Absurdity in St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland, Jamaica
Watch this (a little over 10 minutes)
That’s in St. Elizabeth. (You can learn some about Font Hill in this video.)
Now look at this tweet…
…and the attraction that it’s promoting
Look at that beauiful water and hill backdrop. I caught a glimpse of more of this beauty on my last trips home; on the most recent journey though my heart was very heavy I felt it perk up a little and smile when I looked out the airplane window. Look. At. It.
Why is there a monstrosity on the Westmoreland coastline? Why is that monstrosity being used as a lure for the very 500 acre wilderness that it could harm or destroy? I wonder how this entire project…o…never mind. I do not understand why anyone thought that it was a good idea to build a 360 room hotel that is arranged into Italian, Dutch, and French inspired villages? Sooo….folks from Europe visit an island and end up in a place that looks like Europe? No, no, no. Folks from Asia or North America visit an island and end up in a place that looks Europe? O.
As with Portland, it seems that the Government of Jamaica is intent on destroying Jamaica’s environmental resources. And too many Jamaicans do little to stop them. Development is all well and good, in fact it’s necessary for several reasons – provides jobs, improve living conditions and quality of life, improve access to goods and services…many many benefits. There’s not a thing wrong with development. But developing Jamaica does not mean that we must destroy the living space that we have. Yes because those people for whom jobs are apparently being created at places like Sandals Whitehouse or the RIU disgraces still need a healthy place in which to live. Some of them may still need to fish in the waters near their homes, or to have their crops pollinated and by the birds, butterflies, and bees that live in this 500 acre wilderness. The ecological value of Font Hill, Whitehouse, and the surrounding areas seems invaluable and, as is common with the environment, it is linked to other ecosystems. Surprise! Think migratory birds, replenishing, fish populations, filtering the sea, protecting from floods and other water damage…things like that. Yes, let me continue to beat this tree-hugging, green, sustainable, environment loving drum. And I don’t beat it to drown out the cry for jobs or economic development.
Jamaica’s eocnomy is so externally oriented – tourism, export, remittances. What are we building in the country that can sustain the country and its people? I understand that Jamaica doesn’t (and probably cannot) have an economy that provides everything that it needs, certainly not based on current tastes and expectations of the population. But we can do better about the character of these jobs. There’s this problem I have. Something about mostly black service workers working in hotels serving mostly non-black tourists bothers me…rubs me the wrong way. I know that honest work is honest work and shouldn’t be belittled. I’m not doing that. As MLK, Jr. said “all work has dignity.” But I think that work also can and should empower. That image in the Font Hill video of the uniformed lady picking up the little girl on the beach sticks in my craw. Sure she may well enjoy her job and be damned good at it. Good for her. Yet that image, for me, represents this subservient (not mere employer-employee and those inherent boundaries) relationship that too many Jamaicans find themselves in. It’s almost like these kinds of jobs reinforce the socioeconomic and therefore racial and colour hierarchy of Jamaican society. Why is the plan for jobs seemingly only these kinds of jobs? Am I reading too much into this or does it bother you too? In a majority black country it is inevitable that some will work as housekeepers, gardeners, wait staff, customer service representatives…but that should be some, not most. No?
Why wasn’t the plan for development of this area something that could have drawn upon the knowledge that the community has about its surroundings? Upon existing businesses and skills? I was thinking: instead of a European-style spa fronting a 500 acre wilderness why not build something that capitalizes on the wilderness factor and the growing eco-tourism market? Build a smaller structure that is more attuned to the environment, and build it in a way that does not mar a beautiful landscape. Build something that captures the raw beauty of the place. Jobs would have included not only those who worked in the hotel but also guides who could take interested tourists on nature walks or other educational tours throughout these 500 acres; guides who would share their knowledge of the area’s history, geography, and culture. I’ve always thought that Jamaica has a strong oral tradition so use and preserve it (before we lose the people who know). Dare I suggest even developing the small businesses in the area? Improve the area’s existing infrastructure (e.g. fix roads, standardize store fronts) and provide an opportunity for existing or new small business – restaurants, craft vendors, novelty shops, small supermarkets – to thrive and provide their goods and services not only to hotel visitors but also to other Jamaicans who want to explore their country and visit their beaches. A lower environmental impact that could still have a high (more lasting?) yield. And that centre for scientific research and development mentioned in the Font Hill video above sounds good too. So too does a small airport. Create or support an environment that empowers people by leaving them with some control over how to earn a living instead of creating an environment that may very well leave many feeling hard-pressed to look to the
massah at the big house hotel for a living. Just an idea.
Instead a large amount of space is appropriated to create some
hostage all-inclusive experience that necessarily means that most of the profits and other benefits are concentrated in hands of a few. You know those people who are always blamed for harrassing tourists to buy this or that craft, fruit, or vegetable? Leave aside the ones who’re just troublesome or lazy. The remaining may be annoying but do you ever consider that they’re also possibly desperate and simply looking for a way to earn a living? And that they find that hard to do because they have mostly been cut out of the supply and demand chain?
Meanwhile, and again, the very thing upon which this industry is dependent – the environment – is compromised. The incongruence never fails to amaze me.