Friendsgiving 2016

When you choose to stay in country during your service for the holidays many emotions churn inside you.  I am not planning on going “home” until my service is over.  Mainly I do not want to have to readjust to life at home and then not want to come back.  I also do not want to spoil the feeling of having Richard for myself and then having to leave him again.  It was so hard when he left from his visit.  So I choose to stay here and hunker down for the holidays.  I do not celebrate Christmas anyway, so this is not a struggle for me, but Thanksgiving I struggle with.


Mel is a wonderful hostess and planner.  Two years she has organized and planned a Friendsgiving gathering and feast.  This year we had more people than last and we ended up renting a space to acommodate more people.  The food and freindship are amazing.  It is even more amazing when you are alone without your family around on the holidays.

I ended up staying with Whitney because she does not live too far from the location.  Several of us ended up staying with other volunteers nearby.  I promised to bring my crockpot with me so Whitney could cook a chicken in the slow cooker.  I know right?  I allowed my crockpot to become a cockpot!  Sorry a little Jamaican humor as they refer to chicken as cock almost exclusively.  So Friday night I got off work early and packed my bags and headed up her way.  It was nearly dark when I finally reached her home.  We opted to not cook dinner but instead take the 3/4 pear I had brought with me and make guacamole with something similar to french bread.


We set the chicken up to cook overnight, and Whit is so good at dressing a dirty bird that I did not even have to touch it!  I then proceeded to make my dish, actually two of them.  I brought salad, and I have to say that the lady I bought the lettuce from thought I was nuts for wanting $700 in lettuce! She was like, are you sure and she hesitated, then I informed her I had to feed 20 people the next day and I was bringing the salad, at that she calmed down and bagged it up.   I also made a vegetarian cassoulet from Smitten Kitchen, but I modified it.  I ended up not having a way to bake the dish so I did it all on the stove top.  I also added mushrooms and roasted pumpkin.  For the bread crumbs I mixed bread crumbs with nutritional yeast and fresh parsley and then sauteed it on the stove until it was crispy and browned.    I was very relieved that none of it came back home with us!


Sometimes in our darkest moments we have to look up and find our true friends and our true selves.  This has never been more meaningful as it has been for my service.  There are times I feel isolated and alone, but I know I am not.  There are times when I think the whole world does not understand me, but I know there are those out there that do.  I have found my tribe, and it is large!

Photo by Lois Siska

My biggest cultural struggle….

I have this same struggle back home, but to  a lesser extent.  Here it seems just so overwhelming and I cannot even deflect it.  What am I talking about?  The absolute refusal to respect a woman’s no.  If I tell you no I am not going to do pushups in the gravel, do not try to make me feel like less of a person.  Do not try to force me into it, I am NOT going to do it, no matter what stupid crap comes out of your mouth.  If I tell you no I am not interested in talking about my sex life, then stop talking about it as if you have insider information, just stop it before I embarrass you in front of other people.  Seriously just stop it.  If I tell you I am not interested in hooking up, do not take your shirt off and tell me that the wife beater makes your “member” look tall.   I just said NO, what the actual hell are you trying to accomplish, aside from an embarrassing situation in which I will laugh and you will look foolish!


If I tell you I do not date boys my children’s age, I seriously mean it!  Just stop.  See there is a reason this specific one gets to me.  After my mom and dad divorced, my dad hooked up with a girl in my sister’s graduating class, I believe she was underage!  He later married a dumb woman, and I do mean she was stupid, a year younger than me.  Aside from my obvious distaste this goes deeper.  I am going to explain this as best as I can……


When my dad is trolling girls my age and younger, it made me uncomfortable.  It disgusted me, why?  As Jamaican men will often tell you, “Age is just a number!”  No actually it is a indication of maturity level.  When my dad was trying to hook up with young girls, it made me wonder how many friends I had stay the night and he made them feel uncomfortable.  How many times did certain scenes from “American Beauty” happen while I slept?  How many friends did I lose because my dad was a creeper?  In high school there was always huge parties behind my house at the neighbor’s house.  My dad went all the time, I was not allowed to go, but I heard how “cool” my dad was for partying with them.

