Likkle Things

Sometimes, the likkle things are the most important.

Two weeks ago, Jerome approached me (he walks on his knees when he’s not driving his car – a hand pedaled wood cart).  He pushed a piece of paper and a pen into my hand and began telling me what he wanted.  His speech is very garbled so it took some time but I eventually figured out that he wanted me to draw a watch.

Inspired by Ishmeal, one of my Ghana boys who once gave me a cell phone, watch, and school of fish (all made entirely from paper) for my birthday, I decided to not just draw Jerome a watch, but make him one.

As I drew a circle and began writing in the numbers, he was right at my elbow, shivering with excitement and laughing with delight when I told him that his watch had diamonds encircling the face.  He rocked back and forth as I folded the watch band, happy exclamations pouring from his mouth.  I didn’t need to decipher the words to understand exactly what he was saying.

This was the end result:

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(Sorry for the blurriness – we were pretty happy.)

He loves it when I take out my cell phone so we can compare the time of day (amazingly, we’re always perfectly synchronized!).

This week, he had one of those light bulb moments and realized that if I could make a watch, then surely I could make a cell phone, too!

I used my phone as a model as I drew screen and keypad and if I thought his joy over the watch was something to behold, his exuberance over the phone appearing before his eyes was .  . . well, words fail me.

I told him I needed some small cardboard to make the phone firm and 3D.  He took off in his car and 10 minutes later returned with a huge, broken down box.  Yup, that would definitely be plenty.

Nardia hand modeled the finished product for the camera:

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Later that day, I heard Jerome talking to someone and looked out the door of the boys’ cottage to see him driving past, one hand pedaling his car forward, the other (wrist-watched, of course) holding his new phone to his ear as he carried on a conversation with whomever was at the end of the line.

He actually has a couple of real cell phones (sans batteries) that he found somewhere.  But this paper/cardboard/tape model is the one he carries in his pocket and dials numbers into (Shamika and I both had to write down our #s for him) and keeps track of the time with.

And if one cell phone is good, two is better.  Shamika has a touch screen phone and today I was commissioned to make him one of those.  “Now you have one for business and one for pleasure,” I quoted Bashi as I handed his new phone over to him.

He looked up at me from where he was kneeling on the ground, eyes aglow with happiness.

His “Thank you!” was garbled and probably wouldn’t even have been caught by most people.

But that didn’t matter because there was no mistaking the hug, head burrowed into my stomach, arms wrapped around my waist, squeezing tight with everything he had.

3 Reasons to Smile Today

Reason #1:

In The Village, we’re preparing for the December 12 Pageant.  One of the highlights will be a feature of the residents’ Arts & Crafts projects.  This is what we did today:

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Vivienne is our Abstract Artist.

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I loved seeing what each of them came up with.  The names are my interpretations – Shamika, our OT, thought “African Mask” was a crab.  So feel free to come up with your own titles.  I’m still trying to come up with a title for Bruce’s creation (the blue and white one in the middle).

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Sasha’s was the most functional – this beautiful necklace with handmade, one-of-a-kind beads.  We’re making a matching bracelet tomorrow.

Reason #2:

While buying papayas and bananas for tomorrow’s Fruit Salad cooking class in The Village, I met a Rastafarian named Ron.  Our conversation went something like this:

Rasta Ron: Do you have boyfriend?

Me. No.

Rasta Ron: Do you have husband?

Me: No.

Rasta Ron: Do you have kids?

Me: No.

Rasta Ron: You don’t have boyfriend?

Me: No.

Rasta Ron: I would like to put in my application.  I do not know if I will meet all the criteria.  But it would like to submit it.

Reason #3:

While riding the 61 up to Gordon Town several weeks ago, I was befriended by a wonderful 10-year-old girl (now 11.  Happy birthday, Shanasky!).  This afternoon, when she boarded the bus and saw me, her face lit up and she gave me a huge hug.  We caught each other up on the events of the past few days and then . . .

Shanasky: Do you have children?

Me: No, I don’t have any kids.

Shanasky: Yes, you do!  Me!

