Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My last Jamaican summer and some reasons why the grass is greener here (hint: it's not the heat)

The first term of the school year has already gone by and I haven't even updated you on my summer!
Since the summer break is during the hottest time of the year and I literally have nothing to do during those weeks, this year I got out of dodge! Well, after three weeks of summer classes, that is. In Jamaica, the teachers at any given primary school can volunteer to hold summer classes at their convenience, but as you can imagine not many do. So I teamed up with a couple of other Peace Corps Volunteers to do a little extra for the kids and do it our way! Kate came to my school the first week of summer and we held enrichment sessions from 9-12pm for the grades 4-6, focusing on graphs (for the maths hour) and poetry (for the literacy hour) with a craft component each day. The next week, I joined Courtney at her school to assist with the 20 plus students who showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed everyday. Finally, I stayed in Kate's community and did the same graphing and poetry lesson plans that we taught at my school the first week.
After a year of educating myself in how to teach literacy at a primary level, I finally figured out that being prepared and having very structured lessons not only takes stress off of me, but also forces the children to learn more. Who knew? Below are some pics highlighting these adventures. For the same reason, I feel really on my game this year and was ready to hit the ground running when September rolled around.
 Kate helping a student count candies for a bar graph
 Making friendship bracelets
For the next three glorious weeks I took my only vacation back to the states during my service. I got to catch up on my American media as well as learn all about the novelties I've missed being isolated for the previous year and a half. I felt like a Neanderthal when I had a million questions about the e-cigarettes that everyone I know seems to be smoking now as well as how to use a tablet to pay at local stores. Although these were things when I was last in the land of plenty, I had forgotten all about HD tv, crazy fast internet, froyo, bubble tea, MEAT and all the other foods and IPA’s I’ve missed. During the 20 day trip I visited 4 states, enjoyed the cool weather, A/C, hot showers, cheap shopping, visited an amusement park, played board games with my besties, caught up with old friends and sharing in their life events, watched the entire first season of “orange is the new black”, explored the latest innovations in the nail art industry, recycled, discovered imgur, took a break from constantly frizzy hair and obligatory pony tails as well as public transportation, saw a brand new movie in the theatre, and figured out my next steps after Peace Corps. But I must admit I had little interest in making a trip to the beach in Connecticut or Lake Erie because I know it simply can’t compare to the Caribbean experience. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side, because after just a few days in the land of plenty, I started to realize all of the things I love and missed about Jamaica.
To counter my last post which focused on some of the deeply ingrained problems of this country, here I have for you a list of things I personally believe are better in Jamaica than in America. Also, I included a bit of Patwa, as a cultural interest.

Plain like paki: Here we call people who tell it like it is “plain like paki” after the paki vegetable, which has a very smooth plain exterior. It was traditionally dried and hollowed out for a bowl. I have always been one of those brutally honest people, which doesn't go over well with many Americans but here is simply a way of life. It is possible to take things too far with this, like when someone notices my weight gain by saying, “Yuh get broad/fat!”

The Prime Minister is a woman: ok, Portia Simpson-Miller isn’t the Governor General (the highest ranking official in Jamaica), but it’s still super cool for a developing country to have a female as second in command. Am I right??

Tek it easy/Hush: The stereotype that most Jamaicans are super laid back is quite right in my experience. I think patience is in abundance among Jamaica's people because things really do move a lot slower here when it comes to getting things done, and people get used to it at an early age. Jamaican babies are definitely the quietest infants I've ever heard, even when a mother is holding a newborn in the back of a very full taxi (I have literally never seen a child car seat in this country) careening around mountainous pot-holey roads. It makes me wonder if there's something genetic going on since it's such a contrast to the dread I would feel when trapped with a baby on a long car ride or flight under any other circumstances. Another Patwa word that exemplifies this way of life is 'hush'. They don't mean 'shut up', but rather 'don't worry yourself' or 'you're alright, calm down'. Hush may be the most common words I hear parents say to their children, so maybe that factors in to the relaxed adults this country produces.

Pssst: This cat call (among many others) is the sound I hear anytime I leave my community and have to encounter males who don't know me. Even though unwanted attention is the bane of my existence, I’m counting over confidence as a positive because on many levels Jamaicans (and impoverished people all over the world) struggle with a lack of confidence. Most people here don’t lack confidence in anything, even when they probably should. It is evident to me that there is no fear of rejection when an 80 year- old married man hits on me and is genuinely surprised when I don't snap him up on the hot offer. But I digress... the point is that in general, Jamaicans believe in themselves no matter what the task and that's pretty awesome.