There are many songs about women who date younger men, “Mrs. Robinson” and “Stacy’s Mom” come to mind here.  I am seriously not ok with the situation and I refuse to make my children feel the same way I feel about my dad. I love him, I do not respect or trust him.  Imagine how I felt about letting my baby girl go with him after this?  He never did anything inappropriate with me or my children but it was like a deep family secret.

So sorry if I come across as rude or crass, but damn, when I say NO respect that.  It is not a challenge for you to come back and try again.  It does not mean that I will eventually give in.  It does not mean Maybe, it does not mean YES it means NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I guess this is my biggest struggle to date is how the men often disregard a woman’s no and take it as a challenge. It is truly exhausting to continually smile and be nice and stand firm on your no.  I keep trying to stay nice, but I may have to become rude soon.  I hope I go home before that happens.

I realize that this is probably more of an individual issue, but it seems it happens no matter where I go, and it happens often.  This has tainted my viewpoint.  I am actually not even angry, more like perplexed as to why I say no and that just encourages them.  Back home if you say no to a man he will either just sulk and go away or he will try to ruin your reputation saying all sorts of things, so maybe this is more about men and women than about cultural differences?  Whatever the cause, it creates a hilariously uncomfortable dynamic to have to try to find a path through.

A realization:

I have had this conversation with a few local people and they all stare at me like I am truly nuts.  There are things I do not like in the Jamaican Cuisine, like most of the starches and I do not eat meat. I cannot understand boiled banana or plantain, yellow yam and dumpling all being in the same meal?  This should basically put me in a diabetic coma from too much starch!  I also find them bland and tasteless.  I came to Jamaica with a basic expectation of tasty Caribbean food, only to be shocked by what most people ate. Recently I was again discussing this and a realization hit me!  Most Jamaicans eat these boiled foods with meat that is most often stewed into a gravy.  No wonder I am not understanding.   They do not eat just the boiled foods, but with a type of gravy or sauce upon it!  It has taken me this long to figure this out!  Also I was introduced to Americanized Caribbean foods, so I was mislead.  I expected bursting spicy flavors, and I got bland boiled food.


Now I am learning that boiled and roasted plantains are best if they are ripe!  Also I have not actually had cassava or dasheen or coco, so I cannot tell you what those are like.  I think the rest of my time here will be in search of those foods.  I have learned to appreciate the fresh fruits and produce here, but the starches give me puzzle, but I think I am figuring it out.  Another thing that I was mistaken about was liquid browning sauce.  I bought some recently thinking maybe I can make stew peas in this and it will make a nice sauce to put over say yam.  I cooked up a dish and used this “sauce” and it was tasteless!  Like what am I doing wrong?  I asked someone, who giggled at me and told me that it is simply to make the meat the desired color, for say “brown stew chicken”  you do not want white meat if it is supposed to be brown.   So I now have this bottle I cannot wait to get rid of.  I think I will give it to the guy from Antigua that lives at the other end of the dorms here on campus.


I know that typical Jamaican dishes have a few requirements:  scallion, pimento (whole allspice), thyme and scotch bonnet pepper.  Saturday is soup day. In many Jamaican households a pot of soup is started early in the day to get it nice and ready for a mid/late afternoon meal.  Typically it starts with a base of Maggi soup mix or seasoning packet, I try to avoid this because, MSG!    There are many varieties of soup, pumpkin soup, pepper pot soup, fish tea, mannish water, chicken foot, crayfish and red peas.  There is a soup base for each of these and if you want more an extra packed of cock soup mix can be added.  So after the base is boiling in the water, add a whole scallion 2-3 pimentos, a sprig or two of thyme and either a whole scotch bonnet, not cut, or a few very small slivers of the pepper.


