Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


A few years ago I discovered John Shelby Spong -- an Episcopal Bishop who writes about matters related to Christianity, that are close to what I clumsily referred to in my post about being a "post Christianity Christian."

He has written books like "The Sins of Scripture" and "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism."

As I noted before, Moving Back to Jamaica involves making a decision about one's spiritual beliefs and religious practices. I imagine that it is the rare Jamaican that can come back and sit in the same pew, and believe the exact same things. One of the gifts of living abroad is that it is, for most people, a chance to expand the mind.

Reading Spong's books is mind-expanding, to say the least. I receive his weekly newsletter (at a price) and it is superb.

He brilliantly explains what happened to Christianity in the first century, and how the story of Jesus evolved from one gospel to the next. Most of what he addresses in his books is not new to Bible scholars and educated pastors, but it has been kept hidden from view partly because people just don't want to hear it.

Yet, at the end of his writing there is a prize -- a deeper and fuller understanding of Jesus and the role he played, and the power of his message today to us, in our time. It is very different from most things I have heard, yet it makes more sense than anything else I have heard.

He has a new book coming out -- Jesus for the Non-Religious that I am looking forward to getting into (the audio version for me, thanks.) I recommend his books for the serious searcher.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Disturbing Website

If you feel inclined, please visit the blog: and flag it as inappropriate by clicking on the icon "Flag Blog" at the top left. carried an article on its existence.

Of course, there is an argument to be made for free speech and leaving it as an example of... of something that scared me enough to wonder if I should even comment on it. After all, it is safer to ignore it altogether, and the links to different gun companies made me shudder.

And then, there are readers who would agree with everything on the site, and send the link on to other people who also agree.

I doubt that I have ever visited a site that I could not read all the way through... this was one. I experienced a mix of feelings: hate, confusion and ultimately, my own sorrow.

P.S. Within a few hours of my post, the website was removed from blogger. It looks as if by the time I read about it, a campaign from internet users around the world had started, calling for it to be pulled down by Google. Amazingly, it had actually been around for more than a year, operating under the radar, apparently.

The site was operated by someone with considerable web skills, and they spent a LOT of time getting their message "right." Once again... disturbing.

P.P.S Well, it is not quite gone. Here is an apparent older version of the site through 2004 at

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Soca Music via download

It is as if someone was listening!

In a post from December, I complained that soca music, the most seasonal music in the world, was not available for download anywhere on the internet.

I got a response from someone that basically said "soon come."

Well, soon come is here! And not a minute too early... has downloads available of just about (but not quite) all the hot songs from the season, and I just paid US$30 or so to get the latest hits, plus some old favorites that I have not heard in years.

The selection is a little skimpy, but the music is GOOD, and the service is not too, too hard to use.

Kudos to Trinihits for getting it right, and I hope that the artists benefit FULLY. No more waiting for CD's to come from Trinidad to do the illegal copying ( who, me?)

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Missing Carnival, Missing Christmas

It is Ash Wednesday in Jamaica, and I am listening to the radio in Trinidad over the internet thinking that I missed my annual pilgrimage to Port of Spain.

This after missing Christmas.

My wife and I spent a month in South Africa visiting with my sister and her family, and my parents. We had a great time with the family, and had fun camping and going out to stores, visiting friends and trying to figure out the country (as mentioned in other posts.)

But, in a country that has 17 official languages, and even more religions, Christmas is just not a big deal. Hardly any decorations. No carols. One or two flashing lights here and there. No trees to speak of.

Also, there were no other relatives within a few thousand miles for any of us, very few Jamaicans at all, and just friends to go and visit -- all new friends to me, that is. In South Africa, December marks the start of the summer holidays, so people tend to leave Johannesburg where we were for other places in the world. The visiting family and friends that is such a part of Christmas here in Jamaica were all missing, to say nothing of the parties... Frenchmen New year's Day party, et al.

Christmas came and went, and when I got back to Jamaica it felt like it was still coming... like when I left on Dec 5th. The truth is, it had kind of passed us by.

