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.
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.
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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.
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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!
This is the second in a series of blogs as part of the #BloggingAbroadBlogChallenge I was given the prompt about the Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story“.
I want you to close your eyes and think about what Jamaica means to you? Does it mean fruity rum drinks? The sand and sea? Does it mean jerk chicken and fish fry? Does it mean posh resorts and craft markets? Does it mean high crime rates and marijuana smoking in public? Does it mean poverty and dirt roads? Does it mean children in no shoes going to school? Does it mean low education levels? To me Jamaica is all of this and so much more. As a joke this is considered Posh Corps in Peace Corps lingo. Site envy is a thing among volunteers and many seriously think we spend our days at the beach and our nights drinking rum. Sometimes that happens, most often we spend it trying to make some sense of how a country that by all outward appearances is rich and wonderful could be so impoverished and hard.
You see when you come here as a tourist, you are limited by what the leaders want you to see. They want you to take back stories of fun and fabulous times. They do not want you to talk about crime rates, accidents or poverty, they wish you not to see any of that. This is true for most tourist destinations. You see only the fun and beauty, but you miss the poverty and struggles. This is the single story that most people have of Jamaica. It is where Bob Marley came from, Reggae, Rum and Ganga, beaches and beauty. But Bob Marley could not have been such an icon without the struggles of crime, poverty and despair. His music would not still haunt us to this day if he had no message to share. The movie Cool Runnings, as silly as it is and hyped up Hollywood overdone, it still is a story of the great spirit of the Jamaican people. To face such adversity and still get back up, only a people who have struggled their whole life could do that.
The diversity of the people here is similar to almost everywhere else. You have rich, you have poor, you have a struggling middle class. You also have criminals and scammers. What you do not have is a single story. You cannot say you know Jamaica if you come here and spend the entire time at the all-inclusive resort. You meet Jamaicas, sure, but they are working and conforming to standards that are set forth for them. It is a job for them to interact with you, not to get personal and share their true feelings. They smile as though they are having a great time, but maybe they have a sick child back home and cannot wait to return their family. They might agree with whatever you say, but deep down they know you have no idea what happens outside the walls of the resorts. Even if you leave the resort it is typically by charter bus or taxi where you are taken to specific locations. You will not be taken to the small school that has children who have not eaten since breakfast and will not likely eat until nearly bedtime when they get home. They will not take you up into communities of captured land, where the electricity is tiefed from JPS and the cost is put back upon those who have legal electricity. They do not take you into areas where scammer are polishing shiny new cars and looking for their next victim. They do not show you how, much of Jamaica lives.
You will not see domino games that go on into the wee hours of the night, often ending in a drunken brawl. You will not see a dead yard (ded yaad) or meet a local family (yaadies). You may see a few Jamaicans along the roadside bagging up trash and debris, but you will not stop and share a drink with them. No you are going to be shown only what they want you as a tourist to see, what you came to see. What you came to see is not really Jamaica, it is the brochure you bought when you purchased your tickets. Not one place on this beautiful Earth will you ever see the real “” in a brochure. You see what you want to see. It keeps you coming back, because, hey you are on vacation and you paid to live in paradise for a week and forget about the worries of the world. Sadly the worries of the world might be a direct result of you ability to forget about them. How do you think you can find such a wondrous way to forget if not at a cost to someone/something else? Do not kid yourself the cost is so much higher than any of us would ever want to pay.
The beaches in Jamaica are mostly pay beaches. The spots on the river are starting to be the same. This equates to pushing the poor away from their own inheritance of a beautiful sea and fresh water resting place. Imagine if you had to pay $100 every time you wanted to relax with your family? How do you feel now that you have to pay for day passes or a yearly pass to most state and federal parks in America? I resent it. That land is owned by us, why do we, the taxpayer have to pay? The same is happening all over Jamaica and it is frustrating.
So now go back to your original thoughts on Jamaica, but add watching the catch from the fishermen coming in, cooking fresh fish on the beach on a Sunday morning, buying produce from the farmers at the market, buying callaloo from the Rasta peddling it from his back or bicycle. Imagine instead of fruity drinks an icy cold Dragon Stout blended with some Foska Oats, peanuts and Supligen vanilla milk, this is called Strong Back and if a man is drinking it run ladies run! Imagine lazily floating down the river without a care in the world, looking at the canopy of fruiting trees overhead.
Imagine the back breaking work in the fields to bring in the harvest just to make enough money to pay the children’s school fees. Imagine being a small child in an overcrowded, hot classroom that is not separated by actual walls but by chalk boards, imagine being the teachers trying to talk over the noise from the other classrooms. Now imagine all of this hardship and struggle and you still having a smile on your face? Why? Because Jamaica, No problem, mon! It is really hard to keep a Jamaican from enjoying the simple pleasures in life, because for many of them, it is the only pleasures they have ever known.