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