High-Speed reaches Brampton!

This is the greatest day ever. It started warm, and bright, and with day-light savings time over at last again…and a phone call and a text message.

The phone call was from the principal of Brampton All-Ages Primary, Camiel West-Thompson, who called from Jamaica this morning to bless me with the best news I have heard since January 20th: She has high-speed internet.

It is at her house.

She lives almost one mile from the school. Which is still a ways to go. But let me explain something. This is the first (and presently only) person in a three-township region who has internet faster that dial-up. I have been working for this moment for nine months now. She has been working for this moment for a decade.

It was Camiel’s vision which led to her husband, Lincoln Thompson, and I collecting our first load of discarded and recycled Key West computers, and shipping them to Jamaica. It is Camiel’s vision which led to the community and school board coming together to support the building of the Brampton Primary computer room. And it has been Camiel’s vision which has led me to rally the support of our many friends and fans internationally.

And today that vision has paid off for real in the one single way I consider to be tangible: Connection has been made.

For the first time, the community has real access to the benefits of the internet. Email, file-sharing, Google!

GOOGLE!

And when I say community, here is what I mean. Her home is in Calabar, just on the road to Brampton. (The school is situated so that Calabar is above it to the North, and Brampton it to it’s South.) When we orchestrated the installation of the phone lines and high-speed, we did so with the understanding that I when I return (for the 3rd time) I will be bringing an additional two computers and inkjet printer for the tiny beer-store-and-goods-shop her father and step-mom own and operates alongside the family’s mountainside home.

These computers will be publicly available. Neighbors will be able to use email, videochat, and yes Google! They will be able to print letters, documents, schematics, layouts, instructions, and directions. All the internet computing goodness—so many of us have taken for granted for at least the past decade—is their’s today for the first time!

If you know me, then you must have an idea how this makes me feel. (If you don’t know me,  imagine the glee of a happy circus audience. Every member of which all who just learned they won free ponies. And a lifetime of supply of organic pony feed. Just because they bought a ticket. That’s about covers it.)

For me, life before Google was all working towards Google. As an adult with a lifetime of research behind him, for me there is BG (Before Google) and AG (After Google).  And Life AG has been some of the best years of my life to date.

Making Google available—and the subsequent access to an ever-increasing resource of data and technology—to communities and generations is the same as delivering corn seed to pilgrims; at this juncture in human development, it is the difference between redundancy and relevancy, dying and living, starvation and future.

This is the philisophical groundwork which impels me to pursue these goals to provide children with tools, and the guidance to make use of them with confidence and certainty. This is how I see it. Google equals future.

We are shipping 78 recycled computer workstations to Jamaica, at a cost of $25 for each station. All the sponsors who contribute $25 are paying it forward, and paying for some child’s access to future. It’s that simple.

And this morning the future called up Key West today, in the voice of a Jamaican Primary School principal, to say “Hello!” Feel free to email to her well wishes at her new gmail address. (It is cwestthompson at gmail dot com.)

If that wasn’t enough, there was additional good news today. It was a text from my  honorary brother, Keith MacDonald. Specifically, it was from he and his wife Caroline.

It read, “Baby born at 11:37 PM. She’s a girl. Samara.” I honestly cried with joy.

You ever wake up to one of those days where it the whole entire world is exactly as good as you hope it will be?

I’m happy to share with everyone that that day for me was today.

$25 gift for computers to Jamaica via PayPal

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Sponsor a computer to Jamaica for $25 US

We have located—and are now storing—78 complete computer workstations, cpus monitors keyboards and mice, former institutional machines with very slow 497mhz processors and 256MGs of RAM (perfect for googling and emailing), which Lincoln Thompson and I will transport to Miami on March 20 to ship to Montego Bay to be then transported into the mountains of Trelawny, Jamaica, to their destination: Brampton Township and the 78  households of the students of Brampton All-Ages Primary.

As previously reported, Lincoln is the husband of Camiel West-Thompson, principal of the Brampton Primary.


Up until now, we have collected and delivered 20 workstations. Of those, eight have survived the learning curve (shipping, age, first time computer-users).

Then, an opportunity opened up. We can ship a computer to each household of the students of Brampton Primary and the Brampton, Jamaica Township. This is a community which up until last year had no computers. In other words, working with the community—who came together to build their children the school’s amazing computer room—Key West is giving a hand’s up to island neighbors who are meeting us halfway in providing children with opportunities. As an ethical person, I feel it is my moral obligation to meet these people the other half of the way.

