Hard to believe that it’s been six months since I’ve updated my blog…time seems to be going by quickly!
But I thought on this particular day, when I have so much to be thankful for, I would take the time to catch up. It’s hard to know where to begin – as I’ve returned to the states on holiday, visited my second home away from home, Treasure Beach, Jamaica, added another puppy to the household, and traveled throughout South Africa. As I said previously, so much to be thankful for…
As for my trip to the states, I was happy to show Darren some mid-west hospitality, as this was his very first time in the USA. Our first stop, Houston, Texas to see my Dad and to pick up my car! I’ve had that little Blue Miata for over twelve years now, and seeing that I’ve been living overseas for the past eight (going on nine years), the car has virtually no miles on it!
David, Siham and the kids met us in Galveston for some good old-fashioned beach time. We took in the sites along the boardwalk, ate delicious Tex-Mex (which was a recurring theme throughout our time in Texas), and helped Davo build his sand sculpture – a giant shark.
Austin, TX was our next stop, where we literally just chilled. We walked around Town Lake every day, caught up with friends and family, had a lovely reunion with my old Hula Hut crew, and simply enjoyed every aspect of being back in the states.
Darren was quick to pick up on all the nuances between South Africa and the states. For starters, we pump our own gas in the states; wait staff at restaurants walk away with your credit card (as opposed to bringing the machine to the table as they do in South Africa); and everyone has big, open yards (no security bars on windows, electric fences, or walled off compounds).
I loved feeling safe everywhere we went, day or night! As much as I enjoy my life in South Africa, it’s shrouded with issues of security. People simply don’t walk anywhere…so your sense of freedom is limited.
Next we explored the open highways, literally, as we drove from Austin to Kansas City. I was quite the tour guide for Darren, showing him the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. But the long drive was worth it as we made our way to Mumba and Koshie’s house in Greenwood, Missouri.
I must say, I’ve forgotten how gorgeous Kansas City is…we walked around the Plaza, went to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, saw the new performing arts center in downtown, and gorged on KC barbeque.
I caught up with some of my oldest and dearest friends from high school, and for the most part, just relaxed at my parents house.
Our trip to KC was short, only two days, so my only regret was not going to St. Louis; too, to see my Aunts, uncles and cousins…unfortunately, Darren only had a few days off so everything felt rushed!
We made our way back to Austin to say our good-byes to friends, then Darren headed back to South Africa while I headed to Treasure Beach, Jamaica.
It’s amazing to think that I have a twenty-year history with this tiny little fishing/farming village in the south coast of Jamaica. It’s truly the only place in the world where I feel completely at home, where my soul is at peace, and where I can truly relax and unwind.
There’s something magical about being in the rural countryside, where the pace of living slows down to a halt. And despite twenty years of development, Treasure Beach remains the same, only now with WI-FI hotspots.
Ironically, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, we worked tirelessly to get a pay phone installed in the community. Now everyone has cell phones and tablets…it’s amazing how much technology has changed!
I stayed with my dear friend, Rebecca, and even had the luxury of celebrating Miss Ruby’s 83rd birthday! I consider Miss Ruby family, my second mom. And she views me as her daughter. It’s a beautiful relationship that we have nurtured over the years; I just wish I saw her more often.
The focus of my very short trip to Jamaica (five days in total) was to catch up with ‘my kids’, Troy, Trudy Ann and Andy.
It’s been a joy watching these three grow up over the years. I’ve known them since they were 6, 5 and 3 respectively, and now they are 27, 25 and 23 years old…guess they’re not so kid-like anymore.
Andy sported us for the day, driving to Negril for an excursion out on the town, complete with pina coladas on the beach at Margaritaville to cliff diving at Rick’s Café. I loved chatting with them as adults, discussing their relationship woes, hearing their current dreams and ambitions, and lamenting over their limited opportunities for work in Treasure Beach.
I’m proud of all three of my ‘kids’, but am exceptionally proud of Andy. He’s saved his money over the years and purchased a car (he was my transport to/from the airport); he works as a mechanic; and has just applied for his passport! He has a heart of gold, is soft-spoken and gentle, has an amazing work ethic, and is constantly looking for ways to improve himself. Jamaica is not easy! The cost of living is high, the economy is weak, and the job market, especially for those in rural communities, is inadequate!
