Missing Jamaica

I have lived more than half of my life overseas. Outside of Jamaica where I am from. I am not that young anymore, so you can imagine it’s been a long time living in foreign lands. But, I miss Jamaica like Day 1. After all these years. I imagine only those who have lived overseas will understand my emotions. When I left Jamaica first for good, it was for a posting to Brussels by the company I was working with at the time, right after Hurricane Gilbert did a number on Jamaica. And I have lived abroad ever since. So, it’s been a while. Gilbert mashed up my beloved island in 1988.

Tonight, I am listening to music online, being played by a Jamaican bredrin who lives a few minutes away from me in South Florida. Lounge Live. Religiously every Tuesday night, but with surprise editions on a Sunday evening or Friday night like tonight. Always a pleasant surprise to kick-start the weekend. I am not sure he realizes how powerful his musical presence is in our lives, mine and the other listeners’, but it is super special. The accompanying chatroom session is filled mostly with Jamaicans, at home and abroad. The banter tonight is humming and jamming and makes me feel homesick. Homesick for Jamaica. We talk about how the 80s and 90s music of our generation is the best. How life was sweet in Jamaica. We kind of knew back then that Jamaica was special but being overseas now heightens our appreciation. Only Jamaicans outside of Jamaica will understand.

Jamaica has its challenges, yes. But sometimes I feel I have cheated myself by having moved overseas permanently. Not that I am ungrateful, or that I regret having left, for I think I have prospered immensely. I have lived a life worthy of great appreciation. Sometimes I don’t even realize until it is pointed out to me. I close my eyes and try to understand why friends tell me I have been fortunate. And yes, when I run the thoughts through my mind with my eyes closed, I do realize that they are right. But, it doesn’t hide how I feel about having left Jamaica. I feel I may have missed out on things that I will never be able to recapture. Putting things into perspective, material gains are good, but they are only part of the full picture of the wholesomeness of life. Emotional connections are equally, if not more valuable, because they round out our existence. At least for me. My emotional ties to Jamaica complete my existence overseas.

Nostalgia is a hell of a thing, and that is what helps me stay grounded to Jamaica. The clichéd expression of being physically outside of Jamaica but mentally there applies to me. I think it was made to describe me. Listening to my bredin’s online selections or listening to music on Kool 97FM all day on a Sunday whenever I can tune in is emotional. The DJs and the music take me back to times at home in St. Thomas. Funny, I used to hate Sundays, for they were so quiet. Only religious music on the radio all day long. And classics in the evenings. I didn’t have a television at home to break the monotony by watching Bonanza on the Ponderosa. So, I had no choice. But now I listen to music from back then, and it’s all different. I listen, and I am transported back to those years, and it makes me realize how blessed I am to have been born in Jamaica. How blessed to have had wonderful parents and siblings, and friends and neighbors. Really, it was a combination of all the factors of my little district of Norris. We were all family.

We have a lot to be grateful for by simply being Jamaican. Challenges in the country, yes, but we are revered abroad. And this reverence dates to long before Usain and our other outstanding athletes started blazing stadium tracks. Long before Colin Powell managed the state affairs of the most powerful nation on earth. Before our Jamaican beauties started turning up the heat in international pageantries. And even before my personal experiences living overseas.

Before I left Jamaica for good, I spent a year at university in France doing a master’s degree. Right after I finished my first degree in Jamaica. Upon arrival in Paris I took the train to Grenoble, my school town. I was checked in at the loge of my residence for the year in Grenoble by Farida, and shown my room. Farida was Algerian. We became close friends over time. She told me she was excited when she had received the call from Paris that two French government scholarship recipients from Jamaica were arriving that afternoon. At round about the appointed time, she saw two young folks coming in, laden with luggage. I am expecting Jamaicans, she told me she had said to herself. But these can’t be them, she had further told herself. Why, they don’t have dreadlocks, so these cannot be the students from Jamaica. We had an interesting conversation after, because it was then I realized that Rastafari were held in high esteem. And so was Jamaica by extension. Not so during my formative years in Jamaica. A new beginning started for me then. The place I had up to then thought about as a pinhead on the map was a huge player on the world stage! Our culture was a transcendent power! It had given us prominence exponentially beyond our physical size. This realization transported me to a realm of unbridled pride.

Years later after I had wended my way to settlement in America, I was doing charity work in Costa Rica for the company I was employed to in the US at the time. My fellow employees and I were painting a school somewhere on the outskirts of San Jose. One of the schoolkids, realizing I was Jamaican, struck up a conversation with me. Luckily, I had paid close attention to my high school and university Spanish teachers. The kid told me there was a Jamaican song he loved but did not understand the lyrics. He proceeded to sing. Rather, d j the song. It was just about when dancehall had started cementing itself as a musical genre beyond the borders of Jamaica. Amazement. He did it in perfect Patois, and then asked me what it all meant! Did I say amazement? That was the first time I had realized the real power of Patois! And of Jamaican music to a certain extent. The popularity of Bob Marley I had already known, but his songs were mostly in English. Understood by the masses. But Patois! The kid did not even speak English!

radio cassette
Radio-Cassette Player

A few years earlier I had spent some time with a friend’s family in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I had taken some Bob Marley cassettes with me – yes, it was during that era – which I would play now and again. I would sit outside the house often during the day with the friends I had made, chatting about a bit of everything and nothing. Tea was always a central part of the socializing. The teamaker would hold the teapot high, pouring it into tiny clear glasses so that the tea frothed. And my cassettes blasting Bob Marley. They always wanted to listen, and I had to interpret the lyrics for them into French while we sipped the tea with hisses that my mother would not have approved of. They knew that Bob’s messages were powerful, but now they could get the full meanings from a brother of Bob Marley. From the land of reggae. From the country they felt closely connected to because Bob sang of their struggles in Africa, and of their redemption. I was king!

