Going Nowhere Fast

You are invited!

To come walk with me through the streets of Winneba, the fishing community of 60,000+ people that is my home.

We walk through our gate and are greeted by a young man standing a few feet way. He introduces himself as a teacher at the school next door and then launches into a passionate and joyous sermon. Half an hour later, we take our leave, encouraged by his reminder that God loves us so much, that He has a purpose for us here in Winneba, and that we can do all things – even the impossible – through Him. His church holds Friday night prayer meetings and we are invited.

We continue up the short path to roadside, where we are immediately greeted with a hiss.

No, thank you! We are come to walk.” The taxi driver nods and accelerates in the direction of a promising knot of people further down the road.

“Obruni (i.e. white person), good morning!” A school age girl is smiling as she walks towards us, holding the hand of a tiny brother.

Good morning! How are you?

“I am fine, thank you! Where do you stay?”

We stay at Roman School.

“Eh-heh!”

We shall meet. Good-bye!” Tiny brother looks back over his shoulder, wide-eyed, as big sister propels him forward.

“Obruni! Eteh sane*?”

Eh-yay! Nyame adom!

“Hey!” The older woman carrying a tub of cassava on her head is surprised and pleased that we know the Fantse/Effutu.

Wu boleh?”

“Yo!” she responds with a delighted laugh. We wave good bye and take a few more steps forward, only to be confronted with the following quotation on the back of a tro-tro: Still Honourable Pepper.

Just beyond, a taxi window is telling us that its owner is Still Tompoo.

We pause, puzzle, give up and move on – older, but none the wiser.

We’re turning off the main road now, leaving behind broken asphalt in favor of well-worn dirt paths.

“Obruni!” We search and search for the high, piping voice and finally, just off in the distance, spot a tiny dancing form. “Obruni!”

When this siren call is repeated, half a dozen little ones tumble out of doorways or pop up from behind cinder block stacks. “Obruni! Obruni! Obruni!” they chorus. Their enthusiasm is irresistible and we wave hello – and then good-bye half a dozen times as with every other step they call out “Obruni, bye-bye!”

We round the corner and nearly collide with a young man on a bike. He immediately screeches to a halt, sticks out his hand, proposes marriage to me (or maybe you, if you are girl), introduces himself, and then asks for our names.

After dodging his request for our phone numbers, we carry on. But only briefly! We’ve been spotted again and nine small boys and girls have hurled themselves at us. “Obruni! Obruni!” Each has a hold of one of our fingers and they begin bouncing up and down, shouting in unison and giggling. We are laughing, too, and more than a little charmed by the way they seamlessly transition to a call-and-response chant, still clutching our fingers.

Their mothers and grandmothers are watching from the yards where they are cooking or washing or resting. They greet us with huge smiles and then shoo the children back.

“Obruni, bye-bye!” follows us out of sight.

Oh, this next interaction will not be so good! A toddler who was happily playing in her yard moments before is now screaming hysterically and trying to back away, while her older brother cracks up and tries to force her towards us.

Eh-yay! Eh-yay! Is okay,” we say, trying to prevent the child from being forever traumatized by the sight of white skin. Older brother releases the captive, who flees – but backwards, keeping tear-filled eyes on us. Hoping to repair diplomatic relations, we greet older brother, shake his hand and exchange names.

Next, we meet 13-year-old Ama, 9-year-old Abena, and 8-year-old Efua, who have come to collect empty water sachets in a large empty rice bag. They have tied plastic bags around their hands to protect themselves from germs. We have a nice chat about school and then wave good-bye.

Turning another corner brings us right into the middle of a pick-up game of football. Two wooden sticks rescued from the burn pile are serving as goal posts. The cinderblock wall to our right is lined with neighborhood kids watching their friends take turns trying to outsmart the goalie. We carefully thread our way through mass of bodies, heads turning in every direction as we try to respond to all the greetings being sent our way.

A group of men sitting on a front porch spies us.

“Obruni! Braw! Come!”

We look at each other, shrug, and take a detour in their direction.

Good morning!

“Good morning! What is your name? Where do you come from? Where do you stay? Where are you going?”

