Monday, 24 December 2012

Wishing you were here

Happy Merry Christmas Eve and other holidays from me and the Christmas gecko.  Yes, he made his annual appearance this year, leaping wildly out of the fake Christmas tree as I moved it from behind the couch to in front of the couch (I have a shortage of storage space). He wished everyone the best for the holidays and ran back under the couch.

Today is just a post of a few photos taken along the way.  Wishing you a warm Christmas (although probably not as warm as me) and, dare I say it, enjoy a snowflake or two for me.

I may not have a live Christmas tree, but the poinsettias are bigger than I am!

Corrie and Colin came to visit this month - so lovely to host them again.

Doctor's Cave beach, and the derelict hotel with the best view in town,

It was an end-of-visit feast, with marinated steak and roast vegetables and potatoes.
This picture is from earlier in the year, but most of this crew sailed in the Jammin' International Regatta this month and we placed 4th out of 11 boats - we were very proud! (missing are Lauren and Nigel)

Nat, my fellow Cuso Mobay-er, came sailing on Diva and took some stunning shots, like this one looking back at the city.

I really am helming, you just can't see the wheel.

Look up!

The sky was on fire, I swear.
Just another day in paradise...

Thinking of family and friends at home (wherever that might be). Sending best wishes your way.

Photo credits: 1. me, 2. me, 3. Corrie, 4. Nataleah Hunter-Young, 5. Evelyn Harrington, 6-8. Nataleah, 9. me

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Collective energy

During my Cuso placement, I've spent a lot of time learning to work independently.  I don't have an office to go to each day, much of my work is via email, and although there are occasional visits to different organizations, it can be a bit slow and quiet. Although I am glad that I don't work at the pace that I used to in Toronto, sometimes it feels like not much is going on at all.

So, once in a while, something happens that reminds me that I am part of a bigger picture, and that things ARE happening, and it is inspiring.

On December 6th, Cuso International held a "Volunteers for Development Day".  This was in recognition of international day of the volunteer, and it was an opportunity to inform our partners about Cuso's research and strategic directions, invite potential partners to find out more about working with Cuso, and talk and learn about something that is becoming more and more important in the nonprofit landscape - social enterprise activities.

The event was organized by my colleague, Erin MacLeod, and was definitely a success.  About 50 people attended, and there was a constant buzz in the air after both the morning and afternoon sessions, as people talked about what they had heard, and chatted with each other, networking away.

The event was offically reported on by Cuso International in their online news, and both Erin MacLeod and Kate Chappell offered their own take via personal blogs.

For me, the afternoon session was the most interesting, as I already knew most of the information about Cuso presented in the morning .  Our main speaker was Dr.Knife, a professor at the University of the West Indies, based here in Jamaica.  He is a Rasta, and spoke with a lot of patois thrown in, so I had to listen carefully to understand what he said. With a sense of humour, he describe the context - Jamaica as a country where trust has been lost in the official institutions of the police, the politicians, and the pastors, leaving the grassroots community organizations to pick up the pieces for youth who can be described as "at-risk" - at risk of being unemployed, under-educated, and victims of violence of all kinds.  He put the onus on the people in the room to take action to enable a stronger future for Jamaica.  In effect, he said to all of us, "Your work matters."

Dr. Knife also painted a lively picture of the so-called "at-risk" youth.  According to one of the statistics in his presentation, when IQ testing was done inside of Jamaican's prisons, 13% of the men ranked at genius status. Overall, Jamaicans ranked 5th in terms of entrepreneurial proclivity worldwide, with Jamaican women ranking 3rd internationally.  He made the point that it was unlikely these young people were acquiring their intelligence once inside the prison, but that criminal activity was a logical step for many of these youth, either as a result of survival in gang-controlled territories, or from effective shut-out of the legal marketplace.

The discussion then turned to social enterprise.  In this context, social enterprise includes activities undertaken by an NGO to earn a profit, which in turn goes back to support the organization.  The second part of the afternoon included a presentation with one of our existing partner organizations, who run a social enterprise venture (partially developed by a Cuso volunteer) where the youth who attend the program learn skills in making a craft, and then that product is then sold, with the youth being paid piecework for their time, and profit going back to the organization to support the program. When done well, social enterprise can support a community organization, and teach valuable skills (and provide income) for participants.

There were many in the room who asked follow-up questions to the speakers, and you could see the wheels turning in their heads as to how to make this concept work for them.  I was inspired both by what was already happening and by the opportunities that emerged from the discussion. It was a good day to be a volunteer.

