If we hadn’t decided to go on a Saturday morning hike . . .

If I hadn’t prayed at breakfast for opportunities to share the love of Jesus . . .

If we hadn’t left at 6:02 am . . .

If we’d taken the road towards Jacket’s instead of Tascha’s . . .

If Brave Friend hadn’t received that early morning call from a friend . . .

So many little things came together to put us in the middle of a bad situation just when someone, anyone was needed most.

“No, I’m going to my mother’s! I’m going in the car! I am not getting out. I can’t take it any more! I’m not getting out! I’ve paid my fare! Just drive! Drive the car!”

Barely out of Gordon Town, the sun not even up over the mountain we plan on scaling, and Brave Woman is being attacked as she sits in a taxi.

A man is yelling at her, calling her the worst Jamaican curse word you can call someone. Trying to force open the car door. Tearing at her clothes, at her purse, at her.

I’m calling the police – no answer.

Matt is trying to get the guy’s attention – no response.

Brave Friend is trying to calm him down – no such luck.

By now he’s forced open the door of the car and she is gripping the seat and the dashboard, begging the taxi driver to go even as the man tears the watch from her wrist, rips the strap of her tank top, and throws her purse on the ground.

A tube of bright red lip gloss rolls out onto the cracked asphalt.

She knew she was beaten when the taxi driver got out from behind the wheel of the car, came around to the passenger side, and started yelling, too.

Why don’t the police answer!?

She is out of the car, standing dejected and defeated, head hanging down as he hurls that terrible word at her again and again and Brave Friend ties up her tank top and gathers her scattered belongings.

The taxi driver leaves as the man grips her around the neck with a muscular forearm and begins forcing her up the mountain, while her friend follows, pleading with him.

The dispatcher – thank God – finally answers and promises to inform the Gordon Town police. Does that mean they are coming? I don’t know.

I speed walk up the road and as I round the bend the first thing I see is the woman lying on the ground. The second thing I see is the bright red blood on Matt’s hands.

“Oh, Jesus! Jesus!” Brave Friend is saying.

Brave Woman, who tried to leave and now is paying for it dearly, is unconscious, bleeding from a cut above her eye. The man is standing above her, still railing.

Her eyelids flutter.

Matt and Brave Friend are trying to call her back to consciousness. I tell them I’ve called the police.

The man knew he was beaten when she continued to lie unconscious in the middle of the road, with a friend and two white people bending over her, ignoring his tirade.

When Matt asks him to help carry her over to the side of the road he turns in disgust and storms off. So the three of us lift her and lay her in the gravel at the side of the road.

Matt is using anti-bacterial wipes to stop the bleeding and trying to call her back to consciousness. I’m using them to wipe the blood from her hand and arm and leg. And Brave Friend, large tears rolling out of the corners of her eyes, is telling us what happened in those brief moments we lost sight of them.

No woman should ever have to physically restrain a man with a knife and beg him not to use it on her friend.

The fact that she is even there is a fluke, or a miracle. A friend called her, early, and said “Good morning! Good morning! This is your good morning wake up call!’ So she was awake to hear the shouting when it started and only took time to pull on her clothes before racing outside.

No sign of the police.

It is the cowardice of one taxi driver that helped put Brave Woman in such a terrible position. It is the kindness of second taxi driver who enables me to get to the police station in record time, dropping me at the steps of the station so I can race inside without even paying.

The dispatcher calls the squad car back to base (they had gone down the mountain instead of up). After a hurried explanation of where everyone actually is, they head off, in the right direction this time.

By the time I arrive back at the scene, Brave Woman is sitting up, taking slow, weary sips from Matt’s water bottle. She is weak and pale. The police and her friend have gone up the road to her house to gather the things she needs.

We hand her a granola bar to eat. She hands me her cell phone. And a text comes through from him: Ya call da police pon mi!

Her head drops.

Matt encourages her to keep pressure on the cut and gives her more water. I sit next to her and rub her back. She takes the phone, dials, and hands it back to me. “My mother-in-law,” she whispers.

