At 23 years old I was invited to a meeting at Davis Lane in Trench Town. The brothers who invited me were dreadlock Rastafarians, most of whom were studying at the University of the West Indies. I had no expectations, only curiosity. Had I known how drastically my life would change, would I have gone into that van when they came for me? Emphatically yes despite …
We entered a big fenced yard, completely cleared of everything except one small room. The brethren and sistren with their children and visitors were seated on benches and chairs provided. At least two hundred persons were present but there was a hush throughout the yard; not a silent hush because everyone was greeting each other, just a quiet hum. Sisters and young daughters were dressed in long beautiful dresses. Everyone wore red, gold and green tams with the green at the top and the red framing the face. I was given a tam on arrival. The occasion was a celebration and the last meeting to be held at that location, the home of the leader of this body of people — the prophet Gad. The body was the Twelve Tribes of Israel, known at that time as Charter 15 of the Ethiopian World Federation.
Each tribe had two representatives on stage who were the Executives, one male and one female. After reading a few verses from the Bible, each representative, as they rose to address the body, open their message with “Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…” As a believer, I felt immediately comfortable. What the greeting went on to say I was willing at that point to be taught. These were teachers in any case because they talked of the Ethiopian war with Italy and the meaning of passages in the Bible. It was as if I was transported to the days of the apostles. When the prophet Gad spoke, he was very animated and powerful despite his short frame and combed hair. Instinctively, primordially, whatever it was, I felt immediately that I belonged there. I never left.
My life changed because I changed overnight from a middle class student living with her father to a daughter of the tribe of Simeon. This was the fundamental alteration, the base on which everything pivoted. I was an Israelite, born again. In the physical world that translated to marrying another Israelite (giving no consideration to any other attribute) and generally no interest in participating in any other group activity anywhere. It meant that children were a welcomed blessing. It meant my family becoming incredulous as the babies were coming fast and the marriage (no surprise there) fell apart.
My ultimate goal in life was to own a house on the land grant in Shashemene Ethiopia given to the people of the West by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, while sitting on the throne of David. This meant that I was not interested in buying a house and settling down in the West. I moved with my children constantly, ostensibly to keep them away from local gangs, but looking back, it was just a reflection of my longing for elsewhere.
So when the children were grown, I had to complete the mission. I shut down everything in West and went to Ethiopia. My youngest accompanied me for support. When I landed I immediately felt that I must have come from this place before slavery; everyone looked like me. My daughter was being inundated with Amaharic and incredulous stares when she failed to reply. I was driven to accomplish owning a home on the land grant. Going back and forth by myself (my daughter left for Rwanda to visit family) to Addis Ababa to sort out the documents required to acquire a title, negotiating with locals bent on benefiting and living by myself for three years, was a testimony, I think, to my drive and determination. But I could not work. I needed a license and more money was required for that. So I thought long and hard and decided that this was my dream I would stay anyway and try to figure out how to survive, after all my house was paid for.
When my childhood friend who was my strong supporter in Shashemene and my youngest daughter’s father another possible supporter in case of emergencies, who lived almost next door in Rwanda, both passed away, a veil was lifted from my eye. My security blankets disappeared. I had no family there. My youngest was in Rwanda with her family and had gain status to work. I was isolated. I had just a few months for my visa to expire and all I could think of was what if something happened with the family and I could not leave with just a plane fare. I would have to pay a fine and purchase an exit visa. With no money coming in, I could not bring myself to require that of my family if I had to leave for some reason. I decided to give it up until I could earn enough to go back and get a business license. Then I would be able to stay as long as I paid my taxes.
So back to Jamaica to the life before Israel with no roots established. The prophet has passed; many persons have moved away; some new doctrines and beliefs have crept in and the faithful have grown old. Would I be able to earn enough to return and live in my home in Ethiopia again at my age? Despite that, I am proud of myself for having accomplished owning a house on the land grant.