You think you know someone, but you never know them till they tell you their story. This is the truth that I was reminded of when I read ‘Unearthing The Diamond” the biography of Tamika Pommells Williams, a woman I thought I knew well. I remember knowing her not-too-well in my days when we both were young RASTA mothers in Port Antonio, but we both moved on – me to Kingston and she to Montego Bay – only meeting again many years later on Facebook.
To me, Tamika was that Facebook Friend whose beautiful photographs of the flowers that adorned her “Ahhh … Ras Natango Gallery and Garden” in the hills of St. James I admired so much I asked her if I could use them to illustrate my daily Psalms messages. She agreed and our friendship became stronger online, communicating with each other almost daily as I posted her flowers and watched her Gardens grow from its earliest beginnings into a national tourist attraction rated No.1 by Trip Advisor, the ‘bible’ of international tourism ratings.
I gained an education in Jamaican flowers, especially her prized orchids, and learned about flowers I had never seen before as she proudly shared photos of the Gardens. Other photos showed tourists holding weddings there, hummingbirds drinking nectar on the verandah, spectacular sunsets and sunrises from her high mountain view. Her Facebook postings also informed me of the many awards her flowers won in national garden events, and I saw her son Ayale become a skilled photographer himself, while the beautiful paintings by her husband Ian, Ras Natango, sold off almost as quickly as he painted them.
SUCCESSFUL FAMILY Tamika was quick to join the Build Paradise Jamaica group I started on Facebook, eagerly adding her comments, suggestions and – of course – photos to the page. I was so happy to see a successful Rasta family making an important contribution to national life in an area as difficult to break into as Tourism.
But behind the smiling faces of Tamika and her family lay a story so sad and so shocking, that reading it made me see them in a totally new light as people who have struggled up from one of the most devastating beginnings to overcome hardship, poverty and abuse and turn it into the foundation of a new life of limitless possibilities.
Born into a middle-class farming family, Tamika was sent to live with her Grandparents when her mother left her abusive husband and four children to live in England. It was a strict upbringing, but it taught Tamika lessons she valued for life. A bright child, Tamika was sent to live with an aunt in Kingston and attend a ‘good’ school, but as she grew into young adulthood, the loss of her mother and father left her without a foundation to answer important questions and provide the love every human needs.
SHOCKING ABUSE The abuse that she experienced is shocking, and I won’t go into details here because it is the basis of her story and I want you to read it in her own words. Tamika tells her emotional story clearly and well and the physical and emotional pain she suffered is etched deeply on each page. Having suffered such a horrible abuse, she found there was no support for her suffering in her aunt’s home. She was told she was lying, making it all up, and that she had shamed the school, so she would have to be sent to another, not-so-‘good’ school.
With a breaking heart and the memory and pain of her abuse still fresh, Tamika took to the streets in search of someone who would listen and wipe her tears. At the top of the lane she found a group of RASTA men who offered her shelter and understanding and she started going there after school to sit and reason with them about the struggles of Black people about slavery and about life. “Finally I belonged to a group of people who believed me, who thought I was worth something.”
But when her aunt found she had been meeting with RASTAs, she threw Tamika out of the house. One of the RASTAmen who seemed the kindest offered her shelter in his single room. With nowhere to live, at 15 years old Tamika set up home with the man, Ian. He has remained her husband until today.
BECOMING A MOTHER Tamika tells the story of their life together. It was not easy. There was no income, no proper housing, hardly any food and the constant fear of discovery of her under-age relationship. With school and police in pursuit, they fled to ‘a piece of land’ in Portland and set up home there with Ian using his skill as an artist to earn some income until, at 18 Tamika gave birth to her son Ayale. Her troubles were not yet over, as Ayale suffered medical problems in his early months and doctors said he was unlikely to survive to his first birthday. The sorrow, emotional pain and suffering she and Ian underwent nevertheless provided a strong foundation for their relationship that has endured until today, when Ayale is a grown man.
Tamika draws a vivid picture of the hardships they endured trying to make a life in Portland, the hillside farm 4 miles from where they lived where they walked each day to find food they could eat from the land. Ian, a trained accountant, could only find work as a labourer on road building projects, for no one would employ a dreadlocks RASTA accountant in those days. At times Tamika worked as a housemaid for wealthy Portland residents, at other times she simply stayed home hungry waiting to see if Ian would bring home food.
Finally moving from their suffering life in Portland to Montego Bay, Tamika used her dressmaking skills to make clothes and knitted tops which Ian sold in the tourist shops in the city. At the same time Tamika began a career as substitute teacher in one of the city’s most underprivileged schools, where she spervised a class of 80 children, many of whose lives she realized were so similar to hers. She could see that some of the children had suffered abuse of different kinds, were living in poverty and hunger, and were struggling to keep up with the demands of life. The experience gave Tamika reason to use her own life as an example to encourage and help the children, and over time she became one of their favourite teachers
FROM ROCKS TO PARADISE Life began to improve for Tamika and Ian, and they were able to pay down on a rocky piece of land high up in the hillside overlooking Montego Bay. It took three years, but they finally built a home and created the Ahh… Gardens & Gallery, ‘from rocks to Paradise’ as she puts it. For Tamika, it is a place of beauty, tranquility and a place of healing.
Tamika says she wrote her book as therapy to overcome the abuse she had suffered and writing it down has helped her heal and taught her how to live with It. The love and understanding she has received from her husband has been her strength. “The little girl has grown up,” she writes. “I won’t pretend that I have been fixed but I know that I have been compressed, chiseled, shaped and polished. This lump of coal that was an abandoned child, an abused child, was tossed back into the earth until a miner came and unearthed it. Thank you Ian, for teaching me to see the big picture, for separating the positives from the negatives.”
STILL SUFFERING Tamika still suffers from low self-esteem and says she still does not know what she did to deserve being raised without her parents. Her story shows the importance of parents to a child. Sometimes she found it hard to learn to live with the memory of her abuse, rebuild herself and feel completely whole again. But writing it down since 2007 has helped her come to terms with it and re-shape her life to accept it as something she must live with and be strong enough to overcome the memory.
Most of all she hopes that by telling her story openly, she can help others who have suffered in the same way to come to terms with what has happened and go forward with their lives, despite it.
POWERFUL STORY ‘Unearthing The Diamond” is a powerful story, well told. It gives a look deep inside the soul and spirit of an abused woman and offers an opportunity to see life from a perspective not often exposed to the world. It’s a book that deserves much praise and many awards and should become required reading for parents, school teachers, child abuse psychiatrists and caretakers of abused children. There’s an important story too for parents who move abroad leaving their children in the care of relatives.It’s especially a story that every woman who has ever been abused should read, to learn how to heal themselves and rise above the cruel crime as Tamika did.
Tamika’s story is also a very personal account of how one Jamaican woman has coped with the struggles typical of life in Jamaica today, whether one has been abused or not. Life is not easy for us women and many Jamaican women will see similarities between Tamika’s story and their lives. It has been brave of Tamika to be open enough to share her story with us. I recommend the book highly.
By: Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah
PHOTOS: (c) Tamika Pommells Williams