Last week at HUB training next chapter is about to get very real.

As of Monday I will know which part of Jamrock I will spend the next two years at.  So excited and so scared.  There is not part of this island that will not be an amazing place to serve.   Even if I am sent to areas that are not my ideal or dream location I will be alright.  I will have to be, because this girl here, she never quits.

The last week has been full of class, classwork, farmer field school, beach parties, get togethers and much exhaustion.  Last weekend I watched a football game between a few local men and two of the ladies from our group.  It seems most of the rest of the group went to the beach early.  Sunday was spent uneventful with laundry and packing my suitcase a priority.  I like to get things done ahead of time.  It also must be noted that since I pack according to what will fit where, not what I can find where, I had to unpack everything to find anything when we first got here.  I knew I could pack much of my stuff and still be able to function for the next week.


Not certain why but I finally hit a wall on Tuesday.  There was a group get together that evening and I just had a mental breakdown.  I ended up icing my foot and drinking a couple of glasses of white wine.  I stayed home and worked on some self-care, which is essential.  I felt  a little bad about missing out, but not really.  I needed a night at home.

This week I may have got a clue to my location.  Maybe, maybe not, what I do know is that someone was talking very highly of my new supervisor group and I was informed of that.  This person works all over the island so I might know or then again I might now know, what I do for certain is that my new supervisors are a stellar group.  That in itself is enough to make me happy.  Happy to know that I will be working with a group that is excited about the environment and new ideas.

Farmer field school was Thursday.  We started off with some music, because that is how we roll.  We had a few riddles as ice breakers which is always fun.  After this we broke down into three groups, one worked on planting trees in basins on the hillside, another group did composting and showed how to build a good compost, the last group worked on biochar.  In the beginning I had reservations about the biochar.  We had difficulty getting the necessary supplies, I had also heard that other farmer’s groups were not interested in biochar as a way to amend the soil.  Strangely this farmer group was indeed very interested.  All three of these components addressed the most pressing issue for many of the farmers on this side of the island, drought conditions and water conservation.  All in all this was a well attended and very successful farmer field school.  One of our language and cultural facilitator stated it was because we had a great reputation within the community.  Mr. Brown, whose farm we used, stated three things he learned from us were: one, we are always on time, two we will pretty much do what is asked of us and follow directions, three we work together very well.  To hear those things is quite uplifting, especially as PST winds down and we are all starting to hit walls.  PST is so much more than classroom work, it is adapting to a new family, a new culture and learning what are acceptable and inappropriate behaviors.  It is also about learning the way things are done in a new country.  I am certain that no matter what country you are in, no matter what sector you will be placed PST is the same world-wide.  PST, although essential to integration into new cultures is exhausting and will test your resilience.


There were times I did not think I was going to make it, and then there were times that I finally understood that I am stronger than I ever imagined, but I need to take time for myself.  The one thing I took away from it all is that self care is not selfish but essential.  Sometimes locking yourself in your room and listening to music or reading a book while you drink a glass or two of wine and enjoy a small treat is the best therapy.  All those nights of being cranky and hot and tired and whatever other emotion you may be feeling are ultimately going to make you a stronger and better person.  Embrace those trials, I have to keep reminding myself of this.

One of the first things I will do at my site is create a collage of hopes and dreams.  Something to look at refocus, something to remind me of the small wins, because you must celebrate those!  My days at the beach may be plenty, they may be few but in the end I will have the greatest adventure of my life, thus far.

After the field school we pretty much all took the afternoon to refresh at the beach with a few beers.  It is always amazing to get those moments.  I would not trade those for all the money in the world.  Just being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing that we will be living in this amazing place for the next two years is so very encouraging.

Yesterday we debriefed the farmer field school and talked about logistics for our move.  We also had our final culture session and it was the best.  It was called “Pon da Corna”.  You see here in Jamaica on most nights, but especially Friday and Saturday, on most street corners will be a domino game, typically played upon a table made from scrap wood. The people here take their domino games very seriously.  There is also music most nights.  No one here believes in headphones.  They just walk with their music blaring.  I did just find out that there actually are noise ordinances here, but no one really calls the police, better to just suffer than create a neighbor dispute!  Of course this requires either white rum or beer!  In fact so does farming, I think my liver might thank me when I finally leave for home!


