So here I am still struggling. I take not being able to get hired very personally. I guess the fact that I am middle-aged and have no current job speaks volumes to employers. I just wish I did not have to stress on this. I want to work, I want to have an income, but more importantly I want a sense of purpose. If I had confidence in myself and my ability to build up my own business I would likely take that route, but I fear failure more than stagnation. This is starting to take its toll on my health and mental health. I fear soon it will start to wreak havoc on my relationship.
Well I finally took the steps needed to secure a counselor. I have 3 free sessions, so I hope that is enough. The counselor I will be seeing sent me a slew of registering paperwork. One was this huge questionnaire. As I sat down to fill it out, I started out being pretty general. As it got more in-depth I realized that I need to be honest if I wanted help. I had to be honest with myself and with the counselor, even with Richard. I put honesty above all else, except when I am dealing with myself. I have been down this road of unemployment before. It is a struggle, it is stressful and it makes me crazy.
As I filled out that questionnaire I found myself looking at my behavior in the past month and I noticed something familiar. When I lost my job after my divorce and faced losing my home I began to drink often, and to excess. It helped numb my feelings. It helped avoid dealing with reality. It helped me pretend life was happy and I was ok. This was all a lie. I am seeing this behavior again. The difference this time is that I have someone stable to support me through it and I am not responsible for two children. I examined myself and found that I was not coping but covering up. I know that this is not helpful and eventually you end up having to face the issue and then it is often so big it becomes insurmountable.
In my packet I was honest about this. I admit that I use food and/or alcohol as a way to hide from my pain. I also admitted that I am still hurt by my lack of friendships in the area. In the end I have taken the first step in getting help, I reached up and asked for it.
For the next few months I am trying to cut back my alcohol intake and focus on better coping mechanism. Hopefully this counselor can help me navigate all the pent-up emotions I have been burying.
I had always thought of myself as a conflict avoider. I avoid conflict as much as possible, but sometimes this ends poorly. By avoiding conflict constantly, I tend to internalize the struggles and then those struggles come out inappropriately and at the wrong time to the wrong people. In my home culture this means I have an angry explosion and loudly state my complaints with not very nice words. Here, however there is a cultural aspect that I struggle with. I cannot respond the same inappropriate ways that I might back home, now I have to focus and calculate my words and actions.
Being an unofficial ambassador for the United States and our culture is exhausting, I will not lie. I have had several minor struggles in my site, at least I viewed them as minor. However, PC staff brought me into Kingston when the last struggle happened and I said I needed to find a place to feel safe/normal again. I originally had come in to ask to be reassigned to the school and even got approval from the principal to say she was willing to step in as my supervisor. After speaking with staff and really thinking it through we decided that enough “minor” challenges have happened that my mental health and ability to remain calm have been pushed to the last stretch. In a decision that I am saddened by, we have decided to move me to a new site.
So for the past two weeks I have been in Kingston in a hotel. I am literally bored out of my mind. I do not know how it is in other posts, but there are massive rules on safety here. I am not allowed to walk far, I am to use a charter taxi (read more expensive) and I am limited to the areas I can go to. At night I am under even more restrictions, which has made me pretty much a couch potato the last two weeks.
On top of these struggles, I have had to process my removal from site. I loved my site, I had many successful projects/programs going on. A site change is typically devastating but with only 8 months left it is even more of a struggle. The only silver lining is that my new site/project partner are with a job that is my dream job. More about this soon. Also, I have had time to process what has happened at my original site and I have concluded that the struggles were much more than I recognized. I struggled emotionally and mentally with the things that happened. The struggles, also were the same basic struggles and it was not going to suddenly, magically just work.
So what happened? Many things happened, but mostly I moved ahead with projects that I thought the community wanted. I had the support of a few people, but in the end there was just not enough support. Maybe they did not understand the project, maybe I miscommunicated? Maybe somewhere deep down it was MY project and not the community’s. Maybe nothing really happened except my personality was just not a good fit, or my ideas or my skill set.
Image courtesy of Kenrick Johnson
Image courtesy of Kenrick Johnson
The continual struggles were not going to end. Even if I moved down a community my reputation and perspective was tarnished. Like the idea of finding happiness in a new relationship, only to simply end up with the same issues. You must look at the constant in your life, yourself. Once you lose trust, it is impossible to work and move anything forward. This is what appears to have happened to me. I am devastated to leave the school farm, but I have seen posts that my supervisor and the new JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency) volunteer will try to ensure it continues on.
