Oh my, Ochi!

Trip Start Jul 06, 2005
Trip End May 31, 2007

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Flag of Jamaica  ,
Friday, September 2, 2005

Hello family and friends,

The swearing-in ceremony was a success; the remaining 56 trainees were officially named Peace Corps Volunteers and we even made into the national newspaper, The Gleaner. My training group, Water/Sanitation, performed a song as part of the festivities. The song was about our training, to the tune of Sweet Home Alabama, and everyone loved it. The last verse goes something like this,

"Started out at 21
We're the group known as Wat/San
Bag juice and Smoochies get us by now;
16 strong to GET 'ER DONE!!"

A significant event in our training was loosing 5 trainees from our group. Their presence and energy is missed but we still feel strong and have remained close. Bag juice is a great Jamaican invention, it's frozen artificially flavored juice and it's frozen and served in a bag, and it's a great treat when it's really hot. Another great snack here are the peanut butter cookies made by Smoochies, they are so much better than anything I'd ever had in the States. Both treats are really cheap and can be found everywhere.

After the ceremony, we were whisked away to a party at a local club in Kingston. There was an abundance of current volunteers, and lots of dancing and talking. I had a great time, and I am grateful to have had that time to say goodbye to people because many of us will leave for our sites immediately the next day. I wasn't leaving until noon, so I had a good 'ole time and enjoyed myself.

Promptly at noon, a driver from the NE Regional Health Authority arrived to pick me up, I loaded all my stuff plus a few things Peace Corps gave me, I said goodbye to my host family and left my home in Heartease. It's always hard to say goodbye, but I know that I will be back to visit...that family is just too good to ignore. I know I'll be back to Heartease when Yallahs (the nearby big town) has its annual Jerk Festival in October. I've been told that Yallahs has the best Jerked chicken on the island, so that's a good reason for a visit.

The trip from Heartease to Ochi was relatively uneventful. I like the drive to Ochi, once you're out of Kingston and Spanish town, the country starts and there is a lot more green to ooh and aah at. The road follows a wide river for a while and then climbs up the hills on a winding road through small town after small town. The winding of the road doesn't deter drivers from driving like bats out of hell. It can be scary at times when you are going around a blind corner and not sure what's coming at you. Taxi, bus, semi, oh my! The road situation here is not good, potholes and poor drainage are big problems, but that doesn't stop drivers either. As you get higher into the hills (they're not really mountains), there is a noticeable decrease in temperature, which is a pleasant surprise. Once at the top the road then winds down towards the North Coast and Ochi, and towards the end, the route passes through one of my favorite views, Fern Gully. The road through Fern Gully is canopied by lush green vegatation, over hanging trees, palms, and ferns, hence the name. Unfortunately there isn't much room on the sides for walking because it would be nice to be able to go slower through it so as to see more. Towards the bottom, some crafters have set up stands to sell their wares but again there isn't much room to stop and browse. I have an idea for a possible project here, but I don't want to give it away yet....

Over the weekend I unpacked, bought some necessary items, sheets, a fan, and the most important item: a blender. The place I moved into is very well furnished, all I need to do is make it my home. I've hung up some pictures, which warms up the place, but I can always use more decorations. Hint, hint, hint...J In exchange I promise you can stay with me for free if you come to visit, I love visitors!!!

So now it's Friday of my first week, and so far I can't complain about anything. Living in a larger city though, I have had to change some of the behavior I developed during training. At home I can't leave my windows open at night, even though I have bars on them. During training we were told stories about persons trying to take stuff from Volunteers at night that had their windows open. The perpetrator sees valuables lying out and they try to fish it out with a tool. I believe the stories, so I won't temp anyone by my open windows. I also don't feel comfortable walking around by myself in the evening, so this week I've pretty much stayed in after I got home from work. I know I'm lame but I'm a white woman, and I know how that can draw unwanted attention, and at night it's even more unwanted. I think once the Volunteers in the area get acquainted we'll be out and about together more. Before I arrived I was concerned that I would be seen as a tourist, and that the Jamaicans would point that out to me, like they say, "hey white girl," like I forgot my skin color, they would ask me if I want my air braided or whatever. Fortunately since I arrived the occurrence of comments towards me have been limited to the normal comments about how I look, so I must be doing something right. I just walk around like I know what I'm doing.
My job at the Health Authority is going well. This week I've been primarily at the desk, reading or doing research on-line, it doesn't sound like fun but I see how all the information I'm gathering will help me when I'm actually in the field. My supervisor is trying to get me set up at the Health Department with a Health Inspector, who will be my counterpart. Soon I will be following this person to communities that they provide health services to, they respond to complaints regarding water, sanitation, pretty much anything about public health. Eventually one of the communities we visit will become the community that I'll work with as they assess and solve their water and sanitation issues. So right now I'm preparing myself for meeting the communities. I never thought I'd be doing "real" work so soon in my service. The task is challenging because I'm so new to this stuff, but it's exciting to be on this path again. It's a relief to be at the place in my service that I was at when I left Uzbekistan.
When I walk out of the house and I see a cruise ship coming into to port, I wonder if I'm really in Peace Corps, but when I look closer and take into the picture the cows grazing, I remember where I am. I love my life.

Well I think that's enough for now. Let me know if there is anything about Jamaica that you would like to know more about, I'd love to research and write about it.
Thanks for all the email and snail mail. Some folks have asked for things that I want or need, well here it is:
1. Reading material (books, magazines, and newspapers)
2. Earth friendly, natural products like shampoo, toothpaste, etc: Jamaica has some problems with the environment, so I'd like to help any little way I can.
3. Jump rope, yoga mat, yoga book
4. Pictures
5. Materials about home gardening (in pots), composting, and creative ways of reusing plastic bottles.
6. Patchoulli oil

Thanks everyone! Keep reading and keep in touch...
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