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.


I’ve only been on island for three months and already it feels like I’ve been living here for years. Part of that can be attributed to the similarities of Hawaii and Jamaica, both culturally and geographically, but also because I’ve had dozens of opportunities to explore and be involved with things I’d never be able to do in the States. Most of my weekends since arrival have been booked up with beach get-aways and getting to know Kingston. The lighthouse at the Eastern most point of the island was one of the first adventures. Meg, a white Jamaican woman living down the road from me, led the caravan of her daughter and boyfriend, me and another volunteer and a family friend across the island in search of the long forgotten lighthouse that was almost impossible to find. It took hours of wrong turns and Red Stripes, but we finally arrived to a beautiful white sand deserted beach across the bay from the lighthouse. After splashing around for a bit, and loosing my sunglasses in the process, we all set off to climb up the lighthouse. A few setbacks tried to get in our way of getting to the top, like rust covered locks and an instantaneous and unanimous fear of heights, but the reward of a 360 view of the countryside and beaches was worth the run around. A few weeks later, the opportunity arose to attend a literature festival on the other side of the island and visit a volunteer at his picturesque waterfront site, Treasure Beach. Myself and three other volunteers spent the weekend lounging on the sand reading, listening to poets read from their most recent works and dancing to reggae until all hours of the night. A few volunteers from Group 79 rented the upper floor of the vacation house our Group 80 volunteer lives in, so we were able to get to know a lot more about the volunteers that have been on island for a year now and enjoy our time off together. I realized half way through the weekend that my travel plans to return to Kingston on Sunday, a 7-hour public transportation journey, was out of the question. Taxis hardly ever run on Sundays and when they do, it takes hours to fill up the car and leave to the next stop over to wait for the same thing. I lucked out when Meg called me and said that her weekend escapades for the weekend just happened to place her just a half hour north of Treasure Beach and would be able to pick me up on the way home. If finding a ride home wasn’t exciting enough, we spent the entire Sunday afternoon exploring the South coast with stops at Little Ochi for lunch and sightseeing at Gutt River and the Alligator Ponds. Along the way, Meg pointed out at least a half dozen other things we could have been doing like a hike to a cave and underground river spring and different beaches for camping. Most of these places are the sort that you have to really know where they are to know where they are. I looked through two different maps and couldn’t find half of them. It’s going to be so fun exploring with my new Jamaican friends and family and avoiding the tourist traps of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. As for getting to know Kingston, I’ve already been told that I walk around town like a local. It took a few weeks to understand the taxi system and find my favorite food spots, but now it’s great to know the town well enough to show other volunteers around when they come visit. Finding little things to put into a routine has been really key for me to start feeling like this is home. I’m starting to take Salsa classes at the Hilton every Thursday night with another volunteer near town, I am welcomed by name each time I visit any of the organizations I’ve begun to collaborate with and I get teased for ordering the same thing every time I go to any of about four of my regular lunch spots. Getting to know my community has been a bit more difficult, as it is a commuter town for those working in Kingston and the set up of the houses being so spread out has made meeting people a challenge. But I keep reminding myself that I don’t have to win them all over in the first few months. I’m working on expanding on the work and family relationships I already have here and meeting people on a one on one basis. It’s tough finding opportunities to socialize with women, as most are working all day and in their homes at night. It would be so easy to become a part of the click that stands on the corner shops everyday goofing off playing dominos and listening to loud dancehall music, but I need to keep up my professional appearances at all times, being that Peace Corps volunteering is a 24/7 job. Having the escape into Kingston, just a half hour down the hill, is what keeps my life feeling normal. And since so many from my community work in town, most of my run ins and interaction with Irish Town and Redlight people have been in supermarkets and bus stops in Kingston. But now that I’ve gotten accustomed to my new surroundings and began to set up a system and routine, in true Van Mo fashion, it’s time to take off again for more exploration and adventures!

