Saturday, October 31, 2009

From Violent beginnings...

It's the end of another busy week and I am much more knowledgeable about the history of Jamaica. The CUSO-VSO Orientation has been very informative and Jamaicans' pride in their country is evident, though there are no rose-tinted views obscuring the reality.

I have learned that it is a country that has emerged from much violence, oppression and brutality. So much of the history is still echoed in the current reality and there are dichotomies that seem irreconcilable. The gulf between the rich and the poor is enormous which seems so dissonant with the incredibly bountiful land and sea that is Jamaica. The struggle for freedom and fairness for which the heroes are honoured is promoted and exalted by a political elite that is alleged by most to be corrupt and to control by violence. The pride in an African heritage that is traced back for 400 years but today lighter skin is still seen as a means of opening doors and skin bleaching is a common practice amongst the upwardly mobile. Education is highly valued and considered a right for all but there are not enough schools and teachers to accommodate all the children.

A trip to Trenchtown and the 'Garrisons' showed a level of poverty that is hard to imagine in a city that appears to have many opportunities. However, within the poverty there are community initiatives of great vibrancy, pride and potential. The Trenchtown Reading Centre full of children's books, children's art, history books and biographies with young German volunteers reading to circles of children. The Culture Yard, with Bob Marley's rusted out VW bus, guitars, musical and poetic energy, whose history was narrated by a woman from the neighbourhood who brought the past alive.
A covered space with pews and an alter situated in the middle of "no man's land", a barren de-militarised zone created by the razing of homes in the height of the war between the political parties. A place too dangerous to traverse 20 years ago now offers a place for prayer and gathering.
These are not isolated initiatives, there are many and so many individuals working to overcome 40 years of violence. Dr Morgan who has created the Agency for Innercity Renewal, and engaged many, including a past CUSO volunteer, to work with him. The energy, commitment and potential are impressive, though the magnitude of the task is daunting.
Liberty Hall, within one of the downtown slums, commemorates the work of Marcus Garvey and is dedicated to promoting literacy. More volunteers and children, homework help, a library and a peaceful haven tucked amongst the squalor and noise.
On Friday we went to Dispute Resolution Foundation, the agency in which I will be working. The reception was very warm. There are 23 staff members of whom 3 have been at the agency since its beginnings and it has grown as a result of personal commitment and passion.
The Board was meeting and this provided an opportunity to meet many of its members. My impression from this brief visit confirms my first impression from meeting Donna Parchment Brown, Executive Director, this is an ambitious organisation with a strong vision and too few resources and it will be a great place to work!
The weekend will be filled with chores and exploring and perhaps a trip to the beach....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Day 10 in Kingston Jamaica

The first ten days have gone quickly in a flurry of activity. Arrived late in the evening to warm, humid tropical air. The hotel that was home for the first week was simple, comfortable, with a lovely courtyard garden that provided quiet in this bustling, noisy city.

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!