Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Jamaica
- 1 Communications
- 2 Housing and Site Location
- 3 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4 Food and Diet
- 5 Transportation
- 6 Geography and Climate
- 7 Social Activities
- 8 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 9 Personal Safety
- 10 Rewards and Frustrations
Mail from the United States usually takes one to three weeks to arrive, but it has been known to take several months or not arrive at all. Despite the delays, we encourage you to write to your family regularly. Family members often become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail service is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/Jamaica would notify the Office of Special Services at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., which would then contact your family. Also advise your family that in the case of an emergency, they can contact the Office of Special Services in Washington at 800.424.8580, extension 1470.
During pre-service training, your mail should be sent to the following address:
“Your Name,” PCT
c/o Country Director
8 Worthington Avenue
Kingston, 5, Jamaica, West Indies
Once you become a Volunteer and are at your site, you may choose to have your letters sent directly to your new address, but packages should always be sent by the U.S. Postal Service to the Peace Corps office at the above address. Packages sent to any other address, or sent through services like UPS, DHL, and Federal Express, will be held at the airport until you make the trip to claim them and pay duty.
Packages can take from two weeks to four months to arrive. They must be lighter than 22 pounds and are cheaper to mail if they are less than 11 pounds. Note that books and documents that weigh a minimum of 11 pounds can be sent to you in an “M-Bag” through the U.S. Postal Service at a relatively economical rate. Further information is available at U.S. post offices and at www.usps.com.
Land-line telephones are available throughout the island except in very remote areas, and international phone service to and from Jamaica is fairly reliable. AT&T, Sprint, and MCI offer toll-free numbers that directly connect you with an operator to place a collect call. Prepaid calling cards called “World Talk” are available island-wide for local and overseas calls on public and private phones, but they can be expensive for long-distance calls. U.S. calling cards are not accepted. If calling home collect is not an option, the most economical option is for your loved ones to call you directly. Many cellphones from the United States do not function in Jamaica, but there are four major cellphone companies providing reliable island-wide coverage. You are strongly encouraged to purchase a cellphone in-country rather than bringing one from home.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
If you bring a laptop, make certain it is insured and bring a power surge protector. (You might also consider bringing a portable printer.) E-mail access is becoming more available and is an economical way to communicate. Peace Corps/ Jamaica’s resource center is equipped with four computers with Internet access for use by Volunteers. There are also Internet cafes in the larger cities.
Housing and Site Location
Your living conditions in Jamaica may not be as rugged as those in many Peace Corps posts. Most Volunteers have indoor plumbing and running water. The water usually is not heated, however, so be prepared for cold showers. Laundry, while usually washed by hand, is usually done in a sink or a washtub. Electricity exists island-wide, except in very remote areas. Very few Volunteers go without a refrigerator and other electrical appliances, and many Volunteers have amenities such as cable television.
Living conditions will vary depending upon whether your site is rural, peri-urban, or urban. Areas with mining, manufacturing, and tourism will have a higher standard of living. The agency to which you are assigned will assist you in identifying suitable housing. All Volunteers must live in the initial housing identified by their agency for at least the first four months of service after which Volunteers may move to different housing if they so desire (with the approval of Peace Corps staff). If accommodations do not meet your needs, it will be your responsibility to locate housing that meets specified budgetary, health, and safety criteria and is approved by Peace Corps staff. The most common living situations are a room with its own entrance, attached to a bathroom and kitchen that you share with a family; an apartment you share with another Volunteer; or your own place. Generally, Volunteers remain in the housing initially identified by their agency.
During pre-service training, you will be placed with a host family for the community-based portion of training. Here you will receive a firsthand orientation to Jamaican culture and community life.
Living Allowance and Money Management
The local currency is the Jamaican dollar, and the exchange rate changes constantly. The Peace Corps will open checking accounts for you in local and U.S. currency at a branch of the National Commercial Bank, which will issue you an ATM card. Your living allowance and leave allowances will be deposited monthly into these accounts. To help facilitate this process, please send a scanned photo ID to firstname.lastname@example.org once you accept your invitation.
Food and Diet
Your diet may not need to change drastically while you are in Jamaica. The main source of meat is chicken, and you are likely to become a culinary expert in its preparation.. Beef, goat, and fish are also readily available.
