I climbed Dunn’s River waterfall in Ocho Rios this week. I swam in Montego Bay and parasailed above the crystal blue green waters. I ate foods and tropical fruits I have never had before, or at least, very rarely, and never fresh: star fruit, papaya, sour sap, boiled plantains, passion fruit, jerk pork chops, petite custards, coffee with rum cream, and smoothies made of indescribable fruits. Crazy coconut pina coladas and red stripe on tap from the bar, deep brown Jamaican rum mixed with strawberry daiquiris, wine flowing like rivers, and lots and lots of water. It’s hot. It’s beautiful. It’s Jamaica.
Riding on the bus to the resort, my heart ached. The shacks with barely standing walls, aluminum roofs that hardly seemed attached, graffiti, crumbling concrete, scraggly underbrush crawling all around them while dilapidated vehicles covered in rust and with broken tires were strewn about the properties. This is Jamaica. The poverty is undeniable. But the people have no problems mon.
They are strong and positive. They are determined and forceful. They are resourceful and crafty. They are Jamaica.
I met “1998” on Thursday night. As he passed by the rehearsal dinner party of the wedding I was attending, he stopped a friend and I. “Come to the show tonight ladies” he cajoled us. He wanted to know my age because he said I didn’t look old enough to be sipping on the glass sweating in my hand. “22”, I said jokingly. “Just kidding -I’m 30. How old are you?” “35” the clearly 20-something-year-old said. “I don’t believe you – what year were you born in?” He paused. “1998!” he said, failing to do the quick math.
1998’s real was named Orando. We bantered about his math flub. On Friday, Orando came by the pool while we were preparing to eat lunch. He followed us to the restaurant and ate with us. I asked him about Jamaica and his childhood. He told me he spent half his life in Kingston and taught himself fire breathing, acrobatics, and contortionism to make a living. I asked him if he liked working at the resort. He said yes. I asked him if they treated him well. He said yes. I asked him if they paid a fair wage. He said it was the best he’d had so far.
1998 asked me what I did for a living and if the government paid me. I said no, but explained the agency I worked for was funded both by government and churches.
“Are you a Christian?” He asked.
“Yes, are you?” I responded.
“No. I believe in God, but I have my own beliefs.”
I asked him if he believed God was good, and that he cared about Orando. He said “Yes, of course.” I waited for him to expound.“Do you feel the wind? Do you see the beauty of my country?” He asked. “God must care.”
“But does he care about Orando specifically?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “If we were in a room, and there was only one fan, it would be cruel to turn the air so it would only blow on me. I would let you two share it,” Orando said, motioning to my friend and I.
“So God turns his fan on us?” I asked, piecing together Orando’s insinuation.
“Exactly, God turns his fan on us,” he said with a contented smile.
“Can you feel it blowing in this nice wind?” he asked, spreading his hands in the air as if to capture it.
I could. I could feel God’s fan blowing on me.
I didn’t expect to talk so much about God with Orando that day. He didn’t expect to talk about him either, I don’t think. “The last time I checked,” he said in a quieter tone, “I was not supposed to talk to you about such things. It could cause offense.” But no one was offended, and I was thankful for our momentary bond over God talk.
Like Orando, I believe God is good enough to turn the fan on us, not to just hog it all for himself. I think he cares. But Orando couldn’t seem to make sense of things like war and rape and other atrocities of which he had heard. Neither can I. Neither can any of us. Yet this man still believed that God turned the fan on us. Even if we live in shacks with crumbling walls, and roofs that are hardly intact, and trash in the front yard, and we’re barely getting by – God turns his fan on us.
Perhaps God’s small graces are present, even in the deepest brokenness. We can see them in simple kindnesses like the way He turns the fan on our sweating faces when we need to feel the breeze.
That’s everyday theology for you.