Monday, December 22, 2008

New Pictures

It took me about 3 months, but I have finally updated our photos on our Flickr site. Hopefully I will have even more up in the next week or two.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We Are Still Around

For the past four months or so our blog has been pretty sparse and boring. That is partly because we have been so busy and partly because we have been in Jamaica for so long. We just reached the point where it didn't feel like there was anything to write about. I am going to try to catch up on the past couple months. Some of this may have been posted already, but bear with me.

I will try to fill some information in on the past several months. Carrie has been spearheading adult literacy classes two nights a week that I am helping her with and I tried to start a literacy class one night a week in my community that I was doing. Carrie's classes have been excellent and all is going well. We had assessments last week to see what progress had been made since August and several students had made excellent progress. I wish I could say the same for my class. It has probably been my biggest flop as a Peace Corps volunteer. I will give it one more shot after Christmas, but there just doesn't seem to be any community interest. Everyone says they want the classes, but no one shows up. Oh well. Other than that I have been working on my rural water projects and have been branching out into other communities and am now actively working with three and have a fourth that is ready for assistance. I am currently in the grant writing stage, but hopefully will have some projects getting off the ground next year before we are done with our service. I am also working with an organic farming group that has been getting excellent support and has been promised quite a bit of funding in the new year. It has been a huge success.

In September and October we mostly just working. No big trips or really much travel. We found that we had community events most weekends and mostly we were feeling very integrated into the area. The last week of October and first week of November my parents were in town. That was an excellent visit and gave me a good break as I was working partial days and then spending time with them. They saw the office where I work as well as the communities were both of us work. It was also the first time we did a lot of the tourist activities in the area. We went to YS Falls, Black River Safari, and the Appleton Rum Tour. We also spent a night in Negril and a day on the beach. Hopefully soon I will have some pictures posted on Flickr.

The rest of November was mostly work again. We didn't do much for Thanksgiving. We had a dinner planned with some local Americans, but the teacher we had lined up for our class had to cancel so we ended up teaching instead. They did save us some turkey so we each got a turkey sandwich the next day.

December has been busy but fun. The first weekend was the Reggae Marathon in Negril. We were planning on volunteering last year but ended up moving that day so we said we had to go this year. It was well worth it. We were working at a water station so had to be there Friday night for our "training". There was also a free pasta dinner for all of the runners and volunteers. The race had 700 runners and 300 volunteers and the organizers got 8 hotels to cater the event. Each hotel set up a tent with 5-6 different pasta dishes, salads, fruit, bread, etc. It was wonderful. The race was set to start at 5:15 am to give the runners the best part of the day to run in and the water station people had to be there at 4:15 am to set up. We woke up at 2:30 to get across Negril and to the check in for breakfast that wasn't there. The breakfast ended up showing up at 10:30 with the lunch (luckily most volunteers had left by then so no long lines). The race started on time and we were at Mile 4, which was perfect. We handed out bag water and bag Gatorade (for those of you that don't know what bag water is, imagine a closed plastic bag full of water). The race included a full marathon, half marathon, and 10k race. 4 miles in most of the runners/walkers were still in a pack and it only took an hour from the time the race leader passed us until the last walker went by. By 7 am we were cleaned up and done. We walked back up to the finish line and watched the first marathon runners come in, some of our Peace Corps friends finish, and stuck around until lunch. Then back to our hotel for a nap before heading home. It was an excellent experience and I loved it all.

The weekend after the marathon was the Bluefields Bay Marine Festival which was put on by Carrie's organization. She put a lot of time and energy into the event and I came to assist however I could and to put up a booth for the health department. There were two days of the festival with a conference of fishermen, policy makers, and other persons involved with or impacted by the fishing industry on Saturday and a fun day with boat races and cultural events on Sunday. The festival couldn't have gone better and everyone involved thought it was excellent.

We are now on vacation and enjoying the time to relax for several weeks to regroup ourselves before getting ready for the last 6-7 months of service. I should find some time to post pictures and make sure everything is up to date.

I also have to say Go Griz!! The University of Montana is in the FCS (I-AA) football championship game on Friday night. I was able to listen to the semifinal game on the internet last Friday night. It is nice to be able to follow some of these things.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Chicken Foot Soup

Jamaican food is excellent. There have been very few things that I have tried and not liked. One item that we get at social functions a lot is chicken foot soup, and it is always delicious. So, we decided to give a shot at it (after a brief lesson from a local).

The first thing is, it is weird to work and cut chicken feet. I kept having an odd feeling of cutting the fingers off little children. Yes, quite odd. But the results are well worth it. The soup was fantastic and probably one of our best attempts at a Jamaican dish (although I think we make a really good stew peas with pig tail).

I eat chicken feet in the soup when it is fresh cooked and they are hot. I don't like it as much as pig tail, but it's not bad. I'm not sure I can do it in leftovers and I know I couldn't choke down cold chicken feet. Just how it goes. They are a key ingredient in the soup though. I like a thick soup so full of vegetables it is almost a stew and it seems that the feet release gelatin during cooking that makes for a perfect soup consistency. Lovely!

Monday, November 17, 2008

2nd Annual Sparky the Plug

Thanks to those of you last year who made it worthwhile for me to advertise local fundraising events on our blog, I’m going to do it again.

The Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s Friendly Society is hosting the Bluefields Bay Marine Conference and Festival on December 13th and 14th, 2008. The conference is the first grassroots effort to bring together fishermen, interests from the tourism sector, and government officials to discuss the environmental issues surrounding the marine environment in Jamaica. After all, these are issues that impact everyone's livelihoods, whether they are harvesting from the sea or marketing it to visitors. The festival is a community cultural event which includes cultural music, food, and educational booths, as well as a fundraiser for the Society’s yearly operating budget. Here is a ticket for the festival:

My proposal to all of you is to purchase a ticket to support this event. $350 Jamaican dollars is about $5US. Please contact us via email and we will work out the logistics. No international checks this year, we promise. We have another idea that is flawless and secure for all involved.

Thanks!! And happy beginning of the holiday season! It's only in the upper eighties these definitely feels like winter is coming.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wow, It's Been A Month Again

It has been another month since we have posted. I think the large time frame is because time is different here. I may have mentioned this once before, but it bears mentioning again. It is summer here 12 months a year so it is hard to tell how long ago something happened. Cory came and visited the last week of June. That was over 4 months ago but it seems like only a month or two because there have been no seasonal changes to indicate a break. As such, something that happened a month ago can seem like just a couple of weeks ago. I only wish the time going forward felt as fast (and some days it does).

Mom and Dad came down to visit the last week of October and stayed for 10 days. It was fantastic! We took them to see all the places we work and to the different communities. They seemed to have a real good time. We also enjoyed the weekend with a trip to Negril, YS Falls, and the Black River Safari. It is difficult balancing work and pleasure when there are visitors here, but it is great seeing family. I hope to have some time over the holidays to post more pictures as work slows down. Right now I am too busy trying to get some work done before December. It seems like everyone wants everything now because once the holidays are here everything slows down.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Been Awhile

It has been a month since we have posted to the blog. Why the long wait? There are a couple of reasons. One reason is that nothing significant or interesting has really happened for the past month. This isn't exactly true, but more or less the case. For the past month we have been going to work and coming home. We haven't traveled or really done anything exciting.

What has happened over the past month. I got bit by a dog while running about two weeks ago. He took a pretty good chunk of skin out of my right calf. For those volunteers who are looking for a way to meet more people and integrate into the community, I highly recommend getting bit. I was in the community where Carrie works. Every time we would go there all I would hear is "Miss Carrie, Miss Carrie". Nobody even knew my name. Now I hear "Scott" and "How is your foot" (in Jamaica the foot starts at the hip and ends at the toes). I get more attention than ever.

The only other thing that I can think of right now that has happened is the ocean has cleared up so snorkeling has improved. In the past month I have seen lobster, sting ray, jelly fish, and too many little fish to count. Some of the fish are plain, some are pretty, and some are down right ugly. They are a lot of fun to watch.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Photos Added to Flickr

I have uploaded photos to my Flickr account from the past month. A link is at the right hand side of the screen.


Continuing Success Stories

I really enjoy sharing our success stories with this blog audience. Of course there have also been challenges and failures, but those aren’t near so uplifting to write about. Our recent successes:

Community work day: Scott organized a Peace Corps/community work day to help clean up the community and do some landscaping work. Together with people from the community, we picked up more than 25 bags of garbage. It filled up the entire back of a truck (the bed was about four times the size of a pick-up truck). As we walked along the road, children from the yards would run out to see what we were doing. Several of them put on gloves and worked with us for a while. It rained before we were finished, but we still got a lot done including cleaning out some drainage areas so roads and yards don’t flood. To follow up the work day, we had a cook-out dinner at our house for all those who were working. We fed about 20 people from the Peace Corps, the community, and our yard. It was wonderful to cook and host.

Literacy Class: My literacy class participants dwindled over the summer so I moved the class to a larger, more central location. The first class was Tuesday, and there were six people there. Disappointed, I talked with several people I knew in the community to bring more people to the class. On Thursday, there were 18 people. Huzzah! We had a very vibrant second class and I hope most, if not all, come back this week. Plus, I now have a classroom that I can permanently keep materials in (no more running a class out of our tiny house and carrying everything we need up the hill each day) and we have secured $100US per month in donations for teaching supplies and to rent the facility.

Let’s hear a “hip hip” for these victories!


Monday, September 8, 2008

Gustov Blew Off My Hair

We weren’t very good about keeping people informed during the storm. Sorry, but it didn’t seem like anything that needed updating from here. The eastern side of the island apparently had more heavy rain that resulted in some serious flooding that took out houses, roads, bridges, etc. On our side of the island not a lot happened. The storm moved so slow that we sat outside having a BBQ in the yard with our landlord and other people in the yard until the sun went down while the storm was raging on the other side of the island. It came quietly in the night, knocked out the power, and then rained for a day. It was mostly like a good thunderstorm that lasted for a couple of days. We were without power for 1.5 days, but that is about all that happened here.
I did get bored during the storm and shaved my hair off with my battery powered beard trimmer (which took all the rechargeable batteries in the house and had to be touched up a couple days later). It had been a year since I had cut my hair. Everyone now jokes that Gustav blew my hair off. In reality, I think I was just frustrated with the lack of control with my life and needed to change something. I cut my hair, changed my ring tone on my phone, and put a new background on my computer. I feel like a new person. That is about all that I have control over right now. Also, my hair was hot and was getting in my face a lot.
This past weekend we went to Ocho Rios and spent Saturday with a group of 21 volunteers playing in a waterfall called Blue Hole. It was a fantastic day jumping and playing in a couple of deep pools under a few waterfalls. We try to avoid large groups of volunteers, but we were in a remote location so the fact that almost 1/5 of all volunteers on the island were there didn’t detract from the fun. Carrie and I then went to another volunteer’s site and helped with some water sampling on Sunday before coming back early Monday morning.
I haven’t posted pictures for a long time. I try to do it once a month (because that is about how often I take pictures) so it must almost be time again. I will try to do it in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The 200 M Finals

