Sorry this one took so long to put up, I’ve had a fair bit to come to terms with and think about regarding the the past three months and it’s taken a wee while to sink in. Thankfully I’ve found that writing helps with the process, so sit back, relax, and enjoy a rare glimpse into the inner workings of my mind over the rest of this post.
I suppose I should begin with an insight into my first thoughts, reactions and recollections of the beginning of my time in Jamaica. It’s hard to speak about my first impressions upon arrival, landing as I did late at night, but I can definitely relate my impressions in the days that followed.
To be honest it’s hard to say what I expected. I had no real idea what kind of a country Jamaica was going to be like and whether or not it would meet these unformed expectations. The poverty, however, really came as a shock to me. I’m going to tread a thin line when dealing with this topic, as I’m very aware that there is the potential to sound preachy in the following paragraph, nevertheless I’ll do my best to avoid anything like that and just relate my own thoughts on the subject.
I don’t think anything I had seen in Australia could have prepared me. Even in Bali there was definitely a lot of poverty, however during my time there I never got the opportunity to go out of the tourist areas, and thus it might not have been so obvious. There are a couple of points that I would make about the whole situation, that I think can kind of give an idea of what I was faced with.
Firstly, although the work I was undertaking was working with ‘homeless’ people, to look at some of the homes that people lived in around Port Antonio and Boston, by all accounts they would be considered ‘homeless’ as well in Australia. Quite often what passed for a house was a few bits of wooden board nailed together with a corrugated iron roof, held down by cement bricks. This leads on to my next observation that Jamaica, while a poor country, is not as bad as lot of other places on earth. This of course made me think about what life must be like in those places?
At times it was extremely confronting when I visited the houses of friends that I’d made to see where they lived. I won’t lie, it made me feel quite guilty or ashamed that I, as a volunteer, was living in conditions that were far better than what people who were living in Jamaica and working would experience.
I suppose what it revealed to me was how much I’d been taking for granted which, I think, is the biggest thing I’m going to take away from my time there so far. I won’t descend into a patronising diatribe about how the Jamaican people made me realize how happy I could be with very little, because that would be a lie and I think it would cheapen the actual struggle that so many people I met had to go through. What was significant for me was the realization that I was actually so very lucky and that I don’t even realize it. My barometer in this regard was often looking at the ABC news website and tearing my hair out in frustration at some of the issues that were brought up in the news as things to complain about.
At the moment I’m starting to stray a little too far into the preachiness that I’d promised I’d avoid, so I’ll end this particular thread by stating some simple facts. The minimum wage in Jamaica is roughly $50 Australian a week, and the staff at the shelter would sometimes make less that that. I received, on average, 21 meals a week, each worth around $5 Australian (based on the prices for similar meals in the Great Huts menu), and my accommodation was valued at $50 Australian per night. It’s kind of hard to take things for granted with those figures in mind.
Of course, this paints a pretty bleak picture regarding my stay, and writing a wrap up of the three months you’ve spent anywhere should focus on the positive things as well, but I just felt that it was necessary to relate some of my experiences regarding what was such a phenomenal shock for me. I’m not suggesting in any way that I’m a saint either, of course there’s going to be a selfish element involved in any endeavor like this, but I really would like to think that in addition to the help that I gave while here in Jamaica, its changed me enough that in future I will continue helping people. I’m reluctant to use showy, self-congratulatory terms like ‘life-changing experience’ or ‘once in a lifetime trip,’ but I sincerely feel that the past three months have left me a different person.
I met some wonderful people through my work; the staff at PRM just blew me away with their dedication to their job and their tireless efforts to help the people staying at the shelter. I feel so lucky to be able to call them my friends. The same can be said for the other volunteers: Danielle, Ifechi, Imani, Jackie, Lindsay, Sophia and Steffi made my stay so enjoyable through their friendship, and I’m sure that we will remain friends for a very long time.
I was lucky enough to make a large number of Jamaican friends while I was there and I felt so privileged to be welcomed into the communities surrounding the area where I was working. Gayleon, Kevin and Thea made me feel so welcome and I can’t thank them enough for the hospitality and care they showed me. Whether it was Gayleon organizing for me to DJ with his soundsystem or Kevin coming and checking up on me in the morning if he wasn’t sure I had made it home safely, it made me feel at home even though I was on the other side of the world.
I’ll finish by saying that if you can, please take the time to check out the Shetlter’s website at www.prmhomeless.org you can donate there and I can say with my hand on my heart that the money will go directly where it is needed, and your donation will make a genuine difference to the life of someone. I’m going to keep this blog up as I have a whole load more travels ahead of me. However, expect a slightly more archaeological them for the next 5 weeks at least, as I’m going to be living in a field excavating the Roman town of Silchester with the University of Reading.
To finish, I thought I’d share the following with all of you. It’s a mix that used to play pretty regularly in my friend Thea's bar and thus its pretty much the soundtrack to my whole trip in Jamaica. I don't know who it's by as the the CD just had 'MixMaster' written on it and there were no track titles but please feel free to listen and enjoy.