Sometimes I feel a little guilty……


There are those moments that I feel a bit guilty.  Like I have been on an extended cruise and do nothing.  Like those times when I go to the beach and enjoy the ocean, times when I just sit and drink coconut water with the locals, times that I sip some white rum and observe a grave digging.  It is in those moments that I wonder am I doing my job?  Am I fulfilling my promise to serve? Then I remember another part of my promise is to share what life here is like.  It is not always beer, rum and beaches with reggae or Dancehall, but something a little more relaxed and slower.

Life here sometimes feels stagnant.  The day often ends around 7pm.  I close up my home and watch a movie as I make dinner.  But somehow it is normal, everyone else is doing it.  The beach is not something many Jamaicans enjoy.  The people here tend to either fear it or think of it as a fish bathroom.  The fact that most beaches here are pay beaches limits the possibilities for many locals to even go if they wanted to.  This is an impoverished country, do not fool yourself.  The tourism industry is not here to help the local people, but to make money for their foreign investors.  This is nothing new and should not even surprise you.  What you pay for in an all-inclusive hotel deal is isolation from the vibrant yet desperate people who live outside those walls.

Having to live on a budget similar to my community makes paying to go to the beach a luxury.  Something I am willing to do, but it means that I limit other forms of entertainment.  I do not go out much, I simply cannot afford to.   The few times a month I go and treat myself to lunch are just that a treat.  These excursions often are attached to a beach visit, many of the beach fees are waived if you purchase a drink or food.  The river is also being overtaken the same way.  This fortunately is being done by many locals.  At least they will have an opportunity to make a livelihood. This is part of my project and I have a section of the river that is open to me whenever I want to go.  The man there is excited about food forests.  Of all the places I had not expected that to be discussed, here was one.  He also loves to discuss Permaculture principles.  I love his ideas and if I can just get him to get his license and certificates I think he will be successful.  The license is very important as two weeks ago an unlicensed attraction on the river had a man die from a falling tree limb, so it is vital that we are able to ensure the safety of the guests.  A license means that the tourism board inspects it and safety protocols are implemented.

I have started to hang out at the ball field in the evenings to watch the young men play futbol!   Okay, so maybe I look to watch the crazy socks more, but hey we all have our things.   I mean really they wear the craziest socks with not much else to play.  Some play with no shoes or socks, I even saw one guy with only one shoe and sock on.  The fact is that they play, they have fun and they are working together.  Teamwork and collaboration are not exactly promoted here.  In fact I tried to explain social economies and social income.  Both of which are difficult to convey in a tragically poor society.  I will have to research this more to be able to truly explain the idea in a way that reaches the community.

I also feel very guilty that as I have embraced much of this culture I refuse to embrace their diet.  I cannot live on white rum, Red Stripe and starches.  The health of many people is tragically poor.  in our final days of PST (Pre-service Training) we were given a lecture by a nutritionist.  Her entire lecture was focused on 100 calorie combinations, not once did she discuss nutrients and balance.  There is a prevalence of constipation in this country.  Metamucil is in fact a nutrient.   As a vegetarian I splurge on things like arugula and kale.  I embrace the okra and now finally know how to cook that, but I refuse to eat rice and potato and sweet potato and yam in the same meal.  I will eat one serving of one of those items unless I have made a soup.  I will eat more fruit whole, here the tendency is to make the fruit into a juice and add sugar to it.   What saddens me the most is that this is promoted as a healthy diet.  I also have a hard time accepting that Tang is called juice and that bag juice is sold to children by the truckload.  Bag juice is the most unsavory thing I can think of, first off it is a bag that is handled by many people who may or likely may not have washed their hands, then you bite into to the bag to drink from it, and the “juice” is nothing more than flavored and colored sugar-water.  The bags then fly all over the place and end up in the bush or the ocean.  There is absolutely no benefit to this product.

