Barbed Wire and Broken Bottles | Jake Polichene | 3rd Place

    Jamaica has everything, yet nothing at all. I visited Kingston’s trench town, and it does not have much. Shambling shacks offer soft drinks and beef patties. People reside in crumbling abodes. Most, however, amble aimlessly along the street. Wild goats and dogs scatter around the smelly trenches that run so deep. In these trenches lies a hateful concoction of dirty water, human feces, soda bottles, and ancient wrappers from old processed foods. This stream of sorrow snakes around the entire town.    
     To an outsider, it is a mystery of how the people get up every morning. From an American youth’s perspective, there would be no reason. From a Jamaican’s perspective, there is always a reason. I have learned a great deal from Kingston, much more than it could ever learn from me. Its people’s resilience in the face of the world’s worst poverty shocks and saddens me. Happiness gleams through the paucity of the city. Most of all, the people are grateful for what they have, and are even more grateful just to speak to another human face. The Jamaican people showed me who I could be if society ever tries to flatten me. 
    Our first destination was a children’s hospital. Chaperones herded us onto the seafoam green bus. We did not know where we were heading. Unlike the bus ride from the previous night, there was no darkness to hide the destitution of our surroundings. Sights of barbed wire and broken bottles filled our eyes and fed our anxious minds. We arrived at the hospital, and our stomachs dropped. Hundreds of mothers and their shrieking children stared at us as we shuffled by. For the first time in my life, I was the minority. 
    Once in the hospital, I was told to go to the west wing. My mission was to comfort a dying baby, all by myself. A copy of Hurtle the Turtle and a bag of finger puppets were tossed my way, and I was off. Never before in my life was I given so much responsibility. After bursting through its double doors, I slowly tiptoed through the west wing. I saw children, both young and old, crowded in the same room. I immediately knew who my target was. In the back of the room stood a sobbing toddler in his crib. I formally introduced myself to him. Unimpressed, he looked at me and continued his shriek of pain and tears. I tried everything. I went through half of Hurtle the Turtle and all my finger puppets before I realized that I was powerless. This child was dying. He needed his absent mother, not a foreign stranger. It was a situation that brought a tear to my face. I felt true empathy for this child, something that many cannot understand. His image is engraved into my brain. For once in my life, I had to accept defeat: I could not end his misery. 
    I was trudging back to report my defeat when I was stopped by a mother and her baby. She saw the lifeless finger puppets in my hand, and my long face. She smiled, “Can ja make him smile?” I was puzzled.  She saw my failure in the other room, so why did she have any faith in me? I pulled out the puppets, one by one, and put on a goofy show for my one-man-audience. He giggled and smiled at my pitched voices and silly slapstick comedy. His mother smiled along. The show continued to its second act where I proclaimed the silly stories of Dr. Seuss. A tear gleamed in his mother’s eye.