Friday, January 20, 2012
I started this week hopeful and excited. I arrived into chaos and confusion, and quickly began feeling I was in over my head. My host family and everyone else I’ve met so far are extremely friendly and I’m very comfortable as well, but I’ve been having trouble distinguishing English with a Jamaican accent from Patois, the native Creole language. I’m beginning to wish I had at least one other person with me. I’m afraid I’m too reserved to fit in around here. But I’ve been trying to let go of my comfort zone. I rode in the back of the AOC truck from the airport with the group of girls that came to greet me and started talking to them. I’ve also been trying every dish placed in front of me. Most of it is delicious, all of it is homemade traditional Jamaican food.
My first of three host families is the Whytes. Mr. and Mrs. Whyte have two daughters, one of which is married with two kids, BJ (10) and Matthew (6). Cadine is the one who has been driving me around. Apparently her family has been hosting volunteers since 2003. She couldn’t even count how many people have stayed in their house it’s been so many. Breakfast and dinner is ready for me every morning and evening, and I’ve been given the master bed with its own bathroom to sleep in. Altogether I’m very surprised at how comfortable it all is here. Petersfield and the surrounding area is more like the countryside rather than a poor area of the country. If it weren’t for the shacks that line all the streets, you wouldn’t necessarily know that these people are poor. It reminds me of Mexico in a lot of ways. People seem comfortable on their own terms, but are poor on American terms.
I should probably also describe Mr. Brown. He was president of the AOC for two years, but currently has a different role officially. Nonetheless, he seems to have a lot of control over what happens at the AOC day to day. He has a great sense of humor and is a fun loving sort. On the way to my host family’s place from the airport, we stopped at a restaurant for dinner and a break from our hour long drive. While we were there, someone had the music from their car radio on very loud so that everyone could hear. A song from the 50s or earlier came on, and Mr. Brown started dancing to it. He seemed to be having fun, despite the fact that no one else was dancing with him. That should give you an idea of what he’s like, and how relaxed everyone is in Jamaica. He’s also always griping about how people shouldn’t rely on prayer alone to fix their problems but should take action as well, and he always has a story to tell. I sort of feel like he’s a Jamaican version of the Godfather, but a lot less gory. He’s done a lot of favors for people across Jamaica and in Cuba too, so when he needs some help there’s always someone he can go to.
I spend most of my days at the AOC building in Petersfield which has a small library (3 stacks), a computer lab of 5 PCs, and a large hall/common area for meetings or anything else. People come by randomly and just hang out, or use the WiFi. It’s been decided that I will teach an introductory web design course. Good thing I brought a book on the subject with me! So far my students include Sabrina, Nicola, Shadae, and Asa who all greeted me at the airport. Keesha, the AOC secretary will also be joining in order to have the skills necessary to maintain the AOC website I create. I’m also going to help at the HEART Institute with a training course in Microsoft Office. Classes don’t start until Monday, so I’ve been doing a lot of thumb twiddling. Since Mr. Brown doesn’t want to spend a nickel on the website, I’m going to use Google sites. As a result, the site should be up as soon as I’m given the content to post. It should be easy to maintain as well. Young people only go online to use facebook and see pictures, so Google sites should be fairly intuitive for them to use.
One other thing I’ve done of note was going to an Evangelical service with Mrs. Whyte and Cadice. I have to say it was quite the experience. You could hear the singing from a block away, and upon entering the makeshift church, you saw (mostly women) standing, swaying to the music with one hand up pointed towards the ceiling. It was all very emotional and seemed heartfelt. The service was mostly just singing by lay preachers, but towards the end a visiting preacher from Kansas City gave a sermon. The local preacher gave a sermon as well, during which I was introduced to the small congregation by Cadine. I didn’t really get into the service at all, which the preacher obviously noticed, as if my light skin didn’t single me out enough. ha Overall I’m glad I went though.
