Monday, February 9, 2009

Mi Buut a Beg Bred

As children, we tried desperately, and often in futility, to fit in with our peers. Our desire for acceptance caused much heartache, as lack of money was a most formidable hindrance to being able to ‘fit in’. Today though, we are stronger individuals because of those experiences, unafraid of admitting to our lacking something now that we understand that we are not defined by our material possessions. Everyone’s reality is different, and so long as we remind ourselves of that fact, we need not be ashamed of our circumstances.


Mommy can I please have my lunch money? FP, I can only give you enough for bus fare, but don't worry, I will come by and give you the money for lunch by noon.

The lunch bell rings, and I run out to the playing field. Staying in the class room was never an option, because the students would ask if you weren't hungry, and why you weren't buying anything. Lunch period ends, and still, mommy is nowhere in sight in sight. She finally arrives at 2 pm, and she asks the teacher to take me from class for a bit. We go to the back of our building, and she offers me a slice of delicious potato pudding, which she baked that morning. I then drink some water at the stand-pipe, and run hurriedly back to class, but not before she wets her fingers with her saliva, and straightens my hairline and eyebrow.

Other times, she made sandwiches for my lunch, but I was too embarrassed to eat them at school, so I waited till I got back home. By then however, the guava jam had soaked through the bread, which became unappealingly soggy and squished. I would toss it to the dogs, and instead make a sandwich with white break and seasoned tomatoes. Word cannot express the shame I now feel, for discarding the food my mother so thoughtfully prepared. If only I could turn back the hands of time.

I remember the days when the front of my shoe began to open up, over worn after two years. Mommy insisted I wear my sneakers to school, so she could take my brown school shoes to the "shuu meka." The teachers would quickly notice the white shoes on my feet, and demand an explanation. The other kids though it was cool, but if I could have gone invisible on those days, I would have.

I used to dread yearly trips to attractions across the country. After paying the fee to go on the trip, we never had the money for me to enter the attractions, or to buy fast food at the end of the trip. I remember once, I had enough money to buy a two piece combo from KFC, but in order to save it, I had to skip seeing the Green Grotto Caves, and had planned to forego touring the Greenwich Great House. I waited outside while everyone toured, insisting that I had gone before. We got to Greenwich, and I everyone started lining up to enter, but I shied away. The teacher, Miss Bennett, called me over and insisted that I spend the negligible (likl) 20 dollars to enter. I felt weak...KFC was now a distant dream. We got to Montego Bay and everyone started dashing (in typical konchri pikni style) for KFC, Burger King and McDonald's. I went off on my own, touring the nearby stores, until everyone came back. I was able to afford an ice-cream cone, and I comforted myself with the rummy sweetness.

Jeans day: pay 10 dollars if you wear casual clothing. Oh how I hated those days. If I managed to find something to wear, I would always be embarrassed once I saw everyone else. I decided to stop participating, for it would often mean going without a snack at "break time." After a while however, the teachers started charging half the fee, for those who decided not to wear causal wear, anyway. The poor man always loses.

Then there is that ugly pair of jeans I bought in grade eight, that I wore for the duration of three years, whenever I had to go out. Sometimes, I was fortunate enough to wear my brothers' clothing. They were 8, and 4 years ahead of me. They never fit well, but I was afforded some variety. A year ago I went home, and saw the pair of jeans. I looked at it carefully, then put it away in a "skyandal bag" and tossed it in a barrel in the garage. I never want to see it again.

There were the textbooks I needed, but never had. It wasn't until grade 10 that I bought textbooks. I hated having to share with people, who were clearly disgruntled that they had to shift their books a little to the left so I could see. I would always tell them to keep it directly below their eyes; that I would be able to see regardless. I would borrow their books after school, and sometimes take it home, on the few nights that they wouldn't be using them. Literature classes were particularly challenging, for people would never lend those overnight. I never read any of the assigned books between grades 7 and 9- if the characters, themes, and the like, were not mentioned in class, I would never write about them.

Going home to a house without electricity. It was cut this morning while I was in school, for we couldn't find the money to pay the bill. Homework would be done under intimate candlelight, which burned out more quickly than I would have liked it to. The old iron was heated on the stove the next morning, for my school uniform had to be ironed before going to careful now though, don't "blak op" the uniform.

My my my. How far we have come. I look back today, with a smile on my face...disbelieving that I faced those challenges as a child. What I have realized though, is that I wasn't alone. All over the world, from Mexico, to Kenya, to Namibia, to Fiji, other children were having similar experiences. We were all ashamed of our poverty, and wished to live differently. Little did we realize then how greatly our situations could change over time. Tis only a decade later, but things have radically changed for the better.

If only we realized the possibilities then...


  1. I always amazed by what you write and the effect such truth has on people. As I read my eyes were filled with tears as I realized something that you said to me a few years ago. Never judge a book by the covers, looking at you through high school no one would be able to tell that you go through all this. I too share similar experience with my years at school particularly in high school where my bus fare was J$110 and I was given J$100 for the day. The crotch of my pants had the colours of the suarez bros circus as I had to make stitches everytime it was ripped (using any colour thread in sight) Keep on writing and hope that you will make a publication one day that youth will be able to read and appreciate what they have now and also encourage the ones going through similar situations to keep on trying to achieve the best knowing that a change will come.
    Caps of to you Javed

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