Joining the Peace Corps was not about adventure in the beginning. It was about making a difference. Or so that is what I told myself! I was sure it was my sense of needing to feel purpose in my life,or maybe it was my feeling that I must have been a bad person in a past life. I mean why would I keep getting dealt the worst life has to offer if I wasn’t a bad person, right?
Things really change and cycle if you allow it. I refuse to continue down this strange destructive path and started to explore different ways to live. One thing I realized is that just looking is not the same as experincing. After my bike adventure, I knew I had to experience for myself other ways to live. It was the best most challenging decision of my life. When you join Peace Corps you begin to peel off layers of cultural mythology. You also get reall familiar with yourself and your beliefs. This is by far the biggest adventure. The one they do not talk about in depth. The adventure that will make or break you. In reality not many people like to become familiar with themselves. It is uncomfortable and all those lies you tell yourself are bared naked and exposed. It can be an ugly uncomfortable period for you and everyone you are close to.
When you join Peace Corps be prepared to see that man in the mirror in an entirely new light. The great thing about this is you can then choose how to shape that man. You either like him as he is, and congratulations on that, or you are shamed and want to bury him. In the latter case how you bury and shape him has everything, and I mean everything to do with how your build up new and old relationships.
This last weekend I met a man at the beach. I was waiting for a friend and he came up and started talking to me. He told me he owned this boat with the most beautiful Marlin painted on it. I have admired that boat for the past few months and have taken pictures of it on many occasions. He told me he is a fisherman and wants to be friends.
In my world friends means one thing, and often in a man’s world anywhere it can mean sexual relations. I informed of this subtle difference and he assured me he just wanted to sit and have a few beers and chat. I agreed to give him my number and my friend showed up. It is not uncommon for men here to tell you they own things that they do not, or to take you to a place that is not even theirs.
He called me several times on Sunday which was a bit annoying, I had already informed him that was a day I was busy with a huge project. I finally returned his call the next day explaining that I was actually super busy. I went to Anna’s on Sunday for a lazy pool day and trying to balance myself. He apparently lives in the same area and asked if I was coming over that day. I am not a fool and I decided against going to some strange man’s home alone. He was then going to have his friend come up and get me in my area. After it got to be around 9 pm, I called him and said I would have to reschedule that is far to late for me to be out safely.
We made plans to meet Wednesday afternoon at the same beach we met at. I confess my interest goes beyond the man and is more focused on the rules and regulations of fishing here. I confess that I am not actually interested in finding a man, contrary to their belief, not all white women come here for the “big Bamboo”! I was pleasantly surprised when he came back into the cove in the boat he told me was his. Our original intention was to meet at 2 pm, but he went out fishing and informed me that it would be after 4. What he did not inform me was how long it takes to bring a catch in. You see first they must pull the fish out of the boat. Then they must clean the boat bottom. Then they are mobbed by tourists and locals looking to purchase some of the catch. Then they have to gather the gear up and prepare it for transit.
He asked me to go back to his place with the girlfriend of the taxi driver. This may not have been my best decision, but I agreed. It was getting late and I could tell it would be awhile before he was done. When we arrived I saw the tidiest place I have ever seen. It was nicely decorated and had the biggest flat screen I have ever seen. We proceeded to watch Netflix for quite awhile waiting on them. The fishermen finally arrived and the work is still not done. There is the wrapping of the fish and selling to the neighbors. He actually had me hold the money, which I found to be quite trusting of him. It was not a huge amount of money, but still to have a total stranger hold onto the money is a leap of faith. (Disclaimer, there was a big group with us and a police officer next door. My landlord also had his number before I left. I did not feel unsafe or threatened in any way, so friends and family, I promise I am always safe and not to worry about me.)
Once the fish is dealt with then the gear must be washed and rinsed. Clothes that were discarded on the boat bottom are also washed. At some point to my pained surprise J actually took a plastic bag and tossed it into the gully. I chastised him quite readily. He argued a bit about how it would not go into the ocean, but I was adamant that it was unacceptable. He promised to never do it again, and the other men sheepishly started to discard trash in a bucket. I call this a huge win!
When he finally took a shower and sat down next to me it was getting kind of late. I finally told him I must be getting home and as promised his taxi man came and got me and took me home. In the end I still do not know much about the rules and regulations but I certainly have a much greater respect for fishermen. I also have possibly come up with a great idea for income generation, and maybe I will share that here later, but first I must share it with J!
