One of the great additions to my Peace Corps world in the last two months has been my work at a pre-school. I knew early on that I wanted to do some literacy/numeracy work for a secondary project and with the help of my supervisor we identified an Infant School (pre-school) in the area for me to target. After two months of back and forth contact, I was granted permission to work with students at the school. Six teachers identified students in their classes that needed extra help in the literacy/numeracy/fine motor skills arena. It has been such a new and fun challenge working at the school, students are age 4, 5, 6, and I get to play fun educational games and get lots of hugs. A lot of my Primary Project work revolves around conflict; mediation, suspended students and working with offenders for Restorative Justice, so working at the school once a week has been a welcomed change of pace. So needless to say, Thursdays have become my favorite day of the week and come away with a very full hug-tank.
I was invited to attend the school’s Field Day where they compete in several different races and the parents of the students attend to cheer them on. I also learned that when each of the students begins at the school, they are sorted into four different Houses (green, yellow, red, blue) and they continue in those Houses for the three years they are at the school. I am not sure how they sort the students but I imagine it is something like this:
So for the Field Day, most of the students were wearing their House colors and so were their parents. It was great to see all of the parents out and supporting their kids and their kid’s House.
It brought me back to when I used to ref U-6 YMCA girls basketball and we spent a lot of time emphasizing sportsmanship and fair play. From my experience at sporting events here in Jamaica, people get pretty dang into their supporting and for the first hour of the races, I kept thinking “man these kids are really responding to a the competitive atmosphere and maybe in the States we don’t give kids enough credit for being as resilient as they are.” THEN during the last event I saw parents in the crowd berate one of the little boys until he cried his way over the finish line. There must be a middle ground. Child development philosophy aside, it was a fun day and I was glad to be a part of it.
It is official, we are not the freshman class any longer!!!
Group 84 is arriving on island as I write this. As cliche as it sounds, I can’t believe it has been a year. Pre-Service Training in Atlanta seems like it was yesterday.
The first picture was from Atlanta that first day and the second is from a few days ago. The hair is longer and more purple and the accessories are larger but most of the significant changes aren’t really visible ones. I think maybe I’ll be able to sum up a more contemplative post at another time but for now here are just two points.
I realize that this leaves a lot out but I really wanted to do something with all the great random video clips I have.
I remember at that first day of Staging in Atlanta looking around at the 30 something other people in the room and wondering who would be the first person to leave. I don’t know if that was a strange manifestation of my competitive nature or if it was more my fear that it would be me. There are three ways people leave the Peace Corps, Early Termination (ET) which is a voluntary decision to leave, Administrative Separation (Admin Sep) which is a forced usually due to an serious infraction, and Medical Separation (Med Sep) which is when an illness or injury cannot be cured in 45 days. After spending 9 weeks becoming very attached to the 11 other members of my sector, we lost a member each month for 3 months after Swearing-In. It is not for me to share the details but it was a very jarring experience to leave my support system of Seattle, establish another one and then lose people again. The ease of technology means that I know each of the people that have left have found stability and happiness again and a couple who were Med Sep’ed were able to return again once they were healthy. As much as other PCVs can be valuable support once we are alone at site, this is in many ways a solitary path. No one two Peace Corps experiences are the same, even within the country and sector and some people’s journey does not last 27 months but that does’t make it any less valed or impactful.
So I want to dedicate this post to Kristen and Claire whose paths have taken them away from the island but I am so grateful that they crossed mine, even for a short while. I am so blessed that you both continue to be part of my world.
Jamaica is a beautiful place, it’s true. We are lucky as PCVs to get to explore all different corners of the island and I usually snap pictures every chance I get. This can lead to lead to some asking “Dang girl, what do you do all day, sit on the beach in that hammock and read?”
Ok so maybe that has happened. BUT there are far fewer opportunities to take pictures of work stuff, even though that is what takes up the majority of my time. Here is what my day usually looks like:
7:00 Alarm goes off
7:15 Alarm goes off again
7:30 Alarm goes off again again
7:45 Ughhh! Stupid Alarm. Wake up.
8:00 Eat breakfast, watch BBC World and get ready.
8:45 Walk to the road and wait for a taxi.
