The Farmer in the Dell

27 Nov

Dearest Americans,

As a patriot living abroad I have come to realize that people who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving [every single other country in the entire world. Except Canada. But whatever, they’re wannabes. (kidding! Omg)] get frustrated when you ethnocentrically assume that they are attuned with this American holiday (which, duh, of course they totally should be). By simply asking, “Where the heck can I get some pumpkin pie around here? It’s Thanksgiving for gosh sakes!”, or innocently querying, “What??! Why aren’t you spending today with your family??”, you provoke varied responses ranging from the patient, “we don’t celebrate that here”, to full-on attitude, “that’s an American holiday”.

Casually, I took this a step farther.
Amusing myself this past week (who’s going to know Thanksgiving is *only* one day?) with a game of make-believe-it’s-Thanksgiving-in-Jamaica-and-it’s-all-anyone-is-talking-about, anytime an unknown man called to me I made a very specific reference to Turkey Day: “Nope, we haven’t broken our wishbone, yet!”, I would banter; or ask excitedly, “Does you’re mom leave the giblets inside by accident every year, too??”; perhaps I might refute them politely stating, “Actually, we go around the table individually saying grace out loud”, before I quickly move on.

This particular game has taken many forms (depending on the holiday) and is, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, endlessly entertaining. I highly recommend it. However, even with this limitless hilarity I have discovered that Americans (well, this American) who are abroad during a harvest celebration feel lonely, envious, and invariably hungry.

You all know I try not to dwell and, apparently, I like to trivialize.
Here’s a joke that came to me whilst sitting on the phone waiting for my dear mother to pick up: If a turkey had a telephone, what sound what it make?
“Wing! Wing!”

At this point, if I’ve even elicited a sympathy smile from you…I’ll take it.
Clearly, my creative juices could use some (turkey) basting.

Moving on.

When I was young, like other American children, I wanted to be a veterinarian.
I loved animals. Petting them, caring for them. Their smallness. Softness. Cuteness. Snugglyness. Silliness. All around awesomeness.

Most of these adjectives don’t really apply to Jamaican dogs.
Well, smallness does.

Small things are cute

The average lifespan of a dog in Jamaica is several months.
And I’m probably being generous.

“Why?”, you might gasp, “How do they die??”
Well, brace yourselves, Westerners.
Sometimes, litters are scooped up, placed in a bag, and drowned.
Other times, dogs are tied to a tree in the “miggle uh de bush” and left to starve.
These options are arguably better than being hit by a car, taken by ants, or devoured by flies (all of which are possible).
Surviving pups do not have it easy (there always being a dearth of food); Breaking necks to put them out of their misery might be kind (?)

I know, I know.
But let me give some perspective.
In Jamaica, dogs have a history of being tireless informants (think slavery). Specific breeds were carried over here on ships from England and used by plantation owners for an assortment of purposes; some respectable and others deplorable. I imagine that most Africans interactions with dogs were not pleasant. It is this violent past (I am assuming) that has bred a well-deserved fear of canines into Jamaican heritage.

Also, to be fair, dogs in Jamaica can be really, really scary.
Vicious, biting, guard-with-their-life, maul-things-to-shreds, scary dogs.

I know children (more than I can count on one hand) that have received dog bites so severe they had to be kept out of school, women who have gone to hospital from feral attacks, and a Peace Corps volunteer who was targeted while swimming in the water! (The dogs bit her and tried to drag her under.)

That being said, people are afraid.
There are accepted defense mechanisms — Rock throwing is common. It seems to be the proper way of dissuading these ‘loaded pistols’ from a full-fledged attack. In fact, most dogs in Jamaica are so accustomed to getting pelted from a flung stone that all one has to do is bend over in mere simulation of picking up a pebble and the dog will scamper away.
When I go out walking (daily) most yards I pass have dogs who launch into war mode when they see me; lunging, barring their teeth, growling, barking; the works. For the most part, my ‘faux’ stone flinging works out well in deterring these angry beasts. However, I have been in some downright chilling situations (those teeth are sharp, that saliva is real, and an aggressive dog stance is not to be taken lightly) where some very fierce and highly accurate, legitimate rock throwing was the only way that I was able to save myself.

