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Yes, the world is in the throes of 2014 World Cup fever. The 2014 World Cup football, which wows the globe every four years, is now in full force and all bets are on to see who will capture this year’s final cup. Will Uruguay score an upset? Will Ghana make history? Can Brazil win their sixth championship? World Cup Football is hands down, the greatest and most highly anticipated sporting event of all time. The 2006 final match between Italy and France was watched by an estimated 715 million.

Two hundred and four nations tried to qualify for thirty two spots, with the U.S. qualifying for the first time in decades. With shifting demographics and 21st century technology rendering borders nearly obsolete, this year’s tally is anyone’s guess. Aficionados pour into stadiums, huddle around television sets, with gladiator-like fervor. Histories are invoked, wars waged, players pilloried and publicly chastised. Allegiances for players and countries are drawn in stone and marked with blood and sweat.

It is known universally as, “the beautiful game,” for its elegant simplicity, the divinely appointed athletic prowess of its players and its appeal to the common man. The skill of the play, the passion and the enduring love for the game creates a brotherhood that transcends the sport. The unparalleled high and mindless exhilaration of GOOOOOAAAL! Much like basketball, it elevates its gifted players to god-like status, while simultaneously connecting them with the mortals who live vicariously through them. More than any other sport, football is a great equalizer. Because not mere color of skin, or nationality or Club can dictate ability or greatness. It simply is. A boy from a favela of Brazil with a devastating strike or from an obscure village in Côte d’Ivoire can become a striker for a world-class English Club. A good number come from exceedingly difficult circumstances, where pulling yourself up by the bootstraps often means borrowing a pair of cleats and heading to a game on a dusty bowl.

Today’s black football players who hail from far-flung countries to play for European Clubs such as Inter Milan, Barcelona and Manchester United. But for World Cup, they return to play only for their national team. This is not to say that racism in football is not a serious issue. Taunts and behavior of fans can be unspeakably ugly, cruel and primitive, coming as it does from a contingent that remains stubbornly ignorant and primitive. That players consistently rise above it is a testament to their personal strength and integrity. The game has become a way of life that can change the trajectory of lives and communities. Gargantuan paychecks are often accompanied by lofty commercial endorsement from Nike, Gillette, and others. Players share their good fortune, donating substantial amounts to build hospitals, schools, and life-saving social service programs.

The 2014 World Cup Brazil has the potential to shift global perceptions on a number of levels. From the Africa Cup of Nations to 2014 World Cup, footballers of African descent and nationality have put the world on notice: they are a force with which to be reckoned.

And, by the way, no self-respecting football fan ever calls it soccer. It’s football, now and always.

Here are eight of the world’s best and brightest Africa football players of the 2014 World Cup Brazil.

Samuel Eto’o

Country: Cameroon

Club: Inter Milan; Cameroon national team

Position: Striker

Earnings: $12. 7 million

The world’s been put on notice. Hands-down one of the top left-back in the world, Samuel Eto’o’s achievements are momentous for his country and his club. He exemplifies football excellence in the vein of the great legends and has surpassed expectations in every club for which he has played. His performance has been consistently excellent and he is at present the most decorated African player of all time, including African Player of the Year for three consecutive years. A goal scoring machine, Eto’o scored over 100 goals in five seasons with FC Barcelona. He is captain of the Cameroon national team and currently Africa’s best-paid football player. He has participated in two World Cups and five African Nations Cups and is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the African Nations Cup, (capturing championship twice) with 18 goals. In the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, Eto’o became joint leading goalscorer. As a member of the Cameroon national team, he was a gold medalist at the 2000 Summer Olympics.He is also Cameroon’s all-time leading scorer and third most capped player, with 56 goals from 118 caps.

Didier Drogba:

Country: Côte d’Ivoire

Club: Chelsea

Position: Striker

Earnings: $7.5 million Endorsements: Pepsi; Nike, Samsung

Mark the name for it is the future of football. Don’t be fooled by Drogba’s late entry to the football arena, he in a powerhouse. Known for breaching impregnable defenses, Drogba is a goalkeepers’ nightmare. Signed by Chelsea for $37 million, he has proved invaluable. He has scored more goals for the club than any other foreign player and is it’s 7th highest goal scorer ever. most promising African football players, he is one of the top scorers in the Premier League. Captain and all-time top scorer of the Côte d’Ivoire national football team, Drogba was signed to Chelsea for a record breaking fee of £24 million, making him the most expensive Côte d’Ivoire player in history. Drogba came to prominence as one of the world’s foremost strikers in 2006 when he won the league title with Chelsea and captained the national team for the first time. In the 2006 World Cup he scored Côte d’Ivoire’s first ever goal of the competition and was chosen the 2006 African Footballer of the Year. He is the only player to score in six English cup finals. But much of this pales in comparison to his humanitarian work for his country. After Côte d’Ivoire qualified for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba pleaded for a ceasefire between the combatants of his country’s deadly 5 year civil war, which was honored shortly after. In 2007, he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and donated his $4.5 million signing on fee for his endorsement of Pepsi towards the construction of a hospital in his hometown of Abidjan. Maicon Douglas Sisenando Country: Brazil Club Team: Internazionale AKA Inter Milan Position: Defender Earnings:$5.4 million A gifted right-sided fullback and formidable back-field, Maicon is a something of a phenomenon in Brazilian football – not an easy feat. He excels at defensive games and provides great support for his team. Maicon scored Brazil’s first 2010 World Cup goal – a tight angle shot – against Korea in their first game. Maicon’s contribution to Inter Milan have included staunch defending and offensive support, place him in contention for the 2010 ballon d’Or, the European Footballer of the year award . In a nod to his prowess, Real Madrid recently paid £28 million for him to join their Club. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuhB9QQyDlo] Patrice Evra: Country: France Club Team: Manchester United Position: Defender, Full-back; French captain Earnings: $4 million Evra is his own version of the United Nations. Born in Senegal of Guinean heritage and a French national, he is one of Manchester United ’s most valuable players and oddly, captain of the French national team. Arguably one of the best left backs in the world and a wicked left wingback Evra has won Premier League titles and the Champions League with Manchester United. During United’s 07–08 season, Evra became a key member of United’s defense. But he is not without controversy. Following the dismissal of teammate, Nicolas Anelka from the squad after his dust-up with coach Raymond Domenech, Evra led a player mutiny against the decision and publicly denounced the coach. As a result, Evra was benched for the final game against South Africa. Even so, he returned to a highly distinguished career.

