The harsh truth about re-entry.


They try to prepare us for the bumpy ride back into normal life.  They offer us counseling sessions.  They even provide us with a ton of ways to prepare for life back in the states.  I have neglected my blog, one of my best outlets for my struggles, because I am struggling with my struggles.  I want to strong and invincible and pretend like life is just going to be peachy, but reality is, it is not.  Life is a struggle and without that struggle it might be boring but sometimes that struggle is too much to bear.

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I got back stateside on June 7.  Richard brought me pizza and met me at the airport.  It was incredibly comforting to have a familiar relationship that felt new all over again.  It was like moving back home to your parents house after years of being on your own.  It is comforting, but things have changed and you have to find your place.  I guess I am still trying to find my place.  I started back with a focus on healthy diet and exercise, but now I just have to force myself to do anything anymore.

Two days after I got home we went to Alameda to a RPCV meet up with other Returned PCV’s from Jamaica.  This was a Jamaica specific event and I met many new people.  But it was in the Bay area and that is not exactly where I am located.   The following Tuesday we took a trip to Tahoe so I could give a presentation on Peace Corps Service in Liberia and what life was like there, even though I had a limited view the insight I shared was much more than the students had before talking to me.

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We got home and the car was acting up so Richard told his daughters we were not going to Tahoe that weekend again, apparently our trip caused some frustration and anger in them since they had wanted to go.  So we made arrangements to rent a car and go back.  This turned out to be a disaster.  I joined the Peace Corps when I did because his daughters seemed to be jealous and dislike me.  I helped move him down to be closer to them and rebuild that relationship and then left to allow this to happen.  I was hoping that when I returned, they would be used to the idea of me being his partner and being in their lives.  I was so very, very wrong.  This issue caused us to break up back in 2011.  I did not want it to break us apart again.  I do not have an answer for this, but because of the weekend we have vowed to not allow other people to break our relationship apart.  I am not saying I do not want him to see his girls, I really want him to have a good relationship with them, but I realized they do not want a relationship with me.  This reality hurts some, but I am not going to force them into that relationship, it is not healthy for anyone involved.  So I am stepping back, but it is not currently an issue as they whole summer is booked up for them.  Maybe in the fall we will have to see.

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The other issue I am having is job hunting.  I am struggling with finding a job, I thought it would be a breeze, but the longer I go without work the worse I feel and less motivated I get.  I mean for real I am bored out of my freaking mind.  One can only watch Facebook and TV for so many hours in a day.  I had no idea it would be this hard to find a job or that I would feel so lost without one.  I am truly struggling with this lack of focus and my money is quickly dwindling down.  I know I am drinking far too much, mostly out of boredom but some out of depression and a desire to suppress those realities.

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I lost my Washington License when I was in Jamaica, it was found and I just got it back today.  Now I can go get my California license and food handlers permits, liquor license and whatever else I need to cater again.  I am at the point of not filing any job history and just applying to restaurants, because I need something to do.  I am going to go crazy soon, I just know it.

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This week I think I have hit pretty much rock bottom, or am getting close.  So now it is time to stop wallowing in self-pity and get off my butt.  I just wish it was easier to do.  First thing is to get my license transferred and get myself into counseling.  I had no idea these feelings of anger and frustration would manifest in such a way.  I have been unemployed before and remember drinking far too much to cover the pain, but this time I do not have to do it alone with kids to support, yet I seem unable to ask for help and support.  I hate that feeling of vulnerability.  It seems to manifest itself into anger and frustration and I am worried that I will lash out at the people I love the most.

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The Four Most Important Lessons My Service in Jamaica Taught Me.


Important Things I have learned during my service:

The two plus years I have been in service have been the most amazing and the most challenging. I have learned so much about myself, about working outside of my culture, about how you can be percieved outside of your own culture and mostly how women in another culture are viewed and view the world.

