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SCreech!

12 Apr

My computers dead.
It won’t turn on.
I mean, I’ve looked at it and all, pressed the reset button, unplugged it, re-plugged it, left it alone, flipped it over, sweet-talked it, left it alone (for longer this time), took out the battery, blew on it, brushed it off, opened it, closed it, heaved a sigh, and completely exhausted my electronical knowledge. I have hope that someone in America will fix it. Until then, mi deh yah — that’s patwa for I am here — in Santa Cruz using the Internet Cafe.
Budgeting my “allowance” (aptly titled Peace Corps pay) to shell out for computer time during April has been unexpected and unwelcomed but not what I’m focused on. Because, guess what ya’ll???
This is MY LAST MONTH ON ISLAND!!!!

That’s right; 3 goals, 2 years of service, and 1 love.
My 25 month emotional roller coaster is about to come to a full stop.
April 23rd, 2012
Congratulations group 81! Pop pop pop pop pop!

So, with a positive spin, this computer mashup is a blessing in disguise. I have been hyper-focusing on school (and adorable pickni), my farmers, relationships, sweet sweet Elim, and of course darling Mama. The love in my community is palpable and these past few weeks have been thoroughly enjoyable and full of celebration.

April is hot, no doubt, but life is good.
Really really good.

Up and Coming:
April 21st
Since no one I know is subscribed to Triathalete magazine (right?) and (turns out) I am a sucker for any ‘top 5’ nomer, as soon as I found out that Jakes Jamaican triathalon was voted “top 5 best off-road races in the world”, I signed up.
People in Elim expect me to win. Normally, I would banter and hedge, cushioning the blow for when I crawl across the finish line. However, my community members televisions have awful service (much static, flashing screens, and frequent, high pitch noises). This, combined with the fact that all white people look the same (whenever they show clips of white people my community members claim they saw me on TV– Mama is convinced I came in third place at Reggae marathon) has caused me to smile, nod, and give a thumbs up at any mention of the aforementioned race.
I’m excited because at least one day this month I’ll be exercising.

On April 24th I am island hoping.
2 weeks of Caribbean travel. Yip yip yip!
More details later.

May 10th
I land in Minnesota where dear Molly will (soon) be. Until then I get the luxury of chilling with Betsy and Dooey (holla!!)

May 17th
Solo road-trip to Piksburgh ❤
Molly is lending me her car for the summer (!)
I haven't driven alone in over 2 years. Freeeeeeeedom!

End of May
An uplifting reunion with M ‘n D along with fantastic sleep in a cushy bedroom.
PA friends gear up; Bring On Americana!

In June I will be updating my blog and, most likely, renaming it. Any suggestions? Realistically, you won't be hearing from me much between now and then (Macrash and huge life changes, withstanding ).

For now, I am living in the moment, soaking up the sun, and relishing Jamaica.

When I reach America, we should probably hang out.
Throw me a good offer and I may even come to you.

Present. Happy. Fulfilled.
All in all,
'mi (deh yah)

PS. June 23rd is my Welcome Home Fiesta. You’re invited. Save the date.

Quality over Quantity

22 Mar

In my opinion and in spite of the rain, February emceed the most valuable Farmers meeting Elim has ever seen. Attended by Mr. Price, St. Elizabeth’s newest Member of Parliament, over 100 community members showed up, actively participated, and worked together to ensure a relatively punctual start (merely 1.75 hours late). I was thoroughly impressed. People were involved! The two hour collaboration was full of insightful observations, remarkable inquiries, and constructive dialogue; reverberating with fresh ideas, innovative peanut plans, and a renewed sense of communal hope, my heart swelled with pride.

In unrelated news, Peace Corps Jamaica (group 83) arrived on island last week. Welcome, ya’ll! Hopefully Michael is among you and we will all linkup soon.

