This is in fact my 4th year of not being home for Independence Day. This is in fact not even an eye blink for me. Why? Because I basically have no love for this holiday. I am not a patriot, I am not always proud to be an American, in fact more often than not lately I am overly embarrassed to be an American. Why? Because somewhere back home a hugely ignorant sector (read media firestorm of distraction) of our society is making us look like racist, gun-toting morons with little to no education! No really I am dead serious.
Almost daily I get asked about America, and that Trump dude, is he really going to win? Well crap, I have no idea, he seems to just open his mouth and hatred spews out, how is this the best we could find? And Hilary? Really? Why is she so important? I hated her back with slick Bill was in office, I thought it was because I was a right-wing religious nut-job, but nope, now I am a socialist and I still hate this woman! I do not trust her, I think she is not the best woman to run for president and I think she will take this already sinking ship to Titanic mode, if you catch my feeling! (These are my own personal views and I must stand firm that this is not the opinion of Peace Corps or of the Jamaican government or people, I accept full responsibility for these statements.)
So how can I share my culture with a culture that is exposed to the worst aspects of my life back home? The aspects that I ran away from to get a new perspective? I came to Jamaica with an open mind and heart. I anticipated seeing a culture outside of my own, but what I see is a culture reflecting back in the murky underwater of the ugliness I left behind. I anticipated finding a rich loving culture. One that took care of its most vulnerable members. One that was looking for ways to move forward as a nation, not individuals. One that took pride in their country and their homeland. This is not what I found at all. I found people who do not know their neighbors, let alone who is struggling the most. I found people who are more focused on what they can get out of an interaction rather than what the whole community can achieve from these interactions. I found a people who are the very mirror of what I tried to leave behind. Oh how my heart breaks that this aspect of humanity is not isolated to the top of the capitalistic model. Oh Jamaica what happened to your ability to let go of self and embrace a unity that stands strong?
This is not a very positive blog, this is my personal experience and some days I struggle with the question “Why the hell am I here?” “Am I really making things better?” “Would my time be better spent back home?” It is part of the emotional roller-coaster that is the Peace Corps Experience. This is not to say we all experience it the same way, but we all have down times and we question our purpose and our reasons and often regret the decision to leave our homes. Some people end up leaving early due to this type of emotional abuse, because in reality we do emotionally beat ourselves up.
As I get ready for my next site visit this week I had to fill out a form and really reach deep inside to answer questions that I tend to ignore. “How are you emotionally/mentally?” Oh hell I do not know, I simply just exist on more days than I care to admit. By the end of the form I am ready to crawl back in bed with a happy book or movie, but I cannot, I have things to do. So I push those feelings back down. Instead of joining other Americans in the celebration of the 4th of July this year I held my Adult Literacy class and organized a Read-a-thon for the summer to get children excited about reading. I also worked on planning of a homework help group to encourage parents to get involved and learn how to help their children out. (arggghh I cannot use the term kids, here that means baby goats!) I just could not find a joy in my American side this week. I am struggling to share this aspect with the community. I did buy a Mug Root Beer with the intention of finding vanilla ice cream to enjoy an American Classic. Mr. Johnson suggested I drink this at the square! Uhmmm that is weird, no really I do not have enough to share with a group of people, the soda was expensive and I really just feel uncomfortable enjoying that in front of others. Imagine eating your birthday cake in front of children and not giving them a piece, this is what it sounded like to me. I know his intention was to share something very American, but that is not exactly how I envisioned that.
So I am currently standing at an abyss, how to share my culture when I am very disconnected from my culture? How do I find a way to connect Jamaica with something that is not on TV or the Movies and how do I convince them that I am just as broke as they are? How do I find a way to convey that I live on very little money and my money is very tight as of late? Living outside of a tourist area makes this even more difficult. The people here see the worst of American Culture in the way tourist treat shop keepers and service personnel. Tourist drink too much, dress too skimpy and give off the impression that they are here to see resorts and not the real Jamaica. This sends out the message that they have money and are not willing to share. The real message is that the tourism industry has a tight control of tourism and makes them scared to travel outside of the designated areas. It also means that tourists may have saved all year for this trip and they have very little money left and a day pass in an all-inclusive means that they spend a specific amount that they may have budgeted for and they will have no time, money or energy to explore the culture outside the resorts or tourist attractions. This is not the message that the local people get at all. Sadly I understand and I hate that I understand this and can do nothing to fix it.