The Beach

The beach here in Jamaica is beautiful.

The water is a clear and vibrant greenish-blue, cool and refreshing but never cold. The sand is nearly white, and the palm trees sway gently in the breeze. The sun beams down with golden rays. The waves are gentle, little more than ripples, and spend themselves quickly on the sloping sand.

Pictures of the beach that I post on facebook get lots of feedback—comments from people who long to go there. It’s a must-see destination for visitors and tourists. It’s where we go every weekend on our day off.

Paradise, right?

But when I’m there I find myself comparing it to the beaches I know—the  wild, chilly, invigorating beaches of Oregon—beaches where I’ve spent lovely, precious days with family and friends, and ran and screamed for joy and tasted the salt water and heard the mournful cry of the foghorns over the constant roar of the pounding waves.

And I have to say I would take the harsh chill of the Oregon beach, wrapped up in a hoodie, bits of hair, curled from the mist, blowing in the wind—I would choose this, most any day, over laying out, getting a tan, in the golden perfection of the Caribbean beach.

(I feel weird even saying it, because it’s so different from what everyone else seems to think, and almost feels ungrateful—like someone’s offering me caviar and I just want PB&J. I know the beach here is gorgeous, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy it…but it just makes me miss my Oregon beach.)

Oregon beaches are a drab tan, but incredibly fine and soft. When the tide goes out, it leaves a flat, damp expanse behind it, where the sand is smooth and firm, perfect for walking for miles and miles, as far as your feet can carry you—or for writing messages, or building a sand castle.

The days warm enough to do without jackets are perfect for wave-jumping, even though the water is so cold you gasp when it first grazes your toes. Standing with friends, hands clasped for stability, thigh-deep in the frigid water. Screaming as a wave nears, looms, enormous and powerful, and then—pushing off against the sand, perfectly timed to let that power carry you, sweep you off your feet. Landing again, numb toes digging into the silky sand, laughing and steadying the people around you. And then—the undertow, pushing, shoving, against the backs of your legs, pouring sand over your feet, as your heels desperately hold on, and the still it comes, insistently stronger,  and for a moment you have only the most tenuous grip to the ground, and it feels as if the slightest slip would sweep you away, out into the endless raging gray chill of the ocean. And then it’s over, and the waves again, one after another, the sensation of being swept up and carried, pressing forward again to meet the next one, blissfully reveling in that incomprehensible power-bigger-than-you. Just one more…just one more…until, finally, that gigantic wave comes along, big enough to be the finale, and you give in to the reality of aches and numbness and wade inland, shivering and drenched in life.

The feeling alive. That’s what I miss.

I also miss the open space—wide stretches of sand, as far as you can see, with few other people around. I miss the sea birds. I miss the interesting little caves and inlets to explore. I miss the wind-patterns on the sand, and the driftwood, and the grassy dunes. I miss the massive, jagged boulders, and the waves that turn to white foam as they crash against them. I miss the tides, and the pools they leave behind them, and the sneaker waves that leave you sopping wet if you’re not paying attention.

But mostly I miss the feeling alive.

(for excellent thoughts from a fellow cold-beach-person, go here. I actually had this post in my head before Esta did hers, which shows that great minds really DO think alike. 🙂 )

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Evidence Not Seen

I just finished reading the book Evidence Not Seen, the autobiography of Darlene Deibler Rose. I found it quite enjoyable and inspiring, and would highly recommend it.

The story in a nutshell: In 1939, as newlyweds, Darlene and her husband go to Papua New Guinea as missionaries to a recently discovered tribe. Before too long, of course, World War II starts, and when the Japanese take over the island, Darlene and her husband are first placed under house arrest, and then sent to separate POW camps. Most of the book deals with the time spent in the camp—the daily struggle for survival, intense grief when the news of her husband’s death reached her, enduring horrible living conditions, but staying strong and never losing faith, and experiencing God’s grace and provision through it all.

My favorite story took place during the worst time for Darlene—she had been accused of being a spy, and taken to prison, where she was placed on death row. She was subjected to awful interrogations and beatings. They fed her only a little rice gruel each day—and before she ate it, she had to fish out the little stones and worms. She was extremely physically worn down, from the lack of food and the tropical diseases that wracked her body.

