The accounts of Khaled and Caitlin, a married couple serving in the Peace Corps (not a Mother and Son) on the South Coast of Jamaica. The views expressed in this blog do not in anyway reflect those of the U.S. Peace Corps and are totally and completely those of Caitlin and Khaled. Which means their ours, so therefore can be either begged or raffled off to raise money for our NGO.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Trees, Weaves and JOCVs

So I suppose we haven't posted recently but that doesn't mean that life isn't exciting here, in fact it may mean that life is too exciting. There are many events that have happened in the last month. First up was a tree planting and training that I organized for 4H. We had a Jamaican Forestry Officer come into the office and train the clubbites on how to properly plant trees, tree biology and a the importance of trees in the environment. In fact the training was longer than I anticipated, I thought he would just tell them to make sure and take the plastic bag off before putting the seedling in the ground and leave, but he actually did a great job of teaching about the entire ecology of trees. It was at that point that I began to realize that tree biology is generally left out of the Jamaican curriculum. None of the kids at the training had ever heard of xylem or phloem tubes and as I've gone around planting the seedlings provided by the forestry department at 8 schools since the training I've yet to run into a kid who'd heard those words before. I really enjoy planting trees with kids and am thinking of trying to do a mass planting in the spring. The Jamaican Forestry Department has a goal of having the national tree, the blue mahoe, and the national flower, lignum vitae, in every school yard. This way kids can see firsthand these national treasures. Forestry told me that in the spring I could get a bunch of seedlings for the lignum vitae and the blue mahoe so I'm gonna see how many schools I can get them planted in, throughout St. Elizabeth. The lignum vitae has a dual role, as it is the national flower that blooms on a tree, but also it is the favorite flower for honey production. Hives placed near a lignum vitae tree produce a light and rich honey that gets the best prices in the local and export market. If I could only get more schools interested in apiculture...
In the beginning of November the St. Helena Women's Group was invited to a 'Green Globe 21' workshop in Montego Bay. It was a whole host of hoteliers, USAID people, and green companies based in the Caribbean. It focused on protecting the environment while promoting tourism as well as community based tourism, which is where the women's group came in. They are up for a grant that would build a workshop in their rural community to weave baskets, store finished goods, dry raw thatch and various other business tasks.
I took this picture of Ms.Dell doing her live weaving demonstrations during the workshop breaks. I actually learned to weave too, because I was bored waiting around for the conference breaks where I was supposed to hob-nob with hotel people and get them interested in placing orders with the women's group. Learning to weave was definitely the best part of the workshop for me, but I did manage to get them 3 different leads on orders. It's all for large scale production of things like tissue box covers, baskets with company logos and soap holders, hotel stuff. That said, it could prove to be the constant income that the group needs to take their business seriously. We'll see.
Finally I have some pictures of out recently completed 'Computer Repair and Maintenance' class that Khaled and I held at the 4H office throughout October and November. These pictures are from a session that we did in collaboration with the Japanese Oversea Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). During this class the participants learned to take apart a computer and put it together again. I have to say that I learned a lot from these sessions and that the JOCV did an outstanding job demonstrating how computer hardware works and is connected. Funnily many people don't know that there are other volunteers on island. The Peace Corps has a large contingent but the Japanese have about 50 and are growing. Also there are Canadian volunteers and British volunteers, but they tend to have very specific jobs and aren't able to do the same kind of outreach that PCVs and JOCVs can. I'll let Khaled give you the details of the class and it's finale in the next blog update, which I promise won't be a month from now!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

5 Years

For the last 5 years Peace Corps Jamaica has had Dr. Suchet Loois as Country Director. He is a native Haitian who worked as a professor in Alabama for many years. Yes, he's a smart man with a funny accent.
The time has come for him to retire so PCJ is getting a new country director. Last weekend we were invited to Suchet's going away party. It was a low key shindig with lots of speeches and tears. The best part for us was that at the end they served REAL ice cream!! Kae and I were so psyched we had to take this picture.
We also got to see Froggy's (peace corps bus driver) kids doing the 'willy bounce' and other Jamaican dances. They are super cute. Don't they look like twins?
The willy bounce was very popular when we arrived in Jamaica. But Jamaicans 'set de tren' so it didn't stay popular for too long. Now the big song, and it's associated dance, is the dutty whine. This involves much head swinging and butt jiggling. Definitely a dance for girls, not guys.
The real excitement of last weekend was our fifth anniversary!! Earlier this year we won a raffle with the prize of a weekend for two to Ocho Rios Couples, an all inclusive resort. We spent last Saturday and Sunday there and we had a great time. We ate lots of rich food, breakfast in bed, swimming in the coral reef and lounging in the jacuzzi. It was really nice, but it was kind of strange in some ways. It was weird to be around all those drunken Americans. They made jokes and things that we didn't understand, it really made us realize how far we are from that culture, even when we seem so close sometimes.
Sorry there are no pics from Couples. We don't have a camera and the one we usually borrow was occupied. Hopefully we'll get it back soon so I can take pictures of this week's tree planting training. 50 seedlings to be planted all across the parish!!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