We answer each question in turn, and then ask them a few questions of our own. They offer to send one of the small children with us to show us the way, but we assure them that we can do. We shake hands all around, and set off again.

Eh-heh! We have picked up a tag-along. A boy who looks to be about 12-years-old is walking beside us.

“Obruni, how is it?”

It is fine. How with you?”

“Oh, is okay. Obruni, in your country do women give small children their breasts?”

Brows crinkled, we look in confusion at the small children he is gesturing towards but spot no breasts.

Eh-heh! The lightbulb goes on.

Yes, some women do give small children their breasts. It is very good for them. But sometimes, they must to feed them with milk in a bottle.”

“Thank you,” he responds seriously, and heads back the way he came.

By now, we have nearly arrived at our destination (we need to buy soap and bread from one of the roadside stands). But first, we will receive a free Fantse lesson from a seamstress, have our dressing admired by one of the boys who goes to school at Challenging Heights, and play Double-Double (twice) and Thumb War (three times) with 7 or so of the children who live nearby.

In Ghana, we’re going nowhere fast. Aaaaand – loving it!

*Phonetic, rather than accurate, spellings.

Extravagance

“Ends of the Earth” by Lord Huron is one of my favorite traveling songs.  It perfectly captures the spirit of wanderlust that has infected me ever since my parents began loading up their mini-van each fall and taking their 3 – then 4 – children on long jaunts across the US.  The back seat would be declared a health hazard about 3 days into the trip but oh, baby, the places we saw!  The Grand Canyon.  Lincoln’s Springfield home.  Mount Rushmore.  The Badlands.  The Grand Tetons.  Williamsburg.

What good is livin’ a life you’ve been given
If all you do is stand in one place

Exactly!  There is so much to see and do and eat and feel and breathe and experience.  Who could bear to stand still for long?

So I’m once again sitting in an airport terminal, waiting for the plane that will take me across the Atlantic back to my beloved Ghana.

Sometimes travel becomes the wanderer’s version of “stay in one place.”  It becomes easier than sinking down roots.  It’s far more appealing that settling in to routine.  A permanent commitment, on the other hand, would stretch you – and that’s far too uncomfortable.

It may not look like it at first glance, but “travel” can be one giant rut, especially when you’re returning to a place you’ve been before.

Which is why I think God wanted me to say yes to the Sports Program Community Outreach Worker position that opened up with Challenging Heights.

I try not to get too queasy when I think about it, but let’s face it – I’m not the most athletic person on the planet.  I don’t really know what I’m getting into or exactly how I’m going to involve more women and girls, generate greater community interest, transition Winneba United to an independent entity, or get more students playing sports.

I’m also going as a TOMS shoe distributor, something I’ve had experience in thanks to sponsorship.  That’s the comfortable position, the easy path.  The one that fits like, well, an old shoe ;-)

But, what good is living if all you do is stay in one place – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually?

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.
Ephesians 3:18

I firmly believe that God has extravagant things in mind for you and for me.   Why not try them?

National Gallery of Jamaica

He was Archimedes revealing his Principle.

Columbus landing in Discovery Bay, Jamaica.

Michelangelo finding his David in a block of marble.

After nearly two hours, all the joy of discovery was his.

“I know what that abstract is!!  It’s a nose!” Great certainty underscored every word.

Then there was a pause, as the eight-year-old stopped to reconsider.

“Either a nose or a pepper,” he continued thoughtfully.

“Are you crazy?  What are you even talking about?” responded one of his classmates, swiftly proving that “behind every man there’s a woman . . . rolling her eyes.”

“That abstract – it’s a nose or a pepper,” he insisted.  “I can see it!”

Fortunately for the peace of the rest of the class, intent on their interpretations of the masters, not all the works in the National Gallery of Jamaica were quite so ambiguous.

For example, Karl Parboosingh’s Young Mothers:

Young Mothers

and this scene of City Life by Osmond Watson:

City Life

These were paintings that I was happy to look at just for the sake of looking, enjoying the vibrant colors, and seeing the resemblances to the streets that I walked daily.

Other pieces made me feel.

