“Welcome to Jamaica! We got fun and games!” bellowed my fellow team members as we bumped down a dirt road. I only paid half my attention to their Guns ‘N Roses parody, for my head was throbbing like it would explode. We had arrived earlier that week at Montego Bay Airport (http://www.mbjairport.com). When I first stepped into the sweltering heat, I began to question how well the trip would go. I sucked in my breath at the arrival gate and decided I was here to help people build houses; I was not on vacation.
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We quickly learned that Dramamine, a motion sickness pill, was going to be our best friend out here in the jungle roads. Although we had no mishaps on our first drive to our headquarters (http://www.wonbyonetojamaica), we had plenty of heavings later during the week. I’ve learned to never complain again of potholes or uneven pavement on the local roads of where I live. A drive down Jamaica is a violent wooden roller coaster ride. In between building houses in heat stroke weather, we learned some Jamaican survival tactics. To conserve the precious water, we would have to take two-minute cold showers. I had never taken a cold shower in my life. Needless to say, I yelped when my first experience began. Also, one particularly disturbing rule was the toilet flushing. “If it’s brown, flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow”—so went the jingle. I secretly flushed several times even though it wasn’t “brown;” some hygienic habits are difficult to break. Jamaica was far from paradise, and very soon I became homesick and tired of laboring.
That’s when I met the woman at the infirmary—a series of one-story white buildings. We were told it was sort of like a nursing home, and that is what I expected. I found out I was very mistaken. Our welcoming sight was a staff carrying a topless, elderly woman to her bed. I could see her ribs prominently jutting out her sides. The skin wrinkled and fell limp all around her. There was some kind of dark growth on her legs and feet. Her hands were not hands anymore but shriveled rags. I could not help but stare. Some of my team members were holding back tears and lumps in their throats. All the women around us were in similar conditions.
I knew I had to break the ice somehow, so I found a lady who was sitting alone staring off into space with no one to talk to. I greeted but could not catch her reply since it was laced with a heavy Jamaican accent. I touched her hand; it felt very delicate in my grasp since I could feel the detail of each bone. Suddenly she grasped my hand back tightly and it was then that I stared into her eyes and realized she was blind. We talked. She poured out her thoughts and I became her best friend to her, soaking in her gossip and sorrows. When I had to leave, I embraced her and whispered “I love you” in her ears. She didn’t respond, but she squeezed my hand. Her squeeze told me I was appreciated and even cherished. In the few minutes we corresponded, I learned something new. During the whole trip I had been concerned with building houses, but I realized the true purpose of the trip was to build relationships.
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