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

Weh ya seh?

Back to Africa Miss Matty?
Yuh noh know wha yuh day-sey?
Yuh haffe come from some weh fus,
Before yuh go back deh?

Wat a debil of a bump-an-bore,
Rig-jig an palam-pam!
Ef de whole worl’ start fe go back
Weh dem great granpa come from!

Go a foreign, seek yuh fortune,
But noh tell nobody sey
Yuh dah-go fe seek yuh homeland
For a right deh so yuh deh!

~”Back to Africa”, Jamaica Labrish, by Louise Bennett

 

A couple of years ago, at a family reunion, I told my aunt that my brother saw the world through music, and I saw it through words. I have since moved frum faarin to Jamaica, where every day, I find that new words open up new ways of thinking. Continue reading

Falling into Rhythm

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Running pon di road

Each time my foot pushes into the ground, propelling me further down the road, my breath comes a little bit quicker, heavier, wilder. Afterwards, I wonder how it is that I managed to bounce around the potholes, fly down the hills and trod back up them; I’m not a runner so finding my pace takes time.

When I imagined myself in the Peace Corps, I pictured an integrated me, hungry after working all day in the field with local farmers, wiping sweat from my forehead as I rubbed my clothes clean watching as other women did the same, teaching a class how to improve their crop yield with biodynamic farming. This image, one of hard work and success, ignored a necessary step: figuring out how to fit in. Continue reading

Each Day, One Difference, One Person: My Manifesto

When I woke up this morning, stretching and daydreaming of the pancakes I would later make, I thought to myself, “This day is for me. I’m going to do what I want.”

About an hour later, a good friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer called me crying. As a Floridian, she was worried about her friends, especially those she couldn’t reach. No one expects such carnage to happen in her backyard; this shock mingles with a helplessness that makes you wish you could be there to do something, to help in some way, while the other half of your brain tells you there’s no difference you could possibly make.

While washing dishes, I thought about my own responses to these tragedies. Terror, anger, and despair rush through my veins in waves of intense emotion, muddying my thoughts as I try to make sense of them. The problem is that there is no sense in actions of deep-seated hate, such as in the attacks in Orlando. So how should I respond? What should I do? What can I do, if anything? Continue reading

Pon di Oustop

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The Eastern View, Blue Mountains

Around dusk at my new home, I climb pon di oustop* to see Kingston turn on her lights as the dimming sun shoots pink, purple, and peach across the sky. Kingston begins to sparkle like a diamond that catches the sun’s rays and refracts them to all eyes watching, reminding me of colder nights spent crick-necked with crêpe in hand as I stared up at the Eiffel Tower glittering in the City of Lights.

It’s a funny thing, to be reminded of the past by a shimmer, a passing breeze, or a scent. But what is a human if not an amalgamation of senses, emotions, and reflections? Continue reading