Look carefully at the picture. We are all smiling – mostly. It’s a beautiful picture. However apart from the opportunities for photo ops we were left with much more than memories of our trip. There were so many lessons that we learned that day. At first it seemed such a simple, uneventful journey into Kingston. But nothing is ever simple; the trip became a gift that will keep on giving.
Many of us faced the reality of our own fragility and took comfort in our, ‘ordinariness’; yes I just made that up. I say ordinary because if we take an objective look at ourselves, we may feel that there is nothing really outstanding about our lives, our features, our mannerism and our accomplishments. when we compare this with the residents of the homes we visited we realize that being ordinary can be the right remedy for us to maintain some measure of sanity in a crazy world. Many of us were apprehensive about our reception, but once we started interacting with the residents, the mood lightened. The awkwardness was eventual replaced by laughter, giggles, clapping and a generally festive mood.
But to understand the investment of those involved, we have to reflect on all the hard work done by, those teachers involved, students and the Guidance counselors; the end product was surely worth all the planning and phone calls made. There was the conventional and unconventional photo shoot locations for the calendar package organised by the Red Cross Society , the relentless food and clothes drive by the Peer Counsellors. Even the humble donations of toiletries that we do not give a second thought to led by the Lay Chaplain; those basic things that seem to always be there when we need them, mattered. Just go to the supermarket, the shop down the road, round the corner. Always available. Until they are not.
But we never think about losing any of what we have. Not until we are about to lose them – if we see it coming. But usually, not until they have already gone. It wasn’t that the tables on which the offerings were displayed, were buckling under the weight of the gifts. It was that persons had taken the time to carefully and lovingly display all they had collected. It was an impressive display of the most ordinary things, carefully packaged afterward for distribution. For many of us they would seem to be ordinary gifts, nothing special. But those gifts gave us a reason to appreciate the ordinary things that we take for granted. They made it possible for us to learn from some extraordinary people, who just lived their purpose; both those who care for the children and the disabled and those who have the chance to receive the kind of care that is their right, against all odds.
As we left The Potters House, which was our final stop, there were discussions of making next year even bigger and better, invites to come on board and a deep sense of humility in being given the opportunity, to be in the presence of treasures we often overlook . We had a purpose. This journey had to continue.
For many, the Christmas season is a busy period, filled with never ending trips to shops and stores; to and fro. It’s a marathon of spending sprees, on trinkets that do not last beyond the season and food that only settle at the waist line come January morning. This year because I am lazy and because I really do not feel very ‘christmassy”, I have decided to boycott the rush and bustle of the season. I am keeping a low profile!
Instead I decided to join the St. Jago High School Red Cross and Peer Counselors, as they visited two homes: The Wortley Home for Girls and The Mustard Seed Communities, both in Kingston.
It was hoped that this first sojourn into uncharted territory, would be a rewarding and humbling experience . And it was.
As a group, I believe we left appreciating how to enjoy a sense of togetherness and tolerance. How to take self out of the picture and to replace it with the comfort and happiness of others. Also, how to be grateful for simple things we take for granted. The freedom to move, think and act independently. And how a simple smile, off-key tune or poorly executed dance move, can bring immeasurable joy to those who have learned to be content with what we would consider very little.
The unconventional route always takes you to unexpectedly profound spaces, beyond our limited worlds.
It is almost 34 years later since that mother with her family was assisted by an eager teenage Sappo, who found them a house to rent and a mobile cart, to this new home. A home, which was found from fear, but later created with hope and a need to start over. Though the experiences over the past years have been challenging, the family has been able to weather all the storms that life has inflicted on them.
More children have been born and the once, one bedroom that they all piled into, has been extended to accommodate an ever-growing family. There has been the need for deep reflection, introspection and reconciliations. However, they have survived along that unknown road they choose to embark on, on that fateful day.
On August sixth, which is the Independence celebration for Jamaica, the family celebrated, in their own way the birth of a new nation. But also, inadvertently, the emancipation of one woman and her children from violence, to shape a future that was crafted from the ashes of their dreams. To do this they invoke the creator; and they also celebrated life by having some good Jamaican food!
The evidence of this family’s ability to be resilient is reflected in the food they were able to supply at this dual celebration. Instead of curry goat, there was curry chicken back! Instead of mannish water, there was fish tea. There was self-made roti, and of course since there was no pork or chicken to jerk, then there was jerk/roast fish. As for entertainment, there was domino and the every present music blaring in the background. All prepared and done outdoors; the only place they could be done.
So while they first arrived, like the untried voyagers they were with empty bellies, fear and the unknown, this family was able to fashion a safe harbor to weather, past, present and future storms. Even in the mist of loss they still celebrate.
It was a good day for everyone who could be there. There was food, family, music and good friends – and some who just came for the food. At the end of the day everyone left feeling satisfied that they had enjoyed themselves. And that woman sat in the shadows of an ackee tree, and saw what her choice had resulted in. She had fashioned an imperfect save harbor, from which anyone could lay an anchor or set sail if they so desired.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
The urgency was great on that fateful day in September 1984. For some family members it was a matter of life or death and for others, it was the end of life as they knew it. On that long ago day, a fateful decision was made by one person. Was it better to stay and possibly die, or run and probably live? Leaving what is familiar is one of the most traumatic and life altering actions any one can every make.
