Friday, July 29, 2011

Word Vomit

So it’s clearly no shock that I’ve only updated three times after being gone for a month. I don’t really have any specific stories to tell because everything just seems like one huge run on sentence of events and people and things all mashed together into a big humid blur…kind of like this sentence.

After our two-ish weeks in Hellshire, we moved out to our sector specific hubs. The youth sector, my sector, went to Stony Hill, which is up in the mountains just above Kingston. Here we’ve been sitting in a classroom a lot because, well, that’s just what you do for training. We’ve only had to watch a few videos made in the 80s, but none have been as incredible as the ones I had to watch at FedEx for my package handler job. I will never wear a t-shirt with a graphic of a wolf howling at the moon tucked into sweats which are then tucked into work boots and then get my un-ponytailed hair stuck in a mechanical belt.

I’ve been enjoying Stony Hill quite a bit. It’s in the mountains and mountains always make me happy. The temperature, especially at night, is more bearable. I can sleep and not wake up coated in sweat. Sunsets and sunrises are pretty awesome, and there are plenty of steep roads and places to explore. Virginia and I did yoga one evening on a veranda with a perfect view of the sunset over the mountains; I’ve never felt so cliché and exactly like a stereotypical Peace Corps hippy. Sadly, there are no trails because that isn’t really a big priority here, so staring at the mountainsides is a big tease. A machete would fix this issue.

A few of us have been running in the evenings after training. When I say running I mean huffing up an extremely steep road and then sprinting back down it; there is no such thing as flat ground here. There’s a marathon/half marathon/10K in Negril at the beginning of December and if we all train somewhere like this, we’ll show up and totally slaughter the competition. Assuming no one else ran straight uphill for fun because who the hell does that?

I’m getting pretty good at ignoring all the random men hissing at me, which apparently is how they ask you out on a date here. I’m becoming ok with being called ‘baby’, ‘sunshine’, ‘sweetie’, ‘pretty girl’, ‘afro chick’ and whatever else that almost every male says when they walk by and after staring not so subtly. Some guy asked me for my phone number when I was walking home tonight. The conversation went like this: ‘Good evening, can I have your phone number?’ To which I replied ‘No, I don’t have a phone’. Huge lie, I totally have a phone. Then he offered to give me his phone. Family and friends, you know what you’re getting for Christmas and birthdays…a used phone and some random dude’s number.

Jamaicans want to touch my hair just as much as the people back home do. They also ask if I’m a female, just like people at home. The whole short hair thing just really throws people, especially right after I just burp or swear loudly. My host family in Hellshire said they thought I was a boy when I walked downstairs in my soccer shorts and t-shirt. Weird.

Oh, and no one believes me when I tell them I really can play soccer. I spent tonight playing with a bunch of guys at the field in town, then got roped into playing more in front of a church on my way home. The field was a blast back to my first three years at Montana State Billings with the best field in the West. Best meaning best gravel pit in the center, best hump down the middle blocking sight of players’ lower halves, best flooding goal boxes, best bumpy as a horny toad’s back playing surface, and best dead grass. This field actually may have been better than that, as there was no hump and the grass was green where it actually was growing. The area in front of the church was straight up gravel. Stopping required my skiing skills and a pass that went where it was intended was a miracle. When I play on a quality surface again, my first touch is going to be great, which is what happened after playing for three years on the field from hell in Montana. Real pitches are overrated.

We went on a three day shadowing experience at the beginning of this week. I went to a small village, Accompong, up in Cockpit Country on the western part of the island with another trainee, Mary, to stay with a couple of current volunteers who happen to be a couple named Matt and Julie. It was a great experience. I felt like I was in a Peace Corps commercial the whole time: perfect little rural village, beautiful scenery, awesome volunteer projects and hammocks. I hope my site is halfway as awesome as Accompong is; I don’t want to hope for too much. It made me really anxious to get out to site and have some freedom. And then miss being around everyone at training. You can never have everything.

I miss everyone at home and think about everyone often. I can’t wait for visitors after my first three months at site. But don’t you worry, my fellow trainees are awesome and my host families have been stellar, so I am being taken care of.

And I think that is about it for my word vomit session.

PS – I can receive padded envelopes full of cool shit during training…cough, cough. No packages until September, though. Send me interesting books, I need shit to read.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Real Street Soccer

I had my first Jamaican street soccer experience the other night. After a few days of getting a feel for the community and where and when soccer was played, I put my indoor shoes on and sauntered down the street. A group of guys always play at five in the evening in front of the church where our PC training takes place. After convincing my host brother that I can indeed play soccer and play it rough, he told me to go down there the next night ready to play. So I did.

