His attire and physique shouted basketball as he walked into room J407 of his Ming Chuan University Jihe Campus last Tuesday. He donned gold and white Nike basketball sneakers; an ash-grey sweater hung loosely around his neck, over his dove-grey Nike T-shirt. He wore a pair of black track pants with three white stripes running along the sides. A leather Spalding basketball suspended from his neck.
“Do you want to relax for a few minutes before the interview?” I ask, after exchanging greetings.
“Aha,” he mutters, adding that he needs to go to the bathroom also, stealing a look at two schoolmates configuring an Asus laptop computer.
“Just get a Mac, don’t copy the interface,” he says. “When I get back I will give you the speech,” he adds as he excused himself to the men’s room.
On his return you would have thought that he was some public relations personnel for Apple Computers as he makes a case against Windows operating systems. In that conversation, what his wife Jeana Jack says about his being “passionate”, “analytic” and “will talk you to death, if you let him” become quite obvious.
He shares the same passion for what constitutes the “three B’s” that are his interest: Bible study, basketball, and biking.
And, if you ever see this journalism and mass communication student play basketball, you will understand what he, his wife, and basketball buddy Mlungisi “Jabu” Dlamini means when they says that he is a “passionate” person.
However, as far as what meets the eyes is concerned, Jamali Jack may very well be dismissed as pedestrian, notwithstanding his six-foot, lean structure and eyes so bold they seem on the verge of popping out of their sockets.
However, a conversation with this 30-year-old “Christian” man from the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines reveals a personality that is as big as his physical stature. He is as passionate about his own beliefs as he is tolerant of and curious about other opinions.
“I don’t like to be superficial with anything,” he says. “I like to look at an issue from all sides, even the sides that I may not necessarily support. I like to look at it to get a perspective on it,” he adds.
Jack and his curious mind are products of a combination of factors, including his religious beliefs, family, his experiences and getting to know himself.
He speaks of family with a passion and in a manner that hangs on the periphery of canonizing the institution into something sacred.
“One of the things that I really, really believe in is family,” he says. “And I think it is because of how I grew up. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family with mother, father, brother, three sisters,” he says.
He had always appreciated his family; but in 1997, when a cousin told him that he really admired his family, Jack began to treasure in a new way the members of the household to which he belonged.
“When he said that to me, it really struck me that I am really, really fortunate in terms of the family life I have. To me, that is one of the most (important) in terms of things I hold dear.”
Jack describes himself as an analytical person who believes that he sometimes thinks “too much”, sentiments that his wife echoes. “Too analytical sometimes,” she says. He also believes in forgiveness, and, for him, the interaction within a family allows for many opportunities to practise this.
“Family, to me is a group of people who are living together who want the best for one another,” he says.
“You mightn’t always have enough food and you mightn’t always have enough clothes?? But, in a family, you have to just sit back and think what is really important here. It is important for us to be together. Know that we have one another, talk to one another, to share with one another.”
Family, he says, is a place where pleasures are multiplied and burdens shared.
“I remember somebody said this once that when you have joy and you share it, you multiply it; but when you have sadness and you share, you actually divide it. So it’s a lighter load to carry when it is sad and it is a multiplying effect when things are good.
“So the important thing in family is like you love one another, you care for one another, you (are) there for one another. When you really look at it, we live in a very lonely world where a lot of people (are) just looking out for themselves.”
His belief in family was one of the things that caused Jeana to change her mind about living her life as a spinster. “I had been so disillusioned with what I was seeing in men that I didn’t think I would ever find one good enough for me,” she says.
“But very early in our friendship I discovered that Jamali had a perspective on marriage and family that was exactly what I had been searching for.? He revered the importance of family and was passionate about marriage as a lifetime commitment.”
Both of Jack’s parents are civil servants, and he said that his family was “never rich”. For him, the civil service never paid enough and was unappealing.
But while Jack’s parents failed to inspire him to follow them in their choice of career path, they had a deep and positive impact on his perception of marriage and family life.
His conversation testifies of his admiration of his parents’ marriage. Last July, when Jack married the then Jeana Noel, who is also studying here in Taiwan, he began a quest to attain what his parents have.
“I always tell people that looking at my mother and father is what had me thinking from a very young age that I want what they have.”
Jamali speaks of the Bible book of Ephesians and its urgings that a man’s love for his wife should equal Jesus’s love for the church.
“When you really study the relationship between Christ and the church, and it’s spoken of as a husband and his bride. When I think of all the things that He did for the church, all the sacrifices, all the love, all the patience, all these things, and I know that that is supposed to be a reflection of what a husband and a wife is supposed to have. I am thinking to myself that is the Holy Grail on this earth.”
And Jack’s father demonstrated to him that these religious precepts can be practised, even in a contemporary context.
“I always remember my father used to say to us that one of the best gifts a husband could give to his children is to take care of his wife. And that when you have a wife, she is supposed to be more important than even your children because the children will grow up and go away and start their own families, but your wife is supposed to be your life-long partner.”
Jack has a 9-year-old son from a previous relationship. And Jamali often wonders if he could be the father that his father was to him or the husband that his father was to his mother. His son lives in St. Vincent and the Grenadines with his mother with whom Jamali says he still has a good friendship.