My years of living in Europe and traveling the world have been full of revelations for me. Revelations about the sentimental position that Jamaica held, and still holds in the world. Brand Jamaica is powerful! But, although the reverence of Jamaica is powerful, and instills fervent, sometimes obnoxious, pride in us, it is more so the nostalgia about life on the island that makes me feel the way I do. Why I love that place. And the music, like tonight’s, brings me right back home. Home to Jamaica. Can someone pass me some tissue? My allergies have started acting up again.

39 thoughts on “Missing Jamaica

  1. Aaahh!! Just woke up
    and saw your blog.
    Couldn’t stop reading!
    The emotion was palpable in every word.


    1. Hey Lurane, happy that the piece captured you! Now I may need you to do some pieces to help me fill the gaps about the things I may have missed by not having lived at home for such a long time!


  2. Good passion felt through the words and I felt the Jamaican in your story..only a Jamaican can have an experience like you have been blessed. Enjoyed your blog.


  3. Except for the travels Peter, your feelings, thoughts echo mine. I miss my simple humble beginnings in St. Thomas too.


  4. Man Peter, you took me on a journey with this. It was so captivating that I felt like I was living in the moment of your story of life in our beloved country Jamaica – as my heart also yearns for the good old days, when life was much simpler, and when love and harmony reigned. It’s a great feeling to know that listening to my show transcends you beyond today’s world to a place of nostalgia – a happy place. Respect my friend.


  5. Love it Peter. Wonderful journey it is down memory road. That’s why I can no longer stay too far away, nor wait too long to return. Now, reading this my skin itching to go again😂. Cho!


  6. Thanks for keeping me and I dare say many others connected to Jamaica land we loved….Not forgetting that little district called Norris …..you represents us all.


  7. Peter thank you so much for sharing with all of use. I missed out on a lot. Norris was a close-knit community. I miss my homeland. I miss my people. Now I need some tissues.


  8. Great read. Great write. Great memories. And yes, my allergies are acting up to…must be something in the words you wrote. Dang! Thanks, ftiend🙏🏽!


  9. Just clearing out my 4000 unread messages and managed to spot this. Stopped in my tracks to read it and, once more, a lovely piece of writing. The Cambridge dictionary defines nostalgia as: “a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past”. The sadness is more than slight for me, as I know those of us who grew up in the countryside will never get back to those care-free days.

    My district, Fellowship, in the adjoining parish of Portland, must have been very similar to Norris. I think that innocence was lost in the early 80s when a whole family was wiped out by gunmen, simply because of their political affiliation. Television and on-line services have lessened the need for social interaction, and thus, the district square is empty at nights, even on the weekends. I must say, however, that the special feeling of Sunday afternoons is something that is etched in my heart and sometimes the radio programs do help to revive those emotions.


    1. Thanks Al! Let’s talk a bit more. I knew you were from Portland but didn’t know it was Fellowship. I am researching my ancestry, and discovered that my great grandmother on my father’s side is from Fellowship! Her name was Dorcas Francis. One of my planned next moves was to research family from her side, so you might be a good contact. We might be related! Talk soon.


  10. I can only imagine the feeling. I have been away for 9 months and already I am home sick. Even with the short time that I have been away I am beginning to understand the feeling. I found myself trying hard to stay connected linking with Jamaicans playing our music and eating Ackee and Saltfish and not mentioned the bastardized Jamaican Patty. I pray that I will forever remained grounded and stay connected with Jamaica because “nuh weh nuh betta Dan yard


  11. Hey Peter,

    Newton gave me his phone so I can read your blog. Boy, this is so captivating that I wanted to just read more and more. We all seem to have similar experiences growing up a yaad. Those were glorious days! I did not particularly love Sundays as a kid because we spent many hours in church. I guess I was not disciplined enough but now I understand the value of being in church on Sundays. Thanks for taking us through a Lil of your journey. Walk good and write again soon.



  12. Excellent work Peter. The nostalgic impact is profound. Indeed, the transcendent power of music is amazing. Wholesomeness is often sacrificed for the pleasure of material gains and later we realized that we gave up so much and gained so little in return and that can cause us to feel empty and unfulfilled. Thanks for reminding us of the profound value of family, friends and connection to our country and culture. You are indeed a gifted writer. I eagerly look forward to your first book.


  13. Peter, I just read this beautiful piece. It captured my thoughts and experiences almost entirely (we walk a similar path). Thanks for bringing it together in this way. It certainly helps me understand better some of my own “unsettledness”. People look at me crazy sometimes when after all these years, and relative success, I express an unshakable desire for Home. We Jamaicans are especially blessed and have so much to be proud of.


  14. Great writing. Enjoyed every
    Bit . Didn’t know you received
    Gov scholarship to France. Also
    Wanted to.know which sing
    You interpreted for that kid.


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