Other things to include are yellow yam, Irish potato, dumpling, meat, and carrots.  This is a typical base of any soup.  You then toss in your meats and the defining ingredients to your soup.  For me I love pumpkin soup.  I cube down the pumpkin and cook it down, if I am ambitious I will cook it first and then mash some up it up to thicken the base.  Instead of meat I add some type of pea (dried beans) or veggie chunks.  Veggie chunks are basically a soy TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) and I tend to use them when I forgot to precook or presoak my peas.  For me instead of the soup  packet I use a base of curry and salt along with ginger and garlic.  If it is another type of soup I use a tablespoon of Better than Boullion veggie base.  I am very fond of soup, so the fact that at least once a week is soup night makes me so happy!  I even purchased a slow cooker just for this, and let me tell you I forgot how much I love those!  I can set my beans up before bed and by morning they are ready to use, as long as I do not run out of water, and bonus:  my apartment smells so nice!


An answer to the question, “What do we tell our daughters about Trump?”

I will not lie.  This entire election cycle has broken my heart and made me feel things I am ashamed to admit.  It has brought out some of the best in people and most definitely the worst in people on both sides.  The results are heartbreaking, because it feels as if hate won.  Most of us wonder what do we tell our daughters, our mothers, our sisters, our wives now that a misogynistic sexually assaulting man is in office?  I have an idea, a way to build up ourselves as women, and men and to survive the next four years.


What do we tell our daughters?  First off hate did not win, fear did.  People fear the threat of terrorism, they fear change, they fear the future.  Granted the most hateful parts of America raised up and became emboldened.  I will not lie, this terrifies me.  So what can we do?  We tell our daughters that we cannot allow a counter-fear to consume us, we must not allow the hatred we fear to consume us.  We must become supportive, and loving and less angry to survive, otherwise we will become just like those we are appalled by.

I challenge you to form support groups, groups of women who you chat with, have coffee dates with, dinner dates, lunch dates, reading groups, women who you connect with on the basis of being a woman.  We as women must stand strong and we must show our daughters how love can change things.  Support each other, build relationships and eventually invite our spouses, partners, sons, fathers into our circles.  Share with them our fears and our hope along with our dreams.  We learn to lean on each other and to support each other, we build ourselves up so that we may stand strong.  NO matter what the political view you hold, as a woman you have my support.  I will try to understand your viewpoint with a level head and an open heart, I expect you to provide me with the same understanding and acceptance.

If we cannot stand up and support each other, we will lose ourselves in hopelessness and despair.  We will become the thing we fear, angry and hateful, we cannot allow ourselves to become that.  We must continue to be the hope of the future, our daughters, sisters, mothers and lovers depend on us to become stronger than we ever thought we were, we must learn to forgive and let go of the anger.  We have to, or it will consume us.  I know because I have two modes of emotion, extreme happiness and extreme anger.  I try to stay as positive as possible, because I spent years in the darkness of my anger and it consumed me.

Photo from Alli Brown

I challenge you as a woman to find a few other ladies to spend a bit of time each week with.  Check-in with each other, create art together, drink wine together, make meals together and build each other up and break down that fear!

Balancing Acts!

Some days life here seems normal and similar to home.  Other days it does not.  Since my site change I am desperately trying to find a balance in my life.  I gained a bit of weight back staying at a hotel in Kingston for about a month, then we had that week of lockdown for a hurricane threat.  I have been trying to eat better and walk daily, and these are things that I am pretty good at.  However, at night when I am home I am so tired that I tend to snack all night and mindlessly put food in my mouth.  I now need to focus on the routines at home.


I try to walk every morning with my host mom, who is more like a sister in age and interactions.  We get up and walk at least 2 loops around the housing scheme that I now live in.  We walk with two other ladies as well.  They will often walk a third or even a fourth lap but for me I need to get showered and dressed for work after the second lap.  I try to get up and make coffee and even some breakfast or at least a snack so I am not walking on an empty stomach.  In my old site the stress was much less because my schedule was more flexible.  Now I have a “real” job that requires me to be accountable for my time and be on site for the majority of the work week.  It is not so bad as it is an office job but we go out to sea often, or we do public outreach and have students.  My tasks vary from day to day so I never get too bored.  I also walk about 2 miles to and from the lab almost daily.  Depending upon the weather or if I see someone I work with on the road who will pick me up.


