Turtles and Farming, My life is a completely satisfying.


The fourth of July week had been a whirlwind of activity. Fourth of July was celebrated at a little Hostel called Nix Nax. It was very inexpensive and down by a great beach. A beach that I have been to often thanks to the lovely Ex-pat from Seattle. She has been an integral part of my becoming familiar with the wondrous amenities in this area. There is another Ex-pat here from Canada. They have both been very helpful and accommodating. I enjoy having them both around.

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This weekend has been even more amazing. It is like the amazing things just do not stop happening. My Peace Corps buddy Kara, who lives in Trelawny came up on Saturday for a Bio-char workshop. I planned very hard on this one and got everything planned. I also got special permission to leave a meeting a bit early on Sunday since there was a turtle hatching happening at 5:30 and turtles do not run on Jamaican time, they run on turtle time!

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On Saturday I met Kara at one of my favorite little secrets. Silver Seas Hotel. It is an amazingly friendly place that you can use WiFi a pool and a private beach for the cost of a cup of coffee, all day. I have breakfast there far too often. The breakfasts are reasonably priced and come with coffee and juice. Some of the girls that live in my district did not know about this place and met me there as well. They wanted to catch up with Kara and check out this great location.

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We went shopping after we were done swimming and eating. Well more like I went shopping. I needed new sneakers, and I really did, my old ones I can feel every single stone on the road. I found some I liked and I also wanted tennis rackets and balls. I found those as well. I found out my landlord and his older son play, and that was all I needed to purchase some rackets. I also got a soccer ball, I was going to gift it to the children and then realized their ball looked so bad because they play with it on the road. So now I will have to take them to the ball field to play, it was not a cheap ball.

We came home and made dinner. Kara has been surviving on an almost exclusively starch diet. She works with Yam farmers and they pretty much do not grow any other vegetables. So we had eggplant parmesan with an arugula salad and some Malbec. It was delicious and she seemed to enjoy herself so much. We also watched The Matrix and played dominoes with the older boys that live in the building. My original plan was to take her out late and show her the crossroads, but they did not have any speakers up so I guess there was no DJ out. We went to bed rather early, but we were exhausted. She took so many showers and loved to wash dishes, a side effect I am certain of not having water for some time in her home.

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Sunday she got up early to go run with my landlord’s oldest son. He seemed to enjoy having her around. She later told me that he loves having me living here, so that is a major win! I like him, he is a good kid and he seems to have some goals and drive. For breakfast we had bagels with lox and steamed callalou, a leafy green that is best steamed of sauteed. We later walked down to check out the barrels and explain what needs to happen, all of which it was decided could happen on Monday with the farmers. Here is where things get a little touchy. My supervisor is great about saying he will make sure things get done, not so great at actually getting things ready. He is also terrible at being on time. I was beginning to worry that the bamboo was going to be too green. He promised it would not be, but then he wavered.

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We then walked down to my ex-pat’s home and spent the afternoon discussing her potato box and the new puppies, oh yeah we have had some new puppies and piglets born in the last few weeks. We played scrabble and it began to rain very hard. She insisted on driving us home since it was too dangerous to walk on the road in the rain. We got home and she informed us if the weather did not break there would be no turtle hatching tonight. Fingers crossed on this.

After a little snack we wandered back to the farm for the meeting. It started 45 minutes late and I was a bit stressed out because I knew I was leaving at 4:30 unless it rained. When it rains here it is much like sitting in a waterfall. You really cannot see or do anything. While we waited for the meeting I took Kara back to see the piglets. There are about 3-4 days old. We have older piglets but these are so small. She got an overload of cuteness this weekend. I left when I said I was, thankfully he allowed us to speak early on in the meeting about Bio-char and how it can be used in the farm. The group seemed to be very excited. I am very glad that I took my guest and left when I did. There was some major drama just after we departed and the poor Jico volunteer also had a guest and she had to suffer with it. She ended up just leaving, possibly out of embarrassment for my supervisor.

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Most turtles are endangered species. The hatching that we went to was for hawksbill turtles. The guy in charge is most passionate and he has seen an 82% survival rate of nests. Considering the locals used to ravage the nests and steal the eggs and the first year there was a 0% survival rate, this is an amazing project. He is now trying to included the locals and educate them on why it is important. He also invites guests from local hotels to join in. We took a deaf man from our district with us. He was very excited, sometimes people with a disability are often left out of things, people just assume they are not interested. He was very interested and very excited.

