Mi Kyan Manaj

Disclaimer: “The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.”

By: Scott Elliott

I’m now approximately 1/3 of the way through this Peace Corps service, 1/3 of the way through my expected lifespan, have performed yoga for almost a 1/3 of my life, and I have now had dreadlocks for a little over 1/3 of my life. There is no turning back on Peace Corps at this point. Life can be tough here, but as we say in Jamaica, “mi kyan manaj” (I can manage). My adaptation strategy basically involves taking it easy, going with the flow, taking everything one step at a time, embracing the moment, settling into my niche, not rushing into anything, and really just enjoying my free time. Like so many of the things that I find myself doing here, this blog has nothing very urgent in it. Rather, it is a compilation of three memorable stories that should help my readers understand what makes life hard here and how I have figured out “ways to manage” here in Jamaica as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).

Story one: “Dem did mash op mi faam.” (They bulldozed my garden)

Before - 1

Before (August)

During - 8

During (September)

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After (October)

What once was my biggest project at my site has recently been bulldozed over. It started back in May 2018, just after I was first sworn in as an official PCV. Nearly all of the 15 or so regular attendees to our Scotts Hall Past Students Association (SHPSA) agreed that we needed a demonstration garden planted in a weedy area on the left side of the pic above captioned “Before (August).” They wanted an edible garden that could hold the soil on the steep hill and prevent any more landslides from occurring in the future. It was my first assignment, so I regarded it as my big chance to make a good impression on my community. In about a couple of months, I thought I had several types of useful plants well established. Dozens of huge pumpkin plants were flowering and just starting to bear fruits. About 100 moringa and castor oil plants had gotten about waist height. I planted another 100 vetiver grass plants along the road for their great erosion control properties. When the “Before (August)” pic was taken, about half of those vetiver grass plants were turning vibrant green and looked to be holding the soil well. At that point, it was apparent to me that the land slippage issue was solved. However, the Jamaican Transportation Authority somehow decided that the whole hillside needed a concrete retaining wall, a project that would cost many millions of Jamaican dollars. I did not agree with the plan, primarily due to their extremely poor timing. Summer break was just ending at Scotts Hall Primary School. Students and staff were about to start using the road again. Peak rainy hurricane season was just about to start. Bulldozers plus wet dirt equals lots of mud all over the road. Worst of all for me is that it would mean that the hundreds of hours I had spent terracing and planting that garden would get bulldozed before I could even harvest my first pumpkin. To make matters worse, the day after it was bulldozed, there was a hurricane off the coast that caused a huge landslide and mud to cover the whole road. Cars could not pass for a while. Some school time had to be canceled. The workers spent about a week just trying to clean up the road. I would estimate that this million-dollar project would have been half the price if they just did it in the dry season, a few months earlier. Rather than complain or participate in such malpractice, I found my niche in utilizing all of the soil that had so conveniently been tilled by the bulldozer to create several new gardens. I sowed them with string beans, okra, kallaloo, and velvet apple seeds. The new gardens will be even better than the previous.

Story two: The waste of abundance.

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Velvet Apples I Collected

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Fresh ackee I picked from a few trees by my house in an hour (probably about 25 cans worth)

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Inferior ackee that I did not buy in a grocery store for $590-675 JMD/can ($5-6 US each)

The pictures above are of two fruits that are in season currently in St. Mary, Jamaica. Neither is native, but they both thrive here as enormous and non-invasive trees. It is a good thing that I love climbing trees and picking fruit. The two fruits are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum of Jamaican awareness. Velvet apples are native to The Philippines and are virtually unknown here, whereas ackee is a part of the national dish of Jamaica. When I found the velvet apple trees, I didn’t even have to climb them. The velvet apples were all over the ground and dropping from the canopy above as I was picking them up. I collected a bag full of them and brought them to a room full of Jamaicans at the Castleton Botanical Gardens Cafe. Not a single person there had ever tried them or heard of them. Ackee, on the other hand, is a fruit that I rarely find in abundance all over the ground. They really need to be picked and collected right away because the ackee here does not fall off the tree on its own when it ripens. Unlike me, most people in my community are far too afraid to climb the towering tall trees to pick ackee along the roadside. Millions of pounds of ackee must go to waste in this way every year in Jamaica. I believe that ackee could become a booming export for Jamaica, if not another tropical country that wants to take advantage of such amazing fruit. I have only heard bad reviews of all the commercial ackee products and I think it is because they are just not preserving it correctly. My host mother and supervisor tell me it should be frozen like blueberries, not canned. Today I made ackee ice cream and it was amazing. If only I could figure out a way to make it a commercial product, I could make Jamaica rich! Here is my recipe in case any of my readers want to start up this kind of business venture. Let me know if you need any help or someone to pick your ackee tree. I just boiled some water in a pot, threw the ackee in the boiling water for a few minutes until it turns bright yellow, drained off the broth to be used for soup, froze the ackee, then blended the frozen ackee with ice, coconut milk, coconut kefir, and a little bit of honey, bitters, and apple cider vinegar. Wow, that was probably the best ice cream that I’ve ever had. Somehow it feels even more special to know that it is quite likely that no one else has ever tried such a yummy combo. Until I can make it a commercial product, I suppose I’ll just keep enjoying my recipe and sharing it with others.

