Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Brian-Paul Welsh | Living in the state of my mind

Published:Monday | May 30, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh

It is not at all difficult to be confined to the shores of Jamaica but live a life completely removed from the realities described in these pages.

As I contemplate these and other things somewhere high in the rural hills, I am reclined beneath a coconut tree surveying the grassy plains below. There is little sight or sound of so-called civilisation, just the omnipresent hum of the Earth. Gazing westward in observance of the waning sun, a mento groove floats by on the cool evening breeze. I'm not in Jamaica right now; I'm in Manchester.

That vibration was interrupted by the buzzing of a gang of bikers, swarming like wasps along the winding country road somewhere out of view.

The sputtering and backfiring of the insurgents pierced the stillness of this idyllic valley like gunshots and my heart began racing along with them. I was momentarily transported back to the tense state of existence many have become accustomed to in Jamaica that is so vividly described in the news section of today's newspaper.

I have refrained from publicly making a distinction between Jamaica and places like Negril, Liguanea, or Tivoli because I thought the idea was too high-falutin for most people to take seriously.

Much to my pleasant surprise, last week a conceptual gem floated down from the ether and settled on my mind as a reminder that we live in a place of immense but understated wisdom. In one serendipitous slip of the tongue, a bright young lady declared her allegiance to Ochi, and I was as tickled as a big-belly brown man at carnival. This position was particularly stimulating because of my experience that one can be situated within the archipelagic state called Jamaica but truly live in a whole different world.

Until I accepted this assignment to write for The Gleaner, I didn't live in Jamaica. I descended only when necessary in order to attend to my business in Kingston and then hastily retreated to whichever faraway nook provided peace of mind at the time.

Like our former prime minister, I didn't watch the evening news, seldom read newspapers, and only sparingly engaged in public discourse. I deliberately disconnected from Jamaica in order to preserve my spiritual, emotional and physical health.


A separate state of mind


My family and I created our own reality, far away from Jamaica and in a separate state of mind.

Similarly, there are some among us who are very comfortably ensconced within the state of 'Sen-Anju', where the Prince currently presides, while others frequently get away to the provinces of Portie and the Cays. Many more feel trapped and seek to escape this state of despair by migrating to the lands of promise, usually taking the spirit of Jamaica with them. This can be frightening for those unaccustomed to our ways.

I've been identified with Jamaica before, once in Curaçao, a few times in Trinidad, and on one memorable occasion in Barbados, where a burly immigration officer beckoned to me excitedly from across the hall, gruffly instructing, "Jamaica, come with me."

At first, I thought she was being helpful by providing an express route outside, thereby expediting my gallivanting mission, but after some light-hearted chatter among my Guyanese, Haitian and Surinamese friends with whom I had gathered, I quickly surmised this was indeed the express route out - of the country.

After my travel companion was quizzically poked in the stomach to remind him of the drugs he apparently forgot he was transporting based on the large lunch he consumed just before boarding, they eventually found the mother lode inside another frequent flyer and reluctantly let us go.

Part of me took offence to this lumping characterisation of Jamaica as a criminal's lair, and Jamaican people as a boorish and devious tribe. I mean, surely she couldn't hear hooligan in my Kingston 8 drawl!

But still, for some of us, criminals live in a different country, like Jungle or Granville. We watch the news and regret the sad state of affairs, but think we have little cause to fret because we don't venture beyond our comfort zones.

I was forced to confront the idea that living in the state of my mind gave me a false sense of security and only served to facilitate avoidance of my legitimate fears of living in this country.

No matter how much we might ignore the beast, every day it creeps steadily closer. And so we pray it doesn't reveal itself, as it does elsewhere, and turn our fantasies into nightmares.

• Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to and, or tweet @islandcynic.