Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Two Weeks in Toronto and many Goodbyes

This is a blog of a different nature as the last two weeks were not spent In Jamaica but in Toronto.

The two weeks were full of both joy and sorrow. It was wonderful to spend time with Haley and Tasha and hard to believe it is a year since doing so in Toronto! I made my first foray into working with NIRN and enjoyed a very stimulating day as a new project was being established. I spent a wonderful evening in Jamaican style thanks to the hospitality of Lloyd and Kharma. I also enjoyed the support of a very dear friend who ensured I did not get completely overwhelmed by the goodbyes that seemed to come fast and furiously!

Serendipitously the trip seemed to become the time to say goodbye to the past 35 years and move forward. Our family home of 22 years is no longer available to Haley, Tasha and me. We camped out there for the last couple of weeks, moving out the final shipment of memories and feeling sad that it will not be the place the girls will bring their children when that day comes. The house has such different meanings to each of us but whatever our feelings it was a home in which we grew together, provided a hang-out for scores of friends and was the place of gathering for many Christmases. Although the bricks and mortar are not the critical element there is no doubt that a family home has a special place in the life of growing children and a family's journey, and this journey has concluded. It has been amazing to see the girls grow and to be part of their friends' lives and I hope wherever I next settle that will continue.

I also collected my personal effects from the office at Kinark, thus concluding the 35 years of work there. It was very difficult as I still have great affection and respect for the organisation and will miss being part of the next era for Kinark. However, it was not to be, so I look forward to new challenges and opportunities, whatever presents itself.

The final goodbye was to Auntie Carm. Auntie Carm has been the surrogate grandma for my children for the last 20 years, providing the link to an older generation and family history that is so important. Her health finally failed her, though in almost exactly the way in which she wanted, allowing her to live independently for all but the last few weeks of her life. Her final three weeks were spent in Toronto first at her nephew's home and then lastly at an incredible hospice, Perram House. Perram House is a wonderful old mansion that provides final care for eight residents at a time. The nurses, caregivers and volunteers were so caring and respectful as they ensured Carm was comfortable. I was able to spend many hours with Auntie Carm during the time I was in Toronto, and saying goodbye was a privilege I was not sure would be afforded to me. This was a goodbye of sadness at the loss but joy in the knowledge that she had comfort as she had wanted and could leave this world with ease and her family around her.

The events of the two weeks left me with regret that I could not see friends whom I had anticipated seeing, though phone calls from the same land mass seem to make one feel closer! It was very good to talk to people, and perhaps the next visit will afford dinners and longer conversations.
So... on to the next era. Returning to Jamaica and getting back to work on Monday morning was wonderful. My little apartment is now filled with good music thanks to a birthday present from a dear friend (speakers that I could carry back in my suitcase!) The next nine months will be exciting both in the continuing work at Dispute Resolution Foundation as well as in exploring what other opportunities may be available to me at the conclusion of my work here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jamaica - 48 years of Independence

This week is affectionately known as EmanciPendence Week as it is bookended with Emancipation Day on August 1st and Independence Day on August 6th. Both are National holidays so the work week was short and the city quiet as many people take advantage of using fewer leave days for a week off work.

On the brief days of work I participated in another meeting developing a collaborative proposal to be submitted to the EU. So much time and energy is put into securing the funding that can promote changes and development in Jamaica and there are moments that it feels unnecessarily difficult. However, there are also moments, such as this meeting, that it is evident that the process of securing the funding also has a significant outcome. The linkages and capacity of the five organisations involved in partnering to submit this proposal will, unquestionably, be strengthened through the process of developing the proposal. I believe new ideas and ways of working together will emerge whether or not the funding proposal is successful.

Friday was Jamaican Independence Day and at 9am as I sat on my balcony the sound of the National Anthem being sung at King's House drifted over the 2 kilometres distance that separates my apartment from the Govenor General's official residence, followed by cheers and resounding applause.
Marching bands and music, a parade of over 2000 participants representing diffferent communities and priorities and a gala event filled the day with celebration and pride.
A number of us went down to the National Stadium for the evening Gala Event. The stadium was filled to capacity on a perfect evening. As the sun set behind the walls of the stadium, once again the National Anthem echoed across a sea of proud Jamaicans and I thought of the promise that must have been felt on this day 48 years ago and the struggles that have ensued and are still being faced. On Independence Day the achievements are proudly recognised and the pride in being Jamaican joyfully celebrated.

