Traveling man

MARQUETTE – After years of visiting their friends in Jamaica, the Tourvilles of Marquette got to return the favor this month, hosting Willy Deans, who at 58 had never been off the island in his life.

Deans and his wife Hyacinth are from the rural town of Orange Bay, Jamaica, about 10 miles from Negril, the tourist destination on Jamaica’s beautiful west coast where Deans first met Tom Tourville.

Tourville is president of the Marquette Board of Light and Power and has been visiting Jamaica for nearly two decades, he said. He struck up an instant connection with Deans.

Deans has driven a cab in Negril for about 25 years, starting his day at 5 a.m. and working until 8 p.m. or later.

He picked up the Tourvilles at the airport one fateful day, and the meeting sparked a friendship that has spanned more than a decade.

“Tom is like a real nice person, you know, he always comes around, … taking to my place, he appreciates it,” Deans said. “That’s why he’s taking care of me here. It’s nice.”

Deans has hosted Tom and Patty Tourville at his home in Orange Bay many times, where he and his wife, five grown kids, six brothers and other family members all live nearby.

Tourville said he’s always been welcomed like family.

“For us this was a unique opportunity,” Tourville said. “We’ve got to know them and they’ve been gracious to have us over to their home. … They’ve turned into family friends that every time we go back to Jamaica, Willy picks us up in the taxi and Hyacinth is the housekeeper at the small property we stay at, the small cabins we stay at down there.”

Deans arrived in Marquette in early October, after a lengthy and expensive process obtaining a visa. It was his wife Hyacinth who encouraged him to venture away from the small island of his birth.

“She always want me to come to the States because she’s been in Canada already, and most Jamaicans want to come to the U.S.,” Deans said. “Everybody wants to see the U.S. I think because a lot of people who left come here, live here for a while, they get back and they look pretty good, buy a house, start a business, always sending back things for their family.”

During Deans’s visit, he got his first coat, since the temperature often dropped below 50 degrees. In Jamaica, he said, it never gets below 60 degrees. Deans also noted vast differences in the terrain.

“We have mountains, lot of mountains in Jamaica, but you have lots of flatlands and I mean your trees is so much, so much here, it’s unbelievable,” Deans said. “The most (striking) is the lake. I couldn’t believe this lake, Lake Superior is so big. … The lake is really amazing. This is definitely like a sea for us.”

But everyone loves Jamaica, Deans said – the weather is nice and the sunsets over the ocean are beautiful.

Deans’s family raises chickens, goats and dogs, and grows a garden of bok choy, spinach, sweet peppers, tomatoes, as well as mangoes, bananas, coconuts, oranges and more.

But high interest rates make it hard to borrow money and residents of Jamaica work long hours to make ends meet. Homes are built by hand out of concrete to protect them from the tropical storms that pummel the island from time to time. The last one was six years ago, Deans said.

Tourville noted how incredibly resourceful and close-knit Jamaicans are.

“The unique thing with all this is we see our stereotyped view of Jamaica,” Tourville said. “With Willy’s experience, we get to see and share the local culture in these very small rural areas. … It’s neat to see that strong family connection.”

Tourville said that what most tourists witness is very different from the real “behind-the-scenes” Jamaica.

“That’s what we’ve enjoyed when Willy takes us around the little watering holes, the little bars and things. It’s a small town, Negril, and the locals know each other, and it’s really like one huge connected family,” Tourville said. “It’s just so relaxing and the Jamaicans welcome you in. … Most U.S. tourists when they think of Jamaica it’s a whole different perception. … If all you want to do is just stay in the really … high-end all-inclusives, you’ll enjoy it, but you’ll never see what we see.”

In his tour of Marquette, Deans saw the Shiras Steam Plant, Northern Michigan University, Dead River Falls, Mount Marquette, Jilbert Dairy, Presque Isle, the Superior Dome, the shoreline, Thill’s Fish Market, toured The Mining Journal and met the Marquette police chief, among other adventures.

“The people are friendly,” Deans said. “It’s been really nice.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.