Sat | Nov 25, 2017

Tourists flock to ghettos for cultural tours

Published:Monday | October 9, 2017 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew
From left: Bruno Gabriel, Donnette ‘Sophia’ Dowe, chief tour guide at Culture Yard in Trench Town, and Tom Barker share a frame during their visit.
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Tourists are becoming increasingly aware of activities made available within inner-city communities that span beyond music and dance, and much more than just sun, sea and sand.

Life Yard director Shane 'Eyeball' Morgan shares that since the collaboration with Paint Jamaica in 2014, "Fleet Street has been visited by over 2,000 visitors from approximately 45 countries to date".

It is not uncommon to residents of similar areas to find a wandering foreigner seeking guided tours throughout their neighbourhoods, especially with the emerging worldwide trend of 'ghetto tourism' - even though the term may not be widely accepted.

"Some of the tourists actually return to help with the projects, like art and craft, knitting or crochet classes as well as the 'writing for life initiative', which involves youth from around the community, which is why we have just called it community tourism," said Morgan.

 

Fitting term

 

Donnette Dowe, better known as Sophia, the chief tour guide at Trench Town Culture Yard says, "I was not aware of the name ghetto tourism, even though I had travelled around the Caribbean, Mexico and even to the favelas in Brazil for community tourism workshops.

"I suppose the term is fitting, after all, it is the ghetto that the tourists are visiting," she added.

Bruno Gabriel, a tourist from Barcelona, quickly jumped in. "The ghetto tourism terminology is a bit derogatory and there is a slight misconception by tourists like myself of the word 'ghetto', since it may focus on what it might be, instead of what it is."

Trench Town, being the home of Jamaican musicians, including Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, among other trend-setting personalities, earned its recognition and title as a national heritage site and has become a regular stop for fans of the island's culture.

Trench Town attracted Gabriel and his friend Tom Barker, not only on the basis of cultural value, but for the one-on-one, authentic, inner-city lifestyle experience.

The tours range from a short 30 minutes of edutainment, to as long as one and a half hours of guided tour on foot throughout the 200 acres of the Trench Town community, with stops at studios and local craft shops along the way.

 

Awaiting the guide

 

When The Gleaner entered, the tourists were seated inside the office awaiting a tour guide. They, too, had visited the favelas in Brazil in previous travels, without recognising that 'favelas' are defined as shanty towns or slum areas.

"Outsiders tend to think of ghetto in Jamaica as lawless places, but that's not quite true," said Gabriel.

Nonetheless, ghetto or community tourism is very real and is occurring at, different scales. Whether unofficial or official excursions throughout the inner-city areas, the idea to interact, learn and be entertained simultaneously is much more interesting than laying on a beach somewhere.

"You should know that this is actually our second day in Jamaica and we are not staying at a hotel either. Instead, we chose to seek places that offered affordable rooms on Airbnb.com," said Barker.

With the advent of online marketplaces like Airbnb, local residents have the opportunity to advertise their personal space as guest houses once they have access to the Internet.

"I have also considered making my residence into a hostel for visitors, but I want it to be different and also attractive, with art on the exterior, similar to Fleet Street," said Sophia.

The first-time visitors were also happy to learn about the activities at Fleet Street during the short conversation and soon added it to places to visit (pushing Ocho Rios and Treasure Beach further down their list).

entertainment@gleanerjm.com