Maanin: here in the bush, everyone greets everyone all the time. If I'm walking to school in the morning and pass by a group of 5 adults, I had better say 'maanin' 5 times or else I will have one of them yelling at me down the street about how I never greet them. While I saw it as a chore at first, sometimes trying desperately to make eye contact or yelling greetings at someone when they're just far enough away that the social custom obligation is iffy, I now look forward to this ritual. It keeps me in contact with most of the community members and solidifies my relationships with them which comes in handy later when I'm trying to get community projects off the ground. I am truly going to miss my morning greetings. 

Nutin a gwaan fi mi (Homlessness, or the lack thereof): The previous phrase directly translated means 'nothing is going on for me', but implies that one cannot find work or other life ambition. Although there are plenty of homeless people in the capital city, Kingston, in my tiny community of 400 there never will be. Don't get me wrong- we have mad men (and no I don't mean like Don Draper) but if the needy and mentally challenged people don't have any family to speak of someone else from the community takes them in, feeds them, makes sure they bathe and wear at least semi-clean clothes. This even happens with abandoned children. Can you imagine someone in America taking in a total stranger simply because they have no family or friends left? Although it speaks volumes to a system that is much less regimented than what we're accustomed to in the good ol' U. S. of A., Jamaicans have found a way that works to care for their needy.
Wi likkle but wi tallawah: This phrase means 'we're little, but we're strong'. Jamaicans are raised from a very young age to be proud of their heritage. While certainly there is a good deal of national pride in particular pockets of America, I think it's safe to say that one would never see a Jamaican child exercise his or her right to abstain from saying the national pledge like so many of my classmates did in rebellion. And my favorite part about this is that Jamaicans don't use patriotism to excuse their bigotry. 
Formal manners: I couldn't think of a Patwa word for this, but manners are of paramount importance here to the point that I have had to change a good deal of my behaviors to avoid quarreling with people. From excusing yourself from a room and eating properly with fork and knife to ridiculously long ceremony formalities, Jamaicans do things by the book and I love it for the most part.
Well that's it for the months-old update. I'll work on telling you all about the last couple of months happenings as well as my prep for leaving Jamaica. Unbelievably, my probable close of service date is only about 4 months away! See you all soon!!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Today I attempt to say something of substance to you about Jamaica, while still remaining optimistic.  I usually spend my time here trying to keep friends and family up to date with the day to day happenings and I fail to really tell you anything of import about what I see and learn here.  If you follow me on this blog and facebook you see mostly pictures of me in my bathing suit with a turquoise sea back drop (which is why we here in PC Jamaica are regarded by our less fortunate colleagues in Mongolia, Niger, and the like as “Posh Corps”) but there’s much more to this tiny island nation that that.
I try to focus on “the good” as often as I remember to-mostly for my sanity.  If I don’t say it frequently enough, let me say now that the indescribable and truly inescapable beauty , the friendly, endlessly patient people with the always-kind-to-strangers attitude, and that “je ne sais quoi” Caribbean charm makes Jamaica a lovely place to have the cultural experience of a lifetime. 
As for “the bad”, I know I never leave you wondering.  I’m talking about the cockroaches, ice-cold showers and a general lack of first world amenities, as well as the awkwardness of constant declarations of love received from complete strangers, for example.  This is the petty stuff that gets to you when you’ve had a long day or you’re experiencing a hormonal surge.  These are the things you get over pretty quickly when you count backwards from ten. 
That’s not my main subject matter today.  Rather “the ugly” is what I have to relay to you this go around.  The ugly is the stuff that makes people who know Jamaica call it the land of contradictions.  It’s the stuff that when it catches you off guard can evoke an intense and potentially publicly embarrassing emotional response.  And, in my opinion, the ugly is often why I’m here in the first place.  Names and details have been omitted to protect the innocent, and well the not so innocent too.
Trauma: Sure people in the U.S. know trauma just the same, but consider first that children here are often emotionally cut off, so getting them to say what’s really on their mind is no easy task. A sixth grade student at my school once started and essay about “A day I will never forget” with the following sentence: “A day I will never forget is the day my mother got chopped.” Chopped, colloquially, refers to being cut with a machete at the hand of a foe.  While this all too common occurrence is often fatal, this child’s mother survived, but the family is tortured by the literal and figurative scars that are their constant reminder of the fragility of life.  Even my messed up tales from childhood don’t compare to that.
Desperation: In my tiny impoverished village, the unemployment rate is estimated at 30%.  I may grumble about not having enough fun money but I was recently snapped back to reality by a twelve year-old who was debating the importance of school with me and threatening to take up hustling when he said, “Miss, education cyan full mi (can’t fill my) belly today.” I had a hard time making a convincing argument against that especially knowing his caretaker had just asked me for the equivalent of US$5, that seemingly was the make or break difference in her large family’s weekend cuisine.
Intolerance: It is widely known that Jamaica is the most homophobic nation in the world.  I accepted this before I arrived and I bite my tongue when I hear homophobic slurs in the street, at school, church, and from people whom I consider to be friends.  If asked my stance, I say something benign that leads them to believe I’m indifferent on the issue, but I had a recent experience that chilled me to the core and likely revealed my true colors.  At a meeting for the local school teachers and principals to discuss last year’s Grade 4 Literacy and Numeracy Exam and Grade 6 Achievement Test scores, a pastor who was the main guest speaker (that’s right-remember there is no separation of church and state here) stated outright that he “would rather the children we are rearing today become rapists than homosexual.” That alone was not the most horrifying part.  The standing ovation was.  Coming from a group of fairly to very well educated people, this was a surprise to me even in this intolerant environment.  My instant reaction, aside from my jaw on the floor, was to think it absurd because one is illegal and the other is … oh wait I almost forgot that being convicted of a homosexual act is punishable by up to 10 years in prison here. I think this is what they were referring to when they said I may encounter cultural shock.
The literal ugly: Despite regular trash pick up that occurs in Browns Town (the town I shop in), there is a constant pile of garbage that is taller than me on the ground in the town's main transportation hub.While the general attitude of Jamaicans is to make the best with what you have, the state of the bus park really exemplifies the intense dichotomy on this matter. Example: you don’t have proper shoes for school- yours are all torn and held together with tape or pins but WHOA are those tattered shoes clean when you arrive at school!  Then why on earth is it acceptable to pile our trash in the most frequented section of town?  The only place people who are just passing through will actually see!  People who can’t help themselves: There are only a handful of schools geared towards special education in this country of roughly 3 million, so the majority of people who need special programs just go to regular school. They learn little and mostly just affect the experience of the other students as well as put undue strain on ill-equipped teachers.  These are the bulk of the children we Peace Corps Volunteers work with in the bush.  Sadly, they often come from a long line of people who suffered just the same fate. So when I sent home a carefully worded (with low vocabulary) Library card permission slip with my students I made sure to read it over with them first so they knew whose name went in which blank (parent/student) for their guarding to sign. I struggled to hide my reaction when a twelve year-old who reads at a Primer level (think head start) still brought it back with the names flip flopped and barely legible.  This coupled with the fact that this particular student didn’t improve his reading level one bit in a year of sessions with  me nearly brought me to tears.   
Just to end on a positive note, I would like to say that for every bad day like this, I estimate that I have at least two weeks of good days and, for the record, I only had two students (likely with undiagnosed disabilities) not improve their reading this year while all the others jumped one to three levels. That along with the love I get from these wonderful kids is what makes the job worth it all at the end of the day, despite the many challenges.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

