Now, I know what you're thinking-- who cares, a lot of college students go to Jamaica for spring break.
But my trip was vastly different. Instead of staying in a resort in Ochos Rios or Negril, my group stayed in a dorm in Kingston.
This trip was not about lavish beaches, tanning by a pool, or dancing until the early hours in the morning. This trip was about serving others.
Fordham University had a student run group called Global Outreach, whose main purpose was to organize volunteer trips during winter or spring break. I liked the sound of that, and while I wasn't brave enough to apply to the trip in India or Africa, I did muster up the courage to apply to Jamaica.
After a series of interviews, I was chosen to spend two weeks of winter break in Kingston with the eleven other students who made the "team". To prepare for the trip we met once weekly to talk about things we would encounter, to reflect on our week, to pray, and to organize the details. Only one girl had been to Kingston before, and she offered all the advice she could give.
But nothing could really prepare us for what we'd see. Jamaica is a third world country and was, at that time, engulfed in civil unrest. ( In fact, ours was the last trip to Kingston, as the city is too dangerous).
But amidst the crime, the poverty, images of starving children in the streets, and the sweltering heat, was one of the most touching moments of peace and beauty in my life.
We were blessed to work with the Missionaries of Charity in Kingston, and just seeing how these sisters devoted their lives helping the poor was overwhelmingly beautiful.
The residents in the Home for the Dying and Destitute were mostly older people, picked up off the streets and brought in the shelter for their dying days. But instead of fear and dismay, the walls were filled with love, laughter, and songs.
In addition to the Missionaries of Charity, we volunteered at a grade school, helping the teachers and principal with the lessons.
To thank us, the teachers threw us a dinner party, full of Jamaican favorites, including Akee and Saltfish, the dish they were raving about for days before the dinner.
As we were getting ready for the dinner, I remember feeling guilty for even having a party. It seemed odd to me to want to party after all we had seen there. When I told this to our group leader she replied, " you need to accept the gifts you're given."
So I did.
ACKEE AND SALTFISH (COD) RECIPE- Photo and recipe taken from here
Ackee and saltfish is Jamaica's national dish. This recipe is Americanized but still delivers great taste.
1 Can of ackee, drained
1/2 lb boneless salt cod
3 tablespoons oil
2 onions, sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 scotch bonnet pepper skin finely chopped up
1 small tomato, chopped
3/4 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 sweet pepper chopped
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Recipe by ©eatjamaican.com
Soak the salt cod in a pot of water overnight to remove most of the salt. If the cod is still very salty, boil in water for 20 minutes. Drain cod and cut or break into small pieces.
Heat oil in a frying pan. Add the onions, thyme and scotch bonnet pepper, tomato, tomato paste and green peppers. Stir for a few minutes. Add the cod. Stir. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the can of drained ackee. Do not stir because this will cause the ackees to break up. Cook for a few more minutes then sprinkle with black pepper.
Best served with bammy, roast breadfruit, fried or cooked dumplings, or fried or cooked plantains, cooked yams and Jamaican sweet potatoes.