France's Football Phenom Thierry Henry


Nicolas Anelka Country: France Club Team: Chelsea (ENG); French national team Position: Striker Earnings: $5.8 million Endorsements: Puma Though his petulance rivals his potential, Anelka has shown tremendous potential as a striker. A relentless scorer who is lightning fast with superb control, Anelka’s goal won France its World Cup match against Ireland. His three-and-a-half year deal and his reported fee means more money has been spent on transferring Nicolas over the course of his career than on any other player in football history. Sully Muntari Country: Ghana Club Team: Internazionale AKA Inter Milan Position: Midfielder Earnings: $5.3 million, Endorsements: Puma If Ghana takes World Cup, you can bet Muntari will be instrumental to their win. A football prodigy, Muntari was just 16 when he played for Ghana at the 2001 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina. He was voted as an All-Star Player during the 2008 African Cup of Nations Tournament in Ghana. Yaya Toure Country: Ivory Coast Club Team: Barcelona Position: Midfielder Earning: $3.7 million Toure’s titanic stature and gushing energy combine to make him one of the best midfielders in modern football, with a perfect combination of physical power with superb technique. He is the first player from Côte d’Ivoire to win the UEFA Champions League, in 2008/09 and one of the driving forces behind the team that rewrote football history by winning six trophies in a single season. He was recently transferred from Barcelona to Manchester City for £25m, where he’ll join his brother, brother and club captain, Kolo. He was a powerful midfielder for his native Côte d’Ivoire, who made their first appearance in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Alex Song Country: Cameroon Club Team: FC Barcelona Position: Central Defending Midfielder Earning: Gervais Yao Kouassi, better known as Gervinho Country: Côte d’Ivoire Club Team: A.S. Roma Position: Earning: Thierry Henry (http://www.14henry.com/index.htm) Country: France Club Team: Barcelona; French national team Position: Striker Earnings: Annual salary plus bonus: $6.2 million, Other income: $6.2 million Endorsements: Pepsi, Gilette, Reebok Ok. No Henry is not playing this go-round, but he’s an football god and must be breathlessly mentioned. Henry is one of the most recognized and lauded players in football and certainly a worthy distinction for one of the most prominent forwards in the sport. During his meteoric rise at Arsenal, the phenomenal Henry emerged as leading goal-scorer for almost every season with 226 goals in all competitions. The phenomenal Frenchman won two league titles and three FA Cups and was twice nominated for FIFA World Player of the Year. Possessed of devastating speed and superhero agility, he remains the leading all-time goal-scorer in Europe with 42 goals with a flair for impossible, dramatic goals. Despite the controversy surrounding Henry’s propensity for using his hand to set up a goal, he is a football institution that has elevated the sport to an art form.

Christmasham ChristmasinJamaica
For me, there is simply nothing like Christmas in Jamaica. There’s a surfeit of riches that Jamaicans enjoy over the Christmas Season: Christmas caroling in the weeks leading up to Christmas; the almost palpable buzz of the elusive Christmas spirit in the streets, shopping plazas, buses, through open doors and roadside stalls; the excitement of the throngs heading to downtown for Christmas market; reggae-infused Christmas songs; Jamaican rum cake; festivals and parties galore; Jonkonoo and of course the camaraderie in Half Way Tree plazas on Christmas Eve to name just a few of my favorite things. So there’s nothing I would have wanted more than to follow in the footsteps of fellow Jamaican Tessanne Chin, winner of the 2013 The Voice competition who flew to Jamaica straight off her sensational win to celebrate Christmas in Jamaica with her family.

SeaPicAnd although there is nowhere else I’d rather be than in Jamaica at Christmas – barefoot outside a Portland villa, steps away from one of our famous sun-dappled beaches, bare feet deeply burrowed in powder-fine sand, sorrel drink in hand, pineapple glazed ham and escovitch fish waiting on the table – the next best thing is launching the book campaign for my debut novel Journey to the Land of Look Behind. That’s why I’m still offering the first the ThreeChapters_LandofLookBehind for free!

Now – at last –  after many years of perseverance, insights, countless rewrites and untold editing, my debut novel Journey to the Land of Look Behind has been published and is now available in both paperback and ebook versions. And I couldn’t be more thrilled and enthusiastic to share with the world what has been my passion and dream for some time.

Every woman  – as she comes into her own  – asks imminent questions that help define and inform who she is, what she’ll stand for and how she’ll navigate her way in this world – on her own terms or on others’.  This is the essential truth that propelled me to write  Journey to the Land of Look Behind, a story about a young woman who returns to her island home Jamaica to help care for the father who abandoned her and the aching tug-of-war and winding journey that leads to her authentic self.

So What’s the Novel Really About?

lookBehindCoverIndigo Wade, a brilliant engineer and aspiring sculptor, is frustrated with her son-child boyfriend, Reed, pressured by her domineering mother, Lena and struggling through a fractured relationship with her distant and indifferent father, Capo. An urgent, disturbing phone call precipitates a trip to Jamaica where past memories resurface, life lessons are learned and new beginnings are started. Sage advice from her Aunt Mercie helps her deal with antagonistic siblings left to survive the wreckage of lives abandoned by a father who skillfully navigates relationships like a calculated chess grandmaster and lays bare the spiraling, wounding trajectory through their lives.

Balanced on the threshold of two worlds, neither of which she fully belongs, Indigo must face questions that help her define her own truths. Who are we when stripped of easy monikers: daughter; father, sister, friend?  Should she give up her promising career to pursue her dream of becoming a sculptor?  Can she steer her father toward a place of redemption and at what cost?

NewOrleansSet in New Orleans and Jamaica, Journey to the Land of Look Behind centers around abandoned daughters who have been thrust into the world, fatherless, who have had to fend for themselves and find/claim their worth any way they can.  Countless Caribbean girls and women – not unlike black girls in America or in Africa and across the globe must make their way in life without the love and support of their father.  Not surprisingly, some of the most painful aspects of their lives are symptomatic of the wound of the fatherless daughter.  Their stories – with their themes of female identity, self-emancipation, abandoned or fatherless daughters  – are achingly familiar  are universally relatable.

Whether Caribbean, American or African, far too many of us grapple with the wound from the missing father and this is a tale about the travails of the wounded daughter.  As most of you know, I am a consummate storyteller and I feel that an intimate story, interwoven with some poignant truths and humor lighten this impactful story and the way it bleeds into the landscape of our lives is one worth telling.

In the coming weeks I’ll be blazing a trail with a kick-ass media campaign and promotion leading to several book signings in Jamaica, New York, New Jersey and New Orleans.  Hard copy and eBook versions are already available here on my website, on amazon.com, itunes and lulu.com.  To pique interests and set tongues wagging – in a great way! – Please take a moment to share with friends and acquaintances and post on your Twitter and/or Facebook timelines. You can still read the first  ThreeChapters_LandofLookBehind for free!

Look out for the JTLOLB book trailer, Facebook and Twitter posts as well as Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns.

Stay tuned for more…

nicole marie richardson


The beauty of Machu Picchu is the shear height at which these ruins are carved into the mountains. At 8,000-plus feet one has to wonder how the Inca’s hauled up the stones, carved out stairs, and produced an aqueduct system to receive water.