Tonight there is a going away party planned for us.  We leave on Tuesday.  My plan today is to just rest, I thought about going to the beach but that requires me to plan ahead and be back in time to shower and get ready before 4pm.  That sounds like far too much effort.  Tonight I might play card games with the family, if we get home early enough.  I know that tomorrow is going to be laundry day, maybe a quick final beach trip and a great night of  movies and more games with the family.  My original plan was to get some photos printed this weekend, but that just is not possible.  My host mom wanted some pictures of us, so I have some family pictures and hope that they enjoy them.  I really wanted to pay for the pictures.  I hope she can get them done on Monday before I leave on Tuesday.

Monday is the day we find out our site placement.  On Tuesday we meet our supervisors and go to our new homes for the next four days.  PST is not quite over, we have another week of last-minute logistics and preparation for swearing-in.  I do look forward to the next two weeks and then the next chapter officially begins!

The clock is winding down for Pre-Service Training

Only 9 days left here in Port Morant.  Wow where did the last five weeks go?  Not much to tell this week, no beach trips this weekend, too busy with other things.  I can start off with this week the drought became very real for me.  I was showering and the pipe ran dry.  Imagine being covered with soap and no more water!  You just have to make the best of it.  I wiped the water off my back and arms to try to rinse the soap off my legs.  It all works out in the end.  In life you cannot allow these little disasters to dictate your day! SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES Oh yeah, one exciting thing that happened today is that we did sector shadowing this week.  A group of 5 ladies went to a local NGO organic farm/commune.  It was an amazing location and although none of us are going to be stationed there we would all love to see this kind of thing in our sites.  Luckily I am great at networking and I might be able to spread this idea into a new location if it will serve the needs based there.  You have to remember that the needs of those who live there must always be addressed, not what you want, but what they want.  I really loved that we ate second breakfast at about 9:00 and then had snacks at around 11.  We even had lunch again around 12:30.  I love the schedule around a farm, not fixed!   We helped dig up a bed to create a type of compost pile known as Hugelkultur.  We finished the first one and began a second one down lower on the hill.  So many new and innovative ideas at this farm.  They even had a composting toilet system and a river rock shower system.  (this means river rocks instead of solid flooring in shower stall to filter and release water into the ground.) SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES This weekend went by so quickly with so many things going on.  First we went to send Jenny off.  She leaves the next weekend to go home forever, sad day for the rest of us.  After that we took a goat trail up the hillside into Morant Bay to catch a taxi to Allshamar.  Allshamar is this local music venue/jerk center.  Seeing someone who will soon be featured on a New York City radio station soon is amazing.  The artists on stage for the competition really try to pull the audience in.  I really enjoy this open air venue that goes on until nearly morning.  The main attraction did not even start until after 3 am!  I left with the group in my neighborhood around midnight.  We have not figured out or had the ability to adopt Jamaican time so well.  Jamaicans will get up very early to get stuff done before the heat really happens.  By 10 am, unless you are a business person, student or teacher, you are done working for the day.  You rest until evening and if any more work needs to get done you do it.  You then have the ability to party all night!  I remember a saying when I was a young person, “Party like a rock star”  this is something I have not succeeded in doing since my early 20’s!  I must be showing my age by now! SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES Saturday was a semi-lazy day.  My only goal was to get to Morant Bay and get coffee, which I failed to do.  I did manage to find instant coffee, but I forgot when I was in the supermarket to grab the beans.  Sadness befalls my soul.  I did find a decent bottle of white wine.  The red wine does not taste so great when room temperature is always above 86 degrees.  I might have to chill my red wine a little before finishing it off.  I also found some fabulous Gouda.  You betcha I splurged and got it! When I finally arrived back there was a bonfire planned for us.  I ended up having roasted plantain and I must say it is my new favorite thing.  Yellow plantains just stuck down in the fire to roast up, so sweet and still firm.  The idea of not cooking things in oil is my new desire.  I lasted until about 9:30 and was just too tired to continue on so again my neighborhood went home.  We live the farthest from everything, which actually has caused some problems with my foot.  It is swollen always and even starts to affect my knee.  I ice it daily and take too much ibuprofen and acetaminophen.  I was excited to find tiger balm at an awesome price while I was out shopping! SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES Sunday is my laundry day.  My host family is Seventh Day Adventist and there is no work done on Saturday.  I woke up today to find that only hand washing can be done.  My host mom told me only pick those things which must be washed.  I stood out there and washed for about 45 minutes.  I still have not showered, too worried about the water level and since I am not going out until later I can wait.  This next week is quite busy but she promised she would do my wash the day the water comes.  Hopefully it is soonish since I leave in 9 days and I hate to pack dirty clothes!

