Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

For all wondering about how Christmas is like in Jamaica, it's warm.  There's not going to be a white Christmas here anytime soon.  But also, the people and the environment is warm.  Over the past couple of days, I've been offered rides to work as I was walking to the bus stop.  The first person, I don't think I knew and the offer was only to take me half-way, so I politely declined and opted for my regular coaster ride.  The second person was my building manager who was headed downtown and so would pass right by work.  I took up this offer and got to work that day on time, where I originally intended to sleep a little extra and get there a little late.  Yes, intentionally tried to sleep in and be late.  Still, another volunteer and I were the first ones to arrive and so, locked out, we waited for an actual employee to arrive, which wasn't until another 30 mins later.

This brings me to the next point about Jamaica holiday times, it's festive.  As in many places, people will decorate their homes, and lights will be put up all around the city.  But moreso, the city turns into party central leading up to Christmas day.  The results are that people get into work later and leave work earlier.  And while people are at work, there isn't much mood to get work done.  Christmas Eve, is supposed to be the "Grand Market" day with food, music, dancing and vendors in all the hot spots of town.  I'll check this out later today probably.  Then Christmas day itself is quieter, spent with family, friends and food.  I'm sure church is also thrown somewhere in the mix here too.  In terms of food and drink during Christmas, sorrel becomes the drink of choice.  Made from dried sorrel (a meadow plant), ginger, and other ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel, extra flavour can be added with a dose of wine or rum.  It's nice refreshing (as long as the ginger isn't too strong for me).  Overall, it's a great time to be in the city and having passed the rainy / stormy season, the weather is fantastic.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes via e-mail, phone, FB, and comments.  Appreciating it all the more when here in Jamaica.  Respec' and bless.  Hope everyone has a safe and happy holidays!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fry chicken, stew chicken, jerk chicken.  Poultry is definitely a Jamaican favourite.  But as I ponder my dinner options, I want to eat some other meat!  After the medical examination that I took in order to accept my placement here, the Dr. told me to not eat so much red meat.  While I'm here though, it's not too much of a choice. Maybe it was meant for me to be in Jamaica.

Today, I ventured into Coronation Market again but on my own this time.  At first, I was a little anxious about it, but downtown didn't seem all that bad after all.  I went through the market, bought some groceries, explored a little bit, and caught the coaster home.  There seemed to be even more of a market atmosphere as Kingstonians are getting into the home stretch of the Christmas shopping season.

On a side note, I ran into Usain Bolt at a club (no pun intended).  I knew he would party in Jamaica and I've heard stories of people seeing him all the time, but I didn't expect I'd see him.  He seemed to be enjoying himself and wasn't being bothered, so I suppose it really is a common sight here.  It's nice to see people not being obsessed with the rich or famous.

Short post for now so y'all know I'm alive.  Off to find some dinnah!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Restorative justice

For my job, I figured I would eventually get to attend and have a feel for what Annual General Meetings (AGM) or Board of Director meetings would be like.  That was what I thought about my job back in Canada.  Funny thing is that I am attending my first AGM in Jamaica.  It provided me with an interesting contrast from the day-to-day activities to the larger perspective of what the organization is about and what they've accomplished during the year, which is nothing short of amazing.  But the organization is capable of so much more too.

Today, I learned about Restorative and Community Justice, from a sensitization workshop that was put on at the Spanish Town Centre.  I just went for a normal day of work at Spanish Town, but it was a coincidence they were holding the workshop in the afternoon.  To me, from the first time I heard the words 'restorative justice' I thought it was jargon.  Didn't make any sense to me, and no one really gave me a definition.  After going through the trusty wikipedia and this sensitization, I still feel like it's jargon, but at least I have a much better understanding of what it's supposed to mean.

Also attending this session gave me a bit of a better understanding about the essence of my organization.  At its core, the DRF provides, trains, and advocates for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and restorative justice practices.  These practices are more than providing justice alternatives outside the courts.  These practices are about resolving the divides between human relationships.  Beyond imprisonment or monetary settlements, it gives individuals and communities a chance to tackle the underlying issues giving rise to the conflicts. Where political garrisons and gangs have divided communities even on the opposite sides of a street for years, what the organization does may be able to bridge the gaps that have seemed so far and impossible to cross.  There is a lot needs to be done, but this is what I think is the ideal is for the organization, whether it's expressed or not.  It could also be useful to resolving day-to-day conflicts and arguments like what may arise from conflicts at the workplace, or what TV show to watch on a Monday night at an overcrowded TV.

