Wednesday, June 9, 2010


My apartment has turned into Jumandi lately! The critters keeping getting bigger and bigger and stranger everyday! Look at all the creepy crawlers I've found!...

Spotted this guy above me in my shower.

Jumped on me after I opened my front door to see what was making so much noise.

Thought a leaf had just blown in my back door, but no, it was this lil guy.

This one reminds me of a spaceship or a super hero costume.

Prettiest bug I've seen so far. Found him hanging out next to my shampoo bottle.

These lizards do pushups and stick out their yellow neck flap things when they croak.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hostess Cupcakes!

I received a package in the mail today from a friend and it completely made my day...nay, my week! I opened up the box to find a dozen Hostess Cupcakes, the treat of my fondest childhood memories. I put up a little note on Facebook just last week about how I got a sudden craving for them and he must have put the package in the mail that very day!

Ah, the frosted chocolate cake with creamy filling that is nowhere to be found in Jamaica. This gift was one of the sweetest, most thoughtful things I've come across in a long time. I cried over cupcakes tonight, and I'm not ashamed to say it. Big ups to my amazing friends who send me love in my favorite form: chocolate!

Extradition of Dudus

With all the chaos that has been going on in Jamaica lately, I’ve realized why it is that I set up this blog in the first place: to keep everyone updated in a time such as this! Thanks so much to everyone who has called, text, emailed and prayed, making sure that I’m safe here at my Peace Corps post! For those who haven’t been bombarded with nightly hour-long phone calls from me during this whole ordeal, here’s what’s been going on…

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

You know you’re really in the Peace Corps when…

  1. your diet is based entirely on rice
  2. you can’t remember how long it’s been since you’ve last washed your hair
  3. you’ve made up names for insects that are so exotic you don’t know what they are
  4. tan lines wash off at the end of the day
  5. you’ve started to sweat in new places; i.e. upper lip
  6. you get excited over clean tap water
  7. foreign language skills are improving from the subtitles in DVDs sold street side
  8. a hot shower rocks your world
  9. hydrocortisone is your new best friend
  10. you’ve started calling out local slang at tourists
  11.  you’ll wear a dirty piece of clothing a dozen times just to avoid hand washing it
  12.  a different sweat rag is designated to each weekday
  13.  you can locate every internet cafĂ© in a ten mile radius
  14.  body odors don’t bother you anymore
  15.  that visiting household rodent has been given a cute pet name
  16.  being called a yummy dessert means you’re starting to blending in (brownie)
  17.  Burger King and Oreos are the most tempting guilty pleasures
  18.  you’ve read a new book every other week
  19.  you know exactly what spring or river or whatever source your water comes from
  20.  either your hair is growing faster or you are becoming too lazy to shave as often
  21.  you have the most inventive secret hiding places for money
  22.  your love life has become non-existent
  23.  external hard drives are the hot commodity at group events with other volunteers
  24.  you’ve realized all problems can be solved with duct tape
  25.  you no longer refer to the United States as “home”!

Monday, September 7, 2009

6 Months Down!

I've been tidying up my room and starting to put aside things to pack in anticipation for my visit home in two weeks and realized that it has been a whopping six months already that I've been gone. While it feels like this time has gone by in a blink of an eye, I know it's really been that long because of how I feel walking around my community and traveling around the island. My favorite thing these days is the drive back up my mountain after being away for a bit and that feeling of returning home once I take the last turn around the mango stand before Irish Town houses start popping up. My host family is great. My living situation is ideal. I'm traveling to so many amazing corners of the island - every other turn in Jamaica looks like some new exotic place. I've made some fantastic friends out of volunteers, girls in my dance company and especially community members. Getting into a minibus in town and having five old ladies call out my name and start instructing me on how I should be freezing my mangos has been the highlight of so many days. But, while it is such a joy to explore and integrate, the most fulfillment has resulted from the successes, large and small, in my projects. I have an awesome orange-dreadlocked supervisor who has been at my side every step of the way encouraging me to get out there and see what areas need help. I've really been able to take my skills and passions and match them with the needs of my community. So after six months in the Peace Corps, here's what work I've been up to:

