Joyce Hinnefeld


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Little Boat, A Little House

Maybe, when the years have come

When I can lay aside my

Cap and robe of office,

I can take a little boat

And come back to this place.

--Chu Hsi

(Translated by Kenneth Rexroth; included in his One Hundred Poems from the Chinese)

Late Saturday night Jim, Anna, and I returned from a week-long trip to Jamaica. We were there with a group of college students and with Hopeton Clennon, the chaplain at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, where I teach. For most of the week we were on the beautiful and far less touristed southern coast, in Little Culloden, near Whitehouse. We traveled around, along the coast and up into the mountains, and we helped paint a boys’ home, mixed cement for a new trash receptacle at a school, and helped build new rooms for two small homes in beautiful, remote little villages in the mountains.

Actually, the students did most of this work; they were taught by Jamaican workers who could have probably done the work a lot faster on their own. But they taught the college students, and let them do much of the work, instead. At first, I think this whole process kind of annoyed some of the workers. But these college kids really grow on you--big smiles, lots of energy, playfulness with the children who were always around. By the end of our scheduled “service” time, there was a lot of affection all around.

The photo here is of one of the houses the students worked on, high up on a mountain, in an area called Left Hall. The drive there (in a big van) was precarious: steep switchbacks, lots of potholes. The view at the top was breathtaking. There was a whole little community up there--mostly, I think, members of an extended family. There was a tiny puppy that my daughter Anna worried about a lot.

It’s hard for me to describe this trip. I’m already tired of hearing myself say “beautiful” and “breathtaking” and “fabulous” over and over. I can’t figure out how to hold on to it. Language doesn’t cut it; even the photos we took don’t capture how I felt last week. Sun, warmth, the blue Caribbean. No cell phone, no computer, very little cash on hand (I didn’t need any of these things).

Springtime in Pennsylvania is nice and all (snowdrops and crocuses opening everywhere, birds back and singing; I’m not even minding the ugly tufts of crabgrass in our yard--at least they’re green). But I’ll be honest: I’m not at all happy to be home. I want to sit in a little house on top of a mountain in southwestern Jamaica and stare out at the sea for a very long time. And I simply don’t believe you when you tell me I’d get tired of it eventually.

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