American Students Experience ‘Village Tourism’ in Westmoreland
Mathias Brown, a 70 year old native of Petersfield in Westmoreland parish, Jamaica is a man on a mission. His goal is to introduce and embed a new kind of tourism in Jamaica – ‘village tourism’. He is off to a great start. For the last few years, Mr. Brown – through his role as the Chairman of Petersfield’s Association of Clubs – has been welcoming American college students to his small rural township of Petersfield to undertake what collaborating organisation, Amizade, calls ‘learning through service’.
Village Tourism is a concept where people enter a small town and essentially join the community for a set period of time. Students for example live in the homes of residents of the area whom become their ‘house mothers’. They engage in some kind of community or service project such as school painting, education, erecting fences or any other need of the community. This is an essential component of the ‘village tourism’ concept.
According to Mr. Brown, the lead organiser of the Petersfield ‘village tourism’ project, ‘our goal is to get people closer to the culture of the location. More than a mere visitor, people become members of the community’ and contribute to its development’. Importantly, village tourism provides tourism income to a part of the country not usually visited while bringing attention to the troubles and successes to the unadvertised parts of Jamaica. The Jamaican media is yet to get wind of this project. Neither has the local Jamaica Tourist Board- which promotes a sun-sea-sand-all-inclusive resort-focused tourism model aimed at putting in their words ‘heads on beds’. For a tourism-dependent Jamaican economy, this model is inadequate. The enormous potential to attract increased tourism revenue by expanding what tourism means and what it looks like is yet to be explored, and is long overdue. I asked one of my students, American Kevin Terbush, one of the participants in the 2013 trip to tell me about his experience of ‘village tourism’ in Jamaica. The latest project was to live and work residents in Petersfield, Westmoreland on an autism awareness project. Here is what he wrote:
My experience of ‘Village Tourism in Jamaica (By Kevin Terbush)
It was sometime in October when a trip to Jamaica was first brought up to me. I was sitting in the Commons, the college dining room of Roger Williams University (Rhode Island, USA) eating dinner when my friend Lilly ran up to me and said that Dr. Spritz (program organizer) was offering a winter intersession trip to this tropical location. Given that I was already freezing in October, I knew that by January I would be truly sick of the cold. So I decided to attend the information meetings for the trip. I wanted to be somewhere warm when my house’s temperature would likely be -4 degrees. In my head were the images of Jamaica that I always see on TV. Commercials for Sandals resorts, and cruise ship destinations were basically all I knew about the island. For me, it was the ultimate tourist destination, and probably still is, but after my trip, I really look at tourism in a completely different light.
During first meeting with Dr. Spritz, we were told that we would not be in traditional Jamaican resort
areas of Negril or Montego Bay the whole time. We were informed that we would stay in a small town called Petersfield in Westmoreland parish. The town is where a [slave] plantation once was and is not particularly known for its booming tourism industry. It’s surrounded by sugar cane fields and its a small community where many students come in through the Amizade foundation to experience ‘village tourism’.
Most of these village tourism trips required the student group participating to perform some sort of service project to the local community. For our trip, Dr. Spritz decided to focus on Autism at the behest of the town’s Association of Clubs facilitator, Mathias Brown. Telling my parents I wanted to go to Jamaica was quite a job in itself. They had heard from various family members who had gone on cruises to the island that the people were mean and lived solely to sell you whatever they had. My parents did not particularly want me to go to an island full of greedy people who would steal my money. Personally, I did not look at Jamaica in quite that way, but after hearing from everyone in my family about the people there I did get a little nervous.
Landing in Jamaica – The Road to Petersfield
Finally, January 10, 2013 came around and we got onto our plane and landed in Montego Bay. We quickly made it through customs and in no time were on a
bus headed into Petersfield. We were immediately welcomed onto the vehicle by three incredibly friendly Petersfield resident who had driven all the way out to pick us up. We were given patties which had to be the best tasting thing I’ve ever had, and juice. That juice! It was at every meal and was always just as refreshing as that first cup. It was just amazing. We started our drive through the streets of Montego Bay, seeing cars speeding by and vendors standing in the middle of the street. It seemed very different to me. Car horns were blaring everywhere, something I usually only saw in movies. But I quickly found out that they were actually being used to let other people know that they were coming, unlike in America where it just means one driver does not care for another, but usually in a more explicit style.
The drive quickly brought us out of the city and into the mountains which were completely forested and beautiful. I was astounded by everyone’s ability to drive on these tiny roads with ravines one side, but my mind was constantly taken off of that by the beauty of the undeveloped parts of the country. I had always pictured Jamaica as beaches and parked cruise ships, but seeing these forested mountains was truly incredible. We passed by a few small communities on our way out and began to see that the style of building was quite different than that of what we were used to. Most of the houses were comprised of bricks and steel weather plates, and sometime just rusted steel plates. I began to see that there was a lot less money in this nation than what was advertised on television. I started to worry again about what my family had warned me about and how they must want my money. But the second we got to our destination in Petersfield I instantly saw that I was wrong.
Mathias Brown, Our ‘House Mothers’ & that Jamaican Food !
