As I type this bog post from my home, rain is falling heavy from the sky in waves, striking my zinc roof with a chorus of metallic pitter pattering. When I first heard the soft droplets not too long ago – I set some water to boil for tea. With the water coming to a boil, I opened up all the windows to listen to the rain, smell the musky petrichor rising off of the dusty earth, and take some sweet relief in the cool breeze blowing in to wash away the constant tropical warmth that’s been pervading every facet of life recently. Darker clouds began to roll in as the cadence of the rain picked up. As the clouds grew thicker and greyer, they began to swirl down from the sky around the hills and mountainsides in my community. The mountains across the river became shrouded in grey and the palm trees in my yard stood bravely against a sea of mist. Then the lightning and thunder began – flashes of light in the dark clouds encircling the hills, quickly followed by slow rolling groans and roars seconds after. As I sip my tea and write, I enjoy the brief flashes of goose-bumps that bubble up with each resonating drumroll from the lightning tearing across the sky. This moment of juxtaposed inner calm and outer energy of nature gifted me a moment of appreciation and acceptance for the beautiful country full of contrasts I’m making home for the next couple of years.
One thing my little house has been lacking is a cozy place to sit and read. Up until recently, the only places to sit were my bed and the hard chairs at my small kitchen table. I’ve been on the lookout for a cheap-but-good-condition couch or sitting chair since coming to site and finally acquired one through an interesting series of events last Sunday. Last weekend I needed to run something up to another volunteer in a community about 20 minutes of a drive away. My supervisor insisted on coming with me since I had not yet taken a taxi that direction, so we met up in the afternoon to ride together. As we were waiting by the roadside to catch a taxi, a furniture delivery truck rolled up to us and the men inside asked for directions to the community we were headed to. Mrs. G (my supervisor – quite the clever and mischievous older lady) told them they should let us ride along and we would show them how to get there. So we climbed up, squeezed into the front seat of the delivery truck, and rode along. It turns out that the delivery truck stopped at the house of one of Mrs. G’s friends. As we stopped and helped deliver a furniture set for their living room, Mrs. G inquired about their outgoing sofa and negotiated a ridiculously good price for me to pick up the sofa the next day. PRESTO MANIFESTO! This girl now has a cozy spot to read and listen to the rain.
Since I last wrote, the rhythm of life has picked up significantly. I’ve moved from getting oriented with my community into integration and research mode. Last week I sat down with a pen and paper and spent a day mapping out my goals, activities, and work plan for the next month. I am the first volunteer to be placed at this site and there’s much work to be done to complete my CASI (community and sector inventory) report and 1st year work plan by mid-September. For those not in the know – the CASI is a report volunteers in Jamaica complete through research, observation, facilitation, and interviews that inventories all major facets of the community (things like health, religion, environmental engagement, education, production, employment, financial resources, etc.).
My evolution to becoming a morning person is complete. Every morning I wake between 5am and 6am to enjoy the cool air and stillness of the mornings. Many mornings I go on walks around the community, some mornings I go out to work with farmers, and some mornings I just make some hot tea or coffee to enjoy with the cool morning air and sit by the window with a book for an hour or so before starting my daily tasks. Waking and working so early means I often have time for a glorious 30 minute nap in the afternoon and go to bed at the not so glorious time of 8pm or 9pm.
I’ve been able to meet many of the farmers at a recent farmers meeting and by walking around the community in the mornings over the last couple weeks. Last week I started visiting farms to work with the farmers and observe their practices, knowledge, assets, and problems. Last Monday I went out to my supervisor’s farm to help her install and repair some irrigation lines for the better part of the day. During the day we lugged hundreds of feet of pipeline up the mountains below Bull Head. At one pint, carrying irrigation piping in one hand and a hand saw in the other while climbing up a steep incline, I managed to fall face forward and slice my chin on some pineapple suckers lining the slope. Some small battle scars are to be expected when working out in the bush though. After the day of hard work, as the sun crept to it’s highest and hottest peak in the sky, my supervisor climbed up a coconut tree to get a couple jellies for us (young coconuts), and we sat content under the shade of a pimento tree drinking cool coconut water and talking about the weeks to come.
A discovery worthy of note is that in the US we have “potlucks”, while in Jamaica we “run a boat”. Earlier this week I met with a group of women in the community to “run a boat”. We met at 9am at a nearby church, and everybody brought produce from their farm or yard to contribute. One lady was the captain with the meal plan in mind and we worked for 3 hours to create a huge delicious meal. Our meal fed all of the cooks and the people at the church working on the hillside reclamation project to move soil to extend the hillside behind the church and make up for previous erosion issues. We cooked over wood fires in aluminum pots that were rubbed with mud on the outside to protect the pots from fire damage. In the course of a few hours of cooking I was taught how to peel green bananas, prepare dumplings, and make corn soup. Other things cooked were brown stew chicken, roast breadfruit, and beet/carrot/mango juice. The women were so incredibly friendly and eager to teach. It was a fun day laughing with them and getting to know each of their bright personalities a little bit more.
While there have been some amazing, happy, and content moments during this honeymoon phase at site, integrating into a new community within a new culture is difficult. There have been some days in these first few weeks where I’ve been incredibly lonely out here in this new place. There have been many days where I miss the little things that are taken for granted back in the US like cheese, laundry machines, and dependable water and electricity flow. In these lonely moments of readjustment, it’s been wonderful to have friends and family back in the US as support. So thank you to my community of friends and family throughout Oregon and the US for your messages and sending your love my way. It’s not always easy to have the time to respond to everybody who reaches out right now with limited Internet access, but your messages and encouragement are so incredibly appreciated.