Posted by: 0regano | October 17, 2011


After a year of false starts, the mural project at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab started up again – and this time with paint! Starting with a long weekend in late August, Taylor and I dabbed away at one of the outside walls of the Invasive Species lab to the melodious tunes of dancehall. Given the focus of the lab we were working on, we painted a scene that included invasive lionfish, coral and green mussels, as well as ballast water (responsible for bringing any number of unwelcome creatures to Jamaica each year). A few weekends later when we had finished the outside mural, and next went to work on a much smaller mural inside the building. Here are a few pictures from this adventure:

Sketching out the design in red.

Color added - halfway there.


Inside mural. Mangroves, sea stars, urchins, lionfish.

View from the marine lab. Not a bad place to work, eh?

Posted by: 0regano | August 19, 2011


It pison! Me nah wan fi eat dat fish.
Mi kyaan bother wi dat fish, there’s no market.
It one lab fish. Mi eat it you know, but mi know it one lab fish.
It not dangerous, right? Mi eat it already! It taste nice.

These were among the many things we heard last week during a series of three Lionfish education workshops held at fishing beaches across Portland. Some people were thoughtful, some theories were wild. All in all, an interesting couple of days.

Fisherman from Prospect beach in Porty proudly displays the lionfish he caught.

A fisherman at Old Marina fishing beach in Port Antonio cleaning the fish.

The Lionfish problem is a massive one in Jamaica. It hits on tourism, local economy of fishermen and natural disasters. Lionfish are voracious hunters, and their appetite seems never to be satisfied. Local fish populations are not used to this invasive species, and with its camouflaged appearance, they probably think it’s just a bit of food to be eaten in the reef. All the Lionfish need to is open their mouth and wait. They can eat fish almost as large as they are, and they are indiscriminate eaters, chomping on crustaceans and all number of reef fish. Female Lionfish can have up to 2 million eggs per year. Right now there are no natural predators of this fish in the Caribbean. You can see why it’s a problem!

Cutting off the dorsal spines.

This is an issue for tourism because many people come to Jamaica to scuba dive, snorkel, and enjoy beautiful and healthy coastal waters. With fish numbers and species being depleted, the view is not so lovely. Sadly, here the Lionfish problem came on the back of many other issues threatening biodiversity of coastal waters and reef health. However, if Lionfish numbers can be stabilized and weakened over time, it will be a very positive step in the right direction for rehabilitation of the reefs and fish.

Fishing boats and gear at Old Marina fishing beach.

With juvenile reef fish populations being depleted, fishermen are also noticing a marked decline in the coastal fish population. They are forced to go further and further from shore to catch fish, and deeper and deeper down to dive for them. This is dangerous for the fishermen, as well as more costly and less productive for them overall. Plus, it will just keeping getting worse if something doesn’t change.

Kids fishing at Old Marina

Lastly, healthy reefs are an important barrier to have during hurricane season. People in Portland and St. Thomas know that all too well. Weakening biodiversity weakens the reef, and with no reef there is no protection against storm surges and hurricanes.

Cooking up lionfish in Buff Bay.

SO, this is why I am very happy to be working on the issue of Lionfish here in Jamaica. Busting the myth that they are poisonous, educating people on how to properly handle them, and reaching out to hotels and restaurants to put them on the menu are part of our approach to popularize it. People have been very successful in the past of overfishing particular species, so we are hoping that this becomes another case!

Lionfish seasoned with scotch bonnet, scallion, garlic, onion and salt. Yum!

Now if only we can convince people that it wasn’t actually a lab fish created by the US to flood the Caribbean and eat all the fish that they like…

Posted by: 0regano | May 27, 2011

One down, one to go.

Currently eating: GUINEP! Remember them? (I’d take a picture, but they’re just finished…) Season is just starting up and I am very happy about this development.

