I heard “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley play on the radio today. “Don’t worry about a thing cuz every little thing is gonna be alright.” The steel drums intertwined with Mr. Marley’s instantly-recognizable voice and I pictured him on a lawn chair just relaxing on the beautiful shore of Jamaica. I was instantly taken back to my time spent this summer in Jamaica and the nostalgia hit me like Wile E. Coyote hits the side of the cliff when he’s foiled by the Road Runner. I’ve been trying to think of a blog I could write to summarize my time spent on the Mission Trip with everyone, but I knew no post would do justice to all of the amazing things I experienced. So with this post, I will be sharing with you all three distinct events that made the biggest impact on me. These three events and the people I met in each location will always hold a special place in my heart. Hopefully, the accompanying pictures are worth a thousand words and can convey the things I cannot express in words.
The first event worth mentioning was the time our group spent at an infirmary. This was actually the first service project of the week that we provided for the Jamaicans. I must admit, when the bus dropped us off at the infirmary, I was a little nervous. I didn’t have any idea what to expect and didn’t know how well I would do talking to complete strangers. Our group entered the large open living space and began to visit the Jamaicans. We had previously been informed that this infirmary was a type of shelter for people who could not be properly taken care of back at home. Frequently, family members would drop off their mentally or physically handicapped loved ones and, in some cases, never return.
We spent most of our time in the woman’s wing. At first, I felt a little awkward, thinking about how I would start a conversation with some of the ladies. After all, some could not hear, some could not properly speak, and some were just not all there. When I noticed a few other people from my group had managed to make some sort of small talk, I was encouraged to try my best to talk to and listen to the ladies. I don’t remember a single distinguishable word from that whole time, but I do remember the laughter. Even when I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I smiled and nodded and it seemed like their spirits were lifted, even if only for a moment. I colored a picture with one of the older ladies who had a coloring book sitting on the table in front of her and she giggled, looking back at her friends on the bench behind us.
I made my way outside and watched as an elderly woman stepped away from her walker and began dancing to the reggae music that blared on her radio. Meanwhile, a little ways down the sidewalk, a number of people from our group had gathered around a woman who seemed to be younger and more physically and mentally healthy than the others. The only problem was that she had no legs. With the rest of the group still in the woman’s wing or meeting with new people just outside the building, I sneaked over to visit some of the men in the other wing.
When I entered the area where they all slept, I noticed the number of people who appeared to be bed-ridden. I sat down with one of those men and began talking to him. He, like many of the people in the women’s wing who could express emotions, seemed very high in spirits and optimistic. He talked about his love for his country (another common theme of the people we met in Jamaica) and about how he loved the work that we were doing. When it came time to go, I was sad that we weren’t able to spend more time with the men and women of the infirmary. Though I had been nervous getting off the bus when we arrived, I became grateful for the time I did get to spend when it was time to leave.
As we rode out, I thought about the conditions that they had to live in. Though I’m sure the workers of the infirmary had the best of intentions, it was obvious that these people were not in the best living conditions. Compared to a Jamaican infirmary, a U.S. infirmary seems like a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Most of the bedding looked old or second-hand and the people didn’t always seem like they were being properly looked after. And yet, most of them were happy individuals who expressed a sincere love for Jesus. “God is good,” they’d say. “Jamaicans love Jesus”. Despite their disabilities and poor living conditions, most of them had such positive energy radiating from them that it was impossible not to admire them.
A few days later, we took part in another one of our many service projects for the week. “Bread basket” as it was called, was a way for us Americans to immerse ourselves in the Jamaican culture while helping those in need. Our group was given a list of groceries and a budget of Jamaican dollars to spend in a Jamaican grocery store. We navigated our way around, purchasing food that had the intent of lasting a family of four for about two weeks. Once everything was purchased, we went to deliver it all to a local man that the organization thought needed it.
