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Jamaica: Mar 12-18, 2006

JAMAICA | Sunday, 19 March 2006 | Views [1700] | Comments [1]

This year for spring break, instead of spending the week being lazy or even cleaning my apartment (which, unfortunately, I still need to do), I had the unparalleled opportunity to spend the week in Negril, Jamaica with a group of wonderful fellow students from my school (Univeristy of Wisconsin - La Crosse) doing service work.  A much better way to spend the week if I do say!  Not only did my group and I get to lie on the beach soaking up some sun, we were able to do something useful at the same time.  

In just five days, we painted three schools (one grade school and two pre-schools), installed a bathroom and a kitchen sink in one school, built swings for one, and spent time teaching pre-schoolers, tutoring for an adult literacty program, and touring a local technical college.  Then after all the work was done, we still had time for plenty of good reggae, floating on a commandeered blow-up bed, snorkeling, cliff jumping, lots of jerk chicken, a yacht ride (albeit a small yacht), learning Jamaican dancing (thanks Dennis!), and getting to know the amazing staff at the Whistling Bird (I miss Chef Snow!).  It was an amazingly busy week, but I don't think we could have had a better spring break.

I want to thank everybody who donated money and school supplies.  You can rest assured that everything went to very good use.  All three schools we visited were little more than one large room partitioned off with thin dividers to separate the grades, and children were crowded into the "classrooms" sitting two or three at a single desk.  The conditions are shocking to someone coming from a place where schools lack little, if anything.  I wish you all could have seen the kids' and teachers' faces as we passed out badly needed pencils, paper, textbooks, flashcards, and other learning tools; it makes our local schools' "struggles" to buy new textbooks or computers seem almost silly.  Seeing children who have such a hunger to learn anything and everything they can get their hands on while having so few resources really opened my eyes and put thing in persepective.  Our schools may fight for money to buy a new computer or to build a new stadium, and I may complain about being in debt for forever after I graduate, but at least we are able to go to schools that have books and even out-of-date computers and at least we don't have to take a taxi just to get there.

There aren't any dates in this journal, and to tell the truth, this is just one big entry because the English major in me was on vacation this week and didn't want to write.  But now that I have a chance to finally sit and think here on the plane, I do want to write things down.  And I think the lack of dates will be appropriate considering the Jamaican sense of time -- may as well be culturally accurate here!

We started at Cove school the first day and man! was it a big job.  It's the largest of all the schools we had to do, and we painted the outside gray on the bottom and a yellow/creamish for the main part on three buildings (school, kitchen and bathroom buildings) and all the grates and eaves on the school building. 

We actually couldn't finish in one day and had to come back on Thursday to finish the kitchen and bathroom buildings and the eaves.  A huge job and we all were completely exhausted and complaining, but afterwards, everybody gathered behind the school and the children sang to us as a thank you.  When "One Love" poured out of those beautiful children's mouths, I couldn't help but cry (ok, more like sob).  I could see these three girls in the front row who'd been attached to me all afternoon and it hit me how important what we did was to them.  The school may have dirty little fingerprints all over it by now, but I hope a few of those teachers and children remember the goofy foreigners who helped them once, and I hope they pass it on.

The second school was Ketto school which as a pre-school for 3-5 year olds.  Adorable!  There wasn't too much to do since last year's group painted the outside (blue and yellow!!) but we still put in a full day painting the inside baseboards, their tables and chairs and building a swingset.  We had to come back to finish the swingset (rode motorbikes over there!) and when the kids swarmed down to try them out, we had our first wreck.  A little girl let go too soon and fell off - well, got to break them in eventually eh?  But it was so sweet to see them so excited to finally have some play equipment.  It's something American schoolkids always take for granted - a school always comes with a playground.  But not here.  Unfortunately, we never were able to build the jungle gym, but that'll be a good project for when we or the next group comes back.

Speaking of coming back :)  Ken talked to the principal at Ketto and they need a new kitchen and dining room built on to the school and he's seriously thinking of coming back to take it on.  He's thinking just after Christmas, but we'll see what happens.  Mary, KJ and I have been trying to think of ways to help fundraise already and possibly go back down to help.

