Wagwan? Mi givin thanks to life, mon!

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Patois to English translation: What’s going on? I am just thankful for life, man.

One afternoon I walked over to Yallahs Square to get food supplies for my hike the next day. I stopped to grab lunch at the jerk chicken stand. I asked the cook, “Wagwan?” and he responded, “Mi givin thanks for life, mon!” This statement stuck with me ever since, because I realized just how many things there are to be thankful for in my life.

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Riding up the mountain in the back of a pick-up truck. Riding in the back of trucks is common in Jamaica (and really fun!)

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The students that went on the Blue Mountains hike.

The next day I woke up at 4 AM to embark on a 2 1/2 hour drive to The Blue Mountains. As we got closer to the mountain I could not believe I was about to hike a mountain as tall as 7,402 feet and 15 miles long. Eventually we arrived and our tour guide Mr. O gave us a warm welcome. He told us that there would be 3 main sections to our hike: Jacob’s Ladder, Portland Gap, and the Blue Mountain Peak. I found each of these sections to be synonymous with my study abroad experience thus far.

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Jacob’s Ladder started off easy and enjoyable. There was an abundance of diverse and lush vegetation including towering trees and more than 500 species of plants. The flat path suddenly turned steep. At first I tried to follow everyone else’s pace but I soon realized I would not physically make it unless I followed my own pace. This is how I felt when I first got to Jamaica. My classmates and I were awe struck at the initial beauty. We were caught up in a new environment and we needed to adapt at our own discretion. Some of us adjusted faster than others and a few still have yet to fully adjust.

13339585_877243079070888_457268923701046813_nOne by one we climbed up Jacob’s Ladder and made it to Portland Gap. It is a wide grassy field where hikers can take a pit stop. We sat in a circle and reflected on our hike so far. Julia commented that she was doing this hike for herself and she found hikes to be very empowering. Maya said, “I would never do this hike for myself, I am doing it for my father.” I was intrigued by this conversation because I learned a little more about my classmates. I found out who strengthens them, who inspires them, and who they look up to in times of need. Mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, and mentors – these are the people our minds wander to while abroad.

As we were departing Portland Gap I did not know who inspired me. I figured that person would come to mind as I hiked further. Mr. O said, “Brace yourselves and go on your own pace. Each turn gets steeper and steeper. This will last about 2 hours.” He was certainly right. The farther I went, the harder it got. After one hour it started to downpour. I felt as though I wanted to quit. I even told the group to go on without me, but they encouraged me to center myself. We took a break and my mind wandered back to a meaningful class discussion we had the day before this hike. We read a chapter about identity and Professor Williams asked us, “What makes up identity?” We named areas like race, gender, socio-economic class, age, etc. Professor Williams added ability (physical, mental, and emotional). As I was recuperating, I contemplated my own abilities and how I would go on.

Instead of thinking about quitting I thought about more positive things like how lucky I was to have this opportunity and the physical privilege that comes with hiking 15 miles. It was then I realized who my inspiration was: my nephew, Liam. Last September he passed away after being in a coma. I know how much he would have loved to hike a mountain, so I was doing it for the both of us. Each steep turn reminded me of another week of him being in an unconscious state. My family and I would get progress reports from his doctor and each week it got worse and worse. Each steep turn and each week I would contemplate about my ability and his ability. It seemed like an uphill battle for the both of us. We both put up a fight during our physically demanding times. When I got to the top I thought of Liam and how his fight strengthened me to keep going. As I was standing at the peak I recalled how 24 hours prior a man had responded to me, “Mi givin thanks to life, mon!” and this statement came full circle. I looked beyond the peak and felt so thankful to be able to study abroad and accomplish great feats like this.

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Finally made it to the peak!!!!

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