We just got back from visiting Marvin’s parents in Jamaica. We spent ten days at their home and three days at a resort; it was a great trip. The boys experienced some invaluable things, and I thank God for His provision that made it all possible.
The boys picked mangoes from a mango tree and limes from a lime tree, both in grandma’s front yard. At home and along the road they saw colorful trees laden with ripe fruit. They learned that fruit and flowers are abundant in the tropics.
They slept in 90 degree heat with no air conditioning: sticky sheets, fans on full blast. That’s what summer nights were like for me growing up in Brooklyn, and yet my suburban boys had never tasted that discomfort. Surprisingly, they didn’t complain but learned the value of cold showers in the morning to cool off.
They saw the beauty of a coral reef and squealed at a live lobster, before the poor ugly thing was roasted on the beach. They ate it, and put their snorkel masks back on to find more treasures in the sea.
They got to blend into a nation of brown faces. Almost everyone was black, from the policemen to the beggars, from the owner of the resort to the wait staff. Marvin’s family is very dark; his father boasts direct descent from the feisty Maroon tribe. But in this world, though so different from our upstate New York suburb, the boys were comfortable and happy.
They squinted, trying to understand the fast, sing song Patois of their uncles; they gave up but enjoyed the attention, playfulness and love.
They saw poverty: tin shacks and beggars on the street. And I had the perplexing task of explaining it to a six year old: “What does poor mean?” “Are we poor?” “Why are they poor?” I responded in a way that would hopefully inspire both compassion and motivation. You’d better believe I took the opportunity to make a big plug for doing well in school! I wonder how long I can use those tin shacks as a motivator for completing math sheets.
They had to wait, A LOT and learned, indirectly, that not every place on earth values speed and efficiency as much as America. This agitated their flesh most of all.
They endured scores of mosquito bites, chased lizards and learned that in Jamaica, dogs are not pets, but guardians. You don’t pet them or talk to them; they live outside and they eat scraps from the table; there is no dog food at the store.
Isaac learned that Legos are the universal language of boys, as one boy around his age stopped to admire his new Lego truck and talked about the one he just completed at home.
They received a lot of positive attention from adults everywhere they went, as children are, though firmly disciplined, generally loved and valued there.
I’m so grateful that our boys got to be immersed in such a different culture for a couple of weeks. We hope to go regularly – to bond with family and to expose them to things that will expand their world.