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.

This ibikes and boys

  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.

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Dire Misconceptions


We all have them, right?  We all take information at face value.  We make assumptions.  We make an uneducated judgment based on initial information.  We have all done it.  I still do it.  It is human nature.  Do we continue to allow ourselves to just take in initial information and walk away misinformed?

This last week I spent time with my partner’s parents.  They were happy to spend time with me alone, since they only see me when I am with Richard, they wanted to “get to know me”.  We actually shared a hotel room with them, which might have been weird and uncomfortable, but considering my current home situation it was preferred.  After a few glasses of wine, Richard’s mom confessed to me that she judged me the moment she met me.  I am not from her world.  I am partially covered in tattoos and have facial piercings.  I also live in a completely different paradigm than her.  She lives in a middle class white suburban haven.  This is what she wants, this is what she worked for, and although I am not a fan of entering her world, I appreciate that they live in a different mindset than us.

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Actually my hope in life is that people do form a judgement about me based solely on appearance.   I hope that once they get to talk to me they understand that there are layers.  There is more to a person than their appearance, their clothes, their music, their art.  People have an exterior that protects them from outside attacks.  If you are going to judge initially and never get past that, then the armor has worked.  If you take the time to try to understand people, the armor can be slowly broken down to reveal the true self.  As long as you come at someone negatively you will find resistance and walls that are built up.  Richard’s sister was even harsher in her judgement.  I know that having small children puts you on the defensive, but do you want your children growing up always judging that which they do not understand?  If all of humanity had done this science and mathematics would never have progressed.   We would still think the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around us.

By taking our first perceptions and setting them aside, we open ourselves up to the potential we find not only a new perspective but a new piece of ourselves.  I once feared gays and their agenda.  I once believed that I was a conservative christian.  Once I opened myself up to things that were not in my own world, I found new parts of myself.  I found a humanitarian, who cares deeply about people.  I found the environmentalist, who cares deeply about the environment.  I found my compassion, I found my empathy and I found my joy.  Once I let go of those things that were imprisoning me, I found out who I really was.  With those insights, I also found my passion.  I found my desire to change the world, not based on my desires for changes but in my desires to find peaceful solutions that take all of our talents and perspectives and finds a way to weave them into a unique tapestry of humanity.

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In the past few years, I have put myself into the fire.  I have walked among those who would judge me based on my appearance and beliefs.  The one things I found is that even with all of our differences a common goal can bring us closer than I ever thought possible.  I may never believe in a God again, but that does not make those who do my enemy.  It makes us both part of this beautiful tapestry that can one become complete when we work together and weave our lives in a unifying desire.  I also found that I myself held judgements based on initial impressions.  I set up an expectation to be judged and looked down upon, it was my previous experience.  What I found was that by putting myself out there, I was able to influence and touch lives that would have never crossed my path.  I found that even though we would never find a unity in all things, we could find an understanding in views and lives outside our own.  To know that many people were now at least seeing gay marriage as not an attack on their faith but as an equality issue was a huge step.  One that most would not have taken without having met me or people like me.

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We can learn so much from people who believe differently from ourselves.  I am lucky, I have walked both side of most lines.  I was raised religious, I am now agnostic.  I was raised in a rural setting, I now find peace in a city.  I was raised conservative, but now find that social equality and justice to be most important.  The lucky part for me is that I know why people believe either side of a debate.  I understand that rabid clinging to faith that is fraying.  I understand wanting a world that was like it was before “whatever perceived evil is targeted”.  I understand all of this.  I do not want to crush anyone’s faith, what I want is for someone to see what I see.  I want them to step outside themselves for a moment.  I want them to know that I am not making light or fun of their faith, just that I see the world differently.

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I know that I will never see things from a christian perspective, nor will I ever politically agree with a conservative.  I also know that neither side is wrong or right.  We are all humans and we are all basing our opinions and beliefs on those things that fit into our vision for the world, that makes us neither right or wrong.  If we could all step aside in our daily interactions to just see things beyond our initial judgements we might find some kind of balance.

Prejudice: My own demons


I have been asked numerous times what made me get my tattoos or piercings.  In truth it is a complicated answer.  Let me start with my fear of needles.  I am deathly afraid of needles.  I skipped out and lied about tetanus shots twice in my life.  I had to have gas before the Novocaine in the dentist office.  I have a true and legitimate fear of needles.  When I say this people look at me as though I have this huge banner above my head that says liar.

