So we are back, and the count is down to 5 weeks! There is definitely longing to be home (after seeing my awesome family and friends and YG, I think the list includes MY BED, a real shower, no more bugs, good food, Saturdays to sleep in, rainy days, wearing warm clothes, reading in bed, actually needing blankets to sleep with, WASHING MACHINES, and clean feet), but we all know that we will miss this place. It is still wondrous every day, and while some days it takes more help from Jesus to appreciate that, I am trying! There was definitely a time today when Aimee and I both looked at each other and said we were praying for patience (the whole group is getting a little cagey since we have such a rigorous schedule now)! ;) Besides, we all know that a week after we get home we'll be longing to be back! ... And I'll be fondly remembering meals of rice and chickpeas and showering at night with cold water and chasing off ants...;)
We only have 2 more weeks until exams again so that means 6 hours of class for most days of the week...which is exhausting. There is a lot of coffee and tea being made in the mornings and anxiousness to get out of our seats. We have lunch after hour 4 and then afternoons have been a bit better, usually with field lectures/activities so we get moving a little. The other days are for directed research, and I have a much-needed relaxed schedule for that. In the midst of all of this, I am trying to savor the wonderful little moments that I have every day, the ones that are so amazing I have to remind myself this is real.
Late this afternoon after we were done with class, a couple of girls and I got our books and beach towels and laid by the pool to read and watch the sunset. It was some people I don't know as well and so it was great to talk to them and branch out. I had an experience like that on Sunday, with a different group, and I was out listening to a sermon with my Bible and journal open, and a girl who I rarely talk to asked me what I was doing. When I explained I was listening to a church service she then was intrigued why on earth someone would do that and wanted to know if I thought it was fun. I was so caught off guard and I feel like I could have done better at explaining, but it was a great opportunity to share about my faith and how important I view my relationship with Christ. Anyway.. today was great to just relax and watch the sky full of amazing colors as the sun sank below the horizon. The sky is so big here and we are so close to the ocean and the wide open horizon and you can see for miles and miles. God's beauty is just so amazing it is hard to comprehend... it's so unreal! I literally just sat and watched the sun set (yep, still in my swim suit, still 80 degrees) and savored the moment. It's a good reminder that our human fixation on so many things--always hurrying everywhere, watching the time, social media (yes Facebook and Pinterest, I am guilty too), cell phones, even school and grades, clothes, decorating our houses-- is so unimportant in the big picture, and even a waste of time. I was thinking how much of my life I spend doing time-wasting things rather than appreciating God's awesomeness and doing things for Him. Being stripped away from most comforts of home has made me realize how happy I can be without all of that "fluff"... I can still have a full life without following what the American society tells me I should do/have/buy to be happy and successful. These are the things I really treasure: laughter, sisters, family, my relationship with Jesus, singing, young group, smiles, long talks with my sisters/friends/sisters-in-Christ, all-nighters with my girlfriends, bonfires and hayrides, family time, stormy nights, hot cider, wearing sweaters, reading under the covers or when its raining, lightening, travel, hammocks, chocolate. (Side note: you can tell I am missing fall from that list;). But really. The things I love about life are not going to be bought with a huge paycheck or a fancy house. Being at the college age and stressed sometimes about the future, I need to remind myself that God has it all in control and whatever He asks me to do will be for MY best interests and I can be completely happy in it. And what a load off that I can just give it all to God and wait on Him! Aimee and I have been talking about how we've grown during this experience and what God has in store for our futures... knowing that it will be wonderful even if it is difficult! He takes us through the trials to bring us to awesome mountain tops where we just stand in awe.
Tonight we went mermaid bathing again and had another great conversation out in the water under the stars. These are the moments that I appreciate so much and will never forget!
Appreciating the sunsets and wide open spaces that I know I will miss!
New people. A different country. So many emotions. It is hard to summarize my trip to Jamaica…only 5 days but so full of experiences and memories and feeling SO close to God.
Wednesday afternoon I flew from Provo to Miami and had a night there before my flight out to Montego Bay the next morning. My motel wasn’t quite as close to things as I was hoping, but I ended up with a wonderful chicken & rice microwave dinner that I ate while talking to my family (on a CELL PHONE, shocker! First time in a month and a half!), and then nutella and oreos. Yes, I was treating myself because food was not imported and thus relatively cheap. ;) I crashed early because it was an early morning start the next day.