Tomorrow, we take a field trip Montego Bay with work to visit the centre there. There's 18 different service centres across the island and I think part of my role will take me to visit as many of those centres as I can.  It's going to have to take place in the new year, but for now, I have something to look forward to.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Working in Jamaica

I haven't said too much about work because up until now, I was getting a feel for the place.  Spent my time talking with a lot of people in my organization and have started to ease into things.  By now, I've got a good idea of how work flows here.  Slowly.

That's not to say work doesn't get done.  Things get done, but usually at the last minute, or late.  No matter how many times I ask for something, I don't get it.  And people will be doing just enough to get things done.  Nothing more.  At first I thought it was just my organization, but it seems to happen a lot; so much that if you see something different, it's probably the exception rather than the norm.

I don't know how I would manage people or try to motivate them here.  Lucky it's not the volunteer's job here to manage or drive.  We are the support and the capacity builders.  We work within the confines of the culture without trying to force our ways upon or against it.  We may be able to influence how people operate or see the world, but it's a slow and subtle process.  It's a process which is more about helping people see how things could be done better or how to approach a problem differently, which may or may not be congruent with what we would do if we had to do it ourselves - it could be a hybrid approach or something completely different.

I talked with one of the guys at my workplace and he put it something like this: You don't need a reason to celebrate or make a day special.  Every day is special and we should live it like so.

And that's how people will operate.  If something doesn't get done right away, it's not the end of the world.  Why work so hard and take the fun out of today for the sake of tomorrow?  Who knows what may happen the next day?  To me, there is sense in this train of thought but I think work ethic as with all things in life need balance.  And that balance is personal so it may vary from person to person and could also vary from culture to culture.  I'll finish with what I think is a funny example of how things are here.  Part of my role is to facilitate the process of getting the organization's records up to date.  Another part my role is to do some financial analysis for operations, which is the more interesting part.  But today was a catch-up day.  Today, I helped them do a bank reconciliation - for May 2009.

Borrowing a friend's picture: December 5, 2010 - 20 days until Christmas

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's Christmas time

Christmas is a big deal in Jamaica.  Kingston does have a lot of cars, but apparently the traffic jams in the before and after work are especially bad around Christmas time.  This traffic was picking up when I first arrived.. in mid-October. 

It really hasn't felt like Christmas that much during this time but it's starting to now as they're puttuing up the decorations and lights.  Some of the plazas and public spaces are shaping up now.  I have yet to hear much Christmas music, which is when I really start to feel like it's that time of year again.  That being said, I'm not sure if they actually play the holiday music here, or if I'll even recognize it.  For all I know the reggae and dancehall I'm hearing right now on the bus could be Christmas carols!

The unfortunate part about this time of year is hearing how people try to make ends meet.  There's an apparent spike in crime and robberies durnig this time of year.  And I've heard it in the locals' warnings to me.  Numerous times I've heard stories telling me to really be cautious, only walk around with as much money as I need, don't stop for strangers, etc.  In a way, I guess it increases my anticipation now for Christmas to arrive. Definitely going to have to be a little extra careful where I go.

Interesting note to some, I made a visit to the Deloitte (my employer) office in Kingston, Jamaica.  We have two offices here, one in Kingston and one in Montego Bay.  It was an adventure to get there as I walked along some small neighbourhood streets that probably don't see any tourist traffic.  Yes, I walked.  To be honest, I didn't know if I'd make it, but as soon as I got there, the staff and management there were all warm and accomodating as most Jamaicans I've met have been.  I got a bit of an office tour, then made sure to taxi to the nearest bus stop for the trek home. As much as I'd like to think I can do anything, after making the walk once, I realized there's certain things that are best avoided. I'll start the little extra careful..... now.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Market

This morning I visited Coronation Market in Downtown Kingston where they sell everything from groceries, household supplies, shoes and more.  The area of the main Coronation Market burnt down in May, around the time where they were in conflict with Dudus, the gang / drug lord in nearby Tivoli Gardens. Because of how close it is to Tivoli Gardens, one of the recently more volatile areas, I brought my keys, phone, and limited cash only.  I went with one of the other CUSO-VSO volunteers, Varun, which was good because a) he's a good guy and b) he knew where the market was and so we didn't have to look lost.

At the time I visited, it appeared the market has recovered since then, though I can't really say since I didn't see it before the incursion.  From what I could tell, the place was lively, filled with both vendors and shoppers.  Downtown Kingston is definitely one of the most lively and vibrant parts of the city.  It's where all the cheap goods are (in part due to Chinese wholesalers), so it's no surprise that the weekend after payday everyone's out and about stocking up on cheap stuff.  In the market itself, you could see all manners of local fruits and vegetables, and the food looked fresh - moreso than Fresh Approach (my local supermarket).  Most importantly, food was cheap enough to make up for the time and bus fare to go downtown.  I think I have a new found appreciation for markets.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's been a little while now, but from work, cooking and cleaning, for some reason I haven't found the time to blog.  (Yes, I lead an exciting life here - I am saving to afford the excursions).  Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures so I will place the blame for my blog post shortage on a lack of photographic accompaniments. 