9:00 Get to the office. (I am in the minority of Volunteers who goes to an actual office, others go to community centers, schools, health centers or on the road to meet with farmers groups.) Catch up on email and work on one of the projects that the center has going
Lately that is:
- Restorative Justice Facilitator, throughout the fall of last year I completed a 72 hour training program which you can learn about Here and the Ministry of Justice is starting the program in high crime areas of the island, two of which are in May Pen. We will start seeing referral cases in April and for the last several months we have been doing sensitizations in the two ‘Hot Spot’ areas with community members where we talk about the RJ process and how it can work to resolve conflict in their community. The communities have a bad reputation but we go in teams and use what we call ‘gatekeepers’ who are from the community and spread the word before we get there and come with us to spread the word. I have found everyone very receptive and friendly.
- Clarendon Crime Prevention Committee which I have written about before Here and I am part of the planning committee working on this years Push-Cart Rally and Concert. It is shaping up to be quite an event this year. We also run a Parent-Student Homework Center at one of the local primary schools.
- School Suspension Program is lead by two really dynamic woman who are great. I help out when they need an extra hand and do a life skills (role models, goal setting, HIV education, behavior change) with the students. I recently completed a 40 hour Mediation Training so I will be able to assist in this capacity with the students in the future. We are also organizing the summer camp for this year and I am working to find some funding for it.
- Clarendon Parish AIDS Association, though the group is having some membership and leadership issues, I was able to organize an event for Safer Sex Week and recruited friend and fellow PCV Peter, who does HIV outreach for the one of the Parish Health Departments, to help with the HIV information table. We set up a table right on the main road of one of the smaller communities outside of May Pen and as curious people came forward we would ask if they would like condoms and if they said yes, we would tell them that they just needed to do a condom demonstration. Even if the person assured us of their proficiency like the famous “Pinch, Leave an Inch and Roll’ campaign, we told them it was the mandatory ‘price’ of the free condoms. After watching the participant’s skills, all of them missed one of the steps and Peter and I would use the opportunity to correct them by demonstrating and talking them through the correct technique. This type of event has no room for shyness and as the crowd around the table grew, we had our hands full just keeping up with all the people. Those who were did not feel comfortable (mostly young women who were shy or older men who did not want to touch the fallace), were offered some of the literature and asked to stay and watch. For the most part this was an extremely positive exercise, but there was one moment when an older man tried to shame a teenage girl by telling her it was not something nice girls learn and before I could say anything, she fired back that didn’t have to be having sex to learn how to do it safely, I was so proud. I was all, BOOM you go girl. All in all, we had around 50 people participate active, around 20-30 witnesses, handed out more than 450 condoms, 6 female condoms and had to stop after about 2.5 hours because we ran out of supplies. All in all it was a great success and Peter and I left pretty pumped.
12:00-1:00 Eat lunch, usually something packed because healthy and cheap options are hard to come by.
1:00 In the afternoon I almost always have a meeting from one of these organizations.
4:00-6:00ish Depending on the time of meeting, I get back home (lately, check for running water) start cooking dinner and if I’m feeling moto I’ll do Insanity/30 Day Shred/Gaiam Yoga. Dinner prep is usually a much more time consuming event than in the States because of the tiny kitchen and little to no counter space, means that I have to chop most of the vegetables in my bedroom.
8:00 Try to get caught up on my shows (Parks & Rec, Modern Family, Bones, Community, ect.) during which I do one of my craft projects like making cards well or sewing poorly.
9:00 Skype or telephone the boy, the besties and/or the fam.
10:00 Tear myself away from Buzzfeed and get ready for bed.
11:00 Read and hit the hay.
Rinse and repeat.
So that’s it, pretty exciting stuff and sometimes not so exciting (spreadsheets are snooze in every country). So yah, I enjoy the sunshine but I work too, promise.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”
- Helen Keller
I am not going to bull s* you, returning to Jamaica was tough, partly it was the separation from the people and places that I care so much for and partly it was timing right BEFORE the Christmas holiday. I did have some work related activities to be excited for, right after I returned. The Clarendon Crime Prevention Committee sponsors a Christmas Children’s Treat, where kids get to come for rides, food, music, games and presents. For many of the children present, it is the only gift they will get for Christmas. I enlisted some help from a few of PCV friends and the afternoon was a lot of fun.