Story three: Farmers, Yogis, Wrestlers, and Boxers Unite?

Think about how many people you know who can claim to be a farmer, yogi, wrestler, and a boxer? I don’t know a single person that participates in all of these physical activities on a regular basis, and I am by no means an exception. I would consider myself a farmer and yogi, but not a wrestler or boxer. When I purchased Finca Sylvatica back in 2005, I instantly became a farmer. As some of you may already know, I broke my first decade of never missing a day of yoga this summer. In the early 2000s, I used to practice a lot of breakdancing. In 2005, I attempted a head spin in the grass, which caused the worst injury of my life. My neck tweaked out and I haven’t been able to break dance ever since. Sometime back in 2006, I started doing yoga. It helped my neck and spinal column get back into place. By the summer of 2008, I was practicing yoga every day without exceptions. I remember a few occasions in which it was particularly difficult to practice yoga. One of them was while I was on a small sailboat deep in the tumbling waves of the Caribbean for three days straight. Another was on a foot of snow during my bicycle trek through a winter blizzard in New Mexico. I have done it more consistently than sleep on a daily basis for the past ten years.

On the other hand, all of the wrestlers and boxers in the community that I am living in do not practice farming nor yoga. So why would anyone who gets more than enough physical exercise through farming and yoga have any desire to start wrestling and boxing (or vice versa)? Well, I don’t, but the Project Partner that Peace Corps assigned to me happens to be a professional wrestler and boxer. He owns a gym down the street from my house and has asked me to teach yoga classes there. However, the best place to do yoga is in the wrestling/boxing ring. There are no yoga mats at the gym and I don’t want my yoga practice to morph into wrestling, boxing, or anything else that would likely cause myself any physical injury. When I learned that my Project Partner get his front teeth knocked out last month during a fight, I decided that I would rather remain a spectator in such activities. Fortunately, Peace Corps recently approved my Program and Design Management application to attend a training where I may receive funding for yoga mats and a yoga class. I’d rather people around me take care of one another than kill each other for entertainment.

Click here to watch my Peace Corps Project Partner come up on stage and perform a suplex about 100 meters from my house.

Story four: What Happened to the Water?

Here in Jamaica, we are now at the peak of the rainy season, yet nothing was coming out of any of my house’s water spigots for nearly a week.  Running water came back on as a trickle for a few hours after being cut out for five days straight. It is a good thing that I have been collecting water storage containers that I find thrown out on the side of the road. People litter so many things here. In the past few months at site, I have managed to find and clean two 5-gallon buckets and three-gallon jugs, along with some other nice treasures such as a pocket knife, knife sharpener, and a lot of seedling trays. For five days, I heard my host family, neighbors, and school staff complaining about the lack of water until Yesterday. That morning, my host brother and I drove up the hill past Scotts Hall Primary School, which also has had no water for the past week. My host brother is, by the way, not an employee with any water company or the government. He is Jamaican in his 20’s that drives a white-plate (unofficial) taxi around town. We got out by a Jamaican Water Commission (JWC) facility and sign and followed the community water line up a steep hill. Apparently, the JWC workers stopped managing the water source a while back because nobody would pay them to do it. It was a good thing that we each had our machetes with us because the path to the spring was overgrown with weeds. We chopped our way down the old path and eventually reached the community water catchment tank. We looked inside this ~10 cubic meter concrete box and discovered it to be completely empty. We then followed the 3-in metal source pipe up a bit higher to the spring. There were three rotten breadfruits floating in the uncovered pool. The metal pipe coming out of the spring had a foot-long hollowed out piece of bamboo jammed in it, which was used to connect it to the rest of the metal piping. Water was spraying out where the bamboo connected with the pipe. We propped the catchment pipe up with a taller piece of bamboo so that the source pipe lined up on the ground nearby each other. A lot of water still leaked out of our jerry-rigged contraption, but we just hoped it made enough of a difference to get water to our house. Sure enough, about 10 hours later, a few droplets started coming out at my kitchen sink. It seems to take about an hour for those droplets to fill one of my gallon jugs. All I had to do then was to make sure to come back to the sink every hour or so to change out the jug so it wouldn’t overflow. The whole experience reminded me of all the times I spent fixing the spring water at Finca Sylvatica. This time, rather than fixing it for myself and whoever was living at Finca Sylvatica, I was fixing it for a large community, two schools, several shops, and a church that all seem to lack the initiative to do it themselves. And rather than the water cutting out for just a few hours, this water had cut out for five days. Living here in Jamaica makes me feel that I have taken water security for granted, especially at Finca Sylvatica, where there is some of the highest quality year-round perpetual spring water with nothing to pollute the watershed except the indigenous jungle.

