Monday, March 14, 2011

We Kicked it

if you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea
-antoine de saint-exupery

[written on Saturday]
what. a. week. we’re on the plane now, and nearly everyone’s asleep. Slouched over in their chairs, leaning against the seat in front of them, resting their heads on a friend’s shoulder; we’re resting. We need rest. We’re exhausted.

But exhausted in the most wonderful way possible. Our bodies are exhausted from days in the sun spent spinning children around in circles “one more time” thirty times, from raking through rocks, from (as Stefanie calls it) “trekking” up a mountain, from piggy back rides and from laughter. But it is our hearts that more need the rest. This week, we’ve experienced the realities of every aspect of Jamaica. We’ve had wheelbarrow races with children on dusty paths, winding between the corrugated tin walls of shanty homes. We’ve eaten KFC at the beach with our Jamaican peers home for spring break. We’ve fed children confined to wheelchairs and tickled children shackled to a diagnosis of HIV. We’ve pulled up hundreds of weeds and collected even more glass shards with eager help from our friends at Ferry.

This week has been an incredible one. This week, the hearts of every single person on the trip amazed us as we spent time at Ferry and the profundity of the perspectives shared during times of reflection humbled us. We had some time on Friday night to talk after dinner, and the conversation settled on what the impact of the trip truly was. We left with the field not entirely finished—it still has some bumps and weeds to attend to. It was hard to leave knowing there was more that could be done to the field. Though as we continued to talk, we were brought back to our friendships with the children again and again. We kept talking about Moses running off with Reid’s glasses and Rihanna finally getting her Neosporin from Dani and Jon giving boxing lessons. We laughed about John and Will being mobbed by children waiting their turn to be swung between them. The more we talked about our friendships—those human connections we made throughout the week, our troubled perspective on the success of the field was slowly calmed. We were too busy being joyful about our friendships to dwell on the challenge of trying to complete a project. And we found peace in knowing that we were in fact leaving behind something complete and even more sustainable. We were leaving behind ourselves. We hurt for the children we met this week; we let their circumstances sink into our souls. And in carrying their reality home with us, in never forgetting how they touched our hearts and how they altered our perspectives, we constructed something so much greater than any physical entity. We affirmed the value of working towards a global community founded on respect and void of judgment or condescension. This week gave faces to those “in poverty.” As Jon said on the last night, the greatest service we could ever hope to do for our friends at Ferry is to carry the impact their friendship has made on us throughout our lives. To use the power afforded to us by our circumstances and opportunities to benefit them. By never, ever forgetting the feeling of Ariel’s hands on our foreheads as we carry her on our shoulders, we honor her. By remembering, we empower.

This week is nearly impossible to synthesize into a readable kind of summary. Because, not to sound too trite, it was truly about friendship, and that cannot be described. The connections made on this trip were so true and real, and it was a blessing to watch them develop throughout the week. We are so grateful that each person was able to be a part of our group, because each one added something truly special to the entire experience. Throughout the week, everyone had his or her moment to shine. We are so thankful that we were all able to share this crazily wonderful week together, and cannot wait to see how the memories and lessons we gained from this week will continue to transform our perspectives.

Thanks for sharing our journey

Until next time,

Tara and Elin

Friday, March 11, 2011

The End Is Just The Beginning

There's a bit to catch up on since the last time you heard from the Kingston Crew, so here it goes...

Yesterday we woke up well rested after our day of relaxation on the beach. I got a solid 10 hours of sleep and headed off to another leisurely breakfast. I was brimming with excitement to return to Ferry to finally finish our job on the soccer field. All we had left was to pick up the plethora of broken glass and clear the field of the thorn-infested weeds. What struck me most was that all of the kids were eager to help us clean up the field. It wasn't about playing soccer or running around hand-in-hand; rather, it was the relationships that they were building with us no matter what we were doing and the time spent together to bring our common goal to fruition. I was able to make cleaning up the glass into a game that I played with two boys: Tyler and Reno. We collected the coolest pieces of glass that we could find. It helped turn the back-breaking activity into something fun that we could all enjoy. After a couple of hours, everyone was clearly getting very tired and we were so close to finishing. Will stepped up and constructed a plan for us in order to finish the field with the time that we had left. After another hour of everyone working together, we finally reached a point that we were all proud of. Alex gave us many thanks for the work and sweat that we put into clearing out the field, but I think I speak for everyone when I say it should have been us thanking him for the opportunity he gave us and the incredible leadership that he displayed throughout the week.

