Peace Corps Jamaica: Green Initiative

"Leave behind all but your mind, discover the world by learning, understand what it is you're yearning, respect all those whom you oppose, always continue the incredible journey." - Dick Wood

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps

Friday, June 8, 2012

One Stop?

A lot of weird things happen here. Not really weird in a universal sense but just weird to me because I'm not from here. A lot of these things I've gotten used to in the 344 odd days I've been here but something happened this last weekend that was really out of the ordinary.
I was visiting Kelsey in Trelawny. I think it was a Saturday. We had just spent a really nice day shopping in Falmouth for her new place in Bunkers Hill. We ate some Chinese food, went to the market for fresh veggies - you know, cool stuff like that. The weather was really nice too.
Somewhere about 3 or 4 o clock it was time to head back up to country. We loaded up in the mini bus with all our goods and shoved off.
For the first 25 minutes the ride was fairly normal. The common conversations of politics, the heat, the poor condition of the roads, more politics and sex filled the bus as we rumbled along. I rarely chime into these. Most of the time when traveling on a mini bus I keep to myself - sunglasses on, facing forward or out the window, pretending to be anonymous. Kelsey and I carried on a few quiet conversations, pointing out the scenery to each other, or chuckling at some of the conversations occurring in the background. Taxi/Bus drivers know everybody's secrets.
We had just passed through Wakesfield which is about the halfway point between Falmouth and Bunkers Hill when somebody in the back yelled out "One Stop!," the signal to tell the driver to pull over and let you out. The conductor opened the door and let out the passenger. Something happened in the proceeding seconds that remains unclear to me. Whatever it was really irritated the driver so he turned around and snapped at the conductor "yuh show off too much!". The conductor, who also happened to be the owner of the bus, didn't like that much. Understandable. So he snapped back with the usual cus words "bumbaclot!.... backside!.... bloodclot!" etc etc etc...
Well, this went on for some time and evolved into a completely different argument about money and how one of them owed the other a thousand J (11 bucks) and things started to get real heated.  Soon, the whole bus started to get involved and what started as an argument between two turned into something that more closely resembled a family meeting that just got out of hand. I love that about Jamaica. The older women started to assume their motherly roles and pleaded for the bickering to stop. The real older women scolded, the rasta man and the young men blurted out a few "chill nuh man!"s as a third brother would do and a few embarrassed people in the back kept saying things to the affect of "not in front of the white people!".
Well, all the pleas didn't help and this argument continued to get out of hand. Amongst the chaos the driver decided he had had enough so he pulled over, flagged down an oncoming taxi, and drove off in the opposite direction. The looks of disbelief popped up all over the bus - except for the rasta, he just smiled and shook his head. Disbelief was quickly replaced with relief however because at least we had the conductor, and he could drive the bus.... right?
The conductor got out of the side door and walked back and around the bus to the drivers door and reached for where the keys should have been... It didn't take long for all of us to figure out that the keys were still with the driver who was in a taxi headed in the other direction.
So there we were, somewhere between Wakesfield and Bunkers Hill without a ride. Most of us were laughing. Another reason why I love this country. Really, no matter how bad it gets, everybody just says "give thanks" and laughs. Those who weren't laughing were apologizing to the white people for the embarrassing display. We tried to tell them it was ok... and that we like Jamaica... and that we weren't really there visiting but that we lived there. They still felt really bad.
Thankfully, the whole thing was resolved very quickly. The road between Wakesfield and Bunkers Hill is reasonably busy so the bus load of people were able to flag down a few different drivers and within 10 minutes or so everybody was on their way again.

Never, ever, a dull moment.

"Give Thanks"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

John's Blog

Here's a link to my brothers blog. He takes better pictures than I do.
A few things to look out for:
My organic demo plot. Theres a picture of the terraces I built as well as a seed bed. Nothing was planted when the picture was taken but now I have tomatoes, basil, bell pepper, jalapenos, broccoli.
A picture of the finished dam.
My supervisor, Mr. Downer in the yellow shirt with a machete.
Some cool shots of my yard.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Teach me how to jerk"

Hey all,
Not sure if any body still checks this thing but I figured I'd throw up a quick post anyway.
All is good here. The truth is I don't really have a lot to report on. The things that were once out of the ordinary and therefore noteworthy are now the normal components of my every day life.  It's difficult sometimes to differentiate those stories that anybody would find remotely interesting. Nonetheless, Ill try.

