Thursday, May 31, 2012

My First Mentally Disabled Lionfish

When I arrived in Jamaica almost a year ago (!), I hated the ocean. Hated. Going to the beach sounded like the last thing I wanted to do after training in Hellshire. Yes, after sweating my ass off all day in these ugly khakis, I would love to go get covered in itchy sand and crusty salt water while fighting off the hordes of children throwing bag juice wrappers everywhere. Or be punched in the face, rough call. After I arrived at site and realized I was literally next door to some beautifully clear ocean that was much more pleasant to be in than the almost palpable humid air, I became a quick convert. I now look forward to my time in the ocean and get the same itch for it as I do for mountains. This new addiction has led me to seek out as many ways as possible to spend as much time as possible in my new aquatic environment. One of those ways was getting SCUBA diving certified.

Not only did this certification allow me to fully submerge myself in the ocean and stay there for longer than what is natural, it also opened up opportunities for work with a local environmental organization. For the past several months I have been conducting lionfish research dives with the Portland Environment Protection Association, along with another PCV (Brie), around the Portland area. Lionfish are a very damaging invasive species, relatively new to the Caribbean, and the government of Jamaica wants to collect more information about their invasion. Our task is to dive at three different sites once a month, doing transects, collecting any lionfish within our transect area, dissecting them and sending the data back to the Discovery Bay Marine Lab. This sounds very scientific and professional, right? Right. Really this means we get to go stab devil lionfish with spears, sometimes repeatedly, and laugh diabolically when we chop off their heads in the name of research in our very slick and sterile rooftop laboratory.

                                                                     Official rooftop laboratory

Our dives in Buff Bay and Manchioneal rely on fishermen we've recruited to take us out in their little boats to somewhere that is the appropriate depth. This means we get to hold on for dear life as the boat half the size of the swells cuts through the water, threatening to capsize at any moment, while our dive gear rolls around under our feet, looking just as out of control as we feel. Or so we think. The reality is that these boats are made for the ocean and can safely roll all the way to either side with the gunwhales just an inch above the water, making it easy for fishermen to pull in their fish pots. These guys also might pilot their boats through the ocean, oh, I don't know, almost every day of their lives. Of course this was the last thing on our minds as Steve and Sanchez helped us suit up before our first dive off of this miniature vessel. Shrieks may have escaped our throats as the boat tipped all the way to the water when we prepared to do a back roll entry off the side, while the obviously wiser Steve and Sanchez just laughed at us. The level of terror may have approached that of when I was a young child, learning how to use the rope tow at the ski hill. Only this time when I fell off, I wasn't dragged along by my fingertips with desperate shouts of 'Let go! Let go!' following me while other passengers on the vehicle-of-ski-glove-death approached from behind, just waiting to cut me in half with the large pieces of fiberglass and wood attached to their feet. Instead, I just floated. Huh. Well, that was easy.

Our primary objective is to locate and collect lionfish. When I say collect I mean use a Hawaiin sling, a type of spear used for spearfishing, to poke straight through the little monsters and jam them into a very uncooperative collection bag. After many dives, I finally speared my first lionfish after two previous attempts on the same dive. The first two were acting in their usual devious ways, hiding deep underneath overhangs, just teasing us with their feather-like but very spiny (and dangerous) fins, buggy unintelligent eyes, and gaping mouths ready to vacuum up legions of native fish. I just grazed them, as my upside-down, sideways and very reaching position didn't exactly allow accurate targeting, and they quickly swam deeper into the tiny cave, living to destroy native fish stocks another day. With this disappointment, I was determined to spear the next one we came across. And what would you know, literally meters away floated the perfect target.

It was out in the open, solitary and floating languidly. It was just what I needed, a bull's eye within reach and no distractions. At first glance it appeared to be wrestling with an imaginary opponent, and was assuredly in the choke hold of this invisible Hulk Hogan with gills. Upon further inspection, it clearly had some sort of mental capacity issues. Lionfish aren't too bright to begin with; you can literally aim your spear inches from its side and it won't budge as you hone in on its vital organs. This one, however, took lionfish mental retardation to a new level. If this had been dry land, it would have been drooling all over itself and sitting on its head. They usually don't hang out in the open water very much, and apparently this one's parents didn't teach it proper survival techniques. These deficiencies in upbringing and mental development were to my advantage and I did not hesitate to launch my spear into the fleshy fish.