Coming back was a 24 hour drama of its own, with stops in Paris and London on the way back to Kingston -- without ALL our checked luggage.

That finally came two weeks later... wet.

As we arrived back home, we started packing for a complete move to a bigger place.

So, we were just in mood to pick up ourselves and take ourselves to Trinidad, to be back on an airplane and back living out of suitcases. So, I changed our Carnival tickets bought several months ago with frequent flyer mileage and we agree to skip Carnival this year.

It felt like the right thing to do.

Until about Carnival Thursday, that is. Then the music started to get into our system... Machel's Jumbie, Crazy's Cold Sweat and Patrice's Sugar Boy (my favorite.) And we started to think about what we'd be doing if we were there... Girl Power... Insomnia...Breakfast Fete... Lara... Jouvert... mas....

All of a sudden the thousands of US dollars all this fun would costs shrunk away, and all we could think was that we were missing the fun.

Now we are looking for another Carnival to visit, as it looks as if I am going to miss Jamaica Carnival due to a business trip.

So, now what?

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Post on Nigger-itis

Perhaps this post on Nigger-itis should have been placed in this blog instead.

It's taken from my other blog: Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle.

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Great Quote

Happy Quote

February 5, 2007 in Happy Quotes

"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about."
— Charles Kingsley

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Absolutely crazy to return

Almost every week, I get an email from someone who has read my blog and wants some advice on their own Move Back to Jamaica.

Here is an excerpt from one email I received:

I am so glad I came across your weblog! I recently returned from a trip to Jamaica...and am anxious to get back. I went for a week,....
Everyone seems to think I am absolutely crazy but I am ready to pack it all in here and move to Jamaica. I am willing to admit that at least on some level I have romanticised the simplicity of living on the island...but really, I would like to make a go of it.

(I have 2 degrees)....I suppose my question I likely to find stable employment in Jamaica---in any field outside of hospitality and business? I have been searching, mostly on the net, but I haven't really seen much.
My plan right now is to go out there in August and spend about a month...hopefully I can get some leads for work and find out a little more about buying/renting property...but until then I would really appreciate any advice or suggestions you can offer.

I won't put all of my reply here, as it repeats some things I have said in other places in this blog.

What was interesting however was her line "Everyone seems to think I am absolutely crazy."

My wife recently shared with me the different reactions she got from people when she told them she (a Trini-American) was Moving to Jamaica.

from Whites> "I wish I could do that -- I hear it is beautiful -- I went there and had a great time"

from Trinis > "You are crazy, I hear those people are backward, uneducated, and the crime is really bad"

from Blacks> "I would never do that -- those people don't like us Blacks, and they have goats and pigs running all over the streets, and a LOT of bugs, and the food is terrible "

from Jamaicans> "You won't make it. What are you going to do there? Everyone is leaving Jamaica to come here to the US! -- I give you 2 years."

Interesting... and difficult to explain in total.

She was most surprised at the reaction she got from Jamaicans living in the U.S., who were the most negative of all.

I have a feeling that her Move was flying in the face of what they had told themselves for years -- that Jamaica was in bad shape, and getting worse. And that they had no choice but to leave. And that they have no choice but to stay away.

The reaction from Whites is also interesting. I put it down to the fact that my wife's friends happen to be the type who have travelled widely, and seen how most other people in the world live. In other words, they have benefited from having open minds, and adventurous spirits that have taken them to many different parts of the world.

I remember the first time I visited Ghana, Trinidad, South Africa and Belize and a few other developing countries. Each visit had a particular affect -- it absolutely changed the way I saw Jamaica.

Living in America has a certain limiting power -- by virtue of the American lifestyle, which is is mostly focused on being "American," there is very little interest or exposure to other countries, their lifestyles and points of view.

I don't know if it's true that George Bush didn't have a passport before he became President, but the story is told and believed by many... and not too surprising to me.

I contrast that with the average child in many, many countries who speaks 2 or more languages.

