Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Janet Olisa says farewell to Jamaica

Published:Friday | October 9, 2020 | 12:08 AMKrysta Anderson/Staff Reporter

A.A. Milne once said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” For Nigerian High Commissioner Janet Omoleegho Olisa, that something is the sweet island of Jamaica.

Olisa has officially said goodbye to the place she had grown to call her home, and Living was honoured to meet the wonderful diplomat recently at her humble abode on her birthday to discuss her professional journey. Her welcoming disposition, radiant smile, eloquence, and infectious laughter explain why the country she holds so dear to her heart returns the admiration and adoration tenfold.

Taken aback by the country’s topography, the outgoing Nigerian high commissioner was surprised to see more than just an island surrounded by sea when she first arrived here. Being warmly greeted by flat land in some areas and beautiful hills all around resonated with her deeply because it demonstrated that she wasn’t far from home. Noting that there was no real adjustment to be made, she pointed out, “... the only thing that was strange at first to most people was seeing me dressed in my Nigerian attire. But Jamaicans quickly caught up to that. And when I met the Rastafarians, it’s like, ‘Oh, princess, African queen!’ It’s difficult to look at me and not know that I am not Jamaican until I say something, and they know I’m from somewhere in Africa.”

BEAMING WITH GREAT PRIDE

She spoke confidently about the wonderful work done with cultural exchange in showcasing Nigerian culture. Beaming with great pride, she shared that she wanted Jamaicans, particularly the youth, to see their heritage, where they came from, their ancestors, what they were like before they were brought out of the African continent, especially from Nigeria, and what could be offered. After participating in local events annually and going to schools to raise awareness, she can now proudly leave this country and say that Nigeria is a household name. She also made mention of her work with the Jamaica Business Development Corporation. “In 2017, we brought in two artisans under the Technical Aid Corps Programme to assist the young entrepreneur to create authentic Jamaican art, bringing in what was lost over the years, like tie-and-dye, metal and beadwork, how it was done in Nigeria, made in Jamaican colour and style, so tourists are buying authentic Jamaican products,” she said.

Working with young mothers and creating mentoring programmes, Olisa was able to ginger them up to the idea that life doesn’t end after having a baby, inspiring them to think about their future. She highlighted that she will be carrying back some of what she learned about the practices, protocols, and systems put in place by the Jamaican Government for young mothers to her country.

Her fondest memories include meeting local legends like Usain Bolt, going to iconic places in Jamaica, visiting the different parishes, talking with the people, and indulging in the finest food the world has ever seen. “I love mannish water and ackee and saltfish; I had never seen ackee in my life before I came here. And it was nice seeing some things that we take for granted, like breadfruit,” she said. She stated, too, that she will miss the rum. “I enjoyed the rum, and I have the weight to show for the rum!” she reminisced with a hearty laugh.

For her, this is not goodbye; it’s the celebration of one exciting chapter and the beginning of a new one waiting back home in Nigeria. “Jamaica has become [her] second home,” so Olisa will definitely be returning on holiday. She indicated that she may join one of those direct flights from Lagos to Jamaica in December, the first of their kind in history. As a parting gift, she shared a couple of Patois phrases she learned here, like ‘wah gwaan’ and ‘likkle likkle’, but humbly confessed that she is more of a listener than a speaker of the native tongue.

krysta.anderson@gleanerjm.com