Getting up there isn’t easy regardless of if you decide to hike for many days or take the train and then a 30-minute bus to the top. My group opted for the train and the bus. The train is a truly amazing visual experience (and for about $100-plus roundtrip it should be). The modern and comfortable cabins offer panoramic views of the Andean Mountain Range, the Urubamba River, and villages leading up to the Inca Trail. The cost of my train and bus tickets were included in my Friendly Planet package but I’ve read that train tickets sellout fast, so plan to book well in advance.

The bus…

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We woke to a washed-out, downcast morning. But by the time we loaded the crocus sacks of groceries into the back of the pick-up, the sun had put in an appearance. Salome had spent the night. Over Aunt Mercie’s stew peas and bottles of Ting had helped me sort and separate the food and clothes earmarked for Samira and Claudine, making sure each got their share of flour, rice, cornmeal cooking oil and everything else. I’d also bought a few Discmans and CDs I thought the kids might like. After we’d turned in, Dominique had called to say she’d make the drive with me and that Basil, her driver, would drop her off first thing in the morning.

Trevour would drive the three of us to Bog Walk for Samira. Then, the plan was to meet Adassa at her niece’s bake shop in Old Harbour then together we’d make our way to the address she had for Claudine in Lionel Town. Through a series of increasingly bewildering excuses, she’d avoided handing over the address itself and so had managed to insert herself into the mix. Initially she’d suggested that I meet her in front of Spanish Town hospital but Aunt Mercie had put the brakes on that idea.

“Yuh mad! Spanish Town hospital wid American grocery? Lena would crucify mi! One look in de van wid all that food and people will come from far and wide to rob yuh. And Adassa know dat!”

It was well over a decade since the three of us had all been in a room together. Even in the year before I’d immigrated we’d seen almost nothing of each other. Years ago Capo had mentioned that Claudine was a physician’s assistant in Moneague, where her son’s father lived. We’d spoken several times each year but then I’d called on her birthday and the number was disconnected. That was six years ago. Updates had come third hand from Adassa until they’d trickled to nothing. Samira and I were six years apart, the third and fourth of his girls. But our age difference had been almost non-existent. She’d told me things the girls at her All-Age school did and about working in the market with her aunts and mother.

I was the first one she’d told about getting her period when she was in the tub in the back backyard and I’d recounted to her what the school’s guidance counselor had told us about it. I’d given her all my science and math books – even the ones I liked best. We’d been left together many weekends at Capo’s – with Adassa or some or some other woman a reluctant caretaker – when he’d gone off with a new girlfriend or with friends to overnight beach parties on the North Coast. Once, after an argument with him, she’d demanded to be taken home and when he’d refused, threw her knapsack over her back and taken off the second he’d left house. She hadn’t made it back to country until after dawn the next day. It was one of the few times I’d seen him truly angry and I’d had a grudging respect for her after she did it. But we didn’t see each other again for months and I had to wait to tell her.

The last time I’d come with Capo to see her they’d spoken from either side of the fence; she from inside her yard and him on the outside with his back inches from his newly polished Cadillac. The bumper reflected their ghoulish caricatures in the moonlight.

“How you doin,’ Samira? How you makin’ out?”
“Fair to middlin’, Missa Wade.”

She hadn’t looked at him, not even at the top of his head, but instead turned her face sideways and addressed something at her side. They’d spoken about things I didn’t understand and later Adassa told me that she was pregnant and would have to leave school. I’d cried the whole night without knowing why.

Months after I’d started College I’d saved up and sent her a barrel, taking a curious delight in forfeiting weekend movies and evenings out with friends to pack and ship it. I’d included the usual necessities but also some of my favorites I thought she and the children might enjoy. After the barrel had been delivered, I’d called excitedly,

“Did you get it?”
She’d greeted my excitement with a symphony of complaints I didn’t know what to do with.
“Mi haffi pay de man extra fi go up the hill.”
“Is not enough flour and too much rice.”
“Some things thief out of it ‘cause it looked only half full”
“Wha’ ‘bout cereal an’ shoes foh de pickney dem?”

The following week she’d called to know about help with a down payment on a housing trust lot that had come up and, after that, she needed help for a fridge from the Courts store. Aside from Western Union sent sporadically and unexpectedly over the years, I’d given up. She must have too: she never wrote or even called collect. None of the promised pictures of the children ever arrived.

Six children and three men later, I wondered what of the old Samira I’d recognize, what was left. We drove through Spanish Town, a quarter mile passed Bogwalk and into the tucked away hamlet she and her mother and grandmother had lived all their lives. It was a slow, meandering town whose glory days had never quite come. The matchbox house was hitched on a tiny hill and was the same one I remembered from past visits. Unless they’d made major changes, it consisted of two small rooms no larger than the cubicles at work. The front yard looked like it had been razed after the house’s occupants fled in a mad dash for survival. The lone hold-out was a white rose bush in the first blush of bloom. It flourished in a scrap of dirt patch at the side of the little house, its perfect petals stretched just outside the rusting fence, the one enchantment in the dismal, desecrated yard. In the back, further up the hill, smoke from a coal stove streamed from the doorless, lean-to kitchen. I wondered what they did when rain came in torrents as it often did in these parts.

Against the fence, arms folded with a broad, red band across her forehead, stood Samira, a daguerreotype version of the girl I’d last seen. The calf-length, three-sister skirt and puff sleeved blouse, she looked like a pioneering school teacher. Behind her stood a rag-tag bunch of children, with rambunctious hair, sturdy limbs and broad smiles. A grubby, of-white dog lazily licked its privates then yelped a greeting. So this was how it had all tuned out.

“You really come fi true! And early to!” One hand sat akimbo while the fingers of the other fluttered at her mouth. “Never believe I’d set eyes again. And look who yuh bring? Is where yuh find her! God can come down from heaven now!”

“Samira? Is you?! Never think I’d see the day!”
Dom lit out of the car before it came to a full stop.
They hugged briefly and Samira laughed, “Long time now anybody call me dat. Dainty me name now. Is where Indigo find you? You look good!”

She still had that tentative, lopsided smile and the dimple in her left cheek. For a moment, I felt a burning shame and sadness that I had abandoned her to this. That while I’d been developing plans for clean water dams in foreign cities and dreaming of Blue Mosques and Brazilian cherry wood for wood carvings and imbibing brunch at the Columns, here sat my flesh and blood.
“I can hardly believe it’s you! It’s a shame how long it’s been” I ran my hands over her hair and held her to me even after I felt her hand feebly pat my back.

The children carried the bags into the tiny front room dancing around us as if they’d caught Santa in the act. There were eight in total, five were hers and the other belonged to assorted sisters and aunts. The living room brimmed with various iterations of religious images. Jesus, Mary and a host of saints were paraded shoulder to shoulder against every inch of wall space. Plastic figurines of saints in repose dotted the tiny wooden table and the ancient breakfront. Between images of Jesus and Mary was a framed picture of the eldest daughter, Althea, at her high school graduation and another at the Teachers’ College she attended. Bunches of flowers, bougainvillea mostly, sat in small plastic buckets around the room.