Hello from the Land of Wood and Water!

So this week has been a spectacular week.  Started off on Sunday with a ladies day of getting pampered!  I went with my host mom and one other lady from our group and we got our hair dyed and cut.  For $1300 JD, about 12.75 US we were pampered and colored and styled to our hearts content.  Some days you just have to spoil yourself.  Remember this ladies, there is nothing wrong with a full treatment at a salon!  Later that night I spent the evening with the one couple in our group looking at language homework.  We got some help from a very nice young man who lives next door!

On Monday we had a farm field day.  This tested our ability to be resilient and flexible.  Some of us are not quite there yet.  As in other non-westernized countries, Jamaicans tend to be late.  Not because it doesn’t matter or that they cannot tell time, simply because there are things that come up.  Things like transportation issues, impromptu meetings and things that in America would appear rude.  It was the same in Liberia, and I think we as Americans need to let go of our strict schedules and just wing it once in a while!  By the time the leaders of our session arrived it was nearly lunch time.  We decided to wait until after lunch, which was a bit rough for us.  Not only have we been waiting, we are hungry and after lunch is when it really gets hot and most farmers are not working the fields at this time.   We somehow managed to make it work and we all learned a few things along the way.  The day may have been stressful, but as long as someone learned something it can be counted as a success.

Monday was also the day that I realized, I cannot eat fish twice a day and not have some evil results.  I woke up and had runny belly.  If you have to ask, you have never been outside the states!  I told my host mom no more fish for a few weeks to allow my stomach to recover. Sadly I forgot to mention sailfish as well.  The next day I had salt fish and callalou.  It is similar to collard greens but I asked her to stop putting sailfish in my food as well.  She has since been very gracious and makes my food separately.

Tuesday and Wednesday were used to prepare for our Eco-camp.  We hosted a half-day eco-camp at the local school on Thursday and Friday.  We planned and organized and even baked cakes for the camp.  My issue is getting my motivation up for this in the later half of the day.  By lunchtime I am pretty much out to lunch and the rest of the day is just a blur.  I wish I could change it, but the heat and the sitting for hours has made it most difficult to get excited about much.


Eco-camp was a blast.  We each took turns with lessons and monitoring children.  It is difficult to get older girls specifically to get excited about farming, but we managed a bit.  The first day was more learning and less fun.  We heard that they liked the running the best.  My group did two sessions on Thursday, so I was a bit surprised that we had another session on Friday!  I guess this happened when I was busy doing nothing in general.  Thankfully it was just a relay to fill in some time! For school kids apparently relays are the best!


We got half a day off on both Thursday and Friday and it was glorious.  On Thursday I spent time with my host mom.  It is difficult to live in someone’s home and not get to spend much time with them.  It feels rude and disrespectful, so I try to spend as much time at home as possible.  In the past two weeks I have been doing yoga before I go home, so I get home a bit later than normal.  It is a little frustrating that dinner is not a family affair.  It seems that in most Jamaican homes you are given your food separately.  The family does not eat together. This makes interactions even more challenging.  I like to eat and have conversations.

On Friday many of us went to the beach and enjoyed ourselves.  Sadly something kept stinging me while I was in the water.  Whatever it might have been left a pretty nasty welt on my leg.  Not sure what it was exactly, it could have been the tail of  stingray or a sea wasp, which is a type of sea jelly.  Either way the experience was unpleasant.  However,  the beach is my favorite place no matter what!


On Saturday we had a great day planned.  We chartered a bus and all but two of us were whisked away up to a place called Reach Falls.  We got a guided tour through he waterfalls and into caves up through multiple pools to the beginning of the falls.  It was an amazing adventure, sadly my camera is not waterproof so no pictures in the cave unless I snag them from some other trainees.  The water was cold and clear and amazing.  The first time I have been cool since getting here.  I will definitely go back.  At the end of the falls we slid down a hole into a cave.  We had to go underwater to get out of the cave through a waterfall.  We had to go under a cave through the water to finally get out.  It was challenging but amazing.  Our reward for this was the ability to jump off the falls into the pool at the bottom.  I am a coward and I am not ashamed.  If I had a few shots or beers I would have done it.

