In search of Poinsettias…or so I thought….

“There’s a lady on Church St with the loveliest poinsettias at good prices” she offered.

I was looking for fluffy, good looking poinsettias that wouldn’t  break the bank and a colleague at work tried to help. She too wanted some and we agreed to pay this downtown Kingston vendor a visit. She reassured me that I would get parking (in the JPS parking lot…she had business to do at JPS so we wouldn’t be lying) and that she would direct me.

So at the appointed time, we removed our jewellery (Downtown Kingston, DUH!), grabbed our tiny purses (no need to advertise) and headed out in my car. Traffic was heavy going up Duke St. The commercial district that is Downtown Kingston was a bustle with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. On a regular day, Downtown is a bargain hunter’s paradise. So everyone and their mother trying to maximize their Christmas spend was out in the brilliant December sunshine in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.

The traffic was sluggish and I decided to make conversation as we slowly made our way up the road. You see, my passenger/guide is my co-worker but we’re not close friends, if you understand what I mean.

“So what are your plans for Christmas dinner?” I enquired. Food is always a great place to start as far as I am concerned.

“Well…” she hesitated…“We would normally go to my in-laws, but for the past two years we’ve done nothing.”

There was an awkward pause. But not for long. I sensed a story.

“How come?” I pushed.

She sighed. “Two years ago my sister-in-law was rude to me at dinner, Kelly. I was hurt but I held it in. And I decided that I didn’t need to put up with that ever again.”

As I listened, I sensed that she was conflicted, that she responded the only way she thought she could have, but that she wasn’t comfortable with her own decision.

“So how do your hubby and your kids feel about your decision? Don’t they miss the jollification and family togetherness?” I asked gently.

Another sigh. “I’ve encouraged, I’ve begged them to go without me, Kelly, but they don’t.”

I explained to her that as mothers WE are the nucleus of the family, that everything revolves around us, and that if we aren’t happy, no one else is really happy. Then I felt led to share a story with her.

I told her about my friend Rachel Cunning. I met Rachel on Twitter. She was a thirty something professional who was suffering from Lupus when we met. She was a lively and engaging tweeter, posting links to interesting topics and offering witty comebacks up and down my timeline. She tweeted in passing that she was spending Christmas alone. Immediately I perked up. No one should be alone at Christmas unless they choose to, is my belief, handed down to me by my own mother. Now let me confess, I am not the most sociable person. I am no social butterfly who loves to entertain. Not me, no Siree. But Christmas has always been a time for family and food and fellowship and so I reached out to her. She immediately accepted my invitation to dinner. It was a bit of a logistical challenge for me as she was not mobile and she lived all the way in Portmore, miles and miles away from my Coopers Hill home. But I planned around it, picked her up early, and warned her that she would have to watch me cook and prepare and just spend the day with me. I got a bedroom ready for her in case she needed to rest and took out blankets and socks since Coopers Hill is delightfully cool at this time of the year. I fussed for nothing. Rachel fit right in with the family and we all embraced her immediately. Our other guests came later in the day and December 25 2016 was another warm, enjoyable, fun time.

One Wednesday in early October I spoke to Rachel. She was in hospital but was upbeat that she would be discharged on the weekend. I was supposed to call her that weekend to make arrangements to get something to her later that week or so. I didn’t call her. The weekend passed and on the Monday morning heading out I remarked to Nick that I had to call Rachel “today today today.” Imagine my horror when I saw “RIP Rachel” on my twitter timeline later that Monday morning. Two phone calls later confirmed the worst: Rachel had passed away in hospital the previous evening. 

“Life is short” I told my colleague. “At the end of the day, is whatever you’re holding on to really worth it?

By this time, we had parked and exited the car. All the nice poinsettias were sold off. But I wasn’t disappointed. I had the distinct feeling, almost certain knowledge, if you will, that the drive out for poinsettias was not really about poinsettias, but more about the delivery of a well needed, perfectly timed message to my colleague that could potentially impact her life and her family’s life for the better: something infinitely better than potted plants for my home.

This morning she came in late and came straight to my desk. She was beaming and bubbling as she pulled up a chair.

“I know you were disappointed about the poinsettias, Kelly. But I have to tell you, I think the reason for our little outing was bigger than poinsettias.”

She shared how late into the night she wrestled with the challenge I offered her. She felt compelled to reach out to her sister-in-law to resurrect family dinner on Christmas day. She had discussed it with her husband and children and they all eagerly encouraged her to reach out. They were in full support. She eventually Whatsapped her sister at 7:30 this morning and almost immediately her phone rang. Sister-in-Law was on the other end, happy and eager to pick up where they had left off two years ago. My colleague told me that she felt a great weight off her shoulders and lightness in her heart. She was excitedly working out menu plans and best of all, the family was going to be together for Christmas. She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she had done the right thing. I have a feeling that this Christmas will be a very special Christmas for that family.

Is there a fractured relationship that you need to address? Christmas is as good a time as any to deal with it. 

Is there a lonely person in your circle that you can include in your plans? Christmas is a great excuse to intrude. 

Are you the lonely one? Are you the hurt one? I am sorry for your pain and hurt. I encourage you to reach out. You’d be surprised at the welcome waiting for you at the end of that call or text message. 

Here’s to an abundance of love and happiness this Christmas. 

Courtesy Marion Ann


 

Jamaica Exotic Mushrooms

I love mushrooms. I can eat them raw, sauteed in butter by themselves, cooked up with bacon, perched atop a thin crust veggie pizza (yum!), paired with tender chicken in a creamy sauce…you get the picture. Typically, mushrooms in Jamaica are premium offerings, imported and resold at high prices in the more upscale supermarkets. But in the early ’90s, there was a local project that saw oyster mushrooms produced by small farmers in rural Jamaica available on supermarket shelves. They were different from the typical button and portabella mushrooms that I was familiar with, but they were half the price and they were fresh and I lived for the times when they made their appearance. I can’t recall the details on the project that brought this exotic food local. It could have been RADA or JADF (Think inland shrimp farming, ornamental fish rearing, bee keeping,small farmer orchid production in Yallahs, cassava and tobacco farming, greenhouse agriculture…some of the more well known agriculture based projects that were initiated with the aim of transforming lives & communities. Too bad scaling up seems to elude us. I stand to be corrected). They soon ceased to be available, much to my dismay. There’s that scaling up issue again.

Over the years I have mourned their absence until a few weeks ago when I stumbled across an article in the local papers signalling a new project and the availability of locally produced oyster mushrooms again! Oh happy day! I immediately went to the Facebook page indicated in the article and enquired. Production was happening in Manchester. Were they available in Kingston? Where? How much? I eventually got a response stating that deliveries were going to be made in Kingston on Nov 16, please place orders at a specific email address. So I did. The minimum order would be a half pound at J$2500.00. More later on the pricing.

 On Thursday I got an email indicating the approximate time of delivery and in the afternoon, the front desk at my office called me advising me of a delivery for me. I rushed out and was greeted by an elegant woman, with a slightly foreign accent, with 2 boxes and 2 jars for me. She introduced herself as Pauline Smith with a firm handshake, instructed me to immediately place the still warm and oh so beautiful mushrooms in cool storage, uncovered!, she was careful to admonish. She also said that as a first time customer I was getting two new products to try on one condition, that I give her feedback. The jars were labelled as mushrooms in bamboo vinegar. I was intrigued.

Look at that! Fresh and beautiful. One half pound of pale creamy and delicate salmon coloured mushrooms
Same label, but two different products I think. One had smaller bits with a firmer texture, and one had larger softer pieces.

I asked her to tell me more about this project. She explained that she was part of a cooperative aimed at empowering women and attacking rural poverty. She explained how they had worked to demystify mushroom cultivation and evolve a system where it become a plug and play endeavor. They had developed starter kits, very little land space was required, and that value added products was seen as the real value added side of this industry. Oh wow! I was intrigued. I love food. I love food innovation. And woman empowerment was simply the icing on the cake. Absolutely.