Mathias Brown and a host of house mothers greeted us. They welcomed us into the AOC (Association of Clubs Building) and sat us down, gave us drinks and food, and began to talk to us. They told us how we would split into groups and each would be staying with a house mother. This splitting up section did get a little unusual. We did not know the mothers and they did not know us. Mr. Brown had us put together in groups with students some of us didn’t even know and sent us off with some of the house mothers. I was placed with Mr. Brown’s wife, Alvira Brown, who within 3 days would simply be referred to as Mom. By the time we went inside our ‘host homes’, we had been traveling for hours already so we were exhausted, but we were offered dinner. It was that night I learned that Jamaican cooking is one of the world’s most delicious things ever. The following ten nights we would have curried chicken, jerk pork, beef soup, several kinds of fish, and several kinds of fruit I had never even heard of before.
Our house mother was the sweetest woman ever too. She showed us our rooms, told us about herself, and was eager to hear us talk about ourselves too. One of her sons, Nestor, also stayed in the house with us for some of the time. He was 29 and a professional chef in Negril. Later that night we went out onto the porch. This ended up being the hangout spot for most of the trip. You could just sit and enjoy the nighttime breeze, or lay there in the day, out of the sun. Needless to say, I spent a good deal of the trip sweating seeing as the temperature was usually above 80. But the first night Nestor and Mom came out and we just talked for about an hour before we all went to bed. I already began feeling close to my house family and it had barely been 6 hours.
Jamaican Way of Life – A Firsthand View of Church, School etc.
Throughout the next few days I witnessed a huge amount of the rural Jamaican culture. We went into several schools, colleges, churches and town meetings throughout he trip in order to give our talks on autism. But while we were educating, we were learning a lot ourselves. I personally still wish I could do more to help with the education system. The teachers we met with all seemed so incredible, but having classes of over fifty kids makes it seem impossible. Many times the classrooms would have about forty five kids and there would be no wall between it and another class going on. There was constant shouting in the schools and it looked like a very difficult environment to learn in. What could be done about this, I still don’t know, but it would involve a huge allocation of funds into the Ministry of Education, probably in the billions of dollars.
There was also a huge church influence that I was not particularly expecting. I’m used to our [American] government system where church and state are completely separated, but every single event we went to involved a prayer beforehand. Even though many of the people we talked to told us that they were not religious, they still would say a prayer simply because it was tradition. I don’t know if it was the Christian principles or the amazing weather at all times the contributed to the phenomenal demeanor of the entire population of Petersfield. This may have been my favorite thing about the trip and is something I really miss now that I’m home in the most unfriendly region of America [New England], but every single person would say hello to you as you passed by. I would walk down the street, not know a soul, and wave. And just this would strike up a conversation. Everyone was so welcoming and happy to have us in their town. They all had stories to tell and wanted to hear about us. It was great. Sadly now that I’m back on campus, every time I pass someone I don’t know and say hello they look like they want to pepper spray me!
Roaring River Versus Resort Towns (Negril-Mobay)
Another completely amazing thing was the nature around us. I feel like I would not have gotten the chance to see some of the things I saw if we were staying in Montego Bay. Roaring River was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. But probably the most amazing thing to me had to be the view of the stars. Every night, there would be more than I had ever seen before. I live in a rural part of New York, I can see a lot of stars normally. But it’s never been anything like this. Truly astounding. Our last day in Jamaica, we took a day off and visited the resort town of Negril, stopping at local hot spot, Margaritaville and having a fun day on the beach. It felt weird to be there. For the first time in a week, I wasn’t the minority, and to be honest, I don’t know if I liked it. All of the tourists that were there acted so self-righteous. They behaved in the way an American on vacation typically would, but the air they gave off to the local Jamaicans was cold and condescending. After being a part of the Jamaican culture and seeing the kindness and friendship that they always offered so willingly, this situation kind of appalled me. I spent a good amount of my time there talking with the Jamaicans who worked there, and realized that they were much better people than the tourists.
Leaving was definitely a difficult process. I had grown incredibly close with my host family and I cried while trying to give my speech at the going away ceremony. It was something so different from a typical vacation. I had the opportunity to really learn about another culture, and be part of their community. People in the town got used to us being there, but that didn’t stop them from being genuinely kind individuals. We weren’t just a novelty item like people who are different that come to America where the person is fascinating for a day or two and then the population is bored with them. We were a part of the community and that meant much more to them than it does here. I would love to have the opportunity to go back and experience the Jamaican culture again. Definitely not in a tourist area though. I got a taste for the way so many Jamaicans lived and I liked it and wouldn’t mind doing it again.
To learn more about the Amizade Foundations’ Service Learning Projects around the world, please click on this link – http://amizade.org/ They can be reached at: Phone: 412-586-4986 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, 4 Smithfield Street, Floor 7 Pittsburgh, PA 15222.
This story is a part of the Re-Imagine Jamaica Project founded by Political Analyst and Communications Consultant Dr. Hume Johnson. Re-Imagine JAMAICA is dedicated to the nationalist renaissance Jamaica is undergoing. We explore new narratives, construct & redefine Jamaica’s brand to improve perceptions of us. For more on the Re-Imagine Jamaica project, please follow us on Twitter – https://twitter.com/OneLoveRepublic. Email us at: reimagineJamaica@gmail.com