I went on to spear myself another, much smaller and lively lionfish right after my first victory. Brie and I wrestled with the collection bag, trying to jam the little guy in there to hang out with his much bigger and special friend. Of course, the beast I thought I had adequately speared decided it had a little more life left in it and proceeded to swim out of the bag. It didn't make it far though, and patiently waited for us to fight with the Fort Knox of collection bags until we safely had the little one inside, never to wreak havoc on Jamaican's fishes again. As if one Hawaiian sling to the side wasn't enough, Brie speared it again and we stuck it with a sense of finality back into its new home. And with that, we were out of air and the dive was over.

After shedding all of our dive gear, we waited up on the dive boat for the rest of the dive group. We were diving with Lady G'Diver that day, a dive shop owned by the wonderful Steve and Jan, who let us borrow their dive gear for our dives in Buff Bay and Manchioneal and come along for Port Antonio dives when they have space on the boat. Since verbally communicating underwater is a bit of a challenge, the few minutes after everyone surfaces is full of post-dive sharing of submerged stories. This was when we learned that Jan, who was somewhere off ahead of us during the dive, had been spearing and leaving dead and wounded lionfish in her wake. It took about two seconds for us to put two and two together. What I thought was my first lionfish kill was in actuality a re-kill of Jan's expert speargunning spree. While my first lionfish was probably mental disabled, it was also physically disabled, as in already almost dead. It was like learning to fly a plane then realizing auto-pilot was on the whole time. Or something like that.

But I will take what I can get. I ate the three-times killed lionfish the other night and it tasted just as good as if I had been the first one to successfully end its personal invasion of the Caribbean. It also served as a great stationary target practice, setting me up to spear not one, but three massive lionfish on our next dive. In other words, this lionfish project I have gotten myself into is going quite well and promises to keep me fulfilled and entertained for some time. And I am spending more time in the ocean than I ever thought I would, which if you knew me before Jamaica, is mind blowing. Believe it.

                                                             Not the three-times killed lionfish, but just as big.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sweat and Unwanted Attention

Running in Jamaica is like one of two extremes: running through a strip club or a retirement home.  Most of the time, these dueling personalities of Jamaica attack within mere minutes of each other, sometimes seconds, throwing the runner into a confused bipolar response modeBecause of this, sometimes a nice old church lady wearing a hat will get rudely ignored before I realize that she just cheerily said 'Good morning!' to me, and was in fact not attempting to get my number, not very subtly staring at everything but my face, nor asking if she can join me on my run.  It is rather disorienting to pass a group of ladies who seem beyond overjoyed to see a female running for fitness, as if I am a one woman parade, and then moments later be relentlessly hissed at by a group of males who are a little too excited by a female sweating all over the place, as if I was getting a workout on a stage with a pole, not on a road full of potholes.  These sorts of interactions makes running in Jamaica not just a physical exertion, but also a mental exercise in the use of my verbal filter. 

Since being in Port Antonio, I have spent a lot of time running.  I had been training for a half marathon that happened on December 3rd, so I was waking up super early a few times a week to go on sunrise runs, and on days I didn't want to drag my sleepy ass out of bed, I ran in the evenings.  The morning runs were usually the best; people hadn't quite started functioning yet, so I was able to run in comparable peace, unlike the evening runs.  When Jamaica did start to wake up, people were typically moving about in a productive way, getting to places like work and school.  This meant I usually was able to make it through my whole run with friendly interactions consisting of a wave and a hello.  However, in the evenings, people, mainly males, were out on the streets to entertain themselves, sit around and try to sell you coconuts when you clearly didn't want to be carrying anything more than yourself and your sweat-soaked clothes.  It was on these nights that I had the most ridiculous and sometimes infuriating interactions.

I am always surprised by how persistent and confident Jamaican males are when they attempt to get your contact information, including but not limited to phone number, email, pager number, fax number, Facebook, Twitter, passenger pigeon perch, home address, Pony Express P.O. Box number, office address and when all else fails, where to look in the sky for smoke signals.  Even if there is no possible way for them to contact you, they will make sure you have a way to contact them.  My favorite incident involves a man on a motorcycle.  