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  1. How women are viewed:

As I ride my bicycle around my community I have noticed a very interesting point. Other female PCV’s have altogether given up riding in their communities as it just increases the harassment. For me my tattoos and piercings give me a more intensified level of attention that I have altogether given up ever not being viewed as an object to be obtained. Because of this aspect, I choose to not give up the freedom of my bicycle. Women here are not often seen on bicycles, and when I ride I get all sorts of comments. One time a man even tried to chase me down, luckily I was going downhill and he had no hope of catching me. Most recently I have heard over and over: “Aye yuh a get on some exercise!” “Yes mon, go brownin go!” Apparently when girl rides a bike it is specifically to get exercise, not to go from place to place! I have never heard anyone speak to a man riding a bike as getting exercise, he is just moving from place to place. This kind of bothered me for a minute, but then I thought about it, and there are so much more offensive things that can be said or done, this is just a minor issue. The issue is really about how women are viewed, sometimes I want to challenge that but then I would exhaust myself to no end, and that is just not worth my time or energy.

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  1. How tattoos and piercings are percieved

Back to my tattoos and piercings, boy, I tell you that just never ends. I could take the piercings out, I could try to hide the tattoos, but then I am hiding the things I love most. In fact a school girl cornered me the other day as I was walking with a group for plastic pollution awareness (One Love, One Step). She has cornered me before about my tattoos. Last time she told me not to get any more tattoos as I was surely going to burn in hell for it. Uhmmm a bit late on that aren’t you? This time she asked my why I “bored” up my face? “Don’t you like the way God made you?” Being a non-believer can be hard to hold my tongue somedays. I answered, why no, actually I did not, but I love the way I look now! She was persistent and continued to drill me about the word of God and Bible says and blah blah blah! I had many heroes at that point step up and tell her she was being rude and disrespectful, she continued. She asked me how I thought “I might be influencing young girls like her?” I told her that was not my job to influence them, and if they were tolerant they might ask what my tattoos and piercings meant to me, or try to understand the person under them. She persisted still. She asked me “Don’t you believe in God?” Ok I have had enough. I looked her dead in the eye and I said “No actually I do not!” This shocked her. She then asked “What do you believe in?” “Science!, I believe in Science!” She asked, “Who created science?” Now exhausted, I responded, “Science always was, who created God?” Blank stare! Silence, then she proceeded to change her tactic and tell me I should tattoo Jesus on my arm! I told her that would not be appropriate since it would offend other cultures and religions and since I am not of her belief I would never do such a thing. She was like who would be offended. I looked over at the Rastas and said they might be, the Muslims and the Hindus for sure would be. At that point the Rasta walked over to give her a life lesson on tolerance and I escaped to the far corner of the group. Just before she left she walked up behind me and gave me a hug. I am a little confused by this, but maybe, just maybe she learned a little bit about tolerance of others. At least I hope so. (Had she not cornered me multiple times I would have never been baited into a debate about God, but this child is persistent and she exhausts me.)

One time, actually many times, but one time was really offensive, taxi driver suggested he could come visit me at home. I told him no, I was married. He insisted and persisted. He even had the gall to say that my lip rings looked extra hungry! Dude seriously they have spikes on the end where the captive ball should be, that will get caught and hurt, believe me, they are not hungry and you do not really want that! Or the time the taxi man licked my neck and begged me for sex. Seriously men everywhere, begging for sex is not attractive at all, it is repulsive. The fact that a woman’s no has no real meaning is one of the hardest things I have had to overcome, am still trying and failing most days. Also, cultur

  1. How skin tone is viewed.

There is no such thing as racism in Jamaica, simply colorism. They call each other all manner of yaad names (yard names) some of which include skin tone! (ie; blackie, browning, indian, white girl/boy, darkie, and some more offensive that I will not repeat!) There tends to be a viewpoint that darker skin is not beautiful and that is why bleaching is a thing here. They literally bleach their skin with bleach, lye or even tumeric! I am not certain all the manners that they use, but just like white people like to tan and bronze up, darker people tend to try for the same tone that we do as we sunbathe. In fact it has not occurred to many of the people, that I know here, that white people may not want to be “pasty” white. This was a bit shocking to them.

The fact that women of color spend so much money on their hair is a bit heartbreaking. They have been told for so long that their hair is not right, it is inferior to white people hair. So instead of embracing their own beauty, they focus on fighting their natural hair, they braid it, they add extensions, they straighten it and do all other manner of things that are likely not healthy for the hair or the body. When I visited my host family a week or so ago my host sister took her braids out to wash her hair. She had so much hair, I had no idea it was that long or big. She wanted to go out with it natural but her mother insisted she “tame” it down into braids. I told Ms. Rose it was terrible of her to tell Kaylor her natural hair was inferior! “You take the white man look at things ya know” I told her. I said it jokingly, but maybe it helped Kaylor to stand up for herself next time. The beauty of the hair on person’s of color is that the water just repels off of it. I noticed that when we were out to sea. My coworker’s hair dried within minutes and mine was still wet when I went to bed that night, this is why blow dryers were invented! Our hair just holds the cold water next to our heads, their hair just keeps their head mostly dry. It is truly a fascination of mine. Instead of having to wait for the water to stop dripping all over me, they can just get dressed and move on with their day/night. Me it takes literally hours for it to finally stop dripping!