Vegetarians need not be concerned. Although there may be a smaller variety of foods than you are used to, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as dried beans and rice, are plentiful. Many rastafarians follow an "ital" diet which is vegetarian and often vegan, and TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) is widely available as a vegetarian protein source.. Note that Jamaicans love hot and spicy foods. For those who crave a taste of home, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Wendy’s, T.G.I.Friday’s, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut can be found in many urban areas. Also available in urban areas are imported food items. Once you move to your site, you will learn to make do with what is available locally—a little creativity does go a long way.
Within the Kingston Metropolitan Area (Kingston, Portmore, Saint Andrew and Spanish Town), the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) runs a modern and efficient transportation system with hubs similar to those in America. Taxis and Hackney Carriages that operate rural routes are crowded and often do not operate on regular schedules. The JUTC operates three hubs within the Kingston Metropolitan Area; the very modern Half-Way Tree Transport Center, Parade, and The new Downtown Transport Center. Rural travel options range from large buses, minibuses and route taxis to pickup trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking. It may be necessary for you to walk or bike long distances in hot, humid, or rainy weather. The Peace Corps issues bicycles and helmets to those who need them to get to work (supplies permitting). Volunteers are required to wear a helmet while riding bicycles.
Geography and Climate
Jamaica has a tropical climate. Temperatures vary between 80 degrees and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and are about 10 degrees lower at higher elevations. Both days and nights generally are hot and humid in the summer months, while evenings are noticeably cooler during the winter. At higher elevations, especially between November and March, evenings can be quite chilly, and a light wrap, long-sleeved shirt, or sweatshirt may be necessary. Rain can occur any time throughout the year, though most likely from May through June and from September through October.
Activities available for entertainment will depend on where you are assigned and how creative you are. Among the possibilities are reading, walking, writing letters, riding a bicycle, swimming, socializing with friends, taking classes, doing arts and crafts, going to the movies or plays, watching videos or television, listening to music or a shortwave radio, dancing at clubs or DJ parties, snorkeling, scuba diving, playing games (e.g., cards or dominoes, the national pastime), and playing musical instruments.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
You will be working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in cooperation with a government ministry or Jamaican organization and will be expected to dress and behave as a professional. Most professional Jamaicans dress well and follow a conservative dress code. If this dress code is not maintained, it is seen as disrespectful. While tourists may wear short shorts and transparent clothing, such attire is not appropriate for Volunteers.
Peace Corps/Jamaica has guidelines for appropriate professional dress, which you are expected to adhere to when visiting business establishments or the Peace Corps office, especially during working hours. Men should wear long trousers (not jeans), a short- or long-sleeved shirt with a collar, and leather shoes with socks. Women should wear a skirt and blouse, a nice pantsuit, or a dress, with nice closed-toe dress shoes or flats. Jeans, T-shirts, sneakers, casual sandals (e.g., Tevas or Birkenstocks), and other casual wear are inappropriate except during some field-oriented activities.
Flip-flops should not be worn during pre-service training or during work hours. Any body piercings besides in the ear are inappropriate; please remove these piercings before you have sex. Visible tattoos are also inappropriate and should be kept covered to the extent possible.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, oftentimes alone, having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Jamaica. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
The real sacrifices you will make in the Peace Corps are in the form of the tremendous daily, even hourly, efforts you will make to operate and be effective in another culture and the constant struggle to be self-aware and sensitive. A former Volunteer explains:
“Most of us agree that although we knew the Peace Corps was going to be hard, it is often hard in a different way than we expected. We all worried about adjusting to the bugs and the heat, but that’s the easy part. It’s more of a challenge to get used to dealing with perplexing bureaucracy, the lack of motivation in some host country counterparts, the lack of technology and education, and cultural barriers.” As with most developing countries, there will be challenges such as irregular transportation, disruptions in electrical and water supplies, and inordinate delays in getting things done.
Your maturity, openness to change, and commitment to the Peace Corps will greatly enhance your ability to adapt to living and working in Jamaica. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the rewards are well worth the difficulties, and most Volunteers leave Jamaica feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service.