In the back room, camphor was burning and the scent wafted into the front room. Around bottles of the Shandy and Ting we’d brought, we eased into a light camaraderie, trying to fill in the blanks from all the years that had slipped away. After bustling about for assorted biscuits and papaya Samira eased onto the lone hassock in the room leaving the sofa for us. Even after the babies she still retained something of her swimmers’ physic. Yet she sat down heavily them seemed to fold her shoulders into herself, like origami, as if hoping to go unnoticed or perhaps to disappear altogether. No signs of those fingers that looked like they belong on a Steinway playing Carnegie Hall. Now the knuckles were knotted and calluses had taken over the soft places of her hands. We swapped stories and pictures and four of her children were paraded in front of us. We tried to fill in the gaps of the lives and times we’d all missed. Our peals of laughter and loud exclamations spun out in the little room and it was easy to imagine it was a reunion of true sisters.

“Remember dat time when…”
“But don’t forget how we…”

After the second child, she’d started taking in sewing and darning, she told us, using the second hand Singer sewing machine Capo had bought her. Then she’d had a stint in trade school but the men and the babies had kept coming and money was always low and after a time she’d given up to inevitability of fate. The second to last child, a girl of about five shone like an exquisite emerald among the rushes. She looked up at me with large, liquid brown eyes and I wanted to scoop her up and whisk her away from all of it. Do it! Why not, a voice demanded. Verna, the second daughter, waded into the room, a baby of about eighteen months bobbing at her hip, which she promptly placed onto my lap.

“Dis one name Frederico. Haffi be the last. Can’t tek no more.”
A dusky, curly-haired, dimple-chinned thing, he cooed and spitted as I fed him soggy water crackers. I tried not to squirm against the soggy cloth diaper and was relieved when one the children took him away for a nap. The other boy of about ten watched us with fierce, jaundice-glazed eyes. Every now and then, a small smile relieved passed that relieved the tension on his face.
We knew he’d arrived from the scurry of the children into the back room and the curtain of silence that followed. His long, gangly legs filled up the tiny door frame. Against them hung his machete crusted with mud and something else. Among us, Dominique was the only one among us who didn’t flinch. Instead, she leaned back against the lumpy sofa, one arm draped one arm across its back, her face assessing, as if waiting to hear the punch line of a bawdy joke.

“A him dis to rawtid? Is coolie yuh mek put ring pon yuh finger? But yuh nuh easy! Is beyond time yuh come outta this bush, m’dear.”
I nudged her hard and she chuckled unapologetically. “Mek me chat!”
He came from the farmland with the other men who worked the ground. He looked us over then dusted off his boots without a word of acknowledgement. The room waited until at last he gave out, “Where mi tea and coconut water?”

His hair was shoulder length, inky black and silken. It wound down his back like the serpentine staff of a prophet. The thick bush of his beard was held together at the end with a tired rubber band. A tiny crocheted red, gold and green hat perched atop his head like a steeple.
I knew in his mind he was wondering where the men were and why these men-less women congregated in his house.

“Ah mi sister dem,” she gave out, watching his face and hands. “Dat one come from foreign – where? – New Orlins. Dis one,” she hooked a tremulous finger in Dom’s direction, “live a Kingston. Dis is McKenzie. Everybody call him Bunty.”

He wiped off the machete with a crumpled newspaper and told the boy to put it in the kitchen behind the coal stove. Hellos all around did nothing to break the ice and he made no move to shake our hands. His grudging smile came like tiny ripples on a pond and he turned his face from ours even as his mouth said, “Please to meet you.”

She’d met him at a tent revival meeting in Linstead where’d he’d just been passing through. But she’d been ensnared by the dark ropes of his hair. When the first blow had come she’d still been punch drunk with love and had mistaken the explosion of light in her head as stars in her eyes. I imagined her running through the fields, the hard slap of her feet against the ground, sweat and tears and everything else running into her mouth and wished for a moment that I were a man. When had she given up, I wondered? When had she resigned herself to this cage, agreed to let whatever she yearned for dissipate through her fingers, to die stillborn? Easy to say, “Not for me smoky evenings around a coal stove,” Fingers smelling of kerosene from the wick of the fading lamp, hands calloused from steaming plates and blackened pots, doling out food with a subservient smile as I waited for the men to eat first. For me had been the path paved for first-in-class, best-in-show, gold star for science. Neither choice had been entirely ours to make.

I looked into the steel cages of his eyes and the unyielding chords of his neck and hands and knew why she was afraid of him. The children bundled together at the doorway between the living area and the bedroom, silent, watching. If one fidgeted, an older one swatted at them and all grew hushed.

“So where oonu husband? Nobody nuh come wid husband? Can’t believe is so far dem mek you travel on you own.” he asked now, an attempt, I supposed, at civility.
He was living in the 1920s and I had no patience for it. How the hell did she live in this back-ass ward, armpit of purgatory? I wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled. Wake up! Smell and taste life beyond this town!

“Yes,” I answered glibly, “They let us out these days.”
We stumbled about, reaching for safe conversation. Salome was unusually reticent and after a while, set out with her trusty camera, ready to take pictures of the surrounding country scene.

“Ladies,” he began, “Did you know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light? Have you declared Him yet, sistas?” He walked over to the ancient bureau in the corner, rooted around for several religious tracks and placed them at the edge of the table.Declare Him to who, I wondered.

“Awright, Bunty. Dem sey dem will send a likkle money next month, ” Samira offered timidly.

“We know things rough and we want to give Samira a hand, especially with the kids,” I said.

He interrupted, “Is Dainty she name now.”

“Maybe help get them on some kind of schedule that would help with school and food. ” I suggested carefully.
He nodded his agreement and caressed his beard with dirty encrusted fingernails that made me queasy.
“Hhhmm, Hhhmm. Each one help one. So me see it. So de Bible sey. Long time me tell call har people dem a Kingston.”

“It would be good if the children could be in some kind of structured school environment. Like Althea.”

“So how she would get the money?” he asked, pretending to mull it over.

“Western Union or something,” I offered impatiently. “Whatever’s convenient and in town. ”

“Well, if you want, you can put it in my name and I can pick it up and give her. Mine o’ I nah fast in oonu business, I just tryin’ to help out a situation.”

Dom and I exchanged horrified looks. Clearly some ganja had gone to his head.
“Why can’t she control it herself? What? She can’t read and count?” she demanded.
“Dainty don’t have ID fi pick up money. So why yuh don’t give her in her hand now,” he suggested slyly. “She know is for all of us.”

“But where is her ID? I asked, puzzled. “Something with her name on it?”

“Me know har name, wha’ else dem need?”

