Tuesday, 10 March 2015

"I'm not the man they think I am back home, I'm a rocketman."

I'll be honest. I completely forgot I had a blog. The Peace Corps and New Orleans days are so far behind me at this point. I write to you from a coffee shop in Galveston, TX-- a god-forsaken island off the Gulf Coast. I am now in the military. I am now 27, and in the military. I've had so many experiences... never did I expect to be here but alas, life takes crazy turns. So... in the words of David Byrne, "HOW DID I GET HERE?"

Let's start off from New Orleans, the last place I left you. New Orleans was a crazy almost 3 year drunken blur of parties, friends, and amazing experiences. After completing my term with the Red Cross as an Americorps disaster resiliency worker, which consisted of hurricane Isaac relief, tornado response, various fires, and somehow a car accident involving a house and 4 parked cars on Christmas night, I was offered a job with JNOLA, a Jewish non-profit in Metarie, LA (a suburb of NOLA.) I promptly left after 1 month, realizing it was not what I wanted in an agreement with the CEO. I took my separation pay and ran. I then continued to live in NOLA for almost 2 more years, making ends meat as an employee of Groundwork New Orleans (a non-profit dedicated to environmental education of inner-city youth) while also walking dogs on the side. (Somewhere in there I worked for the French Market produce stand but that was brief and disastrous.) My employment history is almost as extensive as my life experiences....

Anyway, after years of parties, running, masquerading and poverty, I decided to stop struggling in the non-profit world and joined the Coast Guard, with dreams of becoming an Officer and heading the Marine Science Strike team, an oil-response program. I spent 09 weeks in basic training, struggling to become militant from the professional non-profit world... a very difficult transition to say the least.

09 months later, I am here, in Galveston, TX, working for a small patrol boat attempting my last qualification before receiving an Officer recommendation. It has been SO difficult here. I am very different from the typical 18 year old, straight out of high school, non-rate. Between my age and life experiences it's very difficult to be passionate about scrubbing heads or other innate tasks. Regardless, I am here, learning a lot each day, the struggle getting less and less real. I received my marks today, most ratings "above average" and one "excellent." Fairly good considering how much I errored in my first few months.

The hardest part being the constant monitoring by "big brother" about whereabouts, when you can and cannot drink, constant barracks inspections, who you can and cannot have sex with, basically having each aspect of your life controlled by an outside party, a party who you have generally nothing in common with. Country music and fox news are constantly on the playlist of the boat, Republican and sometimes sexist notions thrown around at each meal... I try to keep my insane "hippie" ways quiet but others very promptly noticed that I am not like them from the food I eat to the music I listen to. I realized very early the need to hide my beliefs and personality, although I realized too late and have been placed in a very small box, a box which actually is fine to be in because I choose to keep my private life separate and not befriend or fraternize with anyone on base.

Although the transition is tough, it is nice to have health insurance and a steady job, a job that only requires 20 years of (torture) commitment before retiring.

I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss my dogs. I miss EDM. I miss Phish shows. I miss adventure. I miss travel. I miss connecting with people. I miss being myself.

Alas, Galveston, TX is where destiny has taken me. Challenge accepted.

One Love,

Basic Training Graduation: Emancipation from jail

Images from my last days as a civilian at my going away party:

Marching with Yankee 189

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Sometimes you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right

On this day I want to thank and remember our heroes. 


A lot has happened since the last entry. A whoolleeeeeleap as the patwa saying goes. Since July 1st, I've been kicked out of the peace corps and deported from Jamaica all criminal-like, lived at my parents house, found a new job, and up and moved to New Orleans. Wow. Where to begin....

It all begin around early June. I received a call from my brother announcing he'd gotten a career almost straight out of college. After congratulating him, we threw around the idea of him coming to visit before selling his soul to the adult work day. Although extremely excited, a huge problem was placed before me: how would I have him visit without taking vacation time? (We were forbidden from taking vaca time before 4 months.) Also how would I avoid breaking the 48 hour rule? (We were not allowed to be away from site for more than 48 hours without taking vacation time.) These thoughts weighed on me for quite a few weeks. Should I just tell my security officer (the person we were supposed to report our whereabouts to) and hope she would be ok with it? What if she isn't? I couldn't tell my brother not to come- the truth was I didn't know when I'd be able to see him again. I also thought about the last time my brother and I had had a really close relationship (around the age of 12.) In addition, I thought about how much I had sacrificed to get to the Peace Corps. Years of applications, interviews, doctors fees, selling most of my personal belongings, mentally preparing myself for 2 years of what was supposed to be El Salvador rural living. What to do?