Truth is, I am afraid of needles.  For me tattoos and piercings are reminders of facing my fears.  I can look in the mirror or down my arms and legs and know that I am strong enough to withstand the minimal pain a shot will cause.  This is the primary reason for it.  There is a secondary reason as well.

I grew up very conservative and very religious.  I did not know anyone with tattoos and having your ears double pierced was a novelty. I remember having a superior attitude when my sister got her first tattoo.  The fact that it was Casper the Ghost did not help. (I hate that cartoon, but it was not for me I realize.)  My husband and his family made snide comments about tattoos and piercings and I went along with it.  I remember shortly after my husband left me, I started to entertain the idea of a tattoo.  One to remind me of the years of misery, I suppose.

partial sleeve

I got my first tattoo in 2001, I think.  I settled on a small seahorse on my left upper arm.  He is very colorful and I always tell people it is because the male of that species carries the young.  The truth is I have no idea, other than I love the sea and had not seen a seahorse tattoo before.  It also helped that a bartender mentioned a seahorse tattoo would be cool.  I remember walking into the tattoo shop and asking if they had ever done a seahorse.  He had one on file, but he had an appointment coming in soon. He asked me to come back.  I think the fact that I told him I have the money and the balls right now and I will likely never have both at the same time again.  I sat in the chair and remember him telling me the other seahorse he had done was in a bad location and did not look very good.  My location was a much better choice and he was much happier with the result.  My only regret was having him make it smaller.

sailfish

I got my second tattoo in 2005 while my partner at the time was in prison.  He had many tattoos and piercings.  I loved the look of his ink and piercings.  My second tattoo is an original designed for me.  It is  a huge sailfish on my left calf.  To this day I love looking at it.  In fact I shave almost daily because I want to show him off.  My third and fourth tattoos were by the same artist.  One is a cowfish he designed for me.  I need to find him soon to finish that one and the other one that were done at the same time.  The other one is a nautilus, which is placed on my left bicep and makes my arms look beastly.  When I lift weights my bicep looks way bigger due to the placement of that tattoo.

nautalis

cowfish

I got my first lip ring after my second tattoo.  My partner was still in prison, but I really loved the look of his lip ring.  I wanted one the moment I saw one.  I had 5 piercings up my ear way before any of my tattoos.  Unfortunately most of those have healed over.  I really want to get a big corkscrew piercing in both of my ears.  After we broke up, I decided I wanted another lip ring in the opposite corner, this is called snakebites, but I added another one on the left side just to be different.  I have three rings in my lower lip now, which I really do love.  I also pierced my nipples, but that is for a very personal reason.

lip rings

My fifth tattoo is the first non-sealife one.  It is  huge chestplate of a chainrail  with a chain around my neck.  It is my first bicycle tattoo.  I got it so that I can see everyday that I am lucky to be alive and to remember that life is a gift.  It really does change your perspective.  My most recent one is on my right forearm and is of the headbadge of the bicycle that I rode across the country.  Ultimately I want an octopus on my back with the arms wrapping around my thighs.  Tattoos and piercings are very personal and expensive.  For me they all mean something.

chest plate

neck piece

headbadge

I look back at where I came from and who I am now and I can see the transition.  Those struggles that everyone goes through in life help define us.  They help us figure out who we really are, if we take the time to understand the meaning and reactions.  I am most happy right now.  I may get strange looks and I may never get those high paying jobs, but I am happy with who I am.  When I go to sleep at night, it is with a clear conscience and knowing that I am who I was meant to be.  I will continue to mutilate my body as so many people view it, yet I will only see the beauty that I can release with each struggle and each time I face my fears.  I know I am a different person, now that I am the one that is under scrutiny all the time, I accept people at face value.  I do not judge nor do I have prejudices about anyone.  People are just people and it is not my place to put a value on them.

This came from a google search, not me nor my photo.
This came from a google search, not me nor my photo.

I know that my next piercing with be the corkscrews in my ears, the one after that will be a short corset on my neck.  I have accepted that many people will look at me with the same disdain I once had for people like me.  I know that I can be the change I want to see by accepting those that will judge me, and use my looks to open up dialogue for those that do not understand.  I have had many people talk to me about my chestplate, when they hear the story their attitudes often change.  What I want to talk about is not me, but that life is a gift.  I can actually see the light flicker in some as they understand it is not just about self-mutilation, but about a story.  I think that is the greatest strength of body art, the story.

