Peace Corps is just as much—if not more—about a cultural exchange as it is about sustainable projects. Naturally, Jamaicans are just as curious about where I come from as I am about their culture and community history. Two separate, recent, cultural exchange conversations stand out to me as particularly humorous:
I had just met one of my student’s older sisters, C. She’s in high school, about 15 years old. She’s a typical high school student who has little to no interest in studies. I know she comes from a difficult home situation, so I pay special, positive attention to her whenever I see her around.
One of the first questions she asked me, while touching my arm:
C: Di sun a burn you.
Me: Yes, the sun makes me darker.
C: If I go to your country, will my skin turn your color?
Me: (rather dramatic) No, sir! God made you this beautiful color and He made me this color.
I realized moments later that she had asked the question in all that is genuine curiosity. I was just thankful that I hadn’t put my foot in my mouth and had instilled that her dark skin truly is beautiful. It still might be one of my favorite questions to date, though.
The locals in my community—as well as regular passer by’s (taxi drivers)—know me as the white girl who runs. Because I’m a white girl, my route is very restricted to a 3-mile out-and-back. Thus, I look forward to Sunday mornings when a host cousin runs with me and we can take the road to the beach. One particular morning we ran a little further and waded in the water before turning back around. Part of our conversation on the run back:
Me: “I’m still surprised at how warm the ocean is here.”
Oochi: “What do you mean?”
Me: “I’m so used to the ocean being freezing cold, because that’s how it is all year long where I’m from.”
One of the benefits most PCVs enjoy in their respective country of service is called a closed user [cell phone] group. This means that we can call and text message each other’s cell phones for free. It’s literally a lifeline. There is a poor volunteer whose wife left us with a severed Achilles tendon back in March. She finally has a date to come back in early September (woo hoo!). In the meantime, we do our best to make sure he has the support he needs. He and I exchange daily text messages about how the day is going, and he leaves me laughing out loud every time. The following exchanges are with this individual.
Those of you who have lived in any sort of developing country know that meetings never start on time. And generally speaking, you can bet it’ll start at least half an hour to an hour late. [In some extreme cases, it just never happens at all.] The other night I was a few minutes late for the start of Bible study at church. I text messaged another volunteer:
Me: Of course the first time I’m late for something, they’ve actually started on time.
TC: Just walk in like you own it. Ha ha.
This same volunteer is helping with a summer camp at his wife’s work site. I was supposed to go help as well, but a sprained ankle landed me a week of staying at home. The following has to do with how camp is going:
TC (yesterday): I’m in the grocery store because I’m out of food at home, and somehow I end up buying a loaf of bread, two boxes of crayons, and a coloring book.
TC (today): Absolute madhouse.
Me: How many are there? All ages?
TC: More kids and we are crammed inside a church. About 50 kids ranging from 3 years old to 13. I have about 12 little ones to myself. It’s like herding cats.
Such is the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. We buy children supplies over food for ourselves, and liken working with them to herding the feline species.