So, on Wednesday late afternoon I arrived in Mo-bay en route to Kingston. A quick trip through security was required as the few of us going on to Kingston changed planes but what a different experience it is from going through North American security checks. Three women at the security check point, all with smiles and "good afternoons" for weary travellers and humming and singing quietly to themselves as they do their jobs as efficiently and diligently as the scowling security personnel at Washington or Toronto! It felt good to be back at my temporary home, despite all its troubles.
Thursday saw me at May Pen, a town about an hour west of Kingston, at the Restorative and Community Justice Launch. May Pen is one of four pilot sites being funded by the Ministry of Justice , a dubious honour as the pilot sites have been chosen due to the difficulties they are experiencing with crime and violence in the community. The launch was impressive with upliftng words from many of the speakers, but more because of the performances that punctuated the addresses from the Dignitaries. A compelling adaptation of the "I have a dream" sermon written and performed by a primary school student. Her delivery demanded the country make changes and honour its children. Vocal performances from an 11 year old and 19 year old were captivating and a Drumming ensemble that brought together young men from 11 to 20 that performed with precision and passion prior to rushing off so one of their members could sit his exams! In addition the national Anthem was impressively led by DRF's Youth Peace Facilitator. The pool of talent in this country seems bottomless and the ability to perform inherent. It was a good demonstration of the energy, talent and hope that can be drawn on to achieve the potential of Jamaica.
The journey out to May Pen took us through West Kingston, past Coronation Market, Tivoli Gardens and Southside. It is a little chilling to see streets and whole communities closed off with razor wire and guarded by heavily armed soldiers and reminds one of the tenacity of the students who come to the programme as they travel through these check points daily to attend school or, in our case, the suspension programme. It is also a graphic reminder of the disparity in the city between rich and poor, between those of us who live "uptown" and those who live "downtown" and of the reason why the gangsters and the drug trade have flourished in this country. It is short-sighted to ignore the basic needs and quality of life of a large part of the population, perhaps there will now be some will to change this.
I feel as if I am once again settled into the routine I have established during the 8 months I have been here. My morning journey to work with bus ride and walk provides a stimulating start to the day, the work at the youth programme is increasingly gratifying, the walk home, as the sun sets, is a wonderful way to end the day. The difference now is that all along the way there are people that I know and engage with. The bus drivers who stop the bus if they see me walking to check if I would like to embark, the fruit vendor from whom, each morning, I purchase my breakfast of a freshly picked orange and banana whom I can now understand, the crossing guard who ushers me across Camp Road, the students who I run into who have been in the programme or are still attending, the life guard at the pool whose shares his dreams and ambitions, the rastas, who enjoy the sun and too much ganja, who greet me with huge smiles on the way home and whose names I now know and whose families I feel like I know. In eight months it would be presumptuous to assume I am part of this country, but I certainly feel welcomed and included.