This post is part of BloggingAbroad.org’s Re-Entry Blog Challenge.
As I near the end of my service, what an overwhelming and scary point to be! I am full of a mix of emotions, in a way I am relieved that my service will be over, yet sad to see it end. I look forward to life back home with my partner, but I am sad to say good-bye to so many wonderful people in my life.
I want to share my top five memories of my time in Jamaica!
Beng able to use my undergrad and learn to SCUBA dive! So much validation in my knowledge that was gathering dust.
Having Richard come and spend a few days in Cuba and being able to be his guide throughout Jamaica. A memory that I will forever cherish. The bus rides were the best.
Building relationships with a few strong women in my communities. Getting to understand them and how relationships work in this culture that is quite different from my own.
****Bonus memory: The day the three school girls walked past me and asked me if my neck tattoo hurt. After saying yes they asked what it meant, I told them. They started to walk away and one turned around and said: “Miss, dun get nuh mur tattoos, mi mom sey dey es deh murk fi di beast!” 😐 Uhm yeah Ok let me get right on removing these! I smiled and laughed to myself all the way to work and half through the day thinking of this.
Each of these memories brings about a great sense of joy and pride to me. Knowing that I touched a few people’s lives and a few people touched mine is an incredible thing that not everyone gets to experience or understand. Knowing that my memory will stay with those individuals just as their memories will stay with me brings us so much closer together. There are more similarities than differences, and once you become the “other” or the minority you begin to see how that feels, and understand the discomfort that comes with that. These understandings and experiences have forever changed my life and my mental model of how people are and why people do things the way they do. It has helped me to grow and to achieve more as I look forward to the return home. I know there will always be a home for me on this beautiful little island, in many communities, and that I have given and received a great gift of friendship and understanding, the greatest gift of all.
I think every single person should at some point live outside their hometown, their comfort zone. Why? Because unless we look outside of ourselves we will never see the World outside of our own perspective. I am a firm believer in this, I beg you to move away from everything you know and cut off your support system just to see what life is like outside your own box.
Today I was asked by a co-worker, as we were discussing, yet again the current state of racial tension in the States, if I was ever afraid of black people. Please understand that this was a Jamaican asking me an honest question and I am responding genuinely. Growing up there were only 3 people of color and very few Hispanics in my school/home town. (A place I never return to and never talk about.) You see, sadly I did not grow up in Seattle, but it is where I found myself. I grew up in the boonies, as we say in my area, here in Jamaica you would say the bush. I grew up in a very conservative area with a very Evangelical upbringing. So when asked if I feared black people, men specifically, I had to answer yes.
I grew up not knowing the culture, not being exposed to it and never interacting with anyone different from myself. I grew up in the 80’s when gangs were primarily a black problem and black men were likely drug dealers, pimps and gang bangers. Avoiding them was the best course of action. I grew up being taught to fear the unknown. Most of us are.
This shocked my co-workers and I then explained even further one of my tipping points. I moved to Seattle with an abusive controlling men, I just did not realize it immediately because I wanted to escape my life in the boonies. He used to tell me that me and my children would be mugged readily because we stood out. We acted like outsiders and were easy pickings. He even called my son “Opie Taylor”, ya know from the Andy Griffith Show. I will never forget the feeling of determination I had to fit in and not stand out.
I remember seeing a black man on the street and would cross the street if the area was less traveled to avoid being a target, because my mental model was that all gang bangers were black, therefore black men were dangerous. This is an easy stereo type to perpetuate when you never step outside your comfort zone. This was my first year and a half in Seattle. Always super aware and avoiding contact.
One night I stayed out late at friends home across town. We got back super late to our final bus stop. As we crossed the road to get to that bus stop an old white man in a convertible Mercedes drove past us and said some nasty comment to my daughter, who was no more than 12 at the time. Once she told me what he said and that it made her uncomfortable, I was super vigilant. We sat at the bus stop when a crack head sat next to us. This was a ragged looking street thug who happened to be a black man. I was already on edge and now I have to worry about this guy lighting up a crack pipe next to my kids. I was scared to death and very uncomfortable. The Mercedes pedophile circled back around the corner to where we were again and made another comment. At this point I knew I needed to go. I told the kids to get up and we stared walking the 5 blocks across the bridge and up the hill home.
