Scuba Sense

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Port Antonio Pier by Night

Driving along Jamaica’s North Coast, I squinted across the cerulean seas of the Atlantic, daydreams of a nearby Cuba playing through my mind. Interrupting my tobacco scented reverie, a hawker approached our sardine-packed coaster bus* yelling, “Sweetie mangoes! Sweetie mangoes!” I didn’t buy any, assuming the small mangoes would be nowhere near as flavorful as my favorite variety: East Indian.

Pulling into the marina of Port Antonio, known locally as Portie, I smiled. The sea whipped up a breeze that cooled the sweat on the back of my neck as I picked up my mask and fins, hauling them to the dock for the first of my Advanced Certification dives.

A year and half had passed since my last dive, and though I remembered the freedom and ease life beneath the waves promised, I needed a few reminders on how to get there. For instance, when diving, it is necessary to put the regulator- the thing that helps you breathe- into your mouth. Who’da thunk? These minor hiccups aside, I quite literally jumped back in, finding my groove once more.

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Snorkel Face is the New Duck Face 😛

The color and size of objects appear differently underwater (because science); a fish looks smaller and brighter on land. Swimming above a few damselfish, I couldn’t help wondering how perfect everything down here seemed to be, how unfettered by human touch and thought. A yellowtail damselfish is a small, solitary fish that lives close to shore, with diamond-like stars glimmering against their midnight sky coloring. I paused, fins slowly pedaling to stop me from drifting on, in awe of the tiny dots of blue splashed across their dorsal fin, as light as a brilliant summer day, and more promising. They reminded me of Swarovski crystals, of women in gowns dancing with the rest of their glitterati, of Christmas trees twinkling in snow-flecked towns whose light, caught by the numerous icicles and snowdrifts glimmered and shone like a million minuscule diamonds. But here I was, dozens of feet and meters down, looking at the fin of a fish not much bigger than my hand.

Flipping my fins away from my sparkly friend, I came across eight spiny lobster. Sitting fairly still, their long whiskery antennae floating feebly in the current, I imagined a lobster vending machine, though these weren’t animals I intended to eat.

Under the sea, time seems to stand still. Pirouetting, swimming upside down, sideways, all ways, I felt freed of the gravitational chains that bind me on land. Looking to my left, right, up, down, a complete 360° view that eclipses you on Earth, I felt that anything was possible. In a world where breathing in water is left to those with gills and flying to those with wings, scuba offers an escape, an exception to God’s rules. Below, I can fly, I can breathe, and with ease, with a mindfulness I unthinkingly eschew as I plod the concrete jungle we call home. Perhaps that is what truly draws me below: the chance to live against the rules, like a child out of Peter Pan, knowing without a doubt that one day, no matter the obstacles, I can fly!

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Folly Lighthouse, Port Antonio

The chance to break free from the limits our nature imposes on us is a rare feeling, one I can only experience conscientiously. Like a child learning to walk, the world unfolds in ways previously unthought-of. To the crawling toddler, stairs are the Pyramids at Giza, but when foot connects to ground, a plethora of possibilities awaits. Though I cannot take the reality of an underwater world with me, I strive to imagine our earthly reality as a limitless plane, opportunities stretching out as far as the mind can fathom. With that scuba sense of wonder, what isn’t possible?

*How can a bus that bounces, thumps, and thuds be called a coaster?! It does everything but coast…

​Jamaican Lessons III

As of this weekend, I’ve officially lived in my community for one year. I’m not sure this is a significant milestone in terms of anything other than the earth’s rotation around the sun, but it does force a certain comparison. Specifically, how is the Sarah today different from the Sarah one year ago? Here’s some self-reflection for you, Jamaican tested and approved.

Pelicans & Palm Trees

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​A Rainy Day in Jamaica

Sitting in my bed, door opened to the gray, shrouded vista of Kingston below, tumbleweeds of mist rolled through my room, making my toes curl, and my smile light up; in that moment I knew I’d found my Jamaican home.

Kingston at twilight

Almost a year later, and one rainy Saturday got me thinking: since Jamaicans stay a yaad* when it rains, what do I do? Sense by sense, I’ll take you through my rainy day in Jamaica. Continue reading

Battle of the Bees: A Guide to Jamaican Honey

Our three contenders, from left-right: St. Thomas, St. Andrew, St. Elizabeth

Every morning I wake up to a chilly breeze silently, invisibly, invading my room. I curl my toes and shrug the blankets up to my chin. I stretch out my body, and think of my awaiting bowl of steaming oatmeal. Like clockwork, I fill up the kettle with water, flick my thumb across the lighter so the flames catch and the water boils, and add cinnamon to my bowl of instant oats. Before the kettle’s shrill cry alerts me to add the water, I pause. Bending down to grab the rum sized bottle of honey, I tip it so the golden liquid eases onto my spoon, forming an amber pool that gleams when it catches the sun. Without honey, my oatmeal would be an insipid mush.

After learning one year ago that I could get honey from local beekeepers, I vowed to get it nowhere else, and that has been one of the easiest promises to keep in Jamaica. More difficult has been deciding which honey to buy. Should I buy the esteemed logwood honey from St. Elizabeth, supposedly sweeter and more coveted than the others? Should I buy uber-local honey, from the woman across the hill in St. Andrew whose bees could very well pollinate my host family’s coffee blossoms? Or should I buy honey from the first place I purchased it in Jamaica in St. Thomas, where I trained to become a Peace Corps Volunteer? Decisions, decisions.

So like any lusty glutton, I decided to purchase all three bottles and conduct a taste test. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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 😛

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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 😛 Continue reading

​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. Continue reading