  1. How seasons are viewed.

The final thing I learned is that mangos are to be eaten outside and you are required to be covered in sticky sweet mango juice/pulp when you are done. Also one mango is not enough. When different fruits are in season many Jamaicans will literally survive on the one thing for days at a time. Mango, Breadfruit and June plum are all main courses when in season. Kind of like how Strawberries and Huckleberries were back when I was a child!

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There are specific seasons for specific crops and when out of season you will pay dearly for the item. Pear is a great example. Pear season June through September. If you want it bad enough outside of that time frame you will pay for imported pears or pears that are grown out of season and they are not nearly as good as the ones in season. Right now it is cabbage season and the price of cabbage drop low, but the price of other produce rise up. These are balances to be had, I just wish farmers would rotate crops so they did not rush the market with the same crop all at the same time. If they would focus on diversity there would not be such a severe price drop or rise.

Fun Food Friday: Rasta Pasta


I am not totally certain what exactly Rasta Pasta is aside from pasta with vegetables in it. I found that children that hate veggies ate this stuff up with relish, like literally finished the pot off.  I made it when I was visiting one of my host families last week, they asked for the recipe and to make it one more time before I left, so here is the recipe!

Ingredients:

Pasta

Oil to cook in and make sauce with (****True Rastas do not use oil unless they press it themselves)

variety of veggies for this one I had:

zucchini

onion

scallion

okra

tomato

red pepper

bok choy (pak chow if you live in Jamaica)

Kale

Chick Peas

All purpose seasoning

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I cooked the pasta to al dente and left it in the pot with some water to keep for the sauce later.  I sautéed up the veggie, leaving the greens until the end.  I added the greens and beans along with some pasta water and seasoning jus to steam the greens down a bit before mixing the pasta.  That’s pretty much it.  Sometimes it has mayonnaise in it, but I do not think it needs that.

The second time I made this I used black beans, Choyote, a can of mixed vegetables, bok choy, zucchini, peppers, onions, okra, yellow tomato,  and a little bit of kale.  This was based on what was available and what I had on hand.

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Mixed emotions as I come to the end of my time abroad.


This post is part of BloggingAbroad.org’s Re-Entry BlogChallenge.

 

I am looking forward to going home soon, not because I want to go home, but because I miss my significant other more and more daily.  I feel like I am missing out on stuff.  I try not to think about going home that much.  In fact thanks to a guy I was in Liberia with I have found a way to stay grounded and present in my last few days.  On day 80 I started a countdown with something/someone/place I will miss when I am gone.  This keeps me focused daily on what I will post and keeps me present.  It helps amazingly.

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This last week I attended my only real Jamaican party.  I went to Beach Jouvert, a seriously messy paint party.  I was covered in paint, in fact a week later and I am still covered in paint.  My toenails and fingernails are still green, I have green paint in my armpits, hair and even on my back.   This was incredibly fun and I Easter was spent with other volunteers having dinner at my apartment.  It was also spent with a huge hangover, well deserved and well earned.

Monday I headed to one of my host family home to visit one last time.  Lesson learned when I left Liberia, make certain you have contact information and ways to stay in touch.  I was glad I went on Easter weekend because the whole family was around and we got wonderful pictures together.  I feel like I got the change to say a proper good-bye.  I then headed to Kingston for my COS medical and spent until Friday there.  I got to spend time with volunteers also having medical and the two response volunteers left in country.

Friday afternoon I headed out to Hellshire to my very first host family pon di rock.  I am staying here until Tuesday when I go back into Town to meet the new interim Peace Corps Director.  I will then go back to Discovery Bay where I will not take any more time off except on the weekends to say my final goodbyes to friends and family in my original community.