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We left Reach Falls after many hours and many jumps, which I actually did jump from a lower level around 1 in the afternoon.  We headed to Boston Beach.  Here we ate lunch.  Many had a variety of Jerk products, but I had Itol food.  This is what some refer to as Rasta food.  It is typically cooked “clean” and mostly vegetarian.  No salt, no oil, no processed anything!  But absolutely the best tasting food around in my humble opinion.

After lunch we found our way to the most gorgeous beach.  White sand, and an abundance of sea life.  I was pretty certain a few of the “rocks” I kept running into were not rocks at all.  I finally convinced someone to go down and scoop up said rock.  It was indeed a creature!  I was stepping on a sea urchin.  We managed to re-home it under a large rock where no one would step on it.  The magic of the sea is that even when  the water is crystal clear there is still an abundance of life!  I was sad to see the day end, but I was happy to get home and shower.  No matter what part of Jamaica I end up in, I am certain there will be these most glorious pockets of paradise!  After all it is the “Land of Wood and Water!”


Sunday for me is the day of work.  My family is 7th day Adventist so no work on Saturday!  And yes as promised I did go to church.  Today I did more than just my laundry, which is typically my work.  I have a washer here so the only hand washing is my underwear and a couple of stained items that I had to rewash.  Thankfully my host family in Liberia trained me well on hand washing.  I finished my laundry and had breakfast and coffee, then I proceeded to clean my room.  Sadly I am a slob, but can only take the clutter for so long.  If I had a laundry basket it would be a bit easier for me.  This is the first item I will purchase when placed at my site!  I cleaned my room and even swept and beat the rug out!  Later in the day I had a coconut jelly, which for those who speak English is coconut water, right out of the coconut!  All in all, life is amazing and simple!


Still training!

I think I may have the longest training in Peace Corps ever, but I can see the end coming soon.  In the last few weeks we have focused not only on farming but also on environmental education in schools.  We have had sessions on bee keeping, not a huge fan of hanging out with the bees, but I admire those who are.  We have mapped farms and made recommendation on soil conservation and water mitigation techniques.  We built a stop dam to help mitigate the flow of water and minimize the erosion caused by the water.   We learned how to clear land with nothing more than a really, really sharp Machete.  I also learned that you keep a distance from those working around you, like a huge distance.  I had a machete fly past my head when it slipped out of someone’s hand.  We worked on building bamboo terrace to help minimize the soil runoff from the hillside.  Mostly I learned that hillside farming is not my forte.  I am a small space farmer, I have no desire to level land and climb up and down hillsides.

Last week we were sent out on our own to test our ability to travel.  We had to go to an assigned volunteer’s site and shadow them for a day and a half.  I traveled with 4 others all the way across the island.  We caught the bus at about 5:15 am.  We travelled into Kingston and found the correct bus to transfer to and then headed west.  If you have ever seen a clown car and wondered how uncomfortable it is to cram so many in there, this is what public transportation in most of the World is like.  It is not fun, it is not comfortable and 90% of the time you get stuck next to someone who spends the entire time complaining or acting as though you have some dreaded disease.  Headphones are a must to survive.

My site visit was with another trainee so we traveled all the way together and we happily did not get lost.  We learned about working with locals and what it looks like to try to work in different schools.  We also got an idea of how much rain is to be avoided.  Just as in Liberia, Jamaicans stop everything in the rain.  There is no walking, no trading, not catching a taxi and there surely is no excuse for trying to walk with no covering.  One man saw myself and the other trainee following our volunteer in the rain.  We had no umbrella and had not a worry about the warm rain, he was just appalled that we would walk in the rain, “goodness gracious, me, no a walk inna da rain!”

We also learned about shopping in the market as favored over the grocery store.  Fresh local produce that you can negotiate prices on, opposed to the price is the price and everything is over packaged.  I hate buying produce on a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic, seriously let me just weigh out what I want into a little bag!  The prices in the store are much higher than the market.

I have also learned that I have much thicker skin that other trainees and even volunteers.  The men here will make a pssst noise at women and apparently it is highly offensive.  I do not even notice it, but if they whistled at me, there would be hell to pay.  Most of the unwanted attention is something I guess I just do not notice.  I wonder if this is from dealing with so much as a child having truckers around me my whole life, or if living in the city has toughened my skin.  Either way I am grateful that it is as thick as it is.  I also have a very different philosophy, you give people power over you when you allow them to say or do things that offend you.  You have a choice, you choose to be offended.  My mother is offended by the f-word and I will f-bomb the hell out of her in casual conversation.  It has more to do with a power struggle than anything else.  When you allow yourself to be offended you give power to others and I refuse to give that power to anyone else.  Sorry mom, if you read this, I don’t purposely to it so much anymore, but I did.