Made notebooks with the paper ladies at the center today. Water has been out in the community for a few days and things are sloooow. Boston School was cut at ten, and things got very quiet. Made me remember how summer is an even sleepier time of year than usual for Fairy Hill. What? No screaming children scaling the fence and swinging from the almond tree? No basic school babies singing songs and playing in the yard? Just the wind in the trees, chatter with the ladies, and the ever present RJR news on the radio.

I really appreciate relaxed days like today though. We just rounded the one year at site marker last weekend and I think that all of us have been doing a lot of reflecting and thinking about our “accomplishments” during the past year. Peace Corps is very structured around time, and when it’s half over, you really wonder what the first half was all about. Was it worth it? Was it productive? How can you even know? Trying to quantify successes can just get you down, and analyzing your own experience of Peace Corps versus someone else’s can eat away at your confidence when it seems that others are doing more, or better. Not that taking a hard, realistic look at your own projects isn’t important, it is. It’s just difficult to know true impact, or what is lasting about projects or interactions. It’s best not to stress and to just keep on keepin on (easily said…)

SO. Just spending the time with the people I care about here makes for a good day. Even if it means not actively pursuing a project that is new and unique and exciting and will solve everyone’s problems. Because come on, that’s not gonna happen, and friendship is a project too! Ha.

Here are some happenings from the last couple of months.

Cue! Sadly this likkle pickney isn’t in Portland so much anymore, but he was very helpful in all of our wine making efforts. ;) He also REALLY loved the bubbles that come up on my computer as a screen saver.

A while back I had an opportunity to go to Twymans Coffee farm up in the Blue Mountains. Lovely place, cool temperature, DELICIOUS coffee, and surprisingly fast moving clouds passing by.

One of the coffee trees. Difficult business with battering hurricanes coming periodically and a very fickle market.

EFJ Earth day event in Kingston. Lots of school groups were there showcasing the work of their Environmental Clubs. Here is our sweet table decked out with swag. A day of wind, rain, and attack bulletin boards!

First batch of apple wine finish! Delicious with ice, not so delicious without it.

One of my favorite projects recently, though I sadly don’t have any pictures of them, has been working with the Senior Citizens Association. These ladies are some of the most rowdy and enthusiastic Fairy Hill has to offer, as far as I can tell. It has been really nice working with people who are so interested in trying and learning new things! So far we’ve done bead and jewelry making, and hopefully will be starting up with some backyard gardening in the coming months. Yesterday I got to go see some of their annual Cultural Day event in Port Antonio. Each of the groups from Portland had a song, a dance, a bible verse or hallelujah to offer. Very cute and fun to see. Will try to remember to bring my camera to the upcoming Sports Day. :)

Posted by: 0regano | March 8, 2011

Alchololic Excess

Jamaica is a country with myriad produce; tropical fruits of all shapes and sizes, bountiful vegetable options all year long, and many people with several fruit trees in their own yard. In fact, sometimes there is too much fruit. When a tree is ready to bear, it bears with abandon, dropping fruit by the bucket-full. Everyone is generous with their fruit when this time comes, but sometimes no amount of generosity can use up all of it. This is where the wine comes in.

February is a sort of in between month for fruit in Portland. Mangoes are not yet full in season, apples are on the cusp of bearing in great numbers, sorrel is more expensive and difficult to find now that Christmas season is over. Even with these limited options, two of the ladies involved had an apple tree that was just ready to ripen.

Jamaican Otaheite Apples - they look like pears and taste like flowers.

Taking the extra fruit from the top of the tree where one lady never climbed, and using the excess after the other had picked what she wanted, we came away with about 15lbs of usable apple. With this, we had enough to make about 5 gallons of apple wine – a great first try, especially considering the size of the group (5 people) and the time of year.

Most of the materials involved in making wine in Jamaica are available locally. The only things which need to be shipped over from foreign are Campden tablets and yeast packets for first killing bacteria and then starting the fermentation process. With the local HEART school in Port Antonio now selling these two items, wine making here is very feasible and inexpensive.

