The Prosperous and the Penniless: Jamaican Poverty

Sunset at Rick's Cafe. Photo Courtesy: Marci Shalz
Sunset at Rick’s Cafe. Photo Courtesy: Marci Shalz

“There’s good and there’s bad here, it’s not a perfect place”

Photo Courtesy: Xanga.com

Lavish beach-front estates that line the shore are contrasted with brightly patched up shacks and huts. Wealthy hotel owners head home in clean, air conditioned cars while local fisherman slump empty handed on street corners begging for money. One person wakes up in their home before work to a hot shower and breakfast, while another wakes up at 4 in the morning to squeeze in a short shower time and a cold breakfast while living in a 2 bedroom home that houses 12 people. This is Jamaica.

Montego Bay, Jamaica.  Photo Courtesy: Marci Shalz
Montego Bay, Jamaica. Photo Courtesy: Marci Shalz

The island of Jamaica is undoubtedly beautiful. The ocean, which is surrounded by sagging palm trees and flowers exploding with color, fades from crystal clear to icy turquoise as it reaches out to the depths. The Jamaican natives describe the island motto as “No Problem”. As one 26 year-old local male described it, “In Jamaica, and in life, there are no ‘problems’, there are just ‘situations’”. Despite the fact that the average Jamaican makes only $56 a week (the average American makes $779 per week), and the unemployment rate sits at 13.4%, or 364,480 of the 2.72 million people who reside in Jamaica (the United States has a 5.1% unemployment rate which is 15,930,000 out of 318.9 million people) the majority of people are vibrant, optimistic, and happy.

Although most if not all countries possess the harsh dynamics between poor and wealthy, what’s interesting in Jamaica is the close proximity of these diverse demographics. There are some neighborhoods people live in where the cheapest house costs $450,000, and down the street, the hillside is stacked with huts and shacks where emaciated wild dogs and cats run amuck in trash filled alleys. “Some livin’ above average, some livin’ lavish, and some persons very poor,” stated a 32 year-old female during an interview about Jamaican lifestyle. “A lot of bosses, they don’t pay, even though the government say minimum wage is $56 US dollars, the just use it as an example. So a lot of the bosses, they don’t care, they are making money but they don’t care. They are very selfish. There are selfish people all over the world that don’t want to give back to less fortunate persons,” said the local.

Negrill Beach, Jamaica. Photo Courtesy: Marci Shalz
Negrill Beach, Jamaica. Photo Courtesy: Marci Shalz

Despite the high levels of poverty, Jamaica attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. And why shouldn’t there be. “There’s good and there’s bad here, it’s not a perfect place,” said the 32 year-old female. But no matter where you travel to around the world, there’s always good and bad, and nowhere is perfect. Just because it’s not perfect, doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful, or isn’t worth traveling to.



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