“Sometimes I think how I could attain that,” he says.“And not that (my father) was perfect, but being a child living in that household and knowing what I feel, I know that right now I am not projecting that on my son or even my wife.”
Jack demonstrates an understanding that some things come with time.
“(My Father) is in his fifties now. My father got married really young. Actually, my grandmother had to sign for him to get married. He was that young.”
Jack and his twin sister are the second of five children born to his parents and he says his greatest challenge during his formative years was getting to know himself.
“Maybe because in a sense I was a middle child. Having sisters; because they are girls, parents need to be more protective of them. So I was kinda caught in the middle. I always want to try to understand a situation. And it comes out of really trying to understand my own self.”
And while he admits that he does not know himself 100 percent — noting that no one can– Jamali believes that many people don’t take time to know themselves.
In fact, he broke up with his second girlfriend because he felt that she did not know herself well enough.
“The problem with that was that her self-worth was based on how I saw her as opposed to how she saw herself. And I thought that was a very dangerous thing because, what if my impression of her changed? Then it would change her own impression of herself, which I did not want to be responsible for.”
Jack admires his own ability to forgive.
“I just can’t have enemies, for whatever reason,” he says. “I know this might surprise a lot of people because I am a really competitive person. But that comes out of passion. I could compete with somebody really seriously and at the end of it have no ill will against them.”
Dlamini notes that Jack is very competitive and says that this can be both positive and negative since it can inspires teammates to give their best or expect others to perform at a level that is beyond them.
He says that even after intense competition, Jack is “very friendly — surprisingly so — even if you are on the same team and don’t see eye to eye”.
He recounts one day when they had a particularly bad day on the basketball court but Jack offered to accompany him to the Taipei Main Station from Muzha to get a taxi, after Dlamini had realized that he had forgotten his wallet at home and it was getting too late to secure public transportation.
His wife says that that Jack ”believes in absolute truth especially as relates to religious issues; God and family first; tomorrow is another day; things will get done; he who angers you controls you; happiness comes from within; higher education is overrated; feast today famine tomorrow; everyone should find a passion and play a sport”.
And it is that same passion-driven nature that causes Jack to dislike the fact that he “can’t” bring himself to be driven for those things that are probably important to other people but not important to me”.
“They might be important in the grand scheme of things,” he says. “But I usually drag myself along because I have to rather than because I want to. That is a really, really difficult thing for me to do — really, really difficult. Because I am the kind of person who always asks why,” he explains.
Asked what his most significant accomplishment is, Jack says that he is tempted to say his son, but hastens to note that he does not see him as an accomplishment.
He offers, “Am the kind of person who believes in small miracles and small successes, nothing really grand like graduating from school.”
He says that, with the knowledge that he has now, if given the chance to live life all over again, he “definitely would have waited ’til I got married to have a child”, and would have studied Business rather than the Arts at his high school, St. Vincent Grammar School.
He says these two things stand out because it
would be his desire to provide the type of home atmosphere for my son — husband, wife and father, mother, child — that I had because I know how important it was in my life and I know how important it would be in probably any child’s life.
As regards his academic choices, he thinks that of the streams at his high school then, of Business, Arts, Science and Technical-Vocational, “business is the only subject that what you actually do in the classroom is something that you can directly relate to in the working world”.
Asked if presented with a situation where he would lose of all his memory save one, which memory would he choose to keep, Jack says, “Boy. That’s a real difficult question.
“It’s a good question but it is a difficult question,” he further remarks, his speech punctuated by chuckling as he repeats the question to himself.
His eyes search the ceiling; his thoughts given voice in some muttered sounds and repetition of the question.
“Hmm,” he says as he explains that he was trying to think of all the memories and then which one. He finally agrees on July 19 of this year, his wedding day, notwithstanding all the “chaos” of organizing the event.
He wonders, however, if he would opt for that memory because of how recent it was.
“The thing is, there are so many memories that would have had to precede that memory,” he says, mentioning the death of his grandmother, and when Jeana first left to pursue studies in Taiwan four years ago. He also mentions and elaborates on a time last year when Jeana, then his fiancee, had to take a surgery here in Taiwan and was hospitalized and he had to sign, accepting responsibility for the outcome.
“A lot of the memories are about loss, but I think (that) remembering what it feels to lose something does help you to appreciate when you have something.”
If Mrs. Jack were faced with a situation where she loses all memory of her husband save one, she would opt to remember that time when she was hospitalized.
“…He was there all the time,” she says. “He was there just before I went under, he was there when I woke up, and he did not leave my side the whole time, except to go to the bathroom, take a shower, or get us something to eat. He took really good care of me and it confirmed for me that I had found someone who would be there for me always especially when I needed him.”
Jack looks at life as a journey on two levels: physical and spiritual.
“At the end of (my life) I just hope to get to that place where I hope to get to,” he says of his spiritual dimension. “Because in life there are just so many experiences, whether good or bad. And if you could go through all of them, whether good or bad, and then at the end of it end up somewhere you don’t want to, it will be a total waste of time,” he explains.
He says of his mortal existence: “What I am trying to attain in my life is happiness. And I don’t think that happiness is something that you like get to that point. It’s like you are going towards it, so it is a continuous journey. So many things can go wrong (but) in life, you should not let external forces bring you joy. There is a difference between joy and happiness.”