I am really starting to miss Costa Rica. Thank you so much to Rio and Rafa for caring for the farm against invaders while I’m away. Thanks for maintaining and utilizing the abundance of Finca Sylvatica. Thank you for keeping the vibes mellow and peaceful. And lastly but not least, thank you for being guardians to the greatest water source I have ever had the privilege to drink from.

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First Impressions of Final Site Placement in Jamaica

Disclaimer: “The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.”

By | Por: Scott Elliott

This entry serves to provide my initial impressions after my first six weeks at my final two-year site. My previous blog left off with a brief written description of a site in the mountains of St. Mary, Jamaica. On May 22nd, 2018, I swore in as an official Peace Corps volunteer. Click this link to see footage of the Swearing-In Ceremony. Immediately after the ceremony, I was driven to my site by my supervisor and welcomed by my host family and neighbors on the veranda of my living space. They first showed me my room, which I am pretty happy about overall. I get my own fully furnished flat, which consists of a private bathroom, kitchen and living room in addition to my bedroom. I set down all my things, showered, changed, and joined everyone in the veranda.

Two dogs and one cat had all just given birth the previous week. In total, there were 10 little puppies and 4 kittens running around loose. Click here and here to see video footage of them. I was asked if I wanted to adopt any of them. I declined because I don’t want to commit to taking care of them. If it were a laying hen, quail, dairy goat, tilapia pond, truffle-sniffing pig, or anything functional then I probably would have responded differently. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have two years to stay in this area. That is about enough time for a person to build an attachment to an animal and only make it more difficult for Close of Service. Adopting a puppy or kitten would have been a financial burden for me. Pet feed, medications, fleas, potty training, and teaching overall obedience are not services I am willing to exchange for the companionship and loyalty that a pet might or might not give. Sadly, all 10 puppies and one kitten perished a few weeks later due to disease and neglect.

Besides the puppies and kittens, I was introduced to a few pigeons and pigs that they held in small cages between the back of the house and the river down in the gully. They appeared to be getting enough attention to live to adulthood, but it seemed far from an optimal life. Just like my host brother in Hellshire, they were fascinated with the idea of having pet pigeons and not using their eggs. Their chickens and goats appeared to be thriving the most, since they could walk around and forage like a wild animal. There were about 25 humans there, three of whom were to be my roommates for the next two years. The rest of them had come to greet me or maybe just get some free food at my welcoming party.

Just like at my previous host stay, my site evaluation form claimed that my host father is considered a trained chef. Peace Corps gives me the option of using in-country allowances to choose between paying host families to be fed prepared meals versus purchasing and preparing food on our own. We are supposed to sign a written agreement that includes information about meal planning. When he came out of his kitchen to serve all of us that evening, I was ready to see whether I would be preparing my food for the next two years. He cooked up some standard Jamaican fair for everyone. It consisted primarily of a scoop of bony meat and a heaping mound of white rice. Each plate also came with a typical Jamaican salad, which consisted of shredded cabbage, cucumber, tomato, and carrots. The only difference from the Costa Rican salads that I have had is the absence of lemon, which I find only makes it inferior. Then he came out of the kitchen with a large cup of red liquid that people call “juus,” which is a mix of cold water, white cane sugar, and food coloring. Everything was served in styrofoam and all of the cutlery was disposable plastic. I took one sip of the juice and one bite of the rice and gave the rest to the person sitting next to me. He promptly devoured it. I found none of this to be very spectacular, but I was still not ready to decide. I was just excited to meet people and frantically write everyone’s name down so that I would not forget. People were excitedly telling me things like “im mek nais dumplin, I bad, yu afi chrai I ina di moros. Yu gwan laik I,” which I later found to mean that “he is good at frying bleached wheat flour in canola oil with imported ingredients and putting it in styrofoam. You have to try it tomorrow. You will like it.” Those who know me should know that I did not. In fact, I decided at that point with certainty that I will make my own meals for the next two years of service.

