I Like Big Butts (Not Gonna Lie)

You can’t deny, we live in a butt-obsessed world. From Kim Kardashian to Pippa Middleton, every way you turn, it’s to get a better view of dat backside.

I thought the US had it bad, but when I moved to Jamaica, I realized it’s not just us. Big butts, or batty as they’re known here, pop out in tight dresses and leggings that many women in the US wouldn’t wear because they reveal more than desired. I wondered, though, if a beautiful batty was more important for Americans or Jamaicans. So, like any curious connoisseur, I took to the streets.

My methodology was simple: ask Americans and Jamaicans, “what does the ideal butt (or batty) look like to you?” The answers both challenged and confirmed my assumptions.

There seemed to be two camps, the “peach butt” camp, and the “beauty is beyond butt” camp. The “peach butt” camp can best be summarized with this Peace Corps Volunteer’s assertion that, “the ideal butt to me…ummm. Like a peach. Like a nice, supple peach. Not saggy, [but] perky. Not too big, not too small. Gotta look right on the right body size”. Others agreed, stating, “Gotta have undercheek. It’s gotta be grabbable”. And Jamaicans were just as pro-peach as Americans, claiming the ideal is, “not floppy, not too fat, slightly round”.

…yumm…

The “beauty is beyond butt” camp is best reflected with the claim that “[A big butt] is as beautiful as any other kind of butt”. Others agreed, stating “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, and, “I can appreciate all shapes and sizes. Just a different look”.

I was surprised by the wisdom and earnestness of these answers. Those of the “peach butt” persuasion (to which I admittedly belong) may reflect just as deeply on notions of beauty as the “beauty is beyond butt” camp, and yet, I found myself wishing the conversation about body image went deeper than “Can you bounce a dime off it?”

Whether we’re discussing legs, arms, or butt cheeks, we inevitably compare. “She has a nice butt, but her boobs are kinda small” or “He’s cute but I wish he had better abs”. Now, I’m not saying that we all have to ignore what we see, and deny what we are attracted to. As a proponent of the “peach butt” persuasion, I’m more attracted to butts that are defined, that look like they would fit nicely in your palm. Lust, it seems, has never been blind.

And of course, attraction plays a large role in love. But what I really admire about those that appreciate butts of “all shapes and sizes” is their commitment to seeing beauty in all people, no matter what Sir Mix-A-Lot (or Nicki Minaj or Meghan Trainor) says.

You don’t have to like someone’s butt to be their friend, in the same way that the sweetest smelling rose might not always be the prettiest. When you recognize someone for their true beauty- the heart and soul they put out into the world- you validate their humanity, affirm their presence, and in a word, love them.

So what did I really learn after my callipygian quest? Desire is a powerful force, defined and managed by the media, society at large, cultural norms, and personal preferences. These norms are often constrictive, oppressive, and unattainable, with histories that place those of a certain skin color and look above others. These histories of oppression should not be swept over.

I wanted to share a picture of actual batty, so mine will have to do

I firmly believe that you can simultaneously focus on a person’s inner beauty, though while acknowledging their struggles with outer beauty, but you have to start with yourself. When a fellow volunteer described the ideal female butt as, “round, but not super fat, cocked up”, I thought “Oh, so mine”. I stand by that. I can be witty, clumsy, ribald, and determined, and still be happy that my derriere looks great in jeans and leggings. Now isn’t that just peachy?

 

 

 

Make the First Move

When a Dove chocolate wrapper told me to “Make the first move”, I was pretty sure it wasn’t talking about my work life, convincing me rather to find that cute boy and ask him if he wanted to watch Netflix, “and maybe then we could chill.”

Modern romance aside, I’ve always thought Dove chocolate messages had some slightly significant role in my life. Maybe it’s the chocolate releasing dopamine into my bloodstream, or maybe I’m just persuaded by the silvery font winking up at me, but their messages have reassured and encouraged me in ways no fortune cookies could.

Not the Dove chocolate message, but an apt one :P

Not the Dove chocolate message, but an apt one 😛

Make the first move. To most of us, this means telling your crush how you feel, or maybe waiting for the right lighting, or the right amount of wine, to find the right amount of courage to plant one on their possibly unsuspecting lips. The more I thought about Dove’s seemingly superficial message, the more it seemed relevant, personal, the right prescription to cure the troubles bothering me.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica, my fellow farmers often tell me I’m not ready to go out into the field, not strong enough to carry the water all the way back up the hill, not sure-footed enough to climb down the grass strewn slope. And often, they have a point.