Like any other Peace Corps decision, I called the all knowing ones, aka the Peace Corps group before us. I asked three different 82ers what they thought, and I received many responses-- mostly saying 'oh I break that rule all the time' or 'everyone breaks that rule.' Well if everyone breaks the rules, and rules are meant to be broken.... fuck it. Let my brother come and I'm going to show him one hell of a time. Upon asking my principal's permission, telling my host family, and receiving positive responses, I prepared for my brothers visit.

Fast forward a few weeks. Sam is happily received at the airport and off we go to Jah-B's Rasta cabin in the woods. After an amazing few days hiking the blue mountains, getting lost in weed plants, eating amazing back country Ital food and sleeping in a beautiful cabin overlooking the mountains, we arrive in Ochio Rios at a friends place. A few hours later, a few other volunteers show up and we are drinking  local rum out of a bottle pre-gaming for clubbing at the infamous Margheritiville. After almost 5 hours of non stop dancing, I notice myself dancing with a random gymnast from Iowa. Win. I look over to my left, smiling my usual drunk cheshire grin, and a male volunteer is happily dancing right beside us. To the right my fellow female PCV is being daggered by 2 different Jamaicans in different positions ranging from (but not limited to) on her head, on the ground, and upside down. It was some of the most amazing gymnast daggering I have ever witnessed-- by a whitey none the less! Go itty.

The next day we awoke to an amazing snorkeling and cliff jumping sesh in Pat's backyard. Yes. That's right. His back yard is this:
The rest of Sam's visit essentially consisted of boat trips at Pat's work, beaching, cliff jumping at blue hole, and meeting up with other volunteers to see their sites. Overall it was the most amazing few days I'd had in Jam. I felt exstatic about being able to rebond with my brother as I packed my stuff to return to site. Then came the dark clouds. I received a call from my country director explaining an emergency meeting I would attend the following morning to talk about "the whereabouts policy." DUN DUN DUN. That's it. I had really done it now. I knew and my heart sank. "Will I be admin sept Carla?"  I asked in a pleading and shakey voice. She then replied, "I don't know we will talk tomorrow." 

Most of the night I stayed awake writing an honest apology and explanation. I would be clear, honest, and apologetic. I will explain that I have never broken the policy before and have no plans to break it in the future. I will explain that I had JUST FOUNDED AND INITIATED MY BREAKFAST FEEDING PROGRAM (a program where I had begun a school garden with the children in hopes that those who were unable to afford meals could eat from.) I will explain that I AM RUNNING 3 SUMMER CAMPS IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS. And they will understand, I thought. Well I thought wrong. 15 mins after the meeting, I was poked and prodded by the medical evaluation people, "exit interviewed'" by our director, given 30mins to pack my shit and say goodbye to my host family (some of whom were not even there!), forced to clean up a volunteers home who had ET'd (including cleaning out her rotting food), all the while hysterically crying-- mostly in public. 

The beautiful thing though, was how much love I received before I left. Upon me leaving, I was told my community had called pleading for me not to go. Most of the volunteers called or even came to my hotel to say goodbye. Some volunteers even gave me presents, cried with me, and Claire Girven, bless her heart, stayed with me for the whole 72 hours pretty much ensuring my sanity. Thank God for her. 

After the saddest goodbyes to people who had become my family and the most miserable and hysterical travelling experience I had ever endured, seventy two hours later I was on a plane home-- where I had no job, no car, and a very upset family awaiting me. There I was, plopped straight into the most American and celebratory day of all- July 4th. Happy Fuckin 4th I thought as I tried to secretly cry in my lawn chair, the fireworks sparkling over my head. Even my decorative American flag seemed sorrow, as it sadly drooped over the cup holder in my lawn chair. For awhile, it seemed like no one knew what to say to me. Even some of my friends didn't come around or barely answered my calls. WTF? I didn't die or become diseased I just got fired for christ sake, I told myself too many times. 

After a few days of feeling bad for myself, crying and just generally being a rainy cloud to my family and friends, I got my act together and starting applying to jobs. I applied to absolutely any non profit on  idealist.org that I found even tolerably interesting in Fort Lauderdale, NYC, and New Orleans. One day passed. I receive a call from the Red Cross New Orleans office. I would be interviewed *IN AN HOUR* for a disaster relief postion. ZOMG! I better start preparing! After what I thought was a shakey interview, and after explaining my "family sickness" reasons for leaving Peace Corps- I didn't get my hopes up. I went for a swim and received a voicemail a few hours later. It was the Red Cross. I was hired!? And expected in New orleans in 10 days. Holy shit again. Luckily my stuff wasn't even unpacked, so I moved to the land of beer and debauchery with two suitcases and a bit more employability confidence. Win. 