Many Jamaicans who move to live in the U.S. seem to adopt that same narrow perspective, which helps to ensure that the views they had of Jamaica when they left never really _mature_. They don't seem to benefit from going abroad, in the way that travelling makes you a better person.

Instead, it cements into place a Jamaica-bad, foreign-good belief system that just gets reinforced when they hear news of Jamaica.

At the moment, the news from Jamaica is pretty good: murders in Kingston down 31% over last year. Inflation at the lowest since 1981. The economy is growing at 2.7%.

These are the best macro-indicators we have had in many, many years. This may be the best time to think about returning, in some respects, yet I struggle to hear Jamaicans abroad acknowledge that things are moving in the right direction.

Wouldn't that be a better message to tell a non-Jamaican who is marrying a Jamaican and Moving Back to Jamaica? Well, yes... but it will take some work for those who left to give up the comfort of their deep resignation, and be able to see when the sun does shine through the clouds.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

More on Our Hatred of Homosexuals

Today's Observer has a report of an angry crowd that attempted to get its hands on 3 allegedly homosexual men.

Sadly, Jamaica remains a dangerous place for a gay Jamaican to return to, as I noted in prior blogs. (If you click here, note carefully that the page below the first post is different.)

Incidentally, our behaviour falls in line with that of NBA All-Start player Tim Hardaway, who mentioned in a sports programme this week that "I hate gay people." It got him thrown out of the All-Star game before it started, and rightly so.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bonobos and Wining: Monkey Business

Seeing as I am missing Trinidad Carnival this year, my mind has been focused on what is passing me by. As indicated in prior posts, I am what Trinis call a Carnival Jumbie -- I love everything related to it and will not miss another Carnival... no matter what.

Starting next year...

Anyway, last night on the Discovery Channel I watched a piece on the Bonobos monkeys. This particular group of animals is so very human in appearance and behaviour, it's a little scary.

Especially when it comes to sex.

Compared to Chimps, they are extremely peaceful and apparently it has something to do with all the sex they have. Sex is used as a greeting, to resolve conflicts, before and after eating, and just for fun -- one of the few animals that have sex for no apparent reason other than fun.

Oh, and did I mention that they have sex face to face?

What caught my eye, however, was a startling similarity between them enjoying their multiple partners per day of all ages, sexes and sizes ... and masqueraders wining in Carnival...

This clip does not do it justice... but I was amazed nonethless:

here is a clip of the Bonobos:

and here is a random West Indian picnic in the U.S.

Just made me go hmmm.... (wonder if that's what I look like...)

So this Carnival thing is all a bunch of monkey business?

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My companion blog: Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle has a post on what we Jamaicans lovingly call: Nigger-itis.

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Answering a Reader's Question

I got the following emailed question from a reader of my blog, and thought it quite typical of the kind of emails I get:

Love reading your blogs and feel somewhat inspired to follow my dreams of returning home. However, my husband is more fearful of the constant news of crime and hard life affecting our people. Still, I am driven to find every information to convince him that we should take the chance and return to a life where people actually talk to each other. We live in a beautiful neighborhood where people very rarely speak to each other and I am sooo... tired of it all.

So please could you give my husband a real insight about living there and how the crime is affecting those who have to cope with it on a daily basis(I have read your earlier reports). I think he is just afraid that the chances of being killed is multiplied, although we live in South Florida where violence is now on the increase.

I, on the other hand is willing to chance a few bullets for a better quality of life( bullets flying and all). It may sound crazy to some but you can't imagine the feeling that your spirit is dying in such a lovely looking environment. Many Jamaicans back home are really anxious to come here and I do understand the financial need. However, some may think I am bit strange when I say that sometimes people who care about each other, and have a sense of community are the lucky ones. You don't know what you have until you look back in years to come and realize that no amount of money, career, big house ect. can replace the feeling of belonging to a country, of being recognized on the street and feeling that YES...this is home.