M'deh ah

**Note: I really tried to post fun pictures of all of these events here, but the slow internet is against me!  See my facebook page for pics, and I will try to update this post with images later.

Not that I’m counting down or anything, but I just passed the 11 month mark in my service (13 months on island)!  It’s unbelievable how quickly it has gone by.  They say that the days are long but the years are short, and I couldn’t agree more.  Some days drag on like 4 men trying to pull a pig across the road (not easy), but then all of a sudden I look at the calendar and realize how far I’ve come.

My most recent challenge has been, in general, to just be present.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the day to day annoyances and forget to appreciate the beauty this country has to offer as well as the completely rockin’ gig I have.  So when my Jamaican peeps greet me with, “Waa gwaan?” (What’s going on?) I reply, “M’deh ah.” (I’m here.)  Because, for the foreseeable future, I AM here and I am doing everything I can to be ever present. 

Now, on to a very swift but seriously necessary update of the last several months (in chronological order):

Halloween: a dozen or so of us PCV’s and friends got together at a colorful hostel on the north coast of the island.  Some dressed up and some didn’t, but my Red Stripe costume was a hit and of course we had a blast Peace Corps Jamaica style.

Parenting workshop: One of my favorite PC staff members (now former) came to my community to conduct a parenting workshop at a P.T.A. meeting to try to encourage parents to emotionally and financially support their children’s’ education.   I asked her to come hoping that she could motivate them to buy notebooks and pencils for their kids, and she ultimately did much more.  The high point was when she actually convinced a mother of 10 to stop hitting her children.  This came after much… ahem… discussion as Jamaicans would say.

Turkey Day and All Volunteer Meeting: About 25 of the 50ish volunteers on island got together in Kingston and had a conference that was run by PCV’s for PCV’s.  The short two day gathering was packed full of information on all sorts of topics like teaching computer literacy, games for the classroom, what to do after Peace Corps, and I even co-facilitated a session on classroom management.  It really didn’t feel like Thanksgiving without football on a TV in the background, but at least we had turkey and some of the fixin’s at a potluck dinner the first night. 

Reggae marathon: No, I did not run a marathon.  I volunteered at one!  This was probably the most fun I’ve had in a tourist town (Negril) doing tourist-y things.  Some of the other PCV’s did run and the rest were happy to be passing them bags of water as they sped by us at 5 am.  Afterwards we headed to Rick’s cafĂ© which is known for its cliff jumping.  I may not have run 26 miles but I did plunge from a ~40 foot cliff into the ocean and live to tell about it.

JIS essay awards ceremony: Back in September, I helped a handful of the students at my school edit essays they wrote for a competition run by Jamaica Information Service.  Lo and behold, two of them placed in the top 10 on island and that earned them a trip to the awards ceremony at the Governor General’s (Jamaica’s highest ranking official) house.  I was so proud of them for making the effort and the rest of the students were really encouraged to try for the next competition when they saw their classmates’ success and prizes (one was a kindle fire)!

Christmas visitors: I had my first visitors since moving here: two of my besties for Christmas and New Year’s!  We relaxed a lot at my place, hit a couple of tourist spots and beaches, celebrated Christmas Eve at the Brown’s Town Grand Market and NYE on the North coast with PCV’s as well as some of their friends and family.  They each had at least 2 days of downtime from various island maladies, but I think they managed to gain a whole heap of perspective on the culture and way of life. Even thought it was probably one of the hardest moments I’ve had in Jamaica when they left, it was a visit well worth it.

New school term:  With the new term, which started in January, I have settled into my role here a great deal and learned to be ready to roll with whatever the day brings me. Through a student teacher taking over my classroom and most of my students for weeks as well as constant eleventh-hour surprises I remain steadfast. Despite the challenges, I have started to see some actual improvement in several students’ literacy levels. That’s what it’s all about, right?!
Rebel Salute: This is an all reggae concert that I attended with a few friends.  I immediately took a most unfortunate spill in some fresh mud before even entering the gate in a mad dash for the portable Johnny.  To top it off, my pants “burst” on the way down.  Jamaicans are typically very cleanly, so when the security guard saw my whole backside covered in filth and my nearly ripped in two jeans he took pity on me and tried cleaning me at the foot pumped sink.  This, of course, did not work so he, with the help of Courtney, ended up using the Caribbean Sea to wet his handkerchief and scrub the sludge off my derriere.  Ultimately, it was worth it.  I got in for free and stayed until dawn, despite the muck. And after a year in Jamaica, I can say I finally have an appreciation for the reggae genre.  I do not, however, have an appreciation for the vuvuzuelas.  If I never hear one again, it will be too soon. 

Starting my secondary project:  You may recall from my last post that I am aiming to finish building a Library and Resource Center for my school.  This means the actual construction, which was started by the last volunteer at my site and remains today as the foundation and nothing more, as well as filling this lovely new building with books and computers.  I have assembled a committee of teachers, parents, and community members to assist me with getting this project going and we have been meeting weekly… er at least bi monthly depending on how successful we were in getting our tasks done from the last meeting.  This usually depends on the work of someone else, so it has been slow going but I anticipated that.  What I didn’t anticipate is losing my most involved project partner (see next headline).