When we finished up or work at Ferry, we all piled into the bus and were given new life by the wonders of air conditioning. A huge thanks to Elin and Will for making our PB&J sandwiches for the day. After a day in the unforgiving heat, PB&J served as the life blood of the group and gave us all energy enough to continue on with the rest of the day. We then went to a place called Jerusalem which is a part of the Mustard Seed program. This experience impacted me more than anything else has the entire trip. The first part of the Jerusalem community that we visited was a place for physically and intellectually handicapped individuals. The community consisted of people ranging anywhere from infancy to  adulthood. As soon as we got there, Elin told us that it was nap time for them. I figured that we would walk in and see them all in beds, probably crammed into a few rooms, but at least with their own personal space. I found that assumption to be quite contrary to the truth. When we walked into the main playroom, there was a wall with thin mattresses with as many as 25 kids all asleep and barely enough room for them to avoid sleeping on top of one another. Flies were crawling over them and I could tell that none of them even knew that there was something more to hope for in this world. Everyone soon went their separate ways to go spend time with one of the handicapped people. I met a boy who didn't even know his own name, but seemed happier than a kid in a candy store. I read him a few books, and played the "I got your nose" game with him countless times. He never seemed to become desensitized to the game and gave a genuine, gut-filled laugh every time I did it to him. It really amazed me to see such pure joy and happiness in a place with some of the worst conditions I've ever experienced.

The next part of Jerusalem that we got to see was a program called Dare to Care. This is a community for teenagers and youth that are HIV positive. Just about everyone was very nervous before going in to see these kids, but as soon as we got there, we noticed that, aside from their disease, they were no different than you and I were as a kid. They loved being held, holding hands, playing tag, being swung in the air, and riding piggy back. I carried around one girl, who had lost the ability to use her legs, for just about the whole time. She showed me her friends, where she lived, and her favorite games to play. We laughed and ran around and she bounced up and down on my shoulders as I ran through the grass.

After witnessing some of the most inspiring people who are in charge of running these communities and seeing a side to life on this earth that many of us had never been exposed to, we were all emotionally and physically drained. As the bus drove back to the Liguanea Club, there was a piercing silence as everyone recovered from the tiring day we had just had. We finally got back around 4 o'clock and had to shower and pack quickly as we were about to embark on yet another amazing Jamaican excursion: hiking Blue Mountain to watch the sunrise over Jamaica.

We loaded onto the bus a mere 30 minutes after we had arrived and began our trip to our hotel for the night. The first 1 and a half hours of the trip was normal. People either read, slept, or listened to music as we rode in our bus. At about 5:30 or so, we began climbing the mountain in our large passenger bus. The sites were beautiful. I'm not going to lie, there were a few points where I wasn't completely sure how our bus was going to make it around a hairpin turn, but sure enough, Alvin's crew did not fail us. At about 6:15 or so, we got to a point at which our bus could go no further. We then split into two groups and loaded up into two trucks. It was getting pretty dark at this point and we thought we were fairly close to our final destination for the night. Little did we know, it had much more in store for us.

In my car, we packed Vig, Reid, Gary, Halee, Tara, Danny, Katie, Kendra, and myself into the back of a Land Rover. But this Land Rover is not the kind that you are probably thinking of. It probably had a good 300,000 miles on it, and looked more like a truck with a roll cage over our heads. There was not the most comfortable seat in the house. Finally some of us made the movement to stand up in the back and get a better look at what was coming before us. I don't know if that was the best of ideas, but it sure made for quite the comedic adventure. We drove through many sketchy villages, across a river, and up hills that I would have never guessed were surmountable by car.

Two great stories came from this 1 hour ride. The first stemmed from all of our paranoia that this "trustworthy" driver of ours was just going to lead us into an ambush of cannibals or that we were going to be taken over by some wild native. A few times, I jokingly said to Gary, "Crap, who is that guy running after us?!" Well, sure enough, this turned into quite the "Boy who cried Wolf" scenario. At one point, we passed one of many hitch hikers who didn't exactly look like your ideal hitch hiker. Well, this guy decided to actually start running after our car to try to jump on the back with us and bum a ride. Well I expressed my concern to Gary, but at this point he was past the point of not believing me. He finally caught up, started jumping onto the car, and that was when Gary knew I was not joking around. Thankfully, our fearless leader, Tara, came to the rescue and convinced the man that we were not about to have that happen and he went about his peaceful way waiting on the next car (which may have taken another couple of days where we were).

