Figure 1: Faith’s Pen before Highway 2000.Photo Credit: Travelchannel.com
For as long as I could remember, one of Jamaica’s favorite travel stop from county (St. Ann) to town (Kingston) was Faith’s Pen. This household named location was host to a colorful strip of vendors along the road between Mount Rosser (also called Mount Diablo), St. Catherine and Moneague, St. Ann. Once a prime location in the midst of bauxite-rich country, with a picturesque backdrop of ruby red earth and bold green trees, Faith’s Pen was the ideal place to stop for a decadent indulgence in a taste of Jamaica.
Figure 2: Photo Credit: Googlemap
The only challenge to be encountered at Faith’s Pen would have been deciding what finger-licking traditional Jamaican cuisine or delicacy to devour. The difficult toss up for our family was most often between “jump pan” jerk pork or chicken, roast yam with roast saltfish, mannish water, and ital (natural) juices to name a few. There were typically more than 30 vendors selling a wide range of di real Jamaican bickle. Is your mouth watering yet?
Figure 3: Jerk chicken /pork Photo Credit : http://www.valenciavillajm.com/thingstodo.htm
In a recent trip to celebrate Mother’s Day with my centenarian grandmother, my brother and I headed to the country, speeding through the breath taking scenery afforded by the new highway. Despite being captivated by the perfect view of Jamaica’s eponymous topography (Xamayca/Jamaica means “land of wood and water”), nostalgia interrupted the scenic, smooth ride for the tradition of both a Crystal Bakery and a Faith’s Pen stop. My dutiful brother pulled off the highway to please his big sister with both stops. Excitedly, I pulled up to this historic place, drooling with the anticipation of a classic Jamaican meal, to my dismay, my childish delight was short-lived, and replaced by sadness. The once bustling place where you were lovingly haggled from the moment you pulled in, was now a ghost town. We drove past four stalls before we encountered the first set of vendors. Quite a stark contrast to the days when vendors swarmed vehicles and one could barely find a place to park or walk because of the number of customers. The rich cultural tool and symbol of Faith’s Pen has been replaced with the speed and tolls of Highway 2000. Screaming in my head was Mighty Sparrow’s “Capitalism Gone Mad” as I listened to the woes of vendors of Stall Five detailing the impact of the newly created highway to their livelihood
Figure 4: Faith’s Pen after Highway 2000, 5/2018. Photo Credit: NLL
Figure 5: Photo Credit- http://www.bouygues-tp.com/en/projects/highway-2000
Highway 2000 is Jamaica’s first toll highway. According to the Jamaica Observer (2016), the highway was built by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), at a cost of US$730 million. Highway 2000 cuts travel time to the north coast as well as allows motorists to bypass the Bog Walk Gorge and Mount Rosser, a constant struggle for trucks carrying heavy loads. The Highway was touted as “The completion of this highway will open up possibilities for new developments in a range of sectors which could not have been contemplated a few years ago. The possibilities are almost limitless with prospects for new housing developments, which will ease the rural/urban drift, as persons can comfortably live in the centre of the island, whilst working on either the North Coast or in the Kingston to Spanish Town region,” according to Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr Omar Davies. This is indeed sounds promising as a modern economic booster. Nevertheless, did anyone think about those thirty plus vendors? Or the families that they were able to sustain with an income from sales of traditional Jamaican food?
The Vendors Voices
Figure 6: Stall Five Chefs- Photo Credit-NLL (5/2018)
I asked the vendors who greeted us with gratitude and hopefulness about the fate of all the other vendors. They lamented that the highway has robbed them of their customers. They were however hopeful that a relocation to the entrance of the highway will address that plight. However, it has been two years, and they are yet to be located. The Jamaica Observer (2016) stated that “… the vendors would make up to $30,000 (approximately US $240) a day, especially during holidays, but now they are lucky if they even make it home with $500 (US $4) in their pockets.”
Is this Neo-Colonialism?
