I am writing this from Negril while looking out at the bluest sky and taking deep breaths of the healing salt air.
We have been seeing a lot more traffic on Norman Manley Highway, busy crossings at the all-inclusives, and tourists walking along the road. However, we also note that quite a few small shops and restaurants are still closed as smaller businesses lacked the resources necessary to survive the novel coronavirus pandemic. It is sad to see the rundown premises of a popular seafood restaurant on the westerly section of the Negril Beach. It has a breathtaking view and so we hope someone will take the plunge to rebuild it.
The shops in the town square are busy, but the plaza on One Love Boulevard was almost empty, with only a few customers in the usually popular HiLo Supermarket. We found the staff there to be very helpful and hope that their jobs will remain secure.
At the Kuyaba Restaurant our server Hazel was on the ball as we watched the majestic Negril sunset. I heard a waitress explaining in detail what callaloo was to visitors at another table and its preparation. "That sounds good," said the lady. "I will try it." Thumbs up to the well-trained waitress and the callaloo farmer. We are relieved that one of our favourite hangouts remains great.
Locations like Negril are precious to our tourism industry, so I cannot fathom the noise around the construction of the colourful Negril sign. Perhaps the messaging was a bit off, because the $12 million price tag includes the creation of a lay-by so folks could pull over and safely take photos, a large base, and solar-powered lighting. It is certainly attracting a lot of admirers. With every photo posted on social media we get free advertising for our "Capital of Casual".
I am surprised at the number of Jamaicans who have never been to Negril. I promise, when you get here and relax on that endless stretch of white sand beach, your shoulders will drop, your brows will unknit, and your heart will skip to the rhythm of the walking mento bands on the beach.
On the West End, tour buses line up at Rick's Café, renowned as the best view of the sunset in the world. The vibe with cliff diving and live band music make Rick's a memorable experience. You will also enjoy the lights at Catch-A-Falling Star restaurant and the divine offerings at the Rock House. This column has shared our visit to the inclusive school on Lewis Street in Savanna-la-Mar run by the Rockhouse Foundation, overseen by the altruistic Peter Rose. We came away impressed and inspired; I understand there are plans to build a similar school in another parish.
The hotels with hefty marketing budgets continue to do well. Perhaps the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) could sponsor digital marketing courses for struggling businesses, like those we are seeing in Negril. Signage is also in great need of updating – no problem if TEF has a line on them for sponsorship.
Congratulations to Minister Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association's (JHTA) Nicola Madden Greig, Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) Director of Tourism Donovan White, and Sandals President Adam Stewart. They have been nimble in keeping Jamaica front of mind. Let us hope that the TEF will help those well-placed restaurants and shops to reopen.
The introduction of a tourism workers' retirement plan, underwritten by Guardian Life, is a welcome initiative. However, workers in the hospitality industry need the attention of the authorities to address their living conditions. In Negril there is the Red Ground area where workers live in subhuman conditions and are at the mercy of criminal invaders. As we celebrate the wins, let no one in the tourism industry be left behind.
CHILDREN IN DANGER
As we watched Richard Engel's report on the terror in Ukraine and its impact on children, I reflected on the crime-ridden communities in Jamaica where children are being hurt and traumatised. Only last week a distraught mother described how gunmen invaded her home, and as she tried to escape with her two-year-old child, the child fell from her arms. The house was firebombed and the little girl and a 26-year-old man were burnt to death.
The week before we read about the terrible death of three children and sympathised with their father. Community members described his devotion to his children and his back-to-school preparations. They said he usually takes all three little ones around on his bike, but he went to the shop the night before the first day of school, having laid out the children's uniforms. Perhaps he wanted them to sleep undisturbed that Sunday night while he went to get breakfast items. I understand that the Early Childhood Commission will be including fire safety at their Parenting Place sessions, and it will be not a minute too soon.
We were puzzled when we saw photos of the modest uniforms worn by the students at the Godfrey Stewart High School and learnt that the school's administration had prevented them from attending classes because their skirts were "too short". The explanation? Girls at the school had been subject to the crude behaviour of males on public transport. Longer skirts, they posited, would avert such advances. What a ridiculous position. The first thing the authorities at the school should have done upon receiving these reports was to call in the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) at the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) so they could assist in monitoring the behaviour of these males and bring them to justice.
Again we see this approach of victim-blaming; whereby, when a woman is attacked, the focus is on her mode of dress rather than on the disgusting offenders. Minister of Education Fayval Williams has been accused of insensitivity because she has sought to defend the principle and philosophy behind the school's actions. We will not judge, however, as we know she is between a rock and a hard place with some Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) members.
We keep saying that children are the future, well let us ensure they have one that is safe from criminals and from misguided educators.
CONGRATULATIONS, NEW LEADERS
Presidents were recently elected for three organisations which work hard to fulfil their missions. Congratulations to Allison Peart, president of the Jamaica Forum of the International Women's Forum (IWF); Dr Lilieth Nelson, president of the St Andrew Business and Professional Women's Club (BPW); and Milton Walker, president of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ). These are all voluntary positions which require long hours of planning and advocacy; we applaud their generosity.
NEW CCRP TV SERIES
The Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) Silver Club television series is now in full swing and the response has been encouraging. Audrey Hinchcliffe, who was featured in the first episode and took us on a tour of her garden and recommended a hands-on approach for healthy living, says she has received countless phone calls of commendation. The 82-year-old Hinchcliffe, who is founder of the Manpower & Maintenance Services Limited Group of Companies has declared, "Retirement is not on my agenda!" Please encourage your seniors to tune in and get practical information on various topics, including wellness, technology, and companionship. Gratitude to our sponsors and guests.