One of my uncles in Florida always reminds us whenever we travel to Jamaica that we must leave the US behind. By that he means that we have to remember that many of the things that we’ve become used to – service and its efficient delivery, the availability of certain items, etc., will be irritably slow or sometimes non-existent.
But is it really possible to leave the person I’ve become behind?
We are the sum of our experiences. When I left Jamaica for Canada in the early 70s, I took with me all that I was then. I saw and experienced Canada through the prism of that person and it, in turn, shaped and prepared me for my pretty near seamless transition to life in the U.S.
Travel has also provided indelible experiences that I’ve added to my reservoir of knowledge. These too inform and dictate how I view the everyday, and the world.
The person who’s now returned to Jamaica is the same and different. I fall back on my Jamaican-ness but my foreign-ness sees the glaring contrasts, sees what’s missing or what can be done better, faster, more efficiently.
Like the day I went to get my phone. As soon as I walked into the store, an agent, who was on the phone sorting out an issue for a customer in line, mouthed that she’d be with me in a few minutes. I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting this level of attention. Clearly, she took her training in customer service to heart.
However, when I wanted to add minutes, or “top up” – pre-paid phones are very common in Jamaica – I was surprised by the antiquated method that was used. The agent pulled out a clipboard with a sheet of paper, asked me for the number, wrote it in one column, then the amount of minutes I was buying in another. (Sometimes, the customer is asked to write the number instead.)
When I handed her the money, it was just put in a drawer, the change returned to me. My number and amount of minutes I purchased were then keyed into a machine that looked like a small cash register. Immediately after, I received a text acknowledging the top up.
There must be a more efficient way to do this, I thought, as right away, I spotted several different ways in which mistakes could be made.
A few days later, I discovered how easily. I had purchased an international plan (1,000 minutes for about $15 – a steal!), and approximately $5 worth of local minutes. I was surprised, when during a local call, I got a message that I had only a minute left.
Where did my $5 go? I called the store but got nowhere so I went in person to sort it out. When I saw the clipboard for that day, my phone number and money were recorded but the confirmation number they would have received after the amount was keyed in was not there.
I’m glad I got the money credited but I shouldn’t have to spend my time chasing $5. I could have used it to do something else.
In the end, none of us can totally leave who we are behind. My hope is that a little of me will rub off, that my being here will be of benefit.