Reconciliation: East Timor, Jamaica, and Me
Yesterday someone accused me of finding Jamaica inadequate, of being unable to fulfill me. I had to haul him up and let him know that Jamaica satisfies me in my soul and down to my bones and if I could I’d be on a plane tomorrow with nary a look back. After I calmed down I realized – yet again – not to put much stock into his words and accusations. I’d realized but forgotten that he’s the type to rub your face in things – especially things that he’s done (i.e. been able to move back to Jamaica) and you’re not yet able to do (i.e. move back to Jamaica). So I’m past the anger aroused by the accusation but, of course, it got me thinking about about something that’s always been a goal of mine: moving back home. And not just to lounge in the hills or on the beach as a retiree, either.
The bottom of my monitor is home to my “writing to-do list” – as ideas and topics occur to me I frantically reach for a PostIt to note them down then I stick them at the bottom of my monitor for constant reminding. Number 1 on that list is something about Reconciliation.
I first began thinking about this topic in late January 2010 when I attended a presentation at school about the war crimes tribunal in East Timor (read about it here and here). The panelists included Judge Rapoza who was the Chief International Judge of the Special Panels for Serious Crime in East Timor; he and others described the genesis of the conflict, their work during the aftermath, and post-conflict situations in general. It amazed me that after the tumult in their country East Timorans were expected to move on and find a way to make peace with those who had committed violence against them. Unfortunately because of money (and a few other) issues the East Timor war crimes ended before it should have so international officials and East Timorans had to find other ways to address the population’s need for post-conflict attention…and reconciliation. The entire presentation was very interesting to me, and I recall asking a question about using the gacca court/system that has been used in Rwanda to address the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. I recall when I first learned about the Rwandan genocide in an African History class that I could almost feel my perspective changing and becoming more defined. Somehow, this presentation on East Timor also affected me more than just adding knowledge to my brain.
All of this got me thinking about the limits, if any, of reconciliation: just how far are we expected to go to restore peace and harmony in our lives, to accept something unpleasant and carry on with living? On the metro ride home I kept turning the concept over in my mind…something was niggling in the back of my brain.
Weeks later as graduation approached I began to wonder exactly what the next steps would be in life – personal and professional. My 16-year old self was not still going to be in this country…she was going to finish college, get a job for a few years and then head back home. She was not even going to become a U.S. citizen (side note: I still recall the first time I sat down with Daddy and his accountant to do taxes and they ganged up on me to explain the concept of being a “dependent” on tax returns, and somehow it turned into “you can’t file your own taxes yet and you will not be associated with your mother any more…I was traumatized and ran from the room bawling and straight to call mommy. I didn’t understand what they were asking me to do and why I was supposed to deny my mother. The confidence I’d had in making the decision to move to the U.S. and attend boarding school had fled and I felt so lost and unrooted; where exactly was my home again? True, I’d left Jamaica because I felt suffocated: I didn’t want to get stuck on an “A-Level track” and in a UWI faculty…I wanted to see what else I was capable of. Was it even OK to think about going back to Jamaica?). My first serious boyfriend had already been living here for a number of years and we often talked about going back to Jamaica but he just wanted to visit not return to live. I couldn’t get; in fact I didn’t want to get it…it seemed almost like treason. How dare he not want to go back home?
My 16-year old self got lost in her Walkman-world of juggling cassettes as I studied U.S History, Chemistry, Biology, English. I decided that I was simply on an extended vacation and at every opportunity I was in Jamaica. No break was too short for me to find my way to JFK and onto a plane. My friends joked that Air Jamaica had become my taxi and I laughed along with them.
Two years of boarding school and four years of college later I found myself looking for the job and with a 7 year plan to get back to Jamaica. Law school didn’t blip on my radar until junior year of college, and even then I began searching for how I could practice in Jamaica. Questions went out and I started hearing about the “UWI conversion” program; I even considered applying to UK law schools so that I’d have an easier time of moving to Jamaica and practicing there. It would 3 years of law school and couple years of practice then homeward bound…right…
But reality made its first strong appearance and I found myself applying to law schools only in the US. The first time around I wasn’t successful so I did it again and now I’m a law school graduate. Now my 28-year old self must face the reality of a large law school debt. I still would like to move back home and whatever I do now is done with that in mind. But sometimes it doesn’t seem possible, and I realize that my most extreme emotional tumult comes when I’m holding on hard to Jamaica and what I’d like to do there, what I feel I must do there to build my country, and how I’m not doing it quickly enough, how I should be helping my family there yet I’m here…and my rent-grocery-student loan-job hunting reality is pulling me in the other direction. I can’t even describe how unpleasant this feeling is.
Living in the US has been an incredible experience and I’d encourage anyone who has the opportunity to live here or anywhere else to do so…it brings incredible world and personal perspective to your life. But sometimes I feel so bruised I just curl up and zone out…this is not the life I’d planned. I feel like I’ve fallen into the trap so many immigrants do: come away for a different life and the opportunity to do new and different things but the goal of going back home keeps appearing farther and farther in the distance. And it’s like the harder you try to hold on to that goal – because it defines an integral piece of your existence – the farther it slips away.
Reconciling my 16 year old self with the 28 year old one is exhausting…and sometimes I wonder if I can or should do it. Shouldn’t I just accept that Jamaica is now, for me, a destination and nothing else? Makes my skin crawl to think that way, and maybe I’m greedy for wanting to keep my life here yet work in and on Jamaica. But I’ve decided that it must be possible. I must find a way. And for the first time in a long time that resolve feels right and things feel possible. Jamaica is in my blood and though I have built a life here in the US it will never suit me the way being in Jamaica does. Nothing and nowhere else feels quite right.