Mini Vacation Over

February 21, 2010

Hello, got back from Treasure Beach and Montego Bay this week. My parents were in town for a week and I took a couple days off work. Wednesday was a holiday here, Ash Wednesday. Not sure how many other countries give you Ash Wednesday off, but the Christian focus contrasts with the violence in the country. Then again, there were the Crusades, and there was a lot of violence in the Da Vinci Code and that story is basically non-fiction (I saw a special about it on A&E) so not really the first time the two have mixed. Anyways, it was good to see my parents and they enjoyed getting out of the cold. We did a fair bit of traveling around the island, and made friends with a taxi driver who took us where we wanted in exchange for money. His name was Barry and his cab smelled like grape Tylenol. He called me Marky, and that made me feel special. Treasure Beach is one of the best spots on the island, and it was a necessary break from the resort in Montego Bay. With the popularity of all-inclusive resorts, the main strips in towns like Montego Bay suffer since tourists stay at the hotel all day. Economically, Jamaica benefits little from these resorts as the local economy doesn’t see much action and profits are taken back to Europe or North America. So, we should all stop going to resorts and stay in locally owned hotels. Well, Ash Wednesday and an economic sermon, what a religiously fueled post and I haven’t even talked about praying before meetings at work (it happens).

Week before last was Restorative Justice Week. Restorative Justice practices (definition from wikipedia) is….”an approach to justice where offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and “to repair the harm they’ve done- by apologizing, returning stolen money, or (for example) doing community service”. It is based on a theory of justice that focuses on crime and wrong doing as acted against the individual or community rather than the state.” DRF is active in promoting restorative justice practices in Jamaica. Restorative justice practices are used frequently in Canada, especially in aboriginal communities. I don’t know a lot about the topic, but I’m planning on doing some reading on the topic and I would like to observe a RJ circle while i’m here. On the Saturday of RJ week, there was a concert in Emancipation Park. There was a good turnout and the concert included dance performances, singing and a skit about restorative justice. The MC (Tony Patel) was very entertaining and wore a chemise that made him look like a middle-aged pirate. The V was a bit deep for my personal style, but the laces gave it a Captain Jack Sparrow look that I’m sure works for a certain type of woman. The dancing ranged from African style dancing to Dance Hall, which is the style of dance guys do in clubs. The singers were very talented, and I found myself singing the lyrics of “Nothing But The Blood Of Jesus” in the shower the next morning. I think the week was a success, I defiantly learned a lot more about restorative justice practices (I didn’t really know much before) and hope to learn more in the coming months.

Ant Update:  They somehow found their way into a new package of rice. Not sure how they managed, the plastic is pretty thick, but  they are determined. Good thing rice is washed and boiled before eaten and has since been transferred into a glass container.

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Salman’s landlady…updated

January 27, 2010

Last week I had the pleasure of interacting with Salman’s old landlady. She has a well documented past of being a crazy and angry person. When Salman gave notice that he would be leaving earlier than expected she spent a good deal of the conversation swearing  and telling him off. She could have taken his key in December and it would have given her an opportunity to rent the apartment a month earlier and collect double rent, but she though he was trying to scam her. Im not sure what happened to make her a bitter woman, maybe a boyfriend cheated on her, maybe kids teased her in school because she is built like a linebacker. I don’t know, im not a psychologist or not until my degree from the University of Phoenix comes in the mail. Anyways, we were supposed to meet last Tuesday but she wanted the electricity bill so she could deduct that from the deposit. She was planning on dropping by Wednesday afternoon but as I would be at work, I suggested we meet later on Wednesday or Thursday. When I got back from work on Wednesday, I called her but she didnt pickup so I settled down for a relaxing evening and a pre dinner bowl of cereal. At around 8, I heard pounding on my apartment door and as I suspected, it was her. Standing there, looking like she wanted to tackle me, she had been waiting outside for an hour and tried repeatedly to call me. Oh well. This obviously put her in a good mood and after yelling for her keys, I very calmly walked down the hall to the apartment and unlocked the door. As we walked in, she tried the lights but they didnt work. Since the electricity bill hadn’t been paid, it was cut off. She wasnt very happy, I mentioned we could use flashlights or candles to check the place out, but that suggestion wasnt well received. After storming around the apartment and cursing like a sailor she demanded to have her keys back, to which I responded (in my best adult voice) “You can have the keys when I get the deposit”. We argued about this for a couple minutes and decided to meet during the day on Thursday to finalize things. I went home,  listened to Eye of the Tiger a couple times, drank a warm glass of milk and fell asleep at the foot of my bed.

