Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
On Tuesday, May 11th Prime Minister Bruce Golding made a public announcement stating that the Jamaican government was going to sign the papers approving the extradition request made by the US government for local gang leader Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke who is wanted in the States for gun and drug trafficking. This came after a tense 9-month period following the first extradition request, which the PM refused to sanction. Jamaica claimed that not enough evidence was available and the evidence that supported the case was obtained illegally. Pressure mounted as more information leaked out linking Dudus to political parties and the controversy surrounding the government’s decision to hire a US based law firm to help lobby for Dudus didn’t help the situation.
The week following the PM’s speech all of Kingston was on edge, to say the least. Each day the papers highlighted new protests filling the streets of downtown surrounding Coke’s main affiliated community, Tivoli Gardens. At first, this community showed their support for their leader by peacefully wearing white shirts and holding signs saying things like “I’ll die for Dudus” and then, that’s exactly what started happening. On Friday, roadblocks went up closing off Tivoli Gardens from the rest of downtown, readying for the police to force their way in to find Coke. This community was so ready to defend their leader because they felt that he had protected and provided for them in times of war and need when the government had consistently failed to do so.
Tension came to its height on Sunday night, May 1st, as all of Jamaica listened in to hear Golding declare Kingston and St. Andrew, the surrounding parish in which I live, to be in a state of emergency in preparation for the army and police raid of Tivoli and obtain Coke. Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon was a whirlwind of violence and death. I do not have a TV, and didn’t have Internet at the time, so my only way of keeping updated with the downtown happenings was by constantly having on my cell phone’s radio and flipping through the local news stations. One thing I’ve always had a hard time adjusting to here is the media’s trivial attempts at censorship. This was all the more evident in the coverage of the war in Tivoli, with women calling into radio stations describing in detail the bodies they saw burning in the street outside their houses. I made the mistake of going over to a friend’s house and watching some of the evening news on Monday. After only a few minutes, I had to turn it off. With live footage they were recounting the growing death count of Tivoli Garden residents and I was witnessing live murder on television. All in all, these are the numbers so far: 73 dead, 30 hand guns, 29 AKs, over 12,000 rounds of ammunition and 90 explosive devises found, and one Christopher 'Dudus' Coke still at large.
We have no Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the Kingston communities, and it was set up that way based on the growing amount of violent incidences occurring in the downtown area – go figure. My site is one of the closest to the capital city and was directly affected from the war in several ways. First, it cut us off from our lifeline of Kingston. None of our farmers’ crops were able to sell in town and no food was making its way up. Those working in a corporate setting weren’t able to go to work for a week, as all business is run out of Kingston, and high schools were closed for that time as well. Second, it became real personal real fast. Because of our close proximity to town, a lot of families had relatives right in where the action was. That made it a very mournful atmosphere up here and then a very apprehensive one as those relatives started to make their way up to our community, carrying the anger and confusion of the city with them. I was also personally affected, as I have worked with many downtown community groups and had a few friends caught up in the war, as well as had my supervisor’s husband on the other side of it all fighting with the army. Sunday night I ran out to my veranda and looked up into the dark sky to see a swarm of army helicopters leaving the training base by my house to bring in soldiers to fight and on Tuesday I found out that a Rasta from our community was shot and killed after going downtown to get his wife and kids out of harms way. Needless to say, I was pretty much in zombie mode for that week and had my fair share of dark hours doubting the system and my continued service in Jamaica. Lots of love was sent from Cali and elsewhere and I was able to talk it out and make sense of it all.
Things are definitely calmer now, as all volunteers are able to move around again, with the exception of travel into and around Kingston. Which, for me, means I am still in community arrest, as the only road leading out of my town leads straight into Kingston. The state of emergency was put in for a month and should be concluding next week sometime...hopefully. For now I am depending on community members helping me get food and the like from Kingston and staying put as much as possible. For a while it was tough to even just sit in my town square and chat with people because all I heard were more stories of death and destruction. But one thing Jamaicans are definitely good at is the art of distraction, so we’ve had plenty of dominoes and rum around town lately to take the edge off a bit. I have never felt so Jamaican as I did during these last two weeks of mayhem. There was a point when I had to start describing incidences in a matter-of-fact sort of way and tune out all emotion that I’d normally have associated with them just so I could mentally go on with my day. Jamaicans have for so long had to deal with times of war and corruption and wickedness; they’ve just become accustomed to dealing and finding a way to move on. And so, that’s what I’ve decided to do as well. Coke is still out there and trouble will always be around the corner until the government straightens itself out, but all I can do is have another day in Jamaica, land I love, and hope that my being here will provide some sort of bridge in understanding the American peoples and foreign policy issues.
