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Mayfair beats Gustav

[need to add like 3 pics, but can’t at the moment]
The Peace Corps has been extra careful with the 11 of us at Mayfair Hotel.  30-something newbie volunteers were able to return to their sites over the weekend.  Those of us on the east side of the island had/got to stay for a couple of extra days until word got to PC that our roads were clear enough to pass.

On Monday, Josh and I were delivered back to Portland in style—courtesy of our country director, Howard Anderson.  Mode of travel makes all the difference here.  I was still a little car-sick (because of the roads), but we had a/c, lots of room and learned conversation with a lifelong international diplomat. Pretty cool.  He brought us all the way to our house and bought us lunch and a few staple groceries along the way.  All in all, my preferred way to travel! ☺  When we got back, we quickly unpacked and prepared for the impending darkness to come in a few hours.  We then realized how unusually zonked out we felt and slept a good while.   We learned that Kingston got a lot of rain but not much wind and that our part of Portland had born the brunt of the wind (combined with rain).  While the north coast appeared virtually untouched, the valley was more susceptible and suffered more damage.  The Gleaner reported that 70% of banana and plantain crops were destroyed in this area and this would mainly affect their export market (instead of the local market).  No doubt it’ll affect both.  The banana industry here has taken hits almost every year for the past several and many farmers have given up this crop, preferring faster and more durable ones.  Can you blame them?

So no water and no electricity makes for increased discomfort in the form of sweating, mosquitoes biting and keeping foods and water cool.  Our family and all of the valley has been dealing this way since Friday.  We’ve been back for 2 days and it’s getting…icky.  Most everyone deals with life as usual, too.  For them, things are just a likkle more uncomfortable and difficult than usual.  We could learn a thing or two from them:  Just because you are dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean you don’t still play it through.
Yesterday (Tuesday), we went into Port Antonio—Josh had to make some adjustments to the photo being considered for that book cover and I had a meeting scheduled with a rep from SDC.  We also heard back from Dr. Paul Rhodes (of Great Huts) about the weekly Rotary meetings and an upcoming conference on Healthcare for the Homeless.

We hear that the parish council is coming today to assess our catchment water system and we’re interested in tagging along.  It’s possible that the water will get back on line today, but we’ll see.
As for electricity, they say it won’t be restored until sometime next week…and that’s a long time without a fan!  Just imagine that some people out here don’t really use a fan anyway.  They all tell us to wait until December when it’ll be cooler, cold even!  We’re not holding our breath…
Someone asked about our jobs here: What our days and weeks will look like and what we hope to accomplish.  I apologize for not having taken this on sooner.  Josh and I discuss this topic SO often between us and with the Peace Corps that it’s accidentally been left off the blog. No more!
As reps of the Peace Corps, we operate under a Project Plan-ours is Community Environmental Health, Water and Sanitation.  The nickname for our sector is “Wat-San.”  The Project Plan has been established in cooperation with PC-Jamaica and various government and non-govt agencies in the country.  Thus, our main objectives center around these three issues, especially water and sanitation for Josh and I.
Our next priorities are established with/by the felt needs of our agency—Bowden Pen Farmers Association—and our nearby communities.  Josh is supposed to work more closely with two communities across the river: Moore Town and Cornwall Barracks.  I will be spending the majority of time with the three on our side of the river: Ginger House, Comfort Castle and Millbank.

Bowden Pen Farmers Association is a community self-help group, started approximately 15 years ago in response to needs of the upper Rio Grande communities.  BPFA is as stable and long-suffering due to the leadership of one very well-connected lady, Ms. Linnette Wilkes.  She currently serves as group Coordinator and has announced plans to resign that role.
BPFA has 3 focuses, which are FARMING, ECO-TOURISM and COMMUNITY DVMT.  Right now, most of their efforts are spent with the eco-tourism side and some farming.  See, although they are 25-27 highly motivated, committed individuals, the fact remains that they have virtually no monetary resources and no governing authority.  Thus, any project they hope to undergo requires a plan to acquire monies to finance the project.  Because of this, they are not very organized and most of their activities happen spur-of-the-moment (You all must know how goo-ood this makes me feel!).   The group has goals all OVER the place, too.  They do NOT lack foresight in the areas of community impact or fund-raising.  Sometimes, though,  you have to spend money to make money…and to elicit support from donors, etc.  The Jamaican govt has agencies in place to support groups like ours, but it’s a ton of bureaucracy and what has felt like broken promises on the part of agency representatives.  The members are pretty cynical toward help from the government, even though Ms. Wilkes holds a seat on the parish council!

