Saturday, July 18, 2009

2 Weeks

Yesterday was the last day of Mount Friendship’s Camp—it was filled with beauty, with annoyances, with wonder…with Shemari, with Miss Doris, with Marie, with Jeneve, with with Orville, with Vernon, with people I have grown to love.

I did plenty of yelling, that’s for sure.

Lots of “clap your hands once if you can hear my voice,” lots of “Listen up, boys and girls!” But there were lots of hugs, lots of giggles with my favorite kids, lots of really beautiful moments. In fact, I’m not even going to pretend that I have the literary capabilities to describe some of the encounters I have had over these past few days. Let’s leave it at this: the time I spent hosting a camp in my home community was precious and has given me memories that I will treasure forever.

Holding a camp in Mount Friendship showed me that the relationships I have fought to cultivate really do have worth here. The women have told me that there will never be a volunteer as nice as I have been, that there never has been a volunteer as sweet as I am. They want to find gifts to give me and praises to shower upon me. They say this to all of this volunteers; of this I am certain. But still, it’s nice to hear.

I’m beginning to see just how difficult it will be to leave this place. I spent some time last evening chatting with my roommate, Lauren. We were sharing stories about Mount Friendship Camp—about my kids, about the community at large, and I realized how much I treasure my experience and how heartbreaking it will be to tell everyone goodbye. So many of my children are growing into teenagers, and so many of my teenagers are showing that they have the potential to be great leaders, thinkers, and doers in their community. I’m not saying that I can lead them into these talents; rather, I simply want to be there to watch them blossom. Because, dammit, I love them. And I want more than anything to see them succeed in this hard life they lead.

I’m not quite ready to leave my shut-ins and my older friends. I personally think that Mr. Brooks needs friends now more than he ever has. I just really got to know Mrs. Perkins. Selfishly, I don’t want to say goodbye to Ms. Doris’ crazy ways. I don’t want to leave behind her saltfish fritters, kisses on my cheek, and playful slaps on my bottom. I’m not ready to leave behind Mr. Frazier’s musings on the Jamaican economy and Miss Jean’s bananas. I’m sorry, but it’s going to feel like a betrayal when I hand over these people to the next volunteer. I don’t want to mislead you all. I am eager to get home—I can’t wait to see the family that has supported and loved me during this zany year. I’m aching to see my friends and the thought of a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee-and-bagel combo makes me giddy. Don’t get me wrong, people. I’m quite ready to trade in my view of Kingston harbor with the skyline of Providence.
But I have a life here that has taken me a year to cultivate. I have friends. I have a dog. I have a lady who sells me oranges, peeled and sliced to my liking, every morning. I know where to buy mangoes, and which taxi drivers I trust to take me up into the mountains.

I have mixed feelings the likes of which I have never had before. I love the people of Mount Friendship, of St. Andrew, of Jamaica. I’ve shed my fair share of tears over the poverty, confusion, and culture shock. I’ve been convinced that I could never make it here. And somehow, I have, and despite it all, I’ve grown to cherish this place.

Last week, I was racing through the Mount Friendship bush after a day of camp, trying to do a few home visits and still make it home before dark. In typical “Betsy” fashion, I tumbled down the side of a hill, through someone’s coffee plants, and skidded to a stop in the dirt at the bottom of a gully. I lay there, disoriented and smarting, for a few minutes, and then I started to laugh. We’re not talking a get-up-and-brush-yourself-off kind of a chuckle, mind you. I was seriously laying there in the dirt, belly-laughing at myself. A few children were with me, and after gasping in shock at “Miss Betsy” lying in the dirt, they too, started to giggle.

And that is my experience at its most real. If I’ve learned nothing, I’ve learned to stop taking myself so seriously and to start laughing at the small things. My Jamaican friends have rusty zinc roofs and damp dirt floors. They have children to feed and coffee to pick. But they manage to get through the hardships and laugh at the moments that bring them joy.

I have two weeks. All I can do is to implement the lessons that they have taught me through the year. I’m going to throw myself into the hills and gullies of Mount Friendship with smiles and laughter until I have to say goodbye. And when I do, I will do it with a heart full of joy and thankfulness. There will never be a people as kind and loving as those in Mount Friendship, of this I am certain. I’m sure every volunteer in every community in Jamaica says this. But—not only is it nice to hear, it’s the truth.

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