But there is more. We are using the arrival of the computers as incentive for Jamaica and the region’s strongest internet provider, LIME, Land Internet Mobile Entertainment (formerly Cable & Wireless), to extend service one mile to Brampton Primary and the children of Brampton. By providing the children and households with their own computers, we are developing a demand for internet and computer services. LIME is hard-pressed to ignore the positive publicity value nor resist the allure of 78 households of potential, loyal LIME customers.

In other words, shipping these computer workstations very much equals introducing real internet, Google, and emailing to the students and parents and families of Brampton Primary.

Here is where I need the help.

Up until this point, Lincoln and I have personally paid for all of the expenses. Collection, storage, refurbishing, transport, shipping, drivers, customs, plane tickets, etc etc etc. The advantage of doing it this ways has been in allowing for the benefactors of this effort—the Bramptoners themselves—the opportunity to develop a unique internet culture, to develop their own individual and cumulative internet “personality,” and to get their legs and stand and walk on their own with minimal outside influence. But now, here we need a hand.

It is going to cost over $2000 to ship the 78 workstations. It is three palettes of computers, monitors, and peripherals. They are transported to a shipping agent in Miami, and then by cargo ship to Montego, Jamaica. For me, that’s a lot.

So here is the help we are requesting: Can you (or your friend or your business) sponsor one computer’s shipping with a gift of $25?

I’ll even send a photo of the recipients with their new computer. With your name on the computer.

I have set up a PayPal button—see below—to make giving simple. To have your computer identified, just write your name in the “special instructions” field.

[For the record, this is not a “hand out” but rather a helping hand. There is a difference: These kids work hard, they go to school, they have good grades, they say please and thank you, there are good ones and bad ones, of course, but these kids and their families are holding up their end of the bargain: They do the work. The teachers put in extra hours teaching the kids computering, the parents contributed materials and labor for the room, and the kids come in after school and on weekends for lessons. This is the real thing and I am dedicated to these children as if they were my own. They carry their weight!]

That’s it. $25 is what I am asking for from you. Believe it or not, you may only be one person “gifting $25” but each gift helps more than one person; it helps an entire world by helping one small rural township by helping the kids of the community help themselves.

Lastly, to follow our progress, I created this update page to list progress towards reaching our goal. I don’t know if asking for help by blog but I have 78 computers ready to ship, and a school of 78 students waiting to be united with their own computers, and this is whole thing has been one miracle after another, so…

Thanks to for all the kind words, emailed letters of support and all the good feedback. Next step, here we go!

$25 gift for computers to Jamaica via PayPal

Computers-to-Brampton Gift Page (updated daily)

1. Betty Ferguson

2. Jason Newcomb

3. Jody Smith Williams

4. dragonfly

5. George Cooper

6. Peter Downie

7. Erika Biddle

8. Elizabeth Ross

9. Patrick Gossweiler

10. Valerie Detweiler

11. Nijole Ladd

12. Keith and Caroline MacDonald

13. Holly Shea~

14. Suanne Kitchar/Blue Heaven

15. Sandy Kerr

16. Joseph Kukella

17. Richard (Sr) and Betty Hatch

18. Rosanne Potter

19. Tanguita2004

20. Gregory Henke

21. Pam MacKenzie

22. Christy Mosely & Marianne

23. Eden House

24. Eden House

25. Raphael

26. Suanne Kitchar/Blue Heaven

27. Suanne Kitchar/Blue Heaven

28. Suanne Kitchar/Blue Heaven

29. Richard Hatch/Blue Heaven

30. Richard Hatch/Blue Heaven

31. Richard Hatch/Blue Heaven

32. Richard Hatch/Blue Heaven

33. Benjamin & Tracey Marks

34. Arlo Haskell

35. Naja Girard d’Albissin

36. Robert Kelly

37. Sheila M. Cullen

38. Bad Boy Burrito

39. Wendy Bolen

40. Patricia Sickel

41. [anonymous]

42. Bikram Yoga

43. Coffee Plantation

44. Kimberly Bryant

45. Mo’s Restaurant

46. Lindsey Malboeuf & Hami Gendron

47. Heather Ogilvie

48. Baiba Bergsone

49. Andy Hetu/A&M Rentals

50. Opera Italian Restaurant

51. Don McCullogh

52. Danger Charters

53. Martha Barnes

54. Tay Nicholas

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The Day of the Octopus

Recorded by 10-year old Eliot Shea, Key West, FL, 24 December 2009

In Praise of Leadership in Key West

At the behest of Bridget McDonald, Program Coordinator for Green Living & Energy Education (GLEE), I attended the Key West city council meeting this past Tuesday. The matter at hand was Key West’s recycling ordinance sponsored by Teri Johnston to make recycling mandatory.

