During our training as stewards we participated in a seminar on safety and security. Kingston, Jamaica is recognized as one of the most dangerous cities in the world and in such a climate the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) choose to hold a conference on Just Peace. While the campus was on high alert, various things happened that caused me to question our safety and security.
From the dangers of human-kind, like the two people from our hotel who were held up at gunpoint in full sunlight on a Sunday afternoon, to the dangers of Mother Nature, like when we were on the 18th floor of the conference center and felt the entire building shake from the tremors of an earthquake.
How do we serve others when we feel unsafe? Are we called into creating safety and security or is such an illusion? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “There is no way to peace on the way of safety… Peace is the opposite of security.” How then do we teach, advise, and suggest to others ways of acting, being and doing that are not based on fear but instead on smart choices. How do we help people calculate the risks of their decisions?
Jamaica is a new set of calculations for me.
I’ve been to occupied Palestine, rural East Africa, and inner-city slums in the United States. I’ve felt unsafe before but my knowledge of the areas or the knowledge taught to me by locals helped me calculate the risks and make smart choices. I’ve grown aware of how fear plays a part in my feelings of safety and security and although I fully acknowledge its presence, I do not want it to control me.
One thing that we, the stewards, were told over and over was not to wander anywhere in Kingston without a local. The local stewards taught us through skits and presentations about the violence of Kingston and the dangers-- that youth in particular-- experienced daily.
We internationals stood out. We didn’t know where was safe and where wasn’t.
The imposed accompaniment requirement was frustrating. I felt embarrassed and burdening to ask the Jamaican stewards to take me places. I let other stewards do the asking and then jumped on the bandwagon when the group left. (My own confession) While I didn’t want to burden anyone, I didn’t like feeling trapped inside the compound either.
In reflection, I wonder how people of Palestine, Columbia, Iraq, and Canada, feel as they areaccompanied by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) or the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
Do these people feel frustrated that they must be accompanied by internationals in order to feel safe? Or are they much more gracious and humble than me?
Safety and security also makes me think about risks. What do I have to consider in calculating my risks in any given situation? In my journal I made a list of the risks I can think that people have to consider:
+Family at Home
+Responsibilities at Home
+Valuable on Person
+Access to leave the country
+Access to one’s embassy
+Access to the police
+Access to medical facilities
I’m sure there are many more, and I’m interested in what other people come up with. In my own analysis I find that for the most part as a young, unattached, affluent, American, English speaking, straight white woman without disabilities, most of these risk factors are very low. In places where women are respected not even my gender is much of a threat. However, here in Jamaica race, gender, and even language pose risks to my ability to walk around alone on the streets of Kingston.
I have to admit, my fear caused me to think about leaving Jamaica early. I had scheduled my time here to include one week after the IEPC to travel and visit with Quakers. I joined up with a few groups of internationals and traveled a bit throughout the country. Then, my fear peaked and at the airport when I dropped off my friends, I inquired if I could travel standby on a flight that night.
Other plans were in store and as it worked out there was no way I could leave Jamaica until my original departure date. I had just enough money to get me to the Friends Center at Worthington Friends Meeting where I met amazing, kind and hospitable Quakers. My fear would have prevented me from meeting these wonderful people, learning about their life and community, and sharing with them their love for their city and their country.
While I’m ashamed that my fear prompted me to act in the ways that I did, I’m thankful that in the end grace prevailed and not fear. For as the angel said to the shepherds “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) Thank you my dear friends in Jamaica; thank you for being patient with me.