So Thursday, I left work early and waited for her outside the apartment at 2:30. At 3 when she still wasn’t there, I called her. After introducing myself, she hung up. I called back, and no answer. A couple minutes later a guy called my phone saying she was on her way. Upon arrival she asked me why I was calling her. I told her I wanted to know if she was on her way, to which she replied “You dont call me, you dont work for me”. Obviously sound logic, my mistake. After checking the apartment and making up a list of things that were missing (there were four plates and now there are only two, im taking that out of the deposit…) we went down to her car to settle up. When ran down the list of deductibles off the deposit she told me, “Im not doing this for the money, I put this kind of money in my wallet to spend. If I didnt have someone ready to rent this place, I would have made you keep the keys for another month. I talked to a lawyer” I decided to take the high road and not reply but when our delightful transaction ended I told her it was a pleasure doing business with her, to which she replied “Kiss my ass”….classy lady.

I learned a valuable lesson last week, I had just poured myself the aforementioned bowl of cereal, milk and all, when I noticed an ant in the bowl. I scooped it out (one ant isnt bad) and picked up the spoon to take a bite when I noticed another. At this point I decided to pick a number and if I saw this number or fewer ants in the bowl I would continue eating. I picked 5, safe to say it didnt take long to surpass that number. So the lesson is not to keep cereal in the cupboard, it goes in the fridge.  Same goes for crackers… also covered in ants. This is a new problem, ive always had ants, but they usually hang out by my sink, counter top or on the kettle.  Thankfully its just ants and not cockroaches.

UPDATED: Im pretty sure Salman’s landlady stole my mop last night. On Monday, she knocked on my door telling me I couldn’t keep my mop and garbage can outside. My landlady (who is very nice and normal) keeps her mop outside and I was simply drying out my garbage can after washing it out. I brought the garbage can in (I obviously needed it) but left the mop. When I got up this morning, the mop was gone. She really is crazy. On the bus to work this morning they were playing the theme song from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. That put me in a good mood and soothed the pain of a stolen mop.

This and that…

January 19, 2010

We had a productive meeting at work this morning, as a team we presented our initial observations and recommendations to help DRF move forward. A lot of what we had in the report centred around building up the organizational structure to catchup with the rapid growth. The business is currently run in a very informal manner but to grow effectively, some structure is needed. The management team at DRF agreed with the majority of our recommendations and now the difficult part starts, implementing change. We are there to facilitate the change and its the employees at DRF that have to take  a lead with our assistance. To start, I will be working with Janice, the Finance Manager, to help create a better budgeting process and add some structure to her day to day in an attempt to reduce the chaos. Its been a slow start, I finally got quickbooks loaded onto my computer but we had some networking issues today which delayed us again. Hopefully things get sorted tomorrow, because im getting a little restless.

