Since landing in Jamaica on March 13th, the last couple weeks of PST (pre-service training) have been full of transition and training. I was initially intending to publish a large post once a week, but I may start posting smaller pieces more frequently to stay on top of all that is happening.
After our warm welcome by the Peace Corps Jamaica staff and some current volunteers upon our arrival to the country, we stayed in a beautiful Kingston hotel for a few nights. There we enjoyed a dip in the pool after our first 8 hour training days, dinner on a twinkle light lit pagoda, and AC in our rooms. It was very cozy and nice to have such a comfortable place to ease into the initial big transition out of the US.
After the first few days filled predominantly with getting us organized and giving us a lot of basic information (exchange rates, Jamaican money, how to play dominoes, phones, what the next few weeks will look like, etc.) we moved in with our first host families in a smaller Jamaican community to begin learning more about Jamaican culture and to continue training mostly outside of Kingston. So far we’ve been doing about 8 hours of formal training each weekday.
The first weekend here I visited the nearby beaches with other PCTs from our group. It was refreshing to sink my feet into the warm sand and go swimming in the impossibly turquoise water. However, it was surprising to see that on a particular beach the shoreline had visibly shrunk compared to pictures of the same beach taken over the last few decades I had previously seen. I talked with one of the leaders of a fisherman’s community on the beach and he told me that this erosion was due largely to loss of coral reefs and coral bleaching from ocean acidification (largely due to the rising levels of CO2 in the air) and pollution (industrial and agricultural runoff). Some stretches of the coastline have been reinforced with rock seawalls to prevent further erosion, and the sea lapped up against these rocks with small, colorful fishermen shacks sitting no more that 8 feet away in some places.
This experience got me thinking about climate change and how island nations like Jamaica — that may not be large contributors to global pressures influencing our currently rising yearly average temperatures — are still largely at risk to damage from global warming through ocean acidification and rising sea levels, but are often limited to seeking ways to mitigate these damages rather than prevent them. Interestingly enough, that next Monday we were introduced to our first group projects for the environmental sector – one of which revolved around climate change. (Although the group I’m a part of is researching and presenting on the subject of biodiversity in Jamaica).
Last week on Wednesday we went out in small groups with a PC staff to downtown Kingston. We took various types of transportation available: red plate taxis, JUTC buses, and coaster buses. The downtown scene was crowded and vibrant. Everything was being sold, from fruits and cooked foods to electronics and clothes. Every 50 feet some shop or stall owner would have a sound system set up blaring loud and heavy beats to draw customers in and keep the vibe up. Some men carried carts with speakers playing music around with CD’s stacked on top for sale. Walking around all my senses were enraptures with the colors, music, delicious smells of cooking food, some wafts of unpleasant smells, shiny goods, gorgeously stacked fruits and veggies, the people, and the rhythmic cadence of the Jamaican Patwa being spoken by all the people around me. At the market I got a cold coca-cola and a bag of tamarind, then afterwards I ate a patty and mango at the Peace Corps office farther uptown in Kingston.
This last Saturday, our training group got to enjoy a day being tourists. We set out around 11am to our first destination and got a tour of Ft. Charles, which is part of what remains and has been rebuilt of Port Royal. This port used to be known as “the wickedest city on earth” due in part to it being a safe harbor for pirates and buccaneers to stay and do business in the early 1600’s. In 1692 a huge earthquake and tsunami sank 2/3 of the city under the sea and destroyed the rest of the city in what many think was a retribution for the sinful ways of the city.
Next, we toured the Devon House in Kingston, which is the architectural creation of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Stiebel, built in the late 19th century. At the time of our visit, the Devon House was also serendipitously hosting the Jamaica National Gallery: Jamaica Biennial 2017 . The architecture and history of the house was interesting but I found myself intrigued by the depth of the art found throughout the house. After our tour, we were treated to some ice cream from the world famous I Scream right outside the house. I had the coconut ice cream and it was to die for.
Naturally, we planned on having dinner after dessert, so after ice cream we headed to a mall in Kingston and had time to get food and shop around for anything we might need. I was able to find a yoga mat that I had been keeping an eye out for (I’m still kicking myself for not just bringing mine from home). Then we loaded back into the bus and watched a live theater show at the Pantomime theater in Kingston.
Living with a host family has been great help for learning the Jamaican Patwa and getting a better grasp of cultural norms in the country. Most mornings I wake up around 6am to make breakfast with my host mom and do chores before training starts at 8am. Jamaicans like to keep things neat and tidy so I’ve picked up some good habits like making my bed every day, sweeping the floor every day, and generally just keeping my room pretty spotless. I’ve also learned how to wash my clothes by hand and hang them up to dry on the clotheslines on the roof. When I come home from training around 5pm each day, my host mom usually has some delicious dinner already ready for me, then I do dishes, relax and work on homework in the evenings. A few days ago I learned how to play netball from a team of women and girls in the town we’re living in and I’m hoping to continue doing that regularly in the evenings as well (being tall has its perks).
The days have been long but these last couple weeks seem to have flown by. It’s nice to feel settled and safe in this community — the scariest part of my day has been jumping through my mosquito net at night with the lights off and hoping no blood suckers follow me through. In a week we will be moving again to our second host family of training and I’m excited to check out another community in Jamaica (and hopefully play some more netball).
As a last note, I’ve decided to start keeping a gratitude journal during service to aid in keeping a positive mindset. Some of those gratitude entries might be posted on my blog in the future (depending on what internet connectivity looks like in our next training community of course).