As I sit in my castle up on the hill, because that is what it feels like sometimes, I am saddened by the fact that fruits and vegetables are not a more staple part of the local diets.  This also affects my local farmers.  Instead of buying/selling  to each other everyone runs to Ocho Rios to shop.  I wish I could find more things I eat from the local farmers.   I end up buying eggplant on a styrofoam wrapped in plastic at the market for 3 times the original farmer cost.   Do not worry I have found a wonderful use for the styrofoam.

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One non-guilty moment I have recently had is that I may start a ladies dinner with a couple of the ladies in the scheme.  I would love to have a few dinner parties a month, this means that we each contribute and we dine and commune together.  These two ladies are on holiday during the summer, they both work at some university, I think.  They are very interested and I am just loving this idea.  It would be a great way to also discuss some ideas for a girls club or activity of some sort.  I really hope that I can at least make this happen.

And there are the things that I sometimes feel guilty about.   I still love every moment of my life, and I think that when I feel guilty, it is growth in myself.  Growth into seeing exactly how fortunate my life is, even though I have been very poor my entire adult life.  Poor in the standards that say you must own and buy everything, but certainly not poor in spirit or experiences, this is where my wealth lies.

Finding my place


In the last week I think I have finally found my place.  I am starting to see people and recognize them.  I still am not so good with names, but that will soon come.  I have also had a few “workshops” and meetings to try to get a feeling of doing something.  Anything is better than nothing.   I have also figured out why I never really see many women in this community.  It seem many work and then come home to care for the children.  I see many men and believe me I get proposed to at least once day.  I have actually been avoiding the cross roads at night due to this fact.

In the first few months of site placement there is a ton of down time.  You get to know how to get around, you meet the community and know who to go to for what issues.  You also learn where to shop and spend a ton of time wondering how can I make a difference when people do not really talk to me.  Then those moments of depression and feelings of hopelessness kind of weigh you down a bit.   Then you suddenly decide to do a project, and people actually show up. Then you realize that maybe more projects would benefit you and them.  And suddenly the whole world looks beautiful again, because you have seen a way to move forward.

Then you have a community meeting and you meet people who you were told were not so active in the community and not interested in developing it.  And you know what, that information was really wrong.  And then you have those people really want to discuss ways to make the community better.  And you find that there is always hope, you just have to hold on a little longer until it finds you.  And then this group of people come together and discuss some important issues in the community and something wonderful happens.  A new idea is born and a community event may be in the works soon. And then you go home and lay down and smile until you fall asleep.

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This is when you know you have finally found your place.

There are those days that you feel like………


There are those days that you feel like you have accomplished nothing at all, then there are days when you feel like you conquered a great mountain!  Today is one of those days.  Yesterday as well.  I think maybe I just needed a couple of days to breathe, and that feels like you are not doing anything.  I find those days frustrating but also very very necessary.  After the potato box I was just exhausted and also wanted a day to recover, not two days.  Yesterday I gathered information and made a couple of phone calls.  I did not leave my apartment for the most part, sadly.  The landlord had a few things he wanted to do in my apartment and the electrician was here, so home I stayed.

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Today I had to stay home as well to finish up the light problem.  I did get a ton of things done yesterday and today.  I was still kind of feeling bummed about things until I talked to Kara and asked her if she wanted to collaborate on a project and set up a Bio-Char project.  She immediately said yes!  This project is not one I am so passionate about, but I mentioned it to some farmers and they were interested.  Their interest always gives me that little boost of energy I need.  Today I mentioned the project to my supervisor who got really excited when he realized it could be used in a coal pot and sold.  He saw a great potential in a revenue generating project.  Well it was not quite how I saw it being used, but a spark of excitement is great, so run with it I will.  The barrels will be delivered tomorrow, this is really going to happen.

I was asked to help with a project i my parish next week as well.I am not certain this will work out since I may be meeting someone important on Thursday. I hope to give her an answer soon, sorry it takes so long.  The reality that I am struggling with my CASI is totally dimmed by the excitement a project brings in.  So slowly I will try to gather community information but I am not going to stress on the lack hard data and focus on the relationships it requires to gather such data!

I could never say my life is awful, ever.


