While formulating my thoughts about this post, it dawned on me how self serving most of them have been. They have been about the vacations I have been able to take or restaurants I have been able to try. I know that I am blessed and never want to take for granted anything I have in my life.
This trip was not about me but rather an opportunity to give back. My daughter Heidie and I partnered with our former church to travel to Old Harbour, Jamaica. There is a missionary there named Dennis who along with his wife Mary, dedicated the last 30 years to establish a church. Our job was to join Dennis, Mary and the local pastor to hold a Vacation Bible School.
We stayed in a dorm like setup on the second floor of the Church. There was no air conditioning and the temps hovered in the mid 80s while sleeping all week. I literally laid in bed sweating each night. Below is a picture of my bunk.
The next morning we attended church with some of the sweetest, most authentic Jamaican people. I couldn’t understand a good portion of the service since the songs were being sung in Patwa. It was a wonderful experience just the same. During the service, there were goats wandering around the church grounds. You just don’t see that in the US.
We spent the rest of the day eating lunch at the local KFC and making final preparation for our VBS the next day. The following morning, we were treated to a breakfast complete with many local delicacies; Fresh papaya, banana, watermelon and scrambled eggs. After breakfast, we walked the streets handing out invitations to our VBS. Even though I had tried to prepare myself mentally for seeing poverty, I simply wasn’t prepared for these conditions. It was heartbreaking to see these kids living in such horrid conditions. We saw marijuana growing all over the place and being smoked openly in the street. There are so many factors stacked against these kids.
Even the electricity can be deadly to these people. It’s quite common to “steal” electricity off the nearest power pole. “Hot” power lines are then run through the air or along the ground to the nearby houses. What could possibly go wrong with this setup?
Bible school went off quite well for the most part. Jamaican kids don’t listen as well or behave like I am used to. They tend to want to run laps and chase each other around the church. What surprised me more than anything was the bridge soccer was to building relationships with the kids. I played soccer over 10 years and have coached my daughters for 10 more. The kids couldn’t believe how well my daughter could juggle or that an “Old guy” like me could play too. By the end of the week, these guys pictured below were calling me “coach.” These guys would literally play barefooted in the gravel you see behind us. They have much tougher feet than I do. One of the most memorable moments of this trip was when the young man pictured in the fluorescent yellow shirt asked me why Jamaica was considered third world? I knew he didn’t want the textbook, government class answer. I tried to delicately explain to him while not insulting his culture or country.
A few of us early risers would go with Dennis each morning to get coffee at the local gas station. Along the way, we saw this spray-painted on a block wall. This turned into the joke the rest of our trip. “Don’t make me buss head.”
On Wednesday morning, we did some construction type work at the Church. My job was to sand down an area on the wall that had been patched with concrete. No power sanding tools were available so I had to use a piece of broken cinder block.
Wednesday was also our all Jamaican food day. We started off with Salt Fish and Ackee Fruit for breakfast. Juicy Beef Patty for lunch – This is their version of McDonald’s. Followed by my favorite dish of the week; Jerk Chicken, plantains, mango and a bowl of Chicken Foot Soup. Yes, I tried the chicken foot in case you were wondering.
After a week of hard work, long hours and sweat; Friday came with a welcome change. We took a tour bus to the north coast to visit Ocho Rios and Dunn’s River Falls. It’s amazing to me how 95% of the island can be essentially a trash hole and this north coast be so nice. If you haven’t been here, Dunn’s River Falls is Jamaica’s version of a National Park. I’m so glad the Jamaica people and government protected this area. Climbing the falls gave me the same sense of gratitude and appreciation I have when I visit our National Parks. NOTE: Don’t underestimate how slippery the “black moss” is on some of the rocks in the falls. One of my friends fell twice and we thought he broke is fingers.
After climbing the falls, we ate lunch at Jimmy Buffet’s place. This place had pretty good food and felt like home with one major exception. The turquoise blue waters off the back steps were mesmerizing. I could have sat there for hours.
The flights home were uneventful. I have a totally new appreciation for my home in the US. This was a good exercise for me leaving my comfort zone, stretching me and navigating all the challenges that go along with International travel. My challenge to you is: Find a way to stretch yourself, give back to others and become part of something bigger than yourself.