The loss of my counterpart: Counterpart is a Peace Corps term for someone who works with you in your community on any of your projects.  We are assigned a formal counterpart by PC who is usually a teacher for us educators, and many people don’t even really work with this person, but I surely did.  He was one of the most well educated and open minded people in my community and helped me immensely with everything I did, until he was offered a job at the Ministry of Education that is.  Unfortunate would be putting it mildly.  They swooped him away without even a day notice and we all tried to be happy for him despite how sad for ourselves we were. Luckily, I have the support of a few very dedicated parents and the principal and other teachers at my school to pick up the slack.

“Officially Old Day”: I thank Mo for the term and for those of you who don’t know, I’m talking about my 30th birthday. Being one of the big ones, I took it upon myself to have not one, but two birthday parties. The first was lower key than the second and both were a blast. 

The arrival of the new group of trainees in Jamaica: I am so thankful to no longer be the freshman class on island and convey all my Jamrock knowledge jewels to the newbies!  I was always better at being a leader than a follower (at least I like to think so), and their presence has already renewed my love of Jamaica in a multitude of ways.  It’s kind of sad that so many of my PCV friends will be leaving in August, but I’m sure my 29 new government issued friends will comfort me.

Speaking of August, I am planning a trip back to the states! If you will be in the Connecticut/NY/PA area in between July 26 and August 16 and want to see me, let me know.  This will be my only trip home during my service, so make it count people!

So that was a lot of info.  This is where I would normally excuse myself for waiting so long to update my blog, but I’ll save it this time and just try harder not to wait 6 months until the next update. Good night, friends.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Small wins