When I first moved to Jamaica threatening (much less following through) to throw a stone at a dog was unimaginable.
You can see, this has changed.
There is still a residual Westerness in me that hesitates, doesn’t want to accept these creatures as malicious…but then I see that brutal face picking up speed, about to pounce, my heart is racing, and it comes down to survival; I pick up a rock and pelt the dog.

“Why do they harass people like that??”, I anticipate you asking.
Perhaps they are hungry? (Likely)
Perhaps it’s how they are grown? (Lacking love is an understatement)

It is a dog eat dog world here…sometimes literally. Ew.
Most puppies have bellies enlarged with worms, cuts that are infected, and are often missing large tufts of matted fur to mange and other diseases.
Soft, mushy feelings for the animal world are not fostered among Jamaicans.
From a very young age children are taught not to let dogs approach (never mind touch!) as they are dirty and likely to bite. Any physical interactions that do occur between human and beast are likely to involve torture; I have seen children amuse themselves (amidst laughter from moms) flinging a tiny kitten or puppy around by its tail and beating it as it cries.
Animals are viewed as competition; one more mouth to feed.

Humane Society instincts

While it’s easy to feel aghast at these puppy-faces, it’s important to remember that they actually do turn into daunting, adult dogs who can terrify humans. To be morbid and frank, it’s more manageable to deal with these animals when they are young.

“Why are there so many? They should get their dogs ‘fixed’!”
Valid point, imaginary person, but this costs money. Money is something that is severely lacking here in Elim, Jamaica. The nearest Vet is 15 miles away and deals primarily in farm animals. (There used to be one closer, at the Agricultural High School, but that’s a sad story involving rape, a broken jaw, and intensive care. I’ll spare you the details.)
Excluding transportation costs, it is approximately $65US to ‘fix’ one dog.

So, in keeping with childhood veterinary dreams…I’m saving some animals.
Throughout my two years in Jamaica I have rescued several pitiful pups. Bad things still befall some ‘rescued’ dogs (a tragic but inevitable truth in a country where poison is often a first resort) but I’m doing my best and currently have two scrappy, well-fed, well-loved mongrels.

Here’s a picture:

Tyger & Goose

These darlings are my best friends here in Jamaica.
They have American accents.
They bravely accompany me on morning walks.
Jamaicans think this is hilarious and pointless often stating “yuh treat dogs dem bettern wi treat pickni”. (This is true. Case in point, I actually put money aside each week so that my ‘pickni’ will have food.) For my dogs, old habits (like the desire to eat) are hard to break. Plus, I don’t think they want to break them.

Because of a dogs reputation in Jamaica my own pups are feared by most people. This is good news as, combined with their best friend status, I employ them as full-time security guards. Mama and her family (all 20+ of them) help spread the word that I have ferocious protectors. “Dem bite ‘ard!” and “mind dem bite oonu!” they yell as people pass.

Now, least you think that this entire month has been filled with doggy musings…
Here is some work news:
We held a fund raiser dinner for our *new* Basic School on Friday!
This month I have been busy with preparations, meetings, and ticket sales.
On Black Friday (check out my American reference) things reached a fervor: serving food, taking orders from exquisitely particular Jamaicans, and doing my best to stay on my coworkers good side (not so easy when there is not enough food, demanding customers, and bossy personalities that often resort to hitting other staff members in order to make a point. I got smacked only once for forgetting to replace the lid on our stewed pork. I’m proud to report that, while tears obviously welled in my eyes, none spilled down my face. Winning.)
Glad that’s over.

High School is in full gear, students are preparing to take exams, and I have been offering extra homework help and study time for the prefects I work with. I am so lucky to work with the smartest, most respectful kids in the entire school!