Shocked:

renee_cox_redcoat_2004_nationalgalleryofjamaica-1Red Coat by Renee Cox

Puzzled:

crb-22-patterson-cultural-soliloquyCultural Soliloquy by Ebony G. Patterson

Happy-sad:

varun-1-smallJourney by Varun Baker

One room displayed the prim drawings of Jamaican sugar plantations that were commissioned by British landowners.

I looked at idyllic scenes of peaceful, orderly fields and magnificent houses and well dressed horseback riders.  And glanced over to the next wall to see this:

1789SlaveShip$Brummett72dpi550pxw

In my mind’s eye, I was imagining the terror and the pain and the heat and the beatings that the artists never drew.

I hated these delicate renderings for the lie they told and I despised the artists for the suffering they covered up with a few deft strokes of the brush.

Hakewill,_A_Picturesque_Tour_of_the_Island_of_Jamaica,_Plate_20

They had the ability to tell a story but chose instead to perpetuate a lie.  Even now, weeks later, I can feel the heat of the anger that filled me, closing my throat and warming me against the chill of the AC.

“They didn’t win!  They failed.” I told myself.  The reminder flowed out of a wild, half mad satisfaction that somehow calmed me.

Their attempts to subjugate the Maroons failed completely.  There were unable to destroy the Africans they bought and sold and worked like animals.  They couldn’t break the Indians they brought over as indentured servants.

The other works of art are a testimony to that fact.  They trace the progression from strictly “European forms” to ethnically influenced expressions to the modern movement towards broad interpretations of what can constitute “Caribbean” art.

I left the room.  Went and stood in front of Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused:

ManleyImage2

Returned downstairs to Carl Abrahams’ Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah:

carl_abrahams_hallelujah_hallelujah_hallelujah_c-1965_national_gallery_of_jamaica

And listened to the children.

Teacher: All right, everyone!  Come sign the attendance sheet.

Boy, aghast: Do we have to write our whole names?  Even middle!?

Teacher, suppressing a long suffering sigh: No, your first and last names are fine.

Girl, proudly: My name is Shamika Awesome Walters.

And I’ll bet you she wrote it all down, too!

 

IYG (If You Go): Take a bus to Downtown.  Start walking towards the Waterfront then turn right and keep walking until you arrive at Orange Street.  Look to your right and you’ll see the Gallery.  I took the time to look at everything and was there for about 3 hours.  There’s a nice gift shop where you can buy t-shirts, art books, Jamaican handcrafts, and reasonably priced prints.  The coffee shop has a limited selection (most of which came from a local supermarket).  If you’re extremely hungry and not ready to leave yet, it’s worth stopping for a muffin or a bag of banana chips.  Otherwise, plan on eating at one of the places around Parade.  Click here for opening hours.  Cost: $400 JA.  (Admission is free on the last Sunday of each month.)

The Good Man, or, Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Franklyn is my bus driver.  I think everyone who rides his bus regularly probably feels the same.  He has a way of making us forget that we’re paying for public transportation, rather than just catching a ride with a good friend.

If you go to Kingston and you get to ride his bus, you must watch.  As you do, you will notice many small and large considerations for yourself and others.

Things like . . .

giving you his phone number so you can call him – anytime – to find out if the bus will “soon come.”

honking every evening so that one guy can come running out of his workplace at the last possible minute to board the bus.

calling to check on you when he hears that you are sick.

waiting until the elderly gentleman is seated before accelerating.

circling the square a second time to pick you up when you miss boarding the bus with the other passengers.

dropping someone off a block before the official bus stop, so they don’t have to walk quite as far.

asking a middle aged street vendor where she was after she missed a day.

I saw all these things and started to think . . . maybe, just maybe, this was a good man.  The kind who treated everyone with respect and did favors without expecting anything in return.

And yet . . . I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When he said we would exchange numbers I fully expected to be bombarded with calls and texts (either of a savory or unsavory nature).  It never happened.

When I told him I’d soon be leaving Jamaica, I half expected to get some kind of story about wanting to go to foreign and needing a sponsor.  I never heard it.

When my final week came, I almost expected a request for money.  It never came.

I expected all these things because, as I travel, I meet many people who see me as a solution to a problem.  I distrust kindness.  I will try to figure out “why” so I can be prepared with a plausible reason for saying “no.”

It’s just the way it is.

