The Enigma of Return

I sighed with relief as the wheels of the small aircraft touched ground in the green lands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  In many of the books I’ve studied, many start by going to Africa but I went back to St. Vincent. A land I only call home by hereditary right seemed so familiar to me even though I had not visited in many years. I recall vividly having to step carefully because of the slippery path the rains had caused, trying not to fall but yet still hustling so as to not be last in line; anxious to see what lie behind those closed doors. The green hills and the clean breeze seemed to rejuvenate my health like I was meant to breathe this air. Hospital beds and dozens of doctors was a life I had come to know well but here in the rural lands, amongst an abundance of agriculture and farm life I find my strength and my health returning. I have been here many times before but this journey is one where I am conscious of my connection with this place and its people. Could it be that because I came here to bury a family member that I felt the need to reconnect more profoundly with this place? Whatever it is I knew this journey would be a haunting yet rejuvenating one.

Saturday morning I woke up and my breath was restricted as the room I stayed in stifled me with its hidden dust mites. I immediately rushed to the balcony to seek out that invisible substance that my body so longed for. As I lift my head up and inhaled the refreshing air, the deep green mountains and the clouds that slowly hugged their tips brought me great comfort and nostalgia. This breath-taking sight was something that I could get used to, a place that I could run to when I could no longer face the world. It would soon become the place I ran to when the world did not want me and I could seek peace for a while. Every day we visited the town; which for me was like a reoccurring culture shock and an unnerving feeling of unhappiness that I couldn’t quite understand as yet. I had never appreciated my first home so much before I visited this island; a little island that has so little but yet so much. I complained as usual of the lack of shopping malls and other trivial things I had grown accustom to but this time around I’m wiser and the intrinsic value of this place has been revealed.  We stopped for a drink of coconut water, lavishing the sweet taste of the ripe fruit and the serenity of the moment but this was rudely interrupted by the loud voices of hostile Vincentians nearby arguing about politics. A place that I had once remembered as joyful seemed buried in darkness as the majority of the population suffered. Everyone seem preoccupied with government affairs and the fear of remaining stagnant; never moving forward, never achieving a career just merely a job and never making it out of the mountains that provided their food. Many felt that their hopes and dreams lied elsewhere beyond the boundary and I had to sadly agree. The place I knew as a child was exactly the same, nothing had changed and that is why it felt so familiar as though I had never even left.

This journey was filled with much turns and corners but at last I reached my destination. My grandmother’s house standing two stories tall with its new additions had seemed like the only thing that had changed. There she was in high spirits and seemingly happy to see us and my aunt had roast breadfruit and salt fish on the stove. They laughed, talked, re-told and re-enacted old stories and I listened intently. My grand-mother well known as “Tanty Rita”, held my face in her hands and exclaimed “Oh! You look everything like you mami!” For the first time in a long time I felt welcomed and I thought that maybe at last things were different but those feelings were an illusion; the place I called my second home did not welcome me as such, rather I had to relive being number two girl to my sister. It was as though I was standing in my mother’s shoes; a child that was rejected because of her uncanny resemblance to her father and now I was the striking image of her. No matter how hard I tried to reach out to my relatives it seemed as though I was an alien. The words of  Dany Laferrire, who after drinking local juice to see if he was still Haitian and ended up with diarrhea  resounded in my head like a broken record, “Hier, j’avais pris un jus de fruit…juste pour me prouver que j’étais toujours l’enfant du pays”. I was so alien that they painted me with the same skin as those who enslaved our African ancestors- “white girl”. Was it because of my use of the Standard English? The way I dressed? That I was so easily able to pass as white? It certainly could not have been the color of my skin! I pondered deeply the attributes that made me different; that made me white. Though they said it in jest their words made me feel alone and less deserving of their love. Had I failed to connect? Should I have visited more often or stayed in touch? The lack of shopping malls was no longer the main reason for me wanting to return to the skies. I was so ready to be gone and back in my comfort zone of friends; back with my pen that spoke for me and my journal that understood me like no other could.

In the final days of my stay these uncomfortable visits continued and I resorted to accepting my place and playing second to my sister. I passed over into world that I hardly knew anything about, a world that I had apparently been living in all my life? I was horribly confused but I put on a role and I played it well; acting as though I was not hurt and I ignored that gut wrenching feeling of being left out like the orphaned kid that Santa seemed to forget every Christmas.