Pauline gave me more strict instructions on how to use the jarred products. “The mushrooms are a great meat substitute” she advised. “Simple use a little virgin coconut oil or sesame oil, sautee the product straight from the jar and then add a little of the vinegar it’s preserved in at the end.” “Oooh” I rejoined. “So it’s like an escoveitch then” I asked excitedly? “Not really…” she replied. “It’s more like a…like a…” she searched. “Like Thai food!” I jumped in as a light bulb went off. “That’s it exactly!” she agreed. I knew that I was in the presence of real foodie. Hey, Sis 🙂

I put my treasures in my igloo that I keep under my desk (don’t ask…I do, and it has come in handy on multiple occasions) and on cloud nine, I went home that evening my head swimming with all the ways I was going to enjoy my mushrooms.

On Friday evening I decided to have a light supper of lettuce roll ups. I put slices of ham and chicken processed slices in lettuce leaves, added cream cheese, olives, onions, pepper sauce and some of the mushroom pieces pickled in the bamboo vinegar and rolled them up. Delicious! These mushroom pieces were crisp and slightly sweet and went well with the other ingredients in my roll ups.

On Saturday morning I tried the preserved mushrooms in exactly the way she advised. I used sesame oil. The end result was a meaty, slightly sweet perfect side accompaniment to my bacon and hard-boiled egg breakfast. I imagined that it would also be perfect in a 100% veggie stir-fry creation that included baby corn, onions, sweet peppers and broccoli. Yum! My family concurred. Definitely a winner.

Oyster mushrooms picked in bamboo vinegar, sauteed in sesame oil, a little of the bamboo vinegar added at the end.

Don’t mind the shape of my eggs. It’s magic! The mushrooms were a delicious part of my breakfast.

For dinner, I decided to make chicken and mushroom in a cream sauce. Perfection! These oyster mushrooms have a meaty texture and they were so fresh and unblemished and unbruised (is that even a word?) unlike the imported options we have that have been cold storage for sooooo long and are soooooo far away from their origins. The end result was a delicious, easy to make meal that we all enjoyed.

I sauteed the cut up mushrooms with onions in my wok.

After stir-frying boneless, skinless chicken thighs, I added the sauteed mushrooms and onions. Fresh ginger, loads of fresh garlic, heavy cream, a dash of freshly grated nutmeg and fresh parsley brought it all together.

I served the chicken and mushrooms with a garden salad, and stir fried chayote and zucchini. All locally grown.

I did a little digging of my own. I visited Pauline’s Facebook page (she accepted my friend request), I visited her cooperative’s website and I read two Gleaner articles on her movement here and here. What I came away with is this: Pauline and her team have a vision. A great vision, that, if realised in full, will see women with an option for economic independence, a new healthy addition to our food options locally, an opportunity for exciting new food innovations with mushrooms as the base, and hopefully an abundance of fresh mushrooms at a reasonable price in supermarkets, so I can enjoy one of my favourite foods with ease. Like so many similar projects, this one seems to have had its problems: in-fighting, funding, support, etc. But they’re still going. Pauline has had her own health challenges, but she’s still going. And they’re working hard to spread the message. At a recent event at Devon House, they were fully present, selling “grow-kits” to allow people to grow their own mushrooms in their kitchen! I’d love to try that.  

Now, I work in the food industry…commercial manufacturing and distribution. So I always think commercial viability of any food innovation. Was the J$2,500.00 value for money? Perhaps…these are organic, fresh offerings delivered to my door. I haven’t done the gram for gram comparison with the imported  options. And maybe I shouldn’t. But premium-offerings consumers are a niche market, and there is still a mass market out there who think out-of-pocket-spend instead of premium-and-healthy and may be put off by such a huge outlay. The mushroom project will ultimately choose their target demographic and proceed accordingly. I wish them every single success. 

I have another tray of fresh mushrooms left and I am conspiring to sautee them with garlic and veggies and enjoy. By myself. No easy feat in house of foodies. Selfish? Yes. Without apology 🙂 #causeImworthit.

Tourist Harrassment: Not in a Vaccuum

Published in the Daily Gleaner July 11 2017

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/commentary/20170711/kelly-mcintosh-tourist-harassment-not-vacuum

Your July 7 edition carried a report with a damning headline: ‘Major cruise lines pull out of Falmouth Port’. The report went on to detail that three ships had decided to omit Falmouth from their itineraries in the upcoming season and that this would cost the town $5 million per month in lost revenues. Tourist harassment was cited as a major factor in their decision to leave us out. The mayor of Falmouth has said that he is working closely with stakeholders to address the issue.
I imagine that the harassment is along the lines of taxi drivers and tour operators and vendors trying to woo visitors off the ships to spend their money with them. Imagine that you are a visitor to this island. This wooing is likely to take the form of a relentless verbal assault, as it were, cajoling you to look and buy in an environment unfamiliar to you. Perhaps you don’t even understand what is being said, but the tone and body language and posturing have now converted what should have been a leisurely stroll into an excursion into hell, where all you want to do is get back to the relative safety of your cabin.
Now put yourself in the place of the average citizen who resides here driving to work in the morning. You stop at the red light, and one or two or even three windscreen wipers swoop down on you. They yank up your wiper blades before you cyaan even mouth a polite “no thanks” and insist on cleaning your windscreen, turning abusive when you indicate helplessly that you have no money to give them. The abuse is verbal (“Yuh too mean, Mummy!” or “Yuh a gwaan like yuh betta dan people!) and is sometimes physical, damage being inflicted directly to your car.
Or let’s say you commute using public transport. You enter the bus park (pick any one), and immediately, the ubiquitous loader man approaches you, verbally assaulting you with a running commentary on how nice you look, and he knows where you are going, and this is the bus you must take, all the while holding your arm and dragging you to his’ bus, literally shoving you into the vehicle.
The emotional and physical strain and the ever-present possibility of personal danger associated with anticipating and dealing with the harassment meted out by windscreen wipers and loader men are not insignificant, and many of us choose our routes specifically to avoid this sort of trauma. I understand the cruise ships’ decision. Too easy.
It is important to understand why this harassment happens in order to eradicate it. There will never be enough police to arrest every single harasser and keep would-be harassers in check. The craft vendors, tour operators and guides, windscreen wipers, and loader men all do what they do out of need. They are grabbing on desperately to the only chance they have identified to provide for themselves and their dependents.

SELECTIVE BENEVOLENCE

Their relentless assault, though, that aggressive push and determination to make you accept and pay for a service/product that you do not need, is directly linked to the culture of patronage that political leaders have fostered. This practice of selective benevolence, meted out to some of the many existing in a state of depravity instead of creating the environment that allows the collective to level up, has perpetuated the fight for scarce benefits and spoils.
Recipients of the largesse are envied by the overlooked, and the resulting resentment feeds a sense of entitlement. “Why not me?” I imagine that the harassers don’t see themselves as harassing, per se. I imagine that this is how they process the situation: “I need. You have. I ought to have. Take what I am offering you and give me some of your money in return.” The harasser’s need trumps any other variable in the dynamic.
Where development plans are crafted and executed, excluding and ignoring the very real need that exists in communities, rest assured that the justification that I have just outlined will prevail. Until patronage is replaced with enabling, until observing and craving are replaced by real participation, tour operators, vendors, windscreen wipers, and loader men will continue to do the only thing they feel they can do to survive.
It is late in the day to halt, and then reverse, these dysfunctional cultural paradigms that have formed and become entrenched through the years of our national development. But to give up now is to accept defeat. We need our leaders to craft and enact developmental plans in harmony with local communities. It can be done.

– Kelly McIntosh is a procurement manager. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kkmac218@gmail.com.

Millenial Apathy?