Preparing for Hurricanes

Yesterday began with a flashflood warning, followed by the fruition of that wonderful prediction, and was concluded with a complete blackout of the entire Blue Mountain range. Today, it has been raining – bucketing – all morning and afternoon. In just a few hours, the river has risen 3 feet and is roaring. From what I’ve been hearing, this is just a warm up for what’s to come in this looming hurricane season upon us. The official season started June 1st and lasts until December 1st. The predictions for this year has just come out and sited 12 tropical storms to look out for; at least 4 of them guaranteed to develop into full-fledged hurricanes of a level 3 or above. I tease my Jamaican family about how excited I am to experience a hurricane for the first time and the response is always the same: a rolling of the eyes, the sarcastic “kiss mi teet” sound and my favorite sassy expression, “cho”. The house I’m living in is situated above the merging of two rivers that surround the land on both sides, so for us, hurricane season means complete evacuation from the property to avoid being washed away. Because we’re tucked away in a valley in the mountains, the winds do little to nothing, but the rains are disastrous. The roads to the houses in the hills are already in a permanently dilapidated condition and with the expected flash floods with the hurricanes, we are expecting at least 3 to 4 different instances when the entire community will be cut off from landslides covering or destroying the only road in and out. In the event that a serious hurricane, of level 4 or 5, is projected to run course over the island, all volunteers are instructed to evacuate our homes and rush with only a handful of necessary personal items to a designated consolidation point in Kingston. If the hurricane gets to the point that most of the island is on high alert or evacuating to shelters, volunteers are placed in the US embassy under protection of the Marines. It’s nice to know that such a well thought out plan of action is set up for us, but I can’t help but think about how I’d want to stick it out with my family and community. I might be jinxing myself in saying that, because in all likelihood, I’ll probably end up stranded on the mountain after a landslide blocking my only way out and I’ll have no other choice but to stick it out. Though, I am working on an alternative: making friends with the military base just above my house and hoping that one of them won’t mind stopping by with the helicopter if things get sketchy. Hey, I can dream.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Some thoughts on . . .


My means for getting around are very limited and unreliable, which makes for the entertaining predicament of trying to put together any sort of work schedule. Public transportation is comprised of route and charter taxis, mini buses, coaster buses and city buses. While I have many options for types of transportation, Jamaica runs on "soon come" time which means that I could be waiting at a bus/route taxi stop for, at times, up to an hour. Route taxis are my most common way of getting around. They are gathered together at all the major city stops and depending on where they are parked determines their route and destination. Red plate taxis are the legally certified drivers but those only make up about half of the taxis on the road, with many private cars picking up passengers for a little extra cash. The mini bus is one of my favorite and least favorite parts of transportation in Jamaica. It's pretty much a fifteen passenger van that manages to seat up to over twenty people with market bags and babies on their laps. "Small up" is the fun game in mini buses of seeing how many people can fit into one row or seats. During my first ride up the Blue Mountains above Kingston to my site in a mini bus I was warmly welcomed to the community by a baby spitting up on my arm and the mother beside me quietly giggling and wiping it off. But even with all the sweat and the noise of the mini bus, it's become such a fun part of my day traveling to and from town because of the interaction I am able to have with the people living in my community and the surrounding areas. I've met most of the schoolers on the bus and gotten music lessons from most of the drivers. I can't wait til someone gets to visit and see how wonderfully hectic transportation on the island can be. My trick so far: window seats!

Celine Dion:

The first song I heard coming through Customs in the Kingston airport was not some local reggae or club song from the States like I expected, but Dion's "That's the Way It Is". It's been a fun way to strike up conversation with Jamaicans and other volunteers alike by asking what it is about Celine that has the country so crazy about her music. The culture here is very expressive and passionate and I think that's a big part of why she gets so much airtime. I swear a visit from her would cause more chaos than that from the Pope. Now I finally get to show off what all those hours spent practicing my performance of the Titanic song during sixth grade were really for.


One of my favorite new foods here is a hot pocket type thing called a pattie. They are found at almost every street stand and a couple of Jamaican fast food chains are dedicated to them. It's a folded over bread/pastry outside stuffed with either chicken, beef, cheese or my personal favorite, veggies. The rastas mostly make the veggie patties at the roadside stands because they are vegitarians under the rastafarian movement. Not quite sure where the name came from, but the veggie patties made by rastas are called yatties. This name has a certain touch of humor for personal reasons, especially when the sign reads "hot yatties".


