You know those moments that test your patience and shake up the way you see the world around you? Have you ever connected with the cliché “had the rug pulled out from under me?” Earlier this month, I did. More about that later.
Two of my best friends in the world – Addie and Jade – came to visit me here in Jamaica this month! Hosting visitors in your country of service is all at once exciting, stressful, refreshing and exhausting, especially in a “high-crime” post like Jamaica.
We face all kinds of contradictions in trying to share a genuine experience with visitors; there is a large tourism industry here, but as Peace Corps Volunteers, it’s literally our job to share the real culture of our host country – beyond the one curated for tourists. Because Jamaica is known globally, it can be a bit of a challenge to balance what people think they know about the island with what the island and its people are really like. At any rate, I try.
Addie and Jade’s first day here was really great. We headed north from Kingston to Ochi and they got to see a lot of the country’s interior during the drive. We headed to a little-used beach and released baby hawksbill sea turtles into the ocean. We took a ton of super cute friendship photos and chatted about everything and nothing. We got caught in a crazy rainstorm and got soaked on our way back to the road. Although it was their first time in Jamaica, it felt so natural to have them here.
On our way back up to our AirBnb, a teenaged boy threatened to shoot us if we didn’t give him our bags.
He ripped that rug out from under us so fast that I fell flat on my metaphorical butt.
He made away with our belongings, but my friends made it clear that we shouldn’t let him take away our vacation. They were so brave, so level-headed. I think what meant even more to me is that they didn’t let this one, stupid likkle bwoy ruin the way they were to perceive Jamaica. They brought so much comfort to me in the aftermath of our robbery. They were patient when we sat at the police station late into the night, waiting to give our statements. They were determined to have a wonderful time when we changed our plans and high tailed it to Negril. They helped me find my smile when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball at home and ruminate over what I could have done differently to prevent that boy from taking away our right to safety.
He hit one of my friends in the face. He threatened to shoot us with some weapon hidden in his waistband. It probably wasn’t a gun, but still, we value our lives over our property. Just last week in Kingston, a 14-year-old high school student was stabbed on a bus because he refused to give a thief his watch (not that he, as a victim, is to blame).
In the aftermath of it all, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for life, health, and friendship. My friends helped to put life back into my breath, and for that I am thankful. We got a call from the police in the morning saying that they’d recovered our bags with our wallets, IDs, keys and an apple in them. I had purchased a property insurance policy last year – its expiration date was 5 days after we were robbed. How’s that for timing? I acknowledge my privilege in this instance. I have means to replace what was lost.
I turn to the perpetrator. I don’t know what this kid’s backstory is, but I can guess. Maybe he doesn’t have a strong adult role model in his life to point him in the right direction. Maybe he, like so many of the students I worked with, is illiterate and feels that these are the choices he is supposed to make. Maybe he sees himself as a bad man. Maybe he is proud of that. Maybe he wants to impress a girl or his mom with a nice Christmas present. Maybe he is pretending to be something he’s not. Or maybe not. Regardless, poverty has consequences. Lack of opportunity presents choices to the youth, and sometimes they choose the wrong option. This is a consequence of poverty.
This, one way or another, solidifies the work that my colleagues and I are here to do. That for every yute who makes the wrong choices, there are twenty more who make the right ones. That I should not let two minutes of bad take away more than two years of good. That this is not what Jamaica represents, and that I play but a small part in resounding that message to di worl.
Anyway, one love and many blessings to dat likkle tief. Mi ope sey yuh ave fun wid di broken sunglass an di iPhone weh lak an cyaan use.