Love.  This.  Place!

Port Royal Beach Picnic

Nothing empties a pirate’s pockets faster than wenches and wine.

~ Sign at the Grand Port Royal Hotel

If anyone can verify the truth of the above statement, it ought to be the residents of Port Royal, once known as “the wickedest city on earth.”  Its portrayal in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is a mild one – really, it was far more like Tortuga.

But that was before an earthquake sank over half the city in 1692 and a huge fire decimated even more of it 11 years later.  Jamaicans like to tell the story of the Frenchman who was swallowed by the earth during the quake and then spat back out seconds later, surviving to get one of the world’s coolest tombstone epitaphs when he died of natural causes years later.

Today it is one of the sleepier coastal towns I’ve been to, with a reputation for some of the best fish on the island (Gloria’s Seafood Restaurant).  It serves as the launching site to Lime Cay.  Each time you turn a corner, you seem to come across yet another beautiful, crumbling ruin from the time of the British colonial rule.

It’s also a great place to have a quiet beach picnic with the Mustard Seeds.  After church on Sunday, Sister Cathy and I took Yasanya and Sashagay for a drive to Port Royal.  After discovering that no one was cooking/selling fried fish & bammy because it was Sunday, we picked up bun & cheese and headed to a strip of pebbly sand not far from the lighthouse.

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Once we wrestled a wheelchair and a walker across the sand, Yasanya and I sat on a blanket while Sister Cathy and Sasha seated themselves on a piece of driftwood.  The setting was so serene that after hunting for shells with Sister Cathy, Sasha finally overcame her fear of the water and took off her purple sandals.

I helped her to the water’s edge and then wrapped my arms around her to keep her upright as the waves buried our feet in pebbles.

Every now and then, I get to witness a child or adult become so absorbed in what is happening that they transcend their disability.  One of those moments was when David stretched out his arm to almost full length so he could hand over the money when we went down the road and bought bag juice and biscuit for his birthday.

This was another one of those times.  Sasha’s balance is precarious and she likes to keep both feet on the ground and both hands on her walker or a wall or a person.  At the beach, standing in tumbling pebbles with arms free, she lifted her leg and kicked patches of seaweed as they surged towards us with the tide.

Sasha is very shy and fearful of a lot of things (including water).  At the beach, she walked in the water and bent over to rescue the prettiest rocks and the occasional shell from the waves.  When I stretched a likkle too far in pursuit of a green rock and nearly sent us both face down into the ocean, she just laughed.

How do you give a child growing up in an institution a normal life?  (Especially when that child has a disability.)

It’s a question Sister Cathy and I have often discussed.  There are always so many needs and not enough time/staff/resources to fill all the hungry places in the hearts of the kids who look up at you from their cribs, wedges, and wheelchairs.  We are always going to fall short of what we want to accomplish.

But sometimes, for a couple hours, you can give one or two or three the gift of “normal.”

Yasanya

You Know You’re in Jamaica When . . .

  1. Your taxi driver whips around corners at breakneck speed, uses the turn lane to get ahead of everyone else at a stop light, and runs all the yellow/red lights . . . but comes to a dead stop when a pretty girl or woman wants to jaywalk.
  2. You get The Hiss.
  3. The best park swing is the young roots growing down from the banyan tree.
  4. In spite of being clad in over sized scrub bottoms, an old gray t-shirt, porridge (from the kids’ breakfast), and stew (from their lunch); you get two “Sexy Lady!” shout-outs (from two different men) on the way to the bus park.  Apparently, a double X chromosome is their only real requirement . . .
  5. “Hello!” has many meanings – most of which have nothing to do with greeting someone.  “Hello!” i.e. You dropped your baby’s rag when you stood up to exit the bus.  Come and get it.  “Hello!” i.e. Pickney, get back here before I beat your bum bum!  “Hello!” i.e. Hey!  I’m talking to you!
  6. A street vendor walks through a fast food restaurant hawking her wares.
  7. You hear awesome pickup lines: “It would be a sin if I didn’t get to know you” – says the smooth talker as he abandons his friend to turn and walk with you in the opposite direction.
  8. oil drumBarbecue comes out of an oil drum.
  9. You have to wait 10 minutes at a fast food restaurant for your food to be made.  Now that’s my kind of fast food!
  10. Your JUTC bus driver calls you to make sure you’re coming to work and riding with him.
  11. A museum coffee shop menu consists of supermarket muffins (still in the plastic container), plantain chips, box juice, and what comes out of the coffee pot.