I have officially been on Jamrock for over 7 months now!  I really wanted to blog more often, but have been super busy with school starting, being deathly ill, and then the first of three week long Peace Corps conferences.  I hate when it’s been so long since my last blog that I just don’t know where to begin. 
I suppose, first, I should say that I am slowly adjusting to this life being my reality and Jamaica my home.  Although this has not come without much trial and tribulation, I seem to have gotten through the worst of it (fingers crossed).  The week between Emancipation Day (August 1st) and Independence Day (August 6th) when everyone on this island was swelling with national pride, I was silently freaking out.  As hundreds of Jamaicans were singing Jamaica land of my birth I couldn’t help but feel out of place as the only (and I mean ONLY) whitey within miles.  I felt pretty intensely alone until I started befriending some locals.  Helpful as they were with feeling integrated, my new found friends also meant that I did not devote myself fully to preparing for the coming school year and conference.
School started on September 3rd, and I spent the first week just evaluating the weakest students’ reading levels.  At first, I was set to work with 36 (out of the 80ish total in my school) boys and girls between grades one and five in groups of one to six students.   I soon realized that I would have to be superwoman to give individual attention to nearly half the school and actually have them learn anything at all in my time here, so we cut it down to 22.  I have some students who are in 3rd grade and are challenged to make the sounds of the alphabet, so they really do need a lot of attention to catch up.  It was, however, reassuring to evaluate many of the students reading levels because while some of them are reading up to three grade levels below where they should be others are reading three grade levels above.  Needless to say, I have had the opportunity to utilize all my new found patience or, as they say in Patwa, tek time. 
So, as it turns out, I can totally do this job.  I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at first, not being a trained teacher at all let alone certified to teach children to read and write.  I have had a wealth of information passed on to me from current and past volunteers, staff, and professional resources that has made all the difference.  Just the other day, this second grade girl in one of my groups looked up at me in the middle of a session and said, “Miss, you’re a good person.”  I was so full of pride and happiness at this not only because it was a kind thing for her to say, but also because she used perfect English.  It sounds insignificant, but that is the kind of “small win” (as Peace Corps would say) that gets me through the tough days.
After getting my footing at school, I most unfortunately became very, very ill.   For about 10 days I felt I was potentially on my death bed.  Long story short, I was back and forth to the doctor three times in a week.  I should mention that this doctor is a half hour bush taxi ride and 10 minute walk up a very steep hill away.  Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but just try to picture cramming 6-8 adults in a regular sized sedan on a sweltering day when you feel you may have to vomit at any moment and then top it off with a vertical jaunt up the road.  I was really glad that the first time I had to do this I had a fever over 100°F so the heat was almost comforting.  Anyways, the very competent (insert sarcastic tone here) doctor told me I had a flu at first and gave me three prescriptions for just that.  Five days later when I was still unable to eat or even move without assistance, a community member carried me back and he said (SURPRISE) I was dehydrated.  IV fluids and three more prescriptions were the recommendation that day.  Three days after that, I finally felt a little better, but then my arms and legs had turned purple from a mysterious rash.  It could have been one of the six medications I was on, but isn’t it odd that an allergic reaction did not spread all over my body?  Nope.  Must be allergies.  Three more prescriptions still.  I stopped taking them at this point.  I slowly got better with rest and fluids, and began to hear murmurs in the community of dengue fever going around the island.  Look it up.  I literally had every symptom, and if I was elderly or immune system compromised I could have died.  When I tried to get the test results of my blood work just to solve the mystery, naturally it was impossible to get the results and the doctor and the phone in the same room long enough to call me.  The world will never know for sure, but I am seriously thinking of having a t-shirt made that reads: I survived dengue fever and all I got was this stupid shirt. 
