A Dancehall King is Swearing in as an Environment Volunteer

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Jamaican Government.

Pardon the jargon, for I have been “a foren,” in the land of reggae music and Jamaican Patwa (JP) for the past 10 weeks. For clarity sake, all words and phrases in quotes (“”) throughout this blog entry shall be defined in this blog. Also, this entry will be given only in English with a little bit of “chaka-chaka,” which is a blend of Standard American English and JP. On Friday, May 18, 2018, I won bragging rights for the most prestigious “Dancehall King” role at an event that is known here as “The Language Olympics.” On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, I attend a “Swearing-In Ceremony” to become an “Official Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV),” rather than just a “Peace Corps Trainee (PCT).” So now that jargon in this title has been defined with more jargon, please allow me to try and elaborate with less jargon.

“A foren” comes from “A foreign” and is like “away” in JP. This is just one of many examples that shows how I view JP with much more of a kind of twang that conjures up the emotions. I have come to find over the past 10 weeks of Training that JP has a beautiful way of adding color and depth to an ordinary word. Throughout Training, we have been taught the “Cassidy” form of writing, which is very similar to Tagalog by happenstance. It drops off repeatable letters such as “C,” “Q,” and “X” by replacing them with “K” or “S,” “K” or “Kw,” and “Ks,” respectively. Pronunciation is very easy, straightforward and has no exceptions to its very simple rules. The easiest part of learning the language, in my opinion, is the verb conjugations or lack thereof. Currently, JP is not an official language yet, but there are many active efforts to make it one as soon as possible. It is exciting to be learning the meanings of so many of the reggae songs and a language that is on the cusp of emergence like JP.

The “Language Olympics” is a highly competitive battle between the two different Peace Corps sectors in Jamaica: Environment and Education. I have been on the Environment team, which we appropriately re-named “Raiz an Peace.” It is a wordplay on “Raise in Peace,” “Rhizomatic Peace,” and “Rice and Peas (a staple food in Jamaica that is cooked with coconut oil).” The event represented the 10-week culmination of over 30 PCTs in our language and cultural integration development. Other competitions included a best music video, best in trivia, Dancehall Queen, best in laundry hanging, dub poetry, chanting, best in dominoes, and best greeting. I wrote the lyrics for the music video, which can be viewed at this link. I also played the drum beat for Ras Dru’s dub poem with what locals call a “combo,” which is a hand drum that I am borrowing from one of our Language and Cross-cultural Facilitators. Besides the fact that we also won the dub poetry competition, this combo is very interesting. My host brother here in Hellshire tells me it was carved from a coconut palm’s trunk. Even a foren, I’m always discovering amazing things to add to my list of coconut’s uses.

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With just a little preparation, winning the “Dancehall King” competition was surprisingly easy. In hindsight, I suppose the 15 years that I happen to have of shaking my dreadlocks to Jamaican music has given me an advantage. This brings me to a major change that I have gone through here in Jamaica. As a Filipino-American that is familiar with cultural differences among people from The Philippines, Central America, and the United States, I have noticed that people here in Jamaica are much more direct and confident in the way that they communicate than the people that I grew up with. They never seem afraid to speak their mind and I believe it really shows in the music of Jamaica, especially the dancehall genre. Even though I have never really enjoyed listening to dancehall music, I decided to compete. I competed because I knew it would help me understand the closely-related roots reggae genre more, which I love. Ever since I obtained a guitar and drum here in Jamaica, cultural integration has catalyzed beyond my belief. I’ve written a few songs in the local language and have finally learned how to play some Bob Marley songs on the guitar. Before coming to Jamaica, I never anticipated myself up on stage in a Dancehall competition with the stage presence to win without question. Big Op to the Peace Corps Jamaica Language staff. It couldn’t have been done it without you.

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Training was not just in language and culture. Much of it was in developing technical skills related to the environment. The Environment sector that I was in split into four groups: A, B, C, and D. Each group had four Trainees. I was in group C. We competed for the best garden demonstration after 7 weeks given that we all start with the same size plot, same seeds, seedlings, soil quality, and initial vegetation. If you look at the chart below, which shows the amount of produce that was ready to harvest on demonstration day 7 weeks later, it would seem as if our group would have won the competition without question. However, it was group A that won. Group A had a lot of visibly creative, albeit dysfunctional features to their plot. This was very attractive to the judges because they expressed a need to observe new ideas, even if they do not work on a practical level. Our group’s main distinguishing strategy was to mulch and plant with high diversity and density, which was a significant attributor to our high production level and my prior success in Washington State and Costa Rica. Overall, I am very happy and excited to see how easy it is for me to grow a lot of food in a very small area here in Jamaica, and how that can inspire other local Jamaicans to do the same.

To be as precise as I can be while abiding by the Peace Corps whereabouts and mass media policies, my final site placement will be in the St. Mary Parish of Jamaica for the next two years. I will be living in a Maroon community in my own fully furnished private flat. It is attached to house that is owned by a Jamaican family.  My host father is a trained chef. In a local primary school, my assignment activities are to develop a nutrition program, physical education program, and garden for a local “primary school” and cafeteria. On a community level, my assignment is to build awareness of organic agroforestry practices, watershed regeneration, and ecological technologies such as a ram pump. On an organizational level, I’ll get to work with the Forestry Department, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, and the 4H (Head, Heart, Hands, and Health) Office. I might even be able to co-teach my 5th Permaculture Design Course (PDC) here in Jamaica in August 2018. According to my original PDC instructor, I need to co-teach 6 PDCs before I can start teaching them on my own. That means if I complete this one coming up in August, I will just need one more.

The big “Swearing In” day will be Tuesday, May 22, 2018 in Kingston, Jamaica. This is a momentous occasion in which those among Peace Corps Jamaica Group 89 who have successfully completed the 10-week Training are officially sworn in as a two-year Volunteers. There will be “live coverage of <the> Group 89 Swearing In Ceremony on Facebook <and> Instagram.” Please contact me directly at haribon@uw.edu if you need the direct link. Immediately after the ceremony, all Volunteers will be scattered and escorted around the island to their respective and individually customized sites.

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