Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Red, white and blue

This past weekend was spent exploring Fort Lauderdale in Florida with Captain Phil.  Right away, as I looked out of the airplane windows, I realized I was not in Kansas anymore.  The population of the South Florida Metropolitan area (Miami-Ft Lauderdale-Pompano Beach) is 5.5 million, almost twice all of Jamaica. The amount of cars, houses, shops and people in the customs line at the airport was all many more than what I've become accustomed to in sleepy little Mobay.

Being in the US was oddly familiar, even though I'd never been to Ft Lauderdale before. It is one of the charms and, perversely, annoyances of so much of North America is that you will see the same stores, eat the same kinds of foods and stay in hotel rooms that look exactly like the one you stayed in somewhere else. For a weekend, however, it was fun to feel "at home."

One of the highlights for me was all the different kinds of food we could eat.  Jamaica has good food, it just doesn't have a wide range on culinary options, especially in Montego Bay (Kingston has a better diversity of food.) In Florida we ate at a Mexican restaurant, a bakery cafe, a frozen yogurt shop, a seafood restaurant, an Italian place and an Irish pub (okay, we just drank Guinness there.) We would have eaten at more places if we hadn't run out of meals!

Caesars at the Lauderdale Grill - their signature drink

View looking south on the beach...

View looking north.
As you can see, the beach went on almost forever!  There was lots of public access, and we walked partway down, but never seemed to get any closer to the end.  There was quite a bit of surf, and signs were posted to watch out for the undertow and not to go too far out.

They had marked off areas where the sea turtles lay their eggs. People were really good about observing these spots, although one dad was forever having to chase his toddler back out again.

A colourful wall representing what the US does best - shopping!  We got lots of important bits and pieces, things that you can't find or are quite expensive in Jamaica. There are a ton of stores focused on the yachting life in Ft. Lauderdale.  We spent a long time in a giant West Marine store, which is kind of the Ikea equivalent for sailing.

People-watching on the strip across from the beach - it was a bustling Saturday night out.
Wine, good company, some olives - what else does one need?

The Ft. Lauderdale people-in-charge-of-amusing-tourists folks had a Saturday night thing for the months of July and August - 20 bands, 20 vendors.  Sometimes the restaurants didn't turn off their own music so between the musicians and the crowd, it got noisy.  Below was a traveling band that came down the sidewalk with much fanfare.  We also saw steel drums, Japanese drumming, and a rather timid magician who wasn't doing well with so much competition.

We spent a considerable amount of time just chillin' in the hotel room.  Those of you that have been to one of my many places, know that tv is a novelty I live without, (and there is none on the boat either) so we had lots of fun channel surfing.

End of the day zen
Hotel picnic - wine, bread, cheese, grapes, cherry tomatoes, pastrami and chocolate - mmmmmm!
Arrived back in Jamaica on Monday.  For all my complaining about the heat these days, I am glad to be back in a place where the windows open and you don't need a parka to walk through the lobby. This week I have a fair number of work projects on the go, and am heading back to Kingston at the end of the week for more meetings and volunteer festivities.

Back to normal now - well, sort of...

Friday, 20 July 2012


I spent last weekend at a Button Bay Resort, a hotel on the south coast of Jamaica, near Treasure Beach.  I am learning that a beach is not just a beach, there are white sands, brown sands, black sands, big beaches and little beaches.  We had fun crashing around in the surf on a 5 mile beach called Fort Charles Beach, which shows up quite well on Google Earth.  It was pretty relaxing, as you can see from the evidence below.

We also spent a lot of time watching the pelicans dive into the water to catch fish.  You will have to add your own sound effects; we did!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Back to the days of binary thinking

Who would have thought there would come a day when the sight of a database query option would bring me such an odd sense of pleasure and satisfaction?

In the last few days, really these last few weeks, I've been doing "normal" workplace activities that I've found comfortingly familiar in an eerie sort of way.  Yesterday I was talking to a staff person at Cuso, and by chance found out that he was struggling to use their internal database.  I asked some more questions, so he finally waved me over to look at the screen and I was able to help him set up a query to pull the information out that he needed.  My work with databases began at the age of 15, when my father handed me a box of "Maximizer" database software and asked me to figure out how it worked and build a database, including doing all the data entry for the donor list of the three western provinces he was covering.  So I sat in my pajamas in the basement for a pittance an hour and learned something about databases (and memorized through repetition the postal codes for those provinces).  The first workplace that hired me full time also used Maximizer.  Go figure.

On Tuesday I was part of team presenting to a new parter organization, orienting them to Cuso's processes as they will be recieving a volunteer in a few weeks. The material was new to me - in fact, there were a few slides in which I asked Tarik, the country representative, if he had anything to add, hoping that he would take over and come to my rescue - but the process of presenting in front of a small group is a very familar action and was common in my work life of the past few years. I had the usual fun with bullet points that zoom in from the side of the screen!