Looking forward is quite daunting for me.  Many of the other volunteers are looking into grad school, job markets or potential future service.  I am not doing any of this.  My plan is to spend the first 2 weeks with just Richard!  I intend on just being in the moment with him.  Also it looks like he now has a job from home so we will need to look at job options/locations together as we now have the freedom to move wherever we want to.  I could easily allow myself to get pulled into this crazy guessing game, but in reality I want to remain focused on here and now.  By remaining focused I can better serve my current projects and finalize my time in Jamaica.  If I focus on going home, I serve no one.  And that is my biggest struggle.

Fun Food Friday: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls


This is not a Jamaican Dish, but more a cheap healthy and delicious dish to make with ingredients that are fairly cheap here.   This recipe is adapted from the Book “We Love Your Body”  which I really enjoyed reading.

Large Head of Cabbage

Onion

Tomatoes or tomato sauce, or both

Rice or quinoa (any type of grain will work, even roast rood veggies (but they will not stay in the roll as well.

Herbs and spices

Oil

Protein source, Chicken, veggie mince, beans, whatever floats your boat, I do not think fish will work though.

Nutritional Yeast or cheese if desired.

Nuts or seeds if desired

Various veggies such at carrot, zucchini and whatever you think will mix well in your grain with a tomato sauce.

First you have to cut the core out of cabbage to ease the removal of leaves.    I like to pull the leaves out and soak in salt water to ensure no extra Protein sources are hiding in the leaves.  If you want you can blanch the the leaves with a quick dip in boiling water for about 1.5 minutes.  Otherwise you can just choose to roll the raw leaves, blanching just makes the rolling easier.

Cook up your grains.  I am a meal prepper so I prep this type of stuff up ahead of time and it almost always ready to go.  Season and add cooked protein along with sauteed veggies as desired.  Mix all ingredients together but not the sauce or cheese/nutritional yeast.  The seeds can go in at this time, they add a nice little crunch to the dish at the end.  You can also use them as garnish when serving.

Once everything is mixed nicely you can start stuffing the rolls.  First you must oil your baking dish or lay down parchment paper.  Hold cabbage leave curve side up. If leaves re too inflexible you can blanche them for a few minutes to soften the large vein down the middle.  Fill with about 1/4 cup of filling, for smaller leaves fill so that you can roll them nicely and they end up like a little burrito.  Lay the rolled leaf face down in baking dish.  (The side that the leaves are loose will go face down, if your leaf is too small use a secondary leaf to ensure filling stays in.  Continue to fill leaves until your dish is full.  and nicely laid out.  The idea is to be able to put a spatula or flipper under the rolls individually to serve them.

Once your rolls are ready you can prepare the sauce.  Even if I actually use a prepared sauce, I typically spruce it up with more veggies finely diced and herbs.  Now cover the rolls by spooning sauce evenly over them.  They do not need to be completely covered unless you love extra sauce, but it makes it much harder to serve that way.  (If you like extra sauce, save some to cover after plating.)

I have a gas stove that I have no idea how hot it gets but for argument sake, 350 degrees.  Light that bad boy up and put your dish in the oven.  Because I have no idea how hot mine actually is, I keep a pretty good eye on it.  I check it after 30 minutes, but around 45 is when I add the cheese/nutritional yeast.  Finish off by allowing the cheese to melt/toast up.

The rolls are super hot when you first pull them out, I suggest waiting a few minutes, more like 15 minutes to allow them to cool some before plating and eating.  As a side note you can prevent the sauce from getting too dry by covering with foil while cooking.

Fun Food Fridays: Tofu Cabbage Wraps with Peanut Sauce


Since Monday I have cut out gluten, dairy, alcohol and added sugar from my diet.  This recipe falls nicely within those parameters.  It is also cabbage season here in Jamaica and cabbage is readily available and cheap right now.

Tofu cabbage wraps/salad

Modified from Eating Well Magazine recipe:

Peanut Sauce Ingredients:

Peanut butter, less sugar better, you can grind your own peanuts into a chunky paste.

salt

garlic

scallion

vinegar (I prefer rice wine vinegar)

liquid aminos (soy sauce)

hot sauce or scotch bonnet

Add all liquid ingredients about (except hot sauce) a 1:1 ratio

salt, garlic and scallion are added to taste.

Hot sauce or scotch bonnet added to taste.

Sesame oil if you like just enough.