As I’ve written about before, it takes time to navigate the mysterious labyrinth that is a foreign culture. You regularly make mistakes you’re not aware you’ve made until someone else points them out (oops). You spend so much energy just trying to correctly buy your groceries, understand a complete conversation, and make friends with locals, that a 40 hour work week seems preposterous.

But sometimes, you can’t dip your toe into the pool to test if it’s a suitable temperature; sometimes, you just have to jump. Sometimes, you have to make the first move. Especially when you’re trying to accomplish a task others don’t really think you can, you have to show them that you can do it; telling them isn’t enough.

Sittin' pretty before hiking up Jamaica's highest mountain :)

Sittin’ pretty before hiking up Jamaica’s highest mountain 🙂

As I carried the water jug up the steep hillside to my home, my host Auntie couldn’t believe I was actually doing it. She has bigger, stronger, more weathered biceps than I do, but in this case, mind conquered matter. And as she told everyone what I’d done, I glowed. The amount of street cred that water jug brought me was more than enough compensation for my achy arms. Getting out there and just doing it, as Nike would encourage, feels like the smart decision in a Peace Corps life.

So make the first move! Try a new hobby you’ve always wanted to pursue, take on that work project, or find that cute boy, wait for the sunset, and tell him, sun glinting off his eyes, “You know, you’re not half bad”…

So fly....he's already got the moves :*

So fly….he’s already got the moves ❤

Why I Joined Peace Corps

“Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting. We irritate locals because we stand in traffic islands and narrow streets and admire what they take to be unremarkable small details. We risk getting run over because we are intrigued by the roof of a government building or an inscription on a wall.” Alain De Botton. The Art of Travel

A couple of years ago, a study emerged claiming there are 2 types of people: those born with a certain “wanderlust” gene, one that would spur its owner on to risk-prone behaviors like boarding aircrafts for hard to pronounce locales, or putting too much wasabi on a particularly pungent piece of sushi, and those born without it. I implicitly distrust these types of studies; how could a piece of my DNA inform my desire to ride on a train for seemingly endless days over seemingly endless swathes of Siberian landscape, punctuated by stops on platforms hawking hard boiled eggs, ice cream on a stick, and those fuzzy-furry Russian hats we all secretly want to wear?

Beach house in Treasure Beach

Beach house in Treasure Beach

DNA aside, upon reading the book whose quotation introduced this post, I decided to uncover why it is I joined Peace Corps, beyond the reasons I stated in my application essay. If I figured this out, perhaps a piece of me would begin to unravel like a bit of loose string on an old shirt, and once pulled out, I would understand myself more fully.

Peace Corps Volunteers talk about “service”, giving of themselves to yet unknown humans with emotions, daily struggles, and dramas all their own. We too often forget, I believe, how much we receive from our host families and countries. Before joining Peace Corps, however, this notion that living in a foreign world with foreign customs and foreign landscapes, would make me a more whole, more Sarah version of myself invaded me, percolating to the tips of my consciousness until I finally clicked “Submit”, on my tablet’s cracked screen, sending away my completed application irrevocably. I don’t know about my fellow volunteers (and I should probably ask), but for me, thoughts of life in another country all had a glamourous tint, like the perfect Instagram filter, showing only the best while cropping out the unsavory.

Case in Point: Flower Perfect Peace Corps Service

Case in Point: Flower Perfect Peace Corps Service

The shininess of the new and unseen is infinitely irresistible, and not only because it will mold me into a supposedly better person. When I venture into territories unknown, I am less comfortable, more willing to stop and think, rather than judge away all that passes. And perhaps this is my favorite part of being dropped into a culture that shares only some of the characteristics of the one I call home. To look onto a space with fresh eyes, one that sees the world for its potential rather than its problems, is a blessing Peace Corps volunteers must embrace to succeed.

This openness pushes me to notice the brown bird perching atop the neighbor’s bamboo pole, citron stripes painted down its back like a racecar, to listen to its song so that I can later repeat it to my host Auntie, who despite my poor imitation, will probably be able to tell me it’s a brown breasted Twitter*…or something like that. I want to take this openness with me everywhere I go, from Main Street, Annapolis to unknown (to me) stretches of Patagonia.