On the card-making front — for those of you who don’t know I work with a womens group making greeting cards out of recycled paper; It’s all very ecological and quaint with 100% of the proceeds going to the women themselves, the aim being to uplift and empower their lives. — Hundreds of card orders have come in for the Christmas season! Yippie!

If YOU are interested in supporting this lovely womens group and feel like ordering cards — $35US or $3,000J for 12 delicate, environmentally friendly, handmade beauties — contact me. We have no orders in January which translates to ample time to work on CARDS for YOU!
*end of shameless plug* 😉

In my Social Life, relationships are being built. Here are some details:
Almost every time Ms. Valda sees me she fills my backpack with fresh fruit — whatever she has available; ohti iti apples, peanuts, breadfruit, sorrel. She loves to hug me up and constantly asks me to bring a white “ooman” for her adorable Rasta grandson (He’s in his late 20’s and seems pretty cool. Anyone interested?)

Sister Verona knows exactly how I like my cook-shop dinner (no saltfish, extra veggies). I enjoy relaxing and chatting with her as I eat.

Then there’s the children. Oh, the children!! When they see me they rush out of their yards with choruses of “Aunty Sam!!! Aunty SAM!” Amidst hugs and grins I wonder what I did to deserve such adoration. Sometimes we play games. Everyone wants to be on my team in sports (shocking, I know).
Also, my body doubles as a jungle gym.

In girl power news:
My parents raised me to be a strong — girls can do anything! — woman. In the past, the phrase “I’m a girl” fueled my determination to get things done.
One of those crazy middle school feminists. You know the type.

But then I came to Jamaica.
Here I learned all about race roles (constantly referring to people based on skin color) and gender differences. As a woman, for example, I absolutely should not bicycle, run, or travel alone. Nor should I wield a machete. Or pay for my own drinks. Or go into the bush. Or fix a piece of zinc that needs replacing.
“Here, this is heavy. You’re a man. Carry this.”, is more than tolerated, it’s expected. Being an established grown-up woman (and not fully Jamaican) I cipher through these Do’s and Don’ts, picking the ones I like while discarding the ones I deem inapplicable.

Feminine rules I ignore:
-Don’t wield a machete.
-Don’t fix anything.

Recent truisms (courtesy of Jamaica) that have entered my life:
-Don’t carry heavy things.
-Don’t go out alone at night.

Laying a rattrap, finding the culprit deceased, and then subsequently throwing a dead rat out of doors falls under the category of “don’t do this if you’re a girl”. The grownup woman in me has evaluated this scenario and agrees. ‘I’m a girl, and I’m not going to do that’.

Thus, I have a problem.

At around 8 o’clock each night I see him out of the corner of my eye.
This rat (really he’s cuter than that; henceforth I will refer to him as a mouse) scurries from around the corner, past my shoes, across my yoga mat, skirts my med kit, and pauses for shelter underneath my spice-rack (a clever, 3 cement block structure, stacked and covered with a pink curtain – thank you, Molly :))
At this point, the mouse has my full attention.
I stare at the affected area for several unmoving minutes until he emerges, quickly (gosh is he fast!), darts behind the cooking gas cylinder, under my sink, and behind my fridge. His ultimate destination is less than a foot away; my pantry (this is a more elaborate spice-rack set-up with 9 blocks instead of 3 and 2 curtains instead of 1; fancy!).

Several minutes later I hear nibbling which, I can be sure, is the adorable mouse eating my popcorn (the bag now resembles a leaky watering can). I’m not mad because I can sympathize; I love popcorn, too, little guy. And I also wasn’t planning on doing anything about this midget thief; I like to share.
But Mama had a conniption when I told her. She insists I get a cat.
I’m hesitant, but soon I may have an addition to my American Embassy.