The Olympic spring races are like Jamaica's Super Bowl. Especially this year when Usain Bolt is running like he is. We watched the 100 m final at home on Saturday morning before going about our business. This morning I was at work when the 200 m final was shown. I tried to find it online, but couldn't. With only a few minutes to spare I knew that there was a tv in the waiting room at the clinic next door, so I walked over. I was near the back of the room with approximately 40 people between me and the tv. I knew I was in trouble early when they showed Bolt getting ready to get in the blocks and everyone stood up and yelled. I figured I only had a small chance at best to actually see the race.

The start was subdued with everyone getting very quiet and waiting. There was some light cheering as he came around the first corner. That was all I saw. Once it was clear that he was out in front coming down the back stretch everyone between me and the tv stood up and rushed the tv. Only about 1/10 of the people in the room actually saw the race as everyone else saw people jump up and down and cheer. I knew Bolt won, but that was it. I hung around for a few minutes and saw the replay. Wow. It was an interesting experience. Everything shut down for 15 minutes.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A proud moment of sorts

We have been fiddling around with a garden for several months now. Our space is limited and our tomato and bean plants didn't yield much more than tasty snacks (though they were tasty and fresh). However, our pumpkins did great! Just by using the seeds from a pumpkin we purchased at the market, Scott managed to grow and harvest three pretty decent pumpkins. Here is one that we picked today and should manage to feed us for the rest of the week. Pumpkin pasta...pumpkin soup...pumpkin souffle...pumpkin omelets...pumpkin peas and pumpkin...pumpkin bread...pumpkin pie! We are also saving the seeds to toast and plant another vine or two.

So hats off to producing enough of something to make a dent (ding?? scratch??) in our food expenditures for the week.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Photos

More photos have been added to the Flickr site.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer Is Here

Today it felt like summer for the first time in a while. Then I realized, schools are out. Suddenly it was easy to get a taxi and there aren't children in uniforms every where. Schools here let out in early July, not May or June. Two months of easy travel!!

However, the ease of travel comes at a price. In the last couple of weeks the weather has gotten hotter. What does that really mean? It doesn't cool off at night. The temperatures during the day really aren't that much different, but the extra 4-7 degrees at night make it really hard to fall asleep. Last night our bedroom was 86 degrees when we were going to bed at 10 pm. It cooled down to 82 during the night. This is a big difference over those 72 degree nights back in March. Even just a few weeks ago it was in the low 80s as we went to sleep. I guess I will stop sweating some time in November.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

One Year

On July 3, it was both our one year anniversary for coming to Jamaica and our third wedding anniversary. That means about 14 months to go (give or take). The past year has been a mix of ups and downs but in general it was been a good experience and I feel like I am getting a lot done. The time has been going fast and I hope that continues. I am still coming around to the thought that it is summer back in the US. It was May before I figured out it was spring so hopefully by September I will remember that it is summer. I do miss seasons.

Monday, June 30, 2008

We Left for Miami One Year Ago

As I sit here writing this blog it has struck me that we left for Miami exactly one year ago. We spent two days in training and then left for Jamaica on July 3rd. Thursday will be our one year anniversary on the island. We still have a little more than a year left as our volunteer service didn't start until training was over in August, but it is still a milestone.

My brother Cory and his girlfriend Marie have been in town for the past week. We have had a lot of fun going around showing them our little corner of Jamaica and our projects. It makes me proud of the work we are doing and the people who are our Jamaican friends. Some days it is hard to stay focused and positive on our projects and the seeming lack of progress and how it seems like we aren't integrated enough into the communities. Then we start showing what we have been working on to outsiders and we get a new perspective. I can see that we are making progress and that the people really do appreciate the work we are doing.

I haven't posted new pictures for a long time and they are building up. We took a trip to the St. Thomas lighthouse a couple weeks ago. It was a very nice trip and I have some photos from it. It is the farthest eastern point in Jamaica. I was curious about the garbage that had washed up on the beach near the lighthouse. Most of it had come from Haiti. Hopefully there will be more up in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

One of those moments...

This afternoon I had one of those moments that just makes me so glad that I made the choice to come here. I am fairly certain that it won't come across very well in text, but I feel like it is one of those key moments that I just want to share. I started to write out the context and it got cumbersome and boring. So I will just sum up:

1) The idea to ask adult literacy class participants to perform community service projects of their own creation and design in lieu of payment for the class IS NOT a bad idea. I am so proud of them and their initiative.

2) The literacy primer that I wrote is a hit (which was a risk for me since I am really not a writer or an illustrator). Today my class groaned when I said we had to stop reading in order to go on to other things. There is absolutely no reason that books that are easy to read need to be boring. We are in the middle of the second 10-week session and they are clearly excited about reading. I can only hope this keeps up. Again, I am so proud of them all.

