As Jamaica's Usain Bolt raced to victory in the Men's 100m finals in an Olympic record-setting 9.63 seconds, fans all over the world cheered and the nation of Jamaica erupted in celebration. Flashing his signature smile and his now world-renowned "to the world" pose, Bolt embodied the pride, hope, resilience and indomitable spirit of the tiny island of Jamaica which brought the world reggae, Bob Marley, and jerk chicken, to name a few. Bolt's victory came on the heels of another gold medal for Jamaica in the Women's 100m finals on Saturday when Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce became the third woman in history to win back to back Olympic golds in that event. As remarkable as the achievements of both Bolt and Fraser-Pryce are, perhaps the bigger story for Jamaica is that on August 6, Jamaica celebrated 50 years as an independent nation.
A look at the history of Jamaica over the past 50 years reveals a paradox -- Jamaica is both an island paradise and a nation of tension and instability. Starting in 1494 when Christopher Columbus landed on the island, he declared that Jamaica was the most beautiful island he had ever laid eyes on. Thus began the genesis of this conception of Jamaica as an island paradise in the eyes of the world. However, this perception of paradise was juxtaposed by such events as the influx of slave labor starting in the 1600s, destruction of the city of Port Royal by an earthquake in 1692, violent slave revolts beginning in the 1800s, political upheaval in the late 1930s and again in the 1970s, with a spike in violence coming in the 1980s. Through these various stages of instability, the perception of Jamaica as an idyllic paradise still remained with travelers singing praises for the island's beauty and celebrities such as Ian Fleming (author of James Bond fame) taking up residence.
Fast forward some 30 plus years to today and the paradox of paradise versus instability continues. Today the instability comes mainly in the form of 1) economic instability as several traditional GDP earners such as bauxite, sugar and bananas go the way of the dodo; 2) the war against drugs; and 3) a rise in crime, which many have linked to the drug trade. Like anywhere else in the world, life in Jamaica has its challenges but in spite of these challenges, to visit Jamaica is to visit paradise. Paradise in the form of pristine white sand beaches; verdant mountains and landscapes; gushing waterfalls; the simple pleasure of eating a true Jamaican patty; the warmth of the Jamaican people; and the ethos of resilience that pervades the island -- no matter one's trials, we will overcome because as everyone knows in Jamaica it is "No Problem, Mon."
As Jamaica celebrates 50 years of nationhood, Jamaicans should be proud of our heritage and hopeful for our future, which are symbolized so perfectly by the colors of the Jamaican flag -- problems there are (color: black); but the land is green (color: green); and the sun shineth (color: gold). For visitors to Jamaica -- One Love and Much Love.