So I have my regular exercise kind of on track.  I know that I have been blowing my 10000 step goal a day out of the water lately.  I am also looking at starting to ride my bike a bit in the neighborhood I live in.  Sadly according to the rules of PC I cannot ride the bike on the main road and that is the only way to get to work, so instead I walk, which seems just as sketchy if riding is not safe, but I digress.  My biggest struggles are when I come home.  I am too tired to do much else, so then I sit and eat and watch movies all night.  I do not even read much anymore.  I am hoping to stay home all day Sunday and catch up on housework and plan my week.  The last few weeks have not allowed me that opportunity.


At the lab my main duties are outreach, social media, education and now sustainable technologies. I also help with the wet lab and the aquarium.  I go out and snorkel to collect specimen to use for the education sessions.  I am getting very good at catching critters now.  We keep them for a short time and then release them back, except the Lionfish because they are non-native species and we want to remove them from the Caribbean.  That is a subject for another blog post.


This last month has been truly exciting for me as I have been around World-renowned marine scientists!  I love getting their stories and how they see the reef historically and the future prospects of it.  In a time of turmoil, I have found a refreshing influx in my first passion, the sea.  I find it to be an amazing ecosystem, a form of resilience against the forces of man and nature and a true form of balance, this is how I want my life to be, now and in the future.

Trying to make sense…..

As a PCV I am in a unique position, in a unique place at a very turbulent time.  The election last night could have ruined my whole day.  I admit I was not even surprised by the results. Why?  Because Trump even being nominated is indicative of a larger issue.  The one that Sanders addressed when he ran, but was derailed because of the issue.  The issue is that the people, you know the actual people of the United States are fed up with politics.  We are tired of our votes not meaning anything, thank you Electoral College.  We are tired of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and the gap between becoming a canyon.  We in fact are tired and we are fed up.  The thing is Trump and Sanders represented the same thing.  From way different viewpoints, but the same thing.  An end to the status quo.


The reason 3rd party candidates never make headway is the same thing we are tired of.  The political machine crushes the people and pays no mind to the constituents that put them in power.  It is high time we take that power back.  You see the Republicans were wise enough to allow the xenophobic Man-child bully to be nominated understanding that this was the will of the people.  The Democrats did not follow the order of things.  They wanted to pull the puppeteer strings and put the first female in the Presidential office.  I for one distrusted Hilary about as much as I despise Trump.  When you have a populace that feels they have no choices you end up with what you got.  We will see how this plays out, I will not lie, I am terrified for my friends and neighbors.  I am scared for the rights so long fought and the progress made that will jump back almost a century, because I guarantee you the 50’s is not where we are headed, we are headed right back to the WWII era.  When the genocide of an entire race was attempted and good people just looked the other way.


Or,,,,, Maybe, I hope, Mr. Trump will have the same dysfunction in office that Obama faced.  Maybe the Senate and the House will be uncooperative, or they will be voted out in 2 years with a massive overthrow.  Whatever the outcome is, it will either completely shred this country apart or it will unite us together, but the status quo is not likely to survive either of those two options.  A broken system will remain broken until it is either dismantled or repaired.  Sadly this system is too far beyond repair, so I look forward to a whole new system, one that can be built from the lessons we have learned about how democracy needs to check capitalism and it cannot be allowed to put profit before people.  I doubt Trump will do this, but maybe the next president will.  One that sees the errors of the past and learns from them.  You see with a two-party system there is always a loser and this is not a feasible solution.  If this system were revamped to break down those barriers then having to lose would not feel like it was the absolute opposite of the desired result.

Whatever the future holds I assure you I am bracing for it.  The funny thing today is that one of the boat captains informed me that: “The Democrats neva hold office more den 8 years.  Neva!”  You know, he might actually be correct, I wonder how often the Republicans have held it more than 8 years?  Or Have they ever held it for 4 consecutive terms or more?  Or does the country flip elections after getting tired of the nonsense that gwaan in Washington?  I mean really what are the stats on this, I am certain there are stats.  I am just not interested enough to check into them.


So let this be a lesson to American Politicians, never move so far from the people that you cannot see pressure ready to blow.  If you keep pushing back on the people eventually they will push back on you.

As for me I will continue to strive to find the better parts of humanity and to seek peace and solace in the sea.

This is a fire worm, I am calling it Trump because it is orange has bad hair and is ecologically destructive.