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A picture of our first host mom and her daughter…

It’s a cool and quiet morning. I’m sitting outside on my host family’s patio enjoying the unusual peace and quiet in honor of Good Friday. No barking dogs, crickets, or whistling frogs (just as it sounds). No loud dance hall music from the local bar and no honking cars. Though I kind of like these typical sounds that make Jamaica seem alive and bustling, I am soaking up the light, soft breeze and unnatural stillness as I have heard there are only three days like this (Good Friday, Jamaica Independence Day, and Christmas).

I came to Jamaica not really knowing what I would see and experience. Yes we had gotten some first hand accounts. Yes we had done some research reading books, reading blogs and website posts, and watched some YouTube videos. But really, nothing prepared us for what it would actually be like being here in person.

Its hard to believe that we’ve already been here for three weeks. When the America Airlines stork first brought all 36 of us to the island we were in a sense reborn to a strange new world. In essence we became likkle pickni (little children in Jamaican patwa) again. We were helpless and from the start, told what to do, where to go, and when to be where. Only after a couple of days of being here we would be brought to a small community to meet our new family.

How much do our Homestay families know about us other than the fact that we were American and that some had special dietary needs? It didn’t matter to them. I am continually amazed that they would open their homes and their lives to us (first for two weeks in one community and then five weeks in another). Our homestay families have taken the responsibility to protect us, to teach us, and to help us learn crucial skills for us likkle pickni to grow up.

When we arrived on the island, the first thing I noticed was all the differences.

The people didn’t look and speak like me. The weather was definitely not Portland, Oregon weather. The glorious food – the different types of fruit, the spices, the Caribbean/European/Asian flavors. Tastee patties in coco bread (the Jamaican equivalent of a hamburger, sort of). The left side, risky, chaotic yet some how controlled Jamaican driving and public transit system.

Our homestay families and training staff has helped us make the unfamiliar become more familiar. I find myself not noticing the differences, but rather noticing the similar aspects of what it means to be human. One example of this is how much my host moms remind me of mom back at home. They want to help me succeed here. They want to tell me what fruit to get and at what price. They want to make sure I can cook and wash clothes by hand properly. They want to make sure I don’t hang out with the wrong crowd or go to the wrong places. They want to make sure I take care of Michelle and take the right bus to visit her (we are separated for a couple of weeks for training due to our different project assignments). As my first host mother taught me:

“Madda cow a pasture, I still buhl muma” – Jamaican Proverb
(Roughly Translated: You can put a mother cow in the pasture, but it’s still the bull’s mother.)
Meaning:
No matter what (the situation), I’m still your mother. To me, no matter where I am, a mom is a mom.

Another time where I experienced the unfamiliar becoming familiar was working at that one public university in the pacific northwest. I met so many different people coming from different cultural backgrounds and stages of their lives. At first I would only see the differences but learned quickly from two amazing mentors to find the common human ground that we shared and only from that perspective could I authentically connect with someone. As the days, weeks, and months go by, I look forward to taking this perspective with me and excited for new people I will meet.

Human Family – Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

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