No, that is not a typo. I intentionally left the "h" out.
The local dialect, Patois, is one of the biggest challenges for me since arriving. Similar to the debate around Ebonics in the 90s, Patois is considered by some to be a dialect more than a language. Suffice it to say, it is very difficult to understand if you have had no experience with it.
The team here wasted no time putting me to work. I spent the first few days helping with the diocese's distribution center, the place where a mountain of donated goods reside, are sorted, and eventually delivered to places with names like Hatfield, Balaclava, Braes River and Magotty. I accompanied a man named Ranny, a cheerful guy with a very mischievous smile. One day we stopped to pick up a lunch order he phoned in. He dropped it in my lap and when I went to give him money for it he simple replied with smile, "Nope. Have a nice day" and kept driving.
Ranny and I sped from place to place delivering furniture to a boy’s home, a washer and dryer to the equivalent of a nursing home, medical supplies and other goods to a clinic, and moved a dozen beds from one church to another. I have often wondered what happened to all of the "stuff" I have donated to charitable causes. Charitable drives organized by churches and local non-profits can sometimes be little more than a chance for someone to clean out their garage. I mean really, what will someone in Jamaica do with ice skates? (If I come across an ice hockey rink and a local kids league, I will happily eat my words.) I had the same reaction to a box stuffed with orange medicine viles. But then I learned how local clinics use them supply patients with something as simple as aspirin because they struggle to afford it or cannot find it locally. It is amazing how resourceful you can be when you have to be. One man's trash is in fact another man's treasure.
While processing donated goods is a part of what goes on here, education is often the main focus of missionary work. This is an important issue here. Being able to read and write can be a significant advantage in the more rural parts of the island, or, in Patois, "in de bush." As part of my introduction to the entire operation, I was also whisked around from school to school. I spent my second day around the cathedral in Mandeville with Brother Felipe, a Brazilian member of the Mission Society who is preparing for the priesthood. The cathedral grounds include two schools that mimicked the grade-school and middle-school structure in the US. Being a former British colony, Jamaican grade levels, called "forms" are split roughly along the same lines, though it is a bit different. Sister Maureen, an Irish nun who first came to Jamaica in 1952, guided us around from room to room meeting kids who were not in the least bit shy when it came to meeting a visitor.
The country still feels the effects of a brain drain that began in the 1970s. The Jamaican government flirted with varying degrees of socialism and built a relationship with its communist neighbor, Cuba. Many in the middle class decided to flee the country, leaving a wide rift between what is today's very wealthy and very poor. Monsignor Mike explained that the challenge continues as young people leave the island for better opportunities in the US, UK, and Canada. Remittances - money sent back to the country by Jamaican's working abroad - make up around 15 percent of the country's economy. He and his fellow missionaries hope their work to educate the poor will also help remedy the brain drain. "That's how you fix it," the Monsignor told me. "One day at a time. One child at a time."
Once I got the lay of the land, I started spending each day at "de faddah school" in Bull Savannah. My first encounter was with Fifth Form, or our equivalent of high school juniors. I spent the class time fielding questions about my own education, various careers in the US, and the level of schooling behind them. They were not so much interested in those things as they were how much a person earns in each field. No matter how much I tried to shift the conversation, the students kept coming back to salaries. But their interest waned when I explained exactly how much schooling and work lays behind success; not entirely unlike kids, well, everywhere.
"It is because, comparatively, they have nothing," said Fr. Anthony, a native Jamaican who started out as an Anglican priest, but "crossed the Tiber" to Catholicism last year. He joined the Mission Society shortly thereafter. "To them, making money means escaping poverty. They see American consumerism and they want it." Fr. Anthony knows a thing or two about the differences between developed countries and developing countries. He was raised in Jamaica but has family in New York and attended Notre Dame. Along with being well educated, he is proper. Very proper. His insight helped bring the country's brain drain challenge into better focus.
To answer a question from a previous post, the Mission Society is a group of priests that, while part of the local diocese, are not assigned to it various parishes. This is the group's assignment. The diocese was formed in the mid-90s by Pope John Paul II and he selected Bishop Paul Boyle, C.P. as its first leader. (C.P. stands for Congregatio Passionis Iesu Christi, and refers to the order known as the Passionists.) Boyle was encouraged to support mission work throughout the Caribbean. At that time, a Canadian-based group (whose name I forget) was here doing mission-type work in the diocese. The group ran afoul of church teaching and became heretical to the point that some of its members here left the group (or "the institute" as I have heard them call it). Bishop Boyle approached those who sided with Rome and asked them if they would consider being a society dedicated to the type of mission work they were already doing. They accepted and now are in charge of a high school, an orphanage, two parishes, and staffing a retreat center. (Note: this description is terribly condensed. There are details and aspects that take hours to explain, and in my case, even longer to fully understand.)
I have a feeling the priests here have plans to utilize my I.T. skills. There has been talk of building them a new web site, connecting a computer network at the orphanage offices, and a few other tech-related tasks. I am not sure how all of this - the teaching and random tasks - will fit together, if at all. It might simply be an "all hands on deck" scenario where I am placed where I can be of most use - or cause the least amount of damage. Whether or not it informs this larger adventure I am on - the purpose for which this blog exists - is an entirely different matter. For now, I am content knowing the weather here is better than in Chicago or New England right now. I will let that be enough.