Friday, May 16, 2014

Mission Gone South, Part 5 (What tipped the scales)

As I intimated in my last post, SO MUCH happened that concerned us. We’d probably have to write a hundred parts to share it all. Quite a few persons have suggested writing a book; we’re considering the idea. In any case, what tipped things over the edge surrounded a box of powdered soy milk.

We had our share of gastrointestinal problems while at Siparuta Mission Academy. But when one travels to South America, one tends to expect a little stomach bug now and again—even if it’s just related to adjusting to new foods. The most disconcerting, however, was the sickness our son started having after we’d been at the school for about 6 weeks, or so. He would wake up in the wee hours of the morning with projectile vomiting that had a very strange smell (not the usual sour stomach acid type smell). It would sound like he was heaving up his entire gastro tract. Then he would have a few episodes of diarrhea afterwards that smelled the same. Sometimes he would go through a second round. Jermaine found that he would also have episodes in which he would belch that same smell and have gastro upset. We were truly puzzled as to the source.

Over the end of year holiday break, when we were finally granted the privilege of preparing our own meals, we were able to narrow down possible causes of this illness. One day, Jermaine was inspired to look at the label on the box of soy milk we had been using. I had noticed that whenever I used it, there was this horrible bitter aftertaste in my mouth. We could not believe it when we saw the expiry date on that box. This was in December of 2013, and the milk had been expired from February 2013. We stopped using it right away and our son never had that problem again.

At the earliest possible time, we informed Granny about it and she said she would take it and use it. When the Lawrences returned from their time away, we also told them about it. We thought the matter was done there. We were no longer eating meals with the rest of campus which helped to improve our health. Our children started putting on weight, and we had the energy we needed to sustain the physical labor involved in the lifestyle there.

The second to last Tuesday in January, after recognizing that the dorm girls, who now lived on the floor above us, seemed to be having some gastro problems, and querying whether they had indeed been having diarrhea or any other tummy issues—which a couple of them confirmed—Jermaine went to speak to Mrs. Lawrence. He asked if they were still using that box of expired soy milk. She said yes. He shared his concerns that the milk may have been affecting the girls as it had affected us. She played it off, saying that they were probably just having their period and that they ate too many mangoes. When he shared with me her response, we determined that it couldn’t rest like that. Parents had put these people in charge of their precious children and they were being irresponsible. I walked down to the kitchen, hoping to prevent them from putting the soy milk in the porridge they usually made for breakfast. Miss Jaye, one of the teachers that had come on staff full time in January, and who had been given charge of the kitchen during her time on campus at the end of last year, was in the kitchen cooking something when I arrived. I said to her that I didn’t know if she was aware, but that the soy milk was expired. I showed her the date on the label of the box, which was sitting on a shelf right beside her. She was appalled and said that she wouldn’t use it any more.

Around midday, Granny traipsed over to our house on one of her rare trips to visit the girls upstairs. Not long after my husband left the house to walk over to the school for his afternoon classes, Granny came downstairs, walked around the back of the house, and started calling my name very loudly as she came around the side of the house. I was just putting my children for a nap, so I was delayed in going to the door. When I opened it, she was already walking away from the house. I called to her, thinking there must have been some important reason for her behavior. She turned back and, looking at me with disdain, and apparently feeling very pleased with herself, she said, “Your house is filthy.” I didn’t respond to her. Then she walked away. I came inside and closed the door and picked up my Bible and prayed. The only things I thought she could be referring to was the pile of clothes on the veranda we had sorted from our things to give away, and the things the children had been playing with outside. They had also, over the weeks, pushed a lot of things through the boards forming the floor of the veranda, as the spaces between were very wide. But beyond that, I realized she just wanted to be mean.

Not long after that, she came back to the house, again calling me loudly from outside. She must have realized I was by the kitchen window because she stood right out there to speak to me. She informed me that we would be having a meeting at 2:30 to discuss the soy milk issue. I said, “Okay” and she left. My husband came into the house on the heels of that incident. He said when he saw Granny step past him at school and start heading over to the house, he took a break from class to come over and find out what was going on. You see, Granny had a penchant for antagonizing me about things home-related, and he suspected she was up to no good. She met him on her way back and told him about the meeting and that we needed to discuss the authority on campus, and respecting that.

I was in the midst of preparing our afternoon meal, so I continued to do that, and when Jermaine came over after school, he helped me get the children together to go to this meeting. The children were rushed out of school once the day ended, and Granny stood over at the school building yelling our names across campus and also screaming, “TIME! TIME!” Eventually, she and the Lawrences walked over to our house to have the meeting there. We asked them if they couldn’t just wait for us at the school. There was no place for us to meet at our house and we had already put on the children’s clothes and were about to go out the door. Granny decided to just cancel the meeting, sending the Lawrences away. She told us she had decided to allow the GAMAS board to deal with the situation. So, we were waiting to be informed about the date of that meeting.

The next day, Jermaine was pumping water and had to go over to the electrical room to check something. He heard Granny, and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence slandering us to persons on phone and radio in the house upstairs. He came back home, and as expected, Granny came over to the house some time after. She said the GAMAS board had made the decision that we were to leave on the next boat possible. We told her that they could ask us to leave the campus, but not the village. Only the village council could order us to leave. We were told that the board would be writing a letter about their decision, so we told Granny that we would wait for said letter. Jermaine was told that he was to stop teaching immediately. Since he had class in a short while, he asked for the privilege to go to his class and tell them that he was being asked to leave the school. He asked her to give the reasons why we were being asked to leave so that he could convey a consistent message with what they would be telling persons. She eventually settled on three things:

1. We’re not fit for the work
2. Our beliefs are not in keeping with those of Siparuta Mission Academy
3. We’re a bad influence on the staff and students.

Jermaine went to class after that and relayed to the students that our family was being asked to leave as soon as possible. He prayed with them and then left. The class of six girls broke down crying and Granny quickly came in and took over the class. The next day the entire class was absent from school protesting the school/board’s decision. In fact, one of the girls had to be taken to the health center with severe migraines because she was so upset and crying. When most of the class returned the following day they were given quite the tongue lashing by Mrs. Lawrence.


This began a very hectic week and a half for us. We were called into a meeting with Granny and the Lawrences by the village council. The council was carbon copied on the letter that Pastor Ash wrote to us on behalf of the GAMAS board. A board member himself, he had become privy to a lot of the issues on campus when he’d come to mediate on the first weekend in January. We were quite open with him about the problems and the deep spiritual issues evident by how the SMA/project was being run. They were upset about the letter because they had been in the dark about there being issues at the school, and also because they pointed out that the letter made it seem like GAMAS was involved in human trafficking, as it asked us to move up our return flight and make our way to Georgetown immediately, where we’d be given temporary housing and transported to the International Airport to be sent back to Jamaica. More in the next post.