Christmas Holiday Greetings – 2011

.wps – Christmas Letter 2011

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A New Life — New Beginnings in the Senior Years

It has been some months since I have added to my blog.

2011 has turned out to be one of the most difficult years of my life.  After the Holidays, Oklahoma was hit with especially cold and harsh days with plenty of wind, ice and snow.  In January, I excitedly prepared to go on a scuba trip to Cozumel, Mexico with a small group of local divers from Enid, Oklahoma and nearby communities.  I regularly trained at the local YMCA, trying out my new face mask, snorkel and flippers.  Finally the day arrived in February to drive to Oklahoma City and fly to Cozumel.  We left drifts of snow & frigid weather and flew to sunny Mexico for a week of the best scuba diving I have ever been able to do.  Led by dive shop owner, Jerry Coleman, (Into the Blue), our small group of divers had almost perfect weather and enjoyed both day and night dives which revealed the beautiful and still exceptional and wondrous marine life in the reefs around Cozumel.  The fellowship, cooperation and joy we all shared on this Cozumel diving trip will remain as one of the happiest memories of my “senior” years.  Jerry said that at 69, I was the oldest diver who had gone on any of his scuba diving trips.

Sadly, the month after that trip, I began suffering from some personal health problems.  In a public blog, it is not appropriate to go into personal details, but I will say that those problems led to my wife, Kathy and I, separating and then divorcing in June.  On September 3, 2011, Kathy and I would have celebrated our 45th Wedding Anniversary.  Those years together have been almost all happy and harmonious, filled with the lives of three great children, Rebecca, Michael and Jennifer, and now four wonderful grandchildren, Tyler, Sarah, Ian and Anna.  They, along with son-in-laws Sean and Aaron, my brother Steve and other extended family members continue to give Kathy and me strength and support as we attempt to adjust to dramatically new existences.  I will always continue to love Kathy and together, we plan to remain great parents and grandparents for our family.  I am now living in a retirement community three miles from Kathy’s home and just five miles from our youngest daughter’s family.

Each day this summer, I have written a short entry in my Summer Haiku Diary to help fight the emptiness and loneliness I often feel.  As the months pass, my health has improved and I sincerely hope I can contribute more time to helping others where I live at Golden Oaks and in my local community–Enid, Oklahoma.  I think often of all the college friends and students I have worked with through the years as well as the Group 81 U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers and staff still working in Jamaica.  How I wish I could still be working with you as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I am not going to list all entries in my Summer Haiku Diary, and am well aware that although the syllable count for each line is acceptable, many of the entries are not “true” haiku, reflecting nature in its most pristine forms.  Often my selected daily Haiku entry simply reflects my feelings, a family moment, or a timely event that occurred on that day.

SUMMER HAIKU DIARY

June 21st

Where have the years gone?

Forty-five Spring times together

But — no more summers.

June 22nd

Swimming near the shore,

A duck watches her ducklings

As new lives begin.

June 24th

Geese flotilla nears

The grass-covered, sunlit shore,

Early in the morn.

June 25th

Time flees silent dreams

As eventide nears too soon.

Alone — all alone.

June 26th

Searing heat wave here,

Much too early still in June.

What will July bring?

June 29th

Day dreaming of you –

So many summers ago.

Southern smile and charm.

July 1st

A new month is born,

Celebrations and fireworks

Will brighten the night!

July 3rd

Flag fluttering breeze

Proudly uplifts stars and stripes –

Blue, white and blood red.

July 4th

Night sky is alive,

Kaleidoscopes of color

Celebrate freedom!!!

July 5th

Two hearts filled with joy,

Three beautiful children born,

Four grandchildren, too!

July 8th

Pink crepe myrtle grows

Near my balcony railing,

Blossoming in heat.

July 8th

Remember my voice,

Heart beat and lasting promise.

True love never dies.

July 9th

Life is for living,

Hearts beating, hands uplifted

To the Light above.

July 11th

Dust devils swirl, swirl

Across the dry stubble field.