As for Peace Corps work, the construction of the water project is completed. All 600 or so residents in Bellevue now have access to clean running water. My community members here are probably real sick of hearing it from me but I continue to preach that the real project is now just beginning... now we have to figure out how to manage the thing. In this regard we are making progress, slow progress albeit but we we are moving forward.  

I'm gonna try real hard here not to break off into deep development philosophy but the whole thing has been a fascinating study.  I was explaining the project to a family member recently and she was just gushing with pride. She said something to he effect of "Gosh you must be the man around there!" Haha, well, not quite. Its complicated. When the project was finished. There was no dancing in the streets, or naked children frolicking around a standing pipe gushing with cool, clean water. You'd never believe it but we are having a HELL of a time getting people to actually hook up to the system. It makes slinging $100 cabernet look easy.  The reason can be found in two inconvenient realities. Domestic water costs money and Bellevue doesn't have any money. 

A big chunk of my time since February has been spent with the community group that runs the system creating a business plan that would allow the residents of Bellevue access to cheap, but economically  sustainable water.  I do my best to explain: "look, we could have free water and it might last a year, or we could charge a fee, and it could last forever." To me it the answer is clear. But I come from the land of Iphones and six figure salaries.  The business plan we worked out calls for 60 customers paying $500 J per month in order for us to break even. As of the beginning of May we are up to 45, which is double what we had in February. Of those 45, 44% actually pay their bill, which isn't great but its better than the 8% we had at the beginning of the year. We are really making some progress and it feels great. I think in about a years time we might actually be operating in the black. If we can achieve that, I'll be the one frolicking naked in the gushing standing pipe.

With the construction now over I've had the time to start on some other small projects. I started an environmental club at the school, built a demonstration plot to showcase organic farming techniques and hillside farming techniques, and worked with a local NGO to assist local farmers with disaster mitigation land husbandry techniques. It's been a real treat to get back to the farmers.

Last month I had the gift of hosting my lovely family. We were able to split time between Bellevue and an all inclusive in Runaway Bay. I welcomed the opportunity of a warm shower and a break from boiled green bananas. The resort even had Jack Daniels which runs for about $50 US here when you can actually find it.  Hosting my family in Bellevue was even more fun, though. They got to see first hand the deceptive dichotomy that IS Jamaica.  Watching them go through the sensory overload that I remember from my first day in Bellevue was especially entertaining. It's a lot to take in, and they did great. Brother John was able to hang out for an extra week to really experience PCV life before he left for his 4 month trip around the world. Bro, if you are reading this can you drop me a line? Hope you are still alive.

Some random news... I adopted a dog. His name is Beenie, after Beenie man, the king of dancehall.
I will be visiting the US for three weeks at the end of August.
Will be spending most of my time in the bay with family and friends.
Big up to all those who have sent me care packages... Among them Mom, Dad, Christina, Kris Parise... huge thanks, you are true patriots.
My host mom and sister got their Visa's a week ago and are already in Pennsylvania starting their new jobs. The family dynamic will change drastically as the ship has lost it's captain in Kate. I already miss them dearly. They both spoiled me. The bachelor pad should be fun though for the six months they are gone.

Before I sign off, here are a few pics: 

The Bellevue Environmental Entrepreneurs (BEE Club) showing off their "Adapting to Climate Change" posters. TJ, on the far left actually won $75 from the UNDP for his work.

Bill taking a leak out of his right pant leg like a real man. Its a long journey to Bellevue. Pit stops are common and necessary.

My boy Squeaky putting on a Jerk lesson for my brother

Beenie trying to charm Kate into some Jerk

In the spirit of cultural exchange, I though it only appropriate to put on a BBQ chicken clinic after the Jerk lesson. Homemade BBQ sauce.... finger lickin' good

The trail to the dam.
Me and Beenie up at the dam
John, gettin his jerk on
The most important ingredient,  Scotch Bonnet peppers
The finished product

Brother John planting his first Yam during a hillside farming demo day.