It was too ridiculous to be debated and I didn’t push it, afraid Samira would pay for it later in ways we didn’t care to imagine. We stepped outside for a spell, needing relief from the saccharine fragrance of the flowers that intermingled with the stuffy, indefinable smell of the tiny, cluttered room. Who knew despair smelled like bougainvillea? Down the track next to the little house we trudged and toward the wasted fields with their dwindling crops. One of the younger girls – no more than seven – rushed into my arms and hugged my waist as we walked.

“So what you do for money now?” I felt like Salome with one of her interview subjects.

“I used to plant pimento and ginger, help the banana farmers wid dem crop, but tings dry up now. Hotel dem don’t buy local produce no-more sey dem haffi buy from cheaper foreign people. Banana was green gold, now it mash up. We too expensive for our own good.”

The genius of the globalization machinery; it made my head hurt with anger and sadness.
“What about work in Spanish Town? Take a computer class.”

“Who will take care of de children? My mother can’t keep dem all the time an’ everybody else have dem own ting.”

She shook her head. “I sew, wash sometimes. I used to make T-shirt with the press print on the front but people not money on it and it cost too much to buy the pattern in Spanish Town. Plus, people prefer buy from the haggler wid goods from America or the small islands dem.”

“Why don’t you come town?’ Dominique urged. “I can set you up with a little job so you can help the kids, help yourself. Yuh aunt or one of yuh friends can’t keep the pickney dem likkle bit? The two older ones can help.”

She looked around. “No use sacrifice everybody to this.”

“Me ‘fraid,” she said simply.

“What yuh can ‘fraid of more dan dis? So what you going to do? Stay in it? Make them eat the same bitter sorrow you eat? What you going to tell them when they get older? Or you’ll just let them get used to this?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know.” She wrung her hands and looked behind her.

Nothing I said or promised would change even an iota of her life unless she wanted it to, but I said it anyway. To her and the Universe. “I’ll help. If you want something better for your children, I’ll help. I paused then added, “But no more babies, Samira. Please.”

She smiled sheepishly. “Couple of months ago, no blood come end of month. When I check it out I say, “No boy, can’t go up to that again. This one would make seven. One weekend him go revival, I find Ms. Lillita and we go bush and dash it way. Momma say it nun fair to do data to ‘im. Sey I should have out all de babies God intend.”

“Stop the foolishness and take care of yuhself! Sometimes you have to claw your way out of the muck, year! We never lucky to get anybody to give a hand so it leave to yourself. Claw your way out even if you have to take out ‘im eye!”

It was hard to say how much penetrated enough to make a difference.

“One thing though, neither of us is going to send money to him so the least you can do is get your own identification. Jesus, Samira, don’t give yourself over so completely, for Godsake!”

She smiled wanly. “So Althea say too. How Missa Wade?”
“Sick,” I said matter-of-factly, as if I was delivering the weather. What was the use of saying anything else? What was she to do?

“Oh yeah?” She scratched her elbow absently and the sound like chalk on a board set my teeth on edge. “Sorry fi hear.”

“So it go,” I replied.

“I used to go look for him ‘bout every two weeks, bring him fruits, sweet potato, coco and such – when I have it. ‘Im tell yuh? But one time I go an’ ‘im cuss me off in front some stranger at de hard.” Her mouth twisted. “Embarrass me, y’know. “Cause dem tink me nuh ‘ave no sense or pride. Me is a big woman! Adassa she, put in har two cents, tell me how nobody like nutthin’ too black.”
I winced. “In front of him.”

She nodded and slapped away a mosquito, “You know from long time she push it sey my mother give Daddy jacket, sey me nuh fi him pickney.”

Dom was incensed. “Mouth make to say anything! Always a push her own agenda. You can’t mind that. You look just like his father sister, Samira, so Adassa can say anything. She vex she couldn’t have baby fi him.”

“Long time dat now; but I don’t go back since.” She looked off into the field. “Hope ‘im awright though.”

There was no use offering consolations for any of it. For in this town and all the crevices like it, emotions are not hard currency. There was no value in longing or nostalgia or regret. Everything costs in real currency and when the lights and water are off and the baby can’t breathe and the ground is unyielding but the rent man is coming tomorrow morning, what good is longing or reconciliation or if onlys?

It came now why I’d cried. She among all of us needed saving the most. Even then I must have surmised that if she didn’t get a hand up and out she’d fall headlong into the murky abyss that was familiar territory for girls like her from town to country. Hatred stirred in me then towards him, a useless, passionate hatred that only a conversation with God could ease.

When we returned, they brought a loudly protesting fowl that was to serve as a noon day feast in appreciation of our visit. The scrawny thing strained against the thin, red string twisted around its neck and made such a ruckus.

“No chicken for me, thank you,” Dom pronounced in a stage whisper. “One helluva of shittin’ temper gon’ tek everybody dat eat it, way how dis ya fowl a carry on!”
I recalled thrilling visits to country capped with late night sessions in the back of the farm or someone’s backyard. Sometimes it was a Nine Night for an elder who’d passed. The vicious, dispassionate neck wringing of a favored fowl, its body careening wildly in search of its head. Then the long arc of scalding water and seconds later the acrid smell of blood and feathers, clawing and thumping against the lid of the Dutch pot as it writhed against the clutches of death. I looked at Samira, her shoulders hunched in, unresisting against the strain of her own red string. When had she stopped, or had she bothered at all with the other two gone and prospects and resources dwindling? Even without knowing they would have to do without to afford this feast I wanted no part of it. I told her I wanted to buy her a goat and had her send one of the girls for the man who sold fish.

As we prepared to leave, Dom moved towards Bunty. Her smile was flirtatious but her eyes were wintry. They were sandwiched between the narrow, decaying door frame and I watched in horrified fascination as she leaned into him, proffering several folded bills. I opened my mouth to demand, “What the hell?” but nothing came out. His smile stretched like a lizard’s and his hand eased up between them. But with his fingers a hair’s breadth from the cash, she suddenly whispered something. His face went slack like a cobra victim and his hands fell to his sides. She tucked the bills into his front pants pocket then patted it.

“What was that?” I asked when we were outside.
“Not a thing.”

We left amidst promises and hopes of staying in touch, all the while praying we wouldn’t fall prey to the indelible pattern of this perverse version of sisterhood we knew. The image of the children waving from the dirt track stayed with me and the soft feel of the little girl’s hand in mine, tugging on my sleeve was ingrained on my memory.

In retrospect we should have seen it spiraling towards us like a monsoon. Should have noticed their coiled watchfulness and distracted greeting. The play had been set in motion before we hit the dead end street and the van stalled on the sleeping policeman. But buoyed by the camaraderie and promise of the visit with Samira we missed all the tell-tale signs. As promised I’d called Adassa and she gave me her niece’s address in Old Harbour, a half-way point on the way to Claudine’s place.

“Pass the likkle square and stay to de right. Look for Sleaveright Circle. Just ask anybody for number twenty one. Can’t miss it – full of fowl and pickney.”