Published in the Daily Gleaner September 2016
http://beta.jamaica-gleaner.com/article/commentary/20160928/kelly-mcintosh-millennial-apathy

This past weekend, a popular talk-show host, in response to the alarming reports of a rapidly increasing murder rate in our Second City, Montego Bay, shared her thoughts of frustration and alarm in a series of tweets. She suggested some crime-fighting strategies the State could adopt and she called upon students in our tertiary institutions to protest and march, as a stand, I suppose, against what was happening and as a call to change: “Where are the students of University of the West Indies, University of Technology Jamaica, University College of the Caribbean, etc, … you should be staging islandwide demonstration to force the government to act NOW on crime.”
The millennials on my timeline responded. And they appeared, for the most part, to reject in full the talk-show host’s rallying cry.
Others on my timeline, closer to my age (not millennials), bemoaned the apparent apathy of the younger generation and were quick to call them self-absorbed, shallow and apathetic.
I think it is important, though, to go beyond mere labels and seek to understand why this younger generation appears to have no fire in their bellies.
First of all, our millennials are products of Jamaica. What they are today is informed by what they have seen around them for several years now.
One millennial rejected the call to march, stating very definitively that she is not interested in “empty symbolism”. Why empty? Why merely symbolic?

LACK OF LEGITIMACY

The State lacks legitimacy. Our young people see chaos and loss of life when the State, when it suits it, reneges on international agreements on extradition. They see the State failing to fill the void created with the extraction of the don from the community and the resulting upswing in crime. Justice looks different depending on who you are, who you know and where you come from. They see this. They see laws being passed in record time when pressure is applied from alien nations to which we are beholden.
They see governments applying fiscal discipline only when a foreign third-party holds the handle. They hear about kickbacks on national capital projects and then hear nothing more about investigations and repercussions. Coupled with this, they see a reluctance on the part of the powerful and those who want to be powerful to speedily enact campaign-financing legislation.
Our millennials face high unemployment. They see a glorious picture of their country in the document that is Vision 2030, and no further reference to the vision going forward. They hear talk, talk and more talk, but see preservation of the status quo, which excludes them and excludes real improvement unless those with power stand to benefit.
Their apparent apathy is possibly simply a rejection of our preoccupation as a nation with form and appearance at the expense of real substance.
Jamaica reached where we are under our watch. Why do we, therefore, expect our young people to rise up and push back now? They are simply modelling our own behaviour.
Do all Jamaican citizens have an equal voice? Is enforcement of the law predictable? Are our authorities seen to be fair? To answer any of these questions in the negative is to support the argument that the State lacks legitimacy.
Our young people will continue to demonstrate this so-called apathy, being true to our own example in allowing governance lacking legitimacy.

The Link Between (Dis) Order and Crime

Published in the Daily Gleaner June 16 2017

http://beta.jamaica-gleaner.com/article/letters/20170616/disorder-fuelling-crime

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Once upon a time, The Organisation was losing millions of dollars per year in inventory variances. The main warehouse was a mess. Antiquated processes, haphazard putaway systems, zero accountability with receivals, and poor management making collusion too easy were the status quo.
With obscured visibility, both literally (goods were placed randomly and without order within the warehouse) and because of the inaccurate data on the system, thieves had a field day. They deep-dived under the chaos and enriched themselves.
Then one day, we planned and executed an operational turnaround. An automated warehouse management system was instituted and warehouses were racked and binned. New ways of operating led to visibility and accountability. Inventory variances all but disappeared. With the imposition of order, lawlessness had no context in which to flourish.
What if Kingston were clean? What if litterbugs were prosecuted?
What if the horrible, brutish taxi drivers who create third lanes were prosecuted under the law?
What if traffic violations, regardless of perpetrator, were always prosecuted?
What if schools partnered with the police force and the Transport Authority to get our children awaiting buses in the HWT Transport Centre to comport themselves with dignity and decorum?
What if justice was equally swift, regardless of brown or black skin, or address?
What if the flow of raw sewage below Torrington Bridge was dealt with as quickly as if it were flowing in Kingston 8?
Would the crime statistics in Jamaica change?
KELLY MCINTOSH
kkmac218@gmail.com

Jamaica Road Trip to Belmont, Westmoreland.

If you’ve ever driven to Negril via the South Coast, you would have driven along a coastal stretch in Westmoreland overlooking the bluest water you’ve ever seen. That area is an idyllic seaside community aptly named Bluefields. Back in December, the entire family took a trek to Peter Tosh’s grave in Belmont, Westmoreland (H claims that he is a relative of the late, great Tosh…antecedents from Westmoreland like Tosh, same surname..who am I to argue. I’m just along for the Road Trip!).

Jamaica road trip. Legalize marijuana banner at the home of Peter Tosh.
It’s legal now! A “Legalize marijuana” banner at the home of Peter Tosh.
Peter Tosh’s Yard

 

Resting Place of the Late Great Peter Tosh, Reggae Icon
Resting Place of the Late Great Peter Tosh, Reggae Icon
Peter Tosh’s Grave

Belmont is a tiny seaside community that literally runs into Bluefields. So to call that entire stretch of white sand and blue waters Bluefields is understandable and forgivable.

Anyhows, let’s back up. I had a desire to spend the Easter weekend out of town this year. And so in January I started my research. I had some must haves:

  • I must be right on the sea
  • I must have WiFi
  • I must have a fridge
  • It must fit within my budget

I knew I didn’t want an all-inclusive vacation spot. I’m at the stage of my life where I don’t join lines for food. The children are old enough to eat on schedule. And I know exactly what I want to drink. Simple. I just need ice, Wray and Nephew White Rum, Appleton VX, Tonic Water, Coconut Water and Ginger Ale. I don’t need to be jostling and competing for a shady spot around the pool and I most certainly do not need an enthusiastic play-maker coaxing me to do the Dollar Wine. I also knew I didn’t particularly feel for the oh so convenient, predictable and almost luxurious Silver Sands villas of Trelawny experience (our summer break of choice). I also could not afford the USD800.00 and upwards per night for exquisite villas along the south and west coast of Jamaica that exist. I kept coming back in my mind to beautiful Belmont. My interest had been piqued since our December pilgrimage to H’s famous ancestor. Rustic (BUT WITH WIFI OF COURSE!) & unknown to me is what I was going for.

Luna Sea Inn, Belmont Jamaica

I logged into Air BnB and after many,many, many hours of searching and consideration settled on a newly refurbished inn called Luna Sea Inn, right in Belmont. It checked all my boxes.  We would be a party of 5, with kids ranging from 21 to 5. I booked the cottage which could sleep 5. There was a fridge, there was cable TV and there was WiFi. Luna Sea was right on the sea and while there wasn’t an ideal swimming beach, swimming spots were within walking distance, and they had a tiny pool. The booking included breakfast and the room came with a fully stocked coffee station. Yes!

So we arrived Saturday midday. We were checked in, no problem, given welcome rum punches (juices for the younguns, a Red Stripe for the 21 yo) and we settled in. The cottage was obviously a caretaker accommodation in a previous life, but the new owner (a retired American doctor lady) had done her best to make it habitable. It was clean enough, had AC & smart TVs in each room. BUT someone had not ensured that all was well before handing the room over to guests and we discovered that the fridge wasn’t working, neither was one of the TVs. On the bright side, there was a large day-bed just outside the cottage, under a shady almond tree, six steps away from the rocky area where waves crashed relentlessly. I was in Paradise.

View from the Cottage at Luna Sea

 

 

View from the day bed at Luna Sea

 

Another view from the day bed at Luna Sea

Intrepid adventurers that we are, we had packed snacks, juice, water rum, more rum, chasers of all kinds, mangoes, Easter bun, cheese, salad fixings, pickles and a roasted chicken and ice. And we had 2 igloos. Broken fridge? Ha! Bring it!

We explored the small but well kept property. The adults settled down with cocktails, the kids logged on to their various devices and in between games and surfing the world wide web, walked down the rocky steps and found crabs, sea urchins and various forms of marine life dwelling in the rocky outcrop.

