Being Jamaican. Somethings don’t lend themselves to neat definition and brief description. This may be one of those aspects that fall into the ‘you know it when you know it’ category. It may be the same for other nationalities, and so, it’s a feeling that runs through whatever it means to feel your nationality.
My daughters are blessed by having one part of their heritage rooted in a place that they have had the good fortune to experience mainly in a good way: through food, fun, music, family, sunshine, travel.
I don’t feel the need to shout out or flag the greatness of people who hail from the same little island, directly or through their ancestors. But, I never shy away from acknowledging what I am. Being one of them and one of us is all that matters. It’s often fun to speculate about someone’s Jamaican origin and then find that it’s there, plain as day. No need to take up ‘Bolt-en stance’. No need to shake imaginary dreadlocks with a Marleyesque chant. No need to add “Yea, man,” after everything.
Sometimes, it’s not people and places that make the feeling special. It may be the sound or the smell: ripe mangos, tamarinds, roast breadfruit, pepper sauce, truck horns blaring as they careen down hills. It may be sights: houses perched on hillsides; school children in their uniforms walking on the roadside; security signs at the edges of residential neighbourhoods. It may be tastes: sugar cane; sour sop juice; jerk chicken; patties :-). It may be the way people do things–a languid tropicality, I’d call it: when the day is hot and work is not pressing, what else to do but kick back and cool out? Why pretend to be busy? Don’t be foolish!
My third grade daughter is enjoying her school class ‘cultural outreach’ as it explores Calypso music. She has inside knowledge and I can see on her face an expression that implies ‘I feel these songs deep inside’. She’d make Harry Belafonte proud. She understands the meanings of the colours of the flag. She asked about the national anthem the other day: I did not give her a full answer, but she should know the core is in the last line of each verse–‘Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.‘ She’s sampling it up close and personal, with her older sisters, this week. Years from now, she may recall how she was able to put more gusto into her Calypso singing because the thoughts and feelings of land of wood and water was carrying her. Humming birds, lizards, guavas, Anansi, steamed fish, coconut water, high hills, running streams, callaloo, bare-footed children, red dirt, sunsetting over mountains…