He truly was much a gentleman and seemed honest and not looking for someone to support him. Here that is very refreshing.
This last month has been a whirlwind of either not much going on, or so much my head hurts! Last week I went to a Fisherman’s Regatta at Pagee Beach in Port Maria. Two other Peace Corps and two ex-pats from Canada went with me. Originally I was told I could get free passes for all of us. Then I was told only three, in the end two were stolen so there was only one. If I had just gone with my gut and bought them all the day before I could have saved everyone $250 JD (Jamaican Dollars, $1 US is equal to $115 JD, generally.) In the end the cost was about $6 each and the gas money to help offset the cost of transportation. I thought it was great fun and we stayed until after dark. Sadly this is the first time I have really spent out and about after dark. I miss that very much.
One thing you will often notice in Jamaica is how the locals are not so fond of the beach. I am not certain if it is because they just do not really like water or that it costs too much for them to be able to afford it. Sadly the beaches that are not owned by foreign entities are operated by locals who really do not consider their neighbors and the level of poverty here. Everyone is looking to make a buck. Much of this is about survival but even more is just a mind-set that everything has a price. It is probably the ugliest part of Jamaica to me. Well that and the dashing of trash everywhere. So much styrofoam and plastic are thrown out and either end up in the sea or are burned and end up as air pollution. Unfortunately there is no real way to manage the trash. I would love to see plastic banning and styrofoam banning here, but that is really just never going to happen. That is right, I just admitted something cannot be done. I admit that simply because an endeavor that big would require such a huge behavioral change and the government to equip people with the means to make this change that is simply is not possible at this time. When you are too focused on survival you lose site of other things that are important.
Sunday I planned another work party. This one was a groundbreaking for a demonstration plot. The plan is to use this plot to showcase several innovative ideas for farming, and to sell the produce to help offset the costs of the Association. I had about 5 people show up, which is nice for a Sunday. I wanted to start at 8 am, but this is Jamaica and that will just never happen. We ended up really getting started around 9:30. As I have set a precedent that there much always be a flask of rum for the farmers, it will remain a requirement. Incentive sometimes is everything. I have also requested that we look into getting a coal pot to make lunch for these events. It is much nicer to leave on a full belly after so much hard work. Just like most of the projects here, nothing goes as planned. The gas for the tiller was late, and we ended up working much later than I had wanted to. We need to set up another work party to till the ground one more time to ensure it is nice and deep. I also need to talk to some of the market farmers to find out what crops are best for the market.
I have selected a nice shady area for greens and a herb garden, again I am speaking of cooking herbs, not Ganga. I am looking forward to spending some time in the dirt and seeing the crops grow. Now that I have a bicycle getting to the farm will be much easier and faster. The surprising thing for me is that when I ask for help I get it from many different sources. It is always nice to see people helping each other and I am hoping to set up a way for this to be a permanent action of the association.
Another volunteer joined me during the day and I want to extend a great Thank You to Abou for coming up here to help and see what we are doing. I believe having other volunteers visit is also a great incentive to my farmers to show their knowledge and abilities. Even if the volunteers just want to visit, I highly encourage it! There is nothing better for a group than a big shot of praise and interest in their work!
After we were winding down the farmers decided we should go to the river. I love the idea that they wanted to go, it was their idea. So we all piled in Mr. Johnson’s truck and he gathered up his family who also came down. We visited another farmer in our group Chris. He has a nice area on the river, he calls Bridge Farm Blue. This will soon be a tourism attraction and it is looking amazing. When you go through the proper channels to get your permits, amazing things can happen. I love this site, and wish I could get there much easier. Chris talks to me about building a Food Forest and how to implement permaculture design. I just love that he even knows what these things are!
The most surprising thing of this weekend was that my farmers actually did get in the water and even used the swing to drop into the water. Seeing people have fun always puts my soul in a great place. I hope to see much more of this and hope that future projects will result in trips to the river! Hard work can be rewarding but some rewards are amazing, this was one of those unexpected rewards.
