Wednesday, 29 August 2012

"If Jesus were to come down tomorrow..."

I have had one "typical" Jamaican experience after another in the last week.  Perhaps it is because I've been here long enough to recognize these things as uniquely Jamaican, perhaps it's simply because I've been deep in the world of Anthony C. Winkler's The Great Yacht Race, which is set in 1950s Jamaica at the Montego Bay Yacht Club and the story is achingly close to home (more about that below).

Last week, as a celebration of the milestone of one year in Jamaica, Captain Phil took me out to dinner at a local place: Martina's.  It is tucked away at the crossroads of a major intersection in town, but isn't visible from the road, so it is truly frequented by locals.  (Captain Phil stops there for a beer when he thinks he's going to get rained on while riding his bicycle home from the grocery store.)

We both had steamed lion fish with okra and bammy, which was awesome!  (And no, I did not eat the eyeballs this time, but I did show Captain Phil how to eat the checks.) I will eat you anytime, invasive reef fish!

While we were there, some guys around the bar were arguing about the latest cricket match.  Their voices got louder and Louder and LOUDER until Phil and I actually had to shout at each other to be heard.  At some point, someone made the point "If Jesus came down from heaven tomorrow, what would you say?"  We couldn't stop giggling at the absurdity. And that's not all, later in the week I heard another argument amongst Jamaicans about something inane with biblical referencing thrown in. Too funny.

The restuarant also had a fountain in which several turtles lived.  This guy wouldn't hold still long enough for me to take a picture, so I finally gave up and filmed him instead.

Last week I also had an opportunity to visit a community in the rural interior of Jamaica, Maroon Town.  Maroon Town is about an hour's drive up in the hills from Montego Bay, and the air is fresh and cool and you can see the ridges of the cockpit country hills all around you.  It was interesting to meet with community members there and to strategize how a Cuso volunteer might help them. We were of two minds whether it would be fantastic to be a volunteer located in a village in cockpit country, with stunning vistas and cool mountain air, or whether it would be really isolating with almost no amenities close by.

There are warnings about hiking in cockpit country by yourself: you have to be careful not to get lost because it is very isolated and all the hills are about the same height so it is impossible to see the way out again.

Trying not to get ourselves lost on the way.

Notice the rainwater collection barrels on the roof of the centre - there is no public water or sewer available up here.
Ok - Anthony C. Winkler, one of Jamaica's best known writers.  I've mentioned before that I really enjoyed reading The Lunatic, and The Great Yacht Race was equally pleasurable, if not more so because it was about boats and sailing and the people ("characters") in Montego Bay, which haven't changed nearly as much in the last 50 years as you would expect.  He has a wonderful way of writing the Jamaican accent and patois phrasing, and nothing Jamaican is sacred or free of a sly ironic poke.

I am going to inflict some on you, apologies in advance...

Now it was August.

August: a month when God's searing sun hangs so low over Montegonians that helpless master must fornicate with winsome maid from the country parts, minister must beg scandalized matron for pum-pum after choir practice, surely donkey must stand in the shade and swish grassblade with dangling privates, and decent woman walking to work must be provoked by the sight of animal hood flaunting itself under her very nose as if she did not have crosses enough in her life already without having to put up with disgusting spectacle.

A bad month in Montego Bay, August: hormonal bubbling, anopheles mosquito and, in the old days, death from yellow fever. A month of wanton harvesting for Belial, when sinner is catapulted in a blink from den of iniquity to fire and brimstone, all the wicked brutes bawling out the same lament, "Me never know! Me never know, sah! Beg you second chance, sah!"

But there is no second chance in August.

(Page 123 of The Great Yacht Race, by Anthony C. Winkler, published by Macmillan Caribbean.)

Even the cover illustration looks like it could be the view down the MBYC dock today.
P.S. In case you didn't figure it out on your own, "pum-pum" and "hood" are patois slang for the female and male private parts, respectively.  Maybe be careful about using your new words in polite company....

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

One entire year

On this day one year ago I stepped off the plane in Jamaica.  It was momentarily disappointing, because the flight was shorter than my usual Toronto-Vancouver flight, so it felt like I hadn't gone very far, and because the temperature was basically the same as it was in Toronto. But pretty quickly it became apparent that I wasn't in Kansas anymore...

Reflecting back on my year, it seems amazing how much I've learned. I now have a whole life here in Montego Bay, totally different than the one I left behind, but it still includes good friends, good food, and the occasional adventure. And here's to the next 6 months of life in Jamaica!

P.S. Thanks again to everyone who made a donation to Cuso International on my behalf. The results of the karmic balancing sock draw(er) will be up soon.
P.P.S I had avocado picked right off the tree the other day.  I picked one myself, but it wasn't ripe.  You don't learn how to tell which ones are ready when you are used to getting your avocado from the grocery store...

Monday, 20 August 2012

Feeling good inside and out

Reason #5 to support Cuso International - that warm fuzzy feeling you get from being part of something big!

Thanks so much to everyone who made a contribution to Cuso International on my behalf and helped me reach and surpass my fundraising target. I feel great, and I hope you do too.