I figure in any case, I should post *something*, before people start thinking I fell off the side of the island.  This past week was a birthday week - there were three birthdays of the ten or so volunteers here.  So for each one, we went for either drinks or dinner or both.  For the latest adventure (yesterday), we went to a restaurant called the Truck Stop.  It's a nice hang out spot with outdoor seating, which kind of reminds me of Scotchies (from previous blog post).  Here, I had jerk pork, which was delicious. A fellow volunteer friend advised that I should eat the pork with the bread that comes with it.  All in one bite. That was the single best advice I've had so far, it increased the pork's tastiness exponentially!  I think I have a favourite dish in Jamaica.

Over the past weekend, some of us went to the beach at night, and just relaxed by the bonfire.  Again, as a city boy, I don't usually get a chance to go out and do something like this.  More and more, I feel like I don't belong in the city - but I'll still come back, eventually!  The next day, we rented a car and explored the south / southeast coast of the island, going to Morant Bay.  We hung out there and lied on the beach for a bit again, then headed home - we do a lot of eating and lazing around on the beach here.  On the way back, we were on a mission to find a jerk chicken stand.  Not one of the chain restaurants, but one of the street vendors for some real Jamaican street meat.  We passed by some on the way up to Morant Bay, but it was a while back on our path, and we were hungry.  Between the one we first passed on the way up, and the beach, we found none!  Zip, zilch, nil.  No jerk chicken in Jamaica for miles.  Apparently on Sundays, no one cooks chicken.  We ended up eating some fried fish - that's my third whole fish now since I've arrived and I'm still lovin' it.

Anyways, because I realize most of this blog post was about food, I'll finish off with a little bit about Spanish Town.  I'm supposed to be posted in the Spanish Town office in an effort to spread out some of the volunteers at the DRF.  I made my first trek there a couple of days ago.  It's a place that my security guard and taxi driver warned me about so I was unsure about what to expect when I arrived.  Although gang flare-ups happen, they're hard to predict and for the time being, it seems peaceful.  The bus station and our office is maybe a 10 minute walk, and we're right in the middle of what would be considered the downtown area.  It's a vibrant place, with a lot of people out and about.  The area is replete with street vendors, stores, stray goats and dogs.  It has something of a marketplace atmosphere, even though I wouldn't necessarily call it a market.  I wouldn't want to stick around after dark, but on first impression, it's a decent enough place to be.  I guess we will wait and see what happens!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why not

Over the past few days, I have attended Human Rights Training at one of the organizations here in Jamaica - Jamaicans for Justice.  Really though, it was a forum for various human rights organizations from different countries in the Caribbean to facilitate the creation of a larger Caribbean network of human rights organizations. One network with the resources, knowledge, and support of many organizations. 

I'm glad I took the time to participate in this conference / training.  Although human rights isn't my area of expertise, it was informative to learn about human rights and specifically, what are some of the organizations and what are they doing.  It was also inspiring to see a group of people in a room with the vision to create a better future, not just for their organizations or their country, but on a scale much larger than themselves.  Being there reminded me that to accomplish big things, you must think bigger.  To drive substantial positive change, sometimes it's not good enough just trying to rejig what is already out there, but to think of what's not out there; to look at what holes and gaps exist that we have to fill in to make our society a better place.  This also goes beyond positive social change, impacting economic change - how companies survive and thrive; personal change - how you define your personal and career goals; and technological change - to infinity and beyond.

You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I'm alive still.  Just haven't updated because there's not much going on.  Over the weekend, some volunteers went out of town to Strawberry Fields.  But since I am sick, I was staying in to recover.  Did a bit of grocery shopping and cooking.  Even though I lived away from home for university, I'd have to say that this is probably one of my first cracks at what I would call cooking, and it tasted decent!  Except I failed at making a big batch of rice, which resulted in me throwing most of it out.


I've started a small list of things to write about when I run out of stuff to blog - so seeing as how this was a pretty low-key weekend, I figure I might as well use it.  Today, I'll talk about... public transportation. 

If you know where you're going in this town, it's actually not too hard to get around.  But if you have no clue, it's like a zoo.  It's hard enough to find out what buses go where, but schedules, if there are any at all, are loosely adhered to.  As a traveller, you have several options - you could take the JUTC buses, which are like the official comfortable buses, or you could take coasters (aka minibuses), and finally you have the option of taxis, either route or "regular" taxis.

Most modes of transportation can be taken for about $1 CDN / US per ride.  This includes the JUTC buses, coasters, and route taxis.  These are the alternatives to getting somewhere along any given "route", again only applies if you know what routes you are taking.  But they're all very different. 

