In Jamaica, it’s good to be resourceful and make contacts for a plethora of needs. For example, one of my fellow Canadian interns had a designated ‘pineapple guy’. She promised to buy pineapple from him exclusively as long as she got the local price in return. One of my needs happened to be transportation – transport to and from work, transport to the gym, transport to the dance studio etc. I had a list of my favourite taxi drivers I could call whenever I needed to get from point A to point B, but there was one driver that stood out to me like no other – his name was Ross.
“Ay pretty girl!”
That’s how Ross answers the phone every time I call him. His enthusiasm always makes me smile.
“Hey Ross, I was wondering if you were free at 7pm, I’m planning to go to the dance studio tonight.”
“Yes girl, I’ll be there to pick you up then!”
When I hop into the front seat, he never hesitates to ask me how my day went, what I did that day, how I’m liking Jamaica. My answers are usually positive or “I’m tired”. When I reciprocate the question, his answer was, “I’ve been working”.
At first, I took it at face value and left it at that. But the more I rode in his taxi, and asked him how he was doing, I realized his answer was always the same, “I’ve been working”.
So I asked him, “Working…. doing what?”
Turns out he drives a van during the regular day hours, and operates a taxi from 6pm to midnight. Ross was working more than 12 hours a day.
“Why do you work so much Ross?”
Ross has 3 kids and a wife to support. His wife is a stay at home mom; she loves to bake and also sings in the church choir.
The way Ross describes his kids is always animated. One night I went to my cousin’s birthday party where there was someone making balloon animals. I thought it would be cool to have some made for Ross’ kids so I got a sword and an animal of some kind. After I gave them to him, I saw him the next day and he said to me, “Zoe! My kids love di balloon animals! They fought over it!” He proceeded to motion the swishing of a sword in the air, mimicking their play.
There was another time I remember where he picked me up from the studio with most of his family in the car. We were so squished I didn’t even notice his youngest son was in the backseat till I got out and a little voice said, “byebye!” to me.
I think the reason why I am so intrigued by Ross is because of the way he shares his life through stories.
I remember sitting on the beach at Doctor’s Cave in Montego Bay on a Friday afternoon. I was about to doze off when I received a call from Ross. Curious, I picked up to hear Ross excitedly telling me that his US VISA got approved and could finally travel with his family to New York! I was really happy for him. Although out of all people, I wondered, why did he call to tell me? He said, “I just wanted to tell the world Zoe, this is such great news! It’s good to tell people good news.” And good news it was.
But out of all of the moments we spent together, I think my favourites were the times he talked about his wife. He described his wife as wonderful, faithful, trusting and simply lovely.
“She’s so good to me Zoe, she’s a GOOD woman. Sometimes women stray, and men too, but with a woman like that, there’s no need to.”
I asked him, “What makes a great marriage Ross?”
He replied, “Trust and communication. I like relationships where the two people get to know each other for a long time and get married.”
I said, “Did you wait a long time to get married?”
He meekly replied, “Ah, no. But you see it was ordained! We dated for a year and got married, then God came to me and told me “Marry this girl” and God came to her and said “Marry this man”, so we got married!”
Through Ross, I’ve uncovered many simplicities of life through his humility, liveliness and gratitude. We’ve shared many laughs and conversations that ventured beyond common formalities. For me, there’s no better way to get to know Jamaica than through the people. The moment I knew Ross and I broke the barrier between foreigner and local was when he said, “You know Zoe. I’m thankful for you. You listen to me, you treat me like a human being.”
A realization I came to the other day, was the fact that global development is one of the only disciplines whose focus is on others. So if there’s something I wish for those of you pursuing global development, it is the curiosity to build meaningful connections. Really sit down with someone and ask a question other than, “How are you?” because the questions you ask will determine the answers you receive. And what’s hidden in those answers not only gives you the ability to bridge a connection, but also harness a form of truth. If it is this truth that you seek, then be prepared to feel uncomfortable, because it is this vulnerability that will allow you to tackle the problems you so desperately want to solve in this world. One day you will emerge from your tumultuous mixture of emotions and it is on this day that I hope you feel clear headed and calm. Why? Because you had the courage to ask the questions nobody else asked and developed a library of knowledge because of it. And it is this knowledge that provides you with the foundation for all your solutions for the world.
Zoe Chung was working as a Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Specialist with Eve for Life in Kingston, Jamaica.