(Special thanks to my Dad, whose skills and efforts were much appreciated; not everyone get expert fundraising advice on their side.)

We are now in the middle of hurricane season here in the Caribbean, which runs from June to the end of November.  You can watch the progression of tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes at the National Hurricane Center. I find it interesting to follow the patterns of the storms, starting off the coast of Africa, moving west into the Caribbean, or north-west towards Florida, and then north and east again across the Atlantic.

Here in Montego Bay we've had some heavy rains in the afternoon the last few days, which have thwarted my plans to go to the beach.  On Saturday I was so hot and disappointed when the clouds started to roll over the hills (I already had my swimsuit on) that I decided to sit on the deck of the boat while it rained.  Not quite like a swim, but I finally cooled down.

tropical showers

over by the beach (the far left of the picture) it was still sunny, but not for long...

P.S.  Wednesday is my 1 year anniversary of being in Jamaica.  There is still time to get your name in the sock-draw(er) by making a donation to Cuso International. One more round of applause for everyone who has already contributed!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Changing lives, one at a time

Reason # 4 to support Cuso International - it creates life-changing experiences!

The Montego Bay Racquet Club, the complex in which I live, used to be a prestigious hotel in the sixties and seventies, with tennis courts to prove it.  Rumour has it that Marilyn Monroe once stayed stayed here, and Charlton Heston had a room with the top floor gabled window (these rumours are spread by my eloquant but occasionally forgetful landlord, so take them with a grain of salt.) Today, many of the units are owned by snowbirds from the US and Canada, who come down to escape the cold of the winter and go back to escape the heat of the Jamaican summer.  Several months ago, when I started talking to one such neighbour who, after finding out what I was doing here, said that he had been a Cuso volunteer in Jamaica over 40 years ago, placed as a teacher in a rural community.  He has gone on to a well-served career in the education system. It's a small, small world.

Cuso International has been working in Jamaica since 1961.  Imagine, if there was even an average of 5 volunteers here per year, that's over 500 volunteers who experienced Jamaican culture and gave of their time and talents.  If each one of those volunteers contributed in a way that made a difference in the lives of 5 Jamaicans, that's 2500 more lives touched. And this is just the work in Jamaica, never mind the other countries where Cuso International has placed volunteers.

Cuso International has made a difference in my life path.  And I know, from first hand experience, that the NGOs it works with here in Jamaica make a difference in the lives of many Jamaicans.  It is a really incredibly opportunity that I have to be part of change like this.

And - you can be too!  (Come on, I know you were waiting for the pitch...)  Seriously, I'm 5 days away from my one year anniversary in Jamaica and I'm soooo close to reaching my fundraising target.  I just need $50 from 5 people, or $20 from 12 people. I know you've been behind me so far (thanks again to everyone who has already donated) and that you can help me reach this goal.  And that if you can't make a donation, you might pass on the link on my blog to a friend who can.

Please, support Cuso International's work by clicking on this link or on the donate button on the right hand side of the page. It has changed my life. And it has changed the lives of so many others, for the better.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Not going home yet (ever?)

Reason # 3 to support Cuso International: I'm not done yet!!!!

So as most of you know, my original placement in Jamaica was to help develop the youth program of the Dispute Resolution Foundation in western Jamaica for one year.  For various reasons, by the time I started the job, it no longer made sense for me to do this work, (see here for a more detailed explanation,) so in November I started to work directly with the Cuso Jamaica Programme Office to seek out and develop opportunties for volunteers to work in the western part of the island.  And there is no one else here, so I'm not done yet!

"Yet" is the key part to understand.  In the typical meandering way of community development, networking, and life in relaxed Jamaica, it has taken longer to get where I want to be than my western-trained, overly-efficient self would like. So I have committed to be in Jamaica working with Cuso International for 6 more months, with the goal of welcoming some new volunteers to Montego Bay and showing them all my favourite places to hang out before I leave.

And, possibly, there are a few other reasons why I'm not ready to go home yet (wink wink) Growing up in Winterpeg (you'll find it on the map as Winnipeg, Manitoba,) has meant that I need more than the average person's quota of sun and sand to warm up.

So please, if you were thinking of coming to visit, you have six more months to do so.  If you were thinking of making a donation, you have 8 more days to be part of the karmic balancing sock draw.  If you weren't thinking any of these things, but were wondering what I'm going to do in another six months, stick around and the adventures will continue!

Pot of gold fell off the cruise ship?

Reasons why I can't go yet...

Sunset IN the water

Mango, papaya and watermelon.  Ate half of it for breakfast, then added pineapple and ate the rest of it as an afternoon snack - yummy!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

They already have the answers

Reason #2 to support Cuso International - as a volunteer, my role is not to bring answers; I come to support and extend the work of locals - Jamaicans already know the problems and solutions better than anyone else!

This weekend was an incredible time to be in Jamaica.  It was the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence on Monday, and Jamaicans won gold and bronze in the women's 100 metre sprints on Saturday and gold and silver in the men's on Sunday.  The whole country is buzzing with feel-good vibrations for all its athletes and bursting with pride for their country.