Summer heat remains.

July 16

A navel orange sunset

Lit the sky with rosy hues.

Then the stars appeared.

July 19

Warm morning lake walks,

Watching geese and ducks float by,

Bobbing on the waves.

July 21st

Atlantis returns,

The space shuttle program ends –

Who will walk in space?

July 22nd

Hummingbirds are here,

Darting among the flowers,

Seeking sweet nectar.

July 22nd

The circle of life

Has produced fish in our pond,

Spawning near lilies.

July 26th

A Basho moment,

The same full moon shines tonight

Upon the calm pond.

July 28th

Ducks and geese are fed…

Rebecca, Ian and Anna

Visit Golden Oaks. *     

* Our oldest daughter and grandchildren from Nevada visit us for a week. 

July 29th

Tyler’s birthday now,

Learning marine biology

Along the Gulf Coast.*

*Our oldest grandson was attending a marine biology summer camp at Texas A & M in Galveston.

July 31st

Family together –

Harmons, Parrys and Reddings,

On hot summer’s eve.

August 1st

A new month arrives

Full of hope and promises.

Heat wave is still here.

August 6th

Geese were still tonight,

Silently floating on pond

As the storm approached.

August 7th

Summer night alone,

Dreaming of those joyful times

Sleeping by your side.

August 9th

Power still out today.

Winds broke power lines and trees,

Eerie silence now.

August 11th

Storm clouds and gray skies,

Blessed rains help break the drought,

Peace and calm are near.

August 14th

Puff clouds in the sky,

Reflected in still waters.

Lazy summer day.

August 16th

Airplanes in the sky,

Training to protect nation

Throughout all seasons.*

*Vance AFB, south of Enid, Oklahoma, is a pilot training base.

August 18th

Remember the days

Preparing to teach again,

While crepe myrtles bloomed.

August 19th

Thunder is rumbling,

Lightning flashes across sky

On a summer morn.

August 21st

I miss your smile,

Our lives entwined with children,

Forty-four joy-filled years.

August 22nd

Birds, above the lake,

Darting as kites in the sky,

Await the sunrise.

August 23rd

Thirty-eight years ago,

Beautiful daughter was born.

Jennifer is joy!

August 26th

Forever family —

Love remains with memories

Of days in nature.

August 27th

Hurricane Irene,

Swirling along Atlantic Coast,

Watch for water surge!

August 28th

Two egrets dancing

Among reeds at water’s edge

Startled small minnows.

August 29th

Flowers are blooming

In beds we built together —

A labor of love.

August 30th

Saw Kathy today,

Working in her iris bed.

Beautiful image!

August 31st

Summer is ending –

Wild fires rage across prairies

In high, gusty winds.

September 1st

A new September –

Hoping that gardens will grow

In both of our lives.

September 3, 2011***

No tears are shed now,

Just bright memories of you

On our wedding day.*

*This would have been our 45th Anniversary today.   Forest Redding, Jr., and Kathryn Kampe were wed on September 3, 1966 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

September 4th

The lake is sparkling,

Much cooler weather is here

As late summer nears.

September 5th

Happy Birthday, Ian!

Celebrate this Labor Day

The joys of your youth!*

*Our second oldest grandson became a teenager today.

September 6th

Autumn-like days now,

Chilly nights and sun-filled days

Renew my spirit.

September 7th

On the grassy bank

Slumbering pond-side in shade,

Ducks dried their feathers.

September 10th

Remember our hearts,

Beating as one together

On September days.

September 11th

A full moon tonight,

Memories of ten years ago –

Upholding freedom.

September 16th

Rain, rain as Fall nears,

Parched wild grasses linger on,

Geese honk in the sky.

September 19th

Summer almost gone,

Pink crepe myrtles still in bloom,

Near my balcony.

September 20th

Lasting memories,

A warm day at the State fair,

Walking hand in hand.