If you missed this meeting, watch it on cable television. If you don’t have a teevee, make a point of finding one. Because in the decade since I have returned to Key West, what took place Tuesday night was electric. If after seeing that meeting you are not grateful for the leadership of Teri Johnston, Barry Gibson, Morgan McPherson, and the inimitable Clayton Lopez, then my advice is simple: Move.

Because these are elected officials, and on Tuesday night they earned their titles ways which lend credibility to the ideas and values of Key West and of America. In other words, if you didn’t get it Tuesday night, you may be living in the wrong countries—USA and the Conch Republic!

Our mayor, Morgan McPherson, stood for what is right in a way that honored the role he fulfills in a manner which would do proud Bobby Kennedy or Wilhelmina Harvey. Or even Dennis Wardlow, infamous for declaring the Conch Republic a sovereign nation and in attendance to speak his mind on the matter of the ordinance.

But unlike Mayor Wardlow—who spoke for recycling but publicly questioned the wisdom behind making it mandatory—Mayor Morgan McPherson gathered all his powers of presence and oration and delivered at his command, and before the room and all his constituency delivered a speech worthy of the title, “mayor of Key West.”

It began, “I can imagine, once not so long ago there gathered a group of people and before them stood a single individual who stood up and said, ‘Let us go to the moon.’ So to must we look to the future.

And building on that base, Mayor McPherson declared his position in support of the recycling ordinance. This after and tens of passionate citizens, dedicated to the premise of green living, took the podium make the case for mandatory recycling. (As well, as the less than five against.)

But it is not only a mayor who makes decisions in a democracy. In the Key West city council, there are six council members elected to represent us and our island population’s wishes for the direction of Key West.

In fact, it was not Mayor McPherson who even spoke first. Rather, it was all the council members, each having heard the arguments for and against, each who presented their own understandings or misgivings about the ordinance.

Leading off the council members speaking after hearing from the voices of those present in the room (as well as those who sent in letters) was Barry Gibson.

Barry takes the hard decisions hard. He is open about the difficulty of the decision-making process, and eloquent about how he weighs both pros and cons. He gave a lengthy dissertation about how and why he supports recycling but was concerned about it being made mandatory. His position was unclear but it sounded as if he would probably not be voting in favor the ordinance.

Next Dan Kohlhage, who is well-regarded for his generally practical and fiscal-minded nature, spoke on the matter. He was against the ordinance. He didn’t believe the information posed before him/that recycling would save the city $800,000 to $1.2 million annually, and furthermore announced as he read it, it would cost the city $145,000 to provide containers to the seventeen thousand residents. Kohlhage felt that education was the answer.

Kohlhage was followed by Bill Verge. Verge who was elected on a platform of ecology and support for green concerns quickly showed he was no friend of the bill, feared that he “wouldn’t be able to pick-up and throw away a ham sandwich on his properties without getting a ticket,” and denounced the bill as having the potential to pit neighbor against neighbor.

Mark Rossi came next, and while Mark Rossi is generally well-loved and respected his performance at the meeting was a mystery. He was against the bill because “he can’t recycle because Anheuser-Busch no longer makes returnable bottles,” and “Florida should bring back returnables.” What was so mystifying is what Mark was so upset about. It was as if he felt guilty for not doing anything to recycle anything at his popular establishments. What more, it was as if Mark was portraying himself of recycling only means returnables and now someone had taken that out of his hands and he was mad. It was befuddling to all present. Of course, Mark can recycle. In fact, his recycling would lead to such amazing publicity for ALL his businesses—Rick’s, Durty Harry’s, Angelina’s, Red Garter, etc. Even if he only recycled the aluminum much less ALL THAT GLASS think of the impact and positive approval and world-wide publicity Mark’s business’ would garner. But Mark announced he was voting no.

