Ten Days in Jamaica, the title of Ifeona Fulani’s new collection of short stories, hints at a brief sojourn in the Caribbean,suggesting a series of postcard snapshots of various island locales. Fulani’s collection of views and vistas travels much further than the average vacation visit or perfunctory tour guide; instead she offers journeys through and beyond the borders of island life, between house and garden; race, class, and gender; diaspora city and tropical birthplace; peace, love and anxiety; parent and child; lived and dreamed lives. This is a collection that moves through time and space, deftly unravelling some of the idealised tourist imagery associated with Jamaica, unearthing in its place the painful and complex backstories that frequently enable tourist dreams to survive.
The collection’s namesake essay illustrates the conflicting emotions and experiences encapsulated by destinations where tourists provide a central component of the economy while at the same time many of the resident population have had to leave that idealised landscape and migrate to far off shores (New York, London, Miami) in order to earn a livelihood and support family members at home. In this story, Baltimore, wistfully remembers his mother going to the US when he was a child, and eventually sending for his younger illness-prone sister, while he remained with his grandmother. Now an adult, his current mode of survival is to entertain visiting female tourists, for example, Suzy, who also shares her thoughts on a travelling companion who has abandoned her in favour of her ‘Rastafarian’ holiday romance. Baltimore and Suzy’s contrasting depictions of travelling to and from Montego Bay airport are telling; Baltimore movingly remembers his mother’s departure,
The Day that my mother left, I did cry a whole bucket of eye water. I remember running after the taxi that was taking her to Montego Bay to catch the plane, bawling after her, and she, hanging out the window, was bawling too. I was small, but when Granny explain Mama was going to a money place, a place where man didn’t have to work ground or cut banana or chop cane to make a living, I understand why she left us.
while Suzy’s response to her arrival is oblivious to the more complicated constraints of island life,
After seven hours in an airplane I was limp with fatigue, but I switched on like a light once I stepped out of the plane into the warm sun. Montego Bay! I felt like I already knew the place, from TV ads and travel brochures and songs on my Gran’s Best of Harry Belafonte CD.
The theme of mobility—social, emotional and physical—runs throughout Ten Days in Jamaica. Characters attempt to find their place in the world, some succeed by revisiting the places they already inhabit: Precious, who finds a new peace through an unexpected self awareness and Jewel who moves to India with her partner only to return to London where she finds an understanding of what she is searching for via a spiritual reader. Other narrators struggle to make connections, sometimes realising too late the sacrifices and confinements of responsibility and prejudice (Yvonne, for example, mistakenly assumes her new gardener (and lover) also desires her money, thus thwarting a blossoming relationship in the process).
While these are personal stories that travel across continents they also serve to illustrate the wider social and political injustices that travelling entails. The essays located beyond Jamaica’s shores have a poignancy that bears witness to the dislocations of family and migration. But Fulani also suggests the possibilities of new connections, whether it is over a cup of coffee with a stranger or through a more subtle shift in perspective:
Life is difficult in every place, in every land. There are mountains everywhere. Only your perception of things makes a difference between what you find in one place or another.
Susan P Mains