Wednesday, 31 August 2011

It all happens in the morning...

I have gotten so much done these last few days between 6 am and 11 am.  Then usually from 1 to 5 nothing happens. Because of the heat, Jamaicans really like to do appointments or running around in the early mornings. It has not been unusual to meet the realtor between 7:30 and 8 am.  (It is kind of funny because in Toronto I talked to my realtor most often between 9:30 and 10 pm.) I was chatting to a random man on the street (this happens frequently these days...) and he was saying that business people often go down to the beach and go swimming between 5 and 6 in the morning, before they go to work!

Conversely, not much happens in the evening.  The sun sets at around 7 now and then it's dark and most people are inside.  Also, there is tropical forest right outside my hotel window because we are on a hill ("bush" would be what it is called at home, but it is definitely not the same plants) and the frogs and bugs and other things make a crazy racket that has convinced me to stay inside when it is dark.

The last few days have been focused on getting orientated.  Shawn left to go back to Kingston early Monday morning, but Kim (another volunteer) came that evening and spent the night with me.  She caught the plane on Tuesday to go back to Canada and pick up her 8 year old daughter, now that Kim has arranged an apartment, school, etc. here in Jamaica.  (Knowing that she is doing this year overseas with a kid certainly makes my own challenges pale in comparison.) We went to the beach on Tuesday morning before her flight and I have now officially swam in the Caribbean Sea.

This morning (you guessed it) I signed a lease so my house hunting is over.  I am now the proud resident of 'Villa 1A' in a nice apartment complex here in Mobay. The landlord and his son are very nice, both having travelled extensively, including Canada.  The son is a graduate of York University in Toronto. Many, many Jamaicans that I have met in Montego Bay have friends and family in Canada, and have often gone to visit or lived there for a period of time. So now when they ask me where I am from, I don't bother to say "Canada" anymore - I just say "Toronto" and then sometimes they ask me, "What part?"

And the answer to the burning question I know you were thinking - yes, I do have a spare room, so you can come and visit.  Reservations start at $1000 Jamaican dollars, about $8.50 CND. ;)

Here are some more Mobay scenery pics.  I haven't taken too many in the city itself because I'm still too focused on not getting lost.  I will also take some apartment pictures soon.

Is this good enough to qualify as 'artsy', Erika?
The pool at my hotel
If you look closely you can see they are para sailing behind a jet boat. The cruise ship stopped here today, so I guess this is one of the activities they can do.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Tropical Thunderstorms

I am writing this in the midst of my second tropical thunderstorm in a week.  It is nowhere near as bad as the east coast of North America is experiencing with Hurricane Irene, but it still freaks me out.  In spite of that, I still sat on the balcony of my hotel in Montego Bay and watched it roll in.
Rain coming in...

Saturday we (myself and Shawn, the CUSO staff person who has come with me to help me get settled) took the bus up from Kingston and arrived in Montego Bay after four and a half hours.  It was only about 150 km that we travelled, but it was through windy mountain roads in the center of Jamaica and we also had a couple of stops along the way. Once we arrived, we were met by the aunt of my friend Alydia in Toronto, who took us to see a couple of apartments that I might rent. One of them was quite good, but not very central, so I have been working on finding a few more to see on Monday.

View when it was sunny
 So far I think it will be very nice to live in Montego Bay.  It is much smaller then Kingston, both geographically and population wise, but has stunning scenery and a lovely sea breeze that keeps the town cool. I've been watching sailboats in the harbour and have plans to visit the local yacht club to see if anyone needs a novice sailor on their boat!

Today we went to see the Peace and Reconciliation Centre, which is the Montego Bay branch of the Dispute Resolution Foundation, where I will be working. One of the staff kindly gave us a quick tour of the building, even though no one works on Sunday.  It is well known in the community and seems to have several outreach activities.  I don't start work until September 5th, so more on that later.

Cross your fingers for me in hopes that I find a great place in a great location in the next couple of days!

Below are some more pictures of Kingston that I took on our driving tour on our last day of in-country training on Friday.  The downtown neighbourhood is older and more run down but has some great architectural gems, and then we also visited Devon House, the home of the first Jamaican millionaire, which is now restored and in a lovely park in the uptown area.

View of downtown Kingston from the Marcus Garvey Museum

More downtown

Ditto - I had fun taking pictures from the roof!