Yesterday was my birthday!  I am 44 now.   I can reflect back on my life and say confidently that I have no regrets.  I may have a few changes I would have made, such as not staying in bad relationships as long as I have, but overall I would not change my course.   It is those challenges and failures that have guided me to the moment I am at now.  I do not wish to be any other place than this very moment in time.  It has taken me years to just let go and live in the moment, for this I am grateful.  It is amazing when you suddenly let go of expectation and regret and just exist in that very moment.

This is the third year that I have been away from my loved ones on my birthday.  Last year I was in Liberia and the year before I was in Louisiana on a bike ride across the U.S.  Yesterday I actually built two things.  I built potato boxes and relationships.  It is amazing that although I sometimes feel like I have not integrated I realize that these people do care.  We celebrated with home-brewed Locust berry wine.  I also tried Akee wine, which is not my favorite.  I was set up to get floured today but that was foiled!  Sorry dear Tressa he let it slip and then forgot to do it.  He said it had to be a surprise or it was not worth doing, or something to that effect.

Back to my potato boxes!  I love the concept, grow 100 lbs of potatoes in a small space and never have to dig them out again!  This is my second box on island.  The first was made with repurposed pallets, which were not easy to get and then some were rejected due to being treated wood.  I explained how it would be a single harvest box and you would have potatoes in various stages and sizes.  My favorite are the baby potatoes so, those would be on the top.  The amazing thing is that this group worked well together and once I explained that I did not want it perfect, I wanted people with little to no skills to see it and realize they could construct their own as well.  Perfection is overrated!  It does not have to look pretty it just has to serve its function!   As we were planting the farmers were talking about adding a shelf to increase the yield and have a second set, I will have to look into how that can be done since my box was an open front with sliding panels to harvest.  They also wanted to tip the box and increase the length to increase yield, so at least they were excited about a new idea and they loved that there would be no digging up potatoes.

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I decide we would do another box and try some of their ideas.  I still have to schedule a work day.  What is the worst thing that can happen?  Oh right it fails.  Ok so we wasted a few hours had a great time and got no yield, not a complete loss, we will know it does not work that way so we have to modify it.  I guess that is my internal optimist crying out.  I am looking forward to seeing just how well these farmers can work together and what kinds of ideas they come up with.  I am excited that they want to try new ideas and really what is the worst thing that can happen?  Oh right it can fail.  I truly am not afraid of failing, I am afraid of not integrating, but really after yesterday that fear is fading fast.

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I have discussed with my supervisor on how to proceed in the next few weeks.  I think that splitting my day is the only way to really do this.  Today I am taking the morning off to do laundry since my weekend was so full.  I am looking at spending time outside later this afternoon, I also want to ensure that people see me and feel comfortable talking to me.  I am excited about moving forward, I guess I just needed a truly successful project to get myself back in balance.

Sometimes paradise feels lost!


Let me start with the screaming in my head argggggghhhhhhhhh!  This mostly has to do with my inability to really move any project forward, let alone integrate at a reasonable rate.  Ok enough of this pity party!  NEXT!

This week has been pretty much a waste for me.  I got a modem finally, too bad I for some reason cannot get a signal here at all.  I got a signal in the middle of the Sea but not up on the hill, what the hell is that all about?  The weirdest thing is that when I borrow the lovely woman from Seattle’s modem with the same carrier it works!  How the hell does this even happen?  Yes I double checked, a plan has been purchased.  Lucky for me I have access to this modem at the moment.  It is kind of frustrating to think that Liberia, which has no electricity has better 4G than Jamaica.

This week I did accomplish getting a medical package delivered, letters and post cards mailed out and most of my emergency preparedness kit assembled.  I have also read 3 books this week, so there is not a complete loss.  I also went clothes shopping and picked up a few extras that will make me feel a little more at home.  Although my home is not really my issue.