I thought her question was more interesting than my answer:

In short, I would say:

-- most of the crime is not random, but gang related, and involves retaliation, revenge and turf. Murders are down 31% in Kingston over last year.
-- if you can make it in the USA as a Black person/foreigner, you can make it here in Jamaica (assuming you are Black...) You are not the same person that left -- you are skilled, capable, flexible and you know what it means to work hard and keep high standards
-- you still cannot work as hard here as you do in the US (the Sundays won't let you) and will have much more of a life
-- your skills are probably in demand here

Having said that, you should prepare yourselves as much as you can for the differences you will find.

And you will probably be surprised at how much in Jamaica we are 'in each others lives," which is what I think you are missing. I agree with you... the Benz SUV parked in front of the 5 B/R house in Plantation is nice, but...

Being able to make a big difference by being home is nicer... in my opinion.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cults or Cultish Behaviour

The other days on Religious Hardtalk, the host, Ian Boyne, had as his guests a Jamaican religious group with some unconventional beliefs.

Formed on the basis of a revelation given to a 19th century Jamaican, this particular group believes in a literal interpretation of scripture which includes men greeting each other with kisses, the literal washing of feet and wearing uniforms to church services on Sundays. Also, they insist that their interpretation of scripture is correct, and that anyone who believes or practices differently is damned / doomed / going to hell.

To most outsiders, it has all the appearances of a cult, when the word is used conventionally.

However, I can think of a few unconventional organizations that I have been a part of. Some of them were called cults (or worse) even though I never felt that I was in anything dangerous to my health and well-being -- quite the opposite in fact.

The truth is that no-one who starts a cult actually announces that fact, or even believes it. Instead, I truly believe that most group (Jim Jones included) sincerely believe that they are doing good.

Calling a group a cult does not help, as there are few groups that are likely to take the accusation to heart, and take the opportunity to examine their practices for "cult-like habits and processes." In fact, they are probably doing all the things that every other organization is doing on a daily basis. They also learn to develop fancy defenses, such as "lists of what cults do," and reasons why they not fit the bill.

It struck me after watching that show that itmight be more helpful to think of the problem differently.

After all, each organization has an interest in not being seen or taken as a cult. However, anyone can develop a relationship with an organization that is cult-like, just by becoming overly obsessed with some aspect of it. Indeed, I have participated or worshipped alongside people who have turned an organization I was a member of into more than just a pastime, with some disturbing behaviours.

They lose interest in other activities. They come to think that the leaders can do no wrong. They spend inordinate amounts of time, money and energy on the organization. They come to believe in its beliefs, thinking that it is the only true way, and that it can never do any wrong.

Leaders of organizations might very well be interested in being trained to spot these types of relationships, in the interest of intervening with the member before they are hurt in some way. Their interventions would save both the member and the organization from a harmful result.

The biggest obstacle to this kind of awareness-training might be the egos of the leaders themselves, because there is a kind of seductive pleasure to be derived from people who come to believe in the organizations, or turn them into cults. Leaders would have to train themselves to see past their own ego-gratification, to the larger good of the the member, organization and ultimately themselves.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

A Diversion

OK, this post has nothing to do with Moving Back to Jamaica. Yet.

There is a great show on television called SuperNanny that is just the best reality show, mostly because the children, and therefore the parents are not acting.

On the show, parents that are in trouble invite Jo, the SuperNanny, to coach them on their relationship with their children. Luckily for us, the viewers, the kids are usually just as bad as the parents advertise them to be, both in fact and on film. Unlike adults on most of these shows, they are not acting, and when the parents try to "act" they are quickly brought down to earth by a misbehaving child who, the parent suddenly realizes, is embarrassing them on national television.

The show is exceptional, partly because it is so bloody real.

Furthermore, the SuperNanny's advice is excellent, and is focused on using all the best practices that good parenting is all about (e.g. setting clear consequences) and avoiding all the bad ones (e.g. getting angry and spanking.)

I recommend it highly, and while the show gets hokey at times, and is radically simplified to fit a 60 minute time-slot, I learned enough from watching it to use it with some of my nieces and nephews -- to good effect. Having no children of my own means that I can only practice vicariously.

