Peter Cooper - General Care Projects in Jamaica
“Finish them, finish them all!” The tour guide declared, and the towering ‘taster’ rum bottles smiled smugly at our party, with a 62% glint in their eye. Through the shocked silence you could almost hear my screaming liver begging my kidney for $50 to get it on the next route taxi home. It was a long shot, but just maybe, the grinning faces we passed in the lobby weren’t from the fascination of watching rum being made.
Jamaica’s culture is flowing with passions, and making the smoothest rum in the Caribbean isn’t even the point of the penguin’s beak on the tip of the iceberg. Round every jerk shop corner there’s a take on life more quirky, more fascinating, and more longer-haired than the next. From vegetables that look like they were scrambled egg in a previous life, to taxi ranks that could coerce your inanimate right shoe to take a taxi ride to Santa Cruz for a quick re-sole, to reggae dance moves that make the original designers of the Macarena wonder why they ever bothered to get out of bed.
The scenery is ripe with lush rolling hills, nestled with hovels in the yam trees, rivers you can clamber up rapids in (or raft, depending on your ideal flavour) and beaches that make the Canary Isles look like a dumping ground for old video players. What bustles Jamaica out from the other jewels of the Caribbean is not the cool breeze that compliments the grazing sun, nor the way your presence and work is respected and appreciated, but the unadulterated blend of happening, without a sprawling tourism oozing out of every orifice, munching up the atmosphere.
With a civil pride that could fill a waterfall and put the rest of the free world to shame, you can immerse yourself seamlessly with Jamaican life, and having heard stories from all corners of the island, Mandeville is unquestionably the friendliest pad to par. Round every pub door, every school classroom, and every 20 year old Toyota corolla’s cab’s backseat, there’s another story to tell. Another experience to feel. And tell your wallet - with the cost of many items on the south coast deceptively low, you may come back some nights thinking you were printing money in your host family’s bathroom.
They say the past is like a broken mirror. As you piece it together you change the way you see yourself and the life around you. They also say people who spend 40 hours a week working round toilet blocks are strange. But I couldn’t care less. I now know that really anything is possible, even if you’re covered in pacific ‘peter, whatever happens, do not get that on your skin’ blue paint while you do it.
Taking 22 seconds to chuck a quick email Bridgette’s way was ironically the smartest and most influencing thing I’ve done in the last 18 years, and the experience has been so ineffable, putting hit tune ‘Ire’ on repeat for the next 3 weeks doesn’t really say it. I’ve crafted some of the best friendships of my life here with people so incredible I occasionally had to prod their stomach to check they weren’t mythical. I can’t recommend Jamaica enough. Scrap the plans for a self-mowing lawn and get out here and volunteer.
If you'd have told me this January I'd be hanging upside down from the roof of a school with a hammer drill in one hand, a tin of suspicious glue dripping in the other, trying to tell hysterical kids I'll give them a piggy back ride once I'd finished THIS pipe, I'd have probably prodded you in the stomach too.
In a market full of Jimmy-screechers (“devious young squires” we were told was the best patois translation), I can safely put my hand on my what-would-have-been-dreadlocks-if-I-understood-hairdresser-patois-better, and say Projects Abroad have their heart where it counts, and we’ve made a difference here that will outlive countless lifetimes, and ultimately changed lives in ways I could never have dreamed possible.
If you’re not half way through signing up now, you’re eating a microwaved plane meal halfway across the Atlantic.