Then the niece had gotten on the phone to repeat the directions to Trevour again. But doubts circled forty minutes in, after we’d entered Lionel Town. Despite following the directions to the letter, no square appeared. No-one had heard of Sleaveright anything. All inquiries were met with a screw face, a head scratch or both. Passionate, frustrated debates raged among passersby we asked about whether we meant drive, avenue or lane; speculation that it might be a town his cousin worked in or where her father-in-law hailed from. As we drove from one dead-end to another, we called the niece, but no-one answered. Messages went unanswered. At last, a young boy pushing a cane cart hooked a thumb behind him. “Back dat way, I think. But dat spell wrong.”

Ten minutes later, it was the boy who proved wrong.

“But this is a crazy, strange happening! Trevour announced. “I don’t understand it. This place exists only on dis piece of paper. Better to head back home and figure it then come back another time.”

As he reversed out of what we’d all agreed was our last ditch, we noticed them. They slithered towards us with purpose and bad intentions. The shorter of them sported an olive green velvet jacket and dark shades. He whistled a sweet tune as he approached.


The other two came up quickly from behind him. The wiry one had a raised hook of a scar under his dead-fish eye; the other had pulled his knit cap over the top half of his face. He sidled up to Trevor and in the seconds he approached seemed to stare directly at me. Something about his gait seemed strangely familiar.

His lips stretched in a crafty smile, “How de Empress?”

I gave a hostile nod.

He placed his hand on the driver side of the roof of the car and leaned in, “Boss man,” he nodded to Trevour. Whatta gwaan?” He surveyed the back seat. “Mi sistren.” As he spoke, his compatriots moved towards the rear of the car. Dom watched the other two from the corner of her eye and her stillness made us alert. Salome eased her camera under the front seat.
“Something’s coming; get ready for it!”

Then it all spun out like in a nightmare that was so fucked only your scream could jolt you wake. At first my mind rejected that it was happening at all: the flash of the knife at Trevour’s throat, that one of the men had Salome by the hair and seemed intent on dragging her through the window. Senseless thoughts collided. I’d never get to dance in those bejeweled four-inch heel shoes I’d been saving/I’d never get to see what the sculptures might have become/Hadn’t jumped off the cliff in Negril yet/Why hadn’t I gone to Tunis that time?/Who knew Exactly where we were? And then – Capo knew.
The man at the front pressed in close to Trevour, as intimate as a lover, “Pussyhole, come outta di cyar an’ gi wi di tings dem. Know how long we spot oonu an’ a wait.”
Bedlam erupted suddenly; Trevour alone stock rock still. The third man reached for the back door handle, his eyes roaming wildly over the groceries in the back. The jiggling of the lock exploded in the shaken silence and catapulted Dom into action.
“De tiefin’ bwoy a try rob we!”
She raked her fingernails hard across his face.
“Eyii gyal! Yuh gon’ pay fi dat!”

But she was a madwoman, scratching and tearing at will. Galvanized by her resistance, I bit down on the hand that held Salome’s hair, doing away with the useless, rising hysteria. Her screams shifted a few curtains but no-one came to our aid. His friend managed to wrest the door open and lunged for a 20-lbs bag of rice. We fought him like enraged Oyas, grabbing at the bag until it ripped and a confetti of rice rained down on us all. As Trevour wrestled with the hand at his throat, his friend passed something to him. From the corner of my eye, I noticed the flash of silver as the wiry one reached into the back of his pants. Dom saw it too and clambered into the front seat and managed to throw the car in gear.

“Jesus Christ! Hurry?” The words burst from me like a mantra.
As we sped away, I glanced at my watch. It had in a teaspoon of time. Only six minutes has passed. Our lives lost and recaptured in six minutes – 360 seconds.
We all spoke at once. Our outraged chatter filled the car followed by bouts of levity that lightened the mood.
“You should a seen Indigo fight off the boy with rice!”
Salome was shaken and there was a welt on her chin. She had been in worse scraps than this on assignment. But still. We hugged tightly knowing it could have gone much further south. Dominique said what I’d been thinking,
“Dat fucker! Who else know we was coming wid things? Send we on wild goose chase. Capo and dat wretch Adassa set we up! A trip into a ditch fi tek food out of him own daughter mouth!”
The thought sickened me. But I felt it was true. Capo with that Adassa as the serpent in his ear. And I was almost certain the ring leader and the man always at his gate were one and the same. With all the excuses and reasons that would follow, the knowledge sat in my gut like a rock.

Of course, Capo denied it, fought tooth and nail against the very notion of it. Aunt Mercie cautioned, “Mine how you accuse. ”
Adassa claimed it was all a mix-up, and had an answer for every question I threw.
“From de devil was a boy Capo cannot be trusted but – beat de devil and give ‘im ‘im shut – I don’t know dat him could go dat far.”
It was true; I couldn’t prove it for sure election politics could be used as a cover of opportunity for all kinds of things.
“Hard life make all kindsa dastardly things seem reasonable. But dat? Hard to say.”
But my gut told me everything I needed to know. That in my mind it was even a consideration was grievous to my soul. Would nothing move him?

Lying in agony on an operating table, Lisa Espinosa, 43, was certain she was minutes away from death.

The promise of inexpensive cosmetic surgery lured her to the Dominican Republic in April 2004 where a physician in a makeshift operating room performed breast augmentation surgery, a tummy tuck, and liposuction, during which Espinosa contracted a virulent infection. Instead of recovering, the feverish and seriously ill Espinosa, a clinical grant manager of infectious diseases at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was told she would die if she didn’t get a blood transfusion.

The news sent waves of fear through her body. Unsure if the blood she would receive on the island would be free of life-threatening infections such as HIV, she initially refused the transfusion but later reconsidered. “I thought about being sent home in a box and what that would do to my mother and children. I gave my verbal consent and shortly afterward lost consciousness,” she says.

But sadly, the nightmare was only beginning. Years later, during surgery to repair the extensive damage to Espinosa’s breasts, her doctor discovered a litany of blunders: the removal of a healthy gland, severed nerves, multiple stitches embedded in the breast tissue, incorrect placement of her nipples, and the aftermath of an infection due to the use of unhygienic instruments, which caused significant buildup of scar tissue because the blood supply had been severed. “The inside of her breasts looked like the inside of a trash can,” recalls Dr. David Watts, the Vineland, New Jersey-based plastic surgeon who performed Espinosa’s reconstructive surgeries.

Espinosa would eventually undergo three painful reconstructive surgeries––the last one in March 2008––to repair the damage from the first faulty surgery. All told, it took her more than four years to fully recover from the ordeal. Unfortunately, her experience is not unique. Hers is among the innumerable cases of botched plastic surgery suffered by the hundreds of thousands who cross the U.S. border into countries such as Mexico, Panama, Thailand, Brazil, and Argentina looking for discounts. Doctors treating these patients have reported life-threatening infections resulting in amputation, massive body cavities, breast deformity and misalignment, damaged or severed nerves, scarring, and facial immobility. Unfortunately, African American and Latino women are increasingly afflicted.


