What does your worst day of Service look like?

Sometimes your best days can also be your worst days. Today was one such day. In Jamaica it is Labour Day, not a day to relax but a day to put in community work and try to improve your communities. Much like a national service day. We had the greatest turnout this year. Roads are being fixed, the schools are being improved, a bus stop is being finished and clean-up all around the community is happening.

Yesterday boys were telling me that people anticipated getting paid for the day, which is against the idea of Labour Day. Then today I saw something go on that should not have been going on. I confronted the person and a screaming/cursing argument ensued. It shook me to my core. My behavior was no better than his. I had apparently hit my tipping point and it was sliding headfirst into a pile of *&%^!

In the end, I went home early.  I cried because I was so angry, if anyone knows me they know I only cry when I am so mad I cannot see straight.  It made me questions finishing my service, am I still going to be effective in my service?  Will it cause drama in my community?  Will people lose faith and trust in my judgement?   Well yes and no.  Thankfully I have a loving partner at home who told me that this was crazy talk and that I am making a positive impact here.  He also suggested that instead of Brandy and chocolate for lunch maybe a nice cup of tea, a hot shower and rest would help.  He was right it did.  The one thing he did not say to me, and this is important:  “Why don’t you just pack your bags and come home where people appreciate and love you?”  See that is the wrong answer.  On those days when you really want to just give up, having that affirmation is the worst possible response.


You see the problem here was about collecting money and since most groups here have an issues with money and how transparent they are with utilizing it, I take exception when I see dishonesty happen in the name of the Citizen’s Association.  I think it is because this group is very precious to me and it is so new that I do not want any blemish to its name.  Money is a huge problem because of how the citizens see the government handle or mishandle it.  Many people will do what they can to survive, but by saying you are collecting for an organization in which you have no intention of handing money to, marks the organization as misrepresented.  When person who give money and later find the project not completed they often blame the organization responsible saying they put money into it.  This creates distrust in groups and the individual who collected the money in the first place is unmarked.

I chose to not go back out, and as my mood is lifting the sky is darkening, which means rain soon come.  Do I regret how I handled the situations, you bet I do.  Would I challenge this person if I had to do it over again, well I might have waited for back-up from my supervisor and maybe it would not have escalated.  Mind you there was never any physical threat to me, just a whole lot of yelling.  If I had it to do over again, I would have confronted him and then left, not even responded to his nastiness.  Responding showed my weakness.  Maybe it was that I was physically tired from riding up and down the hill all day, maybe it was because I was mentally exhausted because I had to reject men’s approaches all day, maybe it was that I just saw a wrong and it was so blatant I just could not keep my mouth shut, that happens to me often, actually.  Whatever it was, I am still concerned about what will happen next, will I be able to get people to help on projects again?  Most likely.  So I guess it is more about the shame of how I handled myself and frankly I think maybe I just need a true mental vacation day.  An entire day to just be and to just relax, I tend to not take those like I should.

Then the man who is moving out upstairs gave me this 3-D picture of Rasta Cat!  It made me smile!


Winning at Parenthood-Community Profile: Ann Henry

As a parent I know how it feels when you look back and realize you did not screw your kids up and they turned out pretty good.  This is an even bigger accomplishment if you do it as a single parent without much support from the father.  I know firsthand how difficult single parenthood is like.  I do not however know what it is like when there are not any real support systems in place.

Ann’s Garden

This is the story of Ann Henry.  She is a single mom of two daughters who are all grown now.  If you met these girls you would know they were brought up right.  They are modest women who have met life’s challenges with grace and dignity.  One of the biggest challenges as a parent is having children learn to appreciate what they have and not focus on what they do not have. (I am a failure in this with my son, until recently he resented me and my life philosophy.  Now that he has to support himself he understands a little better.)  In Ann’s case, she did everything she could to support her children through school.  Here in Jamaica school fees, bus fare, lunch money, school uniforms and school books can add up quickly, we Americans should take note of the blessing it is that these things are mostly covered by taxpayer money for our children.

Be grateful for what you have, use what you can.

To support her daughters Ann would sell oranges to send them to school.  This was outside of her regular work at the plumbing supply store.  She also raised and sold pigs for support.  Education was very important to Ann for her daughters, she did not get much opportunity for education growing up and knew it was important.  During her children’s school years she was the caretaker of her auntie’s home.  Her auntie live abroad and she kept it occupied, cleaned and maintained in exchange for room and board.  She always had a garden of some sort for sustenance farming and  she would sell off the excess or give it to neighbors in need.  No matter what her situation she always found a way to support her daughters, cleaning up along the roadside, selling produce, selling cooking gas, anything to help the family survive.

