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.


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?


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.

How to Order the Perfect Cone


Me eating ice cream at Devon House, Jamaica

I walk into an ice cream shop with two thoughts: 1) What scoop pairs well with chocolate? 2) Do they have waffle cones? At some point in my 27 years, I’ve become a fastidious ice cream eater. I can’t pinpoint when this happened, but I can rationalize it. Better yet, by the time I’m finished, you may never order ice cream the same way again. Here, then, are the Cash Rules for Ordering and Eating Ice Cream (yes, they’re more like guidelines).

  1. I always order two flavors, and one of them is almost always chocolate. If you don’t like chocolate, skip to step two- this step is not for you.

    Chocolate goes well with almost all other ice cream flavors. Vanilla? Duh. Blood orange? A combination I salivate over like a Pavlovian dog when memories of cobblestone and cranberry colored citrus creep into my cranium. Cinnamon? Never question the power that cinnamon and chocolate combined wield.

    The fact remains, ice cream flavors are a reflection of what we eat for desserts, so you won’t find kale and quinoa ice cream stocked at your local creamery. Furthermore, chocolate is one of the most common dessert ingredients, and clearly the best. What else can take a frozen banana from “why?” to “why do I not eat this every night?” What other food comes from a magical plant that offers antioxidants, instant pleasure, and the release of dopamine into the bloodsteam, scientifically proving its toe-curling, eye-closing, beyond-articulated-speech powers?

  2. So I’ve ordered my scoop of chocolate. You may think two flavors is overkill, but if you’re already getting chocolate (and if you’re not, go back and reread step one), you need to get an exploratory flavor. Maybe you’re in Bali, and they have dragon fruit ice cream, and you don’t think you could get that elsewhere. Maybe you’re really in the mood for citrus. Maybe you have no idea of what you want. Since we already know it will taste good with chocolate, think about what flavors you’re in the mood for, what’s common and/or tasty locally, and what the shop specializes in. Triangulate your flavor mood with local offerings and store specialties, and you’ve found your second flavor!
  3. Order waffle cone, if available. It’s less shitty-sugar tasting and has a snappier bite-crunch than sugar cones. Who cares if it costs more? You’re already spending more than one would want on flavored frozen cow’s breast milk.

    Also, if you’re thinking of ordering a bowl, just don’t. Ice cream is a dessert for the mature, for the young, and all ages in between. You don’t need to use a spoon just to showcase your refined motor skills. Real ice cream eaters order a cone. Forget the bowl, embrace the cone! (If traveling in a vehicle, this becomes more acceptable, as ice cream in your lap is worse than ice cream in a bowl.)

  4. LICK, don’t bite! I’ll never understand why some people bite their ice cream instead of licking it. When I lick it, each flavor spreads across my tongue, sweeping from the sweet buds to the tangy; I slowly embrace the creamy, cold concoction cooling my tongue. If you bite, you get ice cream all over your face, feel stabbing waves of icy pain in your teeth, and most sadly, the ice cream is gone more quickly. So lick!
  5. Enjoy! You’ve come a long way, so savor the most flavor diverse dessert in the world!

As a treat, I leave you with the most unforgettable cones I’ve licked and lapped to completion. Sweet dreams truly are made of these:

  • Blood orange and dark chocolate gelato, Chiaso, Italy
  • Cinnamon OR dragon fruit, Ubud, Bali (but NOT together; order with chocolate! My mouth was a little too fiery after eating a cinnamon/dragon fruit combo…)
  • Any creamy goodness, with chocolate, from Annapolis Ice Cream Company, Annapolis, Maryland. I’ve had the opportunity to try their cones many a time so maybe it’s local pride, but honestly, this shit is goooood.
  • Rum raisin or Devon Stout, Devon House, Kingston, Jamaica. Jamaican alcohol + Ice cream = DUH. Order it.
  • Absolutely any flavors you come across in Sicily. I am not exaggerating when I say most days I spent there involved two trips to a gelato shop, sometimes three. There’s a reason for it. Go, eat, and conquer!

Kumina Heartbeat

A nearly obscured candle flickered with hope beside a drum on which a man sat, beating out life’s pulse- thuuh-dum, thuuh-dum, thuuh-dum- as I swayed hypnotically to its charm. The musicians moved with this heartbeat of Kumina music; men and women were drumming drums, grating graters, and shaking shakers, while a surrounding ring of chanters called out for the deceased. Through this ceremony to help the dead pass on, life called out its beating pulse.

