April 16 - On the Road to Innswood

Innswood high school is located outside of Spanish Town on Old Harbour Road. We've been there three times now and plan to go regularly on Monday afternoons for quite a few more weeks. Being there is uplifting. The school is in a large open space, just far enough outside of Spanish Town to look and feel like the country. The breeze makes the air feel cooler and fresher and the road is lined with mango trees that are just coming into season. The school itself is (approximately) an octagonal ring of classrooms and offices where all hallways are just covered paths around the outside. The whole place has a nice energy to it. More than at any other place, our work there has garnered strong interest from both teachers and students. The large, air conditioned lab is full of boys making music on Monday afternoons while we are there and so far it promises to be the first school that will really devote itself to building a school website.

It is a good thing that our 2 and a half or 3 hours there each week is so pleasant and productive because the travel to and from the school adds another 3 hours onto the time spent. To get there we take a bus from our apartment down to Half Way Tree, which takes about 10 minutes. From there we walk a few blocks from the Half Way Tree bus stop on Hope road to the Half Way Tree bus stop on Molynes road. The bus stop on Molynes road is too small to hold all the people who are waiting for busses, the pedestrians walking by, and the people selling JA$10 bag juice and peanuts. (I need to take a minute out to explain bag juice, I think. In a way, it is obvious. It is a clear, rectangular, plastic bag sealed on all sides and filled with orange juice or fruit punch. Sellers freeze it overnight and then sell them in various states of frozenness all day long. A good one will still be mostly frozen when you buy it, but not so frozen that you can't suck the juice out. To drink it you tear one corner off the bag with your teeth and suck on it to get the juice out. For something so cheap and gross sounding, it is remarkably refreshing when you are waiting in the hot sun for a bus.) At the Molynes road stop we have two options. We can either take one of the big city busses or we can get in an unlicensed mini-bus. The city busses are both cheaper and more comfortable but the mini-busses are usually faster and come more frequently. Also, in a mini-bus you always get a seat (or really about half of a seat because they squeeze in so many people) while in the city busses you often end up having to stand. The ride out to Spanish Town takes about 45 minutes and goes along a very fast moving, straight stretch of highway. The mini-busses go quite a bit faster than I like and do a lot of weaving in and out of traffic. It isn't unusual to hear about mini-bus crashes on that stretch of road. As a result, I prefer the city busses even though it often means a long trip standing up. Once we get to Spanish Town, we have to catch a route taxi that goes on the Spanish Town-Old Harbour route. We walk through a huge parking lot filled with lines and lines of route taxis and mini-busses for different routes. The Old Harbour route taxis are at the back corner. Once a route taxi has us and two other passengers it heads out. about 10 minutes later we arrive at Innswood High School. The whole trip takes an hour and half one way and costs us JA$160 (~US$3) for the whole thing.

Although the trip can be harrowing, so far it hasn't failed to also be colorful and interesting. Two weeks ago while riding out to Spanish Town on the 21 bus we had seats. At one stop about 15 little children got onto the bus to come home from school. They ranged from somewhere around 6 up to around 12. They are without supervision, travelling essentially on their own on this huge bus on a huge highway. From age 6. (One little girl I was on a bus with the other day was too small to reach the stop request buttons on the bus, so she had to yell bus stop as loud as she could when she wanted to get out. It was clearly routine for her.) Anyway, as the kids piled in, about 4 of them ended up crowded right up against me and Wayne. One little girl checked me out for a while and then said hi. After we'd found each other to be friendly, she asked if I could hold her bag on my lap. She had a tiny voice, but she was much less timid than her schoolmates who stood close by and looked very carefully at me and Wayne. After a minute or two she got even braver and wanted to show me her books in her bag and demonstrate her ability to count using a counting book. She had about 4 tattered, drawn on, books in her bag. We looked through two of them. One classmate asked her how she got so many books. She knew she wanted a bag juice when she got off the bus, but she couldn't find the coin she thought she had. So different from most of our encounters here, she never asked or even seemed to think about asking us if we had $10 we could give her. We asked her about what music she liked. She was a fan of Lil' Bow Wow in particular. Next she wanted to know if Wayne was on TV. We gave her a $10 coin for her bag juice when she got off. She couldn't have been more than 6.

This week we had less charming bus companions. When you get on a bus here there is a person at the back who takes your bus fare and gives you a ticket for the ride. Generally there is enough of a crush to get on that people move quickly through the process. When we got on people were moving through as usual except that there was one woman standing on the other side of the turnstile with her hand out as if she was still waiting for her change from paying her bus fare. I noticed that the ticket man was not giving her any change or paying her any mind. We moved through and found a place to stand. As the bus started moving the woman started berating the ticket man. When she began she was still standing right there, talking in a regular tone of voice, clearly arguing with him about something specific. After a while her companion got her to move toward the front of the bus. But as she moved to the front she got louder and louder and more and more vulgar in her insults to the ticket man, clearly performing for the relatively large bus crowd. On the mild side she was calling him "big head man". But on the more vulgar side, she was calling him "pussy claat", which I won't elaborate on further. Ironically, she kept repeating how he had "no manners". People on the bus were laughing a bit and jeering a bit. A few stops later her friend took her off the bus and bus broke out in laughter as she kept yelling after she got off. One woman said loudly, "This nation so dunce."

Minutes later a man got on the bus, having missed the whole episode and began reciting verses from the Bible relatively loudly. This is common here, as it is in the U.S., and the reaction of the other bus riders is much the same. They pretend that the person is not there. We were still about 20 minutes from Spanish Town when he got on the bus and his sermon was continuous and rising in volume as we went, though he appeared to be losing his voice a bit. The bus clientele seemed more sullen that they were when listening to the woman yelling colorful profanities at the ticket man. This was much less entertaining but equally intrusive. But unlike with the woman yelling profanities as the ticket man, they remained quiet, unwilling to say anything to silence this man. This is a very Christian country, and I think no one wanted to be the one to say that there is a time and place for sermons and talk of god and this is not it. But they were almost all thinking it. As we approached Spanish Town the sermonizer reached a sort of climax and said, "Can I get an Amen?" One woman quietly said "Amen". We were grateful to get off the bus.

On the bus back to Kingston in the evening we decided to buy a peanut cake and a grater cake from the woman who got on the bus to sell snack foods before it left. Peanut cakes seem to be sort of a cross between a peanut brittle and a praline. Maybe more like a praline made with peanuts than anything else. They are very sweet and buttery. I couldn't eat more than a bite or two of it. Grater cakes are coconut squares, made from grated coconut and an extraordinary amount of sugar. They are dyed bright pink on top. I was imagining something like the inside of a mounds bar but somewhat firmer. Based on how other people on the bus were eating them, this didn't seem unreasonable. So when we got it, I took a reasonable sized bite. It was so sugary it gave me a sort of head rush. In my memory, Cadbury cream eggs are the only American candy that I've ever had that was as sweet. Wayne didn't seem to mind it though.