So far so good. One of my favorite things about my site is that there are about 20 coconut trees that I have access to everyday. Sometimes they fall from the trees and roll all the way down the hill to my doorstep. I have learned several new ways to use the coconut. Bringing my Vitamix blender down here was one of the best items that I packed down here. A high-powered blender and the coconut make a fantastic pair. I feel blessed to have a refrigerator and freezer that now works as of last week. I store coconut milk in there, which is known locally as coconut juice. After a couple of hours in the fridge, the oils rise to the surface and the water sinks to the bottom. Then the oils begin to solidify into a coconut cream. Sometimes I put the coconut cream into the freezer and it turns into the best ice cream I have ever had. It is so simple! It is very low in sugar, vegan, gluten-free, paleo friendly, organic, and probably even healthy, dare I say. I also discovered a wonderful use for the shredded coconut that is left over from the coconut milk extraction. I spread it out on a metal tray and put it in the toaster oven that came with my kitchen. I turn it on the lowest heat, which happens to be the only setting that works with the voltage in my house and stir it with a fork once an hour until it dries out. Just as it starts to turn a golden brown, I throw it back in the blender once more and I’m left with an extremely versatile coconut flour that seems to last forever in a sealed bag in the fridge. I sprinkle it on food to thicken it up and give it a nice coconut flavor. I made a couple of coconut-breadfruit cakes that were great too.

Almost all of the trees in my area are fruit trees, such as jackfruit, ackee, mango, breadfruit, star apple (caimito), cola nut, moringa, sweet sop, lychee, Jamaican (Water) apple, cashew, mamey sapote, niisberry, tinkin tou, and guinep. The ackee and tinkin tou deserve special attention, considering how abundant, globally unusual, and nutritious they are here. Both have very unique flavors and nutritional profiles, and both appear to be very unique to Jamaica. I see a lot of economic potential for Jamaica in processing the fruits of these two trees. However, much research and experimentation must be done on proper harvesting, handling, preparation, and marketing. Ackee has already been banned in the US due to deadly poisons it has from improper processing. Tinkin tou grows to become an enormous tree, which can make harvesting hazardous. It also has a very strong odor, which may be as offensive as durian. The only large non-fruit trees that I have identified in my community are cedar and mahogany. I purchased a copy of “Manual of Dendrology Jamaica” and had it autographed by edidtor and tree taxonomist Mr. D’Owen Grant from the Forestry Department.

Mr. Grant

What I learned in the book is that virtually all indigenous trees were removed decades ago, and used for charcoal. Bambusa vulgaris, also known as common bamboo, was planted in its place in hopes to quickly replenish charcoal stocks. However, the bamboo was found to be too low in carbon density to produce charcoal efficiently. Instead of harvesting the bamboo, it spread all over my community and has become a pest that competes with agricultural crops.

Much of what I have learned about forest management comes from botanical gardens. The Wilson Botanical Garden and Las Cruces Biological station is just as far from Finca Sylvatica as the closest botanical garden is from me. The paralleling walking distances have profound implications. In fact, today I just did the two-hour one-way walk to Botanical Gardens to get Wifi access to publish this blog entry. I have another two-hour walk back home after this. The next nearest place for me to get Wifi access would probably take all day to walk there. My phone does have a data plan, but the service is very spotty. If I hold my phone out the window, sometimes I can get enough signal to read or send out a Whatsapp message, but internet browsing or anything more advanced than that is out of the question. The most convenient way for me to do that is to use some of my limited data, walk up a really steep hill after school hours, spray on a layer of mosquito repellant, and sit down on the far north-west corner of the pavement a primary school up the hill. Today, however, I am using the Gardens’ Wifi to replenish my podcasts, download some files, and use more internet than my data plan allows. I just got accepted as a member of Technology For Development (T4D), which is a Peace Corps group that provides technology resources to PCVs. I have also been in contact with the Universal Service Fund (USF) to put together an internet program at the primary school. I hope these connections will help me become better connected as well. At the very least, this trip to the Gardens should be much easier because I just got myself a used bicycle. The only problems it has is the brakes, the chain, the back intertube, and the lack of gears and working racks. It only has one gear and is a women’s bicycle, but I don’t mind. Once I get it up and running, I will be pedaling around again somewhat like old times. It is better than attempting to maneuver the bus system here. Just look at this bus stop.