Alright, so my day. Since I woke up this morning I have:
– Witnessed Goose eating a diaper. It was terrible. Dogs are gross.
– Ran for 45 minutes and then enjoyed a hearty callaloo breakfast.
– Visited the basic school where the Principle had done nothing to prepare for our meeting like I had asked. Sure.
– Cracked peanut seeds (to be used for planting) while watching adorable piglets get delivered (by a truck) into mamas yard.

my name is Fluff

In vignette-y news, I recently overheard this outrageous, sexist conversation:
A Black River taxi driver wanted to maximize profits by squeezing two women into the front seat of his car; the women would have had to ‘small-up’ considerably. He authoritatively told the first woman “Move ova, now.”. She responded with Jamaican attitude, “Naw sir! Mi wuldn’t do dat.”. The taxi driver insisted, “Come now man, move ovah!”. The woman kissed teeth (translation: ‘rolled her eyes’) and explained, “Mi cyaan tek de squeeze up, squeeze up — Mi pregnant.”. “Oh gawd, Lord gawd”, the driver immediately reacted, “Oh sorry. Sorry miss! So sorry.”, he apologetically continued, “Mi neva kno say dat di job already done!”.

Ha! I couldn’t help but laugh because, despite this chauvinistic attitude, I am in love with Jamaica right now. Yes, it’s a patriarchal country and — of course — some things make me cringe. But, by golly, I am embracing my gender role and enjoying my life! Work and school are frequently productive, the fruit here is always in season/perpetually mouthwatering, and Elim is brimming with warm, friendly people. Not to mention this enchanting yard really feels like home.

Do you spy wid your likl eye Goose & Tyger?

That tree to the right with red things? Ackee and ‘tis the season! I have spent many recent hours harvesting, cleaning, and cooking this national food. To the left you’ll see cows and mango trees (soon come!). Behind the house (not pictured) are star apple, guava, niesberry, and palm trees (with yummy jelly-coconuts).

Oh, my roommate is here. He wants to say hello:

This lizard has seriously grown. We had one minor calamity in which our friend, a salamander, got completely flattened by a chair. It was tragic(ally hilarious). But you can see how quickly my scaly companion has rebounded after the trauma!; he appears to be mentally stable, completely un-trampled, and benefiting from some extra food indulgences. I just watched him pay his rent, aka eat a roach half his size.

More (exciting) news next time. Try not to contain yourself.
Miles of smiles,
‘mi

Sanity Clause

19 Mar

Dear friends and family,

Yesterday marked two years since I arrived in Jamaica!
And how perfect that it was a Sunday – my favorite day. Also, you’ll note, a day of religion; an ideal time to tell you about last month when a crowd of black people prayed explicitly for your safety and wellbeing.

Story time:
I was in Santa Cruz when I saw a large assembly – complete with a minivan, tent, two folding tables, a microphone, stacks of speakers, and a sizable crowd. My instinct, you’ll appreciate, is to avoid. As I was casually crossing the street to establish distance I overheard (mildly put) multiple, fanatical “Jesus” shrieks and deduced that this was a parking-lot revival of sorts. Later, after having my spirit purified, I found out that this particular Church group is semi-famous; hailing from Kingston they are featured on TV Jamaica at 7am Sunday mornings performing “Revival Hour” (ironically, 30 minutes long).

Anyhow, back to the drama. I was skirting by, as unnoticed as a bruise on a banana, when a few of my dear community members spotted me, smiled, called my name, and wildly motioned that I should come and attend this service. They seemed happy but I’ve been to Jamaican services before…5 hours later I pledged to myself that I would never have to do that again. Color me white, but I am a grownup who does not break her promises. So, from across the street, I graciously gave a friendly wave of acknowledgment and then skillfully gesticulated that I cannot come stand over there because I am, in fact, Jewish.

Did you know that miming ‘yamaka’ is not universally understood?
I couldn’t believe it either so I re-mimed with clearer articulation.
The pastor with the loudspeaker detected something was amiss – A soul that needed restoration? – and paused his sermon. I froze. The air was pregnant with curiosity and rituals. How do you hide the fact that bunnies do not lay eggs?

“Whitie!” I heard over the megaphone.
The crowd of dark-skinned Jamaicans collectively turned towards me.
I smiled. Waved. Then casually tried to shuffle away ruminating, ‘I’m brown’.

“Come! The Lord is calling! The Lord is speaking to me!”, he bellowed. The preacher re-established his groove, his voice escalating, “In the Lords name! Can I get a Hallalujah for this Whitie?”

