I’m lucky that I get to sample occasionally some of Jamaica’s offerings to tourists. I’m having a few days around Montego Bay, chilling and thinking. I wrote about the exchange rate the other day, and tourism is one part of the other side of the coin that many Jamaicans may not see, but matters. Simply, our declining J$ means that foreign visitors should find it cheaper to come to spend their money on our shores. Whether they spend more in local terms will always be a matter of debate, but the falling exchange rate offers them more chance of thinking they are getting ‘value for money’. Anyway, most of the foreign visitors I meet are so happy to be in Jamaica that I think they don’t factor in the exchange rate much.
But, meeting them opens doors. I was trying to grab a very the makings of an early breakfast yesterday–a few sandwiches and fruit–ahead of a dawn round of golf, and met a family from Canada, with two lovely girls, who were too shy to speak to a stranger. Anyway, I complimented them on their straw-style hats, which I told them looked very Jamaican. As luck had it, the family sat adjacent to me this morning, when I was having my breakfast, so I renewed my conversation. The girls were still shy but I pointed out some things that I thought would make their visit a bit more interesting.
I’d been joined by a small lizard while waiting to hit a shot yesterday, and as is my wont, I grabbed its picture, which I showed to the girls: nature is less intimidating in this way, and they looked fascinated.I talked to them about Jamaican fruit, which I hoped they’d tried: guavas (both pink and white) were on offer. Their mother knew guavas from a restaurant in their home in Toronto. I then got talking about golf courses, because the parents were interested, and I outlined what was nearby and worth trying out. They didn’t take much persuading. They planned to visit Dunn’s River Falls during their week-long stay. They asked about buying coffee: the mother said she needed to get for 70 people in her office. Buy, buy, buy! I pointed out that the Shoppes at Rose Hall had Blue Mountain coffee on sale, or the airport shops should also have. They were set for the day, and maybe the rest of their vacation.
Before that, I had been talking to a man, originally from Honduras, now living in Chicago, having migrated in his early teens, who’d asked me where I was from, and after that asked me about the language people spoke in Jamaica. I explained as best I could how Patois has an English base, but that wouldn’t really help understanding locals. He agreed, after overhearing conversations yesterday. I asked some of the waiting staff to give some examples of how Jamaicans would say “Good morning.” One young man said “Wha’ pree?” His female colleague said “Mawnin’!” I gave the Honduran a little insight to some other phrases that are not so hard to connect to English, but he understood that he needed to hang with a few Jamaicans for a while before getting very far.
Both chance meetings settled on one point of agreement: this is a lovely island. That’s our selling point.
But, contrast that to the surroundings, not far from the rarified world of the major hotels.
Last night, I went to visit a relative who lives in Montego Bay. I don’t know the city well, but never have much desire to get to know it, for all it’s constant mayhem, choked streets, and constant candidacy for ‘grimiest place on the island’.Frankly, Montego Bay is an utter disgrace, given that it sits as a possible showcase for visitors to Jamaica. But, it’s a classic case of bad things Jamaican–unplanned, unruly, unkept, unloved.
As we drove through the city to do a school pick-up, a group of armed JDF soldiers was crossing the street, machine guns in hands.This is part of the ‘boots on the ground’ approach to some of the escalating crime that has afflicted the area. Everyone was going about their own business: taxis loading and unloading, at will; pedestrians striding through traffic to make their way to wherever; hustlers with handcarts and just armed with cell phones jostling for space in and on the streets. Eventually, I got to my destination, one of the hills overlooking the harbour. I sat and chatted with my aunt, whom I’d not seen for too many years. She’s in her mid-80s and still in great health. We looked out at their neighbourhood. She spoke about the many small things that made life harder than it need be:
- The scammers living adjacent, who could be heard making their ‘calls’ all day long, their being raided and taken by police, being bailed, resuming ‘business’, moving away.
- The commercial activities going on in plain sight in the middle of a residential area: sand and gravel works as your daily view is inexcusable. (But, the parish council friends of the sandman, sandbag the citizens.)
- The potholed streets: taxis came and went, and people walked to their homes, dodging the craters that were all over the place.
- The JPS light that works intermittently: we watched it go on and off at will.
But, we tried to enjoy the setting sun as we looked west. It’s a beautiful island, sadly run by some less-than beautiful people who dont care enough to make life as nice as possible for citizens as they do for visitors.