After the treat was finished, I began to mope as Christmas loomed. Lucky there are some amazing PCVs on island who were in the same boat and we decided to make some lemonade out of our ex-pat Christmas. Several of the larger towns on the island have Grand Markets around Christmas, culminating on a big party on Christmas Eve. A few of us went to visit Brandi who lives close to Browns Town and after laughs and good food we headed out to the Grand Market for dancing and fun. I couldn’t help but get into the festive spirit, even doning a pair of light up Disney Princess ears (yes thats a thing) and even bargained hard for a stars and stripes shirt that I just couldn’t pass up (apparently American flags are hip these days). After the market I went back with my girl Claire to Ochi and we did fun stuff like go swimming at Blue Hole and dye out hair silly colors.
Not long after I returned from the Christmas break it was time to head back up to Mo-Bay to meet my sister and her new husband for their honeymoon/visit. I had so much fun showing around my fav spots and making sure to introduce them to everyone and anyone. My favroite part was a trip out to Pigeon Island, it is off of the South Coast and is the white sand and bright blue water of tourism ads. It is almost always empty and it’s beauty and solitude have made it one of my most cherished places on the island. Joe had a great time hunting for conch shells and even found a couple that still had the conch inside. Someone showed him how to get it out and the proceded to eat it like a big slimy, slug looking oyster. Ick.
3) Half Moon
After a great few days with my sis and bro-in-law, we headed up to Mo-Bay to the airport. On our way we picked up three of my friends who were going to live the posh life with me for the weekend. It it always good to see the two Claires, but it was Kris, my homegirl who had moved on from her life in JA and I haven’t seen in months. She is doing great and was able to treat the rest of us to an amazing couple of days at one of the nicest resorts in Jamaica. We ate like queens and I enjoyed every minute. It was the perfect end to my two months of travel and now it is time to get back to the grind. (Still miss you Kris).
I had to leave for the airport at 4:30am for my flight from Kingston to Las Vegas and I made it just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. My best friend Molly drove up from San Diego, my sister and her fiance drove up from Arizona and my parents and big brother drove down from Idaho. It was so amazing to get to spend time with all of them and my wider extended family over the weekend. The dinner was even more elaborate that I remembered, there were the traditional turkey, ham, stuffing and mashed potatoes but there was also fish and beef and shrimp and all sorts of magical things. I think we counted 7 main dishes total and that does not even touch on all the yummy side dishes.
I think my first moment of culture shock came at the grocery store, there were so many different types of humus and it just blew my mind, how do you ever choose? I am lucky if there is only one kind. Grocery store treats aside, the bachelorette party for Alexis was the next night and it involved some drinks and shopping and then some dancing. I wish there had been more time in Vegas for planning but we made do just fine. I always enjoy my time in Las Vegas.
The week before the wedding was spent running around town with my sister for hair and makeup trials, dress fittings, last min shopping, and any other prewedding errands. It was crazy but I absolutely loved spending time with my her fulfilling my Maid of Honor duties and it was so easy because my she was so easy going. The Bridal Shower was lovely, especially to have all of the important woman in her life to come together and celebrate. The rehearsal dinner went well too and we had a great dinner catered by our favorite family restaurant, which closed early just so they could be there. It was celebratory and fun all around. My bestie who Lex has adopted, Molly, was able to attend as well as my boyfriend Mark. It was a week of commemorating the couple and their commitment surrounded by all of the important people to our family. I honestly loved every second.
After the wedding I had just enough time to make a quick (4 days) trip to Seattle. My time in there was a blur of good food, great drinks and amazing friends. In many ways after almost 7 years, Seattle feels like my home and as tough as it is to be away from my parents, it is Seattle where I imagine moving back to after the Peace Corps. With the help of my good friends, I ate all the things I had been looking forward to, Honeyhole Sandwiches, UMI Sushi, Jak’s Steak, BOCA Burger and truffle fries and even a Nutella topped crumpet. I got to spend a lovely afternoon catching up with everyone at my old office and I am lucky to have co-workers that still care so much about me and what I am doing in Jamaica. I swear wasn’t lonely or hungary for a single second. My favorite was on Friday night when after some drinks with friends, Mark said that he wanted to take me for some a one-on-one date. So we headed out to our favorite spot B&O for delicious deserts. We had planned on eating back at the house and when I walked in, everything was dark and I noticed a keg in on the floor and before I could compute this oddity, *SURPRISE* the lights came on and there stood 30 of my most favoritest people. I had a heart attack the started to cry and hide behind Mark. It was a great night to have everyone I miss and care so much about in the same room. The next day was devoted to the catering for the ECS End of Season Party. Mark planned 6 delicious sandwiches and a group of us just assembly lined them out. The party was fantastic, music, fun and lots of dancing and even my brother made a cameo up from Portland.
