Happy Holidays

I realize it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted to my blog. Let me start out by wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season.

This entry is to let you all know that my Peace Corps journey ended sooner than I had planned and I returned to the U.S. at the end of August. It’s been an adjustment, not so much from a culture shock perspective, rather an emotional adjustment coming to grips with a vision I had that didn’t quite materialize in the way I had hoped for, planned for, and expected.

People have asked me, “What happened?” I really don’t have a short or succinct answer to this. There were a number of factors that contributed to creating a “Perfect Storm of Disharmony” for me. In the end, I came to the conclusion that remaining in Jamaica for another 14 months was not in my best interest.

So what’s next, you ask? Life is amazing when you just let it happen. In October I became a student at the Baltimore School of Massage Therapy. Several years ago I had looked into a program for massage therapy but I wasn’t in a position to quit a job to attend school full-time. Returning from the Peace Corps earlier than I had anticipated, without a job or any commitments, has allowed me to pursue this desire. God willing, by the end of June I will be a nationally certified and licensed massage therapist. I hope to open my own practice within the next year or two.

In closing, I want to thank you all for the encouragement, support and love you showed me while I was serving in the Peace Corps. I don’t have any regrets about joining the Peace Corps or about terminating early.

I encourage you all to follow your heart. I did…and the journey continues :)

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Tropical Storm Isaac

… is expected to affect Jamaica beginning this evening with winds at 45 mph and heavy showers and thunderstorms. Right now, as I sit in my living room, the sun is shining brightly with some cloud cover – no real clues as to what lies ahead.

Calm Before the Storm

Tropical storms are interesting in that you tend to get a lot of lead time to prepare. By lead time, I mean that the storm has been on the radar screen for a week now.

The storm path hasn’t deviated much from the projected path. However, an update we received today from our Safety & Security Officer is it looks like the storm will take effect earlier than anticipated (Saturday a.m. was the earlier prediction) and that it could pass closer to Jamaica’s northeast coastline which includes Port Antonio.

I’m a little anxious and a little bit scared. The reality, however, is that it could pass uneventfully and end up just becoming a very strong thunderstorm.

This morning I refilled my 12-gallon water jug. The water supply in Port Antonio is challenged on a good day with water lockoffs almost every day of the week so there’s no telling what disruption in service a tropical storm could bring.

In a short while I will be heading to the grocery store to replenish my hurricane rations (Please don’t tell my Safety & Security Officer!) which I have been gradually paring down over the past month. I’m curious to see if the locals will be en masse at the grocery store.

More to come…

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Reconnected

Technology is wonderful when it’s working and beyond aggravating when it’s not. One month ago, after deciding that replacing my hard drive was not going to solve my monitor problem, I had this great idea: I would bid on a computer on ebay and have it shipped to a friend who was coming to Jamaica for a visit in early July.

I reacquainted myself with ebay, updated my PayPal account, and spent the better part of a Sunday searching for a computer that would meet my needs. I wanted a small one like the netbook I had bought before coming to Jamaica. I didn’t need a DVD drive because I have an online subscription to Netflix. I really just needed a computer with wireless capability and a word processing starter package.

I found a 7″ notebook that seemed to have what I needed so I bid on it. Then, after exploring my options, I realized that I didn’t want such a small computer. I wanted something close to what I originally had so I found a 10″ notebook and bid on it. You know where this is going, right? Yep, without any contest, I won both bids.

My friend arrived and I received my new computers on July 9th. I wasn’t able to get online immediately because my Ethernet cable was broken and when I went to my Internet provider they told me I had to bring the cable back and they would re-crimp it. Happily, yesterday I got my newly crimped cable and voila! I was back online.

I started exploring the features of my beautiful new computer and noticed that I didn’t have Word or Excel. Surely this new computer whose ebay advertisement boasted a recent upgrade to Windows 7 Professional would have basic word processing and computing capabilities, right? Wrong. I contacted the seller and he told me that the computer did not have those programs because he upgraded to Windows 7 Professional but if I sent it back to him he could add them. Since when do upgrades diminish capabilities? He told me it came with Windows 7 Starter and Windows 7 Starter is what I want. This, my friends, is a case of Caveat Emptor or Let the Buyer Beware. I emailed him back, thanked him for the offer, and explained that I was serving in the Peace Corps in Jamaica and sending it back would be a complicated, time-consuming and expensive endeavor. He asked what I wanted to do and I said he needed to provide Windows 7 Starter to me, free of charge. I’m awaiting his response. Thus, I moved on to Computer #2.

Computer #2 is a no-name mini-notebook using the Android operating system. I overlooked that because the ad said it ran on Windows. It has 4G wireless capability but I am unable to get wireless in my house so I have 3G capability by using a booster. This computer, however, requires a dongle. A what? A frickin dongle. It’s a device that attaches to an Ethernet cable. Now I need to get a dongle.

I continued to explore my new Chinese computer which I have fondly named MODEL:X6-7V. Although the ebay advertisement said it operated on Windows, it appears that it doesn’t. I attempted to open a Word doc I had on a thumb drive and a message came up which said, “Presence of an SD Card is required to open Documents to Go. Please insert a card and try again.” WTF, really?

