Wrapping up: The day before the last day…

Tuesday was my last full day in Jamaica and I wanted to make the best of it. I had a list of things in mind. There was no real highlight because for me each moment was special in it’s own way. First, I revisited the soup kitchen. It was a nice surprise for the ladies that worked there. “I’m back” I said as I pulled the grill door open and let myself in. The ladies were pleased to see me and some who really intended to call me before I leave had the opportunity to give gifts. I suppose coming back was the right thing to do. That lady that gave me the gift, was a dear friend of my mother’s and if I am not mistaken, I believe I saw tears in her eyes. She had not seen my mother for well over a decade and the fact that I showed up to volunteer at her church came as a huge blessing and surprise to her.

Laurleen, my mother’s old friend, walked me back to Medical Associates Hospital. That was my next stop. Just that morning, I made plans to have lunch with a nurse who works at the hospital. Much like Laurleen, my mother worked with this nurse for years. They both were a part of my mother’s wedding, people who she would have taken lunch breaks with, go home with and knew each other’s children. There we were eating lunch together, the three of us. To them it may have been an exact replica of a day in history. For me, it was a way to rekindle relationships that will last well into the future.

When I was little, I would have spent a lot of time at Medical Associates Hospital. It was the place I would go after school to wait my mother;  prior to me mastering how to take the bus from Kingston to Spanish town or Portmore where we used to live. So these ladies were like aunties and in Jamaica, every child has to refer to adults as aunties. I noticed that habit has not changed, as little children were referring to me in much the same way. In fact, when I was speaking to my mother’s friends, I felt the need to be respectful by during the same.

From the hospital, I walked to YMCA which is located on Hope Rd. No more than ten minutes walk and I was there. When I arrived at the YMCA I said my hellos again. My Canadian friend was ready. We also invited a teacher, as we were going to my all time favorite place to relax in Jamaica, Devon House.

This time I had mango ice cream. Can I say that I could almost imagine a real mango if I closed my eyes? I mean the ice cream was the same colour as the mango and the taste was no different. I definitely see why Devon House gets a lot of reviews and why after all these years they are still in business. There is no other place like it. And I was truly happy to sit with new friends one last time in a beautiful park eating ice cream. I learnt about some of the history particularly pertaining to Hurricane Gilbert. This hurricane which took place in 1988, destroyed the trees at Devon House. A large remnant of a tree trunk that had fallen and broken part of the fence is still visible in the park. The trees that were standing were not the same prior to 1988 but all of them have grown to be tall and strong. The house that sits in the centre of the park was minimally damaged as well. Windows had to be changed for instance. I would have never known this. It was an enjoyable conversation and when the moment to say good-bye came I realized that the truth is I don’t have to be sad. “I will see these people again” the thought crossed me. My Canadian friend will be there for another three months which gives me a medium of communication with the teachers and students.

A little after my friends left, my ride came for me. I was going to Cafe blue. I was curious about what the Jamaican coffee shop experience would be like, as I really enjoy sitting at the coffee shops in Canada engaging in conversations. Cafe blue was a little small and I didn’t like that it was emerged with another restaurant. I had a “bluecino”, much like the cappuccino except I can’t recall what the difference was. I had a chance to look back over my time in Jamaica and express the best of my experiences. I had a chance to look at the future and express what it holds for me. The day came to an end when I was returned to my cousin’s work place.

At night, I knew I wanted to revisit the church where I had been devoting a lot of my time and energy. I had a chance to take pictures of the congregation after the service and other individuals I don’t want to forget. I was dropped off at home and I said my final farewells.

But just before the night ended, Jamaica gave me a gift to remember. It was a final opportunity to sit out in the warm Jamaican night air, an opportunity to speak my heart, look into the Jamaican sky and see the countless stars, a final opportunity to share one last intimate moment before I said good-bye. Thank you Jamaica for all that you have done for me, all that you have given, and all that you have taught me. I truly hope that this will not be the end, but instead the beginning of a long beautiful relationship.

Until I see you again…



Day 29- Day 31: The weekdays

When the week started on May 20th I was looking forward to what was in store. My cousin was off on vacation so I wasn’t sure how I would be making it to Kingston. On the first day, I woke up drowsy. It seemed that the weekend had taken a toll on me (waking up so early and spending the day in the sun at Dunn’s River falls) then waking up early on Sunday to attend Church. Plus my period started so all of that just made me tired and unmotivated to plan the day. After eating breakfast my cousin prepared, I crawled back into bed and I slept the rest of the morning. I officially got out of bed around one in the afternoon. Then ate lunch and found my way under the sheets again for another nap. This time I got out of bed and stepped out on the verandah where the breeze was nice and cool. My cousin sat next to me and we talked, me with my very lethargic voice.