Even after months go by without a request for a romantic liaison, an “in” with Immigration, or financial assistance; I will still have the niggling thought that there is something behind it all.

But sometimes I get lucky.

No, blessed.

I did the first time I boarded the 3 Mile bus with him as my driver.  I didn’t know it then, but Franklyn, who I didn’t even glance at, was going to become my friend.

He has a voice that sounds like it was mined from a quarry, each word an enormous boulder crashing down on granite.

At first listen, you wouldn’t think that voice could carry sympathy or humor, but it does.  I hear it each time he asks an elderly lady how she’s been or starts talking Jamaican politics with one of the guys who ride the bus to work every day.

He has big hands that easily steer an articulated JUTC bus through the insane rush hour traffic of Kingston, Jamaica.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think those hands could be gentle, but they are.  I feel it every time I enter or exit the bus.  It’s out tradition.  He stretches out his left arm, I grasp his hand, and we shake-squeeze our hello or goodbye.

He has pale eyes that are constantly on the lookout for a potential passenger or a heedless driver or a jagged pothole.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think those eyes could hold warmth, but they do.  I saw it – once – when I glanced up at the rear view mirror following an animated conversation with Sachana.  He was shaking his head at us.  Indulgent.  Grinning in spite of himself.

The days and weeks and months added up.  I left Jamaica.

The shoe didn’t drop.

I can hardly believe it.

Sometimes, good men are hard to find.  Not because they are so very rare, I think.

But because they go about in disguise.

clark_kent_reeve

As:

a pastor who sleeps on the couch so he can take midnight calls from the Oncology ward without waking up his wife

a utility worker who gives a teenage girl suddenly on her own a car he spent months working on

a Jesuit brother who cradles an autistic child in his distress

a inner city teacher who reminds his students that they are still little girls when they try to make themselves available to him

a security guard who kneels to tie a small boy’s shoes

a banker who quits his job to dedicate his life to rescuing children from slavery

Or a bus driver.

Beauty Encounters of the Boy Kind

So I’ve told you all about our Beauty Days! with the girls and how much fun we had.  It may sound like all this happened in a vacuum, and that the boys were AWOL on those days but no.  No, they were not.

For better or for worse, the guys definitely played a role, be it innocent bystander or not-so-innocent participant.

And who can blame them?  It’s hard not to sit up and take notice when the color starts to fly.

Encounter #1: Claude

The first inkling they had that things were going to be a little different around here was when we all descended upon them in the Sensory Garden.

There they were, peacefully working on the day’s art project, when a bedazzled bevy of excited volunteers and residents came charging through the gate demanding to know just what they thought.

This isn’t exactly a favorite question of guys anywhere, especially when it has to do with matters of appearance.  The dazed Village men were no exception and tried to distract us by showing off their art.  No such luck.  We had come to be admired, and admired we must be.

In all fairness to the hemming and hawing guys, this was a lot like asking them to compliment their own sisters.  Really, what’s a chap supposed to do?  Tell her she looks hot?  Nooo SUH! This is your sister after all.  On the other hand, if you ask why her eyelids look like the aftermath of an eggplant explosion, your goose is going to be well and thoroughly cooked.

Leave it to Claude to come up with the perfect response.  After his first amazed glance and a couple of embarrassed smiles, he raised one hand to cover his eyes.

“I can’t even look upon them,” he explained.

This could be taken two ways.  Either they were too gorgeous for mortal eyes to stand, or all that shimmer was blindingly painful.  In any event, we should depart posthaste.  It really was a stroke of genius.

We chose the first interpretation and exited the garden, fully satisfied.  The poor men were left to recover their scattered wits in peace.

Encounter #2: Romaine

Our second Beauty Day! was held in the Children’s Pavilion.  Shamika and I announced the plan for the day following Circle Time.  The girls didn’t exactly stampede straight for the table.  There was a lot of aimless milling about.

But wait!  One brave soul has already pulled up a walker and is sitting eagerly at the head of the table, a huge smile on . . . his face?

Romaine?

Um, Romaine, we’re going to be putting makeup on the girls.

“Yes!”  Happy chuckle.

Romaine, the girls are going to be using makeup – you know, nail polish . . . eyeshadow . . . lipstick?