Long considered an indulgence confined to the wealthy and famous, cosmetic surgery has become an accessible and mainstream fascination. Its increased popularity has been spurred by a number of factors: greater affordability, innovative procedures, and most notably, the popularity of reality television shows such as Extreme Makeover, Dr. 90210, and I Want a Famous Face. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, or ASPS, $10.3 billion was spent on 12.1 million cosmetic procedures in 2008.

While the majority of patients are still white, cosmetic procedures among Caucasians dropped 2% in 2008. On the other hand, procedures among ethnic patients increased by 11% in 2008, with more than 3 million performed. ASPS reports that Hispanics experienced the largest increase, up 18%. African Americans made up 8% of total procedures, up 10% from 2007.

Historically, African Americans have rejected cosmetic reconstruction, seeing it as a way of conforming to white ideals of beauty; however, attitudes have shifted dramatically over the past decade. Cosmetic surgery is now viewed as more of a way to enhance beauty rather than an attempt to look Caucasian. ASPS’s 2008 statistics indicate that 907,141 cosmetic procedures were performed on black patients, with rhinoplasty (nose reshaping), liposuction, and breast reduction being the top three procedures requested.

Dr. Ferdinand Ofodile, clinical professor of surgery at Columbia University, board certified plastic surgeon, and expert in ethnic rhinoplasty, specifically black and Hispanic, explains. “Nowadays, plastic surgery is perceived as a way to streamline and enhance what you already have. The stigma surrounding nose reshaping has decreased, it’s now perceived as a means of creating greater harmony and balance in facial features, thereby increasing beauty while preserving ethnicity.”


Espinosa was referred to the Dominican-based doctor from acquaintances whose surgeries he’d also performed, and she headed to the Caribbean for a surgery she felt was a steal. The package, which included surgery, travel, and five nights lodging, totaled $4,200. “I didn’t tell my family because they would have tried to talk me out of it,” she says. Before the surgeries, Espinosa asked the doctor several important questions, but was reluctant to ask more pertinent ones for fear of losing the sweetheart deal. Although he was not a certified plastic surgeon, he assured her that he’d performed these procedures successfully on many occasions.

Espinosa admits that she withheld information about her liver, medical history, and certain medications she was taking because of her fear of capsizing the deal. During a 25-minute consultation the day before her surgery, she and the doctor discussed her recovery time, bruising, and the need for follow-up care to remove her stitches. However, the focus of the conversation was on the initial $2,000 cash payment. Espinosa adds, “I was still trying to negotiate a price for breast implants; it became a flea market.”

The surgery was traumatic. “The operating room was dingy and old-fashioned. In the corner was a box similar to a trough for feeding horses. I thought of hospitals in the U.S., my instincts kicked in, and I became hysterical,” she recalls. To make matters worse, the doctor now disclosed that a previous patient’s death had been attributed to anesthesia complications. “I was terrified, but here I was naked and prepped for surgery in a foreign country. There was no turning back.” Espinosa was strapped upside down on a gurney, with a cloth placed over her head. Several minutes into the surgery she felt immense pressure from the tubes placed into her body, which quickly developed into full-blown pain. Panic mounting, she noticed the doctor removing surgical equipment from the trough-like box. “My physical agitation annoyed the doctor. He gave me another sedative and told me to be quiet so he could do what he needed to do.”

Nearly three days later, Espinosa woke up in intensive care with excruciating pain and no immediate recollection of the surgery. “The nurses and my friends told me I needed a blood transfusion, my worst fear because I was recovering from hepatitis C and was now in good standing. I was terrified of a relapse of hepatitis C or contracting a blood-borne disease,” Espinosa says. She refused, until the doctor persuaded her to accept plasma to save her life. Days later, she was fitted into a full-bodied compression girdle that concealed multiple bruises and wheeled onto an airplane for a six-hour flight to Philadelphia. “I was given several pain pills and told to go to the emergency room only if I began to bleed excessively from my tummy, but that profuse bleeding from my breasts was normal.”


With greater accessibility and popularity come increased costs. According to ASPS, the average physician fees for popular procedures are $3,348 for breast enlargement, $4,197 for rhinoplasty, $5,167 for abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), and $2,881 for liposuction. Consequently, minority women with moderate incomes––particularly those eager for multiple procedures––sometimes opt for dangerous alternatives that cost 40% to 70% less than U.S. prices: offshore plastic surgery vacation packages.

According to ASPS, statistics are not available on the number of patients who have taken cosmetic surgery vacations. However, it is known that these patients usually mirror the U.S. demographic: women age 35-50. For Espinosa, the cost was much higher and not just paid in cash. In August 2007, three years after her initial surgery, she visited Dr. Watts to rectify the extreme puckering in her breasts. “They’d become shriveled like prunes, my areolas were uneven, and there was a large indentation in the left breast,” she says. Hoping to get a breast implant to fill out the indentations, Espinosa was in for a shock. Watts recalls, “The architecture of her breasts was completely changed. The technique and design of this breast lift followed no known principles I was familiar with.” Complete reconstruction and removal of the scar tissue was necessary to facilitate the development of healthy blood supply requiring two additional surgeries over a period of several months. Watts says, “If this had happened in the U.S., the doctor would have had to explain himself before a medical board or lost his license and, at the most, faced criminal and negligence charges.”


Despite the prevalence of botched overseas surgery, its popularity continues unabated due to low pricing and accessibility. Wendy Lewis, author of Plastic Makes Perfect: The Complete Cosmetic Beauty Guide and plastic surgery consultant with clients in the U.S., Europe, and South America, matches clients from various socioeconomic backgrounds with appropriate doctors. She insists there are a number of safe, domestic alternatives available to those with limited financial resources. “For example, visit doctors outside of large metropolitan cities or a board certified surgeon trained by a high profile surgeon and the cost is significantly lower,” explains Lewis.

But cheap surgery is only one component of why minority women are low- hanging fruit for offshore doctors. Fear of embarrassment and stigmatization combine to silence and disempower women. This creates the perfect storm, particularly deplorable within a segment of society most in need of vital information.
Many advertised packages offer surgery followed by beach trips, horseback riding, island hopping, and fun-filled adventures in the sun—an impossibility given the acute pain, discomfort, risk of infection, and need for healing time. Because of the relative ease in which plastic surgery is portrayed on reality shows, many potential patients hold unrealistic expectations about achieving physical perfection in an abbreviated time period and are unaware of the complexity of the procedures. Watts says, “The media has given the public pseudo- empowerment to make decisions about which they are neither informed nor educated. It’s a tremendous disservice, and doctors must draw the line and not allow themselves to be talked into procedures they know are unsafe.”


