Jamaica's heritage environment - so-so talk?
Patricia Green, GUEST COLUMNIST
As we commence the New Year and reflect on the old, we begin to ask ourselves some questions: What shall we achieve in the New Year? "So, you come back?" is the constant greeting that I have been receiving. Invariably, it is followed by, "What for?" So I quickly add, "Why not?" Expectantly, this comes: "After we naw gwaan wid nutten pan Jamaican heritage, so-so talk."
Smiling, I pause, because now I realise that the outpouring has begun, like the Rio Cobre in spate tumbling down Flat Bridge. I brace myself. "Yuh see Spanish Town yet? Now dem talking bout downtown Kingston, same ol', same ol', while the heritage disappearing. Nobody cares."
So, how do I respond? Like the National Works Agency, should I shut the gates at the entrances to the Bog Walk gorge or allow them to enter? Next, I hear: "So what you gwine du to preserve wi heritage?" Too late. They have reached Flat Bridge and there is no way to cross over because the water is raging.
I manage to get a few words in: "So what do you think I should do?" Then in softer tones, more pensive even reflective, I hear:
"I recall my visits to Europe where they respect history, and I believe that is why they prosper, because they care. Even Americans preserve their heritage sites, and theirs is not as old as ours, but they fix them up for visitors. My wife and I joined a long line in Boston just to see a hole in the ground. There was a whole story built around this hole.
Do you know how much money we could make with Port Royal where we have a huge 17th-century underwater city? Why are we not exploiting Port Royal as a visitor attraction? I understand that it can become a World Heritage Site because it is so important. Will that status reach Jamaica this year?"
What I have noticed is that these conversations take on their own momentum. I need only to listen. More persons are always in the wait to take over. Jamaica's heritage environment is a hot topic. Moreover, there is much passion over this subject. Further, the average man in the street is a potential heritage entrepreneur.
"This country should not be suffering poverty," chimed the medical sales rep. "Port Royal alone could take care of Jamaica's debt crisis."
Imagine now that the crowd has assembled as the riverbed is coming down. The Kingston doctor who operates his general practice begins to gesticulate, his hands simulating the ebb and flow of the yachts taking visitors from Montego Bay and Ocho Rios into Kingston Harbour to land at Victoria Pier, where they would be given a bus tour to Coronation Market.
"I would then take them to Trench Town and give them a Bob Marley concert and lunch, then take them back to the yacht." He bemoans the income being lost for the communities in downtown Kingston from this venture and I began to consider if this would generate for him more income than his medical practice.
LOVE OF HISTORY
The lawyer would not be outdone, emphasising that before law, he had a history degree, which is his first love, "but if we have World Heritage Sites in Jamaica, we would be sitting pretty like all those other nations, because I have read that World Heritage Sites generate much income through tourism".
As an architect, I also need to recognise how integrated is the environment, because the conversation turned to a grandmother. "My granddaughter discovered a fossil in the hills near my home. Surely our geology can become a major tourism attraction?"
These discourses often reach astonishing proportions. No longer are they central conversations, but pockets of animated exchanges, and I then become an eavesdropper. "Will the developments proposed for Kingston Harbour jeopardise the Port Royal underwater heritage?" said a person who holds no professional title.
What amazes me is how informed my Jamaican people are, how travelled is the Jamaican community, and how we, as a people, are able to use comparative analysis to define Jamaica's heritage. "Everything in Jamaica is better than everything else in the world, our athletes, our coffee, our herbs, even our heritage."
The inevitable comes. The conversation becomes central again. I am then back in the hot seat. "So, do you think that for this New Year Jamaica's heritage will be more than so-so talk?" The river subsides.
So you may be wondering how I navigated these rough waters. I have to confess that like the good old-time Jamaican folk song, 'mi rock so, mi rock so, mi rock so, mi rock so, ... and a suh mi cross over ... .'