Other than that, the 10k I’ve been training for is coming up.
One we(eeeek!)
For the first part of November I was doing really well.
So well, in fact, that you’ll notice I didn’t have time to write: I was an exercise machine! (not literally. Although, I really wish I had one. They always come inside of an air-conditioned gym, right?)
My mom once told me that, on average, people are able to stick to a diet for two weeks at a time. Since I consider myself ‘most people’ staying on my intense regime for two weeks was exactly what I did. Consequently, this week has been lamesauce in regards to diet and exercise. Bad news since I was planning on a breakthrough for December 3rd (raceday) where it would be discovered that I am now the fastest woman in the world. I haven’t given up hope, but I did readjust my goal: Run faster than my organic mascara so as to look good in all the photos. Holla!

On that ridiculous note, I’m going to go do my makeup and practice running.
Or, feed the animals.
Or, you know, feed my face.

Regardless, my pets and I are signing off!
Hug the ones you like and kiss the ones you love.
Always and always,

7 Responses to “The Farmer in the Dell”

  1. deekers November 27, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    So glad to read about your doings. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, but what would have made it even better is if you were there, too.

    Thanks for taking the time to share so much of life in Jamaica. We are very proud of you for your commitment to service in the Peace Corps.


  2. deekers November 27, 2011 at 2:04 am #

    BTW, your first three pics did not show up.

    • Sammi Travis November 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      WHAT?! OMG. I hope that was just on your computer. Man oh MAN! The TIME I put in to those photos and then, the AUDACITY they have not to show up…I’m mad. (and still holding out hope that it is, somehow, the Toshiba).

  3. Valli Sanstrom (PC nominee) November 27, 2011 at 3:59 am #

    Loved the post with insights into PC life in Jamaica Mon. Thanks

  4. JN November 27, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    You have no idea who I am(Jamaican-American), but I
    Adore your writing style Sammi.
    You had me cracking up several times! There is nothing I enjoy hearing more than a foreigner’s experiences and impression of island life, especially of the places I would not venture. Hats off to you Ma’am!

    Yes, the rest of the world does get quite annoyed when asked about American holidays/traditions. I worked in “Ochi” in an all-inclusive after High School, and would get those questions often. I cannot recall another nationality asking such questions.(gotta love the fabulous all inclusive American attitude! Love it!)
    Non-Americans claimed they got those questions in their homelands too. Didn’t bother us though, but then we were paid to be nice to the guests(smile)The hotel did celebrate super-bowl though, they had us in jerseys, had the spread/tailgate? (still haven’t gotten into ‘football’ or even futbol, sorry) and the whole shebang.

    I would get quite annoyed though when online forms requested you choose your country from the alphabetical listing, and have the first listing as USA, the second as Canada. True alphabetization really began after Canada. Now I irk when I come across forms that do not have USA listed first(more the norm now). I suspect that’s because I now reside in the USA 🙂

    Re: Animal torture, that sounds brutal; sounds like you live inna di deep, deep bush.
    Not I.

    They smacked you!?? Be sure let out a massive OW!(be dramatic) next time around. That should take care of future smacks

    Walk good

    P.S: Do you know that netball(no dribbling, pass/catch at standstill), played extensively in Australia, NZ, UK and the general Commonwealth was created in the US? As an alternative to basketball, so the ‘gentle’ ladies would not get so sweaty. Obviously it never really caught on in the States; and I’ve yet to meet one American who has heard of the game.

    I’m a bit of a nerd, forgive me

    • Sammi Travis December 11, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

      Dear Nerd 🙂

      You never wrote your name. Please forgive me for addressing u like suh 🙂

      What a fantastic message to come across!
      My apologies for not responding sooner.
      Thank you thank you Thank You! for taking the time to write to me. Wonderful dialogue!

      I bet working in Ochi was a total mind trip. I’m impressed you seem so positive about the experience and America as a whole.
      Grr, it can be frustrating.

      You’re welcome to come and visit me inna di bush if you want to.
      Just sayin’.

      best of the best,
      ‘mi 🙂

      PS. I never knew that netball (of course I know what this is) was created in the vast US of A. Interesting, thanks!


  1. Jamaica: Second Hand (Part Two) | Simply Intentional - February 18, 2012

    […] The Farmer in the Dell- scroll down to portion about Dogs which explains how they are treated and seen in Jamaican culture […]

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