A garden means you never want for food!

Her daughters learned to be hard workers from their mother’s example.  They had different fathers, one helped purchase books but the other one did not have the ability to help support the older child.  She feels that today’s youth are much too idle, there is always work to be found if you are willing to work hard and go out to find it.  She is a very enterprising and hard working woman.  Both her daughters went onto college, one is a Nurse’s Aid the other became a Receptionist.  She supported them right through their schooling.

Growing up the girls were not much of a discipline issue and they helped out whenever it was needed.  They even got jobs during breaks to help support the household.  They would cook and clean and even help each other out with homework as needed.  While much of the media focuses on the causes of violence and discipline on single mothers this woman graciously raised two beautiful women who gave no issues and learned how to support each other and work hard.  Part of this is because to Ann raising her children always came first.  She went without so they could go to school.  Often she would walk to Ochi and save the taxi fare for lunch money or school fees.  Her selflessness shows in her daughters.  They help take care of their dads and one now has a family of her own and is a stay at home mom to raise her children, and heavily involved in the kids’ school.

Fruits of labour and love

The oldest daughter was shopping for groceries by the time she was 16. As they got older the oldest learned to cook and prepare for their mother’s return.  Laughing, singing and dancing to pass the time and help make the house/yard work go by faster as they helped out. Ann definitely is very proud of her girls and you can see it when she talks about them.

In today’s world it is not easy to find mothers who focus on their children before themselves.  Ann’s philosophy on childrearing is this: “It is our responsibility, we carry them into this world, we need to take care of them.” She believes that laziness affects childrearing. The sacrifices are real and the challenges are great and the rewards are great but often few.  Finding people who are grateful for what they have is also extremely hard to find these days.  (I was told I was selfish for not buying my son the newest whatever it was that week.  In the end he now understands why I did the things I did and appreciates it, he even told me so recently.)  Knowing that your children are not going to be fussy about what they do not have is one of the greatest accomplishments a parent can achieve.

One daughter tells her mom that the reason she is so good at saving money is her mom would give her money for weekly lunches and it had to last through the week.  Knowing filling your belly each day is important she made certain her money last.  Some weeks there was no money for lunch but the girls never complained.  During the times of little their mom would feed them a good breakfast and then have food ready for them when they returned home from school.  The girls spent most of their free time around the home.  Laughing, singing, and playing games were things done to enjoy their time together.

Hard work pays off.

Ann says that she never said anything bad about the girls father, but instead encouraged them to take care of them and build relationships with them.  She believe that she had to put herself last and never quarrel with the fathers.  Keeping peace and just focus on the outcome appears to be the best route in raising kids.


Jamaican Proverbs; Cockroach no business in a fowl fight.

This the final of a series of blogs with #bloggingabroadblogchallenge.  Today’s prompt is Proverbs or sayings you hear around your community.  The saying I am focusing on is not heard around my community so much, but it has a deep meaning to me.  Focusing on the meaning and why it is very important I hope it will shed some light on things here.


Cockroach no business inna fowl fight, means do not involve yourselves in others quarrels that do not concern you.  Typically I would say this is great advice, but being me and having a focus on conflict resolution I am that cockroach in the fowl fight.  Every day when I work in the schools I see fights and break them up.  Just yesterday a grade 6 boy went after a grade 2 boy with a machete.  I had to intervene and send both back to class, I struggle with giving the kids tools to work the farm due to this kind of behavior.  Sadly the kids go through life without intervention and then become adults who solve all disputes with violence.

Here is the video

For me this cycle of violence is unacceptable.  Jamaica’s biggest murder motive is domestic violence.  By people minding their own business this will never change.  In America we have the same issues, but being one who suffered with an abusive partner and survived, I will never stand back and allow it to happen.  I always step up.  I cannot understand why good people sit back and watch it happen and not intervene.   Just the other day a video went viral of a man beating a woman on the bus, instead of stepping up people just recorded it?  Seriously wt actual f?


History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/martinluth133707.html

The recent murders of American missionaries has rocked the island, and even more so in those communities where foreign aid workers live and work.  My community is scrambling to ensure me that I am safe and no harm will come to me.  Though I believe them, I still take no chances and focus on being extremely diligent as I go through my days.  I look forward to closure in this case and justice being found.

