I’ve been running around non-stop ever since I left Vietnam. Six weeks of pure bliss, catching up with friends and family, reinvigorating my soul and re-energizing my zest for life!
One of my many stops between departing Vietnam and moving to South Africa was my return to my old Peace Corps community in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. Amazingly, I now have an eighteen-year history with this small fishing and farming village. As such, I feel more at peace and at home in the quiet streets of Treasure Beach than I do in Kansas City (where I grew up) or even Austin (which has been my home base for twenty years)!
As I was rummaging through my old storage unit I came across my last letter that I wrote as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica and thought I would share it with all of you. Just one quick caveat…my original Peace Corps assignment was in Montego Bay – a place I truly detest to this day, and where I experienced pure hell!
April 1, 1997
Greetings from Jamaica!
This will be my last letter from this island, seeing that my Close Of Service (COS) date is right around the corner. At this time, I am filled with mixed emotions. I’m ready to leave, however my heart goes out to all the wonderful people that I have encountered throughout my stay.
Jamaica is now my home. I’ve spent the last three years striving to make a difference. Unfortunately, I will never reap the benefits of my harvest. Who knows what sort of impact I have made on the 500 children I teach environmental science to each week, or the local rude boys that I’ve lectured to about AIDS/STDs, or the women I’ve sat with for hours, sharing each other’s goals and aspirations. Who knows what sort of impact I have made on the women who fall privy to domestic violence, or the local crack heads that have turned to me for help.
Who knows what sort of impact I have had on the many friends I’ve fed when I knew their bellies were hungry, or the clothes I have given away to the needy. Who knows what sort of impact I have made on my neighbors, Miss Ruby and Troy, who have showered me with love and kindness. Miss Ruby, who thinks of me as her daughter, and I, who turn to her for advice as I would a mother. Who knows what impression I have made on Troy, who I’ve sat with for endless hours, teaching him to read.
Or my neighbor, Andy, that sweet, intelligent child that calls out to me every day just to say hello. Or the neighborhood children, that stop by to give me fruits and vegetables. Or the impact I’ve had on the “likkle ones”, who continuously chant, “Miss Amy” as I ride by the school. For years to come, whenever I hear “Miss Amy”, brilliant images will flood my mind. I have experienced pure joy in Jamaica.
I’ve also experienced pure hell. I have witnessed the brutal beating of a Rasta, simply because he was a dread. I have been attacked in broad daylight by a local madman. I’ve befriended a thirteen year old girl and supported her after she was raped and impregnated by her mother’s boyfriend. I’ve experienced serious bouts of depression and suffered through feelings of loneliness and isolation. I’ve learned first hand what it feels like to be discriminated against; that awkward feeling one gets when they enter a room only to feel eyes of hatred burning into their body, or the uneasiness one feels when they are the only white person in a crowd.
Or the subtle discrimination I experience when I am unable to get a taxi at local rates, or harassed thirty to fifty times a day because people think I have an abundance of money due to the color of my skin, or the frustration I feel when trying to buy produce at the market, only to have prices quoted three times the normal cost. I have learned how to deal with sexual harassment. And I’ve had to live with little to no privacy for the last three years.
However, in the sleepy streets of Treasure Beach, I have managed to find my niche. In fact, in the eyes of my community, I am Jamaican. What an honor to be accepted by this culture, to shatter the image of a stereotypical woman coming to Jamaica.
I am proud to leave behind the legacy of the triathlon. Hours of hard work went into this project. What an accomplishment; to introduce a new sport, which promotes healthy lifestyles, enhances self-esteem, instills a sense of pride within the community, and generates income. However, my reward is knowing the sustainability of this race. Ten years from now, people will look back and remember Miss Amy, the Peace Corps Volunteer who spearheaded this event.
I will always cherish my time in Jamaica. I will never fully grasp the magnitude of this experience. I will continue to learn and grow from my life in Jamaica for years to come. I feel great about what I have accomplished, and look forward to my future.
As they say in Jamaica, ..Tek care and walk good….
While reflecting on my words that were written so long ago, I understand why Treasure Beach holds such a special place in my heart…and why I feel compelled to return year after year! It’s the people of Treasure Beach…who value and understand what it means to be a community!