“Yeah!”  Another toothy grin.

Well, um, okay.  Have a seat.  Knock yourself out, dude.

And he did.  He sat there for an entire morning, grinning and happily watching the girls get fussed over and dolled up.

Any guy who can cheerfully endure a couple hours of watching aunties go to town with bright pink lipstick and listening to me gush about “peach undertones” while inhaling Cherry Blossom fumes is a keeper.

Shamika and I took him to the laundry after dinner and treated him to a bag juice.  Yep, Romaine LOVES Beauty Day!

Encounter #3: Peter

Peter and Paul.  Lord have mercy.  These brothers are a handful.  And curious?  Cats got nothin’ on ‘em.  Finesse is not an attribute they possess.  It’s a deadly combination.

Paul, thank the, Lord, is quickly dispatched to the playroom on our second Pavilion Beauty Day!  Peter on the other hand . . .

It seems like every time I turn around, he is picking up another precious compact of eyeshadow, or getting ready to dig an exploratory finger into one of our too-few tubes of lipstick.

“Peter!  No!”

“Peter!  Go make a picture!”

“Peter!  Please!”

With each confrontation my voice gets higher and sweeter.  That’s how you know I’m really ticked and out of patience.  I sound like aspartame.

A few more minutes of this, and even I won’t be able to hit the high notes his absorbed interest is driving my voice to.

“Yeah!” says Peter at my elbow.

I turn, ready to unleash another volley of “NO!s”, and see a pleased-as-punch expression cross his face.  I look down: slate blue nail polish is spread liberally across ten stubby fingers.

“Peter!” I start to admonish.  And then I am laughing.  In a rush, all my frustration drains out of me.  He got one over on me and knows it.  He is about to bust his buttons.

“I give up!” I say to the world at large.  And I do.

Until we realize 3 bottles of nail polish have gone missing.

“PETER!”

Shakira, the Normal Person

Shakira.

I would watch her slowly plodding through The Village, eyes fixed on the ground, arms hanging at her sides.

She didn’t strike me as being either happy or unhappy.  Capable or clumsy.  Quick witted or slow.  She was just . . . there.  Not a positive, but not a negative either.

In my little world of colorful Village People – David with his love for his grandma and his treasure box, Claude with his ancient wisdom born of patient endurance and his childlike enjoyment of coloring books, Keisha with her wholehearted enthusiasm for nail polish and lipstick, Nikki with her flirtatious smiles for any man within a 50-yard radius – Shakira was a neutral.

I believed this even after the first time we made Cucumber Ginger Juice and she approached me to ask if there was any left for her.  There wasn’t, but I told her we’d be making smoothies in a couple of weeks and if she’d remind me, I’d make sure to pour her a cup.

We did and she did and I did.  And that was the first time I saw a spark.

“Aunty Sarah, it is very nice!  I like it a lot.  It’s cool and refreshing!”

But what I thought was just an instinctual reaction to food was so much more.

She joined us for our second Cooking Class: Omelettes (being the speedy folk we are, it only took us 3 hours to make 15 of them).  It was the first time she’d come to one of my activities.

She chose to cut the sweet pepper and immediately grasped the knife like a pro.  No hand-over-hand needed here!  I watched her out of the corner of my eye as I held the pepper for her.  Her face was filled with pleasure as each perfect slice of pepper fell to the side.

“Shakira!” I said in amazement.  “You can cut!  The pepper – it’s beautiful!”

“Aunty Karen,” she said, turning to my partner in crime, “I learned to cook in the kitchen in Crossroads where I grew up!”

I let go, stepped all the way back, and watched her slice and dice with ease.  First the pepper.  Then the onion.  Then a tomato.  Each perfectly proportioned.  She was clearly in her element, and I was playing catch up – trying to adjust my perception of her to the reality that was unfolding before my eyes.

“Shakira,” I said the following week, “you said the kitchen in Crossroads was where you learned to cook.  Was that a school?  Or a home?”

“Yes.  The seizures did not come to trouble me until I was older.  It was only when I was eight that they came.  Then I had to go to the home in Crossroads.  I learned to cook.  I learned tie and dye.  I rode the bus.  It is only when the seizures come that I have trouble.”