Barring any unlikely persons with pigment deficiencies, he was talking to me. I decided to take this in stride. Why not? I’d been in (almost) this exact situation other times in Jamaica so I had practice. “The Lord! In Jesus’ name! Come!! Let us pray!”, he yearned. I faced the throng; I was in a good mood and while the preacher spouted energetic blessings into the microphone, I walked into the nucleolus. As I maneuvered, I reflected how lucky I was; a group of people was about to give me strength.

When I reached the pastor he was covered in sweat, his white shirt soaked through and his black skin glistened. Seized by the spirit myself, I shouted a few “hallalujahs” and felt him take each of my arms and thrust them into the air. With his hands on my head he convulsed into the microphone, “Jesus! Jesus! He wants me to pray for you! Give you health! Safe travels! This beautiful country! Can I get an Amen?”
I heard murmurs of ‘Amen’.
“The Lord he ask nothing of you”, he continued, still touching the spot where my yamaka might lay, “in Jesus’ name! Bless this woman! Bless her family! Her friends! Those who know her foreign and those who know her community! Bless them! Provide for them! Their travels. We ask of you Lord! Care for her!” He was on a roll. An amplified, so-loud-it-diminishes-your-experience, passionate, heart-felt roll. “Make the devil not take she! Guide her! Jesus! Jesus! We ask you! Lord! Keep evil away! Jesus!”, his eyes rolled back into his head. I grew concerned until he jumped up with new urgency and I saw that he was okay. “Say his name!”, he commanded. “Say the Lords name! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”, he burgeoned on hysterical.
I closed my eyes, serenely smiled, and sent a silent, personal prayer of gratitude to Ms. Dawkins for all those elementary school acting class. “Jesus”, I started, my smile broadened; if Rabbi Art Donsky could see me now! “Jesus! Jesus! Thank you Jesus!”, it was easy once I got going. “Jesus! Lord Jesus, thank you!”, my heart rate was elevated and I started sweating; I was into this.

The preacher took his hands off of me and spun me around in a circle. “Yes, yes”, he muttered, “God Bless” and sent me out of the spotlight. Just like that, my holy session had ended. I noticed then that the crowd had gotten larger — which made sense because, in Jamaica, the only thing ruder than pointing and staring is not pointing and staring — and I caught the eyes of my community members as we sieved towards each other.
“Mah sah! That was quite a prayer!”, Mr. Higgler pronounced. “Yeah, I feel like I’ve been sufficiently protected from all sorts of evil!”, I declared, wiping my brow. “Not to mention your friends and family”, Rocky elaborated.
Ah yes, my esteemed friends and family.

So,if you’re counted among my friends and family – and let’s assume by reading this you are – this past month you were professionally prayed for, redeemed.

With (officially) 2 years of experience and all due veneration, you’re welcome.
‘mi

Resume builder

11 Mar

Right, so I owe you all an update for February but this will have to do: My time in Jamaica is coming to a close and I have been busy with school work, busy with job work, busy with community work, and did I mention really really busy?

Among the recent things I’ve done? Update my resume. Here are some excerpts:

Samantha Travis
Jamaica, West Indies
Peace Corps Volunteer; March 2010 – Present

• Assisted in writing successful grant. Awarded $200,000US. Built new school.
• Developed curriculum. Taught leadership classes weekly; empowered students.
• Created parameters for J’can women to amplify recycled card enterprise.
• Conducted 12 workshops honing business, advertising, and financial expertise.

But then I was all like, ‘wait! there’s more’:
• Increased literature consumption; completed > 155 books.
• Received 32 marriage proposals. Improved sense of humor.
• Hosted parasite; eliminated 9 pounds of needed body weight in 9 hours.
• Administered shockingly cold bucket baths at least 2x per week.

And then I was all like, ‘I need to save space. Can this be simplified?’:
•Humbled by a 26 month third-world ego plunge. Retained buoyant optimism.

