This was going to be “A Day in the Life” post, however, just covering the morning hours seems to be plenty for one post. The following is a description of an average training day at my Hub:
It’s a Monday morning. I wake up around 5:45am as the sun is just beginning to glow through my windows and illuminate the pastel green walls in my bedroom. My earplugs have fallen out at some point during the night, so I do a quick sweep of the linen sheets to feel them out. The temperature has been much more agreeable now that we’re further up in the mountains of Jamaica, so I had switched my fan off late in the evening. I roll out of bed and my bare feet guide me across the tile floor, out my back bedroom door (the front bedroom door leads to the patio/entrance of the house). A quick zigzag down the hallway brings me to my own private bathroom which my host family has reserved for me; it is nearly the size of my bedroom but painted pastel pink. (I’ve already used the facility twice during the night because of how much water and juice I’m ingesting, and yet I still have to go again! TMI?)
I don my light-weight, quick-drying running clothes, complete with one of Dad’s old racquetball sweat bands. A few minutes later, I’m out on the patio, doing a quick spritz of the knees and ankles with Off (because those joints seem to be extra sweet to the mosquitos). Getting out the door is almost a chore in Jamaica, as there is always a gate or two involved which usually has two padlocks. The locks don’t even have to physically lock in order to provide their first level of safety; the act of sliding the metal bar and removing the padlock makes such a clang that anyone in the house- if not the surrounding neighborhood- would be alerted that someone is either coming or going.
Kate, another trainee, is staying just a few houses away, down a dirt driveway, and we walk the short distance to the next trainee’s house where a few of us are meeting up to start a morning jog. Kate and I each pick up a rock to keep in our hand during the run. This is to help scare away any guard dogs who sometimes escape from their gated yards and come menacingly close to our heals. We jog along the rolling hills, spattered with pot holes, taking care to run against traffic- which, here, is on the left side of the road. In the morning there are fewer taxis careening down the road and a significantly smaller number of men idling at every corner. The few passersby that we do see at 6am, greet us with a hearty, “Maaning!” Occasionally, a man will shout after us in jest: “Hut two three four!” We pass a small commercial chicken farm, the local high school, brightly painted shops that sell convenience items and snacks, and countless plots of land with cement block houses and a modest array of crops in the yard. The agitated dogs are by far the least welcome part of the whole experience.
Upon returning to my house after the run, I head immediately to the shower in order to capitalize on the stark contrast between the heat built up in my body and the chill of the water. At any other point in the day, I would probably find the shower more shocking than refreshing, so I just stick to bathing after my work-outs and all is well. My showers tend to be extremely short- both because of the temperature and in attempt to conserve water. Our community often experiences water “lock offs” where water simply does not flow at random periods throughout the day. To combat this inconvenience, my host family has installed a large tank on top of the roof to store water, and they can switch sources when needed. My host father used to be in construction and I learned that he actually designed and built the entire house- pretty impressive!
As I’m showering, my host mother is usually preparing our breakfast in the kitchen. I have always loved breakfast and the Jamaican fare is no exception. My new favorite is callalou (a green, like spinach, that is chopped up and cooked down) which my host mother stir fries with onions, garlic, a little bit of tomato, and just enough salt fish mixed in to give it extra flavor. This can be served next to plantains or bread fruit, or some other starchy thing. My host mom usually joins me for breakfast and sometimes more plates of food arrive on the table for me (though not for herself because she says she eats later in the day). Without fail, a plate of fruit (usually from the yard) is served up as well as a glass of juice (sometimes fresh and home-made; sometimes sugar, water, color), a small cup of tea, and sometimes even an additional four pieces of wheat toast! Whatever I don’t finish, I can wrap up and take for lunch. Otherwise, I scrape the remaining contents of my plate into a plastic bag (which may or may not be fed to a neighbor’s hog) and when I have time, I try to wash my own dishes. One thing trainees are sometimes challenged by is that they feel their host families don’t treat them like capable adults. For example, since I’ve been here, I have never scooped my own portion of food onto my own plate- it’s always served to me by my host mother. Other things, like needing to notify our host families of our whereabouts at all times, may be a hassle to some, but I really don’t mind any of it. I guess I’ve been in enough home-stay situations that I know the drill, and I understand why they (host parents and Peace Corps staff) feel protective of us. If anything were to happen, the whole community would probably find out and the host family would feel responsible- regardless of fault. All that to say, I think the host family experience is fantastic.
Anyway, I gather my things for the day: training materials, Language and Culture handbook, Peace Corps-issued cell phone, handkerchief, house keys, left-overs for lunch
(if I have them), umbrella, etc.. I spritz my ankles and knees again with Off, apply some sunscreen,
and head out the door… then the house gate … and finally the yard gate. I meet Kate outside this last gate, and sometimes we run into other trainees along the journey to our training site. The walk is said to be about a mile, and we try to get a half hour head start before our first 8am session. More people are on the road now. We continue to participate in the greeting ritual with those whom we pass: loiterers, men working out of a car repair shop, farmers, housewives on their porches, children going to school. They are all accustomed to Peace Corps trainees and volunteers who have been coming in and out of their community for decades. Sometimes instead of Good Maaning from the men, we’ll get “Hello, pretty lady,” – or “Blessings, my sweet!” from the rasta folk. Our walk in the morning is almost all down hill and ends at the main street of the town where most of the shops, gas station, and “taxi stand” are. A few more yards and we are at the entrance to the compound which houses the community soccer field, Community Action Committee office, and the Community Center building. The eleven of us in Education spend most of our day doing training sessions in the Community Center accompanied by our Peace Corps Education Training Coordinator, our two Language and Culture Facilitators, our local Community Facilitator, and occasionally our Education Program Manager or other guest speakers. And the day has just begun!
To Be Continued… -M