Secondly, as people incessantly expressed their unease about whether or not we were actually going to make it up the mountain to our hotel, Tara attempted to abet our concerns by saying, "Guys, chill out. These men drive this route twice a day. They know what they're doing." Just 5 minutes later, our car stalled out on a steep incline, the driver threw it into neutral, and we started coasting in reverse down the mountain in the pitch black dark. Everyone started panicking and wondering whether or not we should bail when all of the sudden our "fearless" leader Tara threw her leg over the back tailgate and began her attempt to bail and save herself. Thankfully, Gary spoke some sense into her and she decided to stay in the car because he actually did know what he was doing and got back to level ground before building momentum and getting us back on track towards the hotel.

As we started nearing the hotel, I began to think to myself, "Hmm... I wonder what kind of hotel this is going to be when it takes trained drivers to get you there and is the farthest piece of civilization up the mountain." I hadn't seen a power line in a few miles, but I thought surely they would have at least a few basic electrical amenities. Well I think we all had our hopes a little higher that what we were actually in store for. Let's just say that telling stories of creepy serial killers that lived in shacks in the woods was not the best idea for the ride up there. As we unload all of our stuff into the "hotel" I quickly realize, this was going to be one interesting night of sleep. The whole place was candlelit, no fans, 5 beds in rooms the size of a Kissam single, etc, etc. We quickly turned our fear into laughter, but I don't think it actually eased anyone's fears. I will say though, the management of this place consisted of some incredible chefs. We had an amazing home-cooked dinner once we were there and then headed off to our respective bedrooms around 9 o'clock because we were due to wake up a 2 am the next morning. We decided it would be safest to have a couple of guys in a room with girls because we really weren't confident in the alarm system, or lack there of. Unfortunately, my room had quite a while before any of us were going to get a chance to sleep. In my room was Vig, Halee, Stephanie, Elin, and myself. (Will started off there but couldn't take the seemingly never-ending chatter). Possibly my favorite verbal exchange of the whole trip happened while we were all coming into the room to get into bed. (I'm going to reword the conversation for discretionary purposes).

Elin in her sweet, motherly voice: "Hey everybody! Is everyone good and comfortable and got a bed to sleep in? Is there anything I can do for you?"
Vig: "Yeah everything is fine except Halee is freaking out because she heard mice."

Needless to say, this set up the rest of the night for something straight out of a sitcom as I had to switch beds 4 different times because of the mice that were scurrying around in the ceiling. Nobody could handle sleeping in one bed in particular because the mice seemed to have an entire colony about 1 foot from your face, so Elin and Stephanie ended up cuddling up in fear for the entire night.

The next thing I know, Tara is waking us up saying, "It's 1:50 and time to get started on our hike." I thought for sure that was a dream, but that would have been too good to be true. I can firmly say with complete certainty that I have never woken up at 1:50 in the morning with the intent on starting a full day of activities. The 6 mile hike up the mountain started right around 2 and I think it was only 2:20 before I was questioning my sanity. We hiked 6 miles in about 4 hours with about 30 breaks and only a couple of bumps and bruises. We made it just in time to see the sun rising over the beautiful landscape of Jamaica. I brought a frisbee with me and threw it as far as I could from the very peak which was pretty awesome and we got some incredible photos to add to our collection. It was incredibly cold at the peak so we could only bare to stand there for more than 25 minutes before we began our decent. Around 9:15 we got back to the hotel and were greeted with one of the most gratifying breakfasts I've ever had. Fried eggs, fresh Blue Mountain coffee, toast, cabbage salad, and doughnut-like pastries. It was delectable. We then loaded up yet again into our Land Rovers and journeyed back down to meet up with our bus. Just about everyone slept the whole way back to Kingston and then we headed straight to Ferry for our last day.

When we got to Ferry, Alex was just getting the grill going for his Jamaican feast he had planned out. As he prepared our lunch, we played with all the kids one last time on their new field. The joy in the kids' faces at their ability to run around on their new field was heartwarming. Even though we were all so beaten from the 12 mile hike that morning, we all mustered up every last bit of energy we had to run around with these kids one last time. After an hour of grilling, Alex served us with some of the best Jerk Chicken on the island of Jamaica. His secret sauce was really what put it above the rest. We sat down, dug in, and just let every part of Ferry sink into our very bones.