As I have so often mentioned Jamaica is a paradox of super-religious background and hyper-sexuality add in a good quantity of violence and apathy and you will understand why the Peace Corps is still here.  Jamaica has a need to find inner peace and non-violent conflict resolution.  I struggle daily with how to assist with such things.  In a normal every day conversation between community members, it often sounds as though it is escalating into violence, but it is not.   I am not saying violence runs amok here, it does not.  What I am saying is that violence is always in the undertow and it takes so little to bring it to the surface.  A man can have multiple women and cheat on his wife/lover, but if she leave him or cheat on him she will get her just rewards.  It is a very patriarchal society and that might be stemmed in the strong Christian base that it has.  I have long wondered if a pastor, Jamaican or otherwise, focused more on scriptures of love and forgiveness if this world would be far less violent?  Many wars are started rooted in religion and Christianity is the biggest offender in this.

So I wonder if we can stop pretending bad things do not happen around us and instead stand up and display our sense of justice and step up when needed?  I advise you to remember your personal safety, but if one man is beating a woman and there are 4 other men, step up.  Stand up in your faith, find your strength and face injustice with the anger it deserves.  Stop thinking you are a cockroach, you are the farmer and you can squash the violence, you have the power, will you use it?

Remember this is not just a Jamaica problem, this is a human problem.  We have the abilty to end it, we just have to choose to.  I pray that Jamaica finds her strength and that the people learn to stand up for justice and fight the violence with love and compassion, we all should learn this.

**Author’s note:  “This blog is written as a response to a blog prompt and since I do not hear many proverbs spoken, unless I use them, I found one that is fitting for the moment. Please do not think that I am scared to go anywhere here, or that it is dangerous all over, it is not.   Most often foreigners are not targeted for such violence, the missionaries are a unique case and most people I know cannot stop talking about jungle justice and how they hope the perpetrators are quickly caught, brought to justice and incarcerated.

Also note that I am currently working on a violence prevention and conflict resolution progam at the local school I work at.  I have been trying for months to make this happen and by month’s end I hope to see it come to fruition.  (If I did stay a third year this would hopefully be my focus, do not hold your breath, Jen!)

That one time in the market…..

Blog Challenge

This blog is part of the #Bloggingabroad Blog Challenge. Jamaica is such a paradox at times.  At least for me it is.  Growing up I was raised Christian and that meant sexual repression and fear of God and respecting elders.  In Jamaica almost none of this exists, yet almost every Jamaican will claim to be some sort of Christian or have faith in something, in this I am including the Rastafari, but this is not a religion, more of a spirituality.

In almost every community I have been in there are many churches, and there are just as many bars.  Most of the bars have a picture of a nearly naked woman on the exterior wall, I almost 99% guarantee you there are no women in there aside from the barkeep.  ***Special side-note, do not ever ever ever call a male behind the bar a bartender, it is like calling him out as a homosexual and this country for the vast majority is still either homophobic or just too religious to accept it. This can get you into a fight very rapidly.  In most of the markets you will find skimpy sexy and revealing clothes, some of which they may as well not even wear clothes.   There are sex clubs and pornography is readily available.  (I am not judging here, I think my growing up experience has just jaded my viewpoint, I would rather see open sexuality than repressed sexuality.  I just do not need to see all parts of it.)

So recently I was going into a shop and this man with a large wire hanger with small bags of white powder tied to it,  was walking through the parking lot.  His exact words evade me now, but it went something like this “Sale, keep your beautiful vagina nice and clean, you gotta keep your honey pot smelling nice, mon!  Tighten up with alum! Medically approved!”  My friend and I just looked at each other with a similar horrified expression.  My friend, a Jamaican woman looks at me and we both said “Like I am gonna put some powder up my ahem that I have no idea what it is or where it was made or who touched it?”  I was so glad I was not alone in this assessment.

no window no door mobile store

There is one sex toy shop in Ochi and it is tucked back in a plaza that you have to search for the store.  One time I was there with friends and we were ready to check out, and if you have ever gone into one of these shops the people in the shop will take out products for display and allow you to touch them and to turn them on and such.  They will even explain how to use something if you are confused by it.  To be honest I have mad respect for a sex shop worker, they have to know about all kinds of things most of us do not really want to think about, and they have to discuss it without laughing or blushing.

small apple banana

As we were at the register and we had touched and turned on much of the store’s inventory, a man opens the door barely steps in and says: “Mi ave banana for sale, $100 a finger, $30o a hand.”  He just acted like it was an everyday occurrence to offer ladies in a sex shop bananas.  We however lost it!  We laughed all the way home and to top it off, one lady looked right at him and said: “We are way past the hand at this point!”  I have never laughed or been so uncomfortable in all my life.  To the men here sex is to be explored and discussed and acted upon.  To the women some are very pious and some are open about everything.