The crack head proceeded to follow us! I must stop and clarify that he had track marks up his arms and his eyes were sunk in and face very gaunt, he definitely had drug issues. I am now scared to death. I try to walk faster and this guy is still following us. He stayed about a half a block back and never got that close to us, but damn he gonna know where we live now! As we go to the Y intersection where we lived the crazy bastard in the Mercedes cut us off before we could get to the cross walk. At this point I am between the pedophile and the crack head with no alternatives. Suddenly a gaunt hand lands on my shoulder and the crack head whispers to me, go on mama get your babies home, I got this!
We crossed the street and I sent the kids up with the keys as I turned around from the safety of the stairwell to see that crack head smack the pedophile and smash his head into the steering wheel. In that moment I felt so ashamed. I was horrified that I feared this man who actually became my angel. He must have noticed the incident at the original cross walk and decided that I needed help. The fact that he was a drug addict means nothing, the fact that he was a black man means nothing, the fact that he was human and showed an immense compassion and humanity to assist a single mom in time of great stress.
This was my tipping point. I tried to let go of my prejudice and stop avoiding people based on appearances. I still struggle with some of my old mental models, but I now understand that underneath we are human and you never know who means to harm you and who is going to defend you. I would have never gotten to this point if I had not left my comfort zone and found my own belief system. I have not judged anyone based on looks or the fact that they seem to be a drug addict since that incident. My children are also far more open-minded than I ever was at their age, they do not hold a person to a standard based on outside appearances and that is my greatest accomplishment.
Both my co-worker told me that they were happy that I no longer feared black people and that I had let go of my prejudices. They also told me that I needed to blog that story out because it might be powerful for someone else.
I could have never gotten here if I had not moved out of my comfort zone. And I think that this is the most powerful move anyone can make, find your own way, find your own belief system. The only thing I would change at this point is not waiting so long to see people as people and not as a color or a race. My life would have been blessed so much more if I had allowed myself to see this much sooner.
Since my site change I have not posted much about my new assignment. I am not as integrated into the community at large, but very much with a small group associated with my host family. My days start out very early with a 5 am alarm. I get up and make my breakfast, pack most of my bag and then wait for my host mom to call me to walk. We walk for almost an hour, about 2.5 miles around the neighborhood.
After my morning walk I shower and dress for work and finish packing my lunch. (I have been focusing on meal planning in the last few months and pack my lunches the night before so they just have to be assembled in the morning. I then walk the 2.5 miles to work, if I am lucky one of my co-workers picks me up somewhere along the way. If I am unlucky I get a huge number of steps in! I do have many long cultural discussions with my co-workers. In fact one curiosity I got from them was what is the best car insurance in America? They see several commercials here: Geico, Allstate, The General, Progressive and a few others. It was a curiosity to me that they would ask this, but then I guess they do not have much choice in insurance here, so for such a variety it would be daunting to them I suppose.
My tasks at work vary. I am helping to move the green initiatives forward and my current projects there are securing containers for lemon/fever grass for mosquito mitigation in the buildings. The idea is to surround the buildings with a decent barrier of the grasses to deter the mosquitos from entering the building. My other project is to help build a compost bin for the grass and lawn debris, maybe even incorporate vegetable food waste.
I am also working on aquarium and species maintenance. This means that I clean the tanks and wet lab as needed, and I gather species from the sea when we have groups coming in. The lab has a permit to gather species for educational purposes, but the stuff in the wet lab should be returned bi-weekly. This means I have to go out and snorkel and get the animals needed to show in the touch tanks.
I do not actually give the educational sessions, but they want me to do so at some point. I do however, give lab tours and assist with boat tours. I also focus on the wet lab educational portions. (I am really surprised how much I remember from my undergrad!) The animals are my favorite part of this assignment! I also like the educational factor, as a short term non-classroom system.
My other assignment is to update social media as things happen. I have started a blog and am learning how to produce youtube videos. I also update the Facebook page and Twitter accounts, several of us should also be doing this. I do enjoy this portion as well. I enjoy my new job and have made friends with my coworkers.
My other outside project is helping to build capacity for the Alloa Fishermen’s Group. I am in the middle of a local school competition to create a logo for the Specialized Fisheries Conservation Area (SFCA) I have not had so much time with them since the New Year, but next month I plan on meeting with them a few times a month to really get things moving forward.
