Letter from Kingston: The Hibiscus

open hibiscus

Did you know that a hibiscus folds into itself at night? All of its radiant peach and red and gold wrapped around itself until the morning sun swoops in. I realized this morning at 1am, when I looked at the hibiscuses flanking my mother’s front door, that in the U.S I was a closed hibiscus, and in Kingston I’ve blossomed. A flowering.

It has been so good to be home. For one, it’s nice to remember that I have a “home,” and am not the vagrant that I’ve always considered myself. No matter how long I stay away again, I know where I’ll ultimately return. As my friend Kamali commented recently I tend to “romanticize everything,” and that is most definitely true; however, although I recognize that Jamaica may not be perfect for many, it’s perfect for me.

It’s perfect for me: pale butterflies dancing in trees outside my window, nature’s gold, the sun, the sun walking with the breeze, lip balm mixed with sand, steamed fish swimming in broth of okra and pumpkin, my beautiful friends with hearts bigger than the island, a land built on the beat of a drum, music in every corner (rewind: music in every corner), a warm plantain tart from Brick Oven, guava ice-cream with chunks of guava, roses trailing iron grills, kisses from men that can’t be lovers, toothy smiles from street vendors, the Gleaner man, the plum man, quick rainshowers in open sky, hugs from God’s children, and my mother’s voice calling, “Darling, come for breakfast.”

To echo Nancy Wilson, I’m so glad to know that “my love has no beginning, my love has no end.”

* My mother– energy personified.



Letter from Kingston: Home is Jamaica

There are simple questions in life: What’s your name? How old are you? Where do you live? Where are you from?  However for me, these questions aren’t as simple as they appear at first glance, and I often find myself answering with hesitance.

Scene 1

Person 1: How old are you?

Me: You’re only as old as you feel.

Person 1: No really…

Me: Oh, I’d rather not discuss that. (I’ve said it a million times, I’m not the aging gracefully type)

Scene 2

Person 1: Where do you live?

Person 2: At the moment I’m between residences, homeless actually.

Person 1: Oh.

Scene 3

Person 1: Where are you from?

Me: I’m Jamaican.

Person 1: Where in Jamaica were you born? You don’t sound Jamaican… (and my favorite) You don’t look Jamaican (um, what does that even mean?)

Me: I was born in NY, but moved to JA as a toddler…. my parents are Jamaican; I was raised “Jamaican.” I’ve lived in the U.S for a long time.

Person 1: You’re Jamerican then.

Me: No, I’m Jamaican.

I arrived in Kingston almost a week ago for *Marsha’s (aka Sacha) wedding this upcoming Saturday, and to spend time in the land not of my birth but of my being before I head to Europe.  I haven’t been to Jamaica for many months, and the moment I stepped out of the airport I wondered, “Why has it been so long?”

In Jamaica it’s possible to:

1) Be selective about mangos, whereas in NY one just eats the $3 mango that’s almost ripe. Here it’s “Hm, should I have the Julie, the Blackie, the Bombay, the East Indian?” The trees in the backyard are laden.

2) Be overwhelmed with fruity goodness everywhere. The men at the stop lights selling fruits in season: yellow-coated plums, guineps, mangos, sugarcane in plastic bags. Be overwhelmed with sweetness and abundance.

3) Eat home-cooked ackee and saltfish with green bananas for breakfast, on the patio with the company of a humming bird flittering by, and a green lizard on the grill. The company of nature in the city greets, abounds and surrounds.

4) Start speaking a forgotten language. “Don’t lay lay.” “Jeezum pees.” “A wah do yuh?” Start saying things I didn’t know were still in me, albeit in an accent and voice that my best friends mock.

5) Relax at Prendys on South Avenue while listening to “soul” music and sighing from pleasure between bites of steamed Parrot fish, steamed bammy, and an arctic Red Stripe.

6) Go to Fort Clarence beach and stare up at the sky for a long while, then have the sky stare down on one’s back for another long while….. the sea rocks steady, shade from an almond tree, a sound system plays in the background, small slumber….  is that the vibration of the sun, of contentment, of the unburied dream?

