One of the major benefits of joining the Peace Corps is to see other types of lifestyles. In many parts of the World homes and family life look nothing like American life. There is a variety of styles of life in America as well, but in other parts of the World we would not recognize them. Jamaica is a lot like America as far as home and family life is concerned. I am going to talk about my life here on the island. Specifically this post will cover my home, my food choices and my average weekend.
Jamaican homes are often cinderblock and cement. If a family cannot afford to build a concrete structure, they often start with a slat board house, known here as a board house. Some are very primitive, others are fairly nice, but almost always they are neat and tidy and very clean. Some families live in a one room home, others have mansions and still others have this hope and dream of a mansion so they start small and continually build on as they get money.
My home is an apartment in one of these cinderblock mansions. On an average Saturday I get up do a yoga sun salutation sequence and start my laundry, make coffee and breakfast. I am fortunate that I have a washing machine and even a hot water heater. Sadly the water into the washer is not working so I must fill a bucket to pour into the washer as needed. I have this down to a science now! Most Jamaicans do not use a dryer, everything is hung out to dry. The current (electricity) is so expensive that they would rather just wait for the clothes to dry. For many a washer is a luxury and they tend to hand wash in bins outside. This process leaves the clothes often sopping wet and they tend to take a long time to dry. You hardly ever see a Jamaican on the road with wrinkled or dirty clothes. Saturday is also a day to wash shoes and book bags or purses. A Jamaican would never go on the road without washing and polishing shoes as needed! This is something that I have had to adapt to my own set of chores. I only clean my shoes when they are so dirty that I cannot stand them any longer. This is highly frowned upon here.
So my Saturday starts with breakfast and laundry, and music. One must have music here, it is like there is a soundtrack always happening. If I have the time a quick meditation is helpful to balance my mind. A typical breakfast for me is coffee and cream, when I remember I buy a grain milk because I tend to be lactose intolerant. I like to have a huge plate of veggies for breakfast, this is actually normal here. The use of veggies is often reserved for breakfast and for soups. I start off with coconut oil, I hate vegetable oil and will spend more for olive or coconut oil. I saute some onion, sweet and hot peppers, okra and carrots sometimes I toss in zucchini and mushrooms if i have them on hand. I tend to add garlic and then chop up my callaloo, which is what Jamaicans call Amaranth greens. It takes some getting used to the flavor, but this is quite a nice combination of veggies and toss some seasoning in. I eventually crack an egg and cover for 5 minutes and have a nice veggie and egg breakfast. On days when I am extra hungry or know lunch will be late I add a small hashbrown to this.
After breakfast laundry is typically ready to be put on the line and it is time to clean house. Many Jamaicans scrub their homes on Saturday, unless they are 7th Day Adventists then they do it on Sundays. Saturday may also be grocery shopping and family time. I tend to try to clean up as I go, but that is not always how it works. I tend to scrub my sinks, toilet and tub along with my mopping on Saturday’s every week or so. I try not to let my floor get too dirty, I am a bare foot kind of girl. I actually had to mop my floors yesterday since I broke my only glass bowl. Once the house is clean it is time to relax and get started on dinner. Saturday here is soupa night. A nice big pot of pumpkin or pepper pot soup is typically on the pot after noon.
One of the things I have noticed here is that Jamaicans tend to eat a big meal once a day. They eat a lighter breakfast and then a huge lunch and not much for dinner. I would try to adapt but the health of the population here seems to be not so good and I feel that such high carb eating is part of the issue. So I adapt my cooking to a Jamaican style but tend to eat smaller portions more often.
Cooking takes up much of the Saturday because there is a tendency to start the peas (red beans) for the rice on Sunday. I have found that I eat rice and peas every couple of weeks. I do not eat so much rice and I eat far more vegetable than most Jamaicans, save the Rastas. Rastas eat itol, or mostly vegetarian. They do not eat any oil, they get fat from coconut and avocado (pear). They also do not eat eggs or cheese and milk. Some will eat a little fish, since most Jamaicans do not understand vegetarian, they assume you eat fish. I think the Rasta’s realized that this small compromise when on the road is much easier than the battle that would go on if they refused to eat fish. I tend to carry my food with me if i know ahead of time I will not be able to come home for lunch or dinner.
Lunch for me is often leftovers, a cucumber tomato sandwich or mac and cheese. I am still learning how to properly portion some things and my kitchen if full of measuring tools and a scale. I have a weight issue and I do not wish for it to expand two whole pant sizes by the time I get back. The rest of my day will likely include a little rest and some reading. If I can I will also play some domino or Yahtzee with my host family. Anything to get cultural interactions. Often I will go to the beach and just swim for a bit, but today is Halloween and I have no one to go with and I am not feeling that call to go. I go to the beach at least 3-5 times a week, I need to keep focused on my community and spend more time with them.
Pumpkin soup is easy and one of my favorite, so much that I even bought a slow cooker to help it along. It includes pumpkin, which could be any type of winter squash, some scallion, whole, thyme an entire sprig or two, and a scotch bonnet pepper. Some leave it whole, others slice it up. I can go either way, but am learning to love the slivers of pepper and it gives a nice heat off, a whole pepper can accidentally end up in your mouth! (Yikes!!!) Pimento, which is unground allspice is dropped into the pot as well. I tend to not put the pumpkin in until the thyme sprigs lose all their leaves and I can pull them out. I also tend to cut my scallion up into bite size pieces and I just eat them in my soup. Once the broth is ready I cut the pumpkin up into smaller bite size pieces, skin and all I toss it into my pot. As the pumpkin cooks down the apartment will fill with a nice savory aroma that makes me want to taste it. If i want garlic I toss it and carrots into the pot. Once the pumpkin is tender I can toss in okra which I slice up and veggie chunks to add protein. Veggie chunks are weird! They are soy products that are dehydrated and look suspiciously like dog food! Once they cook up they tend to be delicious if mixed into a stew or gravy. I have even put them into mac and cheese, not the best but not terrible. The final most important ingredient to this is the coconut milk. I like the dry packages because I can mix them with a little bit of water and make a thick cream to add into the soup. Otherwise the soup will be watery. I tend to add the seasoning or bullion before the pumpkin goes in to make the whole pot uniform. Many Jamaicans would add dumplings to this, but I find the carbs just too much for me. Dumplings are simply flour and water or milk mixed to form a dough then broken down to drop into the pot and cook up. When I do make dumplings I add seasoning to it, I just do not like the tasteless paste that forms.
Some Saturdays will include a game of tennis and a long walk to the court. Today I am content to just spend some time alone. Later I will meet up with friends and go out and see what Halloween looks like here, I hear it is not really a thing unless you go to the resorts. For most Jamaicans Sundays tend to be church day so they like to get everything in order so they can spend Sunday in Church and not have much work to do before the new week starts. My weeks are a bit unconventional. I try to plan meetings and projects on the weekends, to catch more people at home. I often spend my entire week doing something. Sometimes it is just planning a project and other times it is engaging the community. This week I have something big happening.
On Monday I will be starting an adult literacy program. I am not certain how this all happened, but the community as a whole is embracing it. There are many people who for whatever reason never learned how to read, or write. I will try to uncover the underlying cause of this, but I suspect it is money. Whatever the cause, the community is excited about a project that I am doing so that is a huge win. I will take this weekend to embrace how to teach reading to a group of adults and then I will cry and stress on Monday, you watch, it will happen that way!