shitty bus stop zoom

The environment is manageable. Even though I am living in the coldest place that I have ever lived in Jamaica, it is still 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. To stay cool, I keep lots of things in the freezer, like my water bottles and food and clothes. Quite a bit of what I eat and drink comes straight from the fridge or freezer. Sometimes I take numerous quick showers throughout the day. Other times I just wear a shirt after washing it and let it dry on my body instead of on a clothesline. The vegetation appears very lush and organic, but upon closer inspection, you will find garbage that has been swallowed, but not digested by the jungle. Usually after I dig down through the plastic bottles, tin cans, calcium geology, and subsurface roots to about one foot deep, I find what appears to be a very dark, silty, and fertile soil. I have dug holes to plant things in hundreds of places around here and have yet to do so without finding at least one piece of garbage. It is as if it has become incorporated into the overall humus layer.

sand sifter

I had the chance to visit a stone and sand quarry and see how sand is mined. It was surprisingly simple. A tractor just drives into a rocky area beside a river and picks up a load of rocky sand. It then drives about one or two minutes up to the top of a hill and dumps it over a cliff so that it lands on top of a big triangle-shaped screen. The rocks roll off the screen to the side and the sand falls straight through the screen. The tractor then drives around and scoops it up. It was as simple as I could have ever imagined.

Pine suckers in back of truck

The Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) came by the primary school up the hill a few weeks ago with a truckload of pineapple suckers. We proceeded to plant them in this humus layer on a steep hillside between the school and the road that I live on, where soil erosion has caused landslides to cover some of the road. According to RADA authorities, pineapple is good for erosion control. We made an A-frame and demonstrated how to use it with students from the school as well as local farmers and community members. We then formed a contour line with wooden stakes that we drove into the ground. We cut off the bottom end of the pineapple with machetes, which is a practice that I have never seen before. Then we made a triangle shape with some 2-foot-long wood pieces and string to measure out the distance between holes so that each contour line had two rows of alternating pineapples. We used a pick axe to make a hole in the humus-garbage and stuck a pineapple sucker in each hole. Later I came back and picked out the visible garbage by hand. I guess I just have a hard time with the concept of growing food in a place that looks like a garbage dump. Another plant that is recommended for erosion control is vetiver grass. Since there were several clumps of it growing wild, I transplanted off-shoots of it along the road border to prevent more landslides from occurring in the future. I moved the soil that had already collapsed into the road onto the lower side of the road and built a pumpkin and spinach garden with it.

Cape Clear Garden

My garden at Cape Clear during training is still thriving. I have gone back twice and been able to harvest bags and bags of kale, lettuce, kallaloo, and okra. It is hard to get out there to pick veggies, so the level of production is beginning to dwindle. On my first week at my final site, I started a garden with about 30 cucumber and 30 bak choi and now they are almost ready to harvest. I started a small fruit tree nursery that already has about 30 baby tinkin tou trees, 20 sprouting cashew trees, 5 mamey sapote sprouts, and 30 sprouting miracle berry trees. I planted a few trees with the primary school principal around the parking lot. Just last week, my oldest host brother let me clear out and prepare approximately 100 m2 of flat garden space on the north side of his house to plant ginger, turmeric, scallion, peppers, cerassi, moringa, tomato, kallaloo, cabbage, bak choi, and lettuce. During the soil preparation, I hauled out about 5 big rice sacks full of garbage that was buried in it. Just yesterday I looked at the garden and noticed that people had thrown a few more plastic bottles in the garden.