One of the favorite pass-times here is playing dominos. While it's mainly groups of men playing on a make-shift card table street side, I've had many oportunities to learn how to play the proper way with family members and other volunteers. In my first community, it became a nightly routine to walk over to another volunteer's home and learn the tricks of the trade from his crazy host dad. So much more technique and strategy are involved than I would have ever thought. The Jamaican version of the game is, as most things are here, very passionate. One cannot simply place down a double number card - slamming it down so that the game is almost completely destroyed is the only way to go about it. When passing a turn you say "git on" and "droppin love" is what occurs when you win six games before the final person has won any at all. And to think, all this time I thought they were only good for knocking down.


Jamaican men are very, um, complimentary. I say it like that because I don't think "harrassment" is the proper way to describe it. While the comments directed to me on the streets may be very forward, and at times a bit lewd, the are mostly harmless and are simply made to offer a compliment. I've got to give the men on the street a little credit though - some of the things they come up with, beyond the typical "hey sexy", are quite creative! I thought at first that this would be one of the bigger issues I would have a hard time dealing with, but I've been learning ways to cope with the unwanted attention. I stand out. They know it and I know it. So it's knowing how to respond as the random white girl walking around town in a way that acknowledges their comments without disrespecting or aggrivating the situation. One of my favorite lines that has been suggested from my host sister to brush them off is "You got money?". They always have a good chuckle with that one, knowing that it's something local girls would normally say and it's amusing to here a foreigner throw it out there. The boys definitely have it easier here, but being a girl has it's perks too: everyday walking down the street is like a mini ego boost.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Getting Started

Finally the questions have been answered! For too long I’ve been telling everyone that I don’t really know exactly where I’m going or what I’m doing. No more! This last Thursday our training group finally received our site assignments and set off in all directions across the island on Friday. I’m stationed in the town of Redlight, twenty-five minutes up a twisted mountain rode above Kingston. The two weeks leading up to my final move here was spent living in a small community called Hellshire, located in the parish of St. Catherine, about forty-five minutes to the east of Kingston. My host family, the Bailey’s, was amazing and stuffed me full of dumplings, yams, fish and chicken. There were always members of the family coming and going from the house. It took me a few days to figure out who really lived there. I did wash by hand, took care of the children and helped out with the cooking the meals. Oh how domestic I've become! Gender roles are pretty dominant here and it is mostly expected that women stay home and tend to those things, but Mr. and Mrs. Bailey were a delightful surprise in the way they ran their household. Walking into the kitchen and being greeted by both of them, washing and peeling carrots side by side, brightened my day more than once. Outside of their house, I ran into a few challenges being a woman in a patriarchal society. Women are not permitted into bars, are only addressed after the men have been greeted and are constantly harassed on the street corners by the ever-present group of ganja boys. On that note: I don't think I went more than a half hour in Hellshire without smelling that silly lettuce. Unfortunately, the myth of Jamaica having spliffs growing off trees is not that far off, but it’s just an accepted part of the culture and really doesn’t have much influence on day-to-day life. So now I’m starting my first of two stays with my permanent host family, with another week back in Hellshire between them and a few days back in the capital at the end of training for swearing in. I’ve been keeping busy trying to get a head start on future project options. I’ve been assigned as a health promoter for the communities of Middleton, Redlight and Irish Town and will be assisting with disease prevention and IT education at the local primary school’s learning center. My assigned counterpart for the job is a social worker that has grown up in Irish Town and is one of the most respected and known women in the community. I’m also working on teaming up with the Jamaica AIDS Support organization and involving myself with some of the restructuring and documenting they have planned for the next year. I would be able to assist with reaching out to some of the more taboo target groups with testing centers and group counseling and a little bit of travel to create uniformity among the other branches of their organization. Very very excited to already have something like this lined up. Most volunteers sit around for the first four months twittling their thumbs waiting for a project they really want to jump into. I finally know now that I get to do exactly what I was hoping to do here and live in a paradise valley right outside of the city, exactly where I wanted to be! Check out my house! : . . . I’m in the red/orange one! :) :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jamaican Address

