Style Observer

SO Cocktails With Shorna-Kay Richards

Sunday, April 21, 2019

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Shorna-Kay Richards Director, Bilateral Relations Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade

Home is… Liguanea, St Andrew.


My most memorable posting was... I would say, Pretoria, South Africa. It was a wonderful yet challenging experience to work on translating the historical bonds of friendship and solidarity between the peoples of Jamaica and South Africa into vibrant technical and economic cooperation, especially in the creative industry. I called this assignment “work by faith”: to overcome lack of financial resources and distance to generate opportunities for Jamaican reggae artistes; exposure for Jamaican food; and promotion of Jamaica as a film-producing destination for South African TV shows. In the area of music, for example, I am pleased that we were able to find performance opportunities for artistes such as Etana, Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica, Monty Alexander, as well as for dub poets Mutabaruka and Yasus Afari. My time in South Africa demonstrated, in a very real way, that a diplomat is indeed a jack of all trades — in essence, I became a music promoter.

I must say that the most memorable aspect of this posting was my work with the Rastafari community and reggae musicians in South Africa. A major preoccupation of this community was how best to propel reggae music from the periphery to the mainstream. I too shared this concern, particularly in light of the fact that a new generation of South Africans was not aware of the contribution of reggae music to the struggles against oppression in Africa.

It was against this backdrop that the High Commission organised an ambassadorial forum on “The Role of Reggae Music in the African Liberation Struggle”. It was a particularly emotional experience listening to South African anti-apartheid fighter James Mange share how reggae music kept him alive during his 13 years of imprisonment on Robben Island. I will never forget the sense of awe I felt when he shared how Third World's 96 Degrees in the Shade kept him sane throughout his period in solitary confinement. It was indeed fitting that Ibo Cooper delivered the keynote address at the forum.


In my diplomatic pouch are... hard work, determination and dedication; there is no substitute for hard work and as I learnt in primary school: “If a task has once begun, never leave it till it's done. Be the labour great or small, do it well or not at all.”

Being organised; team work; being reliable; problem-solving and creative thinking.


Where do you go to unwind?

I must confess that I don't pay enough attention to “unwinding”. When I need a quick reboot, I crash under the ackee tree in the backyard of one of my BFFs in Kingston. However, my favourite spot to truly unwind is Goblin Hill Villas, Portland — amazingly serene, green and lush nature, and the sound of the sea — I am simply at peace.


Who's your diplomatic hero?

I am greatly inspired by Ambassador Patricia Durrant, who has represented Jamaica with great distinction on the global stage, including as one of the only two women to have served as the country's permanent representative to the United Nations. I particularly admire the fact that she is deeply committed to the development and empowerment of young foreign service officers. When I joined the foreign service nearly 25 years ago, I benefited from her strong efforts to ensure that young officers became well-rounded professionals. This included providing us with first-hand exposure to art, culture, history, etiquette, etc. She taught us how to think strategically, put our best foot forward, capitalise on opportunities, work hard, and aspire to be the greatest. Through her work, achievements and mentorship, she has inspired me to hold firm to the belief that “once there is a will, there is a way”.


Bus, taxi or tube?

Tube. It is usually the quickest way to travel in a big city. I also find the underground art, especially the murals and musical performances, quite fascinating; and when I was stationed in Washington, DC, travelling underground for my daily commute gave me a wonderful chance to catch up on my reading.


What makes someone a Kingstonian?

Well, what can a country girl say? I suppose by birth naturally; and for those of us not born under the clock, then by adoption and adaptation to the vibes of this pulsating city.


If you could buy any building in Kingston, Jamaica to live in, which would it be?

Oh, I love Georgian architecture and décor so it would be Devon House. I find this building most elegant and the shutters are so appealing. But I am also crazy about Jamaican artist Heather Sutherland Wade's home gallery in Hermitage Dam: man and nature in perfect harmony!


What five words best describe you?

Kind, creative, passionate, energetic, and demanding.


Last country you lived in?

New York City, USA.


What was your experience?

In three words: exhilarating, exhausting and rewarding. Why? From a professional point of view, I had the opportunity to serve as Jamaica's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations and during my four-year tenure I dealt largely with international security and disarmament, an area where women are underrepresented. As such, I participated in the negotiations of the historic Arms Trade Treaty to address the illegal trade in arms, a major challenge for Jamaica. I also became actively involved in global efforts to ban nuclear weapons. The work at the UN was very long hours and exhausting, but it was so exciting and deeply rewarding to make a contribution to international peace, security and development. I have to say that this posting to the UN taught me that “life truly begins at the end of your comfort zone”.

On the social and cultural front, New York City is it! And while my schedule did not allow me much free time to take full advantage of these offerings, I still managed to see some great shows on Broadway; a few operas at the Met, including my favourite — Carmen. As an avid fan of the Bard, a highlight for me on the theatre scene was the annual staging of free Shakespeare plays in Central Park.

NYC is indeed a gastronomic paradise. Thankfully, I had a chance, from time to time, to indulge my inner foodie – at some of my favourite restaurants, including Felidia, Ethos Gallery 51, the Red Rooster and Gramercy Tavern. A Shake Shack cheeseburger saved me on many rough days in NYC. On the fashion front, a highlight was an afternoon tea with celebrated fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg at her studio in Chelsea. I left inspired by DVF's journey and, of course, wanting to buy one of her iconic wrap dresses!


What's your current focus?

As director of the bilateral relations, I am working with my team, our overseas missions and other ministries, departments and agencies to see how best we can leverage Jamaica's relations with both its traditional and new bilateral partners in the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific, in support of the Government's strategic focus on growing the economy, creating jobs, providing security, and advancing Jamaica's overall development objectives.


What iconic Jamaican foods do you miss when posted overseas?

Hellshire fish and festival and Milo!

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