My first days in Jamaica

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Thursday, I accompanied my classmate Mike Heine on some of his pastoral visits to parishioners of the parish. We made our way through the roads that snake through the hills of Above Rocks to bless homes and visit the sick.

I am struck by the diversity of the people and homes we visit. Some homes are small cement structures with tin roofs and usually a couple of rooms. They are clean and well appointed although the area can seem quite rough.  One of the problems is that there is no garbage pick up in this part of Jamaica…and so people either throw the garbage over the side of the most beautiful hills or burn the garbage. There is electricity and some of these houses clearly don’t have sanitary facilities. Other homes are more modest one-room houses, equally well cared for. Still others we visited were quite beautiful homes with all the amenities you would find in Canada.  Even in Above Rocks there is diversity. But for the most part the area is quite poor.

For the most part it was the people that made my day, especially the sick we visit. One of the homes we stopped at was that of two sisters. One sister has cancer and the other sister who was looking after her broke her leg and is in a cast! We found the two of them lounging on their beds full of humour and so happy to have us visit them. They are so filled with faith and gratitude. Yes, gratitude. They figure things could have been worse. Wow. Friends and family members  are helping care for them. Friar Michael Duffy, who is also a Nurse Practitioner was returning later to teach them how to use crutches and make sure they are ok.

Mike Heine also took me around to see the various schools that are associated with the parish. These schools are fully funded by the Jamaican Government and run by a
“board” for each school. The friars are on the board.  A recent study of the schools shows that the average class size in Jamaica is about 25 students for one teacher. At Above Rocks it’s more like 45 students per class.

The main church of the parish, St. Mary’s is home also to St. Mary’s College (a high school ), the All Ages School (primary), Basis School (JK and pre-school) and a Trades School. The friars have also set up the “Cupertino” program for extra help with school work and tutoring and a feeding program for kids who aren’t getting enough nourishment.  Our candidate Jonathan and Howard, a young Jamaican considering the life of the friars, have been helping with the tutoring programme.

The kids are amazing and so open. They delight in holding my hands and feeling my hair. Ok, I don’t have too much hair, but they make do! The kids find Caucasians so different and interesting. They also have many questions to ask. It’s amazing to see what happens when Mike Heine and I walk down the street through the neighbourhoods. The kids go wild calling out his name, running to hold his hands. Hugs are also a big thing with the kids. It’s obvious they love him very much.

Friar Michael tells me that a lot of it has to do with being a male. The kids crave attention and affection from males. Many of the kids at Above Rocks end up being raised by mothers, aunts and grandmothers. Fathers are sometimes hard to find.  But the kids are full of smiles and full of life.  I sat and spoke with a few at length and they taught me all sorts of stuff about  Jamaica. These kids that I met are bright and smart and full of life. I hope they will be able to continue to build Jamaica to be a paradise for all its citizens.

For those of you who are wondering how I’m coping. I’m fine. The friary is great. Although there’s no running hot water, the weather is pretty warm and it all works out. Again the food is amazing… although the focus is on a lot of starch and fried foods. I’m going to be in such trouble when I go to Weight Watchers next week!

And finally there are no poisonous critters in this country and so I feel pretty comfortable. (I really, really don’t like bugs and snakes and such). Thus far no problems. The power goes on and off at times, but it’s all ok.