Mi A Go Bay

I shift a little in my seat – a wooden bench outside of the shop by the Square – crossing one leg over the other and leaning back into the shade. From inside the shop, the radio plays a reggae version of Adele’s Don’t You Remember, followed by a news brief announcing Tessanne Chin’s advancement in America’s popular reality TV show, The Voice.

“Mawnin’ Miss Teach. Wah gwan?”

“Mi dey ah,” I reply, looking up at a man whose name I can never remember, but recognize as the guy who rides around on his motor-scooter selling eggs. “Mi a jus’ wait ‘pon taxi.”

“Arrite, summpin’ soon come.”

“Yeah mon.” I don’t bother to mention that I’ve already been waiting forty minutes.

It’s Saturday, nearly eleven a.m., and my stomach rumbles. I think about that Jamaican patti I’ve promised myself when I get down to the Bay (Morant Bay), and shift in my seat again.

A dog wanders into my vision, sniffing the ground for scraps before curling up in the shade across the road. A barefoot man carrying bananas on his head slowly makes his way past the shop. A woman with her baby sits down beside me. The cool breeze sweeps in from the valley and offers me a brief reprieve from the heat. Finally, a taxi arrives.

A Honda model from the late 90’s, with a white license plate and ripped seat cushions, the driver reaches over and opens the passenger door from the inside, then behind him to open the backseat door. I allow the mother and her child to sit in the front, so they wont have to small up, and I settle down in the back. A few minutes later, another larger woman joins me in the backseat, then a farmer carrying a machete, the blade wrapped in newspaper.

We start down the road, winding around blind curves before making another stop for a teenager with a school bag. He opens my door and climbs in beside me, forcing the three of us to shift closer and make room. This is what’s known in Jamaica as smalling up, and it’s something I’ve become very accustomed to. Rarely does one travel publically without experiencing this type of close encounter.

With an hour’s car ride ahead of us, I lean back and allow the people on either side of me to absorb the sways and bumps of the vehicle, as we wind around curves, dodging potholes and goats.

While we make our descent from Cedar Valley, I keep my eyes fixed on the passing scenery. We drive through several neighboring communities, past sugar cane fields, cow pastures, and Serge Island Dairy Factory. Meanwhile, the road continually alternates between patchy concrete riddled with potholes, or a sand or dirt path. Though the windows are down, I feel sweat gathering at the base of my hairline, beneath my arms, and between my legs. Just a few more minutes, I think, recognizing my surroundings and smelling the sea air.

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Morant Bay is a flurry of activity. Even before our vehicle stops, we pass men walking around selling hair combs, kitchen knives, fly swatters, bag juice and chips. Taxi men call out their destinations, looking for more passengers to fill their vehicles. “Town! Town!” That’s Kingston. “Town, baby?” I’m asked the moment I exit my car.

“Nuh, me nuh go Town.”

“Yallahs, baby?”

“Nuh Yallahs.”

From the main road, I walk uphill to get into the shopping area of Morant Bay. I pass vendors under canopies and street carts. People shout out to promote their product. I hear calls for movies, maxi dresses, juicy watermelons and pineapples.

The cat-calls begin here too. In Jamaican culture, men often like to woo the women, and as a white female, I’m exceptionally exotic. This is a big adjustment that many of us PCJ ladies find infuriating. After a year of it, most of the remarks I hear fall on deaf ears.

“Pssst! Hey baby, lookin nice, ya?”

I nod to him and keep walking.

“Snowflake, mi can go wid you?”

I ignore that one.

“Wow! Whitey lookin so beautiful today!”

“Psst! Come here!”

“Yaa look so fine, mi wan’ fi be yuh friend.”

Finally, I reach Queen’s Street, which runs through the heart of the Bay. Along the roadside is an NCB bank, the Digicel store, Tastee Patti, Lee’s Books, St. Thomas Parish Library, Scotia Bank ATMs and so much more. Famished, I duck into Tastee and join the long line. Once I’ve sated my hunger, grocery shopping is next on the agenda. Hoping to avoid the hustle-bustle of peddlers and cheesy pick-up lines, I move quickly toward the corner and turn down a side street.

