Ep #036: Adam Rhoads, Jamaica 2003-2007
Adam spent all day tramping through the Jamaican forest, getting nearly lost, while searching for a potential new ecotourism site where seven rivers supposedly met. He never found the site of the seven rivers, but he discovered a lot during his three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamacia.
On this Episode:
- Working with Jamaican communities to develop ecotourism sites to protect the last remaining wilderness area on the island.
- Extending for a third year and staying another year in Jamaica after closing his service.
- Founding an NGO in the US to continue giving back to his Peace Corps community.
Photos from Adam’s Story
Adam Rhoads’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served in Jamaica from 2003-2007 (3 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer and one additional year on my own but doing the exact same work). I was assigned to the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) an environmental NGO that focused on conservation of Cockpit Country, the last remaining wilderness area in Jamaica. The forest was heavily impacted by agricultural practices of local residents (among other threats such as mining) The main objectives we to educate residents about the importance of the forest and why it should be conserved to help find and encourage alternative income-generating opportunities in addition to farming such as eco-tourism and other tourism-related activities.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
As part of our “alternative income-generating opportunities” program, STEA received funding to catalog and explore potential eco-tourism opportunities for local communities. Basically, a Cockpit Country community would tell us they had a cave, river, picnic spot or other natural feature and we would visit the community and potential attraction to see if it was a viable eco-tourism opportunity to develop. For about a year, we’d go out to these communities on the weekend to hike through the forest, wade down rivers, explore caves, etc. Many times the exploration would end with a bush cookout from local community members, a swim in the river and a couple bottles of rum. I remember at one community we went in search of the mythical “Seven Rivers,” a place in the forest where seven rivers supposedly met, but no one really knew how to get there, where it was, or had seen it. We spent ALL DAY hiking up and down, up and down hills through the forest, and I don’t think I ever saw one river. I almost got lost once! I remember returning to our start point and sitting there using Jamaican rum to get the ticks out of my legs. But some good Jamaican food, cold Red Stripes and good company took care of my physical exhaustion.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
Some Jamaicans tended to be suspicious of Americans and thought you were out to get them or working for the CIA. Being called CIA got tiresome. I used to go running every morning, right when the sun came up, the only time I could go through my community relative peace and get a break from the constant social interaction. One of my close friends told me once that a group of rude boys that always hung out at a shop drinking and playing dominoes said they were going to get me when I was out running because they were sure I was with the CIA and my little mp3 player was a listening device. I never stopped running, but I did look over my shoulder for a while. Things like that and being asked for money all the time (the wealthy American) got old.
What do you miss about the Peace Corps?
My people. I was very fortunate to live in a community that had good experiences with PCVs and went out of their way to welcome me and take care of me. I still keep in touch with some including two boys that I pretty much adopted while down there. The first day I moved into my site, they (7 & 9 yr old brothers) were in my house, going through all my stuff, etc and I could not understand a word they were saying. It was like two chattering monkeys I had no idea how to get rid of. I still keep in touch with them more than most, they are around 20 years old now and both have a little girl of their own.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
To be myself and not to be afraid to learn and change and adapt in new situations. Before joining PC I feel I was quiet, a bit socially awkward, a loner, the kind of guy who was terrified to give a presentation in freshman speech class at college. I don’t feel like you can do something like Peace Corps and be successful without getting over that stuff. I did get over it, for the most part, and I feel like PC has made me a more successful person today in that regard. When I went to work every day, I had to walk about 10 minutes to the crossroad to catch a taxi into town. There were shops and houses and lots of people always around that area. Normally a taxi would see me (easy to spot!) and pick me up without having to do much to get their attention. I remember one day I was standing in front of the shop waiting for a taxi and a big bus cruised by, not seeing me. I yelled as loud as I could, the taxi conductor heard me, and the bus stopped, backed up and picked me up. Seems like a small thing, but I was so proud of myself that day to make a bunch of noise that I knew would draw everyone’s attention and possibly embarrass me if the taxi didn’t stop. But it worked!
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
Zeen. Means yes, I agree, everything’s good, ok.
Adam’s Continued Service
Another volunteer and I started MRP while we were in Jamaica, our first projects were beach volleyball tournament fundraisers. When I returned home I turned MRP into a registered charitable organization based in Lincoln, NE. We do a lot of community work in Lincoln (currently leading an after-school club where we talk about cross-cultural experiences and helping feed kids on the weekend who don’t always have regular access to food). Through MRP I’ve led 3 volunteer trips back to Jamaica to do a community project. We also have two product lines we sell with all profits going to charitable causes, both of which were initially created and developed during my time in Jamaica. More at mysticrhoads.org.
I also serve on the Board of Friends of Jamaica. We provide small grants to organizations that support community development in Jamaica. Most of our projects involve supporting activities of current PCVs. Everything from school environmental clubs to deaf student empowerment to major agricultural initiatives. More at servejamaica.org.