Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes

Friday, September 28, 2012 6:45 PM Jamaica Time

I am sitting at a table in a makeshift dining room/men's dorm in what in what usually serves as the chapel for Holy Innocents Maternity Home, run by the Missionaries of the Poor (MOP) in Kingston, Jamaica. I won't be able to post this blog until my return on Monday, because as you might suspect, the Missionaries of the Poor don't indulge in any more technology than absolutely necessary.

Innocent, a six-month old baby taken in by the sisters at birth after his mother abandoned him after trying multiple times to abort him, is indignantly wailing after being parked in his crib for a brief moment as Sister Joanna prepares his bath.

We are in Kingston with the Austin staff of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a food truck ministry to the homeless. There are 19 of us total. We are there because Fr. Charles of MOP, and Alan Graham, who began Mobile Loaves and Fishes in the mid 10s, visited the Ranch last summer and invited us along. Among those served by MOP are people with intellectual disabilities, the elderly, babies with severe physical handicaps, people with mental illness, AIDS, TB, and leprosy. Tomorrow we are to meet and work a little with some of them.

The Brothers help us alight from our transportation to Holy Innocents

We were picked up at the airport by a young MOP brother in what we came to call “the cage.” Jerry searched for a respectful term and settled on “lorry.” We knew that lorry was an English word for a vehicle that transported things, although we were fuzzy on the details, but it sounded better than “stock trailer,” which I’m pretty sure is what it started out as.

We stood in the cage holding on for dear life as Brother drove speedily through the outskirts of Kingston. We couldn’t see much, and anyway, it took all our concentration and effort to remain upright. We did notice that every structure was surrounded by high fences with razor wire looped around the top.

We arrived at Holy Innocents and were shown our quarters—women upstairs and men in the chapel. The women’s dorm is filled with metal bunk-beds of WW II vintage. I know this for a fact because I scrounged identical ones for Ranch Camp some 16 years ago from an Army surplus store.

Everywhere fans are stirring the air, and not gently. Industrial fans blow like a Texas nor’easter barreling in, floor fans swivel to and fro, and exhaust fans hum merrily along. I can hear nothing of what Sister Joanna is telling us in our orientation and will have to trust that other volunteers will clue me in.

In addition to the fans, trucks are roaring loudly past, pouring diesel exhaust through the concrete louvers that allow the breeze to sweep through the enormous concrete structure.

We are served dinner, a simple meal of flavored rice with chicken bones and a few stray bits of meat. We have water and instant coffee, and bananas and peanut butter, too. (They know Americans.)

Ladies Dorm at Holy Innocents

The women divvied up the three bathrooms for shower times that evening, sufficient for our numbers because the cold water shooting from an open pipe did not encourage lingering.

I go to bed wondering if I will sleep even an hour. After ten the neighborhood dogs begin to bark in earnest, competing with the trucks that continue to roar by. Rain begins to fall on the uninsulated metal roof, and of course the fans drone on. Finally, in exhaustion, I incorporate everything into my dream life and—to my own amazement—get a pretty good few hours of sleep.