A clip from a workday to do some finishing touches on the dam.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The fall of dropping water, wears away the stone

Hi there,
No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth or gotten lost in the blue mountains hunting wild boar or stopped caring about keeping you all informed. But I have been working on my Peace Corps mandated Community and Sector Inventory Report for the last month or so and I finally finished it. I'm not going to get into the report or its contents... to be honest, I'm sick of it. But the time I spend on my computer, devoted to writing, can once again be channeled back to this blog.
Let's see, what can I fill you in on? I guess Ill just pick up where I left off...
To date, 5 out of the 8 trees we planted are still intact and growing strong. Only one of them didn't survive the transplant, the other two fell victim to the fact that Mrs Francis, the principal, forgot to notify  the boys she hired to cut the grass in the school yard that there were young trees they needed to watch out for. It was sad to reach home from porty one afternoon to see two of them completely cut down. At least the school looks greats... it really does. I have high hopes for the rest.
With my help the Bellevue Benevolent Society completed the paper work required for its audit by the October 31st due date. It was a headache and a half but it got done.  We haven't heard anything back from the gov so lets hope that no news is good news. We are taking slow but positive steps, one of which came with the group's election that took place this last week. One of the many rules they have been in violation of is the requirement to host an annual general meeting (AGM) to go over the state of the organization and hold elections if necessary. They hadn't held one since the inaugural meeting in 2005.
Having had the brief opportunity to work with the current leadership I was excited about the possibility of seeing the change but wanted to approach the situation delicately. I'm still new here and don't have a full understanding of the interpersonal relationships in this tightly knit community. I started to notice the discomfort amongst the group every time I brought up the idea of an election: 
"But Mr. Johnson" I'd say, pointing to the "Official Government Business" envelope. 
"The letter says that if we don't hold an election the society will be dissolved"
I'd quickly remember that he cant read and realized that repeatedly shoving the letter in his face was useless. 
I was worried about putting myself in a situation that would cause division in the group. So, I put in a call to the office of Cooperative and Friendly Societies to see if they could send somebody out to facilitate the AGM, and sure enough they agreed.  I spoke with the lady that was to come out a couple weeks in advance and she advised me on a few things I needed to help the group with to prepare for the big meeting. One of which was the formation of a nominating committee.  The nominating committee was to be made up of 3 individuals in the group in good financial standing (a joke, seeing as the group hasn't collected a single dollar in dues since 2009 or so) to nominate people for the open leadership positions to be voted on at the AGM.  The night before the election, the nominating committee asked to meet with me.
"Why?" I questioned... "This is your AGM, not mine" I explained. They pleaded still, and reluctantly I agreed.
We walked up the road and gathered on Mrs. Laynes darkened veranda.  They wanted to share the list of nominations they had come up with for the new leadership of the Bellevue Benevolent Society; a group that had just received 8 million dollars to bring running water to the entire community. My blood began to boil as their list of nominees revealed the same exact leadership board that has brought the organization to the brink of implosion. In my mind I was thinking "are you ****ing serious?" but I had to maintain my composure. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't tell them who to nominate, I couldn't tell them who I preferred working with. Democracy, even though it appeared it was about to fail miserably, had to be maintained.
Trying to sound unfazed by the situation I cleared my throat and asked "so how did you come up with this list?"
The answer...
"We know that there are others who could do a good job, but we really don't want any contention in the group."
I felt defeated. I ended the meeting as quickly as I could and went to bed.
After watching the morning NFL games on Yahoos stattracker I walked up to the school to meet the representative that was to help us with the meeting. She was an hour and a half late, of course, but by the time she showed up we had accumulated a pretty good showing. I started thinking that maybe we could get some nominations from the floor and that the nomination committee's list would be outvoted. 
The election portion of the meeting was about to commence when the gov representative interrupted and announced that most of the nominations held by the nomination committee were disqualified due to a clause in the constitution that stated a maximum term limit.  I had read over it a thousand times but I guess it never really sunk in. If I had known, I probably would have told the nomination committee during our little meeting the night before, but it was probably just as well the group was hearing it from the gov official and not from the Peace Corps volunteer.
I was relieved, to say the least. I believe the Benevolent Society actually has a fighting chance now... progress feels good... so does hope.
In other work related news we are well underway with the community's water project. I guess it officially started a few weeks ago when we invited the community out for a volunteer work day to bush the supply trail to the new dam.  The terms of the grant require the community to contribute to the project by either cash or in-kind donations or by providing x amount of man-hours. Nobody here has money or much in the way of in-kind donations so we have to provide the labor.  To my pleasant surprise, 29 people showed up with their machetes, ready to clear the muddy 3 mile trail to the new spring.  It was an inspiring thing.  I enjoyed every second of it.
My niche in the water project isn't bushing trails or carrying supplies, though. Most of my time is spent with the Project Management Committee (mostly new and old officers of the Benevolent Society) going over logistics, record keeping, project planning, BUDGETING, contracting etc...  Imagine doing this without Excel, Microsoft Word, or the Internet. Sure, I have these tools at my disposal, but I'm only here for two years.  Simultaneously adapting and teaching those skills in a "pre-tech" context has been challenging.
Beenie and I headed to work.
In fact, thats the word I would use to most accurately describe this project: Challenging. Surprise? no I guess not. I suppose people don't really join the Peace Corps for a cake walk.  But the truth is, its been challenging in all the ways I never considered. And the truth is, the experience has challenged the way I think about the role of "the grant" in the developing world. The sound of clean running water flowing in a third world community brings warmth to the soul. It has the romantic appeal that carries many potential Peace Corps volunteers to developing countries around the world. For lack of a better metaphor, thats the Yin. Water projects in the developing world, however, cost money that is often provided by the developed world. And when you dump 8 million developed dollars into a community it has the potential to bring out the worst in people. Thats the Yang.  Money can make people selfish, money can destroy friendships, and money can confuse the already delicate sense of community.
Laying Pipe.
Thats one of the many indicators that proves this is definitely not America.  I would like to think that built in to the American identity is a sense of community, a sense of cooperation and an understanding of the possibility of what can happen when people work on something not for the purpose of personal gain but the sake of the group or the "greater good"... or christ, just cuz it feels good to work towards something bigger than yourself!  How do you teach that? How do you teach that when nobody taught you? I've had the luxury of witnessing it. I've had the luxury seeing it succeed. Jamaica, has not.
If it sounds like I'm being critical, i'm not.... (well maybe a little, I'm not perfect).  I can say, though, that the more time I spend here and the more time I spend on this water project, I'm starting to understand where this struggle for community cooperation comes from.  I believe its rooted in the reality that since its formation, this community has spent every waking minute taking care of the basics: food, shelter, clothing, and a little cash. At the end of the day, there just isn't time for anything else.  So what do you think happens when 8 million dollars is introduced to this mentality? Do you think people are going to all of the sudden start thinking about the community as a whole? Should they? Or do you think people are going to think about how 8 million dollars could maybe get them a little extra food, a better roof, and some new clothes.  In other words, its not a selfishness based on greed. It's a selfishness based on necessity.... a selfishness I have NEVER had to understand before. 
For me the verdict is still out.  Right now, I believe that connecting 600 people to water is the greatest good. In my American brain, it outweighs the interpersonal conflicts that I witness everyday as a result of its installation. Running water is an indication of development right? Societies are better because of it... right? Sometimes I wonder if thats a delusion injected into the developing world by the developed world. After all, whats wrong with collecting your water from the spring every morning? People have been doing it for thousands of years just fine.

