“Poun’ ah fret cyaan pay ownse ah dett” – Jamaican proverb
Translation: One pound of fretting cannot repay one ounce of debts
Explanation: Problems are not solved by worrying. The time spent fretting could be more gainfully spent on considering workable alternatives and solutions.
It starts with the gentle pitter patter of drops dancing on the roof. The sky starts to flash and roar as the lighting and thunder warn of what’s to come. Within minutes, the bright day is transformed into one ruled by foreboding shadows and deafening downpour, and what feels like everything comes to a halt.
If the rain is falling hard in the morning, we know that at least half of the students won’t show up at school. It’s not their fault – they probably wouldn’t be able to get a ride within an hour, not to mention they’d be soaked within five minutes of waiting for a taxi.
The primary school where I work was built in a traditional open air style, meaning the classrooms only have three walls. Where the fourth wall would be is an empty space that faces a courtyard. The leaky roof is made of zinc. Now imagine what a train moving at full speed through that courtyard would sound like. Add water. Add wind. Add deafening thunder and brilliant lightning strikes. Now add 150 students and 5 teachers.
On afternoons when the skies grow dark, the teachers brace themselves for the chaos that’s about to ensue.
Try to shout your lesson at the top of your lungs until you’re hoarse, and the students at the back still won’t be able to hear you. Give your students book work to do and they’ll still scream with excitement or fear each time they hear a crash of thunder. Recess time? Ha! Without anywhere to expel their energy, students return from lunch with ten times more.
Shoes come off, shirts and blouses mysteriously become soaked with water (they swear they weren’t playing in the water). Students huddle their desks together at the far corners of the classroom so as not to get wet from the rain being blown inside.
A year ago during my site orientation week, I remember standing in front of the staff room gazing up at the water flooding out of the broken rainwater collection pipes. It was nearly two hours after school had been released and the rain was coming down so hard that it became apparent I wouldn’t be able to go home any time soon. I remember feeling so defeated and alone. All I wanted was to sit in my room and process the day I’d just had.
Growing up in California, the elements had never really dictated the happenings of my day. If we had heavy rains, I would just hop in my car, stomp around in my rain boots and get on with my plans.
In Jamaica, the story is not the same. The pothole-filled roads become even more dangerous when they’re full of water. Taxis often stop running because the majority of their customers are huddled inside of a shop or under a storefront overhang waiting out the rain. People actually stop what they’re doing and wait for the rain to stop. Late to a meeting? Eh, it’s ok, rain did a fall.
Yesterday when thunder started to clap and heavy showers began to soak our school corridors, I prepared myself. I closed my shutters. I moved my computer away from that one spot where the leaky roof lets water spill onto my desk. I mentally canceled the reading club meeting I’d planned to hold. Along with the rest of the teachers, I went into safety mode, took a deep breath and urged students not to turn the corridor into a giant slip-n-slide (or, for unsuspecting bystanders, a bowling alley).
As a new Peace Corps Volunteer, I often worried about the lesson plans I’d have to cancel or the time I’d have to waste waiting for the rain to stop. But, as they say, poun’ ah fret cyaan pay ownse ah dett.
More than once I’ve broken out in silly, dramatic miming routines for my students to compensate for the fact that we can’t hear each other. I’ve gotten in the habit of carrying a book with me wherever I go, just in case I have some waiting time ahead of me. If I forget my book, I take the opportunity to strike up a conversation with a stranger or meditate on my surroundings.
Rather than filling my life with woe, I try to see challenging situations as an opportunity to get creative or to take a step back from what I’m doing. I still get frustrated, but the difference now is that I understand. I don’t feel angry, I feel empathetic. I am in it, part of it, at peace with it.