The worldwide Augustana College experience

The Dirty Banana

The Dirty Banana:  The name of the van we will be spending some quality time in throughout the next two weeks & my newly favorite Jamaican drink. 

While preparing to leave for paradise, the one phrase every Augie student cried was, “I can’t feel my fingers!” Landing in Montego Bay several hours later, that phrase quickly turned to, “I wore too many layers!” Arriving in Montego Bay was surreal. Being my first experience outside of the United States, I had no idea what to expect. In all honesty, I was disappointed to find the dominance of Western culture in this Jamaican airport (though I can’t complain about the Coke machines everywhere). Walking through the airport, it was no secret that tourism is the largest economic source for the island. The airport was filled with more American tourists than Jamaicans. (For the record, the Hawaiian shirt count is at 16).

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Day 4-7- Port Antonio, Great Huts and More

           Today we took a ride into Port Antonio where I went from having $125 to having $1465.25… Not a bad conversion rate. As we transitioned from being to tourists to students of the culture, we explored the maze of markets, picking up various souveniors and produce along the way. I was persuaded by a elderly market member to purchase a green fruit the size of a softball, it had a white, fleshly inside, absolutely amazing for not even knowing the name of it. This was the first time I really understood the community that the people of this country embody. It was always a group effort, some of these women selling produce have been in the same spot for the last 30 years, these people around them were not their competition, but their family. Helping to make change, telling stories, and keeping genuine company. They were so willing to answer our questions and learn from us as well. I couldn’t have thanked them more. I learned so much.

We next went to the Blue Lagoon. My descriptions will not do it justice, thus I will try to in pictures (which still do not capture the beauty). Beautiful people, beautiful food, and a beautiful view.

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This is Why I Came to Jamaica

As I sit here on the plane heading back to the United States, I can’t help but think about how privileged I really am. After spending a week at the Alpha Institute (formerly known as the Alpha Boys School) in Kingston, JA, and after spending 13 days in JA, I can say that I am coming back to the United States learning so much more than I ever thought I would.

To preface the rest of my blog, the boys school recently underwent a pretty drastic change in operation. As some of you may know, the Alpha Boys School used to be a residential school. Many of the boys who attended this school were sadly orphans, or they had very bad home situations, and Alpha served as a “last chance” sort of school for many, who came from all areas of the island. Also, the boys at the school had a wider variance in age. If I’m correct, the ages used to range from about 8 to 15 or 16 (but I believe they could stay until 18) roughly. Lastly, since these boys could stay at the school until they aged out, the music program was able to have the older boys help teach the younger boys how to play their instrument, as well as teaching them the songs they played. The program was able to produce some very notable musicians as well (Don Drummond, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, Yellowman, and the list could go on).