If I did have children, I hate to say that by now I would probably have done a bad job.

Why so?

Because I only recently started to think seriously about what makes a good parent, this after many years of efforts to improve myself through reading books, taking seminars, having a coach and being counselled in therapy. I can see now how much of who I am was shaped when I was very young, and until I became consciously aware of what these events were, I was blind to the source of many of my weaknesses.

However, that is only the first step. Having these insights is only the beginning. Turning them into good practices is only the beginning of developing good parenting habits. After all, most practices are just passed on uninterrupted from generation to generation, both unquestioned and stoutly defended.

Turning these practices around is difficult, and while introspection is the first step, having a SuperNanny around as a coach would definitely help.

I have always wanted to have children, but I am glad that I don't, just because I would be a vastly different (and hopefully better) father at 40 than I would have been at 23. I shudder to think what I would have done at that age...

On a much larger scale, given how young our criminals are here in Jamaica, I can only think that the most immediate cause is the style of parenting. A 16 year-old single mother has frighteningly few qualifications to undertake the job well.

Would a national SuperNanny help all of us?

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Networking and Moving Back

There is a common challenge that I had to face in Moving Back to Jamaica.

I believe that if you are reading this post that you might share it – you are a professional in a field, and you have been trained to a level that is uncommon in Jamaica. You might be a doctor who has specialized in a narrow field, a teacher who has been trained to work with gifted students or even an environmentalist who works with a particular kind of ecology.

The question you have asked yourself might be—how do I transfer these skills back home?

This is a tough question, and lies at the heart of why many do not return. There seems to be no bridge between their current area of expertise and the state of their profession in the Caribbean. It just seems easier to stay put.

When I lived in New Jersey I certainly thought so.

It began to dawn on me that continuing to live in Piscataway was the easiest way to go – the proverbial path of least resistance. I had enough materials possessions to last me for a long time – a 4 bedroom house on a 1/3 acre lot, a new car and a safe job. Jamaica was many, many miles away.

Then I took a 2 week trip home, and when I walked through my front door, I burst out crying (to my surprise, I’ll admit.) I had begun to give up on returning home, and it felt horrible… like I was turning my back on who I was at some fundamental level. After conversations with friends I redoubled my efforts to return.

I have often thought about that episode in my life, and how settled I had become in New Jersey… which is sometimes referred to derisively as “the arm-pit of America.” The trip home helped me to see that I needed to make returning home to Jamaica easier than staying in the U.S.

There were many things that I did that helped to make this a reality some 10 or so years later, but one action that helped was to develop a network of clients and consultants back home in Jamaica. When my network grew to the point that its center of gravity was in Kingston rather than in New York, I knew then that it was time to make the final move.

How would I advise other professionals at the heads of their fields who are interested in Moving Back to Jamaica?

The first is to assure them that just about EVERYTHING makes its way back to Jamaica. We are a very aggressive people when it comes to learning and using the latest techniques, and while most things take time, we are a nature of early adopters. We take pride in continually narrowing the gap between ourselves and other professionals in “foreign.”

Notice however, that I used a qualifier—“just about.” It will never snow here in Jamaica, and if your area of expertise is training ice skaters, well, that might take a while… However, I love the movie “Cool Runnings” for it shows Jamaican audacity and assertiveness at its best: we likkle but we tallawah! (i.e. small but very strong)

The second point to note is that a professional who has expertise but lives abroad, can more easily be included in the goings on in Jamaica than ever before, thanks to internet technology. Technology has shortened the distance dramatically.

A professional who is not willing to learn and use the latest available tools is just allowing unnecessary distance to be created between themselves and fellow professionals back home.

The third point is that the overseas Jamaican professional must invest time and effort to learn the lay of the land. As a learner, the best posture to take is one of humility and curiosity, rather than an approach that suggests “I am the expert come home to help you poor people out.”

The longer the overseas professional maintains the stance of a learner, the more they can adapt what they know to fit the Jamaican circumstance. They should be reading books, newsletters and blogs, attending conferences, joining professional groups, visiting websites, meeting people and staying in touch with them no matter what.

