I travelled across the world to find a home which resided outside of my small, backwards home — the only one I have ever known. A place foreign, mysterious and yet somehow it had contacted me directly and asked me to return. Knowing I had never touched its soil, I was ambivalent, she was not. Bold, uninterested and forgiving is how her tides reminded me of her.
And yet I only recognised myself as far more homeless than prior to my leaving. Somehow, though, I returned with a different sense of peace and understanding of this, beyond the yearning and need. Questions continue to propel my journey but there is a vague haze over my relationship with Jamaica that I am newly grateful for and seek to protect as it offers me protection.
I originally wanted this post to be a sharp, hard-hitting, accurately bitchy critique of the British food industry and its overwhelming white, corniness. However this manifested itself, by nature, into something way better.
A roadside fish restaurant. Looking more like your dream tree-cafe, we ran from the car to avoid the downpour, to the stairs which were sheltered by tin which insulated the sound of the water shards, held up by pieces of wood. We were greeted by a woman, Mr Lee’s daughter, and a boy who looked out from the kitchen door. The television above the fridge played on as music went about its way entrancing the people under the shelter. Cars passed fast and hard around corners — each and everyone beeping, a signal for others to hop in — two groups of 4 people sat at the two tables which occupied the small red, green and gold coloured space. The rain let up in ideal timing.
It was humbling, to have left the hotel, finally. To arrive where I felt that I had needed to be for weeks, on a roadside in Ochi, a strange place in the country I had heard so much about, was perfect. I felt like the higher powers within Jamaica, which brought the earlier rain tumbling and maintained the heavy, beat-driven energy which buzzed consistently throughout the countryside, all the way through to the uptown of Kingston, were finally allowing me to engage with its precious aspects. At the same time, the powers steady admonished the British energies that had unrightfully followed me into my rightful homeland. The existence of Britain and the presence of Britishness was being exiled, even within me it was draining out as a result and I, accepted. The way things should be, the rightful dominance resurrected.
Of course, these were the mellowing experiences I had craved and expected when we first touched down and before I left England, this was what I had been dreaming of. But, naturally, this was not the case as I had imagined it so vividly. I was unable to do so much of this dreaming and reality, given the familial nature of this holiday and the intentions of others — side eye man — who dominated the holiday itinerary.
But I was finally here, after two days of being told we were going out, seeing the thunder roll in each lunchtime like clockwork, while watching the pastel colours of the colonial style buildings shimmer and compliment one another in the sunlight, while I lay on a sunbed and being told that no Jamaican family from my father’s father’s side of the family had turned up, I was…finally, here.
The initial frustration, anger, resentment and fury caused by this waiting lay in between two natural, unavoidable, though no less disheartening, facts:
- I am not Jamaican. I am not even St. Lucian, for as much as I have been there and lived a life I never saw a peep of in the UK. I have little place on the island as a British born person with British Born parents whose parents left the islands in the 60’s flurry and never ever ever returned, but for vacations. This became abundantly clear in my inability to venture as I wanted to and to get what I wanted from my limited time here and the result of this reality was shame. It always is, whether I am in the UK or another country or the islands.
- I am an adult (in progress) and I still have various inescapable limits, from family impositions to emotional restrictions. Despite the past four-years of active self-definition, of erasing the parts of me I found were too contrived or developed out of another persons view or expectation of me, I still have a lot of work to do to escape the grasp of “others”. I became aware of all of these things, and the hotel appeared to be getting its load of giggles from me, bar and hotel staff were never simply helpful or kind, they were always aware of my otherness. Other foreign black people could not help their own ignorance or lack of concern about our not being Caribbean and this felt to me to be dangerously contagious, though I kept the cool off of me and at bay for a long time.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many times the hotel had seen these feelings, how many times had this happened before, how many people left with broken hearts over inevitabilities which were never theirs to query in the first instance.
I am not a doom and gloom person but I knew the hotel represented this inevitability. My only comfort at the time was a view and a soundscape of the waves, especially when they were under the influence of thunder and lightening. The privilege of being in Jamaica, to bare witness to this, to be influenced by this became my sanctuary once again.
My dad never fails to tell us the story of some roadside fish he ate after a dance in Jamaica some twenty odd years ago. How he love it so much that he looked for it every time he came after and never found it again. That story is reflective of the British Caribbean experience. How we lose every time we gain and it is inevitable that the things we love about our Caribbean identity can so easily be lost or taken away from us because of geographical proximity and the complexities of everyday life within the context of living in the Diaspora.
First thing you notice about London is how many food places there are. If you have been particularly focused within the past four years, the “street food” culture which has emanated — unsurprisingly coinciding with the effective activation of gentrification — has literally been a London based marketing campaign for people to eat out solely, to spend more time in the streets spending the disposable incomes of yuppie residents (as we are all supposed to fit this profile) and forgetting about the real life practices we have developed in order to survive, live, grow and flourish within a city.
Imagine, a thick charcoal layer of smog over your city which acts as a reminder not to contribute to air pollution via driving, smoking, littering etc. The type they consistently associate with China although I have heard a few things about the United States…
This street food peddling has shamelessly been the exact same level of obvious advertising, except for a different kind of consciousness, a call for conscience or awareness however in a different direction: the consciousness of the consumer. The request is that the people, new and old — so long as you maintain a certain pay bracket and desire for London housing no matter the price — continue to consume. Whatever, however!
However, now it is a cultural necessity, you are perceived as a cultural facilitator and developer the more you engage in these spaces. How ever many food trucks you ate from last weeks counts towards your state pension, mortgage, or something like that.