That night, we decided to check out the famous Dor’s Crab Shack, a 2 min drive down the road, billed as the best place to eat in Belmont, apparently famous for stuffed crab backs. It was totally devoid of patrons when we pulled up after 6pm and we were informed that only fried chicken and shrimp were available. Oh…and they don’t take cards, only cash. Bummer. We decided to drive into White House, the nearest town, and after checking at the main gas station for recommendations for places to sit and eat, we still came up blank. The one restaurant that looked like we could sit and have a meal was closed off that evening for a private party. Sure there were jerk vendors and roadside fish vendors, but road food with nowhere to sit is not the most convenient way to feed a 5 yo. So reluctantly we headed back to Dors. Truth be told, the fried chicken and curried shrimp we had there were delicious…well seasoned, nicely presented and of course nothing beats eating right on the white sand with waves gently breaking. The food was inexpensive and filling and tasty. Only cash was accepted.

Breakfast the next morning at Luna Sea was an event. They bungled our order and despite apologetic, well meaning staff, there was once again the absence of management and a missing service standard which resulted in a sub-par experience. The food was tasty enough when we finally got it: a fresh fruit plate, good coffee, and your choice of Jamaican or American style breakfast. Nice. We had ackee and saltfish, seasonal fruits, pancakes, bacon and omelettes.

My Tribe waiting for Breakfast at Luna Sea

Fellow Jamaicans staying in a nearly suite (those rooms are more updated than the cottage…I know because I am nuff and asked a cleaning lady to allow me to view an empty room) told us that they had actually driven into Negril for dinner and pointed us to the excellent public beach just a minute down the road. We finalised our plans for Sunday! We would go for a dip in said public beach and then we’d drive to either Negril or nearby Black River in the adjoining parish for dinner. I had planned to dine at Luna Sea, but after the near catastrophe that breakfast was (did I tell you that the card machine stopped working at breakfast?) we decided to dine off-property.

Before I tell you how awesome dinner was and where we dined, let me pause to make some observations about Belmont, Westmoreland. So you already know that dining options were limited, despite it being a fishing area. You already know that cards are meaningless in this area. So walk with cash, inconvenient though it may be. But what we noticed that day on the public beach was a relative plethora of young Caucasians, obviously staying in Belmont, hanging with locals, smoking ganja, eating local street food, absorbing the vibe. An obviously impoverished area still had enough to attract visitors! There was a tree house type establishment right on the beach with a trap set and speakers where H discovered people jammed after dark. The air in the tree house, even in the afternoon, was thick with ganja smoke, not conducive I think to family togetherness, but obviously attractive to a particular demographic. Surely it is possible to maintain the authentic, rustic vibe without being pop-down and limited in the offerings to a wider demographic. Food for thought, Jamaica Tourist Board?

Cloggy’s for Fish, Black River Jamaica

Google maps told us that it was a mere 23 minute drive from Luna Sea Inn to Black River. That evening, we  headed to Cloggy’s on the Beach in Black River. We had eaten there before and were sure that we would be able to get a good fish dinner right on the beach. And we were not disappointed. We selected huge snapper fish and told them how we wanted them prepared: escoveitch and brown-stewed with festivals and bammy were the order of the day. Once again we had to pay in cash (bummer!), then we took our seats in a raised gazebo overlooking the Black River coastline. Simply beautiful.

Cloggy’s At Sunset. Photo Credit: Rachael McIntosh

We (happily) observed that Cloggy’s had spent some money fixing up their dining area and cleaning up the surroundings since last we were there. And bonus! It was Sunday night, also billed as Karaoke Night at Cloggy’s. Woo-hoo! We got our perfectly done fish meals, cold beers and drinks and Yours Truly made a perfect fool of herself participating in karaoke! Bellies full, still laughing, we left Cloggy’s a very happy, satisfied crew. I should note that while we were waiting on our meals, two potentially distressing things happened: the DJ turned up the volume waaay too loud. H had a quiet word, and that ended well. And then motor cyclists, almost like a gang, with their bike mufflers removed, kept riding in to Cloggy’s revving and being a general nuisance. Thank God they eventually left.

Waiting for Dinner at Cloggy’s on the Beach, Black River
Brown Stewed Snapper Fish with veggies and bammy

The disparity between Belmont and Black River was obvious: both sleepy seaside towns, but Black River had more activity going on, more options for a wider range of visitors.

We ended our weekend out west by taking the scenic, easy route over the hills into St. James, to drop our daughter back to school. I have no regrets at choosing Luna Sea Inn, and you know what? I’d go back. With better on the ground management, that spot right at the edge of Paradise could be an absolute gem. The rates are more than reasonable, the location is perfect and the intentions are righteous.

A bus with tourists pulled into Luna Sea the Sunday afternoon we were there. H & I were sitting under the almond tree, sipping rum and reading, the waves were crashing on the rocks a mere six steps away. The children were crab hunting. One of the tourists who had disembarked remarked wistfully: You have the perfect spot! And you know what? She was perfectly correct. She was part of a group of bird watchers and I was able to point her to some nesting chicken hawks in the almond tree shading us.

I knew that I was part of a picture perfect postcard: sparkling ice cold rum drink in one hand, kindle in the other hand, feet up on the huge day-bed, in the middle of a pretty garden, with the blue Caribbean Sea providing the soundtrack only feet away. I did indeed, have the perfect spot.

 

 

Road Trip Jamaica rum, sun and sea at Luna Sea Inn
Rum, Sun and Sea in Belmont, Jamaica

 

Jamaica Road Trip Saturday: Lacovia & Treasure Beach St. Elizabeth

I needed to leave Kingston. I needed to see the sea. I needed to inhale vistas far removed from my normal life view. Ahhh…the magic of a road trip. So we agreed. Saturday, we’d depart home at 9am and head west. We’d take the kids to the Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia St. Elizabeth and then head south from there for sea, food and rum at Jack Sprat in Treasure Beach. We figured we’d return to Kingston between 8 and 8:30 pm. Fantastic. All we’d take is swimming things, drinks, water and snacks. Two stops for ice and cash before leaving Kingston were all that was needed. Off we went!

Decided to get gas in Osbourne Store, Clarendon as that is one of the 3 cheap gas spots in the island. The other two are Heroes Circle and Portmore just as an FYI. Well the PetCom in Clarendon is apparently closed! I’m still peeved that NOBODY on my Twitter timeline knew and found it necessary to tweet this reality before hand! THIS is information that would really make Twitter useful! I knew that the closure of the PetCom would put pressure on the other 2 gas stations in the area. And sure enough, a stop for gas at the Total a few miles on, turned out to be a 20 min wait. And I had no alternative. I bravely (or stupidly) left Kingston with a quarter tank of gas ’cause I’m cheap and I wanted to fill up on Clarendon’s cheap gas. Anyhoos, I filled up (a mere $3,700.00 for my small car!) and we headed out. It was a beautiful sunny day, traffic was light, nuff Babylon was on the road, and motorists for the most part were behaving themselves. We made a pit stop at the top of Spur Tree – are male bladders smaller than female bladders? Then we pressed on west with the best of ’80s dancehall torturing the kids perhaps, but creating idiots of the adults in the front seat as we pretended to be Super Cat and Jose Wales and Johnny Osbourne. Good times!

Let’s back up a bit though… Years ago we attempted to go to Jamaica Zoo but when we got there they turned out to be closed. Control Freak that I was (am!) I had a melt down of epic proportions when I realized that my plan and schedule were completely derailed. I am better these days at defining a Plan B upfront and quickly moving on when plans go awry. Nonetheless, in making good on promise to my Bonus Boy made 2 years ago to take him to Jamaica Zoo, I tried to nail down a firm plan by calling ahead to verify opening hours and admission rates and so on. Zero luck. Their social media presence appeared dated and their listed numbers rang without answer or went straight to voice mail. I left messages. No responses. I tweeted the Jamaica Tourist Board account to find out if they were open and no response. Not one to back down, I told H that we’d still head there, and if they were closed we’d simply keep on plan and head south to Treasure Beach but look for fishermen fixing their pots and hopefully hauling in a catch on the fishing beach and turn that into a look-see lesson in Agriculture and Community for the kids. Fantastic.