More soon come.
Until then,
‘mi

Go Ask Your Mother

31 Jan

As you know, one of my favorite and most consistent rituals in Jamaica is going over to Mama’s house for dinner. Every evening around 5pm, I walk into the sunset down my gravel road. With a clean tupperware in hand from yesterday’s meal, I pass four houses to get to Mama’s yard, Tyger and Goose bounding ahead of me. I’ll exchange my clean dish for the dinner on the fire tonight. Sometimes when I arrive, dinner hasn’t even started cooking. On those days, I end up spending time in the yard, hanging out with the family, helping prepare food, or doing some kind of cleaning. While the pot simmers, Mama and I chat.

Simple Pleasures

During Molly’s visit, she of course joined me in the nightly walk to Mama’s yard, and was immediately accepted as Mama’s newest daughter. One Wednesday evening, while waiting for our serving of ackee and green banana, Molly got the hiccups. When Mama heard Molly hiccupping, she laughed.

Mama: A wa dat? Marly ave eekup? (She laughed again) Mus be sumting did tief.

Though Patwa is sometimes referred to as “broken English,” I would consider it its own beautiful, hilarious language. “Tief” or “tiefing” is how Jamaicans would say something has been “thieved” or stolen. With Mama’s mention of hiccups and stealing, you can imagine our confusion.

Sammi: A what tief, Mama?
Mama: Mi nah no. Mos be di suga.
Molly: What?
Sammi: Wait, your sugar’s missing?
Mama: Nooo. Marly mossa teif sumting! Like, ef yuh tief sumtin? Like yuh madda suga? A dats how dem seh yuh get eekup.

Oooh. Okay. Apparently, getting the hiccups in Jamaica means you’ve stolen something, probably your mother’s sugar. We understood. So I started teasing Molly.

Sammi: What did you tief, Mol, huh? Am I gonna be missing something at the house?
Molly: No, no, no! Mi (hiccup) didn’t tief nothing!

Mama laughed as I gave Molly a hard time.

Molly: Mama, what can mi do to get rid of these hiccups?
Mama: Jreenk wata. Jus yuh count it, “one, two, tree,” an by di tree, no more eekup.

Mama’s unexpected perspective on hiccups gave us an idea for this January blog: What other stuff did Mama believe? What secrets of Jamaican culture could we uncover? Which practices would be the same across Elim, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh? So when we got home, we set about writing interview questions in order to discover the world according to Mama.

We conducted the interview a couple days later, with Molly typing Mama’s responses as she spoke them. The words below are a few of the silliest and most heart-felt responses she gave, and we tried to spell Mama’s answers as they would be written in her native tongue (with help from Joan Andrea Hutchinson’s Patwa book). If you don’t know Patwa, hopefully you can at least get the gist of what Mama said. 🙂

The interview started off simply.

Sammi: Mama, what are your favorite jobs around the yard?
Mama: Wash [hand-washing clothes]. Mi love wash, cook, an iron.

The fact that Mama’s favorite task is hand-washing clothes just baffles me. Hand-washing clothes is one of the most unpleasant ways I spend my time here. It takes forever, it’s monotonous, it ruins my delicates, and when I’m finished, my clothes still don’t look or feel clean. Because of this, I make sure to get every bit of use out of each garment before laundry day. This is how I discovered the practicality of wearing my undies inside-out. Shhh. Moving on.

S: Mama, what’s the best job to have?
Ma: Like, yuh wuck into a office whey sun nah burn yuh. People need people fido dem seketaries. Dem are di bes job to have rite now.

So, apparently the grass is always greener on the other side. To us, a secretary job sounds sterile. For sure, the air conditioning would be a perk, especially when living here, and joining the white-collar world sounds a bit glamorous after living inna di bush, but the freedom and reward of a lifestyle like Mama’s–to grow her own food, raise her own fowl, spend time with her family, make her own hours, breathe the fresh air, be in touch with the land, and have a direct relationship with her survival—seems much closer to Molly’s and my dream job than a cubicle and steady salary.