September 21st

Summer is ending

Record heat wave recorded

In Oklahoma!!*

*Throughout Oklahoma in the summer of 2011, there were more recorded days of 100 + degree F. heat than in any other recorded year — 65 – 85+ days of 100+ heat depending on the community. 

September 22nd

On Summer’s last day,

A walk around sunny waters

Brings me joy and peace.           

And so, as summer ends, keep our family in your thoughts and prayers as you will remain in ours.  Life is far too short to forget the friendships and bonds that have strengthened us during all the seasons of our lives.    

When time permits, I will add some scuba dive trip and family photos to this blog entry.    All the Best,    Forest

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Happy Holidays and a Healthy and Joyful 2011!

Stockings are Hung, Christmas Tree and Gifts Await December 25, 2010
Evergreen Family Memories

 

Yesterday, December 9, I planted a small blue spruce tree in our side yard in remembrance of my parents’ 71st wedding anniversary and my father’s 93rd birthday.   Almost on cue, a flock of honking Canadian geese flew in “V” formation above me, disappearing into the setting sun.  A prairie sky of blazing colors faded into darkness, and sparkling outdoor Christmas lights came on around our home.  The Holidays have arrived in western Oklahoma once again.   Somehow, we have acquired eight lighted deer through the years, and they are now grazing on our front lawn, in the garden by the pond, and among three new perennial beds of plants on the east side of our home.    Later, when the lights are turned off, real deer will visit our ponds and gardens, eating any leaves remaining on plants and leaving only their fresh prints in the snow.

Indoors, Kathy and I have placed a towering, life-like spruce in our living room decorated in all white lights, hand-blown crystal hearts, red balls, hundreds of bird and animal ornaments, and a glowing Christmas star.  Near the star at the top of the tree, we have once again placed a small blue and yellow stocking ornament made by our son, Michael, when he was four years old. Our cats, Maggie and Smokey, still like to sleep among the gifts under the Christmas tree. On the fireplace mantle, five wooden angels made by Kathy are surrounded with garlands of greenery and pine cones.  Stockings are hung from the mantle for each family member in anticipation of the arrival of Christmas.  A new nativity crèche has been placed atop a glass cabinet full of seashells, reminding us of the natural and spiritual gifts we have been given this year.

2010 has been one of our most eventful years.   I fulfilled a life-long personal dream and joined the U.S. Peace Corps.  I was sent to Jamaica with 36 other Peace Corps volunteers, and we trained along Jamaica’s southern coast and up in the mountains for ten weeks before receiving individual assignments.  I became a program coordinator at the Montego Bay Marine Park, and loved every moment I had working with fellow Volunteers, Peace Corps and MBMP Trust staff members, Jamaican school children, college interns and guests to Jamaica’s first national marine park. I returned home at the end of our summer work in the marine park.  A number of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers have also returned home, but the majority of Group 81 Volunteers are still in Jamaica, working in schools and on environmental, health, agricultural and water projects.  If you want to read about some of my experiences in Jamaica, just click on to my blog: http://www.conch39.wordpress.com  

Once home, Kathy has kept me busy this autumn.  She created three new garden beds on the east side of our home, and four dump truck loads of topsoil have now been surrounded by over 600 pavers to create the beds.  We placed new trees, shrubs and perennial plants in the beds; Kathy also constructed an iris bed near the fish ponds in our backyard.  Less than three miles down the road from us, Jennifer and Aaron Harmon have just moved into a new home in a beautiful wooded area.  In Nevada, Rebecca and Sean Parry have remained very busy, too, and Rebecca has almost completed her teacher training. She hopes to start teaching science to middle school students next year.  Our four grandchildren, Tyler, Sarah, Ian and Anna are all active, intelligent students and dream of becoming a marine biologist, dancer, wildlife explorer, and USAF Thunderbird pilot/rodeo rider.  You might be surprised who wants to be the pilot…it’s Anna.  

It is a great privilege to live in America, to have the opportunity to dream of bright futures…even during challenging economic times.  It is also an honor to serve at home and abroad, helping students and citizens build a more peaceful and environmentally vibrant world.   Kathy and I wish all of you a Blessed Christmas Season.  May 2011 Be a Year of Joy, Good Health and Bright Dreams for You and Your Family.