I was at a local bar one night with some friend, 2 men and a lady.  The lady leaned over and asked the girl behind the bar if she was interested in a three-some.  I was completely floored that this would be discussed in such a manner.  The girl behind the bar had a long discussion with my friends and at that point I decided it was time for me to excuse myself.

I am not a prude.  I believe in open sexuality and I love the diversity that this brings.  However, I am still quite often shocked by the attitude of the younger generation about sex.  Coming from a very strict religious background this paradox almost always knocks the wind out of my sails and shocks me.

I am unable to get pictures in the market for a few reasons.  It can be awkward to ask permission to take a photo, some people want you to pay for the photo, and to get candid moments is impossible.  Also my biggest reason is to not show off that I have anything of value on me, I do not want to be a target for a pickpocket, therefore I keep my technology hidden if I am in a crowded place.


Cultural Exchange: Our Cuba Trip

Last month Richard flew to Jamaica to see me and my work and how my life is here.  There will be two blogs later to follow-up on that, one from myself and one from Richard.  This was an amazing time and I know that this man is definitely meant to be in my life.  As wonderful as it was for him to come here the big highlight of his visit was that I sucked it up and paid for a trip to Cuba.  What an amazing adventure.  **Please note to Americans, if you are wanting to visit Cuba you must do so on a People to People Visa.   The requirements are quite simple, limit your visit to cultural, historical, and anthropological agendas.  This means you spend time outside of the tourist attractions and with the people and in the museums.

There are a few things, if you are an American, you must do if you visit Cuba.

  1. There is no way to access any American Debit/Credit card once you get there, so take enough money to enjoy your stay.  I am dead serious, no bank machine works on your cards there.  We made that mistake and had to limit our purchases and could have enjoyed ourselves much more had we understood that it was not just that shops do not take your card but the nothing in Cuba does.
  2. Your Gmail, iPhone, Android accounts all lock you out.  I needed to make an email to let people know I made it and fortunately Facebook still works, so write those important things down.  Also if you want to download a translator App do so before you leave, you cannot get any apps once you are in Cuba.  Uncle Sam is obviously watching you!
  3. If you want to truly experience how Cubans live and who they are, I plead to you to register with Air B & B TODAY!  This was the most amazing part of our visit.  We stayed with a lovely family just outside of Havana.  They spoke no English, we speak very little Spanish, but they had a translator program that assisted in us asking questions about their lives.  It is the most amazing experience, similar to Peace Corps host family, you get a true feeling for who they are and how they live.
  4. Forget the transportation system!  Hire a local person with a car to take you to points of interest.  In Cuba the drivers are limited to where they are allowed to take tourist.  Cuba only wants you to see what it wants to promote.
  5. Forget everything you learned in school about Cuba, ask the people what it is like to live in communism, explain how it was represented to you and engage in a civil conversation seeking to understand.
  6. Walk as much as you can, rest often and drink mostly water, it is very hot there.  We ended up getting lost and walking 16 miles one day around Old Havana, thru New Havana and back to Seville.
  7. There are two types of money in Cuba.  Do not get them confused.  CUK is what tourist are to use and CUP is what the local people use.  25CUP=1CUK.  1CUK=$0.95 USD.  If you see a price for a beer at $50 remember this is in CUP and it will cost you less than $2.50 USD.  Food is fairly cheap and you get a lot for the cost.  Tourists are not allowed to carry CUP and they will never give you CUP in change for CUK.