Mo: Mama, what would you say is the nicest country in the world?
Ma: Wat yud say, Eengland? Or Canada.
S: What do I think? Oh, they’re both really nice, yes. Mama, what other countries are there?
Ma: Eengland, Canada, Nasuh, Kyaman, Caraso, Bahamas. (She pauses, thinking) A fi which country Charmane live? [Charmane is Mama’s daughter.]
S: Barbados.
Ma: Yes. Barbados.
Mo: And if you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
Ma: Mi? I wud live…mi nah no. Mi love Jamaica.

We were tickled by how, to Mama, the important countries of the world were nearby and personal. It is refreshing to hear connections to places based on family vs. CNN headlines.

So, anyway, since Molly and I have been on this intense diet and exercise plan, we thought we’d include a set of questions related to health.

S: Mama, what’s the healthiest thing you can eat?
Ma: Vegestaba.

Yes! Vegestabas! That’s what we think, too, Mama!

Mo: Mama, what’s the best food for your eyes?
Ma: Fi yuh ie, yuh jus get a lickle honey, a weh yuh go to sleep inna di night? Yuh put it (points to her eyelid). Een di mawnin, sumting comes out. Di honey teck it out yuh ie.

[For the record, we tried this. Before bed the night after this interview, Molly and I washed our faces well and then applied a thin layer of local honey to our eyelids (and licked our fingers). We slept in fear of ants on our face, and woke up distractingly sticky.
“How’re your honey-eyes?” Molly asked me, first thing.
“Well, I certainly never forgot that I had honey on my eye.”
“Yeah, me either. Did anything come out?”
“I don’t know.”
Molly followed me into the bathroom so we could rinse our ‘lids. We toweled off and blinked a few times.
“Anything?” Molly asked me.
“No. You?”
“Nothing came out of my eyes.”
True, the experiment hadn’t worked, but we still ended up coming to the unanimous conclusion that Mama’s suggestion was worth it. After we washed off, our eyes felt great; they didn’t have honey on them anymore.]

S: Mama, what’s the best food for your blood?
Ma: Carrot juice. An beet root. Even di watacrish–(she looks up at us, remembering) Yuh know mi have a lot today. Yuh wan sum? (Pointing to the outdoor kitchen) An yuh kyan stem sum ef yuh wan calliloo. Yuh kyan stem it. It green an pretty an nice.
Mo: Yes, Mama. Thank you. We would love some watercress and calliloo. But just a lickle. Yuh always give wi too much.
Ma: Oh-kay, oh-kay.

S: Mama, sometimes the food yuh cook is so good, we eat too much of it. What you kyan do for that?
Ma: No, mon! Yuh jus eat wat yuh stomuk kyan teck. Yuh kyaan do nutten to it. Yuh walk it out.

Dang. We were hoping for a Jamaican miracle cure for over-eating.

S: Mama, what should you do when you don’t have any food around?
Ma: (Responding confidently) All yuh haffi do? Siddung an pray. An aks di Lord to provi fi yuh. (She looks to the sky and raises her hands) God is good. God is real. God is wunderful. (With relief) God! (Back to us) Look how menny places wi go an im kyarry wi back safe!
S: Yes, we always do seem to get back safe.

Mo: Mama, what if you have a cold?
Ma: Like a kof? Ef it trrible? Eeda yuh kyan pick (searching for the word)–yuh see dey have sum tree? Dem bloom some white ting? (Remembering) Kotton! An yuh jus pik di kotton leaf, an pik it, an bwoil it, an jreenk it–even da gully bean. Yuh kyan pik di gully bean leaf, and bwoil it, and jreenk it.

Cool.

Then — because this question was personal and my ‘brothers’ Lucky or Dicky were nearby –I asked in a whisper,

S: Mama, what happens if you kyaan poop? Like you try fi poop but yuh jus kyaan?

Comically, she didn’t understand what I meant. Instead of “what to do if you’re constipated,” she thought I meant what happens if somebody just never poops, ever.

Ma: Nuh, mon! Dat sound reedikyulus.

Giggling, we tried to help her understand what we were saying.

Mo: Like you eat something and it gets stuck–
S: Constipated. If you’re constipated.
Ma: Ooooh kay. Yuh see like yuh have milk? Like yuh get inna di mawnin? (Nodding) Jus jreenk it an it mecks mos gas paas. Yes, milk meck gas paas.Yuh know Miss Valda?
Mo: The neighbor?

