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?!

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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

Set Me Up

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When I moved to Jamaica, I learned about Nine Nights- Jamaica’s funerary ritual- and the Setup, a Jamaican party during the Nine Nights after someone has died; revelers dance, drink, eat, and celebrate the life of the deceased. Unsurprisingly, after hearing all about these nights and a party Setup, I wanted to experience it, to dance to music meant to draw everyone together in a celebration of life, memory, and community.

One full moonlit night around 9 pm, we set out for a Setup. We arrived far too early, before the band had even arrived for their sound check, so we went to one of our community’s main squares to pass the time. I could hear the thump of the bass and smell the heady aroma of smoke before we saw the Barber Shop. As soon as I saw it, I remembered how the previous Peace Corps Volunteer had mentioned going there to get various designs shaved on her head. We had some time, so my next thought was, “how much?” Continue reading

Jamaican Lessons I

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Sunset in Portland

People say you learn something new every day, but I imagine I learn much more during this great experiment of life. My dad always says, “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know,” to which I always reply, “Guess it doesn’t really matter then, does it?” What I do remember from what I’ve learned pon dis rok, though, I’d like to share; I find it stunning how differently we humans live our lives, yet all still smile at a pink streaked sunset, laugh when our 86 year old Grandma farts, and cry in the security lane of an airport’s Departures terminal, glancing back to see our Mom crying too.

And so begins my first installment of Jamaican Lessons… Continue reading

Rooted and Grounded

Rooted and grounded in the name of the Lord
Rooted and grounded in the Holy Ghost
If you want to go to Heaven
Got to be rooted and grounded
Rooted and grounded in the name of the Lord

As the song cycled through stanza and chorus for twenty minutes, the minibus passengers began to sing along, including the driver. I was sitting near the front, so I couldn’t escape memorizing the song, even joining in near the song’s end. Throughout the week, the song’s chorus came to mind, as my mind wandered in class, as I watered plants at our demonstration plot, as I sit here typing these letters. Regardless of spiritual beliefs, the song stuck with me, and I could no sooner shake it than I could forget why it stayed with me in the first place.

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Peace Corps Jamaica 87 Demo Plot- Photo Credit Evan Adams

“Bloom where you are planted.” As the teacher spoke from the pulpit (“you will not get a preacher this morning, you’ll get a teacher”) of knowing your purpose, she underlined the importance of service and passion. She beseeched us to dream, to know our passions and use them to find our purpose.

My brain buzzed with images of seedlings, roots, a life ina Jamieka coming from farin. How could I be rooted when I wasn’t sure where my roots lay? How would I ground myself on foreign territory? Would my passion for service, for love, lead me to push out roots, searching farther and deeper for that which drives me inexorably on?

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Hibiscus at my Jamaican home :

As an environmental Peace Corps Trainee -a fledgling Volunteer gaining her wings- the metaphor of plants and roots is apt, and a reminder to stay present and alive, nurtured by the elements and care of fellow Trainees and Jamaicans. Plants expend great energy pushing out roots, and struggle to keep them strong. This struggle often makes the plant healthier, as when vines that aren’t coddled produce the best wines. As far as metaphors go, this symbol of a strong, sometimes struggling plant, fruitful not pampered, fills me with hope. I will push out roots gradually, often unbeknownst to me.

One day I’ll have my first full conversation in Patwa, my host mom will call me daughter, and I’ll make yams, dumplings, and jerk chicken for dinner. That day I’ll know how the roots have pushed just a bit deeper.