About fifty feet in, past more street vendors and pushcarts, is Joong’s Supermarket. Inside, the store is busy, and despite large ceiling fans on high speed, it’s still only slightly cooler than outside. Picking up a basket, I slip through the turn style and start down the isles. The shelves aren’t too different from what I’m used to back home. While there certainly isn’t as much brand variety, I can find almost all of the same things. I also usually have my choice between a Jamaican brand, and an American one.

I grab some Charmin toilet paper. On my PC budget, it’s easily the most expensive item on my list, but to me, it’s worth it. I also pick up a bag of cat food for Bowser. Then I stroll down the isles collecting various food items. I reach for the veggie chunks, a Jamaican product made mostly from soy and packaged in dehydrated form. They make a great substitute for meatballs in your spaghetti, or a tasty addition to your chicken-flavored Ramen. I also like to use them in my weekly Teriyaki Vegetable Stir-Fry; a meal I’ve proudly learned and perfected during my service. Other items on my shopping list include pasta, milk (in a powdered form, to be mixed with water), tang, wheat crackers, granola bars, and my other cherished splurge: Honey Nut Cheerios. I grab a snack-sized package of Oreos on my way to the cash registers.

ShoppingBagD20110215WSThe last thing I do before the leave the store is pull out my MegaMart bag and transfer my groceries. MegaMart – just so we’re on the same page – is a little like a Costco. It’s located in three major Jamaican cities, but none of them are in St. Thomas. While Group 84 was training in Kingston, we discovered that you can buy a MegaMart reusable shopping bag for $100 (or $1 USD), and that they’re a great way to carry multiple or heavy items more comfortably. Almost every volunteer on island has one, and apparently, so do the Jamaicans! With my MegaMart bag in hand, I blend right in.

“April!”

But I’ve been spotted.

I recognize my friend Warren’s* voice. A Rasta man with shoulder length dreadlocks and a star-spangled wetsuit hurries over to me. He’s holding a spear gun in one hand, and a dozen colorful fish and lobster on a fishing line in the other. Spear fishing is one of the many ways Jamaicans bring sea-life to the markets. I greet him enthusiastically.

About a year ago, when I first got to St. Thomas, Warren approached me to say hello. Like most of the people in the Bay – cat call boys aside – he just wanted to know who I am. After all, I’m not the only volunteer in this parish, and all of us come into the Bay to shop. Wanting to earn some integration points, I took the time to talk to him, and after a few short months, he had become a good friend.

“Warren, mi like your fish.”

“Yeah? The water was so cool today,” he tells me, in Patwa of course. “But I dove too deep and popped my ear.” He shakes his head and blinks his eyes a little. “Anyway, you are looking so nice today. Wey yaa go now?” Where are you going now?

“To the market,” I tell him, gathering my bag and starting back toward Queen’s Street.

“Oh, I’m going there too to drop off these fish. Then I’m going back diving again.”

“Please be careful. You could really hurt yourself if you go too deep.”

“I know! Last week I went too deep and had to stay in bed for three days.”

“Warren!”

He winked at me. “I like that you care. See you around!”

Warren disappears into the crowded market place. Under a mismatched roof of tin and blue tarp, Morant Bay Market is easily the busiest place in the Bay. It’s hot, with rows and rows of tables and carts; merchants selling everything from kitchen utensils, flatware, clothing, shoes, belts, wallets, jewelry, hair accessories, fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables. A maze at times, I wind through the isles, duck under low hanging tarps, wrinkle my nose as I pass the fishery quarter, and make my way to the Southeast corner of the market. There, I step into a ray of sunshine, take a breath of fresh air, then walk under another blue tarp to find Brenda.* Hailing from Cedar Valley, and the mother of one of my students, I always like to buy my vegetables from her.

Brenda’s round face lights up when she sees me. “Miss April! What can I get for you today?”

“My usual please.”

She holds out her hand impatiently. “Give me your list.”

Laughing, I reach into my shoulder bag and produce a small piece of paper. After a year with Brenda, she’s learned by now that I always make a shopping list, and she’s quick to snatch it from my fingers. She glances at it, then with lightning hands, fills a scandal bag with onions, carrots, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and one head of cabbage. “Pen.”

I reluctantly hand over my pen, knowing full well that I won’t be getting it back. She writes down the prices of each item on the back of my shopping list, adds up the total, and I pay her. “I can keep your pen?” she asks me. “Mine all dried up.”