Here's some footage of the euphoria in front of the big screen televisions in one of the main intersections in Kingston:

I was lucky enough to be able to watch the races with a group of Jamaicans at the Kingston Yacht Club, where I was participating in a sailing regatta all weekend.  Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Ernesto was passing by south of the island and kicked up some weather.  Saturday's sailing was inordinately calm, on Sunday the weather was too wild for sailing and on Monday it was still pretty intense, but everyone wanted so desperately to go out that we tried it for a little while, but it was not the best of conditions. (The bigger boats were racing as well, and one of them clocked wind gusts at 42 knots.  To put that in context, we usually cancel racing if it is blowing upwards of 20-25 knots.)

On Sunday, the storm passed by at its closest point.  It was during the semi-final heats of the men's 100 metres.  The tension and energy in the room was matched by the drama of the weather outside.  The wind started blowing intensely - all the shutters were flung wide open and clothing and paper was blown about in the room.  Everyone rushed outside to watch the storm and to check that all the boats were safely back in the harbour and firmly attached to the docks.  Then it started to rain and everyone rushed back in - maybe the rushing also had to do with the fact that there was another race heat about to start and this one had Blake in it, I couldn't tell. My own eyes were flipping back and forth from the television screen to the view over the harbour.  At its height, where you could usually see clearly the buildings of downtown Kingston and the hills behind, was a grey wall of water and wind.  The best way for me to describe it is to liken it to the way a Manitoba blizzard can totally obscure your vision 30 feet out. The worst fears of everyone was that the storm would affect the power and we wouldn't be able to watch the race!

Fortunately, these conditions only lasted for about an hour and minimal damage occurred.  There were a few more squalls over the next couple of days, but the worst had passed.  The euphoria from the Olympic golds and the general celebratory feeling from achieving 50 years of independence seems to remain. I look forward to working alongside Jamaicans to make the next 50 years even better for all Jamaicans!

PS.  The sock progress continues and your chances of being the proud owner of this pair are still quite high!  Please click to make a donation and help me reach my goal to raise $2000.

Friday, 3 August 2012

You were 15 once too

Reason #1 to support Cuso International - they are working to build opportunities for youth in Jamaica

Remember when you were 15 years old and you were trying to figure out who you were and what to do with your life?  Remember the "friends" that wanted you to do stuff you weren't sure about, the family that seemed so uncool, the old habits that seemed childish?  Do you remember who is was that stood by you and helped you see that the future wouldn't always be like this?  Was it your parent, your teacher, your aunt or grandfather, maybe a friend?

For 15 year olds in Trenchtown, Jamaica, it is often the teachers and peers at Boys Town, an NGO that provides school, training, and community services to the youth in a Kingston inner city community.  They have an interesting program helping young adults, young men in particular, who are 15 to 18 years old, bridge the gap between the end of their academic career and finding a job.  Because many of the training programs won't accept people under 18 years old, and because many of these youth are no longer in school, this program teaches them hands-on skills, while "sanding down the rough edges" as one of the staff put it, teaching them lifestyle skills that will help them get into the official certificate programs in trades, hospitality industry or other areas.  It is a crititcal time of youth engagement, because if they weren't in Boys Town, there are plenty of less savoury individuals willing to instruct them in the ways of guns and drugs.

I was lucky enough to get a tour of the organization.  My pictures really don't do it justice, it was a windy day during the summer vacation, and everyone was inside for a dance performance, the culmination of a summer camp program.

Traffic around the on-site training centre

Boys leaning in to watch the dance performances

It looks so peaceful, but inside the auditorium, the music was blaring!

Please click to make a donation in support the work of Cuso International.  I need your help to reach my goal, and, more importantly, it makes a difference for boys like these ones.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Roots and wings

Happy Emancipation Day! Celebrated here in Jamaica, it is the first of two holidays in quick succession, and this weekend is full of events and activities. Monday, August 6th, is Independence Day and this year Jamaica is celebrating 50 years of independence from British reign. There are green, yellow and black streamers everywhere!

This tree is well over 50 years old.  Note the beer  bottle on the rail at the bottom left for a sense of scale.
To mark the holiday, and because I am in the last month of my 1 year contract with Cuso International, I am inviting you to support Cuso's work in Jamaica and around the world by making a donation here. I am more than 50% of the way to achieving my goal of raising $2000 and I need your help. Remember, every dollar you give is matched by the Canadian International Development Agency.

And, to steal from a fellow blogger whom I admire, I will be giving away a karmic balancing gift. For everyone who donates between now and August 22, 2012, (the date in which I arrived in Jamaica a year ago, also my sister's birthday,) they will be eligible to win a pair of hand knitted socks, made by yours truly to their specifications. I have a pretty good range of colours and patterns to suit anyone. So please click here to make a donation of any size, and you will be included in the karmic balancing draw for a lovely pair of Jamaican knit socks!

PS. The adventures are not over yet – I will be posting more details soon.
PPS.   Here is the current sock project - these could be yours...