Moments of Melancholy Filled With Purpose
“I had visions of being a Peace Corps Volunteer, long before I began my service over a year ago… I was excited at the opportunity to impact change in rural Jamaica, especially as a first-generation son of immigrant parents from Ghana.most of my closest friends were of Jamaican descent and I would always see Jamaicans as extensions of my own Ghanaian culture. I’ve been able to learn the most about myself. I’ve battled with many different forces, positive and negative.”
I had visions of being a Peace Corps Volunteer, long before I began my service over a year ago. I was excited at the opportunity to impact change in rural Jamaica, especially as a first-generation son of immigrant parents from Ghana. Growing up, most of my closest friends were of Jamaican descent and I would always see Jamaicans as extensions of my own Ghanaian culture. Due to the similarities in upbringings, beliefs, and values, I knew I would be able to relate to my students in a special way, unlike other volunteers. I was ready and prepared to embrace my African identity and learn more about Jamaicans, a people that I’ve viewed as my own for such a long time. I didn’t know where I’d be on the island, what life would be like but I tried to prepare my mind for the great challenge of committing 27 months to the Peace Corps.
Jamaica is paradise; the people are loving, caring, and jovial. The many different wonderful tastes are overwhelming. Oxtail, curry goat, roast breadfruit, festival, fried dumpling, and brown stew chicken – some of my favorites that I just can’t resist. The beaches are beautiful and the weather is wonderful. Being Ghanaian in Jamaica with dreadlocks has certainly been an experience for me. Many assume I am Jamaican, which doesn’t bother me much. Everyone calls me “Rasta” and I didn’t fully embrace it up until this year. I know so much about Rastafarianism and respect the religious movement so much I don’t want to disrespect it in any way. I tell my students I’m not a “Rasta” and they really can’t comprehend it. They have the idea that Jamaicans are the only people in the world that have dreadlocks. But it’s all right they’ll learn as they get older that Rasta is a way of life. It’s a religion and you have to be a true believer. Dreadlocks will not make you Rasta.
Building with my students as Primary Literacy Advisor has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I do it for them, their eagerness, their curiosity, and their visions allow me to stay happy when I’m around them. Of course, my students have no idea what I go through or struggle with. “Sir” gives them his all on a daily basis. I continue to motivate, teach, and strengthen our youth for the challenges they will face in our community, high school, and beyond.
My time in the Peace Corps, I’ve been able to learn the most about myself. I’ve battled with many different forces, positive and negative. Different factors come into play living in another country for the first time without your “day ones”, family, and everything you’ve ever known and loved. I couldn’t have foreseen what kind of effects my journey would take on my personal life and mental state, but I found a way to cope. Although I was enjoying Jamaica, I was constantly reminded of the moments I was missing back home. Many nights I’ve contemplated what I would be doing in the U.S. at the time if not for my volunteer service commitment. Thoughts about friends and family run rampant throughout my mind. Missing out on key moments, like Thanksgiving, has hurt the most. I’ve suffered from mild forms of depression throughout my service doing what I love and trying to shift a culture’s mindset. I wouldn’t share these lows with anyone but inadvertently through conversations with my mother, brothers, and friends I stayed true to myself and just dealt with my issues within. I know I could always seek out support because of the good family and friends I have. However, I seldom do because of my pride and stubbornness….Scorpio tendencies.
Nonetheless, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything I’ve done. I’ve remained strong and positive about the heights we have reached at my institution since I’ve been here. It’s been amazing all that we have accomplished thus far. There’s a big project in the works at the moment and I’ve been working on multiple grant proposals to propel our school into the technologically advanced era. I would love to thank the Peace Corps for this platform and this leverage as well as blessing a young man with parents who immigrated from their homeland, now citizens from the Bronx, New York an opportunity to perform. Forever, thankful, and extremely indebted to the most high,
Jah Jah bless.
Ampofo Mensah Jr. , St. Ann’s, Jamaica
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