The process itself was also simple to follow. This project was started by a PCV in Port Antonio who created an instruction guide for inexperienced (or no experience, like us) wine makers. He also attended the meetings to answer questions and fill out our knowledge a bit.

First, we cut up the apple and blended it with clean water.

Apple blend

Next, we blended sugar into the mix.

After blending the sugar, the must was ready. To kill bacteria, we crushed up and stirred in the Campden tablet. We sealed the bucket and put the bung and airlock on the top to make sure it was air tight.

The next day, we scooped out a bit of the excess pulp on top that threatened to spill over, and added out yeast. A few days after that, we sieved out the juice from the rest of the pulp, and then racked the rest of the liquid into a new bucket. When this was finished, we sealed and airlocked the bucket again.

Sieve for the fruit pulp

Racking the semi-fermented juice

Now, we wait. The bucket will sit, undisturbed in the NHP workshop for a month before we rack it one final time. Then we’ll wait another month or so for the finished product. If it turns out well, this could become a nice income generating activity locally for the community members.

Posted by: 0regano | March 5, 2011

And now…Nature’s Handmade Beads!

One of the most enjoyable projects for me right now is bead making with Nature’s Handmade Paper (I’m a sucker for the artsy craftsy!) Towards the end of last year I taught the ladies how to make beads from magazine paper. They loved the results and started thinking of making a separate line of jewelry to go alongside their paper products.

Measuring and cutting out the magazine page for the beads.

Rolling the bead on a toothpick, painting on glue to hold it together.

Ta da! Magazine bead creations.

The only problem is that magazines here, unlike in the US where catalogs come unbidden in the mail every week, are hard to come by. Those that we do find, a national geographic here and there, have better use in the library. So instead of relying on magazines, we’ve started making beads from their own paper, from the scraps that would have been thrown away. The paper is a bit harder to work with, and the colors aren’t as bright, but the beads come out looking just as natural and lovely as their paper does. The next step will be finding a good finish to harden and make them durable. After that, their jewelry line can go as far as their imagination does. Then, off to the craft shows! :)

Two kinds of paper, two styles of beads.

Beads without finish in a jar.

Also, Happy Birthday Peace Corps! The organization celebrated its 50th anniversary on Tuesday, March 1. Here is a nice tribute to Sargent Shriver from the PC website.

Posted by: 0regano | December 3, 2010

Chris’mus breeze

Chris’mus breeze a come! And none too soon. Now when friends back home complain about the snow and ice, I can shiver along in agreement at the chill in the Caribbean air. It’s nippy down here. Really!

…It qualifies as sweatshirt weather when it dips below 75F. Blankets are needed at night. For real.

I remember hearing about the Christmas breeze from other volunteers and Jamaicans during my first few months of service, usually after picking the puddle that was my body up off the floor and asking (begging) did it ever get cooler? I remember chuckling when they talked of this time of year, needing warm clothing and boiling water for bucket baths. Oh how things change!

I apologize in advance if when I see you in a few weeks (yeah!) you don’t immediately recognize me. Those blankets and coats and hats and scarves are ALL needed! :)

I’ve been shirking my blog responsibilities lately, so several holidays, conferences, birthdays, projects, trips and meetings have passed since my last post. (oops) I’ll post separately about National Heroes Day, but here is a quick recap of what’s been happening.

RJ visited! Unfortunately he came just a few days before Hurricane Tomas, but we did have a few sunny days in there!

After hanging around Kingston for a day or so we headed out for Halloween in Accompong. Accompong is a Maroon town in the hills of St. Elizabeth Parish. It was a beautiful place!

There were a few nice things about being rained in once we got back to Portland. We had loads of time to make delicious meals! (Fried green plantain, rice, eggs, and avocado) Card playing, relaxing and catching up was nice too. :)

PCVs dressed up? It happened! The Errol Flynn Marina was host to a benefit ball, raising money for the Port Antonio homeless shelter. We all volunteered and got a glimpse into a very different level of society and life that exists here. Very interesting evening.

