Because of Jamaica. Because of the people and the heat and the noise and the colour. Because of warm water, sunny skies, spicy fish, caramel rum. Because of 160 days. Because of encouragement and support from behind and beside. Because of lessons learned in tears and laughter. Because of good work and deep leisure. Because of Ocho Rios and Port Antonio, Runaway Bay and Falmouth, Montego Bay and Negril, and escaping to Barbados. But first and last because of Kingston …
For my final week or two in Jamaica I couldn’t find words. I couldn’t find words for all I appreciated in what Jamaica had given and taught me. I couldn’t find the words to articulate my dread of leaving and returning to ‘life as usual’ in Canada. In the quiet darkness of midnight or the insular safety of a road trip with only two other ears to hear I could speak of one or two things – a fear, some specific lesson, a concrete blessing – but the total. The total remains largely inarticulable.
Soon come back.
One of the inherent flaws of this sort of long-ish term but not permanent experience is that the end date is always a reality. For the first three months of my time in Jamaica I marked the time past – one week, a fortnight, the first month … . Since December 10, the half-way mark, I’ve been – perhaps less publicly – counting down the time until I leave. At first it was theoretical as I considered ways to stay. One morning I woke up and knew I had to go home. I’ve been less certain ever since.
Ash Wednesday is a national holiday in Jamaica. While that is somewhat foreign to me it does seem appropriate, particularly in a country as purportedly Christian as Jamaica. Because the originating concept of Ash Wednesday is as a day to atone for sins, ask forgiveness, and begin the 40 days of Lent with reverence and contemplation, Ash Wednesday is a solemn sort of holiday. Solemn holidays are nice – especially when they land mid-week and you really just need some quiet.
This whole trip has been about finding, reclaiming, hiking, swimming, snorkeling my own true way through tears & laughter. Frankly, the last couple weeks – facing the realities of leaving Jamaica and the reality that ‘wherever I go there I am’- I have felt adrift. Some things have happened, or not happened, that reinvigorated some old fears and insecurities. The added discomfort of being so much an outsider, a discomfort I’ve had the privilege not to feel before to this degree, left me disoriented. As they always do, song lyrics have spoken to and for me*:
Whenever I walk-dance down the sidewalk to a Great Big Sea’s “Ordinary Day” I’m struck by how much it could be a Jamaican song:
I’ve got a smile on my face, and I’ve got four walls around me.
I’ve got the sun in the sky, all the waters surround me.
Oh you know, I win now but sometimes I lose
I’ve been battered, but I never bruise,
it’s not so bad
And I say way-hey-hey, it’s just an ordinary day
and it’s all your state of mind.
At the end of the day, you’ve just got to say,
it’s all right.
When you tell a Jamaican you are from Canada what they hear is that you are from Toronto. I try to explain how vast Canada is, that I know nothing about Toronto’s suburbs, that there’s no way I could know their cousin Raymond in Etobicoke. My explanations are generally met with puzzled faces.