I think I can speak for the rest of the group by saying that all of the incredible memories that this community gave us are some that will never be forgotten for the rest of our lives. Every last one of us grew incredibly as individuals while we were here and I think we would all say we are better people because of the relationships that we built in our few days here. Not only the relationships with the kids, but the relationships with each other have really taught me a lot about who I am and what we can do and what we are called to do as privileged citizens of America and students at Vanderbilt. It truly has inspired me to bring back everything that I learned here and never lose the love and hope that I have for Ferry and for places like it across the globe.

While this incredible Manna trip is drawing to an end, it is just the beginning for us as people to really start to make a difference in the places like Ferry across the globe.

- Nelson

The Other Side

written on Wednesday
Today we had a day unlike any other. A national holiday in Jamaica, Ash Wednesday, paralyzes the city. Tara and Elin woke up early as usual and prepped for the day but didn't wake us up until 8:30, 2 whole hours after the time they had initially told us we'd have to be ready by. Instead of Tara's melodic "Wake up! Wake up! It's time to wake up!" As she switched off the A/C and slided open the curtain, we were awoken with ice cold sodas and cheers of "Surprise! We're going to the beach!!!" Unfortunately, Reid, John, Jon and Gary weren't as happy since they had been ready since 7 am to go to Ferry....whoops.

Still, no one could contain their excitement. We couldn't believe that we were taking the day off to walk on sandy beaches and swim in the Caribbean Sea. Little did we know how much better the surprise would get. After a short bus ride we arrived at the local marina, miles different from Ferry. Although a lot of us were a bit sad that our promises to see the children today had been broken, we knew there was tomorrow and took this as a welcome respite and taste of the different local experience.We didn't do service today, but we learned a little more about the real Jamaica.

After walking for  a bit we approached a bleach-white yacht filled with 20 or so of Tara's best friends. As we got to know all of them we realized how similar we were to them. A lot of them went to American universities like Duke and some were in Rhode Island and other states at boarding schools. They were not too different from the typical Vandy student at all.

For a minute we had to remember we were in Jamaica and not in Miami, San Diego or the Keys since our surroundings were so reminiscent of the places we've lived in and vacationed in.

Today I learned about the other side of Jamaica--regardless of how common and widespread this experience was, I believe it was necessary because it is reality. Jamaica has a very connected society. One where those of similar socio-economic classes all know each other and take care of each other.

I believe it's important to see this beautiful island-country holistically because it isn't all poverty, it isn't all about corruption, bad schooling, insecurity, illiteracy.... Like the US, Canada, Colombia and Puerto Rico, Jamaica has its social, economic and political problems, but so does everywhere else and it's important to realize that we are not as different as we would think from Jamaicans.

They can have blue eyes, bronze skin, blonde hair, while sporting a heavy Jamaican accent. As is the case in Nashville and the rest of the US, there is so much diversity in Jamaica and there is beauty and serenity and wealth and love and extravagence. No country serves as an exception.

We are not an exception and neither was today. Our experience today taught us a lesson about ourselves, our culture, our values and past times. We encountered Ferry's polar opposite. It's not the fake Kingston, it's just the other side.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The sound of sunshine

The boys of room 20 were again woken up at 7:30 by “The Sound of Sunshine” – both literally and figuratively°. Though this time still seems ungodly early to the four of us, we were all excited to get up and get our day underway. After a quick breakfast (Thanks to Tara for submitting our orders last night), we were back on the bus with Alvin, on our way to Ferry.

The day started slowly as we waited for Elin and Vig to arrive from the store with tools for the day. Because most of the kids were in school, this gave us the opportunity to spend some more quality time with the locals. Gary, Jon, and I played soccer and talked with two of the younger men in the village. They told us about their jobs (they search for scrap metal to sell), their girlfriends (one claimed to have 6), and what defines “cool” (Soccer skills, good dancing, and Nikey slippers for these guys). Though the contrast to our lives was apparent, the two men were still as happy and carefree as anyone I know. It’s this generally easygoing attitude of the people of Ferry that has made me fall in love with the place.

After the bulldozer cleared land for our soccer field yesterday, the seemingly simple task for today was evening the surface and getting rid of the rocks and weeds on the field. Elin and Vig arrived with gloves, shovels, and rakes, and we were on our way. In the 85-degree heat of Kingston, these jobs were anything but simple. We raked, shoveled, weeded, and lifted our way through the entire field, and then went back and did it again. The field is admittedly not perfect, but it is sure to be the envy of neighboring villages. Not many people in the area have the chance to play soccer in such an open area, which is why the people of Ferry are so excited about what we are doing.