I think Troy and Trudyann are still finding their way, struggling to determine a vocation that will bring them some sort of job security. I think back on how I was in my early twenties…it’s difficult to know what you want out of life, even when you’re given a world of opportunities (as we have in the states). I had the luxury of attending university and exploring various subjects and schools of thought. I had the liberty of working odd jobs, and discovering through trial and error my likes and dislikes. What if you weren’t exposed to all of these influences? How would you know what you were ‘good at’ if you were never given the opportunity to try different things?
I’m also an avid reader and try to broaden my horizons with every book I read. In fact, as a Peace Corps Volunteer I was handed a book, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett, that literally changed my life. I had never even heard of the public health field, yet after reading this book, I knew that was the profession for me. I applied to Emory University after completing the Peace Corps and went on for my Masters in Public Health that fall.
Again, I feel fortunate that I have been given the tools that I need to find a meaningful career that I remain passionate about. For my dear friends in Treasure Beach, I worry that those tools may never arrive. Don’t get me wrong, some members of the Treasure Beach community are thriving and have achieved medical professions and have earned multiple graduate degrees. Unfortunately, those seem to be the exception and not the norm…
Jason and the Treasure Beach community consistently strive for opportunities for the youth, including vocational skills training, but the systemic issues run deep. Youth unemployment remains a serious policy challenge for many parts of the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, youth aged 15 to 24 were twice as likely to be unemployed compared to any other age cohort. This problem won’t be resolved until governments start to invest in the supply side of job creation, to develop employable skills among youth and to improve labor force growth rates.
Jamaica has a long ways to go, but fortunately there are people like Jason who are dedicated to the cause. I had the joy of catching up with Jason, my counterpart from my old Peace Corps days, on this recent trip. I went to his gorgeous home in the hills and got to spend time with his wife and two beautiful children…
He’s continued the tradition of development work in the Treasure Beach community over the past two decades! His work and dedication to Treasure Beach never ceases to amaze me. I remember when he spoke about his vision of developing a sports park years ago, and now it’s come to fruition.
What was once vast open plains down fisherman’s lane right where I used to live is now a Sports Park and Community Center for Treasure Beach. It’s incredible to see the youth of today hanging out there, with basketball courts, tennis courts, cricket pitches, football fields and even a clubhouse with free wifi…my how times have changed!
And after serving as an environmental volunteer in Jamaica, I am happy to report that Treasure Beach is now the recipient of a project funded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica to protect the sea turtles. Two local men have even been hired to do nesting surveys on the hawksbill sea turtles that nest on Treasure Beach’s local beaches.
My dear friend, Rebecca, arranged for us to go on the very first sea turtle conservation tour so that these same gentleman could practice giving their tour while collecting data on the sea turtles. I have never felt so proud of my former community! I clearly remember the days when I would teach lessons on endangered species in the schools, and in unison, the children would scream, “Sweet food, mon, sweet food!”. Clearly, we had a long ways to go…but after twenty years these same children are now protecting the sea turtle habitat and teaching others why it’s important not to poach these beautiful creatures.
After five glorious days in Treasure Beach, I flew back to Austin and continued my long journey back to South Africa. It’s always difficult to say good-bye to friends and family – definitely one of the major down sides of living overseas.
In random bits and pieces, I caught up with old friends at the PEPFAR conference in Durban. Hard to believe that this is my ninth year with PEPFAR! So in addition to catching up with colleagues from my grad school days at Emory, I was also able to see dear friends from Malawi and even my former colleagues from Vietnam. Again, I definitely feel fortunate with the opportunities afforded me.
And Darren and I finally explored Sun City over a long holiday weekend. For those of you who saw the movie, Blended (horrible film with Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler), this is where it was filmed. Definitely too touristy and a bit cheesy, but we made the most of it and had a great time!
As you can see, on this Thanksgiving Day (or now the day after), I have much to be thankful for. Wishing each of you a happy Thanksgiving.
Sending much love,