So at long last, I truly believe I am beginning to reap the benefits of “my harvest”. I can see how my Peace Corps days long ago contributed to the development culture of this amazing community, who possesses a strong commitment and desire to bring about social change and to improve the lives of many.
I’m so proud of Jason Henzell, my Jamaican counter-part during my Peace Corps days, along with other key community members, who has kept this collaborative spirit alive for almost two decades! In fact, he and my Peace Corps volunteer successor helped launch “Breds, The Treasure Beach Foundation – a volunteer-based charitable organization run by members of the community, for the benefit of the community in Treasure Beach”.
And the best part of Breds is that ALL of its donations go towards programs and events directly designed to meet the needs of the community, ranging from educational enrichment to the country’s first community-based ambulance service.
I’m also pleased to report that Breds has taken on the responsibility of organizing the annual Off-Road Triathlon, now in it’s 17th season. Who would’ve thought that this amazing race that started off as an amorphous concept would’ve gained worldwide notoriety! Remarkably, when we initially discussed the idea of this event, no one had ever heard of a triathlon…people thought I was insane when I patiently explained that first you swim, then you ride a bike, followed by a cross-country run! My usual response was something like, ‘Cho, me cyant bodder wid dat, man’
And now, seventeen years later, Jake’s Off-Road Triathlon has been selected by Triathlete Magazine to be among the 100 best triathlons on earth; and was named among the top five best off road races and had the distinction of being the only non-XTERRA event to be named in the category. I never, in my wildest dreams, ever imagined that this tiny race hidden away in the South Coast of Jamaica would achieve this level of success!
Breds continues to do amazing work. In fact, during my brief stay in Treasure Beach last month, Andy (my neighbor from Fisherman’s Bar) escorted me to the newly opened Sports Park and Community Center – complete with a cricket pitch, football fields, basketball courts and tennis courts! It felt as if all the youth in the community were there, practicing their hoops on the basketball court while admiring the newly installed solar lights! I was all smiles as I took in the enormity of this accomplishment….to give the youth in the community a proper outlet to train, to learn new skills, and to excel in sports!
As all of you know, Jamaicans are incredible athletes. I had the distinct honor of being in Jamaica during the 2012 Olympics…and proudly watched as Usain Bolt broke the world record and earned the Gold in the 200m dash! Everyone went WILD as he crossed that finish line…I’ve never seen or felt so much energy, excitement and enthusiasm while watching a race!!! Who knows…perhaps the next ‘Usain Bolt’ will come from Treasure Beach…
I spent one glorious week just walking up and down the road, catching up with old neighbors and friends, and eating my favorite Jamaican dishes! I spent hours sitting on Miss Ruby’s back porch, reminiscing about ‘the good old days’, hung out with my ‘kids’ who are all grown up, and even attended the International Beach Football Tournament in Great Bay. For such a sleepy little town, there is a lot going on.
I relished every waking moment in Treasure Beach….even when Tropical Storm Isaac pounded the South Coast with high winds and lots of rain! Granted, not even a hurricane could dampen my spirits while there…
Although my heart did skip a beat every time I walked by Berry’s old yard. On my first day, I went for an early morning run….and as I passed by her place, her dogs (granted, the offspring of Marley) ran out and greeted me on the road and ran with me all the way back to Old Wharf…I felt as if it was Berry’s spirit, running along side of me…letting me know that everything was alright. And surprisingly, I never saw those dogs again, even though I walked by her old place daily!
Alas, I had to return to Austin to make my final preparations for the big move to South Africa and to say my final farewells to my friends and family.
And after the hell I went through in making arrangements to ship Chico from Vietnam to South Africa (major ordeal), the actual move was rather uneventful! Chico and I made it safely to Pretoria – ironically, no one even glanced at his paperwork – as he was delivered to my house ten minutes after I arrived!
I’ve now been in Pretoria for ten days. I love my house, my car, my neighborhood, and my job! Plus the weather is absolutely magnificent! I’ve been eating like a king….huge prawns, gorgeous steaks and lots of lovely wine! And I have a very large network of friends that already live here – more than I had realized – so the transition has been easy! I feel happy, at peace, and content! In short, Africa is a perfect fit!
Please let me know if you’d like to visit….I have plenty of room!
Sending much love,
For more information on Breds, go to the following: