Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 6 - JAFSP (The Infirmary)

See my late night visitor? Better him than a scorpion.

Today started a bit later today and a new group of students and I headed to the Infirmary for the day. We worked with three different groups of older men in the morning and headed to lunch where we ate "veg" (Jamaican word for "vegetarian"). It was wonderful, but it took a long time for all the food to be prepared. We didn't know what was going to be served. You go in, sit down, and wait to be surprised by what the cook has decided to prepare that day. First we were served a carrot, cucumber, and ginger juice which was interesting. We had appetizers of two different kinds of fried plantains (I wish I had taken a picture of the food), and then the main dish arrived. There were probably 7 different kinds of food on the plate. Vegetables are prepared differently here, with interesting combinations. Cabbage, sweet potato, and other familiar vegetables are used, but there were many that I did not recognize. It tastes good though! The dessert was called "wine cake" and it had mango to top it off. It was delicious, but hard to describe.

We returned to the infirmary for four more groups before heading home. We stopped at the market to pick up some drinks and snacks and then there was just a little free time before we had our nightly drumming class (which is getting to be much more challenging, learning many new songs and rhythms each time!) followed by a brief planning session for the next day. We then headed up the street for a dance party, where they started off playing Whitney Houston music, followed by some 90's dance music, but mixed by a D.J. and often with reggae beats thrown in. I headed home early because I have an early day tomorrow, because I am working at the school again.

The infirmary experience is very difficult to describe. The faces of the people we met and worked with today are floating around in my head. The conditions are not like they are in the U.S., but rather it is a Jamaican version of long term care. There is a women's ward and a men's ward. They have open windows and there are several people in a room in most cases. Some sit outside on the porch while others are lying in their beds inside.

A music therapy student working with a resident of the Infirmary

There were a couple of moments which stand out to me. The first building we entered and the first man I saw come to mind. He had very caring eyes and shook my hand eagerly. We sang many songs while in the room, and one was "Wings of  a Dove". He was lying down and I sang "If I had the wings of a dove, if I had the wings of a dove, I would away...Since I have no wings, since I have no wings, since I have no wings I'm going to sing, sing, sing". He looked up and said, in his Jamaican accent, "It's true." We later sang a song called "Buddhist Blessing" ("May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease, may you be happy..may you be happy") and I was sitting with him again. I was overwhelmed by his immense dignity and felt so priviledged to be there at his side.

In another room, I was talking to a man and asked him if he had a favorite song. I didn't know the title (and sometimes the accent and Patois language they speak at times is hard to follow) and asked him to sing it for us. Out of this quiet man came a sweet song about writing a letter to mommy and daddy to tell them "I am coming home". One of the students was able to accompany him by ear and it was truly beautiful and heartfelt on his part. In that same room, when we sang the "Buddhist Blessing", the students sat next to different residents in the room and put their arm around them as the soft and quiet song was song by everyone. It was one of those moments in which everything felt elevated. The room was full of love and compassion through the music, and also through the contact with people who live in a place where they don't get that kind of contact consistenly ---this brought tears to my eyes. It was a truly exceptional moment.

The final room that one group of students was working in was memorable because it was a group of 4 men who absolutely loved music and singing. They sang in full voice, playing instruments and leading US in songs. One man was standing and played rhythms on a drum as he sang song after song. I sat next to one man as he sang out fully on "Amazing Grace" and harmonies were floating around the room between me and the students (as well as the residents) --I can only describe the feeling I experienced as gratitude.

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