After concluding work for the day on the field, we went back to the schoolhouse. Tuesdays in Ferry are sports days, which meant even more lifting of children than yesterday. A group of students from Missouri State had delivered a care package to the school, so many kids were wrapped up in figuring out new ways to play with bookmarks with googely eyes, number two pencils, and smiley face stickers (Many of which ended up on my shirt).  The other kids found pleasure in climbing all over us and swinging on the monkey bars. It was awesome to spend more time with the kids and see them all with smiles on their faces.

Though the day was exhausting, it was the most rewarding day I’ve had since arriving in Kingston. Knowing that the soccer field close to completion is obviously great, but it was the continued growth of the relationships I’ve developed here that made the day so good. I feel like we’ve finally gotten to the point where the people of Ferry feel comfortable with us, which has lead to more personal and in depth discussions. This is a huge step for us, as it let’s us figure out where and how we can actually help the community. I can’t wait to get there tomorrow and continue our work with the village.

Until next time,


°-”The Sound of Sunshine” is a song by Michael Franti, which has acted as our room’s soundtrack to the trip.

Monday, March 7, 2011

pictures from the day!

Full Moon Over Ferry

Today began at 7:30 am, an hour that Reid, John, Gary, and I had not seen on a clock since high school. Breakfast was a far more efficient affair than it had been yesterday morning, as the staff at our hotel continue to get the hang of cooking for such a large number of people at once. Most of the people in our party ordered the Spanish Omelet after hearing Taylor's stellar review, but a few of us stuck with a simple order of fried eggs and toast. By 9:15, we were on our way to Ferry to begin construction on our soccer field.

Looking out the window of our bus as we pull into Ferry is what I imagine it is like for professional sports teams when they pull into the stadium on game day. Enthusiastic fans mob the vehicle, bang on the windows, and always provide a smile and a big thumbs-up to the passengers inside. Today's arrival had a bit of a different feel to it, however, because it felt like we were visiting old friends. Though we have only known them a day, the inhabitants of Ferry have an uncanny knack for making visitors feel like natives within minutes of meeting them. They are about the warmest, most welcoming group of people I have personally ever had the pleasure of knowing. The minute we stepped off the bus, we got to work clearing brush for the field, while simultaneously tossing the pigskin around with the kids.

When the bulldozer arrived and began leveling the land upon which our soccer field will be constructed, many of us decided to go visit the younger children at the school in Ferry. The kids were all between the ages of two and four (from what I could gather), and were sporting homemade uniforms of burgundy and gold. Let me be the first to admit that this was not just a play-date; it was a workout. If there's one kid in your arms, there are ten at your feet hoping to get lifted up next, and trust me when I say that everyone at school got carried today. I did not see one person on our trip with empty arms for one second of the two hours we spent at the school. From helping them across the monkey bars to simply spinning them in circles, neither the kids nor any of us could get enough.

At one point, a little girl who had learned my name called me over to another area of the playground because she wanted to show me "what John was doing." As I turned the corner onto a covered patio, I saw John Hostek on all fours giving donkey rides to several of the kids, and within seconds I became his donkey companion. After several laps around the patio, I got up to give my knees a rest. Then, without warning, I was attacked. A pair of tiny hands had gotten a hold of the waistband of my shorts, and yanked them about halfway down my backside. In my life, I have pantsed and been pantsed more times than I care to remember, but never has a pantsing gotten a reaction of this magnitude. The sound of fifty children laughing hysterically at what I'm sure is the whitest butt they have ever seen had me laughing so hard I was in tears.

When playtime was over, our group went back to the main area of the town to begin building benches for the soccer field. Everyone was involved in putting the wood in place, hammering the nails, and making sure the kids were involved in the process, too. Everyone was having a great time working together, and you could tell how much our efforts were appreciated. Once the benches were complete, our bus arrived and we began our commute back to The Liguanea Club, where many of us took a refreshing dip in the pool and caught up on our personal reading.

Judging from the first two days of our trip, I think it it safe to say that every day in Ferry is going to be an adventure, a learning experience, and a lesson in life. Today, I learned that no matter where you are, who you're with, or how foreign you may feel, there is very little that separates us from the people of Ferry. Of course, there are minor cultural differences and social expectations that we must adapt to, but when it comes down to it, butts (especially white ones) are funny no matter where you are, and we all want the same things out of life. That is to be happy, to be in good company, and to feel that we are appreciated. I think that all of us, inhabitants of Ferry included, felt that way today.

Time to go eat some jerk chicken.

Until next time,