JUTC buses - $80 JMD
The JUTC buses usually just make stops at bus stops, have plenty of seating and are relatively well climate controlled.  The drivers of these vehicles are usually quite safe and tame. Not the fastest way of getting around, but usually quite safe and reliable.

Coasters - $80 JMD
I think the most interesting mode of travel.  To be honest, I don't know if they have designated stops, I'll usually wait close to a normal bus stop, and they'll pick up passengers whenever they can.  Each one has a conductor and a driver.  The conductor will try to corral as many people into the bus as humanly possible, and collect fares.  Literally, they pack these minibuses - think Tokyo subway during rush hour.  Except you're not on a subway, you're on the road, and the drivers can be crazy - their sole focus is on the road, which is why each coaster has a conductor.  These guys weave in and out of traffic, honking at any and all cars in their way so while you may or may not have a good hold on a railing, everybody's swaying at the whims of the driver.  To get on, you have to listen to the conductor saying what route they're taking, then if the coaster is on the road, you run and hop on.  The neat part is that they've usually got upgraded sound systems and will be blaring music while you're on their crazy ride.  Not the safest way of getting around, but probably the most available mode of transport on major routes.  Ironically enough, because they're so easy to catch, they're generally what I end up taking, haha. 

Route taxis - $80 JMD
Route taxis are taxis that'll run up and down a specific route.  They'll honk at you to ask if you need a ride and if you wave them down, they'll stop to pick you up.  I've found these guys to be generally safe, although it's not a private ride as you'll be sharing the taxi with other passengers.  Then again, at least you get a seat.  Pretty good way to travel if you ask me.  Only problem is when you're at the gathering point of all the taxis, you'll have probably a hundred different drivers shouting at you to take their taxi.  I haven't really adjusted to this part yet because I have a hard time deciphering what they're saying, so I'm not such a huge fan of these major taxi stops.

Regular taxis - about $300 JMD and up
The final way to get around is regular taxis.  These are most of the guys you can find on the street, or you can call in advance, that'll pick you up and take you to a set destination.  They aren't the most expensive in comparison to taxi fares around the world, but they're still pricier than any of the above three options.  Some of these taxi drivers are also mixed in with the route taxis in the gathering spots (usually in high traffic destination areas), only adding my jumbled confusion.  Not the cheapest, but convenient and comfortable. 

You have to be careful about which taxis you take though.  For public transport, only the vehicles with red license plates are certified.  Otherwise, you're just getting into a vehicle of some random person taking money for driving you around.  Although I've heard some of these drivers are alright too, they're not regulated nor insured.  Some taxi drivers are also pretty crazy like the coaster drivers too.

Random people
Actually, I lied, there was one more way of travel.  Sometimes, like when we came back from the beach, randoms will offer to give a ride.  Probably not something I would do on my own or if I'm within the city due to already cheap bus fares, but it's nice to get a free ride every once in a while.

*Prices may vary, these are based solely on what I've seen in and around Kingston.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I think if there's a way to get sick while in 30 degree weather, I'll find a way.  After recovering from my longstanding cough back in Toronto, I think I've managed to enter the same sick mode.  It's currently at the sore throat, runny nose stage.  I took the day off to try and curtail this thing. 

On the plus side, the tropical storm is tame so far as Jamaica has been spared a direct hit.  I still have electricity and running water and hence didn't have to resort to canned tuna and candles - no romantic dinner tonight! Instead, and this is something I feel especially accomplished about, I managed to steam white rice without a rice cooker.  I used a pot and a small tin plate and bowl; it wasn't pretty, but it worked!  My white rice was then accompanied by chicken and spinach..  I still don't have a full stock of food supplies here, haha.

Back to an unfortunate note, although the tropical storm has turned away from Jamaica, as of now, it is on a direct course to Haiti.  For a place that has already been devestated by an earthquake, poor sanitation, and a cholera outbreak, one must wonder if this is some kind of cruel joke.  For those religious, send your prayers for safety and protection.  Otherwise, let us hope for the best.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Storm warning?

Recent news has downgraded Tomas from a tropical storm to a tropical depression, which I suppose makes it less threatening.  But they also say, it may strengthen again with the possibility of hurricane winds.  We should be feeling the effects of Tomas by Thursday (tomorrow!).  This'll be my first tropical storm / hurricane type weather action so.. wish me luck! 

