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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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!
- 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!
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.