Monday, 31 October 2011

Houseguests and sailing success

Two CUSO-VSO volunteers, Carol and Onyka came up to visit me this past week.  Onyka arrived on Tuesday to visit offices in this region for her placement, and Carol came up on Friday night just for fun.  We rented a car and drove to Negril, where we had a great day full of adventures.

Our nice little car...
ready to go!

We had lunch on the beach...

Carol on the left, Onyka on the right

Onyka rode a camel...
I was the camel trainer for the photo

We saw the cliffs of Negril from Rick's Cafe...

Onyka checking it out

All in all it was a lovely day exploring the west-most-point on the island.

On Sunday my guests left to return to Kingston and I went sailing.  It turned out to be a great sail, as I was called on to hoist the spinnaker sail all by myself and I rose to the occasion.  We lost the race, but within a respectful distance. Once again, I've found a time when it is useful to be able to reach a little further than the average person!

Happy Halloween to you all.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Rain, thunder and lightning

Not my picture, but you get the idea - the spinnaker is the striped sail.
On Friday night, I was sitting at home, finishing knitting my sock (one down, one and 4 more pairs to go) and I hear a tiny "pop" like a light bulb breaking and then a giant "kaboom" of thunder.  Then 3 minutes later, the same thing happened.  I was too curious about what had actually happened to be scared!  It was raining at the time, so there was no danger of fire.  My neighbour texted me to ask if I was ok.  She had been sleeping and that was a rude awakening...

Turns out, the lightning hit the pole with the internet recevier and blew it up. So the internet is down again.  It was down last week in the whole region, I guess, so despite wanting to have internet at home since I moved in at the beginning of September, I've had 5 whole days of successful online access at home.  Here's hoping the track record improves.

Today I am writing you from the Yacht Club, which has wi-fi.  This morning I went sailing and we raced.  We flew spinnakers, which are big sails that you use to go downwind.

I even got to "fly" the spinnaker, which means holding one end of the line (rope) and easing or tightening it depending on the wind.  It is kind of like flying a giant kite, except you are attached to it.  Very cool! We got rained on twice, but fortunately, I've figured out to wear my bathing suit underneath my shirt and pants, so it isn't too bad.  Plus, it's still balmy at highs of 30 Celsius with cooler evenings at 25 degrees or so.

Enjoy the fall colours for me :)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Weekend with Wendy

I had a lovely weekend with Wendy Lee, another volunteer who came up from Kingston for work and took the opportunity to stay with me and have a holiday.  It was great fun and we did lots, but you'll have to read all about it on her blog, since I am having internet problems at home and work - hopefully to be resolved soon!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Reporting from the field

In Kingston last week, I was lucky enough to meet with people at several organizations that work alongside the Dispute Resolution Foundation (DRF). This included the Planning Institute of Jamaica (POIJ), who is responsible for developing policy and position papers for initiatives across government. We also met with the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), an organization I was particularly impressed by. 

A note on acronyms – There are lots of long-titled nonprofits and government agencies in Jamaica so acronyms are frequent here. Some of the time, people can’t even tell me what it stands for.  Lots of the time they are pronounced phonetically – for instance, University of the West Indies is UWI, pronounced “you-wee”.  I sometimes get lost in the acronym swamp, but will try to guide you through it.

The PMI is an organization that was started by the office of the Prime Minister several years ago.  The staff is small, about 6 people, with board members playing an active role. Their focus is to go into communities facing violence immediately after a crime has taken place, and work directly with the perpetrators (the staff call them “shotters”, as they fired the shots) and the victims and their families.  They have several social workers on staff, and the goal is to de-escalate the emotions of all involved to prevent or at least mitigate retaliatory action that has the potential to develop into a full-on community-on-community war. 

I was particularly impressed by the way the staff talked about the complexities of the situations they work in. Two of the staff grew up in communities with high levels of violence and so had very personal perspectives. One senior manager talked about how in some communities, the violence can be linked back to criminal gang activities, such as drug trafficking and extortion, where a Don, or gang boss, drives the violence as suits his business. In other cases, he said, the communities can no longer remember why the violence started in the first place.  Think the Capulets and the Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. A complicated mix of a retaliatory culture, strong community affiliations fostered by political corruption in the past, and poverty mean that sometimes you shoot at the boy down the road simply because he lives down the road.   

It also means that there is “geographical” discrimination in Jamaica.  For instance, Flanker, the community within which I work, is known as a “bad” community.  A gentleman came in for help in applying for a job, and when asked for his address, he said “Put Ocho Rios” which caused several of the community centre staff to speak heatedly about having pride in Flanker. 

In my opinion, the worst manifestation of this pattern has been in the retaliatory violence. The staff noted that in the past, retaliation included targeting the shooter directly.  Then it changed to targeting his friend if the shooter was not available.  Then his girlfriend or family.  Now sometimes it can be anyone in the “opposing” community, including a random person walking down the street.

As you can imagine, the cycle is intense.  However, the staff of the PMI said that they had made significant progress in several communities in the Kingston region. They had built up trust and made connections with people in the community so that they were amongst the first people on the scene if there was violence, and they sometimes received anonymous referrals that something was going to happen and they were needed to de-escalate the situation. 

As you can probably tell, I was really struck by my conversations with these people.  Not only because of the graphic, high drama nature of the work they do, but also because of their recognition of all of the people involved in the violence, be it “shotters” or victims, as real people, with the right to counseling and for their story to be heard. As one staff person said, “People in some of these communities don’t know how to be different. They want the violence to stop, but they don’t know what to do.  That is where we come in.”  

From the island of Jamaica, this is commentator Julia signing off…

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Home Sweet Home

Heading back to Montego Bay from Kingston today.  It's always nice to be in Kingston and hang out with other CUSO-VSO volunteers and friends, but I'm looking forward to my own place and the cool breezes in Montego Bay.

Since I'm heading home, here are some pictures of my place:

This is the living room - you can see out the doors the small balcony and the greenery. On the left you can see the edge of the spiral staircase which takes you to the loft bedroom upstairs.

This is the view looking away from the french doors.  The door goes out to a central walkway which isn't used too often.

This is the kitchen - a "one-bum" kitchen as we used to say.  But it's just me so that is fine.  Of course it is particularly cluttered on the day I took this shot.

My room.  There are lots of windows but I usually keep them closed since the path outside is well used. It also helps keep the room cool for sleeping.

The upstairs loft. You can see that although there are 2 single beds, it is now currently my yoga studio, which is very nice. I've been quite diligent about coming up here to do some sun salutations each day.

So now you have had the grand tour of Villa 1A.  Not so big, but certainly fits my needs.  You're welcome anytime!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Life in the fast lane

 This week in pictures.

My pina coloda after work one day

It appears that there IS work being done in Jamaica, despite what my pictures lead you to believe...

On Saturday I went up to Kingston for a week of meetings at the head office. On Sunday a group of the CUSO-VSO volunteers traveled to San San beach on the east side of Jamaica.

We had to go through the Blue Mountains to get to the beach on the north shore. We took a 'coaster' or a local bus.

Kim and her daughter Samar at the beginning of our 2.5 hour bus ride.

Wendy, another volunteer.  You can see the ocean out the window which meant we were half way there.

The beach!

My token artsy shot.
 We had several cameras and our beach adventure was well documented.  For more pictures, including photographic evidence I was there, see George's version of the adventure or Wendy's.