Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy holidays from the Christmas lizard

Downtown square in Mobay
Christmas is coming in Montego Bay! And despite the occasional flurries of orange and green election colours, people here in Jamaica make a big deal about Christmas, including all of the usual trimmings plus palm trees.

I have been having my own Christmas adventures this week.  It all started on Sunday, when I was trimming my tree, kindly lent to me by my neighbour.  It was a nice little fake tree, about 3 feet high.  I set it on the table and was putting up lights and then the ornaments.  I noticed a little brown twig and thought, "that would be a good place for an ornament".  I reached up, and the twig moved!  Upon closer inspection, I saw that there was a lizard sitting in my Christmas tree, probably wishing me season's greetings, but anxious to get to his own parties.

Couldn't quite get the focus right, but you can see him.
 I've never had a lizard in my Christmas tree before! Snow, yes, birds' nests, yes, but no lizards.  A Christmas first. A short tussle later, involving the dustpan and a reptile that was not at all convinced this was a good idea, we arrived at a relocation plan.

Santa's little helper, free to return to the wild (but probably not to the north pole.)
After all that fun, I went down to the Yacht Club for a lovely Christmas lunch, at which I not only ate turkey, but also some ham and some beef! (I was sooooo full!) After lunch, Santa Claus arrived at the YC via boat.

Here he comes...
All the kids ran down the dock to see him. (You have to imagine the pitter-patter of little feet on the planks)
"Have you been a good girl this year?"
Chantal and baby Alexa - her first Christmas.
I also attended the Flanker Peace and Justice Centre "Evening of Excellence" that same day.  This is the Centre where I was placed for the first two months of my placement, and it was nice to go back and see some of the people I knew and had worked alongside. The evening showcased the talents of the community youth.

To start it all off, the marching band toured the neighbourhood. Apologies for the poor videography. (Nate, I need some tips.)

The concert was held in the yard just outside the centre.  It included lots of enthusiastic performances - singing, dancing, and poetry recitations.

Waiting for the concert to start.
Sanika Nash, age 8, reciting a poem.
The junior youth dancers, including an energetic Santa.

On a non-Christmas note, on Wednesday my neighbour and I went to eat really good fish. The fish was served Jamaican style, which means that the fish is cleaned and then cooked and served whole.  We had ours steamed, which included the infamous Jamaican water crackers and vegetables (pieces of carrots, pumpkin and okra). It took up the entire plate.  I successfully ate the whole thing, with only minor pokes from the bones. I even ate the eyeball! (Well, sucked on it, really.) That kinda grossed me out, but it was tasty! Credit for the photos below goes to Tamara.

"Really - you want me to put WHAT in my mouth?"
"I ate the WHOLE thing."  - Good Jamaicans clean their plates!
You will note that I'm wearing a scarf because it was a little chilly.  Not chilly like "anywhere in Canada right now" chilly, but chilly like "used to a temperature range of 26-30 degrees" chilly (79-86 F for my American readers).  What can I say, 24 degrees felt cold?

Keep warm for the holidays wherever you are. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and my parents arrive in Jamaica - best Christmas present ever! I hope you will celebrate or just relax with people you love and enjoy good food and festivities.

Sending Caribbean sun your way - Julia

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Stiches and salt water

Life is moving on here in Jamaica.  Much of the newness has worn off - I feel like I've been here for ages, even though it has barely been four months.  My life is falling into a more predictable pattern, with work, having general fun with neighbours, sailors, volunteers and others.  I apologize for leaving all of you out of it - I promise to get back into sharing on the blog more regularly.

Last weekend was spent in the full enjoyment of my newest hobby - sailing! I participated in the MBYC J22 Jamin' International Regatta 2011.  I was crew on "Defender" with Jim Wilson at the helm, and we had lots of fun. Memorable moments include: winning one race against all expectations (we sailed 8 races over 2 days), flying the spinnaker without any major hitches, and sailing back to the yacht club with a glorious sunset on Friday evening after almost 8 (!) hours on the water.

Read the official race report. 
Be sure to notice Defender's rank in race #7!

Check out these great shots of the boats on the water.
It was even more spectacular to be out in the middle of all of the boats. Okay, sometimes we were in the middle, but you also have a really great view from the back ;)

Party shots which include photographic evidence I was there.
The prize giving party was hosted by Lynn and Bryan at their house, which is high on the hills outside Montego Bay. There was much food, drink and general hilarity, as you can see.

Despite a fundamental incompatibility with boats and salt water, I've also been knitting up a storm (okay, just a lot of socks).  Here are some pictures of my finished projects:

"Spring forward" pattern

"Kalajoki" pattern - based on a river in Iceland.

Now I've got to finish my Christmas shopping - everyone is getting rasta hats with fake dredlocks this year - and clean up for house guests.  Several volunteers are meeting friends and family who arrive at the Montego Bay airport so are coming up for a night or two this week, plus my own parents arrive in a week. No dirty corners allowed!

Monday, 5 December 2011

That time of year

It is my birthday this week, and I know you were going to put a large, expensive, heavy present in the mail for me. Well, I'd like to ask you to re-consider on the gifts and instead support the work of Cuso International this holiday season.

Note: For those of you paying attention, you will notice that CUSO-VSO has now become Cuso International. This shift represents internal organizational politics, but does not affect my placement or the general work of this organization.

I have been asked to raise $2000 as part of my volunteering committment. I am willing to forgo the shiney bobbles and trinkets you were going to send me for Christmas if you can dig into the pockets of your pants and send whatever spare change you have my way. 

Seriously, if you give at this time of year, please consider Cuso International.  Every dollar I raise is matched by that Canadian International Development Agency, nine to one. That means that if I reach my target of $2000, $20,000 will be available for Cuso International, which is about 80% of the cost of sending a volunteer overseas for a year.

Visit here to donate now and receive a tax receipt.

From my own experience I can say that being an overseas volunteer is a life-changing experience - my own, and the lives of others affected by the work that I do. Here in Jamaica, volunteers are making a difference with children who are victims of crime, women with husbands or sons in prison, Jamaicans facing police brutality and other human rights violations and more.  Volunteers are also helping spread alternative ways to deal with conflict, working to give youth better leadership skills and developing technology platforms to strengthen non-profit organizations. All of this happens within a framework of transferring skills and knowledge to Jamaicans - this is truly teaching people to fish, not just giving them fish.

I thank you in advance for your support!

The orchid outside my back door

Tamara, my neighbour, and myself enjoying dinner out
Thanks so much to friends and family that already supported Cuso International by making a donation and taking some of my stuff at my "garage sale"!