We ended up staying the night in Kingston the day before our flight, it was an early flights.  We flew out of Kingston and had a flight change in Grand Cayman.  So hey I saw the Grand Cayman airport in Georgetown twice!   Unlike US flights once you get off to switch planes you must go through customs and immigration and gather your luggage, to recheck it and go back around through security again.  This might be all international flights, but the second security check seems ridiculous to me.  We arrived in Havana around 4pm.  Our host met us there and hired a driver to take us to his place.  We were immediately welcomed and then realized we did not exchange the money at the Cambio. It had seemed closed to me when we went past it.  Immediate stress on our part since we needed to buy dinner and pay the driver.  The driver, Alfredo had a friend who could exchange money for us.  Richard went with Alfredo while I spent some time with the host family getting to know them and discuss what I wanted to see.

Richard said he got to the guy’s home and the man took the money to a back room and was back there for over 5 minutes.  This is something that I would not find odd at all having lived in Liberia and Jamaica, but for Richard it seemed sketchy.  I assured him it was normal for less developed areas.  He got an exchange rate that was a little lower than normal since he was not dealing with a Cambio.

We were offered fresh made guava juice, we drank this daily and it was delicious.  I cannot express how much I love guava.  Even here in Jamaica I look forward to the guava season.  We went to a bit of a more upscale restaurant for dinner.  I ended up accidentally ordering something with ham in it!  Tostones with Jam in Cuba is a plantain flattened and rolled into a cup filled with ham and cheese, jam is ham.  We both had a beer and I had a salad, which was a variety of vegetable separated on the plate.  I also ordered crema de queso, which is a heated cream with cheese in it.  It is delicious.  I had that twice while I was there!

We came back to the house and spent some time with the hosts before retiring for the evening.  The next day we had planned a fairly early day.  Similar to Jamaica things do not run on a schedule.  Alfredo took us to Havana but stopped first along the way to some urban farm stuff so I could see the farms I had asked to see.  I loved how it was done, sadly I suspect that all the bragging about organics farming is bunk.  Just because they do not deal with the US does not mean that they have no access to things.  They most certainly do.

We were driving a scenic route through New Havana and points of interest were pointed out to us.  We were then dropped off at a local landmark and told to return there by 3pm.  We first went to the Castro Museum.  According to our hosts, the Cuban government was corrupt and run by the mafia until Castro overthrew the government in what they refer to as revolution.  I understand that Cubans will not speak out against Castro, but for the most part in the beginning he was well-loved and respected.  He ran the thugs out of Cuba and ruled with a strong hand to prevent future infiltrations.  (I must confess here, I am very curious about communism and am looking for signs that it can work and it doesn’t have to be totalitarian regime.  I feel that the intention was this in the beginning.)

I must stop here to mention that our host is an author and wrote a book about his wife and her relationship with her dad.  Her dad left Cuba in the early 60’s, I think.  He defected to the United States and she grew up in Cuba.  He is an American National hero for his role in the Bay of Pigs and in other Naval operations as he moved up the ranks in the US navy.  As proud Cubans, they are also proud of her father and his role, at least I think they were.  Again translation may have been lost.  Anyway, Pedro, our host brought out stacks of pages of research.  It was all in English and it was letters of accommodation and promotion for Ana Marie’s father. (This is our Pedro’s wife and our host as well.)

We wandered around Old Havana, this is the heart of the touristy stuff, outside of the beaches and resorts.  I did love the market and all of the old pins and buttons and communist posters.  Also funny thing, I did not know that Earnest Hemingway wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” in Cuba.  (I seriously hate Hemingway because this book was so damn boring!)  Almost everywhere you turned there was a copy of this book for sale.  Also for anyone that collects Vinyls there is a treasure trove of old, old vinyls there.

We ate lunch at an outdoor pizza place, and one thing you should know is that everyone expects a tip.  The musicians, the lady who literally pushed the buttons on the elevator at the museum both demanded tips from us.  So very strange.  We did eventually find our way back to our pick up point and shortly after we arrived Alfredo drove up.  He drove us home a different way, and this will be important for the next day.

We walked around Seville that evening with our host leading the way.  As clean as Cuba is, there is still a huge trash problem and my bubble was burst when I saw where the trash goes.  An improvement over Jamaica, only in that they do not allow it to be seen on the ground, instead they push it into the gullies.  We ended up eating at a little ice cream shop.  This was a pretty funny point for us.  Cubans call a scoop of ice cream, balls.  The girl was giving me prices to all the ice cream and she was like 1 ball, 2 balls, 3 balls, 5 balls!  The ice cream was delicious, but so was the grilled cheese sandwiches we had.

