As digital nomads, our concept of home is constantly evolving. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s hard for us to answer where “home” exactly is. It seemed only fitting, then, that as we returned to Jamaica, our friends here said “Welcome home” to us, additionally adding: “Will Jamaica be home?” We made sure to answer them directly. “No. But we do love Jamaica.” Continue reading “Homes for the Holidays – Part 1: Jamaica”
The following story/letter originally appeared on the blog From Africa to the Caribbean. It was written by Kate W, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica who worked in the schools, like me. It is such a touching example of the unexpected impact a PCV has, so I had to share!
You May Never Know
Your quiet disposition, small frame, and hugely curious eyes caught my attention first. You would walk timidly through the door into my corner of a classroom, almost holding your finger to your lips as if whispering sshhhhhh while your brown eyes searched for unspoken permission to enter. You came with the curious masses in the beginning, stepping aside as the bigger, more outgoing students won the prize of participating in Miss Wright’s puzzles, books, coloring, or games. When another student came in, you scooted over on your already small chair, making room for another person to sit and participate in whatever was going on at the small table for that moment.
Then my novelty wore off. The masses stopped coming, learning quickly that I am a firm and strict (albeit equally kind and silly) teacher. Some were offended that I would not grant them permission for certain activities on certain days. Others bored easily of the same books over and over or lost interest when the bracelet thread ran out. But you stayed. You continued to walk quietly and respectfully into that corner, touching things gently and practically whispering permission, taking care of and respecting that which was not yours. Your toma, Rhianna McCarty, and you enjoyed solving the cardboard puzzles together, personalities begging for praise at a collaborative job well done. Your tiny hands eagerly reached for the fallen Uno or Old Maid card without hesitation, even if you were not the culprit who dropped it. You never left my sacredly organized space without making sure things were back in order and put neatly away. The way you treated your friends, peers, and surroundings caught my attention next, proving the age-old mantra that actions speak louder than words.
I did not work directly with you, pulling you out of class to improve your reading skills or because your teacher simply needed a break from behavior. You are a smart girl, as the Jamaicans say. You came to me on your own merit and on your own time, leaving play time outside to the birds. I cannot recall a single time that you complained or shrugged your shoulders when I said no to a certain activity, unlike many other students, perfectly content to simply be and enjoy. Your naturally agreeable, trusting nature had a calming effect in the midst of an unpredictably noisy and chaotic environment.
And then you stole my heart. You, Miss Rianna, made every suffering through Jamaica and Peace Corps worth enduring through. You may never know, but you certainly let me know. Tears brim my eyes as I write and remember this, a story that I shared with one or two Jamaicans while still on island, and a story that has become the answer to What was Peace Corps/Jamaica like?.
I was weeks away from departing Jamaica as the local Peace Corps Volunteer. Apathy had set in as I worked to complete paperwork, wrap up projects, and prepare my house and classroom for the volunteer following me. My head was full of and focused on the boy and potential relationship I had recently started investing in. A teacher’s yelling broke me out of a said trance one morning before school started, and I eventually rose from my table to see what the commotion was about. There you stood, quiet and wide-eyed as the teacher scolded and kissed her teeth at the boy who tore your uniform clear across the back. Having taken on more than my assigned role of Literacy Intervention Specialist (what PCV ever doesn’t?), I offered to sew your uniform back together.
I placed my tin of sprinkle (sparkle) crayons and haphazardly torn pieces of scrap paper on the table in front of you as you sat in your blouse and shorts. After a few quiet moments I looked across the table at you, creatively coloring away.
“You know you’re a pretty girl, Rianna?” I inquired, attempting to redeem the moment for what I grew to care about most in the students’ lives: character.“Yes,”
you replied, barely glancing up from your paper that now contained 2nd-grade sketches of two girls and the words I love you on it.
After another set of quiet moments I asked,“What makes a girl pretty, Rianna?”
And without a second of hesitation, you replied,“her soul.”
I was speechless. Thoughts ran through my head faster than I could process them to exit my mouth.
She is thinking critically!Who are her parents?I want to go meet them and praise them and learn what they are doing differently and right.What a wise, wise girl at such a young age.She is more beautiful than I ever imagined.
Eventually, I managed to mutter out,“That’s exactly right! Who taught you that, Rianna?”
And, again, without skipping a beat, you looked up through your long lashes and said with the most confidence I ever witnessed in your being:
What do you say when people ask you, “how was it?”
Today we say goodbye to what has been our home and lives for the past two years. It’s been a roller coaster ride, almost 4 total years of our life if you include the process we went through just to get accepted and placed to serve as volunteers (which was typical at the time, not so typical now). The last couple of months, weeks, and days we’ve had the chance to reflect with other fellow volunteers, get in a few new adventures, and more importantly, say thanks to the people of Jamaica who have taught and given us so much.