The event included presentations by all who had participated in the parade, and as the stadium field was filled by the community groups, they replaced the green of the turf with a carpet of vibrant colour from the glorious costumes that had been designed and created by the each of them. These were not the exotic and provocative costumes of the Carnival Parade but costumes that reflect the colours and potential of the country, greens and yellows, reds and oranges, blues, pinks and purples. Presentations that represented the butterflies and the sun , the sea and the verdant greenery of Jamaica. Of course, there were also dance performers, bands and celebraties. The crowd danced and sang and celebrated in the warmth of the tropical night and the pride of a unity that feels sometimes fractured, but not on this night.

The day gave me reason to pause and think about how strong the Jamaican identity is and how such a small place with a population only the size of that of Toronto has made itself felt throughout the world. It is a country that embodies such determination in so many and expects a level of excellence in its achievements. It is a country that has embraced all the nationalities that have come here over the years and created One People not through a requirement to kowtow to a dominant culture but because it did not insist on cultures and colours being separated. It is a country of tremendous intellectual capital, talent in all aspects of the arts and sports and a level of agressive determination that has served it both well and created difficulties. It is a country in which harmony is hard to find but beauty greets you at every upward glance, where much is in disrepair but where all are fiercely proud, where family is of the greatest importance but self is the driving force, where there is great abundance and immense poverty, where opinions are strong and there is little compromise. It is a country of contradictions, tensions and dichotomies and it continues to be a place of incredible promise.

At the end of next week I will be returning to Ontario for a couple of weeks so there will likely be an hiatus in my blog posts as I will not be "In Jamaica". I am excited at the prospect of a little time with family and friends. It will be a trip that punctuates the beginning of a new era for me. The girls and I will finalise moving out of our family home of 22 years, I will complete the move out of my office and employment at Kinark and I will explore the possibility of a new project with the National Implementation Research Network. When I return I will be poised for another nine months in Jamaica and excited to build on the knowledge I have gained to date. Life is an endless series of opportunities!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Emancipation Day

It is Monday morning on Emancipation Day and my apologies for the late post! Sunday morning was spent watching the sunrise over the Caribbean from high atop a cliff at Boston Bay, Portland. This activity assumed my full attention and given I was spending the weekend at a wonderfully rustic spot the computer remained off all day! The weekend ended a week full of discussions and promise that reinforced the potential of the current opportunities for Jamaica. The week's discussions included a meeting at the Violence Prevention Alliance, University of West Indies, a meeting with the Bureau of Women's Affairs and a meeting in Denham Town, West Kingston. All served to demonstrate the commitment to change and the hope that is currently felt.
At the Violence Prevention Alliance the room was bursting with people who had been invited to start the process of building a collaborative to address the violence and rebuild the troubled communities. Each Ministry and organisation was given the opportunity to present the work they are currently engaged in and asked to position it within a context of coordination with others. This is a new approach and will be difficult as the predominant method of operating is competitive. Competition is a method well aligned with the cultural norm in Jamaica, which starts with competition for access to pre-schools and continues throughout school, in adult life the competitive processes instituted to acquire funding both from the govenment and from international funding agencies continue the support of a competitive as opposed to cooperative mode. Moving to cooperative and collaborative requires much reassurance and re-education.
As well, at the meeting, I heard a most heartening comment from the department responsible for developing the government plan..."our policy is no longer to negotiate with the gunmen, we are neutralising them." Although I did not explore what 'neutralising' constitutes, evidence is that the gunmen are being rounded up and held. Having reacted strongly in the past at community meetings that talked of needing to engage the "influential men" to allow community develoment, it was wonderful to hear that there is a recognition that peace cannot be built on a system that supports the power of the gangsters. This is a very significant change in strategy.
With the Bureau of Women's Affairs our disucssions centred around the implementation of a sucessful funding proposal to promote the influence and independence of women from the troubled communities. The project provides for four years of education and skills training so that women can become entrepreneurs, and empowering women to influence the governance processes. It is an ambitious project.
On Thursday I returned to Denham Town for our weekly meeting to plan the community days in West Kingston prior to school opening in September. The community centre was full of people, and there was a cadre of police officers and burly men at the doors and watching from the open second floor gathering space. This seemed somewhat unneccesary for our small planning meeting! Further exploration determined that Prime Minister Golding was in the building making himself available to meet with individual constituents, of which there were hundreds waiting patiently to see him. West Kingston is his riding and he has much work to do to restore trust and hope following the years of political tribalism, gangster control and the recent incursion.

