Joanne and I had to miss an opportunity to get back to Jamaica recently given a variety of circumstances here in Ottawa. We had really been looking forward to catching up with old friends. That got me thinking again about the years we spent in Jamaica and it dawned on me that I had never really said goodbye. Sure, I had said my farewells to the Diplomatic Corps and to the Canadian Women’s Club. But I had wanted to say goodbye in a more widely-cast way.
Someone had suggested that I should modify my Diplomatic Corps remarks a bit and submit them as a letter to the Editors of the Gleaner and Observer. I was intending to do that but one think led to another and the letter never got sent. I have recently found it.
While it is more than a bit late to be newsworthy now, and a little bit strange to be posting it today, in my view it is bad form not to have said a proper goodbye. So here is the draft of the letter I had hoped to send at the time of our departure. Apologies for it’s late delivery.
Letter to the Editor Gleaner/Observer
One of the ironies of diplomatic life is that just as soon as you start to understand the place you are posted, you are on your way to your next assignment. My wife Joanne and I are shortly returning to Canada. While we always knew it was inevitable, the certainty is now hitting home. Before leaving we wanted to express our thanks and our reflections on what have been three wonderful years in Jamaica.
As a Canadian, what struck me first about Jamaica, apart from the heat, are the many historical connections that exist between our two countries. Many probably know some of the references… Codfish for rum brought us together in the days of the British Empire, and from that, Jamaica’s national dish, Ackee and Saltfish, was created; the first West Indies cricket tour was to Canada in 1886; Canada’s first Prime Minister had a Jamaican wife and named his railway car “Jamaica” so she would feel at home rattling across Canada with him by train; and speaking of trains, the steam engines that used to travel Jamaica’s railroad were made in Canada – in fact in Kingston, Canada (my hometown!) You can still see one at the old station Downtown; The Bank of Nova Scotia, now ScotiaBank, opened a branch in Jamaica before doing so in Toronto; Alcan, an iconic Canadian brand from another era lead the development of the Jamaica bauxite industry; Air Canada and its close association with Air Jamaica; the large diaspora movements to Canada in the 1970s and 80s, longstanding military cooperation; the large number of students who have gone to Canada to study, and the significant growth of Canadian tourism to Jamaica. And there may well be some references that are less familiar with…the Great Canada-Jamaica Patty War of the 1980s…look it up, its true! (no injuries were reported on either side!). I could go on…and on…but I won’t.
Having served as High Commissioner here the other thing that strikes me is that our relationship is not just about history. Canada shares a rich contemporary partnership with Jamaica that addresses our mutual interests.
It is in our mutual interest that Jamaica has a sound and sustainable economy with increasing levels of growth where a variety of natural resource endowments, locational advantages, talented people and a strong tourism offering can be leveraged in the international economy.
It is in our mutual interest that Jamaica is more prepared for the inevitable natural disasters that affect the Caribbean region and does not have to see hard own progress literally washed away by storms and other natural events
And it is in our mutual joint interest that Jamaica has a security and justice system in which all Jamaicans can derive safety and confidence and where criminal actors are prevented from moving, along with their illicit goods/activities beyond Jamaica’s borders only to become problems for others, including Canada.
These interests drive our program here and explain why there is such a rich and diverse set of partnerships. Over 25 projects with acronyms ranging from JUST, CSJP, PROPEL, EPIC, COMPETE CARIBBEAN, PFM give expression to how we work together. Tangible outcomes such as the JDF Training Centre of Excellence, justice system reform, the Citizen Security and Justice Program, tax system improvements, local economic development projects etc. are the results.
As sometimes happens between close friends, just how much we count on each other sometimes gets taken for granted. Addressing this reality has been one of the things I have been working on during my tenure here. Social media has provided a great venue for getting the word out about. So I hope that either through traditional or social media, one way or another, you have heard something about the priorities we are working on with Jamaica.
I have had many ask “what is the single most memorable thing of your assignment here”? That’s an impossible question to answer. Looking back over three years as High Commissioner it is a bit of a blur. When I close my eyes what comes to mind starts with my arrival in Jamaica, followed almost immediately by a visit to Canada with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, which was interrupted by a last minute return trip to ensure we were on the island for Hurricane Sandy. Next were the discussions around Jamaica’s agreement with the IMF and the satisfaction that Canada could provide some last minute support that helped seal the deal. There are the three Christmas mornings that we shared with Monsignor Ramkisoon and Mustard Seed friends feeding 5000 inner city children and parents. I will always remember hosting the Canadian Womens’ Club annual fashion shows and fundraising concerts for the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica in support of their tour to Canada. And there are all the hardy souls I have met on regular morning walks at the Mona Dam…not too much conversation really…a quick “good morning” and a nod had to suffice… and then back to huffing and puffing through the exercise…at least that’s how it was for me.