MRI Learning Centre
- Working hard to get the new building built, furnished and ready to go as soon as possible so the kids can start using it for this school year. Putting together a new system for keeping things organized and developing an assessment method for tracking the kids' progress.
Red Cross - Trained and certified 18 community members in first aid and CPR and created a MRI response team out of them for emergencies and disasters. Will be certified as a trainer soon to teach the course and will be able to certify in communities all over the island. Working on getting more community members trained in shelter management in anticipation of the need in the next month or two of hurricane season.
Heart Trust - Adult courses soon to be added to the learning centre through the Heart Trust. Will be offering training and certification in computer processing and customer service. Teaming up with the Heart development team to create an assessment curriculum for the new health courses they are hoping to start offering at the beginning of the year.
Redlight/Middleton Farmers Group - Promoting organic farming,  water conservation, fair land distribution, watershed area preservation, market targeting and cooperative sales. 
HIV/AIDS - Board member of Peace Corps' subcommittee, HASL (health across sector lines), and organizing an island wide effort to expand HIV/AIDS education and rid Jamaica of the attached social stigmas for World Aids Day on December 1st. Will use the Hope Cube as an educational tool along with anti-stigma messages from local religious leaders.
Ena's Haven - Local women in the community has transformed her ranch into a facility to address the needs of physically and psychologically disabled children and at risk teens using the interaction with horses for therapy treatment. Helping out with establishing their initial strategic and business plans along with marketing strategies.
Women's Health - starting up a young women's' group to address health, relationship and social issues. Bringing in a component of job skill improvement to enhance self esteem and respect. Hoping to team up with a local health facility for field trip-like activities and access to health resources.
Rural Roads - The most common response to my inquiry on the community's desire for improving their area is to fix the roads. Searching out options for funding to get things started.
Engineers Without Borders - Two foot bridges are going to be rebuilt by this group from the States. They have signed a five year commitment to the area so I have begun looking for bigger and better projects for them to dive into.

Next up: Vacation to Cali for two weeks! I'll be home September 24th through October 7th. I'd love to see as many people as possible, so let me know if you will be around Dana Point - I will be more than willing to catch up over a cup of oh-so-missed Starbucks!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Things, The List

Things I Miss:
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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


About a month ago, I watched two open-heart surgeries. One was performed on a five-year-old boy and another on a three-month-old baby girl, and there I was, all scrubbed up and taking pictures in the operating room. One of the couples in my training group left a training week a day early to go back to their site to attend a cardiology event and was able to meet with a group of pediatric cardiologists from the States working with the Jamaica Children’s Heart Foundation. They told the couple about the work they were planning on doing in Kingston and the couple, having heard about my EMT and clinical work, advised them to contact me and see if I could help out for the week. The first day I spent at the Red Cross in town helping out where I could during a clinic the team ran for a down town orphanage. Most of my morning was spent holding babies and being teased for how uncomfortable I looked. I met with the head of the Kingston/St. Andrews branch and told her of my desire to do more clinic volunteering and collaboration with the Red Cross. If I only knew then how beneficial that initial meeting and conversation would be in the future. That afternoon I was invited by the team to watch a surgery on a three-month-old who was needing a clamp placed around her pulmonary vein to restrict the excessive amount of blood being pumped into her heart. During the surgery the doctors would pause and allowed me to get right in there and photograph all the different procedures that took place. I thought I would have a hard time watching, but it got to a point where I think I began to annoy the surgeons with how intrigued I was and how close I kept on creeping to the operation table. The rest of the week I was able to make myself useful by working the patient intake part of the clinic and helping out with taking vitals. I just knew packing my own scrubs was a smart idea. The last day I worked clinic was for a group of senior citizens that came to the Red Cross office from a convalescent home downtown. I’ve never seen so many ailments in a single grouping of people. As if getting all the pertinent medical information from each patient wasn’t hard enough, their deep patois used made understanding them nearly impossible, though humorous at times. The day ended with another open-heart surgery on a five year old who had two holes in two different chambers of his heart. The operation was one of the raddest things I’ve ever seen. To close up the holes, all blood flow through the heart needs to be rerouted to an outside machine for life support during the surgery. So each vein and artery was detached from the heart and hooked up to tubes leading into the machine. Slowly and steadily the boy’s heart came to a stop and the surgeons began the two-hour operation. To ensure that none of the heart tissue was damaged from lack of oxygen coming through during the procedure, ice in a saline solution was placed all around it in the chest cavity. Seeing a nurse pour that into a gaping hole in a little boy’s chest was a little unnerving, but still so irresistible to watch. From that one week of working along side Red Cross and JCHF volunteers, I have had so many opportunities open up. The woman organizing the surgeons from JCHF put me into contact with some fantastic contacts that have begun helping find leads and means to construct a clinic in my community and offered to have the cardiologists work a few days up at the clinic once it is erected and running. It’s the introduction to the Red Cross staff, though, that has been most valuable, especially in my most recent efforts to get my community prepared for hurricane season. Not only have they donated first aid supplies to put into the primary and basic schools, but have collaborated with our Citizens Association to host a first aid and CPR training and certification course. I’m hoping that many future projects will come about with the Red Cross, specifically a first responder training program that is being talked about. It’s still so amazing to me the things I am able to do here that I would never be able to do in the States. I’ve been urged to consider it so many times, but I’m really starting to think about options for med school. I never wanted to go down that path, but it seems that no matter what direction I take with my volunteer work, I always end up working in the medical community anyways. Who knows; I've at least have plenty of time to decide.