All woman writer
TWELVE years ago, Princess Wallace's husband Junior left Jamaica for the Canadian farm work programme, armed with just one suitcase, and big dreams to buy a house to make his family comfortable in Portmore.
Two years after leaving, they had a two-bedroom, and today their five bedroom home is complete. So is their family.
When Junior left, both Chelsea and Nicholas were in primary school, today another child has been added to the family, and the older two are in the stages of completing high school and college. The only shadow forming over their perfect family, is the fact that their father doesn't live at home.
Nicholas, now 23, and in his final year at university, tells all woman that as a child he had all the things he wanted, and was the envy of the neighbourhood.
"I had a Nintendo, and when PlayStation came in I had the PlayStation, I had bicycles, scooters, anything I wanted, we were never short of anything," he said. "My mother was both mother and father. You should see her mix cement and change the washer in a pipe, she could do anything."
In fact, as Wallace explains, her husband's leaving caused her to become a Jane-of-all-trades, and she soon learnt not only to cook and clean, but to make shelves, paint, do plumbing, electrical work and fix the car when it broke down.
And the companionship: "I had my children, so I never thought about what I was missing. Junior was home for a few days at least once every six months, so I had him then. At other times I just prayed that he'd be safe there, and I was busy raising the children, so I never thought much about what I was missing out on."
It's another spin to the long-distance relationship, these marriage across the world romances, where the bonds are tested by the distance between the couples.
According to Ministry of Labour information, approximately 6,000 Jamaican farm workers went to Canada in 2006, the largest number since the inception of the programme some 40 years ago, and more could go this year. Many who go are married men, who leave behind their families in search of a better life overseas. Others leave on other programmes, through legal and illegal means, ultimately in search of something that's missing at home.
Nowadays, women are joining in the mass exit, leaving their men behind.
Shakeira Brown is leaving Jamaica at the end of this month, destined for Florida on a programme for nurses that will see her employed at one of the hospitals there. She's leaving her husband and five-year-old daughter behind, but believes that the money she will earn in the US will make up for her absence.
"My husband tried and tried but with his job as a cook and mine as a nurse here, we didn't even have enough money most times to pay our rent," she said. "My friend told me about this programme and I applied, now I'm leaving and he fully supports me."
There have been tales of relationships that failed because one partner lives abroad, there are also some people who feel that being married while one partner lives abroad is no marriage at all. But, as our next interviewee admitted, with the right amount of effort and interest on both parts, a long distance marriage can survive the obstacles - as long as you both refresh your memories of why you chose to do it and trust each other.
Kevin Brown has been married for eight years, five of which he spent living in Jamaica with his wife in England. It started, he said, as a mutual understanding where himself, his wife, and their two children would leave for England.
However, things didn't go as planned and so they decided she should go on ahead and he would join her as soon as the paperwork was sorted out. Then came the introduction of the visa to travel to England, and after two attempts to acquire one, he and the children were turned down.
It has been far from easy for Brown, but nonetheless, after five years apart with not one visit, he still thinks of her as his wife.
"At times you think on both sides of the situation. I think about it from her side as well as mine. But we still do stuff together. I don't make any form of investment unless she is involved. So even though she is not physically here, I still consider what we have a marriage," he said.
"We have to remember too that it is not only about us, but about the kids too. Kids make a lot of difference in a marriage."
He added: "Sometimes I sit and just reflect on the good times we had together and that helps to give me comfort. To tell the truth, sometimes I think she might be cheating but sometimes I don't think so."
Infidelity is one of the main concerns in long distance marriages, an issue that's bound to surface the longer the couple stay apart.
For Wallace: "I know he probably has a woman up there but I don't let that bother me. I'd drive myself crazy with that. But I know that he's a man, and that he has needs, especially, as Jamaicans say, when the cold bite you. We never talk about it. I just don't want to know."
Brown has kept himself celibate, but admits that it's hard, and he does feel attracted to other women sometimes.
He tries to be as open with his wife as possible.
"I always told her if she really need to cheat, use a condom and don't have a child for someone else. I wouldn't be able to deal with that, just as much as I know I would never put her through that trauma. If your partner cheats, you can forgive them and move on. But if a child is involved it's harder."
Regarding contact: "We speak every single day. Because I mean its not like she said she was leaving and not coming back or anything like that."
Brown explained that up to a year and a half after she left, he could hardly survive and missed her much more than he thought he would.
"For a year and a half, I couldn't keep a steady job. I changed four jobs within that period of time, none of which lasted beyond six months. I used to always call and ask her if she wasn't coming home. But she would remind me that it is for the best."
In fact, this January they were able to purchase a house together and seven months ago, his wife surprised him by buying him a vehicle. He admits to missing her and looks forward to her coming home before the year ends.
You need trust and communication
Sheri and Bob Stritof, authors of The Everything Great Marriage Book say that being apart "makes a marriage even more challenging".
In an article How to maintain a long distance marriage they say:
1. The key, as it is in all relationships, is communication. Keep the lines of communication open on a daily basis.
2. Being committed to one another and truly believing that your spouse belives in the marriage commitment is vital.
3. A long distance marriage will fail if there is a lack of trust between the partners.
4. Although you are apart from one another, make time for one another. You can do this by sending a letter, an email, writing in a journal, day dreaming about your spouse, or having an ICQ or chat conversation.
5. Share your expectations about being apart from one another. Also share your expectations when you are close to being together again.
6. Be honest about your concerns and fears about your separation.
7. Try to do daily dialogue with each other.
8. Keep a daily journal.
9. Give one another a scented pillow case or shirt to help keep your presence with them.
10. Plan a trip or some fun activity (other than sex) to do when the two of you are back together.
11. Use online communication to send emails, electronic cards, pictures, music, poems, and stories.
12. Camcorders can be great for being able to see one another or your children.
13. Play online games together.
14. Surprise each other once in a while with a phone call. Send care packages to each other now and then.
They also advise that couples do not immediately assume that their partner will cheat because of the physical separation. "Most long distance marriages do not have to deal with this heartache because of the love and commitment the spouses feel for one another," they say. "What you need is commitment, communication, a sense of humour, trust and discipline."