Next up, Clayton Lopez gave a position which was complex in thought and feeling, and honest. Clayton wanted to be for the proposal but again the misgivings about it being mandatory. He spoke as he is his calling card of community and community values.

In the room, a trail of young pre-teens who had sat and listened patiently as well as delivering their own impassioned pleas to pass the bill, touching speeches—no less impressive than the dual roles of double-sided signatured petitions which had together earlier been stretched from one side of the room to the other—got up and left. It seemed the cause had been lost. Their departure had its own impact. Against the backdrop of the adults arguing for and against recycling in the room, it appeared as if the future had got up and left the room.

It was at this point, Teri Johnston, sole female council member and sponsor of the bill, spoke and addressed—point by point—any and all concerns of her fellow council members.

“Every city who has had success with a similar ordinance did so by making it mandatory. They do not write tickets. They do not have to. These cities, we interviewed, and while it is mandatory, they have not had to write tickets. I am sorry for the word mandatory. We thought of many words to replace it. But it is the best word, and we have a person on staff for the city who is eminently qualified to make it work. That’s not a problem.”

She then clarified that there would be an entire year, working with all the groups and volunteers and city officials and employees and Waste Management itself, to insure a smooth transition from Key West’s present recycling rate of 6% to something like 60%.

And here Mayor McPherson issued his earlier-referenced position. Additionally, he said before all that he himself was against it but that it was none other than GLEE vice-president Jody Smith-Williams who had changed his mind and convinced him by taking the time to prove to him the good sense of this ordinance.

Kohlhage didn’t buy it. Mark Rossi returned to his off-topic position that he was against mandatory residential recycling because the State of Florida should make returnables again so his businesses “could recycle.” (?) Clayton re-stated his thoughts. But Bill Verge when it was his turn was practically fuming.

“I am deadset against this ordinance! There will be recycling police. Neighbor against neighbor! We must try education!”

It was at that point Verge made a claim so ludicrous that it incensed one person to storm from the room shouting, “I voted for you and I will never vote for you again!”

Verge said, “I have yet to see any education done on recycling in Key West.”

For a full moment after he said this, it was as if you could have heard a pin drop in the room. For the room was filled with educators and the aforementioned students. (An entire classroom of children from Key West Montessori, as well as other schools.)

Yet Verge’s pronouncement drained the room of common sense, leaving what felt to be a veritable vacuum of intellect.

Then Teri Johnston spoke once again, and again her measured and well-informed responses dispelled the heavy mist of ignorance which seemed to shroud us all, and again all were left with the impression that not only was our cause conscientious but that each of us in the room wasa sensible member of a forward-thinking humankind.

It was at that moment, after over three hours of meeting—half of which was dedicated to the matter at hand—that Morgan asked if there was a motion on the floor. And Teri Johnston motioned for the ordinance to be approved. With only Teri and Morgan’s outright support, it seemed as if the ordinance was dead on the floor. The emotion in the room was drained and low.

In fact no one seconded her motion. Until, with a show of unsuspected verve, Barry Gibson seconded it! It was a pleasant surprise but in truth it had the appearance of second-place. A good effort but in the end unsuccessful.

And that is when the most impressive moment I have ever seen at a city council meeting took place. It was a moment of pure adulterated faith hope and love.

It was now clear that whatever would happen would depend on Clayton Lopez. Clayton Lopez. Remember that name. I will. I will be telling children his name for years to come.

For suddenly it became clear to all present that Lopez was still making up his mind! And as this dawned on us all, someone did say, “Have faith, Clayton.” (He twisted at that.)

But then another voice came. It said simply, “Yes we can, Clayton.”

And at that, his head turned quickly, his eyebrow raised, and a smile lifted the left corner of his mouth.

And seeing that he was one of us, one of the generation who voted for hope, for the best person for the job, for Barack Obama, I have to admit it was I who picked up the call and shouted up to my friend and council member, “YES WE CAN, CLAYTON!”

And suddenly the heaviness left the room, and the lightness that was in all of our hearts flooded it, flooding it with the joy present from the victory our nation earned by the work we all did to get Barack Obama voted president and here was yet another one of those moments happening again! And there were smiles on all our faces. It was that day again!

And Clayton Lopez reached forward and with the uncertainty of the future before him but the certainty of doing the right thing filling him, he said, “AY!”

