Greetings from St. Thomas! We’ve been here about 2 weeks now and have really gotten into the groove of training. We’ve gone on a field trip and then on a PCV shadowing excursion, so we’ve been able to see more of the island,which is great. Right now, training has been mostly focused on integration into the community, behavior change, national environmental issues, and the like. We’re going to be getting into technical stuff, like how to work with youth and school gardens and some sustainable agriculture practices, like water harvesting, greenhouses, etc. My kind of stuff!
We went on a field trip last Friday to Ewarton, to visit a current 3rd-year Volunteer and see some of his projects. He’s had great success with a water catchment system for the community center as well as a recycling program. We also went up to Walkerswood, to see an Education Volunteer, who happens to be involved in agriculture and school gardens. In Walkerswood, they had a huuuuuge pepper farm (both sweet Bells and Scotch bonnets!) where they grow for a big factory nearby that makes hot sauce.
Saturday (April 6th) was my birthday and I celebrated by shadowing an area farmer with one of my group members! He put us to work and we asked him questions. He had a small farm (probably about an acre) where he grew mangoes (his main income), tomatoes, green onions, and peppers. He has miscellaneous fruit trees as well. There was a lot to learn from him, as well as how to work with Jamaican farmers and talk to them. My fellow trainees “surprised” me with a party that evening, which was wonderful. My host family even got me a red velvet cake! I’m so grateful for my host family here in St. Thomas, they’ve really treated me like family! Don’t know how I can ever thank them enough!
Monday was the beginning of our 3-day shadowing excursion and travel test. As you’ve read, we’ve done a little bit of traveling on public, but not solo. This time, we braved it in pairs (I was paired with Phyllis, an older lady from Oklahoma. She’s full of stories and an all around good time). Our destination was Free Hill, in the parish of St. Ann. Some of our group had to travel clear across the island to Westmoreland, so our journey was short by comparison. Our route was Heartease-Yallahs-Kingston-Ocho Rios-St. Ann’s Bay-Free Hill. We made all of our connections with no problem. There were long wait times and we did have to “small up yuhself,” but really, it was stress-free. I even got to ride in the passenger seat on the Kingston-Ocho Rios leg, which was great, if a little bit terrifying. Just before reaching Ochi (as islanders call Ocho Rios), we drove through Fern Gully! Beautiful.
We were shadowing Val Snowdon, who works in an absolutely beautiful community called Free Hill in St. Ann’s. She works for a small organic farm nearby (absolutely stunning, which I’d thought to bring my camera that time) as well as with a community based organization and at a local primary school. Her little town is nestled right on the hills, complete with a harrowing taxi ride up. She is only three miles or so from the sea, so she has some incredible views. And the weather is wildly different from what I’ve experienced so far. Since she’s up in the hills, it gets a good bit cooler and rainier (I LOVED IT.). We did sleep under the mosquito net, though.
Something that PC-Jamaica gets called quite often is “beach corps” or “posh corps.” But Val’s situation really illustrates that this isn’t fair at all. The great irony of many island nations are the water problems. In Jamaica, tourism uses 50% of the potable water. Tourism is a really complicated thing in Jamaica and I won’t get into it in this post, but the sad fact is that there are severe water shortages in parts of the island (other parts don’t have as many issues), forcing us to take bucket showers and conserve water to the point where some people (not PCVs!) steal from the school or their neighbors. Some volunteers on island have to haul their water up a hill every day. This is all a round about way of saying that the next time someone remarks, “Oh, Jamaica! That must be a tough assignment!”, I might slap them.
So, back to shadowing. We worked a little bit on Val’s organic farm (well, it’s not hers. But she works there.) and picked dinner. Y’all. We had a salad for dinner and it was SO. GOOD. Mixed greens and balsamic vinegar and everything. She also made us a really delicious curry round-up, which I’m going to have to replicate at some point. The next day, we visited her primary school, where she teaches literacy to underachieving kids a few times a week. (As an aside, this is not what an Environment Volunteer’s role in the school typically is. She just identified literacy as a need in the community and responded to it.) She doesn’t have an education background, but you totally wouldn’t know it, the way she works with the kids. That day really just confirmed that I’m not meant to work with kids exclusively throughout the day, and I’m really thankful that there are people that enjoy it. After school and 4-H-type settings I’m down with, but all day every day would greatly diminish my will to live.
After thoroughly picking Val’s brain about all things PC, our shadowing experience came to a close. We successfully traveled back to St. Thomas (even met up with some long-lost Education trainees in Ochi!) and have finished out this week in training. Shadowing was a great way to see the on-the-ground conditions of PCVs in Jamaica and ask them questions in a more informal setting. Thursday, we were fortunate to have Kevin and Linnae Fath talk to us about CASI (Community and Site Inventory, another on the long list of PC acronyms). They are great volunteers and Kevin comes from a farming background, which is awesome! This coming week, we’ll be working on school garden and environmental education related things, so hopefully it will be more mentally stimulating!