There are so many churches around here. One of every flavor, just about. You can really see the footprints of colonialism and various missionaries. It’s really a shame, and I don’t know that there’s anything I can do about it. The commercial buildings are either shacks on the side of the road, or were clearly built in the 1800s. I feel like I’ve stepped back in time whenever we pass by these places in town. Also, the roads don’t have any paint on them and are full of potholes from the weather. Cars weave every which way to avoid the craters, but since they’re all used to it, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. People do things very differently here, but like I mentioned before, they’re totally content with it all. Well, maybe not everything. Cadine mentioned how the government is very corrupt, and Mr. Brown talked about how organizations like the AOC in other parts of Jamaica failed because of greed. Money seems to be working against the success of this nation. Speaking of money, gas is over $100/gal. Of course, that’s in Jamaican dollars, but seeing that number up at a gas station is shocking, regardless of the 75.1 exchange rate.
Well, tomorrow is a day at the beach. I’ll update this entry afterwards.
So, as expected, today was pretty exciting. I left around 10am for the AOC center where everyone who would be going to the beach would meet us to leave around noon. Except everyone had chores to do because of school and church. So no one was gonna come with us when we left. In the end it was me, Asa, Mr. Brown, Mrs. Fenton, and another guy who’s name escapes me.
The beach was beautiful beyond words. The pictures barely do it justice. I wish I could have shared the experience with one of you. Maybe I’ll just have to do it some time in the future. Anyway, I swam for a little in the shallow area then joined the rest for lunch. It was fish with some type of bread that starts with a “b”. I’ll update this post when I remember the name of it. The dish shocked me at first because the fish was whole and had teeth—snapper. I tried it, and it was quite tasty, but I couldn’t finish it cause it creeped me out too much. Those fried black eyes, those fins, and that head full of teeth were just too much for me.
Afterwards, we all got into the water and Asa, myself, and the other guy played tag in the water. I was “it” at first and after several minutes finally tagged the other guy, just to be tagged again a few minutes later. I really wish my shyness hadn’t gotten in the way of my learning to swim properly when I was 5 all those years ago. ha
Towards the end of the day, which was absolutely beautiful, I met a young man named Kevin who decided to chat with me. I learned that he works at Rick’s Café in Negril where people can cliff dive. He works part-time in the kitchen and part-time as a life guard. He told me about his life morals of respect and love and his life goal to be a cop like his father. We spoke for quite a while, so I thought it rude to ignore his request for my information. I was later scolded (politely, or course) by Mr. Brown for having followed Kevin to the restaurant up the hill alone. I knew I would be safe, but I understand Mr. Brown’s concern. I’ll be sure not to offend his sensibilities again. Regardless, chances are that I’ll see Kevin at Negril tomorrow when we go to the beach there. It’s not far north of Petersfield and is much more of a tourist attraction.
By the time I got back to where I’ve been sleeping, I noticed that my shoulders and chest were bright red. Typical, and also a sign of a terrible burn on its way. I took a shower then applied copious amounts of blue aloe on my upper body. Apparently I hadn’t applied enough sun block. Just as warm temperatures put people to sleep, so did my skin burn. I slept for a couple hours after my treatment.
Then around 7:45, Mr. Brown called Cadice to let her know I would be picked up in 15 minutes. I had no idea where I would be going, but I made sure I was ready. Turns out Mr. Brown and Mrs. Fenton were taking me out for my first Red Stripe, a local brew. We stopped at a bar with a single pool table, and not much room for much else. The beer was good and the atmosphere fun. If I had gone with people my own age I might have had a great time. Mrs. Fenton and I get along very well, though, so I still enjoyed myself. Mr. Brown says he’ll make me play pool next week. I’m hoping he keeps his promise. Though I’m terrible at the game, I get lucky sometimes and always enjoy the game regardless of the end result. The pair of them *forced* me to have 3 beers, contrary to my grandmothers very wise advice. I figure breaking the rule this once is ok….:P
So ends week one in Jamaica on my own. It’s been quite fun thus far. Classes start on Monday, and I’m ready for the work to keep me busy. A girl can’t read all day, though I have been enjoying The Book Thief, a book given to me by my sister. I’m nearly half way though it already. This reading thing is much more enjoyable than I remember. ha Love you, Sis!!