Then one day, peering out the window, she saw one of the other prisoners get a bunch of bananas, sneaked in through the fence. She began to crave a banana, just one, imagining how it would taste. But she couldn’t think of any way that she would possibly get a banana, and so she couldn’t even bring herself to pray with faith that God would answer her prayer.

The next morning, the door of her cell opened. Instead of the usual guard or interrogator, she saw the man who was the director of the POW camp where she had been held previously. Surprised, she greeted him. He didn’t say much, and left.

Later, her door opened, and the man was back, holding an armload of bananas. He gave them to her and left. She sat down, stupefied, and counted them.

She had thought that just one banana was impossible. God had sent her ninety-two.

It was a good reminder to me to trust, even when a situation feels impossible. My God is still “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20)

(Darlene survived, and went back to the US after the war. After a few years she remarried, and returned to Papua New Guinea with her new husband, to continue the work that had been interrupted by the war.)

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Blogging and sitting and laughing

Ah, my poor, neglected blog.

See, this is the problem. I have thoughts and ideas that dance through my head, but nothing big enough or pressing enough that I HAVE to write it down. So a blog idea will sort of stir in my head every so often for a while, as I wait for it to sort of work itself into a functioning post that is interesting and has a point, but before it does, another idea comes into my head, and so on, and then here I am with 5 different ideas flitting about in my head, unable to settle on one. So I don’t write, and my blog languishes in its current state, attracting an average of only 10 visitors a day.

But I feel like I really should blog something, so I’m writing down all the threads of ideas and throwing them into a hat (figuratively) and choosing one that I just WILL write about, even if it feels rather lame or uninteresting or pointless. 🙂

And….the paper says, “food handler’s permit”…so here we go.

This particular incident took place about a month ago, which shows you how well I’ve kept up the blog. *ahem* 🙂

The mission here is currently certified as a foster home, and as such we can care for up to 6 children. But our property is big enough for more, so we are currently working on becoming a group home, so that we will be allowed to care for more children—up to 20, I think, although at this point the mission board is thinking more like 8-10.

So we’ve had to get a health inspection and a fire inspection and fill out forms and all of this random stuff, and one of the steps was that each of us had to go in and get a food handler’s permit.

Now, I had to get a food handler’s permit one time back in the good old USA, before I could work at a little coffee stand/mini restaurant, and it was a very simple process. I went in, looked through a book of proper food handling procedures to familiarize myself with it, and then took the test. It took about 15 minutes, as I recall.

But of course, I am in Jamaica now, and they view time differently down here.

Four of us girls went in together to take the test. Here, they schedule the tests on certain days, and a bunch of people take them together. We arrived at the church (yes, the test was held at a church. 🙂 ) early, and were told to sit down at a certain spot, in the order that we came in. The room was quite full—I’m guessing there were probably about 100 people there. We waited our turns to go talk to one of the people at the front of the room. They asked us questions about our health (“Do you have any rashes or skin diseases?” “Have you had any diarrhea or vomiting in the last week?”), looked our paperwork to make sure it was in order, and made sure our fingernails were short and clean.

So we waited for a while for our turns to go up and get asked personal questions, and then we waited for a while longer until everyone else was done. Finally, a lady went up front and began a presentation about proper food handling. I can’t say it was terribly entertaining, and the fact that the young man sitting next to me deemed it necessary to read every word of every powerpoint slide out loud did not further my enjoyment of the talk. But I survived, of course, and there were moments that rather amused me. Such as,

On one slide, under the heading “Poor Personal Hygiene Practices:”

–Chewing gums (They meant gum, obviously. 🙂 Because, as the lady explained, it is easier for the saliva to escape from your mouth.)

–Excessive talking over food (same reason as above 🙂 )

One thing that seemed to be stressed over and over again: “Keep animals out of the food establishment!” I’m not sure why this made me laugh—maybe because it got so much emphasis when it seems so obvious.

Another quote from a slide, word-for-word, talking about what happens when the health inspector comes to the food establishment. This was all it said on the slide, and there were some pictures of food around it: “When inspecting food may detain, condemn, and seize any food unfit for human consumption.”

The lady doing the presentation was outgoing and lively. At one point she struggled a bit with the pronunciation of a word. She just shrugged a bit and smiled and announced loudly, “The English language has many proNOUNciations!” I think the mis-pronunciation was an honest mistake, and it sent me into fits of muffled laughter. 🙂

And then, finally, they handed out the tests. They had basically told us everything that would be on the test as we went through the talk, and we were allowed to take notes and use them to help us, so the test was very easy. There were even a few people patrolling the room, eying people’s answers, and giving them strong hints in the right direction if they had made a mistake. Before too long we had all passed with flying colors and were headed home again. The whole process had taken about 3 hours.

