“Miss, how come you so big? Do you eat too much food?” What do you say to a fourteen year old who asks you this? A fourteen year old who is living in a group home run by the state government for other girls who have experienced sever trauma, abuse, and or neglect. A fourteen year old girl whose dorm mate sneaks out to see boys and takes 300 JA (about $2.75USD) for sex with them? A fourteen year old girl whose best friend is pregnant for the second time but is afraid to tell anyone for fear that she will be kicked out of their makeshift home. I answered, “Yeah..I guess so.”
Being at a Place of Safety has been hard for me. I’m supposed to be one of the instructors and yet I feel so much a novice in this environment. Managing my own emotional boundaries has been the largest battle for me. On the first day, as an angry fifteen year old climbed across tables, thew chairs, and ripped the television wires out of the wall all before she tore the clothes off of another girl, made me cry. “Miss, you sad?” One little girl, Miranda, asked me. I told her yes, because I can’t imagine what this angry girl has seen in her life to make her act out in such a way. Bubbling to her brim with fiery anger and malice for any and everyone around her, I cried because I wondered when was the last time she felt love?
Aside from acknowledging my extreme fortune at having lived the life I have lived, and the circumstances in which I was born into, I have been reflecting on the differences or similarities in me and the Jamaican people. The merchants at the farmers market call me “Sister” but only because they want me to buy things from them. “Come, let me show you something my Black sister,” they say to me with my Americanism reeking out of my pores they tell me prices in dollars. I always ask for the JA price. They suck their teeth a bit before telling me.
I didn’t expect to fit in, and honestly I am so used to standing out it doesn’t bother me that even in an island nation of people with kinky hair and sun charred skin, I feel different. Mostly, I felt different because in American we live beneath the curtain of courtesy and “things you don’t say to perfect strangers,” whereas in Jamaica it is all out there. “Hey white girl!” they say to my students. “Hey Fluffy!” they call to me. Perhaps a year ago, I would have been butt hurt over the comments, but now I wonder less about the so-called social niceties and more about where a “me” would fit in, could fit in to this culture, if at all?
What I have wondered is, where is the wealth? Where do the affluent Jamaicans live and what do they do? Or even the upwardly mobile, is there such a thing? Do they have access to the exclusive private beaches? Do they wake up with floor to ceiling window views of the Caribbean Sea? Or is everyone working to break even?? I go on, What brings them their greatest joy? Do they have national pride? Are they pouring resources back into the economy? It is something that I realize has become important to me…remembering my beginnings. To reach down while I am climbing up. I wonder who would be my tribe in this nation?
In the moments in between the things, I find my mind wandering off to this idea of body between air and earth. That somehow as we exist in human form head to heaven and feet to earth we are liminal and have access to both spaces. It is why we can dream and put things into fruition. It is why we can imagine, and then build and engineer. We are able to envision the impossible, improbable, and make it so. Well…through us God works. So I wonder, how my Jamaican dreams will manifest? how the things I see here in my minds eye, I can begin to engineer and construct. I wonder the same for the girls.
And perhaps amend the answer to my question more honestly, “Miss, why you so big? Do you eat too much food?” And I would say, “Maybe…or maybe because I haven’t imagined anything else.” Thoughts become things. Perhaps she would have looked at me funny, but surely no funnier than she already was. Surely not. And who knows, maybe that was the answer she was looking for. I’ve seen angles among us in stranger places. And then I think, maybe the angry girl made me cry because I saw something in her I lacked, the audacity to demand a different reality. Though the case extreme and still not entirely appropriate, the basic root of her episode was a large loud bid for her dream manifested. When was the last time I demanded something so boldly?
I suppose the spectrum on which “honesty” lies can span from beautiful and safe to hard and emotive. From my pondering how to address questions of my body, however uncomfortable it was to answer, to the throwing of furniture it was an exposure, an openness, a susceptibility to extreme hurt be it emotional or physical. And I wondered whether its always like that? Is truth a knife that pierces our shell, slicing us open? And dare we let it remain open? Patient and withstanding for natures own healing or are we always in search of band aids? No imagination. No faith in the unseen. Scared, open, and pissed as hell at the gall of honesty.