Well, originally, I planned on arriving back from Jamaica today instead of last weekend. As I'm sure you can see from the pictures, I had a great time on my trip!! I decided to come home early....well, you'll see. First, here's a little rundown of my week.
Day One: I arrive!
I arrived in Kingston and met my leader outside customs. He was, for lack of better description, very nice and knowledgeable. That opinion would change as the week went on. We gathered the rest of our team and left for Mt. Vernon. The team included an older couple, Jeff and Maureen, who had a tough time adjusting to our accommodations but who worked very hard and were quite lovable by the end. We also had two boys fresh out of high school. Dan was super-easy-going and fit in great with the Jamaicans. Lee was painfully shy but always polite. There was another younger girl, Rachel, a nurse and mom from New York. Lastly, we had Stephanie and her two older children, Riel, 21, and Chavies, 17. Unfortunately, Rachel's bags never made it to Jamaica. She was very even-keel, which I found inspiring, because I'd of been crying my eyes out.
The journey was pretty crazy. The roads up the mountain were rocky (literally), teetering on cliff's edges and sprinkled with a variety of animals - dogs, cats, goats, chicken and even a pack of donkeys. Larry was a great driver. As we drove up the mountain to our location - Mt. Vernon - we drove through Morant Bay, Seaforth, and Trinityville. Sometimes people shouted things at our car (I swear someone called us rednecks) but mostly people just waved.
When we finally got to Mt. Vernon (2 hours later) we arrived at the house. It's a house the community rents out to volunteer groups or individuals. It's better suited for individuals. I was a little nervous when I saw my blue cot, but it was surprisingly comfortable. We met our cooks and had an uneventful dinner. Everyone pretty much crashed and went to bed.
Day Two: Rain, rain...rain
It rained. All day. The road flooded. We were stuck in the house. No phone, no tv. I read The Devil Wears Prada (some other volunteer left it behind) cover to cover while everyone else read Obama's biography. During a quick break from the storms, we hiked up the road to the school at the top. Two little children lead us into the bush to show us the water tank Larry's team helped construct ten years ago. I was trying to catch my breath after the hike when I looked down to notice my legs were coated with mosquitos. Nice! Sensing more rain, we ran back to the house and made it just in time for the next downpour. We were all really worried that the rain would persist all week. I went to bed with the roof leaking on my feet.
Day Three: Meet Mt. Vernon
I decided to try the shower this day. I can only be greasy for so long. It was ice cold, and the tub had bugs crawling from the drain. I kept reminding myself that ten years ago there was no running water in this community, and people had to bathe in the river. Later in the trip, Zulu, our biggest local fan, would tell me that a) even prisoners in America get warm water and b) not to worry because you won't get ringworm from the river in the summer months. I learned to appreciate my icy, bug-infested shower.
Oddly, some people were irritated with how long I spent in the bathroom. However, my room had no doors, so I had to get dressed in the bathroom. My team leader made a weird comment - "Did you enjoy your nice, long shower?" instead of mentioning to me that he felt my 20 minutes were inappropriate for a house of seven other people. This was the first warning sign that he and I would butt heads.
We met in the church with some of the community members. I got anxious because Leighton, the Jamaican leader, told us today was just a day for touring the community and tomorrow we could start work. I had just spent the previous day cooped up in a house with grumpy Americans! I wanted to get started! This was my first lesson in cultural difference. Jamaicans are much more laid-back. They have the attitude of "things will get done when they get done." I'm really envious and wish I could have this mind-set; however, in America, we're always go-go-go! The Jamaicans don't view time as an item. To me, time is a noun - something to kill, to waste, to find, to manage, to plan. I could sense the same thing from my teammates. I wanted to stay respectful of the culture, but I wanted to start working.
Luckily, Leighton took Larry to town for supplies and another man, Mr. Johnson, put us to work. He gave us two hammers (to share between the 9 of us) and told us to smack the concrete against the church's outhouse. I looked at him a little quizzically, but I didn't want to insult him, so I grabbed a hammer and started swinging. So there we were, a bunch of white people whacking a concrete wall with hammers on the mountainside in Jamaica. It was a little weird, but we all had a good laugh over it and took turns whacking away.
Later that day, the kids appeared on their way home from school. We met Tommy and Tameesha and Kootch! Then more friends showed up. They flooded our house. They were fascinated with our ipods. We brought out some of the supplies we'd brought for them - bubbles, coloring books, crayons - and let them have fun. It was the best part of the trip so far for me.
What happened next? Did I whack more concrete? Did I take an even longer shower? Check back soon for more posts : )