Friday was the last day of the two week summer camp. The students were in fine form and enjoyed the celebration of what had been learned and achieved over the two weeks. I am sorry we could not continue the camp through August as it has provided a safe and relaxing place for the students who have attended but the Youth Peace Facilitators need time to re-energise and take holidays before school starts again and there is no funding for other staffing. August will be a month without students, unless there are children who drop in at the Peace Centre so my efforts will be focussed on community activity,developing the programme manual and evaluation.

The weekend....2 days at the Great Huts, Boston Bay, Portland. Portland is a parish on the north coast situated to the east and is the parish that enjoys the reputation of having the least violent crime. The coast road takes one through small towns that appear relatively prosperous, farming and fishing providing abundantly for those who live there. The coast line is beautiful with great variety. From long beaches and rocky shoreline one wends ones way east to craggy cliffs that are pitted with caves created by the relentless crashing of the waves against the relatively soft limestone rocks. All along, the shoreline has traditional fishing boats of bright colours, fishermen carrying strings of fish and lobster, nets and lobster pots strewn on the rocks for repair or having been disgarded by the changeable sea. This part of Jamaica was once the place of choice for visitors but in an era before huge, highrise all-inclusives. There are a few elegant old hotels along the road, most no longer provide hospitality but are a reminder of an era past. However there are still hotels and villas available from extremely exclusive to modest and eco-friendly. Our destination was the latter variety and proved itself to be the perfect spot for a very quiet, low-key respite. The Great Huts is at Boston Bay (the home of some of the best jerk in Jamaica) and is nestled on a cove that offers safe swimming in a bay that displays endless shades of turquoise from pale azure to deep indigo. The accommodations are quirky and delightful. The most luxurious being bamboo tree houses with beds built into the trees and huge custom made baths that look out over the bay, to the most modest which are "tents" of some permanence with tin roofs and large hanging batiks covering the walls. The floors are mainly sand, the decor reflects the African heritage of most of Jamaica's population and there is a general sense of care and affection thoughout the "resort". The vegetation is so dense it feels as if one is in the depths of the rain forest until one follows the path to the lounge... a room perched high at the top of the cliff , above the canopy of trees and vines. The view is east and provides a vista of Boston Bay, and the endless cliffs, caves and bays that stretch eastward, and the Caribbean. The quiet around sunrise is wonderful and the sea on Sunday morning reflected the quiet, as it gently rolled into the bay and lapped against the cliffs. It was a truly restorative break from the city. Dinner on Saturday evening was served to the accompaniment of singing from our host and the owner of The Great Huts, Doctor Paul and a performance from the Portland Performance Group. Doctor Paul, as well as being coommitted to and invested in supporting Jamaicans through providing free health care, supporting a shelter for the homeless, providing employment through the Great Huts and supporting the cultural activities through using the local talent, sings extremely well! The performance by the Portland troupe was well presented, though the depiction of the slave trade which was part of the Emancipation Day performance was a disturbing reminder of the history of manyof the peoples who are part of the Many that make the One People of Jamaica (Out of Many, One People)

Sunday, having started with the peace of a beautiful sunrise, ended with the drama of glorious thunderstorms which I also watched from the lounge on the cliff. Rolling, rumbling peals of thunder, cracks of brilliant lightening from black clouds moving rapidly across sea and into the bay, and with the clouds torrential downpours of rain and great gusts of wind. The children swimming squealed and shrieked with delight as the waves pounded onto the beach and they got as wet from the rain as from the sea! As the storms eased up it was time for us to leave and return to the city, warm from the sun, the sea and the lovely hospitality.