Archive for the ‘Stage 6: Battling the Beasts’ Category

In America it’s called ‘passing’ but in Jamaica it’s called ‘overtaking’. Jamaicans overtake by beeping lightly and then passing the vehicle in front of them, either on the right or the left; it doesn’t seem to matter. On roads that are 2 lanes wide going each direction it can be tricky because of the many cars that are merging into traffic and the speed at which most Jamaicans drive. Overtaking is a way of life with Jamaicans but it gets tricky on roads that are at best 1-½ lanes wide or a very narrow 2 lanes (that’s going in BOTH directions).

I’ve ridden with all three of the special education lecturers at Sam Sharpe when we have visited student teachers all over the northwest portion of the island. Denise is known for getting us anywhere in record time and Sharon and Keitha are both a bit more cautious. Today I rode with Keitha.

I’ve wanted to visit the special education schools in Savanna La Mar since I arrived on the island so when I found out that my meeting for today was cancelled I quickly called Keitha and asked if I could catch a ride with her to Sav and see the student teacher’s final projects and portfolios. I was fortunate that she had not yet left Sam Sharpe so I high-tailed it to the college and met her there. I even found time to buy a beef and cheese pattie at the Tuck Shop at Sam Sharpe, the cheapest Juici Patties on the island, to eat on our one-hour drive to Sav.

Getting on the road after 11:00 meant that we were sharing the road with large trucks, tour buses, taxis and cars of every shape and size. Cars and taxis were doing their best to overtake the large trucks that were slowing down traffic and making everyone’s drive longer than they intended. For much of the way to Sav the road was a narrow one lane each way but there were several places that it was no wider than 1-½ lanes wide. Since much of our drive was through the mountains there were steep drop-offs and very few shoulders, as we know them in America.

After watching car after car overtake a large truck, Keitha decided it was her turn and there appeared to be no cars coming from the opposite direction. So she made her move and just as she was neck and neck with the truck we saw a large SUV coming straight for us. The truck would not slow down to let us in and the car coming toward us did not slow down to let us in either so Keitha laid on her horn and minutes before we had a head-on collision going 80 km the car coming toward us swerved into the grass at the side of the road and we were able to safely overtake the truck.

On the way back to Montego Bay we saw that the grassy area where the car pulled over was just about the only place to safely pull over on the entire way home. Keitha and I talked about our near death experience and we both had the same feeling- complete calm. For a split second it looked like today was the day that I was going to be reunited with Adam, Katy and Bethany but God must not be finished with me yet. I am here to thank him for another day of life and pray that I will live today and each one that follows in a way that is pleasing to Him.


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There are days recently when I feel I have hit the wall, something fairly common around week five of international service-learning projects. The beast of exhaustion from the physical, intellectual, and emotional effort of relating to the Jamaica culture has taken its toll. My earlier exhilaration has given way to feelings of loneliness, fear and feelings of inadequacy. But naming this beast is the first step toward slaying it.

There are days that I am frustrated I have not made further progress with my Sam Sharpe students in accomplishing my goals of establishing service-learning projects and the reality is that I have in fact only met with the year 2 students as of yet. I have not even had a chance to interact with the student teachers, teach them service-learning pedagogy, and assist them in beginning service-learning projects. I am scheduled to meet with the year 1 student tomorrow but we’ll see if anyone shows up since no one came last week. I’m also waiting to get approval on the letter that I want to send to potential supporters including the local Rotary Club, Lions Club and Kiwanis. “Soon come!”

I also miss many things about home, especially my family, my dog, Bella, and the food. I love the heat but am constantly thinking of ways to stay cool. But I am confident that this black period will not last long as I am both a survivor and a goal-setter and will see this through. Since I knew that there would be ‘beasts to conquer’ I was not taken by surprise. I had a support system in place, and I trust completely that God is not unaware of my feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. Perhaps this is where He wants me to be!

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Death is a force of nature. Just like lightening. The righteous face it everyday and pass it by. But, those with evil in their hearts fear it. Dat is why there is no need to slay di wicked. Just leave them to face death and they will perish.

Countryman: Hear, Jay, wa’tch yu teachin di yuut dem today?

Not my teaching. Jay, but of the higher force.

I’m learning that patois is not only the language of the Jamaican but is also the language of the Rastafarian religion. The Rastas claim that their religion is based on the Bible but distorts verses from both the Old and the New Testaments and believe that H.I.M. Empero Haile Selassie-I, born on July 23, 1892 was the promised Messiah from the House of Judah. To the Rastas, this King from Ethopia was the one promised from the House of David, who would re-gather them from their lands of captivity and bring them again to their own land, Ethopia- Zion.

Not all Jamaicans are Rastas but most have at least minor associations, either in passing or in person, with Rastas. The general Jamaican population, particularly the youth, have integrated a great deal of Rasta lingo into their normal speech and conversations. Since the Rasta culture is the biggest cultural force in Jamaica, the majority of the people have soaked in the common lingo and expressions of the Rasta (patois for example).

In fact, it is said that the Rastas have contributed more to the Jamaican culture than any other group…think Bob Marley.