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The Great Huts

We had to say goodbye to the all-inclusive resort on Wednesday of the first week, and although it was a wonderful 2 days, I was ready to see what else Jamaica had to offer. Our first stop after the resort was to visit the Seville Great House. We went on a tour that taught us more about how the Jamaicans came to be, and also about the property itself. It was very cool to see how the property was laid out, and to learn about the agriculture of that time period as well.
After we left the Seville Great House, we had to drive about another 3 hours to get to Boston Bay. It was so interesting to drive through the small villages and see the houses and small stores. All of the buildings have vibrant colors, and most look very small in size. Most of these smaller buildings I think were stores that community members owned. I believe that their houses must have been tucked away in the hills away from the main road. As we would drive through larger towns we would see the streets crawling with people and in my opinion, some crazy driving! Also, the majority of the drive was along the coast, which was absolutely breathtaking, and definitely not something you can see in Illinois. There was also a very noticeable economic difference going from the resort to the Great Huts. Around the resorts I noticed much nicer road conditions, as well as shops, while approaching the Great Huts the roads were less than ideal in some spots (although, they weren’t terrible) and the shops were more so just little shacks right off of the road. Overall though, the drive to the Great Huts was amazingly beautiful.
Once we arrived to the Great Huts, we were all blown away with just how amazing these huts/tree house-like places really were. I lived in the hut named “Queen Sheba.” I would like to say I lived in the nicest hut, however, I think any of them would be awesome to stay in for a few nights.
Almost every night in Boston Bay was spent playing dominoes with the locals down the road. This was probably one of my favorite things to do while in Jamaica. For those of you who have never played dominoes, you should learn, because it is a great game! Anyways, the first night we played I was just playing against other Augie students, while some locals were trying to give us tips for winning; so this wasn’t as competitive of a game since we all had roughly the same amount of skill. However, there was another night where Kelly and I played against Kyle and a local. For the first few rounds it went back and forth on who would win, but after that, Kelly and I went on to win 11 rounds in a row! This is a pretty huge accomplishment for dominoes I’d say. So that meant we won 1 game, and we were one win away from winning a second game. So not only did we win 11 in a row, but it was also against a local who seemed to be very competitive, so I was happy to see I could hold my own against the “experts.”
Aside from dominoes, while we were in Boston Bay we went on quite a few excursions. We went into the market in Port Antonio, the Blue Lagoon, Frenchman’s Cove, and Reach Falls. The market was definitely a different experience than anything I’ve ever done in the US. When you want to buy something in Jamaica, you are expected to barter. As most of you can guess, this is not something that comes natural to most American college students; but soon enough I got the hang of it and was able to save a few dollars on each purchase. Blue Lagoon and Frenchman’s Cove were both absolutely beautiful. The water at the Blue Lagoon looked like someone just poured blue food coloring into some clear water – it was incredible. While there we were able to kayak, hang out and play dominoes, swim, or just lay out at a nearby villa where we ended up having a delicious lunch and dinner. Frenchman’s Cove was amazing because the waves were absolutely insane, but also because there was a river connected to the side that was so calm and tranquil. Lastly, Reach Falls was a blast! I got to climb my way up and stream; go underground only to find myself in an underground cave; swim through the cave (we literally were swimming with earth above and below us, so we had to hold our breathes while we did this) so we could get back out to the stream; and lastly, we all jumped off the 25ft waterfall at the end! Like I said, it was a blast.
What I am able to take away from these 4 days at the Huts is that the people I encountered were some of the nicest people you’ll meet. Another thing I learned was that when presented with the opportunity, I was able to get outside of my comfort zone to really allow myself to experience Jamaica. Also, one big thing I learned is that most of the Jamaicans that I met all understand how to live life to the fullest. They understand that life isn’t about the money you do or do not have; instead, life is making the most of everyday and being thankful for what you do have. It was just very inspiring to see people who many Americans would consider impoverished living perfectly happy lives. Lastly, I learned that Jamaican’s know how to cook up some pretty delicious meals; and when you order fish, you get a fish – head and all.

Diamonds In The Rough

Going into our first day of teaching at the Alpha Girls School I was a little bit nervous. I have never actually taught any class. The most that I have done is help out and observe during a clinical. I knew that I was in for much more. At the beginning of the day, before we began teaching, we told one of the teachers in the math department that we were going to be teaching and she replied with a joking “good luck”. It was a friendly “good luck”, but it also seemed to imply that the girls were going to be misbehaved and hard to handle. However, after the first five minutes of being in our 5th form pull out session any doubts or nerves that I had about the week were completely gone. The girls were smiling from ear to ear almost the entire lesson. They were incredibly well behaved, respectful, genuine, and interested in what we had to say to them. It was as if they were excited to be learning algebra! They were interested in what we had to say, but I cannot imagine them being more interested in us than we were in them. Here were young girls that have had rough upbringings and are living in poverty that are extremely respectful and truly care about their education and I was captivated by it. It was incredible to see the way that they were determined to learn the material. Perhaps part of it was that they had the CXC exams coming up so they knew a specific reason that they needed to know the material, but they also really cared about their education.

