Yes, Bourdain, there are two Jamaicas.
As I anticipated watching the CNN special as Anthony Bourdain highlighted Jamaica, I thought about what he may really point out. Don’t get me wrong. Although I am an American nurse, I have travelled throughout the different parishes of this beloved island for almost 25 years. I fell in love with the island in 1989, and have visited often ever since. I have tried to vary my vacation spots, but I am drawn to Jamaica even more when I go elsewhere. I was hoping Bourdain would hit the not so ‘touristy’ areas and feature some real people.
He started off by talking about the food during the past slavery days on the island, and how rice and peas, callaloo, breadfruit, and the like were filling and plentiful. Did he have to mention slavery? I was insulted. Moving on, he features a dinner at Trident Villas and Trident Castle with owner Michael Lee Chin, along with Errol Flynn’s extremely handsome and charming grandson Luke, who was born on the island. As I paraphrase Luke’s statement, ‘you have not seen Jamaica until you have seen Port Antonio”, I thought, “Wow, he’s charming!” Then, I slapped myself. I had seen and heard enough. But wait… I had to listen to Chris Blackwell’s description of his Goldeneye resort and how much he loves the island, also. By then I was boiling mad. The only part that made me smile was the ridiculous American with the cowboy hat at Margaritaville. Typical. That, and the ladies at the beach who are fighting to keep their beaches public.
I am glad Mr. Bourdain featured this amazing island on his show. It’s great that Mr. Chin is so wealthy and Errol’s grandson loves Port Antonio, and that Chris Blackwell wants to expand Goldeneye. I buy that. But I say to Luke, YOU haven’t seen Jamaica until you see a Type C hospital scrambling for supplies, nurses, and doctors. As a nurse, I participated in a mission trip to Jamaica two months ago, along with nine other nurses, nurse practitioners, and a physician. The nurse who organizes this trip has been doing it once a year for many years. I had not really seen Jamaica until I saw hospital beds with no sheets; wrist restraints made out of old towels and sheets; and no water pitchers or urinals for patients. Hospitals with only one X-ray machine and NO ultrasound machine for expectant mothers. I asked one of the registered nurses on a medical unit, “what is it that you need the most?” She almost cried when she said, “Everything. We have nothing, you can see that”. The Matron (equivalent to our Director of Nursing) almost cried when she saw the supplies that we donated. The patients needed so much, including service. The waiting room for the emergency room was completely filled, perhaps 200 or more people, and some had been waiting over 36 hours to be seen. I can continue about the lack of basic medical care available to the citizens of Jamaica, but I am saving that for another story.
Americans who visit Jamaica should think about the social injustices occurring prior to booking their luxurious vacations at one of the many all-inclusives. They should actually research the property to find out who owns it. Most hotel workers make the equivalent of $US 80-100 per week, and that may be on the generous side. Is it nice to stay at a Goldeneye villa, where it costs $925 per night? Sure, I bet it is. That amount in one night is more than what the average working Jamaican makes in two or three months. When you stay at Goldeneye, you are contributing to Chris Blackwell’s $180 million fortune. When you stay at a smaller, Jamaican-owned hotel or cottage or bread and breakfast, you are supporting the people who have been struggling to survive. The ones who cannot send their children to school because of the outrageous school fees, lack of transportation, or inability to buy school uniforms. I realize Luke was born there and his family made their home there. However, there are two Jamaicas. I just prefer the other Jamaica. I purchased some Marley coffee recently here in Cleveland, and the taste of the Blue Mountain coffee really hit me as extraordinary. But when I learned that Rohan Marley’s coffee farm pays the employees almost double of what comparable workers make in similar jobs, I will only drink Marley coffee. Amazing coffee and social justice go together.
I prefer the Jamaica where the everyday people greet you with a smile, where the little roadside food stands pile the most amazing food high on a plate for you and welcome you with open arms. Where they struggle with high unemployment, high interest rates, high taxes, yet every day are giving thanks to be alive. Where you can walk along the beach in Negril and the lady who did my hair over a year ago calls out to me by name, hugging me like she did my hair yesterday. Going to the grocery store really angered me when I had to pay 16% tax for food. How does a government do this? How does this beautiful paradise island stand a fighting chance against all the opportunists and foreign investment companies who come in and buy or build massive hotels and resorts, yet their people are hungry, their children cannot attend school for lack of funds, and a college education is a far reach for almost everyone?
I have seen many churches there provide food, clothing, and transportation for their communities. But yet their health care system and many hospitals lack the very basic necessary supplies and manpower needed for a healthy population. ALL people should have access to medical care and medications, and not have to choose between A,B, and C hospitals or what they can afford. Just two days ago my friend had a leg amputated in Jamaica and has to find his own wheelchair! Yet the island collects arrival and departure taxes on each tourist in the amount of almost $50 USD. With the latest estimates at 3 million visitors per year, that tax alone nets $150 million per year. Yet many of the patients we saw on our mission trip (almost 700) cannot afford their basic hypertension and diabetes medications. They split them in half, or take them every other day, to make them last; this also makes them totally ineffective.
If you want to stay at the Trident Castle or at Goldeneye, hey, that’s great and I promise you that you will have the vacation of a lifetime, most likely a few lifetimes. I just prefer to direct my hard-earned money towards the ones who are struggling, who don’t know how they will survive from day to day. Anthony Bourdain spoke about the days of slavery as if they were in the past. Unfortunately for this amazing island and its’ wonderful citizens, those days are not in the past. And it doesn’t appear they will disappear anytime soon.
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