What sucks is that we made plans to travel the island this weekend, but that might not be such a good idea anymore.  I am adventerous, but I don't seek to drive into harm's way (not this time at least).  Time to get myself some canned tuna and candles! 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Today, some of the volunteers went to the beach of Fort Clarence.  It's one of the few beaches you have to pay to use here (small fee).  Still, could not find volleyball though - I'm now 0 for 2.  It's a nice little place, where we had some amazing fry fish. Prior to coming here, fish wasn't exactly my favourite food - and it still isn't.  For those who know me, I'm lazy when eating so picking out the bones is a lot of unecessary hassle in my opinion.  Since coming here however, I've had two fish dishes where they serve the fishes whole, with head and tail.  And I enjoyed it!  Figure if I'm here, I might as well try some.

When we were thinking about the trip home, after a nice day at the beach, it turned out to be a bit distressing.  Rain clouds were ominously hovering overhead.  The bus going back to New Kingston comes infrequently, with the last and only return trip available to us being 4:30.  And finally, we had no idea where to catch this very crucial bus. So at about 4 o'clock when we'd had enough sun, we we tried to find our way home.  At the exit, we asked the gate attendant where to catch the bus.  Then suddenly, someone tells us that they can give us a ride and to hop on in!  So the guys hop into the back of the pickup truck and the ladies get in the back seat - and they drove us all the way back to where we had to be.  The ride was a bit bumpy, but it was free!  Also, it was pretty cool to ride in the back of the pickup - being a city boy I've never been able to travel this way before.  Turns out the couple who drove us lived in Canada for 30 years and went to Albert Campbell C.I. - what an amazingly small world. 

Beyond the crime and violence and the warnings to not walk alone at night (which I ended up doing after picking up an early dinner, so it wasn't too late), the people here are also very warm and friendly. Probably due in part to the strong Christian values in its society.  It's the place with the most churches per capita in the world.  All of this makes for an interesting dichotomy that keeps you on your toes but also provides experiences that, where if you immerse yourself, make it hard not to love the place. 

Next, prepare for another week of work.  Happy halloween everyone!

Fort Clarence Beach

Going home!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Orientation, done.

Orientation over the past few days has just zoomed by. We learned a lot about Jamaica, its history, people, food, and culture.  Perhaps too much to remember, but it was worthwhile nonetheless.  I'm sure everything will come back eventually.  This occupied the first 1.5 days of the in-country orientation. 

The last 1.5 days of the orientation took us to see other organizations working with CUSO-VSO and different parts of the city we might not normally see.  We went to see a few  other organizations - Agency for Inner City Revival, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and Jamaicans for Justice.  We also got to see a couple of different areas in around Kingston - Trenchtown and Blue Mountain.

The week was finally capped by a dinner that gathered all the volunteers in Jamaica together.  It was a lot of happenings over the past few days so I won't delve into too much detail, but instead, present the executive summary.

The country
A beautiful country with a lot of culture and history, shared with some of the other Caribbean countries.  It also has its own set of problems.  I'll reserve these country discussions for their own posts.

We visited the Agency for Inner City Revival ("AIR"), based in Trench Town, Youth Opportunities Unlimited ("YOU"), across from my organization, and Jamaicans for Justice ("JFJ") in Grants Pen, close to where I live.  These are just a few of the organizations operating in Jamaica, and are mostly ones that work with CUSO-VSO, the exception being AIR.  They all operate with  slightly mandates, but the overall vision, I believe they would all agree, converges on the theme of shaping a better Jamaica.  It was interesting and rewarding to be able to meet the individuals within these organizations and to learn about the change they were all trying to effect.  It's inspiring and motivating to see such great initiatives and the progress being made.  It makes me think that change here IS possible.  At the same time, I see overlap between them as each organization expands their scope and reach, due to funding or other reasons.  It'd be great if they could work together, and leverage each others' specialties, instead of each branching out on their own and pretty much re-inventing the wheel.  Perhaps this is a possibility in the near future. Opportunities abound.  Yeah! In any case, it was a great learning experience and gives us a better idea of what's out there, and what some key agencies and contacts are available in the CUSO-VSO world.

Home of Bob Marley (and many others), and the birthplace of Reggae in Jamaica.  It used to be called Trench Pen, named after the person who bought the plot of land and was later renamed to Trench Town.  It's an area that was populated by squatters and government housing.  It's also an area that saw a lot of political violence - so much that it created No Man's Land, a DMZ or de-militarized zone, in between the area which separated two political garrisons.  It was a ghetto, and it was dangerous.  Now, it's much less so and is a shadow of its prior infamy (or else I don't think they would have taken us there).  Violence and crime have been reduced, it is no longer a stronghold for either political party, and one can seen budding roots for education and progress.  It's a great example for what can happen to Jamaica in part due to some of the great organizations here and was humbling to see. 