I arrived in Jamaica around 11 am and then had some much needed time reading the Word as I waited for some others to arrive. The backstory on this is that I talked to someone involved in ACWR from my home church about how feasible it would be to visit Jamaica on my break, and then it so happened that he and the rest of the ACWR Jamaica board were going to be there the same time. It was really God working things out for me! Plus I got to see a familiar face! I cannot tell you how blessed I felt by the team that weekend…everyone made me feel so welcome and included. My “honorary dads” were so great with conversation and hugs and council…I could not have asked for a better or more needed experience.
Blake, one of the missionaries there, picked us up at the airport and then we headed to an open-air thatched-hut place for dinner. Served family style, we had jerk chicken, rice and beans, festival—a delicious sweet breadstick type thing, and ting—Jamaican grapefruit-flavored soda. I soon found that ting is a common and delicious drink and I would get lots of it! Then we started the 2.5 hour drive to the middle of the island—Mandeville—where Erin, another missionary, lives. That was my first exposure to Jamaican roads, which are narrow, full of switchbacks and pot holes, occupied by crazy (SPEEDY) Jamaican drivers, and on this night happened to have some downed brush and trees from the recent rain. Of course I thought it a wonderful adventure but I know some in the car (who have made the trip more times than me!) did not think it quite as much;)
After meeting Erin and Tashi (Blake’s wife) at CCCD, we all unpacked into the Great House and crashed pretty early. The next two days were wonderful for me to learn about ACWR and life in Jamaica. We visited New Hope Children’s Home which is exactly the orphanage you picture in your head: cribs of kids with their arms reaching up, crying and wanting to be held. You just hold as many as you can and wish you had more arms! The second day when just Erin and I went back, it was a bit drizzly outside and I sat on the cement porch with sometimes three kids on my lap with their arms tight around my neck. I can’t imagine this life but pray for those who work here and the kids who live it! The kids need your prayers so much!
Saturday night the team went out to a nicer restaurant on a hill overlooking the city, and it was beautiful to see the city awash in lights and the red-orange moon rise. Made me think of the contrast in lives I’ve seen here, and in the past month. I’m still not sure what to take from this, but for now I just know I have been blessed. Abundantly.
Sunday morning was church at the Jamaica Deaf Village which was a different experience and a bit hard. God has been working with me to learn trust in Him and HIS plan for my life, and that morning I was just thinking about the meaning of that. We learned about Joseph being sold into slave and the mighty plan God had for him; while we all can say we trust God, isn’t it so much harder when God asks you to do something hard, that you aren’t excited about or don’t really want to do? I know God is watching out for me but lately I have felt led in some new directions that I’m not so sure about yet. I am usually a very enthusiastic person and I know I will get to the point of excitement, but it’s going to take some faith! Anyway, I had some very humbling, emotional, and wonderful conversations with the team that day and left feeling exactly as I should have: on the ground before Jesus. It’s not a fun place to be but is certainly the best starting place for trust. Erin had arranged a driver to drive me the few hours back to Montego Bay, and so I had a good long time to think and pray on the road. It was an amazing drive with the forests and fields and hills, and even a stormy sky for a while. Definitely still crazy driving though—at one time, one these skinny windy roads, we met a funeral procession and there was only room for one car to go by and my driver wanted the hearse to get over! It was TIGHT but we ended moving to the edge of the hill and the hearse squeaked by.
After checking into my lodging for the night, I went out and enjoyed the sunset and got some dinner before deciding it was probably safer to stay in. It was a 4:45am early morning to catch my flight back to South (first to Miami, then Provo, then South), but I had a wonderful talk with my mom in the Miami airport and then read exactly what I needed to in Jeremiah and Isaiah while waiting for my flight. God just knows exactly what we need! I was so thankful to end break on this high note, ready for another 6 weeks on South Caicos!
It goes without saying that we were a bit culture shocked when we arrived in Provo.... seeing real roads, and cars, and white people, and palm trees... it was all so wondrous after 7 weeks on South but especially after 3 days of camping in a bug rainforest. We had a tour bus pick us up at the dock and to see everyone's face when they stepped on and into the first AC they'd had in a month was pretty funny (we actually rode the same bus when we arrived at the beginning of the program and all thought it was kind of crappy and old then). Oh how your appreciation levels and perspective changes!