When I approached the group, they all stopped playing and looked at me like I was a cross between the swamp monster and a Victoria Secret model wearing all white in the rain. They immediately put me on a team. I looked all business in my white indoor Nikes, so it was clear I was there to play, not to watch them and get hit in the head with a stray ball. My teammates raised their hands so knew who I was passing to; there are no such things as pinnies or jerseys in street soccer. The game restarted like it had never stopped and I was officially at my first street soccer tryout.

I did surprisingly well considering I pretty much forgot who was on my team, it was getting dark and was starting to rain. I only really passed to the dude with the red tank top on because he was the only one I knew for sure was on my team. There is a constant stream of shouting while playing football on the street, and I could only figure out what they were yelling by what was going in the game. I felt a little bit like a deaf and mute kid who finally got picked first for the kickball team at recess.

Playing in the street implies that other people are going to want to use the street. Whenever a car would come out way there would be shouts of ‘CYAR, CYAR!’, which is how car is pronounced in Patwa. The cars would be polite and drive around the big rocks that were being used for goals. Play was stopped when a person or a family would walk by; no one wants to be responsible for hitting Grandma in the head with a ball. Play was also stopped when there was a massive argument about whether a goal was scored or if there were too many players on one team. Or if someone totally ate shit on the slippery as snot wet street. That happened and I totally laughed, as did everyone else, much more loudly than me. It’s nice to see that the humor in tripping and falling on your ass crosses culture lines.

The game was finally stopped because it became impossible to see. Everyone started introducing themselves to me as famous soccer players, so I told them my name was Mia Hamm. To which I got b. I got blank stares. I was invited to come back the next night. And I did. And scored two penalty kicks and got referred to as a ‘baller’. I think my integration strategy will be playing football in the street and sweating my ass off while doing it. I just may come back with some wicked footskills from playing with ridiculously quick and talented Jamaicans for two years.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

So...Linda Fell in a Puddle

I haven't even been here for a whole week and I've already experienced more than I thought I ever would in that amount of time. But there's one story that sticks out that I have to tell before I tell anything else. Linda fell in a puddle.

We were at the Kingston market, which is quite possibly one of the most overwhelming and insane places I have been. There were people, vehicles, shops, yelling, speakers blasting reggae, American Top 40, sermons, sometimes what seemed to be just shouting in no language at all, vendors trying to sell you toothpaste, soap, breadfruit, plantains, shitty plastic toys, whatever you want, and nasty puddles full of trash, road run off, spit, and potentially human waste. So imagine this chaotic scene as the backdrop for what you would never want to have happen to you in public: tripping and falling into a puddle of black, stinky, poopy water.

I was walking along the sidewalk, which is very uneven and full of holes and cracks. Suddenly I hear screaming and a commotion behind me. I look back and Linda is sideways in a puddle, arms and feet in the air, flailing for the railing that was not there. Now Linda is one of our older and wiser volunteers, so I was concerned at first. But when I could tell that she was not hurt, I started laughing. Obviously, falling is always funny. However, no one else was laughing. I was the asshole American laughing at someone else's bad fortune. Shocking. All the people around were very helpful, giving her wipes to clean herself and helping her up, while looking mortified. Which was probably the proper reaction, seeing what she fell in.

Our host moms helped clean her up and bought her new clothes to change in to. Let's just say that after having three basically strangers strip you down and scrap muck off of you, you have no dignity left, according to Linda. Hopefully she doesn't end up with jungle rot after falling into what she has deemed 'The Eternal Bog of Stench'. That's pretty much what it smelled like.

Now onto me. I've been really enjoying my host family, the community we're staying in, all of the other trainees and all of the staff. We were kept in a bubble for the first few days, staying in a nice hotel in Kingston, training in an air conditioned room, catered meals, and being carted around in Peace Corps vehicles. I kind of felt like a freshman in college again, being told what to do and where to be. But I was ok with it, because if kicked out into the street at that time, I would've probably just pooped my pants and started crying. Living with a host family is a great way to introduce us to the culture. I've been eating everything but the chicken foot soup, and I'm pretty sure she's trying to fatten me up by giving me huge portions. I'm taking care of that by watching her like a hawk when she serves up my plate. I am not going to gain twenty pounds in two weeks.

Tomorrow we start training for real. I've learned it isn't that hard to wake up early here because it gets light at around five in the morning and gets hot faster than a fat kid runs after a donut on a string. Or something like that. Next time I update I'll make sure to bore you with something like exerpts from the Volunteer Handbook.

I love and miss all my friends and family! I can't wait to get your letters and packages...that you are sending. Right? RIGHT?! Oh, don't send packages until after training, so in September. Cool, thanks.