Power Pancakes

“Aunty Sarah, where is it?  Where is mine!?”  Aunty Karen comes storming up to me, hand outstretched, ready to receive.  I, unfortunately, am drawing a blank.

“Your what?”

“My pancake that you made for me yesterday!”

Oops.  Taking a page from Adam and Eve’s playbook, I quickly decide that the best method of dealing with my memory lapse is to cast blame somewhere else.  Conveniently, there is a whole line of residents sitting outside enjoying the early morning air.

“They ate all the pancake!” I say, turning and pointing an accusing finger in the direction of the Village people.  (They are already giggling and chuckling.)  “They didn’t even save one for me!  They ate all!”

Aunty Karen turns and glares.  By now, the whole crew is cracking up.  Sasha is laughing so hard her wheelchair is bouncing.  Claude has a huge grin on his face.  Nikki is twisting in her chair.  Keisha’s and Kemar’s dimples are so deep you could easily hide a couple pancakes in them.  Vinroy, whose hands turn back on their own wrists, somehow manages to pull his t-shirt up over his head in mock fear.

“I see you, Vinroy!  You can’t hide from me!” shouts Aunty Karen.

Our first Wednesday morning Cooking Class in The Village had been inaugurated the day before by that classic breakfast food – you guessed it, the pancake!

Iryna and I had donned our tiaras (we were the Pancake Queen and the Pancake Princess).

The residents had gathered in the boys’ dorm.

It was time to unveil . . . the hotplate! (Another fabulous gift from Aunty Sharon and the Georgia Regent University OT team.)

Unplugged, cool to the touch, a simple black cuboid (yes, I have Google and I know how to use it) of plastic and metal.  The residents looked as if they’d died and gone to heaven.


Each one had the chance to hold the hotplate and to heft its weight, sometimes with fingers that struggled to grip and arms that strained not to drop.  They felt the ridges in the surface with the tips of their fingers.  David even got to turn the knob from off to low to medium to high and back down to medium.

Next, a preview of coming attractions.  Had anyone ever tasted pancake syrup before?  No?  Well, get ready!

There was a bit of a misfire when Iryna reached Claude and I had to make a quick run for a damp rag.  But all was well until we got to Sasha, who, with the memory of Claude’s catastrophe fresh in her mind (and perhaps, sensing her own impending doom), could not control her giggles.  Which made David start laughing.  Then Vivienne.  Then Nyron.  Then me.  Then Vinroy.  Then Iryna.  And so on down the line, which made Sasha laugh even harder.

“All right!  All right!” said Claude.  Unfortunately, even his gently waving hands were unable to check our hilarity.  We gave up and skipped Sasha in order to get through the syrup portion of the morning.

Everyone took turns measuring pancake mix and stirring to blend it with the water.


Nyron volunteered to be the first to make a pancake and Iryna pushed him up so I could show him what to do.

“First, you have to put on butter so it won’t stick to the pan.  You want it to get hot – can you hear it sizzling?  Then you’ll pour in some of the mix.  Great!  Now we’re going to watch for bubbles.  When a lot of bubbles have popped, then you know it’s time to turn it over.”



Next up, Vinroy.

Butter in the pan.

“Sizzling time!  Sizzling time!” called out Claude, who had already claimed last place in the pancake line and was having the time of his life watching all his friends.

“Look, Vinroy!  The bubbles are coming!”

“Bubbling time!  Bubbling time!” said Claude.

David.  Theresa.  Vivienne.  They all came, poured, and conquered – with HUGE smiles on their faces.

Ziggy: Came, poured, and conquered with her usual “all-in-a-day’s-work-no-biggy” attitude.

Bruce – one of those people who always serves in the background without ever expecting anything for himself.  He put the butter in the pan and turned to go back to his seat.

“No, Bruce!  Stay!  You get to do more.”

He poured the batter in the pan and turned to go back to his seat.

“Not yet, Bruce!  You get to flip the pancake, too.”


He waited for “bubbling time” to be done and flipped the pancake before once again turning.

“Stay, Bruce, you get to take it out of the pan and put it on the plate!”

It soon became apparent why Claude had elected to go last.  We rolled him up to the table, handed him the pitcher of batter, and watched as he poured a monster of a pancake.

In response to our good-natured ragging he just grinned and waved his hands at us.

A beautiful stack of golden brown pancakes awaited us.  Each resident squeezed out his or her own syrup onto the very pancake he or she had cooked.  Iryna and Jordan sliced bananas over the top and everyone dug in.

“Mmmmm!  Good!” grunted Jason.


“Aaaauunnttyyy,” said a triumphant Nyron, “weeee caaaaan coooook!”

* * *

“I put in the butter.  I pour on the batter.  And I take my time!  I take my time.  I don’t get in a rush.  I don’t get in a rush.  I take my time.  And that is how you have a perfect pancake.  You can’t get in a rush.” Several hours later and Claude is reliving every perfect moment of pancake morning.