And now we are all official Jamaican food handlers, and we will do our best to keep animals out of the food establishment, although the lizards and mice and rats have a way of sneaking in unwanted. 🙂

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This is what happened today

Well, the first day of the 2011-2012 school year is officially in the books for our little school. I would say it went very well. It’s fun, getting into teaching again, doing math on the blackboard, and having the chance to expound on subjects that interest me, to people who have no choice but to listen. 🙂

And, in other news, we said goodbye to one of “our” kids today.

Jahaeim, otherwise known as Heemers, went to live with his adoptive family–a Jamaican couple and their son, who live on the other side of town.

Jahaiem is a smart, outgoing, fun-loving kid, and I have loved getting to know him. Yes, he can be annoying and moody and incessantly talkative and very naughty, but he can also be so sweet and funny.

My favorite Heemers quote: “I shouldn’t say that, right? Because it would be inappropriate. Inappropriate means it’s funny, but you’re not supposed to say it.”

He’s the 7-year-old boy who decided he wanted to tell a story, and promptly launched into a detailed account of Cinderella. He was always the first to make friends with visiting groups. When he felt like singing, he sang with everything he had.

It’s really hard on him, leaving the place that has been his home for almost 6 years–as long as he can remember. It’s especially tough because several of his friends–other kids who were here–were adopted by American families, and he had always hoped that that would happen to him. His dream of having a family has come true, but not in the way that he wanted. His new home will be nice by Jamaican standards, but not as comfortable as our home, or as an American home would be.

But his new parents are good, Christian people, and we’re all so glad that he finally has a mom and dad of his own.

We’re sure going to miss him around here, though.

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Mr. Remsford

We went to see Mr. Remsford one Wednesday evening–all 19 of us, crowding into “the green bus.” Now, this “bus” is something that we would call a van in the US, but in Jamaican style it has been filled with seats placed so close together that even I at barely 5’1’’ bump my knees on the seat in front of me if I slouch a little. When you take into account that 8 of the 19 are 7 and under, we fit in rather nicely.

Mark told us a little of Mr. Remsford’s story as we ate our supper of patties in the dining room before we left.

Many years ago, when Mr. Remsford was young, he was very smart and successful. He even had the opportunity to travel to the US and go to college there. Unfortunately, after he returned, some people who hadn’t succeeded as he had were jealous. One day, one of them put acid in Mr. Remsford’s boots. This acid ate away at his legs, and now his legs just end about at the knee.

Of course I  had questions right away. What kind of acid is strong enough to eat your legs away but can sit in your boots until you put them on and not noticeably eat away at the boots? And also, once you had put one boot on, wouldn’t you notice that something was wrong before you put the other boot on also?

Mark didn’t know the answers, and I never asked Mr. Remsford himself. It doesn’t matter, really, how exactly it happened.

It took a little while to get there–maybe half an hour. We drove on winding roads back into the mountains, passing people beside the road who obviously weren’t used to seeing “white people” drive by.

Mr. Remsford is such a nice man, and seemed pleased to see us. He wore a pair of rubber boots, turned backwards, and walked around as if nothing was wrong with him.

The kids loved seeing his goats and chickens.

And then he showed us all the plants and trees and things that he has on his tiny little farm.He gave us a coconut to eat. Mark chopped the top off in bits with a machete, until he suddenly struck the center and the coconut water came spurting out. Then we stuck in a straw and all shared it. I didn’t think it was that amazing–it doesn’t have much flavor–but it was cool to at least have the chance to try it.

The plant that Jahaeim has in his hand is mint, that Mr. Remsford gave him, to make tea.

Next, he cut up a bunch of fresh pineapple, and made sure each of us had plenty to eat.

He got Mark to climb up on the roof and get this enormous jackfruit out of the tree, and then he gave it to us to take home. Unfortunately, it spoiled before we were able to eat it.

He also sent a bunch of bananas and plantains home with us.

Mr. Remsford never even mentioned his disability, the whole time we were there. Rather than focusing on himself and his struggles, he wanted to bless us, and make us have a good time.

I know I could learn a lot from him.