I think about this a lot. Probably too much.  I've gotten pretty good at ignoring the internal argument for the purpose of my own sanity and my ability to be productive. I save it for when I have the time... usually before bed. I know I'm not going to figure this out today, or tomorrow, or maybe ever. But in the meantime I can pick up a shovel and take joy in the task at hand.  The opportunities I've gotten to get my hands dirty with this project has resulted in some of the best fun I've had in my entire life.  A couple Sundays ago I woke up at 5:00am to meet up with the mason that was hired to build the dam.  The morning sun chased us into the bush as we carried the tools we needed to frame the dam with ply board and steel.  
The "Dam". Its actually an entombment, not a dam. We are going to run a pipe from the spring into the entombment, and from the entombment to the main water line. This design, we decided was better than a straight dam that would likely get clogged with debris during heavy rains. We feel really good about this one.
Many Jamaicans assume that I don't know how to do things and are hesitant to ask for assistance with certain tasks.  It would have been really easy for the mason to follow this trend (and it would have perfectly right of him to do so! I don't know the first thing about building a dam) But instead he handed me a bundle of binding wire and some wire cutters and told me to get to work. I spent the entire day tying steel for the dam frame.  We had one guy bending the steel, the mason setting it in the desired pattern and me coming behind both of them tying it all together. Dale, the 4th member of the crew, spent the time cooking our lunch over a fire and under tarp. This, I later argued, was the hardest job, as it was raining the entire day.  How he managed to make a fire out of wet bamboo, I will never understand. Furthermore it was one of the best saltfish and dumpling dishes I have had.