So here I am. 24. Fired and hired. Jamaica to New Orleans in 1 month. Typing to you on my computer in my very own *scarcily furnished* uptown, 2 bedroom apartment with two roommates. Busy as shit with Hurricane Isaac disaster relief. I often think-- do I regret having my brother visit and getting fired? Honestly, I really don't know- but for right now I'm content, broke, happy, and excited for the future.

One Love,

view from Jah-B's cabin

sam and pat beachin

cliff jumping at blue hole

sunrise hike in the blue mountains

diving in pats backyard

boating with pat 

backcountry ital cooking
clubbing in margheritaville

4th of July

Friday, 15 June 2012

A compilation of the most interesting pick up lines

A compilation of the most interesting pick up lines Brandi and I hear:
Fluffy n nice
Hey nice lady
Your skin is so clean
Him: Let's have sex! Me: No, I'm on my way to church. Him: After! (can't make this stuff up)
Explicit tellings of what they want to do us.
I want to rub lotion on your skin
Can I come with you/can you carry me with you? (yes I really want you to come grocery shopping with you on public transprortation-- that's my idea of a date!!)
You will bring me home with you. (I had no idea you can predict the future!)
You're married? That's ok you need two!
yah sexy
PSSSTTTT (times 14 million and usually screamed, who knew you could scream that?)
I like your shape/size
EY WHITEY (you know my skin color!! omg! your so observant!)

Monday, 11 June 2012

Greetings from Cockpit Country

The Jamaica list thus far

things I love about jam:
the size
the beauty
most people
white rum
cheap veggies/delcious fruits
driving way too fast

wtf things:
heavily bandaged hospital escapees
goats, everywhere.

things I hate:
smalling up
abused dogs
extreme religion
water lock offs
Jam time (aka a half hour late-- I thought I was late till I came here..)

Greetings from my rooftop in rural Trelawny! I am currently overlooking the beautiful mountains of Cockpit country. A lot has happened since my last entry. I moved from the bat cave into a beautiful family home. I now have my own tv with cable(!!), 5 windows(!! aka no more moldy clothing), a washing machine(!!) and my own entrance and exit. I basically just share a kitchen. My homestay sister is 31, she's also a teacher and awesome. my homestay brother is around the same age, also really cool and I enjoy spending time with both of them.  My homestay parents are are sweet but very religious-- the other day I ran into my host mothers room hearing wailing. I open the door and she is kneeling begging for God's forgiveness like she was crying. I slowly  backed away without her noticing my presence. I've never heard anything like that before.. it was alarming to say the least.

The past few weekends I have been visiting other PCV's at beaches and other rural areas so I decided to keep this weekend to integrate despite other pcvs going to Ochio Rios. It ended up being worthwhile because I  had a great conversation with my homestay brother for the first time and found a co-worker at church. This sunday's church by the way, was a pentecostal five hour long service led by my host mother which I begrudgingly agreed to despite my strongest objections. I only went to the last three hours of screaming  and reptition of the same statements, yet it was still maddening and needless to say I will be back to my usual church the following sunday.  Upon returning from church, my homestay mother informed me that she had a vision from the lord to preach and thus she became a pastor. While I very much respect her religion and beliefs, the screaming and wailing sort of freaks me out-- I guess its something I need to get used to.

Extreme religion is definitely an integration struggle for me, as is life here in such a rural area. The bush is slow and chatty (aka everyone talks about everyone else) and its taking time to get used to the lack of things to do and the chattiness. A lot of times I find myself sitting on this roof blasting music and writing letters. I've also developed a love affair with 100 Jamaican dollar burned DVD's from street vendors. For a little more than 1 US dollar my sanity is kept intact with illegally burned dvd's of crappy American movies. Thank God for piracy. 