One evening I was about a quarter of a mile from home, happy with my run and the fact that I hadn't been hit on yet when a motorcycle blew by me going the other way.  I knew as soon as he passed that he was going to be turning around; my radar for imminent wanna-be-future-husbands has been well-developed during my short time in Jamaica.  He slammed on his brakes, flipped a bitch and proceeded to stop in front of me.  He flashed a smile and put his hand up like a policeman directing traffic, only he was attempting to direct a determined runner who was not about to kill the groove they were in.  I smiled and said 'Hello!' in a rather ditzy way, like I had no idea what this whole hand in the air thing was about, and continued on past him.  

Pretending to be deaf or mentally impaired is usually a good deterrent, but not in this case.  Motorcycle man decided that he was going to ride alongside me, filling the air with exhaust and creating a rather awkward moving roadblock.  'Girl, you look so fit and fine, I like you. What is your number?' was pretty much all he said to me, just re-worded and regurgitated back at me, no matter what I said.  I managed to be polite despite choking on his motorcycle fumes and wanting to be done with my run right at that very moment.  I told him I didn't have a phone, so therefore I lacked a number to give to him.  Sorry, man.  Apparently a dumb deaf girl without a phone number is a prime catch, because his persistence did not falter in the least.  In a stroke of creative genius, he announced that he was going to go get paper and a pen so he could write his number down for me.  And with that he vroomed off on his two wheeled craft, in a hasty pursuit of a writing apparatus and parchment that promised a future date.

I ran that last quarter of a mile home faster than I ever have.  I was in a practical sprint and was prepared to jump in the bushes at any moment upon hearing the sound of his motorcycle engine.  That's one nice benefit of unwanted attention, it can give you an unexpected interval workout.  I managed to make it home before he was on his way back to give me what I've always wanted, his phone number, and only slightly feeling like I was going to pass out from the combination of increased breathing and slight panic.  I have a better understanding of what it feels like to be a field mouse emerging from its hole to find a hawk circling above, ready to divebomb and leave no survivors.  With a quick scurry and rapid intake of air, I was back in my safe little hole of home without further incident. 

But for every annoying and obnoxious encounter on the road, there is a friendly and pleasant one to make up for it.  I sometimes run through a hilly neighborhood scheme down the highway from my scheme, where people are always milling about.  After the first few runs of full stares that said 'Whitey, why are you huffing and puffing up a large hill for fun? Did you get a bad fever as a child, frying your brain for life?', I became less of a traveling freak-show and more of just that whitey who runs up and down this hill for some unknown reason.  The older ladies and gentlemen in the scheme were always so happy to see me, with big smiles and hellos when I would pass, sometimes even verbal encouragement and a thumbs up.  There are few other places I have seen such joy on strangers' faces upon just seeing me going about my business.  One such other place is a senior home.  Just by gracing the halls with your youthful presence, the elderly people loitering about, just as Jamaicans hang out on the corner, bust out huge smiles and greet you with extreme excitement.  I bet if I was to offer to stop and play cards with any one of these great people, they would have a heart attack right on the spot.  And my nice gesture would backfire and I would feel guilty for life.  So maybe I will avoid that situation and just continue to please them with my sweaty passing. 

When I first started applying for Peace Corps, I was worried about what my physical activity level was going to be during service.  I have a whole post about it on this blog, which is hilarious to go back and read now.  Jamaica has been perfect for me in that sense; here I can run, swim, bike and just generally be active.  I have grown to love swimming in the ocean, being wet and covered with sand, which if you knew anything about me before Jamaica, this is a huge change.  So thanks Jamaica, for allowing me to continue my exercise addiction and be that weird white girl who does things that are not really all that fun for fun.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Time Warp

Let's pretend that is almost exactly a month ago. I just got my site placement from Peace Corps: Portland Football Association in Port Antonio. That's pretty much all of the explanation I got. The first thought that ran through my head: 'Seriously? I am doomed to do soccer for the rest of my damn life. So much for this whole Peace Corps thing being the start of a new direction'. Second thought: 'Where the hell is Port Antonio?'. Third thought: 'I hope it is not hot as hell with the humidifier cranked up in Portland'. Clearly, I was totally stoked about this assignment.

