Day Eleven: Places to volunteer

It’s been almost two weeks and all I have been getting are calls to find out what I’m interested in doing for my volunteer service. I spoke to several people at church as well as a few in the community. It’s not like I started when I arrived, I have been doing research since February. I thought I landed the best option: to build houses for the needy. I know it may appear like a giant task but the thought to do something different appealed to me. Also the fact that the organization was reputable, I thought this would be the best and safest. Even when I submitted my application form, had my three references submit letters they had requested, Youth With a Mission (YWAM) did not respond to me. Yes at first they were prompt with their responses, but I thought they would have sent me an email saying that I was accepted, or my application was declined.

I got an offer to work with a soup kitchen as well as with the homework club but it seem that everything had been delayed. I even had a call to work with different schools in various capacities. Who would have thought it would be so difficult to volunteer?

Finally on Thursday, it seemed that everyone had worked out a plan on how they needed me and my services. First, I went to fill out a volunteer form at the YMCA in Kingston. The coordinator, lovely lady, gave me a tour of the facility and introduced to the teachers and other employees. She asked if I could start on Monday and I said yes. Before that, I got a call from the Webster memorial united church to help with their soup kitchen and their homework club. They asked me to start on Tuesday. Then on Friday nights I’m helping with Youth services at Bethel United Apostolic. The moment I got home from my busy day, I got a call from a woman that attends the Apostolic church, who also is a teacher. She wanted me to speak with the principal because she felt that I could be of assistance. “When can you come in?” Now that I have lots to do and something of a schedule, I’m needed. “Is Friday okay?”

Part of the reason I’m here in Jamaica is to serve in the community. I think this will give me a deeper insight about life in Jamaica. I’ll get to understand on an intimate level some of the struggles that people go through. So stay tuned for those experiences.

Day Nine: Ochi by minibus

So why am I deliberating in my mind whether or not to wear a seatbelt in the front seat of a minibus? It’s standard to wear seatbelts in Canada, but somehow in the last week I see myself converting to the ways of this island. Normally it’s a good thing to adapt, but we don’t want to adapt the negative qualities as well, do we? Especially when we know this one decision could cost lives! Wearing a seatbelt in a Jamaican minibus should be mandatory. Have you seen the way they drive in Jamaica? Have you seen the way the roads are? The twists and turns, the way they overtake- even in incoming traffic. No fear! People need special training to drive here. On my way to Ochi (the way that Ocho Rios is referred to) in the minibus was an adventure of itself. I sat by a corner seat with the window open. The cool breeze made the trip a pleasure. At times I thought I was on a roller coaster with all the dips and curves- holding on to the sidebars so as not to lean on the person next to me. The view was beautiful.. The bus drove along a river of green water, through trees, on flatbridge, through fern gully and other mountains. I saw bauxite waste, cows, donkeys, higglers, and one truck turned over on its side. The minibus didn’t stop so no idea if anyone got hurt. But case in point, it should be a necessity to wear a seatbelt here.

When I arrived at Ochi, smiling from ear to ear, I see people of all colour walking around. Although I’m used to seeing groups of white people everywhere amongst others, it is such an odd sight to see them walking around on this island. Yes I know ochi is tourist town, but something about it looked odd. Well I recall having met a another group at Devon house but it had seem fitting for them to be there, or maybe that was still normal to me seeing it was my third day. After a week and seeing so many white people in one location just made it strange. I saw them climbing the falls, holding hands to form a long chain. Did that make it easier for them to climb the falls? The tour guide got “the tourists” to scream and do all kinds of craziness. It was fun watching them, I was anticipating my own experience climbing the falls.

Me, I decided to do it the local way, except for those rubber shoes on my feet which I rented for $600JA. That and the other costs – locker rental, entrance fee, bus fares and two taxi fares caused me to run out of money! I thought Jamaica is supposed to be cheap.

By the time I arrived on the beach, after that long decline off stairs, I was greeted by a man who was looking for customers to jet ski. “I would love to!” I said.

“Then come nuh”

“I have no money, I spend it all already!”

“Den pay mi lata”

“If it’s not for free, I can’t come with you, I have no money” And I walked off into the sea. The water was a little chilly at first but in no time, I was in the water swimming like a fish. To think that not even a week past and I’m at the beach again. This would have never happened in Canada!

Day Six: Jamaican reality

Saturday mornings are spent on cleaning the house, mowing the lawn and doing laundry. I even participated by sweeping and wiping the verandah. I totally forgot about this word, as I have been referring to it as “the porch”. When I heard the term I had to ask my cousin’s wife to repeat what she needed me to do. On the third repetition I realized what she was talking about. I smiled. Meanwhile, my Canadian friend, who has been residing in Jamaica for the last three years, text me at two in the afternoon, “I’m finally done hanging the clothes on the line”. I text her back, “Oh, you do that too”, because I already saw that the clothes were neatly hung on our lines in the backyard to dry. “Dwl. Ya and I’m not impressed” she responded. I started to die of laughter too because as I’m seeing it some things never change.

