Columns

One year later...my Jamaica

David FITTON

Thursday, August 07, 2014    

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As Jamaica celebrates her 52nd anniversary of Independence, I would like to offer my congratulations, and say thanks for a remarkable and rewarding year working here so far. The UK/Jamaica relationship is a strong partnership. We cooperate in many areas. My continuing objective is to do more.

I arrived just over a year ago — in time to take part in the 51st Independence celebrations. I have visited as many parts of the island as possible. And I intend to keep travelling.

What have I learnt?

I don't need to turn up early to events I'm invited to. I shudder when I look back at the first few months when I was always one of the first guests at receptions or charity events. I've since learnt it's not always necessary to be early — though I still feel uncomfortable if I arrive more than 30 minutes late. Not all my Jamaican friends are the same, but difference is a good thing, right?

I don't need to wear a suit and tie all the time. In fact, hardly ever. I began by wearing one because it was what I was used to. Then I assumed it was what was expected. Now I wear one when I must. People don't take you any less seriously in Jamaica just because of the way you are dressed. That has to be a good thing.

I don't need to rush everywhere. I suppose I imagined that walking quickly to appointments implied a sense of purpose. Perhaps it does, but at 32 degrees, I am now happier to look less purposeful and enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Like thought processes, comments and interjections, quickest is not always best.

Smiling is good. I don't think I've ever smiled as much as I have here. There's something in the air that makes it happen. I now look back and see that Londoners can be a grumpy lot. (and I'm a Mancunian, so I should know!)

There are some strong values here. People often complain about the tough security situation in Kingston, or about the lack of respect in some sections of society. True, it would be nice to walk around town without being harassed or worse. But I've witnessed tremendous kindness. And on the odd occasion I've helped someone in some small way I've seen real warmth of response.

People expect honesty. It's the same in many places of course, but in Jamaica you get what you see. I hear complaints - sometimes about some of the services we provide at the High Commission, or Britain's policies in some part of the world or other. I speak on behalf of the government, but I have to be honest too.

Understand the history. I still have more learning to do. My travels have taken me to all the parishes, and helped me understand some of the history of Jamaica, its heroes and its villains. The relationship with the UK is important. But it is also complicated. I would do well to remember that.

Make friends. Sounds obvious, but people such as diplomats who stay in a country for only few years don't always find it so easy. Their work keeps them busy. Their Embassy or High Commission separates them from day-to-day like. Fortunately, it's not difficult to make friends in Jamaica.

Love sport. Jamaicans do. It helps that I like most sports and will happily get involved in a debate about tactical choices in the English Premier League or the batting styles in the CPL.

Embrace the music. I used to think there were serious events which involved discussion; and the fun events with music. I've learnt that you need music everywhere in Jamaica. If it prevents people hearing what you have to say, stop talking and enjoy. If people really want to listen to you, they'll turn it down...eventually.

David Fitton is the British High Commissioner to Jamaica.

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