After six that evening my cousin’s wife returned from work. We decided we would go for a hike up the mountain. This has been a weekly thing for the family since I’ve been here in the last month. We are preparing to climb the famous blue mountains! So getting in tiptop shape is important. Apparently it takes roughly 4 hours to climb, so this is not a journey for the weak. We are all anxiously looking forward to it.

On Tuesday, I woke up early. I was placed on the bus at the Portmore shopping centre. Taking the bus to halfway tree by myself is not as scary as one may think. I found a single seat by the window and I watched the conductor as he called out, “ahf-e-chee” “ahf-e-chee” and how he spots potential passengers from afar and solicits them for the journey. Before the bus arrived on the toll road highway it was packed. Not long after, the bus arrived in halfway tree. When I got off the bus, I had to walk through crowds, avoiding eye contact with street vendors and taxi drivers alike. Normally on Tuesdays, I leave the YMCA early so that I can make it to the soup kitchen for 12pm but this time I decided to stay. At the end of the day, my Canadian friend, who volunteers there too decided we would go to Devon House. It was just a walk across the street. Yes I have been there before-to see, this time I was going to relax. We bought our ice cream, me the soursop flavor and him the devon stout. Then we found a bench in the park to sit and chat about our life in Jamaica so far and what we hope to do with the experience when we returned home. Three hours later were still chatting and picturing ourselves living in Jamaica. Just after five in the evening, my ride called and so it was time to say goodbye to Devon House. This day will be banked away in the file of treasured memories.

By Wednesday, I was back at YMCA. This time I arrived at 8:30 am with my cousin. I worked on a  presentation and when I arrived at my designated classroom, I had the children’s undivided attention as the video of Barack Obama which I chose to use started. I waited for my cousin when classes ended and he arrived shortly. We went into the plaza called Twin gates to purchase sneakers, in preparation for Blue Mountains. The teachers are happy because Thursday is Labour Day, so no school for them. I’m looking forward to the long weekend myself!


Day 22 to 25: School system in Jamaica

Although there are some aspect of Jamaica that is changing like wildfire- in particular the homosexual culture, there are other things that haven’t change- prayers in school. It almost seem odd to watch these boys clasp their hands and repeat a prayer, something they have been doing since they entered the school system, before being dismissed for lunch. They say another prayer after lunch and still another to be dismissed from school. Although I do not arrive early in the morning to watch them stand in lines at the front of the school for devotion, I know they do not go a day without doing this. Let’s just believe in the name of Jesus Christ, that these prayers will be immovable.

On Wednesday this week, I had an appointment to visit one of the primary schools in Portmore. One of the ladies working there, unlocked the large gate to let my cousin and me in. After sometime, the guidance counsellor greeted us and took us to her office. I explained my line of work in Canada and what my studies entail, then she began to spill the issues they have been struggling with. A few of those issues are: Boys kissing each other, two seven-year-old boys attempted to rape a little girl, boys ‘exhorting’. Many of the issues they were having had to do with boys. And although they seem so huge, she alerted me that these are the minorities. Overall, the school has been doing well; in particular, they did exceptionally well at the primary school champs (track and field events). For the coming school year, she said, they have space for 164 children, but over 200 have already registered, “I don’t know what we’re going to do with the extra children” she said.

Male mentors are needed, I told her. Parenting is becoming an issue. It’s not only in Jamaica, Canada too, but at least schools and churches here realize that that’s where the issues lie. Children are being abused in every way (physically, verbally, sexually)…sometimes there are no parents. On my first day volunteering, one student disclosed to me that his grandmother had beaten him with a broomstick which prevented him from doing his school work that day. He did not inform the teacher. Thus, you can imagine her frustration as he stared into space the entire morning without as much as  to remove his backpack. I pulled up a chair next to his desk to inquire the reasons. Tears ran down his cheeks but no words came. I had to coax him into going to buy lunch, that way I would be able to get him to divulge whatever was on his mind. It was on this walk to the tuckshop that he shared the details. So when we returned to the class, I suggested that he take out his book and hold it in his lap since the desk was unreasonably higher than where his hand could reach. The school in general could do well with new furniture and more space. To think one teacher is in charge of up to 18 of these children, who are functioning at such a lower level. The children would do better with more individualized attention. I suggested it to one teacher. It would be useful to make good use of their volunteers, seeing that tons of us go in and out. Yet there is no set program for us. A volunteer coordinator probably would have been useful. But who has money to fund this position.