Then came the sentence that wrenched my heart: “Aunty Sarah, I am a normal person like you.”

“Yes, Shakira, you are,” I managed.  “You can do so much.  I can’t even cut peppers and onions as good as you can.”  (Truly, I can’t.)

She smiled.  “I am a good cook.  But, the older I get, the more I want to see my family.  My mother and my father.  I have brothers and sisters that I have never met – can you believe that?  I want to go out and see them.”

What do you even say in response to that?  Especially when you know, as I do, that many of Mustard Seed’s kids don’t even have birth certificates.  They often come to us from hospitals or the street or a pig pen or a neglectful home.  They may arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their back.  They may arrive without even a name.

It all too often points back to the same story – a family that can’t care for a child with a disability.  A family that, in many cases, isn’t going to seek contact with their son or daughter.

At our next two Cooking Classes, she was my right hand woman; watching the stew when I had to dash out for a rag, demonstrating to the other residents how to slice bread.

“Aunty Sarah,” she would say, “today is Wednesday.  I will come to help you cook.  What do you need me to do?”

On my final Tuesday in the Village, I did the ladies’ makeup one last time.  Shakira was there.

“Last time you did this I had to go to the hospital.  But today I am here!” she said joyfully.  “Aunty Sarah, you can do mine, too?”

“Shakira,” I said when I had finished applying her eyeshadow and lipstick and blush, “look in the mirror.”

That beautifully expressive smile that I had come to know and love immediately appeared.

“Shakira,” I said, “look in the mirror and say, ‘I am beautiful.'”

“I.  Am.  Beautiful.” she repeated, grinning at her reflection.

“You are beautiful, Shakira.  You have beautiful eyes and lips and hands.  And you do beautiful things, too. helping me with cooking class and helping the aunties with the other residents.”

“Aunty Sarah, I miss you already.  We are just now starting to do things and you are going.”

“I miss you already, too.”

IMG_1028

My last day at The Village, she dictated a letter for another Aunty:

. . . And I’m sending you a photograph of me training to cook in Jamaica because of Aunty Sarah.  I appreciate the training that I got from Aunty Sarah teaching us how to do things and do it well.  Thank you because I am number one chef in Jamaica right here.  I learn from growing up how to cook and do things in the kitchen. 

And also teaching how to do it make me feel good in myself.  The teaching – no matter how small it is – I can do it on my own also if I get the chance.  But one thing spoil [i.e. the seizure disorder] but it is under control.  But I feel good to know that Aunty Sarah teach us how to do things on our own. 

If I wasn’t here I would be getting teaching how to prepare my own meal and share it out that everyone can have a taste of this cooking because I am the first one that know everything about how to do these things.  Thank you.  Bless up.

Shakira, you are a normal person.

Blessed (to be a blessing)

You’ve heard the saying “It’s a small world”?  Doubly true when it comes to the island of Jamaica!

You befriend a college student who, as it turns out, works out in same gym as Usain Bolt and lives in the same neighborhood at Asafa Powell.

One of your security guards mentions his friend – Popcaan.

Your favorite reggae artist films a music video in the community where you live (unfortunately, before you got there).

You share a taxi with a woman whose cousin was Michael Manley’s daughter-in-law.

And Mr. Vegas hosts a charity concert to ensure the Mustard Seed residents have enough food to eat next year.

My favorite Mr. Vegas song is “I Am Blessed”:

I love the rhythm.  I love the storyline.  I love the fact that it was largely filmed in Papine, which I pass through twice a day.  But I especially love the chorus.

I am blessed,
I am blessed
Every day of my life
I am blessed
When I wake up in the morning,
And I lay my head to rest
Every day of my life I am blessed.

Like my dad always says, “We’re blessed to be a blessing to others.”

Financial resourcesBusiness connectionsMusical talentsPresence.  Just a few of the things that can be committed to “the least of these.”

Built

At Chapel on Sunday, Father Chambers told the story of a carpenter who wants to retire and spend time with his wife and grandchildren.  His boss insists that he build one more house and after much if-ing and but-ing, the carpenter acquiesces.