As far as work is concerned,  school has been going fairly well considering its only a few weeks in and I have done a lot of teaching (and have gotten to know most of the teachers.)  I teach full classes of 3rd to 9th graders multiple times a day. I usually do HIV education, however I have also been teaching various other life skills such as goal setting and emotional health.  I created an HIV monopoly game, and a few other games to simultaneously interest and educate. While there are classes I simply cannot control, most kids seem to enjoy and behave in my classes,  particularly the 9th graders. After each class they ask me when I'm coming back and become upset if I can't return immediately. I'd like to think my education is effective, but I will never really know how many students are still participating in risky behaviors. My attention is still being pulled in so many different directions-- the principle is retiring and wants me to begin the school farm Tuesday to help with many students inability to afford breakfasts, a cop wants me to start a group for sexually abused children, my supervisor wants me to do a literacy group, etc etc. I could probably live here for 15 years and not complete all the projects needed so I guess its a matter of time before I feel out which projects will work and when. 

Oh here's a fun fact, I went into kingston for an HIV meeting, and had Armageddon of the body for 24 hours due to Yao's chinese food. Who knew tofu could be used as nuclear warfare? No more Chinese food for me, lesson learned. Right now I'm looking forward to a few important visitors in a few weeks, learning how to control my classes, and ATI (the biggest party in Jamaica in August.) That's all for now.

One Love,

Monday, 21 May 2012

and if you ever think of me kneel down and kiss the earth, show me what this thought is worth

as I left the US embassy on Friday, as an official peace corps volunteer,  I couldn't help but reminisce how incredible it is to think that in March I was partying with my friends at my going away party, skyping my significant other goodbye, and hugging my parents as I departed for an unknown world. I awoke from a nap  and suddenly it hit me- this small rural Jamaican town would now be my home for the next two years.  I now sit here at my new school, as a guidance counselor, searching the internet for new HIV session ideas. My small basement dwelling, limited cell service and the mountains and people of the Trelawny parish are my new reality now. I have lost many connections to the US, but have gained many new ones here in Jamaica. As I hand wash my clothing, bathe in a basin and listen to Frank Sinatra far too loudly, I sometimes think of the people I miss at home. I wonder what they are doing, if they are thinking of me across the lonely carribean. It is a lonely reality, my peace corps existence, far removed from the cultural festivals and hikes to dams and natural ropes swings we attended in stonyhill, far removed from other volunteers, and even further removed from my American existence--  but I plan to put my all into my work. My work which happens to be cut out for me with the high teen pregnancy rate here at my school, conflict resolution consisting of a push or shove, and many of the teachers seemingly burnt out. I have been here about four days and have little idea of how my day to day school life will look, as there are various projects that pull my attention in different directions. There is a feeding program that requires a school farm which I feel passionate about, a community service club called white cross that has requested my assistance, and various guidance activities that are extremely necessary. The ambiguity of my work is a challenge but also a strength, because I am able to set up my existence here at the school in any way I see fit-- either teaching full classes with my counterpart, doing pull outs or one and one counseling. Only time will present the best practices. As for now I plan on  teaching my first classes tomorrow-- I have an HIV hot potato game planned, and am working on creating an HIV monopoly board game as well as figuring out how my conflict resolution class will look. I will try to update this tomorrow after I have my first set of classes-- wish me luck. One love, D

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

my first 'make a difference' story

I woke up today dreading the morning. I was extremely nervous to spend more time doing outreach with younger at risk youth because the day before at the Kingston YMCA had gone so poorly (although I had been completely unprepared.) The kids were unruly, our plan of attack was weak, and my information limited. This morning though, I was ready.

I walked out of the peace corps bus onto LEAP (essentially a school which teaches at risk youth basic trades for employment) school's grounds armed with HIV notes, condoms, dildos and a game plan. We were greeted by a principal who proceeded to make inaprorpiate conversation with us, and were finally led to the students. We introduced ourselves, lined up the students, and seperated them into a few groups of 10 (at the YMCA we had learned that smaller groups work much better.)

We then led our group into a small (air conditioned!) room. Two truths and lie was our first activity. In this game, the students were to give three facts about themselves, and the others had to guess which of the three statements was a lie. Most of the statements revolved around simple things such as food or Jamaican football but allowed us to create rapport with the kids as well as give insight into the group dynamics,  personalities, and gage attentiveness. Much like sales you have to know your client and gain trust before you can get into the nitty gritty work.

Our second activity was led my me. I ran an HIV hot potato game, where if the music (we played Jamaican dancehall music which I think helped to further build rapport) stopped the student holding the hot patato (wad of individual paper layers) had to unwrap a layer. Each paper layer had a number which correlated to a question pertaining to healthy sex. A lot of the questions were aimed at creating a basic knowledge of HIV; some of the questions were to demonstrate proper condom usage or disposal.
Most of kids had at least a basic knowledge, although there was one student who actually knew each exact step and was able to demonstrate for the rest of the group which was both helpful and impressive. (I like to encourage group knowledge rather than lectures because hearing life lessons from your peers is always more effective.) Besides a few hiccups with kids not wanting to touch the dildo, (Jamaica is extremely homophobic) the activity went really well and the students were able to discuss what they had learned.