Emily Van Mourick
c/o Country Director,
Leila Webster
US Peace Corps
8 Worthington Avenue
Kingston 5.
Jamaica, West Indies

Send letters here until I put up my permanent home address, and always send packages and padded envelopes to this one with c/o to the country director so it gets past customs without any charges. Also, packages and padded envelopes should include a declaration form stuck on the outside to avoid hassle going through. I'm looking forward to some goodies/basic amenities! :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Day One Jamaica

The first thing I thought about jotting down after initially spotting the north coast of Jamaica was the sight of Mo Bay as we flew over it on our way from Miami to Kingston. There was the huge cruise ship docked in the clear shallow waters and a half dozen or so mega resorts lining the coast. It was a beautiful sight of luxury and development; one that I’ll probably learn to loathe as I spend more and more time here with the locals and learn how the tourism industry is slowly destroying their environment and nationalism. My fear of being “that girl” with the overstuffed and overweight luggage was realized in Miami and really driven home as I dragged my duffles from baggage claim to the curb of the Kingston airport where current volunteers greeted us. I’m rationalizing that I would have rather paid the overweight fee and lug it around during training than have to leave things behind at home and rebuy them here. Truth is that I’m a little embarrassed that I brought so many pairs of shoes and jeans, but I’m sure I will be very happy with my decision once I’m settled in at my permanent site. The direction of my position and living situation for the next two years is still as unclear to me as when I was still in the States. The last two days in Miami, and today here in Kingston, have provided us with basic training, safety and logistic information about our time in the capital until we are sworn in on May 15th, but the specifics of my job and location won’t be known to me for another week or so. I’ve been waiting for over a year to learn of what I will be doing with the Peace Corps – another week won’t kill me. Adjusting to being gone hasn’t happened yet. I think we are all still in shock. We keep shouting out “firsts” and “lasts”, like first Red Stripes, first times using a new patois word and last hot showers. We had a mini welcome at the PC headquarters today and got to meet a lot of the staff and some volunteers that are continuing their service for either a third year or as headquarter employees. For the next two nights we are staying at the Mayfair hotel in New Kingston. It definitely reminds me a bit of Uganda with its furniture and appliances from the 60’s. It’s a mini antique road show in my room with mismatched carved wood beds, armoire and nightstands. We’ve been rooming with other trainees in Miami and while we are at the Mayfield. My first roommate at the Crowne Plaza hotel was a hilarious 58 year old woman from Pheonix whom I clicked with from the start. Our group is a pretty even split of the fresh out of college type and those who have been retired for a bit and were needing a lil something to mix it up. There are three married couples; one in their early 20s, one in their mid 50s and one in there late 60s. From what we have all heard about the Jamaica Peace Corps program, it’s actually a huge honor and compliment to be a younger  volunteer here. Apparently there have been problems in the past with young volunteers using this time as an opportunity for their own little Beach Corps. Us youngins are just praying now that they don’t use that against us and send us all into the bush, hours from the coast. I have been assigned as a Community Health Advisor in the Health Extension/Water Sanitation Sector and will most likely be in a larger town rather than out in the boonies like the Sanitation Advisors plan on being. I had a phone conversation with my country director about a week before I left discussing preferences for location and assignment options. I took every opportunity during that chat to highlight the fact that I’m a water baby and work best near the ocean. I’m not sure how much of a pull I will have with my constant hinting, but of course a coastal town would be nice. Either way, I am so excited to finally get settled and get going with my job.  This has been a very long time in the making, with two hectic months of packing, repacking, switching housing situations and attending training sessions still ahead of me, but I am so amped on the challenge. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing in my life right now, in consideration of the present and the future, and I know very few other people my age back home that can say the same thing. Thanks to all those being prayer warriors for me back home and supporting me in following through with this commitment. You are the reason I will be able to keep my head on straight and stick with it. I don’t know how often I will be able to keep everyone updated, but I will try my best to write about the big stuff. FYI, I have a new Jamaican cell phone number.. It’s the same dialing set up as if you were calling a number with a different area code, with a 1 before the number. Call my US cell or email me to get my new number. And as always, the best way to get a hold of me directly is through my email: Xoxo mon

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hurry Up and Wait. . . Almost There!