One of the most lasting impressions I will have is the continued strength of the people to people links between our two countries. Many Jamaicans are also Canadian citizens who travel back and forth regularly to visit family and friends. Over 400,000 Canadian tourists visit this fair isle every year. Longstanding business links continue to connect us. Approximately 9,000 farm workers travel to Canada to work on Canadian farms providing significant benefits to both sides. All of this creates plenty of opportunity for partnerships outside of the government to government sphere. And that is what is happening more and more often. From the multimillion dollar Caribbean paediatric oncology initiative of SickKids Hospital in Toronto; to partnerships with Sunnybrook Hospital; to the work that organizations like Food for the Poor Canada and PACE Canada undertake for the education sector here; through to school building programs lead by Sunwing Vacations; even to missions lead by Toronto and Winnipeg Police Services, there is an overflowing of good will and giving back to Jamaica from Canada.
Joanne and I won’t miss the daily violence that seems to be tearing the heart out of the country or what I consider the hyprocrisy of many religious groups that seem to prefer turning a blind eye to the abuse of children and young people, even in their communities, in favour of campaigning against the legal and social accommodation of the LGBT community.
Joanne and I have been lucky to have seen much of Jamaica during our time here. The area around Port Antonio, Goblin Hill and Frenchman’s Cove was a frequent destination. We got to Reach Falls and were disappointed to find it closed. Fortunately, some young lads gave us what they called “the local tour”…all six falls and pools! That was exciting and probably my best real Jamaica experience. Joanne made have one-upped me with her visit to the Bath hotsprings. Apparently the visit involved swimming suits; Rasta-type men; hot water; guests being rubbed with towels… yikes! For further details, you will have to ask Joanne…I told here I didn’t want to know any more details!
I attended funerals all over Kingston and into deep rural Jamaica, even giving eulogies for people I did not know. Work and pleasure took us to Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Runaway Bay, Accompong, Negril, Spalding, Fielding, Mandeville, Treasure Beach, Spanish Town, Portmore, Moneague, Linstead, Port Antonio, Greenwich, Newcastle and places in between. We have painted schools with Food for the Poor; done any number of 5K walks for charity; handed over computers; cut ribbons at handover events; officiated at sporting events; helped to organize fashion shows; rappelled off high buildings; shot military weapons; presided over a Jamaica Regiment/Royal Canadian Regiment Dinner and taken the formal salute from the Massed Band; and I spoke at every opportunity I could get.
Not only have we seen much of Jamaica…Jamaica has seen much of us. Nothing prepared me for the number of photographs that would be taken of me here (many taken by the gracious Mr. Winston Sill, may he rest in peace). What do the Gleaner and Observer photographers do with all those photos after someone leaves the island? I gradually got used to the photos, but am more than a bit concerned that there is hardly a one of them that doesn’t show me holding a glass of red wine…! However, no one prepared me for the “celebrity” status of having a young man from Kingston College correctly identify me in a photograph to successfully answer the final question and win the School Challenge Quiz! I believe that young man will go far!
But finally, the most lasting impression is the people. We have met some amazing individuals here. Jamaicans are among the friendliest and helpful people Joanne and I have ever met. From my “walking friends” at the Mona Dam; to my social media friends with whom I am in daily contact. I have met people of great character, in the business, political and voluntary sectors, who have been willing to give me advice and counsel, introductions, or who have simply offered friendship. All of these people are working in their own ways to build Jamaica. Joanne and I have made great friends and colleagues in the diplomatic corps. But our deepest thanks goes to the staff of the Canadian High Commission. Thanks are owed them all for the support they have provided us, in particular the local staff who always have to adjust every three years or so to a new High Commissioner and his or her peculiarities. I hope we have not been too peculiar!
As I think back to 3 ½ years ago, I was in a group of newly minted Ambassadors and High Commissioners getting some training before we left for our assignments. The final word came from a retired former Ambassador who said…
”the most important thing you have to remember is who you are. You are going overseas to fulfill a function that is important, and that, by definition, comes with much prestige and privilege. But always remember that the day you finish your assignment and come home you will no longer be “Your Excellency”. No one will be waiting to open the door and to drive you places. There will be no reserved seat at functions for you. And unless you get into trouble with the law…the media will not at all care who you are or what you say. You will still be the same ordinary person you were the day before you took up the assignment.”
I have always thought that was good advice and have tried to perform my functions with that in mind.
If it misses the mark anywhere it is that while we may be returning to Canada as ordinary people, we take with us the memories of 3 extraordinary years in Jamaica. Joanne and I would like simply say thank you one and all for making that possible.
Joanne and I will
back to Jamaica to visit!
Robert and Joanne Ready