For the first time in a year I have experienced a week with almost no sunshine. So far the hurricane season has been relatively kind to Jamaica but this week, although Tropical Storm Nicole was not a hurricane, the rain was torrential and relentless for five days. There were spectacular thunderstorms that lasted for many hours and whose ferocity set off every car alarm within the vicinity and at the end of the week two days of more gentle rain and cloud. On Tuesday the schools were closed and remained closed for the rest of the week. The news held stories of houses being washed away, roads that had caved in, and many places were inaccessible due to landslides and floods. Much of the normal business of the week stopped as an enormous amount of effort and energy was diverted to the immediate situation. I was again struck by how distracting the immediate can be. I have previously written about the difficulty in looking at the long term view in a place where surviving today can assume all available energy, and such was the experience this week. The helicopters overhead were not patrolling for gangs and guns but were monitoring the flood waters and providing emergency supplies to those who needed them. This is not to say the police and defence force presence was not also keeping a close eye out for those who might take advantage of the chaos.
Much of the island was without power and water for periods of the week but things are returning to normal, silt is being bulldozed off the roads, potholes are being marked (not filled yet!) and a tally is being done for the required repairs. Another drain on the near empty government coffers, so, again, less will be available for education, health and justice.
Work-wise it was also a different kind of week. I participated in a five-day workshop sponsored by UNICEF. The rain added challenges to an already challenging week as the material presented had been designed for a three week course. Despite the rain most people (there were almost 30 of us) managed to get to the venue every day. The material being presented was a model of communication planning that assists in focusing action on creating bahavioural impact. There was lots of energy in the group and as usual lots of talent, both intellectual and creative. Although the model was not one that appealed to me (full of acronyms and more complicated than I think is feasible to apply) the value of the week was working with some very interesting and committed people.
Yesterday I attended the funeral service for the mother of a colleague. The service was lovely, a joyful celebration of the life being recognised. The marking of a death here has its own rituals and provides not only for the sharing of grief and loss but also for a celebration of the life lived. The rituals extend over two or three weeks with a series of events and gatherings that include a wide circle of family, friends and colleagues. The service I attended was far from sombre. It followed a familiar pattern of singing, eulogies and prayers but the tone was one of joy and celebration with active participation of the congregation. Attending offered the opportunity to share in another aspect of my colleague's life and get to know her better.
Today I am once again writing from the garden. The sun is shining and the only clouds in the sky are whisps of white. This is the first time in a week I have been able to sit in the garden and, as my house-sitting duties conclude tonight, I will try and take full advantage of this quiet haven for the day.
Next week I will be back at home, back at street level and back at the Youth Programme. I am looking forward to returning to my usual routine though enjoying lovely surroundings and the luxury of a car has been a welcome change. A large part of the work for the week will be to contribute to another funding proposal. This one focused on 40 youth who are currently part of a gang in a local community. The ambition of the project is to persuade these 14 - 19 year olds to give up their guns!