Peace Corps Jamaica arranges a “Visit a Volunteer Experience” adventure for their trainees where they travel to a currently serving volunteer for a three-day visit. The purpose of the trip is to shadow the volunteer and observe the volunteer’s life, such as their living situation, projects that they are working on, and tactics they used to integrate into their communities (the volunteers that trainees visited just passed their one year mark or are at the tail end of their service). Another learning objective of the visit is to confirm that trainees are comfortable navigating the island by public transportation, including easily using patwa and the Jamaican dollar. My trip took about three hours by two taxis and two buses, and it was simpler than I thought to safety get from point A to point B. Plus, it was exciting to spread my wings for a second and see the island on my own, because training can feel a little sheltered at times.
I was lucky to shadow Danielle, a volunteer up in the mountains northeast of Kingston. Danielle does a variety of projects---working with a farmers’ group, improving the community center, and doing environmental education in the primary school. On top of all of her projects, which are all very self-directed, she has her own garden plot, a best friend (Ed the dog), and a host family that has really come to be her own family.
Danielle’s supervisor produces coffee, and I was greeted by the sweet smell of coffee blossoms as we reached her supervisor’s land on top of a hill. Her supervisor not only took the time to explain the process of growing a bean that is sellable to the coffee processing factory, but that night I watched as she roasted a batch of beans over the fire! I am a huge fan of a cup o’ joe, and now I feel more connected to the plant and all of the work that it goes into roasting that cherry berry into the substance that I gulp down multiple times a day. Mi cawfi, mi cawfi, the only ting I need is a bowl of boilin’ cawfi in di mawnin’.
In addition to meeting Danielle’s supervisor, Danielle introduced me to some of the farmers in her community. There was the Egg guy, who mentioned how hard it is to get layers on the island these days, and how he was interested in maybe raising some up himself. From what I understand, there are only 1-2 major players on the island for selling layers, and for some reason, they are unable to meet the demand of the island as of late. I am interested in exploring this problem more, so if anyone could give me any insight, please shoot me a message! We also met Fitzroy, who is doing really amazing things with his plot of land. First off, he was one of the first farmers I have seen using drip irrigation! As if this wasn’t exciting enough, he walked us over to his fairly large plot of strawberries. I wasn’t expecting to ever nyam a strawberry on a mountain in Jamaica, but I assure you that I relished that berry in the cool mountain breeze. Fitzroy had other crops such as banana, broccoli, and peaches. We left that farm with our bellies full and some bananas fi di road.
Visiting Danielle was a great reminder that there is a life waiting outside of training---sometimes it is easy to lose sight of that. There is a community that I will live in, neighbors I will come to know, and maybe I’ll even find a dog as cool as Ed to hang out with. Danielle’s garden was inspirational because she would grow and introduce some vegetables many Jamaicans have never used before, such as kale. I had a blast getting to know her community in very different ways, such as going for a 5AM moonlight walk with a neighbor for some exercise, playing dominoes with some folks, and watching Sleeping Beauty with her neighbor’s pickney dem.
When it was time to go home, I loaded onto a crowded 7AM bus down the mountain (potholes galore). Listening to Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison, looking upon the mountains, as the mountain breeze blew into the stuffy, jam-packed bus, I knew I was in the right place. I am refreshed and ready to finish strong with training!
Name that fruit! These are all fruits I tried while up in the mountains...can you identify any of them? Leave a comment!
Take it easy!