On my own time I've been working with the Montego Bay Marine Park, an important organization working on the protection of the reefs just offshore here in Montego Bay. A few weeks ago, they asked me to help write a progress report based on a plan that had a typical project management timeline in it.  I looked at the document and thought, "Yeah, I know what to do with this."

These actions had a very familiar feel to them, which in itself, was a bit unfamiliar.  I have been pushing myself to learn new things, meet new people, and be in unfamiliar situations these past months.  Although this is a good place to be, and some things have been a lot of fun to learn, (like sailing) it is nice to feel familiar and comfortable with a task once in a while.  It is reassuring to know that in addition to the many opportunities to learn here in Jamaica, I also have experience in databases, presentations, and project management timelines.

OK, that doesn't really sound that exciting at all - maybe I'll just stick to new skills like sailing!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Here, there and everywhere

In the last couple of weeks I have been lucky enough to have lots of reasons to escape my home office during the work day.  And no, it wasn't just to sit in air conditioned coffee shops, like I'm doing now. (37 degrees outside with the humidex - I know that Torontonians aren't feeling sorry for me, but it's been this temperature for a solid 2 months now.)

I have been attending all kinds of meetings: staff meetings, executive committee meetings, youth club meetings, orientation meetings, bi-monthly volunteer meetings.  I know almost all the words to the Jamaican national anthem, and fortunately, no one has asked me to lead the prayer yet. (Prayer and singing a hymn or two is a common way to start meetings here). I have listened quietly, asked some questions, and given presentations about Cuso International and the work that I am doing here. I have learned more about the work going on in communities, and the commitment of all kinds of people to make a difference.

Some stories of note:

I presented to 60 Jamaican high school and college students on the importance of volunteering.  Prior to my presentation, the emcees at the all-day workshop asked youth to speak up and tell the group about their skills.  Sure enough, as you might guess when there is a gaggle of teenagers around, one of the young men piped up on his special skill of "being with the ladies."  Everyone giggled, as was expected.

What I didn't expect, however, was that the male emcee then invited that gentleman up to the front and asked him to demonstrate his skill!  He had to convince a girl in the audience (his choice) to go out with him. Of course, the pretty girl in the back row was not happy about being put on the spot and wouldn't even come up to the front of the room.  The emcee then started to give him advice, "Just tell her she's beautiful and you want everyone to see her so she needs to come to the front of the room."  The boy mumbled something and she still didn't budge.  It was hysterical - the whole room was laughing.  I was so impressed with the male emcee's ability to acknowledge and redirect the situation with such great humour.

I met a woman with an anthropology degree who is now part of the administrative staff for an NGO that is teaching inner city youth to play classical music, building towards developing a national youth orchestra.  Musicians have come from as far away as Peru, England and Italy to work alongside Jamaican university music students to teach these kids how to play and even how to repair the instruments. When asked which instrument they want to play, many of the kids say "the keyboard", which is not referring to the piano keyboard, but to the computer keyboard, since DJs are often the most prominent musicians that these kids know.

I sat in on a meeting of community leaders that included representatives from the community centre, the health clinic, the smaller community down the road, the police, and a government social agency. They discussed activities in their community - there will be a dentist at the health centre providing services for a small donation in July; the community centre is holding a kids camp focusing on literacy; the social agency is working on a drainage system to prevent flooding of the roads during rainstorms; the police reported on a disturbance where the original instigator was actually from the south side of the island; a parenting workshop for fathers is being held in August; and a report was made that out of 15 youth who were expelled from the nearby high school and sent to the community centre some months ago, one is now enrolled in a government program and has demonstrated a willingness to change his way.

It certainly wasn't all positive news, but I was fascinated by the knowledge sharing of the activities going on, knowing that the people present would take that information back to their colleagues and clients, and by the time everyone took to discuss the whys and hows of issues facing their community.  They all had a stake in the outcome, and were actively participating in the discussions.

Things are happening here, and we are part of the solutions!

On a lighter note, your mango name for the week is "sweetie come brush me". These are small sweet ones.  The term has sexual connotations in the Caribbean, so that should tell you something about how good these mangoes are...

The gorgeous view from Shalini's bedroom window in Kingston.  Thanks for being such a lovely host, Shalini!

A requisite sunset picture from on the water - you thought I was finished with tropical sunset pictures, didn't you...

Splott, a mutated jean, who is Diva's boat mascot, enjoying a G & T with a fancy lime garnish. He got his name from his birthplace in Wales.
Happy Independence Day and a belated Happy Canada Day!