The weekend was quiet. Two new volunteers arrived on Thursday (a couple) and they came with me to the market Saturday morning. I showed them around, picked up fruits and vegetables for the week and we walked around downtown before settling down for some goat curry at Moby Dick (which some say is the best goat in Kingston. David the guy who started sitting in my office said they use ram, not goat. I dont believe they would participate in false advertising, its a very reputable establishment. David is also a bit of an odd character, so mind the source). Speaking of curry, my apartment now smells like curry (and incense) on an almost permanent basis. When we would visit Indian families in Canada most of their houses smelled like curry. I wondered how much they would have to cook for the smell to absorb into all the furniture and walls. I’ve learned that making it a couple days a week will accomplish that. Im doing a good job sticking to my budget this month, but that is a main driver of the curry smell. The most expensive part of making Indian food is the yogurt and with the weather here, it shouldn’t be a problem to make my own. Before Christmas I made  pickles, 3 of 4 CUSO volunteers liked them, no big deal.

We had a minor cold spell last week, which was a nice change. Since we walk most places, the cooler weather was nice. On average, most Jamaicans avoid walking if they can.  I walk a lot more now than I did when I first arrived but I do miss being able to walk around with my iPod. To cope, ive found myself singing to myself as I walk. Now, in Canada this behaviour isnt socially acceptable (like talking in an elevator or walking and reading a book at the same time) and I would be considered odd, like the boy in the movie “About A Boy”. In Jamaica, this seems to be a more common practice. I regularly walk past people that are well dressed and appear to be socially adjusted that also happen to be singing out loud to themselves. Devon, a coworker at DRF (the entrepreneurial electronics importer), often sings at work. His favourites include Whitney Houston and Bette Midler. Ive decided to add YouTube links of a couple of my favourite walking songs below…

We were supposed to have mediator training this week and next, but it was cancelled and postponed to February. With a board meeting at the end of the month, this week will be busy pulling together financial statements. Ive written a letter to the Liguanea Club to see if they will give me a discount on my squash membership. The Pegasus Hotel has given all the volunteers access to their pool for free, so I thought id check to see if I can get a discount from them. Ill follow-up tomorrow and hopefully start playing by the weekend.

Enjoy the music

Weezer – Heart Songs

Beatles – With A Little Help From My Friends

Foo Fighters – Home

Coconut Records – West Coast

Back in Jamaica

January 11, 2010

Hello, im back in Kingston from a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday back home. Its nice to be back in the sun, but its a lot cooler here now than when I first arrived. Over the holidays Elizabeth (a returned volunteer) introduced me to a group that plays soccer on Saturday mornings and I went to check it out yesterday. He said they start playing at 6:30, which is really closer to 7, I was the first to arrive and initially though maybe I had the wrong place. Things started to pickup and there was a big group, they played 9 per side and in total there were 30 people, so lots of available subs. The players were good, I don’t think they were as good as the guys James and I used to play with in France but I was still the worst player there.  I started as a sub and was put on about halfway into the first half. I quickly displayed an uncanny ability to kick the ball to players on the opposing team or simply miss the ball completely. After the first couple passes to me, things dried up quickly when my teammates realized I wasn’t a good import…Im not Beckham coming to play for Galaxy.  I had one opportunity to rush down the wing, there my football skills graduate from awful to poor, but it didn’t really work out. It was a little like playing baseball and being in right field for the whole game where I spent most of my time day dreaming. When a ball was actually hit my way id be so surprised that things wouldn’t usually work out for the better. The nets they use here are about the size of a hockey net, so I was surprised that a couple goals were scored. It ended in a 2-2 tie, I wasnt actually on the field for any our goals, but wasnt on the field for the goals against either. I dont think ill be going back, I had to pay $200 JD for field rental and gatorade, and since I played all of 10min, ill just sort out squash stuff next week.

Since soccer wasnt very taxing, I went to the market for groceries after the game and found a meat market not far from work. Buying food at the market is a lot cheaper and fresher than grocery stores, so its worth the trip.  I picked up a pound of goat (first time buying goat) and made curry this evening. It turned out quite well for my first time, but ill make it a bit spicier  next time.

Work was busy this week, we put together a report of all our observations since arriving and our recommendations going forward. The CUSO-VSO program manager (Tarik) has a meeting with the director of DRF (Donna) on Tuesday and we will have a followup with other managers to review our report later in the week. I signed up for mediation training starting Jan 19th which should be interesting. Its a 6 day course and then we have to sit in on a certain number of mediations before we can conduct our own.