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Thanksgiving — for Every Day of the Year

Goldfish instead of Jamaican Reef Fish

Wish Jamaican reef waters were kept as clear and clean as our backyard pond water

The turkey is roasted and pumpkin pies are ready!

When I returned home from Jamaica, I really was thankful to be together with my wife, family, neighbors and close friends once again.  The weather was just as hot, although more arid than in  Jamaica.  During the daytime, my wife Kathy and I worked in our backyard garden and sat on the stone bench by the goldfish pond.  Fancy goldfish and koi would appear from beneath the lilypads, expecting food flakes to be tossed upon the water.  Dragonfilies often darted from plant to plant, hovering momentarily above the pond.  Then, as evening descended, the cicadas began singing and fireflies appeared, blinking among the garden plants.  It was peaceful, calm and safe.   So different, I thought, from most of my evenings spent in Jamaica.

Sadly, given the government declared state of emergency in Jamaica during the spring and summer of 2010, we were told to head indoors by dusk.  Even after the emergency was lifted, friends and neighbors told me to stay inside at night, behind locked doors and windows.  Given all the tropic heat, it was not pleasant to close your metal window shutters each night.  However, if you wanted to keep mosquitoes and other critters out, it was best to close and lock those metal shutters.  Without screens or glass windows, it was also just too tempting for neighborhood thieves/toughs to stick poles through the window shutters and try to pull items of value toward and then out of your windows.  That practice, called “fishing,” has unfortunately continued in Jamaica, especially during these economically hard times.

Now, as autumn daylight hours grow shorter in the United States and Thanksgiving celebrations are over, it is time to prepare for the Holidays.  I just wanted family, neighbors and friends at home and in Jamaica and other global locales to know that I remain very thankful for your support, many kindnesses and good advice throughout 2010.  Wish I could thank each of you personally for your thoughtfulness and guidance.   In Jamaica, I did want to give special thanks to all my Group 81 Peace Corps fellow trainees…now seasoned volunteers (PCVs), to my Peace Corps leaders and trainers and staff members (Dan, Wes, Anika, Ann, Joan, Seleca, Shodel, Viola, and Saint), to my host families (the Williams in Hellshire Park, the Stennetts in Ewarton, and Mrs. Pamela Small and family in Montego Bay), and to the staff at the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust (especially Brian Zane, Blaise Hart, Jaswani Stewart, and Devon Grey). Special appreciation and gratitude to Samantha Bourke and her parents, Richard and Carol, for their dedication to improving and protecting Jamaican coastal areas and reefs.  They have offered encouragement and true Jamaican hospitality to me and U.S. Peace Corps volunteers and PC staff members. 

As our first Oklahoma snowfall is predicted for early next week, my wife Kathy and I want to wish each of you a Very Happy Holiday Season and Healthy 2011.

More news as the Holiday Season unfolds!

All the Best,

Forest

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Jamaican Journeys Will Continue

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During this Labor Day Weekend in American, my wife Kathy and I are celebrating our 44th Wedding Anniversary.  In case you do not know, I have decided to return home to Oklahoma from my Peace Corps service in Jamaica to spend more time with my wife and family.  It is always a very difficult and personal decision to return from a volunteer

assignment–especially for me, since I have been wanting to serve in the U.S. Peace Corps since completing graduate school over 40 years ago.  Kathy was not able to join me in Jamaica, and we found that it was very difficult to be apart for two years…especially at our age.

Please know that I have valued every day that I spent training and working as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer.  I have the highest degree of respect and admiration for my fellow Peace Corps – Group 81 Volunteers, most of whom are still serving all over the island of Jamaica.  Check out our Group 81 – U.S. Peace Corps page on Facebook and you will gain a sense of all the constructive and positive projects and programmes (Jamaican spelling) we have been working on with and for Jamaican school children, communities, and environmental trust organizations.