This is not my photo.  From: chickensoupforthedorkysoul.blogspot.com from the blog:
This is not my photo. From: chickensoupforthedorkysoul.blogspot.com from the blog:

Higher Wages


Lately there has been many heated arguments on my FaceBook feed about the drive for higher minimum wage.  I hear both sides, I see both sides.  I am tired of both sides!  How about we look at the wage issue from a whole new perspective?  How about it no longer be about money and greed and about people and needs?

So here goes, first off I worked for the last 9 years at the same company.  Initially I was hired at $11 per hour.  There was a ton of overtime and I was living in an apartment I could barely afford.  I ditched my car because the bus was cheaper.  I became vegetarian because meat was expensive.  So at this wage I cut back to the point there was nothing left to cut back.  No cable TV, no car, never went out, I was barely making rent.  My apartment was a one bedroom ghetto-fabulous place.  I had myself, my boyfriend, who was not working most of the time, my two kids, my big dog, two cats and a rat in this apartment.  Ok so ditch the boyfriend and your cost of living goes down, which it did.  But I still have so many bodies in that apartment, I had to get rid of some pets.  Eventually I went after my ex-husband for child support, that is a whole other issue, and got into a 3 bedroom.  I lived there for years, but I got a strange bill from the IRS for $16000.  How am I supposed to pay that and still put food on the table?  There was no way out of it, seriously I looked into all kinds of tax shelters and tax advice, I was doomed to pay it.  So I did.  I also took on a second job for the next year or so.  I worked 7 days a week for nearly a year. My employer finally asked how much I needed to quit so I was less stressed out.

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I finally got a raise to $14.50 an hour.  Sweet living the life.  I managed to have money to do somethings outside of work and sleep and eat.  Life was getting better.  The problem is, this wage has been the same since 2007.  I went back to grad school and now my student loans are due.  My kids moved out the child support ended and I moved into a smaller place.  Now with loans due and rent I am barely able to save anything.  Add to this a pile of medical bills and a few months of not working, and you have the scariest moments in your life.

My wage was above minimum, but it was based on the minimum wage.  If I wanted to make more, I would have to pick up a second job.  People will tell you that you need to look for a better job, but the job market is tight, I struggle to get food service jobs.  I worked in food service for 5 years, had great skills and was efficient, but I cannot get my foot in the door because now that I have an education I am over qualified.  My education is not enough to warrant a career change and I have no experience in other fields.  You see the paradox?  Go to school to make more money, to pay for school and be stuck in the same financial troubles as before.  Yes this is totally working now isn’t it?

See for me it was never about the money, it was about making a difference.  Life decided to push me to my limits, and I am still trying to figure out how to survive in a capitalistic society that values things above people.  I cannot do it.  I would rather live in a commune sharing resources and work for a common goal, then to try to run the race that has been presented to me.

So those decries of unfair wages and living wages, they are not really about money, but about life.  Remember that.  It is not about wanting to drive the best car or have the newest styles, it is about putting food on the table, roof over my head and being able to afford to get myself to work.

It is about enjoying life, not being caught in a trap.  I gave up the American Dream many years ago, but I still hold high the value that life is what you make of it.  If you cannot find work that will support your basic needs you are not living life.

So many people are ranting about Welfare, yet they do not understand that pushing for living wages, or affordable housing can help cut the cycle of poverty.  If you make more on Welfare then at a minimum wage job, why would you go to work and add the cost of transportation and childcare to your already limited means?  Seriously I am happy for those that were never in these situations, but having a bit of empathy goes a long way.  I once was like that.  Very judgemental and looking down on people with food stamps at the grocery store. Then one day I was dealt a blow that forced me into that cycle of poverty.  Once there it was impossible to pull out of, and I have two degrees, so education is not always the answer.

Life is about empathy and compassion.  If you lack these qualities, I hope for your sake you never fall to the bottom of the barrel, because your lacking will haunt you 10 fold.  Never look at people with disdain, you have no idea how they got where they are.  Maybe they had the American Dream and it was ripped out from under them.  Starting over is never easy.

I am not promoting changing minimum wage, but rather looking at why it is necessary in the first place.  Why do we need the inflation and rising cost of living, if we can somehow stop those things or slow them down, maybe the minimum wage would be enough.  Also you have to remember that those that work those jobs are rarely ever given enough hours.  Employers cut their hours to avoid paying benefits.  It seems that the outrage is pushed upon the wrong group of people.  Maybe the outrage should be mirrored on ourselves, for building a society that is not working for all its members.  Maybe we should look at our values and our judgements.  Maybe we should consider for a moment that not everyone wants you to pay their way, but rather their employer pay their way.  Equal pay for equal work, that was the cry during the Women’s rights movement.  Maybe it is time for a worker’s rights movement.  I do not want things handed to me, but I do want to know that if I go to work I will be treated with dignity and respect and I will be paid enough to get by on. Is that really so much to ask?