Beginning to recognize these people? Portland fam out celebrating my 24th! (Pic from Angie)

The patch of dirt that will soon be a community garden at the Fairy Hill centre.

Basic school cuties who were amused/enthralled with the machete weilding whities. (Thanks Angie and Raz for your help tearin' up the ground!)

Jerry and Kathy's sweet Christmas light/whirly gig decorated veranda. Jerry makes these little wind mills out of old soda bottles and cans.

Jerry presenting the turkey laden Thanksgiving table!

Those are the highlights. I’ve been busy cataloging the many donated books that we’ve recently gotten. Now that the library is continuing to grow and kids are coming not only after school but at lunch time as well, we’re really trying to step up with organizing and outfitting it with all that it needs to be a serious and professional place. It’s coming along! Several projects are in the making, so hopefully in a few weeks I’ll have some more success stories to share. :)

To get you in the holiday spirit:

Jamaica’s Chrismus Tyme
Published Dec 1, 2003
(Kharl Daley is a columnist for and contributor to the Jamaica Gleaner, check them out!)

It’s the day before Chrismus, houses are clean, spic and spang
Well decorated with Chrismus Cards from many Foreign Lands
Hairdresser with hot comb ina fiya, Tailor a sew lakka madman
The Barber dem so busy while Market an Supermarket dem ram

De Sidewalks dem whitewash, de Gully dem klean
Chrismus light beamed pon lightpole amid de chilly Chrismus breeze
De whole Place lok so tidy, y’u would tink we’ll be getting a visit fram de Queen

Now it’s the night before Chrismus when all through the house
The smell of sorrel, cook food and bake cakes… roamed all about
Not a child was sleeping, nar an adult asleep
Ebry Jackman waiting fe Tenkie Mastah, Santa Claus to greet
Some say him roune de korna while others say down de Chimney
But many don’t care how him come… jus as long as him reach

Aunt Dassa and Uncle Hermon did cum fram waya Inglan
We get a hole heap a tings, fe nice up we Chrismus man
Rubecca, Tathlin an Icilda, what a joyful lickle band
Dem lef fram waya country, ina dem horse drawn wagon
By mid day dem wi reach yah, but by den Santa noh cum an gane
Yet Nyamings dem we ketch, faar a lot deya fe Nyam.

Now its Chrismus mawnin, excitement deya galore
Ebryone a ask wey dem Chrismus
Like dem hear me bruck gift store.
Hear dey! Hear dey! Feefe a blow an clapas a bus
Pickney a race fe open dem present fus
Johnkoonoo an Harsehead masquerading in de street
While Pickini a run ana bawl… ana hide anda dem Mooma feet.

Old Mas Tom dung yandah wid wan piece a mea-rengae-reng
A soso rum drinking him ina straight back to New Years Evening
So everyone havin a good time, far Jamaica Chrismus is realy sinting fe true
Radio a play carols an a announce Chrismus wishes too
Greetings fram weya a Merica and even from down a Mucko too
A Jolly Chrismus to all and a Happy New Year to you.

Posted by: 0regano | October 15, 2010

this and that

Sorry for the long silence, it has been a busy few weeks. We had rain, tropical storms, extended power outages – we even had an earthquake!

Well, a little one. :)

Anyway. Not really all that dramatic in Fairy Hill, just internet, power, and phone outages and some flooding.

So two weeks ago now Group 81 had our Early Service Conference in Ocho Rios. Despite Tropical Storm Nicole happily drenching us every day, the conference was very affirming and balancing. It was the first time that our group was all together since we swore in back in May, so it was a very needed reunion. There were many different elements to the week, but for me, the best part was hearing the trials and successes of other volunteers. It made me realize that, across the board, we all go through similar frustrations and joys. Serving in Peace Corps is our “job” 24/7. Even when we’re not technically working, we are existing and moving around in a different culture, representing our own. It is rare that you can really take off the Peace Corps hat. So when we’re all together, we can  let our guard down, if a little. It’s a very nice feeling. :)

Here are a couple of pictures from Folly, a little peninsula outside of Port Antonio (this was where the Jerk Fest was held). Angie, Raz and I went exploring and found many beautiful off the beaten track spots.