During the time that I was ill, I discovered the true depth of the loss of my privacy and independence.  This arose because I literally had several community members so concerned for me that they were bringing over food for days.  At first, I was incredibly touched and appreciative, but all that gratitude was washed away when I realized it was only because they thought I had fallen ill due to my inability to construct a well balanced meal and clean my home properly.  Not only is everything I do seen, heard, and scrutinized, but it is then announced publicly when concerned parties are present to discuss how to remedy the conundrums of the white girl.  To my community, I am basically the feral puppy.  They fail to see where the offense is in treating me this way, so I mostly put on a smile and say thanks, but no thanks.
Similarly when I venture out of my tiny village, I am sometimes mistaken for a toddler or a mentally handicapped person.  By this I mean that I have had simple things explained to me as if I were not the educated twenty something woman of the world that I so clearly am.  I believe this is mostly because people think whatever they are describing is unique to Jamaica.  While these descriptions can sometimes be helpful, I do not however need to have what an almond is explained to me (just for example).  I mean, he really went on about how it is like a peanut but different, very good for you, and full of protein.  Wow.  The almond guy came at the end of a very long day full of very aggressive Jamaicans saying nonsense things to me, and he was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Actually the comment that tipped me over the edge was when he generously proclaimed that he would not be charging me for his tour guide services which I (apparently erroneously) viewed as him creepily following me around the market.  For my first real freak out in public I guess it could have been worse, but I was left feeling pretty badly when I told him to back off (very loudly) and then I realized he was a madman and he continued to follow me around the market shouting about how he hates all white people.  Good job.  I’m supposed to be creating a better understanding of Americans and this is what I get when I finally lose my cool to the millionth pest.  Anyhow, the good news is he did not get aggressive towards me.  This is something I really should be more cognizant of before opening my mouth in an unkind way in this country. 
There have been more violent crimes than usual committed against women, gays, and even teachers in the JA news lately.  If you haven’t heard about it, I will not encourage you to investigate, but just know that I live in a very small and very safe community where the last crime committed was a theft about 5 years ago and is still mentioned weekly to remind the children and other community members of the importance of safety.  Also regarding the recent hurricane, never fear Peace Corps is here.  They evacuate us in the event of any real danger and their threshold for that is certainly much lower than mine is.  In addition, we PCV’s have a fantastic Safety and Security Coordinator (SSC) to advise us in the safety department.  She was, in fact, voted the best Peace Corps SSC in the world. 
On that note, I nearly forgot to say a bit about our Peace Corps Early Service Conference.  Well, it was a combination Project Design and Management workshop as well as ESC.  The PDM part was not a lot of new information for the PCV’s but provided good reminders of stuff I already know and ESC was a great time to reconnect with my fellow volunteers, not to mention an awesome opportunity for a member of my community.  It was a weeklong seminar at an all inclusive resort (oh, woe is me) in which we had to plan a project (outside my day to day job of making the world more literate) with a Jamaican project partner that we want to implement in our community.  This project is based on the information in that report for Peace Corps I did so much belly aching about in September.  I had to do a great deal of research on the current position of my community, its history, and the wants and needs of its members as well as the feasibility of said project given the resources available.  With that foundation, my community partner and I began planning to complete construction on a library and resource center that the last PCV in my village started and could not complete due to funding falling through some years ago.  The idea is to solve several community issues in one project.  In one fell swoop we will create a library, a computer lab, a place for the youth to gather and more space for the primary school as well as have a facility to initiate adult education classes and thereby create better job opportunities by giving people new skills.  The scope of this project is huge and just thinking about it kind of scares me, but I gained the support of the community at the last PTA meeting and will be starting the planning and grant writing process very soon.  Hopefully I will have more to report in my next blog, but at this point I will consider myself lucky if I see this project to completion before May 2014 when I leave.  Although, at this rate I may be half way through the project by the next time I blog.  Just kidding!  I will make a serious effort to be at least monthly with my updates.  Thanks for hanging in there for such a long post!

