Friday, 30 September 2011

Small victories and hot peppers

This week’s accomplishment was buying lunch all by myself.  Now that may seem insignificant, but let me tell you a bit about what goes on to get lunch.  First, I may have already mentioned this, but I usually workout of a community centre in a community called Flankers.  It doesn’t have the greatest reputation, some of it deservedly, and some of it based in media hype.  In the last several years, several of the Kingston ‘dons’ or gang leaders, who find themselves on a high priority list for the police have hidden out in Flankers, resulting in a showdown in the community once they are found. Like the rest of Canada blames Toronto, the folks here blame Kingston for the trouble in the first place.

All of this, of course, is not going on when I go to lunch.  Usually it’s just all kinds of people hanging around, because the unemployment rate here is very high. (General statistics I remember are that three out of four young men are unemployed.) So I walk down the street and around the corner and try not to attract too much attention from the men sitting at the corner and their cat-calls, or to get splashed when a car goes through a pothole full of water.  Not too bad, but up until this week, I always went with a staff member who was well known in the community.

Once I get to the cookshop, I have to get close enough to the counter to make my order heard.  This is easier said than done, since there are usually several customers already there.  If the woman who serves us is out front and not in the kitchen, it is loud clamouring from people shouting out their orders and the specifics – like they want dark meat or light, or whatever else.  It is all in patwa, of course, and I was trying to write some down for you, but I can’t remember it properly.  I’ll take notes next time. 

So once my order is heard, I have to stand around waiting with everyone else until she brings out the food and then get through the crowd close enough to get my food across the counter and pay for it.  Then I make my way back to the office and eat it there.  I usually get “baked chicken, leg and thigh”.  This is chicken that has a nice bar-b-que sauce on it and is served with ‘rice and peas’ (actually rice cooked with kidney beans) and some vegetables, which look like cooked coleslaw. I’ve also had the fried chicken and french fries, which is cheaper, but not as good.  All this costs me $350 Jamaican, or about $4 Cnd.

Ok, now that I read this over, it doesn’t sound like such a big deal to get lunch by myself.  It’s not really, but just one more hurdle to overcome in a strange country. Any one in particular is not so bad, but add them all up and sometimes the most basic tasks like getting food can be kind of stressful. 

Sticking with the topic of eating, I had another exciting moment this week when I accidentally bit into a scotch bonnet pepper. So far, I’ve not found Jamaican food to be too spicy.  Usually people just add hot sauce from a bottle on their own so I can avoid it easily.  However, Jamaicans do throw a pepper or two in the pot when they are cooking something to add a bit of flavour. A friend cooked my dinner - thanks again, Alydia, for lending me your family down here J - the meal was excellent, but when I spit out the pepper frantically, he said, “Oh, I was looking for that pepper before you came, but couldn’t find it in the pot.”  Then he very nicely went and got me some bread.  After I got through the initial mouth –on-fire stage, my head actually felt sort of nice, my sinuses and nasal cavities were all tingly and clear.

Off to Kingston again for a week tomorrow.  I tried to upload pictures today, but my connection was too slow.  Another time...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

A month of sun

I've now been in Jamaica for over a month.  It has been a time of adjustments, and discovering what I like about Jamaica, and what drives me crazy.  Here's a short list:

- Sailing! Planning to go out again tomorrow if the weather cooperates.
- Weather: every morning it is sunny without fail, sometimes we get clouds briefly and rain in the afternoon or evening, but mornings are always nice.
- Guinep: a tasty fruit that doesn't give you much sustenance (it has a huge pit) but is fun to eat.  You break the skin and pop out the inside (it is the size of a big gumball) and suck on it until you've got all the juice and then spit out the pit.
- My coworkers at the community centre - in addition to feeding me, they've been teaching me patois, helping me out with directions and figuring out costs, and just generally showing me the ropes of Jamaica.  All that while meeting the needs of half the community who show up at the centre each day.

Don't Like:

- Transportation is a bit of a challenge.  Although I have an effective route to work, going anywhere else means figuring out the logistics of a not-so-organized public transportation system, or paying more than my budget allows on taxis, especially for travel after dark.
- Bugs: although I am currently cockroach free, the mosquitoes love munching on my calves so it looks kind of like I have some kind of pox.
- The scary statistics about the retaliatory violence patterns in Jamaica.  I recently read that the going price to carry out a gang related murder is less then $200.  Seems like a very small price for a life.

