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The Second Jamaican-y Pistle to My Grandchildren

January 19, 1977

Dear Jack and Jill:

Yes, this is the second time I am writing from this sunny clime. I see by our daily paper that it is still below zero in Chicago. That ice and snow would not last very long here. We are surely glad that there is no ice on these roads, for it would be impossible for us then; the roads are very steep and twisty in the mountains. As soon as one leaves the coastal roads one is in the mountains. No, icy pavements are not one of the hazards we encounter: the ordinary ones are plenty. Hazards which we never encounter in the States; such as cows which graze at the roadsides when roadsides are a scant four inches wide, leaving some thirty inches of cow in the road. Goats outnumber the cows, so that, hopefully, we miss some thirty to forty billys, nannys and kids in any given mile of country roads. The city streets are not free of them either, besides pigs. I’m sure you have heard your father speak of road hogs; here they are really that—grown pigs. Oh, we also have the two-legged variety, the truck drivers who thoughtfully blow the horn when coming around the blind curves. And that horn blast tells us to get over the very edge of the road, either the rocky wall or the cliff edge. And if one is driving a little Toyota, as we do, one better hug the edge or learn what it means when we say, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

Jamaica is a very poor country. The unemployment rate must be outstanding. We see hundreds of men every day who are outstanding—by the wayside, on the sidewalks and everywhere else. The road gangs of ten to twelve men usually have some eight to ten who are outstanding—watching the other two do the work.

The country recently survived a national election. The prime minister is favoring the socialistic form of govern­ment. We read in the paper that gangs of men, and even families, “capture” a house or group of houses for their own. When approached by the police for a reason for such action, they say, “Man, that is real socialism.” Even houses belonging to foreign owners, who are in England or America, are so “captured.” We often hear of kidnapping, but in Jamaica the thing is house-napping.

We had come to Jamaica without having a house spoken for, but the man from whom we rented the car had found one for us. It was situated on a high hill, overlooking the whole of Montego Bay. We agreed to the price and carried our luggage in. But we never unpacked, for we learned that the kitchen was equipped with a maid! She was of the opinion that the small, dark kitchen was her domain; there was no room for anyone with her. And she intended to cook all our meals. That was not according to our schedule, so we decided to find another place the next day. We looked at five more and finally agreed on one apartment which was somewhat P.R. You see, it was the apartment that Seminarian and Mrs. Mark Hoeksema lived in while he was helping Rev. Lubbers teach the students in our ‘‘Jamaican Seminary.” So now we have a kitchen in which we can cook our meals. But more frustrations must be suffered. The man who was to install the gas cylinder did not do so until Sunday while we were in church! Four days of restaurant dining instead of home-cooked meals. We have learned the hard way that when a Jamaican promises he will do something for you, you must believe him—it will get done some time, but don’t figure on a certain time!

Our Sundays are very tiring. The first one we traveled 168 miles, very hard miles, and visited two churches. The people are very friendly and appreciate our visits. We had to pack a lunch and supper for our Sunday meals—peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish, and Vienna sausage sandwiches. Thermos bottles held the tea and coffee. We found a school house which a neighbor opened for us so we could sit at the children’s desks to eat. We got back home after ten and were grateful for the safe journey, and tired enough to welcome our beds.

Monday we drove some 100 miles to visit one of the ministers (phoning is out of the question; only telegrams will reach one on the island). This minister has a large grapefruit tree next to his house on which were some fifty to sixty fruits. Six of the ripe ones he gave us, reaching them with a long pole with a wire hook to dislodge them from the branch so they can be caught by hand as they drop.

If I would tell you of all our experiences it would take a book. But we are taking pictures which you may see when you and your folks come over to visit your grandparents. Will be looking for you.

Love, Gramps