Our hosts offered to fix us breakfast each day for $5 a piece.  We gladly accepted this and were blessed with some wondrous fresh fruit straight from their yard. Fresh guava juice and Cuban coffee were also amazing.  Cuban coffee is served in a super tiny cup similar to espresso and it is only sweetened, no milk is added, I have been lied to all my life.  I thought Cuban coffee was served with condensed milk, it is not.  Also Richard was told communism would lead to standing in line for bread, false.  He and the host walked to the bakery to pick up two loaves the first night for breakfast the next day.  I do not like beets, but as courtesy I ate the beets we were offered on toast with eggs.  It was actually quite nice.  I cannot determine if the beets were fresh or canned.  The second day we had the rest of the beets and tomatoes.  All three breakfasts consisted of bread toasted, eggs cooked with onion, fruit, coffee, guava juice and some sort of side dish.  The last day instead of beats we were given home-made mayo which was far superior to jarred stuff and this block of hard brown stuff similar to taffy.  I believe it was tamarind and it was amazing.  Then Ana Marie said to put the mayo on the mystery substance and that actually tasted good as well.

On Saturday, our last official day to spend touring we decided to walk.  We first were going to check out the local town, but eventually wandered into Old Havana.  We ended up walking 16 miles that day and boy did our legs feel it.  We took a more vested look at the architecture and noticed much more about the way people live.  People would sell things out of their doors or on their stoops.  I did notice a line to a department store, it seems that limiting how many are allowed in at a time is crucial.  I believe it was about safety and not so much control as the buildings are quite weathered.  If you look down a doorway into a building you can see that the roof is often missing in the middle and people tend to migrate to the exterior areas.  It seems that the middle of buildings are allowed to crumble but the faces are kept up.  You can see into people’s living rooms and although modestly furnished they were quite clean and tidy.  Being that we were not with a group tour we were able to see things that we as foreigners are not supposed to see.

Cuba is like a step through a time portal.  Old movies depicting life in the Bronx or Brooklyn where kids played stickball in the street and old cars drove through is exactly what parts of Havana look like.  The fact that main roads are shared with mostly old American cars from the 50’s and 60’s and newer cars from other parts of the World along with donkey carts and bicycles is pretty telling of  time standing mostly still.   When we got close to home that last night we stopped at a little restaurant and ordered dinner.  There was no beer there so lucky for us the hosts had filled  a little fridge with beer and bottled water.  It seems that you must first boil water in Cuba before you drink it, I suppose for a foreigner that is a good practice no matter where you visit as water systems change from place to place and your body needs a bit of time to adjust to it.  I had asked about just refilling the bottles and I hope I did not offend our hosts as I was simply horrified by the wastefulness of single-use bottles.

I do not know if you know this but Cuban music is just as diverse as American music.  They have pop, they have cultural and they even have some serious death metal going on.  The video here is my favorite but it is because of the story it tells.  It tells of the Castro Revolution and how he saved the people from the brutal Mafia Dons.

Internet is limited there.  People have cell phones but they are not useful outside of the metropolitan areas.  In many parks you will find a lot of people on their phones looking up things, watching You Tube and checking into Facebook.  Our hosts did have internet but only on their computer, so WIFI is not prevalent there.  If you are in a park and see many persons on their phones and some man psssst at you he is only trying to let you know he has pre-paid internet cards available for sale.  It was $3 CUK for 1 hour and that lasts until you use up the hour.  So I leave you with this question, if you paid for every moment you were on the internet how would you budget that?  It seems a crazy idea, but much of the World is operating this way, so how would you manage your time?

More Pictures here:


Travelling, it’s the little things…..


This blog is part of a series for the Blogging Abroad Blog Challenge. This blog is going to focus on details. Since my last blog was on money and I focused on travel I am going to stick with the theme of travel.

In Jamaica there are many modes of transit:
• Walking
• Biking
• Route Taxi
• Personal vehicle
• Commercial vehicle
• Hackey or Charter Taxi
• Robot or White Plate Taxi
• Route Buses
• JUTC Buses
• Tourist Buses
• Fishing Vessels
• Pleasure Vessels
• Donkey Carts
• Horses
• School Buses
• Coasters and mini buses
The list is long and I am going to describe some of these forms of travel. By far my favorite is walking or biking for short distances. I refuse to pay a small fee for travel I walk or bike to. In the larger cities there are JUTC buses and these are much like city buses world-wide. They are large, they have comfortable seating and they usually have AC on. These buses cost between $100-$150 JD (Jamaican Dollar is equal to ~$119 USD) depending on the distance you plan to travel. These buses run on a route and are typically on a schedule. This is the only form of transit I have found to be on a schedule.