A different view of Port Antonio.

Work-wise things have been moving along pretty steadily. We have had many meetings recently on various topics that I hope the community will stand behind. Winemaking, solar fruit drying, community garden, library, environment centre, HIV/AIDS awareness and education, etc.

The subject of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica is sometimes a difficult one to approach. A few weeks ago the Ministry of Health sent out a couple representatives to talk to the community about its AIDS statistics, awareness of community members about the disease, stigma, myths, etc. that exist here. While the turnout was low, the information was valuable.  According to the study conducted by the Ministry of Health in February of 2010 (note that only 50 people were interviewed for this study, and the results have not been officially published as yet) , 75% of people stated that they would be willing to get tested with a rapid test; 67% say that they used a condom during their last sex act. Not bad. However; 15% believe HIV/AIDS can be spread by mosquitoes; 47% would not want their kids to go to school with HIV positive children; and 58% would not want to eat at a restaurant if they knew the chef was HIV positive. Other myths include the belief that AIDS can be cured if the infected person has sex with a virgin, or that letting a person with AIDS use your drinking glass means that you will get it if you use the same glass, even after it is cleaned. The issue is very touchy. While waiting outside the centre for the presenters to show up, we chatted with several community members. Whenever someone passed and we spoke about the meeting, they were very guarded and suspicious. If they went would they be asked if they had AIDS? People would surely question their motives if they went. Were other people with AIDS going to be present? They could get infected. It was interesting to see, but sad. The highest percentage of people with the disease are in the 20-30 age range. Young people  not educated about how the disease actually works. I hope that in partnership with the Ministry of Health we are able to erase some of the stigma associated with the disease and educate our young people.

The Saturday of the weekend before our ESC was International Coastal Cleanup Day. We did a small beach cleanup in Port Antonio, but there were events all over the island. The Jamaican Observer wrote an article about the day: Towards-a-groundswell-for-environmental-protection. Another interesting article regarding perceptions of environmentalism and environmental action also found in the editorial section of that publication: Environmental-sustainability-still-not-sexy.

Next week I’m going out to the Discovery Bay Marine Lab to work with two other volunteers in painting a mural depicting coastal and marine ecosystems. It will be nice to check out another part of the island and devote a week to painting!

Posted by: 0regano | September 23, 2010

seasons in Jamaica


by H.D. Carberry

We have neither Summer nor Winter

Neither Autumn nor Spring.

We have instead the days

When the gold sun shines on the high green canefields –


The days when the rain beats like bullets on the roofs

And there is no sound but the swish of water in the gullies

And trees struggling in the high Jamaican winds.

Also there are the days when leaves fade from off guango trees

And the reaped canefields lie bare and fallow to the sun.

But best of all there are the days when the mango and the logwood blossom

When the bushes are full of the sound of bees and the scent of honey,

When the tall grass sways and shivers to the slightest breath of air,

When the buttercups have paved the earth with yellow stars

And beauty comes suddenly and the rains have gone.

Posted by: 0regano | August 31, 2010

America sneezes, Jamaica catches cold.

Typical day. PLAN: meet with the Gender and Development subcommittee in Kingston. REALITY: stay home to clean up the mess from a leak in the ceiling and wait for it to be patched up. The best laid plans…

It’s been a good few weeks though. The week before last we had our five day Peer Support Network (PSN) training. It was a really useful. We’re hoping to put a condensed version with just the basics of peer counseling into a session at the next Pre-Service Training (PST) so that everyone knows a little bit and can help out their group. I’m really not sure how much the PSN has been utilized in the past or will be used during our tenure, but I think it’s a really wonderful alternative support system.