Enough about water and development philosophy. Before I sign off I will share some more pics.

Me, Rick, and Lebert cutting some sorrel for market. Sorrel is hibiscus flower  that Jamaicans like to make juice out of during the holidays.  Each flower has a seed pod in it that has to be cut out for it to be sold.  The work is nothing too special but the conversations we have on the veranda are priceless.

Sorrel and Sorrel Seeds

I've definitely cut my finger a few times

Dumping the final product into the bag

Of course, I tried to make wine out of the stuff. Didn't have yeast on hand so I went with a natural fermentation. It worked, but along with the alcohol production I got a lot of other byproducts in the mix. I need to clean up my operation. I wanted to big up Gallo with this pic. As you can clearly see, I am making wine in my Night Train tank. Thanks Grady, you are the man.


Love you all, wishing you grateful Christmas from the land of wood and water.


Friday, October 7, 2011

1, 2, Tree

Earlier this week I got in touch with the director of forestry at the Portland office about them donating a tree or two to the Bellevue Primary School for National Tree Planting Day (today). He agreed to donate a couple Blue Mahoe, Jamaica's national tree. I went down to the office yesterday to retrieve them and started chatting it up with the lady at the reception desk. After giving her a few minutes of the ol' Hudson charm I was walking out the door with a Blue Mahoe, 2 Weeping Willows, a Poor Man's Orchid, 2 Yellow Poui, an Acacia, and a Pride of Barbados... a total of 8 trees... major score. 

I got home pretty early and decided I better go prep the holes to ensure everything ran smoothly today. The idea of 40 kids running around with shovels and forks kind of scared me. After school though, a few of the kids saw me in my bush clothes (which they all love) and offered their help. After a few tries with the fork they decided football was more interesting.  I spoke with Ms. Francis, the principal, before she left and she agreed to give me some time during this morning's devotion for a tree planting ceremony. Everything was coming together quite nicely.

This is Glenroy reading his tree poem for the rest of the students.
The children started to gather this morning and I asked Ms. Mac to guide the students in a few hymns.  Once we had a good enough showing we went outside, had a brief discussion on why we all like trees, and a few of the kids recited some tree poetry for the rest of the school.  After the poetry was read, I did a little tree planting demonstration for all to watch and then assigned a tree and a location to each class. It is up to each grade to water their tree everyday and to protect it from goats, pigs, reckless pickney, and footballs. I think if we can keep 50% alive through the first year thats something
to be proud of... we'll see how it goes.
Jamar reading his poem.

Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure... If anyone from back at home gets inspired to plant a tree in the near future, send me a picture so I can show my students... gracias

Close up of Gelnroy with Ms. McPherson looking on. She's my favorite teacher.

Abby and Monikete (sp?) tag teaming a poem. After the activity I overheard Abby walking around the school yard reciting her portion of the poem. That was especially gratifying. Literacy AND environmentalism in action. Doesn't get much better than that.

Grade 1 getting their hand dirty with a Poor Mans Orchid

Grade 6, including travis who is falling backwards in the background, proudly showing off their Blue Mahoe.
A couple grade two students with their Yellow Poui tree.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How 'bout them niners?

As I hope you all know the 49ers went 3-1 last Sunday which gives them a commanding lead in the NFC West. From the stats it looked like one heck of a comeback against the Eagles. I'm sorry I missed it. The good news is that this last Sunday I was in Ocho Rios (a tourist town) and was able to watch half a game. Even tho it was the Texans and the Steelers, two teams I care nothing about, it was thrilling. In other football news I am doing very well in both of my fantasy football leagues; I hold 1st place in one and a real close 2nd in the other.  Of all the things I miss from home, football is up there. Especially since it looks like the niners on their way to dynasty status once again...

