The two Jamaicas

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Flag map of Jamaica. Image courtesy of Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.

It was a serene feeling, traveling back to Jamaica to be at a resort ten days before Christmas as a guest at a destination 50th wedding anniversary celebration for an incredible couple. The anticipation started at the Toronto Pearson airport as memories of my summer travels flashed back. I arrived at the airport four and a half hours before departure, long before the checking counter was opened yet I had to run to the departure gate to catch the flight. This time, however, was much different, I had checked in and cleared security all in about forty-five minutes and had sufficient time for relaxation and small talk before departure.

The flight was uneventful until the impact of a hard landing at the Sangster’s International Airport resulted in screams of anguish from children and a few adults. The memory of the landing was short-lived as the passengers were eager to get on with their sunny vacation. The only thing that stood in their way was a crowded immigration hall but to the surprise of many it kept moving. As I stepped out of the baggage hall with my prized luggage, given the recent countless losses by travelers, the first person I ran into was a cousin of mine, a tour bus operator. He gave me the welcoming treatment and facilitated some well-needed local telephone calls.

I was traveling with my wife in a group tour package specifically for the destination event, so air and ground transportation was pre-arranged. It took a while to gather all members of the group before departing to the resort. Upon entering the gate of the resort, I was already impressed, still, on the bus, I could access the WIFI which was woefully lacking at the airport.

Getting settled and moving around the resort, the ambiance, the decor, and the service gave me a sense of pride that we can put on a world-class show albeit at the expense of creating two Jamaicas. This was my first extended stay at a resort on the island since my last job with the HEART Trust/NTA in developing training standards for industry workers, allowing me to visit many of the properties across the island. My passion for training and the growth and development of young people led me to take a keen interest in the workers who provided me with such great service and made my stay and other guests memorable.

My first encounter was with Rosie (all names changed to protect identity) she was on duty at the 24-hour snack counter and was working the overnight shift, she has been with the resort for the past five years and was trained at the Kenilworth HEART Academy. The observation and encounters with the workers offered me more insight into their world, professionalism, and radiant smiles even though at times you could see the hurt and exhaustion behind these smiles. What held my attention most were the multiple roles and shifts carried out by these workers.

Latisha, an entertainment coordinator starts her day at the pool or beach coordinating games and fun activities for the guests; by late afternoon she is dressed for a new role and by 8 pm she is fully decked out in her party attire for the nighttime entertainment. This routine is done six days per week with the level of energy only beaten by the energizer bunny. I spoke with Latisha briefly and enquired about her routine; she typically works a double shift six days per week. She leaves work at midnight to get a taxi home, and sometimes if lucky she gets one immediately. She sleeps a couple of hours and is back at work by 8 a.m. Latisha is not unique in this situation as there are many like her who fulfill similar roles.

I met Roland in the elevator on his way to a room service call and inquired if he were working a double shift. He responded that he no longer did as it took a toll on his health after doing it for six years. Coleen is a recent university graduate and has struggled to find a job, she is the first person in her family to attain postsecondary education. She currently works as a marketing agent in the resort club membership department. Coleen travels over a hundred and twenty kilometers each day to and from work. She is paid on commission based on the number of memberships sold. Coleen is highly ambitious and considers this job as a means to an end as do many of her fellow workers. She yearns to pursue post-graduate studies abroad. These young workers range in age from early twenties to mid-thirties and are extremely hard-working yet they are compensated miserly in the range of $JA 33,000.00 -50,000.00 every two weeks before tax the equivalent of $CA300.00-500.00

I ventured off the resort one afternoon to visit family and friends. We happened to hang out at one of the few public beaches that are still available. It is where I ran into Rhonda, she sat by herself relaxing in the afternoon sun and reading what I would consider an intellectually stimulating book, one which I would not readily identify as reading material for a teen or young adult. I capitalized on the opportunity to engage her in conversation and learned that she was a 23-year-old graduate of a practical nursing programme. She had tried her hand as an online retail entrepreneur buying and selling clothing but with the economic downturn, she currently works at a call centre. She lives on her own and aspires to become a midwife but is entrapped in the cycle of poverty and fear of getting ruined by student loan debt.

Over the years, many have stereotyped our youthful Jamaicans as not focused, not responsible, or hard-working but my encounter with Rosie, Latisha, Roland, Coleen, Rhonda, and the many others not named, proved otherwise. These young people are super hard working, clocking long hours but have remarkably little to show for it. They struggle to attain their dreams and barely sustain life’s necessities. They are not in pursuit of handouts or turning to a life of crime. All they are requiring is a hand-up to succeed. The government has, once again, failed the youth and has empowered the business class in the abuse of labour, blatantly overworking, and grossly underpaying their workers . It is time for the government to ensure that workers get a few of the eggs laid by the golden goose.

Fernon Wilson is an educator residing in Canada.

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