After PSN training we had a beach weekend for Raz’s birthday in Longbay. Really laid back, sleepy coast town (except, as we saw, on 6 August). Ate some good food, drank some coconut rum, relaxed. Good weekend.

Things have been going well with the paper ladies. Interest seems to be growing from all different kinds of places. It’s still a little strange to me that none of these paths have been tested by them in the last twenty years…they’ve been around for a while! How have they stayed afloat? Maybe there’s more to the story that I have yet to hear. But I do think we will find success in supplying a combination of shops and hotels in and around Port Antonio. We may even expand their product line. Suggestions so far have included masks, stationary, personalized embossing/stamps and biodegradable food containers (styrofoam is the current addiction here, making its presence known in all the neighborhood gullies and streams). Any other ideas for the paper ladies?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about remittances and community organizing. Jamaica has a huge diaspora. I’m pretty sure that it is larger in number than the current population of Jamaica. As is true with many developing nations, families or individuals who leave their homes to seek better work or education abroad often send money back to Jamaica to support those they left. This happens for many reasons. Maybe the family helped pay for their ticket out or their education abroad. Maybe they know they will be back in the future. Maybe they just love their family and want to support them. Regardless of the motivation, remittances makeup a sizeable chunk of the Jamaican economy. This is a fragile existence subject to the whims of the job markets in the US, Canada, UK and elsewhere for those who depend on it to supplement their income.

There are a lot of problems plaguing many communities in Jamaica. Unstable access to water, no piped water, infrequent or nonexistent solid waste pickup, no recycling, treacherous roads that are sometimes even impassable for cars. While living in Ewarton and after moving to Fairy Hill I’ve talked with many people about these issues and how communities are dealing with or not dealing with them. For whatever reason (and maybe it’s been tried and proven not to work), coming together over an issue as a community seems rarely to be the solution. Instead, people wait. Or patch up temporary fixes. There are a lot of theories out there about the “why” behind the water shortages and things, but it’s the “now what” that I’m interested in. There just doesn’t seem to be a grassroots initiative for the next steps.

So I wonder what the connection is between remittances and organizing, or if there is one. Are people getting so used to just “getting by,” or relying on someone else to help that initiative just isn’t something they’re willing or able to spark? Do they trust that someone else will take care of it? Or does it have more to do with lack of group problem solving and team work focus in school? Our kids at camp really had trouble doing group work where we picked the group, or thinking about abstract questions relating to activities they did. Maybe it’s something else entirely. What’s weird is that communities do come together for some things, like the Best Community Competitions, but not for others. Does anyone have thoughts on this?

This country is so culturally complex. Another interesting thing is the relationship between everyday Jamaicans and the West, or global North.

On the one hand, many people do leave the country and get jobs elsewhere. Many come back and tell about it, live comfortably in nice houses as a result of it. That is one frame. Another is media; TV shows, movies, music, news. Then there are the tourists, development workers, researchers, and volunteers, expats – here live and in person (though this last grouping only really reaches certain parts of the country in a noticeable way). On the other hand, many many people don’t have the means or interest in leaving their parish, much less the country. There are places they know, and know them well. Have spent almost their whole lives in one valley or small town.

Hmm. I don’t remember exactly where I was going with this, but it’s interesting to think about. :)

I think it’s getting slightly cooler here. At night I actually feel chilly sometimes. Maybe this just means I’m finally getting acclimated! Either way, I’m fine with it.

Posted by: 0regano | August 25, 2010


The rumblings in my brain say there will be a big post later in the week. For today, just pictures. :)
Some foods I like in Jamaica:

Paw paw

Mutant mango. Seriously, the thing must have weighed 5lbs.

Guinep. Favorite travel food.

Pear (avocado)

Tasty, but I miss variety!

Oh Ms. Victoria, I have not eaten this well since I left Ewarton!

Ok. Time to make dinner.
Big ups to RJ and FiveThirtyEight – now officially partnered with the New York Times! :)

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