Posted by: fullandbye | November 17, 2011

the goods as promised

This post will be long. So I’ve broken it up into some sub-headings!

  • trip home and matan’s wedding
  • what I’ve been up to in Jamaica, generally speaking.
  • Some more abstract thoughts on development
  • politics politics politics
  • Parting thoughts

Trip home and Matan’s Wedding
So, not long after posting my last “real” post (if posts about janky-ass toasters can be considered more real than posts about chickens that is) I visited Seattle for a couple weeks and then went to Pennsylvania where my little brother got married.

The trip home was delightful. Some of my Israeli family came out to Seattle and it was great being able to share some of Washington with them; Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, breakfast burritos, bicycling, sailing, and the necessity of brown paper bags to facilitate the drinking of beer in the park.

It was also just great to be back in Seattle again for a bit. I was really worried that after 2+ years away I would have a hard time being around my friends again, but all was for naught. For one, people were really forgiving of me being pressed for time and slightly frenzied, for two, I think that friendships are proven by being able to pick up more or less where you left off and a lot of friendships were proven in a way that warms my heart. My friend Brandon picked me up from the airport and fifteen minutes later we were chatting it up over a couple of pints and it felt like I had only been away a few weeks.

I did not really make my hourly whereabouts known, so on my first full day back (also my birthday) I shocked the shit out of both Heather and Winona by showing up randomly at their places of work. Lots of hugs and a few stares from passers by not used to seeing such expressive hugging, presumably.

Other highlights of my visit include racing sailboats in a couple of duck dodge races, blowing a fireball off the back of a sailboat in honor of my friend Ellis’ birthday, a great barbecue at Brandon’s place where I got to see a bunch of familiar faces and meet some new ones, some great bicycle rides, some productive meetings with marine environmental affairs professionals, and lots of delicious beer.

After a couple weeks it was off to Pennsylvania, where my little brother got married. Not too much to say about this, other than that the wedding was beautiful, the music was great, and the couple were adorable. I’m happy that Matan and I drove out from Philly to Harrisburg the day after I got in and then went booze shopping together because without these few solid hours of brother-brother time, it would have been hard to get much time with that kid at all. Honestly, from the time I arrived in Philly (Wednesday night) to the time I left Harrisburg (Labor day, the day after the wedding) was a blur of people and quick conversations, and late-night writing toasts. Sometimes I wish i could slow time down a little bit, but I guess that this frantic nature of gatherings like this is the product of time being zero-sum game and the reality of having lots of people who are a part of your life.

It was a beautiful wedding and being the best-man was a tremendous honor.

Incidentally, I managed to make it to the age of 29 without ever having worn a suit. In high school I swore to myself that I would make a point of eschewing suits until I was 30, making exceptions for court-appearances, my own funeral, or my brother’s wedding. At least I got to wear the suit with a pair of snazzy red-silk braces instead of a belt. I’m waiting for braces to make a popular resurgence. Lumberjacks are really onto something.

What I’ve Been Up To in Jamaica, (generally speaking))

Since making the move down to Port Antonio, I’ve been working on Lionfish reduction and Marine Debris.

In practice, the Lionfish work has been a mix of school visits, fishing beach visits, and conversations with pretty much anyone who will listen. Victories have been slow in coming, but are still there. More fishermen are now aware of how to safely handle the fish, and some basic marketing strategies discussed with fishermen seem to be paying off. Portland remains a tough nut to crack compared with some other parts of the island, but the dispelling of the (poisonous) lionfish myths and the embrace of the (delicious) lionfish facts seems imminent. Sometimes I need to remember that total victory is exceedingly rare in any undertaking and so even if I can’t convince everyone to embrace lionfish as a food source, I can still convince some people and these people will hopefully convince other people and so on.

I’ve also been lionfish hunting a few times (mixed success) and was trained at DBML in scientific surveying and specimen collection techniques for the ongoing lionfish project here at PEPA.

