Friday, November 6, 2009

Has it really been more than two months since I updated this thing?

Hello friends,

Life is good. My job is awesome, the people I work with are great, Mandeville is treating me just fine. Really, the only thing I can complain about right now is the 103.6 degree fever and back pains that are making it impossible for me to sleep.

Here's what's new in my life:

I got another JM$230,000 grant towards HIV outreach. Along with Red Cross trainers, I am coordinating a December 11-13 HIV/Youth Empowerment training for high schoolers in the parish. Its going great. See the following picture for an idea of the preliminary work involved... me and a counterpart in schools doing introductory activities. This one was a stigma/discrimination role play where students were assigned roles (see: tape on back) and tasked with determining their roles based on how other people react to them. Its a good activity to promote discussion about stigma and clear up a few myths about HIV.

I got certified as a first responder instructor and have been teaching weekly classes for the past few months to that end. Very awesome. I am training the volunteers who will eventually staff the ambulance service once it is running (eta... January?). See the following picture for an up close and personal introduction to my Jamaica Red Cross team... they are supremely awesome. My supervisor is wearing the red shirt on the left. My HIV/AIDS counterpart is wearing the yellow shirt in the middle. On the right side in the middle is one of the trainers who will be helping me with the December project. Everyone is awesome... its really nice to work with people who understand volunteerism and are willing to donate their time to projects.

The HIV International Art Exchange I am coordinating with a few volunteers in Jamaica and abroad is going spectacularly well. We are working with Peru, Nicaragua, Morocco, and South Africa in an international art exchange project to promote global discussion about HIV through art. Its awesome. It also takes a lot longer to explain that I feel okay with right now. See an attached submission my friend Patrick got in Peru for an idea of how things are going. The caption got cut off but this one is obviously about condom use...

So yeah. Work is great. It is wildly fulfilling. And it doesn't even come close to describing how awesome the last few months have been. The little nags here and there don't even bother me... everything else is going too well to get hung up anything in particular. Its silly to think back two years and reflect on what I wanted to do in the Peace Corps. My first year was great, don't get me wrong, but the stuff I am doing now is to a point exactly what I want to be doing with my time right now.

Oh, and I interviewed at JABSOM last month... quick trip home and now I get to cross my fingers until March! Pray for me, if you're into that sort of thing.

So, yeah. It was great to see those of you I saw in NYC a few weeks ago and great to see those of you I saw at home. Nine months to go here and I plan to make the most of it.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Networking makes a difference, to be sure.

Since I moved to Mandeville at the start of August I have been flooded with work. (This is a very good thing.) Every sort of work. I've been rocking hardcore in the volunteer ambulance, teaching first aid / CPR classes, attending Red Cross executive meetings, preparing a grant proposal, and so forth.

I figured I could share three short stories about networking. Even though they are different in scope / intentions, each experience has helped me integrate into my new community in an efficient and effective way.

1. There is a country club in Mandeville. The term 'country club' here is used loosely, but nonetheless there is a club in Mandeville with a nine hole golf course, a squash court, weight room, billiards table, bar, and a few tennis courts. Its pretty bare bones beyond that, but the bones are all in place. ANYWAYS, I decided that in this whole ridiculous move scenario I might push my limits and see how much a membership would be for a random white dude, so I went to the club a few weeks back and met the manager. $40K/year. Ouch. After I explained that was too much, things started to get interesting. I explained that I was with the Peace Corps, and it turns out the manager knows / likes the Peace Corps and what they do. She has had a lot of PC friends in the past. Long story short, I managed to work out a situation where I can pay what I want, when I want for a country club membership. We set a general price at about 60% off the initial offer, and I can now play squash / lift whenever I want. I think I charmed her.

Moral 1: Doing volunteer work with the Peace Corps can help you out in ways you don't expect. Being chill and awesome helps too.

2. Part of my job is trying to establish income generation projects for the Manchester Red Cross in hopes that the branch may one day function at high enough a level to support a full time administrative worker to staff the office. The main way I plan on doing this is promotion of the volunteer ambulance service. More calls = more money = potential for administrative help. Additionally, I am teaching various health classes with a super competent first aid / CPR instructor named Andy. We get along great, and recently (about a week and a half ago) he had the idea to try and spin my expired EMT license from the states into a valid EMT-esque instructor license in Jamaica. I got an email over the weekend saying that my application had been received by ESCI, and today received a follow up email informing me that I had been approved for teaching up to the First Responder competency level. This is pretty much the highest level of certification currently held by any ambulance workers in Jamaica, so I am now a powerhouse of sorts in the training world. Andy and I will be teaching classes throughout the next year, and this increased level of training certification should help us bring in more cash for the branch while providing necessary training to interested individuals. All I did was scan my expired card and send it Andy's way, and less than a week later I find myself certified as a first responder instructor. Word.

Moral 2: The people working at the Red Cross in Mandeville are awesome, awesome people. The work I do over the next year should be very useful and right up my alley. Good relations are essential among coworkers, and cool stuff like this can come along randomly.

