By Dr. Tara Singh
Well known for its Blue Mountain coffee, reggae legend Bob Marley, its iconic athletes like Don Quarrie and Usain Bolt, its breath-taking sceneries and spectacular beaches (Negril, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Puerto Seco), Jamaica is perhaps one of the most beautiful countries in the world! Despite the troublesome crime situation, the number of tourists to that island is testimony to its magnetic power.
These splendid qualities combined to make another trip to Jamaica, enticing. The natural beauty and warmth of the Jamaican people are irresistible. A wonderful opening happened on September 14, 2019 to push us in this direction. It was the 50th wedding anniversary of two great Jamaican personalities, Dr Hame Persaud and Barbara Persaud. That memorable journey that took us into the past was filled with rich imagery and nostalgia; but these were not enough to overshadow the glamor and glitter of the occasion. Yes, we can only reminiscence about the past as we cannot change it; for the present though we can do something about it.
The venue was Mona’s Visitors Lounge located in the heart of the University of the West Indies Campus, Mona Kingston. The program was deftly and elaborately put together by the Persaud’s three children, Roopa, Naresh and Shanti and their spouses. Relatives and friends from Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, The United States and Canada were integral to the celebration.
The program was not only a celebration on the longevity of their marriage but also a recognition of the critical role that the couple has played in community, cultural and humanitarian development. Several speakers, including business executive Ravi Rambarran, Dr Dayanand Sawh, Professor Girjanauth Boodraj, Dr Winston Tolan, Business owner Mohan Jagnarine, and Guyana’s Honorary Consul to Jamaica, Indira Persaud Sawh, spoke glowingly about the Persaud’s exceptional contribution to the community and society’s welfare. Professor Asha Badaloo and her husband Owen Badaloo shared those sentiments. Barbara Persaud has received many citations for cultural and community work while her husband Dr Hame Persaud was granted the “Order of Excellence,” by the Jamaican government.
Against great odds, the Persauds have been able to mobilize national and international support for their cultural and spiritual mission in Kingston Jamaica. They, along with a few Jamaicans, have founded the Prema Mandir at Henderson Avenue, Kingston, Jamaica that is a beacon of hope for many people, especially to those descendants of Indian immigrants. The Mandir and its humanitarian mission are open to all ethnic groups.
That classy event had brought together many outstanding individuals who were given a unique platform to interact with one another. Top business executive and intellectual Ravi Rambarran expressed his views on political developments in Guyana as well as his disappointment with CARICOM which has failed to take a principled position on the Guyana constitutional crisis. Similar views were expressed by businessman Owen Badaloo. We were introduced to Kris Persaud, the owner of the Jamaican Tallawahs cricket team. Kris was there in the capacity of a family friend. We told him that his team was not doing well of late and he quickly responded, “that will change.” On the Sunday (September 15, 2019) when we were returning from Puerto Seco Beach at Discovery Bay in the parish of St Ann, there was a loud explosion of cheers in the bus; news had reached them that the Tallawahs had just won their cricket game that was played at Sabina Park, Kingston.
The north south highway that covers most of the journey to Puerto Seco was recently constructed by the Chinese and has facilitated the crucial link between the towns, communities and beaches within easy reach by land transportation. Driving through the highway is a remarkable experience. Apart from being an engineering splendor, the countless miles of mountain ranges, hills and valleys through which it bursts, provides a spectacular view. It’s nature in all its glory. We passed a few orange orchards and cattle ranches and even experienced two areas with fog. The journey from Chelsea Avenue, Kingston, to Puerto Seco Beach, Discovery Bay, St Ann through the mountainous region took just 1 1/2 hours. Before the highway was constructed, on the old route, that would have taken 3 1/2 – 4 hours.
Our visit to Puerto Seco Beach was an extension of the celebration. Many of the visitors had not gone to that beach which was built only a few years ago. It’s well kept, clean and has adequate facilities to make guests comfortable. Above all, one gets a majestic view of the mighty Caribbean seas whose waters continue to bewilder tourists. As we were returning to Kingston, one group was engaged in a conversation on “oil.” A Canadian visitor wanted to know if the Exxon PSA (Petroleum Sharing Agreement) could be re-negotiated. It was explained that it might be possible, but both parties must agree to that. “But why?” one person exclaimed. It was explained that the contract has a “stability” clause that does not allow for re-negotiation. Another visitor wanted to know why the government did not provide alternative jobs for the dismissed sugar workers.
In addition, she wanted to know why Khemraj Ramjattan and Moses Nagamootoo supported the closure of 4 sugar estates when they had promised that sugar “is too big to fail” and that they will give sugar workers a 20% pay rise. It was explained that the AFC has no voice of its own anymore; it has been absorbed into the PNC. What we found very interesting is that Jamaicans are aware of the political situation in Guyana and they are wondering how the constitutional crisis in Guyana will be resolved. They are also aware of the delaying tactics employed by the government.
Another side benefit of the short trip to Jamaica was a brief tour conducted for a group of us by a local businessman who is the co-owner of SpurTree Spices. Mohan drove us to an inner-city area where Bob Marley used to sing and where there are conspicuous signs of his ever presence. It has not yet been transformed into a socially uplifting area, but Mohan explained that the Jamaican government is revitalizing downtown Kingston which has been able to attract businesses and housing development there.