Happy New Year! (better late than never...right?)

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

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Flag of Jamaica  ,
Sunday, March 4, 2007

Greetings Friends and Family!
It's hard to believe it's been almost three months since my last entry, but that's how life goes.  Much has happened in those three months, marked by three things:  my month at home, my research project, and preparing for life after Peace Corps.   Beware! This is a long update...
I returned to Wisconsin on December 20th, after almost a year away.  Being home, surrounded by my family and the peace of the country was something I was really looking forward to.  Most of my time was actually spent away from home, looking for snow, and visiting friends and family in Minnesota. 
Immediately after Christmas, my parents and I embarked on a journey in search of snow and our goal was to cross-country ski as much as our bodies would allow, and that meant finding the best available conditions.  We skied in Ironwood and Calumet, Michigan and then finally in Minocqua, Wisconsin.  The best conditions were in Ironwood, but since that was the only place around with good conditions, people were there from all over.  This is a good thing if you like to share the trails with lots of people, since it is not our type of fun, we traveled elsewhere and ended up in Calumet and finally on to Minocqua.  The snow cover was surprisingly minimal in Calumet and Minocqua for the end of December, but we did the best we could, and had fun trying. The only thing that suffered was our ski bases. 
A few days later I was off to St. Paul, MN to visit a few good friends.  I stayed in the historical area of Cathedral Hill, within walking distance of downtown and the famous Nina's coffee shop.  I had a great time there, and I gained a greater appreciation for what St. Paul has to offer: the quaint runner-friendly neighborhoods, the corner coffee shops, and its unique-to-the-Midwest progressive energy. 
From St. Paul, I joined my cousin and drove north to Duluth, Minnesota.  My dear cousin is getting married this summer, for which I am the maid-of-honor.  Our visit to Duluth was the only opportunity before her wedding when the whole bridal party would be together to pick out the bride's maid dresses.  That experience was surprisingly and thankfully painless and quick.  I had a great time surrounded by the other women in my family, my mom and my two fun-loving aunts and three cousins.  I consider myself very fortunate to have so many great women in my family. 
I finally returned to Greenleaf for a few days to regroup and relax before my trip back to Jamaica on January 20th.  Returning to Jamaica this year was much easier than last year for two big exciting reasons...1) I now have a project to work, and 2) the end of my service is near.
I first introduced my research project in the November 18, 2006 entry.  Up to the time that I left for Christmas, the progress of the project was going at a slower than desired pace, so I was anxious to get some writing done while I was home.  Despite this desire and good intentions, for some reason I just didn't get much done.  Thankfully, within a few days of my return to Jamaica, I realized how much my vacation revitalized and refreshed me.  My mind seemed clearer than ever before as my fingers cruised over the keyboard as I wrote (and wrote some more!!!) the first two chapters of my report. 
A big part of my research is the questionnaire survey in order to capture some quantitative in-field data, but this also behind schedule prior leaving for Christmas.  At the time, the delay didn't bother me but when I returned I started getting a little concerned about the lack of progress made in this area.  Luckily, with the assistance of my supervisor, the start of February marked the beginning of the quantitative data collection.   In a matter of two weeks he draft survey underwent significant revision, by health professionals and as well as tested in the field before the full-scale survey.  Once the survey was ready, a team of health department personnel assisted in administering the questionnaire in the study area, and for their contribution I am deeply grateful. 
I am very satisfied with the overall outcomes of the survey experience.  Besides achieving a satisfactory response rate of 56%, I feel that conducting the survey gave the team an opportunity to meet and talk with the residents.  I thoroughly enjoyed being in the country, talking with the residents, and deepening my understanding of Jamaica and the dire garbage situation here.  I got the impression from some of the respondents that they appreciated our presence and the effort we were making to discuss the problem.  I think this experience will also help down the road when it is time to work with the residents to develop a solution to the garbage situation in the area. 
The survey represented a huge task; a pinnacle in the entire project that I felt had to be completed before I get to the other side.  I'm thrilled to have planned and completed this crucial piece of my project.  The remainder of the timeline includes data entry and analysis by the end of March, so that the results can be utilized in a timely manner by the Health Department to plan an intervention in the study area.  The plan needs to be finalized in April, since I will presenting the research and the action plan at an Environmental Health research conference in mid-May.  So by then, I hope to have the majority of the report written as well. 
I have a lot to do in the coming months, but the pressure is a good thing since that will enable me to have the report completed by the time I leave Jamaica.   My goal is to complete the requirements for my degree by mid-August, in order to graduate this summer.  So far, I've been meeting my self-imposed deadlines allowing me to be optimistic about achieving my goal.
My time in Jamaica is quickly coming to a close, and it's hard to believe how quickly each week goes by and how it is already March.  Peace Corps has been my life since October 2003, so I predict it will be strange to leave.  I will be sad to leave Ochi Rios because it has been my home for two years, as I will be sad to say good-bye to the people I work with.  I will be especially sad to say good-bye to the few very close friends I've made with other volunteers and like-minded folks in the area (you know who you are).  Despite the possible tears, I am excited for what lies ahead of me, finishing up my Master's degree and beginning the next chapter, which entails entering the 'real world' and getting a job. 
             So once I leave Jamaica, I'll be returning to Wisconsin, where I will be finishing up my report and defending my research at Michigan Tech.  Then it will be time for me to finally enter the 'real world', so sometime between September and October I will be starting employment somewhere.  While I was at home in December and January I had two interviews, and both have developed into very encouraging opportunities.  Both opportunities are in state of Washington, which is an encouraging sign for me to follow through with my desire to live in the Pacific NW.  It's comforting to be in this position of having a few job opportunities, since I am tired of being poor - first a poor college student and then a poor Peace Corps Volunteer.
             I recognize that with an income, comes responsibilities and realities, like bills and less free time.  I've learned a lot while in the Peace Corps, and one important lesson that I intend to apply to my new life will be the importance of balance.  Work hard, but play hard too.  A balanced life is an ideal that I'm not disregarding in my effort to start my career and in my efforts to find a good job. 
Well, I think that's all for now.  I hope you are happy and healthy, and 2007 brings much peace and mindfulness to your life.  - Jennifer
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