Calabash Maracas, Homemade Brooms, and Ant Invasion

Livin' in Jamaica # 5 - Calabash Maracas, Homemade Brooms, and Ant Invasions  Trainees are less than two weeks away from finding out our permanent sites for our two years of Peace Corps service. I would say that all of us are a mixture of antsy and weary (wearntsy?)--- will training ever end? Where are we going to be living? Despite the lethargy, we all want to finish strong and have been making the best of our last few weeks together. A highlight of training is that we have the time to do activities together---during service this is not going to be the norm as we will be spread across the island and will be solely concentrating on integration into our new communities. Our training group is amazing and we have arranged many activities to take advantage of our current location, such as going to local music shows, nine nights, checking out other parishes, and going swimming!

Rooftop yoga has become almost a daily activity for some of us!

With another month coming to a close, I have been reflecting on my time in Jamaica thus far. Obviously I am still very new to Jamaica, but since me did come, me a learn a ting or two….

The Great Ant Disaster 2015: Don’t leave candy wrappers, fruit refuse, or any sign of food in your bags. If you leave even a grain of sugar in your room/bags, many ants will come. Ants will not hesitate to bite you, and the aftermath of the bites HURT (and itch)! The worst bites are when they get you in between your toes and fingers. I’m becoming more aware of not leaving any food wrappers (I have a mild cookie addiction) in my bags as ants have invaded my tote bag, purse, and backpack. I spent that night pouring my bags upside down and inside out to get rid of them after realizing their invasion....it was kind of a rough night (seriously, it was a lot of ants...). I will be more careful about what I leave in my bags for now on.

Art is a powerful tool:  I never thought I would be making so much art in training...from helping to paint a mural to using art to run activities in the Eco-Camp that we facilitated at a local school last week. I have also made drawings as gifts for my host families, which are fun for me to do and appear to be highly appreciated. Hooray for art!

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Cliff jumping is awesome: We went to Reach Falls on our day off and it took me at least thirty minutes of  observing others jumping safely to convince myself to jump. Eventually, I jumped off that dang rock, at least 30 feet up, hopping into the cold water, exhilarated and free! It felt awesome to push myself past my fear of falling into rocks and getting all mashed up. We also visited Boston Bay which was beautiful and is home to some of the best jerk chicken on the island.

The cliff we jumped!

Inside a cave at Reach Falls.

I'm in the back waiting to jump as another trainee mentally prepares herself!

Jamaican bicyclists are talented: I have seem bicyclists in Jamaica carrying weed wackers, gas tanks, feed bags, children on their laps, large quantities of produce...going up and down hills like it is nothing! I have cycled with some crazy things in my hands before, but my hat is off to these fearless bikers for not only carrying heavy loads but braving the drivers and potholes on the roads.

Anti-Instant coffee (...for now):

When I think of Jamaica, I think of Blue Mountain coffee, so I was surprised when I realized that most homes are stocked with instant coffee! Blue Mountain coffee is expensive, and many prefer the weaker stuff anyway (my first host family mother would cut her instant coffee with Milo, a popular chocolate/malt beverage here). I drank the instant stuff for about a month before I finally caved and sacrificed my week's lunch money for some of the good stuff. I brought my Melita brewer, and bought a strainer to put into it since the filters will be hard to find. I may have to give up some things on my Peace Corps budget, but for training, I'm not ready to give up a good cup o' joe in the morning. My host mother got a kick of my coffee making set-up, seen below (the red handle is the strainer that replaces coffee filters).

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I've discovered comforts that I wasn't even aware of: Coffee was an obvious comfort. The first time I found plain yogurt and granola in the store (a luxury treat, not a weekly purchase) I was surprisingly happy...too excited over food happy. I have already identified many of my comforts, but it is always funny to find the simple pleasures I left back home that I wasn't even aware that I enjoyed so much. Reading in my mosquito net at night by headlamp in sticky heat is strangely comforting---it reminds me of camping during long distance bicycle touring!  On the opposite side of this, I thought giving up hot water would be hard, since long hot showers were my environmentally unfriendly guilty pleasure. However, I have come to love cold showers, especially after going for runs in the morning or an especially sticky day.

Know your neighborhood craftsmen: I’ve gone out of my way to meet furniture, jewelry, and broom makers in the community that we are training in.

Robert is an amazing furniture builder who does a lot of intricate woodcarving on pieces such as bed frames. I went over to his workspace to see his craft, and when I went home and told my host mother, it turns out her very own cabinets were carved by him! He also makes music and has a past life of painting, and he was happy to take some of his artwork out for me to see. Robert used his jigsaw to cut some pieces of bamboo for me as a head start for my utensil set I am attempting to make. Pictured below is one of his paintings.

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Jah Rubal is another friend I have made in Jamaica. He is an awesome musician and poet, but he also makes brooms! We often hang out with Jah Rubal to play music, and he has enjoyed our company so much that he made some of us trainees some hand brooms. I will try to find some of his music online to share in the future.

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Calabash is used in Jamaica to make a variety of products. I was very excited to learn how to make objects out of this cucurbit. Our friend Neville showed us how to make some things out of them, he also makes jewelry and other little crafts to sell.

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Finished calabash shake shakes. Photo by Babs.

 Things I wish I packed:

-More “me” clothes → Days before leaving, I raided most of the thrift stores of Philadelphia for some business casual clothing. Most of my attire was either torn or tattered or was more suitable for heavy snow---what would you expect from someone attending a farm school in Vermont for the past few years? I had to rebuild my wardrobe from scratch and the clothes don’t quite feel like me. I’m sure I will accumulate more clothes over the next 2 years.

- External hard drive→ I think exchanging music, movies, television shows and books on an external hard drive is Peace Corps volunteer bonding experience that my measly flash drive cannot live up to.

- Ink! Speedball Super black Indian Ink→…my favorite art medium. Once I am settled…I will find a way to get it!

Things I'm GLAD I packed! -

- My yoga mat. It has seen almost daily use since I have come to Jamaica.

- A good pocket knife. For farm activities as well as cutting up mangoes, oranges, and all of the other amazing fruit that grows here!

Skills I want to master:

- Cooking Ital Food

- Making a bamboo fishing rod and fishing

- Woodcarving

- Identifying and using Medicinal plants

- Seed saving of popular Jamaican crops (and hopefully a personal garden!)

So, another month of training is said and done...11 days until I know my permanent home in Jamaica. Until then, back to training!