I have successfully completed my first month of Peace Corps service and have all good things to report. The last 5 weeks haven't come without their challenges but everyday is an exercise in managing expectations and reminding myself that success looks differently here.  Technically my "job" right now is to integrate into my community.  I am not supposed to start any huge projects until I can identify my partners. Who can I trust? more importantly, who can I get to trust me? The worst thing I could do is rush in to something without a clear understanding of the dynamics and have it fall apart... Furthermore I'm starting to realize with the more time I spend here that "big projects" aren't going to be my metric for success.  I was explaining to a good friend recently that chances are I won't build 20 greenhouses or bring solar electricity to the entire community, but I might teach a farmer how to read and write... that alone could take two years.  That said, I have had a few minor victories that ill fill you in on.

The JA gov has been pushing for some time now to get all farmers registered into a database. Right now, there aren't solid statistics in the way of what farmers are growing, how much of it they are growing, who is buying it etc... Without this information the gov can't support the farmers where they need the support. At my first farmers group meeting a few of the farmers were expressing confusion over the registration program so I decided to investigate. After a few persuasive phone calls, one of the parish agricultural extension officers agreed to make the journey up to Bellevue to help me host a free farmers registration day.  Trying to explain "better extension services" and "increased ag funding from the government" in patois to Jamaican farmers proved to be difficult.  Regardless,  I did my best to promote the registration up here and even though the extension officer was three hours late, it was a great success. We got a handful of farmers registered but the big surprise came when Mr Scott, the extension officer, brought up some farmer ID cards that have been sitting around the office for god knows how long. He doesn't make it up here too often. If you saw the road you'd understand. We've developed a pretty solid relationship which will hopefully bring him up to Bellevue on a regular basis. Good thing, because we need the help.

I have also been involved in some collaborative efforts with other volunteers. Brie Burd (you remember her from my PST post, she's also in the Green Initiative and lives down in in Port Antonio. She works with PEPA, the Portland Evironmental Protection Association). Anyways, Brie was given the task of doing some presentations on climate change to a couple schools in my neck of the woods and asked me to tag along and help. Of course I accepted because Brie is rad. The first presentation was kind of rough. Jamaican students are so used to be punished when they get the wrong answer that it is very challenging to illicit participation of any kind. Sometimes, a wrong answer for them means getting the belt. I probably wouldnt say much in class either.  The second presentation we did up at my school in Bellevue and it went a lot better. Brie and I had some more time to tweak the material and I had been working with the kids for a couple weeks by that point so they weren't as afraid to interact. I promised the students that for the duration of the activity it was ok to make educated guesses... For the most part, they got into it... Some of them just watched cautiously.

Some other good news came my first week here with the receipt of a grant for the continuation of the community water project.  Most of the community is still without running water but the money with the new grant will give access to a few dozen more households.  I think the grant was written by the last PC volunteer here but I still haven't figured that out. Ambiguity is the norm here.  My supervisor, Mr. Downer (a great great man, I wish you ALL could meet him) is heading up some of the water project as the president of the the farmers PMO group.  A reality check came when the night before he traveled to Kingston to buy more pipe, he walked all the way up to my place (about a 30 min walk) and asked for help to write the check. For one, he didn't know how to write the check, and two he needed me to double check is math calculation for the amount of the check. The calculation went like this: 250 pieces of pipe x $1500J per pipe. No tax, no fees... he was 100 bucks off.  I am very grateful that he had the courage to ask me. Some people would have been too proud. After we did the math problem together Ms. Miller (the treasurer) and I had a little lesson in financial record keeping. She, too, was receptive.  Later that evening it dawned on me that these moments, compounded time and time again will probably measure my impact here. Its grass roots, its slow, but it needs to be done.