Saturday is market day in Jamaica - this was near the central market

Ballroom at Devon House
Garden at Devon House

Friday, 26 August 2011

Around Town

So Wednesday and Thursday were more training. Yesterday we visited some partner agencies in the morning, including the Dispute Resolution Foundation head office, where two CUSO volunteers are already placed. 

In the afternoon, we went on a tour of Trench Town, an 'infamous' neighbourhood because of the role it has played in the gang warfare, primarily ending 5 years ago, and 'famous' as the place where Bob Marley lived and wrote his music.
Trench Town
Sign at the Trench Town Culture Yard
Bob Marley's van
L-R Michael Brown, who joined us on the tour, me, and Erin Williams, another CUSO volunteer
Like many neighbourhoods that are rough, the violence is primarily targeted towards its residents, and the level of violence depends on who you are talking to, outsiders or insiders. The gang warfare and political parties have been closely intertwined, which lends an interesting dimension.

On another note, I met with my friend Alydia's mother who lives here in Kingston and she has put me in touch with some of her family in Montego Bay. I head up there to find a place early on Saturday morning.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Day One (Two?)

Not sure who is counting, but here are some pictures from today.  We have been training in rooms at the National Volunteer Center. Below are some of my fellow Canadian volunteers.

L-R: Kim, Tim, Wendy, Erin and Del

 Our hotel is a part of the local tennis/squash club.

Front of Hotel

View from my room on the second floor of the hotel grounds
Forgive me, I'm working on my camera skills!

Monday, 22 August 2011


So I have arrived safely and am writing this from my hotel room after a refreshing swim in the pool.  The weather feels surprisingly similar to Toronto, or at least to what it was before it started to get cool this week. I think I'm going to like it here...

I will be in Kingston all this week for in-country orientation with several other volunteers.  Today's project was to get a cell phone (expensive phone but surprisingly cheap minutes).  We've also been doing much mental math as the exchange rate is somewhere around $1 Cdn for $85 Jamaican Dollars (jays, as the locals say). This is not easy division and as you can imagine, the prices get really big, really fast.  Here's hoping I don't spend it all at once :) Other factoids I have discovered: I'm in the central time zone, not eastern, Jamaicans drive on the left side of the road, and, you can get a Red Strip beer for $1.50 USD in a restaurant here.

PS. I will try to take and post pictures tomorrow.
PPS.I will also send out my number via email once I figure out the country code.
PPPS. We got those news about Jack Layton this morning before we got on the plan. So sorry to hear that and I will be watching closely to see what happens next for the NDP.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Homeless but so rich!

Today is my last day in Canada for a while. I have no home, most of my stuff had been stuffed away in the storage locker, except two suitcases and a backpack's worth. It has been a long week to get everything done, but I think I crammed it all in.

I feel surprisingly liberated by having pared down my life in this minimalist fashion. There is simply less to worry about, less to distract me, less to clean or haul around. (Okay, there is still a lot to haul around - the backpack is pretty full!)

The most wonderful thing about this last month or so has been to receive so much support and well wishes.  My friends and family have been phenomenal - thanks to Mom for all the work packing, Corrie and Colin and Bill and Mary Jane for hosting me (and my Mom) this last week, and for everyone else I haven't named here but who came to the goodbye parties, or sent well wishes via email or phone.  I feel truly enriched by all of your warmth and love.  I will miss you all deeply and hope that our connections will stand the test of time and space!

View from Nate's room on the 26th floor (Thanks  for the bed Nate!)
Thank you so much for the great send-off.  Next post coming from Jamaica...

Sunday, 14 August 2011

More Questions than Answers

This week I have been packing up my home, saying good-bye to friends, and finding more things to put in my not-that-big suitcase. What do I need to bring? What can you actually fit in a 5x5 storage locker? How do you say good bye to people that are really important to you?

So many questions, and I haven't even left Toronto yet! I think that 'more questions than answers' may become a running theme thoughout this trip, and that is probably a good approach for me.  We all know that if you ask my opinion I am always full of answers, some even true...

In the context of international development work, an approach that focuses more on questions than answers seems even more essential. I will be working with the Dispute Resolution Foundation focusing on their youth program. You can only imagine how many questions I have about what my new role will be!