Finding Stillness In Jamaica

It’s easy to become fixated with making schedules, but it’s much easier to stay calm and let everything fall into place. When I am still, the things my heart truly desires, come right to me. I hear God’s voice whispering…this is the way. 

This morning I woke up early anticipating my first radio interview. I was going to tell my story to others who live in the Diaspora and are interested in visiting or living in Jamaica, but might have reservations. I stood in front of the desk where my laptop and phone were sitting; near the window, overlooking the busy street of Hope Road. I could easily see above the other low rise buildings from the fourth floor, and if I squinted; far, far in the distance, there was Devon House.

Living in Jamaica, independently, was the mission for this trip. It had already been a week. So far, I had taken the taxis on my own, gone grocery shopping, and visited a number of restaurants with friends. Neither did I plan to have a radio interview this morning, nor did I anticipate staying with a colleague from the Business school. All of it just sort of happened. Happening. After the interview, I had my heart set on going to the beach since it was a Sunday, but the rain was coming down, like shards of glass.

With a few minutes of stillness, I found my equilibrium. This trip is about going with the flow, not setting down definitive plans like I often do. With the rain slowing, I decided, No, not the beach. To Hope Gardens instead. On my own. My colleague dropped me at the gates, despite my insistence that I take the local taxi. I walked down the long path leading to the second entrance to the gardens, and a very lanky fellow staggered in front of me, then slowed his pace. “Are you waiting for me to catch up?” I asked as an opener to a conversation. He laughed, and turned to look down. “Are you going to the garden too?” He wasn’t. He was going to another event occurring at the same venue. We now walked side by side, through the gates, and since neither one of us wished to separate, we took the scenic route around the garden…talking about our lives. Where I was from…What was I doing here… Where I worked.. What my plans are for the next two weeks of my trip…until we found his event, and I saw the entrance to the Zoo. It’s funny how things happen. Always, when you don’t plan on it. These are the situations I tend to find myself in, which makes me feel that I am never truly alone. There is always someone who come along my path.

The Zoo was just as I last recall three years ago. The same paradise with bright colours bursting out at me. My eyes soaked up the beauty.pdwm.php

It’s how I feel about Jamaica. Even though I arrived alone, I’m not. I’m surrounded by so many friends to help me enjoy my home. On the first day, I thought I was going to starve. It was my fault. I should have asked George to stop for food, on the way to the airbnb where I was staying. When I arrived and settled in, I thought I would have time to walk outside on my own. I forgot that it was dark by 6pm. There was no way I was going to leave this house, to go out there alone, by myself, to wander…No way. I decided I wouldn’t die from hunger. Thankfully, it wasn’t the case that I would go without food overnight. An honoured friend came to my rescue, and took me out to the jerk chicken street vendor, further down on Hope Road. It was later in the week I realized that the vendor was only a five minute taxi drive away. That’s what I ate for dinner, with coconut water.

King's House edit1Before the sun came out the following day, I was wide awake..whether from hunger, or the fear of it. I was determined to get to know my surroundings. By 6:30, I went out for a walk. I turned on Musgrave Road, then walked across Hope Road. It always scares me to cross the streets in Jamaica. It reminded me of when I was ten years old, and needed someone to hold my hand. I wish someone could still hold my hand as old as I am. The streets are just so damn intimidating. I was glad I was still alive on the other side of the street, where less cars were travelling. I saw the outskirts of the Kings House…where I believe the Prime Minister has his meetings. On my way back home, I decided to call George to take me out to get breakfast, and help me run my errands. It would make my life easier, as costly as it would be.

Sovereign Mall was not open at 9am in the morning, so I requested to go to the University instead. It was a good idea, because I reconnected with the staff, and with friends, plus there was a Digicel store and a bank side by side. It was my first day of independence, and even if I wasn’t certain about each step of the way, I intended to figure it out. Things went smoothly as they often do. The best part was when I visited the grocery store after my trip to the University.  There, I purchased all that I would need for a week, and by 5pm, George took me home, in time for me to start getting dressed for dinner. Truly, it wasn’t a bad first day. My check list of errands were completed: I ate breakfast at Juici Beef, I now had Jamaican currency, a Phone with credit, groceries in my room, and now I was going out with friends for dinner. It was an ordinary day in Jamaica, just the way I wanted it.


The best of both worlds

Shauna Cassell's Journey

I decided to stop at Devon House this past Friday at mid-day,  as I was about to walk by it to take a taxi back to campus. I was travelling with my course text-book and thought, how different it would be to sit and read in a garden. I picked a solitary spot where unoccupied benches were gathered, then took a moment to gaze around. Perfectly manicured trees and grass everywhere just slowed my heartbeat to match the calm rhythm of nature around me. I began to contemplate about how nice it would be to have my very own future backyard look this way.