So we first went to our hotel where we probably looked homeless as we sprawled out on the chaise lounges all covered in bug bites and old camping clothes and gear. The interns set out groceries to make pack lunches out of and then we were briefed by our professor on how the survey was going to go, and then we split into our groups and headed out. We left around 11 and were instructed to return at 6 for dinner or when our surveys ran out.... so a long day, shooting for around 300 surveys total. My group was assigned the beach in front of Club Med, Grace Bay, and some other very foofy resorts. It was kind of interesting to talk to tourists accustomed to this luxury, but we felt a bit out of place in our SFS t-shirts (plus we really just wanted to be in the gorgeous water;). We took a break for lunch and then headed out for barely 45 minutes until it started monsoon dumping on us. We immediately headed back for the resort but the 15 minute walk back had us ABSOLUTELY soaked through. Of course, when you live on a water-scarce remote island, this was nothing to be sad about... we were thrilled for the freshwater shower! We weren't very presentable after that so we waited around to get our bags and change clothes before heading out for a little longer. Later that afternoon we all finally checked into our rooms and took blissful real showers (hot water!!) before getting pizza (real pizza!! haven't had this in a month either!) for dinner. We had a few presentations that evening before being released to explore Provo (translation: get ice cream;). Most of us crashed early after enjoying hi-speed internet---another real luxury!
The next morning consisted of a tour of the conch farm-- a local attempt at aquaculture-- before getting released for break! The excitement was high at noon when our professors finally said we were free to go and just to be back on South the following Monday by 5pm!
Most of the group were splitting hotel rooms in Provo, and another group was flying to Grand Turk, but I was headed to Jamaica (which I was super excited about!). So after having lunch with another SFS girl, I got a taxi to the airport and headed out of the TCI.
Midterm exams are OVER and break started out with a bang. Hard to believe all that has happened in the past week…. Starting with 3 hour written essay exams that had us staying up to all hours of the night (or all night for some of us…;), a group trek all over the other TCI islands, and then a wonderful week for me in Jamaica.
Last Sunday started our adventures away from the center, with our whole group waiting at the docks with our backpacks and miscellaneous other stuff to take the ferry to North Caicos. Yes, we were going to camp, first of all to save money (likely) but also because there aren’t any accommodations on North large enough to fit our group of 40+ people (students, interns, and staff). I think we were all in awe a bit to be separated from the Center and South, which is all we've known for the past 6 weeks…literally I have probably ridden in a car twice this whole time! It had been a busy week so we all crashed on the ferry ride and woke up to see half-started developments on North and the sights of a “typical” tropical island---palm trees and lush vegetation! Unlike rocky South, North Caicos is dominated by trees and has several communities rather than one lone town, so it seems much bigger. Unfortunately, with the trees and quantities of rain that North receives, this island is also known for its bugs…which are ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE. And not just mosquitoes. Yes, there are mosquitoes in abundance but also ants in HORDES and little gnat things that bite and leave hundreds of red bumps all over your skin. (As campers, we experienced these in full). It has now been a full week since the days of camping and I am still covered in bites.
Upon arrival, we loaded into a schoolbus and drove to the “campsite”, which was actually a local’s backyard. After setting up our tents we loaded into the bus to see several examples of ecotourism on North. The evening consisted of dinner cooked by a local woman, a walk to town for some (to buy soda and stay cool!), and sharking for others. As it got dark early, most of us were in bed by 9 or 10 to get some sleep (as much as you can when sleeping on a rock colony;).
Tuesday morning we drove to Middle Caicos over the causeway that connects the islands. We toured some caves there and then went to a Mudjin Harbor, a secluded beach that has the idyllic white sand and turquoise water but none of the crowds of touristy beaches. It was a wonderful end to the afternoon to go swimming in the gorgeous water and explore the beach. Our wet and sandy group then packed back into the bus to see a government seed farm before dinner back on North. I joined the sharking group that evening and since we were driving back to a site on Middle Caicos, we were going to miss dinner. Our professor pulled off at a hole-in-the-wall convenience store for us to buy stuff for dinner and when someone was buying a box of banana oatmeal cookies, the local at the counter sheepishly said that the cookies were free because they were outdated and he couldn't sell them. Of course that meant we all got a box, even though they were dated from May (Come on, we're college kids!;). Anyway, dinner that night consisted of crackers, fruit loops, expired cookies, and Diet Coke. Consumed on a rickety van ride across the island and sitting on the edge of some mangroves watching a gorgeous sunset in the middle of nowhere. We thought sharking might be successful because Aaron saw a turtle poke its head up soon after we set the net, and then we caught a bonefish...all good signs of shark habitat. We ended up empty handed, but did see an amazing meteorite shoot across the night sky and had a good evening of camaraderie (but horrendous bug bites). I was sent out towards the end of the night to bring the GPS out to the far end of the net, and with the murky, waist-deep water and uneven substrate---at night---it was a wobbling trek out there. The Cassiopea (jellyfish that release their sting when the water around them is agitated... in other words, when you walk by) were abundant and of course I didn't know what else I was walking over, so I was a bit hesitant. Besides the Cassiopea stings, I ended up falling on some rocks (I kept my head up though) and scraping up my leg pretty bad. It wasn't too deep but the blood rolling down my leg looked legit when I finally made it back to the shore! It's a good story to say I got it sharking (but of course it wasn't actually from a shark;).