Thats about it for now, have a good week

Last 2 weeks

December 9, 2009

Blue Mountain

We went to Blue Mountain this weekend, which is a pretty quick trip from Kingston. We headed up Saturday morning, at 8am (not my idea) and were up in the mountain by around 10. After checking in, we walked up the mountain, not quite to the peak, but to the GAP cafe (well know for its coffee and the fact Ian Fleming wrote parts of Dr. No  in the house) which took about 3 hours. Our guesthouse, Mount Edge  (http://www.mountedge.com/index.html) was clean and had cheap rates for volunteers. Meals are home cooked and the balcony has a great view of the mountains and Kingston. The owners of the guesthouse have a couple gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables, and are currently clearing land beside their property to raise sheep. They would like the make the property as self sufficient as possible, with mountain springs and great coffee it  doesn’t sound like a bad deal. After our trek up the mountain, we had a afternoon snack of wine, cheese and bread and then hung out on the balcony until diner. Diner was French cuisine, prepared by the owner and was quite tasty. After diner we sat around the table, and had some interesting conversation with the owner and other guests ranging from productivity in Jamaica to Castro and Trudeau. Sunday morning we  hiked down to a small waterfall, walked to coffee shop to try the local beans (first latte ive had since coming here) and then took in the view until we had to head back to Kingston. It was a relaxing weekend, but im pretty tired and the mosquitoes and various plants have me looking a little red and bumpy. The trip was very inexpensive, one night stay, diner and breakfast was only $2,000 JD which is $25 Canadian. Im sure we will be back next year.

Montego Bay

The last week of November, we drove to Montego Bay for work. DRF has branches and affiliate offices across the island and visited a couple locations. The purpose was to meet the employees at the other offices and get an introduction to the services they provide. It was an interesting trip and we came back with a better idea of the challenges they face. Over the course of the next year we will be working to help bring them closer to the head office in Kingston. To help the process, a  couple volunteers might be stationed in field offices in Montego Bay or Spanish Town.

Salman, Jo and I decided to take advantage of the drive up to Montego Bay and stayed for the weekend. Friday was Eid and we tried to find an Indian restaurant to mark the occasion. The one Indian restaurant we heard of wasnt in walking distance, so we settled on Jamexican food. All the convenience stores in Montego Bay seem to be run by Indians and at the “Food 4 Less”, Salman struck up a conversation with the guys behind the counter. One guy just arrived from India and was pretty excited to talk to anyone that could speak Hindi. They offered to order Indian takeout from an Indian restaurant for us and have it delivered to their store for us to pick up. After spending the day on the beach, we ordered Indian food (which was very good), played pictionary and checked out the Montego Bay nightlife at the Bobsled Cafe (a tribute bar to the Jamaican bobsled team that plays “Cool Runnings” all day) and Margaritaville. On Sunday, we made a final stop at the beach before catching the bus back to Kingston.

This week will be a busy one at work, we had a big staff meeting Monday and the annual meeting is this Friday. Ive started working with the finance manager to help with the book keeping and im learning to use QuickBooks. There aren’t many weeks left until Christmas and im excited to be heading back to Canada on the 23rd.

Capoeira

November 24, 2009

This weekend we saw a couple capoeira performances. Tarik, the Programme Manager for CUSO in Jamaica, was performing and was receiving his first belt on Saturday. For those that dont know what it is (from wikipedia);

Capoeira (pronounced /ˌkæpɵˈɛrə/) is an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial artsmusic, and dance. It was created inBrazil by slaves brought from Africa, especially from present dayAngola some time after the 16th century.

After work on Friday we went to Emancipation park, a large park in Kingston not far from where most of us live,  to watch the show. There was a good sized crowd and the performance went really well. Its really nice in the evenings these days, it has cooled down since I first arrived and will stay this way until March/April when it warms up again. I didnt make it to the belt ceremony on Saturday, a couple of us were at work (implementing a new filing system…living the dream), but there was a good Brazilian party Saturday night where we caught some more capoeira.