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo Stop #1

So we get to the zoo. There were signs that ensured we wouldn’t get lost. Good. We pulled up to the huge signed entrance that let us know were had arrived. But the expansive parking lot was empty and overgrown. “Lawx dem lock again!” I groaned. I drove on still, just following the road through all the various opened gates. We drove past a kiddies play area with slides, swings and sea saws. Empty and overgrown. We pressed on and as we went round a bend I saw about 5 vehicles parked on a trimmed grassy area. Ok! Signs of life! We slowed down and pressed on. A smiling young lady with a signed shirt stepped out and welcomed us, confirming that they were open. Awesome! We parked and got out, we were escorted to the reception area where we paid $1,500.00 per adult, $1000.00 per child. This is where that cash stop came in handy as they don’t take cards at Jamaica Zoo.

We spotted a horse, a donkey and a llama from where we were. We saw about 6 beautiful parrots in a nearby tree. Nothing else. Empty stalls and half-finished infrastructural works were all around us. It is a beautiful, expansive property that has an abandoned, pop-down feel. But it was a beautiful day, and we remained curious and relaxed. Our timing appeared perfect as we were immediately invited to take a seat in an arranged area in preparation for what appeared to be a briefing about the zoo. There was a sound operator on a laptop who moved quickly through well chosen, all be they LOUD musical selections (she was on a high stool, completely visible to all) in support of our narrator, a tall, I think Cuban, who it turns out, was our guide to small animals that we would be allowed to touch. It was a catchy, high energy presentation that flowed well if a tad rehearsed, and the children in particular enjoyed the opportunity to touch and have their pics taken. Our group was about 15 in all, and you can imagine that after you’ve gotten your chance to touch and have your pic taken, it becomes a bit of a drag to sit in the church like arrangement while the others go through the same procedure again and again. There was a bounce about across the way from the show, so in between animals, I allowed Bonus Boy to go frolic. And I walked around looking at the parrots and llama and horse enjoying the breeze. That segment took at good hour. We saw and touched a snake, an iguana, a rabbit, a donkey, a crocodile and guinea pigs. The kids loved it all!

Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo
Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo: Waiting patiently
Where we sit for the interactive petting session

Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo
Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo
A matter scaling to fit…

Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo Bounce About
Bounce about at Jamaica Zoo
A bounce about which was a hit with the kids

Jamaica Road Trip Jamaica Zoo Petting session
Jamaica Road Trip: Petting Session at Jamaica Zoo
Our animated guide through the petting session

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo. Petting Session with Snake
Who’s afraid of Snakes? Petting Session at Jamaica Zoo.
I refused to look at the snake. Ugh.

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo Petting Session with Iguana
He’s not afraid! Petting Session with Iguana at Jamaica Zoo
Little Master completely at ease.

 

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo. Little Boy with Snake
Petting Session at Jamaica Zoo. I’m scared but that won’t stop me!
Not to be outdone by Big Bro, Bonus Boy eventually found the courage to participate.

 

Jamaica Road Trip: Jamaica Zoo. Man with crocodile.
Jamaica Zoo Petting session: If they can do it so can I!
Big Daddy got in the action having been inspired by Us.

El Director handed over to a smiling young woman named Paula who explained to us that she would be taking us on a walking tour to see their other animals. She was calm, pleasant and knowledgeable. The children very easily gravitated towards her. We saw 3 ducks, 2 crocodiles, 4 pigeons, the horse, the llama, 2 spider monkeys, 4 Capuchin monkeys, a zebra and 2 lions. It was a pleasant walk around a gently sloping compound and the kids got to feed the horse, llama, pigeons, ducks and monkeys.

I’ve deliberately told you the number of each animal so you can get a sense of the scale of the operation. It was obviously designed to be a grand affaire, but what obtains now is certainly not the vision at conception. The huge scale of the physical plant makes the actual small operation feel kind of derelict and abandoned in parts, and we quickly recognized that to retrofit the operation and bring it all down to a more cosy, controllable physical space would take money. Perhaps adding cabins and a camping site and converting some of the land to the cultivation of cash crops and having a monthly farmers market would inject life and energy and help to sustain the operation which truth be told, appears to be limping along.

We heard the lions roar as one of the groundsmen provoked him by banging on his cage with his machete. I didn’t like that part much. Neither did my Bonus Boy who hours after expressed concern to me and wondered if the lion had eaten the bad man teasing them. The lonely zebra in his enclosure made me sad. Who wants to be alone…  Lonely looking animals in cages make me saddish too. But as H said what do you expect at a zoo. C’mon. It is a beautiful site though, and one that I would spend time at, relaxing under the grand old shady trees that are everywhere. I am sorry to see any attraction on my island go underutilized and at risk of closure.  The staff at Jamaica Zoo are wonderful, pleasant and engaging people and I hope that something changes soon so that more people can make a living there, so the animals can live happily and comfortably, and so visitors and locals can have a real option for recreation and entertainment.

Road Trip Jamaica: Treasure Beach next stop!

Driving south was easy. Google maps told us it would take 25 min from Lacovia to Treasure Beach. It took about 45 min as the road was bad in spots. Not bad I-Need-A-4WD for this, but bad-lemme-slow-down-and-avoid-or-go-through-these-pot-holes-carefully. There were many many small plots of tobacco being cultivated in Burnt Savannah. Interesting! I’m accustomed to seeing plots of thyme and escallion and peppers and cabbage and melons and tomatoes growing all over South St. Elizabeth, replacing the front lawn in many, many instances. But never tobacco. Perhaps they are part of Carreras‘ new tobacco contract farmer programme, aimed at diversifying their product offerings…think “grabba” + ganja.

Peeping at tobacco growing in a front yard in Burnt Savannah

Jack Sprat in Treasure Beach

After a beautiful drive through rolling, cultivated landscapes we caught sight of the sea and soon enough, we pulled up at Jack Sprat, the restaurant affiliated with Jakes Hotel, run by the Henzel family. You can check out their cultural roots and history here. 

Road Trip Jamaica Jack Sprat Treasure Beach
Jack Sprat, Treasure Beach, Jamaica

Road Trip in Jamaica: The Food!

This is where I really exhaled, and truth be told, was the real aim of this road trip. Jakes and Jack Sprat are one the pioneers of Community Tourism, and their patrons are those who seek an experience that allows them to be a part of the community and true local vibe. Located right on the sea, you enter and place your order at the bar. The menu is written on the board and prices are fair and reasonable. A pleasant staff member took our order and told us just pick a seat anywhere and she’d find us shortly with our food and drinks. There’s a covered seating area adjoining the bar and kitchen area looking out into the garden area. There are tables and benches scattered under the lignum vitae trees all over the garden. There are seats in the sand in the small cove that you walk down into from the garden. There’s a jetty-like area that’s covered where you look out and over into the serene, beautiful Calabash Bay. That’s where we sat. Heaven. We spotted, much to Bonus Boy’s delight, crabs scampering over the rocks right below us. Gentle sea breezes cooled us and the sound of gently lapping waves perfectly synchronized with tasteful reggae musical selection pumping through strategically placed speakers at the right volume hugged us, cloaked us and reassured us. We were in Paradise.