And the room erupted as a hundred people bolted up and lept to our feet. And a great cheer went up that lasted and lasted. And everyone laughed together and shook hands and patted one another on the back, and like I said it was amazing all over again. At that point, the mayor declared a five minute recess, and the room spilled out onto the street. Victorious. Fulfilled.

And that is how it happened Tuesday night at the city council meeting at City Hall, Greene Street, Key West. Find the video. Take a look for yourself.

Clayton Lopez, you are my hero. Mayor McPherson your right up there with him.

And Teri Johnston and Jody Smith-Williams, on behalf of Key West, thank you.

I’m back!

And I am tired but happy.

I’ll report more later about this trip and the new computers we brought (and the high-speed internet that is on its way) but for the time being let me send Brampton Primary’s thanks for its receiving of the very special gift by US-1 Radio’s Mark Ryno Masca: His own personal PlayStation2 videogame system along with 15 videogames.

In part because of his generosity, Brampton Primary managed to raise $52,000 JA (about $900 US) at this year’s end-of-the-year concert. So how did the PS2 figure in? It was used to generate money by kids playing games during at the event. It was one of the event’s central attractions!

The concert—which is like a variety show, carnival, and dance all tied into one—is the single biggest fundraiser for the school, and this year became its most successful year in the decades it has been holding the event.

Imagine $900 US being a large part of an annual budget. That’s why this videogame system was so important. And I had promised it to the school. However, when the PS2 system I was bringing turned out to have a unfixable faulty laser, I became frantic. It was too late for me to order one off of eBay even. (The school had requested a PS2 specifically to use to raise money, as they had some games of their own already.) So I called Biz Baz and put out a request.

I listen everyday pretty much, part of my morning routine. Subsequently, Mark, Foxy, and Bill Becker are like friends to me. It’s great radio. And gratefully, they had read the story about the school and this effort in the Key West Citizen.

But when Mark said he’d pony up his own system, I was flabbergasted. I was overcome by joy and relief, it was as if a tremendous weight had lifted off my shoulders. I had to fight back tears and just say thank you thank you thank you.

To me, the 778 students at Brampton Primary are like my own now. The idea of failing them was unthinkable. And a it turns out, my belief in them was well-founded.

Along with all the other activities set-up for the concert/carnival, the many, many kids all together played videogames for hours (at $30JA/.50¢US an for 10 minutes). When I was told that it was an important part of their fundraising, I could only imagine but I had no idea what to expect. Again, I was profoundly surprised. For me, this Jamaican experience is one surprise after another.

But pictures tell a better story. I have much more to share about this trip but right now before Christmas I wanted to say thanks to Mark and Foxy and Bill Becker and US-1 Radio, for coming through as they did, and extra-special thanks to Mark. I hope you can see from the photos below just how significant a contribution you made to a great bunch of kids you have never met but who I believe are among some of the best in the world.


PS2 arrives. First players!


A crowd gathers early…


…and plays late (4 hours later).


Brampton Primary sends shout-out to US-1 Radio and Biz Baz…


…then its back to business!

Computers Get To Jamaica!

Computer Room Saturday
[Click for slideshow]

It’s been a while since I got back from Jamaica. I am ashamed it has taken me this long to post. But my resources are limited, I have been working to make ends meet, and it is somewhat embarrassing to say so. The trip pretty much knocked out my summer savings yet here I am scrapping funds together as I get ready to return on December 12th. I stress over how it is going to work out.

So if it is such a strain why am I doing it?

Pretty much because, well, the ten days I spent with a school of students in Jamaica was the best ten days of my life. I’m embarrassed to say that, as well. I’m 43. I should already know who I am. Yet by Day Two I was questioning my purpose in life. Never had I seen so many young minds so grateful for the gifts I was meagerly able to manage. In this regard, I am flat-out humbled.

Allow me to re-cap the events which led up to the present.

In June, after repairing some computers on Key Haven, on my way to my next computer repair appointment, I stopped at Conch Town Cafe in Bahama Village for a $3 fruit smoothie. Owner Clive Thompson’s brother Lincoln was there, and he and I casually began talking about how I was bothered by the fact that there were all these “extra” unused computers around Key West. Some were in people’s homes collecting dust, others were being put streetside to be thrown away when a new computer arrived. “It’s such a waste,” I told Lincoln.

To which he now famously (at least to me) replies, “Why don’t we send them to Jamaica?”

