In Bull Savannah, Jamaica — Jeffrey Thompson’s Jamaica sits along the country’s South Coast.
Bull Savannah, the rural town of 7,000 residents where the D.C. political power broker grew up, seems to be a throwback. Young children race on their bicycles up and down dirt roads. When they are not playing or helping their parents fish or farm, they don uniforms to attend Bull Savannah Primary School.
The roads are so narrow and winding that people honk their horns to warn wandering goats and drivers who cannot see them rounding the curves.
Most people aren’t rich. They live off the fruits and vegetables of their land, trading mangoes that vary in color, texture and taste. St. Elizabeth parish, where Bull Savannah is located, is known for having a diverse mix of people. When Thompson’s aunt describes the family tree, she speaks of Indian, Jewish and Irish heritage.
His close-knit relatives live next door and across the street and down paths from each other.
In this town, seemingly every family has built its own home, one cinder block at a time, taking years to complete it. In the end, houses — painted in tropical colors — hang in the hills like ripened mangoes from a tree.
On a Sunday, spirituals from church choirs mix with the sounds of carpentry and the chatter of farmers who decided it was not the day to rest.
Southern Fruits, a food processing plant owned by Thompson’s cousin Derrick Rochester, helps to churn the town’s limited economy with 100 employees and additional contractors who sell fruit to the plant. Many residents also work in the bauxite industry.
But Rochester, a retired member of Parliament who has held several titles in the country, said he is working to put Bull Savannah on the map as a tourist attraction.
Those in the know and vacationers looking for off-the-beaten-path adventures already make their way to Little Ochie, a beach-side restaurant that serves fiery escovitch fish dishes and is alive from day to night.
It’s in Alligator Pond, a nearby town where Rochester has opened Seariv, a guesthouse at Sea River, where the river meets the ocean.
Rochester said he has talked to Thompson about investing. “I got the clear impression that when and if he returns to Jamaica, he would be interested,” he said.
Editing by Jeff Leen, Tim Curran, JJ Evans; Design by Chris George, Tim Wong; Photo editing and research by Mark Miller, Melina Mara, Dee Swann, Wendy Galietta, Nate Grann; Visual editing by Janet Michaud, Kat Downs; Project coordination by Greg Linch, Tim Richardson; Development by Connor Jennings, Tim Wong