Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Circuitous Route to Little Ochi!

Early in the week I drove to Montego Bay with the Youth Programme Manager to meet with a number of school principals and guidance counsellors. We managed to connect with three schools and visit the Peace Centre. Although the schools were very different the principals and staff shared the common trait of being remarkably caring about the students for whom they have responsiblity. They are aware of the very difficult circumstances from which the students come, and do all in their power to assist, with the frustration that it is never enough. They are truly appreciative of the help offered to the students by the Youth Programme.

The week included a statutary holiday, Ash Wednesday, a welcome break mid-week for adults and half-term for the students. Interestingly many of the students continued to attend the suspension programme, a demonsatration of the engagement of the students in the programme, and their commitment to get back to school as quickly as possible.
To take advantage of the holiday four of us decided to travel out to Little Ochi on the south coast, a local gathering spot with a great fish restaurant, thatched huts for shade on a long curving, black-sand beach and rows of beautiful and colourful fishing dories. The journey from Kingston is about two and a half hours west....or 5 hours if one drives north by mistake, which was our circuitous route!! However, as is so often the case, the mistake provided its own fantastic experience. Having recognised our error the map offered us a road that appeared to cut directly west across country and then we could head south again. As we discovered, 'road' was a bit of an over statement! It was in fact a donkey-track through the mountains, with no surface and only just wide-enough for the trusty Yaris we were driving. The views were stunning, the donkeys, laden with cane and household items travelling the track, were kind enough to pull aside to let us by, and the owners, habitants and children in the area looked awed and puzzled at the sight of a car with four white women travelling the back roads of Jamaica. One hears often of "the country" and the differences in rural Jamaica and this was truly rural Jamaica. Villages were tiny huddles of traditional Jamaican houses, there was little evidence of any schools though lots of children walking the road, rivers winding through where women were gathered doing the washing and children and teenagers were gathered to swim and splash in the pools between the mountain streams tumbling over rocks. Cultivated terraced plots clinging to the mountian-sides were possibly those carved out by emancipated slaves two centuries ago. In these plots sugar cane, bananas, cassava, potato, beans and endless other vegetables are grown. It was a happy accident we got to see this part of the country and the only problematic consequence was a flat tyre as we returned to the paved road. As is typical of our lives here, within moments a couple of young men had stopped to help, the wheel was quickly changed, we were given directions to the town we were trying to reach and instructed to stop at the tyre repair shop further down the road as we should not travel far without a spare. We found the shop and the man who owned it repaired the tyre immediately, despite a stat holiday. We were safely back on the road in the right direction and dropped down to the sea and Little Ochi forty-five minutes later
A leisurely lunch, a quiet afternoon and a long walk along the beach at sunset were delightful and we returned to Kingston without incident on the six-lane Highway 2000 having seen far more of Jamaica than we had intended, but the better for having done so.

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