At first I looked at him to see if he was serious. When I saw he was, I said, “Why Jamaica? Kids could use them here.” What he then explained took me completely off-guard.

“Here in Key West, computers are everywhere. At people’s homes, school, the library. There are computers all over the place. Where I am from my wife is a teacher, and they have no computers.” I asked him what he meant by “no computers.”

“Well,” Lincoln explained, “there is a man who has a laptop. He comes sometimes. But when he leaves, he takes the computer with him.”

It was then I understood he meant no computers.

To me, a computerhead, that was beyond belief. For me, life without computers is drudgery. No google? The thought makes me weak. Now that I have it, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. So, imagining life without google….

“Okay,” I then famously (at least to me) replied, “We can do that.”

And so began a summer campaign to collect computers, monitors, and peripherals. You may have heard about it. I emailed everyone I know in Key West about it.

That was June. By September, Lincoln and I had booked tickets to where the computers were heading—Brampton Primary, Trelawny, Jamaica—and I had learned very little about the place. There was literally nothing about it anywhere on the internet! It was as if it didn’t exist. I knew it was about an hour East of Montego Bay, and then an hour in from the Coast. I learned it was in the mountains. And I learned that Lincoln’s wife, Cameil West-Thompson, was more than a teacher, she was the principal of the school.

At the beginning of September we shipped the computers by container from Miami: 14 fully-functional workstations (along with a smattering of peripherals and software). Then, at the end of the month, from Ft Lauderdale I got on a jet with Lincoln and we took off to Jamaica. From that moment forward, I had no idea what to expect.

When we arrived in the Montego Bay airport, there were two lines. One line led to waiting escorts and busses and shuttles to upscale, gated beachside resorts. The other led out of the airport and to a Jamaica that fewer people have the opportunity to see or experience. That’s where we went and where I got to go.

We were met at the airport by a friend of Lincoln’s who drives for a living. He was driving Lincoln’s car and in the car was Lincoln’s four-year old daughter.

Lincoln has children! That was news to me! To me, this is just a good guy I know from around the block whose brother owns Conch Town Cafe where I have been eating pretty much since I was “a kid.” (Remember when it was owned by Mr. “B” Johnson? Then by Cheesy?) Yet before my eyes, Lincoln was materializing as a real person with a real history and real story. And he had a daughter.

I could tell you how it was sort of heartwrenching it was to watch Lincoln’s daughter Cameilia ever-so-slowly open up again to her father after his being away for some time but that has more to do with me than it has to with the story.  (Lincoln is on Key West working to provide for his family. This was the first time I had ever seen what its like for a child to endure even temporary separation from a loving parent. Kids grow so I suddenly understood how it’s a very big deal. As it turns out, he also had a 2-year old (Kyrell). And a 14-year old teenager (Shamar). And he lived on an amazing property, one where fruits and vegetables were really grown and helped to feed the family. So much I could tell you. It was amazing.)

We dropped our driver off, and then took the car to the school. What happens next will stick with me for the rest of my life.

I would like to reiterate I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I had no expectations other than 1) there would be a school, and 2) there would be no computers, and 3) a computer room had been built for the computers we had collected, pieced together and shipped. Even in these “expectations,” how was I to know what would be the case (or not)? I was operating on faith.

So we arrive at the school. It is essentially two long rooms connected in an L-shape with very large open broad doorways. It is very open air. Pulling up, Lincoln says, “He we are.” I can see through the doorways the students all sitting and studying, and looking at the car pulling up the drive. He parks and steps from the car. I open the door and step from of the car.

There is a pause here. It lasts approximately two seconds. The kids kind of freeze. Then all at once, as if on cue, they let out an uproarious shout:

WHITE MAN!

Without any hesitation in unison the students abandon the classrooms and pour from the rooms and as one hurl themselve straight to me. And then everyone is touching me, pinching my skin, touching my hair, staring at me, eyes wide open and open-mouths and smiles and laughter. I am a novelty, a lesson, a source of great amusement. And for the first time in my life, I know who I am at least for one moment: I am a person who is also “a man” and also “a white.” I am a white man. At least, that is how others here honestly see me.

It is an insight that was not lost on me during my entire stay. It is a funny thing when looking at one’s self in the morning mirror one experiences a shock for being the the white person. That was me. I was “him.”

I felt perhaps as a person who is albino must feel. No, that’s not right.

What I felt like was a friendly, welcome alien.