Hopefully we will have some new pictures up soon. It has been a while since we posted and we have traveled a bit recently. I'm hoping to have pictures of the baby goats that have to be born any day now at the end of the beach road...the momma goat is huge and has been so for weeks now. Soon come.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer in Antartica

Yesterday we were watching a nature program that was talking about the poles. When they started to talk about summer at the poles Carrie mentioned how funny it is to think about that. It struck me, it's like talking about winter in the tropics. It is currently June and we have been here for 11 months. Some days I can barely tell what month it is and if I don't think about it I couldn't tell you what season it is back in the US. Winter here is a little more comfortable, but it is 12 months of summer. Even the US south has a period where a jacket is nice and you know that the season has changed. Not here. It's not something you can really prepare yourself for. Time does pass quickly though.

Time has been going fast and it is hard to believe we have been here for 11 months. Our projects keep us busy and we really don't have time to think about it. We are starting to realize that we are closing in on 1 year left and if we have anything we really want to do we had better get started. I know that I need to start computer classes at the health department and I know that if I don't get them started soon they will never happen. I also tend to pick up small things every week or two that I help the health department with that fills my time.

Congratulations Rob and Layla!! We are looking forward to seeing you in Jamaica.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Labour Day

Last Friday was Jamaica's Labour Day. This brings to mind the last camping trip of the year, grilling, etc. Usually a three day weekend that is spent as a holiday. Not so in Jamaica. Labour Day is a day for just that, labour. Most communities or groups chose a project and people get together and work on the project. These projects include fixing potholes in the road, painting crosswalks at schools, cleaning up litter in communities, planting trees, and the list goes on. I like the idea of a day for all of the country to donate their time to a community project. If only there were one Labour Day a month.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Language Barrier?? Yup, I suppose so.

This past week I prepared a classroom lesson on nutrition, and vitamins in particular, since one of the classes was studying foods in science class. I broke down the lesson into 1) identifying the vitamins (A-K- a fun alphabet game- where is vitamin F?) 2) learning how the vitamins help our bodies (vitamin C helps our immune system!) and 3) discussing what foods have each of these vitamins. This all followed up with a fun bingo game. With a few exceptions, I don't usually know which classes I will be visiting on a given day, so my lesson plans are vague enough to adapt on the fly to kids from 3rd to 9th grade. The vitamin lesson was a little more advanced than usual, but I ended up spending an hour with third grade anyway.

Vitamin K is a lipophilic compound involved in post-translational modification of blood coagulation proteins. Yes, I do understand all that with my molecular biology background, but my grade 3 class didn't stand a chance. I summed it all up by describing vitamin K as helping blood clotting. Does anyone familiar with patois see where this is going?

As I started to talk about vitamin K and it's helpful effects in making our blood clot, I received wide open stares from the students. I repeated myself. Same wide-eyed stares. I kept on with the lesson by asking kids what happens when they cut themselves, do they keep bleeding or does it stop? They said it stopped, and I said that's what vitamin K helps with. On we go with the lesson. There was even a blood clotting question in the follow-up bingo game.

It wasn't until my walk home that I realized my mistake. In patois, "cloth" (pronounced "clot") is a general all-purpose swear word, especially with partnered with certain words, many of which I will not mention here, but yes, blood is one of them.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sea Phobia Continued...

We finally did it. We live so close to the sea, but we rarely go for a morning swim for exercise. This morning we did it. Finally.

It was a very nice morning for it, though the sea was cloudy and a little rougher than it usually is at that time of day. I was wearing my nifty prescription goggles, but they didn't make much difference since the water was so cloudy. We probably managed to swim for about 150 yards before I got stung by a jellyfish. We pondered getting out to walk back, but decided to just swim back in the more shallow water, avoiding the general area where I got stung. Then Scott got stung by a jellyfish. It was a very good lesson for me to know that the sting isn't terrible. It has completely gone away now with the exception of a bit of a lingering rash (just what I need...). We didn't get a fabulous workout, but it is a start.

I think next time we will wait for the water to be clear. Then we can at least see the jellyfish coming.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Jamaica Is Kind Of Like A Dostal Family Reunion

For any Dostal in-law, the feeling of being somewhat overwhelmed during a family reunion is a familiar one. There are many conversations at once, often in the same circle of people, and the key to participating in the discussion is the volume of your voice. I love the feeling of community, family, and love that these reunions (and conversations) evoke, but there is a development process for actually participating in the chats.

Scott and I had a familiar experience in Jamaica the other day. We spent an afternoon in a village just chatting with people for a couple hours. Though, I should say, it felt more like being an in-law at a Dostal family reunion. The conversation ranged from the health of their babies, to water, to what happened (or didn’t happen) at a party last week, to the fact that Scott and I could actually understand what was being said, back to the party last week, and on to other parties that people may or may not have been to. It was loud, boisterous, full of opinions, and laughter. The patois was so thick that we really could only follow what one person at a time was saying, which meant we missed out on 75% of the conversation.

On the walk home, Scott asked me why I was so happy with being a non-participant in a conversation about a subject that I couldn’t really relate to. I think Scott finally may have experienced what reunions are like to an outsider. Step one is just being there and holding your own. From Dostal-family experience, I know that being a full-fledged member of the family (or community) is only a few steps away. And next time, they will welcome you back with open arms.

