* Peace Corps

Jamaican Culture: Top Posts

Some grateful senior citizens recently gave Jedd the book Jamaica Fi Real!: Beauty, Vibes and Culture as a thank you for teaching them how to use computers. And it’s a keeper. The images are great; the content is relevant; the commentary is on point.Jamaica-Fi-Real-CoverThe books is fantastic and its words resonated with our experiences of this country. For example:

It’s possibly the most contradictory country on the planet. Jamaica combines a Third World standard of living with an almost First World life expectancy. It is one of earth’s most stable democracies, yet has one of its higher homicide rates. It is reputed to have both more churches per square mile, and a higher out-of-wedlock birth rate, than any other place on the globe… (pg. XVII)

Are Jamaicans happy people? Well it’s hard to say; while few people go hungry, there are pockets of real poverty, and a fair amount of physical discomfort. Polls say about half of Jamaicans would emigrate to the US if they could, and a high crime rate is not usually the sign of a contented populace. Then there is the constant complaining, for people here are world-class grumblers. Yet Jamaicans interact with such vitality and humour, that it’s hard to conceive of them as being fundamentally miserable and disgruntled. There can’t be many places where people laugh as easily or as often, and no matter how bad things get, folks here always find reasons for outbursts of merriment. (pg. 11)

Throughout our Peace Corps service, we’ve tried our best to Continue reading “Jamaican Culture: Top Posts”

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Christmas in the Caribbean

xmas collageIt was not until I was asked to put together decorations for a Jamaican Christmas choral service at school, that I realized how much of the American Christmas celebration is really just about winter:



Evergreen trees.


These were some of my first ideas for decorations. But none of them translate to the Jamaican context. Sure, Jamaicans are accustomed to these images being imported into their Christmas. But they really don’t make sense in a place that will never experience winter as we know it. Continue reading “Christmas in the Caribbean”

* Jedd Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Cultural Lessons Learned from Event Planning

Westmoreland Parish Show
Westmoreland Parish Show

Last week Michelle and I represented the community center where I serve in the Westmoreland Parish Show, a town fair-like event for our area of the country. What was suppose to be one of- if not the- largest events of the year for our area, turned into a disappointment for the organizers because of the lack of attendance. It was a great example of some of the cultural challenges that Jamaicans face in community development, a lack of community involvement,  and organizing issues. I never realized how much I could learn from not a lot happening. Continue reading “Cultural Lessons Learned from Event Planning”


Jamaican Public Transit (Part Two)

A large bus like this is called a Coaster. In our area, most are a bit smaller- like 14 passenger vans with a raised roof.
A large bus like this is called a Coaster. In our area, most are a bit smaller- like 14 passenger vans with a raised roof.

For more about Jamaican public transportation, see Part One. For more answers to current volunteer poll questions, see To Care Or Go Crazy and Current Volunteers Tell All.

Maximizing Space
Cramming as many people as possible in a bus or taxi is an all-too-common occurrence that we experience almost every day. The record that a volunteer has witnessed in a 5-seatbelt taxi is: 11 adults. Or 2 adults and 16 children. One person to a seat is just not that efficient (or profitable). Continue reading “Jamaican Public Transit (Part Two)”

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

On the Road: Jamaican Public Transit (Part One)

First bench of a bus: two adults smalling up with six kids

I don’t know why we haven’t really addressed Jamaican public transportation on our blog until now. It plays a major part of our daily lives and can be quite fascinating for those who are new to it. There’s a lot of fun stuff to cover when it comes to our route taxi and bus system, so we’ll break it up into two parts.

Who’s Who on Jamaican Public Transit Continue reading “On the Road: Jamaican Public Transit (Part One)”

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps, Videos

Jamaica Taught Us…

Our Peace Corps Volunteer training group took advantage of our recent reunion at the Mid-Service Conference last week to compile some of our lessons learned as volunteers in Jamaica. It’s a light-hearted, humorous perspective on the many aspects of Jamaican culture we’ve encountered so far. For your entertainment:

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Topics in PCJ #4: Patriotism

Continued from other posts here and here on topics frequently discussed by PCVs in Jamaica

Among the many discussions we’ve had with fellow volunteers, we have also concluded that most of us have a new-found love for America. Ironically, many of us left home with criticism in our hearts for the way the U.S. imposes its will on other nations, or how Americans are so obsessed with material gain, or any other number of issues. And it’s true that, since we’ve left, there have been a number of things happening in the U.S. that we are not proud of.

our patio with country prideBut by living in Jamaica, we do see our country differently now. We are all the more grateful for the privilege of growing up in a land of opportunity, a place where success stories happen every day to all sorts of people. We are proud to identify with all the people who came (and continue to come) to America because they wanted to make life better for their families. And perhaps most of all, we are astounded simply by how well things work! From the school system and the DMV to the line at the grocery store, we have a new-found appreciation for American efficiency and reliability. Though our systems in the U.S. aren’t perfect, they’re a lot less effort to navigate than those we’ve become accustomed to as PCVs.

We’re not saying that any of these things are the fault of Jamaicans as a people- we have come to understand that there are complex historical, political, and social factors behind everything. And it’s not really about comparing Jamaica and the U.S., because they each have their roses and their thorns. Rather, it’s the age-old adage that you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. So, in the end, leaving home has given many of us an unexpected appreciation for the country we left behind and its ways.

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Topics in PCJ #2: Culture and Effectiveness

Continued from previous post

Finally a working computer at the school, thanks to a donation from USAID specifically for literacy education
Finally a working computer at the school, thanks to a donation from USAID specifically for literacy education

Jamaican culture is full of beautiful, colorful, and praiseworthy things. We feel blessed to take part in it and plan to adopt some aspects of the culture into our lives back home. And Jamaican culture, like any other, is full of diversity. Depending on where you are and who you interact with, you can encounter a wide range of experiences, life philosophies, and cultural norms. Today’s post is about some aspects of the culture in general that present a challenge to volunteers on the island. Continue reading “Topics in PCJ #2: Culture and Effectiveness”

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

A Land of Contradictions

Understanding Jamaica is a life-long endeavor. In the short amount of time we’ve been here, we have only uncovered the tip of the ice berg in terms of understanding the culture. But one thing that has already become apparent is that Jamaica is a land of contradictions. In an attempt to explain what that means and to share a bit about what we’ve learned so far with those of you at home, here are a few of the contradictions.

Shopping in a Jamaican clothing store

Fresh and Healthy
Jamaica is a fertile place with an abundance of amazing Continue reading “A Land of Contradictions”