In Liberia I knew the infrastructure was damaged during the war and had not been rebuilt. I knew that I would have to carry my water and hand-wash all my things. I also knew I would be setting up to wash dishes outside and boiling water was a must. In Jamaica I have running water, a water heater and a washing machine. All but the running water were unexpected perks. The last 3 weeks we have had a water shortage. Throughout my service I have had limited water in 3 occasions. In each case I had to wait no more than 3-4 days for the water to return to the pipe.
Where I live the water system was not built for such large homes or so many homes in the area. To help with this issues the water is regulated by the government and sections are allowed water access for 24-48 hours at a time. Most homes have large rhino tanks that are filled on the days the water is in the pipe. The home I live in has 9 families or single persons living in it. This means we use a ton of water so a week of no water can really make us struggle. The thing here is that when the water runs out of specific tanks the pump is turned off to prevent it from burning out. The pump is what puts the water into our faucets and toilets. This means that for the last three weeks I have not been able to do laundry, wash my dishes appropriately, take an actual shower or flush my toilet and wash my hands normally. I am quite over this problem!
This last week I woke up with a mild case of diarrhea. I also woke up with a very sore throat. I began treating both with hot tea, lemon and honey along with mild foods to help calm my bowels down. My diarrhea got a little better the same day but my throat got progressively worse. After 2 days of this I began to wonder if the bucket water might need more than a water filter and I broke out my steri-pen (a UV water pen that I bought for Liberia). I finally called the doctor and my diarrhea came back. The result is antibiotics and antihistamine along with ibuprofen. I must pause here to address my doctor aversion. I was raised not going to the dentist or the doctor. Several times in my life I needed to go to the doctor and my parents did not go. When I was 6 I split my forehead open on the fireplace. I now have a “Harry Potter” scar as one of my co-workers once called it. When I was 11 I got a pony that dropped onto my arm when we slipped and my arm was sprained badly. That one we did go fairly early for. When I was 10 I got a bad ear infection and my mother did not take me or even look at it until I was in tears from pain and my grandmother insisted I go. I cannot actually remember a doctor visit on that case but I was in so much pain I could have blocked it out. I have permanent problems with swimmer’s ear and I suspect that day something was seriously damaged in my ear, I also cannot produce ear wax like normal people. My ears are always dry and itchy. When I was 16 I was running from my cousins in the garden as they were throwing apples at me and I stepped in a hole which forced my chin onto my toes from my momentum. I was sent to school the next day on crutches that were too small. The other students mocked me and knocked me off the crutches several times that day. By the time my parents finally took me in my ankle was so swollen they could not x-ray it. PHysical therapy was my only option and it was too painful to do on my own. I never quite healed right.
I still fail to go to the doctor immediately. I typically wait a day or two, part of my history, I cannot really change it. Even when my kids were hurt, I hesitated for a small while before going in. So even now I hesitate, especially if the symptoms are familiar. The sore throat was the only reason I even called in. About 15 years ago I got a sore throat that I just treated at home. It got so bad that my throat closed up. My mouth was so dry that I could literally scrape a plastic like material off my tongue and inside my mouth. No amount of water helped. I finally went to the ER. They prescribed some huge anti-biotic that I had no way to swallow. My roommate was pissed. She crushed up some ibuprofen into some water put them into a syringe and shot it down my throat. Within hours my throat was better. Because of that one time I do not wait more than 3 days with a sore throat. I live alone, if my throat closes who would be there for me? So I called the medical officer and got an over the phone prescription. Now I am just tired, a side effect from the antihistamines I am sure. I hope to be feeling better in the morning, my throat is still tender but no longer so scratchy and apparently I look like I feel better.
All of this because I have no pipe water? Maybe, maybe not. It could be stress and it could be a virus. Whatever it is, the fact that I have a water shortage is still an issue. What is magical about this shortage is that it only affects about 5 homes. So no matter what they have done the water is not getting to us. Either there is a broken pipe that cuts off where we are, a valve is turned off, or there is not enough pressure to get it up to our homes, we are the end of the specific line. The pressure is the one that keeps me focused. The pressure is so high that the pipes are breaking almost every time the water is turned on in each section. I wonder why this is happening? I wonder if the water department is wondering the same thing? I wonder if they are investigating this or just trying to band-aid it up and we will suffer all summer from lack of water? I hope not and I hope that they figure it out before Wednesday when we are supposed to be getting water in the pipe next.