Next Stop? Only time will tell <3

Next Stop? Only time will tell ❤

I don’t know if my desire to join Peace Corps derived in some part from my genetic coding, but I do know that the clouds I see scudding across Kingston one rainy morning from the Blue Mountains of Jamaica will pass away, sun piercing through them to shine on New Kingston’s new buildings, and all that goes on below. I might chase the sun halfway around the earth to look at the world with fresh eyes and mind, but really, you can do this at home. Simply close your eyes, pretend you’re in a new place, and open. The rest is up to you…

*There’s no such thing as a “brown breasted Twitter”. It was simply the first fictional bird name to pop into my head. If in fact, I am wrong and there is a brown breasted Twitter out there, I apologize. That’s most likely not the bird I saw 😛

Tiek Taim (Take Time)

“They had fallen into the habit of considering their universe to be boring—and their universe had duly fallen into line with their expectations.” The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton

Upon arrival in Jamaica, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer told us to “take time”, what I would soon treasure as Jamaica’s unofficial motto. For a flighty person like myself, this is both easy and hard- easy to be flexible because life is not a straight line, and hard to stay committed to never ending projects that require constant care. Even unwrapping the concept of taking time has taken time; I had to live through a summer as slow as molasses only to jump into a spring of activity once school (and a flurry of Peace Corps conferences, and the hurricane season) began.

I packed these lessons up in my head, reminding myself not to get too upset after the 20th phone call to the man who could replace our lightning struck router. “Soon come” in Jamaica might not mean soon in a North American context, but whatever it is will happen at some point. Fittingly, each time I put finger to keyboard to write about time taking, I paused, unsure what to tap out.

 

This view is great!! No kidding :P

This view is great!! No kidding 😛

I’ve never admitted to writer’s block; I always thought that affliction visited those whose brains had become tired, who didn’t snap to attention at the sound of a twittering bird or stop to smell each flower along the path.  So when the stories I wrote about taking time flopped, no common thread strong enough to save them from the Recycle Bin, I shrugged off the suspicion that perhaps I wasn’t taking enough time.

You have to live keenly, to enter wildly into the world around you, in order to write about it. But you also have to let some things sit, to forget about them as you continue to go through the motions of quotidian habit. Then one day, as the sun pours into your room while lounging in bed, you get it. The expectations you have for people and projects- don’t forget them- but face them. Turn them into a badge you see every time you look in the mirror. When your friend didn’t give you the affection you craved, when your little host brother taunted you, when you had to read each grant application question five times over until everyone heard you: recall that your expectations are the reason you became upset when things turned out differently than you anticipated.

Boat, sea, sun, repeat :)

Boat, sea, sun, repeat 🙂

Life will never go quite as planned, but that’s good. What I fight for, the things I take time to accomplish, will end up differently than I envisioned. By facing my expectations, transforming them into realistic windows of my world, I realize I have all time I need, so I’ll take it.

Jamaican Lessons II

Not bad for a conference location, eh?

Not bad for a conference location, eh?

1. Jamaicans love to laugh, but their humor is not your humor, and blunt honesty is the name of the game.
When someone falls down in Jamaica, even if they fall into a gully, everyone will laugh. This might seem mean to people from other cultures, but reflects the extreme honesty that Jamaicans embrace. When someone falls, it’s funny. If someone has no arm, call them ‘Stumpy’. In Jamaica, call a spade a spade.

2. And just because you aren’t a great singer, you’ll still belt out your favorite tune at karaoke.
Related to the first lesson, Jamaicans aren’t afraid to live out loud. The first time I attended church, my eyes grew wide as the congregation sang tunes completely off key. I’m used to people hiding their insecurities, their flaws and weaknesses, but in Jamaica, they are embraced, polished, and shown off, in the same way talents, and strengths are. If you’re going to sing, you might as well do it loudly, right? I’ve taken this one to heart, probably to the dismay of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers…you’ll just have to deal with my voice, wobbly but heartfelt 😛

3. Jamaicans fullticipate in Patwaa word play!
Jamaicans sometimes use different words to express their desired meaning, such as fullticipate, rather than participate, meaning, in this case, that you should fully, not partially, participate. I love this word play, as language is a living, breathing thing that takes on the personality of its time. TBH, how else could we talk in acronyms, or type “selfies” and “googling” without seeing the squiggly red underline of spell check doom?