“Every time, Brenda,” I tease.

“Arrite, arrite. Here.” She holds up a sweet potato and drops it in the bag. “Brawta,” she tells me, which is a Jamaican term for freebie.

“Thanks. See you next time.”

Finally, I’m finished. It’s a relatively quick trip today, since I had no plans with other volunteers, no need to visit the ATM, and no bills due for another week. I feel a bead of sweat roll down the crease of my spine and settle in the waistline of my pants. Placing my vegetables in my MegaMart bag, I steel myself for one last trek in the hot sun through the Bay.

“Yallahs, baby? Seaforth?”

“Yuh bags heavy, mi can help you?”

“Hey Sunshine, you can carry me in yuh bag too?”

“Callaloo! Pumpkin! Hey baby, let me sell you some callaloo.”

“Psst! Whitey!”

Cars are honking. I hear a baby crying. Another bead of sweat rolls down the side of my face as I tighten my grip on the handle of my bag and continue along the road and back to the taxi stand. Once I reach, I set my bag down and look around. I see a couple of taxis for my surrounding communities, but nothing for Cedar Valley. Typical. Then I begin looking at the people, and recognize a few from up the mountain. A student from my school smiles at me, then whispers in her mom’s ear and points. I smile politely.

A few minutes later, a mini bus with a faded paint job and a red license plate pulls up; Kevin’s* bus. He gets out of the driver’s seat and opens the sliding door. While we – about ten of us – load into the vehicle, Kevin expertly arranges our packages under our seats and between our legs. More Cedar Valleyians arrive and more bags and people are packed in. I can’t help but marvel as the skillful way Jamaicans can load a vehicle. It’s the same sense of awe I experience when watching my Mom load the dishwasher back at home. Like Tetris, I think.

I’m sticky, and my skin feels grimy. My mouth is dry and my hair is wet with sweat. I’m exhausted, and want nothing more than to jump into a swimming pool. I suppose I’ll have to settle for a cold shower. As the last person – and perhaps one too many – squeezes himself into the bus, the sliding door slams shut and Kevin returns to his seat. The engine protests at first, then sputters and starts. With a jerk, we pull out of the taxi stand and make our way back up to the mountain to Cedar Valley.

* All names have been changed to protect their identities.

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Murphy’s Law

Murphy's Law

“The school’s projector doesn’t work very well, but you can use mine. I have good speakers too.”
“Great, thanks! Can I lock them in my classroom so I’ll have them when I get to school tomorrow?”
“I have to teach an early class tomorrow, so I’ll be here.”

Of course, he wasn’t.

I got to school at a quarter after eight, figuring how-to-train-your-dragon-poster-1that forty-five minutes was more than enough time to set up for the movie. My students had spent the last two weeks reading a story about dragons, so I wanted to treat them by showing the Dreamworks film, How To Train Your Dragon. I was excited; this was the first time I was showing them a movie, and I knew they’d really enjoy this one. I wanted to make sure I got to school early enough to set up, and iron out all the kinks before 9am. At an hour and a half in length, that would give us enough time to watch and be finished by Break.

Without Sir’s projector, I was forced to see if I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the other one. I pulled it out, plugged it in, and turned it on. It seemed to work just fine, so I brought it to the library and began my set up. Projector in place and functional, next I needed a computer. Thanks to Apple’s brilliant product scheme, the projector would not properly connect with my laptop, so I needed to track down one of the school’s PC’s.

Okay, PC laptop: check.
Projector: check.
Extension cord? Yeah, I definitely need that. Let’s go get it.

Time: 8:30

As luck would have it, the extension cord was not where it was supposed to be, so I needed to track that down as well. I asked several teachers, and ten minutes later, finally had it in my possession.

“What about speakers?” I asked. “I am showing this to twenty-four students.”
“They should be in the office. You didn’t see them?”
“No.”
“Hm. Who had them last? Go ask Miss and see if she knows where they are.”

This Miss didn’t know, but maybe that one would. Nope, she didn’t know either; go ask her. “I haven’t seen them, but I think they are in So And So’s classroom.”

Time: 8:58

meme-face-thinkingBy five after nine, I had the speakers in my hands and returned to the library. Thrilled that I was only five minutes behind schedule, I pulled them from their box… and discovered a power plug.