As a parent I know how it feels when you look back and realize you did not screw your kids up and they turned out pretty good. This is an even bigger accomplishment if you do it as a single parent without much support from the father. I know firsthand how difficult single parenthood is like. I do not however know what it is like when there are not any real support systems in place.
This is the story of Ann Henry. She is a single mom of two daughters who are all grown now. If you met these girls you would know they were brought up right. They are modest women who have met life’s challenges with grace and dignity. One of the biggest challenges as a parent is having children learn to appreciate what they have and not focus on what they do not have. (I am a failure in this with my son, until recently he resented me and my life philosophy. Now that he has to support himself he understands a little better.) In Ann’s case, she did everything she could to support her children through school. Here in Jamaica school fees, bus fare, lunch money, school uniforms and school books can add up quickly, we Americans should take note of the blessing it is that these things are mostly covered by taxpayer money for our children.
To support her daughters Ann would sell oranges to send them to school. This was outside of her regular work at the plumbing supply store. She also raised and sold pigs for support. Education was very important to Ann for her daughters, she did not get much opportunity for education growing up and knew it was important. During her children’s school years she was the caretaker of her auntie’s home. Her auntie live abroad and she kept it occupied, cleaned and maintained in exchange for room and board. She always had a garden of some sort for sustenance farming and she would sell off the excess or give it to neighbors in need. No matter what her situation she always found a way to support her daughters, cleaning up along the roadside, selling produce, selling cooking gas, anything to help the family survive.
Her daughters learned to be hard workers from their mother’s example. They had different fathers, one helped purchase books but the other one did not have the ability to help support the older child. She feels that today’s youth are much too idle, there is always work to be found if you are willing to work hard and go out to find it. She is a very enterprising and hard working woman. Both her daughters went onto college, one is a Nurse’s Aid the other became a Receptionist. She supported them right through their schooling.
Growing up the girls were not much of a discipline issue and they helped out whenever it was needed. They even got jobs during breaks to help support the household. They would cook and clean and even help each other out with homework as needed. While much of the media focuses on the causes of violence and discipline on single mothers this woman graciously raised two beautiful women who gave no issues and learned how to support each other and work hard. Part of this is because to Ann raising her children always came first. She went without so they could go to school. Often she would walk to Ochi and save the taxi fare for lunch money or school fees. Her selflessness shows in her daughters. They help take care of their dads and one now has a family of her own and is a stay at home mom to raise her children, and heavily involved in the kids’ school.
The oldest daughter was shopping for groceries by the time she was 16. As they got older the oldest learned to cook and prepare for their mother’s return. Laughing, singing and dancing to pass the time and help make the house/yard work go by faster as they helped out. Ann definitely is very proud of her girls and you can see it when she talks about them.
In today’s world it is not easy to find mothers who focus on their children before themselves. Ann’s philosophy on childrearing is this: “It is our responsibility, we carry them into this world, we need to take care of them.” She believes that laziness affects childrearing. The sacrifices are real and the challenges are great and the rewards are great but often few. Finding people who are grateful for what they have is also extremely hard to find these days. (I was told I was selfish for not buying my son the newest whatever it was that week. In the end he now understands why I did the things I did and appreciates it, he even told me so recently.) Knowing that your children are not going to be fussy about what they do not have is one of the greatest accomplishments a parent can achieve.
One daughter tells her mom that the reason she is so good at saving money is her mom would give her money for weekly lunches and it had to last through the week. Knowing filling your belly each day is important she made certain her money last. Some weeks there was no money for lunch but the girls never complained. During the times of little their mom would feed them a good breakfast and then have food ready for them when they returned home from school. The girls spent most of their free time around the home. Laughing, singing, and playing games were things done to enjoy their time together.
Ann says that she never said anything bad about the girls father, but instead encouraged them to take care of them and build relationships with them. She believe that she had to put herself last and never quarrel with the fathers. Keeping peace and just focus on the outcome appears to be the best route in raising kids.