Traditional Jamaican Cuisine consists of Jerk, rice and peas, pumpkin soup, boiled green banana, fresh fruits, fried chicken, curried goat, porridge, juice, dumplings, patties, callalou and saltfish, akee and saltfish, bammy, bulla and pear, roast breadfruit, and plantains. In my life this spells a health disaster. The focus is meat and carbs. Imagine your whole life only eating something green for breakfast! When I first experienced the food here I started to bloat and gain weight. I became very concerned about this. I was also always tired and even though I was walking nearly 3 miles daily, I found my health in jeopardy. Once I got assigned to my own site and was able to control my food these things all changed. I have lost enough weight that I can actually see it! When you can see it yourself you know it is a lot. I switched to olive oil and coconut oil to cook with. I cut out saltfish completely and focused on more vegetables. I bought a blender and two types of juicers and I feel so much better. The idea that I do not eat meat is often a mystery to Jamaican people. Even the Rasta will eat conch or fish.
Last week I noticed that I was completely worn down and realized that my B-12 levels likely were dropping. I had not been taking my vitamins regularly and I was also at the mercy of other people for my food for a few days. This is my biggest challenge, getting the right amount of nutrition when I am not eating meat. Sunday here is rice and peas day. Always! At first I tried to keep up with this tradition, but soon found myself overwhelmed with rice. I changed it up so that I only make rice and peas every other Sunday. As the weather gets hotter, I do find myself avoiding cooking in the evening. I often eat leftover soup reheated for several days. I do love pumpkin soup! Pepper pot soup is also a favorite of mine. I spend most of my money on food, because I refuse to not eat fresh produce. I have embraced the callalou, which is like finely chopped spinach. I like to sauté up some onions and sweet peppers and then steam the callalou with them. I finish it off with an egg, either fried or scrambled in. This is a typical breakfast for me. Sometimes I will add in okra if I need to use it up. I never use saltfish, which is like kippered cod. It is a cod fillet preserved in salt and shelf stable for a long time. Lunch is most often a green salad or some type of pasta. This week I ended up adding tinned salmon to my salad a couple of days to up my B-12’s it really does help. I make my own dressing, either a yogurt based herb dressing or a liquid amino based vinaigrette. If I have left over mango and cilantro, I make a cilantro mango lime dressing that is amazing. I even sometimes make a tahini based dressing. I try to change it up often so I only make a little at a time. If I make a pasta for lunch, it often includes kale or arugula. By just adding something green I feel it adds so much to the dish.
When I cook up a dinner it can be a soup or a rice dish. Sometimes it is a stirfry and either rice or a asian noodles. I do use mushrooms a lot. They are expensive here so I have had some dried packets sent to me from America! Thanks Kathy! I appreciate it so much! My friend Teresa sent me a spice mix called Braggs organic sprinkle! I use it often, I hope someone else sends me some more soon! It is great on popcorn with some nutritional yeast. I live right outside of Ocho Rios and can get almost anything I need or want. The few items I cannot get I ask to have sent to me. Right, back to my dinner ideas! Dinner often consists of a ton of veggies either roasted or sauteed up with beans, tofu or some kind of veggie chunk. The veggie chunks that are dried look like dog food to me! But they are quite tasty. I avoid the ones that look like dried hot dogs or fake chicken, I just use a small handful of the dark ones in my meals. This week I am going to try jerk tofu with my rice and peas. What could possibly go wrong? The worst that can happen is it tastes wonky, but I have faith it will turn out well. Working with farmers has great advantages. I always get a few items at no charge. I often get banana or a few extra tomatoes dropped into my bag. It really does make a difference in my budget.
This week my landlord gave me a handful of akee. Since akee is poisonous prior to opening naturally, I refuse to buy it from anyone I do not know. I have heard that they theif it and split them manually, which is a bit of a risk for the buyer. That old saying, buyer beware, it really is a thing here! I also do not eat akee often, simply because it is nothing but fat! If you have never had it, you should totally try it. It is similar to scrambled eggs! A true Rasta does not eat eggs, but they eat akee! You peel it and de-seed it. Then you boil it until it is soft enough to pierce with a fork. You can freeze it at this point or saute it up with sweet pepper and onions. Jamaicans would drop saltfish into it, but as I stated I do not eat this. I am getting better and better at coming up with new ideas of things to eat. I find it an artistic outlet! I can tell you that juicing too many greens will leave a bad taste in your mouth, but the right combination of greens and other veggies or fruits will create a quite tasty drink. I am feeling more at home and definitely love my little kitchen! I find more reasons to love it daily.
Since getting to my site I have not really left it, aside from a trip to the beach or Ochi. I have spent exactly one night out and that was the 4th of July. Last week was my first work out of site. It was amazing and exhausting. We were asked to work the JOAM (Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement) kid’s booth at Denbigh. Denbigh is in Maypen Clarendon. Denbigh is supposed to be the biggest agricultural show in the Caribbean! It is like a state fair. Anyone who won the county fair end up competing in the state fair. Here is where anyone and everyone showcase everything from innovative agricultural techniques, value added products, crafts and good eats!
