Three Simple Reasons Why This Will Not Be a Year of Jamaica

“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.

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18 thoughts on “Three Simple Reasons Why This Will Not Be a Year of Jamaica

  1. Cat…it sounds like you’ve planted some wonderfully positive seeds in the children you’ve been working with..and have developed some deep awarenesses about the challenges of many in other lands. It sounds like you’re feeling a deep gut level awareness of where to set your own limits and to, perhaps, not choose to participate in an area where the atmosphere isn’t positive….not positive for the people there, your growth or that of others… you went, you’ve tried hard and I’m sure you’ve developed some deeper wisdom that will continue to emerge…and now you need to decide what is the most positive choice…it sounds like you’ve done that… a very very positive step…. we’ll all behind you making whatever choice that’s in the interest of your emotional safety and well being… for when you head back to Australia, or wherever you may go, and continue to live with a heart filled with remarkably deep kindness, wisdom and understanding…warmest wishes to you… kathy

    • Thankyou so much for all your advice and support, Kathy. It is one thing to know something logically, and something else entirely to experience it first hand. I think you’re definitely right in saying that much of the wisdom to arise from this experience will only emerge later, and I have to keep trust in that process. It is old souls like yourself that help me to hold on to my little internal optimist even when she is tested to the limit. 🙂

      • Cat, the deepest wisdom and love I’ve grown into evolved from understandings I eventually developed from some of the profoundly deepest disappointments and sadnesses in my life….all of the booklets and pages I create started at/during/after that time, as an attempt to use images to express my confusion and disappointment, and to shift into acceptance, love and appreciation.
        The Way It’s Supposed to Be…which DEFINITELY wasn’t happening then http://pocketperspectives.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/but-but-but-what-about-the-way-its-supposed-to-be/ (the youtube has the text of the booklet…which I revised several years ago…once I realized it was “flow” that was needed)
        And the first booklet: Sweetness And another of the first booklets: Why?: acceptance of not understanding (you can type those into the search area of PP…I won’t add them here or they’ll put this comment in your spam filter) Some of those ideas might help, if only to see others are struggling too… sending you love, reassurance and warmth, Kathy

      • Thanks Kathy. You’re absolutely right – sadness and disappointment are the greatest teachers, so in a way I should be grateful I am experiencing so much of both lately! But I am definitely ready to reach the end of this particular tunnel where the lessons are learned and I can move forward into more positivity and security again. I will definitely check out all of your suggested reading. 🙂

      • Oh Cat….your most recent post takes my breath away with happiness for you and that precious little “dog”/angel… what a blessing you are to each other! What goodness, generosity, kindness and love.. simply beautiful.
        I’ve been creating a post/inspiration about “calling all angels”… it’s similar to what’s happening to you in the blessing of this little doggie coming to you…to each other….you just never know WHO is calling for angels… blessings to you both… kathy
        http://pocketperspectives.wordpress.com/plant-flowers/calling-all-angels/

      • He definitely is a little angel, and I feel incredibly lucky. He gave me a huge boost of positivity and faith when I most needed it. Us finding each other was a big reminder that things really do happen for a reason, and as you always say Kathy – even when things get tough you just have to have belief and patience that things are unfolding as they are meant to.

  2. Our home is in escrow and we will be moving out of state..We have been feeding four kittens and it tears my heart out knowing that we will say goodbye to the. They are not people but furry friends that we have grown to love. We have four of our own. I wrote the other day that I can’t be all things to all people. I want to rescue and protect but that is impossible. Good for you to know your limitations.. (:

    • I am in a similar cat predicament here, Roberta – I have just finished a post about my gorgeous Stella who somehow became my cat even without my realising it! It is almost instinctive to want to rescue and protect every creature great and small, but you’re right – we must accept our limitations and also accept we have done all we could under the circumstances. I’m sure your kittens will find their way.

  3. I feel you !! There have been so many times during my year abroad that things have angered me or saddened me, particularly the people. It is the most subtle things that you don’t expect that surprise you and hurt you the most – like people not wanting to be courteous. I have been ready to go home for the last month or so, not because I was ready to leave Honduras, but I am missing my family so much… but I can completely understand your need to go home sooner than planned. It isn’t worth harming your own mental health and there are so many ways you can help those in developing countries from home.