My host mom told me Jamaicans generally don’t talk about going to Kumina, the above described music and dance ceremony for someone who has just died. Some church members might call it heterodoxy, or even evil. Many people also associate Kumina with Obeah, which is often classified as Jamaica’s version of Voodoo. In the country with the most churches per square mile, this threat of rejection is real.

The Kumina I attended was in the parish of St Thomas, where these traditions hold steadfast. Because of its remoteness, Jamaican Christians were able to maintain and incorporate many of their African rituals into their Christian practice. “‘Kumina comes out of the Angola region- West Central Africa- and it’s survived in St Thomas as a largely African ceremony, one where the ancestral dead have the power to influence us beyond the grave.’“ (Ian Thomson, The Dead Yard)


Drummers, shakers, graters, and dancers at Kumina

During the ceremony, when the drummers beat their goatskin Kumina drums, they are calling to the ancestors of the person passing from our physical world to the spiritual realm. The Kumina rhythms are the language of the dead, and are used to transport spirits to here and now, specifically to help pass the spirit of the deceased to the next world. People sometimes become possessed by these ancestor spirits during Kumina. I didn’t witness this, but I believe possession takes many forms.

I watched as men splashed rum on their faces, drums, hair, even each other (in addition to drinking it with Pepsi). They focused on the beat, their togetherness, and their purpose; they were never once out of sync. I felt as if they played inside a snow globe, oblivious to the watchers and voyeurs surrounding them. I found myself swaying to the Kumina heartbeat, hitting each beat with the swish of my skirt.


The road to Port Morant

After dancing, swaying, chatting, chanting, and looking by candlelight at shadowy figures on drums and shakers, we sped and bumped back to Port Morant to our homes and quiet streets. Dodging another pothole, the Kumina drum’s heartbeat pulsed in my head. I felt the urge to live mindfully, expansively, present, like a wide-eyed child seeing snow for the first time, stretching out her tongue to test its icy softness.

Who could have guessed a party for the dead would be so full of life?

Starry Night

I wonder what Van Gogh would have thought about seeing his Starry Night on the insides of umbrellas, twinkling on the wall above college frat parties, and hidden underneath plates at dinner. Would he have picked that painting to canvas the world?

starry night

Van Gogh’s The Starry Night

Standing in front of said masterpiece at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, I walked as close as possible to the painting, looking at the meaty, brusque brushstrokes, wavy trees and sky, and fairy tale village cradled in the hills below. The many blues calmed me as the yellow stars popped out, a macaroni and cheese colored moon promising serenity and hope.

The little village, nestled beneath the light-filled expanse of night sky, captured my attention. What were the villagers doing? Had this always been their home? How did they know that it was the right home for them?

A few years later…

I arrived in Port Morant, Jamaica last Sunday. My host mom, Herma told me they were going out to Morant Bay and Seaforth; would I like to join?

On the pot hole filled, narrow road, cars and trucks zoomed toward us, letting us know of their presence just around the corner with many a loud, “HOOOONK!” There weren’t any seat belts in the back seat- I think I checked five or six times- instead, I maintained a death grip on the passenger door handle.

As we sped down the road, I stretched my head and neck out the window, observing the fading outlines of mountains, a twilight beach and a purple-streaked sky.

On the way back, I chanced another peek. As I craned my neck upwards, more constellations filled Jamaica’s sky than I had seen in months. I ducked my head back in as a truck passed, only to stick it out again, and again.


Port Morant, Jamaica

Something about that sky seemed to simultaneously comfort and encourage, as if you could lay in the grass looking up at it, sharing stories about the past and hopes for the future with a loved one, knowing that everything would turn out OK.

I felt the prickly sensation of déjà vu on the back of my neck as I pictured myself at the MOMA in front of Van Gogh’s star-filled night. That oil painted canvas elicited feelings of home and warm fuzziness.  As I gazed up at Jamaica’s night sky, my eyes began to water and I realized how the villagers of Van Gogh’s tiny town felt, how something as ordinary as stars could make you feel that finally you found home.