Reentry to JA
I thought that leaving Seattle the second time around would be somehow easier than when I left 9 months before, but honestly it felt almost exactly the same. As heart breaking as it is to whenever I leave my parents, I have been doing it for almost 7 years now and while I enjoy Las Vegas and Boise, they aren’t the places that I was making a life for myself before I left for the Peace Corps. It is so difficult to return to a that place I love so much and is filled with so many people I adore. It has been week now since I have been back in May Pen and I am still working on pushing Seattle from my mind and being present in my life in Jamaica. I feel lucky to have found a place that is interesting and dynamic and has people who make me laugh, challenge me and love me for exactly who I am. It is hard to come from that environment and return to the isolation and mood swings that are inherent in Peace Corps life. But here I am, looking forward to Christmas with my friends and appreciating the love I feel from a distance.
I remember the first time that I saw a push-cart in Jamaica, I was walking through the large market in Kingston and my host mom had to pull me to the side of the already crowded pathway to avoid a push-cart barreling through, filled to the point of overflow with soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and any number of cleaning products. My first thought was, seriously?! This is a real thing? Not just a piece of bygone era that Disney dug up to add flavor to Cool Runnings. So obviously “Attend a Push-Cart Race” was one of the first additions to my Jamaica Bucket List.
One of my secondary projects is working with the Clarendon Crime Prevention Committee and we decided to throw a Push-Cart Rally.
The goals were:
1) To teach the push-cart drivers about the importance of road safety and especially when driving on the roadway with cars.
2) To improve police presence in the community in a positive manor.
3) To raise funds for the Clarendon Crime Prevention Committee and the Clarendon Peace and Justice Center.
Some of my friends came over from their parishes for the event. Here are some pics.
Here are Chantal and Claire waiting for the races to start.
Here we are on one of the winning push-carts.
Here we are with all of the drivers.
Here is a video of one of the four races. Please notice how impossible it was to keep the spectators out of the street and the last place driver who ran out of gas on the straight away and sat on the sidewalk rather than finish, it was hilarious. Pardon the subpar camera work.
All in all it was a very festive event, there were some issues with the timing and it could have run a lot smother but it ran and people had a great time. There were about 20 drivers that participated and about 200 people who came to the concert that evening.
Dear Ms. Ardnt’s Third Grade Class,
My name is Marie and I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. The Peace Corps was established 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Today there are over 8,000 volunteers serving in 76 countries around the world. I live in Jamaica with 58 other volunteers. Jamaica is a beautiful island with rolling green mountains and endless blue seas. I work with young Jamaicans and they are a lot like you. They like to dance, to sing and to have fun. What do you enjoy doing in your free time? I am cannot wait to hear from all of you.
***The World Wise Schools Program matches an existing PCV with a teacher and a class in the Untied States to share information about their country of service and the life as a volunteer.
For more information on the World Wise Schools Program, click here.
For the full video of President Kennedy, click here.
SIGHTED: Two Blond Giants Lost on Return from Trinidad
I know what you are thinking, they look seriously suspicious. Well, against my better judgement, I took them in, offering them food, shelter and Red Stripe. But seriously, my boyfriend Mark and one of my best friends Chris came to visit me last month and it was a week full of fabulousness. We did some touristy things like the Appleton Rum Tour, Devon House, and staying in Negril. The resort was a decadent and glutinous experience, I actually ordered a (several) Banana Colada with a straight face… and enjoyed the heck out of it (them).
The days at the resort were great, relaxing in a way that only beach, sun, and good friends can be. Plus the sunsets in Negril are absolutely amazing. See below:
After Negril we got to spend a few days in May Pen because I had to work a bit but it was great to share my world in Jamaica with them. They got to meet my adopted family and coworkers and I know it was great for both sides to put faces to names.
Example: A few weeks after they left, I was trying to figure out a ride home from a work function and when I suggested riding with someone who lived in my direction, my coworker said “No, I am responsible for you. I told Mark that I would keep you safe. I will take you home.” Awwww. I have good peoples.