So I sit there on the side of the road, patting her shoulder and telling her mother-in-law that I’m from the United States and her son just attacked Brave Woman. I don’t make much sense at first. Things finally clear up enough for her to understand what is going on and for me to emphasize that I called the police and she had nothing to do with it. Hopefully, he gets the message.

The squad car is back ready to take her to hospital. Her friend is holding a pathetic little bundle of mismatched items, things collected in a hurry. She is apologizing for not knowing what to take and just grabbing whatever she saw.

Matt and Brave Friend help her into the car and they – two policemen and two Brave Women – leave.

And I pray that she won’t be coming back.

More Jamaica-isms

What don’t dead, don’t dash it away: Sure, it may feel good today to tear into that woman who owes you $1000 Ja.  But what happens if next week you find out she has a connection at immigration and can help people get visas?  While there’s life, there’s still a chance someone could be useful to you, no matter what they’ve done in the past.  So . . . if you absolutely must speak ill of someone – wait until they’re dead ;-)

Wha gwan?: Hi!  How are you?  Most common way to greet people.

Punish Town: Spanish Town.  So nicknamed because of the intense heat and the public gallows that used to be in operation.

Duppy: An evil spirit, a ghost.  My duppy story experience is not of sitting around a campfire late at night, but cooling off in the chapel in the middle of the afternoon. 

Donovan, Carissagaye, Tia, and I had already exhausted Water Race, Hide-and-Seek, Singing/Dancing Contest, and playing church.  At the time, telling Duppy stories in the chapel seemed like a fabulous way to get the kids to sit still for a while.  I’m not proud of it, but in my defense, it was a really hot afternoon!

Ochi: Ocho Rios.  Popular cruise ship port on the north coast.  Town is site of several great tourist attractions (Dunns River Falls, Chukka Caribbean Adventures, Dolphin Cove).

Chaka-Chaka: Hooligan.  Sometimes uptown people look down their noses at downtown people who make a lot of money and move into their ritzy neighborhoods.  Uptown is worried that Downtown will bring their supposedly thuggish/lower class ways with them.

Grow hard: To be born and raised in the rural areas of Jamaica.  Very little infrastructure.  Families make do without electricity and running water.  There may not be any public transportation available so children walk several miles to school.

Dere more dog den bone: What you might will hear from your employer if you ask for a raise (Jamaica has endured 4 years of wage freezes to date).  Dere be many dogs out dere wanting da bone of a job.  You’ve got to hold on to job you have, even if it’s not ideal, because you don’t know when you might be able to find another one.

Turtle River Falls and Gardens

Turtle River Falls and Garden

Dear Sponsor Parents,

Year after year, you provide food, clothing, shelter, schooling, and medical care to dozens of children at Martha’s House, Dare to Care, and Matthew 25:40.  Thanks to you, these guys look anything but “sick.”  They are an active, energetic, mischievous, hilarious, talented, caring bunch of kids, teens, and young adults.  They have a future to look forward to in spite of receiving the dreaded HIV/AIDS diagnosis at such a young age.  And as if all that wasn’t enough . . .

You give them Family Day each year.  A chance to leave behind the heat and dust of Spanish Town and the traffic of Kingston to enjoy a day in paradise.  This year it was at Turtle River Falls.  Some of you were there, but many of you couldn’t come.  Instead, we (Students Across Borders team, One Love mission group, Mustard Seed long-term volunteers and caregivers) got to spend a day with “your” kids.

A day in which we spent hours in the pool, children clinging to us like exuberant little monkeys who alternated between strangling us in their excitement and begging us for one more trip across the pool.

They devoured the hot dogs you provided and their faces lit up with joy when they found out this was just a snack and that more food was coming for their real lunch (rice, rice & peas, jerk, plantain fritters, festival, and salad).

There were plenty of attractions: climbing Brain, Lady Jane, Ooh, and Ah Falls, swimming in the deep end of the pool, clustering around the poolside “bar” where an aunty and uncle distributed cold juice and water all day long, climbing the stairs through the tropical gardens.

