by Trace White
(Gamma Epsilon – Oklahoma State University)
The following is the tenth in a series about Alpha Chi Omega’s inaugural global service trip in Negril, Jamaica.
While today was not a work day, I still learned as much if not more than I have the other days here in Jamaica. I’ll start with the knowledge of today being a day off or working to see more of Jamaica and visit a crocodile filled river for the Black River Safari in the pretty town named after the river it is near. As can be expected, I was excited to visit another area of Jamaica I had yet to see and did not know exactly what to expect. What I was not expecting was a two hour road trip to get to this so-called Black river. This information must have failed to reach my ears or something of sort… Luckily, as with all the highs and lows our group has had this week, our group took it in stride and passed the time in whatever ways we could find. Haley and Kendra played trivia about the TV show Friends, which I am sadly not informed enough about to have joined in on, but I am pretty positive Haley and Kendra’s score was 30 out of 32. Impressive.
On our arrival we got to experience a common Jamaican trait, not being in a rush and being late. I could fit in REALLY well here (I was the last to load the bus this morning and it was definitely not the first time). A few minutes past noon and we were on our way along the Black River with our funny driver Nico. Now, Nico was not a normal tour guide, he declared himself one of three who drove the boats along the river that actually touched the crocodiles and the only one of them that would KISS the crocodiles.
Although we did not have a cooperative crocodile for Nico to kiss, we were able to watch Nico take the crocodile under the chin by hand. I am fortunate to say that I have seen some really wonderful things in my life, but seeing Nico with the crocodile was seriously exciting for me. It felt similar to something you only see on Animal Planet and yet I was up close and personal. Much too soon, we were headed back. On the way, I began to feel a spray from the river which progressively got worse. Come to find out it’s not the river at all, it had begun to rain. Next thing I know it as an absolute downpour and we are lucky enough to be on boat without walls… Of course I am running about looking for a place to get out of the rain. Well, as you can imagine that was not exactly possible.
A good six of the girls were huddled together for protection, some were taking it as it came, others were laughing and taking pictures maybe running around like me, and Nico was just laughing at our ridiculous commotion. Naturally, the roof rips apart… not once, but twice. Yes, this really happened to us. Don’t worry though, eventually we made it back safe and sound with smiles on our faces. This group truly knows how to turn something potentially problematic into something to laugh about and proceeded to lunch at Cloggy’s down the street completely soaked but happy and ate a really wonderful lunch! Overall, the trip was absolutely worth the four hour round trip. I would not have traded it for anything.
I know this might floor you but I have not even gotten to my favorite part of the day. Around 5:30 we have two visitors, Amina and Henry who drive a whole four hours from Kingston just for us. Amina Blackwood Meeks began by explaining that she was the Director of Culture Education and a storyteller (among many other things). This is something I really don’t hear very often. A storyteller? Only five minutes later, and I knew what she was talking about. This woman knows how to tell a story.
It is not only how she told the stories and answered all our questions, it was how she tied her information together and could always bring whatever she said full circle. She commands her audience whether it is through the warm sunshine in her voice, her abounding knowledge, or her robust laugh that forces you to smile. She wanted us to really understand the culture here, who the people are, and why they are that way. Something that stuck out to me was when she described how different Jamaica can be month to month, season to season but that food and music are absolutely critical to this country. This can be heard in the reggae music blasting all over the country and the multiple radio stations here on this one island. This can be seen and tasted in the jerk chicken and pork, the fresh mangos, the curry chicken with rice, and the hard work put in by those making it. Although well known for their jerk chicken and pork, the food in Jamaica can be really diverse, but, as Amina put it, food is where all the different kinds of people and races in Jamaica combine and come together.
As a history major, I was enthralled by all she had to say. She told our group so much about the coming of the African people to Jamaica and the Taino people who had inhabited the island prior to Columbus’ arrival. With her beautiful storytelling she told us the story of Anansi, a spider who despite his size was able to capture the huge, powerful snake to take to the king of the forest, the tiger. She explained how this African way of telling stories was still very important to the Jamaican people and how they tell their stories. There is so much more to tell as she talked to us for an hour and half with my group asking question after question and hoping for more stories, but it really isn’t something you can describe in words, it is something you just have to experience.
After her talk I got lucky enough to sit with her at dinner along with Stephanie, Amanda and Ally. Hopefully she had a chance to eat because I am fairly sure we had questions for her all throughout dinner. She was happy to answer and taught me even more about Jamaica. Amina told me a story about when she moved away from Kingston. Living in a place 3 miles from any neighbors, she had to pass through a village to get home. This village contains maybe 200 people and they are very poor without electricity and running water. Amina said “I wondered how I could help them because they are so poor, but then I saw that they were happy.”
She proceeded to tell us how when she would pass through on the way home they would be waiting to give her pounds of tomatoes and whatever fruits or vegetables they noticed she did not have or grow. This put a lot of situations here and in the United States into perspective for me, and I thank Amina for all the insight she gave whether she knows it or not. Amina Blackwood Meeks is one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Her work in the country is so important to the progress of Jamaica while retaining what makes Jamaica the place that it is. She wanted to teach us, she wanted to share and I am truly blessed to have been on the receiving end.
It is such an experience to be here. The people are so appreciative of the work we are doing and so lovely to get to know. I am so excited to get back to the work site tomorrow to lay tile, build desks and tables, and really get the school together! As I have mentioned before, I am truly blessed.