Ms. Valda

Ma: No, no.
S: There’s two Miss Valdas.
Mo: Oh, the other one.

Ms. Valda

Ma: Mi tell yuh, Sunday mawnin wen wi go a church? I hear Miss Valda let go sum! Mi haffa seh, “A so! Dat’s how yuh gwan inna church today?!”

Ha! That was a bit more information about Miss Valda than we were looking for.
We changed the subject.

Mo: Mama, when is it appropriate to hug somebody?
Ma: (For this one, Mama answered immediately) Entime yuh feel like. Love di person, an yuh wan meck much of him? [In Jamaica, “him” is often used to refer to girls, too.] Yuh jus go an hug him.

Curious to see if the concept of soul-mate existed in Jamaica, we asked the following question:

Mo: Mama, how do you know when you’ve found “the one”?
Ma: Well, how yuh will know yuh have fine him? Dat man a concern? Yuh will do sumting like wa him doan like. An him doan show yuh na bad face. Him a jus laf wid yuh, an fren yuh up, an seh, “Why yuh do so-an-so?” Him jus fren yuh up an laf.

Aw, sweet.

S: And so mama, what should you do if you want to look sexy for “dat man a concern”?
Ma: Bathe.

Touche.

After a pee break, we felt comfortable enough to ask mama something a little unladylike.

S: Mama, do Jamaican women have a preference about a man’s penis size?
Ma: Mmhmm. It meck a diference. Becaw a man? Ef yuh are close? Di man penis big and long? It kyan hurt yuh. Not so good. Betta dat it’s odinary.

Apparently some stereotypes are true. In a big way.

S: And mama, when you’re on your honeymoon, what should you do?
Ma: You kiss. Or, ef like yuh go to a hotel? Oonoo go to di pool together. [“Oonoo” is collective “you.”]

Mo: Mama, mi know lots of people dem have babies before dem get married. Why that happen so much in Jamaica?
Ma: Well, mi doan really know dey wan baby before marriage becaw ef yuh are a Christian? Yuh haffi get married before yuh have sex. (Mama looked away and shook her head) But mi na agree widdat nyther. Suppose yuh married to a man an den yuh fine di man have no use! So mi haffi try him firs.

If Jessica Simpson had chatted with Mama before marrying Nick Lachey perhaps her life would have turned out differently.

S: Mama, when you’re pregnant, are der tings you should or shouldn’t do to make the baby healthy?
Ma: Aright. (we hit the jackpot) Wen yuh pregnant, yuh mosly feed on banana. (She pauses) Yuh know, yuh kyan eat enyteen doa–enyteen yuh feel like eat. (She nods emphatically) Yes. Like, yuh feel like yuh wan peesa bammi? [Bammi is an English-muffin-like Jamaican favorite, made from cassava root flour] An yuh doan get it? yuh get an itch pon yuh bawdy. (Mama points to her face) An if you wan fi scratch, doan go into yuh face–better yuh put it on yuh batung (smacking her butt). Anywhere yuh put dem scratch yuh get a mark. All a my pickni? Afi dem mark rite here (she smacks her butt again).

[To recap: When you’re pregnant, eat bananas. Or whatever you want. And if you don’t get what you want, and then notice an itch somewhere, know that they’re correlated. At this point, Mama suggests you redirect your itch to your butt, so your baby’s birthmarks will end up there, and not where your itch actually was ie. your face.]

Mama continued…
Ma: (The following was said with gravity) But wat yuh na to do wen yuh go enywhere? Yuh not to sorry fi people o mongral. Like, dey are defaultid [disabled]? Yuh na to look pon dem an sorry fi dem. Yuh na to sorry fi nuting, becaw yuh baby will born sick. Ef yuh pregnant, an yuh easy sorry for people, please don’t sorry for nobody.

Are you pregnant? Don't feel sorry for me.

Okay, got it: When I’m pregnant, all scratches go on my behind and I will entertain no sympathy — lest my child be defaulted.

There must be other things that we can learn so I asked this next question for fun. And because my birthstone is Alexandrite.

What is your birthstone?

