Journal from Jamaica – May 21, 2011

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A campus policeman picks mangos for peace convocation participants in Kingston, Jamaica

Church of the Brethren director of news services, Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, is reporting from the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) in Jamaica through May 25, the culminating event of the Decade to Overcome Violence. She hopes to post a journal entry each day as a personal reflection on the event. Here is the journal entry for Saturday, May 21:

The theme of the day: economic justice. I’ve been thinking about one of the interviews in that great film documentary about Woodstock. The film crew interviewed a man who maintained the porta potties for the youthful, messy horde that had descended on his community. My guess is they expected to hear him roundly condemn the chaos. Instead what they heard was a welcoming, tolerant, well wishing attitude toward the young people–and no complaints about having to clean up the mess they left behind.

Here at the IEPC, the university staff and students, and the local organizing committee have that same attitude. They’ve been doing much of the work to make this convocation possible. But when many of us might display frustration, all I’ve seen is friendly welcome, tolerance, and sincere well wishes for the meeting’s success.

Not that the peace convocation comes close to being as messy or chaotic as Woodstock! But it can’t be easy to take care of almost a thousand international guests, with so many different needs and expectations. Even at the most chaotic times, such as yesterday afternoon when hundreds of people were trying to get their sack lunches for the Peace Concert, and the cafeteria staff were trying to make sure the right people got the right lunch boxes, no one was taking their stress or anxiety out on anyone else.

The attendant at the women’s restroom tent exemplifies this attitude. She keeps 10-plus porta potties clean, maintain the hand washing station, soap, and towels, and even watches our belongings when we come in loaded with bags and umbrellas. And she’s always cheerful and friendly.

One day I happened to drop in during lunch time. She was still there, although most of the crowd had gone to their cafeterias to eat. Casually, really just to make conversation, I asked if she’d had her lunch break. No, she said. Concerned, I asked if she was going to get lunch. She wasn’t sure, maybe someone would bring her something to eat. She wasn’t supposed to leave her post. I remembered I had a package of biscuits in my bag. She accepted half, as a way to tide her over.

She said her day starts at 4 a.m., she gets to work by 5 in the morning. She’d eat supper when she got home after the work day was over.

In a later conversation, when I went by again to ask if she’d ever gotten her lunch (in subsequent days someone did bring her lunch, I was glad to find out!) I discovered she was on the regular university maintenance staff. Her usual work is to clean the buildings, which she says is a decent job, but for this conference she’s helping out in the women’s tent.

I told a Jamaican friend, a delegate from a Quaker meeting in Kingston, about the woman and her work. Her comment: in Jamaica, people who work in the lowest paying jobs like these typically make maybe 4,000 Jamaican dollars a week. At an exchange rate of 85 Jamaican dollars to $1 US, this is a little less than $50. Maybe because she works for the university, she makes a little more.

It’s hard to know what to think or to say. Only that I’m humbled by this hard working woman’s gracious care for us.

And I owe her a big tip.

— More reports, interviews, and journals are planned from the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica, through May 25 as Internet access allows. A photo album is being started at Peace witness staff Jordan Blevins is blogging from the convocation, go the Brethren Blog at . Find webcasts provided by the WCC at .

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