Every month there is what we call the Empress phone call. It is a group call that is an opportunity for the female volunteers to discuss those issues in their lives that are dragging them down, or even up. It is for women only. Female volunteers have a greater struggle than the male volunteers do, I think this is true for almost every post. Americans were raised to respect women as equals and that is not the case in much of the world. Not that women are not respected but they are not viewed as equals. It is an underlying piece of the culture that, even here in a more modern site, still exists. I do not typically participate in these calls, mainly because I thought I had to call in and dial a number to get into the group text, I still cannot switch my call waiting over. To say the least I am phone technology challenged.
This week I went to see Whitney in James Hill, Clarendon to show a group of adults how to grow potatoes in a bag. It really was about showing mothers who have no space or time how to grow some vegetables of their own to feed their children. The Empress call happened the first night I was at Whitney’s and we participated, and now I know that all I have to do is answer the phone. The theme this month is the holiday blues. It seems that most volunteers are on the struggle bus, as Whitney likes to call it. I do not feel that I am struggling, per se. I feel overwhelmed with success, and I suppose that in itself is a struggle. The weird thing for me is the holiday blues. This is because I have completely detached myself from family and holidays in general. I am not saying I do not miss my children and my friends, but the idea of becoming depressed seems so foreign to me. Maybe this is part of what my friend Peter used to call my cancer protective shell. (I am a late June birthday.) Maybe it is many years of crying over failure to fit into family as I believed it should be? Or maybe it is my aged cynicism! Whatever the reason, spending holidays on the beach alone is not that unattractive to me!
This year I plan on working on Thanksgiving. I plan on going to the schools and giving a short presentation on what it is and what it means to most Americans. Hell I can fake it ’til I make it! I do hope to do a Facetime call with Richard and with my friends that all gather together that day. (My small contribution to the world, brining orphans together for the holidays!) That Saturday I will travel to Melissa’s to have what we are calling Friendsgiving! About 8 PCV and 6-8 Jamaicans in a potluck style feast. I have decided to bring a kale and tahini salad with me. It seemed the easiest and the freshest thing to create.
As I listened to others and their struggle with depression, frustration and homesickness, I sympathized. Yet I am not having those feelings. My struggles are just too many projects. Projects that are taking off and moving into the next level. Projects that are starting to become self-sustaining. I am struggling with activities daily and not getting time off. I am struggling with having morning and evenings booked up. Yeah, I am struggling with too much success. I hope this bus does not crash and burn. Whitney said I was crazy for signing two schools up for the REAP program. I see a great opportunity for this program to change the course of education in the rural schools.
I had a small number of men show up to help me build raised beds for the school gardens at one of my schools. We got two beds completed and ran out of bamboo, so we wait until we can harvest again soon. The thing here is that I was told the farmers would not break the ground due to the grass on it. They would insist on spraying, and to me spraying around areas that children will be in is just a crime. So as I struggled with this, it occurred to me that I have a Masters’ with a focus on urban/small space farming. At that moment not only did a light go off the idiot bell dinged. I decided at that moment that raised beds was the most logical course of action. I wanted farmers to help with this project because I was going to make them Hugelkultur beds. Sadly the farmers have lost faith in my ideas, mainly due to them not truly embracing anything outside of using chemicals to farm with. It is hard to convince them to try other options. They would rather just use chemicals and burn. I have also become frustrated. This is my struggle bus. Trying to find a way to change behavior when the people do not want to change. So I focus on other options. To me the fact that three men showed up and participated is a great thing. One guy just wants to learn more about farming. The other guy wants to build a food forest and use permaculture principles. This to me was a great collaboration. The other guy, yeah that was my supervisor! He is almost always helping me out. I do appreciate his willingness to embrace new ideas.
I intend to move the potato box up to the farm and restart that again. The income generating plot was planted, but I am under the impression it is not getting watered enough. And here I have a great many pumpkin and melon starts ready to transplant. Good grief, no wonder the farmers group is often in chaos. The inability to embrace change and new ideas keeps you exactly where you are, never moving forward. I am not saying my ideas are fantastic and sometimes they do not translate to large-scale farming. But to get frustrated over two projects seems sad to me. Maybe I need to reevaluate how I present them.
In my mind failure is a learning tool and never to be underestimated! Every single one of us as at moments are struggling. This is the natural course of things, these are our learning moments and we need to embrace the struggles or we can never enjoy the successes.