Mark Wignall: Jamaica; Where Paradise Dances with Peril

Jamaica News: Slowly and deliberately immerse yourself in this imaginary scene. You are 45 years old, married, with two children. Life has been good to you even though you know a lot of work went into starting your successful small business.

It is the summer holidays and your daughter has traveled abroad to spend time with her aunt. A long holiday weekend is coming up and you and the wife have decided not to travel abroad for any weekend vacation this year. You opt to book in at a spot in Ocho Rios. It is the Moon Palace and for the two days you will both spend at that all-inclusive resort, it will set you back J$144,000.

You luxuriate in all the pleasures that go beyond sleep, sex, dining, dips in the pool and lying on the beach with the tropical sun well shaded under a large beach umbrella. The workers are constantly helpful, efficient and pleasant.

Who knows, you may nosh on shrimp later and for dinner, a mixture of duck and prime sirloin sounds attractive. Two glasses of wine later, you and your wife are soundly asleep on king-size while the 50 inch TV set watches you both from a wall above the liquor cabinet.


Now, take another imaginary trip but one with a great degree of social and even physical pain. You live in a not-so- sound, board structure in a dense community on the edge of a gully bank. Water supply or, the very lack of it is a key feature of life there. Gunshots in the night no longer occupy your thoughts for more than a moment.

Any problem with garbage collection is instantly solved by you dumping it in the gully. Hopefully the rains will come and make it someone else’s problem. Someone farther down stream.

The girlfriend is ‘acting up’ and you can feel a quarrel coming on later. Who knows, you may even lose your cool and slap her around like you did two weeks ago. You didn’t get the site-work promised you so, you smoke a spliff and begin to think about dinner.

In the little locker in the kitchen there are two tins of mackerel, some mixed flour/cornmeal, a bottle of vinegar and an empty container of soy sauce. With some seasoning, you have identified dinner. Tomorrow will have to take care of itself. You can definitely feel the quarrel coming on.

The All-inclusive model of tourist resort provides individuals with packaged paradise. By Jamaican standards, a weekend stay at any one of the top all-inclusive properties is way out of the reach of that individual usually described as the typical Jamaican.

Which Jamaican is it that can afford a weekend in one of these resorts at anywhere upwards of J$45,000? Certainly not the man peeling the covers off two tins of mackerel for his dinner. That man will live his entire life and never know what it is to be pampered at a ridiculous price.

The ultimate luxury for the poor man and his girl may be an Easter boat ride lasting one evening. Mostly he is reduced to playing dominos with his friends and chasing sex at another community dance.

At New Year, the well-to do man fires off a burst of gunfire in celebration. On the edge of the gully bank that is done too but with guns that have grown familiar with snuffing out lives.

The poor man has been promised another job. To drive a taxi. After giving the man $5,000 per day, he figures he can push hard to take home $4,000 each day. That is, if the police does not get in his way. Mr. Businessman is changing his car. It’s been four years now. And the bank will only require from him $85,000 each month. Just another line item.

Jamaican paradise and peril get to its closest in the fact that rich, poor and those in between all eat ackee an salt fish, stew peas-and-rice and fried fish and bammy. And, we all cuss the same rolls of cloth. And, the rich man sometimes slaps around his wife but the lady is trained to express her pain in subdued sobs.

Generational poverty is peril on steroids. Economic viability and success is a natural stepping stone to paradise. We all want to sleep and dream of a stay at an all-inclusive. For many, the reality is vermin eating their garbage as another day on the gully bank dawns.

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