In the seat of luxury... :D

In the seat of luxury… 😀

4. Taxi rides are philosophical…mostly.
Listening to other Jamaicans on the dozens of taxi rides I’ve braved, I notice that the conversations run from nonexistent, to emotion filled, to gently mocking. Somehow, though, they usually manage to comment on the inner workings of human life, from the right way to be a Christian, to how to correctly raise an unruly daughter. See below for my favorite example that combines this and the previous lesson.

5. Stand in love?
Last Saturday, coming home in one of the previously mentioned philosophical taxis, I heard our driver, Tall Man, saying “Ya haffi stan in love. Nah fall in love!”* He explained that you should stand strong as a tree, not bending, when loving someone else. Otherwise, you might fall down, and end up too hurt to get up. He actually said to only give 60% (or so…) of yourself to the other person, presumably so not too much of yourself is spent in love. Now, normally, I would agree with my love guru taxi driver, but this attitude of standing seemingly apart struck me as too cold. I am very independent, thinking of myself first in every major life decision, but love is a different song. It doesn’t seem to be something that you can-or should- enter thinking of how you’ll avoid bending and breaking; love takes two people willing to give a little of themselves to the other person so that they can become something greater than the sum of their parts, even at the risk of ending up hurt. As Tall Man said, this often leaves us with invisible bruises that hurt and last far longer than the kind you get when you fall down, but then, isn’t it better to fall and end up in someone’s arms, than to live forever standing, waiting and not finding? So go ahead! Fall hard in love. ❤

Negril at sunset

Negril at sunset

*You have to stand in love. Don’t fall in love.

​Sharing Stories

“I exist in two places, here and where you are”. – Margaret Atwood

So much of our life seems to happen in moments of waiting: sweating while a bus fills with passengers, nervously going over what you want to say before your big presentation, looking out the window as the raindrops fall, knowing your plans will be canceled before they even occur. But in these moments of waiting, we reflect, strengthening our self-awareness so that we can go out into the world and share our story with others. Reflection makes possible connection.

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Relaxing at “hilltop” above my house. This is not a promotional Peace Corps picture (but maybe it should be) 😛

On the ride to church, I quietly look out upon the open vista of clouds playing tag with the mountains below. I put up my hair and lean my face towards the window to catch a breeze as I sit on the hot, gray fabric. I wait to arrive at church, to sing, to pray, to listen, and to have my thoughts wander lazily like a desultory conversation among old friends. On the ride back, however, I talk to my family, joke, and discuss the sermon or songs sung. As I play with my hair, I listen as my family kisses their teeth* or tells me, “Yu nah easy” which I generally take to mean that I’m willful.

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My host brother and I, holding hands at church ❤

The ride back home from church is loud, vivacious, full of the moments that connect people, while the ride there is quiet, meditative, full of the moments that connect you to your thoughts. I need both these kinds of moments in my life in Jamaica; I need to breathe before I can laugh, to know myself before I can know others.

As an itinerant storyteller, I am comfortable with change, with movement, with ambiguity, but in relationships, you need to build comfort one conversation at a time; each story you share brings you a little closer to theirs. I reflect so that I can connect, so that I can share my story with others. What good is my story if there are no ears to hear it? So when I wave my hands, widen my eyes as they look into yours, and tell you, laughing, how I almost lost a herd of goats on the steppes of Mongolia, I do it because I can’t wait to quietly smile as you tell me a story that will bring us yet closer.

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My Peace Corps friend, Lindy, and I, enjoying a boat ride in Port Morant’s harbor. I love sharing stories with her 🙂

*kiss your teeth: to purse your lips and make a sucking noise when you’re judging something or someone

​Carry me, brudda

As a category 4- temporarily category 5- hurricane spirals towards Jamaica, forcing my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and I to consolidate in Kingston while leaving our host families behind, that clichéd expression slips into my brain, “I never thought this would happen to us.” 

But it is happening. Walking down my goat path, rain splattering the bottom half of my cotton maxi dress and further ruining my leather sandals, I turn to look at my house. Thinking of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt, I don’t linger, but turn my head as my brow furrows in anxiety, and tears well up on my rain soaked face. I’ve been away from my family for two weeks, returned for twelve hours to give out hugs and gifts from faarin*, and tell them to prepare, to get water and food, and stay safe and be safe and so many other things I can’t think of in that moment I hug them. “This can’t be the last time we see each other,” is my last thought as we embrace.