Miss McKenzie and tree

Getting people to stop littering is hard! I can’t count how many times people have thrown garbage at me as if to assume that I am equivalent to a garbage bin. Garbage is often just doused in kerosene and lit on fire, such as this burning mattress down the street from my house.

burning mattress

The agricultural department at St. Mary High allowed me to give a talk on garbage management to their sixth-grade students. I had the students participate in a group quiz activity to help increase awareness on how long it takes materials to break down. Some of these teenagers thought that an orange peel takes over a thousand years to biodegrade and that a styrofoam cup takes three days to break down. It took a great deal of persuasion to convince them otherwise. It is hard to blame these children either. The older generations, including staff that I engage with, litter nearly every time they have the chance. Even as I am on my way to put something in a waste receptacle, I have often been encountered by individuals who snatch what is in my hand and toss it deep into the bushes. They then turn to me with a smile that demands gratitude for helping me dispose of the item. One strategy that I am trying out is boycotting the use of new disposable utensils and plastic bottles. On 8 occasions since arriving here in Jamaica nearly four months ago, I admit that I made an exception to this rule. Yes, I accepted two styrofoam cups, one styrofoam plate, two styrofoam boxes, and 3 plastic bottles. However, I still have 5 out of those 8 items and continue to reuse and repurpose them. I write my name on them with a sharpie to signal to others that it is not to be thrown in the bushes or somewhere inappropriate. Two of the other three were far to mangled to be reused and the last one was thrown away without my permission by an unknown suspect. People have come to know me now as that guy who wont accept styrofoam or plastic, even if it contains their favorite Jamaican food. I have done much more difficult things with my willpower, such as being vegetarian for 7 years, vegan for 5 years, raw vegan for 3 years, 80-10-10 raw vegan for 2 years, fruitarian for a year, water fasting for three weeks, and dry fasting for 100 hours. I’d rather make my own food on a real plate, thank you very much.

Another strategy that I have worked on with my supervisor was to paint our garbage receptacles with fresh paint. They do look much nicer to me now that they have been painted. Perhaps the strategy is to just have patience, resilience, and perseverance, which are the three words that my program manager defined, printed, and laminated for me when I received my site placement. My program manager also just approved me for a three-day visit to Denbigh, the largest agricultural exposition in Jamaica from August 4-6, 2018. It will be full of environmental education programs that I hope can be transferred to my site. In the case that funding is the best strategy, I applied for a grant to the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and plan to apply for another one to Kusanone Grass-Roots Human Security Projects.

Education is a bit different here than what I am used to. For one, graduation is held about two weeks before the last day of the school year. Another is that graduation is a much bigger deal than what I have been accustomed to. The ceremony can last many many hours and go on all day. Speeches, awards, songs, prayers, vote of thanks, national anthems, school anthems, pledges, and guest speakers will take up the whole day. I watched a graduating class of 13 go on for 4 hours. There were about 30 gold-painted plastic trophies handed out, half of which went to two students. I am a bit excited for the summer season. It might reduce the amount of time I spend picking up garbage and give me more time to grow something in the green space surrounding the school.

Last weekend we had the first annual “Elderly Banquet” at the primary school where we honored all of the elders in our community. We went around the area for a whole month and invited over one hundred guests. It was a great way to meet the older generations and bring them together and treat them with the respect that they have earned. I designed a logo and banner for our organization. During the event, I was tasked with handling the “Certificates of Acknowledgement” for all of the attendees. I asked all of the guests what their name was and the correct spelling, which turned out to be one of the most difficult tasks that I have been given during my Peace Corps Service. About half of them seemed to know how to read. A few of them didn’t want to give me their name. One of them kept repeating the letters “bs.”

She would yell loudly, “jus rait BS!” (Just write “BS”)

I would reply, “So a dat yu firs niem? (So is that your first name?)

“Yes!”

“And yu las niem?” (And your last name?)

“BS!”

“So yu niem ‘BS BS’?” (So your name is “BS BS?”)

“Yes!”

It went on longer than that, but I had to stop because she was starting to yell and I didn’t want to give the poor old lady a heart attack. Someone later found out what her real name was and told me she was “mad.” Eventually, I managed to get about 40 names and spelled about 38 of them correctly. The rest of the attendees either didn’t get a certificate, or they walked up at the end and requested one.