7) Be with kindred spirits. It’s nice to reminisce, to be with people who can remind you of what you once saw, dreamed, wished, desired, loved. It’s nice to be a grown woman and still a child in the eyes of some, and just a girl with your girlfriends, and an “Auntie” to a child. Is that the trinity?

It’s amazing here. The rain falls while the sun is shining, and we continue to “live, laugh, love,” and remember that:

in jamaica,
brown mothers on green green grass,
give children permission
to fly. (Excerpted from In Jamaica:  http://thingsjamaicanslove.com/reasonings)

Moving On

…practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

(Excerpted from “One Art”– Elizabeth Bishop: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15212)

I have two days left in the U.S. Though I waited for the shipping company for over a week, TransCaribe finally arrived with the three storage barrels that were needed to ship my belongings to Kingston; and now, everything’s packed, including my suitcase of Una and Mizani hair supplies. Yes, both hair care companies have websites and international shipping, but the state of black women’s hair– those that have relaxers– in Europe scares me, hence the preparedness.

The shipping company, in true Caribbean fashion, took their own sweet time in bringing the three jumbo barrels. Apparently, in Jamaicanese, “soon come” means approximately nine days or more from the hour one’s called. I’ve been away from Jamaica too long, I remember “soon come” meaning “at least a few hours or less than a week,” but nope, it means “over two hundred hours.” My mother, in true motherly fashion, worried and nagged until they came. Then in truer Jamaican fashion, we delayed packing, and fled to the Village to consume Italian food.

Packing was delightful, a delightful purging and remembrance. Since the barrels are narrow, and hold a maximum of three-hundred pounds, only the most essential items can be deposited. In the trash went old college essays (years old), magazines, cds already uploaded on my ipod, an irreparable geisha doll from 1988, and an eight page letter from a guy listing the many reasons that he wasn’t in love with me (why in God’s name was I holding onto that?!).

I packed the essentials, which included cards, mementos and letters from my eighth birthday onward (“Happy 13th, 15th, 21st, 23rd”…yikes, on and on); the most precious and oldest item, a copy of Mr. Meddle’s Muddles from my brother.  Reading the old cards, I remembered incidents long forgotten, and reminded myself that I loved and was loved by people no longer in my life. There were names on cards of former friends of whom I can’t recall faces, and sentiments on high school birthday cards like, “For all that we’ve been through,” and “We’ll be friends forever.” I wonder what we’d been through, since I certainly can’t remember any life-changing events in high school. A college friend gave me a birthday card that jokes, “We will be free.” Judging from the cards, it seems that life has been zany, funny, wacky and “profound.”

And here we are– this chapter of living and working in the U.S, which lasted three and a half years this time, and resulted in major losses and gains, is now almost over. It’s easy to become comfortable (even in a less than ideal place), and though I know it’s best to move on, it seems strange that I’ll have to start all over again. Again. Soon, it’ll be time to make new friends, navigate a new train system, learn new neighborhoods, decipher a new language, minimally decorate a new apartment, and redefine myself. The best thing about a new environment is that it can lead to a constant redefinition of oneself.

Every day, friends ask me if I’m excited or assert that this must be “such an exciting experience.” Yesterday, a friend on Facebook wrote that not only must I be “excited and happy, but nervous and sad as well.”  It  struck me that Anna hit the emotion that I hadn’t quite defined on the head. In this tumult of packing, shopping, organizing, meeting up with friends for last drinks and suppers, closing accounts, wiring money, and telling acquaintances about my impending adventure, there is sadness. I’ve given up a bi-weekly paycheck for uncertainty; I’m also giving up my beloved NYC, the known, a cheap place, and an uncomfortable yet sure existence.

However, as I sat after packing with my mother, Lady Marmabug landed on me. She sat and drooled on my finger for some time (I hope that was drool). This site: http://www.symbolic-meanings.com/2007/11/13/brief-symbolic-meaning-of-the-ladybug/ informed me that the ladybug represents luck, love, and protection. Thus despite apparent losses, I’m excited  to see what there is to gain.