December 22, 2002: Headlines: COS - Jamaica: Farming: Greensboro News & Record : Peace Corps leads Mike Parris to Jamaica

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Jamaica: Peace Corps Jamaica : The Peace Corps in Jamaica: December 22, 2002: Headlines: COS - Jamaica: Farming: Greensboro News & Record : Peace Corps leads Mike Parris to Jamaica

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Peace Corps leads Mike Parris to Jamaica

Peace Corps leads Mike Parris to Jamaica

Peace Corps leads Mike Parris to Jamaica

Dec 22, 2002

Greensboro News & Record

When Mike Parris was a little boy, his neighbor Swanna Baldwin, one of Millboro's Baldwin Sisters, rode him around her farm on a tractor.

"I want to be a farmer when I grow up," Mike told the two sisters, Swanna and Bessie, whose farm was adjacent to the Parris land.

"Well, you finally made it," his father, Charlie Parris tells his now 30-year-old son. No doubt, the late Baldwin Sister would be proud.

Only Mike isn't farming the tobacco fields of Randolph County, but rather the pineapple fields of Jamaica.

Two weeks ago, Mike visited his family for the first time since his two-year stint with the Peace Corps began this past summer. Perhaps you may have seen him? He was the tall, skinny guy who resembles - well, let's face it, Mike's new Peace Corps look reminds everyone of Jesus.

In fact, during his recent visit to Grays Chapel School, a little girl came to Mike and asked, "Are you Jesus?"

Mike attributes his 13-pound weight loss to his Jamaican diet, abundant with vegetables, jerk chicken and curry goat, but devoid of any junk food.

And his long brown hair, parted in the middle?

"I figure this is the only time in my life I can have long hair," Mike said during his visit.

Mike's interest in Jamaican farming came through his original assignment with water sanitation in the rural areas. With a rural assignment, Our Man in Jamaica has forgone the city conveniences of Asheboro's fast food, movies and shopping.

"Part of your job (as a Peace Corps volunteer) is to be a good diplomat," Mike said.

His first close Jamaican friend happened to be a farmer who, in Mike's Randolph County eyes, wasn't making the best economical decisions. He began to accompany the friend to markets and encouraged him to ask questions about which crops shoppers were interested in buying. With this know-your-market strategy, his friend became excited about the concept of supply and demand. Best sellers seem to be okra, tomatoes, Scotch Bonnet peppers and pineapple.

Those who remember Mike's assistant coaching with Grays Chapel basketball teams will not be surprised to learn he is helping with a basketball program for the Baptist youth in nearby Seaford Town.

Mike shares a house with another Peace Corps volunteer, and "most days" they have electricity. There is running water (cold), and his only complaint is the problem with bats.

Those bats live in the attic, and though there is no rabies in Jamaica - a fact I would certainly question, were I living there - they frequently make appearances in the living areas. Particularly horrific was Mike's description of waking up in the middle of the night with a bat crawling up his leg.

Regardless of these native dangers, Mike feels that the Corps' most important priority is the safety of its volunteers. They are carefully trained to avoid any dangerous areas, and as Mike says, "There are good and bad people everywhere."

"The Rastafarians are really good people," Mike said as he explained their obsession with good health and treating their bodies as temples.

Not the native Jamaicans, but coming home early was Mike's most serious concern as he left for the Peace Corps.

"My biggest fear was that it might not be for me," Mike said of his two-year commitment. "There is no way I'm coming home early. If it's not your thing, you need to get out. But I've learned that the No. 1 thing is to make yourself happy, and hopefully make others happy at the same time."

Last year's group of Peace Corps volunteers in Jamaica lost 12 who decided this was not for them and returned home.

The stereotypical Peace Corps worker no longer exists, Mike says. This former designer with Klausner Industries reports that they aren't all leftover hippies, enthralled with reggae music. On the contrary, "there is every kind of person there." His group of volunteers includes college graduates and an 85-year-old man. Larry, a 43-year-old bus driver from Connecticut, is one of Mike's friends.

This year's group of 86 was sworn in by Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez, who traveled to Jamaica in honor of the organization's 40th anniversary.

Thinking back on his pre-Peace Corps life, Mike said, "We miss out on the most important things. We're rushed to meet deadlines. We take everything that anybody says too personal. Instead of taking time to talk about things, we turn on the TV. In (rural) Jamaica, you're forced to talk. I really don't miss all those distractions."

With a little prodding, he did finally admit that he does miss watching televised NFL games on Sundays.

When asked about the Jamaica that tourists see, Mike assured me that is not the "real" Jamaica. Tourists rarely see the rural areas that have yet to be invaded by those "distractions."

"Coming out here, you see how blessed you are," Mike said.

Mike's mother, Marilyn Parris, says her son "took after his grandfather." Mark Hodgins, Marilyn's father, was a welfare child who graduated from Guilford College and became a Quaker minister. "He was adventuresome," Marilyn says.

"When I was a really wild teenager, he told Mama that I would be OK," Mike says with a laugh.

For Mike, being "OK" includes giving up worrying about what others think you should do.

"You just have to make your own trail," he says.

To learn more about Mike's adventures with bats, his Christmas celebrations with the family who originally housed and fed him his first few weeks in Jamaica, and his 4-hour taxi rides to visit his girlfriend, write Mike at: Mike Parris, St. Leonard's P.O., Westmoreland, Jamaica, W.I.

Want Dee to visit your social event, civic club or garden club meeting? Do you have a social tidbit you'd like to share - first in your family to graduate from college, have a new medical school or law school graduate in your family? Do you know a good Samaritan who needs recognition? Send Dee an e-mail at or call the News & Record at 625-8452.

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Story Source: Greensboro News & Record

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