In May Pen, Mark and Chris picked me up from my Restorative Justice Training Class and the whole day people were teasing be about how I was glowing. Jamaicans just love to comment on perceived or lack there of ‘extra curricular activities.’ I am not used to that being a acceptable topic for work and they had me feeling very bashful, which is no easy task. After introductions were made, we headed out onto the road and I took them to my fav Jerk Stand, lunch place and corner bar. Needless to say, they were were beyond stuffed and enjoying the less fun effects of the Jamaican heat. The walk also produced my new favorite picture, the beautiful sunsets are great but this just feels more like my Jamaica.
The last night at site, Mark cooked dinner for my adopted family and a few of their friends, around 18 in total. I don’t remember the menu exactly but it involved pasta with callaloo, steak and a Johnny Walker whiskey reduction and it was A-MAZING. The Jamaicans in general, are not known for being the most adventurous when it comes to food but plates were cleared and people were very complementary.
The next day we headed into Kingston to meet up with a group of PCVs and to attend the Jamaica vs USA World Cup Qualifier soccer match. It was epic, please refer to Exhibit A and if you aren’t convinced, Exhibit B.
Sadly the fun did not spread to the performance of the Nats on the field and we lost 1-2. The Jamaicans were not quiet or modest victors but neither would we have been, so we understood their excitement on such a big win. After the game, we went to a bar to hang out with the American Outlaws, the Nats supporters group which included a friend (Hi Amy!). They had to leave to get back to Mo Bay but we partied on in true PCV style we danced our faces off and had a great time. It is not often we get to be obnoxiously patriotic and we embraced it with the vigor of true expats.
Mark and Chris left the next day. Sad panda. It was so great to have them here to experience my world. Jamaica is a difficult place to describe and every time I think I am getting a handle on it, I am thrown a curve ball and I’m fairly sure that will continue throughout my service. When navigating the madrid of complications that are involved in a long distance relationship during service, having points of reference can really help to get you on the same page. Having him here helped remind us that we are still Mark and Marie and it meant so much to me that understanding my new context was important to him.
Having visitors is the best, especially like Chris and Mark, who are willing to be flexible and choose to enjoy every situation to its fullest. Thank you for visiting and bringing me comforts of home, both material and emotional. Love you guys.
Dirty Pelicans (OP Rum and Pespi) for all!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JAMAICA! You are looking great for 50 years young. Things haven’t exactly gone perfectly at all times but you have kept your chin up and this weekend there were plenty of things to celebrate. A friend gave me these silly glasses and I don’t think they really expected me to wear them, man were they wrong. I love a fancy dress party and was all too happy to get decked out.
So the Jamaica 50 Celebrations have been going on all year but the official day is August 6 and the weekend coincided with the Denby Show in May Pen. The Denby Show is a agricultural show where each of Parishes across Jamaica highlight their produce and consumer goods. Each parish works on their pavilion for months before the show and it is pretty competitive to see who is crowned the winner. My parish, Clarendon, has not done too well historically and this year they pulled out all the stops to put together a fun, educational and really well done pavilion. Naturally, agricultural Volunteers from across the country were planning to come to the show with their organizations. The Peace Corps Office asked if I would be able to help at their booth and help find lodging for the 10 volunteers that were coming for the weekend. On Friday as I got ready to meet the first people who were arriving and then we got a bit of bad news. Tropical storm Ernesto was growing and the Front Office made the decision to restrict our movements to within each of our sites. Travel across Jamaica can be inconsistent on the best of days and when there is a natural disaster it can be impossible. I understand that safety come first but it was such a bummer that people would not be able to take part in the projects that they had been working hard for. Luckily the two Volunteers that were already at the show, were able to visit for a few hours before they headed home.
Luckily we met up with a few Penn State students who were on a study abroad and they were able to add some man power to the booth. We had some face painting.
We did a project using recycled plastic bottles and yarn to make some bomb.com bracelets. Things got a little snazzy when we added some recycled beads.
All in all, I had a great weekend and it was especially nice to get to see friends from the community in one place. Plus, I got to nyam on coffee and amazing jerk pork. Here is a quick video of the weekend which includes the celebration at Denby when Bolt won the 100m Gold Medal. It makes me very excited for next year, same good times, sans tropical storm.
More soon. Love M