“Excuse me, I said good morning. I’m a human being, you know!”
It was in the moment immediately after these words had left my mouth, as the woman stared at me like I was a pink turtle doing a tap dance (and still did not return my greeting), that I realised three things:
1. It is not normal to feel the need to remind a perfect stranger (or yourself) of your humanity
2. The effect my current environment is having on my mental state is not positive
3. I need to go home
Obviously thoughts like this don’t just appear out of nowhere. This was the last in a long line of interactions that left me feeling less than positive. Each day brings an experience of being hissed at, spat at, shouted at, hit on, chased, ignored completely and sometimes all of the above. I cannot pretend to know what prompts these responses – all I know is how it made me feel each and every time: unwelcome, unsafe, frustrated and totally disheartened. I have been trying to ignore all these feelings because I was so sure they were temporary. Yes, okay, I have wanted to go home pretty much ever since I arrived, but surely that’s normal when faced with living all alone in a country and a culture so vastly different to my own, with bucket baths and mongeese (mongooses?) and not a washing machine or television or microwave in sight. Time and patience makes everything better, right? It didn’t really occur to me that staying would be – could be – detrimental. I was sure that if I just looked hard enough at the silver linings and the hidden lessons, if I just completely trusted that my instincts brought me here for good reason and I truly appreciated the natural beauty, the kids, the people that showed me kindness and care, then things could only get better.
Instead, I angrily tell strangers that I am a person (Flight of the Concords style) and have a recurring dream about landing in Sydney airport, falling to my knees and kissing the hot dirty tarmac. If that is the state of things after four months of keeping calm and carrying on, it seems going home is no longer simply a want but a need. I don’t know exactly when I will go yet, only that it will not be a Year of Jamaica, and I have to be okay with that. Maybe the lesson in all of this is simply how incredibly lucky I am to have such a beautiful and safe home to go back to, with all the love and opportunities and hot showers a girl could ask for.
The hardest part is thinking of the children I have gladly spent most of my days with, who have provided the brightest sparks in this whole experience… Energetic little Andre and his epic smile after reading his very first sentence. Sweet Xavier and the way he quietly says “Thankyou, Miss” each and every time we finish a book. Cheeky Chevoy and how I can never ever stay cross with him for one look at his face sends us both into fits of giggles. Precocious Jordy who always begged to be the first to read with me but isn’t at school these days after a beating from her mother left her with a broken hand. Gorgeous Shandece who loves stories about other countries because one day she hopes to get on a plane and see the whole world. My heart hurts to think of leaving them, of what is in store for them beyond the schoolyard if they cannot read and write.
But as I feel myself fading, my own cup slowly emptying, I know that no amount of my time and energy will save them from the harsh realities of this life. I can only hope that some of them are able to hold on to that spark of belief I saw ignited in each one of them as we sat side by side in noisy, dusty classrooms with sporadic electricity reading Green Eggs and Ham and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Belief in the joy of books and most importantly, belief in themselves.