But I couldn’t help noticing that most of the teenage boys and girls from Dare to Care and Matthew spent the majority of their time with the little ones from Martha’s House.  They swam them around the shallow end of the pool or took turns pushing them on the one inflatable tube.  On a day that was supposed to be all about them, these teenagers and young adults took their cue from Mt. 25:40 and made it all about serving “the least of these.”

A few kids from Jerusalem! were able to come, too.

I wish you could have seen the smile on Romaine’s face as first Katie then I carried him through the water.  His body is bent at permanent right angles and he can only walk by leaning on someone else or a walker.  Even then it is a tip-toe crunching effort.  But in the water, he is weightless and increasingly relaxed.  Even splashes in the face don’t phase him.  We can only get him to leave the pool when it’s time for food.  (He devoured his piece of the frosted layer cake in 4 enormous bites and then painstakingly collected every tiny crumb until his plate was clean.)

Nardia finds me in the pool and tells me she has some business to discuss with me.  What business?  “Aunty, I am very happy that I could come today.”

Some of us head up the falls with a few of the teenagers.  S takes long-legged strides up the path and even turns a cartwheel on the way back down.  Z is game for everything I am, and we climb (almost) to our heart’s content.  M lounges in a shallow pool while one of her friends takes a picture.  We clamber through a sheet of water into a little cave at the back of Ah Falls.  Back out of the cave, they sit or lay on the rocks and let the water pound down on to them.

The afternoon finishes up with more food (Pizza Hut Hawaiian or Pepperoni Pizza and Tastee Beef or Chicken Patties).  Dried and dressed, the little ones sit patiently waiting to get back on the bus for the 2 – 3 hour drive back to the south coast.  Their heavy-lidded eyes and slow smiles prophesy a very quiet bus ride home.

For these, and many, many other moments on that memorable Friday – thank you!

In short, Noni


My trip to Cafe Africa was memorable for both the great food and the wonderful people I met.

As if it wasn’t enough that I got to eat Fufu and Groundnut Soup, a fabulous Jamaican lady named Paulette dropped by wearing a Ghana First Emancipation Day Celebration t-shirt.  I was wearing one of my favorite bird fabric skirts.  Right off the bat, we had something in common.

Paulette has traveled extensively and about 12 years ago spent a lot of time in Ghana.  She has so many amazing stories to tell and we spent a couple hours talking.

But it wasn’t just her travel stories that intrigued me.  She is a wealth of information about Jamaican plants.  She’s the one who told me all about the many uses for the noni leaves that my Fufu and Plantain Fritter were (was?) served on.


Beverages: The leaves can be steeped in hot water to make tea.  The fruit can be used in smoothies.  It’s also been discovered that if the juice is forgotten in a bottle for several months, you’ll end up with something that tastes and fizzes like champagne.

Medicine: Back aches and sore muscles are treated by putting the leaves in a little hot water for a few minutes.  The leaves are laid on the affected area, covered with a towel, and left on overnight.  By morning the pain will be gone.

Air Freshener: Jamaicans burn their trash.  A lot.  It doesn’t always smell the greatest.  And don’t get me started on the guano-like odor of ganja!  You can end up with some interesting smells when you come indoors at the end of the day.  Solution?  Leave a small bundle of noni leaves out on a table and close the doors and windows before you leave in the morning.  You’ll come home to a clean, fresh-smelling house without using any chemical sprays or candles.

Animals: The fruit can be mixed into dog food to keep your pets healthy.  If their mats start to smell, put some noni leaves underneath for an all natural deodorizer.

No wonder it’s been called “The Tree of Life”!

Starlit Showers and Mannish Water

Now to continue the story of my birthday weekend!

After our amazing swim in the waterfall pool, we headed back down the trail to watch the last of the dancing and football matches.  I fortunately got back just in time to try a bite of Uncle Leroy’s Sweet Potato Pudding, which was so delicious that I wasted no time in getting a piece of my own.  (Jamaican Sweet Potato Pudding and Pumpkin Rice – two things I am determined to learn how to make for myself before I leave.  Put that in your mind.)