How does one reconcile homosexuality with religious faith?


I just watched the most tear jerking movie ever.  It was about a gay suicide back in 1982.  This was before I even knew what homosexuality was.  Being raised pentecostal, I was raised with a fear of gay people.  They were going to recruit our children and corrupt our society.  They were a direct threat to the family and God hated them.

This movie portrays that belief very well.  A Prayer for Bobby is a true story, but moreover it is similar to my own personal journey.  Ok so the death of my child never happened, but the evolution of her faith is very similar to my experiences.

Perpetuating fear of gays is very easy, if you do not know anyone that is gay.  Passing judgement against faceless people is tragically second nature.  My real experience started with a female friend that used to tend bar for me.  We went out many times, always picking up men.  One night she asked me about kissing girls and having sex with women.  I told her I just wasn’t that interested.  She asked if I was even curious?  I wasn’t and that was the end of the conversation.  So recruiting is that basic?  Seriously I always imagined a fight for my life, similar to fighting off a rapist.

My second encounter with someone gay was a large African-American man named J.  I met him at a church I was going to.  When I first saw him with his beautiful 3 month old daughter, I was uncertain if it was a man or a woman holding that child.  I realized it was a very soft spoken man with a gorgeous Latina wife.  I became very good friends with J.  We spent many nights talking and sharing together.

J shared many aspects of his past with me.  He told me when he was 9 he was raped by an Uncle.  He also knew his whole life he was gay.  I suspect marriage of convenience.  I ofter wondered if his wife was a Lesbian.  He bared his soul one night after smoking pot.  I sat there in raft awe.  How could this person that had lived such pain still follow God?  He told me that he was raised very religious and strayed in his late teens and early 20’s.  He fell into homosexuality and lived in sin for several years.

Then one day “God” called him back.  He had been cured of his homosexuality, at least from the outside perspective.  He than shared something that has long since hit home with me.  He told me that every single day he has to fight his urges and demons.  Wait, What?  In my mind, being cured would revoke those urges.  Right?  Having faith that homosexuality is curable and a choice, shouldn’t those urges and desires die with your cure?  He never said it, but I suspect he feels ashamed and degraded.  I imagine that someone that fights their true nature, is very miserable inside.

Imagine how your self-worth is damaged knowing that you are wrong.  That you are damaged in some way, then imagine how ashamed you must feel.  Knowing J, has helped me evolve past my infallible faith, that homosexuality is a disease.  It made me realize that homosexuals are people, and that they need to be loved and feel some self-worth.  They are no different than me.  They love just like me.  They desire just like me.  They feel just like me.  Humanity is what binds us all together, so if I can resolve my faith to the acceptance, anyone can.  It takes knowing someone and putting a face on your fears.

I at this point of my life have discarded my faith.  I am not interested in God or his followers.  The only things I have ever heard in Church is about how God will smite me, and how I am a sinner and going to Hell.  Well if Heaven is full of people like that, Hell sounds pretty good to me.

My face is offensive: February 13, 2008


Saturday while working in Yuppieville (WorldWrapps in REI) a customer complained to the General Manager Cheryl.  Please note Cheryl has a nose ring tattoos and a huge gauge tongue ring.  He is the complaint as I recall it:

“Excuse me, I don’t normally complain, but I am offended by the girl who served me.  (The whole conversation was one-sided with Cheryl looking at the man as if he were a nut job.)  The lip rings look very trashy.  Her face is very offensive.  I work with developmentally disabled children, and her face offends me! (I guess maybe he thought I was developmentally disabled and someone held me down and pierced me?)  I am highly offended, the children I work with are developmentally disabled.  I work with disfigured children and she offended me, the kids I work with would die for a face like hers, and she goes and disfigures it purposefully.  Very offensive.  I do not know if you have a dress code, but I feel that is inappropriate.”
OK first off, who in the fucking hell says that someone’s face offends them?  That was more offensive than my damn piercings.  Secondly, it is my fucking face!  I told Cheryl if that ever happened again, just turn around and fire me on the spot.  I bet they never ever complain about someone’s looks again.  The funniest thing is that he didn’t seem to notice her clicking her tongue ring on her teeth the entire time he was yapping.   Fucking go back to the burbs where you belong redneck!