It’s incredible to think of all of the challenges, the fun, the adventure, the work- everything that makes up the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. There’s just no way to really answer question, “how was it?”. I guess we could say, “It was everything we’d hope it would be and more,” and that still feels like we are cheapening the experience.
Two Years Video
It’s impossible to summarize two years, but these short video clips will hopefully give you a taste of our experience in Jamaica as Peace Corps Volunteers. We’re so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to come and live in a Jamaican community, to share life with people, to be challenged and to grow. It was not always easy, but we have gained so incredibly much in return.
And these are photos from the three farewell parties we attended (two of which were at the community center this past weekend):
-J + M
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.The 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”
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”
Values: Choosing Freedom October 2009. You could say this is where it all started. We were well on our way to buying a house but instead, we changed the trajectory of our lives.
The Waiting Game The challenges of being nominees in the Peace Corps application process- a process which apparently has changed since we’ve been serving in Jamaica (hopefully for the better).
You Want to Send Us Where? Things with our placement did not turn out as we expected. This was a difficult bump in the road but it turned out for the best.
Looking Back At 2011: Our Year In Review (VIDEO POST) With almost nine extra months on our hands before our new departure date, the door of opportunity swung wide open. 2011 was packed full of adventures we never dreamed were possible.
Peace Corps Invite!!!!!!!!! (VIDEO POST) A short video capturing the very exciting moment when we opened our official invitation. We knew the region in advance but were surprised to learn our country.
Crossing the Waters (VIDEO POST) In March 2012, we were finally off to meet the other 36 members of PCJ Group 83. The video depicts our transition from home- farewell parties and packing- to staging in Atlanta.
Community-Based Training (Part One) (VIDEO POST) Upon our arrival in Jamaica, we moved quickly from orientation in Kingston to our first home-stay community for several weeks of general training.
Life Pon di Hill and Rise and Shine: A Morning in the Life of a Trainee Here’s a glimpse into each of our “Hub” communities where we spent about 5 weeks doing sector-specific training while living with host families. The video on this page also shows more of the education sector’s Hub training.
Volunteer Shadowing (VIDEO POST) Having the chance during our training to shadow a currently serving Volunteer brought our soon-to-be life as a PCV that much closer.
Swearing In After about 10 weeks of training, we were finally sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. Jedd was chosen to give one of the speeches at the ceremony (his speech transcript is included in this post).
Home Sweet Home (VIDEO POST) Before swearing in, we found out our permanent site placement and were able to visit for a few days. After swearing in, we got settled in to our apartment, got to know our amazing host parents in the house above us, and started work at the community center and school. (We also celebrated our 4th anniversary!)
There are many more posts from our Peace Corps journey, experiencing the ups and downs as well as sharing what we’ve learned about Jamaican culture… Browse here.
Yesterday was a special day for Michelle and I and the rest of the volunteers we arrived with on island, as we celebrated our 20 month of being Peace Corps volunteers. Below are 20 of my favorite photos from the last 20 months which, of course, doesn’t do any justice to the experience, but I hope you like them. (Also, you’ll notice that some of the captions have links back to related posts, in case you want to see more.)
Introducing: Sue W.
A gifted child, Sue grew up in a community where she and her mother were taught by- and interacted with- a number of Peace Corps Volunteers over the years. If I remember correctly, she later befriended a Volunteer who, now returned to the States, is her best friend. Sue is a trained Jamaican teacher but she also started working part-time with Peace Corps as a community liaison or a Language & Culture Facilitator when volunteer training groups came to her town. Eventually she was promoted and is now in charge of PCJ’s Education sector, which makes her my supervisor.
Sue’s Story (transcribed from a video)
Where I come from, we’ve always had Peace Corps Volunteers. So, my mother was taught to sew by a volunteer in the 60’s when volunteers were focusing on vocational work. And as a result of that, my mother was able to make uniforms for us to go to school, and she didn’t have to spend the money that she didn’t have on uniforms because she had that skill. And so today, I learned
Most days, on my commute to work in a jam-packed mini-bus, I try not to bring more attention to myself than necessary. I stand out. But today was a good day to stand-out as most of the eyes glaring in my direction weren’t directed at me, as if to say, “What is this Mr. Chin doing here?” Instead, most of the attention was on the glass cup with the pear (avocado) seed I was carrying to work. Now the eyes seemed to ask, “What is this Mr. Chin doing here and why is he holding a pear plant?” Continue reading “It Starts with a Seed”
This video makes me smile.
I coordinated two youth camps at our community center. The goal of these camps was to unite youth from different communities, teach Continue reading “For the Smiles: Summer Camps 2013 Video”