The Frustrations

Sunday was a bit of a frustrating day. It was a nice day and we had nothing to do. We both commented that if we were in the states we would have a car and we could go for a nice drive, take a hike, go to a movie, go visit friends, etc. Instead there was really no one in the area to go see, we had no car, and there was really nothing to do. We ended up filling the day, but those are the days that make us pine a little bit for home.

In general, things are going very well. We are both having successes and that is important. The days seem to crawl by, the weeks go by, and the months fly by. It is hard to believe that we have been here for almost 11 months. It really has gone fast. It is also hard to believe that group 77 will be leaving the island soon. We have just over 15 months of service left. Hopefully they will go as fast as the first 10.5 months have.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

What the $&^% Did He Call Me?

Since coming to Jamaica I have been called many things. Here is a short list in order of most frequent: Big Man, Boss Man, Brownie, Whitey (yes, I do get brownie more than whitey. I only get called whitey about once or twice a month), red man, rasta boy. There are others, but they are infrequent or inappropriate for this blog. Then Friday I heard one that really made my head spin. While walking down the street I heard, "Hey, raggamuffin!" I looked around and saw one man yelling in my direction, and there was no one else around me. I was being called a raggamuffin. I don't even know what that means. I guess it may be time to think about a trim or at least shaving (I was thinking that when I was called rasta boy a couple weeks ago). Things that make you go WHAT?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Pictures

I have added pictures to my Flickr account of our Blue Mountain hike and some photos of my project in Beeston Spring

Monday, April 28, 2008

Blue Mountain Peak 2, Back To The Peak

On Sunday, April 20 we made our second attempt at Blue Mountain Peak. For our first attempt, see our previous post from January. The second attempt was both better and worse than the first. We did learn somethings from the first time and we were much more prepared. We knew that we needed to leave as early as possible and to bring flashlights so we could hike back in the dark if we needed too. As a result we left at 6 am and brought flashlights. It was a good thing too because we needed all the time we could get and we still came home in the dark.

We left Mavis Bank at 6:15 hiking toward peak. We're not sure exactly how far it is, but we are guessing between 12 and 13 miles. We like to say 13 so we can claim to have walked a marathon. Either way it is a plenty long hike. We kept a nice relaxed but constant pace and made it to the top almost exactly 6 hours later. We were tired but not in too bad of shape. The last time we made a couple desperate pushes to try to make the top and the result was cramping muscles and overall exhaustion. This trip we were relaxed and feeling good at the top. We sat there for an hour eating lunch and relaxing before heading down.

Heading down we made a mistake. The three of us (Carrie, JJ, and I) felt that the reason we hurt so bad last time was our big push to reach the top, which we didn't make. Not so it turns out. It was 11 miles of walking downhill. We reached the river crossing at the bottom around 7 and the sun had set. We were slowed down slightly by some tasty yellow raspberry like berries (little yellow crack berries as we called them) that were highly addictive. They were the first berries I have had in Jamaica. In reality they were more forced rests than anything else. By the time we were done my knees, ankles, calves, hamstrings, and every other muscle and joint in my legs was in agony. Just to say we did it we walked the last two miles on the road back up to JJ's. The only reason I think we were able to do that was because we had been in so much pain that now our legs were mostly numb. We finished 6.5 hrs after leaving the peak.

I am glad we did it and I am never doing it from Mavis Bank in one shot again. The top was clouded in so we didn't get very good views, but it was beautiful up there and hiking in the clouds is really neat. I would still like to do a sunrise hike from the hostels 7 miles from the peak.

We also found out that the last time we tried for peak we came up about 1/4 mile short. It took us 10 minutes to get from where we turned around to the top. If we had known we would have gone all the way up the last time, but we made the right decision for that day as we weren't sure how far we had to go, we started an hour and a half later than we should have, and we didn't have any flashlights for night hiking.

I have lots of pictures and hopefully one day this week I will have time to upload them.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Random Mumblings

I have had a cold for the past week. I am now going to blame that for one of the more disturbing things that has happened to me in a while. Last night I wanted a blanket. I was satiated with our blanket that is about as thick as a sheet, but I really felt like the second layer was nice. When I checked the temperature in the morning the low was 73 degrees. Six months ago I was praying for 73 so I wouldn’t wake up soaked in sweat. It is going to be hard going back to seasons. Another interesting thing happened. I completely lost my sense of smell, and so the same to my sense of taste. This was a bad time as we got a couple packages with tasty treats in them. Carrie didn’t appreciate that my comment on the gummy worms was, “Yes these are good. They taste like chewy.”

Here is an odd comment on the mail that we have been getting. Paul has the most interesting stamps. No one else has sent us Jury Duty stamps. We also like the stickers.

Construction has started on my project in Beeston Spring. Things are moving very fast there. Hopefully construction will go fast as the community has a stand pipe but the tank needs to be done during the rainy season.


Our hobbies outside of work are coming along nicely. Our garden has beans and tomatoes growing well. My pumpkins that I planted in the yard over a month ago are starting to bloom, but I don’t know that they are being pollinated. We planted some summer squash that I am a bit surprised to see bloom even though they are a foot tall or less. I’m not sure exactly what they will do. We also have six cucumber plants ready for transplant. My wine experiment is also going well. I racked the pineapple wine into the secondary container on Monday. The color is beautiful. After I had taken out the good wine and left the sediment in the primary I poured a little bit out of the primary and tasted it. It tasted like alcohol and old yeast. At least we have succeeded in the alcohol part.