Why am I waking up before 7am everyday? For someone who sleeps pass 12pm on a day off this is a surprise! I wake up at just after 6am and with nothing better to do with my time, I choose devotion. I often tried to get up at this hour when it’s time to fast while I’m home, somehow it takes willpower to make it out of bed. In fact to get out of bed for anything before 8am is hard work. But look how easy it is here. It doesn’t even matter what time one goes to bed. Friday night I went to bed later than the regular 11pm, and still I wake up at the crack of dawn. Is this a good thing?

Brunch was fried dumpling and callaloo. Callaloo is much the same as spinach or collard green and equally distasting. Ok well I prefer spinach more. I guess I never developed the acquired taste for callaloo and time hasn’t change that. It took me about an hour to complete the meal, well the dumplings were devoured in the first 10 minutes.

Saturday afternoon was spent at the beach. While in Toronto, there are no thoughts to go to the beach at this time of year, this in Jamaica is the thing to do. I packed my beach bag- a book, sunglasses, a hat, an umbrella, sun block lotion, a towel, change of clothes, money and water. The only thing I really needed was the towel and the money. The moment I placed my bag on the sand, I was the first to enter the water. How can I describe this moment? Um, It’s like rekindling with an old best friend you haven’t seen in ages. The moment I immerse my whole body in the water, the smoothness and the warmth of the water brings awareness to my senses again. “There is no place like home”. Nowhere else I’ve ever been where the water feels exactly like this, like cuddling in a blanket. My toes enjoy the texture of the sand between it and I remember the times I had been in this same sea when I was a child. I recall being at the beach all day and once we left at 9pm. I can see why.

On leaving the water, my body shivers with the contact of the wind. I’m cold. This is an unusual sensation to have in Jamaica, but I realize it’s later in the evening and the sun has already begun its descent  When we had had enough soaking in the caribbean sea (which this is just a temporary feeling because the truth is there is no way you can ever have enough of this good feeling), we decided to eat some fish and festival. This treat is like, going to Canada’s wonderland and eating Funnel Cake. There is simply no way you can walk away and not have this long anticipated treat of deliciousness. For me, this was going to be the first time. I sit on a bench with the umbrella-like covering, made out of coconut leaves. The fish is large and from the moment it hits my plate my fingers are all over it. This fish is called a parrot. The flesh was succulent. And the festivals (these are like dumplings but sweeter) were the cherry on top. I was quiet the entire time, because all focus was on the fish in front me. I ate everything- or most of it. The head of the fish I gave to this dog I made friends with. She seemed sad and abandoned. She took the head of the fish from out of my hand and went somewhere and ate it. Minutes later she returned. She seemed pleased of her good fortune and decided to follow us to our car to show her appreciation.

Upon arriving at home, I could only think of two things- shower and sleep. I hit the sack after 7pm and I was out cold. As they say early to bed, early to rise. This is no joke and it wasn’t a suggestion either, it’s more a demand. I woke up at 3am and I no longer needed to sleep. I noticed that dawn is at 5:30 and Sun arises before 6am.

Before I end this though I must say that I’m beginning to get annoyed with these ghostly mosquitos! I sleep under a fan at all times, I don’t see them pitch on my skin but somehow I have at least 20 bites on my legs and feet alone! The remnants of their harm are these big itchy bumps on my feet and nowhere else! Help!

…Oh but I’m still liking it here in Jamaica.

Day Four and Five: The real Jamaica

Why is this teller staring at me? And what’s with that smirk on her face? Could she be amusing herself with my frustration? Here I am patiently sitting in the bank enjoying the air conditioned building and reassuring myself that this is the way it is in Jamaica. It’s natural to wait. But here is this woman smirking at me. I walk away to discuss my agitation with no other than my cousin. He walks up to the woman to learn about what’s causing the hold up. Is it a coincidence that less than a minute later, I’m called to the counter to retrieve my money?

Maybe she is laughing at what she knows awaits me outside. Bustling in the hot heat in downtown Kingston. I’m going to Port Royal to spend the day, or so I had planned. I stop at mother’s restaurant to buy a patty not for myself but my chaperone, already I’m getting tired of patties. I pull out my bright yellow umbrella to block out some of the sun. What’s puss-puss? These boys standing by the door of mothers blurted out the term in a sentence, I assume in reference to me. I walk on, thought out of mind. Now, I’m faced with a crowd of people all pushing to get in the 98 bus after waiting in the hot sun for some time. A woman ask for $20, she’s not homeless, but may need money to make up her bus fare. I give it to her. It’s a large sized yellow bus, with the Jamaican colours printed at the front in the shape of three diamonds. Wouldn’t a line make things easier? All these years, and people haven’t learn the effectiveness of lines. I made it in, my chaperone blocking some of the crowd away from me. I got in and bypass the driver and found two empty seats next to each other in the middle of the bus. My chaperone finally enters, pays our fare and sits next to me.