Unfortunately some of these educational gaps have started to catch up with the community. I attended my first Bellevue Benevolent Society meeting where a government official came to explain that the group had been in violation of many rules for many years, and that if the errors weren't corrected by October 31st, the Benevolent Society was at risk of being dissolved. Let me back up... A Jamaican Benevolent Society is a cross between an American NPO and a fraternity.  Community Benevolent Societies are established to meet the expressed social, environmental, educational and developmental needs of the community BY the community. In a way, its kind of the governments way of outsourcing some of its development/social work to its citizens.  Benevolent Societies host weekly meetings (like a frat), collect dues (like a frat), and use its resources for community service and development (kind of like a frat).  Personally, I'm a huge fan of the model. The Bellevue Benevolent Society was established in 2005 as the governing body of the water system; and since 2005 its broken every rule in the book.  The root of the problem? The president of the society cant even read the rule book. He's a wonderful, respected man in the community but he can't conduct the business of the organization because he doesn't have the education to do so.  A large portion of my time for the next month will be spent with him, rectifying the problems in hopes that we can save the Benevolent Society, and by association, the water system. If not, the water will be handed over the the Parish Council and will be out of financial reach for nearly all members of the community.  If you know of any way to prepare a financial audit for the last 3 years without records or books, please let me know :) IF the Benevolent Society can be saved I can spend the next two years teaching literacy and business management to its members... because, like a frat, a Benevolent Society is a business.  If the society does fall apart, at least it will serve as a good example of what not to do to the farmers group that I am actually assigned to. I told Mr. Downer as we wrote the check, "Mr. Downer, wi 'ave fi do dis right, we cyaan get in trouble like dem." ... he understands.

I'm discovering the fine line that every Peace Corps volunteer must face when it comes to development. We constantly have to ask ourselves if the work we are doing is.... everybody's favorite word... SUSTAINABLE.  The other day somebody asked me if I would type a job application letter for them and I had to say no.  I mean I could have, and it would've taken me about 5 minutes, and she may have gotten the job, and may have been able to buy her kid a new school bag, but it would have strengthened the destructive notion that Jamaica is dependent on white people.  The problem is, me writing the letter could have felt good. It could have given me those sometimes scarce feelings of purpose and validation that every Peace Corps volunteer craves but can sometime never get. However, in development terms it would have been as effective as dumping rice over Sub-saharan Africa. Eventually the rice would run out, and eventually, I will leave Bellevue.

Organizational issues set aside, the water system itself has been broken for the last month.  Until today, the Benevolent Society hasn't been able to scrape together enough cash to get it fixed. I spent the early part of the week at the school and on the computer trying to figure out how to help the b society so when the opportunity came to get outside and help Mr. White fix the water tank, I jumped at it.  At about 8:00am this morning Mr. White walked by the house looking for his goats. I asked him if we were still going to the bush to fix the water at 10:00 and if I needed to bring anything. 
"Ya mon, wi a go bush... yuh 'ave any rum?" ... Silly question.

We met up the road at 10 o clock and started our hike to the water tank. It wasn't too far. Here are some pictures:

The Water Tank... Providing mostly clean water to the communities of Bellevue and New Road

Step 1: Drain whats left of the tank (not much. I've been bathing in a bucket and drinking from a spring for the last month. Mind you, I'm not complaining. It's kind of awesome) 

Step 2: Get in the tank and take turns scooping water through a 5 inch pipe
This is what it looks like from the outside
Step 3: Take a rum break

Step 4: Drink rum and work at the same time

Step 5: Once clean, turn on the water and hope there is enough pressure to fill take (it was a steady drip by the time we left)... and, as always, don't forget to enjoy the view.

 I always try to take a day or two a week to do this type of work. Unlike other Peace Corps work, cleaning a water tank, planting banana trees, and picking coffee yields immediate results... that you can see with your eyes. That combined with the physical exercise maintains my health and happiness. I do love it here.

I was emailing Bryan J earlier today and reminded him that he and the rest of the guys have a free place to stay in Jamaica for the next two years... I hope they take advantage of it. That offer is on the table to everyone, so don't let it pass you by.

Thats all for now... The family is gathering on the veranda to clean the sorrel that was picked today. If I help out I might be able to secure enough of my own to start my first batch of sorrel wine....


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Swearing In and Killing Chickens

A few random pics for oonoo:

Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater swearing us in at the U.S. Embassy. Im on the right side in the back. You can see my left ear.

Group 82!

The Kill Zone

Brother Rick helping me out