Of course they need to be plugged in, I thought grimly, looking at the wall with only two outlets, and both of them occupied. Can I unplug the computer and let it run on battery? The computer quickly powered down. Guess not.

I need a power strip.

So once more I return to the Principal in search of a power strip, hoping this won’t take me another ten minutes, or that the school even has one. Fortune was with me, but not with the school’s bursar, who had to give up all use of her computer by handing over her electrical unit. Thanking her, and apologizing profusely, I hurried back to the library.

Time: 9:15

As quickly as I could, I unplugged and replugged everything, then rebooted the computer and the projector. As I ran through one more mental checklist and performed a final test for functionality, I heard the distinct grumble of Sir’s car as it entered school property.

PC laptop: check
Projector: check
Speakers: check

Time: 9:23

All systems are go.

In a hustle now, I swiftly collected my students and ushered them into the library. Once they were settled in their seats, I stood before them and smiled. “I am so excited to show you this movie,” I prefaced. “I know how much you liked our dragon story, and I think you’ll really like this movie too. In class, I asked everyone a question; I asked what you would do if you saw a dragon. Some people said they would run from it, and some people said they would fight the dragon. But one brave person,” I winked at that student, “said he would pet the dragon. That said, this movie is called How To Train Your Dragon. I hope you enjoy it!”

I moved aside and pressed play.

Thirty seconds in, when the film’s narration begins, there were sound effects, but no voices. Panic raced through me, but I was tech savvy, so I was confident I could fix this. I quickly paused the movie, apologized, and began pouring over the VLC Media Player settings. After five minutes, and watching my students grow rowdy, I conceded that this might be beyond me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong! I sent a student running to get Sir. He took his time sauntering across campus, clicked two buttons, and smiled at me before heading out. Back in business, I breathed a sigh of relief, and restarted the film.

A very short time later, someone knocked softly on the library door. Stepping outside, I greeted the Principal.

“Is everything working now?”
“Yes, finally.”
“Good. I am glad you are getting through. I wanted to remind you about the special presentation today. I’m sure you got the notice that went around yesterday?”
“No… I never got a notice.”
“Oh, my apologies. Anyway, there is a special presentation today at Eleven. And you remember that today is an early dismissal day?
“Yes, that I remembered.”

“Miss! Miss!” I heard from inside. We both stepped into the library, to find the screen dark. The projector had finally given up.

Time: 9:50

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The master of delegation, I sent the same student back to Sir’s room to get his projector.

At 10:30, the students heard the bell for break, and lost interest in the film.

By 10:50, I began my slow descent into madness. My students finally returned from break and were settled in their seats to resume the film, when the library door opened again. Without acknowledging me, six older boys poured into the room, demanding that my students stand up so they could take the chairs. Livid, I put my foot down. “Excuse me! You knock when you see a closed door, and if you need something, you ask me, the teacher. You don’t just barge in and do whatever you please!”

brunette_rage getting pissedTaking things one step further, I sent the boys away and instructed my students to take the chair they are sitting on and bring it to the pavilion, and to make sure that they each bring one chair back afterward, so that we could finish the movie.

But the presentation went longer than expected, and I knew finishing the movie that day would be impossible. My students, however, eager and excited, did not want to take no for an answer. They did as they were asked, brought back the chairs quickly, and promised they wouldn’t make a mess eating lunch.

Meanwhile, the extension cord had disappeared – turns out they needed that for the presentation too – and the Bursar needed her power strip back so she could get her work done. Other students were trying to sneak in so they could watch the movie too, my students wanted to go to the bathroom, all of them wanted their lunch, and two boys were suddenly wrestling violently on the floor. If that wasn’t chaotic enough, a parent showed up to talk to me about her son, and Sir’s car rolled into view with a honk. “Are you ready to go?” he shouted.

When the hell did it get to be 1:30!?

I don’t know how I did it (PTSD clouds my memory) but I managed to survive the tornado and make it off school grounds in a timely manner. I can’t say much for my sanity, though, and as soon as I reached home, I collapsed on my bed. Tears spilled from my eyes – either from stress, or relief that the day was done – and my final thought before I drifted off for a well-deserved nap was that I needed to change Bowser’s litter.