While in our cooperating teacher, Ms. Rose’s 6th form class, the girls were getting a little rowdy. Ms. Rose told the girls to quiet down or she was going to leave. I immediately thought that this was a horrible strategy to get students to quiet down, but I had underestimated the students. That silenced them like you wouldn’t believe. The thought of their teacher leaving and them not learning anything that period was enough to bring them to their best behavior. I feel as if a teacher tried this technique in america the students would only get louder. They would not care if the teacher left. If anything, they would prefer it if the teacher left. The way in which the students at Alpha Girls School view education is so different than the way the students in america view education. I know, because they definitely have a more positive view towards it than I did. At Alpha the girls were not just trying to get by and get through school. They were trying to get as much out of it as they could. They realize that the education that they are getting is not free, it is costing their family a great deal of money, their family does not have much money in the first place, and that education is the way out of poverty in Kingston.

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The Great Huts were that GREAT

Driving to the great huts was an adventure to say the least. The road went from a nicely paved highway to practically a single lane road with as many pot holes as the roads in Rock Island. Yet, Dr. Egan got us to the Great Huts in one piece. My first walk through of my hut left me speechless. It was absolutely amazing! The view was gorgeous, the space we had in our place was awesome, and the fact that everything was just in the outdoors was spectacular. Our shower has to be the best part of our hut. It is in the shape of a boat, with no curtains, and looks straight out into the sea! Yes, when I take a shower I can see the waves crashing into the rocks just down below is where our beach is located. Yes, if someone was on the rocks diving off into the water, they could see me in my shower. But no, no one has seen any of us yet. We also had a outdoor bar connected to our hut, but no drinks… We had two chairs made out of stone looking out over the ocean, which I am currently on writing this blog. Our hut was connected to some of the other huts the girls were staying in as well as a mini pool that looked out over the edge as well. The views from all of the huts were amazing and just left me speechless most of the stay.

Yet, the huts were not the only thing that we did while staying in Boston Bay. We played dominoes with the locals at night, went to the Blue Lagoon (it was the bluest water you’ll ever see in your life), went to Reach Falls and had a great lunch, and went to some local dancing and parties at night. It was unbelievable everything that we did. The Blue Lagoon and the villa we stayed in was absolutely amazing. Chef Joseph that cooked us food was the man! His food was amazing to the last bite! Everything he made got eaten by all of us. There wasn’t a drop left after dinner from what he made. The lunch after Reach falls was just as good as chef Joseph’s! The food in general has been amazing for every single meal. There had not been a meal yet where I went hungry or was like I don’t like this. It all has been so good it has been unreal. I am looking forward to the Boston jerk tonight for our last night in the Great Huts. I’ll let you all know about it at the end of this post. But first let me talk a little more about playing dominoes and the Reach Falls which have been my favorite things so far for the Great Huts stay.

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How can words give Justice to the importance of this experience?

Wow what an amazing school! Alpha is a incredible atmosphere, the girls are so friendly, funny, but most of all they are dedicated!

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What you can’t Get at a Resort: The Most Important Things

We have left the resort and are now in the middle of our stay in the great huts. There is a complete transformation in our experiences to go along with it. We made our way driving along the coasts on the narrow roads dodging people and traffic. Now that we are out of the resort we have started to get a glimpse into Jamaican culture outside of the “resort culture”.