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Once the eggs are dug out, the guests are told to hold them with their index finger and their thumb and rinse them off in the sea to get the sand out of their eyes. We then bring them back and put them in a bucket to be counted. If a turtle is still in the egg, the guy in charge sets them aside to check and ensure their umbilical is healed before allowing the guests to rinse them off. Once they have been rinsed and counted and this was a first time mother so her nest was small, 52 live turtles, the guests are asked to cover any crab holes they see along the path to the sea. Baby turtles are soft and crabs will grab them as they make their way to sea. After all the crab holes are covered the turtles are released shortly after 5:30. The reason for this is to avoid as many predators as possible, while still giving them a chance to set up their homing senses. Once the turtles are set free, guests are told to carefully watch their steps and look before moving to avoid accidentally squashing turtles. We are told we can walk out to the sea with them, but we must not help any struggling turtles, this will affect not only the strengthening of their flippers but also their ability to find their way back to the beach. The second biggest threat to the turtles are predatory fish. By releasing them at sunset we give them a chance to survive the swim out to sea. The fish are out in the deep ocean at this time. By the time the turtles reach the deep-sea the fish have come into the coves to feed and the unknowingly cross paths and the turtles have a much higher chance of survival.

It was amazing to see the little heads as they swam out, we also noticed mother turtles heads popping up as they were coming in. We are now planning a night out at the beach to watch not only a hatching but a nest laying. I have no regrets, even on my hardest days, my regrets are non-existent. My life to me is amazing!

Dinner was a quick stew kind of thing with veggies, veggie chunks and pasta. She requested the veggie chunks. Funny thing was we both bought several bottles of wine and only had one bottle split on Saturday, there was no other alcohol. I guess the crazy of drinking in Jamaica has finally worn off.

Monday was egg sandwiches and callalou for breakfast. She went running and then did a quick load of laundry since she has no water at home and her running clothes were getting questionably ripe. We walked back to the farm and to our suprise no one was there, not really surprised at all. We sat under the big mango tree waiting for people to show up. About 20 minutes later the first of the farmers showed up. Ralph opened the door and brought out the tools. We needed to cut the bamboo down to size and to split it. We gave that assignment to the farmers and Kara and I punched holes into the barrels with a pick axe. We then started to pack one barrel full with bamboo.

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There was much fun with this. I looked up and said, wait we have a group of farmers and no white rum? There is no farming without white rum? How is this happening? Soon come the white rum. (The farmers that we trained with were never without this nasty red wine or white rum when they did any farming. One things I have learned is that farming requires alcohol!) In all seriousness the rum did actually come, which I was totally joking about and now I had to have a shot of rum. The rum arrived with a truckload of children. There is a summer camp going on that I had invited to come back to the farm to observe the bio-char. They all piled out and I had one of their teachers get all the names and count out how many boys and girls. This is all for later record keeping. Before we lit the barrel we told the kids what we had done to prepare it and what exactly was happening. Kara and I explained why we do this as a farm thing and not a cookshop thing. The farmers were actually very much interested in the process, as were the kids initially.

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Every project requires failure. Perfection is boring. So yes we had some failure, we first did not ignite the trash on top long enough to start the bamboo, and trash means grass and root waste not garbage. It went out before the bamboo could ignite. We pulled the barrels apart and relit it, talking to the kids as to why that fails. I think seeing people fail and admit it is a significant change for kids here to see. We finally got it going really well and capped it off. Bio-char is made using a process called pyrolysis. It requires as little oxygen as possible and a vacuum. We noticed that only one side was burning, then the trouble shooting began. Some farmers thought it was the wind, others wondered if we had it packed too tight. I finally noticed that the side that was burning had nice big ventilation holes in the barrel. The side that was not I had issues with the axe going though. There were many tap holes but none that were very big. As soon as I realized this, I pointed it out to some of the older more interested kids. I also pointed it out to the farmers, who agreed that yes that might be a major issue.

The rain fell twice and the kids were getting restless so it was determined that it was time to take them back to the classroom once the rain stopped. It was good decision. We allowed it to burn for about 45 more minutes and then kicked it out. We did get char, not a bunch but we were able to show that yes you can make coal out of bamboo. So that was a win. The other win is that the farmers definitely want to pierce better holes and do it again. To see the farmers get together and show support is inspiring. To know that even though it was not truly successful they still have faith is also a big win. Mr. Johnson has suggested we try again immediately but Kara had decided to try to make it back home for a meeting. The farmers were also tired and had things they wanted to do. The decision to end it there was a good one because we barely got home and got her clothes off the line and a downpour happened. A downpour so bad, no taxis were running. We had lunch and I packed her an extra sandwich to eat on the road. Sadly there was a taxi fiasco, and Mr. Johnson decided to carry Kara to Ochi himself. She did make it to her meeting a little late, but she made it.

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I had planned a meeting for that evening and sadly due to the downpour no one showed. I did talk a bit with Mr. Johnson and determined that yes I will be doing workshops probably weekly after the summer camp is over. I will also be working with a few lady farmers who are interested in a solar dehydrator. So that is my next move, more potato boxes, another Bio-char and a ladies group. One of my lady farmers is interested in growing mushrooms and I hear another volunteer is working on a grant to do just that and spread it out among women farmers on the island, or so I hear. I am looking forward to the next two years. It might look as though I do nothing sometimes, but I think I do much more that it appears and the group is going to see that soon.

Today is a good day to farm!

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