Sunday, October 28, 2012

Our First Week in Kingson, Jamaica

We had to fly from DR to Miami where we laid over for an hour or so and then to Jamaica.  There is not really any air service between the islands of the Caribbean. People moved our bags for us and just as we came out on to the street Kevin Brown pulled up to pick us up. 

Kevin Brown is a wonderful young man we had heard much of when we were in DR.  He is the Institute director and a native Jamaican.  He is very bright and outgoing.  He has been carrying the PEF by himself since it started here.  He took us to what we later learned was one of the branch buildings where we met the Larsens, a great couple from Parowan UT.  They began immediately orienting us to the city.  We went to the mission office where we met Elder and Sister Evans, the new office couple who we have been communicating with, and several missionaries. 

Our apartment was not supposed to be ready until Monday when the electricity would be turned on but when we went to drop off our things we learned it was ready so that was a great thing otherwise we would have been staying at the mission home.  Our first impression was very favorable.  It has two big bedrooms and the kitchen living room and dining room are all the same room. 

Our living room/dining room/kitchen--yes that is the dining table and the dining chair

We spent a couple days getting things done to set up our apartment and get oriented to the city.  So the last thing we had to get was our car, which was being serviced and being made ready for us.  We got it on Friday afternoon.  It is a four door pickup!  I’m sure my sisters will be jealous!  But of course the kicker is that we drive on the wrong side of the street here! 

Saturday we got up ready to try our wings and go shopping but we had to wait for our landlord to come fix a closet door so we didn’t get out until about 2:00.  This does not seem like a big deal to write about but the fact that we are driving on a different side of the street makes it a big deal in this traffic.  We were told in DR that the driving in Jamaica was crazy but except for being on a different side of the street I think it is considerably easier to drive here than it would have been in DR where they are so fast and crazy and aggressive.  They are not terribly fast here and there is much more polite crowding and very little honking.  The taxies stop where they die (often) in the middle of the street and they will pull out into the oncoming lane to crowd back in front of their line but no one seems to mind.  I have seen nothing like road rage and not even terribly aggressive driving.  My biggest fear is hitting a pedestrian or a street vendor—they walk between the cars at a stop light selling fruit and trinkets or washing windows. 

The last two nights we have come home after dark and I must say much as I hate driving in the dark the hardest thing about driving this truck is parking it in our very tiny parking space here at our apartment.  There is no room to maneuver in the driveway and the parking spaces leave literally 6-10” between cars.

Saturday night we went to a baptism of a man, Bro Banhan, whose wife joined the Church 28 years ago and daughters joined as children, but who has just been holding out all these years while being completely active with his family.  There are many interesting details that came out during the evening which actually lasted 2 ½ hours.  Sister Banhan was taught and baptized by a coworker who was the Branch Pres I think; his name is Nugent.  He and his wife flew in from SLC, where they have since moved, to be to the baptism.  Their grandson is one of the missionaries we first met when we arrived at the mission office.  His family now lives in Mapleton UT.  He performed the baptism of Bro Banhan.  Many interesting coincidences.

It was an amazing meeting.  Several people spoke and bore testimony.  I was more than impressed with the poise, polish, confidence, spiritual depth, and expressed faith of everyone who spoke.  There was not a spiritually immature talk given—even by his 16 year old daughter who was a bit socially immature.  It was an amazing experience and the spirit there was wonderful.  I guess I expected a “developing” country to have “developing Saints”—I was wrong!  We stayed and visited for a while after and you would be hard pressed to find a friendlier group.  Nearly everyone came up and shook our hands and many including Bro Banhan gave us hugs.

 This is Bro Banhan and Elders Coger and Nugent (Rt)

21 October 2012 Sunday

Today was another wonderful day.  I am beginning to think this is really a great vacation.  We went to Church in the Larsen’s branch as she was playing for the Primary Program.  When the counselor in the Branch Presidency saw us come in he came off the stand and asked us if we would introduce ourselves.  So before the program we did—I reminded Bob that the program needed all the time so don’t talk too long then I went first and talked too long.  We both got a couple of laughs but I didn't think anything of it until in the afternoon and one of the women said we were “so funny”. 

The Primary consisted of 16 well behaved children—about a quarter of the way through another 4 showed up and took their places (Jamaica time).  Every talk and scripture was read very clearly and closed in the name of Jesus Christ.  The children were well behaved but a little disorganized.  They seemed to bunch up around the mic and then move to some place different.  But they were cute and the program was well done. 

Then we stayed after church for the keyboard recital of all Sister Larsen’s students.  She goes to people’s homes mostly and gives keyboard lessons.  Elder Whitehead talked to his stake president and they financed 50 keyboards and simplified hymnals, etc.  So Sister Larsen teaches the kids—as well as some teenagers and adult women and when they are able and willing to play in church she gives them the keyboard and book to keep.  She is trying to get people ready to do music when she is not here.  She is not a very good piano player herself by her own admission, but she is able to teach things that the people will be able to use.  For example, instead of the regular left hand she teaches them chords with the left hand and how to move from one to the other so they can play with both hands but not really worry about the left hand notes—only chords.  You cannot really tell the difference—at least with the simplified music. And they are actually producing music.  I would love to learn it myself. 