It doesn't matter where you are - a conference room is a conference room is a conference room.

Presenting something deep and meaningful about becoming a partner with Cuso International.

Wendy, on the left, a Cuso volunteer, with her supervisor, Mikel, who spoke about the partner-volunteer experience from both sides of the fence.

Attentive listening.
Dr. Knife, asking a question of the morning presenters - you can see how animated he was even from this picture.

One of the social enterprise products - hanging planters made from old tires. We raffled these two off to participants.

The Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica brought greetings for the event. I enjoyed meeting him, as you can see.

Photo credits all go to Varun Baker, another talented Cuso volunteer, both with the camera and a computer. You can check out his work here.

Friday, 7 December 2012

30 Things

A milestone, a round number, a grown-up age. Today I am 30 years old.  

I recently read "30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She’s 30" by Pamela Redmond Satran, first.published in Glamour Magazine in 1997. You can read that list here.  Or you can read my own list below.

30 Things that I may or may not have and may or may not know on my 30th birthday:

  1. An established love of plane tickets (one might even say an addiction.)
  2. Some enduring activities that bring me joy - knitting, walking, boats of all kinds.
  3. A home in a beautiful place - and I have also lived in several ugly places, so I know what it takes.
  4. How to listen to my gut - never trust someone's decisions only on the basis that he or she is older or wiser or more experienced. I once drove all night in a snowstorm because I didn't speak up!
  5. Knowing what looks good on myself - Okay, sometimes I get this right, sometimes I just stay home.
  6. That exercise, eating well, and keeping house are ongoing necessities but do not have to be hellish tasks - a little music might even make it fun.
  7. Some good friends that I can reconnect with as easily the next day or after two years apart.
  8. How little I know. And how little I want to know about what happens next and how it all ends up. And how many opportunities I have to learn and explore and find out.
  9. That it isn't always happy endings.
  10. How it is important to wash my face and brush my teeth each day, but that's about it. And the world won't end if I forget a day.
  11. An adult relationship with my family - the ones I get along with, I see more of, the ones I don't, I try to sit far away from at family dinners.
  12. A good recipe for cooking swiss chard, in spite of my reaction at age 8.
  13. That I believe in the sanctity of life and my God has a sense of humour.
  14. That meals taste better when eaten with others.
  15. How integrity and self-respect are everything, whether I start from the bottom or the top.
  16. How the whole world is better when I've had enough sleep. And on that note, remind me to never make major life decisions during PMS or exam periods.
  17. That I can survive VERY STRESSFUL THINGS, even if it doesn't feel like it going in.
  18. A home is not a home without a bookshelf
  19. A deep pleasure from sunset drinks and appetizers.
  20. That I am not an island - reaching out for support is not weakness, but intelligent.
  21. That I don't like polish on my fingernails, or when they grow too long.
  22. How sharing life with a partner is magnificent.
  23. That listening to other people's stories, particularly those of my relatives, is often fascinating.
  24. How Christmas and birthdays come every year, so it's not worth worrying about making it perfect.
  25. That saying thank-you and smiling goes a long, long way, baby.
  26. That I am fallible and you are too, but that's okay - the pressure is off.
  27. A dislike of beets or poppy seeds, but the ability to eat them with grace nonetheless.
  28. Some voices that have stayed in my head a long time, (yes, I hear voices...) particularly my mother's, my junior high basketball coach, my elementary school swim instructor's.
  29. That "how much is enough" is a more complicated question then you would think.
  30. That I still have more than half of my life left and let the adventures begin!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A 'ole heap o respect

Just when I thought I'd been in Jamaica long enough to know it all, something interesting happens that turns it upside-down. 

Yesterday, I was taking my usual route taxi ride home and I had a totally different conversation with the driver than normal.

(Aside #1 - a route taxi is the equivalent of public transportation here.  It is a sedan car that runs along a fixed route and carries four passengers. The far is usually about $90 Jamaican (just over a dollar Cdn) and I take them all the time to get where I need to go.)

Usually the driver is a young man, and he asks for my phone number or makes some other pass at me. Sometimes it is just about where I am from, but often it includes something like "Do you have a boyfriend?" or "Can I go home with you?" I've seen these kinds of conversations happen with all kinds of women in the cab, Jamaican ones as well. So the drivers on the whole don't have the best reputation.