They should follow their natural interests in the field, allowing their passions to take the lead, rather than any “networking logic.” When they find topics of interest, they should be willing to speak on them, share about them, write about them… and promote them to the general public if that makes sense.

If the field does not exist in Jamaica, create it!

For example, if I am the only expert from the Caribbean in a kind of eye transplant that no-one knows about, the best approach is to give enough information about the transplant to a wide enough audience that a demand begins to get created for its use (to use business terms that most doctors would abhor.) Start an association of “Doctors who Eye Transplant,” speak about it and write about it in the press, and be prepared for the day when the Jamaican public is ready to accept it as a viable procedure.

This combined process of taking the lead in a chosen field by humbly giving away valuable information, is rarely taught well to professionals, even in the U.S. In the Caribbean, it is the rare professional who does all these well, and I found that the distance from Jamaica forced me to do more of these activities than I would have done otherwise.

The irony is that we Jamaicans want our professionals to bring home the best of what they can find from abroad, and we are often willing to pay a premium for it. We recognize that it takes time, effort and money to stay on the cutting edge, and we want our professionals, wherever they are based, to make the necessary investments to benefit our country on a whole and us as individuals.

However, I hinted before that the professional who returns home thinking that they “already know” what Jamaica needs in any area is doomed. We Caribbean people will quickly make fun of, or ignore anyone who claims to be the expert.

However, someone who demonstrates their expertise by the value and information they create is treasured, and that is how an overseas Jamaican can overcome the challenge of networking from afar.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Riding to Port Antonio

Yesterday I, and other members of Cutters, completed a 125 mile bicycle ride that is the first qualifier in the Paris-Brest-Paris ride, held every four years, and spanning 1200km that must be completed in 90 hours.

Here are some details on the ride:

First run in 1891, the 1200-kilometer Paris-Brest-Paris, or "PBP" as it is commonly called, is a grueling test of human endurance and cycling ability. Organized every four years by the host Audax Club Parisien, the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneurs is the oldest bicycling event still run on a regular basis on the open road. Beginning on the southern side of the French capital, it travels west 600 kilometers to the port city of Brest on the Atlantic Ocean and returns along the same route. Today's randonneur cyclists, while no longer riding the primitive machines used a hundred years ago over dirt roads or cobblestones, still have to face up to rough weather, endless hills, and pedaling around the clock. A 90-hour time limit ensures that only the hardiest randonneurs earn the prestigious PBP finisher's medal and have their name entered into the event's "Great Book" along with every other finisher going back to the very first PBP. To become a PBP ancien (or ancienne for the ladies) is to join a very elite group of cyclists who have successfully endured this mighty challenge. No longer a contest for professional racing cyclists (whose entry is now forbidden), PBP evolved into a timed randonnée or brevet for hard-riding amateurs during the middle part of the 20th century. The event is held in August every four years.

Well, if that were not tough enough by itself, yesterday the ride took us from Manor Park -- Junction - Agualta Vale -- Buff Bay -- Port Antonio -- Morant Bay -- Kingston.

Too bad the report on how bad the roads are didn't come out until today...

It was tough... very tough ... and I spent almost 12 hours in the saddle from 5:20am when I left home until 5:15pm when I got back.

It is just about the worst major stretch of road in Jamaica, with potholes, gravel, sand and everything else imaginable making the going very slow, whether travelling on bicycle or car. The traffic was light... to our benefit... but little wonder as to why.

I understand from the report that they have just started construction on the highway, and we did see four bridges being rebuilt on one stretch of road just past Agualta Vale. It was not much, and it will take a long time for the entire stretch to be completed, judging by how long the other sections are taking.

However, it remains one of Jamaica's most beautiful corners -- make no doubts about that. When the highway is finished, it really will transform our island, making it a lot smaller, and enabling all sorts of things that right now are painful to conduct -- island-wide commerce, day trips around the island, and bicycle rides along stretches of road that aren't obstacle courses.

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