To be honest, I was thinking about how effective I would be if I found people in Canada who would be willing to volunteer- at this point, I can see that schools are in dire need of help. Let’s see how it goes…

Monday and Tuesday I spent at YMCA and facilitated a presentation for the class I had been working with. In general I think I had their attention. This Thursday I decided to go to the soup kitchen a little earlier, causing me to skip YMCA. I had to help package groceries. There were large bags of flour, sugar, cornmeal, and rice everywhere. The other ladies and I had a bag each. Some were moving considerably faster than others. I used a cup to pour 1 1/2 cup of sugar into a clear bag. I made 118 bags in total which took me roughly 1 hour and 40 minutes. By 12pm, I prepared myself to serve. There were two other ladies who prepared the large pots of rice and peas and stew turkey neck in the meantime. They are the cooks. And today they used the leftover soup from Tuesday. While another lady shared the soup in styrofoam cups, I neatly arranged them on a tray to serve the men and women sitting around tables.

When all was done, we had to clean up, I was in charge of rinsing, another person did the washing and drying.  It was a good day and another excellent week. Looking forward to the weekend!

Day Fifteen and Sixteen: Volunteer week starts

The moment I have been waiting for arrived this week. I woke up early Monday morning to get ready for my first day volunteering at the YMCA. I was not sure what to expect. Ok I started to feel a little nervous, but remembered that this was volunteer work. I arrived just past nine in the morning, I signed in as I was told to do and inquired about the coordinator, the woman I had spoken to last Thursday, Mrs. Taylor. I met her and she took me to my first class where I was introduced to the form teacher and explained to the class that I am a volunteer. I sat at the back of the class on a wooden chair being held up on four metal legs. I crossed my legs and opened a book to glimpse through. “The great controversy by Ellen G. White” of all the books to take from the teacher’s room, this is one I grabbed. It was the title that drew my attention. But then learnt that it’s a book written for Seventh Day Adventists, though I’m sure it’s a book that anyone can read. I carried the book around with me throughout the day as I was going from class to class to observe; while reading bits and pieces. I felt I had met her when I was consistently attending the Adventist church on Saturdays back in 2009, just because. I had made some friends during that period of time and I was curious about their beliefs. I did not have an issue attending the services, though I found the issue rest in attending Sunday….oops Saturday School. I was annoyed by the continuous references to this Ms Ellen G. White. She was continuously used as reference to how one ought to live. In any event, there I was sitting at the back of the class observing these young boys, while attempting to read parts of the book to which I had no interest in the content.

These boys attend school at the YMCA because they are not able to function well in regular high school. Some are as young as 12 while others are as old as 17. Yet every age group could be found in this second class I was observing, it’s called form #1 and in this form they all function at a grade three level. My first day and I had to speak to this 17 year old who was walking in and out of the class as he saw fit. The teacher looked like she had already given up on him, but who to blame her. I know the nature of that work. Everyone  experiences a little burnout. He threw another child’s shoes inside a hole in the roof of the class.

In the third class, the students were not as difficult but they had trouble focusing on their school work. She maintained a little more order than the first, but then, I wouldn’t exactly call someone who has to redirect children every  minute, order. By two o’clock I was glad when school was dismissed.

The following day was different. I sat inside the first period upon arriving after nine in the morning. This time the class I supervised was much better than the day before.The students actually completed all the work the teacher assigned them and were eager to show the work to the teacher. I helped with the marking of the assignments which made for a more productive day.

Speaking of productive, at 12pm I left the YMCA to work at a soup kitchen held at the Webster Memorial United Church located on Halfway tree Rd. Tears came to my eyes when I saw the amount of homeless people that were standing around neatly organized tables, hands clasped in prayer upon completing devotion.  When they were done praying, I walked out with a tray with dishes of soup on it to be served to the men and women. Isn’t this what Christ wanted us to do?

An attendance was taken while soups were going down people’s stomach. Water was handed out in plastic cups to quench thirst, and sincere “thank yous” were heard. I’m not sure if I had ever done anything so touching before. But when I thought this was all I needed to fulfil my day, there was the homework club which was held an hour later. Students, as young as six arrived to get help with homework.I sat there the entire time making myself useful. The children began to grow on me even during that short two hour span. I can’t wait to see them again on Thursday. Thursday I hear, the Soup Kitchen is even busier than on Tuesdays. Rice and Peas is preferred over the soup, so they anticipate at least 100 persons.

All in all, this week–volunteer week, started on an excellent note and I hope the rest of the days will go as well as the past couple days have been.