But yesterday, the driver started to tell me about the passenger that had just gotten out before I got in.  "He has a 16 year old girlfriend, that is not a woman, that is a schoolgirl.  He's a pervert!"

(Aside #2 - what the driver said was mostly in patois.  I am pretty good at understanding it now, but I'm not so good at reproducing it yet. Bear with me)

After the driver had me agreeing that this was wrong, he proceeded to tell me all about his wife of 21 years. 

He said, "You know, Jamaican men, they always have 2 or three women." 

I nodded in agreement. 

He said, "Me, I don't like to tell no lies, so I go home to mi woman." 

He was clear - he had plenty of other offers, he was a driver after all, but he didn't bother with them, he went home and met his "needs" with his woman. 

"After all," he said "that's why I don't got no wrinkles, you know - no stress.  And mi girl, she look young too." And it was true, he looked about 25, even though he said he was 46.

He had told me he had two sons, so I asked "Don't your boys give you stress sometimes?"
And he said, the part that I thought was the best, "They good boys. They see how me go forward and they move in my direction." 

Let all the other taxi drivers take note, I've found the one I'd be willing to go home with.  He'd take me home and I'd met his wife and sons and probably learn a lot.  

(Aside # 3 - He still did ask me where I was from - some things don't change.)


On another note, Captain Phil and I had a feast last week.  It was celebratory and so involved baked avocado, lobster, steak, roasted vegetables, and banoffee pie for dessert.  We were stuffed and happy by the end of the meal!

The pre-dinner lobster, bought live from the fisherman earlier that day.
Poor suckers - so tasty though.
really, really yummy!
banana, caramel and whipped cream - with chocolate shavings on top - what else could you need?
Necessary after all that pie, I raced both Saturday and Sunday this weekend on the sailboats.  One of club members did a great video of the weekend which I've re-posted below, if you can stand to watch another sailing video.  I am in the blue shirted team, just past the 1 minute mark, taking the winch handle out of the winch.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

On youth work, the Blue Mountains, and avocado

I thought that when I returned to Jamaica, my life would slow down to its relaxed state of being, the pace at which I've lived the last year.  But it appears that a bit of the whirlwind of Toronto came down with me, because I have been busy the last few weeks.  And with already more than three weeks of company  from three groups of people expected before Christmas, it doesn't show any signs of abating.

Some highlights from the past couple of weeks:

First, a professional success!  Nataleah Hunter-Young arrived in Montego Bay and started her Cuso placement working with the Social Development Commission.  Her placement is a result of my work to develop new partnerships outside of Kingston.  She will be working with youth in disadvantaged communities to help them develop leadership and lifestyle skills and access education, training and employment.

So far, she had been enjoying Montego Bay and her placement is off to a good start.  The only problem is that she has not been to the beach yet, but we are planning to remedy that next weekend.

I am feeling good about seeing the fruits of my labour. A second volunteer is scheduled to arrive later this month so soon the Montego Bay contingent will be three volunteers strong.

The signing of the tripartite agreement, between the volunteer, Natalia (on the far right), the partner, SDC, represented by the Parish Manager, Mr. Hayle (on the far left) and Cuso, represented by Tarik Perkins (in the middle).
On a personal level, this weekend Captain Phil and I attended the lovely wedding of our friends Audrey and Aziz, which took place high in the Blue Mountains at a place called Heritage Gardens.  The view was spectacular, the bride and groom were beautifully attired in West African outfits, the guests were an eclectic mix of Africans, Jamaicans and Canadians, and the food was scrumptious.  It was an event to remember!

The drive up was less than 20 km, but it took us 45 minutes because of the switchbacks and the potholes in the roads.

The covered patio where the reception was held.

These "lanterns" were set along the path ans staircases and lit to create a magical glow.

Sunset with a view way, way down to Kingston Harbour
Finally, I may have mentioned on the blog before, but one of my Jamaican goals was to buy an avocado (pear, as they are known locally,) every time I went to town for as long as it was in season. So yesterday, after getting off the bus that brought us back for Kingston, I walked down the back lane where the men and women selling produce off carts or baskets sit, and bought two pear and bananas, tangerines, a green pepper and a papaya.