Pineapple and Orange Wine

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A translation of sorts

I find that I try hard to be constantly optimistic in my work here. That can be a definite asset in so many ways...often situations are difficult for reasons beyond the control of those involved and there is no need to get upset or frustrated. Those emotions really can just get in the way of figuring out what is the real problem. Of course those emotions don't just affect those of us from Foreign, but locals as well. So, I try to stay upbeat and detached to help myself and others move on.

That being said, I find that I could be falling a bit too much into this habit. Scott and I helped to facilitate an event today that was, to say the least, haphazard and stressful for all involved. After it was over, I said, "That went well." I meant to give the team involved a lift and to encourage them not to walk away with a downcast feeling. But I guess the more accurate translation of my sentiment would be, "Well, that wasn't the absolute disaster that it could have been, I think one or two people learned something, and we all handled the situation with relative grace." What kind of message am I really sending?

On another, genuinely positive note, I want to send out a big up to our literacy class students. The rainy season has officially started (complete with heavy downpours every afternoon) and we still had almost 10 people in class today. Big up, unu! (Translation- "Well done, y'all!")

Peace and good night.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hey Sippy Cup Man!

I have told people back in the states that you can really buy anything on the street, but that was always an exaggeration. Then last week I saw something that made me think maybe you can buy anything on the street. I saw a push cart vendor with a cart full of sippy cups. Well over 100 sippy cups. The vendors usually have carts full of fruit, veggies, and other such things. This man had sippy cups.

It is starting to warm up. Today we walked down to the Sav market during our lunch hour and I had forgotten just how sweaty I can get just walking down the street. It is one thing to have a slight sheen of sweat on my arms and face from walking down the street. Today I had that wonderful feeling of sweat running down my thighs and my shirt stuck to my back so that not only did I sweat through my undershirt but all the way through my work shirt as well. I can't wait for full on summer when this is a daily feeling.

We have started some hobbies in our off time. Last weekend we planted a nice little garden by our house. We have tomatoes and green beans in our garden plus some pumpkin and squash that we planted in the yard by the ocean. I have more squash plants to transplant and some cucumber plants have come up in my little starter trays. We also have some herbs planted that we are waiting on. This weekend we are going to start a batch of wine. Our first attempt at wine is going to be pineapple wine made from juice. In a couple of weeks we are going to start a small batch of orange wine and then once mango season starts we will do a large batch of mango wine. I am sure somewhere we may do a banana wine or a grapefruit wine.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

As time goes by...

I find that the second time a remarkable event happens, it is distinctly less remarkable. I recall very clearly what it felt like that morning back in January when Scott, Gabe, and I all discovered the dozens of tiny tiny ticks that we were playing host to. This past weekend, when I inadvertently picked up another dozen or so, I simply plucked them off, had Scott check my back, and then carried on with my day. That is just how it goes.

I would say, however, that the seventy-seventh time a remarkable event happens, it can still elicit a helluva response from me. We have ants in our house; always, everyday, we can find at least a couple dozen and that really isn't a problem. Yet when those sneaky little bugs get gutsy enough to start parading across my wall (or bed, stove, couch, shelf, clothes, towels, shower, etc.) in a nice organized line of hundreds or more, the full arsenal of chemicals and frustrations comes out. I cannot go on to another task until I determine 1) their entry point and 2) their destination. As far as I'm concerned, those two things constitute my being able to address the root of the problem at the moment. Though my rational side knows that since this happens so often, the root of the problem really probably resides under the foundation of the house which is sadly beyond my reach.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

If You Like Good Folk Music

I am a huge fan of folk music. While out of the country I don't get many chances to check on new artists, but the other day I spent some time looking at some Canadian folk music online and found David Francey. If you like folk music I suggest you check him out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stupid Ankle Bitters

The weather is starting to turn and summer is just around the corner (an odd statement when the daily highs are in the mid-80s and the lows are in the low-70s). It is time for a change of seasons. Not seasons like we know them in the states (spring, summer, fall, winter) but rather the dry and wet season. I am pretty sure the wet season officially starts in April, but it has started to rain more and most afternoons in March it has clouded up and given us a nice shower. With the return of the rain comes the return of the bugs. I had hoped that I hadn't itched for the past four months because I had gotten used to the insects. I am finding out that is not so. I now spend most mornings and evenings walking with an odd shuffle as I try to scratch my ankles with the other foot as I step forward. I don't know why I don't really itch during the day, but I don't. Mosquitoes and sand fleas are now out. I hadn't missed them.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Pictures

I have uploaded new photos to my Flickr site. These include photos from Gabe's visit and the Negril Donkey Races.

Donkeys Are Funny WhenThey Race Too

Two weekends ago we had a great time in Negril at the donkey races. It was fantastic. The rotary club puts on donkey races each year with small carnival rides and games as a fund raiser. As Peace Corps volunteers we are asked if we would like to assist with projects like these and we usually say yes because we tend to get food and/or a t-shirt. Well worth it. The donkey races are as funny as you think they would be. First they dress the donkeys and riders (Jamaican donkey jockeys) up as a theme. We saw pirates, lifeguards, and other similar costumes. Then the riders race the donkeys three at a time so there are plenty of heats to spread the day out. The donkeys do not care to be ridden so there are donkeys running under bamboo rails to knock the rider off or bucking the rider off or just not moving at all. A fantastic day.