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Feeling Jamaica

This last week in Jamaica has got me to feel more and more what Jamaica is about. Through its people, through experiences, but even more importantly, through it education system. While the schools are modeled after the British system of education, it was different because the students had different goals, but they were still learning the same material, and had similar challenges.
One day while working after school, I had the chance to talk with a 6th grade student regarding her geography book and class with Joey. While this was interesting to see what they were learning in school, some of the stuff that she shared with us regarding the island and the state of racism shocked me. She was discussing how the whites had power in society but that he and he family since they were black did not have this power. She not only shared how there was racism in Jamaica but she expressed a very strong opinion regarding it and its presence when people would try and tell her it did not exist. I grew up like a normal white child and did not experience much racism, so for me, this was a very educated student in regards to race issues within society, but is that because I did not deal with these issues growing up and they are present in our society I am just not aware of them, or is this knowledge lacking in our society. I am leaning towards the former, and it has helped me to see a little more into a part of our society in the United States from this one encounter with a student. While I am not educated about this regards to the united states, when this is coming from a 6th grade student on an island that is mostly her race, and she is seeing the oppression by whites, this shows me that this is probably true about our society as well. While we were in a school, this racial undertone was part of Jamaica; I was feeling and experiencing Jamaica.
The second day we were at the school was peace day. The high school did not celebrate it, but the elementary school did. During their morning devotions they had a phrase they repeated; it was “A better Jamaica piece by piece.” They then sang a song of peace. During this song I cried. During this moment I felt Jamaica to my core, these students were coming from Kingston, a city of violence, a history of slavery, and society impacted by imperialism and tourism, one where racism is felt, and they were singing about wanting peace. Children form 1st through 6th grade were singing about wanting peace, and from studying the culture and seeing these students singing about peace in their country and culture really had an impact on my. I was feeling Jamaica.
The second and third day of being at the school, a girl, Jae, came in for help in our after school hours. I was working with her. She is a 4th former, meaning she still has a year till the exam, but she might have been trying to take it early. She was coming in to get help with vectors, a college level topic in the United States, which was being taught in high school. While we were there to help the 5th formers, not many came in, but she was determined to get the help since she needed it and wanted to succeed. You could tell that Jae did not come from money since she had only one side of her glasses, but was determined to succeed. She was interested in college in America and how to apply and stuff. She was truly interested in succeeding in college and really finding a place that she liked. She wanted to create an opportunity to have the life she wants, and to get that, she knew she needed education. I felt her desire to be educated, a feeling that seems to be lacking in the United States education system sometimes, since it seems that our students expect a education, but in Jamaica they work hard to achieve their education because it helps them get to where they want to go. And I felt this in Jae.
Overall my experience in Kingston helped to provide me a better sense of the feeling of Jamaica, to really try and understand what the students I was working with were going through as well as all of the people I met. While I can never feel what they feel, I believe that I was able to understand them better through this experience with them then even through understand the culture through the different lenses we looked at through our class.

Step Three: Gates and Education

The thing that surprised me the most about Kingston was simply how many gates there were everywhere. It seemed every building from the alpha girl school to the hotel to the grocery store everything had a gate. The reason I was shocked was not because the gates were strange to me, but how could a culture that is so welcoming be so gated off. Even when it came to the ATM you had to enter a room and lock it in order to withdraw money. I never did find what the gates were for besides a sense of security, but I think this plays into one of the overall messages from the trip. The idea that possessions does not define a human. I remember my first day at Alpha Girl School following Ms. Rose to her first class and I appreciated the architecture of the buildings but I also saw how rundown they all were. In the first classroom there was a window Payne missing in one of the windows and another window was partially smashed. The desks were absolutely beat to crap and the floors were grimy. But when we sat down we start to watch class and I did not see what was around me but I saw the students learning. You see while if a school was of that condition in the United States it would be considered a school for students of low SES and I do not think you could find great teachers that want to teach there. This is so different from what I expected, especially since Mike had given us all the run down about how amazing the students and teachers are.

After seeing this I have found that throughout this trip that I continue to question what value I see in possessions. I had always thought I was rather good at ignoring possessions and always looking for less worldly things, but what judgements have I made my whole life about the quality of life of another based on the environment around them and the possessions they carry. Learning does not need to happen with technology or with new desks or even white boards, learning can happen with a passion to succeed and an appreciation for knowledge. Applying this past my Jamaica trip I can see now what my teaching can mean to someone. I can teach someone who does not have a lot, someone that most Americans may forget about, because their school does not have the same supplies, or the fancy technology. Someone that most people may have counted out. I think with my teaching, maybe I can give them an opportunity to succeed, they are students too and they have a bright future ahead of them as long as someone lights the fire.

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