As a category 4- temporarily category 5- hurricane spirals towards Jamaica, forcing my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and I to consolidate in Kingston while leaving our host families behind, that clichéd expression slips into my brain, “I never thought this would happen to us.”
But it is happening. Walking down my goat path, rain splattering the bottom half of my cotton maxi dress and further ruining my leather sandals, I turn to look at my house. Thinking of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt, I don’t linger, but turn my head as my brow furrows in anxiety, and tears well up on my rain soaked face. I’ve been away from my family for two weeks, returned for twelve hours to give out hugs and gifts from faarin*, and tell them to prepare, to get water and food, and stay safe and be safe and so many other things I can’t think of in that moment I hug them. “This can’t be the last time we see each other,” is my last thought as we embrace.
Waiting for a taxi while pre-hurricane storms stream down outside the shop, I realize I’ve missed the taxi I’d planned to take. Thirty minutes later, Sam** pulls up in his pickup truck, asking, “You wanna go down?” I pull open the door and jump in, remembering his face, but not his name. I want to ask why he didn’t offer a space in the back of his truck (it’s a 4-seater) to the other man waiting to go into town, but realize it’s entirely not my place.
We drive down the mountain as rain continues to pound the truck and the tires thud into the road’s many potholes, my butt becoming airborne every time. Our conversation turns to infrastructure and how I could go about attempting to fix these country roads. Sam speaks with passionately acerbic energy about Jamaica’s government and people, and how things will never change despite a passive desire for improvement. I think, “But he hasn’t met my host family”.
A man with an umbrella tilted up slightly by the wind’s strengthening blows calls out to Sam, “Carry me, brudda” ***, asking for a lift downtown. Sam replies that he has to get into town, that he has no space for this soaked Jamaican. I realize this is the second time I’ve seen Sam refuse passage to a needy soul.
As Sam continues to rage on about the government and its failing economic policies, I notice a rainbow winking at me as it rises up from the valley below. I smile automatically, thinking of a rainbow’s biblical origins in stormy times, and its more secular meaning nowadays, of pots of gold and hope.
I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I’m told by the media that means I should be some bleeding heart liberal, well-meaning and hard-working, but with misplaced idealism in a world that continues to batter and roar against myriad injustices. But I don’t see that; I don’t see some chimerical rainbow leading to a disappearing pot of gold, but a blaze of lights driving me to do good (and do it well 😉 .
I see my fellow Volunteers who inspire me every day, as they teach children how to play American football, cut down their first plantain, and say “Mornin’” to literally everyone pon di road.**** I see Hurricane Matthew barreling towards my new home, and though some, like Sam, may doubt Jamaica’s compassion, I don’t see that.
So in the face of a literal or figurative storm, when you ask me to carry you, I will not turn away. I will carry you when the winds blow so hard you feel your feet slipping away, because someone has always been there to catch me when I start to fall.
*from foreign, abroad
**not his real name
****on the road