It was a great way to practice my Patwa, especially since so many of these elders could not speak anything else. I was truly forcing myself to speak the language. Some aspects of the language involve a deep understanding of the Jamaican culture, even if it may just be in how it adjusts to another culture. For example, one of the biggest tourist destinations around here is a place called “Tapioca Village.” My project partner took me there and I expected to get some tapioca, but apparently the name is metaphorical. There was not a sign of cassava growing or pudding on the premises. Only one person on site, who was the owner, knew what tapioca is. He said that he tried it once or twice a long time ago. My supervisor and project partner just thought it was some name with no connection to a dessert. The owner’s reasoning for the tapioca name is that tapioca sticks together and that people with solidarity stick together. It was a stretch for me to see his vision. I wandered around the place with my project partner while we waited for lunch and we found a repurposed bus. It was an old school bus that was turned into to dormitory. My project partner laid down on one of the beds at around noon and fell asleep to my surprise. While waiting three hours for him to wake up, I chose another bed and fell asleep too. So it goes here in Jamaica.

 

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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Integreshan | Integration | Integración

Disclaimer: “The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.”

By | Por: Scott Elliott

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Wah Gwaan! Mi ina Jamieka an mi luv it. That is Jamaican Patwa for “Hello! I’m in Jamaica and I love it.” I am currently living with my second Jamaican host family in Pre-Service-Training (PST) in the Environmental Sector. Check out some of the photos below. This blog entry just highlights several things that have stood out to me during my experience so far as I reach the end of the first of 27 months here.

Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” is a slogan that I have seen around in Jamaica. It stands out to me as critical to making a significant impact in the environmental sector with Peace Corps (PC). Garbage, trash, and waste is tossed out virtually everywhere here, which is something that I noticed during my two trips to The Philippines and my bike trip through Central America. I must admit that nearly all of my exposure to pollution has been short-term. I have never had to live for extended periods of time in polluted areas. My pampered, previous life with the established waste management systems of the US and Costa Rica shall not be taken for granted again. Cleaning up all the waste will require a huge paradigm shift that is currently beyond my comprehension.

However, I have been assigned to co-creating a garden that I feel much more capable of. All 16 of us Environmental PC trainees in Jamaica this year have been divided into four gardening teams: A, B, C, and D. Each team has 4 trainees and is assigned one small terrace on a West-facing slope here in Jamaica. I am in team C and I have been hauling compost and manure up a steep hill with a wheelbarrow to prepare the soil. By looking at the photos below, see if you can tell which terrace corresponds to team C. There are another 15 PC trainees in Jamaica that are in the Education sector. The Environment and Education sectors will be competing on May 11th in Patwa skits. Education better get ready for the Dancehall King if you know what I mean. Wink wink.

You may also notice in the photos below that people have begun to feed me pretty well here. At first, I left my food preferences completely open to get an idea of what typical, modern, conventional Jamaican food is like. What I found is that it seems very conducive to aggravating the diabetic state. I also learned how to get more of what I want and less of what I do not. None of the Language and Cross-culture Facilitators or anyone within PC ever told me what I am about to tell you and what I have already told to several other PC trainees who have expressed a concern for diabetes in the local diet. The secret seems to be exaggerating preferences and repeating them so the Jamaican hosts don’t forget. In my case, my host would offer me sugary drinks everyday for the first week. Each time I would have to use some willpower to politely decline. He is obligated to prepare breakfast and dinner for me everyday through an agreement with PC. The first meals provided to me consisted of a mountain of rice on my dinner plate with a small portion of fried chicken or a stack of plain toast for breakfast with a banana or fried dumplings. Describing my food preferences as if I actually had diabetes may have made them sound more serious. More recently, I have been able to fine tune my food choices by asking for unusual foods. Instead of making my own food grown from my own garden and from my neighbors, I now rely on a Jamaican chef who used to travel the world on a cruise ship and now manages his own kuk shap. This has resulted in some very interesting foods such as his very own “cow skin juice” recipe, which is a blended mix of irish moss, strong back herb, peanuts, oats, nutmeg, Red Dragon Stout, condensed milk, ice, and the main ingredient: boiled, then frozen, cow skin. Ya kyaan get nuf!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wah Gwaan! Mi ina Jamieka an mi luv it. Esa es Criolo Jamaicano para “¡Hola! Estoy en Jamaica y me encanta”. Actualmente estoy viviendo con mi segunda familia anfitriona jamaicana en Pre-Service-Training (PST) en el Sector Ambiental. Mira algunas de las fotos a continuación. Esta entrada de blog simplemente resalta varias cosas que me han destacado durante mi experiencia en lo que respecta al final del primero de los 27 meses aquí.

Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” es un eslogan que he visto en Jamaica. Me destaca como fundamental para lograr un impacto significativo en el sector ambiental con Peace Corps (PC). Basura, basura y desperdicios son tirados virtualmente a todas partes aquí, que es algo que noté durante mis dos viajes a Filipinas y mi viaje en bicicleta por América Central. Debo admitir que casi toda mi exposición a la contaminación ha sido a corto plazo. Nunca he tenido que vivir durante largos períodos de tiempo en áreas contaminadas. Mi vida previa mimada con los sistemas de gestión de desechos establecidos en los Estados Unidos y Costa Rica no se dará por sentada nuevamente. Limpiar todo el desperdicio requerirá un gran cambio de paradigma que actualmente está más allá de mi comprensión.

Sin embargo, me han asignado co-crear un jardín del que me siento mucho más capaz. Todos los 16 practicantes de PC ambientales en Jamaica este año han sido divididos en cuatro equipos de jardinería: A, B, C y D. Cada equipo tiene 4 aprendices y se le asigna una pequeña terraza en una ladera orientada al oeste aquí en Jamaica. Estoy en el equipo C y he estado acarreando abono y estiércol hasta una colina empinada con una carretilla para preparar el suelo. Al mirar las fotos a continuación, vea si puede decir qué terraza corresponde al equipo C. Hay otros 15 aprendices de PC en Jamaica que están en el sector de Educación. Los sectores de Medio Ambiente y Educación competirán el 11 de mayo en sketches Patwa. La educación es mejor prepararse para el Dancehall King si sabes a qué me refiero. Guiño guiño.

También puede observar en las fotos a continuación que la gente comenzó a alimentarme bastante bien aquí. Al principio, dejé mis preferencias de comida completamente abiertas para tener una idea de cómo es la comida jamaicana típica, moderna y convencional. Lo que encontré es que parece muy propicio para agravar el estado diabético. También aprendí cómo obtener más de lo que quiero y menos de lo que no. Ninguno de los Facilitadores de Lenguaje e Interculturas ni nadie dentro de PC alguna vez me dijo lo que estoy a punto de decirte y lo que ya les he contado a muchos otros alumnos de PC que han expresado su preocupación por la diabetes en la dieta local. El secreto parece estar exagerando las preferencias y repitiéndolas para que los anfitriones jamaicanos no se olviden. En mi caso, mi anfitrión me ofrecía bebidas azucaradas todos los días durante la primera semana. Cada vez tendría que usar un poco de fuerza de voluntad para rechazar cortésmente. Él está obligado a preparar el desayuno y la cena para mí todos los días a través de un acuerdo con la PC. Las primeras comidas que me dieron consistían en una montaña de arroz en mi plato con una pequeña porción de pollo frito o una pila de pan tostado para el desayuno con plátano o albóndigas fritas. Describir mis preferencias alimenticias como si realmente tuviera diabetes puede haber hecho que parezcan más serias. Más recientemente, he podido ajustar mis elecciones de alimentos pidiendo comidas inusuales. En lugar de hacer mi propia comida cultivada en mi propio jardín y en la de mis vecinos, ahora confío en un chef jamaiquino que solía viajar por el mundo en un crucero y ahora maneja su propio kuk shap. Esto ha dado lugar a algunos alimentos muy interesantes, como su propia receta de “jugo de piel de vaca”, que es una mezcla de musgo irlandés, hierba de espalda fuerte, cacahuetes, avena, nuez moscada, Red Dragon Stout, leche condensada, hielo y el ingrediente principal: piel de vaca hervida, luego congelada. Ya kyaan obtener nuf!

 

Peace Corps Agroforestry in Jamaica

By: Scott Elliott

Welcome to my Peace Corps blog!

Direct link: https://fincasylvatica.com/category/peace-corps-jamaica/

This is a new blog. The Finca Sylvatica / Rainbow Crystal Land (FS/RCL) blog now has 33 posts to date that each have specific, on-site information about FS/RCL. This blog, however, is to document and publicize information about my Peace Corps (PC) service in Jamaica as an Agroforestry volunteer. Since Finca Sylvatica truly embraces agroforestry, we have decided to keep both blogs connected to this website. I hope that this blog can serve as a means to connect Finca Sylvatica to the academic world by involving science, research, and education. We plan to keep both the FS/RCL and PC blogs active, so stay tuned to both for optimal Finca Sylvatica reading experience.