A little trip 'cross the water


Friday, July 25, 2014

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I couldn't tell when last I visited Florida, especially South Florida, second home to countless Jamaicans who have settled in and are so entrenched, it would be easy to believe that they were all born there.

A strong component is the "first generation", which began colonising the area from the 70s when many left their birthplace because of the unsettled state of Jamaica at that time. Much water has risen up under the bridge since then, and we move on. A new generation is here.

The many Jamaicans who chose to colonise South Florida are more concerned with economic advancement than long-gone politics. Many are succeeding, others are still reaching for the stars, but not giving up. Air traffic flows back and forth connecting the US mainland and us.

In times past, Jamaicans poured through Miami Airport. Today, many people avoid the crowds into Miami which are overwhelming. They opt for Fort Lauderdale, which is less stressful. It is not all that long ago that Fort Lauderdale was a comparatively quiet backwater, with rich vegetation and numerous lakes. Savvy developers have converted swamp lands into prime real estate, accommodating residential communities, hotels, golf courses, and commercial centres.

It has become a natural magnet for our people. We're never too far from the homeland, which is a comparatively short distance, an hour-and-a-half approximately, across the water. Jamaican people can still sing "Nuh weh nuh betta dan yard," but the truth is, having conquered Florida, we have been contributing to the rapidly growing Diaspora spreading north, south, east and west.

My objective last weekend was to "guest speak" at the annual reunion of the Wolmer's Girls' alumni. This year the emphasis was on the 285th anniversary of the establishment of the trust fund set up by John Wolmer, a rich man with a conscience who put his money where his mouth was; in support of education for Jamaicans, especially descendants of the post-slavery period of our history.

High school alumni groups have become the norm wherever our people are located. Diaspora organisations provide not only fellowship for their members, but do much for "the old school" through the proceeds of fund-raising, to offset the shortfall when the hometown economy cannot provide all that is necessary.

Some past students associations have also taken to supporting their primary schools, which are in even more desperate need. When alumni get together at reunion time, the rice and peas and jerk chicken on the menu of the hotel, or other location where we gather, help to add to reminiscing about "the days when".

The disco is a must, rocking the room with "riddim from yaad", sending the well-dressed gathering rushing to the dance floor to recreate memories of the ska, rocksteady, drop foot, rent-a-tile, whatever you call it. What we are agreed on, is that sounds from yard are vital to the Jamaican soul. This does not exclude the blend of inter-Caribbean riddims, with kaiso from the south to dancehall in the North. Everybody rushes to the floor for Tiney Winey, reviving memories of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires or a Sparrow classic.

Whatever the challenges, the alumni continue to play a vital part in our Diaspora, providing a valuable bridge and practical support to keeping the ties that bind Jamaica and its family, at home and abroad.

Let us never fail to thank them for their generosity. The honour was mine, as South Florida's Wolmer's Alumni permitted a "Sinnanrew old girl" to speak at such an important occasion as the gathering in Plantation last Saturday night, where the cry of "Age Quod Agis" filled the air. At "Sinnanrew" we never got a Latin motto. Our Methodist founders gave us the Biblical "Life more abundant", which was good enough, thank you, please. In my time -- don't ask when -- a group of "Sinnanrew" girls who were being taunted for lacking a Latin motto solved the problem easily. Latin they wanted, Latin we gave. So, "Life abundant" became "Leaf-ay moor-ay a-bun-dant". Tek dat!

The Wolmer's girls posse blessed me with an interesting book written by the combined efforts of five past students of the school and first published some four-five years ago. Titled In The Light of the Sun, it chronicles not only the history of the school, but the life and times of Jamaicans in the 1900s. Thanks to my hosts, President Karen McCallum and her organising committee. The book makes interesting reading, whatever school you went to. Someone commented that more schools in Jamaica with such a rich history should also tell their story to inspire others. Good idea.

Monday afternoon, en route to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport to head home, the skies opened and the rains came down. Visibility was reduced to a thick white curtain of water blanketing the roadways. The rain poured and poured as if it had nothing else to do. Surely, some must have flowed over to Jamaica. I was convinced that when we got home, the drought would have been broken. Rivers and streams and reservoirs and catchment tanks would be overflowing. With Florida not too far from us, some of what fall from head had to drop on shoulder. Of this I'm assured by long-time philosophy. Yeh, right. I could philosophise all I wanted to, but...

When we landed in Kingston after the comparatively short flight, the earth was dry as chip. Not a rain cloud was in sight. All too soon, I was hearing a man cussing the stuffing out of this country and its leaders who, he said, were so stupid, they cannot even do anything about our drought. A community newspaper in the country which I had left just hours before, had led its front page with the headline, 'Jamaica, land of wood but no water'. On Tuesday afternoon, a little sprinkle came to taunt us in the Cross Roads area, but that was it. Up to the time of writing, on Wednesday, the dry time continued quite unrepentant.

NO JOKE: How long will young children lose their lives in fires destroying their homes? The latest event in Negril is one far too many. This was not the first time such tragedy involving children occurred there. I've heard it before. Government was supposed to toughen laws to deal with parents/guardians who are found to have left their children alone at home, exposed to danger and death caused by fires.

Was it negligence or impoverished circumstances? So we grieve again, but what do we intend to do? It can't gwaan so. Now, here is something to march and pray about. But then this might not be so spectacular and fetch as much limelight as calling down brimstone upon hand-picked enemies.





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