My bike lives in my dining room.

The tourist buses can cost steep money. I have heard a bus from Falmouth to Ochi is about $80 USD. I have never used these because the cost is prohibitive when I can get to the same distance for $500 JD. Richard learned the benefit of local travel this last month. I do want to mention one other form of travel here, the Nutsford Express. This is also a route bus on a schedule that cost between $2000-$3500 JD. These buses run all across the island and they have comfortable seats with AC and free WIFI. These buses are used by persons trying to get to a flight on time without staying overnight at a hotel. Again I have not ridden these, but I hear they are nice.

Route Taxis are a set fare and you ride packed in. For me a route taxi will cost $130 JD to get to my community $250 to drop at my doorstep. Route taxis will deviate from the route for extra money. This is convenient when you have much to carry. I do want to note that most grocery stores will send a young man with a cart to the taxi park to carry excessive groceries for you. A tip is generally expected but there is no extra charge for this. If you get to a taxi that has room for one more you consider yourself lucky to not have to wait for the taxi to fill up. You see a taxi driver does not want to carry less than 5 persons up the hill to make it worth his time. Yesterday I was first to get to the taxi and I was lucky to get the front seat. My driver took off about 5 minutes after I got in, there were no other passengers and I began to worry that he thought it was a charter. My worries ended when at the hill bottom he picked up a single woman and a man with a baby. We rode up and dropped them off and I realized this man was getting a charter of goods to carry up in the community and that is why he left when he did. The three passengers were just a bonus for him. A normal taxi ride consists of 4 persons smashed into the back seat, if there are kids there are more since the kids here do not count as fare or a person. If they know there is not police check-point they will put 2 persons in the front seat. The idea of a seat-belt is silly at this point. I once watched the driver of a coaster bus put on and take off his seat-belt 6 times in the span on 20 minutes due to police check-points. I found this oddly amusing. Technically seat-belts are required for children under 18 but I have never seen a taxi with children buckled up. If you see a woman with a child you do not offer her the front seat. This is the one safety precaution they do take, no children in the front seat unsecured. I do believe this would give them a huge fine.

This often how a large group will travel.

A route bus can either be a coaster or a mini-bus. A mini-bus is a van with 4 rows of seats in the back. I read the maximum capacity on my bus yesterday was 12, we had 20 in that bus! The back seats have a 2 person seat with an aisle and a single person seat. They will put a board or a hand fashioned seat in the aisle and put 5 across if they can. I felt lucky yesterday we only had 4 across. The front seat will have at least 2 facing the front and sometimes they have a 3rd person facing the rear. As dangerous as this sounds once the bus gets going you all pretty much settle in and it is packed enough that no one is being thrown forward much.


A coaster bus is a lot bigger. It has a higher capacity and most seats have a jump-seat attached to it. These are often put down on a support to strengthen it and they put 5-6 across depending upon size of people. The hardest part of travel is that people often set themselves in the back and want off early in the ride. This requires those in the front to get out to let them out and readjust ourselves. It is like playing tetris with people!

A charter taxi is a taxi that you pay a steeper price for and you are the only one in the taxi. It is not picking up random people along the way. The best example are the airport taxis. You pay $20-30 USD to get to and from the taxi. Then later I discovered that the JUTC bus goes right there, if only my flights had not be too early or too late for the buses I could have save so much money.

A robot taxi or a white plate is an individual who is simply offering rides. The rates of the ride varies since they are not approved by the transit authority. I only use these late at night or when there are no red plates available. At night when the bus park is closed it is hard to find a taxi and after an hour of waiting you take whatever is going in your direction.

Most of the time there will be 2-3 different music playing on the bus. The driver has his own station or cd and then someone might have their cell phone on without headphones. For some reason this is accepted and no one ever tells them to turn it off. Often times people will be singing along and I have been tormented with hours and hours of Kenny Rogers on repeat. I miss my iPod! One thing you will learn here is that a DJ never plays a song all the way through and they always talk over the song. They love to play a section of a song on repeat over and over again and again. I tend to only listen when in transit. At home I listen to my very large and very diverse selection of music. Thank you Richard for gifting me your old iPhone so I can at least have some of my own music with me. It is greatly appreciated.