Applying and preparing for Peace Corps service is this crazy game of tag with the headquarters in Washington D.C. Once I was accepted as a volunteer nominee last March, months of doctor appointments, EMT certification and wrapping up legal matters followed. The Peace Corps has become quite competitive lately and those even nominated after the initial application and interview process are then faced with going against two or three other nominees for an invitation spot. This makes those few months of paperwork so hectic.. knowing that if you don't hit the ground running with your nomination packet and check list, you might be giving up your spot. I finished up the last of my legal clearance drama (was still dealing with a car accident from 2006) in May and had the rest of the summer to wait for any new news from Washington and enjoy this time traveling and avoiding getting a real job.
As most know, I was originally assigned to serve my two years in the Health Extension program in Africa...or so I thought. What ended up happening was a type-o. The United States government somehow accidentally wrote the Africa Region instead of Caribbean Region on my nomination. My frustration with this mistake was overwhelming when it was finally discovered only this past September when I began getting more feedback about my possible assignment if I were invited to serve. I had spent the last six months mentally preparing for Africa and was very disappointed to learn that I would be serving in the Caribbean instead. Now that I say it aloud, it seems pretty silly to be disappointed in being stationed in the Caribbean, but at the time I was so amped on Africa, thinking that it would be the "real Peace Corps experience", that I couldn't see that there was reason for Peace Corps service in the islands too. My preparation for
Africa ended up coming in very handy, as I was able to serve on a church planting team with e3 Partners this past October in Uganda. Sometimes I've just got to laugh at the way God works. He used a type-o to ready my heart for Africa and then gave me the opportunity to share that experience in Uganda. Good one, big guy. I was able to get Africa checked off my list and ease into the new task of preparing for the Caribbean.
I only had a month of knowing my nominated region for service before I received my official invitation on October 1st for serving as a volunteer in Jamaica. Again, I was for some reason disappointed with my assignment. I knew very little about the island and what I did know was based on stereotypes from Sandals commercials and Disney movies from the early 90s. It wasn't very long before I realized the need for Peace Corps volunteer work and my purpose there. Jamaica, still a third world country, is facing some of the worst dicotomy of the quality of living among developing countries. Venture out of the resorts and poverty and need is abundant. The expanding tourism on the island is putting a strain on the underdeveloped government and draining natural resources. For most Jamaicans, consistant electricity and clean water supply is rare. Overcrowding in the ghettos is causing the spread of sickness and most of all, violence. While this sounds like an intimidating environment to dive into, I'm excited at the opportunity I'm given to do something about it.
I've been given the assignment as a Community Health Advisor and will be trained for two months with a group of volunteers with similar assignments and backgrounds of medical services. That was back in early October and since then I have, besides a simple letter of aspiration sent to my Country Director, just been sitting and waiting for more information. In my invitation packet I was told that my departure date would be sometime around March 16 and that's about all I've been working on up until now. I'm rushing to the mail every day hoping that my Staging packet is waiting for me and can finally find out when and where I will start this amazing adventure!
Five more weeks! I have yet to begin packing; that's when it becomes very real and I'm not sure if I'm quite ready to start that yet. :) My awesome parents are very graciously hosting a send off party for me on March 7, about a week before I'm scheduled to take flight. I can't tell if I'm more nervous or excited, but I think it's the perfect combination right now. I think most of all I just want to get started. I've been thinking and talking and preparing for this for more than two years now. Let's go already! I'm ready for the next hurry up time of packing up my life and a little less of this anticipation in the final waiting period. I'm ready to start saying "ya mon"!