Many of us stayed at the Custus’s home during our stay. The Custus is the person in each parish in charge of the Queens land on island. This one had an amazing home with a pool, AC and a bottomless bar. Oh and cheese for days and days and days! So not only did we spend long days in the heat, we came home and spent long nights partying and playing in the pool. So as you might guess, I am exhausted! I have spent the last 3 days pretty much recuperating. Our booth was loaded with kids on Saturday and Sunday. I have never face painted in my life, until now! I painted so much it was insane. I also started with basics and worked my way all the way up to a mickey mouse face, that sort of looked like Mickey Mouse! At one point a young man wanted a snake, I did a fantastic snake! He slipped his number into my hand while I was painting. Later he came back and started to talk to me and I shut him down quickly! You have to shut them down quick or it just drags on! I informed him that my son was older than him and it was weird and I am pretty certain illegal for me to pursue! Even if it was not illegal it was still weird and awkward! It seems that many Jamaican males, of all ages, will ask any foreign woman of any age to marry them or at the very least hook up with them. Size and age do not matter, it is a strange and weird cultural thing. Even in Liberia I had less issues derailing men.
It was great fun meeting back up with other volunteers and working together. I loved the day before we arrived when several of us met up at Ian’s home to make posters and organize what we were going to do. We had a great evening and a great dinner and wonderful breakfast. In fact Bill became Breakfast Bob every morning we were together. I managed to pick up a mortar and pestle, a new pair of slippers, two meditation pillows and a hand carved crocodile! I feel I scored very well. I did not pay full price for any of these items. I also found out about a farm group that I need to go check out in my parish. This group has been recognized World Wide for their food security and disaster preparedness program. I am looking forward to checking this out!
When I got home I was forced to deal with a little bit of drama with some friends. I am so glad that it happened. Things are much better and we can all remain friends. I am grateful the ladies came to an agreement and I can live with the decisions made. On Wednesdays I typically spend the mornings in the community center. Yesterday the SDC (social development committee) had scheduled a training there. I ended up sitting in on this, and found it to be greatly beneficial. They were training people in the community to help gather information for a community profile, something I desperately need for some of my reports. I was excited to hear that there would be real numbers to use and community mapping would be done. I asked if I could have access to the information as it comes available, and was told yes. I offered to assist, but I will not be doing any of the work since local young persons will be getting paid for this project and I feel it would be taking potential income from them if I volunteer to help.
There are those moments when it feels like I am wasting my time, then there are those times when things just sort of fall into place! This week has been a great week and I exhausted but looking forward to a new project! Be on the look out for a new project details coming soon!
My job is to help develop capacity for my Farmer’s Association. My secondary job is to help with community development. My third job is to work on environmental education with the community and more importantly school groups. Wow that seems to be a huge set of goals. In reality they are, but more importantly it is really difficult to define how to achieve these goals. When you wander around the community uncertain as to what your real “job” is, it is time to think of projects! I am very good at projects. I am so good at them that most of my days are either filled with doing projects, talking about them or planning them. I have had two days of potato box building, a day of showing how to blend the compost and manure to apply to the potato box, two biochar burns and two days of herb spiral building. Today is the my third day of herb spiral building.
There is much guilt in feeling useless, so then desperation sets in. Desperation is the most wonderful ally a PCV can have. It puts you in the position to desire to do something, anything! Fortunately for me, the farmers and students I have been working with are excited to see an experimental farming technique. Considering my education and passion is sustainable urban agriculture, how does that spill out into large-scale farming? It doesn’t exactly, what it does is spark an idea in a farmer, who thinks that I am not utilizing my space properly, or that I am to stuck on my design. Good for them. The goal is not to make them dependent on me, but to help them find their own strengths. This is an amazing thing to see. Imagine telling American school children that we will be planting herbs in a bottle and then nailing them to a few sticks to hold them up while they grow. Most kids would be like, no it is not pretty, younger kids would be fine but high school kids not so much. Even here my supervisor wanted me to paint the stand and the bottles. I told him “no, I want people to see how it was made and to know that it took very little materials. ” It seems that by hiding the basics you lose the idea. As it stood, yesterday an interviewer asked me about it, and I explained how it worked and the ideology behind it. Then I realized that right on top the farm group had displayed a “hemp” plant in a larger bottle. I looked at the interviewer and informed him that was not actually part of the project, but was just sitting there.