It has been a very tough decision to return to Oklahoma now, but given personal and security considerations, it was a necessary action that I had to take at this time.  I have made so many new and lasting friendships with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), Peace Corps staff members and Jamaican citizens, and I intend to keep those friendships alive.  I plan to maintain contact with PCV and Jamaican colleagues, and at least electronically, will continue to occasionally write about the daily economic, social, political, and related environmental struggles occurring in this vibrant Caribbean nation.  Daily life for Jamaicans can be especially difficult now, and “No problem, Mon,” really means that in spite of all obstacles, Jamaicans will persevere.  During the great economic challenges facing all nations at this time, island countries have been especially vulnerable to economic trade imbalances, lost jobs or no jobs at all, environmental degradations, and rising crime waves.  

Before I joined the U.S. Peace Corps, I was a teacher.  I have always known that sharing accurate and honest information and knowledge about our own nation and other countries is both a great privilege and personal growth opportunity.  So in the months ahead, if you are interested, return to this blog to read about continuing efforts to “confront” lionfish invasions in Caribbean waters, new attempts to create functioning fish sanctuaries in at least nine Jamaican coastal areas, and Jamaican and American environmental struggles that are being lost and occasionally won.  Sometimes, from a distance, observers can remain more neutral, fair-minded and insightful than those who are too closely connected to the daily political, economic and social in-fighting within a community or nation. 

In many ways, I have a micro rather than macro view of what each of us can do to evoke positive change both at home and abroad.  Often our best educational work is done one-on-one with another learner.  If I was able to help successfully educate and encourage  just a few new marine biology interns, work with high school students at the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust, offer talks and environmental presentations to grade school, secondary and college-students, as well as to international visitors to Jamaica’s first national marine park, then I believe my time in the U.S. Peace Corps was well spent.   I know it is not necessary to go to Jamaica or to Lesotho (where a young Peace Corps volunteer was tragically killed this week) or to Afghanistan (where some of our best citizens are being wounded or killed each day) in order to find great societal needs and problems to tackle.  In every American community, there are critical social, economic and political ills to correct and/or resolve, too. 

Truly staying engaged in the resolution of societal challenges must be a commitment for each of us as American citizens.  In the end, our greatest responsibilities are to our own  family members and friends.  Of course I am an idealist, but also a pragmatist who has come to realize that we may not all be able to change the world, but we can all make a positive difference in a few peoples’ lives and livelihoods.  That is what citizenship and friendship are all about.

So, it is great to be back home in Oklahoma.  Happy Labor Day, (Jamaicans celebrated their Labour Day earlier this year), to family and friends and those of you reading this blog.

All the Best,

Forest

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Golden Sand

U.S. Peace Corps Jamaica Volunteers and Staff Members - Green Initiative Program

I am calling my blog site Golden Sand for several reasons. Many years ago, I spoke to a graduating class of Phillips University seniors in Enid, Oklahoma and wrote a poem entitled: “Golden Sand.”  It seemed appropriate that I could present that poem in a very modified form when I spoke to fellow Peace Corps inductees and guests at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica on May 21, 2010. Several of my fellow Group 81 Peace Corps Volunteers have been asking me for a copy of my brief remarks, so I thought I would print those remarks in my blog.

Imagine the writer, Edgar Allen Poe, standing by the ocean, desperately trying to hold on to the “golden sand” of life when he wrote:

“I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore
And I hold within my hand,
Grains of the golden sand–
How few, yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep…”
(poem lines omitted here)
“Is all that we see or seem,
…But a dream within a dream.”

In reply to Poe and dedicated to the energetic, creative and hard-working 81st Group of U.S. Peace Corps trainees serving in Jamaica, I would reply with the following  poem entitled “Golden Sand.”

GOLDEN SAND
 Peace Corps certificates presented,
Cheers, good byes, an outstretched hand–
And you are gone,

With pockets full of golden sand.

