Thursday, December 31, 2009
My ambition had been to be somewhere I could contribute and use the experience I have acquired over the years to make a difference if I could. That opportunity has certainly been provided here and in a place that is beautiful and challenging and offers more than I can in return. How fortunate I have been.
This year has been about all the things one learns from embarking upon a major change. For me the most valuable thing has been experiencing the generosity and warmth of others. The well wishes as my plans to take a year off emerged; the generosity of people I left behind and those I have met in Jamaica; and the support of Haley and Tasha as their home was rented and they ventured into the world of student loans!
Thanks to everyone for being part of 2009 and I wish you all happiness and prosperity for 2010 and the next decade!!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The beauty and scope of Jamaica continues to amaze. With access to a car we travelled all over. It is not a large island but the mountains make it slow to travel and short distances can take many hours. We missed Dunn's Falls as it took longer to get there than I had planned but an alternative, Mahoe Falls, proved stunningly beautiful, and was completely without other tourists. Much smaller, but the intimacy of the falls and the beauty of the surrounding gardens provided a lovely experience with a gentle guide, David, showing us round.
Out of Ochos we climbed into the mountains through Fern Gully. A twisting, overhung, verdant gully cut through rock with layers and layers of growth and a canopy that denies the sunshine.
Time in Kingston meant a trip to the Bob Marley Museum and insight into a very interesting period in Jamaica. Seeing the place in which there was an attempt to assinate Bob Marley is a graphic reminder of how violent the political environment was in the 70s. The house is a classic old Jamaican house, and Bob Marley's achievements as a musician and poet are very well presented. Even the cafe under large fruit trees is good and lunch of red bean soup was delicious. The evening had us scouring our ipods for Bob Marley tunes.
Then a quick trip downtown to the street vendors, noise and mass of people on the streets. Empty, crumbling and decaying buildings that are the ghosts of a thriving colonial port. It seems all the commerce has moved onto the streets and it is a challenge to the imagination to consider the possibility of "re-vitalising" this area, as is the government's current ambition. It does makes one consider what constitutes "vital" as there is certainly no lack of vitality in the market place commerce. There is however extreme poverty, refuse and crime, none of which are easy to accommodate.
Back to Montego Bay through Junction. Jamaica offers endless breathtaking drives and this one did not disappoint, rainbows and mountains, sunshine and sunshowers.
In Mo-Bay we relaxed, swam, enjoyed each other's company at Doctor's Cave. Christmas Day was delightful together on the beach, snorkelling and enjoying the hospitality of Sandals. Boxing Day (not celebrated here!) was spent adventuring to Treasure Beach, a wonderful area on the south coast with long volcanic sand beaches and rocks full of fossils. Fresh shrimp, pizza and lobster at Jack Sprat's, a cafe on the beach, seemed to be there precisely for us! This drive led us across large pastoral plains at the edge of the mountains, grazing cattle and productive farmlands in St Elizabeth Parish.
In ten days we saw lots of Jamaica and I gained a great appreciation of how much the island has to offer. I learned how to manage the initial interactions as a result of the assumption of being a tourist. There is frustration about the all-inclusives as it has reduced the potential income for many who service the tourist industry, fewer cars rented, fewer tourists adventuring beyond the tours included by the hotels, fewer people walking around independently. So back to dichotomies: all inclusives mean tourists have continued to come here through times of violence and crime, all-inclusives (particularly Sandals) partner with local NGOs to create job training opportunities and create jobs but they have reduced the potential for independent entrepreneurship, the frustration caused by this increases the assertive approach to tourists however, if one holds one's ground with good humour, the exchanges can be fun.
I would strongly recommend a trip to Jamaica and one that would include adventuring beyond the hotel on the beach....
Thursday, December 24, 2009
It is Christmas Eve and I am enjoying a wonderful time with Haley and Tasha. Our Christmas will not be our traditional event with family and friends and I will miss those I usually get to see on Christmas Day. However, swimming, sunshine and the beach with the girls is also a wonderful way to celebrate the season!
This is the end of a very exciting year for me and I am so grateful for having the opportunity to explore new places, meet new people, learn of another culture and contribute to the well-being of the youth of Jamaica. Travel and being somewhere unfamiliar sharpens one's awareness. Jamaica has offered so much in such a short time and the time away from Canada has heightened my appreciation of what in incredible country it is, and what wonderful people I know there.
