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Two Years Later

Well, I guess it’s about time to wrap up this blog. I think it’s only fair to give it a conclusion (in a sense). There are still photos and events that I haven’t posted about on here and maybe I still will, but it only feels right to try and wrap up the last two years of our lives before I lose my perspective.

our grocery store

As expected our last month of life in Jamaica was hectic. Between trying to see all our friends for the last time and getting all of Goob’s paperwork to the right people and distributing our stuff to other volunteers and Jamaicans and just packing up… it was hectic. And a bit blurry to recall. We were basically running around until the day before we left for Kingston. We used that day to pack and clean. Everything.

I had told people we were leaving the end of July for the longest time, but in that last week of seeing people around town and our house, most people were very surprised to hear it was so soon. Not only surprised, but some of our good friends even had a look of real disappointment. People who are always smiling when they see us and talk to us looked like I’d just told them I had cancer. Brows furrowed and faces lost all joy. I didn’t expect that. It was oddly comforting to know that us leaving was this big of a deal to them.

We wanted to throw a final party to get together and say ‘goodbye’s but it just wasn’t in the cards. A friend of mine’s birthday party was the friday before we left so we got to hang out there for a bit with folks. It was to be our final night of chicken foot soup, ting and white rum, and for me, DJ-ing. We were in a little shop with like 10 people crammed in while the Rio Grande Valley gave us one final flood of a rain. For me the night reached it’s peak when it was absolutely pouring down rain, we were all just crammed in there drinking and smoking, we’d been listening to dancehall and RnB for hours and I dropped Marley’s “Coming in from the Cold” followed up with some Alton Ellis. It was THE proverbial ‘icing on the cake.’ I think we  “pulled up” those songs about 10 times. It was a delightful last party.

rob, genevieve, craig, kathy, jerry, calvin (the portland crew)

The next day (Saturday… keeping in mind we leave Monday and haven’t packed yet) we went down to Porti for one last meeting with the Portland Health PCVs and our ever fearless leader, Ms. Genevieve. Even though it wasn’t convenient, it was nice to see most of our Portland PCV friends one last time. And it provided the opportunity for one last trip through Port Antonio. We walked over and said ‘bye’ to our incredibly accommodating Errol Flynn Marina staff and bought some personal souvenirs from Things Jamaican. We walked through the market for a few last items and to say bye to our market lady, Kelly. We had stopped to take a picture with her a few days before so I wanted to bring a copy by to give to her. When we found her she had gifts waiting for us! Two keychains, a picture frame and some homemade pepper (hot) sauce. I was dumbfounded. It was so nice of her.

kelly, our market lady

(i stopped writing here for a month or two. okay we’re back…)

Saturday night we walked up to say some last goodbyes. Our original host family and neighbors. Again, it was surprising to see how upset friends (now basically family) were about us leaving. I knew that people liked us and seemed to enjoy our company, but the Jamaican way is typically not one of expressing feelings and verbal praise/support. In fact, if we had never seen or known how people felt about us I would not have been surprised. But the fact that they were tearing up and giving us hugs… it just meant so much at this point. After two years of, well, almost nothing. Our original host mom could barely talk. We sat for a few minutes with her and our host brother, Junior and talked and reminisced. And then all we could say was “likl more.” “See you later.”

On our walk, people still asked us about if there was a movie this week. I was like, “Well, I’ve got some bad news and worse news.” Some kid stopped by and asked on the day we were leaving if there was a movie this week. Sorry guy.

We stopped at Garth’s (where we showed the movies) and had one last sit around and talk with him and Nat (another DJ/Selector). I don’t know if I ever mentioned on here or not, but I grew to love the slow pace of Jamaica. I loved having nothing better to do some nights than sit around with friends, enjoy a good smoke and some great conversation. So that’s what we did. Got to talk about some fun DJ-ing things that we’d never covered. And just reminisced on some good times we’d had. They all seemed so long ago and yet just so recent. Time is so bizarre.