I woke up to find a fresh, rancid turd in the middle of my bedroom floor.

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Four Crazy White Girls

Route 2

Part 1 – Winging it

“Let’s just start walking and see what happens.”
“We’re all broke. We should try to spend as little money as possible.”
“How far is it to the Peak from here?”
“Who cares? This is our adventure.”

And so we walked from Bethel Gap to Ness Castle and waited for the fifth member of our party, a seventeen y/o Jamaican boy who is good friends with Sarah. He led us down a short cut that allowed us to by-pass forty-five minutes of road, and soon after we reached Hagley Gap.

With nothing but time on our hands, we waded through the river and sat by the bank on the other side, reapplying sunscreen, refilling our water bottles, catching our breath, and discussing the next part of our journey.

“The [Hagley Gap] Square isn’t too far from here. There is a shortcut, but it’s steep. Should we take it?”
“Nah. We should save our energy.”
“It’s only two o’clock, and we’re not hiking the peak until Eleven. We should use the road.”
“We’ll see if we can catch a ride to Penlyne at the square.”

We were able to find a ride, but it cost way too much for our tight budget. Besides, deep down, I think we all wanted to be able to say we walked the whole way. So we made the unanimous decision to hike the steep dirt road from Hagley Gap to Penlyne Castle, where we knew a lengthy and much needed rest awaited us.

Part 2 – We’re really cold

625419_10100174541080474_1299730450_n“Wow, it’s really cold up here.”
“I’d like to know how high up we are.”
“Hey, can I borrow that hat?”
“I don’t think anyone would believe us if we told them it was this cold in Jamaica.”

Approximately 3,300 ft in elevation, the wind blew around us and chilled our bones. But we had no idea what we were in for. Regardless, we hung out in a well-lit, out-of-use bus stop while we rested our legs and passed the time. Our goal was to resume our hike at 11pm, so we would reach the peak in time to see the sunrise. We acquired a sixth member; another good friend of Sarah’s who’d hiked the peak several times.

At around 10, we gave up our convictions and sought shelter in a shop to fend off the wind. For an hour, we hung out with a couple other locals, chatting over a variety of things to pass the time. We bought some snacks to keep us until morning, and finished off the sandwiches we’d packed with us. As promised, we set off again at Eleven.

Our next goal was to get to Portland Gap, which was 3.5 miles from Penlyne Castle, and exactly halfway to the top. We’ll take another break there, we decided. The nearly full moon lit our path for a mile, and then we switched to our headlamps.

Unfortunately, Portland Gap was not an appropriate place to rest. It was a small, open field, vulnerable to the fierce and icy wind. While icy might in fact be an exaggeration, I’d guess it was close to mid-forties up there. But in our defense, our clothes were soaked with our sweat and made of cotton, regardless. The grass had already collected a thick layer of dew, and so sitting was impossible as well.

We pressed on.

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Part 3 – We must be crazy

At 6,500 ft, about a mile from the peak, I had my first asthma attack.

I am not asthmatic.

It was 2am and we’d been hiking since ten that morning. Exhaustion was setting in. Our muscles ached. We were freezing and victim to that cursed wind every time we stopped for a rest. It was around this point when we started questioning our sanity. We must have been crazy.

While we weren’t opposed to hiking the peak again, we all agreed that it would be done differently the next time around. Like spending the extra couple of bucks to catch a ride and not kill ourselves.

Up was the only way to go, and we’d been reassured by our unofficial trail guide that there was shelter at the summit. An hour and a half later, we finally made it.

Our shelter was the remains of a concrete house-like structure with a collapsed roof. We sat huddled on cinderblocks surrounding a pathetic excuse for a fire until sunrise. Miraculously, two members of our group found sleep, but I was not one of them.

With my hood drawn tightly around my head, my arms crossed over my chest, I rested my forehead on my knees and shivered my way through the next two hours.

7,402 feet.

The wind never stopped once.

Part 4 – Tired is an understatement

521895_10100174556289994_1398611121_nWe didn’t get to see our sunrise. The wind had blown in a thick layer of cloud cover, and by 5am, the sky was growing lighter in gradients but we still couldn’t see anything. Eventually, we stretched our aching bodies and began to dance, if just to keep us awake and warm. Other hikers drifted in, shook their heads at us, and left. Only two girls from Europe stayed for a while to chat with us, and at Seven, we began our trek back down.