The third school was Mango Hall school and it was by far the smallest and most in need.  It's also a pre-school and we got to paint it a beautiful yellow (I love yellow!) and install their bathroom and a kitchen sink.  I'm amazed at the things these schools do without, and yet they're so focused on teaching the children that they make do with every little bit they get.  The kids were going to the bathroom in a hole in the ground with a box as a toilet and cooking the kids' lunches with no running water!  We managed to get everything installed, but didn't have time to turn on the water to see if it all worked.  I really hope they continue the momentum we had that day to finish everything and give those kids what they need and deserve.

One thing I've noticed with the children is that the girls are so much more openly affectionate with their friends and they're also just as aggressive as the boys.  We were playing a makeshift game of catch at Cove, and the girls were tackling each other for the ball, and they'ad also push or hit back if a boy did it to them - no whining or crying from these girls!  But I guess in this culture girls and women have to be tough to survive sometimes.

Friday night, Mary, Tyler, Nick, Ken and I went to a wake party in Lucea (said Lucy).  It was one of those scary and uncomfortable cultural experiences that are the only ones worth having.  It was crazy, amazing, uncomfortable, and disturbing all at the same time.  Thank goodness we had Orlando (the driver), Chris (who works at the hotel), Lindell (our local helper at Cove school), and James (the hotel owner's son who grew up in Jamaica) - all of these guys to keep a few silly Americans from running off and getting in trouble. 

First of all, the street was PACKED with people dancing and beer tables and a van stacked with speakers.  At one point there was a "kitchen" band drumming in the street with pan lids, pots, even a cheese grater, and it sounded awesome.  Orlando took us to the Clipper Club - and this is when it starts getting disturbing.  This apparently was a regular bar/club, but there were women pole dancing half-naked (with the "wrong" half naked).  One cool thing was Orlando used to DJ there, so he took us back to the DJ booth (a tiny itty-bitty room and they still used 8-tracks!) and he did some DJ-ing (or whatever the 'proper' name would be :).  It's so different from America's DJs.  He was actually on the mic talking or rapping during the songs.  We couldn't understand a word he was staying because he was speaking Patuois (the Jamaican language/dialect - it's like Creole), but it was still sweet to be back there.  Learned that Jamaicans like chopping up the music - only playing a little bit and then changing the song.  It annoyed me at first because I'd just get into the rhythm and then the music would change or stop.  (We got a little more used to that though - Mary and I were listening to a CD in the airport and we kept skipping the songs forward pretty often :).

James was quite valuable during this little escapade of ours.  He grew up here, so he knows the culture and could explain some things and give advice.  The hardest part is figuring out the party scene.  Everything is so sexual (especially the dancing) and blunt, and it's like all bets are off when they get to a party - they'll dance however they want with whoever they want regardless of if they're dating someone else.  Mary got swarmed when dancing in a crowd once, and someone propositioned Ken to trade a couple Jamaican women for Mary and me (he didn't thank goodness.  He told the guy we were too expensive  lol). 

I think having two girls along opened the guys' eyes to a few things regarding women in the culture.  The boys were supposed to take care of us girls, but they really had no idea what they would have to protect us
.  If we hadn't been there, it might have just been another party for the guys, but I think they learned a little about how women are valued (or not valued) in the party scene.  Lindell was great though - he was always hanging onto us if we wandered off.

The last straw came around 3 AM or so when I was getting sleepy in the first place.  We were dancing and one of James's Jamaican friends came up to me, apprently convinced that I was into him.  He got really close to my ear and yelled (no whispering sweet nothings here - the speakers were too loud) he told me that if I dance with him he would let me feel something I've never felt before and pulled me to him.  I shoved him off and told the guys it was time to go.  This was definitely an eye opening experience to the other side of Jamaican culture.  They're a laid-back, peace-loving people that can at times be so sexually charged that it seems to border on violating their own credo, at least to my foreign eyes.  But it's a delicate balance.  I think in order for an outsider to truly love a people and culture - not a mere obsession that will get old and die one day - true love comes from understanding the many facets of the culture - good, bad AND ugly.

Nothing terrible happened that night; it was mostly just a very VERY different experience that kept us on our toes.  But I know we all learned a lot from it and I hope nobody is discouraged from going to a wake party in the future as long as they know how to handle themselves and can adapt to a very different cultural situation.

Tags: beaches & sunshine, culture, jamaica, musings




i think this is cool because i got to learn things for my powere point. it was on jamaica.

  smiley May 23, 2008 11:02 AM

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