As usual, I am long overdue on an update. While you should be used to it by now, that's no excuse and this was an exceptionally long lag between posts. I’m sorry. I will try to recap my summer in one post. Ready? Go.
China - the last post was so long ago that I was actually on a different continent when I wrote it. I was in China for the first week or so of June for the FEE Annual Meeting (see last post for a 2 sentence synopsis). It is incredible that I had the opportunity to travel to China as a PCV and something that I am very grateful for. I learned a lot at the conference, and had a wonderful time traveling around Hong Kong. Luckily people in HK spoke enough English that I could get by. Travelling solo is not really for me, especially in a country where people don't speak enough English to just start up a conversation, but it was still an amazing few days. And yes - the food was awesome. The flavors were surprisingly similar to American Chinese food, but the ingredients were definitely different. My favorite dish? Pineapple & chicken fried rice. I know, not exotic at all, but totally delish. Since I'm not really sure what else to share about the trip, I'll just share some photos - they tell the story better than I could: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2336320&id=5301199&l=0d29e0a7d3
On my 46 hours of travel back from HK (yes, 46 HOURS), I was lucky enough to have a 12 hour layover in New York! My sister Morgan was nice enough to lend the use of her apartment (even though she was not there herself) and my mom was nice enough to pick me up for some QT, and so I could use a washer and dryer, eat a good Italian meal and take a shower. I landed in Jamaica exhausted, but overall really happy to be back.
July seemed to fly by, and ended with an exhibit at the Denbigh Agricultural Show. It’s like a state fair, except for all of Jamaica, and it’s a pretty big deal. Each parish has their own pavilion where they display the accomplishments of the last year and try to out-do the other parishes. In true Jamaican style, this involves a competition to see who has the most impressive pavilion. (Want to get a Jamaican to really, really work hard on something? Make it a competition.) NEPT was asked to do the environmental section of Westmoreland’s display, and I have to say, I think we did a pretty good job. We had a huge table display of the Negril Great Morass (Wetland) and used it to explain what a morass does and how important it is and what activities take place in the morass (farming, building, dumping, etc). It was really interesting talking to Jamaicans about all this – most of them had no idea. And while I’m not sure how much behavior change will come of it, it was promising to see how interested they were in it. It was an incredibly stressful weekend – we spent all night Friday setting up and not sleeping, had to stand and talk to people all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday and there were a lot of frustrations that came out of lack of sleep, cultural differences, heat and the like. But overall it was something that I’m happy I did…just something that I never really want to do again. Oh, and no, Westmoreland didn’t win. We came in a disappointing 7th. I think this was a bit unfair, but yes, I am biased.
As a result of the lack of sleep, stress and drama of Denbigh I spent the middle half of August pretty sick with a bad respiratory infection. After a few trips to the doctor (including one memorable trip where I was sent to a quarantine room while waiting to see her because I was coughing so much), a week of bed rest, plenty of soup and a course of antibiotics, the infection passed and the rest of August went by pretty slowly and uneventfully.
September brought a new school year and a new secondary project for me. I now work one day a week in my local school. The school is what’s called an All Age School, and it houses students from grade 1 – 9 (the ages of these grade are roughly the same as in American schools). There are 500 kids in the school and I have to say, Jamaican schools are a lesson in organized chaos. The fact that any kid learns in the environment is a testament to his or her own determination more than anything else. That may seem a bit harsh, but I can barely focus when I’m sitting in on a class! I’ll likely be teaching kids in grade 4 and 6, helping them with a sort of small group tutoring sessions. At the end of the school year, kids in both of these grades take big tests (grade 4 a literacy test and grade 6 a test called GSAT, which decides where they can go to high school). So getting those kids ready is a huge deal. I’m not at all qualified to work in a school and have not really ever done anything like this before. I’m kind of just figuring it out as I go though – something I’ve learned to be very good at through Peace Corps. I could go on and on about school and the intricacies of it, but I’ll save that for a post of its own in the coming weeks.
The end of September/ beginning of October brought Tropical Storm Nicole to Jamaica. It was 5 days of rain and about 2 of pretty high wind. Luckily, the damage was relatively minimal, but the flooding was huge. The road leading up to my school was totally flooded out and for about a week after the storm the students who live below the flooding just couldn’t go to school. People who lived above the flooding could get into town a different way, but this turned what was normally a 10 minute drive into a 30 minute drive. The water has since been pumped out from that area and things are mostly back to normal. After making it through a relatively minor storm, I take back all the times I ever said I wanted to see a hurricane – I definitely don’t, and I’m glad hurricane season will soon finish!
And the middle of October was spent in the states on a wonderful 2 week vacation. Even though I wasn’t able to pull off a birthday surprise for my mom (how did I ever think I could?? That woman knows everything!), it was a great two weeks spent with family and friends. I got to see my mom’s condo in Burlington, which is really nice and in such an amazing town. I also spent time in NY and DC – two of my favorite places. I got to see friends, eat amazing food (the culinary obsession this time around? Salads and craisins.). The amount of choices that confront Americans everywhere was a bit overwhelming, but it was a good way for me to recharge myself for the rest of my 6.5 months in Jamaica.
And that, my friends brings us up to today. Coming back was hard, and I feel like a lot of the other volunteers are in a bit of a slump right now. We have just over 6 months left, which is a long time, but will go by fast. We have a lot of decisions and transitions coming up but can’t do anything about them yet. We still want to do work but don’t want to start any new projects since we probably won’t have enough time to see them through. It’s a strange time in a PCV’s service. (but then again, when isn’t??) But! There’s a lot to look forward to in the next few months. Some amazing concerts, at least 1 visitor, possibly 3, a repeat of the Reggae (half) Marathon, Christmas and New Year’s and a possible sprint triathalon among others. The 6 months will be up before I know it and I’m trying to remind myself of that every day! I promise my next post won’t be in another 4 months, but until then, there are two more links I wanted to leave you with.
The first is the latest newsletter that I put together for NEPT:
And the second is some more pictures from my summer: