Friday, 3 February 2012
From black and white to grey
The longer I stay in Jamaica, the more the patterns shift. In the beginning, I knew I didn’t understand anything, so there was no pressure to know how things work. Simple things like getting groceries and finding my way home again took monumental amounts of energy to get through. Then, somewhere along the way, the everyday things started to get easier. I can now decipher the Jamaican accent and even make a reasonable guess about how to translate Patois on a good day. I can also navigate using the route taxi system, drive on the left hand side of the road, and even give the taxi driver directions on how to go home the back way. It felt like life in Jamaica was starting to become a little clearer.
More than that, over the last couple of months I’ve developed firm friendships and found myself in a place where I “belong”. Amongst the people I know from sailing, my neighbours at home and through work, and the volunteers and people I’ve met through Cuso, I have friends that I can join for drinks on a Friday night, fellow adventures up for a sail or exploration of a new beach or Jamaican sight to be seen, and people I can call on when I’m in a jam or need a hand. I feel remarkably pleased with my life and community in sunny Jamaica.
But today was one of those days where what seemed to be black and white went an undecipherable shade of grey. Just when I thought I had my head wrapped around some of the issues facing Jamaica – which I’ve wrote about about before - crime, unemployment, urban migration, crippling national debt, and maybe more importantly and more tangibly, I thought I had come to terms with my daily walk through downtown, where I face the rags and skinny figures of people who live in real poverty, made peace with the daily calls of “hey sexy” and other cat calls of various degrees of friendliness, and started to feel like I might be beginning to understand the complex racial relationships that exist in Jamaica – what it might be like to be “white” Jamaican, “black” Jamaican, and “brown” Jamaican, nuanced through shades of skin tones that I would never have begun to identify, never mind compare for social status – I’ve realized I don’t know anything at all, and what was clear has now gone as murky as the water in a stagnant pool.
It isn’t that I haven’t learned things about Jamaica, it’s just a recognition of how complicated things are in this world, and how little I can know in almost 6 months. Today my fellow Jamaican colleagues had a moment when Jamaica’s problems felt insurmountable. We also visited an NGO that has access to resources and is moving quickly to make a difference that was inspiring. We met a woman who has taken her personal passions into her job, bringing her own concern about violence against women into her work with youth. We met another woman who has been working towards the betterment of the community for a long time, but views homosexuality as a symbol of all that is wrong in the community.
It just isn’t black and white. The answers are difficult to find – and who knows if we find them, they will be the right ones, anyways. But it is one foot in front of the other, one step out of myself and into the world.