Monday, August 5, 2013

The Final Countdown

I've been punch-dancing my way through life these past few weeks, because it's been just that awesome.

I flippin' did it!

I have approximately 48 hours left on-island.  That means in less than 48 hours I'll be done with my Peace Corps service, I'll leave Jamaica, I'll be an RPCV, I'll be done with stupid long-distance relationship and I'll be back in the first world!!  So many things!!!  It's all too overwhelming to comprehend.  I never thought, as probably most PCVs will tell you, that I would reach this point.  We all secretly and shamefully fantasize about it from the second that we touch down into this crazy and uncomfortable island...shhhhh!

"Two years here?!? What?!?! That's an eternity!!" 

But it's here for me and beyond surreal!!

A lot of what I'm going through, I've gone through before when I left almost 2 and a half years ago - leaving behind all the comforts of home and friends and family to join the Peace Corps.  And now I'm finding myself experiencing some of the same feelings, which is pretty much everything under the sun, (See: pre-Jah).  All the anticipation, the excitement, the fear, the joy, the sadness, the insanity, the stress is boiling up inside me - but ultimately and mainly, I feel very, very fulfilled.

However, the difference between now and then is that instead of speculating and worrying about how things might be, I get to daydream about all the things that I know and love (lattes, sushi, wine).  Even though after two years, I might feel differently about everything back at home and things are bound to have changed, I still get the crazy excitement and butterflies when I think about "The Return".  

Of course, there is a bitter sweetness to it all - leaving here, because it is my second home.  Which is why this is the best time because I feel so excited about both my worlds, my current life here and my future life.  I'm still very nervous about going back - back to all the stress, bills and fast-paced living, but I'm putting all that aside for the moment until I'm actually back, to just enjoy swimming around in all these wonderful emotions.

The last few weeks have been like a crazy time explosion - with school ending the first week in July - we had our school leaving exercise for the grade 6 students.  Then, to my surprise and delight, the school had the most amazing and over-the-top Sending-Off Ceremony for me.  It was like I was at my own Jah-mazing wedding where I got to marry myself (I do and I do!).  I am still over the moon about that.  I sat at the head table with my host mom, principal, and fellow PCVs, decorated with flowers and fancy place settings.  There was a huge buffet dinner that the staff and community cooked, all the teachers sang a melody consisting of "Stand by me" and some Boys II Men.  My principal sang and spoke about my impact here, and so many people came out to tell me how much I mean to them and the community.  I know I sound like I'm bragging here, but I have to talk about it or it's like I won't even believe it myself!  I don't think I ever felt so good about myself.

Telling stories at the head table at my amazing Sending-Off Ceremony

After school let out of the summer holiday I held a summer camp for the second year in a row, and it was just as great as the first year.  I had about 15 children each day, and it went a smoothly as I could have asked.  To top it off, the second to last day, the best thing happened, a parent that helps out at the school regularly decided to continue the camp for the next two weeks.  I think I might have even convinced her to organize it for next summer as well!  For those of you who aren't volunteers, this is a HUGE win, as sustainability is the name of the game.

Last day of camp
After camp, my brother came to visit.  He's never been to Jamaica before, so I got to see the island through his fresh eyes.  Everything became new and fascinating, instead of old and annoying.  I couldn't have asked for a better visitor in my last few weeks here because it was fun and stress free, and gave me a new appreciation for Jamaica.  We ate jerk, jumped of cliffs, climbed waterfalls, swam with baby turtles and had the best time doing it all.

Tip: If you are ever going on vacation to a Peace Corps country, seek out volunteers to show you the hidden gems.  You'll get to see the best stuff on a budget - just make sure to let them use your hot shower if applicable.

Sitting on the dock of the bay with my bro and my wifey
Once he left, I had some time to go the beach and hang out with some of my best friends here for the last time.  Then, over the weekend, my host mom, who is basically the best person even, surprised me with a second going away party.  I couldn't have been more moved.  I feel like the cheesiest person ever saying this, but it's so true - my heart feels so full that it might burst out of my chest.  She and all my friends and neighbors in the community came over to show their appreciation for me.  Each person spoke about how they are going to miss me.  I never thought I could be so loved.  It was the kind of Peace Corps moments that you see in brochures.  

I feel like the luckiest volunteer that ever was. Never did I think before coming here that I would make so many wonderful friends and meaningful relationships.  I am truly blessed and I say that without the least bit of sarcasm. 

Hanging out with my neighbors and friends
It's the best day ever, and I mean really.

I came here thinking I might change the world for the better and I left with my world changed for the best.  

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Return

With the end of my service quickly approaching (although sometimes it still seems forever away) I'm constantly thinking of the first world and how ahh-mazing it's going to be when I get back, aka "The Return".  I fantasize about all the things that I'm going to do when I'm home and how the options will seem endless!