It’s not easy taking this MBA program, but living on a tropical island balances everything.

The best of both worldsI needed a change in my life and I have found it here in Jamaica. When days are stressful, a look at the breathtaking landscape and the feeling of the blazing sun alone, puts things into…

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Wrapping up: The day before the last day…

Tuesday was my last full day in Jamaica and I wanted to make the best of it. I had a list of things in mind. There was no real highlight because for me each moment was special in it’s own way. First, I revisited the soup kitchen. It was a nice surprise for the ladies that worked there. “I’m back” I said as I pulled the grill door open and let myself in. The ladies were pleased to see me and some who really intended to call me before I leave had the opportunity to give gifts. I suppose coming back was the right thing to do. That lady that gave me the gift, was a dear friend of my mother’s and if I am not mistaken, I believe I saw tears in her eyes. She had not seen my mother for well over a decade and the fact that I showed up to volunteer at her church came as a huge blessing and surprise to her.

Laurleen, my mother’s old friend, walked me back to Medical Associates Hospital. That was my next stop. Just that morning, I made plans to have lunch with a nurse who works at the hospital. Much like Laurleen, my mother worked with this nurse for years. They both were a part of my mother’s wedding, people who she would have taken lunch breaks with, go home with and knew each other’s children. There we were eating lunch together, the three of us. To them it may have been an exact replica of a day in history. For me, it was a way to rekindle relationships that will last well into the future.

When I was little, I would have spent a lot of time at Medical Associates Hospital. It was the place I would go after school to wait my mother;  prior to me mastering how to take the bus from Kingston to Spanish town or Portmore where we used to live. So these ladies were like aunties and in Jamaica, every child has to refer to adults as aunties. I noticed that habit has not changed, as little children were referring to me in much the same way. In fact, when I was speaking to my mother’s friends, I felt the need to be respectful by during the same.

From the hospital, I walked to YMCA which is located on Hope Rd. No more than ten minutes walk and I was there. When I arrived at the YMCA I said my hellos again. My Canadian friend was ready. We also invited a teacher, as we were going to my all time favorite place to relax in Jamaica, Devon House.

This time I had mango ice cream. Can I say that I could almost imagine a real mango if I closed my eyes? I mean the ice cream was the same colour as the mango and the taste was no different. I definitely see why Devon House gets a lot of reviews and why after all these years they are still in business. There is no other place like it. And I was truly happy to sit with new friends one last time in a beautiful park eating ice cream. I learnt about some of the history particularly pertaining to Hurricane Gilbert. This hurricane which took place in 1988, destroyed the trees at Devon House. A large remnant of a tree trunk that had fallen and broken part of the fence is still visible in the park. The trees that were standing were not the same prior to 1988 but all of them have grown to be tall and strong. The house that sits in the centre of the park was minimally damaged as well. Windows had to be changed for instance. I would have never known this. It was an enjoyable conversation and when the moment to say good-bye came I realized that the truth is I don’t have to be sad. “I will see these people again” the thought crossed me. My Canadian friend will be there for another three months which gives me a medium of communication with the teachers and students.

A little after my friends left, my ride came for me. I was going to Cafe blue. I was curious about what the Jamaican coffee shop experience would be like, as I really enjoy sitting at the coffee shops in Canada engaging in conversations. Cafe blue was a little small and I didn’t like that it was emerged with another restaurant. I had a “bluecino”, much like the cappuccino except I can’t recall what the difference was. I had a chance to look back over my time in Jamaica and express the best of my experiences. I had a chance to look at the future and express what it holds for me. The day came to an end when I was returned to my cousin’s work place.

At night, I knew I wanted to revisit the church where I had been devoting a lot of my time and energy. I had a chance to take pictures of the congregation after the service and other individuals I don’t want to forget. I was dropped off at home and I said my final farewells.

But just before the night ended, Jamaica gave me a gift to remember. It was a final opportunity to sit out in the warm Jamaican night air, an opportunity to speak my heart, look into the Jamaican sky and see the countless stars, a final opportunity to share one last intimate moment before I said good-bye. Thank you Jamaica for all that you have done for me, all that you have given, and all that you have taught me. I truly hope that this will not be the end, but instead the beginning of a long beautiful relationship.

Until I see you again…



Day 29- Day 31: The weekdays

When the week started on May 20th I was looking forward to what was in store. My cousin was off on vacation so I wasn’t sure how I would be making it to Kingston. On the first day, I woke up drowsy. It seemed that the weekend had taken a toll on me (waking up so early and spending the day in the sun at Dunn’s River falls) then waking up early on Sunday to attend Church. Plus my period started so all of that just made me tired and unmotivated to plan the day. After eating breakfast my cousin prepared, I crawled back into bed and I slept the rest of the morning. I officially got out of bed around one in the afternoon. Then ate lunch and found my way under the sheets again for another nap. This time I got out of bed and stepped out on the verandah where the breeze was nice and cool. My cousin sat next to me and we talked, me with my very lethargic voice.