Jamaicans are a fabulous bunch of people

Because they do/say things like this:

Security Guard: I admire your smile.  You look refreshed – like you bathed two times already this morning!

* * *

Random guy walking down the street: Your tall dress fits you well.  It looks nice.

* * *

Security Guard: Sarah!  You look like princess in tall dress!

* * *

Me, dozing on JUTC bus until man behind me taps my seat.  Look up to see my bus driver peering back at me.

Bus driver, with concerned expression on her face: Are you all right?

Me: Yeah, I’m just tired.

Man behind me, like a father to his child: Hush!

* * *

Rasta mon came up to a group of my residents while we were crafting and treated them just like he would any other group of people.

Resting his hand on Ladesha’s braided head: Wha gwan?

Thumb click to Adrian: Respect.

Smiles at the whole bunch: Respect!

Turning to me: You are doing God’s work.

* * *

Turned into an aisle at the supermarket and came face to face with an elderly gentleman who executed a flawless sidestep – elaborate hand gestures, flirtatious smile and all – without missing a beat.

* * *

One of my bus drivers exchanged #s with me so I can call him at anytime to find out where he is and how long the wait at the bus stop will be.  I haven’t called him yet, but he called me to let me know that he would “soon come.”  And he did.

* * *

Older woman politely stopped me and said, Can I give you this?

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I wonder which one of those boxes she thought I might need to check :-)

Romelo, the Connoisseur

Never have I seen anything quite so self-satisfied as the expression on Romelo’s face when he rises from the ground after several hours of patient picking and digging, his t-shirt bulging with several pounds of small stones.

It’s not so much like a cat that has swallowed a single canary, but rather, a whole cage full of the golden mites.

And he still has this to look forward to:

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The sorting of glass from stone.  The forming of neat piles.  The lining up of large rocks and “loose” chunks of concrete.

That last one drives Cedric nuts, because it necessitates the destruction of the walkways and gutters that he – Cedric – faithfully sweeps every day.

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See what I mean?

But Romelo can’t be bothered by these petty concerns.  The rocks are calling and they must be sorted.  Oh, what a glorious thing it is to be a quarry man!

If there is a stray stone left anywhere on the Jerusalem! compound, it won’t be for lack of trying.  Stones are his main occupation, but he’s not above turning his attention to bottle caps if enough of these begin accumulating on the ground.  All are carefully considered before being assigned to their appropriate locations (usually in the way of wheelchair or wheelbarrow traffic).

This absorbing interest is all too often interrupted with reminders that it is time to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner and only by dint of concerted coaxings are the aunties able to induce him to leave his rocks and glass and caps.

But now a new problem arises.  The same judicious and discerning attitude is brought to the table and it is very often displeased by what it finds there.

To begin with there ought to be more sugar in the porridge.  And peas (aka beans, a staple of Jamaican cuisine) are not an acceptable form of nourishment.  It’s useless to try to convince him otherwise.  He simply won’t eat if he finds one in his bowl.  He sits on the couch and waits while an auntie painstakingly removes all the peas from the Rice & Peas (no easy task) or the Turkey Neck Stew.  (Sometimes, I suspect auntie cheats and mashes the peas so they blend in with the overall general color and consistency of the stew.)

Recently, he has taken to noticing me when I walk past and calling out, “Miss!  Come here!”  With some disabilities, it simply takes a while to admit new people into your world.  I figured 3 1/2 months was about right.  But there was far more to it that this.  This past week I was finally clued in to his sudden interest.

“Miss!  You are browning!  You are brown and pretty.  I like brown women.  I want you!”

Apparently, his standards are just as rigorous for women as they are for rocks and meals!