3. Last Wednesday, the Governor General of Jamaica made his first official visit to Manchester Parish. The Governor General is the figurehead of the country. While he has no voting power, he signs all legislation into law and acts as a gobetween for the two political parties. He is one of the three most powerful people in the country, and I got to chill with him. The Red Cross staffs a volunteer ambulance (as mentioned above). On Wednesday, my supervisor, a Red Cross first aid worker, myself, and my friend Emily (another Peace Corps EMT), drove the ambulance around the parish following the Governor General to three separate community forums. He spoke at each, and heard updates from community members in three different parts of the parish. My supervisor wisely took each opportunity to plug the Red Cross and Peace Corps, and he was right to do so. At the final of three stops, Emily and I were deemed guests of honor, and welcomed in turn along with the Custos of Manchester. The Governor General took a moment out of his stump speech to thank us for the work we are doing in this country, and asked for a response (as per Jamaican protocol). I spoke for two minutes or so to an enthusiastic crowd, doing my best to explain what Peace Corps is all about. The event was covered by national media, and yeah. Rad. The Peace Corps Country Director wants me to get my hands on a copy of the tape so that PC/Jamaica can use quotes as a means towards self-promotion. Word. Afterwards, it seemed like we got thank yous from just about everyone in the crowd, and we got to exchange words with the Governor General on a more personal level. It was sweet. Emily almost got a ride back to Kingston in his chopper, but alas... next time.

Moral 3: Self promotion in the right arena is highly effective. Over three meetings, the Governor General grew to appreciate the volunteer work we do as volunteers, and used us as an example for Jamaicans to follow. It was an amazing feeling to talk with such a powerful guy, and have him thank us for our work. Truly a standout day, as far as days here go.

Tomorrow I should be getting internet put in at my house, so I will try to upload some pictures.

That's about it... three stories, three awesome outcomes. A ton has been going on, and I have been way to busy to write about any of it. Email me with questions, or if you want to chat.

Miss you all,


Monday, August 3, 2009

Quick Update

I moved to Mandeville on Friday! A lot has happened in the last two weeks, and I don't have enough time to really talk about them, but yeah. I'm in, and I started work today with a First Aid / CPR class in the morning. My first regional Red Cross meeting is tomorrow night, and my first Jamaican ambulance work is scheduled for Wednesday.

It was real tough to leave Trelawny. I will always think of my host family up on the coast as my home away from home. I see Mandeville as a more business-centered experience, and I am fine with that.

I went to the Denbigh Agricultural show yesterday (biggest on the island), where I saw the Prime Minister, lots of cows, some sheep, and had far to many free samples ranging from shrimp to eggs to coffee liquor to callaloo juice to... well, you get the point. I had some awesome jerk pork, too.

Also, I managed to get to the Bloomfield Great House on Friday night for the best meal I've had in country. It is the nicest Great House in the Mandeville area, and known for its cutting edge Caribbean fusion quisine. A bit of a splurge, but quite worth it.

I'll try to update again soon with some pictures ~ I have some of the host family kids I left in Trelawny, some of my new place, and some other random ones.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

I spent the 4th here

Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica
A mere hour and a half from my new Mandeville home...

Year Two: An Introduction

Long post incoming (sorry!) ~ lots has been going on for the past three weeks (I think I have been in every parish since the start of July), and here is a quick update on one of the more notable aspects...

I spent the last four days in Mandeville, Manchester parish, where I will be soon moving to take up a position with the Jamaica Red Cross. Leaving Falmouth will not be easy in any sense of the word, but the potential to do the work I wanted to do when I got here is too much to pass up. I will be drafting my own job description over the next few days, and right now it looks something like this:

HIV/Youth Outreach Worker

Co-facilitation and organization of an HIV Youth Immersion Camp (SPA/VAST Grant) with youth link patrons in Manchester parish High Schools. Participate in ongoing meetings related to promotion and planning of the event, as well as location of resources persons. Camp will include HIV Stigma/Discrimination discussions, youth empowerment forums (ex. Money Management, Motivation, etc.), sports / arts and crafts aimed at motivating youth engagement in Red Cross activities, and more.

Act as a resource person for Manchester parish Red Cross youth links, attending high school meetings when applicable.

Coordinate with Michaela Cameron (Red Cross Mandeville HIV / Youth Employee) on ongoing outreach activities and fit in where appropriate.

Sustainability Advocate

Attend Parish Council, SDC, and other meetings to promote Red Cross Manchester income-generating projects (Ambulance Service, HIV testing, etc.) with the intent of reaching an income generation level high enough to support a paid administrative employee.

Support the transition towards Red Cross Mandeville performing administrative tasks without assistance from the United States Peace Corps.

Attend monthly Red Cross Mandeville meetings (1st Tuesday), and Executive Committee meetings (2nd Tuesday).