I love having a cook on campus. She gives me the opportunity to get some basic ideas of how Jamaicans cook up their meat. This week was no exception.
We had a meeting this week and lunch was provided by the lab. On Tuesday Ms. Precious and Ms. Junie were busy cooking and baking. The coffee break was amazing, I got to sample some oatmeal cookies and sweet potato pudding. Both were spot on! I snuck back into the kitchen to see what gwaan for lunch! They were frying and breading fish, frying some chicken and cooking up a roast. Big tings gwaan!
I wanted to focus on the chicken today. After defrosting and quartering it, they allow it to marinate in some herbs and spices for awhile, I believe this particular one was overnight. The herbs consist of a blend from Maggi, some fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Once she is ready, Ms. P pours a little bowl of milk and some seasoned flour for breading. Now the fun, read mess, begins. In a large dutchie (a large aluminum pot with a lid) heat a lot of oil up. Enough to cover a goo portion of the chicken as it cooks up. Dip a piece of chicken in the milk and then dredge through the flour. Drop it into the hot oil and add a few more pieces at a time. Cover and let cook for awhile then turn meats over. Cook until the meat is cooked through. When making a large batch for a big crowd you can put it into a pan and cover with foil and bake to finish in the oven. This is a very simple way to get a nice crisp but tasty chicken skin and moist chicken.
This has been a rough week at the lab. I take care of one of the tanks regularly. Actually both tanks. I love fish, if you did not know that just look at my tattoos, either I am in some kind of fish gang or I really love them. I struggle with losing an animal in our care. I know it happens, but I just feel it should not. I once lost a sea star and nearly cried over it. I kind of loathe the lobster because it just kills almost anything in the tank.
On Monday I came into the lab and set my bag on the front of the puffer fish/lobster tank. I noticed the puffer was not looking very good. He was very pale and seemed to be struggling to breathe. I unlocked my door and moved my bags so I could see better. I then realized that the water was not flowing. You see we live right on the ocean, that means our tanks are constantly pumping water from the sea into the tank to regenerate the dissolved oxygen and plankton supply. The fact that the puffer was struggling so bad told me it had been off for quite some time. I checked the knob to ensure no one had turned it off, but nothing came out. I immediately panicked. I am really good at a panicking.
I ran to find maintenance crew and the security guy knew exactly what was happening, the pump had shut down. The lionfish tank was not as affected because it had an aeration stone in it, but all the fish and the lobster were struggling severely. We got the water back on, but the puffer was so depleted he allowed me to touch him with the net. He could not even puff up to defend himself. I was so stressed, but one of our staff scientists suggested putting an aeration stone in a smaller container inside the tank and dropping him into it. I did this, I call it the fish hospital. (Sadly I was too stressed to capture this in pictures!) I then had to go out to sea for an exhibit collection expedition. The two ladies who work in housekeeping kept coming up to me telling me the fish not doing so well. After I put it into the bucket they were asking if he was going to be alright? This is a huge shift in action and mindset for them.
You see, here in Jamaica, animals are for protection, food and a small percentage are for pets. Most Jamaicans do not attach to animals the way many Americans do. There are a few that have those cute little toy dogs, but mostly animals are objects not companions. For these two Jamaican ladies to show so much concern for a fish is pretty amazing to me. I am pretty certain they both said a little prayer for him as they watched him throughout the day, I got many updates throughout the day. “The fish is doing better!” “Look he swim a little bit!” “Oh he is moving more!” So how did this little fish capture the love of the people in the lab? I think that fact that he comes to the front when someone stands there, and he reacts to you and almost interacts with you is a huge component to this. The fact that he recognizes us and is actually happy to see us is heart warming and these ladies took notice of how he reacted to them. So my first real experience with Jamaicans caring about an animal was the near death of a silly little fish. A silly little fish! A fish that has personality and shows affection. If this is the only thing that changes here is that two ladies for the first time saw an animal as more than food or protection, I have done well!
FYI the maintenance men and the security are also very attached to this silly little fish! Also without an underwater camera fish pictures are hard to take! This morning was also another tragedy. We lost most of the fish in the wetlab and one from the lionfish tank. The pump went down again last night but I had one aerator in each of my tanks so they survived, minus the one that might have been getting sick. It saddens me and makes me feel like a terrible fish mommy! Aquaman would be so disappointed in me!