My hair was different. My face. My eyes. My lips. My skin. And yet here I was being welcomed. I felt it was quite a responsibility, an additional one. I was representing people. My people? My people are “other” white people?

As George Bush and Dick Cheney were still president and vice-president at the time, I shuddered to think.

No, the people I represented were benevolent and considerate and compassionate and helpful people. I was in Jamaica to bring computers—in representation of everyone who had donated computers—for the benefit of a hencetofore unseen school of students as well as the larger community. So additionally immediately I realized in this small way I represented the visionary and far-sighted, those of us who not only hope for change but actually work for it. And I just happened to be the “me” version of such a people.

Of the next ten days, I worked nine. We picked the computers up in Montego Bay and I learned the hard way that I had done a poor job of packing the computers. Of the 14, only three or four worked; the rest had been either shaken or jarred so hard that they would not even switch on. So I had no choice but to completely strip down the computers into individual components and start from zero. It is worth noting that of the three or four computers that did work, two were Macs. One blueberry and one (key) lime green, 10-year old iMacs.

[To my constant aid was Mr. Clinton Hedmann. It is another one of those mysteries of the success of this operation that someone with as formidable knowledge of ancient computer systems (“Windows 98”) and the arcane make-up of ancient computers just happened to be the husband of one of the teachers and father of one of the students. (Mrs. Hedmann and son Clinton, respectively.) In fact, Mr. Hedmann was able to bring to life a computer that so frustrated me I had named it DEAD in huge black letters while he continued tooling within it. It was this same computer that got renamed LAZARUS when he brought it to life—complete with out (first) running copy of Windows XP. That computer, along with a 56k cel telephone modem, enabled us to light up four others.]

Yet there is another of facet of this story I have yet to elaborate upon. Before my arrival, I was told “a computer room was being built.” Modestly, I conceived that this meant a room at the school was being cleared and re-named as “the computer room.” Never in my wildest imaginings had I believed that an actual room was to have been constructed. And yet…that is precisely what it meant.

I must preface this piece of my recount by saying that it is nearly beyong my imagining that such a person as Mrs. Cameil West-Thompson would happen to be the person who is also wife of Lincoln and principal of Brampton All-Ages School. Such a person seems only found in fairy tales or hollywood films. Here was a believer in the greatness of human beings, someone whose unshakable faith inspired others to reach deep into themselves or beyond our abilities to find unknown or unseen resources in order to accomplish small goals with immense consquences. It was she who drove here husband to seek out things for—another surprise to me—his alma mater, and to give back to that which helped to make the excellent person he is. It was she who found the means to have the computers picked up and delivered and a tiny office and broom closet taken down and rebuilt with safe walls and doors (not to mention finished shelves, and new and improved electrical). She is the one who imported a computer to train the students on for three weeks beofre our promised arrival. And she is the one who deserves the credit for being able to instill her vision so deeply into others that it reached throughout Jamaica and all the way to us in Key West.

The computer room that was designed was perfect, it was amazing, and it was real. What more, from top to bottom, the work that had gone into the construction and development of the computer room not only spoke of a dedicated commitment to and from the community for which it had been constructed to serve, to the students and parents it blazed outwardly like an illuminating beacon. And to me, that beacon brilliantly radiated a message. It says, “This way to our Future.”

While I worked finishing computers, Lincoln worked finishing the computer room. And as soon as I had computers up and running, I had students. We arrived Friday. We got the computers from Montego Bay on Monday. On Tueday, with the switching on of the two blessed Macintosh iMacs, classes began.

To say that I was unable to peel the students off the computer is no exageration. Every moment I was there while school was in, there were groups of students there, too. And they were absorbed in computers that kids here in Key West would most certainly have had reason to shun: They were running Mac OS 8.6 (and later Windows 98), and only had games with names like Velociraptor and Solitaire.

But the most amazing thing is I never showed anyone where anything could be found. I let them find it for themselves. And over and over again, on machines I thought had no games at all, they discovered—and learned—these programs after I gave them but the barest of grasp of what to look for and how to manuever around. Even while it meant I had to keep a close eye on such possible calamities as system files being moved to the trash (this happened more than once), it allowed for a crash course in computing that knew no equal: Crowded together around the computer, me at the shoulder piecing together more computers, we learned together.