We arrived at the (I don’t know what to call it. It was a one room building) “primitive version of a hut” for lack of better words. One of his family members came out from her nearby house and we explained the reasoning for our visit. She was grateful and showed us to her house where she kept all of Lester’s food. As it turned out, she and some of the nearby family members were all responsible for taking care of the man, even though it would have been much easier for them to drop him off at the infirmary. We all admired the care she provided and love she must have had to agree to take care of him full time.
She led us back to the man, Lester’s, “house”. When we entered, we saw that he too was bed-ridden. He managed to explain to us that he had prostate cancer which would most likely take his life relatively soon. He couldn’t communicate for very long, but his (I believe) daughter informed us of his living conditions. Since being diagnosed with prostate cancer, he had been bed-ridden. He is only able to go outside of his house once a month, at which point he is loaded into a van that takes him to the hospital for his check-ups. After that, he is driven back and left in his bed for another month. Our hearts broke as we sympathized for the old man. He expressed his gratitude for the food that we had provided for him, which would be cooked by his care-taker.
The next day, an announcement was made at mass. After hearing about Lester’s living conditions, the organization began a fundraiser to purchase Lester a wheelchair ramp and wheelchair. In the amount of time he still had left on Earth, he would be able to be wheeled around his yard and visit with people outside of his house. Our group could not have been more grateful for the organization’s efforts and for the fact that his life had made a turn for the better in only 24 hours. I was grateful for the opportunity I had to help Lester, even if my role was miniscule compared to the wonderful organization which had made both the food and wheelchair possible.
The final, and most memorable, event of all did not involve old people in harsh conditions; contrary to the pattern that seems to be present in this blog. No, it was almost the exact opposite. My favorite part about the mission trip to Jamaica was the time I got to spend with the neighborhood kids at one of the places we were working at. I almost didn’t make this assignment because I had bad stomach flu that day and didn’t think I could do manual labor without throwing up. One of the Jamaican ladies that cooked for us gave me a home-made Jamaican concoction that was supposed to cure such symptoms. To my relief, it seemed to work and I headed back out with the group. I was grateful I had that opportunity. Our assignment for the few hour block that we had was to pour a cement floor located in a newly built house. After manually mixing the cement and pouring it in ten minutes, we were told we were done. We’d have two hours to kill until the bus came back to pick us up.
Around this time, one of the local kids, Alex, came to see what was going on. He must have had experience with American tourists before because he instantly asked to use our cameras. We laughed as he went around trying to take pictures of anything that moved. When he got mine, he asked if he could take it out to the street. I said sure and followed him out into the dirt road.
Excited, he yelled for his neighborhood friends to come see the camera. They all made their way out to their hangout place- an old, rusted out frame of a car. Alex began his glorious photo-shoot
When he was done taking pictures, he wanted to play. He got an old cricket bat and a water bottle filled with pebbles. His group of friends and I proceeded to play a game of baseball out in the street. I asked him if he was as fast as Usain Bolt- a gold-medal sprinter, native to Jamaica. He tried to prove that he was by racing me on the dirt road in his bare feet. When he came back, we all played a game of soccer in the street using an empty water bottle. When that became boring for him, we showed off our dance moves and did cartwheels and eventually Alex made his way back to taking pictures. It was two of the most fun and care-free hours I’ve ever had. I will never forget those kids, especially my buddy Alex.
When it came time to go, I wanted to stay for another week; even a month longer. The atmosphere in Jamaica was unlike any I’d ever experienced before. The people I met were in such poor conditions compared to what I was used to, but it was what they had lived with all of their lives. They were content, they were grateful, and they were high-spirited. I could go on and on about all of my other experiences from Jamaica, such as watching a drunk Jamaican dance with his dog, climbing up waterfalls, leading a small-group discussion/meditation on the beach on the last morning, and meeting a guy on our flight back who was representing Jamaica in an international ping-pong tournament. I met so many awesome people and did a variety of other service projects throughout the week, but these three groups of people in these three situations were what I will always remember about my Mission Trip to Jamaica.