Friday, May 19, 2017


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I’m struggling. But in truth, it’s been that way for quite some time, since foot touched ground in this land of wood and water.

They say there are different Jamaicas, and I no doubt know this to be true. Aptly capturing this sentiment, photographer and creator, Peter Dean Rickards wrote “We are Jamaicans living within and without cultural control. We are at once proud nationalists and critics of our country of origin. A country known for its extremes. A place packed with originality and creative energy that continues to flourish despite the current socio-political state that has removed the personal pride of many. An island filled with beauty unsurpassed and ugliness that would make a rat puke.”

In all honesty, I’m not sure which Jamaica I will leave with in my mind.

The paradox of life here is so astounding -- splendor always brushing up against pain. Fear hovering on the periphery, worry right inside the line of sight; eclipsed momentarily when depth returns to breath and light comes pouring through. Joy heightened by anxiety. Which of these is more genuine? Is one real simply because the other exists? Tangibility through co-occurrence?

Sometimes I’m surprised to learn the new contours of a mind that I believed I knew so well. I thought I had managed my fear only to realize that the fear had often managed me. Ugliness is sneaky that way. Making life myopic. Narrow. Tight. Restricting the range of possibilities imaginable. Causing me to only see a landscape of corruption, chaos and systems failing to function. Moments when I can only focus on Dennis’ nephew, shot ten times in front of a KFC; the grit, filth and cacophony of ramshackle tin neighborhoods; the boy in the taxi cab, shot on his way to school, whose killer could not be prosecuted for lack of evidence; the electric current surging through a frenzied crowd as they run toward and not away from the fresh blood that flows in the street after a police officer was killed with his own gun; the sounds of a neighbor yelling for help as she’s robbed at knifepoint at 8:30 in the morning on her walk to work; the strain in a young man’s face as he momentarily opens to say “Miss, I’m tired of the violence;” a newfound ability to judge gunshot proximity by sound.

How can we continue standing inches from such a precipice?

Sometimes I’m surprised to feel the scowl affixed to my face instinctively smooth into a smile. I thought I had forgotten how to dance only to realize my feet were already moving long before my mind even registered the beat. Beauty is sneaky that way. Making life grander. Expansive. Sweeping. Opening a range of limitless possibilities. Allowing me to see scenes of warmth, fecundity and systems of thriving interconnection. Moments when I can only focus on the sweet, juicy, fibrous taste of an Otaheite apple; the crisp, shocking thrill of sliding into a frigid waterfall after a long, arduous hike; the laughter of boys imitating lawyers, mastering and wielding concepts of cross examination; the pastel painted sky of sunrise across the valley; feeling like Belle walking through the streets of her hometown, waving, smiling and speaking mawnin’ mawnin’ to security guards patrolling, men with machetes for gardening and women carrying bags of fresh fruits and veg; the sound of voices softly singing along anytime music is playing; a discussion of best practices shared among a room full of community volunteers, peacemakers.

How can we drink such goodness into the soul?

In all honesty, I’m not sure which Jamaica I will leave with in my heart.

I struggle because the centrality of this duality is part and parcel of life here, I struggle because the gnawing guilt of privilege that allows some measure of escape, I struggle over all that I will miss. I struggle because this reality has existed long before my arrival and will remain long after I am gone.

I’m struggling. But in truth, it’s been that way for quite some time, since foot touched ground in this land of wood and water.

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