In 2.5 weeks we will have our site assignments and be headed to site for a visit before SAM_3281-ANIMATIONswearing-in.   In any case my site will be fabulous, because I choose for it to be.  I refuse to spend the next two years bitter about a location, it is after all, only two years.  Again you can choose to be offended or you can make the best of it.  I will always choose the positive, I saw my grandmother spend her life being negative and she was not a very happy person.  As much as I loved her, she was not pleasant to be around.  I choose to not be unpleasant.  I choose to be happy in all situations, this is not to say I will not have struggles and want to quit, but I don’t quit.  To me this is what will make my Peace Corps experience rich with experience and fun.  Attitude is everything!  They don’t call it Jamrock for nothing!

I am overwhelmed with Culture

First off this blog reflects my views and mine alone, this does not reflect the Peace Corps, the host country government or the United States government…..

This has been a wild couple of weeks.  Last Sunday night we went to this nice outdoor venue, and just so you know most venues here are outdoor, and saw a great Raggae show.  Our Language and Cultural Facilitators (LCF’s) are great here and try to expose us to as many diverse things as possible.  I should note that in Jamaica Easter is a four day holiday, you get Easter Friday, or Good Friday and the following Monday or Easter Monday off.  This show was at a place called Allshmar and it was fabulous.  I missed out on being onstage as I needed to use the facilities but the rest of the group went up and danced on stage.  The best thing was a trampoline on premisis.  Unfortunately it was full of children or I totally would have been all over that.  The second best thing was the full moon over the ocean that we could look out on.  Sadly we have to limit our beach access to beaches in Morant Bay.  Such a pity to put us right on the beach and not allow us to touch it. You see, Peace Corps number one priority is our safety and they feel these beaches are not safe enough for us.  They really are not swimming beaches but working beaches and so they would not be that much fun for us anyway.   The third greatest thing about this show was the guy singing while swinging a machete around.  He was very good at it too.  It reminded me of a juggler with really brazen confidence.

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In Peace Corps there are few things more fabulous that transportation to group events.  These entail chartering a group of taxis or if we are lucky enough a van.  It also involves “small up” which is squish as many people in said vehicles as humanly possible.  It also means laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation and songs and people tossing chicken bones past the face of the vegetarians to toss them out the windows.  Oh the joy and complete fun that would never ever happen in America.

This week was a short week but also a long one as far as class work was concerned.  We had two half days of farmer school.  This is where we take some tools and get teamed up with farmers to see how things are done here.  What most people fail to realize is how environmentally aware a farmer is.  He knows when his seasons have shifted.  He knows that deforestation can magnify droughts.  He knows that crop rotation is essential to soil health.  He may even know that companion planting is a wise system.  He knows way more than most of us do, he just calls it different things.  Things like there are certain trees that call the rain, cutting them all down causes drought.  He is essentially talking about deforestation.  He doesn’t know it by that term but he knows it.  The second day of farmer school involved apiaries or bee keeping.  I was lucky enough not to get stung, but those bees were really in my business and it took some time to get out of my suit.  After this we met with a group and learned about farm mapping and comparing aspects of erosion control.  Many of the farms in Jamaica are hillside farming and runoff and erosion are real issues.

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On Friday night we went to a ded yaad (dead yard).  This is partially a takeaway from the residual African culture here.  It is from a spirituality known as Kumina.  It involves a drum circle and rum, lots and lots of rum.  You see the drummers cannot drum without rum.  You know that the rum doth soon come when they call for it.  This ritual is similar to a wake.  It is a celebration of the deceased and an enchantment to possibly communicate with ancestors.  Once a person becomes possessed several people will try to keep them from hurting themselves.  The idea is that the spirit occupies their body until they communicate with the ancestors.  Hopefully they bring a report back.  The drummers cannot stop drumming until the person comes back to their body and are normal again.  It can get physically dangerous for those in the circle as the person can be flailing and falling all over the place.  One person guides them and steadies them with a towel.  There is a candle lit and as it flickers something is happening, what I have no idea.  There is chanting and wailing and the drummers keep drumming.  This night we witnessed three.  In each case the crowd immediately knew how to react.  We did not. We ended up wearing rum  and ducking from buckets being hurled.  I am amazed that the place did not get set afire.  I believe that this is an amazing part of the culture and if you should ever be invited to a ded yaad, even if you do not know anyone by all means participate, it will change your worldviews.