    I hope you’re last few weeks or months in Jamaica are more positive than negative and that you can leave some lasting inspiration with those lovely children you have met. Best wishes 🙂

    • I’m sure you could relate all too well, Jessica! It is so true that it is the smallest things that happen (or don’t happen) that can shake you up the most. Its difficult because you don’t want to feel you are giving up, or letting anyone (including yourself) down, or wasting an incredibly rare opportunity. But like you said, the time comes when you know it isn’t worth it anymore and there are many other ways to give.

      Thanks for the kind words, I hope you also continue to find inspiration and fulfilment in your crazy Honduras adventure!

  4. I felt so sad as I read this Cat. Sad because what you describe is so often the experience of many black people in white countries. I am so sorry that you had to experience this, because I don’t believe anyone should – black or white.

    The reality is that when you stand out because of your skin colour you are going to attract attention and people will project their anger and resentment about your whole race at you. Although you try to be strong enough not to take it personally it’s hard, and yes it does take its toll on the psyche. That’s one of the reasons there are so many black people in mental institutions in white countries.

    Whether you decide to stay the year or leave now, (or soon), Jamaica has already changed you. You are already a more caring, compassionate, stronger and wiser person. The contributions you’ve made will not be forgotten. You can hold your head high and know that you were prepared to take the step toward personal growth that many think and speak about but never actually do.

    • You’re so right, predencia. That is something I have thought about a lot recently. How lucky I am to live in a place that does not discriminate against me for my skin colour (although I am very aware not everyone in Australia can say that.) And what a huge impact it would have on your sense of self and your perspective of the world if you had to live with such treatment every day of your life. Very few white people ever experience being in an unwelcome minority and as difficult as it has been, I think it is an incredibly powerful opportunity to know how it feels.

      Thankyou for your words of encouragement. I certainly do not regret having the courage to this leap into the unknown. I cannot say that I am more caring or compassionate right now, but I am certainly stronger and wiser – and I hope the first two qualities will re-emerge in time.

  5. you are an incredible girl Catherine. To have made that journey, carried on, devoted yourself to the cause and stay positive. No matter the length of time, you will have made an impact and achieved what you went for! in admiration of you xxxx

    • Thankyou for reading and for your very kind words Kathleen. I can’t say I’m as positive as when I started, but I have definitely gained other strengths! And hopefully the positivity will return once I am home. 🙂

  6. This is funny! You telling people you’re a person – & that clip. I’ve never seen that clip before – I LOVED it!! It was so, so funny 🙂 (thank you)

    But to the meaning of what you’ve written, I cannot imagine or understand you being hissed at, spat at, shouted at, hit on, chased, ignored – all that you said, and no TV or microwave etc. What is wrong? There must be something wrong. I just can’t believe this is your experience, as a VISITOR.

    I do feel you’re low, and floundering. I agree with above, you’ve done preciously well with the kids, but as to the rest of it, I truly hope you make a decision, & do what’s right for you. Very sorry outcome, that this should be your experience there. Sincere regards to you, as you must be so aching for home.

    • You should definitely watch Flight of the Concords, Noeleen, its one of the funniest shows ever! It’s from New Zealand so perhaps not that well known, but it is hilarious.

      Yes, I haven’t really been able to understand it myself and I’m not sure I ever will. It is a truly sad outcome because I absolutely love the work I am doing, but for my own wellbeing I know I cannot continue under these circumstances. I have never experienced anything like it. However, I know that many people must face this kind of thing every day of their lives. I am lucky that I can walk away from it and return to a safe, loving home (which I will be doing in a couple of months.)

      Thankyou for reading and for your kind words of encouragement. 🙂

  7. This really struck a chord with me, I understand exactly what you are saying and feeling. It’s hard, and there are a lot of things people don’t tell you about moving abroad. Having just left to go on holiday, it really hit me that the happiest I have been here can’t even compare to a low I felt while visiting with loved ones. It’s a different type of life style, and if its not one that is permanent to you, it can be hard to truly want to immerse yourself in it. Be happy you made the decision to go in the first place, that takes a lot of courage!

    PS. I will most definitely kiss the ground when I arrive in Canada.

    • I’m sure you can definitely relate, Nikki! Yes, there simply isn’t anything that compares to being surrounded by those you love.

      I can honestly say I did truly want to immerse myself in this life. I expected walking away from it after 12 months would be hard. But full immersion has simply not been possible, and the only things that will make it hard to leave after 6 months are the children and my beautiful animal companions. I don’t regret coming at all – I know so much good will come of it, most of which I will not be able to comprehend until I look back from another time and place. The same will no doubt be true for you. 🙂

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