Upon arriving at Port Royal, what was once the richest city and the wickedest in the world, the reality of this town did not come close to my expectations. Yes it is filled with history, from the design of the compound which is in the style of a ship to the “giddy house”, a small room that makes you dizzy when you walk through it, to the canon or rifle that sits at the back facing the sea. Those had to be created as a result of the earthquake that created more land space which left the real compound with the canons ineffective to shoot invading enemies.  Still, it is far from aesthetically appealing. In fact, it should be removed from the list of things that tourist should do. I brought beach clothes, but then was told the beach is not recommended for swimming. In the end, I was not interested in doing anything in this town but get out. It was too desolate, and too isolated for me. I was back on the bus by 5:15pm and off to downtown Kingston we go, again.

By the time I arrived home, I felt stressed. The day took a toll on me and I felt the need to isolate myself. Was this a sudden feeling of homesickness? I felt teary eyed at a few instance but quickly found things to occupy my time to avoid the sad feeling.

The next morning, I had a talk with my good friend also living in Jamaica in Runaway Bay. She had much to say: “When I tried to open a community school, the people made it crash. “Its raining today, I’m not coming to work” employees would say. Banks close at 3pm, so when employees need to leave work to go to the bank you have to let them. Also various businesses close at 4pm, as such everyone leaves work to do business. This is expected. This also impact tourists because they have nothing to do after 5pm. They need to change stuff. The tellers stop to greet each other and have conversations. The Kingston experience might be different from the country experience, but I don’t know because I’ve never been.

In Kingston, I went to Burger King during the week and by 6:30pm the security officers told us they will be closing shortly. Maybe this is how it is everywhere, I think. I encountered very long lines at the banks and the service takes forever.

I travelled around the Kingston area because I went to see another cousin who lives there. She had tons of errands to run from afternoon to night. On the drive, I see pockets of parties going on everywhere. People selling jerk chicken/pork in large drums, panhandlers are still out requesting to wash the windshields for money. Some are relentless. All my cousins are straightforward about not giving them money, even when they insist on cleaning. At one point, I thought one panhandler would stretch his hand in the passenger side and slice my face with a knife.

So it has been a busy week. My conclusion is this, one week alone would not have been sufficient for me to reacquaint myself with my first home. I have only touched the surface of learning about Jamaica so I still have 13 other parishes to tour, will this be possible?

Day Two: Rest day

Beautiful. Breezy. Sunny. Those are the words I would use to describe my Jamaica. My second day was used for resting. I was awoken at 7am in the morning- and already the sun was bright. The moment I woke up I feel an urgency to take a shower and to start my day.

The Tea….I could drink tea all day. I watch my cousin walk into his backyard to cut a piece of peppermint from the tree. He brings it inside, wash it and place it in a tupperware. He boils water in the kettle and pour it on the leaves, then allows it to steep. Five minutes later and I’m drinking fresh peppermint tea- even the aroma is strong and enticing.

I stay inside most of the day, with both doors open so the cool breeze flow in. I sit on a bench in the backyard to read my book, “419”. By three o’clock I am tired and I take a nap.

When I awake two hours later, it’s raining. It is more refreshing and is like a welcomed guest in this hot climate.

By evening, I attend bible study. The pastor told me to be there for 7pm. So I was getting antsy when my cousins were taking longer to leave. The drive was only five minutes. When we arrived, 15 minutes later, there were only four members and there was no pastor. My cousins wait with me to make sure all was well. One member came out to speak with us and they provided the pastor’s number. No response. Twenty minutes later, all the leaders arrived, including the pastor. I introduced my cousin and the pastor introduced his wife and other leaders.

By the time, the study started, everyone suddenly arrived. So…this thing we call “Jamaican time” is no myth after all.

Day One- First steps

I have a headache. The heat, the pressure and the change of scenery are all contributing to this painful pounding in my head. At least I’m dressed for the weather in a simple floral sundress and flip flops. My hair though, is getting bigger by the minute. The straightness is turning to friz. I suspect its natural and ought to have been expected.

