Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This One's For The Boys

A great deal is said about women in Jamaica—they are the cornerstones of the churches of Jamaica and I am of the belief that they are the backbone and the silent leaders of this country. It goes without saying that they are my heroes.

But I want to talk about men. Boys, really.

Jamaican men—boys—are a unique bunch.

They harass me at the bus stop and as I am getting into my taxis; they tell me in no uncertain terms what they think of me: my hair, my face, my legs. They follow me onto busses and stare at me as I walk children home after school. They sit in shops and drink cheap white rum and smoke forests of ganga and hiss at me as I walk past.

But these men are the ones who chase after busses to make sure I get on one that is pulling away. They are the ones who notice the cuts and scrapes I acquire while tramping through the bush and offer to clean them out with rum. They are the ones who carry me on their backs over landslides and who check the fluids in PVI’s car engine. They defend me against ravenous dogs and chop down coconuts for me.

And the boys! The boys at Mount Friendship’s school do all of my heavy lifting and teach me how to pack a soda bottle to make a really great soccer ball. And no matter their grade, be it one or six, they hug me and do their best to recycle their plastics.

It is these men and boys that break my heart. There are few employment options in Jamaica, but even less for the rural poor. The boys and men of Mount Friendship have little hope. They can become taxi drivers and bus conductors if they are lucky. They can be hustlers and farmers and the men who chop away the bush on the sides of the road. If fortune smiles on them, they may go to the States or to Canada for farm or hotel work. These men and these boys have good hearts, but many of them are trapped in a country, a culture, and a way of life that offers them little opportunity.

It is when that I am re-tying a uniform tie before afternoon devotion service or listening to nine-year-old Jona chattering on about mongoose and birds that I wonder what the future holds for my boys. My boys, boys that will be men all too soon. I don’t want my boys to become the troubled young men who are responsible for Jamaica’s often violent, drug and gun-riddled society.

A great many of my library monitors are boys. I didn’t appoint them because they’re the best workers or the best organizers—rather, I constantly struggle keep these boys on-task. But my hope is that if I can give these kids a sense of responsibility and pride, as well as a skill, they might have a fighting chance in this world. I hope that the kindness that years of female volunteers have shown them will teach them to respect women. I hope that our after-school activities, art projects, camps and Sunday School lessons teach them that they have potential, talents, and gifts that should be recognized and shared.

Often, I’m at a loss. I break up so many scuffles and fights between boys and often, the harassment I receive on the roads leaves me exhausted. Boys and men here make getting through my day a challenge. But, at the end of the day, I love my boys and I can only hope that wherever they end up in this life, they will be happy. Say a prayer for my boys today.

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