I arrived in Jamaica one month ago today. I simultaneously feel like I have been here much longer, and like I just stepped off the plane in a strange land and have no idea what is going on. I’ve shed any semblance of vacation/holiday feel I might have had when I first arrived, but I still don’t feel settled or at home. I’m keenly aware that I have many months to go, and also that the clock is ticking to get all this work done before I leave.
Overall, I am having an incredible time. There are moments that are difficult or frustrating or sad, but those moments happen no matter where in the world one finds one’s self, just perhaps for different reasons. The hard times are balanced with many moments of joy, elation, excitement, and hope. It’s such a privilege to be able to take this journey, and not a day goes by where I don’t feel incredibly grateful.
Living with less (less money, less stuff, less control, less comfort, less friends and family) is a challenge in many ways, but it is also an incredibly welcome experience, and often feels like a relief. It makes life much simpler and more relaxed. For example, I love getting dressed in the morning because I only have a few items to choose from, and I never need a sweater because there is no air conditioning at the YMCA. Compare this to my closet full of clothes and multiple layers of outerwear in Canada (not to mention the blanket and slippers I use on a daily basis to stay warm at my office in Vancouver), and you can appreciate the bliss of this simplicity.
Adapting to new habits takes its toll, and having less to work with makes it even harder. For example, even though I’d rather go for a run outside, the air pollution is too miserable and the security worries too strong to make that a realistic habit at this point (plus, it is as hot as Hades out there). Instead, I will spend a hefty portion of my stipend on a gym membership, and will take a taxi home each time I go because the classes end after dark. Over time, I will either get used to the new ways or figure out how to make my preferences work in this new environment, but for now I live in a perpetual state of mild discomfort as I adapt to my new habits.
As anticipated, it’s also hard to watch my ‘other’ life drift by in Canada. I miss being with my loved ones, and long to support them in person during their ups and downs. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I’m able to be in touch with them whenever we please, which is a million times better than when I was a teenager and went to Brazil for a year. Back then, we worried about the cost of long distance. Now, I worry about having a strong enough wifi connection to ensure the video is clear when we talk over Skype. Tools like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and text messaging let me feel connected even when we aren’t directly speaking. The circumstances might not be ideal, but I’ve lived through separation from those I love when conditions were worse, and I am grateful every day for these tools.
I’m also strongly aware of my privileges. The ‘difficulties’ I face are most definitely “First World Problems” compared to many of the people with whom I interact on a daily basis. As a (white) foreigner, I get treated especially well in many circumstances, and special considerations have been made for me every where I turn, either because I am new to Jamaica, because I am a volunteer, or because of the colour of my skin. I am trying to pay attention to these luxuries and use my power and position to support those around me.
This month, I will have my first visitor (yay David!). I am looking forward to showing off the life I have here, and filling my heart up with familiarity.
Some highs and lows so far…
- The people: so warm, so accepting, so good-humoured. I am honoured by their patience with me.
- The fruit: Every bite is better than the last. You guys, there are mangoes ripening on the tree outside the office at the Y, and I can’t wait to eat one!
- The work: I am loving the projects I have on my plate and feel so lucky to have been placed with the Kingston YMCA.
- My apartment: it’s quite nice and well equipped, but between the bugs and the lack of personal items, it still doesn’t come close to feeling like home. I’m planning to print a few photos and hang them as soon as I can make it to the New Kingston Shopping Centre; hopefully that will help.
- The litter: I don’t think I have ever seen so much trash outside a landfill. My little environmentalist heart is constantly breaking.
- The security concerns: It is hard to feel at home when you don’t feel relaxed enough to explore. I’m comfortable going about my day, but everything beyond my routine is mysterious and tinged with danger.