I have lived in my community for less than two months, so there is still a lot to learn about Spring Ground. So far, I love it here...it is cool, breezy, and I can wear pants and long sleeves without sweating buckets. The thunderstorms are beautiful and there are many things that can grow in this climate, including coffee (though no one is growing coffee here anymore)! My community has been very curious about the "whitey" who walks to work each morning, especially when I am wearing my bush clothes and carrying a machete. Even though there is a good dose of "unwanted attention" (what Peace Corps calls sexual harassment) and the occasional person putting their hand out as if I am a bank, for the most part I think I have been making my purpose as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Spring Ground clear and have felt very welcomed. As it becomes obvious that I am not just here for a two-week vacation, people have slowly stopped asking me if I was lost and are more likely to say simply say hello.
I was told this area is called Spring Ground because anywhere you dig, you will soon hit water. I suppose that's why the nearest graveyard has only elevated coffins encased in concrete. My landlord developed a spring in her yard, which is the watering hole for not only the people who live in my building, but surrounding neighbors. In tough times of drought, we are lucky to have a fresh water supply.
There are a few snack shops with mainly empty shelves and stale bulla, one church, and many farmers in my immediate community. There is even a community center, which sits empty and unfurnished as I struggle to find the right point of contact to find out more about its potential. My closest neighbor is a good representation of many of the people in Spring Ground--he has been living in this community for ten years, and when I asked him what he thought about living in Spring Ground, he said, "You have everything you need in Spring Ground--except for a job".
His insight appears to be true. Spring Ground has employment opportunities in agriculture and construction, and its residents have a wide range of skills. However, the work is not steady. People try to find work however they can, whenever they can. Many build their houses in small sections as money comes in, including my neighbor; For the ten years that he has lived here, he has still been working on his house, slowly but surely.
One thing that is unique about my community is the fact that a lot of returned residents have built their homes here. My own landlord, who lives two floors above me, spent all of her adult life in England. She returned to her homeland in her old age to create a home and live simply, plus she still goes back to England at least once a year. Another common returned resident scenario seems to be to build a huge house that remains vacant as they live overseas. These castles are juxtaposed with abandoned building projects of people who probably ran out of the money to finish. There is deep poverty surrounding the palaces.
The agricultural opportunities in my community mainly involve growing yam and livestock. There are 18 varieties of yam that have been traditionally grown in Jamaica, but the yam farming you see here is monoculture farming of the yellow yam, most of which will be exported. The conventional yam farming is hard on the soil, not to mention many out of control bush fires are started when people try to clear land to plant more yam.
I like my community and i see so much opportunity for projects. My thought process has been: What can we do in the community center that people could benefit from? How can I use my love of art as a tool to integrate into my community? When will everyone know my name so they can stop calling me "Whitey"?
Even though it is quiet and peaceful in Spring Ground, a short 10 minute walk downhill and I find myself in Spalding, a happening stretch of businesses including multiple supermarkets, a hospital, and fresh produce vendors. To my surprise, there is actually a significant population of Chinese in this area, mostly business owners of the Main Street shops.
I am also a fifteen minute taxi ride out of Spalding to Christiana, Manchester's second largest city. In addition, I live about a twenty-five minute taxi ride away from the parish's biggest city, Mandeville, which is the fifth-largest town in Jamaica. Mandeville even has a coffee shop, which is one of the things I actually miss. I am happy with where I live and looking forward to being here for the next two years.