Our drinks and last minute order of soup soon came out. The very pumpkiny conch soup with tender chunks of sweet conch went down real good. Fresh, simple and clean flavours and ingredients are all that’s really needed. Then our lobster and vegetable pizzas and fried chicken and fries for Bonus Boy came out. (He doesn’t like pizza). Jack Sprat is famous for their pizza and rightfully so. Fresh ingredients straight from the sea and farm feature: lobster, pineapples, tomato, onion, peppers make their appearance on the pizzas. The crust is thin and crisp and delicious. 100% yummy! Picture this:  the sea and breeze and the music and the rum going down oh so smoothly, and fresh, delicious, made from scratch food… That was us at Jack Sprat.

Road Trip Jamaica Calabash Bay St Elizabeth
Calabash Bay
Calabash Bay, Treasure Beach

 

Conch Soup

 

Road Trip Jamaica Food at Jack Sprat Pizza
Pizza at Jack Sprat: Their specialty!
Lobster and vegetable pizza

Bonus Boy and Daddy went and had a dip. Other patrons were doing likewise too. There are restrooms and an outdoor shower for your convenience. Scotia Bank has installed an ATM at the restaurant too. The restaurant takes cards as well as cash, and prices are quoted in both $US and $J. The three of us had two large pizzas and we were stuffed. The soups, pizzas, chicken n fries for baby, rum and water came up to under J$7,000.00

At about 5ish we slowly packed up, small cups of Devon House ice cream in hand (I had the stout ice cream of course), also bought at Jack Sprat, and headed east, back towards Kingston. By a little after 8, we were back. Everything went according to plan and a great time was had by all.

 

A fun Jamaica Vacation Itinerary…C’mon home! (Re)Visit Jamaica.

So I read a comment on my Cousin’s wall on FaceBook. It was posted by a Jamaican woman now living in the USA, married to a foreigner and they have two young sons. She was waxing nostalgic for her homeland. She spoke of growing up in rural Jamaica and she expressed a desire for Jamaica of old and a desire to share her heritage with her sons. But she countered that desire with a very real fear of the Jamaica of now. She compared us to Syria in terms of violence (gasp!) and immediately I knew that I had to do this post. You see, as my cousin correctly stated, I live here and I make it my point of duty to enjoy my homeland as often as I can within the constraints of my budget. So this post is in essence, a travel guide, aimed at both the average Jamaican now living overseas, eager to recapture the innocence and joy of childhood in Jamaica, as well as the adventurous visitor to our island. My recommendations are based on my own experiences and are bound by my own very real constraints of budget, security consciousness, keeping kids interested and engaged and an aversion to garbage.

Being Safe in Jamaica

Do NOT advertise the fact that you live overseas. Here’s where a local guide really helps. I’ll be available in a few years time 🙂 Until then, all the best! Unfortunately, once you are perceived as a foreigner, prices triple and unscrupulous scammers will take advantage.

Don’t be naive. Would you as a tourist in California tour Compton after dark on your own? Right. Don’t be silly. Move as you would in any big city anywhere else in the word. We are the Caribbean. Not the Garden of Eden.

Around Jamaica on a Budget

My recommendations are geared towards middle-class people saving and investing for retirement and college funds for their kids. Enough said.

Jamaica’s Garbage Problem

This deserves its own heading. Jamaica has a garbage problem which intrudes noisily in the enjoyment of our island. I hate it. I wish it were otherwise. My recommendations are based on things that we’ve been able to enjoy in spite of the garbage.

So here we go.

Jamaica vacation itinerary: start in St. Elizabeth

This southern parish marries rural Jamaica of yore with a little beach. It’s not the white sand of the Bahamas or Negril, and it’s not land-locked Mandeville. AirBnB is your friend in terms of finding suitable accommodation. I recommend Jakes Hotel or any villa with seaside access between Treasure Beach and Black River. In checking out accommodation ensure that WiFi  is available. It’s not automatic in St. Elizabeth.

Rent a car and go to:

  • Little Ochi for great seafood on the fishing beach
  • Lover’s Leap for a bit of history and fantastic south coast views
  • Black River safari for a historic tour up the Black River and crocodile sightings all along the river’s course
  • YS Falls for beautiful gardens and waterfalls with zip lining.

Spend 2 days in St. Elizabeth.

Seafood spread at Little Ochi, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
Enjoy Seafood at Little Ochi, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
Incredible Food at Little Ochi

 

South St Elizabeth Coastal Scapes, Jamaica
South St Elizabeth Coastal Scapes, Jamaica
Vistas in South St. Elizabeth

 

 

Fishing Boats at the mouth of the Black River, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
Fishing Boats at the mouth of the Black River, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica

Black River, Jamaica.
Black River, Jamaica. Photo credit: Rachael McIntosh
The Black River Safari

Jamaica Vacation Itinerary: next stop Kingston City

Liguanea Club is central and budget friendly. Right in the middle of the commercial district of New Kingston, you’ll be safe within the enclosures of this hotel. They have a pool and tennis and squash courts. You are within walking distance of good jerk spots (Sweetwood Jerk), a beautiful green space where you can jog or people watch while licking on an ice cream cone (Emancipation Park) and patty shops (Juicy Beef and Tastee). Can it be any better? No need to rent a car on this leg. You can take taxis to the local attractions: The Bob Marley Museum Tour, Devon House for great food and souvenirs and the Little Theater where you can be entertained when the sun sets by the local pantomime or National Dance Theater company depending on the time of year you visit. Spend 2 days in Kingston.

Jamaica Vacation Itinerary: catch your breath in beautiful Portland.

Heal your soul in the beautiful eastern parish of Portland. Winifred Beach is a must. It is one of the few remaining beautiful public beaches on the island. Food and drink are reasonably priced right on the beach and there is an incomparable vibe right here. Be sure to spend some time at Frenchman’s Cove beach where a white sand river snakes into the sea. This white sand resort beach will have you thinking that you’re in paradise. And you’d be right. I recommend the villas at Goblin Hill. You will be directed by villa staff to local service providers who can ferry you around in Portland if you didn’t drive yourself from Kingston to Portland. The Knutsford Express bus company can transport you safely in air conditioned comfort to Port Antonio safely from New Kingston. A taxi can take you onwards to your villa.

Frenchman's Cove Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Frenchman’s Cove Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Can you tell how happy I am at Frenchman’s Cove?

 

Children playing at Frenchman's Cove Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Perfect harmony at Frenchman’s Cove Beach, Portland, Jamaica
White Sand River at Frenchman’s Cove

 

Winifred Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Winifred Beach, Portland, Jamaica
Paradise is Winnifred’s Beach

Spend 2 days in Portland. While it is heaven for us earth-weary adults, it’s a  bit too slow for kids.

Jamaica Vacation Itinerary: Negril, Babee!!!

Allow a full day to enjoy the drive along the north coast highway all the way to the other end of the island and end up in Negril. You’ll drive past good old Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.  Don’t get me wrong…I can recommend places to stay and things to do in either place, but not this trip. I recommend staying at the small boutique hotel of Negril Tree House Resort. Ask  for the 1 bedroom suite right on the ocean front. You literally step right out of your room onto the 7 Mile white sand stretch of beach. This resort is not fancy but you’ll be comfortable. There’s Wifi and cable TV and a great Jamaican breakfast is included in the price of the room.

Kids will enjoy the pool and the shallow calm waters of Negril beach. You’ll feel as if you’re in the Bahamas but with the incomparable vibe of JamDown. Negril is not as quiet as Portland but not as touristy and kitschy as some parts of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Negril truly is the other side of Paradise. Cosmos, LTU Pub and Kenny Italian Cafe in Negril are great dining options.

Pro-Tip: A small igloo filled with ice and your own Appleton and Red Stripe purchases at a local supermarket will keep you happy without breaking the bank all day long on the Negril beach.
Spend 3 days in Negril.