Warmest Holiday Wishes to old friends, new friends, family and colleagues. I hope you too enjoy family and friends and wherever you are, and may 2010 bring you good fortune and joy.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I have found the role as tourist more difficult than settling in as a resident, and have to be aware of the potential of being taken advantage of at almost every decision. Already I have experienced two situations in which this has occurred. My pre-booked car rental did not materialise, and I had to scramble to find a car at the airport. Successfully achieved but not without its stress, and of course more expensive than originally planned. The second was yesterday when the girls and I had decided to adventure. Our plan was to go to Negril but we wanted to experience something other than beach along the way. We headed for Royal Palms Reserve and as we turned off we were told the reserve was closed and we should head to another, not far away. At the end of a lengthy drive and with the "kind" directions from a delightful young man, we arrived at Roaring Rivers. What we discovered was a local community that has taken the initiative to divert tourists to their mountain river village with hot springs, caves and lush flora. The place was interesting, the people pleasant, the fee negotiable but I certainly felt foolish about being conned so easily and wondered why all the deception, as we would probably have been open to the adventure anyway once we had seen our original destination. No harm done except perhaps to my pride and propensity to trust!
It is disappointing that spontaneity is probably not a great idea when one is obviously a tourist but the experience afforded an opportunity to see a local community off the beaten track, as well as a classic Jamaican tourist scam! Nothing like experiencing the country in its entirety!
The difference between being a volunteer and a tourist is that as a tourist one really is just a commodity, either for the Tour Companies (there are innumerable all-inclusives which have bought up and made inaccessible almost all the beach-front for miles at Montego Bay and east) or for the local hustlers who make every effort to acquire as much of one's holiday budget as possible. Having experienced so much kindness and caring during the first two months of settling as someone coming to contribute to the country, it is difficult to reconcile the difference as tourists do contribute but in a different way.
That being said, it is delightful to be on holiday, wonderful to have the girls here, and being able to drive and see more of the beauty of the country is really interesting, particularly as the girls' share their observations. Negril feels much more relaxed than Montego Bay, still reflecting some of the simpler times when hippies congregated there to enjoy the miles of beach, the rocky cliffs and caves and the gentle people whose life revolved around fishing. The next few days will be spent in Kingston, back to the noise and bustle!
Hard to believe the week will end with Christmas Day....
Saturday, December 12, 2009
None of which seems to translate into security of funding in these difficult economic times. The part of my week that was not given to helping prepare for the AGM was devoted to scouring through Foundation websites looking for potential funding sources to sustain and expand the Youth Programme, writing and re-writing proposals to fit potential funding sources and challenging my creativity to add components to the Youth programme that will be of value but will also allow it to be considered for new sources of funding.
That being said, things are winding down as Christmas approaches. Schools will close on Dec 16th and the number of youth being suspended through the last two weeks (exam weeks) has been smaller. Conversations in the office have included discussions about the best fruit cakes, Christmas shopping and food and toy drives for the Garrison communities.
Decorations are everywhere with brightly adorned palm trees all through the city. And another of those dichotomies...palm trees and inflatable snow globes ???
On Dec 23rd three of the Kingston CUSO-VSO volunteer contingent will head home for Christmas and I am sad to say only one will return. Kingston is a challenging environment for international development volunteers and it has taken its toll on one of my colleagues. The other has stresses that do not pertain to Jamaica but are reflective of the difficult world many Canadians deal with - family residing in unsettled parts of the world that are subject to increased terrorism and fundamentalism. He carries great responsibility for a young man in his twenties and even so has devoted months and energy to Jamaica and others who are struggling.
My best wishes go with both these wonderful people.
I am excited and distracted by the imminent arrival of Haley and Tasha! I will leave work on December 16th and head to Montego Bay to pick the girls up at the airport. From there who knows....plans are few and Christmas celebrations in the sun will be something we create together!
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Yesterday the headlines in the 3 papers emphasised just how pervasive violence is and just how far into the institutions it goes. "Crazy Gunfight", "Guns For Hire" "Corrupt Cops Must Go". Jamaica has struggled with political tribal warfare, gangs and drugs and now is fearful that a generation of children think that violence is the only way to survive. The violence amongst the youth is what feels different about the current situation, the increase in violence in the schools and violence between children is what is troubling people most.
Dinner conversation last night turned to what are we doing here, as foreigners, trying to build capacity. Can we really do anything that will make a difference to those that are disadvantaged? It is a question I have considered a great deal since getting established here. I believe there are a number of ways we can help. We bring expertise that many of the NGOs cannot afford to buy and which builds the capacity within the organisations and these are the organisations that are taking on the issues. Within the context that I am working I believe we will help bring systems and processes that will reduce the stress and chaos in the organisation, freeing up energy for service delivery and creativity. In a larger context we can bring hope, we see potential and opportunities where those that have struggled through the decline are struggling to see ways out. We bring a voice that can challenge the status quo without fear. Asking questions that can promote discussions, offering suggestions that can promote creativity and bringing experience from other countries that reminds Jamaicans that although things are dark they are not alone in this struggle. By our very prescence, commitment and investment there is a message that says "we think its worth it, we believe there can be change" and this can be a powerful message in a culture of hopelessness. One of our challenges is maintaining our optimism and energy when we cannot offer solutions.
