Saturday, December 18, 2010

Eco Camp

During the month of July the Discovery Bay Marine Lab puts on a annual Eco-Camp. It is 3-4 weeks (depending on if they get enough students for the 16-18 group) of 1 week segments starting with the 7-9 age range. The camp has a marine and coastal focus but the activities span the sciences. Preparing for the camp was a 12 to 14 hour a day job for the 2 weeks before the camp began. I worked with our Chief Scintific Officer, Camilo Trench, with the assistance of our three interns to select and/or design the activities for the camp. Trench joined the lab around the same time that I did so it was the first Eco camp for the both of us. We had a binder of activity sheets and ideas from years past which was a good start, but we ended up creating many activities of our own.

The camp itself made for a very intense month. To give my former coworkers an idea of how busy, it was like Marine Quest x 10. Most days we arrived early to prepare for the day, spent the day coordinating activities, giving powerpoint lectures, teaching and guiding experiments, assisting with snorkeling and at the end of the day we started our preparations for the next. The first, and youngest, group was probably the best. They were the most well behaved and engaging of all the groups. 

                                           Over all it was an exhausting month but a lot of fun. On top of the intense month of eco-camp I also moved off of the lab property to Farmtown, a small town about three miles South of the lab up in the hills. Although relying on public transport is a pain, cause there is no schedule and you never know when they will get there, Farmtown was a great change climate wise as it was several degrees cooler then in the dorms at the lab. It is also noce to have a yard to for plants and I am also participating in a couple of community organizations which do a lot of great work in the community.

End of Training

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010


After Hellshire the group was split in two for hub-based training, with the Youth sector heading to Stony Hill and the Health and Environment sectors going to the mountain town of Ewarton. We spent four weeks in Ewarton where our training took on a more sector specific focus. We still continued the language, cultural, safety and health sessions but added in sessions looking at local and national environmental issues as well as methods for improving agriculture.

My new host family and accommodations were very nice. My host mother, Miss Pauline, is a teacher at a primary school and my host father, Danny, is a farmer. They have a daughter who is a few years younger than myself but she lives and works in Kingston. The different cooking style of my new host family is a welcomed change, they eat a lot more fresh vegetables and a lot less starches and fried foods than my last host family. I had not had a salad in weeks before coming to Ewarton where I was having one every day. Also, there were no water shortage issues in Ewarton which means no more bucket showers!

I now have a much better understanding of Patois, enough to understand most of what is being said and I am able to give basic responses. For our environmental training we learned a lot about shade /green houses, bauxite plants and their impacts, invasive flora and fauna, over fishing and coastal degradation to name a few of the subjects. We also learned about various forms of environmental alternative incomes such as trash to cash (also called up-cycling) where items that are traditionally tossed are turned into an income generating product, such as homemade paper or planters made from old tires.

After Ewarton we went back to Kingston for our final week of training and pre-service interviews. My interviews went well and I received very positive feedback on my participation and performance during training. At the end of the week we all learned of our posts for the next two years. Although I had a good idea of where I was going to be placed, it was confirmed that I will be working at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab. I am very excited about this placement and my supervisor plans on having me involved in all the work and research occurring at the lab. On Friday, May 21st Peace Corps Jamaica Group 81 trainees were sworn in as volunteers at the US Embassy and that afternoon everyone went to their respective sites to officially begin their service.

Several people have contacted me with concerns about the current situation in Kingston and how it may be affecting myself and the other PCV's (Peace Corps Volunteers). The issue involves an extradition request by the US Government for Christopher “Dudus” Coke on charges of gunrunning and drug dealing. Dudus is a don of a district in Kingston, Tivoli Gardens, which happens to be strongly aligned with the current ruling party, the JLP (Jamaican Labor Party). The JLP signed the request on May 17th after months of delaying. As a result residents of that district barricaded the roads and that weekend security forces engaged them. That same weekend a police station was fire-bombed and the major produce market in Kingston was burned down. PCV Group 81 was in Kingston during that week, for swearing in, but we left on Friday for our sites which was a day or two before the violence started. PCV's and PC Staff that were still in the Kingston area were required to stay in their homes and a few of the PCV's chose to be evacuated to other parts of the island. All PCV's were put under increased security restrictions which were just lifted today. Our Safety and Security Coordinator visited various parts of Kingston today, including Tivoli Gardens, and concluded that the situation has calmed down. I have not felt any of the effects of these incidents and feel very safe at my site.
On that note, how has everyone been? I hope this letter finds everyone well. 


Monday, April 12th, 2010


Hellshire (the first community I was living in) was a really nice town to start our service. The housing layout was pretty crowded with very little yard space but it meant that all of the volunteers were in close walking distance. This afforded us a lot of opportunity to hang out outside of training. 