And on that cheery note, here are some recent pictures...

View of masts at the yacht club at sundown

Proof that I really am in Jamaica - I am standing on the patio and the door to my place is in front of me

Looking back at the lights of Mobay from the yacht club

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Beg, Borrow and Steal

Life in Jamaica is about maximizing what you've got, and getting a little more any way you can. At work, it is customary for people to share whatever food they have with anyone around.  It means that no one has a lot, but everyone has something.  At home, it feels a bit like I am camping, since I am making do with limited kitchen wares.  For instance, I have 12 plates, but only 1 mug at this point.  I am gradually acquiring necessary things, but within limits, since I will have to leave it all when I am finished here.

During my visit to Kingston last week, I learned a lot from the other volunteers.  DRF has had a partnership with CUSO-VSO for the last 3 years, and the project total is 5 years.  The goal is to have a sustained flow of volunteers that can build organizational capacity.  This is definitely easier said than done.  It was helpful to learn from volunteers and staff what has been done in the past, what worked and what didn't, so things that didn't work aren't repeated!

I am now back in Montego Bay and am setting up meetings with the service centers in the western region. I am gathering as much information as I can about the state of the already existing youth programs. It is slow, but everyone has been very friendly once I get a hold of them.

On that note, I haven't had much luck with taking pictures or regular internet access these days, so in accordance with the blog theme, I've co-opted some photos from others.

On Sunday I was lucky enough to get to go for a sail out on the ocean on a boat that was similar to the blue boat in the picture.  It was great fun!

On Saturday, I was in Kingston and attended a great party at another volunteer's place.  Wendy, another volunteer, attended the party too and posted some pictures on her blog.

I've realized that I'm not in any of the pictures on my blog so I will work on establishing proof that I'm really here. :-)

Thursday, 15 September 2011

When in Rome...

I have been eating a lot of Jamaican food these days.  And I have even been so fortunate to have home-cooked Jamaican food, which really is better then the stuff at the restaurants.  There is a little kitchen in the community center, so some days Miss Rose, one of the staff, cooks everybody lunch.

This was lunch on Friday last week.  There is rice, obviously, and then on the left the yellow stuff is ackee, which is cooked with onions and saltfish.  The saltfish is actually salted, dried cod that mostly comes from New Brunswick.  The ackee is a fruit that Jamaicans LOVE, and now I do too. When cooked, it has a texture a bit like scrambled eggs, and a very mild flavour.  Oma, I think you would really like it.  The weird thing about ackee is that parts of the fruit are poisonous and so it has to be cleaned properly.  The fruit comes in a pod, and you have to buy it with the pod open, because it can emit a poisonous gas if it isn't opened properly.  More details here if you want.

Another item of note - because I am situated in a community centre the language surronding me every day is not usually English, but Jamaican patois (also spelled patwa).  This really is another language, not just a dialect, and usually I only understand half of what is going on. I'm slowly learning, though, and one day I'll post in patois.  Until then, here's a sample:

Jamaicans learn British English in school so most of the time I'm just suffering through a Jamaican accent, but patois is quite the challenge.  It is a very descriptive language.  The tendency is to use simple words, but lots of similes and metaphors. People also tend to respond using face and hand gestures, not just words, so I have lots to pay attention too.

Today I'm back in Kingston, meeting with the staff and other volunteers at the Dispute Resolution Foundation head office.  I will be here until the end of the week and return to Mobay on Sunday.  Those of you putting on fall jackets, keep warm!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

A routine of sorts

This has been the first full week of my 'regular' life in Montego Bay.  I have a job, I have an apartment.  I even have one new friend!  Turns out that the person who lives in the villa below me is about my age.  Her husband is in the US working, so she has lots of time to hang out with me.  She said that most everyone else in the complex was older, so she was happy to meet me.  We went shopping on Thursday night, since it was "Fashion's Night Out", a big multi-store sale, and then went for drinks on a patio with another of her friends.  (Like a good Torontonian, I'm keepin' up my patio visits, although here the patios overlook the ocean, not just the street.)