Blue Mountain
We took a short trip outside of the core Kingston to one of the Blue Mountain coffee estates, responsible for growing Blue Mountain coffee beans.  Blue Mountain coffee is a specific designation for coffee grown in the Blue Mountain range at a height of 3000 ft or above sea level - conditions in this area are ideal for growing Arabica beans which have a narrow band of climates in which it may survive.  It's some of the most desirable and hence most expensive coffee in the world.  Whether it is the 'best' or not probably is left up to the individual palette, but as a non-coffee drinker, this stuff was GOOD.  Unfortunately, the world doesn't get very much of it because of it 80% is exported straight to Japan.  After learning about coffee, we were brought on a walk up the mountain, which presented us with some gorgeous views of the area and Kingston.  I really liked this spot, and it's a plan while we're here to hike up the mountain to see the sunrise.  That night, we saw the sunset.
City and sea

First signs of people!  Some of the new volunteers and our coffee guide, "Lovejoy" (he said it was his name, I'm not making it up)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Work and Lime Cay

So Monday was the first day of work.

We got to the Dispute Resolution Foundation ("DRF") at around 9:30 to a meeting where everyone got introduced and we had a brief overview to the organization in general.  They told us that every Monday morning at 8:30 they had weekly meetings.  Talk about dedication.  Not only getting in at 8:30 in the morning, but having to get brain function started for a meeting every week at that time.  I hope there is a large fresh brew of coffee that day.

The organization provides alternative dispute resolution ("ADR") services, i.e. mediation and arbitration, across Jamaica.  On a broader level, they seek to achieve positive and peaceful relations between citizens, government, organizations and corporations through a democratic and restorative justice framework, which includes youth and community outreach programs.  (I was given something like a press kit to read ;)   The organization also seeks to extend its reach through its model of countrywide service centres to across the Caribbean.  Noble goals that will require a lot of focus and perseverance.  There's a lot of work to be done, funding is scarce and the country is only starting to see recovery from its recession.  But that's what the volunteers are here to help for!  Or at least we will try.  Anyways, that's a bit of an overview of the organization and the general task at hand.  I'll talk more about the experiences and work as they arise.  So far, we've mainly been getting to know the organization and its people.  We're having in-country training for the rest of the week.

On Sunday (I'm doing reverse order so to make up for a boring beginning, I'll tell about the fun stuff last), some of the volunteers went to a local beach near Kingston called Lime Cay.  We started by taking a couple of buses - taking buses in Kingston is another post in itself - that found us in Port Royal, which is a small port town just outside of the main city.  It's a neat little spot with an interesting history.  It used to be a bustling port and home to pirates [of the Caribbean (!)] and with them, came all sorts of trouble, gaining the town a bad rep (or good depending on who you were at the time).  That is, until a major earthquake sank half the town in 1692.  Since then, it's never been the same.  But as a result of its history, it's a neat spot for scuba diving where you can see sunken ships and the city that sank.  I haven't been able to do this yet, but would hope to some time within the six months.. who doesn't want to see sunken pirate ships?! 

Instead of an underwater excursion, we ate at a nice restaurant called Gloria's, which specializes in seafood - recommended to take a visit if anyone's in the area.  After food, to get to Lime Cay, we had to take a boat / ferry to the island.  Lime Cay is essentially a small deserted island.  So despite my lack of swimming abilities, I went along for the ride on a fisherman's boat.  Felt like a roller coaster.. except no loops, but also with no safety bars.  Luckily there were no tropical storms that day.  (I'm gonna get myself killed one day if I keep this up, haha)  The island itself was great, a nice little spot that you can just relax and hang out, or swim if you're so inclined.  So went my first excursion in Jamaica, but hopefully not the last.  It was also a good time where I got to know some of the other volunteers in the country.  Any description I give probably won't do the trip justice..


Curry fish!
Spot of fishermen boats where we found our transportation provider, Mitchie

The island.. our boat did not look like those yachts

Kingston from Lime Cay.. looming clouds signalling it's time to go back

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Last week, one of the other volunteers told us about this great place, Scotchies.  She said it would be too packed on a Friday evening, so we didn't end up going before. 

And since we, the new volunteers, had no idea where it was, for the week we had free, we couldn't go! Then yesterday, we found out that it was just at the end of Chelsea St., which was the street our hotel was on (!).  And here I was thinking, "you mean all this time, it was just down the street? I hope this place sucks." So we ventured over yesterday afternoon for lunch and it was delicious

It's a really nice place because of the way they set up the restaurant, you get to sit and eat in these little shaded huts after getting your food.  I got a jerk pork this time, which again has redefined the jerk food experience for me.  It's like BBQ pork + jerk, which = awesome.

Other than that, I've just been getting set up in the new apartment.  Getting a bit of food, pots and pans, etc.  Then on Monday, it's time for work!  Woohoo.

