For a long time I resented the author Terry McMillan (of Stella fame). Her semi-autobiographical novel set in Jamaica came out not long after my first trip to my adopted home after fourteen years of exile. I felt quite strongly that somehow the seed of an idea which had been planted in my brain had been captured by the author. In fairness, it was another 20 years or more before any of my scribblings actually made it to a wider audience (thank you, Mali and Ajamu fans!) while Ms McMillan went on to movie deals and many more successful novels.
But Jamaica will do that to you. If you look, listen and feel your senses will come alive and it will bring to life hopes dreams and ambitions you had forgotten. Last week I titled my FMM ‘Tell me a story’. I was in Jamaica less than 24 hours when we were joined on our early morning walk by a man who in about fifteen minutes was able to tell us his full life story! Including the fact that he was born with a purpose, God had a plan for him, since he was the only child of an only child. This was not a well-educated man; he was a simple farmer who was proud to tell us he had just been selected to play on his local soccer team at 52 years old! His life was meaningful.
I have been drawn in to the drama and gossip of every day Jamaican life; the politics, the scandals, the arguments that get your juices flowing. I have had my batteries restored, filled to the brim with the natural beauty of an island less than 2 hours from Miami. But I have also tempted my fate by coming to a destination that has been hit by the dreaded ‘Chick V’, the Chikungunya virus, borne by mosquitoes which lurk in the day time, not the usual twilight hours.
The nation has been suffering, literally, with more people hit by it than have avoided it (so far). Of course the official numbers don’t reflect this, since most people don’t go and get laboratory confirmation. The symptoms are classic, and extremely debilitating. It has united and leveled the population, even resulting in death for some who were vulnerable. It is the opening sentence in any conversation; everyone compares their stories and the trailing effects that still linger. Just like the US with Ebola, the nation was unprepared, when it had plenty of warning. And so I have been risking whatever long-term effects are associated with the application of insect repellants on my skin, to avoid having my own personal encounter with the neck breaking, old age making Chick V.
We have been given some important reminders of the shrinking size of our globe. Ebola travels, Chick V flies, and pollution shows up in the strangest of places. And we are not playing our part as caretakers of this delicate planet. We ignore warnings, we continue to do the things that harm the ecosystem, taking and not giving back. When we are given stark evidence of how connected we are we need to pay heed, to try to plan for the next invader and then implement the plan. I remember hearing that the problem with the educational system is that they are continually trying to find solutions for last year’s problems. We need to anticipate and innovate to find solutions to problems that haven’t yet happened!
But despite all that, as usual I am under Jamaica’s spell. I drink in the views. I breathe in the magic, the natural mystic that flows through the air, that falls in heavy raindrops, that settles in wispy pockets in the mountainside. I laugh at the easy jokes of the man on the street, admire the resilience, the courage, the attitude that makes any Jamaican an expert on any given subject. I strive to retain the impressions and memories of a week spent not doing a bunch of tourist activities, but dwelling, being with, being part of, the soul of Jamaica.
This was my week of pushing the pause button on my regular life. It allowed me that moment to breathe and de-stress (although deadlines and work related issues came with me). But surrounded by verdant mountains decorated with brightly colored foliage, in a house full of its own natural beauty, where the local dogs howl in harmony in the middle of the night and brightly colored hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, it is possible to be still.
So thank you Jamaica, and my hostess and friend of less than half a century, for your warmth, your love, your genuine welcome each time I visit. And whether you need to get your groove back, or just need to exhale, I strongly recommend a trip to Jamaica. But bring plenty of insect repellant, this Chick V is no joke, you hear?
Have a wonderful weekend family; make sure to make space for the stillness in the midst of a crazy life.