It is funny to me that I am feel more loss to be missing Halloween at home than I did Thanksgiving. No doubt that is due, in part, to having had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner to attend here in Kingston. It’s also because somehow during my adulthood Halloween has become a much more ‘me’ event than Thanksgiving. Halloween in Jamaica seems to be quite (some might say reasonably) limited to children’s activities, and I long for the encouragement to throw off who I feel like I am and put on a persona – any persona – that’s something … more.

Halloween has actually been intermittently big in my life. From the age of 5 until about 12 my mom and later my very creative oldest sister made me fantastic costumes to wear to first a neighbourhood kids party courtesy of the company my dad worked for, and then trick-or-treating with the small but excited cadre of children who lived with us in company housing. We scored big on those nights – candy and hotdogs and bobbing for apples at the party, and then often full-size chocolate bars and bags of chips for treats since we were so few and had not many houses to visit.

Halloween lay dormant for years until my oldest son was 2, outfitted in the CUTEST homemade clown costume you can imagine, and scampering through our church’s very witch/ghost/Satan free Halloween party. I had as much fun making costumes for my sons over the years – not ending until my younger son was 15 – as I had wearing the costumes my mother and sister had made. I still have that clown costume and my younger son’s fluffy bunny costume.

When I belatedly attended graduate school I was easily persuaded to transition into adult Halloween fun. There’s just something about humanities students that brings out the best in costuming – Guinevere in a sumptuous red velvet cape, a genie with hot pink harem pants and an 18 inch ponytail (okay, that was more Barbara Eden than Ali Baba, but, c’mon), Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, Zeus and Venus. Adult Halloween was an awakening that I carried right up until a few years ago when I no longer had a willing participant to dress up with.

And then there’s the Great Pumpkin. Here in Jamaica pumpkins are a staple of the diet. They are a readily available side dish. In Canada pumpkins are basically inedible and serve mostly as a canvas on which we create our spookiest visions, our most creative flickering statements. We write our nightmares – and sometimes just sweet smiling faces – in orange flesh with whatever tools are at hand. My sons are in their 20’s now and last year we still carved pumpkins together. I think I miss that most of all. We always enjoy it, and we are always disappointed when our creations don’t match the vision in our minds.

The volunteer journey is very much a trade-off. Last week I took a 2 hour bus ride to Ocho Rios and snorkeled a coral reef. I can’t do that from home. And of course there are many more subtle and important riches that I am getting from this experience. But missing the big moments – so far that’s been Thanksgiving and my oldest son’s birthday, but it will include Halloween, Christmas, New Years, my birthday, the anniversary of my freshly ended relationship, Valentine’s day (should I have the will to acknowledge it when it comes) . . . personal and cultural milestones that I long to celebrate (or survive) with my loved ones.

On that list, there will be easier and harder occasions. There will be moments – on the beach in Montego Bay with my younger son on  Christmas Day, for example – where I will stop with a smile on my face and wonder how this became my life. There will also be moments of deep longing and missing when I stop with a tear in my eye and wonder how this became my life.

It’s possible that this post belongs on my other blog – the one that’s mostly self-indulgent navel gazing. But navigating traditions and milestones while far from home is very much a volunteer experience, so here it is. I thought those of you who can’t picture why Halloween matters so much to me might enjoy a pictorial explanation. I only wish I had pictures of that adorable clown and his little bunny brother.

*Duppy is the patwa word for ghost. There are many ghosts when you’re far from home and working through goodbyes.