My birthday is tomorrow, so yesterday I was given the opportunity to go on  a glass bottom boat into the reef and go snorkeling.  Rule number one, the lip rings must be removed to seal the snorkel tube!  Secondly be aware of the wave and try not to allow the current to carry you into the reef.  Thankfully the guide was aware it was my first time ever.  He stayed really close to me and pointed out safety guidelines and ensured I stayed safe.  It was amazing and I hope to do it again very soon.

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I did call my ex employer and my last manager retired Friday.  I was glad to chat with him before he disappeared.  I also talked to my dad, who never answers his phone!  He retired today.  I was not even aware that he was thinking about that.  I did have a successful meeting this week and hope to spark some new interest and find new leaders in the community.   My biggest struggle is having my day planned and then changed and then cancelled and accomplishing nothing that day.  It really is not anyone’s fault, I just wish things would work out instead of leaving me with this feeling of failure and apathy about my worth.

My site is a first time site, which I love.  I have to remember to accept the growing pains that go along with a lack of guidelines to follow.  I have dedicated tomorrow to building a potato box with some of the farmers.  I hope a few show up.  At least I can get that feeling of accomplishment in finishing or at least starting a project.  I am excited to see how growing out of season will look and what kind of yields we can get.  It could fail miserably, or it could be a great success, but I will stand on this one as at least we tried something different.

I am also going to join a fitness group that meets nightly around 5.  I hope that by not only getting some much needed cardio, I might meet some of the community that I have not had the pleasure of conversing with as of yet.  Sadly for me, I must just have a lousy sense of when to go out, I seem to meet only a small number of people every time I try to go out.  Today I did spend a large portion of my day “watching” cricket.  By the way, I have no idea how to tell what team is up or who is winning, but there was almost a brawl, to which no one seems to know the cause of.  In fact earlier this week I also witnessed the end of a girl fight, and two men were separating a mother and daughter who were pounding on each other pretty good.

I have managed to set up one day a week to sit at the community center and meet with people.  This week two people from Heart, which is a vocational training organization came to see me.  Very excited to potentially work with them.  I also have determined I might need a bike, no not might, I do need a bike.  I have a large spread out community and when the school year starts up I will be visiting several schools in nearby districts, so a bike will ensure that I do not have to take a taxi to Ochi to come back up and go into Retreat or Petersfield.  I also have decided that I will be splitting my day in half.  I will try to work on things early in the day and then go back out around 5.  By doing this I might meet more of the community and I won’t be working 12 hour days when I actually do start projects.  Somedays I only work a few hours, other days I work 12-15 and then oh, a meeting is required attendance.  I need to find my balance.

All in all, slowly but surely I am making my way into this unknown world of paradise, which sometimes is so surreal it feels a bit lost.

This is what progress and integration look like!


The idea that I need to spend time integrating is sort of lost for me. Not that I am not trying, but I have had difficulty not only getting people to take me around the community but I am continuously “on duty” almost daily. Those times I am not are spent at the river or the beach or shopping, which is still quite a bit of work. In general I think about how to help this community unify.

In the process of integrating there is a woman from Seattle who lives here. She has been here for the last 20years so I suppose she is a local. No not suppose, she is a local. She has not only introduced me to many people she has also taken me on a walk through the community to better understand how it is situated. On top of all this she has shown me many of the wonderous things about living here. The White River which is our Parish border is not even known by some of the long time residents. The various beaches available are something I love more than anything else. As a water person being so close to both a river and the ocean is like I fell into a piece of heaven. Without her, I would never know such things.

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I have started projects on top of trying to start my CASI report. A CASI is the Peace Corps report on the Community Assets and Sector Inventory. It is an extensive report broken down into sections. Each section is 1-2 pages long but the CASI is about 40 pages in final form. I am the type of person that enjoys not only researching and writing but I like to start as soon as I can. I like to write-up pages as I get the information. I reread it toward the end and then find a whole section of missing information or data that could be displayed better. This is how I operate, so yes I have a page already typed up and one that is hand written for now. The problem is gathering information is not so easy. People want to share their stories, but they never really answer questions directly. You have to be a great sleuth to garner the unstated part of the story.