A stormy St. Andrew

Waiting for a taxi while pre-hurricane storms stream down outside the shop, I realize I’ve missed the taxi I’d planned to take. Thirty minutes later, Sam** pulls up in his pickup truck, asking, “You wanna go down?” I pull open the door and jump in, remembering his face, but not his name. I want to ask why he didn’t offer a space in the back of his truck (it’s a 4-seater) to the other man waiting to go into town, but realize it’s entirely not my place.

We drive down the mountain as rain continues to pound the truck and the tires thud into the road’s many potholes, my butt becoming airborne every time. Our conversation turns to infrastructure and how I could go about attempting to fix these country roads. Sam speaks with passionately acerbic energy about Jamaica’s government and people, and how things will never change despite a passive desire for improvement. I think, “But he hasn’t met my host family”.

A man with an umbrella tilted up slightly by the wind’s strengthening blows calls out to Sam, “Carry me, brudda” ***, asking for a lift downtown. Sam replies that he has to get into town, that he has no space for this soaked Jamaican. I realize this is the second time I’ve seen Sam refuse passage to a needy soul.

As Sam continues to rage on about the government and its failing economic policies, I notice a rainbow winking at me as it rises up from the valley below. I smile automatically, thinking of a rainbow’s biblical origins in stormy times, and its more secular meaning nowadays, of pots of gold and hope.

A double rainbow, caught by fellow PCV & friend, Lindell Reust

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I’m told by the media that means I should be some bleeding heart liberal, well-meaning and hard-working, but with misplaced idealism in a world that continues to batter and roar against myriad injustices. But I don’t see that; I don’t see some chimerical rainbow leading to a disappearing pot of gold, but a blaze of lights driving me to do good (and do it well 😉 .

I see my fellow Volunteers who inspire me every day, as they teach children how to play American football, cut down their first plantain, and say “Mornin’” to literally everyone pon di road.**** I see Hurricane Matthew barreling towards my new home, and though some, like Sam, may doubt Jamaica’s compassion, I don’t see that. 

If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.

So in the face of a literal or figurative storm, when you ask me to carry you, I will not turn away. I will carry you when the winds blow so hard you feel your feet slipping away, because someone has always been there to catch me when I start to fall.
*from foreign, abroad

**not his real name

***brother

****on the road

White Privilege in Jamaica

 

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Taxi View of the Blue Mountains

Looking at the near-empty bus, I knew I would have to wait at least thirty minutes, probably an hour, before it started its engine and slowly rolled out of the Country Bus Park. To my right, I saw another bus just about to pull out. As I looked at its dokta*, hands on the wheel about to ease his left foot off the clutch, I stepped in line to get on the slow-filling bus.

 

“Eh, eh, miss, room up here!” the dokta yelled to me from his near-moving vehicle. The loada** of the bus I was waiting in line for ushered me up to the adjacent bus in a seat facing the back, the gear shift centimeters from my butt. The dokta smiled at me, turned to the loada, then grinned and said how lucky he was to have me next to him. Flashing him my, “You’re gross, but I don’t feel like getting into that”*** smile, eyebrows raised in annoyance, I nodded. Despite the pervy driver, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to get on that bus, saving myself an hour of sweating in the stationary sauna parked beside us. Continue reading

beauty is dirt caked fingernails

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Beauty is fleeting.”

Red lips pouting at me from the mirror, highlighter catching the fluorescent light and making my cheekbones shimmer subtly, a highly arched eyebrow raised in scrutiny, I gave myself the once-over, attempting to leave no detail unnoticed.

Growing up in a world where beauty is often touted as the ultimate achievement, especially for women, I find it difficult not to care about what I look like, at least to a certain point.

Fortunately, there’s a different narrative.

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Red-ripe Tomatoes…Guess who’s makin’ pizza Friday?!

Continue reading

The Blinking Cursor

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Clouds reflected among the lily pads of the Black River

As I stepped out into the Blue Mountain fog, my brain whizzed with thoughts as I tried to sort them, its murkiness reflected in the view before me.

On the tough days of my Peace Corps service- the lows, the thorns, the troughs- I have to force myself to act like I normally would, miming my optimistic behaviors in an effort to recreate that conquer-the-world state. But I don’t always succeed. Not all roads lead to a happy ending; not every blog post resolves the problems I sought to unknot as I sat down to the tapping of my fingers, relaying the thoughts I didn’t know I had until they materialize in a Word 2013 document in front of me. Continue reading