Here is a picture of the pool area at my apartment complex.  The pool is green, but the rasta man who takes care of it assured me that he is working on making it clear again.
This is the pool area - you can see it is a bit green!

If you turn 180 from the previous view, this is the view over the bay. Sunset is nice here :)

The villa you see here is in front of my villa.  Mine basically looks the same.
The place used to be a quite prestigious tennis club where people cam from all over the world to stay and play.  Now it is a bit rundown, and no one uses the tennis courts, but it still has a hotel-like feel. The neighbours that I have met seem very nice - I also have some resident lizards and I've seen several Doctor Birds, which like the flowing bush in front of my door and are very beautiful.  (Will be patient one day and try to get a picture.)

Work has been interesting but very slow this week.  As another volunteer confirmed was normal, I've spent a fair amount of time learning patience this week. In spite of that, my collagues are very hospitable and have really warmed to me. Hope all of you enjoyed first days back to school, etc.!

The front of the centre.  The stairs don't go anywhere yet - they are waiting for some more funding to build a second floor expansion

The peace wall outside the centre, where members of the community have added their views of peace.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Work and Bugs

Today is my third day of work.  Or, volunteering, if you want to be technical about it.  I am situated in the Flanker Peace and Justice Center and am now getting to know the staff fairly well.  My placement is focusing on assessing the youth program at this center, and at three others in the region to identify opportunities for them to work together and build on the strengths already existing at these organizations.

Like many community centers, the pace ranges from frenetic to totally dead. On Monday, when I started, it was the first day of school and the center was buzzing with parents and children seeking help with school uniforms and information to send their kids to school, and from students and adults wanting to register for the homework club and other supplementary classes for children and adults.  I still don't have internet at home, so I'm taking advantage of some down time this morning to post to the blog.  Later on today I hope to observe the seniors program, another activity that takes place here at the center.

The Flanker Peace and Justice Center was originally started by a group of community members.  The Flanker community has a population of about 10,000 people, and is a part of the Montego Bay township, but is geographically distinct. The center founders were community members who came together originally to start a community watch to deal with crime and violence in the community.  They were trained as community mediators via a CIDA grant, but ultimately they decided that offering the mediation services and training wasn't sufficient to meet the needs of the residents, so today the center offers a wide range of support services, many focused on helping people get through school so they have better job opportunities.

On another note, I have settled into my place reasonably well.  On Monday night I was terrorized by a large cockroach that walked in to my living room. It was probably 2 inches long.  I consider myself a reasonable person, but this bug totally freaked me out.  After a few minutes of the bug and I chasing each other around the room as I attempted to get close enough to kill it without actually being close to the creepy thing, I gave up.  My truce was that it could have the living room and I would have the bedroom. I bought some Raid equivalent yesterday and fumigated, so here's hoping I have my place to myself again!

Pictures in the next post...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

This and that

Just a quick note today.  Since Thursday I have been in Kingston meeting with people at the CUSO-VSO office and doing necessary things to establish a life in Jamaica.  For instance, I have acquired a Jamaican bank account, which took two trips to the bank and several hours of waiting.  Thanks to Bill Bruce for the nice character reference!

On Friday night, there was a large dinner for the new group of volunteers to meet the ones who have already been hear for a while.  It was lovely to meet so many people who come from all walks of life.  The volunteers largely fit into two camps, those who are at the beginning of their careers like me, and those that are retired or transitioning to be retired.  Here in Jamaica, the majority of volunteers are from Canada, but there are a few from some of the other Caribbean islands as well.  I think there are now more than 15 volunteers in Jamaica, but I am the only one not in Kingston.  However, many of them promised they would come to visit me :)

On another note, I need to correct myself.  In an earlier post, I said that Jamaica is in the central time zone.  I was wrong; it is actually in the eastern time zone, but it does not observe daylight savings time.

Today I go back up to Montego Bay and will be working on getting myself and my place ready to start work on Monday. I am working on having internet at home, but I am not sure about my access for the upcoming days and my blogging may suffer temporarily, but I will post again as soon as I can.

Congrats to Jamaica for the medals at the IAAF track and field world championships.  And to the Canadians as well!