7 Mile Beach Negril, Jamaica
7 Mile Beach Negril, Jamaica

 

Sunset in Negril, Jamaica
Sunset in Negril, Jamaica

Jamaica Vacation Itinerary: fly out of Montego Bay

In  few days, you’ve tasted just some of what Jamaica offers. We haven’t explored the hills above Kingston where hiking in 70 degree temperatures (cool by local standards) affords you the opportunity to photograph surprise waterfalls and unusual mountain flora. We’ve stayed far from convenient all-inclusives (great when you have small children, ho-hum when you’re after authentic Jamaica). I haven’t introduced you to the luxury that is a real north coast villa vacation. We haven’t visited historic Port Royal or experienced Pelican Bar, right in the middle of the sea, accessible only by boat. You haven’t been to a street dance or a ritzy night club. You can do all of that next visit 🙂

Want more itinerary ideas? Hit me up here! I’d be happy to help!

When you subscribe to my blog, you’ll get a free copy of 5 different Jamaica south coast road trip itinerary options! Sign up below:

(Re)Visit Jamaica: Sunset in Negril
(Re)Visit Jamaica: Sunset in Negril
(Re)Visit Jamaica: Boys at Frenchmans Cove & scene at Treasure Beach
(Re)Visit Jamaica: Boys at Frenchmans Cove & scene at Treasure Beach
Road Trips and Keto Jamaica Style
Road Trips and Keto Jamaica Style

Fixing our Garbage Problem: Executive Mandate Urgently Needed

I listened in horror as the caller to the popular day-time radio talk show described his passenger’s attitude towards litter. “He finished eating his KFC in my taxi and then just threw the bag, cup and box with bones out the window of the moving vehicle. I told him that he shouldn’t have done that, that he could have just left it in the car, that I would have disposed of it when next I stopped. He got vexed with me. Asked me wha mi think garbage truck and garbage man di deh fah…” The same taxi man told the talk show host that he ferries visitors to the island around Montego Bay and he is repeatedly asked about the amount of visible garbage in the second city. The visitors are appalled, quizzical and disdainful all at the same time. “Is there some sort of problem?” they ask in wonderment.

Garbage in gully. Photo courtesy the Gleaner
We have a garbage problem. My family and I have perfected the art of the road-trip and we can, at a moment’s notice, head north, south, east or west in Jamaica, and we do. Often. We do not have to go three feet off the beaten track to be confronted with garbage: plastic bags, bottles and containers. Have you seen Downtown Kingston after a shower of rain? Remember the flooding due to clogged drains in Montego Bay a few weeks ago after thirty minutes of rain? Just look down into every single gully in Kingston that you drive past and over: garbage and more garbage. No TVJ nightly newscast is complete without the obligatory “raw sewage overflowing” story, the overflow the result of drains clogged with solid waste.

Garbage outside a school. Photo courtesy the Jamaica Observer
How Come?

The Broken Windows Theory
In 1982, Wilson and Kelling posited the Broken Window theory in an attempt to link serious crime to seemingly less innocuous incidents of disorder like vandalism and littering. Even though their theory has its fair share of criticism as far as diagnosing and treating serious crime, at its simplest level, the theory in part explains why dirty communities remain this way. They observed: “…consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants…” Simply put, allowing the first hint of disorder to go unchecked is a welcome mat for more of the same. Garbage attracts garbage. And after a while it’s as if we don’t see it. The garbage around us has simply become part of the landscape, the proverbial dead body in the living room, which was appalling at first sight, but as the inhabitants started to manoeuvre around it and as they got used to the sight of it, the dead body became just another fixture in the room.
Plastic bottles in gully heading out to sea. Photo from thebitterbean.wordpress.com
Studies Show…

The Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) has bravely attempted to tackle Jamaica’s garbage problem with their “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” campaign. Some young talented animator did the eye catching visuals to the zippy tune that admonishes us accordingly. Nice. But meaningless in the face of the enormous problem we face. You see, the garbage that we co-exist with, is not simply the result of that passenger in the taxi flinging his waste through the car window.  JET recently released the results of a study done to look at the garbage issues and the South Gully in Montego Bay. While the scope of the study was limited to the South Gully, the findings and recommendations have wider application for the island.
Garbage is habitually dumped in our gullies. No one readily admits to dumping, but the evidence is clear. In the face of erratic, unpredictable and in some cases non-existent garbage collection, what do you think will really happen? Informal settlements generate waste too. To include them on a garbage collection schedule may legitimise them, giving rise to a whole new set of problems. Many public skips where people could deposit their garbage in a central place for pickup have been removed. People used to burn their garbage there, destroying the skips, and infrequent collection saw the skips morphing into mini dumpsites, a haven for rodents and other pests.  

We already know how to fix it
The South Gully Research Project made recommendations, recommendations that have been proffered time and again. Here they are, modified for general application:
1.       Establishment of a regular cleaning schedule for gullies which is published in newspapers and online.
2.       Increased frequency of garbage collection
3.       Establishment of a well-publicized garbage collection schedule and map of collection routes
4.       Roll out of a significant quantity of bins along established garbage collection routes. Skips might be appropriate in some places (at the entrance to informal settlements for example) but it should be recognized that they take much longer to clear. Lightweight, plastic bins, with holes punched in the sides and bottom to discourage theft, are most effective in urban areas where frequent garbage collection takes place. Private sector support should be sought to finance the bins.
5.       Enforcement of anti-dumping laws should be dramatically ramped up island wide. This enforcement should be accompanied by appropriate publicity, including messaging targeted at business operators promoting good solid waste management practices.
6.       Revision of the NSWMA act to include specific regulations for solid waste management by commercial and industrial operations; increase fines and impose harsher penalties for non-compliance. Revisions should be accompanied by increased enforcement effort.

But will that do it?
I’ve itemized the recommendations above with a heavy heart. There is a perspective that leadership in Jamaica has lost the art of implementation and has become preoccupied with speeches and box-ticking. It further posits that those in positions of influence and power have managed to insulate themselves from certain Jamaican realities and therefore expend nothing on fixing those ills besetting others; think private schools, private education, private security, gated communities, vehicles that shuttle them from A to B, high off the ground in air-conditioned insularity. They vacation in exclusive locations, out of the line of sight of road side dump sites, and in all-inclusive, created experiences, totally separate from the speak-easy that exists beside a pile of garbage uncollected in two weeks. Out of sight, most definitely out of mind.

And so priorities are set based on a particular skewed perspective and outlook by the powerful and wealthy. And those who see and know and feel The Other Side of Things, in their quest for the Great House quickly adopt the priorities of those who are where they want to be, eschewing the urgent and real needs of our present context.

Tackle the issue at the Community Level


So is grass roots activism and action the answer to get things moving? Perhaps this is one of the first steps towards making our present system of governance redundant and shifting the current paradigm towards one that is more proactive and relevant to us.
Imagine this happening at the Community level:

1. Education campaigns about improper garbage disposal. Get a local company to sponsor a poster competition in the community schools. Tell them to include actual pictures of what is wrong in their community.

2. Again get a local company to sponsor the printing of dozens of the winning poster and then commission local groups like the 4H Club, Scouts, church youth group to strategically, and with permission place these posters in central areas.

3. Set a small goal of creating a garbage free zone in a public area enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Make noise about it. Use social media to spread the news of this success story. Replicate this in another area.

4. Get the Councillor and MP on board: THEY have to pressure NSWMA to cart the garbage away regularly and reliably. KEEP UP THE PRESSURE! Use social media to shame and congratulate. Because make no mistake, there are those who make every effort to bag and discard their garbage properly, but their best efforts are thwarted by the non-collection of their garbage! There’s no reliable schedule of collection and public skips seem to be a thing of the past.