When I arrived at my destination- the Norman Manley International airport, only an hour and a half (1 1/2 hrs) late, I climbed out of the airplane and walked through the ‘tunnel’ that attaches to the plane to the port.  Inside of the airport did not feel like one. Rather, the long hall felt like I was walking through a nice alleyway with signs on the walls. The first thing I had to do was go through customs. The line was long but it was moving rapidly. When it was my turn, I approached a female immigration officer, I said good afternoon in my sickly voice but no response came, except a demanding arm stretched towards my face, expecting my immigration form and then my passport. I complied. She spoke, “6 weeks, this is an extended vacation”. I said, “yes, and very necessary to make up for the 16 years I’ve been away”. An unexpected smile arrived on her face. She handed back my papers and I smiled and walked away immediately.

I stopped at the “cambio” or the money exchange counter, which was another line up. Only two persons in front of me but may as well be ten. The lady was professional and I got my money and went for my luggage at the turning stalls. I see that it was already removed and left standing with other unclaimed luggage. I grabbed it and quickly found the “green” line, the one to use when you’re not carrying anything over $500US. No one was in the line so I asked another immigration officer the procedures. She took my declaration form and off I went. From travelling to different countries, I think that when you see the exit doors to a new country you’re suppose to know by instinct.This one was a little tricky. The narrow exit door was staring me in the face but it was hard to believe that the doors to my journey to rediscovery would be so small.

I followed the finger pointing of a worker whom I had asked directions. He was pointing towards the doors I saw in front of me. I slowly walked with hesitancy towards the doors which automatically opened and allowed me to see a glimpse of Jamaica. Crowds of people were standing outside. I thought it was a market. I started to pan my eyes from the left corner of the marketplace to the right in search of my cousin. I immediately spotted a slim fair skinned man looking the exact same as pictures I had seen on facebook. He looked like he saw me first and was waiting for me to see him. He walked towards me and helped me with my bags.

I waited by the curb for my cousin who went to get his vehicle. I wondered who would be the first to approach me as I stand alone with my luggage. I saw young men sitting around on garden beds and men appearing to be in deep conversations- though the content was not making any sense.

I peered through vehicles searching for my cousin. When I saw him pull up, I brought my luggage to be loaded in the trunk. The drive from the airport was nice and cool, not as I expected. No matter where we drove, I could still see the sea! Wow.

Our first stop was at Tastee’s, this store makes one of the best patties in Jamaica and I have been yearning for this experience for years! I thought it was going to be a walk-in store where you order your Jamaican patty and leave, but quite the opposite. It was a large restaurant. My cousin found us a seat and I enjoyed my beef patty with coco bread and a bottle of water. Walking on Jamaican soil feels completely different from anywhere I’ve been. My brain knows it’s no longer in Canada but is still confused about everything- at this moment, nothing is making any sense. Maybe this is what’s causing the headache! Along with this bright sun! My eyes are not adjusting.

I finally arrived at a beautiful and peaceful community which is going to be my home for the time being. The house I stepped into was something familiar. From the choice of furniture to the flat screen TV to the choice of decor I feel right at home again.

I was worried that my shower experience was going to be a cold one, but this house as choices even in water temperature. I chose to take a cool shower because at this point my skin was experiencing heat and humidity it had not experience since last year August! After the shower, my head was still pounding so I decided to take a nap, but was awoken from a deep sleep by my cousin’s wife. I thought I had slept all night.

Dinner was ackee and saltfish, the Jamaican national dish and one of my favorite meals. Both doors to the house (back and front) stays open and the breeze is ideal. It keeps the house cool. At 9pm the temperature outside was more to my liking. I used a fan at the beginning of the night but turned it off later when I was about to fall in a stupor.  Wow, I can’t believe I’m in Jamaica!

The Introduction to my first trip back to Jamaica

I am about to re-experience Jamaica one more time, for the first time in years. I have never returned since I began life in Canada and it’s already 16 years. I would like you to embark on this journey with me and experience it as I will. I plan to blog about everything, from the smallest most insignificant detail to the bizarre, weird and the wild. I’m in the process of planning, researching and getting things together. I now know that I need long sleeve white shirts (thin cotton shirts), I need mosquito repellent and of course a bathing suit. I have already contacted my banks to inform them I’m leaving, as well as the embassy of Canada. I’m still working to get the go ahead from my work place. I have had a meeting already and my bosses were okay with the idea. I already have my Hepatitis A, B, C shots recently completed at the beginning of the year 2013.

My goal is to go to Jamaica to re-experience Jamaica as intimately as I can. I would like to do everything, including a brief stay at a resort- no more than 4-5 days. I would like to volunteer, visit different parishes, speak with the church community , speak with community members to hear their views about Jamaica. I want to see the best of Jamaica and the parts of jamaica that might need help. I want to become as intimately connected with Jamaica that I could tell Jamaica’s story.

This journey starts on April 22nd 2013.