Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Back in JA

Sunset at Doctors Cave Beach in MoBay

Leaving Jamaica in March was one of the hardest things I've done. As the plane lifted off from Montego Bay airport I looked back at the island and cried, saddened by leaving my friends, apartment, and accomplishments (not to mention a steady pay check) behind. At the same time, though, I had mentally prepared myself to leave. Day after day, life in Jamaica had reminded me why I was ready: violence, poverty, lack of infrastructure, and witnessing 'sufferation' basically everywhere I went had began taking a toll after nearly three years. I was ready for a little comfort and the stability that living in a first world country offered. But I knew that Jamaica would always be a part of me and that I would be back several times in my lifetime. My husband was born in Kingston, and parts of his family and many of his friends live there. We would never be able to put Jamaica behind us forever, and I liked that...

I never realized that I would be back so soon. Shortly after our own wedding in September Malcolm's father told us he too would be getting married before the year was out. We booked our tickets back to Jamaica and returned to the country at the end of November. Although we would only be there for five days, Malcolm and I were determined to make the most of our short time there.

As we landed in Kingston I began to feel nostalgic for my life in JA. I said 'Lets move back here' to Malcolm, and he rolled his eyes (we had worked pretty hard to begin our new life in Scotland, and he knew I was only being half serious). Mentally I tried to put myself back into my old mindset and began remembering all of the lessons I had learned over the years. No small feat as everyday for three years I had learned something new.

We proceeded to collect our bags and make our way through customs. Unfortunately my bag had never left the UK and I was frustrated and angry. We had to wait two hours to get through customs, and enduring the heat and never ending line reminded me of the reality of this place. I realized my nostalgia on the plane was mostly fueled by memories of the good times I had, and the small irritations and annoyances of everyday life in JA had been quickly forgotten after I had left.

This lesson was basically non-stop the rest of the trip. As we made our way through Kingston and up to Malcolm's old house his father kept up a running commentary on how the latest hurricanes and tropical storms had ruined the roads and created deadly mudslides.

The next day Malcolm and I went shopping for a new wedding outfit and clothes as our airline told us that my suitcase wouldn't reach the island until after the wedding (and only two days before we were leaving). After finding some clothes and a dress that worked we drove up to the north coast where the we would all be staying, and where the wedding would be held the next day. The drive was beautiful, but we had a slow start as the gas station attendant somehow forgot the amount of gas that had been pumped into Malcolm's car, and no record is kept in the station. After a half an hour of standing around not knowing what to do the station manager took a random amount of money from us and let us leave. Another mental tick in our minds against JA and another reminder of daily life.

We finally reached the villa where we were staying for the duration of our trip, had a relaxing meal, and went to bed.

View of the ocean from our villa

The next morning I had a nice massage near the beach, took a nap, and got ready for the wedding. It took place at sunset in a gazebo overlooking the beach. The light was so pretty as the sunset and the bride and groom were very lovely, as was the ceremony. Dinner was served afterwards on the porch, and after the speeches was dancing. I went to bed early as I was still suffering from jet-lag (and a few drinks).

Wedding party, family, and friends

The next day people woke late, and Malcolm and I decided to go for a drive. We returned at lunch, and headed out again. We traveled to Montego Bay to spend the night with some of our old friends. The drive from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay was beautiful, and the highway that was under construction when I left was mostly finished. The only incomplete section was at the entrance to MoBay, and held us up quite a bit. The road had been moved about a quarter of a mile inland, and now flowed so slowly that Malcolm and I were baffled by the changes. Malcolm speculated that now the government would be able to sell the old road land, which was conveniently ocean-fronted.

We finally reached our destination in MoBay: Doctors Cave Beach. As we walked in I kept expecting to see all of the 'usual' people around every corner! Of course, most of them had left the island, but we did meet up with the few remaining ones and had drinks as we watched the sun set.

Standing on the peir at DCB

After drinks on the beach and dinner at our favorite restaurant we headed back to Drew's place for a night of Texas Hold'em on the veranda, something we had done countless times while I had lived here.

All the players around the table

Me and my chips

This night, for me, had been the highlight of my trip. Not only did I get to spend some time with my friends back in my favorite city in JA, but Drew and Jenny had surprised me with a birthday cake!

Happy Birthday to me!

The next day Malcolm and I had lunch at Drew and Jenny's then headed back to the Villa in Ochi. We relaxed, shopped for souvenirs, and enjoyed a quiet dinner.

As we were all getting ready to watch a slide show of pictures from the wedding there was a commotion near the front door. Malcolm came upstairs to where we were waiting for the pictures and whispered in my ear 'Go pack your suitcase, I'll be in to tell you why in a few minutes'. I went to the room and began to throw things in my bag (which had arrived the day before), and waited for the mystery to be explained. Finally Malcolm came into the room and explained what had happened. Apparently a car had driven in the gate of the Villa (after it had been opened for the photographer so he could drop off a CD of pictures from the wedding), the two men in the back of the car got out and had asked for someone. When one of the villa staff had told them no-one of that name was at the villa, the men changed their story and said they were looking for a villa to rent (this was around 8pm on a Sunday night) and began looking through the door into the house. Finally they left, but they had frightened some of the guests and staff of the villa. The men had been dressed in a very 'ghetto-ish' style, and one of the men had his hand under his shirt the whole time. After the men left the police were called, came to get the details of the men and the car, and left.

We all gathered upstairs to discus what to do. The consensus was the men had been 'casing' the house and would be back later to rob us. This was bad... in Jamaica recently violence had escalated, especially violent robberies resulting in the murder of the victims. We all decided to drive back to Jamaica in a convoy (there were four carloads of family and friends of the bride and groom staying at the house, including Malcolm's grandmother). As we drove slowly back to Kingston we kept the cars and SUVs together in a small pack, with Malcolm and his father alternating leading the group. Anyone that knows Malcolm will know that driving slow while people drive slower behind him is not one of his favorite things. But he delivered us safely to Kingston with no incidents. We all fell into bed as it was now the middle of the night.

The next day we left Jamaica, after we had lunch with Malcolm friend who lived in Kingston. As we were waiting in the airport Malcolm and I discussed the reality of living in Jamaica compared to our whitewashed and time altered nostalgia. We were both glad we had returned, if only for a few days, but we were also looking forward to returning to our lives in Scotland.

Enjoying cracking some nuts. Bowl and nuts birthday presents from Malcolm.


memorgan said...

Glad you got to go back to JA to find what it's really like now. I had this image of Chiago in my mind, too which didn't diminish that much when I'd come back to visit. But living back there last year for nine months showed me just how much the city had changed in 16 years. The best place to be is whereever you are at the moment...unless you're in Reno.

Oliver said...

Robin, I meant to comment on this a while ago. It is amazing to me how many of the feelings you had were the same I felt when I went back in August '07.

I had some of the same feelings getting off the airplane about enjoying some of the familiar things but by the second day the things I never liked were glaringly obvious.

I think I will continue to go back and visit but it's sad to see things not getting better. I'm glad you got back safely!

brittney said...

now having been here for 8 months, i agree with you. hearing the word whitey now just makes me grit my teeth. fortunately it isn't happening as much as it did when i first got here. take care!