The Case for an Executive Mandate
I fear though that the general recommendations extrapolated from JET’s South Gully Research Project and my own offerings about a revolution at the local level are an insufficient response to the enormity of the garbage problem we face. We have already established that solutions exist. It is not as if we do not know what to do. So what next then?
All the literature on change management in organisations underscore the importance of sponsorship from the executive level when major change is required. The more radical and far reaching the change, the more critical it is for all stakeholders to know that it is supported by The Leader. This makes it safe for them to step out of their comfort zone. This offers some sort of guarantee that the needed resources will be allocated appropriately in support of the desired change.
In the 1960’s, Lee Kwan Yew, then president of Singapore, determined to distinguish Singapore from other Third world countries, decided that he would make it clean and green. He easily saw the link between a clean country, a desirable business and tourism destination and the morale of the citizens. Admittedly, the attitudes of the people proved the hardest to tackle. He prioritized law enforcement with respect to littering and greening of the city. New standards for farming and operating within the city were enacted. In his own words, Lee Kwan Yew stated that “perseverance and stamina were needed to fight old habits.” But he did it. Today, Singapore and its people reap the rewards of vision and stellar leadership in this regard.  
Improperly disposed of garbage leads to breeding sites for mosquitoes and rats. Clogged drainage causes millions of dollars in damage resulting from flooding whenever it rains. The government of Jamaica is currently spending millions of dollars treating and monitoring pregnant women testing positive for ZikV and treating patients diagnosed with Guillaine-Barre Syndrome associated with ZikV infections. Lost productivity due to ChickV outbreak last year was likely in the millions of dollars. As the country gets dirtier and dirtier, visitors will opt for cleaner, safer more beautiful destinations. How will we counter the inevitable bad press that will result from filthy, unkempt, unsafe and unsanitary tourist destinations? Spend more money on PR, I suppose and huge sums on mass gully scrapings to take shame out of our eyes.

The bottom line: we cannot afford NOT to allocate resources to implement the recommendations suggested. This will only happen with a clear mandate from the Prime Minister and his tangible, visible support. Take on this challenge of making Jamaica clean, Mr. Holness. Make a clean Jamaica your lasting legacy.

Dear PM: I know that your overarching mandate is economic growth…a worthy ideal to be sure. Law and order cannot flourish in garbage. And without law and order, what happens to any and all economic growth initiatives? I put it to you that your direct leadership in tackling our garbage problem is absolutely critical at this point in our development… perhaps more critical than anything you are spearheading right now.  Getting to a cleaner Jamaica is low hanging fruit that we can ill afford not to pick.

Garbage washed ashore along the Palisadoes strip. Photo courtesy the Gleaner.

Dear Jamaica: We have a garbage problem.

I’m heartsick. I’ve been putting off this particular post for two years now, but no more. So here goes.

Dear Jamaica: We have a garbage problem. We are nasty.

We’ve perfected the art of the road trip. We can now turn on a dime and head north, south, east or west. Easy: keep vehicles properly maintained, stop at the grocery the night before or on the way out, procure water, juices, rum and chasers, nuts, cheesy snacks, granola bars, keep the igloo clean at all times, keep one bag clean and packed with cups and ground sheet at all times, and at the word go, load up and head out.

View from Black Hill, Portland

And so we explore our island at any and every chance we get. Portland’s beaches and hills, St. Ann’s beaches, Trelawny’s beaches, rivers and beautiful vistas in its center, Negril’s beach, St. Elizabeth’s rolling landscapes and St. Andrew’s rivers and breathtaking mountainscapes.

Driving from St. Mary into Portland

Beautiful Duncan’s, Trelawny

Abandoned tunnel in Portland

Paradise, aka Negril

Black River, St. Elizabeth

View from New Castle, St. Andrew

I’ve been very selective in my picture taking, choosing to overlook the nastiness that coexists with the beauty that abounds everywhere.

Yesterday we drove through St. Thomas to Long Bay, Portland. Long Bay is one of the best kept secrets in Jamaica. There it sits, part of the main road through east Portie. There are no huge hotels, no fancy famous restuarants, no “attractions.” But there are always tourists there, walking on the road, sleeping in one of the many BnB’s that you can find on the internet, rolling a spliff, sucking on a cold red strip or swirling a plastic cup with ice, White rum and Ting. Heaven. The surf is rough but the water is blue and the sand is white. And it is all mere steps away from the main road. There are no loud sound systems. And tourist harassment… what’s that in Long Bay?

Long Bay, Portland

Yesterday we simply turned in off the road, parked under some coconut trees, unpacked our igloo and grill, turned up (just a smidgen…) our music, and enjoyed a few hours in Paradise. Easy. But when we looked to our left and then to our right, there it was: garbage: styrofoam, plastic, latex, glass…ugh.
I averted my eyes quickly and kept my focus front and centre. As we left and were heading back, the garbage deposited where it ought never to be all along the coast was inescapable. I said to H: “Can you imagine if we kept Long Bay EXACTLY as it is now: humble BnBs, rustic cook shops, roadside bars, but cleaned up the garbage?”

Deep, white sand right off the main road, Long bay, Portland

There is a lot of talk about our tourism product, creating visions of more rooms, more high prices attractions, orchestrated, pre-packaged tours, all things shiny and new. But simply cleaning up the garbage would result in a step change in what is our current vibe and what we offer to locals and visitors alike.

We visited Jackson Bay, south Clarendon about a year ago. This is way off the beaten track, winding south through wetlands. And there was garbage here. How? Styrofoam and plastic as well as scrap metal in the form of old vehicle chassis and discarded appliances. God.

Almost any hillside in upper St. Andrew is a potential dumping site: check out spots in Irish Town and Red Hills for example.

When last was garbage collected? 
When last was garbage collected?

So how do we fix it. Huge sigh. One perspective is that leadership in Jamaica has lost the art of implementation and has become preoccupied with speeches and box-ticking. It further posits that those in positions of influence and power have managed to insulate themselves from certain Jamaican realities and therefore expend nothing on fixing those ills besetting others; think private schools, private education, private security, gated communities, vehicles that shuttle them from A to B, high off the ground in air-conditioned insularity. They vacation in exclusive locations, out of the line of sight of road side dump sites, and in all-inclusive, created experiences, totally separate from the speak-easy that exists beside a pile of garbage uncollected in two weeks. Out of sight, most definitely out of mind.

And so priorities are set based on a particular skewed perspective and outlook by the powerful and wealthy. And those who see and know and feel The Other Side of Things, in their quest for the Great House quickly adopt the priorities of those who are where they want to be, eschewing the urgent and real needs of our present context.

Dear Jamaica: we are on the cusp of an environmental crisis of humongous proportions. The garbage in and around us is piling up. 

I’m unwilling to relinquish my safety, health and peace of mind so easily though. Community Action has to step to the front of the line now. Local leadership: YOUR TIME NOW! I have latched on to grass-roots activism as one of the first steps towards making our present system of governance redundant and shifting the current paradigm towards one that is more proactive and relevant to us. Yes, I know nothing can really substitute for national policies that are framed and resourced and enacted by central government as we seek to move from here to there. But I cannot wait. Jamaica cannot afford to wait.

Imagine this happening at the Community level:

1. Education campaigns about improper garbage disposal. Get a local company to sponsor a poster competition in the community schools. Tell them to include actual pictures of what is wrong in their community.

2. Again get a local company to sponsor the printing of dozens of the winning poster and then commission local groups like the 4H Club, Scouts, church youth group to strategically, and with permission place these posters in central areas.

3. Set a small goal of creating a garbage free zone in a public area enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Make noise about it. Use social media to spread the news of this success story. Replicate this in another area.

4. Get the Councillor and MP on board: THEY have to pressure NSWMA to cart the garbage away regularly and reliably. KEEP UP THE PRESSURE! Use social media to shame and congratulate. Because make no mistake, there are those who make every effort to bag and discard their garbage properly, but their best efforts are thwarted by the non collection of their garbage! There’s no reliable schedule of collection and public skips seem to be a thing of the past.

I think one clean area, one locality doing the right thing, made visible, will result in spread of ideals and practices. Naive? Maybe. But I’m not ready to give up. And current leadership practices have resulted in Jamaica being buried and drowned in nastiness.

Dear Jamaica: We can do this. We must do this. Get Jamaica clean and keep Jamaica clean.