We? Yes, we. I learned learning. I saw seeing. And I joined in the joy of every small success as as a group the students “grokked” the computer, and grasped the workings and uses and vulnerablities of this highly unusual and fantastic tool, the personal computer.

Each day was like a part of my soul I was unaware even existed became charged and lighted with the practically crackling electricity of the students’ radically super-charged learning. They were all interested to the exclusion of all else! And yet that is where my presence—as teacher—was called for. “Take turns. Share. No pushing. Relax. It’s okay. Good job.” I was there. I made a difference.

And I realized there was nothing in the world I would rather be doing.

Lincoln and I worked everyday from daybreak to after sundown. Many friends in the community worked alongside us. Teachers made arrangements in their routines. Parents, also. That there was an excitement in the air was obvious. There was an unspoken agreement that what was being done was changing the future, and everyone gave themselves to the task heartily and unselfishly.

In fact, we worked until the night before our departure. That was when the room was finished, the big rebar gate put in place, and the computers installed and booted up. We worked until the last day, and that is when we finished. Then we left.

But not before the students, parents and teachers put on a special program of appreciation to “son of the soil” Lincoln Thompson and “friend to Brampton” Mike Mongo, replete with decorations and dance and song, all in total surprise. In fact, they had to peel Lincoln and I away from our work to get us to show. We had no idea! This is yet another surprise, and one which I would have resisted had I any idea it was to take place, but grateful am I to have experienced such a genuine outpouring of welcome and appreciation.

Yet there remains one more experience on which I feel privileged to report and share.

On Friday, the last day I would have to work with the 78 students of Trelawny Parish’ Brampton Primary School, it was agreed that the top 12 students from the week would be selected and offered the “opportunity” to come into school on Saturday for a special session of computer training. The idea was I would pick the 12 minds who I felt were most interested, most receptive, and most naturally-attuned to wrapping their minds around the idea of a computer. I was to pick 12 out of 78.

However, as soon as it was announced I would be picking out 12, it was like a scramble for the Willie Wonka’s legendary Golden Ticket. And parents were present to, there for a special program. So not only were students clamoring for the opportunity—get this—to come to school on Saturday—but the parents were championing for their sons and daughters, as well! To some degree, I expected this.

What I did not expect is that everyone of the selection of 22 students, ranging in age from five to 12, would show up at 10 AM on a Saturday to go to school. (When some were late and I asked about it, I was told, “They had to walk four miles.”) I am near tears as I write this because it is true.

And getting ready to walk into the their new computer room together and for the very first time, specially set-up prior to its completion solely for this purpose, I stopped the line of all the students together and explained this.

“You are about to enter a sacred shrine. On the outside of this doorway, you are one person but when you pass through this doorway, you will be another. It looks like a regular doorway but on the other side is your future. When you walk through this doorway, you walk into your future.

“Around the world, there are rooms like this, and they all have one thing in common. Inside computer rooms around the world, people are quiet. It is like a sacred place. You will go into computer rooms around the world, and you will see. Inside computer rooms, everyone is quiet. Because we are thinking.

“Of the entire school you were picked to learn these traditions. There is no food, no drinks, no water, no snacks through these doorways. These things you learn today you are to share with your peers, your fellow students. You are the holders of the boulder. Does everyone understand?”

And I had the hearts and minds of 22 young minds right there with me. And together, genuinely solemn and excited we walked through the doorway into the future. And it was like I had accomplished one great thing in my life for certain, and this was it.

With eight working computers, three students of similar ages were set-up at each workstation. At first there was some challenge about who would watch and who would use the computer. Until I explained, “Watching you can learn what to do on someone else’s time. Then when it’s your turn, you don’t have to waste time learning how.” And just like that, they got.

With inside voices, the kind of voices reserved for churches and libraries and computer rooms, 22 students spent two hours on a Saturday at school learning computers. It was better than something you would see on teevee or in the movies. It was real. When it was over, I thanked everyone, congratulated them for their time and attention and exceptional academic skills, and then I made a promise to return.

What more, I promised I would bring more computers. Lots more.

And now I am going back. I am bringing more computers, already shipped, and I hope to bring more software, some RAM (and hopefully a PS2 for the school to raise money at their carnivals), and one more thing:

I am working to bring high-speed internet.

I am working to bring Google.

I have many videos of the occassion. And I will post them soon. But I think of all of them, this one captures best what it is I myself am trying to say.

Thank you, Key West.

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