Dining hut

Anxiously waiting for food

The food


Thursday, October 21, 2010

On borrowed internet from the neighbours. 
I moved all my stuff to the new place.  It’s a nice place that’s a little out of the way, but it’s more than enough space for me, and was fully furnished.  I’m sitting with a fan on but no A/C to save electricity.  The landlady thought I would be using something like $5,000 JMD of electricity a month (it’s in our lease contract that if I use more than $7,000 JMD of utilities, I’m paying extra) – I’m out to prove her wrong and my goal is to see if I can use like $2,000 JMD a month in electricity.  Electricity is a bit of a big deal here because it seems to be relatively expensive.  It was tough trying to get the landlady to agree to putting in utilities into the rent price (CUSO-VSO will only cover base rent and not extra utilities).  This is probably to prevent people from blasting A/C all day - it's definitely tempting to do so.
I took a visit to the Mega Mart after dropping off all my stuff.  It’s essentially a Costco / Walmart for Jamaicans.  I’d say it feels more like a Costco, but without having to get a membership.  I realize I need things clean now and I attribute that to someone at work (D&T).  The first things I buy is not food or drinks, but cleaning supplies.  I’m going to make this place squeaky clean by midnight.  I took a second visit to the Mega Mart to buy some cooking supplies.  After making the place clean, I'm going to set up to be an iron chef.  :D
Next mission will be to fill the fridge with Red Stripe.
In between my place and the Mega Mart, there's a place called Lucky Chinese Restaurant.  It looked completely empty inside but it was open.  I was craving some Chinese food so I went in.  Boy oh boy, broccoli beef with rice never tasted so good.  I'll be back there again.
Home for the next six months.

Kitchen and dining area
Living area

The bedroom  :-)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Signed a lease and moving in today!  Won't have internet for a few days though so this probably will be my last blog post for a little bit.  Farewell Indies Hotel, it's been nice getting to know you.  You've been clean, cozy, and came with free wireless internet, which were all very much appreciated.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

City Adventure

During the day, I stopped by the Devon House, which is a mansion built by one of the first black millionaires of Jamaica.  It now stands as a heritage site which people can tour.  There's also a place to eat ice cream, have a drink, or people can just sit outside in the shade and play.  It's a nice, local place to be, so I made my stop there.

Next thing I know, I'm trying to decipher Jamaican patois while talking to a local who approached me on my rock in the shade.  Man, was it hard to understand what he was saying.  I could pick up a word here and there, but he really had to break it down for me (I have six months to at least understand).  Eventually, we exchange numbers and say we can link up later.  I agree to a meet up later in the evening.  All of a sudden, I'm thinking, what if this isn't such a good idea..  How much do I know about this guy.  I can't even understand half the things he's saying!  I prepare myself for the worst, fully expecting it could be a set up (as could happen anywhere).  I would've been more comfortable if he was my neighbour, but he's just some guy who sold papers that I met in the park.  I left everything except for essentials in the hotel room so I could prepare for a quick getaway if need be.  If something happened, I was ready to run like Usain Bolt, only much.. slower. 

In the end, as pumped as I was, nothing happened.  We went to Half-Way Tree Park, which is another open area in the city where locals - families, teens, and couples alike were just hanging out.  There were rooftop parties, gambling stalls and street vendors on the streets, all apparently, legally.  No stores were open and there was no big night market - people were just out and about on a Monday night of the long weekend. 

While in training, I was told to go out at night with a local first (Kingston isn't much of a tourist destination); I figure I would go with one of the volunteers who had been here for a bit.  Instead, I got an early tour and it turned out to be a good way to see a bit of the city.  Adventure in the city? Check.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I don't know if it's a regular occurrence for this time of year, if its year-round, or if it's just coincidence.  But right around 4PM every day, for the past few days, there's been a consistent downpour.  It's been as dependable as the sun.  Yesterday I made the mistake of trying to walk and explore just before 4PM and on my way back, sure enough, I got caught in one of these.  Luckily I didn't bring my laptop out so I could just let myself get soaked as I continued to walk in the rain, like I was in some kind of pop music video. 

I've never been much of a rain person.  But each day when the downpour kicks in, it's a comfortable and relaxing time of day where I can take a moment to update this blog, and catch up on my reading.  While doing this, I'll open up the door of my hotel  room to take in the sounds of the rain and some fresh air.  After the sudden downpour, and with it, the release of humid air, the evening then becomes a very nice time to go out and find some dinner.  It's a great sequence of events that I could get used to.  But then, soon I'll have to start working, and I'll be inside the whole time. Boo.  Sometimes the rain does cause flash floods because the drainage around some parts of the city can't handle the sudden downpour.  This is again, Boo.

