Five months later, 15-year-old Kiara decided to take over the business; balancing it alongside schoolwork and her ambitions to study to become a lawyer or an entrepreneur in America. Despite her age, she understands the power of legacy. With the help of her family and her mother’s many friends from all over the world, she is continuing to host guests at the retreat.
One night, Kiara joined me in the communal kitchen to talk about the business and why she decided to carry it on. “She wanted it to be this Black Jamaican woman-owned business. She just loved being strong and independent,” she said.
What makes the property special among the thousands Airbnbs across Jamaica is its commitment to these ideals. “It’s really rare, in Jamaica, to have a woman born in poverty, and become as successful as Mel became with her goat pasture,” said Stacey Davis, a family friend who helped Mel in the early days of the retreat. “Every flower in that retreat, everything you see, she did by hand.”
Although Kiara has faced some financial struggles with maintaining the property since her mother died, it remains a haven for guests seeking that ephemeral and elusive trait: authenticity. Mel, and now Kiara, encourage guests to engage with the local community on the south side of the island.
At Benta River Falls, an hour or so’s drive away from Mel’s, we were treated to a joyous day at a series of cascading waterfalls and deep pools, led by two energetic guides. The property’s owner, Stacy Wilson, played dominoes with a bunch of men in the small bar next to the falls, while we ate a delicious plate of crispy fries, and giggled with the pink-haired bartender. Mr. Wilson’s American cousin, Jahcobee Faith, explained that the family has owned the area since the 1970s, but only set up business in 2017, charging, at the time we visited, $20 for tourists and a nominal 500 Jamaican dollars, or about $3.25, for locals.