Fast forward a month to now. I am in Port Antonio, a pretty awesome (because I refuse to use the word 'quaint' in a sentence) little city on the northeastern part of the island, right on the Caribbean Ocean with the Blue Mountains right behind it. I actually look forward to swimming and do it frequently. I have gotten over my aversion to being wet and covered in sand. I am remembering that coaching soccer is fun by working with a women's team at a high school down the street from my office. That street happens to end on a peninsula and the high school soccer field happens to overlook the ocean and the mountains at the same time. I am spending more time on Facebook than I have since college. Don't judge. I am having almost daily experiences that cause me to ask 'Is this my life?'. Which is what I strive for at all times. If you aren't having frequent 'What the fuck just happened?' moments, you are doing something wrong. Jamaica is more than happy to provide many of this moments and promises to keep them coming for the next two years.

Speaking of two years, I can no longer say that I will be here for two years. I'm already a month into service, which is rather mind blowing to think about considering I feel like I was just shitting my pants on the plane to Kingston from Miami, having a huge blank spot for a future and not even realizing that I had left Idaho yet. That could easily be another life time; in terms of a mental life time, it completely is. I already feel so comfortable with my surroundings that I may or may not text while navigating my way on foot down a narrow highway full of speeding taxis, burp openly in public, and dress like I am planning on accidentally stepping into a soccer match at any given moment. Basically, my behavior hasn't changed much. Shocking.

I wish I had a specific story to tell, but at the moment everything that has happened seems like one huge sweaty explosive blur. Slash might not be so appropriate to blast out to the unknown masses of internet cruisers. I am still in processing mode, trying to sort out what exactly I am doing here and what exactly is going on. Hence the total lack of blog updating lately. What do I even say? So here I am to say that I don't even know what to say. Other than it is super weird to get on Facebook and see posts about wearing cold weather clothes. I am going to seriously miss bundling up in all of my awesome winter clothes, especially hoodies. I might have worn one briefly the other night, just to remember what it felt like to have something covering my arms. You are allowed to laugh, I looked completely ridiculous, which is not unusual for me.

Expect more frequent updates, as I think that my brain has finally turned back on after a month of trying to just keep up with what was happening on a daily basis. You can look forward to more cynical and sarcastic musings peppered with cuss words!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Yogis Out of the Woodwork!

Last Saturday was a day of discovery. A few of us went to a yoga studio that Marie and Love had discovered on a walk the previous weekend. While walking there it was easy to forget that we were in Jamaica; Stony Hill is full of nice houses, many of them huge. America is not the only country with the McMansion issue. Upon entering the studio, we were on an hour and a half long vacation from the Jamaica we’ve been adjusting to. Suddenly there were no buses trying to take off our heads with their sideview mirrors, no more men shouting ‘Whitey, yuh waan Jamaican boyfren?’, or unfixed dogs trying to fuck each other in the street. What we got instead was cleanliness, quietness and calmness. And a yoga session that kicked a lot of ass.

The class was taught by a Jamaican who has spent most of her life in California and recently moved back to open this awesome studio. The class was very full, even for a Saturday morning. Yogis, yuppies, hippies and other granolas popped out of nowhere to fill the veranda-like room with people putting themselves into odd looking postures. Where are all these people on the street? Who ARE they? It did not feel like the Jamaica I’ve been exposed to since being here. We were in some alternate universe where everything is in the right place and there is a general feeling of contentment. There was even live music by a guitar and a small hand drum to complete the experience. I was the most in the present since arriving in Jamaica.

While we were not the only white people in the class, a miniature herd of Americans still attracted attention. The owner introduced herself to us, which obviously led to a discussion as to who the hell we were. We told her we were Peace Corps and were greeted with much excitement. And since the universe works in oddly coincidental ways, she proceeded to tell us that she had just received an email the day before from a friend who wanted a Peace Corps hook up. Her friend is a Ph.D doctor of wellness and is coming to Jamaica to do seminars and whatnot on her topic of expertise, yoga included. We exchanged the necessary contact information and thanked ourselves for showing up on that particular day. Clearly, we were meant to come to this place of awesomeness and do handstands on a wall.

Wow, listen to me getting all excited about a yoga class. I am such a fucking hippy.