Today we went around the city to find some apartments to rent.  At 7:30AM we woke up to check the classifieds in the Jamaica Gleaner.  The paper, as I've been told, will update with new rent listings at 12AM Sunday, but much to our chagrin, a lot of the good places were already gone by the time we started calling!  It's either people started calling really early, or right after the postings at 12AM. Either way, the day didn't start out well for our band of four.  As the day went on though, we managed to find some good potentials with the help of our awesome taxi driver.  There's a couple of places in particular where I'll hopefully get a lease signed and moved into within the next few days.  Only downside (or plus side) is that one is unfurnished.  So my hunt may soon turn from living space to furniture.  But that'll come another day.

Ackee and saltfish with plantains and yams - breakfast!  I was hungry and didn't remember to take a picture until I already started, haha.

At the top of Indies Hotel

Just outside my room

Reading material

Friday, October 15, 2010

Good Night

On day two I met with a couple more volunteers that have joined at the Indies Hotel.  After an early cup of coffee and orange juice, our mission for the morning was to get some Jamaican Dollars and get our cell phones working in Jamaica. 

If there is one thing that reflects the modern times of Jamaica (there's more, but this in particular is ubiquitous), it's the wireless telecom industry.  Digicel, Lime, Claro - they are everywhere in [New] Kingston.  People have Digicel branded wear for reasons I am not sure of, and you have no problem finding places that sell talk time credits.  The ads for the three companies are everywhere.  I need to get a picture of the Digicel HQ store in Kingston, which has been the brightest and most noticeable store that I've come across here.  Getting set up with a cell phone is fairly simple and tourist friendly - purchase sim card, credits, and go!

In the afternoon we met Tarik, the CUSO-VSO Jamaica representative.  Although he'll admit to not being very good with administrative matters, when it came to discussing the various programs and initiatives in Jamaica, I believe there would be no one more knoweldgeable or inspiring on the matters.  After learning more about what's currently in the works, it was comforting to know that he was at the helm of the operations.  On another note, I was told before during training, and now am able to see for myself, people will generally be formal when greeting others so first contact will open with "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon".  Today, I was told that includes "Good Night", which when you think about it, makes sense!  I haven't heard it yet, but I imagine I would have to get used to hearing "Hello, Good Night" without thinking that was the quickest conversation ever.

For dinner and to cap off the night, we went to Sweetwood.  I had some jerk lamb, which was delicious as was the mango / orange / pineapple juice that accompanied it.  A perfect refreshment to cool down after a day of walking in the sun.

Jerk lamb and festival

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Yeaaaaahhhh mannnnn.  I arrived - safe and sound.  Woke up at 4:30AM to take the taxi to YYZ - Terminal 1 and at approximately 11:30AM, I landed in Norman Manley International Airport.  Similar to what the past couple of weeks has been like, I didn't have much time to think or feel about what was happening as I got up for the airport.  In a blur of events, it feels like I just finished training in Ottawa, hopped onto a taxi, checked in and departed for my flight via Air Jamaica. 

Next thing I know, I'm in 30 degree (celsius) weather, and realize.. "this is what the next six months is going to feel like - not bad!"  Of course, the downside is I don't think I'll get much snowboarding action until next season.  But it'd be great if I could hear stories or see pictures of others on the slopes. And I don't know if I'll find any volleyball action either, but I'll have to do some digging around.

Even within the first day of arriving, I've seen a bit of what I've been told to expect.  Took a walk to absorb some of the sights, sounds, and smells; on my journey for the day, some locals in a van passed by and yelled "mista Chin!" - as I have been told many asians are called here; and my first meal on Jamaican soil involved the consumption of my new friend Red Stripe.  To those curious, our Canadian counterpart bottle of Red Stripe advises us to "Drink responsibly", while this bottle in particular which I had, did not.

P.S. It was great seeing many friends and family prior to departure.  Canadian Thanksgiving having just past, I am thankful of all the great people I know and love that make life in Toronto, Canada a place called home.  Keep in touch everyone!  If there's any skill testing questions sent my way, I'll do my best to answer them.
Just arrived
My temp home - Indies Hotel
Red Stripe

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I am starting this blog to document my own personal adventure and I'm not sure where it'll take me, but at the very least I can look back and see where I've been. I wish all the best to the CUSO-VSO volunteers whom I had the pleasure of meeting - good times were had, and everyone most likely had their own personal takeaways.  After a weekend of training, I'm in Toronto to finish the remainder of the work week, and am still going through what seems to be a whirlwind of events trying to get ready for my departure.  It's hard to believe that some people have already left or will be leaving very soon.  At the end of it all, I think it's safe to say that we're all going to be embarking on an adventure.

"Adventure isn't hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life -- facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, testing our resources against the unknown and in the process, discovering our own unique potential."