His heart is far from in it though, so he rushes the job, using shoddy materials and inferior craftsmanship.  When his boss comes to inspect the finished house, he looks around and then pulls the keys to the front door out of his pocket and hands them to the carpenter.

“This is your house.  It’s my gift to you for all your years of fine work for me.”

How differently that carpenter would have worked if he had only known he was building his own house!

In our own lives, we make rash choices and sloppy decisions only to realize that we are building the very house we will have to live in.

IMG_1007Sister Cathy, Natalia, and I spent the afternoon at EITS Cafe (Europe in the Summer) up the mountain (past Irish Town but before Newcastle).  It’s a Farm to Table restaurant with guesthouses perched on the side of the mountain.

They have quirky features like a wooden monkey, a “No Ganja smoking after dark” sign, a live keyboardist who will take requests from the boisterous group at the bar, and footprints embedded in the concrete at the front entrance:

IMG_1006As for the food . . .

IMG_1000Grilled Herb Salmon in Garlic Ginger Butter Sauce with Steamed Vegetables and Potato Croquettes.

And I really think that’s all I need to say about that.

Here’s the view over one of the balconies to part of the farm:

IMG_0994At certain places, there’s nothing between you and the mountain side far below but the balcony you stand on.  If you weren’t sure of the workmanship, you wouldn’t want to venture out for fear of a sudden fall into empty space and a hard landing on the rugged terrain.

I’m so thankful for the people in my life who build their houses well.  I’m grateful for the hard work and effort they made.  I admire the sacrifice.  I enjoy my time in the beautiful structure they’ve erected.

I think of Mustard Seed, and all the hard work that has gone into 30 plus years of building 13 apostolates in Jamaica (to say nothing of Nicaraugua, Zimbabwe, and the Dominican Republic) to care for children and adults who’ve been abandoned because of disabilities, sexual abuse, or HIV/AIDS.

During these past 6 months, I’ve had a glimpse of some of the sacrifices and challenges that come with building something that lasts and that truly does make a difference.

It’s a wonderful and necessary thing to build your own house well.

But I when I think of the times I have seen Jesus in Jamaica, it is in the people of Mustard Seed.  Because they are building homes for people who can not build for themselves.

Sophies PlaceOh, God, please let me be that kind of person, who does the hard thing and builds the house well!

Damien Downtown

Yours truly may soon be in demand with Rasta men everywhere. And not because of some unfortunate pieces of information that I happen to possess – such as where to buy ganja in Papine. No, this – thank God – promises to be of a more innocent nature.

I went Downtown on Sunday to meet up with some friends and was waylaid by a Rasta frying fish.

“Hey! I need pictures. I want to put them up on the Internet. You can take my picture.”

“What!?  You want me to take your picture?”  I am well acquainted with the aversion to picture taking by Jamaicans in general and Rastas in particular.

Just because someone has dreads doesn’t mean they want to be splashed all over Facebook as an example of a “typical Jamaican.”  They wouldn’t show up in your country and snap pictures of you working at your desk job so why should you come up out of nowhere and take pictures of them selling sugar cane at the side of the road?

I paraphrase, but you get the gist (one I happen to agree with after being stranded for 3 days in the Chicago airport and being subjected to photogs who had zero interest in me as a person and only cared about getting an image of a bunch of tired travelers for a story.  But I digress).

“Yes, mon!  Do you have a camera?”

“Um, yes.”  I ask again to be sure.  “You really want me to take your picture?”

“Wait!  Let me get ready!”

I took that as a yes.

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IMG_0680“I need a few more.”

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IMG_0684“Now of the food alone.”

IMG_0686I think I do a pretty good job as photographer to the stars Rastas.

We were both out of pen and paper, so he borrowed a pen from a passerby and ripped a piece of cardboard off a box and gave me his e-mail.

“Would you like to taste my hand?”

Unfortunately, because it looked and smelled delicious, I’d just had a big breakfast of pancakes.

“I want you be to happy here in Jamaica and love our country!”  So he gave me two plantains instead.

Damien, you’re an Irie dude.  I hope you enjoy the pictures.  Thank you for the kind words.  The plantains will be perfect for Cooking Class in the Village :-)

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.

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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.

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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.”

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Perfect!

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.”

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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.

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

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“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.