Sunday was a blur of packing and giving away and throwing away. Our friends Dwayne and Kimani came over and while we packed and went through things, we’d say “hey you want this?” This worked very well. Three piles: leaving with us, staying in the house, leaving with them. When they left Kimani looked like me. He had a hat and backpack filled with stuff of mine. This is all I remember from Sunday: packing.

rob's host brother, rick, and his makeshift bag

kimani dressed as me

dwayne and kimani

Monday morning we finished up all the packing and said goodbyes to our landlord family, Cecille and Lorna and Antwain and Keneell. They are such a great family. Terrific neighbors. When it came time to go, I called my friends and they all came over and helped us carry our luggage down the road and over friday (probably 1/2mi). It meant the difference in 4 trips for me and one. It was a lifesaver. They all just jumped in and helped without me having to explain anything. I always loved this about Jamaicans: when they see someone working on a project or trying to accomplish something, they just jump right in help or just take over completely and do it themselves. If someone’s backing a car up, whoever’s walking by just stops and directs them and lets them know how much room they have left. If you’re doing some construction, you’ll have 5 people stop and show you how to do it better or just take over all together. You can’t get them to show up to a meeting on time to save your life, but they are helpers of everyone.

dwayne

josh

So we said bye to our friends and jumped in the bus for the final trip to Kingston. Stopped for some jerk chicken and a few other errands  on the way back. Having a car at your disposal just really makes Jamaica a lot more enjoyable.

We spent the next few days finalizing our checkout from Peace Corps Jamaica. Turns out no one in Peace Corps even knew we were leaving this month. So we had a Chinese fire drill of a day getting that sorted out at the last minute. I was like, “You better tell me what to do because I’m getting on that plane Thursday.” Obviously it all worked out. A hectic last few days. Jamaica no problem.

Oh did I mention we did all of this traveling with Goob? In a little Goob-sized carrier? The week before we packed up I took Goob down to Porti to get all checked out. Riding with a cat in a taxi? Oh yeah, that’s pure fun. But to his credit, Goob was the man. He complained a lot (A LOT) but he went along with it and we got where we needed to go. Since having a pet just isn’t the same in Jamaica as it is in the States we got a lot of strange looks from people as we carried our cat around town. People at the Kingston airport were definitely confused. One lady in the Atlanta airport actually ran away when she saw we had a cat in our container. She ran away to the other side of the security area. Never came back. Craziness. During the travel day Goob went into this like, travel coma. He didn’t eat or poop or anything. He just slept until we arrived. Pretty amazing. Jamaicans would always talk about how this volunteer or that one found a wife or husband and brought them back when they left. I would tell them since I already had a wife the best I could do was a cat.

And that’s it. We were back in TN that evening gliding smoothly down the interstate, getting Mexican food to-go and drinking a Dos Equis (not all at the same time).

The last few days were so rushed and busy that I didn’t have time to really process anything. Too many things were up in the air in my head as far as traveling logistics went. After 2yrs in Jamaica I’ve gotten to where I don’t assume anything until I set foot at my destination. There are too many uncertainties in that country and they pop up more often than the term “island time” can even convey. But on that last leg of the trip to Nashville I did rest. And then I cried. Because it was finished. I made the mistake of listening to Bon Iver and all the hustle and tribulations and friends and knowledge and pain and joy and people I might never see again came rushing forth. I could barely keep it together. It was this enormous sense of joy and relief and sadness. Because it was done. That chapter was officially closed.

molly, me, liza, tom (last grp79 gathering)

Fast forward to today… we’ve spent the lest few months at my parents just relaxing and regrouping and preparing for Denver next month. This time has been wonderful and easy and frustrating. I feel like I’m on a vacation from Jamaica, but like I’m still going back to Jamaica in a few weeks. It’s this frustrating limbo. And it’s quiet. I wake up to silence. No one waking me up to buy plantains or yams. No one asking for help repairing their computer, copying a CD. No Lester asking for tobacco. No bad smells. Plenty of hot water. (The novelty and beauty of a hot shower has still not worn off. It’s amazing every time.) A car to drive anywhere wherever. Did I mention how quiet it is? One of the first things I did was set up a stereo so I could have music going whenever. There’s food everywhere. I’ve probably put on 15lbs. I miss the outdoors. There’s not much reason for anyone in Mt Juliet to go outside. Everyone rides with the windows up in their cars. There are 1400 channels on TV. The internet is actually faster than me. I blend in everywhere (which is kind of nice). Every story or anecdote (everything I bring to a conversation) starts with, “Well in Jamaica…” It’s a fine line between talking too much about something no one can relate to and keeping it interesting. Most people don’t understand that “my trip to Jamaica” was actually 2 years of my life.  Some days it’s like it never happened. It’s like a dream. Like I dreamt I spent two years in Jamaica and just woke up. It’s offputting.