Around 5:30 pm, everyone started packing up for the drive back to Kingston.  We, however, had the good fortune to be invited to spend the night at a place belonging to a relative of Mr. B, from the Mustard Seed staff.

A short drive brought us to a beautiful resort/retirement community with an infinity pool, day care centre, pool tables, and table tennis – to name a few features.

Again, another unexpected blessing.  Definitely not the kind of overnight accommodations I normally get ;-)

The only dark lining to this silver cloud was the fact that the water in the showers had gone kaput.  Mr. B’s son and son’s best friend claimed that we’d had two baths that day (from swimming) and that was already one bath too many.  (What else can you expect from a 19 and 20 year old?)  We girls were having none of it though and the news that the infinity pool had two outdoor showers was as manna from heaven.

Travel size shampoo and conditioner? √

Soap? √

Already-been-used-that-day towels? √

Back into the swimsuits and flip flops? √

Did I mention this was a really nice resort?

We were so out of our league.  But at least we were clean!

Most of Sunday morning and early afternoon were spent at the resort’s private beach.  I know I’m getting repetitive here, but oh my goodness.  This place!

The gently curving Jamaican coastline of towering green mountains against puffy white clouds and soft blue skies.  White sand beach with comfy lounge chairs and umbrellas. All wood changing rooms and concessions “hut” with attendants.

Water that shaded from blue to green to aqua and back again broken only by white capped waves.  It was so clean that you could still see random clumps of seaweed in 5 foot depths.  Warm enough to be comfortable, cool enough to be refreshing.

The whole time we were there, we shared the space with no more than 6 other people.  Every time I swam out I just had to stop and turn my back to the ocean and my face to the shoreline to try once again to take it all in.  Finding myself here in a spot straight from a tourist brochure . . . I didn’t go to church that Sunday, but I was most definitely thanking God for His blessings and care for me!

Our trip home was notable for two reasons.  We got to drive through this place:

fern gully


Jamaica’s famed Fern Gully, where hundreds of varieties of ferns (who knew?) grow in profusion through an all natural tunnel of tall arching trees.

And I drank some of this:

mannish water








“This” being Jamaica’s Mannish Water, which I’ve been constantly seeing on sign boards for Jamaican restaurants.  When our driver Owen offered me some I immediately said yes because I was curious and even though curiosity killed the cat, we all know that satisfaction brought him back.  And honestly, how strange could something that has “water” in the name be?

It tasted like goat.  Kind of like the goats that I smell when I go on walks up the road.  It was . . . interesting.  At first thought, not that bad.  Not vegetarian for sure, but it was just the broth.  No biggie, right?

Which is when the Jamaicans decided to tell me that this very special water was made from some goat parts that I would probably rather not know about.

“Like brain!?”  I said in horror.  Having already been exposed to Jamaica’s penchant for cow foot, I immediately jumped to what I thought was the worst possible conclusion.

But oh no, there was more to come.

They laughed in indulgently.  Yes, the brain was part.  And sometimes the head.  But the real star of the show was the goat genitalia.  Hence, the name “Mannish.”







A Hairy Moment

“Mommy, she’s a white people!”

There are two adults in the front of the taxi, and three squished into the back.  The 7-year-old sitting on the lap of the woman next to me has been contemplating me for quite some time and come to the startling realization that my skin is a shade or two paler than her own.

Her mother, a large woman whose elbow is already on speaking terms with my ribcage, has carefully ignored my presence up to this point.  She can do so no longer.

Slow head turn.

Chilly once over.

Eyes forward.

“She looks like your stepmother.”

Are you all hearing menace in this woman’s tone?  Because I most definitely am.  Driver?  Shotgun passenger?  Smiling little girl?

I give the little one the friendliest smile possible and my ribs, weary of conversation, gently sidle away.


Another head turn.

“Her stepmother is a white woman.  She looks like you.”

Oh, God.


Got it.  Stepmother.  White woman.  Like me.

Ribcage is now in full retreat.

We’ll be in Papine soon.  We’ll be in Papine soon.  We’ll be in Papine soon.

In the meantime, I’ll just oh-so-casually rest my hand on this door handle . . .