This is a long way of saying that we don’t really have a daily or weekly schedule as yet.
And although Josh and I are supposed to work together, but in different areas, the breakdown of how our time and work is spent will surely be different.

For instance, Josh is working with the Moore Town Council in Moore Town, under direction of their Colonel, Mr. Wallace Sterling (very nice guy).  This group has a big vision for the next two years as well, including erection of a staircase at Nanny Falls (an eco-tourist attraction), building of (and obtaining funding for) a new and improved Cultural Center with museum, bed & breakfast and restaurant, increased exposure to cultural and environmental information for school-age children in Moore Town and re-opening of their town Medical Clinic (after a hurricane mashed up the roof and the resident nurse left).  So, even just in Moore Town, he has his work cut out!  But before most of these projects can get started, they must find and secure funding…They have no monies or building resources of their own.  We can HELP with the grant-writing, but there’s no reason for us to do it all either!  Plus, at this early date, we know less about where to start than they do.

Josh will also be contributing to plans on the other side of the valley, with BPFA and nearby community groups.  Most of the big grants must be applied to through what they call a Community Development Committee (CDC) or a CDO (org).  Funders require this because it tells them that the project is supported by an entire community, including several district towns, rather than by just one small group who means to control things.  It’s a smart requirement, but it makes my job all that much harder.  Luckily, there is a fledgling CDC already in place here.  We attended their 3rd meeting (ever) and I’m so thankful I won’t be starting from scratch.  However, as with all groups, I see several problems either present now or brewing.  My first priority (even before our Program Plan) is to strengthen the capacity of these groups—the CDC and BPFA—to function fairly and productively.  I will try to help with organization of records, getting things ON PAPER, and helping to transform them into proper operations.  This will include basic computer training, record-keeping and…kind of being their cheerleader.  This will be done as I can coordinate with other people, so who knows.  I want to set up BPFA with an office space in the Ranger Station rather than Ms. Wilks home, and I want to assist the CDC officers in taking ownership of their group and taking the initiative instead of expecting people to give them anything (especially information!).  So…not sure what that means for my schedule.  I have a lot to learn as far as being a good “faciliator,” staying non-biased and propelling the groups forward in making decisions for themselves.  Also, the groups have events to plan (esp. BPFA) and I’m the designated errand-runner for those.

Next up, there are a variety of wat-san projects we would love to tackle—our road is in dire need of repair and redesign, to the point that it impairs people’s access to medical care…big-time.  The road’s lack of drainage leads to problems with vector-borne disease and poor sanitation.  Various catchment water systems have been built up here, but none of them run properly and this is in conjuction with the piping system—some lengths are iron from the 1960s and bust all the time and other is PVC that is used incorrectly and frequently bursts in places.  I wish I could go into it all…maybe we’ll put some pictures up for you have a better idea.  In any case, we will have to take these issues through the CDC if there’s any hope of finding funding to fix it.  Coming to consensus is going to take some work.  In all of this,  the learning curve for Josh and I is HUMONGOUS.  I mean, I never claimed to be an expert on rural water systems or on political lobbying or organizational psychology.  Neither did Josh!  So, we’re trying to lead and exude confidence and, on the other hand, trying like mad to figure out what the heck we SHOULD do with these issues.  You might be wondering if we have experts to call who can help us.  The answer is yes…sorta.  In a perfect world, they would be thrilled to help.  In reality, it’s been difficult getting their attention.  I hope they return our calls and emails eventually?

Other issues are the lack of solid waste collection in our area.  It’s like the parish totally forgot that anyone lives up here!  BPFA has lots of goals—rebuild the Millbank Community Center, increase marketing of their eco-tourism projects like Ambassabeth Cabins and the Cunha Cunha Pass (historic hiking trail).  They also want to envigorate the farming aspect of their group with projects to plant trees, build a greenhouse and diversify crops in this one area of Bowden Pen.  They want to make a bigger name for themselves and want to be self-sustaining.  Thus, they want help coordinating presentations and trips with schools and want to host events…

This has been long, but I hope it gives a better idea of why our schedule isn’t set…even in mud.
As we try to integrate into the community and to be productive in our days…
As we wait for the lights, fan and water to start flowing as usual…
We are thinking of you and are so thankful for your prayers and thoughts.
Oh and ideas are most welcome! ☺

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