I know things will get better with time, but time takes time.

But the point of writing this wasn’t to complain about readjusting. It was to let other PCVs know that regardless of how you THINK your service is and how you are perceived and appreciated, wait till the end to fully judge your experience. That second year changes everything. People really do care about you. I still talk to my friends on the phone. Just don’t give up and assume you aren’t making a difference to anyone.

Would I do Peace Corps again? Yep. Was it the hardest thing I’ve ever done? Yep. The most fun? Yep. Did it advance my career? Nope. Did it advance me as a human? …giving me a better understanding of other peoples in the world? In ways I never could’ve imagined. I don’t think the Peace Corps program is perfect, but it is hands down one of the greatest foreign aid, humanitarian, and international relations programs in the world. It’s an amazing organization to be a part of and I’m forever changed because of it.

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As for this blog, I don’t plan on continuing it (for obvious reasons). But there might still be random additions here and there. The fact is, things and lessons and pictures from Jamaica will continue to come up over the next few years. I left that country with 250GB of images. I will be sorting them out the rest of my life. And if you’re a soon to be PCV and you come across this feel free to comment and ask questions anytime. We will still get emails when someone comments so we’ll always be in touch. Give us a shout.

Josh ::  joshhunter.blogspot.com

Jesse :: jessehunter.wordpress.com

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I also wanted to say ‘thanks.’ Thanks to everyone… family, friends, complete strangers. Thank you for keeping up with us and supporting us and mailing us things through this amazing 2.5yrs. It’s always nice to know someone cares about you and what you do. Your comments and questions (and criticisms) (and Crystal Light) have been greatly appreciated and kept us company along the way. So, thank you.

 

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One Response

  1. Dear Jesse and Josh,

    This is a very difficult statement for me to write, because I followed
    your blog as soon as I knew I was going to be a PC Trainee and then a
    PCV in Jamaica. Without exaggeration, I looked to both of you as
    sensible and sensitive mentors, setting up guideposts and practical
    examples for new trainees and other PCVs to follow. Your insights and
    advice were always on the mark. Josh and Jesse, you not only made a
    great difference in the lives of all who you knew and worked with in
    Jamaica, but also in the lives of readers of your blogs, some of whom were lucky
    enough to meet and share brief times with you in Jamaica.

    You completed two challenging and fulfilling (full of Portland rains)
    years of Peace Corps service in Jamaica, and though some may not see
    it as I do, on this
    Veteran’s Day, we need to honor and celebrate and thank all those who
    have served America at home and abroad, those in uniform, and those
    without uniforms, those defending us, and those who work in
    communities around the globe and in the United States as Peace Corps
    and Vista volunteers, teachers, health workers, environmentalists,
    technicians and genuine cultural emissaries…people who truly
    want to build positive ties between communities and nations…one
    person, one friend at a time.

    As some know, I returned to the United States shortly after you did
    for personal family reasons. But I am still struggling to come to
    grips with the fact that I came home early, that I had to leave so
    many personal Peace Corps goals and tasks unfulfilled. Reading this
    tentative conclusion to your Jamaica blog, I just wanted to say thank
    you for all of your exceptional service in Jamaica.

    In truth, when I left all too soon, the Jamaicans I worked with also
    came forward with kind words, unexpected hugs, and sad farewells.
    Some even got up at five in the morning to say goodbye before I left
    for Kingston and the flight home. Jamaicans have their own special
    ways of letting people know that simple kindnesses and work completed
    together can build lasting friendships that extend beyond communities,
    geopolitical borders and boundaries.

    All the Best for your new life in Colorado.

    Forest

    p.s. If a photo is really worth uncounted words, then your
    photos/images of daily life in Jamaica will continue to be a lasting
    legacy of your service in Jamaica, Josh. Words are important, too,
    and your written descriptions of life in Jamaica are also to be savored,
    Jesse.

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