Side note: I have the best dad ever, as he was bold enough to go as far as to contact a charter helicopter company down here and have them ready to pick me up on my request, just in case things got real rough. Love you pops...and might be using that come hurricane season, FYI!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
- your diet is based entirely on rice
- you can’t remember how long it’s been since you’ve last washed your hair
- you’ve made up names for insects that are so exotic you don’t know what they are
- tan lines wash off at the end of the day
- you’ve started to sweat in new places; i.e. upper lip
- you get excited over clean tap water
- foreign language skills are improving from the subtitles in DVDs sold street side
- a hot shower rocks your world
- hydrocortisone is your new best friend
- you’ve started calling out local slang at tourists
- you’ll wear a dirty piece of clothing a dozen times just to avoid hand washing it
- a different sweat rag is designated to each weekday
- you can locate every internet café in a ten mile radius
- body odors don’t bother you anymore
- that visiting household rodent has been given a cute pet name
- being called a yummy dessert means you’re starting to blending in (brownie)
- Burger King and Oreos are the most tempting guilty pleasures
- you’ve read a new book every other week
- you know exactly what spring or river or whatever source your water comes from
- either your hair is growing faster or you are becoming too lazy to shave as often
- you have the most inventive secret hiding places for money
- your love life has become non-existent
- external hard drives are the hot commodity at group events with other volunteers
- you’ve realized all problems can be solved with duct tape
- you no longer refer to the United States as “home”!
Monday, September 7, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Cali Food!: In N' Out, Tutor and Spunkys, Larchmont, sushi, Monarch sliders, Pink Berry
Driving on the right (correct) side of the road: although, I'm starting to get used to the leftys
Warm water: You'd think cold showers would be great after sweating all day in the hot Caribbean sun. You'd be wrong.
iPhones and Blackberries: My thumbs are going through a bit of text messaging withdraw
Coast Hills: there are dozens of church denominations here, but there's just something about walking in to your home churh auditorium that is irreplaceable
Carpet: cleaning carpets here would be a nightmare, so this is most likely a blessing in disguise
Correct Pronunciation of My Name: it's not Hemily, it's not Emmy and it's definitely not Lindsay (the last female volunteer in my community - apparently they can pronounce her name!)
The Beach: I may be on an island in the Caribbean, but I'm over an hour to the closest beach
Things I Don't Miss:
Cali Clubbing: Hollywood has got nothing on the scene in Jamaica. Out 'til sunrise and some of the best dancing in the world
The Rat Race: volunteering is fantastic because it's not about how far up the company ladder you can climb, and half my job is just getting to know my community
Politically Correctness: Jamaicans tell it how it is. If you're fat, you know it, they know it, and they will usually make sure everyone else knows it too. Race isn't a factor here except for means of description and identification, which is very refreshing. I don't mind being called the white girl: it's how people know it's me they're talking about!
The American Ego: This island may be small but it is so involved with world affairs, especially sports. I've learned more here about world politics, society and athletics than I ever could have in the "We're American, we don't need to know about anyone else" mentality.
Things I'm Learning to Love:
Long Walks: Not driving has its perks. My jeans are definitely looking better around the behind and I have had so many fun discussions with community members during my frequent exploration outings through the mountains.
Networking: Wow, I'm good at this. I don't know if it's because I have no choice because I started off not knowing anyone here, but I have pretty much met every high up official and health worker in the country through cold calls and references. Almost got to take a ride in the Governor General's chopper last week. No big deal :)
Handkerchiefs: When you sweat as much as we do here, you need a bandanna hanging out of your back pocket to use as a sweat rag. They're also fantastic headbands, bracelets and napkins!
Wash-Off Tans: You know you're really in the Peace Corps doing some fun, dirty stuff when your tan washes off at the end of the day. My favorite: sandal tan.