Friday, August 8, 2008
Photos: Strawberry Fields
I still cannot fathom that we were lucky enough for the top floor of this cottage to be our vacation home for eight days. The ocean crashes below three sides of house, and with open windows all around, one gets so used to the sound that a kind of withdrawal occurs later. No air conditioning is needed because of the cottage's design, and hot water is provided by solar panel. The retreat, Strawberry Fields, is in a still somewhat remote area--Robin's Bay in St. Mary's Parish, on the northeast coast. The remoteness won't last for long, though. Given that the EU has built a paved road from Ocho Rios, which used to be a four-hour drive but is now one and a half, developers are salivating. There was a casino deal literally next door to the retreat, but it fell through, thank god. The Robin's Bay people want development, but not mammoth resorts, certainly not casinos. They want eco tourism, from what I heard. One 1600-acre estate, formerly Greencastle Estate (for which Robin's Bay was the slave quarters until Emancipation on August 1, 1838), has sold a hefty portion of its acreage with a stipulation that it can be used only for eco tourism development. Absentee owners of much of the other land, who have demonstrated little interest for half a century, have started serving eviction notices to "squatters"--families who built and passed down little houses without electricity or indoor plumbing. Speaking of emancipation, the poverty in Robin's Bay is so glaring that I wonder just how much has changed there since 1838. The one school has no inside walls and no indoor plumbing.
I'm not laboring under delusions that Jamaican people aren't jacked up every time they turn around. 83 cents of every tax dollar goes to (mostly interest on) predatory loans from World Bank, the government is unabashedly corrupt, and the contrast between rich and poor is unapologetically harsh. Still, the situation there isn't one of constant smoke and mirrors as it is in the United States, and being there, I realized almost immediately that the energy I use unconsciously, on a daily basis, to reject the constant bombardment of lies and the distortion of reality from American media, was restored. I know this is a phenomenon familiar to anyone who spends time in any remote area--that sense of liberation that comes from realizing that one's perceptions are not constantly micromanaged from all sides, all the time. I also realize that I was a very privileged and pampered tourist, lucky enough to be provided conditions under which this realization could occur.
Talking to Jamaicans, Europeans, and Canadians throughout the trip (and no Americans, thankfully :), I realized that my conversational partners engaged me as though they were tiptoeing around a severely mentally impaired person. For instance, a co-owner of the retreat spoke to me at first quite delicately about the possibility of visiting Cuba, explaining that there was much love for Castro among Cubans, as he had liberated them from the corruption and brutality of Batiste. Once I told him not to worry, I didn't buy into American propaganda about Cuba, or the embargo, or the insane fear of communism, he was noticeably relieved, as though by some miracle he may be engaging one of the less insane Americans and was not going to have to invest nearly as much energy as he'd thought into protecting the delusions of the guest he was having breakfast with. He uttered a line that I ended up hearing from several people whose job it was to be nice to us: "Many people here believe that the American people are like Bush, but I tell them that's not true." He was the first person I had a conversation with, so afterward I started making a point of apologizing and expressing extreme embarrassment about the actions of my country. I often got an earful in return: "What are Americans thinking?" "You know, we're not strangers to water shortage, but you are." "We won't fly on any American airlines or stop in the U.S. until you stop the war." "I won't buy anything American if I can help it." "My daughter's husband works in Florida, but she refuses to apply for citizenship because she refuses to say the pledge." "Do Americans realize that their economy is collapsing?" "If you elect Obama, you might have a chance." "Americans are probably going to get scared and elect McCain, aren't they?" and "We're so glad you're sensitive to how the rest of the world feels about you. Most Americans aren't."
This was the greatest vacation of my whole life.