Right after leaving the quiet property that the studio is located on, we almost got ran over by a cement truck. Jamaica is always quick to remind you that it is still there, especially when walking on the road, which typically lack sidewalks. I am waiting for the day I get launched by an unseen sideview mirror impact with my back..

In other news, I learned tonight on the news that from January to June of this year, Jamaicans abroad have sent back remittances amounting to almost one billion U.S. dollars. How insane is that? To put that in prospective, there are just under three million Jamaicans living on the island and about that many living in other countries, mainly the U.S., UK and Canada. And the exchange rate is $1US to $85J. So that is a shitload of money for this little island. I’m glad remittances aren’t a big thing for American families; sorry parentals, I can barely pay for myself right now.

I’m getting better at smashing the cockroaches that run around in my bathroom at night with just the right amount of force to wound them, but not make them explode all over the place. At first I would slightly panic and crush the shit out of them, literally, with my flip flop in hand. After a few nasty messes of cockroach guts splayed all over the tile like a sneeze gone wrong , I decided to practice some self control. I’ve developed this quick flick of the wrist technique that has taken place of the overkill exoskeleton crushing method, and it’s been working out quite nicely. Last night I executed a rapid fire massacre of five of the little fuckers at the same time as going to the bathroom. I think this is a marketable skill. I’ll get back to you when I’ve figured out exactly how to profit from it.

To continue with the random blurts of information, this is our last week of hub-based training in Stony Hill. For the remainder of training we will be reunited with the other sectors in Kingston. I am having a hard time believing that training is almost over, but I am ready to begin my actual service. We find out where our sites are within the next week, so be on the lookout for an overly excited blog post in the very near future.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Moldy Clothes and Conversation

Last night I discovered that the rumors about Peace Corps Jamaica are true. Clothes do mold here. I had heard this before I came, but having never lived anywhere with any real level of humidity, I was in denial that things other than food items would actually sprout mold. So it was a sad resignation of this fact when I looked into my dirty laundry bag and saw a sports bra covered in tiny blackish spots. Gross. I’ve been pretty good about airing out my nasty ass workout clothes before I shove them into a confined space, but apparently I let this particular sports bra down. It was being overtaken by little spores of some unknown microscopic creature, egged on by my massive amounts of sweat and the water vapor in the air. I guess I will be washing my clothes to not only rid them of smell, but also of small opportunistic creatures. I’ve always known I prefer the dry wicked heat of the sagebrush death valley in southern Idaho to the humid like-walking-through-Jello moisture trap of the tropics.

In other news, we started the practicum section of training this week. Our training group is split into two, with one group going to the SOS Children’s Village and the other going to Homestead. SOS is basically an orphanage in an apartment style setting, with house mothers keeping track of all the little people. Homestead is a home for girls whose parents, for whatever reason, can no longer take care of them. A lot of these kids have been through things that many of us have only seen happen to people on TV. For the past two days we’ve spent about two hours in the afternoons with them, playing fun games, singing and talking about goal setting, planning, and whatever else they wanted to talk about. As we get more comfortable with each other, we will do sessions on more serious subjects, such as life skills and sexuality. All of this happened and will continue to happen in a semi-organized state of chaos with the volume turned up.

I am in the group of trainees sent to Homestead, and if you know anything about me, you know that I have issues talking about anything serious. This fact, combined with me having zero training or experience with talking to teens with issues, made me rather nervous about engaging with the girls on any level past surface. When faced with actually having to talk about something other than how my hair stays fluffy and how ridiculously sweaty I am all the time, I decided that I really didn’t want to be left alone with a group. So for the first day of small group discussion I stuck with a fellow trainee, Karen. We pretty much just made fun of each other in front of the girls, talked about why you would want matches if stranded on an island, and how you would go about becoming a nurse. It was clear that these girls just wanted someone to talk to, and we ended up just listening to them for a majority of our time there. I found surprisingly wise words flying out my mouth and me responding better to the stories of the girls’ than I thought I would. The imagined horribly awkward situation of me just staring at them after they said something rather shocking did not happen. I discovered that I am capable of not being a sarcastic asshole at all times and can actually say something constructive. Look at that, just over a month here and I’m already learning more about myself.

Anyway, enough of that serious talk. If you’re bored, type ‘Sergio the sexy sax man’ into YouTube and thank me when you have that god awful George Michael song stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.

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.