During my first few overwhelming weeks in Jamaica, I was constantly fighting the urge to jump on the soonest plane out of here. So I wrote a list of reasons why I came here in the first place. Five months on, and with only a few weeks left of this crazy journey, that feeling has never gone away. But looking back, how do the reasons that brought me here hold up?
1. My instincts have never lead me astray
The jury is out on this one. I once had a navman that would emphatically tell me to take a sharp left hand turn when I was in the middle of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or go the wrong way down a one-way street. I have spent much of my time here thinking my instincts were about as helpful as that malfunctioning little tom-tom, dragging me into the most challenging situation of my life and then giving me the constant uneasy feeling that I was completely lost. But as always my internal little Pollyanna believes my instincts had must have had good reasons for bringing me here and they will reveal themselves in time.
2. Letting go of first world problems.
Definitely. I know that without a doubt one of the hardest parts of coming home will be sympathising with problems that are just … not really problems at all.
3. Using my powers for good.
Boom. This has been the only part of this experience that felt instantly right. I have truly loved (almost) every minute spent teaching, and it has reinforced that children should always be a part of my life, no matter where I am in the world.
4. I am all I need.
Wrong. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, I have become far stronger and more self-reliant than I even thought possible. But this experience has taught me that no one is, or should ever strive to be, an island. I have learned the hard way that human connection is the most important part of life. Having mutual support and understanding, open conversations, laughter, shared experiences and a “safe place to fall” are absolutely essential to happiness. I will never again take any of these things for granted.
5. Expanding my perception of this wonderful world.
Of course. I have certainly seen some amazing places and experienced some incredible things. I can’t say I have been “immersed” in a different culture as such, because although I have tried to embrace the different way of life, I have always been acutely aware that I am an outsider – and often an unwanted intruder. Still, my mind has undoubtedly expanded in ways it never would have had I stayed at home.
6. You can call me Cucumber.
Well and truly achieved. Almost everything I see and hear is confronting or confusing in some way. A taxi driver swigs straight rum at 8am as he hurtles around clifftop roads. A terrified child is beaten by their teacher for getting an answer wrong. If I was to get flustered at every strange or scary situation, I would be in a constant fluster. Much easier to get flustered at nothing at all and just roll with the crazy punches.
7. An attitude of gratitude.
I have never been more thankful for all incredible the blessings in my life. The small things – washing machines; real coffee; good music; delicious food. As well as the big – my endlessly supportive and loving friends and family; my home country that is relatively safe and full of opportunities.
8. Getting back to basics.
Check and check. Sure, I daydream about washing my hair in a warm shower and having long brunches with several Campos cappuccinos and I spend way, way too long considering which colour of Converse sneakers I will buy when I touch down in LA. But I know I can do perfectly well without any of these things. I love the serenity of bathing in the river, the freedom of never looking in the mirror and the ease of wearing whatever clothes are clean. I love having no deadlines, no real schedule, and no compulsive need to constantly check Facebook and Gmail.
9. A life without ground-hog days.
You can say that again. Nothing ever goes to plan here (if there even is a plan), and there is never, ever a dull moment. A lost puppy wanders into your yard. A group of children arrive on your doorstep to shelter from the torrential rain. The electricity goes out. The bus breaks down. The cat gets trapped in your house when you go away for the weekend and leaves many surprises for your return… Maybe its not always the good kind of exciting, but if you’re going to live the “width” of your life you can’t pick and choose what excitement gets thrown your way. You can only be thankful you’re not living a life of total comfort, complete safety and utter boredom.
10. International BFFs.
I have met some truly lovely people on this journey, who have showed me so much kindness and warmth. Smiley Sunny who provides me with an endless supply of exquisite fruit; Miss Rose who brings slices of cake and green bananas; Rasta Brother George who gives me bags brimming with plantains and freshly picked spearmint leaves for tea. The always-entertaining neighbours who come by to play Uno or practice their latest dance move or magic trick. The beautiful Dryland Tourist who has provided answers to my endless Jamaica questions and lots of laughs and girl talk over jerk chicken or Devon House ice cream. The dedicated, passionate teachers who tell me they can see how the children are improving after my lessons and they are so thankful I am here. I am thankful they are here, and will continue to be here for the children long after I’m gone.