I found out this week that my community has been approved for the grant to complete my project. We will have 2 plus million (Jamaican) to rebuild the storage tank and put in a wash house at Beeston Spring. This should make me ecstatic. Just by getting the grant I have made my Peace Corps experience a success. But I have been apathetic towards it so far, which makes Carrie also wonder what is wrong with me. I am pretty sure I just need a vacation. This month has wore me out and I feel like a couple days away would be good. Carrie’s parents are coming down in a couple weeks and we are going to spend some time at Treasure Beach. Hopefully that will give me a recharge.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"You are looking tumultuous today!"

I had an interesting incident of harassment today. I was walking through a schoolyard and a kid chirped at me and called out, "You're looking tumultuous today!" I kept walking, as I usually do in this kind of circumstance, and then I stopped almost laughing out loud as it registered what he actually said. I went back to the kid and asked if he knew what that word meant. He said no. I told him to look it up before he used it. I walked past again a bit later and he asked if it meant having multiple personalities. I said no, and that he should try to find a dictionary. What a strange interaction.

I wish this would happen more often. I have never had an easier time bantering back and forth than in this case. And with each back and forth, everyone in the surrounding area laughed. This is generally my ultimate goal in bantering with people on the street. And I managed it this time with vocabulary knowledge? How bizarre.

Monday, February 11, 2008

How would you feel if this happened to you?

During the first several months of service, I found myself often longing for home (or at least the familiar) and wondering if I made the right choice. Last week I experienced something that helped to affirm my decision to join the Peace Corps. After hearing about the violence following the December elections in Kenya, I thought about those volunteers often and wondered where they were and if any were still at their sites, half expecting to hear the news of a program suspension any day. Even though I was anticipating such an announcement, hearing the news that the Kenya Peace Corps program has actually been suspended broke my heart. My eyes filled with tears when I read that email and imagined leaving my communities tomorrow and unexpectedly not being able to go back for the foreseeable future. Even given the challenges that arise, the frustrations of working in an unfamiliar culture, and the uncertainty of what impact we are actually able to make in the lives of the people we work with, I am invested in and enamored with this experience. This is a good place for me to be and I cannot imagine leaving it tomorrow or the next day.

So, my thoughts are with all the former Kenya PCVs and their supervisors, counterparts, host-families, friends and co-workers.

I’m going to go out and enjoy my community today.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You Sure They Don't Have Lyme Disease in Jamaica?

On interesting item from Gabe's visit. We woke up one morning and Carrie found a tick on her foot. That of course leads to everyone checking themselves. I had Gabe check my back and everyone said that was it. Then about ten minutes later Carrie found another tick only this one was much smaller than the first. This was followed by a much more careful check. This time Gabe found 18 ticks on my back. In the end Gabe had about 5, Carrie had 18-20, and I had 37. What an interesting morning.

Ash Wednesday is a public holiday here. I'm still never really sure what days we have off until a day or two before. We were also excited because several months ago we heard that Carnival was really big in Jamaica. We never heard more about it and were surprised when all of a sudden we learned that it was Ash Wednesday and there weren't any big parties planned. Then we learned that Carnival was a traveling carnival (i.e. circus) that travels around the island over the summer. I am still looking forward to Carnival, but I do miss the king cake.

The US election is starting to become a talking point in Jamaica. I have people at work ask me about it almost everyday. I would like to say that I am informed because I get and read Newsweek free from the Peace Corps, but that would be a lie because I get and read Newsweek a month late. Right now I am just reading the January 7 issue. I also don't spend as much time as I would like online reading about them. In the end I know how the delegate count stands but I don't really know much of the differences between the candidates. I'm not voting in the primaries because I haven't figured out the absentee ballot from Jamaica yet, but I will be voting in the general election in November. I will just have to find time to read more about the issues before then.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Our First Visitor

It has finally happened. After so many people have shown interest in coming and visiting us in Jamaica, one of you has finally stepped up to the plate. That person is…. my sister Gabrielle.
Gabe came down to Kingston January 17. She then spent two exciting days watching us go to meetings at the Peace Corps office. YEAH! On the 19th we went up to the Blue Mountains and spent the night with another volunteer. Sunday we got up later than we should have and set out for the top of the world, or at least the top of Jamaica. Our goal, Blue Mountain Peak. The highest point in Jamaica. Unfortunately we made several miscalculations in our planning. We were assuming 8 miles to the top so we didn’t get out until 7:30. We then proceeded to hike three hours to a sign that said we have 6 miles to go. This was after hiking an hour to reach the beginning of the trail. As Carrie said in an earlier post, we didn’t quite make it but we had a great time.
After the Blue Mountains we came back to our end of the island and Gabe spent three days tagging along as we went to work. Almost as much fun as the Peace Corps office. We did take some time and show her around the communities where we work and she met a lot of people. Then last Friday we finally got back to the tourist activities. We went to Negril and met up with Keith. Most of the day was spent walking on the beach, swimming, and drinking Red Stripe. Then in the mid-afternoon we went down to Pirates Cave for some cliff jumping. It is about 25 feet there and Keith jumped several times and I jumped once. Then we went down to a shorter cliff so Gabe could jump a few times. We watched the sun set over the ocean and then headed home.
Saturday we went to explore Beeston Spring where I do most of my community work. We walked through the community and saw the sights, had a farm tour, ate a jack fruit, saw a doctor bird (the national bird), and relaxed. I did have a community meeting that night so we also saw the nightlife in a small rural town. It was another great day.
Since Sunday it has been mostly back to work. Thursday I go to Kingston with Gabe and she flies out Friday morning. I have been really busy so I haven’t had a chance to post much, but hopefully soon I will be able to upload pictures we took over the past couple of weeks to my Flickr page.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mi wan ten poun plummi, massa!

