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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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:

Marriage Equality: Part III: Love Wins.


 

 

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Love wins, yes indeed.  I am so proud to live in a state and in a time when love is love.  Marriage equality is so important to me.  It is just as important as women’s rights and civil rights.  As a society to cut off certain constitutional rights to groups of people is a violation of said constitution.  Many will claim that Marriage Equality destroys traditional marriage.  The reality is that heterosexuals have destroyed traditional marriage.  Marriage equality has no effect on traditional marriage.  That is like saying your third cousin’s divorce and remarriage to a black woman in a completely different state,  affects your marriage stability.  This is by far the silliest reason to deny the right  to the “Pursuit of Happiness” that has ever been uttered.

 

 

 

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On December 6, 2012, Washington State allowed the first legal applications for all marriages.  It was historic, and inspiring.  On December 9, those couples were allowed to legalize their union.  I stood on the steps of City Hall in Seattle and watched many happy couples walk out legally married by the State.  It was incredible to be part of something so huge.  For me the legalization of Marriage Equality went beyond the idea that my friends had a legitimate right to get married.  It was about equality and about suppression and prejudices being set aside.

Imagine living in a committed loving relationship with you soul mate.  Now imagine that your love is somehow not legitimate.  It is less than your neighbors.  You love is not real, it is somehow tainted.  Imagine feeling that your love is not worthy of being legal.  Legalizing love is something should have never been in question.  You cannot dictate who you love, your heart has its own desires.

 

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I felt the power of love the morning of Dec 9.  was so immense.  Not only was there love of the new wedded couples, but from the crowd gathered to congratulate them.  I was among those there to witness and congratulate.  I felt so honored.  It was so epic.

 

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Sorry it took so long, indeed.  In the time it took me to get to this point, am I sorry for anyone who I have openly passed judgement on. I am sorry that religious leaders spew such hatred towards those who are different.  I imagine that during the 60’s they preached against those who had non-white skin.  I imagine that the hate-speak never actually changes, just the groups it is directed towards.  I am sorry that my parents are still not accepting.  I am sorry that small-minded bigots still exist.  I am sorry for those young people have taken their own lives due to being bullied, and not one person stood up in their defense.  I am sorry that people are phobic against things they do not understand.  This I do understand, only now, Love is love, you cannot put love in a box with a bow, it is what it is, and every single person deserves to feel love in their lives.

 

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Marriage Equality: Part 1: How I got to where I am.


Let me start by setting up my past.  It is always easiest to go forward from the past then it is to go backwards from the future.  I was raised in a small town.  I was raised Pentecostal.  I grew up fearing the Rapture and would I be ready.  Most importantly, it was instilled in me that homosexuality was a sin.  One of the worst out there.  Homosexuality was not something people are born with, it is a choice one makes to dishonor God.

Seems quite judgemental, right?  Well it is.  It is an ugly head of most Christianity.  This blog is not a hatred towards religious people. It is a focus on one of the ugly elements of Church Doctrine that no one seems comfortable to address.   I am comfortable addressing it.  Judge not, lest ye be judged.  That is right there in the Bible, New Testament, Matthew 7:v 1.  It seems that the Church Doctrine was written ignoring this particular verse of the Bible.  These are Words from Jesus.  He said them according to your Bible, yet you are too focused on creating inequality to really understand or enforce a true doctrine of God.

Sadly, when you are in a religion, such as Pentecostal, you are never to question doctrine.  This is rebellion.  My biggest sin, has always been rebellion.  I rebelled against everything, all my life.  It was part of the reason my marriage ended.  I rebelled against the husband being in total control.  My husband in total control was a joke.  He, in my view, was not in control of anything, but tried desperately to control me.

I kept with the premise that homosexuality was not only a choice, but a abhorence to God, even while I was divorcing my husband.  So I suffered from having judgement.  The thought of homosexuality made my skin crawl.  The idea was disturbing and it disgusted me.  Let me pause here, to say that, it is easy to demonize some nameless faceless entity.  I did not know anyone that was gay.  Therefore passing judgement on strangers was simple.

In the years that followed my divorce, well separation, we were fighting for custody, I made friends at a local bar.  I should again stop and take pause to mention, drinking is a sin, apparently my grandfather is in hell, he was drunk when he died.  I did not care about sin or God or religion anymore.  My whole life was a mess.  I just wanted to go out have some fun and live a bit.  Again my rebellious side is my strongest side.  I met some great people.  I partied with strangers and I made friends with all of the bartenders.  They loved me, I had a spirit that always made the night fun, that was what they all told me.

I made friends with Felicia.  We would go out to other bars on her nights off.  We would often come home with guys.  On occasion we would just come home alone.  On several occasions some of my co-workers would hint at the fact that Felicia was Bisexual.  This particular orientation made no sense to me at all.  They insinuated that I was having sex with her.  It bothered me and angered me.  Not only were they passing judgement on me, but on her as well.  They obviously didn’t know her like I did.

One night she asked me about having sex with her.  I was shocked and uncomfortable.  I answered that I thought she was cute, but the idea of having sex with a girl was not my idea of fun.  She asked if I had ever even thought about it.  I told her that due to my religious upbringing, there were some lines I could not cross.  She shrugged her shoulders and said well, ok then.  She went to her room and I stayed in the guest room.  The next morning it was not talked about, and she never mentioned it again.

rainbow

I was prepared for a stalker type situation, but it never happened.  I always thought, that somehow, a homosexual is so driven by sex that they just will not take no for an answer.  I was so very wrong.  I continued to hang out with Felicia.  We had great fun together.  We never talked about that night.  Life just continued on as though that brief moment never actually happened.  I began to wonder why I feared homosexuality so much.  It really did not affect me in the slightest.

Later I went back to church and met a beautiful man named Jerome.  He was this beautiful black man married to this beautiful hispanic woman. They had this beautiful child together.   I loved them all.  They were the perfect couple.  I got to know them quite well.  I should stop here to note that the first time I saw Jerome he was holding his daughter and praising God, signing.  I thought at first he was a woman with a child.  Like I stated, he was beautiful.  I learned that Jerome had been raped by an uncle as a child.  He was also very gay.  In fact he chose to get married and live as non-gay, but he fought his homosexual tendencies every hour of every day.   I originally thought he was gay because he was raped by a man as a child.  You know, that, that will make a man gay?  I was taught that as a child.

As I got to know Jerome, my heart broke for him.  He hated himself at times.  He hated the fact that he was gay.  He never wanted to disappoint God or his family.  It was then that I realized, being a gay is not a choice.  Jerome knew he was gay before he was raped.  Jerome had fought it from the time he was told it was wrong and a sin, at the age of 5.  How can people who proclaim to love God, be so cruel as to demand that a beautiful soul like Jerome’s be tormented into hating himself?  Coming from a situation where I was forced to live as someone else, I understood.  Being taught that you are inherently evil is  cruel and unjust thing to do or say to anyone.

chick-fil-a

 

This began my transition.  I could no longer view homosexuals from a lens of judgement.  I could no longer think that they were evil people, I now had a face and a soul to put behind my views.  I could no longer be a Christian.  I needed to be free from beliefs and judgements that were not my own.  I needed to live my life free from all prejudices.  I walked away, never to go back.  I also have found some of my best friends in the world are gay.  Strange how your views can change in an instant.  I have always fought the systems for equality.  I always will.  It takes walking outside of what you know, hearing someone’s stories to realize that you were carrying on a prejudice that was not yours at all, but one instilled into you by a system that is truly not about equality but more about suppression.