Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten emails from many of my friends. First and foremost, I want to say THANK YOU, because a blog is a little one-sided, and it’s been really great to hear from all of you! Please, keep it up!
Every email, however, has one thing in common with the next. I seem to be getting the same kinds of questions regarding my life and time spent in Jamaica. It seems like now is an appropriate time to post my first of many Frequently Asked Questions.
What do you do?
My official title is “Literacy Advisor.” I work with the children who have difficulties reading and writing, either 1 on 1, or in small groups. I pull students from their regular classes for 45 minutes at time for some private tutoring. All of my students read below their grade level, some in extreme cases.
But these tutoring sessions will begin in the Fall, when school starts up again. So what am I doing now, with only three weeks left in the school year?
I’ve been at site for four weeks, and I’ve been very productive with my time. First, I observed classrooms, watching Language Arts lessons, how the teachers taught, and how the students behaved and learned. Then I asked teachers to submit the names of those who required extra attention. Now the fun begins!
For the following week, I pulled out each student, one at a time, to test them on their levels. I needed to find out what I was working with so I could plan my lessons accordingly. Once I’d done that, I could begin making my teaching materials.
And that’s where I’m at now. I work out of the library everyday, making flashcards, sounding-out dominoes, rhyming bingo boards, word wheels, and other materials to help them learn. I’ll also be looking at leveled readers to work on reading comprehension and coming up with writing assignments to help engrain everything. I expect I’ll be doing much of this throughout the summer.
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I also plan to begin my library project during the break. The school’s library is well stocked, but the books lack organization. Some are in good condition, others not so much, and some need to be discarded completely. There are textbooks and encyclopedias that are out of date and have collected a thick layer of dust. I plan to take some time to make an inventory, organize books, and further brainstorm ideas for improvement. Some ideas already include patching a hole in the roof, building more shelves, implementing a smoother book-borrowing system, and establishing functional library hours that students can rely on.
What are you eating?
One of the biggest adjustments I am making is my diet. There are many things I see in the shelves of supermarkets that we have in America, but they are not within my price range. Sometimes there is a Jamaican equivalent, other times there is not. And I have a budget, coupled with a currency exchange that sometimes makes shopping a challenge.
Another aspect to this adjustment is that I have gone vegetarian. I am still eating fish, but I do not eat chicken or any other meat. Because I am so new to this, I am learning how to make up for the missing nutrients in my diet, but I hit red tape everywhere. For example, nuts make up an excellent source of protein, but they are expensive here. Peanut butter has become a staple for me. So have beans, which is something I never enjoyed eating back at home.
I do have not the luxury of eating out, or picking up some Chinese, sushi, or pizza, as I am so accustomed to doing in America. I also do not have my usual variety of frozen meals or other pre-prepared foods. Therefore, I have no choice but to finally buckle under and learn how to cook. Sooner or later, I’d have to learn to do that, right? So I buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the market, and I am learning the different ways that Jamaicans season and prepare their dinners. I started easy, boiling or steaming most of what I eat, but I finally bought some teriyaki sauce and I’ll soon be playing around with the sauté pan. Once I get used to doing that, I’ll get more creative.
Substitutions also play a big role. Let’s take coffee for example. I buy Blue Mountain Instant, and sweeten it with creamer. But CoffeeMate powder creamer is all they have, and it wasn’t long before I realized how expensive it is, and how much of it I use. So I asked around and discovered that most Jamaicans use sweetened condensed milk with half crème. It’s a far cry from a Starbucks latte, but I am not complaining.
Lastly, I am slowly but surely making typical Jamaican meals a larger part of my diet. Rice and peas are big here, and so they have also become staples for me. I enjoy popular Jamaican dishes like ackee & saltfish, and chicken foot soup, minus the chicken foot. I’ve fallen in love with the bun, which is a type of sweetened bread that comes in different flavors, sometimes with cheese or raisins inside. You can buy them just about anywhere, and it’s super filling. Bulla, or coconut bread, is also quite delicious.
What does it mean when you say, “I’m doing okay?”
In America, if someone says, I’m okay, that usually means that they’ve got something going on, but they’re not about to talk about it. For a Peace Corps Volunteer, that’s not what it means.
From the outside looking in, you couldn’t possibly understand, but I am adjusting and adapting to new things every single day in ways I can’t begin to describe. I’ve made changes I wasn’t ready to make, or choices that wouldn’t have been my first under different circumstances. I’ve given up certain comforts and favorites, and traded them for a culture at which I am slowly easing myself in to. There are times when I don’t know the right way to behave, or the right thing to say. I live in a fishbowl; everyone stares at me because I am the outsider.
But I’m not unhappy. I’m doing okay means that I am working through the obstacles in my path and processing this new world around me. It means that while I am not always the happiest duck in the world, that I am treading water and staying afloat. I’m not thinking about ETing. In fact, most days, I am pretty satisfied. Still, everything takes some getting used to, and I swear, I’m getting there, bit by bit. I’m doing okay means that I’m hanging in, and things are going all right. It should be seen as a good thing.
Can I send you a care package?
Yes please! But before you do, there are a few things you should know. First, all packages must be sent through the United States Postal Service, or more commonly known as “snail mail.” It absolutely CANNOT be sent through another currier, or it will get held up at the airport in customs, I will have to pay duties on it, and Peace Corps will not pick it up for me. USPS gets it directly the PC office and free of all charges. From there, the package sits in wait until someone from staff heads out my way, a volunteer from my parish travels to Kingston and brings it back, or until I come and get it myself. In some circumstances, packages have been known to sit for as long as three months!
Secondly, I will be in Jamaica for two years, so let’s not get overly excited. Mailing a package overseas has its costs, and I understand that my friends have budgets and bills of their own. No worries; I won’t ask you to spend a fortune on me. I have a running list of some things that I may want or need, and a method to the madness. I’d like to make a list of those who are willing to send me a package, and in due time, I will ask each person to send it. When it is your turn, I’ll provide you with a short (and cost-effective) list of things I’d really like to receive, and the address to mail it to. If you’re feeling creative or mischievous enough, you can always surprise me with a little extra something.