In the heart of St. Thomas, the “forgotten” parish of Jamaica, lies a tiny little community by the name of Bethel Gap. The community lies at a crossroads referred to as “the Square.” The 4 roads go to different places. One road goes down to Yallas, the next around the mountain toward Hagley Gap, the next down to Cedar Valley and the last goes to my house and further up a ridge. The road is referred to as Mango Row, and there are no house numbers. All the homes sit behind various fences some made out of cement, some out of painted zinc sheets and some are poles with chicken wired wrapped around. All mail goes to the post office down in Cedar Valley. It’s considered a bushy bushy place. All the homes have something growing be it flowers or fruit or veggies or even herbs for medicinal purposes such as various teas and aloe. Most residents are farmers or shop owners or both. The nearest grocery store is in Morant Bay about 1 ½-2 hours bus ride away. The local residents tell me that when the road was maintained you could get to Morant Bay in less than 40 minutes, but no maintenance has been done in roughly 10 years. There are about 4-5 churches and one container cook shop. In short it’s a small town with great people perched in the beautiful Blue Mountains.
The children in the area go to Cedar Valley Primary Junior High School until they are in 7th grade where they must travel further toward Morant Bay and beyond to attend Secondary School. I work at the school. It has 178 students and about 15-20 staff members. The PTA is active and well attended. The teachers are motivated and kind. And the principal is simply awesome. As a school the boys are falling behind, but some students are really excelling. The classes are loud and wild. Grades 1-5 are all in the same open space under a roof. Which means it gets loud and there are plenty of distractions. Teachers walk in and out, the students run and get out of their seats and wander into the different classes. Jamaica is a country of loud bold colors, sounds and people and the schools are no different. As one of my friends has said many times sometimes the “love is abrasive.” I love the creativity of
There’s also a large population of farmers who organize into farming groups. Various organizations come through to do various trainings throughout the community. Some focus on irrigation and helping farmers conserve water. Some focus on erosion prevention. I like the farmers. They are really down to Earth people. I buy some of my veggies fresh off the farm, or picked from my host mom’s farm further down the road. I also it free-range, well fed whole chickens on occasion. I don’t eat much meat, but it’s very high quality up here. Most the farmers grow coffee… if you’ve heard of Blue Mountain Coffee before I live where it grows.
Living in Bethel is like living in most places. There is electricity and internet coming soon hopefully. We usually have running water, but it is out right now, so we buy water and haul it around in containers. It’s not the most convenient living situation, but I have a grasp of how much water we actually use (almost 4 gallons just to flush a toilet, and 16-20 gallons to wash and rinse a load of laundry). I hang my clothes out on a clothesline to dry, but we’re really spoiled and have our own washing machine. I have most the appliances of home, a refrigerator, blender, microwave, toaster oven and crock-pot.
The best part of living in Bethel Gap is the view. You can walk through the hills and see the airport near Kingston, or Morant Bay and the ocean on a clear day. You can watch sunsets and sunrises for miles. It’s absolutely enchanting. It’s very easy to feel at home and embraced. You get to have a relationship with the ever-changing hills around you. Some days the mist comes and settles in around you even at the low elevation (3000 ft), other days the storms streak the hills in muddy erosion and the thunder shakes homes and most of the times it’s just very calming and peaceful. They should set up a yoga/meditation studio up here. It’s cold and hot in the same day and the sun is usually always shining. It’s just generally breath taking. There are butterflies hidden all over the place. Though you don’t see much native wildlife, the birds and flowers tie-dye the mountains in vibrant blotches.
And the sounds in the community make you fall in love. There’s always music from old-school Country Western to Reggae and dance hall and hymns and pop songs. You hear kids laughing and there is something magical about the boldness of patwa. Cars are loud, people are loud in whatever they do, music is loud even the dogs seem loud. Then there are moments of complete natural silence. Not the overwhelming silence that makes you uncomfortable and wonder if you’ve lost your hearing, but the quiet stillness only obtained in the remote pockets of the globe. There’s a different rhythm here like rolling an empty rain barrel along a path or dropping coins down the stairs or rushing water into empty barrels and the boldness of voices—in most places it’s overwhelming and too much—but in Jamaica all the boldness and loudness and over the top moments somehow all stay on beat.