. Taught to believe someone else’s version of the truth. Taught that my feelings were irrelevant to the task at hand, which was to pave the way for someone else’s vague notions of success. It isn’t that my family deliberately set out to rob me of self-confidence, but these were the lessons I imbibed as a child who was sensitive to the ways of the world.

As an educated black woman I marvel at how much these lessons continue to affect me, particularly in my academic and professional spheres. I note with envy how easily my male colleagues assume roles of leadership. How confidently they navigate their realms, without second guessing, without deferring to another person’s judgment.

I’m acutely aware of the influence that social class must necessarily have on these gendered upbringings. The poor have always been subjugated and have coped with that subjugation by adopting a deferential attitude. This is as much a survival tactic as anything else – the poor frequently have no options for economic mobility other than servitude. And a good servant is docile.

But I don’t want to be a good servant.

I want to be a strong black woman. Strong black women (history says) are rarely ever liked, but they are respected.

If there is one truth I must give the daughter I may never have, it is that her self-worth should never be called into question. That she does not have to shrink to make way for others to grow. That she must go out and make her mark on this wretched, wonderful Earth without fear or hesitation. That she must do this with as much poise and compassion as she can muster because the world will not be kind (though kindness is needed).

This is the lesson I hope society will one day teach: that our black girls are not pawns, no. They have been Queens all along.

*

Credit for the image (as well as my blog avatar) to Zigbone.

Prison Ablaze: A Symptom, not the Disease

Yesterday the Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility caught on fire.

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Photo from the Jamaica Gleaner

Predictably, the government is scrambling to conduct an ‘urgent upgrade‘. The article is peppered with buzzwords like ‘relevant stakeholders’ and ‘infrastructural development’. Interestingly there is no mention of whether any of the inmates were injured, just that they have been relocated.

It’s also worth pointing out that the fire affected the part of the prison that houses the mentally ill inmates. What is the level of supervision for these inmates, and what are their living conditions like? Were these facilities particularly susceptible to fire hazards? Was the fire an accident of poor maintenance, or the intentional act of unsupervised inmates, or something else entirely?

The article is keen to remind us that ‘high-profile’ criminals like Vybz Kartel are also housed at this prison. Is this supposed to garner public sympathy, or expedite government intervention? I’m not sure why the popularity of certain inmates is relevant to the reporting.

But it all goes to highlight the reactive way we deal with crises in this country. Institutions and resources struggle along for years carrying water with baskets until something catastrophic happens. Whereupon every Jack man jumps up to point fingers and fling on a hasty fix, only to have the system break down again because nothing long-term was put in place. For all the government’s talk about cutting costs (and it is mainly talk), you would think they would learn that prevention better than cure.

Apologetics: My Strange Fixation with White Women

Alternative title: Navigating my Reader Identity

When I was a little girl and just starting to flex my writing muscles the first story I ever wrote was called Cottage on the Hill. It was about two young white girls from London who went to spend summer vacation with their grandparents in rural England. Of course, I had never seen a cottage or spent a summer with my grandparents or been to rural England but as so often happens with young black writers the stories we write are the stories we have read about.

It never occurred to me at that age to consider Jamaican characters or settings. I had never read about home outside of those little chapbooks from primary school (you know the ones with the newsprint and sketches) that tried to impart Serious Moral Lessons through Anansi stories and others. But that wasn’t what I wanted to write – I wanted to write proper short stories. And proper short stories were about people from outside of the Caribbean.

I grew up, of course, and developed a thirst for Caribbean literature despite the disinterested way it gets tacked on to high school syllabuses. I actively seek out Jamaican writers and as many women writers as I can. Colonialism may have dictated my preferences but I can change that if I try hard enough. And sometimes the trying is hard. What I want to read isn’t always available, but often what is available ends up being what I want to read.

Transition with me from books to the online world of blogs; most of the ones I’m familiar with (and like) are written by upper middle class white suburban housewives. What the hell is this demographic? I have no idea. Okay, maybe I have a little idea. But as I grapple with this proclivity and the desire to see myself represented in internet writings, guilt often bubbles up. It feels like consuming all this content from a foreign culture only pushes me further away from my own.

Another issue is that I have more in common with these women than I do with people I actually live and work with. Cue identity crisis! Cue questioning my life choices*! This is why I read those blogs, this is why I feel distanced from my own culture: camaraderie and the quest for acceptance. But what is the solution, lock myself away from the world and read only content produced by Jamaicans for Jamaicans?

No, xenophobia isn’t the answer here. It isn’t automatically bad to be intrigued by alternate ways of life. On the contrary, globalization is accepted and encouraged. Where it crosses the line into acculturation is a little blurry, but we’re working on that.

These days I berate myself less and less for my tastes, but unlearning decades of stigma for being ‘the weird one’ is hard. I will probably never stop liking The Bloggess or Neil Gaiman, but I am gradually unwinding myself from the notion that these interests make me less Jamaican. In reality I will always be Jamaican, just a Jamaican who is open-minded, liberal and a little more day-dreamy than expected.


*Life choices like watching Doctor Who, listening to The Chainsmokers, and reading yet another Jenny Lawson/Elizabeth Gilbert mental health guidebook cleverly disguised as a novel.

 

Bonfires and Other Gateway Drugs

One thing leads to another and suddenly I’m on a beach under the full moon at 9 on a weeknight, swaying around a bonfire to the sounds of Rasta youths spitting troots and the soulful melodies of Kali Grn and DReblz.

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Glowing embers and DReblz in action

I think I’ve started taking deliberate steps down a path of cultural appreciation – specifically an appreciation of Rastafarianism and its associations. Rastafari is one of those aspects of our culture that we don’t really notice until we stop and look at it. But it’s all around us, like water to a fish, and it impacts so much of our daily life – from curse words to our reaction to authority to our taste in music. Rasta gave us reggae and weed and locs. In return we gave them Bad Friday and a persistent (though waning) stigma surrounding their lifestyle.

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Hol’ a vibes

I’m not sure when this journey started, maybe the day Obie and I visited the Rastafari Exhibit at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre. But it was definitely after Lyrical Eloquence Reloaded when we discovered (Columbus-style) Kali Grn that we fell down the rabbit hole. First it was the Spring Equinox Festival then a beach bonfire under the full moon then the Bad Friday commemoration at the Civic/Cultural Centre on Good Friday.

The experiences that lie along this path have been, so far, incredible. I used to think – and perhaps it used to be true – that MoBay had little to offer in the way of cultural events. Compared to Kingston where there are reggae concerts practically on a weekly basis, and a variety literary/musical/artistic gatherings we are taking our first tiny steps. But they are definitely steps in the right direction.