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A Jamaican Graduation

It felt like a true portrait of Jamaican life, in a small community, up in the mountains, away from the touristy polish of Montego Bay.

To start with, the whole thing felt rather authentically spontaneous—I first heard about the graduation only a few hours beforehand, on our way home from church. I debated a little over the decision, particularly because my Sunday afternoon nap was looking quite precious after a long week full of short nights. But I knew that the graduation would be a cultural experience, and a chance to see the school that our mission sponsors. I decided to go.

According to the program, the ceremony started at 2:00. The principal told us it would be at 3:00. And knowing Jamaicans and how they view time, we decided that, since she had asked us to bring the diplomas, which still needed to be filled out, and some decorations, and since it takes over half an hour to get there, we should probably leave here around 3. Our timing ended up being just right.

About those decorations—the principal called Karen the day of the graduation, asking if she could bring some. Karen asked her what she wanted, and told her we didn’t really have much. “Just bring anything blue or white!” the principal had replied. So we brought some white balloons.

We parked and had to walk the rest of the way in, carefully climbing the steep hill on the narrow trail that wound through the lush vegetation, trying not to slip in our flip-flops that offered little traction against the slick mud. The Jamaican women navigated the slope in their best dresses, with their fancy heels in their purses or held in their hands.

The graduation was held at a church that is right next to the school, which has about 30 students, all in kindergarten. Here in Jamaica children often start school at age 3, and then have 3 levels of kindergarten before graduating into first grade.

We entered the church, pausing first to wipe off our muddy feet. Graduates in bright blue caps and gowns mingled with well-wishers inside, as music played and people milled about. We set up the chairs we had brought for extra seating.

They had asked our group to take portraits of the graduates, and we had to use the school building as our studio, since it was raining outside. The building was already occupied by several people blowing up Karen’s white balloons, and a small dog.

The graduates came in one by one to get their picture taken, navigating through the muddy, wet yard, and then returned. The girl standing guard at the church door examined them as they came through to make sure they were spotless for their portrait.

Girls in their heels had a hard time making it through the mud and puddles in the yard.

The decorating ladies carried the filled balloons into the church in bunches.

We returned to our backless benches to wait for the service to start. Behind me, a young boy ate a meal of rice and peas in a bright yellow plastic bowl. It was nearly before 4:30 the service actually started.

The graduates marched in to an instrumental version of “You Raise Me Up,” their faces concentrating as they walked with a sidestepping gait, as they had obviously been instructed and practiced.

A woman got up and welcomed everyone, and introduced the “graduation coordinator”—the MC for the night. She rattled off a long list of his credentials. As the afternoon wore on, we realized that this sort of ceremony was normal for the occasion–every new speaker was formally introduced before he spoke, and then officially thanked when he was finished. The thanking always included at least one round of applause, and sometimes three or four.

As she spoke, one of the school teachers stood at the front of the church, staring out the window, completely oblivious.

(A quote from the Graduation Coordinator’s Message in the printed program: “I have served in this capacity for approximately some years…”)

Another lady got up to lead us in worship songs. Most of the people in the room seemed to be unfamiliar with the songs, and the volume was a little lacking. Meanwhile, the principal sat at a table in the front corner, filling out diplomas.

It was time to sing the official school song. The lady leading the song struggled to remember the tune, so a lady in the front row took over, belting it out for all she was worth.

Meanwhile, the man in the suit on the platform—the Guest Speaker, as we would later find out—rather obviously pulled out his phone of his pocket and checked it, his face and body language radiating boredom.

As the service wore on, more and more people clustered in the doorways, observing. I don’t know whether they were friends and family who had come on purpose, or just curious neighbors. It felt like the whole thing was kind of a community event, though.

Eventually, the guest speaker got up to deliver his message. It was directed mostly at parents, berating them and encouraging them to help their children more with their education. Nobody seemed to pay him much attention. There was a constant hum of conversation from all over the room. His voice competed with the patter of the increasing rain on the tin roof, and a screaming baby.

The graduates, who were seated at the front on the right, facing the audience, would randomly get up and go talk to their parents or friends in the crowd, whenever they felt like it.

The principal still sat in the right-hand corner, filling out diplomas and awards. There were often several people grouped around her, chatting or helping or maybe just bored. She sat up straight to talk to one of them, and fanned herself with one of the diplomas.