On Saturday my group shadowed a farmer.  His name is Sickhead.  This is his Yaad neme (yard name).  To get to his farm we have to climb down a gully and up a steep hill in Mr. Browns Farm, walk across Mr. Browns farm and then back down a gully into a very fertile land.  We attempted to help clear a field with machetes and till the ground with a faak (pitchfork).  Some excitement happened as we were clearing the land.  A machete flew past my face about 6 inches from my head.  I was shocked that someone would throw a machete that close to my head.  I turned around and realized it was not thrown at all but slipped and the poor guy was shaken up that he nearly beheaded me.  Fate has other plans I guess.  At the last hour or so we then let up (harvested) some lettuce and callalou.  We were also given a young coconut to drink the water.  This is the most amazing treat ever.  We washed the produce and packaged it up for the market.  I ended up climbing back up the same way we went down.  The others followed Sickhead up his “trail” and watched him carry this huge awkward bag of produce on his head.

After we left the farm many of us joined a group that was already on the beach.  I have never had so much fun at the beach.  The water was warm and the waves were great.  One guy brought a surfboard from USA and totally surfed for hours.  We spent at least three straight hours in the sun, and even though I never burn, well yeah I do burn, in the places that never see the sun!  I also swallowed enough salt for the next 3 years.

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When I got home again I ate, did I mention the food is always amazing and generous.  I have already made one meal myself and hope to do some more  next weekend.  After dinner I got into the shower.  Early in the day as I was laying around Ian noticed a huge pile of gravel fall out of my pockets.  I realized that there was about two pounds of gravel in my pockets from the waves washing me ashore.  When I pulled  my bathing suit top off to get into the shower two more pounds of gravel fell out!  I have no idea where it was, I am afraid to know but I am still cleaning up gravel!

Today I was lazy and just took pictures of a project we are working on for our Environmental Field Day program at the local school!


Finding Paradise Lost

In Jamaica Easter is a four day holiday.  You get Friday to Monday off.   On Friday we went to Bath and took a bath in the hot springs.  I have had some swelling in my ankle so my LCF’s (Language and Cultural Advisors) told the Rasta man to rub oil and essence on me.  The massage and experience was amazing.  My foot felt so much better afterwards.  The amazing thing about Rastas is that they do everything in love.  He wanted $2000 Jamaican dollar, but I did not have that much.  He took what I had and blessed me anyway.  You see they refuse to discuss price before they start.  Talking money over the healing spring is a bad omen.  To negotiate is one thing, to simply not be prepared is another.  All was well and he lovingly said goodbye.


After the hot springs we went into the botanical gardens.  We got a quick lesson on many different plants.  Seeing the exotic varieties is amazing, and to think these are more commonplace here is simply mind boggling.  The fruits are the most amazing tasting.  Like Liberia, a banana is so much better when you pluck it right from the trees.  So are the mangoes.  Star apple is hard to describe and even though I would love to find it in America it will never taste the same.  It is good to note that most fruit is eaten in a messy and glorious way.  An orange is peeled and split in half then you push your mouth right into it and suck the juices and pulps out.   If your face is not sticky and your hands gooey, you have not eaten in a proper Jamaican way!

Last week we took a great field trip to Port Royal where we visited a marine research lab.  They had a small aquarium with seahorses in it!  I really do love seahorses.  They also had an octopus and a mangrove nursery.  The mangrove is an important component to Jamaican landscape.  A thick grove can help minimize a hurricane’s destructive path.  It is also a fantastic small ecosystem consisting of oysters and seahorses.  The Jamaican Iguana was thought to be extinct, but recently they discovered a few.  The lab works hard to help re-estabilsh and study these incredible reptiles.


Once we left the lab we piled back onto the bus and I must give a mad shoutout to Froggy our driver.  He is amazing and hauls us all over Jamaica.  We took a long windy and very narrow road up into the mountains.  We ended up in the John Crow Mountains National Park.  We learned about how the parks were being preserved and then took a great hike around the mountains and examined some of the flora up close.  We stopped for coffee at a coffee shop on the way home.  One of our LCF’s claimed he has never had coffee.  We convinced him a Mocha was what he should order, this after all was a cultural exchange and this coffee shop was geared toward tourists.  Our other LCF decided no more coffee for us or for him!  She said we get coffee and go crazy, it might have been the coffee or it could have been getting tired and trying to not fall asleep.