Friday, August 24, 2012


This is a broad generalization, but I’m going to say it anyhow: Jamaicans are eternally 25.  After extensive research* I have concluded that people in this country mature (physically and emotionally) very quickly and thereafter remain suspended in a state of agelessness created in no small part by good skin.  Therefore, one can be 11 or 50 and appear to be about 25.  Seemingly, before 11 they do look a bit like children and after 50 they sometimes start to age ever so slightly, but one still can’t be sure.  
*Extensive research refers to nearly 4 months of mental documentation of all of the cases I’ve encountered that support my theory (the technical term for this kind of research is “very scientific”).
This revelation doesn’t help me much in knowing how to address people (other than to err on the side of caution in all cases), but it did shed some light on the day when the students were trying to guess my age.  They started at 40 and went up.  I considered being offended for a moment, and then I remembered that they grew up in a place where accurately guessing one’s age is about as likely as getting goat cheese in a country that has goats roaming through the streets at all times P.S. I know that sounds really likely, but there is very little goat cheese in this country despite the surly bastards’ ever constant presence.  P.P.S. The goat cheese that is sold here is imported. 
Speaking of the livestock, I recently bared witness to a hog being slaughtered, and it was kind of amazing.  I’ll spare you the gruesome details since most people whom I forced to listen to the entire tale grimaced with disgust throughout, but feel free to call me if you want the blow by blow.  The part I can’t leave out is when di ag di die (the hog died).  My eyes welled up with tears when he opened his eyes for the last time, twisted his head back in an unnatural position and finally let out his final breath.  But then I considered the fact that whether I was watching or not, he would die and his body would be used in total as the food chain dictates.  He was transformed from this smelly, hairy animal covered in red dirt to a pink baby-like creature in a matter of minutes. 
It took me back to when my best friend and I raised chickens in a dog-loo in our back yard in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  Well, to be honest, she did all the work-even when slaughtering day came and only 1 of the 6 animals remained.  Although they had been reared in the best way a chicken could hope to live, the strongest of lot had killed off the others simply because he was a jerk (haha- that puts a new spin on jerk chicken).  We were vegan at the time, and the only way we could fathom eating an animal was if we could be assured it wasn’t pumped full of hormones and mistreated its whole life.  The irony is that they still weren’t happy animals and in the end the meat tasted like ash in my mouth.  I’ve since changed my mind about what is ok to eat, and the hog helped remind me of what I stand for.  He lived his life in my back yard with his family until it was time for him to become part of something bigger: me.  The only thing that made me sad about the chickens was that I saw the horrible little lives they led and watched the violent end unfold before my eyes.  I like to think I’m more experienced and wiser now, but my instinct still told me to cry for the hog.  I guess deep down there is still a bleeding heart vegan in me. 
On that note, I’d like to say a few words about ants.  I used to think that ants were not my friends, and I would spend much effort and money to keep them out of my house.  Now, I routinely rinse them off my clean dishes, watch them perform amazing feats on a daily basis, and thank them for cleaning up the dead bug bodies in my house.  Here are a few photos to further explain what I mean:
The ants carrying a dead cockroach up the wall in my living room...
...and out the window.

Obviously, I have a little too much time on my hands.  The summer is almost over, and I think the main lesson I’ve learned from all this idle time is that it’s not good for me.  Although I have reports to do for Peace Corps and a classroom to set up, all this remains barely touched.  I am really looking forward to the structured schedule of the school year, which starts September 3rd.  I did, however, have a chance to make the schedule of which students I will see when with the help of my principal and other teachers—which was a huge undertaking.  Other than that, I have spent most of my time with my only real Jamaican friend who happens to be an 11 year old student at my school.  I would say this is kind of sad, but to be honest she is totally awesome.  She reminds me everyday to be more appreciative of what I have.  That’s one thing I have noticed about Jamaicans in general: they accept their lot in life with stride instead of complaining about it.  In fact, more often than not they see the benefits of whatever situation life has to throw at them.  What a breath of fresh air! 

