Thank God it's Friday

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Monday The sign by the side of the road captures it well: "Your body has suddenly arrived where your mind has always been." In March 1972, I had just finished a Dip Ed at the University of the West Indies and I set out in a battered station wagon to explore the east coast of Jamaica and look for a job. After 40 miles I pulled on to a beach where fishermen were mending their nets, and found Happy Grove school. Your first teaching job is like first love: it marks you forever. Now I am back where I started.

Tuesday Happy Grove was founded in 1898 by American Quakers and has survived on a combination of faith, local initiative and foreign aid.

Driving in from my hotel, I offer a lift to a girl from the school, who has obviously missed her bus. Within seconds, five others jump into the car - three students, one fisherman and a banana man, complete with machete.

WednesdaY Some things have changed. The school has more than doubled in size this year - the roll is nearly 1,500. The textbooks are better and more relevant and the school now has phones, multi-channel television and the radio after 6pm. Almost all the staff are Jamaican and there is a greater acceptance of Patois.

Thursday Then and now most of the students come from a background of plantation employees, banana workers, fishermen and those who do "a bit of dis and bit of dat". All the buildings where we used to teach are still standing, but very worn. New buildings have been pushed up to cope with extra demands but things have not been helped by two hurricanes in just over 10 years.

Friday I leave encouraged. The students seem confident and mature even if they face a difficult future. Today's paper announces that the number of murders last year was more than 1,500. Sitting round with former students and looking at old class photos, "gone to America" almost becomes a litany as we identify the faces. As I leave, the fisherman I picked up on Tuesday grasps my hand. "Peace and love, Teacher," he says. Amen to that.

John Kirkaldy is an associate lecturer with the Open University

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