This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week four: Change and Hope.
Hope, it was what Obama ran on and inspired so many. What exactly is it though? When I think of hope I think of looking forward, pushing through a seemingly impossible wall and next steps. Obama brought us hope but in reality the change we hoped for was never fulfilled. Change is that action or event that most often, was strived for. For me, and this is my PERSONAL perspective the current political vibe back home give me no hope. It is hard to hope when there is a feeling of oppression and darkness. I am scared about going home. I am just now returning from my group’s COS (Cease of Service) conference. So I apologize if my emotions are running high.
As I think about writing up my DOS (Description of Service) I look back on my time here. What did I accomplish? Did I hit my goals? Did I see change? I did see change, but not the type I expected. I had a site change very late in the game. That left me feeling lost and disconnected. The expectation when you become a PCV is that you live with a host community and family and you spend your entire service with them. This means you are going to have a greater impact. When you leave with less than 9 months left it is very difficult to build up that same impact. I internally struggle with this. I always wonder am I just waiting now, or am I making a difference?
I want to focus a little on my old community. My beautiful school garden, the one thing I cried the most about leaving behind, is still being used. My original supervisor is a very dynamic person. He just never quits trying. He tends to inspire others but he really needs a supportive base, no leader can do it alone. The farmers come help sometimes, but the hardest parts are done. Sowing and reaping and pest control are all things the children can and should be doing. Also eating stuff from the harvest is a big bonus.
Photo courtesy of Kenrick Johnson, Three Hills Primary School
I know Mr. Johnson and the farm group are moving forward trying to build up a greenhouse and get momentum up on the farm land again. The hardest part of any development work is getting the momentum and maintaining it. Leadership is often about inspiration. I hope that this group continues on their path. Mr. Johnson is also working on getting the citizen’s association back into action, which is a huge undertaking and one of the biggest struggles I had up there. Getting enough people to push forward some idea and then put those ideas into action are not easy tasks, but essential for success.
One little girl breaks my heart the most. The little girl who lived across the street from me, asks for me all the time. She sees Tressa’s truck and always look to see if I am in it. I did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to her. I would love to have contact with her family to check in on her when I return home. The fact that she still looks for me, tells me that I left an impression on her, and that warms my heart and gives me hope.
I miss my host family and have been back to visit and will continue to go visit. I also need to check in with my host families from training. It was hard for a while because Kingston was off-limits and to get to either it is easiest to go from Kingston. I miss them and will continue to miss the people who have shared their homes and their lives with me.
In my current site I have a wonderful host family that I really do connect with. My host mom and I go walking most mornings and we talk about cultural differences, relationships and cooking. There are two other ladies that walk with us as well, so whenever I struggle to understand components of the culture I simply ask in the most respectful way I can.
I have the fisher’s group that I work with and they are trying to get things going to promote responsible fisheries and fish sanctuaries. I enjoy these men and look forward to working with them as my time comes to an end. The lab, oh the lab! My saving grace in the midst of trauma. Knowing that I get to talk science with scientists all day every day is inspiring. I also am learning not just from/about Jamaicans but people from all over the World. We have scientists from the States, Great Britain, Antigua Barbuda, Barbados and many other countries. I have started a blog for the lab and I try to include a quick interview with the different groups of scientists we have visiting. I am also creating footage to post on YouTube page. I never made a movie before in my life, but now I have made 4. I enjoy the ability to share my talents for story telling and sharing some science with non-science people. By making it more personal and a story it pulls readers in, at least I think it does.
So what gives me hope for the future of my host country? The sheer tenacity of the people I have met. The fact that they share their lives and hopes with a complete stranger. They open up and are not ashamed to discuss things like race and cultural differences.