After six that evening my cousin’s wife returned from work. We decided we would go for a hike up the mountain. This has been a weekly thing for the family since I’ve been here in the last month. We are preparing to climb the famous blue mountains! So getting in tiptop shape is important. Apparently it takes roughly 4 hours to climb, so this is not a journey for the weak. We are all anxiously looking forward to it.

On Tuesday, I woke up early. I was placed on the bus at the Portmore shopping centre. Taking the bus to halfway tree by myself is not as scary as one may think. I found a single seat by the window and I watched the conductor as he called out, “ahf-e-chee” “ahf-e-chee” and how he spots potential passengers from afar and solicits them for the journey. Before the bus arrived on the toll road highway it was packed. Not long after, the bus arrived in halfway tree. When I got off the bus, I had to walk through crowds, avoiding eye contact with street vendors and taxi drivers alike. Normally on Tuesdays, I leave the YMCA early so that I can make it to the soup kitchen for 12pm but this time I decided to stay. At the end of the day, my Canadian friend, who volunteers there too decided we would go to Devon House. It was just a walk across the street. Yes I have been there before-to see, this time I was going to relax. We bought our ice cream, me the soursop flavor and him the devon stout. Then we found a bench in the park to sit and chat about our life in Jamaica so far and what we hope to do with the experience when we returned home. Three hours later were still chatting and picturing ourselves living in Jamaica. Just after five in the evening, my ride called and so it was time to say goodbye to Devon House. This day will be banked away in the file of treasured memories.

By Wednesday, I was back at YMCA. This time I arrived at 8:30 am with my cousin. I worked on a  presentation and when I arrived at my designated classroom, I had the children’s undivided attention as the video of Barack Obama which I chose to use started. I waited for my cousin when classes ended and he arrived shortly. We went into the plaza called Twin gates to purchase sneakers, in preparation for Blue Mountains. The teachers are happy because Thursday is Labour Day, so no school for them. I’m looking forward to the long weekend myself!


Day Three: A Taste Of History

Coming to Jamaica: Best decision ever!

Sitting by the steps of Devon House, owned by the first black millionaire in Jamaica (George Stiebel), I am mesmerized by the beauty of this country. As I look down the path cleared for walking I can see a water foundation in the centre of the garden surrounded by large palm trees, coconut trees and beautiful flowers built to fence the path. It is truly a sight to see, and is a remnant of my past. Devon house has been sitting there for over a century now and still remains as famous as ever. Upon taking a tour of the house, I’m left awe stricken, “I want to live in a mansion too”. The beauty of the antiques, the tapestries and the mixture of French/English and Caribbean decor are all fascinating. Upon leaving the mansion, I see that the short rainfall has left the temperature feeling cool and the ground wet.

My cousin and I walk in and out of the antique shops and then into the famous ice cream shop- this for some is the only reason to go to devon house. We sit in another part of the garden  on benches and enjoy our ice cream. The sun came out from under clouds and warmed my heart, “I’m in Jamaica”.. Wow.

But before I arrived at Devon house, the Bob marley museum located on Hope road was the first stop. It is quite historic and inspiring. I was given a tour of Bob’s house and learnt about his entire life, including some of the most intimate details of his life- like the shorts he wore while playing soccer (football), a sport he loved more than anything. He used to play at the front of his house and often the neighbours would be annoyed by the fact that they were always making noise. The song he wrote from that experience is this one, “who the cap fit, let them wear it”. I felt inspired to do great things after the tour, because Bob was a Jamaican, grew up on the rough side, and still became successful.

When the ice cream was done, we took a bathroom break and off we went. We walked into new Kingston passing lovely apartments or condos along the way. We walked through the business district and arrived at Emancipation park, another inspiring experience. “Why am I living in Canada?” I started to wonder as I stared at my surroundings. There is a track encircling the park, where persons come out to run or walk freely. Others sit in the park on benches to enjoy the sun and the breeze. The park is well kept, not even a loose paper anywhere. We entered the area where the famous naked statues stand, proudly looking up to the heavens, and the slogan, “The freedom to hope, to excel, and to be” catches my eye because it gives total understanding of why the statues are the way they are. I feel a connection with it and fully embrace it’s meaning. I am those statutes because I was born in this country and it is that same slogan that has taken me around the world (though I was long gone before it’s design) to accomplish my own hopes and dreams. And in my “be-ing” those words has brought me back home.

Jamaica has so much history and on this third day, it is only the beginning…