When we made it back to camp at 11ish, we found that they had saved us dinner in tinfoil wrapped plates in the giant cooler. But ants had gotten through BOTH of those barriers and had infested most of the plates...leaving most of us with no appetite. The boys still dug into their food and said the ant flavor wasn't too bad. Ahhhkkk!!;(
Clearly, the next morning we were all THRILLED to be packing up and headed on the ferry to Provo.... CIVILIZATION!!! SHOWERS!!! REAL BEDS!!! NO BUGS!!!
To be continued in the next post...
[The six islands I made it to on this trek were South Caicos, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, Providenciales (Provo), Miami (a stretch I know;), and Jamaica... all from Sunday to Sunday!]
Days have been flying by around here and I can hardly believe the program is almost half over. Some updates on what has been going on:
· Killed a baby lizard in our room the other day. Not on purpose, just trying to get it out.
· Ate rice and beans for probably 8 out of 10 meals this past week until the food boat came on Wednesday. I am not joking. We literally had no food left, and just canned fruit mixes—no fresh fruit or vegetables. Wednesdays are GREAT days here;)
· Learned about and chose our directed research projects. These projects will take a lot of our time during the second half of the semester and will culminate with a scientific paper and presentation. I am really excited for mine, it is a social science study about livelihoods on South Caicos and what people would like the future to look like. Apparently there is a lot of entrepreneurial spirit here with people wanting to improve their lives and that may actually be possible when tourism comes to South, which could actually be within 30 years. Edd (the professor) is collecting research about these perspectives so he can present to the TCI government regarding their spending on the island—eg. Using their allocated investment money for microlending.
· Getting very sick of bugs running across the floor at night when you turn the bathroom light on. My clothes not smelling very good. Needing a freshwater shower. Also had a little black flying beetle-thing on my pillow one night and then it flew on my face and then I quick shoved it out of my mosquito net. I’ll be ready not to have to sleep in one of these things when I get home. It is very annoying to be boxed in like that.
· This week we had midterm exams. Which was absolutely crazy. We had Monday and Tuesday to study and then 3 hour essay exams each day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The first one was resource management which was mostly concepts and memorizing formulas so we could do some relatively simple calculations. That definitely took work but the test wasn’t too bad. Marine ecology was next and the professor literally requires you to know every single word that was on the powerpoints, came out of his mouth, or was in the readings. Questions on the test could be as specific as “what is the length of the pelagic stage of a Caribbean spiny lobster?” and “Name the 30 types of turtle scutes”… in other words, RIDICULOUS. We all studied all day on Wednesday and then that night another girl and I decided to keep working at it and we ended up staying up all night. Shirley took a 2 hour nap from 4- 6am on the concrete floor of the computer room, but I kept studying. You know it is serious when by 5:30 am our entire SFS group was back up studying for the 8am exam…and it was still dark outside! The test was difficult because of the fact-specific questions and some pretty detailed essay questions, but since I had studied for so long I felt confident about it. And then crashed that afternoon!! Friday was environmental policy which still required studying but was much easier than the other two. And now we’re done! (for the first part of the semester).
· Then Aimee and I went mermaid bathing because we were all hot and sandy, and we decided this needs to become a regular occurrence. When in my life will I ever have the chance to bathe out in the ocean under the stars and lightening? Being able to shampoo your hair and look out over the horizon which just keeps going and going with water is absolutely amazing. We had a wonderful talk about having a relationship with Jesus and being a light on this program. Apparently the staff have said that this is the most diverse group they have had yet, with people on both ends of the spectrum, which is interesting but I think we all get along pretty well and there is definitely respect for each person.
· This morning the waves are too rough to dive so we went snorkeling instead. Didn’t see much but it was fun to go out.
· Outreach this afternoon. I am on crafts.
