This post has more pictures than usual because I really wanted to show what kind of experience I had in the “ghetto”. When I got there it only took minutes for one of them to tell me I suit the ghetto. In a strange way I was honored.
A couple friends of mine who work and stay in Ocho Rios invited me to their REAL home in Spanish Town, in the parish of St Catherine. I agreed without hesitation, not knowing what I was in for. We drove just over an hour and reached their home after dark so I never got the full effect til the next morning. This is a picture of the front yard and behind those walls is where 9 of them live.
The night we arrived I was first shown to my host’s room. All the rooms in this home have separate, padlocked entrances. His room was around the back of the house which was pitch dark at night. I followed them in and used the flashlight on my cell phone to see where I was walking. The next morning I could see that this is what the walkway looked like.
When we arrived we all sat in one room and chatted for a while, and before long one of the brothers who lived in another room came to join us. Through the wall I could hear the sound of an infant child so I asked about it. The brother told me it was his daughter in the next room and asked if I’d like to see her. I TOTALLY wanted to! He led me around the front of the house to another door and inside I saw his girlfriend and 3 little girls, aged 8 years, 6 years and 6 months. The baby immediately smiled at me and the other two girls looked cautious. I quickly scanned the room and noticed that in this 20X20 space was a double bed for the mom, dad and baby, and the other two girls slept in a single bed together. There was a TV on a shelf, a stove and fridge along one wall and that was pretty much it. Wow. It made me feel greedy the way I live back home.
Back in my friend’s room now I scanned his space. Just a double bed, dresser and a laundry basket. This is looking out his door into the dark walkway. That walkway is also the place where they told me to pee when I had to go. There are no washrooms or running water here.
We all hung out chatting and listening to music until another brother showed up. He was a real livewire compared to the others I was with. I suspect he’s the hothead of the family but he was really nice and pleasant to me while introducing himself, and all of them agreed that they were going to take me to a street party in a garrison tonight. I was hesitant but mildly amused at the thought so we all got dressed and hit the streets. I admit that there were a few moments walking the dark streets of Spanish Town after midnight with three Jamaican men, that my mind wandered to the list of things that could go wrong at any time! I said a little prayer for my safety and decided to just enjoy the walk.
The street party was actually pretty lame. It shut down about 20 minutes after we arrived and I was a little disappointed but kind of impressed that they told me the police like to keep things quiet and keep parties under control. Not what I was expecting. So there we were at 2:30am in the streets of Spanish Town trying to catch a taxi home. Well this place isn’t like a tourist place and taxis are not abundant at this hour of the night. We ended up catching a ride with a random car that passed and I think they only stopped because they saw a white female in the group.
The picture above is the room I got to sleep in. Its their mother’s room but the mother works away from home so there was an extra bed for me. I felt honored they would let me have her room. One of the guys stayed in there with me for my comfort level and we shared the space with the odd spider on the wall behind us. We laid awake and chatted a long time, til about 4am. It was at that point he told me he felt honored that I would accept their invitation to come there, and that he felt like “somebody” because I came. I couldn’t help it…..I cried. I told him the total reverse….that I was the one who was honored to be a part of their everyday lives.
The next morning I was awoken at 7:30 by the sweet sounds of a cooing baby through the wall. The door to the room I was in was open to the outside and everyone was already busy about their day. I saw one of the brothers preparing bath water for the baby.
I went outside and said good morning to everyone including the little girls from the night before. I did a lot this day but I’m saving some of it for another post but I will tell you that around lunchtime they were gracious enough to ask what I would like and they would go to the market. So I turned it around and said I would like to take care of lunch. I wanted curry chicken and I gave them $1000 JMD to get what was needed at the market. $1000 JMD converts to about $15 USD (at the time of this writing)…..and that fed 9 people. Amazing! Everyone voted this brother the best cook so he took care of lunch and prepared outside on this table and cooked inside on their gas stove. I was completely in my element here….loved it! It felt like camping!
While lunch was being prepared I took note of how things went in this yard. There are big barrels of rainwater all over the place and this is their drinking, cooking and bathing water. They simply scoop water from the big barrels into small tin cans and use it for whatever. Whenever I squatted behind the house one of them was always gracious enough to pour water over my hands to wash. While lunch was cooking one of the guys was bathing from a barrel on the other side of the yard.
My summary of this experience: I was in complete awe that they all function normally with the bare minimum and the only reason they are “poor” is because we look at them and say “awwww those poor people”. Everyone right down to the 6 year old has it completely together here! The little girls take care of the baby while the dad cooks. They know how to hang laundry and they know what their chores are. This is the way they live and they don’t seem to be upset that they bathe from rain barrels. It’s all just what you’re used to and we are disgustingly spoiled in North America in comparison to this simple life.
Even though I was hot, sweaty and felt pretty gross without a shower I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact I’m going back to see them in September. My friends have a really old laptop so I uploaded ALL the pics I took of them and the kids so they would have something to look at. I can’t imagine raising children and never having any photos as keepsakes. I can’t wait to go back and see the baby walking in a few months.
This was by far, one of my most treasured experiences in Jamaica and I will definitely be going back.