I am overwhelmed with Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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