Sometime back in September, when I was still waiting to hear from Peace Corps, I did a Google search for active PCV blogs, and came across one belonging to a girl scheduled to depart for Sub-Saharan Africa in October. “That b****!” I thought, “She took my spot!” I decided to follow her blog anyway.
During the months that passed, I read about lightning storms, electrical shortages, and water outages. Disheartened (and already aware that I was going to Jamaica), I told my mother that I didn’t think this was going to be experience I wanted it to be. I was adamant that it wouldn’t be enough of a culture shock, and that with electricity, indoor plumbing, and internet, I wasn’t going to challenged. “April,” she told me, “you wouldn’t last a day in Sub-Saharan Africa. Trust me.”
I can see it now – the self-satisfied grin on my mother’s face as I hang my head in defeat and admit that she was right.
I have been in Ewarton, St. Catherine for less than a week, and I’ve already had to wash my face in a basin of water, and perform what is known as “the bucket flush.” My first “bucket shower” wasn’t so bad either. This is area is prone for water lock-offs, and within three days, I was used to it. There are goats that live just outside my window and a rooster that crows off in the distance each morning. To get to training, I walk ten to fifteen minutes downhill.
Ewarton (pronounced you-er-tin), is up in the mountains and about half an hour away from Ocho Rios. The weather here is vastly different from that of Hellshire. It’s significantly cooler, and the hour-long storm that passed through on my first day left a chill in the air that lasted throughout the night. According to the locals, the weather in Jamaica varies depending on where you are on the island. Hellshire is considered one of the hottest parts; the mountains some of the coldest. It’s been reported the volunteers placed in the mountains have had to ask their parents to send them warmer clothes!
I’ll be here for five weeks, completing my HUB-Based Training (HBT). More specifically, I’ll be doing work directly related to my project: Education. During CBT, we learned about the history, culture and language of Jamaica, while merely touching on our sectors. Here, we’ll continue to build on our CBT, but we’ll spend more time discussing the challenges the Jamaican school system faces, and how we as volunteers can do our part. We’ll take field trips to local schools, have some real hands-on learning, and get some Q&A time with other education volunteers already in service. And next week, we’ll each be assigned our own volunteer to shadow! I am so excited to finally get to see how a real volunteer lives and works.
*Note: in case you’ve forgotten from my last post, Education and Environment sectors have split up. Environment is in a different part of the island, doing their own version of HBT.
Now that I am in a new place, I also have a new host family. Except that my situation is a little less of a “family” and a little more of “a mother.” I live with a sweet woman in her sixties who is very eager to feed me and teach me about Jamaican foods. We have plans to clean the house and cook this Sunday. My room is slighter larger than my last one, and I have own private entrance, with an adjoining door to the rest of the house. I do not have internet at my home.
Which reminds me – INTERNET. Over the last five days, it’s been noted that I am internet junkie. My fellow trainees have spared no expense when teasing me about my love of connectivity. Here is a sample of a conversation I had recently:
“But what if you’re placed in an area where you have to take two taxis just to get to an internet café?”
“Oh my god, I would die.”
“And you thought you wanted Africa?”
I think it may be time to put my foot in my mouth.
Rest assured, dear readers, I will have my internet one way or another. Currently, I have access to internet at my training site, and I plan to bring my laptop daily so I can get my fix. Luckily for me, my house might not have internet installed, but it is available in the area. I can purchase a WiFi card that provides me with twenty-four hours of WiFi at a time. I will save that for the weekends, I think.
In the meantime, here are some other aspects of rural life I am adjusting to:
- I wear one pair of shoes to walk down to training, and then change into my heels to keep my professional dress code in check.
- Having limited water allows for creativity when keeping clean. Did you know that using cornstarch in your hair keeps it from looking greasy?
- Doing laundry by hand is an all-day chore. Fabric softener works wonders for clothes drying on the line.
- Don’t be alarmed if you meet an animal on Monday, and it’s on your plate by Friday.
And finally, I am improving dramatically on my Patois (sometimes, Patwa). At first, I was challenged because the language is so close to English, that as a grammar nazi, I have a hard time speaking improperly. Saying “mi” instead of “I” is not something I wanted to do. I also struggled because many of the words are so close to English, that my first reaction is just to speak it. For example, ansa. Can you guess what that word is? It’s answer. However, as we continue with our language lessons, I am developing a keen ear for it, and it’s becoming much easier to pick up on. The inclination to speak Patois is much stronger now. I keep thinking to myself, wow, imagine if I had to learn an entirely new alphabet. Better yet, what if I was placed in an area where English wasn’t even an option? Like Africa.
All in all, I’ve come to realize that I have plenty to adjust to already. I still disagree with my mother – I think I would have done just fine in Africa. There would have been a different set of norms to adjust to, but I am flexible, and still convinced I would have managed and found happiness just the same. However, Mom also claimed that Jamaica would be enough of a culture shock, and enough of an experience that it would be what I wanted. Four weeks into training and I am beginning to agree. Jamaica is full of diversity, cultural differences, and still a dramatic shift from my lifestyle back in America. Where I complained that the weather was the same as in Miami, Mom argued that I would not be accustomed to life without air conditioning.
“But Mom, I am still in the same time zone!”
“And you’re still going to feel as though you’re a world away.”
She was right on all accounts. The girl in Africa can keep her electrical shortages and water wells; it turns out Jamaica is rural enough for me.