This is a video from Friday night, Tarik is on the right

 

And a picture of a couple of the volunteers after the show…

 

Anna, Jo, Tarik, Claire, Salman and Laura

 

On my way back from work on Saturday the security guard on duty asked me if I had any beer upstairs (picture a stocky, middle aged Jamaican man with a gold tooth and bluetooth headset). I brought two Red Stripe down and we had a chat. He started by telling me he would like to visit Canada and asked if I could write a letter saying he was going to visit me. I said that since I don’t have a permanent address in Canada I wouldn’t be able to. He then asked if anyone I know would be able to write him a letter so he could get a visa. I said id see, so if anyone wants help my security guard get into Canada, I would be happy to put you in touch with him. He is a very friendly guy and really likes to chat.

Last week I also had a bit of a wake-up call, I left my cellphone unattended and when I got back to it found that someone had transfered 100 JD of credit off my phone to another one. I’ve been pretty careful with things up to this point, but I now have a password on my phone and laptop, and ill stop using my iPod outside the house. Our neighbourhood is safe, but I still have to be aware of where I take out my cellphone and using my iPod probably draws unwanted attention.  My diamond studs and grill will have to be saved for special occasions only.

This week at work we are going to visit a couple of the other offices to see how they run and get a better idea of how the organization functions. Were headed to Spanish Town on Wednesday and Montego Bay (and surrounding areas) on Friday. We will probably stay in Montego Bay for the weekend since we have a free ride up there. I finished my work plan on Friday, so I should get feedback this week on if it aligns with what the Director of DRF and CUSO want me to accomplish during my time here. There is no shortage of work and there is a lot that can be done to help improve day to day operations. Its going to be fun getting into things, Jo and Salman were at DRF today (they are both working for CUSO, assisting a couple of the organizations) going through presentations on assessing the needs of DRF from an organizational (Jo) and IT (Salman) perspective. There is lots to do on both fronts and I will be working a lot with Salman on making sure there is training and processes for the systems that are brought in place.

Ill post Portland pictures from our trip later this week if I get a chance

 

Work, Prison, and the Beach

November 10, 2009

Ive started my second week of work and it was a good way to begin. We (Jacquie, Claire and I) had a meeting with the Executive Director of the DRF (Dispute Resolution Foundation) to talk about our placements and what we would like to accomplish during the year. DRF is split into two major parts, the first is mediation and the second is youth. I still have a lot to learn about all the services DRF provides, but the mediation department conducts mediations for the court system and trains mediators. The youth programs focuses on teaching kids non-violent ways to solve disputes. The organization is celebrating its 15th anniversary  and has grown substantially in the last 5 years. Claire has been working with DRF for the last 2 months and is in charge of monitoring and evaluation. Jacquie will be working on the strategic plan for the youth department and I will be working on an overall business plan /model for the organization. There is a lot of work to do and a lot I have to learn about the organization to put together a “work plan” on what I would like to accomplish. The work they want me to do sounds a lot more exciting than I initially thought it would be, which is good. Both Jacquie and Claire have a lot of experience working for no for profit organizations and I have a lot to learn from them.

The DRF office is about a 30 min walk (when I walk fast) from my apartment. In the mornings I take the bus in but I will be walking home most evenings. The office is on the border of new and old (downtown) Kingston. The office itself is located beside a prison (see picture below) which was a bit of a surprise. When DRF first started, inmates worked with the organization (cleaning, painting, reception etc…) to assist the skeleton staff. The program ended when two inmates tried to escape while working at DRF. Now our only interaction with inmates is when they yell at friends on the sidewalk from the prison. So far, ive only heard this once…it adds an interesting dynamic to the workplace.

