By Natalie Crawley
“Natalie, be carefull.” I cannot tell you how many times I heard those words before coming to Jamaica. I have always considered myself to be a very independent person; however, I knew that I was going to have to be much more cautious. When I first vistied Albion Gully with Jen, the previous volunteer, I wondered how I would ever make the journey there on my own. Navigating through crowded downtown Mandeville and trying to find the right taxi seemed like a huge ordeal. Then there was the thirty-minute walk down the dirt road down into the gully before I even got to the community. A big worry was walking past the rum bar near Albion’s main gathering center. Jen had tactfully handled the comments and calls as we passed, but how would I handle them alone?
On my first solo visit to Albion Gully, I arrived at the Mispah bus stop where Jay (6), Bobo (10), and Rayanna (6) were waiting for me, cheering as the taxi rolled up. As I exited, they gathered around me like a force field. I felt untouchable, but still a little unsure, I mean the oldest person with me wasn’t even half my age. Luckily, the rum bar was closed and I had didged that bullet for now. When we finally reached the Gully, Rayanna was calling out to her little sister Kaddy, “Natalie is here!” Little Kaddy, only 2 was screaming “Auntie Nat, Auntie Nat!” Inside my heart was beating fast, wondering how everyone would receive me withouth Jen around.
Now that I had made it to Albion safely, the children got us into the church in spite of trouble with a rusted key. Rayanna and her powerful little voice led us in the opening choruses as we held youth group. Afterwards we did some cheerleading, visited Grandma Cynthia, and then played a mixture of dodgeball and Monkey-in-the-Middle.
Ending the day, I headed back up the hill with my five escorts, Rayanna, Fabbi, Bobo, Jay and Kim Marie-none over the ten years old! When we reached the rum bar, Fabbi informed me to “Look straight ahead! Don’t stop and talk to anyone!” The girls even had a speech worked out. WHen we reached the rum bar, there were about four men sitting about. The girls gave them a piece of their mind, “Natalie is here to serve the church not serve men!” they said. Fabbi then fussed at them for talking to me. “Leave Natalie alone,” he said, “she doesn’t want to talk to you!” We finally reached the road and the taxi for my return. In closing the taxi door behind me, Kim Marie gave a warning stare-down to the driver!
As the taxi drove off I finally released the big smile laugh I had been stifling and recalled the scene at the rum bar, the children setting straight the patrons in no uncertain terms! Most importantly, however, I knew I was being taken care of! From then on they would watch over me. I am their Auntie now and they aren’t going to let anything happen to me. I hope that my simple presence in their lives will stay with them forever because I know that they have already left a mark on my heart. It may seem like a simple thing, but nothing can compare to a day in the Gully.