S: Mama, when’s the best time of year to be born?
Ma: June is a good munt. Lucky munt. Janawary is a nice munt again, an many people are lovin, kine, and genkle.
S: And the worst time to be born?
Ma: April people dem doan nice.

Sorry, April babies. Mama said it, not us.

Mo: Mama, sometimes people feel sad. What should you do when you feel sad to make yourself feel better?
Ma: (Mama paused a little while to form this response) Wen mi feel saad, all mi do? Mi jus try fi do sumting. Yuh jus git up inna di house an star to do sumting. An as quik as yuh start yuh feel betta. (She smiles) Yuh feel good! (Laughs) Move yuh blood. Yuh feel okay! Yuh feel alright.

Speaking of feeling good…

Mo: Mama, What would make you feel proud of yourself? Like what would make you say, ‘I lead a good life’?
Ma: (Mama didn’t have to think at all before she answered this one) Becaw yuh keep yuself uprite. Yuh na waak an stumble. (She looked us both in the eyes) Keep yuself uprite, keep yuself natral, know yuh are a woman, an know yuh haffi lead a woman life.

Know you have to lead a woman’s life. If “woman life” means loving to wash, cook, and iron then I think that Mama can feel like the most successful life-liver in all of Jamaica; she is the epitome of her values, and acts in each moment with God in mind.

Mama, or her given name, “Miss Dasmin Sinclair,” is renowned in Elim for her skills as a relentless home-keeper and natural cook. She always cooks on quality wood in iron pots and never uses powders, mixes, or packaged flavorings. Practically every item in her pan comes from the family farm just over the hill.

Mama

Across the island, the traditional Sunday meal is rice and peas and chicken. So of course on the Sunday after the interview, that’s what was on Mamas fire; the fowl in the dish was a rooster we had seen yesterday and had been watching grow in Mama’s yard.

Molly and I had been strictly vegetarian for her entire trip and had enough food in the fridge to last a family through the weekend. But after our interview instead of refusing to eat chicken like we had been, we sat down with a full tupperware and dove into Sunday dinner “like yuh suppwos to.” We ate our hot, dead, delicious rooster brother over a bed of hand-grated coconut rice, and carefully shelled local gunga peas infused with the essence of logwood.

Maspunus, Mama’s sick husband, yelled from the bedroom, “Deh chicken so sweet dat yuh wan yuh bwayfren sem time!”

Maspunus

He doesn’t speak often but when he does, listen up!

Back at the interview, it was close to 4pm, and Mama was getting impatient to start cleaning the river fish Lucky had caught earlier that day. We had one final question.

S: Mama, do you have any advice you would give to your grandchildren?
Ma: (Completely deadpan) All wat mi wuld seh to my granchilrin? I would seh, “Take care of yuh granmadda.”

Good one, Mama. Good one.

Sammi and Molly signing off.

'mi and 'ly

The Power of Two

30 Dec

(In the order they happened)
Happy Hannukah, happy first day of Winter, merry Christmas, happy Kwanza, happy Boxing Day, happy Election for Jamaican Prime Minister Day, and when it comes, wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year!

I’m here with guest writer and best friend, Molly Dworsky! Hi from the both of us! We feel so lucky to be spending this time together. Laughing, eating, and bonding—it’s a real treat.

This past month has been breezy and exciting. Because the seasons don’t change, and the culture here is so different, it’s hard to realize that the holidays have arrived. Luckily, school let out on December 14th to remind me that I’m on vacation!—at least from the pickni dem. 🙂 And the fact that Molly’s here obviously adds to the spirit of things.

Already, 2012 is looking good: a generous book, crayon, and shelving donation for the basic school (!), learning how to tow (ride two people) on my bicycle, my COS (close of service!) conference on January 25th, eating a whole-food, plant-based diet (check out the documentary “Forks Over Knives”), and being P90X-ified.

Before Molly got here, she and I chatted on the phone about our extreme ability to influence each other. We talked about how on this trip, instead of motivating each other to consume more frosting–like we once did freshman year in a cake-eating-contest–we’d try inspiring each other to be healthy and strong.