It was sunny and warming up when we reached Portland Gap, and this time, we were able to appreciate the view. A man with a donkey and a blanket sold apples, bananas, and Jamaican peaches, so we enjoyed a light breakfast while we thawed out.

And down we continued.

Before we returned to Penlyne Castle, our guide told us of a shortcut – a rocky dirt road – that would enable to bypass Penlyne entirely, and bring us back to Hagley Gap in two hours less time. So we did that.

With gravity against us, every step we took sent a shockwave of pain up our legs and into our bodies. The rocks were loose, and I slipped several times. Our previous reluctance to walk (and save money on a ride) had long ago been discarded, and we were now on the sharp lookout for a cab running on a Sunday.

We were not so lucky.

Part 5 – We’re badasses

Sarah’s friend, our trail guide, left us at Hagley Gap, but our perseverance had returned. We were so close to the end and it still seemed so early in the day. It just before noon.

At Hagley Gap River, we rinsed off and cooled down, taking another short break and filling our bottles once more. Now that we were back on a main road, maybe this time we’d catch a ride. Again, no luck.

The shortcut we’d taken the day before, the one that allowed to save forty-five minutes, was almost impossible now. It was a steep climb down the first time around, and coming up now, it nearly killed us. We reached Ness Castle and rested again at the school, trying to estimate when we’d reach home. I felt a twinge of guilt knowing that the ending point for me was five miles closer than for them. Bethel Gap marked the end of my hike, but Sarah, Jackie, Briana and Jamaican Schooler (I did not have permission to use his name) still had to return to their starting point.

One more painful incline later, we reached a shop at Ness Castle where we purchased bun & cheese for lunch and finally succeeded in finding a ride. I was dropped off in front of my house, and the others were carried down another mile or two.

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Part 6 – Recovery

My host mother returned from church to find me sleeping on the loveseat on my veranda. We chatted for a few minutes before I slugged myself into the shower. Once cleaned, I collapsed into bed for an extended nap. I awoke at 7pm, spoke to my Dad for ten minutes, and then fell asleep again for another twelve hours.

On Monday, I was so sore it hurt to walk from my room to the kitchen.

Although it was rewarding to track our hike, count the miles, and take pride in our accomplishment, I still maintain that if I hike the peak again, I’m doing it differently.

Bethel Gap -> Penlyne Castle = 9.3miles
Penlyne Castle -> Blue Mountain Peak = 7miles
Distance hiked in one direction = 16.3miles
Total distance hiked = 32.3miles

Mad props to all of us, with a couple of extra points for Sarah, Jackie and Briana, whose ending point was five miles further than mine.

And many extra points for our Jamaican Schooler who hiked a grand total of 40 miles that weekend!

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You Don’t Overcome Arachnophobia By Beating It With A Shoe

spider+spot-blog
Meet Anansi. A trickster God from West African folklore, Anansi takes the shape of a spider and has made his way from oral tradition, to popular children’s literature in the Caribbean. As a teacher, I’ve been made familiar with him.

But this is the real anancy.
Spider-alt

He’s about the size of your palm, and luckily, completely harmless. However, for someone with arachnophobia, this knowledge doesn’t help much. Besides, all logic flees when you’re preparing for bed and you catch a glimpse of him scurrying down your curtains toward your nightstand.

I felt my heart literally lodge itself in my throat. I felt the blood drain from my face and became momentarily paralyzed. It was 11:45pm and my host mother was asleep. What the hell was I going to do?

But in that instant, I knew two things; If I didn’t kill that spider, I wasn’t going to sleep that night. And if I couldn’t kill that spider, I wasn’t going to last two years in Jamaica.

I snatched my phone from my desk and called a PCV friend from Group 82. “I’m freaking out! There’s a giant spider in my room and I don’t know what to do!”

“Ohhh! An anancy. So you’ve finally seen one. Don’t worry – they’re harmless.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is you can relax.”

I screamed again, a blood-curdling scream that probably forced my friend to pull the phone away from his ear. “He’s on my bed now! He has to die!”

“Then you’re going to have to kill him.”
“How do I do that? I’m scared out of my mind.”
“Well you’re going to have to get over that. Do you have a shoe handy?”
“I have a phobia! You just don’t get over that by beating it with a shoe!”