Before training and on the weekends a few of us loved partaking in a morning exercise routine. I get up around 5:45 am 3+ days a week and meet some other volunteers. From there, we take a (≈) mile jog down to the beach for a sunrise swim before running back up the hill. I have seen more sunrises in the last few weeks than I have in the last few years. In the evenings I either hang out with my host family or organize a few friends to play domino's (the national game of Jamaica). There is a lot more strategy than I ever realized and I am getting good at it.

There are some definite issues though. Jamaica has been in a major drought for the last 8 months, possibly contributed to by the El Nino year. The water is shut off often and has been particularly bad lately. We arrived in Hellshire on Saturday March 20th, and the next day the water was shut off for the whole community. Usually it is turned back on in a day or two but instead was off until Thursday morning. This happened again the next Sunday for another 4 days. Easter weekend it stayed on until the Tuesday after. When the water is out some homes have a tank on the roof that feeds directly into the plumbing. Others, like my host family, have water stored in (50 gal?) containers in the backyard. My host family had three for general use and one for cooking and drinking water. This made bathing interesting. We would fill up a plastic tub and carry it into the bathroom to take 'bucket' showers. If you wanted to wash your hands someone had to pour the water for you and the toilet tank needed to be hand filled every time it was used.

Another issue is the discarding of garbage. Garbage collected in the home is usually burned and garbage out of the home (beverages or wrappers of food consumed while walking/traveling) is usually dropped on the ground. Everywhere you walk there is a lot of garbage on the ground in this community. The only reason why the beach is clean is because the owners of bars/restaurants there clean up the sand in front of their lots each morning. It is sad to see such a beautiful place so filthy with garbage. This is not the case in all communities but it is definitely a prevalent problem.

Another oddity, which is not so much a problem but more of a cultural difference, is how direct, blunt and vocal Jamaicans are. A Jamaican who wants to get another persons attention will often call them by their distinguishing features. For example, a heavy person will be called 'Fatty' or 'Fluffy', white person called 'Whitey', light skinned black person called 'Brownin', a person of Asian decent called 'Mr. Chin', dread locks called 'Locks' and so on. These names are not intended to be offensive but general descriptors for the purpose of getting your attention.

On a positive note, there is a major trend of having fruit trees and other edible plants as a part of the landscaping in most yards. Mangoes, plantains, bananas, bread fruit, jack fruit and oranges are just a few of the fruits readily available. Not only is it wonderful having fresh fruit all of the time but it is a great money saver too.

I hope this letter paints a more well rounded picture of life in Jamaica than the last.


Early Training

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I have been living in a quiet town outside of Kingston (St. Catherine's Parish) since Saturday with my first host family. My host parents are Rainford and Karell, and their three children live with them (Kevin 23, Shantal 18 and Matthew 14). They are very kind, generous and are always concerned about how I am doing. The food is great but a little strange at times, for example, last night I had stewed peas (kidney beans) with spinners (thin dumpling), chicken neck, pig tail and chicken feet (nails removed). As it turns out, I really enjoyed the turkey neck but the chicken feet were a little too 'gummy' for me. On the other hand, they have an exciting array of different fruits and vegetables which I have been thoroughly enjoying. As far as the weather goes, it can be very hot in the sun and the humidity is intense but in the shade or in the evening when the tropical breeze is blowing it is quite nice, which is most of the time. 
During the day we, the trainees or non-sworn volunteers, have class in a nearby town. This often entails a 9 to 10 hour day with 3 or 4 components. Most days we start out with a couple hours of patois lessons. The patois is coming along slowly but we have a lot of fun in the process trying to mimic the words and pronunciations. We also have a lot of security briefings/trainings with the Peace Corps (PC) Safety and Security Coordinator as well as a lot of guest security speakers (head of embassy security, local and regional police chiefs...). They have assured us that the far majority of violent crimes are gang on gang related and that foreigners are not targeted for any violent crimes. We do however have to be concerned about being targeted for thefts but they have conveyed many steps and techniques in avoiding this. We also have many sessions discussing the importance of community integration to aid in project potency. This is particularly interesting as we are taught how the norms of Jamaica and the US greatly differ and how important it is that we abide by them if we wish to have the community's backing of our projects.

So for now we are just doing general topics for training. After three weeks of this, we separate into sections (Environment or Youth as Promise) for our hub based training which will become more specialized for our programs/projects. Hub based training will span 4 weeks and we will be with a new host family. During the hub based section there will be reviews of trainee progress with cultural norms and patois. Then there will be a several day shadowing of a current volunteer at their work site. If all of that goes well I will be sworn in for two years and receive my project/site assignment.

How is everyone doing? Please E-mail me with updates and I apologize now if it takes me a couple of weeks to respond, I do not currently have regular internet access.
I hope this letter finds everyone well. TTFN


To send mail use the following template:

(For letters you can use any service, but for packages use USPS otherwise it will get stuck in customs and will possibly be subject to taxes)

Greg Jenssen
c/o Country Director,
Leila Webster
US Peace Corps
8 Worthington Avenue
Kingston 5
Jamaica, West Indies