Although rare, botched cosmetic surgery also happens on U.S. soil. According to a 2004 ASPS study, serious complications occur in one in 298 cases and death occurs in one in 51,429 cases in the U.S.

Dr. Julius Few, director of The Few Institute for Aesthetic Surgery in Chicago and a frequent medical contributor on CNN and 20/20, lauds the expertise of many credentialed foreign doctors. Still he stresses that offshore plastic surgery is potentially dangerous. “The laws and regulations in these countries are much less stringent and there is no governing board or recourse for the patient if the surgery goes wrong.” Few adds, “Plastic surgery is major surgery. Having an extreme makeover abroad and then sitting on a plane for several hours poses life threatening consequences.” Anticipating the magic of transformation, many patients, like Espinosa, ignore their instincts, opting instead for the assurance of friends or persuasive advertising. Dr. Anthony Griffin, a diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery who was named one of “America’s Leading Doctors” by black enterprise and whose surgeries have been featured on ABC’s Extreme Makeover and CNN, says, “Frankly, some people don’t want to know. Despite the doctor’s advice, many will shop around until they hear what they’re looking for, which is rarely what’s advertised.”

Today, Espinosa has physically recovered from her surgery, but the memory of the trauma remains. She admits that the fear of being asked uncomfortable questions and being judged by health professionals impaired her judgment. To anyone considering offshore plastic surgery she cautions, “In hindsight, there are more viable, smarter options than leaving the country that, if I’d known, would have saved me a lot of pain and money. But if you’re dead set on going, don’t feel that you don’t have the right to speak up or ask certain questions because you’re getting a bargain. Always trust your instincts even over what the doctor is telling you. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.”

As the economy continues its downward spiral, and with more consumers vying for bargains on products and services in an increasingly global economy, a greater number of foreign firms have made offshore plastic surgery their business. Griffin insists, “The U.S. has the highest medical standards in the world in terms of safety, expertise, and protocols. It’s unwise to leave this protection for countries without jurisdictions that oversee doctors. The truth is there is no free lunch and you can’t get a Mercedes for the price of a Saturn.”

This story originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine. Available at

After almost a year of fears of a double dip recession and bleak economic landscape, there have been promising signs that the employment forecast is beginning to brighten. Although the economy is not yet in full recovery mode, the recession has begun to loosen its vice like grip. Economists predict that though job creation will remain gradual, the latter half of 2011 will be characterized by steady, measured gains across various industries, particularly healthcare and IT. A recent Careerbuilder.com survey of hiring managers indicate an upward employment trends of more employers planning to hire permanent, full-time employees. The number of job listings is on the rise, companies are making hiring announcements and more hiring managers say they plan to hire permanent, full-time workers in 2011 than in the past two years. Economists surveyed by CNNMoney are forecasting an average of 2.5 million jobs added to the economy in 2011. Now is the ideal time for job seekers to reevaluate their qualifications and begin polishing and streamlining resumes, portfolios and presentations to maximize their potential of landing a job. To help enhance their application and increase the likelihood of snagging an interview, prospective employees and applicants are seeking new, innovative ways their resumes and written presentations can stand out from the crowd. Recruiters are looking beyond the superficial and for applications with depth and substance, so job seekers must package themselves in the most compelling way possible. With today’s ultra competitive job market, hiring managers are pinpointing ways in which the applicant’s background, skills and education distinguish them as the most qualified. Key among this, says Human Resources experts is the targeted ability to sell oneself and to use  how your experiences and skills directly relate to the job.

Rodney Scaife, Chief Human Resource Officer and a former Director Human Resource at  Freddie Mac says Scaife has noticed that seldom used elements such as testimonials and slogans have been incorporated into resumes and cover letters to make applicants more attractive to Hiring managers. He suggests that “applicants include a brief executive summary along with key core competencies, to begin the Resume. This will provide a snapshot and overview of your experience and what you could offer a company as well as display your fit for the role you’re  seeking.”

Though there has been a hiring low down, the federal government is still hiring. Applying for a position within the federal government the process is more rigorous and can be bewildering than in the private sector. But more than catchy resume call-outs, must  meet the professional and technical qualifications or mandatory technical qualifications. Hiring managers, says  Patrina Clark, Chief Human Capital Officer of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, are impervious to pretty resumes, clever formatting and euphemistic skills and experience, and are focused strictly on qualifications.  Clarke explains applicants for federal jobs must first meet the basic non-negotiable criteria of Qualified Better Qualified or Best Qualified, in order to move to the next phase, which is the call back interview. Mandatory Technical Qualification or Professional Technical Qualification zero in on the relevant areas. “Structure and tailor your resume so that it answers those requirements and it screams your qualifications. Highlight accomplishments in a way that stands out to someone who doesn’t know you.” It’s your job Clarke  says, “To make it easy for recruiters to connect the dots between job performance, what you’ve studied and know and how they directly support your qualifications.”  This includes volunteer activities, professional groups and affiliations. Human Resource specialists evaluate resumes based on the specific skills and requirements of the position. Clarke says “The key is to structure your resume so that it is targets and responds to the specifics  of the announcement.  Human Resources must get a strong sense that you understand the organization and the job to which you are applying.” Scaife  agrees, “I also look for the story being told throughout their experiences, job selections, and company selections.  This tells me if the individual is “Managing” their career or simply seeking their next “Job”. 

The job search process and capabilities have changed dramatically because of the tremendous impact of technology and powered by the emergence of social media. Although resumes remains of extreme importance, and a key evolution has been the movement of  most search firms and recruiters toward online sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter to find candidates. Scaife also sees more request for candidates to submit resumes, cover letters and writing samples online via the company website. Scaife suggests, “As you draft your resume, focus on “Key Words” and “Search” terms to insure that your resume will surface when recruiters are establishing search queries for key skills and qualifications for a particular position.”  He stresses that candidates’ failure to focus on  the digital aspect of the process is major reason that most resumes are not surfaced for a position.  

Kevin Carrington, President, DC Chapter of NAAAHR and Vice President, and Federal Practice Leader The Segal Company, a Human Resource and Benefits Consulting firm  says, the ability to illustrate your knowledge and expertise beyond the topical buzzwords. Carrington states, ” In today’s job market, many applicants may have to forfeit a prestigious title to get hired. But, “It’s essential that you indicate in written communications how your skills and experience are transferrable in the environment even if the title is lower.”

Carrington says Testimonials, resumes, portfolios and other written materials should reflect extensive on the job training and experience rather than a novice trying to break into the profession He adds “What jumps out are applicants whose materials show value-added skills and ways they can apply them in the new spot and how you can hit the ground running.”

 The experts also caution, however, that if you’re applying for a position out of desperation or for topical reasons such as perks and befits that will shine through. Each agency is unique with a different culture so Clarke urges job seekers to read the posting thoroughly and carry out due diligence before applying. She concludes, “Resume and presentation should say, ‘I believe you would be hard pressed to find someone better qualified than I.'”


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