rainy weekend

Khaled has again succeeded in overflowing the 'washing' machine such that he has to squeegee out the living room, pushing water around with a duct tape device and cleaning the floors better than our mop, which you wring out with your hands. We have a rare weekend at home as our parish wardens meeting was cancelled due to heavy rain. I really appreciate these few days I have here at my house. It's funny that we came to peace corps to get away from the idea of a daily grind, especially for Khaled who used to have a 80 mile commute every morning, from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Somehow we ended up commuting as much as ever. I take one 40 minute taxi every morning and he takes two, making his peace corps commute actually longer, time wise, than his commute in the states.
That said, I do like riding in our local taxis because its an excellent place to catch up on gossip, or 'passa passa' as Jamaicans would say. I recently learned, while smalled up in a taxi with 7 other people (not counting the driver), that two of the illegal or 'robot' taxis in our community mashed up.
Given that the physical area serviced by Schoolfield taxis ( the ones we take to come home daily) is equivalent to the size of a large suburb and takes 30 minutes to drive from end to end, on the good main road, you would think that there would be more than 1 legal taxi on it. But no.
On the Schoolfield route there are 4-5 taxis. The drivers are known by everyone on this mountainside, so well that I often find children playing taxi fighting over who gets to be Bashment and who has to be Ras (Bashment is preferred as he is a fun stuttering drunk who drives notoriously fast, but Ras is a young rasta often with an air of despair about him). So coming up with Bashment last week we came across an accident. What do you know but it was the two other regular taximen on the route, Delroy and Bobby, who got into the crash. There was much bemoaning of this event as everyone know that the cops just took away Ras's car because he didn't have his permit paper properly stamped. That left us with 1 functional taxi in a community of 1,000 people without cars. Can you imagine that in the states?
Not only do these people not have cars but many of them have shops to stock with all the accoutrements of Jamaican life. This includes flats of bully beef, tin mackerel, chubby soda, sweetened condensed milk, bags of flour, rice, sugar, packages of tang, soup mix, coconut milk powder, etc. All these things have to be bought in Santa Cruz, the nearest town, and taxied up to the bush for distribution amongst little old ladies and little kids hoping for a free sweetie.
Maybe that means the likkle pickney will have to sit on the bag of rice instead of on my lap next time. Lets hope Bashment realizes his importance to us at this time and stops drinking dragon stout before 2:00pm.
Also, passa-passa has it that bling-bling fi ya phone nah work if yuh get ee wet, so don't waste your fifty dollars on it. Ya hear?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Roach Trap

Waking up this morning I looked up and saw a brown spot on the mosquito net. At first I thought it was the ring to the net, or some such thing, even a moth, that would've been alright. I slipped on my glasses and looked again. With reality in focus I came to understand that it was a 2 inch long roach. Not only that but it was on the INSIDE of the net, dangling above Khaled's sleeping midsection!! It appeared to be having trouble moving around on the net, it's legs were sticking to the net material. I woke Khaled and we discussed our predicament.
Since it was located on the ceiling part of the net there was no way to squish it between two shoes, because we couldn't get a shoe over the top part of the net. Besides, that would be a big mess to clean off the net. We also feared trying to dislodge it and then squash it, as that plan would involve the roach landing on the bed and we would end up with roach goo on our sheets. Finally Khaled had a moment of brilliance. He went and got a long large graduated cylinder that we use for our 'Science on Wheels' experiments. He stuck the open end over the roach and tapped the net until the roach fell into the cylinder, which he promptly covered with a flip-flop. The roach didn't move much, or really try to get away, maybe it was old. Khaled then took his roach container outside to the sweet potato field and dumped it out while I fried breadfruit for breakfast. That was my morning.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Baby Mama Bag