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One of the most common expressions you will hear spoken around Jamaica is ‘soon come” which interpreted means, “it will happen when it happens.’ Time is relative in Jamaica and things or events usually begin when the people that are supposed to be there have arrived. The only place that I’ve found this NOT to be true is at The Meeting Place. Church starts at 9:00 and at 9:00 the doors are closed until about 9:15 when latecomers can enter and join in the worship time.

I became accustomed to this relationship to time while taking students to CCCD each year and part of my orientation to them would include talking about this substantial difference between the US and Jamaica. Each year I could tell that this was difficult for some of the students but most of them were able to go with the flow. I even learned to adapt to what I felt was ‘mushy time’ and even began to relax my own schedule.

But at Sam Sharpe I am involved in several 8:00 classes and find it difficult to begin knowing that over half of the students are not there. The lecturer that I am co-teaching one of the larger classes with has consistently told the students that they must be on time because there is so much material to cover but so far there has been little change in when students arrive to class. Even after chapel this morning, during his announcements, the principal stressed to the students that they must be in their classes when they are scheduled to begin.

Our practice at Trinity of allowing our students to leave their class if the professor is more than ten minutes late would never work as professors or lecturers as they are called at Sam Sharpe, are as often as not, late as well. So a question for my Physics colleagues: what really is time? And how can we best use it for God’s glory, even when it is, as I call it ‘mushy time?’

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My main responsibilities at Sam Sharpe this semester include introducing the pedagogy of service-learning to the year 1,2 and 3 special education majors which include students majoring in high incidence disabilities, low incidence disabilities and deaf and hard of hearing. In am also working with the three special education lecturers to revise their curriculum and change their program from a 3-year diploma granting institution to a 4-year degree granting institution. Additionally I am co-teaching an Introduction to Exceptionalities course and guest lecturing in both high incidence and low incidence classes. Finally, I am helping the college partner with local civic organizations such as Rotary and Lions Club to gather support for service-learning at the college so that any programs started are sustainable.

Last week I taught several lessons and spent a lot of time preparing power point presentations and handouts. I was supposed to be in classes equipped with equipment to show my power points but in all three classes I found myself equipped with a chalkboard and no chalk- that’s it! Well, one student quickly found me a piece of chalk (and laughingly told me to keep it in my office) and I taught using a chalkboard and a piece of white chalk, realizing how dependent I have become on technology.

This lesson tied in so well with the book I just finished reading, “Focus: Evaluating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning” by Mike Schmoker where I read that the key essential ingredients to any great lesson are having it based on a coherent curriculum with topics and standards carefully selected, structuring lessons with an opening anticipatory set (a great question) that piques the students’ interest in the topic for the day, using literacy throughout your lesson, both reading and writing, continually assessing for understanding, and allowing for rich discussion. There was no talk of great power points, projects or technology and in fact, more than once stated that these could be distractions to authentic learning.

Well it was back to the chalkboard as they say, for me, and I am learning NOT to rely on technology. Rich discussions about key topics and incorporating both reading and writing into every class is something I’m going to be experimenting with while teaching at Sam Sharpe.

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Lest you think everything is perfect in Montego Bay, let me assure you that over the weekend I have had my fair share of beasts to reckon with. The weather may be perfect but there are constant reminders that I am living in a developing nation.

For the first time on Saturday night the ‘hip strip’, the section of Montego Bay where I live, lost power. And when I say lost power, I mean, the street was dark. Luckily for me that night I was making my way up the rounded staircase to my condo when the lights went out and was pleasantly surprised to find that both the Montego Bay Club (where my elevator is located) and Court Manor (where I live) still had power…but when I looked out my window all I saw was darkness and all I heard were whoops from people and police sirens.

Well last night I was sitting in the condo having just finished eating dinner and talking to Rick via Skype when once again the power went out, only this time Court Manor was also in darkness. Luckily I was working on the computer so I had that bit of light to see with since there are, to my knowledge, no candles or flashlights to be had. I thought it would just be a few minutes until power was restored but I found myself in darkness, without fans, for well over two hours. It was amazing how hot it got so quickly without moving air and I felt trapped. I couldn’t really go to bed because if the power did return, everything downstairs including lights, television and fans would again go on and I would waste precious energy throughout the night that costs an arm and a leg here in Jamaica. So I waited it out and finally around midnight power was restored and I could go to bed.

Also last night I had a craving for chicken fried rice, my favorite Chinese food. Well I had scoped out the hip strip and knew that there were three Chinese restaurants. I started walking to the first one and once I got there, discovered it to be closed. That meant that I had to walk the other direction, past my staircase to my condo and another good mile to the other Chinese restaurants, hoping one of them would be open. I made the trek and was more than pleased when the first one was open and had outstanding fried rice. But then I had to walk home.

On the way to the restaurant a Jamaican cab driver asked me if I wanted a ride. I politely said ‘no’ and kept on walking when I noticed that he had pulled his car into a slot just in front of where I was walking. That made me more than a little nervous, but I had my mace and I did a quick detour into a little shopping area, which was behind a fence and then soon noticed that he drove away. This is the first time that I have been at all nervous being alone in Montego Bay but I certainly felt alone. But I guess I’m really not alone because I feel God’s continual presence and reassurance that this is where He wants me, at least for now.

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