Nyron looks up.  “Eeeevveeeeen  thooouuugghhh  weee’rrre iiiiin wheeeeelllllchaaaiiirsss weeee caaaan coooook!”  He pauses and looks off into the distance, contemplating.  When he turns back to face us, his whole face is alight.  “Weeee caaaan dooooo eeevvveerrryythiiiing!”

I’m too happy to cry.

5 Things . . .

I loved about my Tuesday:

1. The likkle girl who sat behind me on the bus and stroked my head.  “She loves your hair,” her mom explained apologetically.

2. Talking about snow with my banana sellers.  (When I got home, I discovered that they had given me 7 bananas for the price of 6.)

3. Washing my hands under running water again! #wateroutage

4. Tie and Dye with the residents (their first time!).




5. Romelo ask-telling me to climb to the top of the mango tree to pick the only ripe mango in sight.  ‘Melo, I love you, but it’s so not happening!

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice . . .

Hey!  Hey!

I look up from Roxanne’s eyeshadow to figure out who is making all the commotion and I am shocked by what I see.

It’s Ivy.

Ivy, who sits slumped at tables, mouth hanging open.  Ivy, who looks at you with vacant eyes even when you call her by name.  Ivy, who has to be led at a stumble-walk by the aunties to meal time.

Ivy, who I have never heard speak.

Aunty!  Look!

She is sitting upright.  Her eyes are sparkling.  Her smile is practically stretching off her face.  Her voice is clear.  Her arms and hands are perfectly positioned to show off the burgundy nail polish one of the aunties just painted on her fingernails.  She looks . . . alive.

For the remainder of the day, she will walk around with her arms just like this,

IMG_0372reminding herself and everyone within a 40-foot radius of her beautiful new look.

Shamika often tells me that when it comes to therapy and helping people, there are some things you just can’t plan.

She is right.

I could have never predicted Ivy’s (of all people) reaction to our Beauty Day in the Jerusalem! children’s pavilion.

The whole concept of Beauty Day is itself a bit of an “accident.”

I was dropped off at Jerusalem! an hour and a half earlier than normal one Thursday morning (it’s hard to pass up free rides, even when it means getting out of bed at 5 am).  I was hanging out with the Village people when Shameeka said, “Aunty, you have lipstick!”

Actually, I was just wearing lip balm, but her mischievous giggle gave me an idea.  “Would you like to try some?”

Her eyes lit up.

The laser focus of the other girls as I applied lip balm to Shameeka’s lips could not be ignored.  “Would you like some, too?”

“Yes, Aunty!” the verbal ones chorused.  The non-verbal ones responded with vigorously nodding heads, or widening eyes, or smiles.

If they were this excited about a simple lip balm, what would they do if I painted their nails?  Or let them wear lipstick?  Or eyeshadow?

I suddenly remembered Aunty Sharon and Uncle Jeff’s (Occupational therapist/professor and wheelchair repair specialist, respectively) offer to get me anything I needed when Sharon returned to Mustard Seed with a team of OT students from Georgia Regent University.

With only a few days’ notice, they came through in a big way, collecting/buying enough makeup for 5 Mustard Seed homes.

Over the course of several days, little pots and tubes and jars of shimmery, powdery, glittery, liquid-y colors were transformed into the stuff a therapist’s dreams are made of.

Keisha, whose hands typically lie as fists, trembled with the effort to hold her fingers straight for bright pink polish – and kept stretching and re-stretching them straight for the next several days, showing them off to everyone in what became know as her “beauty queen wave.”

Nikki giggled and bounced in her chair as we took her and the rest of the Village girls around the compound to show them off to the other residents, volunteers, and staff.  (The giggles got especially loud when we neared the security guards and maintenance men :-) )

Cherise couldn’t stop looking at herself in the mirror.

IMG_0361“Pretty!  Pretty!  Pretty!” said Shontelle, each time a new picture of herself appeared on the camera screen.

With every nail that was painted,

IMG_0360mouth that was tinted,

IMG_0367cheek that was blushed,

IMG_0352and eye that was shadowed,

IMG_0383another girl shimmered into happiness.

And the icing on the cake?  We even got to wear perfume!

And by “wear,” I mean that I’m not sure the planet is ever going to forgive us.

We were drenched in Cherry Blossom scent.  I was thanking my lucky stars that a) GRU had purchased body mist (not real perfume) and b) we were in the open air of your typical Jamaican building plan when I saw Roxanne helping Shontelle out like this:

IMG_0363I thought about explaining that perfume is really for your inner wrists and decolletage and behind the ear lobes (or, as Coco Channel put it, “Wherever one wants to be kissed”) but decided against it.

For one thing, it really was kind of logical (Why not spray it where it will do the most good?).

For the other, I was laughing too hard to make much sense, anyway!

Okiem, the Photographer

Camera strap looped around a too-thin wrist.

IMG_0165Huge smile spreading over his face.

IMG_0168Frail fingers struggling to push the button and snap the picture.

IMG_0169Eyes sparkling with happiness.

IMG_0181Outstretched arm directing his wheelchair chauffeur.

IMG_0184Laughter rattling his lungs.