Transportation in rural Jamaica is not a simple matter. On some routes the taxis are few and far between or they are all 'robots' (illegal) taxis so they don't run when cops are out on the road, which happens in spurts. Taxis don't just transport people, they often transport goods as well. Say you are in a main town, and want to send some medicine to your mom who lives in a small community, then you would buy the meds and bring them to a taxi that runs into your mom's area for him to deliver for you. For this service you pay at least what you would pay to transport yourself. The benefit is you don't have to pay to go there and come back.
Given all this, taximen have access to the majority of people in the community, including young women and children. It's a common joke here that a taximan has pickney in every district along his route. But it's not really a joke, as many of them do.
This morning I was running a little late, so when I saw a taxi coming up towards my district I rushed to the road to get in. He picked me up but said he had to 'drop something' before going to Santa Cruz. Cool, whatever. He puts the bag to be dropped in my lap, and I sneaked a peak. It contains juice, formula and pampers. It's a baby mama bag.
He picks up a old lady next, but she needs to stop at the post office before leaving town to pick up her pension check. Next is a young man who needs us to go into his yard so he can get a bag. All this time we are traveling in the opposite direction of where I'm trying to get to. Two last passengers are picked up and at last we start down the mountain, smalled up 4 adults plus a baby in the backseat.
The driver stops about a quarter of the way to Santa Cruz, to 'drop' something. A woman with an infant comes out of the house, but she does not look happy. Her hair is a mess with a comb sticking out of it, her shirt and skirt are tight and dirty and the infant looks positively sticky. She starts to yell at him about how long it took, baby nah have no pampas, nah have no feedin, how come yah nah send no cash money fi 'im, etc. A fight ensues and the taximan throws the bag in a rainpuddle then turns and walks away.
All of us in the taxi pretend like nothing happened. Like a man screaming at the mother of his child and throwing away the things for the child in front of the screeching infant is a normal occurrence. Perhaps that's the problem, it is normal.
Being a mother in Jamaica tends to be a humiliating experience. As men make women pregnant but are often with a next woman by the time the baby is born, the baby's mother has to beg and bargain with additional sex to get the things required to care for her baby. With such a high unemployment rate, many women will sleep with taximen because they think, 'at least this one has money for the pickney'. Taximen often have many women, and babies, without caring for them all, or just providing free transportation.
I'm not saying all taximen are like this, there are some very nice people out there, but I've known a number of them that leave much to be desired in the ethics department. That said, I've learned here that what American's consider sexually ethical isn't universal (obviously) and that society can function with a marriage rate of 20% or less. All of this is often juxtaposed on top of people being 'Christian', a term which has become more ambiguous in my mind since arriving here. I know for a fact that the taximan in reference is a 'Christian', he goes to church with some of my co-workers. I also know that wasn't the only baby mama bag he had to drop off today.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Throughout the year Khaled and I have harbored these fantastic fantasies of an entire summer off. We somehow got it into our heads (at least in my head) that when the school year finished we would have lots more time for resting, going on vacation and afternoon football games with the kids around here. Unfortunately none of this has materialized.
My summer started with the planning of 4-H's largest fundraiser of the year, Seafood Jamboree, as well as grant writing workshops with the women's group, the community club and 4-H itself. Then there were the peanut committee meetings (don't ask). Khaled managed to get himself a new job right at the end of June, so his time is taken up by trying to implement GIS and databasing with interns more interested in chatting on Hi5 (Jamaica's favorite IM service). Finally we helped with group 77 (Peace Corps Trainees) training, by doing small business, IT, VAC and many other TLA (three letter acronym) group presentations, all of which were in the Kingston area.Img_0849
So last week, to combat the summer overload, we stole away for a mini-vacation. We traveled up to the parish of Portland to Great Huts, where we stayed over New Years, for a little R&R.
This time we stayed in the newly built 'Sea Grape', a bamboo hut on the edge of a cliff, overlooking Boston Bay. Great Huts has a nice outdoors atmosphere. Our toilet was just sitting in the woods, outside the hut, along with our shower and a standpipe to wash hands. No cover or anything. We made the mistake of leaving a roll of toilet paper out there and in the morning it was soaked from the midnight tropical rain. Here is Khaled in front of the bed, which was a strange half-moon shape with a thin foam mattress. We were later told that 'Sea Grape' is a work in progress
We spent a lot of time just hanging out in the water, swinging in hammocks, and sunbathing. Here is the view out the middle door, with a path to the edge of the cliff. Img_0850
Throughout the week we ate a lot of jerk chicken, as Jamaica's famous jerk chicken originated at Boston bay, where there many great jerk stands. You can just walk to the end of the Great Huts entrance road and get excellent jerk chicken, roasted breadfruit, festival and fish soup, all for cheap prices. We really enjoyed ourselves with some much needed downtime. I even turned my phone off the second day because it kept ringing, and upon answering I would hear the voice of someone I already told I was on vacation...Img_0851
After looking through the pictures I realized the only one of me is this one, where you can see my legs and feet as I put on after-bite. The room had a bed of pebbles for a floor so in the morning as we sat reading in the 'living' area, ants would come up through the rocks and bite our feet, as evidenced by the picture of me desperately trying to counteract the ant venom.
So now we're back at work. I'm preparing some computer classes for the fall and also a great tree planting in October, which is when Jamaica celebrates arbor day.

Friday, August 25, 2006


Two weekends ago Khaled and I had the priveledge of hosting two group 77 trainees, Cate and Katie, for the weekend. We had a ton of fun just chillin' out in the mountains and partying at night.
Since both ladies are training in Portmore they really appreciated our mountian air and the cool climate we enjoy here in Malvern. Katie really liked how we don't have 'grills', or bars, on our house. This is relatively unusual in Jamaica and especially for a volunteer, but none of our neighbors have grills so why should we? It would just make us stand out. Still, its nice to sit on the veranda and not feel like you're in prison.
On Saturday night our good friend Jermaine took us out on the town. He was really psyched because he had one a free night at an all-inclusive and had rented a car to go there. He got the car the night before the trip so he took us out, and we lived it up!
Then on Sunday the girls came over and we played around and baked brownies. Cassanique took Cate and Katie to the shop, here she is leading the way. I think she only took them in the hopes of getting some sweeties (hard candy). On Monday they came to work with me for a half day to see what I do at 4-H, which isn't a whole lot at this time of year. Finally we all headed into Kingston, they went back to training in Portmore and we went on vacation in Portland.

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