The green pear, in the back, was enormous and probably weighted at least 2 pounds.  And, that red fruit is actually an avocado as well!  I'd never seen a red pear before - I am going to taste test it tomorrow :)

The green pear made up part of last night's dinner and also was served with breakfast this morning (we ate the papaya too). It had a wonderfully fresh flavour and a velvety smooth texture.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

How to avoid a hurricane, or Canada Part 2

Hurricane Sandy crossed Jamaica earlier this week, and I was sitting cozily in Toronto. Now Toronto has heavy rains predicted for all this week, partly due to Sandy's expected travels up the east coast of the US and inland to Eastern Canada, and I am heading back to Montego Bay today, avoiding her once again.

It was a lovely trip, all in all.  It was full, full, full of family, friends and food. Thanks so much to everyone that hosted me, ate with me, or endured one of my many shopping trips.  It is time to leave, before I spend every last penny!

Sibling shots in Muskoka. There were no mysterious deaths at the cottage, and we are all still speaking to each other.  One might say that we even had fun!

A view of the cottage in Muskoka.  The fall colours were stunning and the weather was largely cooperative.

Toronto wasn't doing too bad for colours either.
I even found a few moments between shopping trips to finish the karmic balancing socks. Karla, they are on their way too you now. (I also got more yarn of all kinds, much to the long-suffering of Karen and Erika who were dragged into the yarn shop under duress.)

There was a visit to my storage locker - everything is safe and sound.  And yes, I did give my bike a little reassuring pet or too.
There was chillin' with friends like Corrie and Ann.

There were also two full Thai food dinners, which with Kate and Scott, is a tradition that goes back years and years.  Thanks guys!
But I have spent all my money, walked lots around the city and just made merry well beyond the usual capacity of my internal organs, so it must be time to go home.

Next post coming from sunny (and warm) Montego Bay!

Friday, 19 October 2012

What $100 will buy, or Canada Part 1

I am spending two weeks with friends and family in Ontario and am just about at the halfway point of my time here.  It is chilly in Canada, but the fall colours are spectacular (pics below).  I've caught up with old friends, spent copious amounts of time with my sisters, and eaten and drank WAY too much.  Oh, but it's been fun!

2 hundred dollar bills - but one with 1% of the value of the other.  Too bad I can't use my Jamaican money to buy things in Toronto!

I stayed the first weekend at the Burrows's, and on Sunday we had a fabulous feast with old friends. Nathan made strawberry custard pies and they were very yummy.

Corrie and I in our matching sweaters.
Good ol' Toronto public transit, how I've missed you...

Waiting at the streetcar stop with my siblings, after a successful day of wedding dress shopping (for Karen, who's on the right), yarn shopping (for me, who's taking the picture), and eating noodles, coffee, and cake. We looked in lots of shoe store windows (for Erika, on the left; Karen and I ogled  too), but we managed to contain ourselves.

I am writing this post from Bracebridge, Ontario, deep in the heart of cottage country. Karen, Erika and I, along with Pat, Karen's fiance, are staying at his parents' cottage for a couple of days.
The cottage is on an island in Lake Rosseau. If the sibling "togetherness time" gets too intense, it may turn into an Agatha Christie mystery.  I didn't do it, I swear!

Pat and Karen, enjoying the nice weather for our boat ride into town today.  We ate all the cookies, so we need to do some shopping.  Besides that, Pat and I are getting shaky from internet withdrawal...

Me and Erika, squinting into the sun and wind.
Just a glimpse of the fall colours for you.  The leaves are really spectacular right now.  It is Canadian splendor in all it's glory.
Next week is full of brunches, lunches, and drinks with everyone else I know in Toronto.  I may need to run around the block once or twice to keep warm and to burn some of the yummy food off!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Wildlife of Jamaica

While I was looking back through the pictures on my camera, I realized that I had quite a collection of wildlife shots.  No one said they were going to make National Geographic, but I thought I'd share some with you.

This bad boy was taking himself for a brisk walk down the road, bleating all the way.  Perhaps he knew that curried goat is a favourite dish here.

Looking carefully, you can just see the spotted stingray that went past the boat.  They really do "fly" through the water.  He must have been about 2 feet wide, but with a much longer tail.

This is my resident Doctor Bird.  He molted his tail feathers a month ago, and they are growing back now.

This guy landed on the wall outside, and was probably 4-5 inches wide.  You can see he's a lucky one, as he got away with only a bit out of his tail!
Last, as total non sequitur, see below for my latest pie creation - Banoffee pie, or Banana-toffee pie.  You don't even wanna know what went in there. Next project is a pumpkin pie in honour of Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend.