I’ve always been proud of my heritage. As I grew up, I always knew the privilege of being half-Jamaican; experiencing a different culture from the day I was born, albeit second-hand. Despite knowing my background and being pretty well-travelled, I’ve never been to Jamaica. My dad moved back there almost two years ago and I’ve always planned to visit and see it through his eyes. Instead, today, I’m flying out there to say a final goodbye to him, and the country I’ve always longed to visit is now tainted.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know all that much about the place, aside from what my dad has told me. It is marketed as a paradise island; sunshine, palm trees, beaches. What people don’t understand is Jamaica is a third world country. Away from the tourist resorts, there is a great deal of poverty and everyday life there can be extremely dangerous. The exchange rate is horrific (£1 ~ $167JD at the time of writing) and when my great-grandmother packed my dad over to the UK in 1966 when he was just 19, it was so he could have a better quality of life.
It’s bizarre to have to plan for a long haul trip and not look forward to it in the slightest. Usually, I’d use it as an excuse to trawl Boots for travel cosmetics, order new clothes especially for the holiday, research restaurants to eat in. This time around, I’ve had the most depressing trip to Primark ever to find some basic hot-weather outfits that will survive the heat but also stop me from being perceived as a rich white woman in a tiny, poor village where the inhabitants are already trying to wring me and my siblings for every penny we’ve got.
Because I live in the UK, it is expected that I have money. Sneaky additional costs are added to funeral invoices; I’ve heard news of somebody trying to get my dad’s crappy old smartphone (sans SIM card) so they can sell it. I’ve researched this seeming lack of empathy online and it’s pretty well known amongst the expat community, but I’d already been warned about it from my dad and other Jamaican relatives. Of course, this is not representative of absolutely everybody in Jamaica, but sadly, in a village where they have the basics but are fully aware of the wider western world’s privileges, there is a minority who, frankly, take the fucking piss.
There’s also a lack of strong infrastructure and education out in the sticks. I always used to chuckle at my dad’s hideously mis-spelt text messages, and put it down to him leaving school around 14. But it seems that this is still the same state of affairs in the tiny town he lived in. We’ve experienced massive lapses in communication and unbelievably drawn-out processes regarding cremation and bringing ashes back home, that if it had been in the UK, I would be registering a complaint with trading standards before they could blink. But it’s pointless in this case.
Despite all of this, I am glad that I get to visit the country my dad loved, and missed dearly while he lived in the UK. I’ll get to see where he grew up and where he spent his final days, as well as being able to meet up with relatives I haven’t seen in 17 years and celebrate his life with them. I am so relieved that he was able to retire in the place he always referred to as home. It’s a bitter pill to swallow right now, but he was happy there and I want to remember Jamaica in the same way he did.
Thank you to those who have already sent messages and shown their love. I’m writing to keep my mind busy and it is a relief to get this off my chest, but blog posts might be intermittent for a while.