I just need to boast for just a minute. Just one quick minute, please.

We got up early today and went to New Market in St. Elizabeth. This is where the open air market sellers go to purchase their wholesale produce. We got fresh tomatoes for $10J per pound. Yup. That is $0.14US per pound.

Needless to say, we have a lot of tomatoes now.

Monday, January 28, 2008

An amusing anti-litter participant

I walked into the office the other day, and everyone was crowded around the newest addition to the anti-litter contingent in the community.

Scott's sister had been visiting us for the last week or so, and we have been able to show her a good bit of the island that we know as well as going on some new adventures. Two weekends ago we spent time in Mavis Bank (home of Jablum coffee factory and PCV JJ) and attempted to climb the highest peak in Jamaica. We started from Mavis Bank and climbed for five and a half hours and we were still about 30 minutes from the peak. In order to get back to the river fording at the bottom before dark, we decided to turn around. Even though we didn't make the top, it was still one of the best days we have had here. Total of 21 miles, 6000 feet in elevation gain and I did it all in Chacos. Big-up for Chacos! Nary a blister was to be had and it was wonderful to have the full utility of my toes while hiking on uneven terrain. Huzzah!

The Yallahs river fording- this was one of two forks that had to be crossed.

Scott and I at the turn around point about 30 minutes from the peak. If the clouds weren't there you would be able to see the top in the background of the picture...

Gabe and I overlooking the coffee farms on the "Jacob's Ladder" portion of the upper trail on the way down from the top.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oh, the new year

Well, I must start by saying Happy New Year to everyone and, of course, my apologies for not posting in so long. I have not been sure exactly what to post lately, and I will partially blame that for the delay in writing. No matter how I spin it, though, I will admit that 2008 (thus far) has been a tough one for me. As Scott mentioned, the holidays were fine but strange given the weather and absence of family.

As for my recent challenges? What can I say beyond this is what Peace Corps is all about. I realized that for a couple weeks I was really just seeing the negatives and the things that I probably won't be able to change in my time here. Those negatives are a reality here and I am just one person. Along with recognizing my capacity, I need to make sure that I pay attention to the beautiful things and events around me. The people that I work with are wonderful, and it is really thanks to them that I feel empowered to come out of my funk.

It also really helped that Christmas arrived this week. We received so many cards and gifts last weekend that it really lifted our spirits. Thank you to everyone! Among the gifts was a book from the Eklund's- a compilation of essays from the NPR series This I Believe. Just reading the forward by Jay Allison brought me back to reality and made me think about what is really important. Many of the essays really are beautiful, thoughtful, and pertinent no matter where in the world you might be.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Christmas in July

What happens when the weather doesn't change from July to December? It still feels like December and you get Christmas in July. That is what it felt like here. Not really Christmas. It was nice to have the time off and we enjoyed spending time with friends, but it still doesn't feel like Christmas has happened.

For Christmas day we stayed in Belmont and had brunch with five other Peace Corps volunteers. We woke up early and made cinnamon rolls for brunch. We hung out by the sea and visited until mid-afternoon and then went home and made dinner (roast chicken, mashed potatoes, dressing, and gravy). It was a very nice day.

Boxing Day is a big holiday in Jamaica. Our host family as having a large holiday meal for family and friends on Boxing Day and we said we would help out, so we got up early and headed up to Cave. It was a fantastic day. We spent the day helping our host family and some other family friends prepare a ton of food, and then we got to eat all of the food. It was great. Definitely the best day of the holidays.

We spent the rest of the week relaxing and buying our bicycles. We still haven't ridden them. In the US when you buy a bicycle the place where you buy them puts them together and tunes them so they are ready to go out of the store. In Jamaica they just put them together. The wheels aren't trued, the derailleur and brakes aren't adjusted, and the wheels were only inflated right before we left the store. It took me a week to get a bike tool with a spoke wrench from another volunteer so hopefully in the next week we can get them all tuned up and ready to go.

For New Years two volunteers from Manchester came out Sunday night and stayed with us. We spent Monday on the beach getting a nice light burn and then cooking a very nice dinner. We spent the night at a party nearby.

Now the vacation is over and we are back at work, which is good. The holiday season did feel like a week and a half off in the middle of summer and that is just a little bit hard on the system. On Wednesday a "cold" front hit Jamaica and the weather this week has been cooler (highs in the upper 70's, lows in the low 70's) and windy. It feels nice, but the gusting winds tend to make a lot of noise at night (slamming doors, scraping branches, blowing things about) and wake us up.