Marine Debris work is school-focused. And after numerous school visits i have my spiel down cold. It is awesome. Each time I give my presentation I get to trick a kid into drinking lime juice thinking it is water, talk about the fragility of ecosystems, and shock the shit out of kids by telling them about the longevity of plastics. The program is simple, scalable, and sensory. I’m making a manual of the main spiel (and other activities) and with some luck and some help from friends in high places my activity modules might be incorporated in the Ministry of Ed’s new curriculum.

Some other volunteers and I are also working on a Lionfish children’s book. It is very very cool but I can’t give away too much. Photos to come though, I promise. I’m very proud of this project.

That just about does it.

But I also need to mention that Porti is now host to a handful of new volunteers. Hooray for government issued friends! Mark has taken over my role as the mountain man/keeper of the rio grande valley, while Brie and Sara are keeping Lauren and I company in the greater Port Antonio are. Porty lucked out with this intake. The group here is really great.

Some more abstract thoughts on development

    I went to a Project Advisory Committee meeting in Kingston yesterday, and the following thoughts are a result of thinking about development in general and Peace Corps’ role in development specifically. These thoughts are not in any order. Nor are they particularly well elucidated just yet or organized into any sort of argument or structured narrative.

  • development environments are necessarily much more complicated than they seem. Looking around any developing nation, the need to distinguish between causes and effects of slow development is exceedingly difficult. I think that this task gets more complicated the more time you spend in a place. This seems strange, but it is not really. The more time you spend considering an environment, the more factors you see as being a part of that environment and the greater the relationships between those factors become. Additionally over time you come to realize that factors with low visibility can still have major effects on the development climate. Each facet of complexity made clear to the the development worker has the double effect of leading to a more complete picture of what is going on, but also eroding the confidence required to make declarative statements about causes and effects and what to do about them. I think that finding the balance between admitting to clearly not understanding every dimension of the development problem while still having the confidence or gumption or moxie or what have you required to try and solve some piece of the problem is one of the fundamental challenges to doing development work.
  • Actually, negotiating this balance between not knowing everything but still knowing enough to humbly get started might be one of the fundamental challenges of life, not just development
  • Putting people with similar interests into a room and letting them interact is an exercise with tremendous value. I think that all gatherings of this sort should incorporate as much unstructured time as possible. Sometimes hallway conversations are more valuable than structured time.
  • Environmental Problems in particular are very complex.
  • PC is not a conduit for funds, and most projects undertaken by individual PCVs utilize little capital. To be sure, some development needs must be met by major capital expenditures, but PCVs have certain assets that few other agencies have. I think the most important assets PCVs have is time, flexibility, the ability to network with a vast range of experts both within and outside of Peace Corps, our impartiality, the “clear eyes” we can bring to a situation (this is problematic and clear eyes can get blurry quick as I discussed in the first bullet), and our ability to experiment without worrying about our jobs. Of these assets, the last one is far from the least important.
  • The “brand” of Peace Corps is tremendously powerful. Truly astonishing is the willingness of Americans who are not serving to nevertheless provide technical advice to volunteers who ask for it. Volunteers can tap into a pretty amazing well of goodwill at home and I think that this is a resource that is largely underutilized.

The situation in the USA with the primary campaigning would be positively hilarious if the stakes were not so high. I wonder how historians will mythologize the current state of american politics.

Parting Thoughts

It is sad that apiculture and apiaries have nothing to with apes.

Also, a fellow PCV was wearing a shirt yesterday that reminded me of a shirt my mom bought me when I was maybe five. I’m happy my parents let me dress myself growing up, but it led to some wardrobe disasters throughout the years (not that I’m much better now, honestly). Specifically, I don’t think I learned to tuck my shirt into my pants instead of into my underpants until I was a freshman in high school. I was thinking about this fact and realized that the the timing of this discovery coincides with my discovery of women. Now I’m left with a major question: Did I stop tucking my shirt into my undies because I discovered women, or did I discover women because I started tucking in my shirts properly?

This is a question for the ages.



  1. Those were some great hugs. ❤

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