In the PVI program, we are allotted one day a week for our day off or our rest day, and after figuring out everyone’s schedules with work and the cars, we then chose which day we wanted to consistently keep as our day off. Out of the eight of us, I am the only one who has chosen Monday as my rest day for the week. However, this past Monday (October 19th) my seven roommates, along with 98% of the island joined me on my day off to celebrate National Heroes’ Day. This holiday was completely foreign to me until just a few weeks ago when I started hearing more and more mention of it – kids were getting excited that they got days off from school, adults were looking forward to get a day off from work, and all Jamaicans were open to explaining what the day truly celebrated. I learned that Heroes’ Day is a day to celebrate the seven heroes of the country – seven Jamaican people who impacted the country in the most positive ways. Most were involved in politics or they helped in the process of abolishing slavery, but all left a lasting footprint on this beautiful country – something worth celebrating.
Anyway, I chose to celebrate this holiday with the kids and families in Albion Gully, which is the community (in the gully of a mountain) where I do home visits, an after-school program, and where I hold a weekly youth group. I rarely get to spend a lot of time with all of the kids together without having a planned agenda so I thought that this holiday would be a great excuse to visit with them and to simply have fun. Courtney – one of my roommates and close friends – decided to join me too so she could see where and who I was working with so we hopped in our van and needless to say, the adventure began. The day started off pretty normal – we were happily greeted by the women and kids in the first yard; some of the men proudly explained the different heroes that were being celebrated that day; we shelled some peas and shared laughter with Susan; we did a few more home visits; and then we gathered the kids together to head down to the cave. The cave is even further into the mountain than the community itself so the kids don’t go there often as it’s a decent walk and could be dangerous if journeyed alone. However, because there has been so much talk about it the past few weeks, I decided it was time to make a trip there. It was absolutely wonderful! It was exciting to see the kids in a new light – they were leading me and I had to put my trust in them. Needless to say, they tried to trick me and jokingly lead me astray here and there; but they had my back at all times. At one point, Krissy (one of my favorite little girls) said, “Miss, be careful. There’s a hole right by your foot and if you step in it, you’ll fall into that cave. Now I know I’m little and pretty weak, but I would still try to save you and hold on because that’s the right thing to do!” We didn’t stay too long once the kids realized that the bats were not pleased that we were making their home a little touring ground, but it was still worth the trip. They then ran back to their homes to get bathed and changed to go on a little outing that I had pre-planned.
While everyone was getting ready, I looked at my phone and saw that I had a missed call. It turned out that Emma – one of my other roommates whom I was planning to meet up with in her community for a holiday party – suddenly got sick and was no longer able to be in her community. Court and I brainstormed. There was no way I wasn’t going to take my kids somewhere after all of the build-up for this trip. Plus, an outing is a celebration in itself to these kids. After piling people in the van, we decided to take them to a Heroes’ Day party in Courtney’s community, Brae’s River. It wasn’t ideal in that it was 45 minutes away, but it was a perfect way for me to see who and where she was working and it solved our predicament so it worked. When we first arrived, not much was happening as it had just finished downpouring and Jamaicans refuse to go out in the rain, even a slight drizzle. Eventually, though, we had our kids jumping in the bouncy house and riding what was seemingly the most terrifying “ferris wheel” that I have ever seen. They were snacking on cotton candy and popcorn and simply being kids. Even the “toughest” boy cracked a smile and waved as he was at the top of the ferris wheel. That in itself was enough to make my day. Time passed and we piled back into the van to head back home. Surprisingly, this was my favorite part. Not because we were heading home, but because of what ensued on the way home – everyone was full of sugar and high on energy that we all found ourselves singing to the radio. As we got closer and closer to home, the singing got louder and louder. At one point, I turned around to see Little Leo (a two-year-old) along with eight others singing Thinking Out Loud at the top of their lungs with the biggest smiles on their faces. Tears filled my eyes as joy exploded from our van. The singing then turned into a game – we would sing and Krissy or Tanisha would yell out things like, “If you had the best day ever, scream yes!” or “If you’ve ever been in love, scream yeah!” Now, joy was literally exploding from our van – our singing and shrieking could be heard from miles away, I’m sure. Once we made our way down into Albion Gully (with Courtney’s incredible driving skills), we ended the night with a cookie cake. Many thank you’s, hugs, and laughter were shared before we finally made our way back home. Heroes’ Day was a success. It was a day to celebrate Jamaica’s national heroes; but even more so, it was a day to celebrate my little heroes that I have the privilege of getting to be with throughout this entire year.