Down rutted roads to nearby towns and hamlets,

‘Cross lush green valleys and hyacinth-laden streams,

Perhaps reef waters or rural lands will call you,

As you journey through Jamaica

With your dreams.

Expend your working days among the weary,

Give strength and hope to those at every door,

Until one day with pockets almost empty,

You arrive, fulfilled,

Beside a tideless shore.

Then turn and glimpse the pathway

You have followed,

And much to your amazement

You will see–

A trail of golden sand

Amid the laughter and the fears,

A reminder of your life-long legacy.

 

The time of our individual Peace Corps journeys in Jamaica is about to begin, and there are many people we want to thank today–our Jamaican teachers and instructors, our host families and new host agencies, all current Peace Corps volunteers, and every member of the Peace Corp-Jamaica staff.  Two years from now, in 2012, on the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Peace Corps in Jamaica, may our heartfelt thanks be borne out in our actions and work with the school children, families, and people of Jamaica. Looking back then, I believe we will all discover that there are many intersecting trails of golden sand… found all across the island of Jamaica.

These Peace Corps induction remarks were presented on May 21, 2010.

p.s.  For some odd reason, the poem, “Golden Sand” keeps double-spacing between each line…so please know that the poem is actually written in four, blank verse stanzas…or at least that is the way I would have preferred it to be.  

Until the next time, all the best to family and friends from Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Forest

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On the Road to Mandeville

Jamaican Jungle

Beautiful Jamaican Valley Vegetation

It is 6:45 a.m. in the Montego Bay Bus Park near the centre of the city.  Clear skies, a slight breeze, sea birds gliding overhead–another adventurous day in Jamaica is about to begin.  It will be my first trip from Montego Bay on the north coast of the island to the cooler, central highlands where Mandeville is set among undulating mountains overlooking valleys of tropical greenery. 

I am one of the final passengers guided or rather pulled to the minivan/bus which is to travel, “non stop,” to Mandeville in less than three hours.  Those of you who have never travelled on a public minivan/bus in Jamaica are in for a real treat.  On most such small buses, two passengers sit next to the left of the driver in the front seat.  (Remember that in Jamaica, vehicles usually travel on the left side of the road and the driver’s steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle.) The row behind the driver, next to the sliding van door where passengers enter the bus, usually holds three or four people.   Every other row holds four people or as many passengers as possible.  The tiny aisle allowing passengers to move to the back bus rows is usually converted to an extra seat by placing a small “seat board” across the existing row seats.  Of course, that “extra seat,” which does not have a back rest, is where I was located on our early morning journey to Mandeville.

I had been told that this “non-stop” trip was one of the most circuitous, winding mountain journeys I would ever take through the middle of Jamaica.  So there was a sense of forboding as the sliding side door was closed.  Just before we left the bus park,  the side door of our bus re-opened and a very large lady entered the minivan.  She was seated to my left in the second row…and what had already been a cramped seating arrangement became one in which juice would have burst from an orange.  We were all asked to “small up” to enable the final passenger to squeeze into our row.   As fate would have it, seated to my right was another, sizeable lady who would have easily passed the size test of a sumo wrestler.  She wore a flowered dress, a baseball cap and carried a large black purse on her lap.   Once sealed inside the van, all was silent…until the driver turned on the radio which continued to play a series of rap tunes for the rest of the journey through the lush, mountains of St. James and St. Elizabeth Parishes.

We journeyed from Montego Bay along the Caribbean coast, past Bogue Heights and other suburbs, and made an abrupt turn south at Reading, heading into the mountainous interior of Jamaica.  As we wound our way upward through dense groves of bamboo and other tropical foliage, the road beyond Anchovy became narrower and filled with semi-paved pot holes.  As we approached each new hamlet or small village, I looked for location signs, but my view was usually obstructed by the two matronly passengers on either side of me.  One blind curve led to another, and our driver would lay on the vehicle’s horn for at least ten seconds to warn pedestrians, goats and children of our approach.  Soon I felt my back starting to tighten up with no seat rest to support it.  Also I began to take much shorter breaths since my rib cage was tightly compressed  by my seatmates.  After about an hour, (I could not see my watch since my arms were pinned to my sides), the lady to my right struggled to open her black purse and proceeded  to pull out a small bottle of what appeared to be some calming elixir.  I began to wonder if Jamaicans ever experienced motion sickness, but she sniffed at the liquid in the bottle and all seemed calm once again.  Not too many minutes later, the lady to my left, who had not been able to sit back in her seat due to the cramped space, proceeded to place her head down on my lap.  She fell sound asleep.