So since I have arrived in Three Hills I have spent many days in the river and ocean. I have also seen a crocodile sanctuary, built a potato box with a couple of local farmers and even taken them to the river to get bamboo for a second box. I have spent countless hours in meetings. In America I tried very hard to be excused from meetings. I am not a fan of meetings, but I am most certainly not a fan of meetings with a stoic structured set up. Jamaicans follow the British way of doing most things. They read the minutes from the last meetings, they have to motion to approve things and have these things seconded. The meetings last for 3-5 hours and in the end it feels like only one things was accomplished. It is not such a wonder that people will not show up at meetings.

This man thinks I can make money taking a picture of a "black man in a hole in Jamaica"!
This man thinks I can make money taking a picture of a “black man in a hole in Jamaica”!

Last night we had a meeting and I thought I was going to talk about why I was there and how I could help. I was very much mistaken. And although my Seattle lady is a no-nonsense person and stated that this meeting was far off the agenda, I did appreciate here taking the reigns that I was so confused to try to take. In the end we accomplished several things. I now have a better idea of who is vested in the scheme, I found there is a youth club that is not active and I also found that people really want to unify. This has been the most encouraging thing I have found so far. This is a group that I can work with. I really wanted to do an initial needs assessment, but found that this was impossible for several reasons. The biggest is that I need flip chart paper. I really, really, really need this and a light weight easel. Secondly it is impossible to really do a needs assessment with only a few people. What I did accomplish that a monthly meeting is not enough. We all agreed that a bi-weekly meeting was best. I think maybe by having meetings more often not only can they be shorter, we can not let things fall to the wayside. I suspect this is why things are so hard to get accomplished here. It is not for lack of desire but the lack of apparent priority.

Last night was a great night on several levels. I also found and talked to a group that comes out to the ball field nightly to exercise. I can use a group exercise and I could use the group to meet more people. The group costs $300 JD per session, which is a US price for a class. I am not certain I can afford this. I know she will take less, so I may cut a deal and just pay her a specific price monthly and show up when I can. I am mostly interested in meeting these people so I can know them better. Every little step counts, literally.

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My greatest concern these days is that the ZikV virus is here in Jamaica. It will soon come here. Thankfully my landlord is going to put up my mosquito net today but he also wants to add some screens to my windows, which I never close. There is this amazing breeze that comes into my apartment daily, most of the day and I keep my windows wide open. I did harvest a bunch of lemongrass this week to try to mitigate the mosquito problem. So far in my home they are not so bad, but around the community they are terrible. So bug spray and sunscreen are on my wish list! Wink Wink! Learning to live on about $250 a month can be a struggle when the beaches and river cost a few dollars and things like bug spray and sunscreen can cost $3-$12 each. Lucky for me, if I can get to Kingston or have someone carry it back the Peace Corps does provide this stuff at no cost.

My biggest purchase in this place so far has been wine and a pair of boots hand-made to fit my foot exactly! I love my boots! My foot gives me grief so having the boots will help, especially when I get Richard to mail my orthotic inserts, which I like an idiot forgot. When asked what I miss the most about America, I can honestly say a feeling of community. That is the one thing that I will strive the hardest to get done here. I think it is possible, I just think people need to have someone talk about it. I am really feeling like things can happen, I may not even accomplish the original goals that I was sent here to do, but I will accomplish so much more if I keep myself visible.

Tomorrow is my first day sitting in the Community Center as an “office day”. I hope to not only meet people but to get much accomplished. Who knows I may need to spend a few days in the “office” if enough people start coming to me. I gave out my number last night, I hope that was not a mistake, but people are really wanting to establish a community and that to me is the best news ever!

That man in the hole has a nice ass!
That man in the hole has a nice ass!

Almost to that feeling at home point, almost!