Sister Benjamin
Sister Clark--RS Pres


Sister Medley

Sister Larsen and some of her students

Sister Larsen goes into one home to give lessons that is so small Elder Larsen cannot even fit in to wait for her.  They have described families where every combination of possible relationship counts for family.  And they fit several families into one apartment.  The 6 Brown sisters apparently fit into a one bedroom apartment.  I talked to the wife of the counselor in the Boulevard Branch presidency and she told me her sister died last Saturday and she now has her niece and nephew moving in with them and they will be adopted.   They already have two children living with them from his former marriage and sometimes a third.  If that is not enough they share the apartment with another couple!  I guess it makes sense to pile as many family members in as you can as there are thousands of homeless people everywhere.  Down by the Larsen’s there is a traffic island in the street that is literally no more than 24” wide where a man sleeps all the time.  There is a space of a little grass along the island too but he prefers the concrete right out on the end of the island.  The Larsens saw a bus go by and the bumper actually went right above the man’s head and it didn't even phase him.  I suspect he has chosen that spot so that other people will not bother him or try to run him off—they can’t get to him without getting hit!  Another man carries all his belongings in a 5 gal bucket.  He wanders the streets during the day but at evening time he has his spot in front of the church.  He strings a tarp from the fence to a stake near a power pole and hangs all his belongings on the chain link fence for the evening and curls up in a little indentation on the ground and that is home for the night.  Sister Larsen has talked to him—she talks to everyone!—and he stores his belongings on top of a little bus stop roof during the day.  He showers and washes his clothes at some shelter or something because he is always clean. 

We have been told there are no jobs here in Jamaica—I don’t know how we are going to help young people become self-reliant with training and work if there are no jobs.  Bob is going to check if there is some government agency who knows about jobs as soon as we get going.  I have talked to a couple of locals who say there used to be industry here and farming and growing of animals but there is none of that now and everything comes from China.  One guy said everything we have is imported ‘even our clothes!’  He seemed very frustrated.

I mentioned how in DR everyone gave us the impression things are a lot worse here than there.  I definitely do not agree from what we have seen.  Both are deep in poverty and unemployment, but Jamaica has created jobs for people to sweep the streets—we have seen very little litter here except when we went down town where there are booths selling fruit and goods along the streets—everywhere else is clean.  (The streets however are very broken up and full of pot holes.)  The major Walmart type store is full of people to help, to bag, to check carts going out, to take carts out to cars, etc.  Bob says that is actually bad for the economy though because it causes the store to have to charge higher prices.  But at least people are doing a job.  I also mentioned the many street vendors selling fruit and goods between the cars in the traffic.  We have been getting our bananas there and they are wonderful.  I do not think we saw street vendors in DR.—that is at least a job of some kind.  (There are also some beggars who weave through the traffic asking for money—but not many.) 

When I come back to our nice apartment with bags full of things “we need” I feel kind of guilty.  Even here at our apartment and at most apartments and houses are gated and gate keepers or guards. 

Tuesday 23 October 2012

It is raining today and there is talk of a tropical storm or even a hurricane.  As we have been running errands today I have been thinking of all the people who have nowhere to go to get out of the rain.  They will just find a place under something so the rain doesn't get them but they will still end up soaked to the skin all night.  It is not really cold but it may get colder in the morning hours as the winds pick up and their clothes are soaked.  Everyone walks around with umbrellas but there are so many potholes and puddles they get soaked form the passing cars. 

We dove with the Larsens to Spanish Town to pick up some humanitarian supplies—tarps and hygiene kits—we saw people taking down billboards and one place where they were putting wood over the windows.  People are getting ready for the worst.  As we drove by they pointed out Zinc City which is an area of several blocks made of corrugated zinc.  It is also used for the fences around their compounds and their walls and roofs.  There are large rocks on top of the roof to keep it from blowing off.  Sister Larsen goes there to teach Sister Clark the RS president keyboard lessons.  It is amazing—I sure hope they don’t get blown down tonight.

Until you have witnessed this I think it would be hard to imagine—I know it was for me and I have at least seen poverty in the world before.  I think I mentioned however, that you would never know some of these members live in poverty as they are very clean and happy and cheerful.  One evidence though is the way they devour refreshments after an event.—I do not mind missing out even on a few brownies if it adds to their happiness.

We were going to Junction, a couple of hours away, with our “boss” tomorrow but we just got word that all missionaries are to stay in tomorrow because of the storm.  It is just as well—I really don’t want to be out in it.  The traffic today in the rain and potholes was really bad—I think schools and businesses closed early to get kids home and get prepared. 

As I am sitting here typing it is raining very hard outside but I cannot see any evidence of wind yet—I guess it is supposed to come later tonight.

Sister Larsen lent us one of her keyboards and a simplified hymnal so Bob and I have taken turns at the keyboard this evening—that will give us something else to do tomorrow as we have neither phone or internet.  We have the mission cell phone thankfully but nothing to call family.

 Wednesday 24 October 2012

After our 30 minute exercise walk up and down stairs and around the parking lot we stayed in all day because of the tropical storm turned level 1 hurricane.  It seemed pretty much like a good hard Seattle rain until later in the day when it got pretty windy but thankfully that was all we experienced.  The Larsens are about 2 miles away from us and it sounds like their area may have been hit a little harder but I have been thinking of Zinc Town all day and wondering if all the walls and roofs are still intact and if the people are swimming in mud.  I suspect the homeless found shelter under some vehicle or roof somewhere but I am sure they are wet. The hardest thing about sitting here all day was not the sitting but the not knowing what was going on in the world.  We have no TV, internet or radio.  So we had to call the Larsens every once in a while to get news.  I hope this is the worst hurricane we have to live through this year—not just for our sake but for the Jamaicans especially!!

 From our apartment window after the storm--not much damage


  1. TONY! I love seeing where you are living and hearing about the people you are meeting! I want to buy bananas while sitting in traffic! :)

    Love to you! xoxo

  2. That apartment doesn't look too different from ours, except, of course we have a normal dining table and 4 chairs! Thanks for the info. Tone, sounds like you guys are going to be great there.
    M (Sister L)