This week, as the big picture looked grim and daunting, I was asked to work with some of the students in programme, talking with each of them about how as individuals they can make different choices and take hold of their lives, and it was a good reminder that even of the big picture is hard to tackle, helping to change things for even one child is of great value. One day at a time....one child at a time....I will strive to make each action count.
What others can do is help the economy by visiting this beautiful island where the beaches and coastal towns,waterfalls and mountains, and forests and plantations are stunningly beautiful. As a visitor, one is welcomed royally, cared for, and protected from the stress and difficulties.
Perhaps the upcoming weekend at the beach due to the kindness of friends, will lighten my sombre tone.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The week included being driven by Mr Mason in his trusty blue van, to 4 other locations. The Spanish Town Peace and Justice Centre, Flankers Peace and Justice Centre, Montego Bay Peace and Justce Centre and Trelawny. Each different but each important in their communities.
Spanish Town is about half an hour from Kingston (when the traffic is moving) The Youth Programme was pilotted at Spanish Town and is a strong programme at this centre. Flankers is a community on the edge of Montego Bay that has struggled with violence and poverty.
The Flankers Centre is a testament to what can be achieved by community will and lots of donations and volunteers.
The centre is vital and full of programmes and people from home work clubs to seniors support groups. With a stairway called "the stairway of hope" that leads to a yet non-existent second floor!
Montego Bay is the second largest city in Jamaica, but unlike Kingston, is a tourist destination. In contrast to Rose Hall, Half Moon, Sandals and Breezes, the inner city displays poverty and violence not dissimilar to Kingston and experiences high levels of violence within its own communties, though this is kept far from the tourists and the resorts provide both employment and community support. Trelawny, about half an hour from Montego Bay is a much quieter, small town. The services in these 2 locations are largely to reduce the backlog in the courts through mediatd settlements rather than long and expensive court battles in Regional Magistrates Courts that may sit only once a week.
More glimpses of Jamaica's history this week. Spanish Town is one of the oldest cities in the 'colonies' , and has old limestone buildings, and Spanish inflluenced architecture. The Mona Campus of the Unversity of the West Indies is a sprawling campus nestled right up against the Blue Mountains and here I was given another glimpse of the history as there is a ruined aquaduct that traverses the campus, broken in parts but with long stretched of many arches still standing. And on Saturday I took a coaster bus (minibus)to Morant Bay where there are beautiful beaches and a long history. This was the location of a major uprising in the 18th century protesting the treatment of the poor in the courts. Apparently the discontent with the court continues to the present as the historic court house was recently burned down.
Dinner on Saturday night was with a wonderful Chinese-Jamaican family in Morant Bay. The introduction to this family was through connecting with another Canadian who lived here in the 70s and is back doing work on violence in schools. This large, warm and welcoming extended family invited me in as if I was part of the family. As is not unusual here there is a strong Canadian connection with all but the patriarch of the family being Canadian citizens as well, and all having lived in Canada for extended periods of their lives. It was a deligthful evening and a delicious dinner. Each evening of conversations with Jamiacans provides me with more insight into this complicated society. And each encounter underscores the openess with which people include you in their homes and families.
Sunday will be devoted to domestic chores and relaxing.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Saturday was spent enjoying a very comfortable villa, a beautiful, picturesque beach, great barbeque, good company. Sunday sunrise saw me walking across the cliffs, watching the sun come up, and the humming birds, woodpeckers, egrets and other birds taking advantage of the cool morning, followed by an early morning swim.
Lunch was a trip to the 'best jerk in Jamaica' at Boston Bay and a picnic at the Blue Lagoon of movie fame.
Then back to the bustle of the city before the mountain road was rendered more treacherous by darkness! Having seen the beauty of the country and the coast and how richly they can provide for the needs of the people, the squalor and the poverty in parts of Kingston seem even less excusable.
On Thursday the International Day to Prevent Child Abuse was celebrated by a candlelight vigil in Emancipation Park. This year 110 children under 17 have died as a result of violence and abuse in Jamaica. To put the magnitude of this into proportion the population of Jamaica is the same as that of Toronto. There is a great deal to be done here to protect children. However, the event was full of joyful children, performing and participating and running around in the balmy evening. The pink and yellow plaques have the names of the children who have been killed, 700 others are missing.