After the speaker was done, the graduates all stood to sing a song. One of the little boys had had enough. He stuck his fists in his eyes and sobbed through the whole thing.

One lady, two rows in front and a couple seats over, filmed the entire service with her fancy phone.

Several interesting things to note in this picture: the teacher (in the pink dress) randomly walking across the front of the church, the principal in the front corner still filling out diplomas, the lady filming, the guest speaker sitting up there looking bored, the blue and white decorations, and the lights dangling from wires strung between the rafters.

They handed out diplomas, and then other awards, amid much cheering and picture-taking. Unfortunately, I missed most of this because we were supposed to get photos of the graduates getting their diplomas, and Sarah had asked if I could since her camera doesn’t have a very good zoom. But my camera’s flash decided to be temperamental, so I spend most of this portion of the service frustrated and annoyed, and have very few decent pictures to show for it.

They had one final little ceremony—“passing the torch.” The two top graduates sat in chairs at the front of the building, holding candles. Two young girls, holding candles of their own, were supposed to walk down the aisle in their colorful, too-big dresses, light their candles from the ones the other kids were holding, and then sit down in the chairs while the two graduates walked out. Since this endeavor involved young children and a drafty building and candles, all did not go smoothly, but eventually they got it to work.

At the end, we sang the Jamaican national anthem. A random parent who happened to be standing next to the drum that hung from the rafter by a wire decided to add percussion. “Jamaica!” (boom) “Jamaica!” (boom). Everybody laughed.

And then the service was over, and people clustered and talked some more. We took more pictures—graduates with their diplomas and parents and teachers.

Ranita found a cute baby to hold—the daughter of one of the teachers.

The rain picked up again, so a random lady decided to offer them the shelter of her umbrella.

We hung around and chatted for a while, until the crowd was fairly sparse, and then hiked back down the mountain. Muddy trails can be rather treacherous and dirty in flip-flops. 🙂 We couldn’t even wipe all the mud off the bottoms of our shoes when we were done, so we had to take them off before we got in the van, and hose them off when we got back.

We arrived home to find funnel cakes, popcorn, and chips waiting for us—not the most nutritious of snacks, but it sure was tasty! It was a good end to a great day.

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Animal Adventures

It was a girl party. There was food, of course, and lots of it, including cheesecake and fondue. We sat around the table, chatting and laughing.

And then I spotted it—a small, dark creature scurrying along the opposite wall, disappearing behind the bookcase. I shrieked, as is my custom, and we sprang into action.

Sarah went over to investigate. “He can’t come out this side,” she said. So Sharon baited a trap—one of those ancient, vicious things with the wooden base and heavy spring—and set it next to the free end of the bookcase. Ranita switched off a few lights so that the trap lay in shadow. And we waited, silently, hardly daring to breathe.

A head poked out from behind the bookcase, then disappeared again. A bit later, it reappeared, and advanced toward the trap. It hesitated, then retreated once more. The third time, he dared to take a tiny nibble of peanut butter before scurrying into hiding once again. The trap didn’t spring.

He came again, more boldly, eating more. We sat, tense, waiting for the anticipated snapping sound. All except for one, who, not appreciating the sound much, buried her fingers in her ears. Another whispered below her breath—“Snap! Come on! Snap!”

And nothing happened.

Finally Melissa took a fly swatter and stood within reach, intending to spring the trap when the mouse made another appearance, but that wily creature refused to come out again. Eventually, realizing that our entertainment was over, we drifted away, disappointed, to find other forms of amusement.

For all I know, it could have been the exact same mouse that darted through my room several nights later. Thankfully, I haven’t seen him since, which has spared me the necessity of setting one of those awful traps. It feels silly, since I am 23 years old and should know better, but I’m just always scared that those things are going to snap on my fingers.

the view from our backyard

It was my first time doing laundry here in Jamaica, and when I opened the lid of the machine, two lizards, one big and one small, jumped in. I attempted to catch and remove them. I was unsuccessful. Finally, the big one decided to get out. But where was the little one? I couldn’t find him anywhere. So I put in the load of towels and started the washer.

When it was done, I removed the wet towels, and beneath them I found, of course, a poor little lizard, missing his tail, quite clean, and completely drowned. I scooped him up with a paper towel and disposed of him. And yes, I ran the towels through the rinse cycle again to make sure all lizard traces were removed before hanging them out on the line.

Learning to live with critters…just part of life here in Jamaica. 🙂

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