 

On Sunday we went to Hellshire, which is the beach where the locals go for swimming. The beach itself was pretty small and didnt have much space for lounging. There were lots of restaurants selling fresh fish which makes it a popular spot at night…but not really a place where you want to lay your towel out. We decided to walk along the cost to Fort Clarence where we went last time. The stretch of beach between Hellshire and Fort Clarence isnt maintained and was pretty gross (see pic below), there was garbage everywhere. Once we got to Fort Clarence, the water was nice and warm and the fish was really good…and that means a lot because I normally dont like fish. They serve the fish with raw onions and peppers in vinegar, tasty. Were headed to Portland this weekend (all seven of us are going) to check out what some call the best beaches in Jamaica. Weve been told its less touristy than Motego Bay or Ocho, it will be nice to get out of the city for a couple days.

Ill post pics when I get back

 

My Apartment

October 27, 2009

Hello,

I moved into my apartment yesterday and signed up for internet today. The place isn’t huge, but well furnished. Im on the 3rd (top) floor of the building. There is laundry in the basement and a temperamental elevator. My landlady lived here for 10 years so its well decorated and I have most of the essentials I need. She doesn’t have a stove, but there are 2 burners and a toaster oven. There is  TV, and the landlady included cable at no charge. I get quite a few channels, including Versus, so I’ll get to watch some hockey (Wash & Phi is on TV now), but I dont seem to get CBC as some other volunteers do. The apartment is close to the CUSO office and a 10 min walk from the main bus terminal where I will pickup a bus to get to work. There is a grocery store a couple blocks away and Salman, one of the volunteers lives in the same building which is convenient.

The apartment is clean, ants will be a problem if I don’t clean up after eating but Salman hasn’t seen any cockroaches in the building. I saw one in a volunteers apartment this week, hopefully I can keep them out of mine.

We have training starting tomorrow and work on Monday. Im ready to start at DRF and get working

Nite

Vamos a la playa

October 26, 2009

Hello,

Almost a week down and things are coming together well here. I decided to take the apartment, I sign the lease and move in on Monday. It will be nice to have a place of my own and a kitchen to cook in.

On Thursday we went to a beach just west of Kingston called Fort Clarence. Carlos, a Guatemalan business man who was at the same hotel as the other volunteers, took us in his rental to the beach for the day. The water was warm and waves were pretty tame. On the beach was a small shop that sold beer and fresh fish.

We start in country training on Wednesday, which gives me a couple days to move in and get everything I need for my apartment. Training runs until Friday and I start working on Monday. Were heading to a craft market this afternoon and then the pool at one of the hotels downtown Kingston.

Im being eaten alive by mosquitoes, my feet are full of bites. At least 10 on one of them. Thankfully no cockroach sightings. Ill put up the mosquito net when I move in this week.

Ill update with apartment pics in the next couple days

Day One…

October 22, 2009

Hello, I arrived in Kingston last night after an uneventful flight. A driver from CUSO was at the airport to meet me and dropped me off at my hotel. Its very comfortable and clean, so no complaints. I went into the CUSO office this morning and met the staff and volunteers. We have training for 3 days next week and I start at the DRF on Nov 2nd. I toured around town for a bit today with another volunteer and got a SIM card for my phone (thanks Max). You can email me for my phone number or BB Messenger PIN (don’t really want to post it online).

I checked out an apartment today which looked pretty good. The woman that owns it is moving to Montego Bay and will rent the apartment furnished. Its a one bedroom apartment with a small sitting area and kitchen. There is no stove but 2 burners which should be sufficient and a small table. People haven’t had the easiest time finding furnished apartments that fit in out budgets, so i’ll probably pickup this place before someone else does. Its close to the CUSO office, shopping areas and the main terminal for busses. There is another volunteer living in the same building, which is a bonus.

Things are going very well here, all the other volunteers and staff are friendly. Its going to take some time to get used to the Jamaican accent, but in due time it wont be a problem.

Thats all for now, nite