 Me and my 11 year old bestie

Speaking of fresh air, there has been a lot of it around here with the threat of tropical storms looming near our little island.  Even in the heart of summer, the weather has been quite breezy and cool here in the hills of St. Ann.  Luckily, Ernesto moved right past us and brought only rains that jeopardized the island wide 50th year Independence Day celebrations on August 6th.  We came out of it unscathed, and below is a shot of many of my towns people posing for a very black, green, and gold splashed picture to commemorate the milestone. 
As you can see, try as I might to fit in here with language, mannerisms, and a righteous tan I’m just not quite there yet.  I’m working on it thoughJ. Fifty years of independence coupled with all the Olympic medals Jamaica has earned in the last week have made for a nation full of pride.  I even found myself rooting for my new home team instead of America.  I’m calling that growth. 
I’ll end this discourse there, but not without yet another list. 
Funny T-shirts I’ve seen:
         ·            “I make milk, what’s your superpower?”- So true. Men do not have superpowers.
         ·            “Don’t bro me if you don’t know me”- It’s catchy, but I have never heard anyone say bro in Jamaica. Ever.
         ·            “All the good ones are gay”- The shirt wouldn’t say married, of course, because most people don’t care if you’re married.  But it’s funny to me considering this is the most homophobic nation in the world (I’m pretty sure that’s still true, but if you have reliable internet and want to check me on it, do let me know the verdict).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It's gonna be a great 2 years

Here are some questions and statements Jamaicans have said to me that are actually all English words, but definitely required some further explanation:

“Miss, yuh a wear test glass?” = “Miss, do you wear glasses?”
“You can share your lunch?” = “Can you serve yourself?” (p.s. my response to this question was, “Umm, with whom?”)
“Miss, how many parts of your ear are bore?” = “Miss, how many times are your ears pierced?”
“Make me left the car, carry come.”= “Allow me to exit the car and I will bring it back to you.”
“Miss Young is soooo fat.” = Ok, this one means exactly what it sounds like, except that it’s not meant in a derogatory way.   It is meant in a way that the person saying it to me wishes she was as fat as me.  Sometimes I can’t believe this is true, but take it from me: in this country I am the ideal body type.  Here, the whiter and fatter you are the better.  It just blows my mind because in America the tanner and thinner you are the better.  I seriously have women stop me on the street to tell me they “like my shape”.  Wow.  I effing love this place.

I recently had a chance to go to a club in Ocho Rios (affectionately coined Ochi by the locals).  Ochi is a resort town, but not the most popular one by far.  I was there on a Wednesday night with my PCV friend Claire, and at this particular club that means J$1000 (about US$12) buys you all you can drink.  For that reason, this is the night the Jamaicans come out to dance, or rather dagger.  Daggering is a very sexual way of dancing which sometimes involves people jumping from the top of a 20 foot sound system onto their partner.  I suggest searching “daggering” on youtube to fully understand it.  I did not get altogether daggered thankfully, but I did learn that if you simply stand in a spot where your backside is exposed someone (or several someones) will just dance up on you.  This cannot be avoided, save leaning up against a pillar or the bar.  It will take approximately 30 seconds for you to get a Jamaican “tail”, as I call it, if you try to dance with female friends alone.  Overall it ended up being a really fun night and the best part was lying in Claire’s driveway looking at all the stars that I could never see in NYC or even Santa Cruz, for that matter.  The whole sky seemed to glow.

Today was one of those days when I loved everything Jamaican.  The kids learned the things I taught them with record breaking speed, I didn’t leave school with a headache from their screaming, plants looked more lush than usual, I got a good sized seat in the taxi, hell -even the smelly man sitting next to me couldn’t get me down.  I love this kind of day, and lawd gawd I need them sometimes after all the uncomfortable unfamiliarity’s of Jamrock. 

School has just finished for the year, and I’m looking forward to a more relaxed summer comprised of short (9-noon) summer school days and some free time to set up my classroom.    Even after being at my site less than 2 months I know I’m really going to miss the school leavers.  I made it my aim to get to know the kids as fast as I could, and I have successfully learned at least 2/3 of the students names at my school as well as discovered a great deal about them and, in turn, Jamaican culture.  I have a feeling it’s gonna be a great 2 years.  I’ll sign off with some pics of the school leaving ceremony.

The choir
The school leavers

The Board

The cultural item (a dance)