Our goals are ambitious. The ideal would be to exercise in the morning before breakfast, eat moderate, plant-based meals throughout the day, and exercise again in the evening.

So far, we have an amazingly meticulous and obsessive food plan in high gear. Um, it’s kind of all we talk about. How much is in the fridge, what’s going bad, what needs to be saved, what things should be paired together, etc. Molly is in charge of chopping the veggies (she loves this job) and I am responsible for planning and orchestrating the meals (I love this job). And over and over again, we keep congratulating each other on how HEALTHY it all is. We’re very proud.

(Though it’s “winter” in some parts of the world, here in paradise, we have reason to make summer squash soup.)

Picture of Health

We’ve made a calendar of all the days Molly’s going to be in Elim, and at the end of each day, we mark on the calendar how we did with our plan. A smiley face is the goal (with other symbols for less impressive days).

In terms of exercise, we’ve found our favorite activity is swimming. And, dedicated to our goal of fitness, we came up with some unique water exercises to keep us laughing and challenged.

The exercises:
(In case you’re looking for creative underwater activities this time of year)

“The Superman”—on your belly, with your arms outstretched and unmoving, use your legs to propel you forward (you know, picture Superman, but in water, and kicking his legs).

“Synchronized Swim”—(popularized by many Olympians) on your back, lift your legs out of the water in unison with your friend’s in dance-like motions of your choice (there’s no limit to what you can do here. Just don’t drown. That goes for all of these.).

“The Twirl”—with your head above water, swim in place in one direction. Repeat on other side.

“Leg Lifts”—contrary to its name, this one works your abs. With your legs together, arms flailing, hinge at your hips to bring your knees as close to the surface as possible. Do not fear if you look or feel like a fool. Under water, everyone is graceful.

Finally, the most effective and versatile technique:

“Kick and Punch”—this one is self-explanatory, sure. However, for those interested parties, we will elaborate. With your head above water, kick your legs and punch your arms wildly as if a giant squid were trying to steal your purse. (Inquire about our full-length Aquatic Self-defense class.)

In the past few days, we’ve upped our game: P90-style. For those of you who don’t know, “P90X” is a series of militant, full-body workout videos. They are led by Tony Horton, a hardcore (hence the “X”?) and merciless teacher. I have five of his DVDs on my flashdrive. The workouts are an hour to an hour-and-a-half, and we do at least one a day.

"Bring it."

To be fair, you might call what we do “Ghetto P90X.” Tony has a selection of equipment that he utilizes throughout the circuits to increase the intensity and add variety to the routines. Sammi & Molly have a selection of found items that THEY employ to increase the intensity and add variety to the routines. For example, in our gym (kitchen) are dumbbells (a few rocks), two pull-up bars (4 cans of garbanzo beans) two clean yoga mats (1 nasty one that we share), yoga blocks (books), two chairs (zero chairs. No need to get creative here. Regular push-ups are hard enough without making them “declining”), the delicious P90X recovery drink that Tony plugs at the end of every workout (water), and a thriving online community of people following the DVDs (“Page Load Error”).

For the most part, we’ve been doing really awesome with our health plan. Our calendar has more smiles than any other symbol, our fridge would impress a vegan chef, and our arms are always sore. But we’re not perfect. Even we are not immune to warm, homemade South African pudding.
Or seconds.
Plus ice cream.
Mmmmmmm.

We were Shabbat guests at my South African friends’ house, and had eaten too much to do our traditional evening workout. Knowing we were long past “smiley day” status, we had to think of some small way to redeem ourselves. We held our bellies and remembered the good times when we were swimming, burning calories, getting strong. Oh how we wished those times were now.
Could they be now?
Is it possible to swim on land?
Could we recreate Aquatic Self-defense in bed?

Attacking the land-squid

At least we did something.

Well, it’s almost dinner time here, so we’re gonna go chop and cook something green, visit with Mama, and squeeze in a cardio workout before bed.

More to come in the new year. (Here’s to hoping 2012 isn’t the end of the world.)

Love,
‘mi and ‘ly

da 2 a wi

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.

Dogs:
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.
Yikes.

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!)
*gulp*
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,
‘mi