Our second activity was led by the other two PCTs in my group. We defined long and short term goals, while encouraging the students to create their own chart of long and short term personal and career goals. Most of the students were at least able to draw their goals, (a few were unable to write) and a few more were willing to share. During this time I became aware of  a slower student. During his turn to share, he spoke very quietly and extremely slowly. A few of the other students explained that he was "slow" (I replied no problem) but I 'took time' (as they say in Patwa) and kneeled down to his eye level to look him in the eye, trying to show patience and understanding. I believe he felt more comfortable and continued what he was saying a bit more confidently. During this time we walked around to each student giving them personal attention to help them to create plans for the goals. Some of the goals were to acquire materials (cars, houses) others were career orientated (chefs, football coaches) and a few were to have a family which I found both sweet and a bit scary (these were mostly 16/17 year olds!)

The kids were as attentive as they possibly could be (I was impressed) and fairly effectively completed the activities and discussions. We then rewarded them to a  paper airplane contest to see whose could fly the longest-- led by the male PCT. The students absolutely loved it. It was really awesome to connect with them-- as I could tell a lot of them are not regularly respected by adults especially teachers (a lot of them had not completed high school.) I think they really appreciated our respect and really  enjoyed our time together. At the end of the day the teacher approached us to say that she had never seen them so engaged let alone completely happy to ignore the break they were apparently supposed to have. As we waited for the bus to take us back, I was elated to have made a visible difference and to share in camaraderie with some of the students who were asking us when we'd come back and if I'd be their girlfriend (both slightly alarming and flattering.) What an amazing experience. I left saddened thinking about how, due to its location in Kingston,  peace corps volunteers are not placed with LEAP. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

one, two, erbody pump ya fist

All weekend I had been excited for our second HIV outreach event in Kingston. I had heard it would be a carnival and we were to pass out condoms. The idea flowed in my head: awesome costumes, dancing and an all around amazing time-- while still doing worthwhile outreach. When the day finally arrived we received a text explaining that Jamaica Aids Support had bailed but we were still going. I was a bit confused as to why we were going if not do outreach, but was still really excited to get out and see some floats.

Around 12pm, we got on our first coaster (these are the mini-buses that drive insanely fast on various planned routes across Jamaica) and arrived in Kingston about 20mins later. After a bathroom/ice cream break at Devon House (really famous homemade Jamaican ice cream http://www.devonhousejamaica.com/)  we walked to the corner and awaited the parade. About a half hour later,  we began to hear extremely loud dancehall music and from a distance noticed a few floats sponsored by cell phone carriers. Around five minutes later came a high school marching band, a giant float full of people daggering (essentially grinding) to dancehall music, costumed bikini clad woman, jacked men with cowboy hats, drunk tourists, and pretty much every person you could imagine. It was a giant burrito of wild drunk fun.  Women of all shapes colors and sizes were dancing, daggering, singing, and drinking in beautiful bikini costumes. Some of the bikini costumes were amazing-- bejeweled, peacock feathers, feathered boots,  pretty much anything you could imagine. People on the floats were going crazy; daggering, drinking and unfortunately not handing out beads. I absolutely loved every minute of it. 

At one point myself, and a few other volunteers got right in the middle of the parade and broke it down under the pouring rain. One of my favorite dancehall songs came on and the float MC screamed "one two erbody pump ya fist!" There were 1000's of jamaicans and us dancing and fist pumping in the pouring rain-- it was awesome.  At this moment I realized I love Jamaica. Unfortunately anything this fun comes with a price, and when we were found to not be wearing the expensive bracelets that allow you entrance into the middle of the parade, we were sidelined. We walked over to the sidewalks where people were partying just as hard: there were cameras, blowing vuvuzelas, yelling, more daggering, drinks being thrown everywhere, and just generally a joyous crazy atmosphere. It was during this time a large man danced to the front of me and I just laughed and danced right behind him. The last time I had had this much fun was at Mardi Gras New Orleans, where the beads were abundant but the dancing and culture lacked in comparison. On our walk back to the coaster we stopped to observe two people daggering each other on the ground in a large puddle. Only in Jamaica. 

Here's a few of the popular dancehall songs right now: 
watch and enjoy.

One Love,