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.

17 Responses to “Reconciliation: East Timor, Jamaica, and Me”
  1. Carole-Anne says:

    Your words amaze me Ren… and they echo mine. I understand and this is why we should begin expanding on your idea. <3.

    • Thanks you Carole-Anne. For a long time I never said anything to anyone because it felt so dumb and silly to feel so torn and lost. I’m glad I’ve now shared and have ‘company’ LOL. We’ll talk about le idea this weekend; some things have changed.

  2. Aurie says:

    what an introspective post. thanks for disarming yourself and allowing us to gain insight into your mind. i know what you mean when you say that the dream to go back seemingly gets more and more distant the longer you’re away. keep driving forward and be encouraged

  3. shumpynella says:

    I must echo Carole-Anne. I feel like a liar if I try to explain just how much I wasn’t going to still be in the US right now. I wasn’t the seeking a better life person. Life was good in Jamaica. The US was just another thing to do since my father was here and I could. Only now do I understand the head shake and knowing smiles I received from long time immigrants when I used to adamantly declare my intent to move back home. Ten years later, here I am.

    • I wish we’d gotten more than head shakes & knowing smiles; maybe some coping advice and ideas on how to plan so that we don’t get stuck!!

      • Reneé says:

        Haha I adamantly said i was coming back when i first left, but that had changed by the first semester for me :(. And then when you realize you have to pay back student loans. . .

        I wonder at what point (if ever), somewhere else becomes home though? Nothing sweet like Jam down, but maybe cuz I’m not exposed to Jamaican culture very often in Cali it just feels like a completely different alternative which is somewhat viable. When i go back I’m there as a tourist and I think i’m slowly coming to terms with that, as sad as it may be :(.

      • shumpynella says:

        I could’ve done with some coping advice. & Renee, I love seeing and having Jamaican culture around me. Nothing is sweeter than walking down the street and hearing someone giving a joke (or more often than not cussing) and the accent is just so prominent. Makes me smile. Plus, if I ever am craving some Chippies or Lasco, I don’t have to wait for the next Jamaican visitor. Thank goodness.

  4. Sheldon Logan says:

    At least you live in an area with a decent Jamaican influence culturally…try living in California where you’re essentially exotic because you’re Jamaican.

    • Ouch. I don’t know how I’d have managed living without that closeness when I first moved here. Now I don’t mind too much but at 16?! Laux. Are you able to keep in touch & maintain your “Jamaicanness” (cultural identity)? Is that important to you?

  5. Gayle says:

    I feel you… maybe for now Jamaica may not be in the cards but if it is what you want I am sure it will happen… or maybe you can find a way to live in both places… people do it

  6. Renee: Sometimes I treat myself as a tourist when I visit but it doesn’t feel right for long. So while I have a goal (separate discussion for sure) of exploring every nook and cranny of Jamaica like a tourist would and not be stuck in the “usual spots” I can’t separate (yet?) mySELF from Jamaica. I see what you mean about living in California making it “easier” to think of Jamaica as an alternative – because JA becomes less easily accessible. Like I said to Sheldon – I don’t know if I’d have had the strength to live there when first moving as your both did.

    Gayle: Thanks for the encouragement! Living in the 2 places seems the most feasible option I think, but that demands that I have a job or career that demands that. I’m not naturally a patient person and the legal profession almost demands a kind of apprenticeship period after graduation before really being able to flex one’s muscle. I don’t mind doing the apprenticeship for a while to LEARN how to practice law (law school doers NOT teach you how to do that) but I don’t want to just mosey along that prescribed path either. So that’s another thing I’m wrestling with.

  7. Camille Bryan says:

    I like that you stepped back from the initial anger and analyzed your reacton. The person in question can say whatever he wants…he doesn’t know who he is talking to…he was just carpet bobming for a reaction.

    I understand that torn feeling. I felt like I was literally ripped from Jamaica 6.5 years ago and I all I could think about for 2-3 years after that was “how was I getting back on the rock?” I had decided that after I had gained Canadaian citizenship would be a good time as any, however, now that has been accomplished I ask myself “now what?”. Jamaica isn’t a distant memory, but I know it is not the place for me to be right now. What I was holding on to at 21 and what I have to deal with at 28 are a world apart. I can’t say I will never return but I know there are things to accomplish before I go down that road.

    Thanks for sharing Ren…

  8. Loi Laing says:

    I feel you on this dilemma! Thanks for writing, as it echoes what many of us are feeling.

    • Thanks for reading & commenting. I’m glad that this post echoes with you. Silly me felt quite alone with these feelings but you along with others have taught me otherwise. It’s great to be talking about this out in the open!

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  1. […] I’ll never be able to answer these questions but at least I realize that reconciling where I am now and where I’m going with my 16 year old choices is an ongoing battle in this […]

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