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Jamaica 2012, Travel

Pre-Trip Reflections

I can’t sleep from the excitement. 

This is ridiculous. Little old miss Moosette herself is actually going to do something crazy and completely new on her own and will have to depend on strangers to get her through it. Crazy.  I guess I’ll have to stop hiding behind all those kind souls that reached out to me when I was terrified and have since become life long friends.  This one’s all on me.  I have to say that my number one fear for this trip is that I’ll completely miss out on an incredible experience because of my paralyzing shyness and fear of seeming, well, the opposite of intelligent.  I’m hoping I can leave all these things in the US and have them lose their way so that I can be free of them when I get back.

Needless to say, my family is sad that I’ll be leaving and they won’t be able to communicate with me.  To be frank, I welcome this opportunity to get away from the constant connection to everyone and everything provided by my internet connection and cell phone.  I know that sounds rather hypocritical or ironic coming from me, the person who didn’t know how she would get through a few days without her Blackberry (affectionately referred to as the crackberry by many) a year or so ago.  But this is why my first trip is to impoverished Jamaica rather than Tanzania or Ghana. 😛

Well, if nothing else goes smoothly, I’ve been packed for weeks now, so that’s a success.  I have thought of every detail, thanks to a check list Amizade sent me in my travel packet.  My mother tried to stump me several times to no avail.  I’m even bringing pre-addressed postcards. Several of you should expect them in the mail, and I’m willing to take requests as well. 🙂

Besides the travel packet, Amizade also gave me a journal and free t-shirt.  The first 70 pages of the journal have various essays, articles, and speeches related to travel and volunteerism.  I’d like to discuss several quotes with you here.

  • “Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is …seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle” -Pico Iyer

It’s like the author has a window into my mind! I was so excited when I read this.  It’s not so simple to view familiar concepts from another’s “crooked angle.”  One has to completely drop their assumptions (or at least acknowledge them) and have no expectations.  One must be willing to be completely open.  All of this sounds terribly exciting to me!!!

Anyone who’s known me since I was a small child knows that I enjoy observing, and part of this comes from a desire to understand how others think– how they interpret and react to their surroundings.  And now that will be my main occupation for six weeks. Like I was telling my uncle today at lunch, I expect nothing so that I might receive everything.  He likened it to the movies, and he might have a point.  You go to a movie expecting something and you’ll be sure to be disappointed. However if you go open to whatever comes, you’ll be sure to have a good time or at least be no worse off.

So I’m gonna go watch that movie that’s coming out called “The Island” except this one is better than 3D or 4D.  It’s cinema perfection where the audience finally can interact with the film’s characters and the director is a combination of all the wonderful people of Petersfield, Jamaica.  They will determine every camera angle,  every note of the soundtrack, and the composition of every shot. They’ll create that different light and those crooked angles and I’ll just be there watching, soaking it all in, free of any assumptions or expectations.

  • “We travel, then, in search of both self and anonymity — and, of course, in finding the one we apprehend the other.” -Pico Iyer

OK, come one, that’s pretty deep. Think about it for a second and I’m sure your mind will be equally blown as my own.

When I travel (as limited as that might be), I first notice the differences between “home” and my current location.  This is a way of defining what it means to be me– I am Moosette because I do x rather than y.  It also questions my way of life and forces me to defend the way I do things– People here are happy with f which is less than g, but I require h which is greater than g.  Are my beliefs based on something real or am I just following the crowd? These sorts of questions need to be posed before anyone can honestly define themselves, and traveling no doubt acts as a catalyst in this regard.

But at the same time, travel strips us of our identity, of our cultural crutches and labels associated with them.  In the US I am of the career woman crowd and this label comes with many assumptions.  But abroad, my career simply doesn’t apply and can be completely disregarded.  In the US, I am a fair communicator, but abroad I fumble with basic communication in the native tongue.  I definitely have used the cultural crutch that comes with any amount of academic success in the US, but abroad those accomplishments mean little if anything at all.  I am free of my identity and therefore more able to find myself.  Isn’t that realization absolutely excellent?!!?

  • “We know only that many teachings have understood the supremacy of Love.  In villages around the world…human life matters.  And even our best secular articulations of the need for justice, fairness, equity, and basic rights can’t get started without an initial assumption of the worth of human life.” -Eric Hartman

So at this point in the article, Eric Hartman is discussing how given a specific topic or concept, every culture interprets it differently.  But his point is that the core of every interpretation comes down to Love and the worth of human life.  I just find the implications of this quote to be absolutely beautiful.

I honestly believe that life is all about Love, that this is the core truth to everything and you’ll be happy once you’ve mastered it.  Peace will come when all learn to love and respect their neighbors. Yeah, I might have been a hippie in another life, but all my years in Catholic school and life outside it have only confirmed this truth for me.

And another point: I love how the conclusion is that no matter our differences, we will always have something in common that connects us all.  This idea that everyone in the world is connected on several different levels has always appealed to me.  And I guess valuing human life is just one of those levels.

  • Many writers mention the arrogance of foreign volunteers.

This opened my eyes to something that seems fairly obvious to me now.  Who am I to assume that these people in Jamaica need me in any way? that I can improve their lives?  Who am I to define my way of life as any better than their own way of life?  Why would anyone need to be computer literate if they are completely capable of feeding their family and can sustain themselves without that knowledge? Why do sugar cane farmers in Jamaica need to use the internet? What good does it do if they’re the only farmers using the internet?  It sort of defeats the purpose if the internet has no value for these people in the context of their way of life.  Am I expecting them to want to live the way I do in order for them to extract value from what I have to offer?  Am I really that full of myself?

I originally did expect that I had something real to offer the people of Petersfield, but now I realize that I will likely learn much more from them than the other way around.  I’m not saying that my trip is pointless, just that this assumption that I’m swooping in to save the day is completely bogus.  They expressed a need for their “young leaders” to become “computer literate”.  And when I leave, they will be experts on continuing this education for themselves and for the rest of their community.  But I am no superhero. The cape is gonna have to stay at home.  The real winners are the 20-somethings that stay in the community contrary to tradition and work towards economic stability for the area.

  • “We will reconsider poverty.  We will stop calling healthy sustainable farmers poor just because they live differently than many of us.” -Eric Hartman

OK, last one.  This quote is slightly related to the one previous.  In the US we seem to equate struggle with poverty, when living in a comfortable apartment with cable and  pet really shouldn’t be part of what’s considered the impoverished life style but often is nonetheless.  As a result, we find ourselves pitying those that have fewer material things than ourselves and donating money to their cause, or at very least a prayer or two.  But maybe these people are actually quite content.  No one’s gonna turn down a prayer in their name, but they might not want that coat with fur when their main priority is their farm and living off the earth, or that funky food in a jar that they can’t identify but you call Crisco.

Instead, perhaps poverty should be defined as some combination of an inability to feed oneself and one’s dependents reliably, a lack of basic education, and a lack of basic human rights and freedoms.  The UN actually listed out some 20 or so human minimum needs which more or less define what poverty is internationally.  Maybe we should all look at what we are blessed to have in this light, and then give our excess to those who are truly poor. And stop complaining so much.

So, yes, these are some of the things I’ve been bouncing around in my mind. I’m gonna leave for the airport in an hour or so. Won’t be back until March.  Please comment on my notes and pictures, and I’ll try to get a video of Mathias and his community or of my class.


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