Once I wrote a poem where one of the lines was:
“We were always told that we should love and help out neighbour, but society has taught us, screw them if it’s in your favour.”
Our time in Portland made me think this is very much true.
After a sad goodbye to Michael and Lise, we left Ocho Rios and headed for Port Antonio. There are not really any busses on a Sunday, so had to get a route taxi from Ocho to Port Maria, then to Antono Bay, then to Port Antonio, and finally Boston. The changing of taxis and not really knowing where we were going, along with our huge rucksack’s and being squished seven in a car made my anxiety shoot right up, and to be honest, luckily anxiety has never been something I have had a huge problem with. Our driver took the liberty of driving us to the door of great huts in Boston (which is where we were staying), as it was obvious we didn’t know where we were going and charged us near quadruple the price for doing so… Thanks.
Great huts, if you look it up, is stunning. Lots of huts and animals and a seafront board walk along the cliff top and a private beach. Great huts was giving us subsidised accommodation in single sex, three bed dorms as a donation to the Portland homeless and Rehabilitation Shelter. This was where we were doing our next workaway. We were planning on staying here one month.
When we got there, they said there was a mix up in the dorms so we got our own private room together, which was a huge plus as I don’t think I would have done well, being alone after being so stressed. It was lovely. We had our own sink and cold water shower, a four-poster bed and mosquito net. Complete luxury really. (Had a look at the price per night and it needs to be luxury!) The only thing was, there was no lock on the door and the door was only half the size of the frame, like a saloon door you see in old cowboy movies, not a problem it’s just something Jake found weird.
Great huts is in the epicentre of where jerk favouring began. You have to walk down a street full of vendors to get to it, all of them shouting to you and trying to get you to come in to their place and ignore their neighbour. This put me very on edge. I think I have mentioned before, that having Autism – for me – makes lots of noise very difficult and having a lot of people in your face doesn’t help either. One man, who after saying no to some of his moonshine drink berated us with forceful anger, cursing us as bad people as we didn’t ‘buy local’. Scared me actually.
We hadn’t eaten that day, so we stopping in one of these kettle metal rooms for some food and made the mistake of not confirming the price beforehand, they too ripped us off, for a single plate of jerk chicken and rice they wanted $25! We managed to haggle them down thankfully but not by much.
We were to pay $5 each for accommodation and the same for food. In workaway your meant to get that for free in return for work, so it was a bit annoying to pay for the privilege of volunteering. They said the food was optional add-on, but there was nowhere to cook or keep food and no food allowed in rooms, so we didn’t really have any choice – to pay or to be left to the mercy of the street vendors outside.
We met the only other workaway there – Malte. He was from Germany too. He said we don’t get lunch, and we get exactly the same every day for breakfast and dinner. I am gong to reply miss vegetables a lot – something I never thought if say. I feel like this annoyance is very much #first.world.problems
It is a twenty-minute drive to the shelter from the Huts. Good job taxis are not too expensive, but I could see it really adding up over the next month. We got there at half nine and met the lady who ran the shelter. I’ll call her *Miss Amy. She said that the place runs of donations, church help and other contributors, we are here to try to raise money from sponsors and entertain the residents.
We had to read a few files, then we introduced ourselves to everyone. There were eleven clients and two other official staff. Met a man *Josh who liked drawing. Later that day we went down to a little craft shop they ran and saw his pictures, they were really good, I told him how I like drawing too, that made him smile.
Jake sat talking to a woman, *Chole, who was reading Angles and Daemons, just very slowly. He had a good chat with her. The rest just sat around, not talking, eyes blank. It felt kind of depressed.
I had done a year’s work experience in a low secure mental health hospital in england, here in Jamaica, nearly all the patients had some sort of mental health issue, such as bipolar or schizophrenia, and the two places seemed so different. Here it was just… Unhappy.
We worked from 10 till 3. Very different from the previous 7 till 11. The late start was nicer, but as you didn’t get back till half three, there was very little you could do after work, especially as the sun goes down at six. it also poured with rain. You could tell We were in a rainforest. We did go down to the beach for a bit. The waves were huge and rough, but there were seats cut into the rock, so we sat there and watched the sun go down.
Next day the same. We went to the shelter and had a look at some of their files. They seemed to be on the correct medication, but then it topped up with tranquilizers. No wonder everyone sat around in a zombiefied state!
There was a church group that morning, so we say outside for the first hour. Miss Any said we should join in, regardless of our own religious views, Jake was not very happy. He nearly said he didn’t want to as he is pagan, but that may have given her a heart attack.
Afterwards I tried to set up a CrowdFund page. When I asked for the charity ID and Tax number, I was told I couldn’t have them, and not to start a page as, and I quote, “we don’t want too much money coming in.” That sounded extremely strange to me, as yesterday I was told they are desperate for money. That they could only pay their 4 staff members 50 US dollars a month! Which I can tell you, in Jamaica doesn’t go far, and that they couldn’t afford to buy four screws to set up a table tennis net. It set a lot of questions in our heads going.
That night Jake did some research, and the person who owned Great Huts also owned the shelter, so it wasn’t really a charitable donation to let us stay, we were paying this American man for the privilege of working for him! He not only owned this huge resort. He is on two university medical boards, and is a high-end, private doctor, who specialises in call outs in Washington D.C.
A man like that could surely fork out enough to pay his staff a decent wage and look after the shelter properly; even just some decent games so the residents had something to do, and not have to beg local churches for food. It didn’t make sense. What is more, he knew about the tranquillising. Everything we learnt made us more and more put off; Jake wanted to leave as soon as we could.
He contacted Michael who was happy to have us back thankfully, Jake was happy to be going but I felt so bad for the residents, although there was nothing we could really do. Most of them had forgotten us from the day before because they were so doped up.
We talked about it, and Jake was so unhappy there we decided to leave the next day, that night we got drunk (well I did) on the swinging seat over the cliff top walkway and looked at the moon dancing on the sea. It was a truly beautiful place.
The next morning, Jake had been looking into it more, and realised that the other ‘charitable donations’ the place had got, were from the owner’s business associates, and friends. Most of which we extremely rich business people, many owned their own lawfirms and were high up in a fortune 500 company (one of the top 500 successful business in america.)
This may be blind speculation, but it seems that the shelter was used as a tax haven for wealthy Americans. Give money to charity, don’t pay as much tax in their country, and the ‘donation’ went into a bank to get interest and the shelter saw the very bare minimum of it to keep the place ticking over. The people who suffered were the ones at the shelter, the ones most in need. It is sickening really.
We went on to say goodbye and tell miss Amy we were going. I felt so bad for the residents, although I was glad to say bye to miss Amy; she wasn’t the nicest person that could be there to help some of the most vulnerable people in need of support, not by a long shot. I felt like a really shit person for leaving them.
One months work turned into three days, we didn’t have the power to change anything. Hopefully one day we, or some who cares can.