Imagine having seven children by the age of thirty now faced with the choice of grabbing five and leaving two behind. Would you have made such a difficult move? This was the decision that one woman had to make almost 34 years ago. Added to this is the fact that her and her little gang, hardly know the place they were running to. What hidden dangers lurked ‘just around the corner’? Would they be accepted? Would they be able to survive?
For that woman and her five kids and two grand kids, those may have been some of the doubts that assailed them. The uncertainty of leaving the past, for an unknown future, can be a gut wrenching experience. But she had to do so.
They arrived at her aunt; but really they had nowhere to stay. Her aunt could not accommodate them, though she understood and empathized with their plight. The night was quickly approaching and they could not afford to be caught out in the open, vulnerable to any and all dangers. they had not solved the the puzzle. Where were they to live? Their plans had only reached as far as getting a truck to take them to their destination. Not where they would stay once there.
They had burnt all bridges behind them by running. If they had to face the darkness, they would, because there was nothing of the life left back home for them to return to. This was their destiny now and they had to make the best of it. As they stood looking for some help, some sign of what to do, among them a rebellious heart cried for the return of her yesterday.
But as they stood there they would see hope in the guise of a youth, eager to act as guide and a handcart bwoy, ready to take their load. As long as they kept moving, they would find their tomorrow…
There is beauty and triumph in every adventure experienced, whether great or small.
I recently went to Dunn’s River Falls and Park in Ohio Rios with a group of colleagues. For me going anywhere required a lot of time and effort to plan and as the date for the trip approached I was convinced more and more that I had no time to do so. Quite simply, I was feeling too tired, lazy and a bit demotivated to make a real effort. However, when I related my change of heart to some members of the group, they convinced me to take the plunge (pun intended).
The day for the trip arrived and we were to leave by 7:30. suffice it to say when you do not plan, you dump any and everything you can find that is beach related into a bag and go – and that is exactly what I did. To boost my enthusiasm for going, I found – quite by coincidence – a shirt with a slogan that encourages one to embrace new adventures! How timely and appropriate! Therefore when I saw it I bought it, because for me this was a sign from the universe.
Of course because we are Jamaicans, a 7:30 a.m departure time turned into a 9:00 a.m departure time instead – but that was not bad at all. Thankfully our time getting there was cut short by the North-South Highway. We eventually made it and once there realized that the hardest part of the trip would be going down and up the many stairs we had to climb to to get to and from the beach. Added to this, once there, we were greeted by a downpour that threatened to put a damper on the entire day. For me, my first impulse was to call it a day and head back for the plains of Spanish Town; but alas, luckily I was the only insane person in the group – and fortunately I did not voice this reaction.
We eventually made our way into the calm and inviting water to enjoy a session of good conversations and lots of laugh. A fish came to visit, along with a few seaweed, but it provided interesting additions to a lazy mid-morning waddle in the sea – let me be totally honest, must of us there could not swim, so we were treading in the water e experts, and i was very proud that a managed to stay above water – though, there were some close moments of panic that I expertly hid from the others! In the middle of this chill session the rains came and went but like everyone else, I was by now, thoroughly enjoying myself – to my surprise!
Eventually we quickly exited when we realized one by one how ravenous we were. For this outing persons had bought their own food, though there are restaurants that offer a variety of mouth-watering and tempting food options. Again we sat on the benches strategically scattered around the beach and had another good liming session – it’s a skill that requires much practice for mastery and one thoroughly enjoyed by Caribbean people!
Then the big moment. We decided to head to the falls! There was only one problem for me. I am deathly afraid of heights and so felt the best option in order to remain safe and more importantly, alive was to stand aside and watch everyone. We made our way from the warm waters of the sea to the icy cold river water. There, both local and visitors to the island converged at the base of the falls, some ready to go all the way and others content to soak up the water from the bottom. As I looked higher I saw the really brave souls, full of daring and the thirst for real adventure ascending higher and higher. I silently wished them well, convinced I was very smart indeed to remain firmly on the ground, save from the possibility of actually breaking my neck! I must say that the irony was not lost on me, considering I had entered the park quite confidently wearing a top that proclaimed the need to embrace new adventures. However, climbing the falls was an adventure that was not on the agenda for me! But something strange happened to me from the base of the fall and suddenly, I did not want to remain at the bottom. I found myself moving up, willing to climb a little and risk my life. I was climbing the falls! the cold water earlier became a loving embracing and I could not get enough. So there I was contemplating how high I would go. Alas, I did not make it very far.
Though I did not make it to the top, ultimately, I was very proud of my progress. I had made it further than I ever planned to make it. I had accomplished something I never thought I would do – I climbed, even though I am and may always be irrationally afraid of heights. Once we had returned to our designated spot, I listened to members of the group who had made it to the top, speak of their slips, spills and grit in getting there, I was a little jealous that I had no grand tale to tell. However, I was really happy with what I had done. Though I had not made it to the top, I had gone beyond my expectations and loved every minute of it. At the end of the day I was tired and happy. I was happy I had enjoyed another piece of this beautiful Island, seen the varied works of art up close from the craft shops, but most importantly that I had taken a chance to do something outside my comfort zone and ultimately reaching above my own expectations of myself.
No matter how high you may go when you visit the falls, one thing is guaranteed, you will leave feeling better than when you arrived. The secret is to be open to the possibility of reaching the top, whether it is physically reaching the top by climbing the falls or reaching for a little more than your own expectations of what the experience may offer. There is beauty and triumph in every adventure experienced and new heights reached, whether great or small.