· Tomorrow we are going on a field trip that starts our fall break. We’re taking a ferry to North Caicos in the morning (an hour and a half away) and then setting up our campsite. Those that know me know that I am not a camper (I have never even been before) so we’ll see how this goes;) In the afternoon we are going to a variety of ecotourism sites typical of the North Caicos community, which has a population of 2000 and is mainly agricultural and handcraft based. A local lady is preparing our dinner and then in the evening some people will be going sharking (first time Aaron has collected elasmobranch data outside South, so he’s pretty excited) and others will be doing the national seafood survey with North residents. This survey is attempting to quantify how much seafood and what kinds of seafood people are eating so scientists can estimate total fish catches and possibly reset quotas that are too high. The TCI government has asked SFS to do this data and it is the first time any SFS center (around the world) has done research on a national scale (yes, this is a small country, but still very cool for them). Monday we are doing a day trip to East Caicos to see some ecotourism in action there and do more surveys. Camping again this night. And Tuesday morning bright and early we take the ferry to Provo, which is only 10 minutes away. We check in to our hotel (oh my word a hotel. SOOO excited) and then spend the day surveying tourists and locals there. We get pizza for dinner (again, SOOOO excited) and then we have 2 speakers that night. Wednesday morning is touring a conch farm and then by noon we are released for break!! Most of the group is staying on Provo and others are going to Grand Turk, but I have a 3:30pm flight to Miami where I will spend the night (by myself… we’ll see how this goes;) before a Thursday morning flight to Jamaica. I have always wanted to see our world relief activities there and God has worked it out so wonderfully for me to go while I am “relatively” in the area. Plus, the ACWR board in charge of Jamaica will be there the same time I am and one of the members goes to Silverton –so I will get to see a familiar face!! I am very ready to be with church people again and to sing again!
· Wow this was supposed to be a short post but clearly not. Anyway… I am trying to savor my time here and not wish it all away when I miss home (and weather at home;).
manta-boarding (v.): to be pulled behind a boat with your face in the water, as if you were a manta ray.
We are now getting to the point in the term where we have learned the basic concepts and techniques of resource management, and are now ready to apply them to actual projects. We got to try a little field research last week when we did a dive assessing lionfish, but yesterday was the beginning of our first real research and related paper (for this class).
The objective was to continue a many-year studying assessing queen conch abundance inside and outside the marine reserve to evaluate the effectiveness of the reserve. SFS has been collecting this data with its semester and summer students for 10 years now, so a significant data set has been compiled for us to analyze. Yesterday was our turn collecting data, which consisted of a group of 8 going out on a boat for 4 hours (YES IT REALLY WAS 4 HOURS) and taking turns doing transects in the water counting conch. But, the transect method is TONS of fun: partner pairs get to hold onto a wooden board (“manta board”) that is attached with string to the back of the boat, and then get pulled along behind the boat as we drive the transect. Yes, it is exactly like water skiing except you are lying down and your face is in the water. Plus, not so fast. ;) You just wear a snorkel and enjoy the beautiful sea stretch out below you as you are pulled along, recording the conch you see on the dive slate that is attached to the manta board. (I know right?? What a fun research method!).
It is actually harder than you would expect, because conch are clearly sessile so it is hard to tell which ones are dead and which are alive, plus we were classifying them according to 3 different life stages (which all looked pretty similar). It was also hard not to get distracted when you were pulled along 3 feet above a stingray! And since we were getting towed along, it was difficult to see the dive slate behind all of the bubbles so many of my tallies were just blind markings, scattered all over the column instead of in neat rows. Sometimes the board got pulled down in the water and started taking us down under (which would have been fun if I would have had bigger lungs;) and so that was the exhilarating moment where we held our breath and pulled up on the board to direct it towards the surface again! Actually, even when the board was being towed along at the surface, the waves and splashes kept getting in my snorkel anyway. Let’s just say I breathed past a lot of water! (And cleared my snorkel a ton!).
Each boat group was assigned 8 grid transects to cover, which meant about 20 minutes of water time for the snorkelers running each transect, plus the drive time to each site and the coordination time getting in the water. My group was the 8am to noon time slot (already not good…right after breakfast), and we were going to some of the furthest sites from South—Middleton Cay and Six Hills Cay, which you can see in the distance from the field center (also means more in open seas). We started the day with enthusiasm and were quick to jump in the water and count conch or monitor the snorkelers doing the counting. But after the first two hours, the rocking boat (driving at <3mph on rolling waves) started to get to us and we anxiously awaited our next turns on the manta board because in the water we weren’t queasy. It was actually quite humorous to see us slowly get less and less energetic (this was 4 hours!!) and when the last pair came in from the tow, they found half of our group lying on the bottom of the boat with our eyes shut (yes, me included!). None of us threw up, and I didn’t feel totally terrible—just a little queasy with a headache from the rocking—so the manta-boarding rides were completely worth it!
Now we have compiled all of our data with prior years’ and have the fun task of researching and analyzing and report writing. Which I should probably start. ;)
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.