The Highway 2000, nicknamed “Beijing Highway” has been lauded as the single biggest investment made by the Chinese within the Caribbean. According to the Jamaica Observer (May, 2015), the reciprocity extended for this investment included the Jamaican government handing over 1,200 acres of land around the Highway to the Chinese, who will build three luxury hotels with 2,400 rooms. . According to the Jamaica Gleaner (2017) “Already, loans and grants from China to Jamaica have surpassed any other donor nation at more than US$880 million with a raft of new loans on the horizon, according to data in the 2015 Economic and Social Survey.” How do these investments benefit the masses of Jamaicans who live below the poverty level? Other than the shorter time for travel, who really benefits from the Highway? Is it a case of the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer? Is Jamaica creating wealth for China at the expense of already poor Jamaicans? Is the government utilizing any of these opportunities to provide top -tiered educational or any social reform for Jamaica’s children? I asked family members and local acquaintances these questions, their responses were overwhelmingly in support of the ensuing partnerships and argued that the benefits outweigh the costs. As tertiary level educated men who are also entrepreneurs, I was not surprised at the responses as the partnership does indeed seem to make economic sense. However, I was disappointed that there was no available information on social reforms. If the emphasis is on economic benefits for the country, how does the country ensure continuous growth without an additional focus on education and other social reform? Does it not make socio-economic sense to marry the efforts to garner long term, sustainable economies of scale with social reform? Will the lack of social reform in this marriage limit the response that might be needing to offset a potential enhanced neo-colonialism? From where I am sitting, with a social scientist leaning, coupled with a dangerous knowledge of Africana history, I can glean that Jamaica like many countries of the “Third World” (so named because First World countries have robbed and pillaged their resources since 1482) has left itself vulnerable to non-Jamaicans. Perhaps, I am just paranoid, afraid of history repeating itself, as it often does when we drift off into the lala land of ignorance, neglecting to learn/teach our history. Albeit, our post-colonial efforts at embracing diversity is a proud banner of Jamaicanness. I was reminded by one of my cousins that our motto is “out of many, one people,” a phrase that captures the history of the Indigenous Arawaks, Europeans, Africans, Chinese, Jews, Middle Easterners, Indians etc. in our island, so we therefore are or should be comfortable with such relationships. I am all for inclusion and diversity, however, we must critically assess which groups have historically controlled the purse strings of the island. It is not and has never been the masses who are predominantly from African ancestry. Like Africans throughout the world, we have extended our hands to inclusion, and often lived to tell the tale of subsequent oppression.” The wheel of capitalism has ensured the socio-economic milieu that still prevails.
Have we become “penny wise and pound foolish?” Are we in the middle of a new wave of colonialism? According to the Webster Dictionary, neocolonialism is the use of economic, political, cultural or other pressures to control or influence other countries. If our country has succumbed to a new wave of becoming subjects to a more powerful country, are we ready to stand up and fight like we did to end slavery in 1834? Or champion the subsequent movement for independence that we only achieved in 1962? Have we taken necessary steps to prevent this? Will we just pray about it and continue the conditioning of our previous colonizers who beat that notion of the meek Christian into us as they stole our land, language, names, confidence, self-esteem, self -worth? As Bishop Tutu accurately stated about colonizers, when they came to Africa, “they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” Or, are we content to just sit on cellular devices and tweet about it?
Blessing My Youths
As we sat under the shade of Faith’s Pen dwindling legacy, enjoying its sumptuous gifts of roast yam, roast saltfish, ital juice and mannish water, and being treated like royalty by our grateful chefs, I was overcome with sadness for a lost part of our culture, for the loss income of these talented, hardworking people, struggling to make ends meet. I departed the once vibrant scene, wishing Stall Five’s incredible chefs “much blessings” and feeling grateful that we caved into nostalgia and took the traditional trek, instead of the modernized path of the Highway 2000. “Thank you, my youths,” for blessing us with your gifts and “keeping the faith.” Your mouthwatering meals interrupted my Americanized bland palate and awakened senses only a Jamaican or a food connoisseur of scrumptious meals can appreciate. One love Stall Five! ONE LOVE!
Nadine L. Leblanc