This sauce can be jarred and put in refrigeration for up to a week. The longer it sits the thicker and better it tastes. I use this sauce for salads or for stirfrys as well.

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Salad Ingredients:

Oil (coconut is best)

Cabbage (1 head whole for wraps)

scallion or onion

tofu or chicken/fish

carrot

cucumber

dark lettuce greens or herbs (basil and cilantro are fantastic) sliced into ribbons. (Cilantro or parsely finely chopped.

Additions for the creative:

Sweet peppers

mushroom

shrimp

celery

small bok choy

any other rawish vegetable

Prepare:

Wraps:

I take the cabbage and cut around the core to ease the removal of whole leaves.  By cutting away the core in a hexagonal shape you create an easier to peel head of cabbage.   The leaves do not rip if pulled slowly from the bottom and the sides are loosened from the head as you lift the bottom.  Once removed rinse and drain.  If the cabbage is too tough to eat raw you can blanche it for a few moments.

Thinly slice the cucumber, scallion, carrots and other veg you choose.  If you use a vegetable peeler you get lovely thin slices.

Ribbon the lettuce or basil, finely chop any herbs.

Cut tofu or fish or chicken into nice sized strips. Saute in oil, I like coconut oil for this. Cook well.

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Set up plate of chopped veg and allow tofu or meat to cool to handling temperature. Gather ingredients and set into cabbage leaf. Top with peanut sauce and herbs or lettuce, roll cabbage to hold for eating.

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Enjoy!

For salad, simply dice up the cabbage and mix the ingredients to taste and top with peanut sauce and herbs or lettuce ribbons. Top with crushed peanuts for an added crunch.

I thought I would learn about another culture, but I learned about myself.


A letter to my pre-PC self;

This post is part of BloggingAbroad.org’s Re-Entry Blog Challenge.

 

Dear ChaCha

There are things that will happen in the next two plus years that will be unexpected and sometimes difficult. The thing is, these challenges will change you in ways you never thought possible. They will tax your restraint and your reserves. They will make you uncomfortable and force you to confront deep dark buried issues that you have tried for 40 plus years to avoid. These things will pass, but they will change you and they will build you up, try not to fight them.

The first challenge will be how you see yourself. You view yourself as strong and as resourceful and able to stand up to confrontation. You must let those ideas go. In this new culture women do not confront men, they do not stand up to them and they most certainly never call them out and insult them. This will be the most difficult aspect to deal with. The daily marriage proposals, the constant cat calls and the attention that makes you never want to leave your home will become normal. What will not be normal is how you deal with them. Think about the fact that you are a cultural ambassador and even though you often feel like a slab of meat at the auction, you need to keep your interactions civil and not cross.

The second challenge is to let go of your view of not ever quitting. Sometimes quitting is not failure but realizing that the issues cannot be resolved and they tax your resilience too much. Understanding when to walk away is better than not quitting and drowning in despair and depression. Finding the balance between not quitting and seeing that there is no solution will prove to be an asset. It will be difficult and you will have to swallow that pride.  Remember to count those small wins to help balance those feelings of defeat.

 

The final challenge is confronting your past. Yikes, this really sucks. You moved to a place where most people from your past can no longer reach you, but the pain is still there. Being alone every night forces you to spend some quality time with yourself and your feelings. Ugh, I know that really sucks. Those angry and hurt feelings never really went away, they just got buried deep. Breaking down those walls and confronting them allows you to not only grow but to move forward. Your resentment of your childhood and upbringing, they keep your growth stagnated. Those feelings of anxiety about actually going home, pretending you did not come from your hometown, they hold you down and keep you angry and holding onto the pain. The denial that people hurt you, that your parents made you feel unloved, that holds you back. Facing these things and confronting them within yourself allows you to finally heal, grabbing that happiness is something you should embrace.

Yes you will still be angry and still be hurt, but it will no longer hold you in this space. Allow yourself the freedom to feel relief. To feel that anger and to confront it. To admit and name the things that happened to you, to move forward with more confidence and understanding how you actually process events. Sometimes those things that happen are not exactly as your perceived them. Sometimes people have no idea they wronged you at all, by learning how to recognize the hurt you can address it and confront the offender in a sane and safe way. These are the things you will learn from your service. The fact that there is always pain and hurt but there does not have to be residual anger and pain.

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Always look up!