We have also met with a farmer group on a lovely farm.  Seeing how a real farm is without  machinery takes you back in time.  Jamaica is like living in a time warp.  There are modern conveniences and there are things that are down in the ancient ways.  To see farming done without heavy equipment makes me wonder how our food system got so industrialized.  Seeing the wisdom of people who work the earth daily and the understanding they have about how their actions affect the land and climate is simply amazing.  Even if the farmers do not use the same terminology as we do the concepts are cemented in their mindset.

In Jamaica when someone has a birthday everyone is invited.  This festivity usually includes a DJ set and a fabulous feast.  Last week we were invited to a birthday party down the street.  I went late due to going shopping for some lunch things.  I also found a decent bottle of red wine.  I got excited when I found real vanilla extract and it was not so expensive.  I enjoy the party but I did not eat.  I ate before I came since I am a vegetarian and I know that a party means Jerk Chicken!

Jamaica is so much more than hotels and beaches.  There is a rich culture to be seen.  As with any destination point, a tourist sees only what they want you to see.  I feel privileged to live with the people and learn about their ways.

From American to Jamerican in two weeks.

So technical difficulties have vexed me  for the past few weeks.  I actually had resigned to the idea that I might need to buy a new laptop.  I could have posted from my iPad, but there would be no way to get the pictures posted.  So I am clumping it into one large blog.

Jamaica is a place that many people see as an island paradise.   Some wonder why is Peace Corps even here?  I have even had friends confused by the constant contact I had in Liberia and the limited connectivity I have here.  I can totally explain that. In Liberia I had purchased a USB 4G stick to get online.  Here I have been unable to get my hands on a WiFi device.  The outlets have limited supplies and they sell out almost immediately.  This means that due to my limited ability to go and get what I need, and the limited supply, I have had no real connectivity.


My first two days were spent in a decent hotel with a great little bar attached to it.  It also had a pool, which is a key to any 4 star accommodation!  We then moved into a town outside of Kingston across the little inlet called Hellshire (pronounced: Ellsher)  The native language is Patois or Patwa.  It is a mix of the Queen’s English, creole and French, I think.  This is my second time in a country that speaks what sounds like English but is not English.  I can understand much of what is being said. My biggest difficulty is that I have some hearing loss and have a hard time hearing what is being said.

My first host family was lovely.  It consisted of a woman in her mid fifties, Ms. Rose and her adopted daughter, Ms. Rose’s brother and his son.  The brother and son lived in a room off the front of the house, us ladies lived upstairs.  Ms. Rose is a gracious host and made me feel so at home.  Being a non-religious person, I was a bit scared on living in a religious household, but she was wonderful.  I miss her so much.  Two of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees lived on either side of me.  Our nights consisted of dinner and then dominoes and sometimes a beer or two.   Spending time with other trainees is essential since they are going to be my support for the next two years, but I really loved spending time with my family.


I have seen the beach twice since I have arrived.  Just so everyone is aware, Peace Corps is a job and it is not always about being on the beach.  We are in class during the week and have a 7pm curfew for safety.  It is hard to get used to that, but it was the same in Liberia.  Knowing your community is essential to the Peace Corps and by putting a curfew on us, not only is our safety paramount, but it ensures we spend time in our host families.

The first night I arrived Ms. Rose carried me home.  (This is also said in Liberia, it means showed me the way.)  As I was settling in, she asked me if I like her bush?  I had no idea what I was being set up for at this point.  I looked at her with fear in my eyes, as she repeated “Do yuh like mi bush?”  What in the name of any diety does that even mean?  I continued to give her a blank stare as she shoved lettuce in my mouth and repeated “Do yuh like mi bush?”   OHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Do I like lettuce?  Yes, yes I do.  And that is the beginning of a wonderful relationship.  We shared and talked about many things over the next two weeks.  My two neighbors joined us on many nights.  They both had WiFi but would rather hang out with my host family.  We even collaborated and made dinner for our families one night.  It was like the three stooges learn to cook!


Jamaica is an island, and as with any island you have a diverse ecosystem and a specific set of problems.  I will spend the next few weeks discovering the biodiversity and the specific issues of the island.  I am excited to learn about a completely new ecosystem and what it looks like to live here.  I have already discovered delicious new foods and a loving people.  Aside from the fact that we are American there are other subtle differences.  Things such as prayer before all events, big or small and the National Anthem still sung in schools.