This weeks observation from travels round the city is the creative and elaborate hair sculpture that adorns the heads of many of the school girls and women. Given I am on the bus by 7:15am, I am in awe of the time the girls must have got up to achieve the adornment! I manage a wash and go approach before heading for the bus, so the concept of skilled and creative hair styling before a 7am bus ride generates great respect.
This weekend will be spent working at DRF on Saturday and catching up at home on Sunday, even in Paradise laundry must be done!
Friday, November 13, 2009
No trips out of the city this week, but a little more walking in the city and some peaceful hours (and delicious ice cream) in the gardens at Devon House. I end each day walking up to a local pool, taking a swim as the sun sets and then catching the bus home. Tomorrow will be my first big excursion out of Kingston, a trip to the North Coast, lagoons, waterfalls and beaches. Photos will follow....
Thursday, November 5, 2009
People sing, on the buses, walking around, and at every event, people sing, and there seems to be an unlimited number of beautiful voices doing the singing. Another dichotomy - singing is a source of joy and pride yet one of the causes for violence, cited by the focus groups and in the baseline assessment, is conflict between rival music factions (currently Gaza and Gully). Given that music is so influential perhaps it has the potential to be a solution instead of a cause?
Somewhat connected to singing is the other dominant feature of Jamaican life that has impressed itself on me this week - religion. On Sunday I ventured out of the city on a local bus, me in my Sunday casuals headed for the beach, my fellow bus riders in pristine Sunday best, with coiffed hair under Sunday hats and bibles in hand. Singing on the bus on Sunday was definitely of a religious nature! People getting on and off at the myriad churches, greeting friends and family obviously enjoying the routine of a typical Sunday. There are enormous numbers of churches here (I have even heard it noted that Jamaica has more churches per capita than anywhere else in the world) some very old and stolid, others a collection of chairs under a canvas canopy, all apparently well attended by all ages.
My day at the beach provided for sun, sand, swimming and some delicious just-caught fried fish and festival - a type of bread. The fish is caught and brought to shore at the beach and cooked over open wood fires in wooden huts on the beach.
It was a good day.
So the week has once again been one of learning: the bus system(I can now get myself to work and back on the bus, though there really doesn't seem to be any such thing as a bus schedule); the climate in which youth experience school; my place of work, and of course more about the country that I will call home for the year.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Thursday morning was spent checking in with the staff at CUSO-VSO and determining first tasks to be accomplished. Accommodation was highest on the list so with the help of others who had already managed the rather daunting task of finding acceptable, accessible, safe accommodation within a rather small allowance Sunday morning saw me paper in hand, Mr Mason at the wheel and Laura exploring with me.
Possibilities were slim with no furnished accommodation presenting itself however an unfurnished one bedroom was left on the list for further review.
Monday was an holiday - Heroes Day. The many heroes celebrated represented the struggle for freedom for slaves, fair employment for labour and independence for Jamaica. We celebrated by bussing out to Port Royal for the Fish Festival. The fish was great...the bus ride interesting as I was participating in a conference call with my Global Implementation Conference colleagues! Not easy to contribute to the call but very good to be connected to friends!
After the holiday back to the task of securing a home which was successfully accomplished with lease signed and keys in hand by Wednesday evening. Thursday was furniture shopping day and Friday move-in day! The weekend has seen all furniture delivered, fridge, stove, washer and dryer hooked up and all but the dryer working! (not quite sure why I need a dryer given the sun and warmth but those who live here say I will!)
This morning felt very much like I am home - laundry, ironing, a little grocery shopping, phone calls and emails!
So I am here and at home!!
In many ways the transition so far has been less challenging than I had anticipated. Kingston is a city in which there are some clear expectations and these do present some challenges. Dress is quite formal which means dresses and jackets mostly for work, it is unusual for professionals to use the public transport system which is something I will have to do given the allowances, walking after dark alone is not to be done so one has to make sure timing is considered before heading out anywhere, there is extreme security for all residential buildings which means 3 keys and a buzzer just to get into my apartment! There is evidence that violence is part of the city but it is not overt and I do not experience the city as threatening in any way. How one manages seems clear so easy to do.
I have had an opportunity to attend an UNESCO conference: UN Child research Conference which was very interesting, particularly as all the research papers were conducted and presented by youth.
I am looking forward to starting work in earnest which will happen after CUSO-VSO Orientation next week.
Photos will follow once I have mastered both camera and blog!