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


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


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


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


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.


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?