All this day dreaming of sushi rolls and soy lattes stems from the fact that I’ve already had to make a lot of plans upon my homecoming.  One of my besties is getting married shortly after "The Return" and I'm the maid of honor (holla!).  I’m also in one of those easier-said-than-done long distance relationship thingies that is surviving despite the many obstacles that go along with it.  It's been like running a super extra long marathon but there's a pot of gold waiting for you at the end (I imagine, since I've never run or intend to run a marathon, nor been in pursuit of a pot of gold)   So being in the home stretch (4 months to go!!) only makes pondering the future more inviting and too often I find myself thinking about "The Return".

"The Return", I have no doubt, will be magnificent and satisfying and I will feel so grateful to have completed my 2 year service.  However, in an effort to "live in the moment", which is the livelihood of this entire blog, I have made list of all the things I love about Jamaica and being in the Peace Corps.  Because I want to appreciate all these things before I'm gone, and secondly, I never want to forget how I feel now and all the things that made this experience worth it.

So here they are, in no particular order, My Favorite Things About Jamaica:
1.      Huge food portions - Food is awesome, I love it.  So you want to give me more of it?  Great!
2.      Little to no “real life” adult stresses, such as bills and insurance, gross!
3.      My after school Craft Club
4.      Lot's of fried stuff - Fritters anyone?  Yes please!!!
5.      Public Drinking - What more can I say?
6.      Obscene amounts of people in taxis – This one time, there was definitely 14 people in the taxi and it wasn’t even a wagon.  There was just a guy sitting with his legs in the trunk and he just held the trunk down on his legs.  All you can do is laugh, but only if you are comfortable laughing in a taxi full of strangers. 
7.      Being the most beautiful women males on the street have ever seen (or so they say, yet it’s still flattering at times)
8.      Endless hugs from the children at school
9.      Cards and letter from the students every day telling me how much they love me and how “butiful” and “perty” I am.
It's true.
10.  People relying on me for all things technology – I will never again be the smartest tech person around!
11.  No make-up!
12.  Putting on a few extra pounds is a good thing
13.  Teaching adult computer class
14.  Never having to worry about cooking dinner – my fantastic host mom’s always got that covered
15.  Plenty of alone time
16.  Reading books and watching movies/shows I never had to time to before
17.  Four day work weeks, sometimes three, sometimes two...
18.  No one looking over my shoulder at work, I’m basically my own boss
19.  The most work schedule flexibility I'll ever have
20.  Saving baby turtles

You're welcome.
21.  My old school Nokia - the indestructible phone
22.  Goats – seriously.  The way they make noises like a crazy person yelling at you.
23.  Especially baby goats – so cute.  Like little awkward unaware children with feet too big for their bodies wearing knee high socks.
24.  Pear/Avocado Season – I eat about 3 a day during this time, which is late August – late October
25.  Mangoes – dentist’s secret delicious little helpers(because you always have to floss after)
26.  Oranges – so sweet!
27.  Crazy fruits and vegetables that look like something out of a Tim Burton movie (See: Ackee - for real, Google it)
It was cold outside that day
28.  Fresh veggies always in the fridge and fresh fruit on the table 
29.  My addiction to shopping has substantially subsided; one new clothing item every 6 months is a treat! 
30.  Wild rose bush in my yard – I can pretty much have beautiful fresh roses each week!  They never stop!
Traveling Pretty
31.  The ability of some older Jamaicans to just sit and enjoy the time, enjoy the day, enjoy the fresh air.  No need to be constantly entertained.
32.  The power you have over students when you offer up stickers – even more power when it’s a new pencil
33.  “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!”  Students calling me constantly, I will miss this
34.  Insanely cheap public transportation – like $3.00 USD to get 2 hours away
35.  Chattin Patwa, mon
36.  Beach trips
Beach brooding
Leaf brooding
37.  The unbelievable color of the ocean
Clear blue ocean water
38.  Dance hall music and the ridiculous lyrics (Think praying to god asking to not cheat on your significant other, and then praying to not to be caught)
39.  Throwing your compost out the window when  you can’t get to the trash or the pig pan
40.  Making fun of tourists
41.  Year-round flip flop tan
42.  Dying your hair pink makes you less of an outcast
43.  Belting along to a Celine Dion or Mariah Carey song on public transportation and no one bats an eye
44.  Waterfalls, hummingbirds, hibiscus, coconut trees, almond trees bougainvillea...basically the overall natural beauty of Jamaica
45.  No snow or weather under 60 degrees period full stop
46.  My host mom’s huge smile and the way she’ll give me a surprise laugh at the random things I'll say
47.  New appreciation of the little things
48.  Peace Corps get-togethers in tourist spots, but on PCV budgets
49.  Being part of such a talented, creative, low-maintenance, down-to-earth group of people
50.  The students, family and friends who make this experience amazing everyday

More baby turtles for your viewing pleasure
Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!
These are all the things that I am thankful for today!  What are you thankful for?