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) 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!

Lime Cay, Revisited

Saturday, a boat ride out to this place:


Lime Cay is always gorgeous and it’s great to be out of the city on a tiny scrap of beach with only your friends, a handful or three of random strangers, and a few ritzy (well, ritzy compared to the wooden, tiller propelled boat we take out to the Cay!) private boats for company.


Of course, with the private boats you always run the risk of witnessing impromptu “winding” going on at the front of the boat.  It’s the kind of dancing that, to my mind, would need the privacy of your own home and your spouse.  Not so here.  Right out in the open is fine, and grab any casual friend that you want as the vibes move you.

Which led me to comment on some of the music that the bar next door to Sophie’s Place (a children’s home) likes to play in the evenings.  A certain term is quite popular with dancehall artists and I’ve raised my eyebrows more than a few times, especially as my ears have gotten better at catching the patois and the accent.

As it turns out, this music is actually quite innocent.  One of my Jamaican friends (with a mostly straight face) informed me that I really just need to understand the context and that once I realize how much Jamaicans love their cats, the songs could actually be quite uplifting.  Who knew that dancehall artists were such strong proponents of pet ownership?  And of giving said pets LOTS of physical affection?

One has so much to learn.

Post Lime Cay, we headed through Port Royal to Gloria’s Seafood Restaurant, famous for their fish and for the crowds of people who come to eat that fish.  I ordered the Curried Fish for dinner and it was absolutely delicious (most things that include okra are, in my book).  The side order of Festival set things off nicely.

Festival it’s same-same but different to a corn dog.  Color and length about the same.  Shape similar but Festival has a natural look to it – no perfect, factory-made, matchy-ness for us, thank you very much!  Cornmeal is among, and you can find the recipe online.  It’s not as good as my beloved bofrot but hey, it’s fried dough.  Really, who’s complaining?  Not this girl!

I’m trying not to become one of those people who whips out their camera every time a plate of food is set in front of their face (judging, judging).  So I have no pictures of my meal to share with you.

Which is a shame, because I think if you could see the fish eye staring up at you out of my curry sauce you would have been super jealous.  The fried fish are even better – the frying process immortalizes either a peaceful, smiling expression or a gaping, wide mouthed look of horror.  One can make many assumptions about the way his or her fish died when ordering it fried.

Jamaicans assure me repeatedly that by leaving the head behind on my plate, instead of consuming it with my mouth, I’m missing out on the best part.

Fine by me.

The Canadian Invasion

Two of the artists that made a big splash on Jamaican radio this summer came from the land of ice hockey and Tim Hortons.

Tamia’s Give Me You is, in my humble opinion, girl power at its best.  Confident but not brash.  When asking a man for something, does it from a position of strength.  Requires the best for herself and from the people in her life.  And realizes that the best is not found in things like diamonds and roses and chocolates.

So don’t bring me roses bring me the truth
Don’t buy me diamonds ’cause that just won’t do
Material things I could buy myself if I really want to . . .

And don’t promise me the world
I’m not that type of girl that needs that to feel complete


A couple weeks ago an adorable little person walked past me at the bus stop singing,

Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life? (Say yes, say yes)
‘Cause I need to know

“Aaarrrgggghhhh!” exclaimed the boy with her.  “Quit singing that song!”

“I can’t!” she responded cheerfully. “I just have to sing it!”

And who can blame her?  No matter your prediction for the young couple in MAGIC!’s Rude (I give them one year, tops), you’ve got to admit that the chorus is incredibly catchy.

I feel that it could and should be applied to a wide range of situations.

Someones cuts in line at the grocery store?  Go ahead and belt out, “Why you gotta be so ruuuude?”

Argument with your best friend?  “Don’t you know I’m human too?”

Dispute with the credit card company?  “I’m gonna marry her anyway!”

Okay, so maybe that last one wouldn’t work out so well.  But you get the idea.

O, Canada, thank you for giving me two songs that will always remind me of my Jamaican experience!