Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hurricane Dean and the Hotel of Fire

The big news from last week: WE ARE NOW VOLUNTEERS!! No more trainees, no more volunteers-in-training (our title from last week). We are officially volunteers. With that we can now stay out after dark and travel around the island. We also got our guitar but we are still waiting on our violin. In addition to that wonderful week, when we got back to our site our satellite was working again just in time for college football (it was down the whole month of August).

The hurricane was interesting. We stayed in the US Embassy. The embassy made all of us be there including any Peace Corps staff that is American, and then pretty much begrudged our being there. They didn't give us any supplies at all. All of our food came from Peace Corps staff that ran out to the store before we were stuck there, so we had canned goods and oatmeal for the two days we were there (which really I enjoyed. It made it feel more like camping). The building was kept cold, somewhere in the 60-70 degree range and the building is so high tech and computer operated that they can't turn it off. They also can't (or won't) turn the lights off. That made the first night really short as none of us had packed for being that cold. The second night the Peace Corps got some blankets in and we were sharing so more people could sleep (there were three people under our blanket). That was a much better night. The time was spent reading, watching movies on computers, and playing games. There are marines stationed at the embassy for protection and they took pity on us and brought us puzzles and games. It was a nice opportunity to get to know the volunteers from the previous two years. It was also a great opportunity to watch a hurricane. The embassy was just finished in the past year and is designed for a pretty intense attack. We couldn't hear the wind inside even though it was blowing 115 mph. Unfortunately, the only pictures I could take were through the windows and they didn't turn out too great.

Hurricane Dean
Originally uploaded by smemontana

The Monday after the hurricane we had a quick swearing in. Apparently the ambassador was called out and wouldn't be around on Friday when we were scheduled to swear in. It also gave the other volunteers a chance to watch the swearing in. It was interesting being in front of the Ambassador in jeans and a t-shirt to be sworn in to Peace Corps. At this point we were considered volunteers-in-training as we had not completed our final testing. On Friday we had a formal ceremony for the Peace Corps staff that wasn't in the embassy and we became true volunteers.

Swearing In Ceremony
Originally uploaded by smemontana

Monday afternoon we moved from the embassy to the Pegasus Hotel which most people said was the nicest hotel in Kingston. That may be true, but Tuesday morning it was also the smokiest as one of the generators malfunctioned and started on fire. Damage was limited to the lobby but smoke was thick throughout the first 3-5 floors and several people had a hard time finding their way out. Three Peace Corps volunteers were sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation. We were at the mall during the fire and our room was on the 11th floor so none of our stuff got smoke damage. Several people were on the 3-5 floor and their clothes had a distinct odor of smoke. We spent 8 hours in a conference room at a hotel next door before being moved to a new hotel. That made it 4 days in a row of being confined to a building. Most of us were getting stir crazy.

Wednesday and Thursday were testing days with some free time to go out and do stuff. We spent one afternoon wandering around a mall like area. We went to a music shop and were looking at music when the owner started talking to us. She asked us if we were interested in teaching guitar, violin, and music in general in Jamaica. We said once we learned the instruments better we would be. She gave us guitar music books, recorders, and told Carrie that if she wanted to teach violin she had some student violins that she would give her. She just wanted to spread music through Jamaica. It was a very nice experience to have.

On Saturday we came back to our sites. There was very limited damage in Westmoreland Parish where we are located. It seems that the worst damage are new potholes in the road. There were some areas that were hit very hard including several areas with Peace Corps volunteers. We were very lucky to come back to an area that had power and water. The island was very lucky that the storm stayed south. The damage could have been a lot worse. Many people are complaining that they prepared so much for such a weak hurricane. Hopefully this doesn't make people complacent the next time because you never know which one will hit the island directly.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hurricane Dean

As most people know, Hurricane Dean is in the Caribbean and heading for Jamaica. The reaction on the news is very different than in the states, but the reaction of the people is similar. The news has a 10 second blurb on it saying that it is coming and may be here Sunday. No windspeed forcasts,no warnings to prepare, just a note that by the way, your weekend may be interrupted by a hurricane. I am guessing some places have a middle ground between the doomsday US news on natural disasters and the Jamaican news cast. On the other hand the people have the same attitude that I saw in New Orleans (granted this was pre-Katrina). "Hurricanes that start in that part of the Atlantic never hit us, they always turn at the last minute." No one seems really worried and I doubt anyone will do anything to prepare until the last minute when they realize that it won't turn. Since nothing is showing a projected track, I am guessing most people don't know that it will probably go right over the country or give it a glancing blow north or south. Chances are slim it will shift and pass us by.

We were scheduled to go to Kingston on Monday for our last week of training and swearing in as volunteers. Now we are leaving on Saturday morning and will spend the weekend hanging out in a hotel with the rest of the trainees. I will let you all know how things go. An interesting aspect of our jobs is that if the hurricane does a lot of damage we may be pulled away and do recovery work.

The past week of training has been good. It was by far the most productive and I am looking forward to the end of the elections (August 27) and training so I can get started on my projects.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Most days I sit and think that I should blog more. Then I remember what I did for the past week and realize that it would be pointless for me to actually put that on the internet. For those interested in what we do, we are in training. Our travel is restricted, we can't really go any where on the weekend, and during the week we are supposed to be at work. I don't think people really want to know that today I am sitting at work learning how to be patient as I become immersed in the Jamaican culture. Work here progresses at a much slower pace than in the US, and rain will bring pretty much everything to a screeching halt (interesting in a tropical country where it rains everyday during the rainy season). In two weeks we will swear in as volunteers. When that happens we will be able to begin work on our project and travel on the weekends. Hopefully that will lead to some better stories about Jamaica. Right now I go to work and then come home. WWHHEEEE!!

It really isn't that bad. Mostly right now I have no independence and the people I will be working with on my project are in the field a lot so some days I am mostly waiting for them to come back to the office. Once I am able to actually start on my project and I gain some independence then I will be able to do some of the things I want to do. At this point I am not sure exactly what communities I will be working with, but I know they will be up in the mountains. Once I know exactly where (hopefully next week), I will be able to figure out how to travel to those communities and then I can spend time there getting to know the people. Until then, it is reading Peace Corps manuals.


No matter where you are, you can identify a celebration no matter where you are. The telltale signs are the same the world over: music, food, dance, and a large number of people. Dancing isn't always required and never does everyone participate, but when all of these factors are there is is a celebration. When only two items are involved you probably stumbled upon a party. You may not want to know what you are eating, understand what you are hearing, or able to communicate with any of the people, but you know that you should be having fun.

When you are a Peace Corps Trainee, they take away the food and the large number of people (I'm pretty sure it is a cost savings measure), put it at the beginning of a day of training, don't give you the holiday off, and tell you it is a celebration. That being said, it was still fun. Early August is a good time to be in Jamaica. August 1 is Emancipation Day and August 6 is Independence Day. To celebrate (and use it as a devious ploy to teach us about Jamaican history and culture), we celebrated Emancipendence Day on August 1. Our festivities only included the music and dance (along with a very nice play in the middle). I volunteered to sing and then was told that to sing I also had to dance. Carrie joined me in the song/dance troop and we did enjoy ourselves as we learned some Jamaican dances and songs. Some people took pictures and when I get some I will post them. Luckily I don't think anyone has any video or audio.