Training Associate

Assist with weekly V.A.S.T. (Volunteer Ambulance Service Training), First AID/CPR, and First Responder training courses with Red Cross trainer Andrew McDonald (counterpart). Persons trained include Red Cross Youth Link (High School Clubs) Patrons, Nursing Students, Parents, etc.

Assist in disaster preparedness outreach alongside Lloyd Myrie (Emergency Section Coordinator)

So, yeah. Things are happening. I have the unique opportunity to be exactly who I want to be for the next year, and I plan on making the most of it. As a supplemental list to those tasks mentioned above, I plan to accomplish the following things before leaving Jamaica next July/August:

1. Complete the Reggae Marathon in December in Negril
2. Become a serious pool shark (Mandeville has a ton of pool tables... why not?)
3. Integrate into Mandeville high culture through trips to the country club and organic juice bar (I feel sort of guilty mentioning these things, but if I ever start saving money on this whole escapade there is a squash court in my new town)
4. Learn to cook some mean Indian food - there is an Indian cook shop in town. I plan to become super tight with the chef who has trouble speaking English, and in addition to making him part of my "wolf pack", I will make him teach me to make a mean roti.

Miss you all! I know I say it fairly compulsively now, but please come visit! I've spoken to a ton of you about coming down, but for those of you who are serious I would like to start planning some of these things so I know when I myself can safely leave the country.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Rumination Nation

I had one of the most fulfilling and meaningful conversations of my life today with my best friend from high school. Our lives have taken us to different places, but our core values couldn’t be closer.

After a long, rumination-filled weekend, I learned something about myself on this fine Monday. Or rather, remembered something I forgot some time ago. Doing what you love and making sure you are fully comfortable with your actions is the only way to truly be at peace. And being at peace with yourself is absolutely essential for others to be at peace with you.

I look forward to another year in the Peace Corps on my terms. I have at times taken a lot of flack for not entirely following certain social norms for people my age, and because of that I have at times buckled and abandoned some of the things that make me who I am - in order to fit in, or something like that. I feel like going into this any further would just be weird on a blog, so I’m done there. I guess I can just say I know the person I want to be, and I am tired of being less than that for the sake of appeasing some common ideal of what a moronic post-college twenty three year old guy should be. Okay yeah, probably too heavy but whatever. I guess that was a convoluted way of saying I have a mid-year (and mid-service) resolution that rocks pretty hard.

On a slightly different yet still related note, I might have the dream job (or something like it) I came here searching for by week’s end. I’ll keep you posted. A lot of my discontent since returning from Hawaii has been replaced with simmering anticipation for a conversation with Peace Corps this Thursday about what comes next, and the future looks quite bright.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

~full steam ahead~

One year ago today I was sitting in a conference room in Miami with a bunch of strangers getting ready to travel to Jamaica. How time flies. As I approach this awesomest of awesome landmark, I certainly have mixed emotions about the whole thing. On the one hand, Peace Corps and my country supervisor are happy with the work I have done, and I could easily coast by doing the same for another year. On the other hand, it would probably be cynical and angry if I was to have to do everything I just did over again. I'm looking to the future -- full steam ahead -- in hopes that the work I do for this community and country become more fulfilling, and more worthwhile, for everyone involved. I'm meeting with some Red Cross people early next week - will keep you posted.

Last weekend I had my first all night 'Jamaican' party experience. It was ridiculous. It started at my house, and ended on a pier in Montego Bay as the sun rose over a nearby mountain range. Actually, it ended after I got back to my town a few hours later, post-a brown stew chicken, callaloo, dumpling breakfast at a the yellow bar (a personal favorite in town). Somewhere in the middle? Three bars and Pier One, a seriously legit dancehall. I was with three volunteers, and we were close to the only white people in a crowd about five hundred strong. Loud music, inappropriate dancing, and good times had by all. I won't ever do it again, but now I can check that one off the list.

This week has been relatively mellow. Laundry took up a day, and hammock time another. It's a nice day for a change - summer generally sucks - so I'm sitting on my patio anticipating the rapidly approaching sunset.

Who knows what the next year has to offer me. All I know is that if the last year is any indication, this next one will fly by. I hope when everything is said and done I, too, will feel happy with the work I have done here. I know I'll do everything I can to see that is the case.


I'll leave you with a picture from my recent trip home - this one is my cousin Lorin about to reach the peak of Konahuanui. Its my favorite hike on Oahu. I found this sweet book at the top - its a traveling log where the person who finds it is supposed to drop it off at somewhere else sweet they eventually end up. This one has been going since 2004 - it started in Connecticut and traveled across a continent and an ocean before ending up at the top of the Ko'olaus. I didn't have time for another hike before I left the state, so I gave the book to my dad to carry forward. Pretty cool idea ~ small world we live in.

(JD, WAJ, Ms. Miller... beat by a high schooler. No prosciutto this time though, so no big loss. And the top was cloudy. ugh.)

Near the summit of Konahuanui, the highest point on one of Oahu's two mountain ranges.
Honolulu spreads out below in the distance below the cloud line.