There are those moments that I feel a bit guilty. Like I have been on an extended cruise and do nothing. Like those times when I go to the beach and enjoy the ocean, times when I just sit and drink coconut water with the locals, times that I sip some white rum and observe a grave digging. It is in those moments that I wonder am I doing my job? Am I fulfilling my promise to serve? Then I remember another part of my promise is to share what life here is like. It is not always beer, rum and beaches with reggae or Dancehall, but something a little more relaxed and slower.
Life here sometimes feels stagnant. The day often ends around 7pm. I close up my home and watch a movie as I make dinner. But somehow it is normal, everyone else is doing it. The beach is not something many Jamaicans enjoy. The people here tend to either fear it or think of it as a fish bathroom. The fact that most beaches here are pay beaches limits the possibilities for many locals to even go if they wanted to. This is an impoverished country, do not fool yourself. The tourism industry is not here to help the local people, but to make money for their foreign investors. This is nothing new and should not even surprise you. What you pay for in an all-inclusive hotel deal is isolation from the vibrant yet desperate people who live outside those walls.
Having to live on a budget similar to my community makes paying to go to the beach a luxury. Something I am willing to do, but it means that I limit other forms of entertainment. I do not go out much, I simply cannot afford to. The few times a month I go and treat myself to lunch are just that a treat. These excursions often are attached to a beach visit, many of the beach fees are waived if you purchase a drink or food. The river is also being overtaken the same way. This fortunately is being done by many locals. At least they will have an opportunity to make a livelihood. This is part of my project and I have a section of the river that is open to me whenever I want to go. The man there is excited about food forests. Of all the places I had not expected that to be discussed, here was one. He also loves to discuss Permaculture principles. I love his ideas and if I can just get him to get his license and certificates I think he will be successful. The license is very important as two weeks ago an unlicensed attraction on the river had a man die from a falling tree limb, so it is vital that we are able to ensure the safety of the guests. A license means that the tourism board inspects it and safety protocols are implemented.
I have started to hang out at the ball field in the evenings to watch the young men play futbol! Okay, so maybe I look to watch the crazy socks more, but hey we all have our things. I mean really they wear the craziest socks with not much else to play. Some play with no shoes or socks, I even saw one guy with only one shoe and sock on. The fact is that they play, they have fun and they are working together. Teamwork and collaboration are not exactly promoted here. In fact I tried to explain social economies and social income. Both of which are difficult to convey in a tragically poor society. I will have to research this more to be able to truly explain the idea in a way that reaches the community.
I also feel very guilty that as I have embraced much of this culture I refuse to embrace their diet. I cannot live on white rum, Red Stripe and starches. The health of many people is tragically poor. in our final days of PST (Pre-service Training) we were given a lecture by a nutritionist. Her entire lecture was focused on 100 calorie combinations, not once did she discuss nutrients and balance. There is a prevalence of constipation in this country. Metamucil is in fact a nutrient. As a vegetarian I splurge on things like arugula and kale. I embrace the okra and now finally know how to cook that, but I refuse to eat rice and potato and sweet potato and yam in the same meal. I will eat one serving of one of those items unless I have made a soup. I will eat more fruit whole, here the tendency is to make the fruit into a juice and add sugar to it. What saddens me the most is that this is promoted as a healthy diet. I also have a hard time accepting that Tang is called juice and that bag juice is sold to children by the truckload. Bag juice is the most unsavory thing I can think of, first off it is a bag that is handled by many people who may or likely may not have washed their hands, then you bite into to the bag to drink from it, and the “juice” is nothing more than flavored and colored sugar-water. The bags then fly all over the place and end up in the bush or the ocean. There is absolutely no benefit to this product.
As I sit in my castle up on the hill, because that is what it feels like sometimes, I am saddened by the fact that fruits and vegetables are not a more staple part of the local diets. This also affects my local farmers. Instead of buying/selling to each other everyone runs to Ocho Rios to shop. I wish I could find more things I eat from the local farmers. I end up buying eggplant on a styrofoam wrapped in plastic at the market for 3 times the original farmer cost. Do not worry I have found a wonderful use for the styrofoam.
One non-guilty moment I have recently had is that I may start a ladies dinner with a couple of the ladies in the scheme. I would love to have a few dinner parties a month, this means that we each contribute and we dine and commune together. These two ladies are on holiday during the summer, they both work at some university, I think. They are very interested and I am just loving this idea. It would be a great way to also discuss some ideas for a girls club or activity of some sort. I really hope that I can at least make this happen.
And there are the things that I sometimes feel guilty about. I still love every moment of my life, and I think that when I feel guilty, it is growth in myself. Growth into seeing exactly how fortunate my life is, even though I have been very poor my entire adult life. Poor in the standards that say you must own and buy everything, but certainly not poor in spirit or experiences, this is where my wealth lies.