Back in the land of their ancestors

“I am in love with a beautiful woman,” says Theo Chambers. And he looks, not at his lovely wife Sharon who smiles indulgently, but at the sky, sea and sand on this brilliant Negril afternoon. “She has 14 children,” he continues, “and I love every single one.”

Theo, is of course referring to Jamaica and her 14 parishes. Sharon Parris-Chambers and Theo Chambers were living a comfortable suburban life in Atlanta, when Theo’s Jamaican friend Winston Wellington, owner of Travellers Beach Hotel in Negril, invited the motivational speaker to conduct a two-week training session for his staff in 1998.

This was Theo’s first trip to Jamaica and Sharon’s second since migrating over 20 years before. The Panamanian-American instantly knew that he was home. “All the food my granny made for me in Panama, all her sayings, I tasted and heard in Jamaica,” he recalls. Three days before the two-week stint came to an end, he told his friend that he wanted to return for good.

When they returned to Atlanta, Theo was set on moving to the homeland of his maternal and paternal grandparents. Sharon told him she would return with him, if he would find the father she had never met. He promised.

“In 21 days we sold everything we had – furniture, car. I didn’t get the full cost of some but I decided that everything had to go, because I was making a serious commitment,” explained Theo.

They returned to Negril where he took the job as resident manager at Travellers. As soon as they settled here, Theo set about searching for Sharon’s father. After three months, he was located in Westchester, St Catherine. Despite the first awkward moments, Sharon realised how much she looked like him, and they have been in touch ever since.

Theo’s grandparents on his father’s side were both Jamaican migrants to Panama, and they had preserved all the Jamaican traditions. Grandma tied her head with banana leaf and bay rum, scrubbed her pots with ashes, and instilled in Theo his love for rice and peas and fried plantain, perfect for his vegetarian diet. “I think they should write it in the Jamaican constitution – you must never serve rice’n’peas without fried plantain,” he declared.

His Costa Rican mother was also of Jamaican parentage – so far and wide do we travel. So when Theo moved here, he was embracing that dearest part of his early life that he had so enjoyed with his Jamaican grandparents.

Sharon Parris-Chambers lived in Jamaica until she was 13, and has vivid memories of her summer holidays with her grandparents in Mount Charles, Mavis Bank. They were successful farmers, and Sharon helped with the goats, one of which took her on a rather bruising tumble down the side of a hill.

Sharon and Theo were doing well for themselves in America. Theo was a leading magician, with gigs in Vegas, and a spread of photographs to prove it. It was he who taught Muhammed Ali the card tricks the boxing legend showed off on TV. Sharon was a successful manager.

Yet seven years later they have absolutely no regrets about setting down roots in Jamaica. They now live in Lucea, for which Theo has high hopes. “Lucea is developing into the hub between Montego Bay and Negril,” he says. He believes that Lucea’s Chamber of Commerce, Parish Council and police are doing very well to keep citizens occupied and peaceful.

The day before, Sharon and members of the Negril Chamber of Commerce were involved in a beach clean-up at Long Bay. She is passionate about our environment. Indeed, Sharon and Theo are now helping to spearhead a health tourism project, believing that Jamaica’s Bath Fountain and Milk River Bath are two of the finest in the world. They are organising a Medical/Day Spa Symposium and exhibition at the Hilton Hotel next February.

“Jamaica is the Garden of Eden,” says Theo. “Yet Jamaicans don’t seem to appreciate their country as much as the foreigners who are buying a lot of land here. I am working to get more Jamaicans living abroad to come and enjoy their home.”

Theo and Sharon’s labour of love is the Positive Tourism news website at www.PositiveTourism.com. After their day jobs, they work till the wee hours updating their site daily, giving useful tips on customer service and marketing for the tourism industry, as well as relevant news items. Only last week they launched the Positive Tourism Employee/Hotel/Tour of the month. They promote free of charge micro and small businesses in tourism.

They have also developed a Positive Tourism internet radio station to spread the good news about Jamaica all over the world.

Just in case you’re wondering what they do for a living, Sharon and Theo manage and market the Times Square shopping centre for Indru Dadlani. This highly respectable couple have made the complex into a landmark and have motivated employees to improve their skills and offer good service. Times Square is also involved in community outreach, through its education fund for children in the area.

Theo and Sharon refuse to be immobilised by the negative headlines, and are disappointed that there are not more reports about the great developments in tourism and in general. “We should not be defining the decent 98 per cent by the wayward two per cent,” they believe.

They are saddened by the senseless crime in a country with such potential, but regard it as a call to action. Sharon is coordinator for the Living Values Education Programme and is delighted that its recommendations are being adopted by the western parishes that make up the Education Ministry’s Region 4. The project fosters a culture of peace, love, unity, cooperation, forgiveness and respect.A visit with Sharon and Theo is pure sustenance. They have purposefully left their comfortable lives to help build the homeland of their ancestors. They move us to ask ourselves: what have we done for Jamaica today?

Jean Lowrie-Chin runs an Advertising/PR Agency, PROComm, in Kingston, Jamaica. Visit their website at www.procomm.com.jm

About the author

Jean Lowrie-Chin