Here in Jamaica if you mention herbs they automatically think marijuana. I keep explaining that where I am from herbs mean fresh green plants used to season food. Oh the craziness of trying to explain a herb spiral. I really wish I had another name for it. In the end, people are genuinely interested in the projects that I have come up with. More importantly they have started requesting certain things. Things like: solar dehydrator, grow boxes, soap making, herb drying and composting. Soon I will try to work up a demonstration garden and building up soil while saving water. But these are future projects, I cannot do all my ideas in one month, what will I do for the next two years when I am feeling lost if I do everything now? I currently need to set up a new potato box building project, and have the farmers design their own ideas. This is really how things should proceed, but the outcome is that I feel useful, they feel empowered and the kids are getting included, so it is ultimately a win!
There are those moments in time when you can see your soul being filled to capacity. Those are the times that you know must hold you over in times your soul goes through famine. Today was one of those days. I know that many of my fellow volunteers think I am doing great at my site. To be honest I love it here, but there are days when I feel like a total failure. Today I had an unplanned meeting with a supervisor over some questionable situations. Not every day is the same here, and you must understand that no matter where you are, there is always potential danger. So sometimes a meeting is needed to determine if you are interpreting things correctly.
In my time here I have held a few workshops, which I have included a ton of pictures to share. In these moments I seem successful, but the moments that are not seen are the ones where I am at a loss as to what to actually do. It feels awesome to be validated, but then I have to stand up and confess that my successful workshops are based out of desperation. Desperation to feel useful, to feel as though I have done something. I guess that is what Peace Corps is all about, desperation is the mother of innovation, or so I hear.
Today’s meeting came with great confidence building praise and unexpected support. In the end the choice is always mine. My safety is my priority, and I can and will refuse to do things that could put my life in danger. It is human nature to question our interpretation of data, we do not want to be wrong, but it is very lifting to hear that our own interpretation is accurate and our chosen course is correct. It also feel very good to hear someone say you are doing great.
Later today I had my neighbor visit me. Killa is a soft soul. He lives upstairs and my host family is close to him. He runs a jerk stand and apparently he sells out far before the others do. He is also the kind of person who is genuinely gentle, maybe not so bright but definitely a gentleman. He came into my apartment today, which is actually a first, as I was preparing my lunch. I was making a kale salad, and he wanted to know what kale was. I showed him and then I showed him the best way to prepare it. First you break it up then you add some lemon or lime juice and massage it into the kale. I like to allow it to sit for an hour. The citrus breaks up the fibers much like when you ceviche fish. I then add some finely chopped sweet pepper, red onion and toasted almonds. I toss in some olive oil and then add some romano cheese. I promised to save him some, I think he was truly interested in what I actually eat as a vegetarian. See I tease him daily about masticating a chicken and that I am a vegetarian and he is killing my soul slowly. The host family also brought home a new puppy, which I always ask what he is doing to the puppy and tell him he cannot cook it up.
He came back later this evening and I served him some of my kale. He seemed to like it quite a bit. My host brother also came up for some arugula, carrot and cucumber juice, which he did not really like but drank for the nutrients. I told him a little bit of fruit makes it more tolerable. He just wanted the veggies, so well he got a rather untasty concoction.
Explaining my diet is an everyday thing here. Being a true vegetarian is confusing, which after hearing dietician discuss nutrition is not all that surprising. The diet here is high in fat, sugar and carbs, and processed crap. Tang is considered juice and bag juice is common, bag juice is sugar and food coloring in water as far as I can tell. I need to share my meals more often, I think the family may enjoy them and get ideas as to how to eat healthier. (I have lost about 20lbs since getting here!)
I enjoy dominoes with my family about once a week and want to start playing tennis and soccer with them very soon. (I bought the equipment for both.) The most surprising thing I have found today is that my host dad had a meeting with other host families in Ochi today. I hear rumors that I have made a huge impact on them, and that he was mentioning me continually today. Oh my head is swelling with pride at the moment.
In those times that I feel like a failure, I will look back on the happenings of today and remember that I fed a man and my soul was fed as well. I must always remember that it is a cycle and that my actions have impact, good, bad or indifferent, I embrace those things which are catalyzed by my actions. I just hope that this is always a positive outcome. Today has been an excellent day.