Most Sundays I spend visiting families that live close to Somerset Primary School. Sundays, in my community at least, entail washing clothes, playing soccer, and chatting outside little snack shops.
Last weekend I spent the afternoon accompanying a couple I’ve grown to love for many reasons. For one, they function as a unit. They are on the same page when it comes to work, their values, and raising their five children, which unfortunately isn’t that common in the Jamaican culture.
The father is always eager to teach me what he knows of Jamaica, like cooking jerk chicken with gungu peas and rice or speaking authentic Patios (Patwah) with “Jamaican style.” He tells me last week he’s going to teach me to mix music like he does from his shop every Friday and Saturday.
“You never know when the teaching’s gonna come” he said with a warm smile.
This family has shown me the meaning of resourcefulness, hard work, and hospitality. Whether it’s tending to their yam field, running their shop, or cooking for everyone in the yard, it’s always all hands on deck. As I learned to fade music in and out of his stereo system that day, I thought about all the things Jamaica has taught me through its people. Allowing myself to be present here has pushed me way out of my comfort zone, but it’s also pushed me to form meaningful relationships and gain insight in places I’d never expect.
Then there’s my friendship with Ms. Blossom, who welcomes me to her yard on a weekly basis. Ms. Blossom is nearly immobile, yet finds a way to care for her daughter, her two grandchildren and her garden. She also offers her warmth and medicinal wisdom to several widowed and sick people in the neighborhood. Through countless afternoon conversations, she and I share stories, advice and spiritual insight. “God will provide” she says with assurance every time she or another is challenged or struggling.
And there’s Dan, a farmer and grandfather to a few kids at Somerset Primary. I crossed paths with Dan while preparing space for a garden behind the school. We had a conversation that day about how “loving” the soil is when we revere the Earth and the importance of instilling that mindset in our youth. As cliché as it sounds, I actually teared up as we talked. After telling him about the project, Dan offered to remove thick grass from the area for me, and when I came with a group of volunteers to turn the soil a week later, Dan helped us finish the job without hesitation.
Outside of my school community, I gain perspective from people like Miss Peggy, one of many people I’ve been supported by as a PVI. Miss Peggy provides meals and hospitality to retreat groups that come in from the states, and since PVI works with many of these groups I get to see her often. I always find myself with Miss Peg when she’s around; she emanates wisdom through her culinary skill and strong yet loving demeanor. I will never forget a time I was really missing home: without even telling her what was wrong she looked into my eyes and said, “it won’t be easy, but you will be loved.” Her words were exactly what I needed to hear.
When I committed to PVI, I knew accompaniment was a foundation of the program, but I couldn’t understand how meaningful it would become to my everyday life.
God works though people; from the lady that sells my favorite newspaper (the Daily Gleaner), to my regular taxi drivers, to my kids at Mustard Seed and Somerset Primary, to the people that welcome me space in their daily lives. Yes, I’ve learned cool things like mixing music, new farming and cooking skill. But walking with the people I serve, embracing their joys and struggles as my own, has taught me so much more.
Ms. Blossom teaches me new perspective on faith, love, and patience every single time I walk through her gate. Dan has taught me selflessness, humility and deep love for the Earth. And Miss Peggy has taught me the essence of Jamaican resiliency.
I always think back to a quote from one of my favorite books. It explains the human experience as “part of a rich and profound tapestry crafted masterfully by invisible hands of love.” I believe everything we encounter is laid in front of us for a reason: to comfort us, to enlighten us, or to inspire some greater good. If there’s one thing I’ve learned to value most in Jamaica it’s being present, because even in the most minuscule moments there is something to be learned.