The reality is I now have three computers, none of which meet my needs. BUT, I am very grateful to be able to reconnect with people through email and Facebook and vent my frustrations through my blog!
3D smiley full of anger

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Priceless

Trips to Kingston & back by bus for computer repair: 2 trips, 12 hours & $18
Cost of diagnostic test & data backup: $40
Hours on the phone with computer repair guy: countless
Weeks to get my computer back: two

Getting computer back in the exact state it was in when I dropped it off:

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Another Goat Story

Three weeks ago I was lying on the couch talking on the phone with a friend, when I heard an unrecognizable noise outside. I got up and went to see what it was, initially thinking it might be the workman who had painted the roof a few weeks earlier. I walked out on my veranda, fully expecting to see the workman, and when I looked on the roof there was not one, not two, but three goats on my roof!

I knew how they had gotten there – they walked up the steps to my apartment. Then, they squeezed through the gaps between the columns of my guard rail. What I didn’t know was how they were going to get down. I watched them walk to the edge of the roof, all three of them, huddled close together, and it seemed as though they were going to jump. They must have changed their minds because they turned around and started assessing their options. They walked around the roof for about ten minutes before they figured out they could exit the same way they entered. And exit they did. One, two, three goats walking confidently through the gaps of my guard rail, past me watching them on my veranda, and back down the steps.

Not a care in the world!

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The Roller Coaster Ride That is the Peace Corps

During our 2-month pre-service training we were told, on more than one occasion, that this would be a roller coaster ride and indeed it has been. Nary a day goes by when I ask myself, “What is my purpose here?”

I question many, many things related to the Peace Corps, its presence in Jamaica, the Youth as Promise II program, and my role at the school I’m at.

I’ve been here almost 11 months now. Two months for training and the last 9 months I have been at site. I still don’t feel grounded in my work. I know, the Peace Corps also says that it often takes a year or more for volunteers to begin to see the fruits of their labor. I have a feeling mine will be “or more.” One of my challenges with feeling grounded is that four months into my service I changed work placements. Why did I do this? Because I was not doing anything (in my opinion) of value. I was working at a Youth Information Center (YIC) and my days were mainly filled with logging computer users into/out of the center. I made copies for users and printed documents. In essence, I was working at Kinkos.

My intent of this post is not to bash the Peace Corps rather to express my frustrations in being a Peace Corps Volunteer almost twelve months into service.

In all fairness, the things I was told I’d be doing at the YIC were appealing, they just didn’t happen. Going out into the rural communities and bringing services to the youth was one. Working with unattached youth, another. I decided, four months in to my service, to change sites. I did this because I felt, “Time, she was a wastin’.”

Peace Corps allows you to change sites if you have reasons that they believe substantiate a change. I was extremely frustrated and made my case for a site change. I looked back at what I originally thought and hoped I’d be doing in the Peace Corps and that was working with children – either one-on-one or in small groups. So, I set out to find a setting where I thought this could happen. I chose to work at a school that was in my neighborhood. With my social work background and experience, I thought that working in the Guidance Department would be a good fit so I called the principal, explained who I was, and she told me to come in.

This placement is challenging in that given I literally walked in off the street, they weren’t sure what to do with me. I’ve been there four months now and have been running Anger Management sessions for kids who were selected by their teachers because they have anger issues. The classes were originally scheduled for 30 minutes and originally I had about six classes. Finding a place to have the sessions was a challenge because all of the classrooms were in use and for weeks on end the library was being used for dance rehearsals.

Most of my classes have fallen by the wayside but there are two that remain where the children are steadfast. These classes will end in a few weeks and school itself will end on July 5th.

So as I begin to wind down this school year and think about the next, I ask myself, yet again, “What is my purpose here?” I’m hopeful that next school year will be different. I will know the teachers and they will know me. I will find out what specific needs they have that I could fill. And hopefully, I will have longer term interactions with the kids where I can develop relationships with them, and make a difference.

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Sit Down and Meditate, Dammit!

Is it wrong that I almost had to kick three kids out of my meditation class for being disruptive? Let me explain.

I’ve been holding a series of “Anger Management” sessions for some students in my school. These are kids who were chosen by their teachers as having behavior problems and, who could benefit from learning some alternatives to their usual aggressive style of conflict resolution.

I decided to introduce the kids to yoga and meditation as a way of letting them experience what it feels like to be calm and peaceful. Yesterday was my first class and it contained eight 4th – 6th graders – 2 girls and 6 boys (a problem already!)

These kids are some of the most high-strung children I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said 80-90% of the kids seem to have ADHD.

We started the class outdoors and it took 30 minutes for them to settle down. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. It’s as if the teacher is invisible. No matter how many times I told them to take a seat on their mats (towels), they ignored me and continued doing what they do: licking each other, kicking each other, calling each other names, etc. Then somebody had to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Finally, I got their attention.

We ultimately went inside to the library. I had forgotten that it was free after several weeks of being occupied by the girls dance team that had been practicing for a competition.

Once inside I was able to introduce them to the concept of “being still.” It was a beautiful sight to behold! They enjoyed the class and asked me if I would have it on the weekend. Since I have no life here, I said I would :)

Shavasana

King of Disruption

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