At the lab recently there was a group from New York laying out in the sun. My two Jamaican counter-parts were sitting in the shade looking over at them. I walked by and stood in the shade and asked if they had ever laid out in the sun? I have not seen many Jamaicans seek out to just bake in the sun? They both responded with a resounding no way. Then they asked me why white people tanned? I responded with why do some Jamaicans bleach? I did not expect and answer but they both thoughtfully said it was about being told lighter skin was better. I looked at them and told them I grew up in a time when we were told that the bronzed/golden tanned body was preferred. In that moment we hit an aha moment. For the first time they understood that white people do not necessarily want to be pasty white. I then lifted a piece of my shirt to show the color difference for the parts of me they never see. They were truly shocked at the contrast. In that moment, black or white we realized that we are told what is beautiful and what is not, and both sides seek this specific tone of skin, it is not black nor white but somewhere in the middle. Like a Middle Eastern skin tone, Hispanic, Greek, Arabic, and most Asian cultures all have a tone somewhere in the middle of black and white, and this seems to be the desired shade from both cultures. It is these conversations that stay with me, they give me hope, they make me feel that change is happening one moment at a time, and maybe that is the only real way change can ever truly happen!
The thing that stood out the most for me is the clothes in Jamaica. Not that they are different than most American clothing, they are much the same. It is how it is perceived. We buy clothes because they look cute, some of us even buy used clothing or vintage clothes. We buy things often based on look or utility. Take for example Khaki pants, many of us in America love them. They have wonderful variety of pockets, they are typically loose but not sagging. They are durable yet lightweight. As a general rule, I have not seen many Jamaicans in Khaki pants here, unless it was part of a uniform. I also have not seen them running around in workout clothing or yoga pants. Rarely have I seen a Jamaican outside the beach in a bathing suit.
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
In America, at least where I am from, people would stop off at the grocery store, the pub or a restaurant after work in the same clothing they worked in. They commute home in their work clothes. Some even go out in public in Pajamas (a weird and very American thing)! No Jamaican does this. They have work clothes, yaad clothes, church clothes and road clothes. These very often do not overlap. Oh and the pickney or children (do not refer to their offspring as kids, that means goat here) have school uniforms. All but the yaad clothes (yard clothes) are always clean, tidy and pressed to perfection. The shoes are scrubbed and polished. You do not go on the road in yaad clothes, they are meant to clean the house and farm, not be seen in.
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
In many cases a specific uniform is expected of employees. Most banks, offices, and security companies have specific dress codes. As a consumer some governmental offices cannot be entered if you are not appropriately dressed. Sleeveless on women is unacceptable and they will not allow you to be inside the buildings. Even foreigners must adhere to these rules. Children can be sent home from school for not wearing an appropriately cleaned and pressed uniform and even grocery stores have a strict standard. At the lab there is a standard, but mostly on days when guests are expected. I had to buy shirts to do a couple of projects in the coming months to represent the lab.
Jamaicans as a general rule take pride in their appearance. They often leave labels and tags on their shoes, hats and clothing. Things I personally would find annoying and in the way, they value. Belts are also huge here. We wear them at home as well, but almost any pants that have belt loops here are going to have some type of belt attached. I used to find it odd that a vendor would come through the bus parks selling belts, they would have hundreds of them in their arms. Now I understand. The belts are a fashion accessory, not necessarily functional. On a side note, I can never just take a candid shot. Jamaicans insist on “posing” for every single photo. Unless I am not focusing on the person, I will have to wait for some hair adjusting, prepping and then a pose to take place, and then it might take 4 shots to get it approved. They tend to take the selfie trend to an entirely new level, or maybe I am just old and we did not have selfies back in the day and I can no longer be bothered with such things.
Another thing I found interesting was that men will wear almost any woman’s clothes minus a dress and tights. I have seen men in women’s pants, T-shirts and my favorite, sunhats! To them, apparently clothing are often unisex, or maybe I just misunderstand and they are actually men’s clothing, although I am certain the pink sunhats were intended for women. I have seen a few second-hand stores in Jamaica and several persons selling clothing on the side of the road under a tarp. But these are mostly current styles and in very good condition. I hear many times the ones on the roadside are trying to make money to pay school fees and for school uniforms. (That is just the rumor that I heard, the truth is unknown to me!)
In the end I realize that many of these things do happen in my own culture, but I am older and missed most of these trends. I only see them as an outsider and find them novel, when in fact they exist in a specific age group, or gender or demographic that I fall outside of.
I honestly think when I get home I will adapt a few of these ideas for myself. Things like cleaning my shoes weekly and keeping clothes separate for different activities might boost my spirits when I return. And if ever I miss Jamaica I might just buy some belts to show off!