The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of not exactly meeting people but of interviewing a select group of people. I have at points been frustrated, I confess. There are issues with the way the community is set up and it creates some integration issues. Sure I could wander alone on the roads and meet people, but I would become a target of marriage proposals and psssst calls. I have avoided the village a bit just for these reasons. My supervisor on my first full week here dropped me off at the ball field on a Friday night. There was supposed to BINGO happening but mostly it was loud music and drunk men. My supervisor knowing these men were respectable just left me there. I was a bit unsettled at first. He had said he was going to have me meet a woman in the community down there, but she was not there at the time. I made a good friend of a man who I now call and plan on wandering around with when he has time. The best answer to are you married, by the way, is YES! Sorry Richard but we got married when you were sleeping!

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I have found the Farmers to be a diverse group of people and have become acquainted enough with them to feel comfortable trying to see them on my own. Some of the farmers I still have not met. There is a division in the group and it seems that people have different ideas as to what the group should be doing. I have finally analyzed a good portion of this so that I can say that the farmers desire to have water up on the farm and they desire a feeling of unity. The unity is where I will begin. May as well take that big one and shoot it square in the eye! My thought is to find a group of people who truly farm their plots, who are willing to forgive and move on and who are willing to at least try a new idea. I also want people who are willing to share skills and help each other out. I have identified a few individuals, but I am thinking of waiting until closer to September to really work this aspect into a project.

Currently I am working on potato boxes and want to experiment with growing out of season to see what happens. I intend on growing again in season to compare yields. I have been working with a lovely ex-pat from Vashon Island, right outside of Seattle! We have accomplished a ton together but I am going to spend the rest of the summer focusing on integration. She is leaving for a few weeks, so that will help establish a routine. The real issue is that I could not find a location to just sit and chat or sit and work on things as of yet. Working on things in my apartment isolates me from the community. I was very relieved when my supervisor suggested the community center once a week to be present in the community. I love this idea. To further make it so much better, he informed me that many in the community want to talk with me. If I spend at least one day a week in the center they can come to me, and they will not feel their confidentiality being violated. That is a huge problem, I walk around with a notebook and they tend to get quiet in fear of saying something that will be brought up and pushed back on them. At least that is how it appears to me.

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I did manage to meet a few people in the past few weeks. In fact I have met many, they mostly know who I am, but I have no idea who everyone else is, but this is normal since I am one and they are many. Last Friday I went to a dead yard, (ded yahd) with the man I met a few weeks ago. He asked if I could play domino. I told him I know how to play but am not that good at it. He has been bragging that we tenfold a couple of men that night. I had no idea, but that means we nailed 10 games in a row! I guess I might actually be pretty good, or they were being nice since I was the only female at the table. Either way I think I might have a weekly partner for domino matches.

Today as I was seeking out people in the community to chat with, I met the pastor of the Assemblies of the First Born. So far the limited history I have established of the community, this church is the foundation of the community. He was a very nice man and he saw me looking at a flyer on the church wall about a community event. He came out and introduced himself, he invited me to attend a service and to come about and chat with him sometime. I guess I will have to take my life-long fear of church and sit my butt in for a service. He is a good person to know in the community and is very community oriented, this could prove to be my foundation for projects and integration.

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Having been basically at work almost every day since I got here, I have not actually attended a church in the community as of yet. I have tried to attend a church on the outskirts of the community twice now, but it only meets on the last Sunday of the Month. When Tressa comes back I will attend that church, but until then I will go at least once to the main church. I really hope that by just wandering into the community at different times I will be able to establish myself so much better. There is a division within the community, this one runs deep. There is the original community and then there is the Scheme. I live in the Scheme, so not only am I white, I am seen as a come unto. The Scheme represents not only a class division but also a group of people who are not originally from the community or alwaysbeens. The real issue goes beyond class but also into how the Scheme does not really spend much time in the community, therefore it appears they are “better thans”. This is not actually true, it is more about a group of tenants who have no idea how long their living situation will last, therefore integration is not a priority. You see many people up here work in Ochi in the resorts or in retail. They have regular jobs and they are usually tired when they return from work, or they work strange days and have not time to integrate. Whatever the reason, it is not really about being better, simply about lifestyle, which sadly can cause friction and hurt feelings.