IMG_0185Forgetting months of hospitals and doctors and being fed through a tube and missing school and friends.

IMG_0173Feeling joy.


Rockfort Mineral Baths

You know you’re in Jamaica when a group of elderly ladies brings along their own DJ for a picnic at a radioactive mineral baths.

The reggae gospel music was blaring.  The ladies were jamming.  The DJ was jamming.  Kristi and I were yelling to make ourselves heard as we downed our patties.

Conversational interference aside . . .

Watching 18 elderly ladies in church dresses and hats dancing and praising while their 20-something year old DJ mixes it up with a song straight from the book of Revelations (scary times, ya’ll!) that’s set to a hot reggae beat was pretty epic.

I am definitely a fan of the Rockfort Mineral Baths.

It has that neglected feel of a place long past its glory days.  The koi pond was clear and sparkled in the sun.  The grass was trimmed.  The bathrooms and changing rooms were clean.  The staff was friendly.  Still, you couldn’t help but realize that this was no longer a hot spot and the trickle of visitors (reggae gospel dance party aside) on a Saturday afternoon was probably the norm.

It was charming, quiet, and relaxing. The water felt amazing.  Signs are posted recommending no more than 45 minutes in the pool.  We were told that “because of the mineral in the water it can burn your skin and irritate your eye.”

We “lost track of time” and ended up swimming around for a couple of hours.  No problem.  My skin felt and looked great (my whole self felt great, actually!) when I came out and as far as I can tell, my teeth haven’t started glowing in the dark.  So all is well.

Probably my favorite part was the view.  It’s right across the road from Kingston Harbor and right next door to the Carib Cement Works, but you don’t see either of these when you’re in the pool.  Instead, you look up at Long Mountain, towering up to a deep blue sky.

I forgot my camera, but found this picture online:


IYG (If You Go): From Downtown take the Port Royal bus (the 98).  Keep an eye on the road, and when you see the sign for Rockfort Mineral Baths, push the button.  The driver will drop you at the next bus stop.  From there, walk back a couple blocks to the Baths.  Cost: $450 JA.  Bring lunch with you and enjoy eating at the shaded picnic tables outside the pool.

To return, cross the street to another bus stop and wait for the 98 or a passing coaster or taxi to catch a ride back to Downtown.


4:35 pm.  Liguanea bus stop.

Him: White lady.

Me: What?

Him: Can you give me hundred dollas?

Me: No.

Him: I said can you give me hundred?

Me, curtly: No!

Him: Why not?

Me, gaze hardening: Because I don’t want to!

Him, scowling: Then I’ll tief it!

I have a well hidden mean streak that, when it chooses to surface, does so with a vengeance.  It was surfacing now, in my irritated words, unsmiling face, and seething brain.  Even as he walked away, part of me wanted to call him back and to demand to know why he wasn’t ashamed to be begging money off a woman.

Druggie! I thought to myself, as my gaze passed over to another man who had asked me for money and was still hanging around.

It was the sixth time since 10:45 am and I was FED UP with full grown, able bodied men asking me for cash.

Guy #1 had tried the soft sell.

Guy #2 had to be told to leave me alone by two women sitting next to me.

Guy #3 was actually a boy, probably 12 or 14 years old, wanting money for food.  Even though I stand by my policy of not rewarding begging behaviors (especially in children, who are often the pawns of unscrupulous adults), that one hurt to walk away from.  I deliberately did not meet his eyes or look too closely at his face.  I still don’t feel good about it.

Guy #4 had been chased off by Guy #5, who then proceeded to segue our conversation into a tale of his need for bus fare.

Guy #6 (lucky mon) got to be the recipient of a whole heap of negative feeling.

I’m going to be honest.  I know I could have offered food in place of money to the boy.  The thought crossed my mind.  I had a mango and an eighth of a jackfruit in my bag.

So I told myself: This is the first jackfruit and big mango I’ve seen in several weeks.  I want to eat them.  And why should I spend that money on him?  By then I was across the street and in the parking lot and it “didn’t matter anymore.”  It was, conveniently enough, “too late.”

I’m going to be honest again.  I still don’t feel bad about my rudeness to #6.  I don’t even feel bad that I don’t feel bad.  I wanted him to see/hear/know just how irritated I was at him for daring to ask me for money.  I think, in some twisted way, I wanted to get back at him for ticking me off.

But just because I don’t “feel” bad about something doesn’t mean that I don’t know when it is wrong.


Sometimes, I travel to other countries to help vulnerable people.

And while I am there, I do, say, think ugly things.

James 1:26-27

Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

Not sure what to title this one :-)

Romelo, resident: Wha gwan, Baby?  I like your hairstyle.

Me: Aww, thanks, Romelo!

Romelo (who is a black Jamaican): You are brown and pretty.  Mi no like black woman.

Me: Wha-?

Thank God for Jamaican aunties who are never at a loss and never miss a beat.

Miss W., doling out morning meds: Romelo, why you so prejudice?

John: Ser-ah. Cornmeal.  Porridge.  Done!

Just another typically untypical morning at Jerusalem!