Transportation in Liberia and in Cuba is much like this as well. You pile as many into the vehicle as possible to ensure you make a profit over the gas. Instead of raising prices you raise the load. To us Americans this might seem crazy but to much of the rest of the world it is just a fact of life.

Money, MOney, MONey

This blog is part of the Blogging Abroad Blog Challenge. It will focus on money in my host country.


The exchange rate here is $1 USD (United States Dollar) to between $115-$119 JD (Jamaican Dollar).

Since Richard is visiting me I am going to focus on the one thing we have spent an enormous amount of money on, travel! From my community to Ocho Rios, my shopping town, it is $130 JD, if I want a ride to my front door with my groceries it is $250 JD. If I want to go from Ochi to Kingston it is $400-$450 JD depending on if they take the new toll road, which cuts over an hour off the trip. For me to get to the beach I either have to go to one in Ochi, and if the cruise ships are in it is chaotic, or I have to catch a different taxi to either Rio Neuva or Oracabessa Fish Sanctuary, or as the locals say, the fisherman’s beach. This incurs a totally different cost. For a trip from my community to the main highway (North Coast Highway) it is $90 JD. Then I wait to catch a taxi or bus headed in the opposite direction from Ochi. This typically costs about $150 JD. To catch a ride home I must catch the bus or taxi to Ochi for $160 JD and then catch a taxi to Three Hills for $130. I could get out at the bottom of the hill except that the taxi from Ochi is always packed and I can never catch a ride up. For this reason I just pay the extra fare and go all the way into the bus park.


After awhile all this little travel adds up and unlike back home there is no monthly pass to purchase to get unlimited rides. So I tend to limit my trips to when I really need to go and combine them so I can save some money. Like a shopping trip will also include a short beach trip just to keep my travel spending to a minimum.


A typical Jamaican dinner, about $400JD for each plate.

Now let’s focus on the main expenditure in my budget: food! As a vegetarian I can get by on a smaller budget but I am also a picky eater so that ups my budget. Today I spent less than $500 JD and I got a small head of cabbage, some scallion (a lot actually!), thyme, some red peppers and two small heads of lettuce. This will make at least 3 meals for me and Richard. I have learned that buying from the farm stands is typically cheaper and has way less waste. In the grocery stores they tend to pre-weigh things and then put them on styrofoam trays and wrap the crap out of them with saran wrap. They even pre-weigh cabbage and individually wrap each one to price it! I try to avoid buying produce at the grocery for this reason, although kale and mushrooms are my one major vice. Both are quite spendy! Shittake mushrooms are around $900 a pound. The ones I can get here typically look a little haggard since they are imported. I tend to buy small quantities and use them sparingly unless they need to be used immediately then I make a mushroom broth out of them.

My food haul! About $7000 JD because I got it at the grocery store.

Things like cheese, yogurt and other amazing imports are a hefty price. I have bought a large tub of Greek Yogurt for $780 which feels super expensive when you have a Peace Corps budget. I typically spend my own US money almost every month on phone and internet. Living outside of Ochi increases the costs of most things. I pay the price, the import fees and then they up the price for tourists. This is partially why I like to limit my travel and I purchase in the outdoor markets to avoid those charges. Bonus points if you wait until later in the day, sometimes people are trying to get rid of as much as possible and will cut you a major deal. The price is almost never the real price! This includes clothes, shoes, toiletries, and general items. Basically anything that does not require refigeration you can find in the market. The major downfall is that people haggle you to buy things. Richard told me that I was quite rude to people in the market, but after a year of the hassle you just gotta be or they wear your soul down. I would buy from the craft market more often if I did not feel like walking through it was entering Dante’s 7 rings of hell.

My internet was $3000 a month but that just ended. My $9000 modem broke and is not repairable and they have no more modems. They never have modems, I just got lucky one day. Today I bought a new sim card for my iPad to tether to my laptop and it was around $560. A 3K plan was $2650 a month. I am now focusing on limiting my data usage just to get an idea of how much I use exactly. So at this very moment I am typing this blog up off line to post tomorrow. Frugal is something I used to be very good at. This month I have spent a lot of money but that is because Richard is visiting and I wanted to show him not only my island home but we took a lovely trip to Cuba. (Yes this was a legal visit and that blog will soon post!) If I was more responsible I would try to keep better track of my spending, but life just seems to happen!