I tried to look out the side window and occasionally, now that my seatmate was asleep on my lap, I did catch glimpses of beautiful green valleys covered in vines and filled with palm, banana and bamboo groves.  I also saw brown, black and white-marked goats almost hidden in the tall grasses by the side of the road. Upward we climbed, but I could not read the names of hamlets or clusters of wood & concrete block homes, at times painted in bright colors but often left unpainted and windowless. Looking upward, I could see a solitary home perched high on a mountain side.  I wondered how Jamaicans were able to get building materials and necessities to such isolated places…and did any roads reach up to such homes?  Certainly only a dirt path connected such abodes to communities in the valleys below.

A twinge of my back muscles brought me back to reality.  It must have been around the 90 minute mark when the lady to my right struggled to reach into her purse once again.  This time, she took out two Jamaican bills and clutched them in her left hand.  My heart began to beat faster with hope and anticipation.  Maybe this non-stop bus really did stop, and she was going to leave the bus.  Sure enough, it was not long before she shouted,  “Driver…stop at di next road.”  And he did…and the sliding side door opened and we all got off the bus while the woman paid the driver, picked up her packages and headed down a mountain pathway.

It was a true miracle.  For the remainder of our journey, I had a back on my seat.  The woman to my left had obviously awakened and was no longer sleeping on my lap.  Air rushed in through the open windows and I felt a great burst of energy and elation as I could breathe and move about once again.  Once we passed through Santa Cruz with its white-walled and stone churches, bustling Friday market filled with vendors selling fresh vegetables, yams, bananas, coconuts, peanuts, eggs, poultry along with clothes, dvds, bottled water and juice boxes, and streets filled with taxis and other vans, I knew my journey to Mandeville was nearing an end.

Past Goshen and the Santa Cruz mountain range, we entered Manchester Parish on Highway A2.  Looming ever closer were the heavily forested Don Figuerero Mountains.  As we ascended the switchback mountain highway, the air became much cooler.  We were no longer in a steamy, coastal clime, but in the cool highlands of Manchester.  It was no wonder that coastal planters and residents of Kingston helped to form Mandeville as a summer retreat from coastal heat.  Later, British and other retirees began to settle into Mandeville and a thriving, permanent community and center of dairy farming, citrus and pimento production flourished.   I actually tried to picture in my mind what it must have been like for the early 19th Century settlers to travel into the Don Figuerero Mountains on foot and in horse-drawn buggies and carts in order to create the settlement which has now expanded into Jamaica’s fifth largest city.

As our bus reached Mandeville, we passed large homes and gardened hillsides before entering the city limits.  And then, in less than three expected hours of travel, our little minivan pulled  into the bus park in the city centre.  We had arrived safely, with no audible complaints from Jamaican travelers & one Peace Corps volunteer about to head to meetings with PCVs (U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers).  Little by little, during the ten weeks of my training and my two months of work at the Montego Bay Marine Park, I am beginning to feel like a real resident of Jamaica.  I, too, am learning to be more patient, more appreciative of the beauty and vibrant colors of this island nation.   I know I have much more to learn, but each day in Jamaica is a feast of tropical colors, a place where jerk chicken, rice and beans/peas, callaloo, bananas, mangoes, and fresh coffe will  tempt your palate, and a land of resourceful people who struggle each day to live, love and laugh with their families, neighbors, and visitors to this Caribbean isle.  The road to Mandeville was one day in my journey.  

All the Best,

Forest

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