Change is a great topic for writing. A good amount of it is coming into my life, but it’s not yet the time to put the many thoughts and emotions into words.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in the 1950s, but left there with my parents in the early 1960s. I’ve never lived there, since, in over 50 years. Now, I will be going back there to live. My wife has a new job and Kingston will be her base.
People have been asking me if I’m excited to be going back to Jamaica. I reply that it involves a complicated set of reactions, of which, excitement, in some way, features.
My father returned to Jamaica about 25 years ago, having taken early retirement and at about the same age as I am now. That strikes me as a strange parallel.
When my father ‘returned home’ in the mid-1980s, he was for the longest while referred to by the nickname ‘Britisher’ or ‘Englishman’. In Jamaican culture, nicknames often define a person. Whether my father felt defined or redefined, I’m not sure if he was ever really hurt or offended by this denial of his heritage. I may ask him in coming weeks.
Over the decades, I’ve been obliged to do one of the many types of code switching that characterizes the way humans cope. From being comfortable in my Jamaican patwa, I quickly had to realign my tongue and ears to the lilt of the Lon(do)ner. New phrases and reactions filled my upbringing. “Wha’ gwan?” had to make way for “Whassup?” “Gimme a patty an’ a coco bred!” had to be replaced by “Gisa piece a cod, some chips, vinegar an’ pickle!”
The fact that my spoken Jamaican language was probably frozen in the 1960s was never an issue. I didn’t need it much and how that form of speech developed through the trials and tribulations of that treasure of an island home, I only picked up from the lyrics of reggae music through the years. Maybe, I have a mind that develops speech like a Rasta: Marley, Tosh and Buju were my teachers.
There’s a lot involved in making the life you live work well. So, undoing or redoing that often involves a lot more. I can’t be like my 9 year old: she’s found an application to help her speak like a Jamaican. For her, that is the first order of business. Modern kids have aids we never had. I won’t break it to her that the speaking is not even the half of it. You have to think differently, too. That’ll take time.
Life is full of huge ironies. Well over a year ago, long before this move was in my consciousness, I found amongst my Dad’s papers our boarding passes from our trip from Jamaica to England in 1961. I asked his housekeeper to put it somewhere safe. She did, but couldn’t find it again. Too safe! Recently, she found the passes again. This time, I told her to keep them extra safe. It was almost as if I felt I’d need them to verify the trip and claim the miles. Who, today, knows about flying on BOAC?
It’s going to be an intriguing time ahead.