We went back and forth for a little while before I finally decided that a broom might work. I could chase him out the door perhaps… But that didn’t work out as well as I’d planned. Anancy scurried back and forth across the wall and went everywhere but back outside.

I could tell that he was tiring though, because the broom was coming closer and closer to him before he moved again. Finally I took a deep breath and stepped back. “Alright. I’m going to put the phone down, and I’m going to beat him with the broom. I think I’m ready. I can do this now.”

I swung like a madwoman and howled like a banshee. Just like my Ewarton host mother with the slipper and the cockroach, I came down on Anancy several times with the broom, then finally stepped back to admire my work.

Stuck to the wall was a squished Anancy, his legs folded up around him. With the broom, I brushed him off the wall, on to the floor, and swept him out the door. Then I reached for my phone and collapsed into my desk chair.

“I did it,” I whispered into the phone, still a little shaky. “I got the bastard.”
“There, see? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

I erupted into a fit of laughter. I felt pretty accomplished, but I couldn’t possibly imagine what I must have looked like. A grown woman, cowering in fear of an insect, and then chasing it around the room with a broom. I’ll spare the details, but my war cry was more like a string of obscenities that flew freely from my lips. Most importantly, I’d overcome a fear, at least for the time being, and my laughter certainly helped ease the tension.

images
Not that I’d ever want to see Spiderman killed, but this was pretty comical

I can tell that Jamaica is going to change me. Scared though I was, and convinced that scared I will be again, should another Anancy decide to visit me, I found the courage to take care of the problem. My determination to tough it out won again.

Back in Ewarton, after an incredibly close call with a cockroach, I decided that now is the time to overcome my fear. After all, Jamaican women exterminate them without batting an eyelash, and my biological Mom comes to my rescue every single time. At some point, I’m going to have a family and I’ll need to be the hero brandishing a can of Raid. Since making that vow, I have not yet successfully killed a roach on my own, but I no longer feel that sense of panic when I see one. I will rise to the occasion soon enough.

And the next time I see an anancy, I’ll rise to that one again too.

A Box Of Yellow Fluff

Down in Morant Bay, I found myself sitting on the bus waiting for it fill up before we begin our long climb back up the mountain. For once, luck was with me, and I managed to get a seat in the front. With my bags on the floor by my feet, my lap was empty, and as nature’s laws insist, if there is space, something will fill it.cardboard-box

“You can ‘old dis for me please? It’s nuh heavy.. verra light,” a woman says to me through the open window. In her hands is a cardboard box that clearly would not have fit on her lap in the crowded backseat of the bus. In Jamaica, it is common for people to help each other out on public transit. I’ve seen women get caught standing, and have to pass their babies to a fellow passenger privileged enough to get a seat.

Having a good day, and feeling generous, I smile and say of course! So she lifts up the box and passes it through the window and I settle it in my lap. Only then do I take a moment to look down and see what was inside. I was expecting fruit…

chicks…But instead I found myself looking into a box of baby chicks! Twenty-five little, yellow balls of fluff, all chirping and looking up at me with beady black eyes. I gawked, and my face melted.

The ride to Cedar Valley takes an hour, and most of the path is broken up gravel or tiny rocks on a dirt road. Every time we went over a bump, the little chicks would bounce around, chirp mindlessly, and flap their itty-bitty wings. When the road was smooth, the chicks would settle down and close their eyes for a snooze, creating a sea of yellow fuzz, only to jump up again with each new bump.

It was by far the most entertaining bus ride I’ve yet to experience. City-raised, I’ve never been in such close contact with baby chickens. I couldn’t resist myself as I reached in and picked one up, letting it sit in my hand for a moment, feeling its weightlessness. I giggled like a child, and did my best not smile and AW! like some kind of dork the entire ride.

For just a moment, I felt another taste of that satisfaction I was looking for – the kind that hits you when you least expect it and life reminds you that it’s beautiful. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to hold a baby chicken, and Jamaica placed twenty-five of them in my lap! Had I made it to the buspark five minutes later, they would have been in someone else’s. It’s amazing how such a little thing can make me smile.

And gawk in silent admiration of their cuteness for an hour.

happy-cuteness-overload