Monday morning was warm and sunny and the streets were full of children in crisp new school uniforms, well groomed hair and expressions that reflected both excitement and anxiety. It was the first day of the new school year and the buses, the roads and the taxis were full of students. Tiny children in gingham and ribbons grasping mummy's hand as they walk boldly into the school, teenagers in khaki and fresh white shirts meeting friends at the transport centre and university students at the shuttle bus shrieking hellos to friends not seen through the summer. Everyone, teachers and students hurrying to get to their first classes in their various schools. The ritual of the first day of school seems to have an unversality about it that reminds one that we share more across countries and cultures than we acknowledge.
The bustle and energy seemed infectious and at DRF there was a great deal of activity. The mediators were busier than through the summer weeks, with groups of clients and lawyers competing for too few meeting rooms. The Youth Peace Facilitators were in and out, completing orientations and presentations and settling their own children into new schools. We had visits from students from last year and the summer programme checking in for letters giving them permission to go back to school or just to let us know how things had started at school. I was busily involved in trying to pull together two different proposals (one with more potential than the other, but its always worth trying!) The summer break is definitely over!
To slow the pace at the end of the week I joined 3 colleagues and we headed to a little guest house at a lovely beach on the north coast. Winnifred Beach is just east of Port Antonio, which is fast becoming one of my favourite areas of the island. The beach is a curving cove with a long reef that breaks the waves as they enter the cove. It is not a beach frequented by tourists but a favourite spot for local residents. On the beach, set back, great food is available sold from modest huts and a couple of bar/restaurants, as well, a great range of crafts from the artisans who are wonderfully engaging and not the least aggressive.
Sunday morning started out hot and sunny so we walked down to the beach, a quick morning dip in breakers that were more impressive than on Saturday and then settled down to read. In short order black clouds started amassing from the east and within half an hour there were tremendous winds and driving rain. We sheltered in one of the restaurants with a number of the artisans and vendors and enjoyed discussion about the best places in Jamaica. Among the discussants Portland was unquestionably the winner! After an hour the wind and rain had ended, the clouds were breaking up and the sea settling back down. The relaxation resumed and lunch included fresh corn on the cob, boiled in a spicy shrimp soup - delicious!
Mid-afternoon we reluctantly left the peace and tranquility that had settled back to Winnifred Beach and re-energised us for the week ahead, and drove back over the mountains to the hustle and bustle of Kingston.
Although things are more settled than in May, the soldiers and police were on the road as we entered the city from Stoney Hill and the news of further curfews in Tivoli reminds one that Jamaica still has much to address.
Achieving paradise is still elusive, though there are glimpses of it in places like Winnifred Beach.
Next week will bring the need to finish proposals and no doubt will see the first suspensions and the referral of students to the programme.