I miss my first host family but am adjusting to the new one well.  The two cooking styles are vastly different.  My first host mom made everything from scratch.  My new host mom likes to use canned and frozen foods.  I have an idea now how to survive no matter where I get posted.  I already knew how to cook, but now I know where to find my food and what is a good price.  In a store the price is the price, but in an open market or a stand every price is negotiable.   And part of the Peace Corps experience is to know when the price is not right.  In many countries your skin tone and your accent delineates a much higher price.  Be wary and vigilant and negotiate are skills that will become your new superpowers.  Be aware that this is not racism but the perception that Americans or Europeans have more money and can afford to pay more.  When called out the vendor/taxi driver will give you the right price.  It happens in America as well, we just usually do not notice it.  This is why living with a host national and traveling with them is helpful.  They know the right price and will be the first to speak up.


Our breakfast and dinner is provided by our host families but lunch is on us.  Being a vegetarian is a bit harder when it comes to lunch.  A popular lunch in Jamaica is a patty, or something similar to a pot pie you hold in your hand.  More like a poptart with meat and gravy in it.  There are a few patty places in the bigger cities that have vegetarian ones but most do no carry them.  Another lunch/dinner item around the Easter season is bun and cheese.  This consists of a sweet bread like pumpkin or banana bread, or even a fruitcake like bread and a slab of processed cheese similar to velveeta.  Having been in Africa I can tell you this  snobby American is going to relish any type of cheese!  This combination sounds questionable but is really quite nice.  It is a traditional Easter meal, this is so that there is no real work on Easter only worship.

For me having rice for dinner and porridge for breakfast, bun and cheese is just pushing my carb limit over the top.  And then I made the greatest discovery.  A man with a stove.  A Rasta man to be exact.  A Rasta man that cooks itol food. This means he cooks clean and fresh.  Oh the joy I was overcome with.  For $350 I can get a large serving of steamed cabbage with carrots and okra with onions and some steamed  pumpkin and or yams.  It was the best lunch ever.  The problem was that he cooks to order, so I put in an order at first break the next day so he would cook it ahead of time and I could eat on time.  This became almost a ritual when many other students joined in the itol foods.  I miss my man with a stove, it is a good thing to find.


Just like my classes in Liberia, these are long days.  Days filled with cultural sensitivity and diversity training.  It is also several weeks of Peace Corps policy and safety orientation.  Then after nearly three weeks we split the group up.  The education group went to Guys Hill up in the mountains and the environment group came to Port Morant near the beach.  This split will last 6 weeks and then we reunite for a week and then we swear in and head to our new sites.

As much as Jamaica is a World country it is also stagnated in its ability to move forward.  This has as much to do with trade stipulations as IMF loans.  Islands have a much harder task of competing within a world market.  The resources are limited and due to space it is often a raw material that is exported only to be imported back as a finished product at a much higher price. This is how capitalism works.  Sadly it does not always work in the favor of the people.  This is just fact not a criticism or a complaint.  In a world economy those who have the ability to export value added product are the ones who are wealthy.  The inability to compete stagnates ones economy.  And that is so far what I have seen of the major issues of Jamaica, how do you pull yourself up from this position?  This is a question I will likely continue to ask myself for the rest of my life.  I would love to see some dramatic change in the economy, but I am only here for two years, and this is a 50-year-old battle.  My general focus will be more on conservation than the economy, which is a whole other battle. How do you get people who are struggling financially to care about the land and the biodiversity?  This is likely to be my focus for the next few years.  Balancing my own belief system along with the goals of the Peace Corps and the Jamaican government will be the most challenging.  Knowing that my thoughts and beliefs will not be the same as everyone else is not exactly foreign to me.  I understand that what I see as a problem the people I am working with may not see as a problem.  I will have to work diligently on letting go of my own perceptions.

It is this way in any type of service.  Your way is not always the right way.  You see issues that may not be as pressing or prevalent to the people you seek to help.  I am thankful for my grad school experiences in community building and learning how to listen.  Sometimes a grass hut is the most reasonable form of shelter, not every person and environment can sustain clay and wood structures.  Building a brick home on the African savannah is not always the answer.  You as an outsider may see that as a solution but you do not live there, you may not know that a brick home is like living inside of an oven on the savannah.  Most often the best course of action is to observe and listen.  You will find your place if you just sit back and observe and listen.