Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Cat in My Pyjamas!

I am halfway home. Arrived in Toronto last night at about 8 pm and by 10 pm I was ensconced in the Travelodge at the Toronto Airport.  Why, you ask, did I not take the connecting flight to Vancouver, which left at 11 pm?

Some of you know, but others may not as I have not blogged about them, but I adopted two Jamaican kittens from the Jamaica SPCA.  They were emaciated and would likely not have survived as kittens in Jamaica are valued less than throw-away dogs.  They have been wonderful friends to me and to my friends. Usain and Veronica are now fat and ready to become Canadian cats - I keep telling them to grow more fur.  They will either have a new family or join their older brother and and sister, Whittington and LizzyBetty, who I cannot wait to have back home with me. 

Yes, I am fulfilling by family's fears and becoming the crazy cat lady. I simply could not abandon them: cannot save all the cats in Jamaica, but can save two. Also will continue to support the JSPCA and Animal House Jamaica.

Back to the Travelodge . . .  Could not make the connecting flight because Canada Customs requires a four hour window for inspections and that means I miss the last flight to Vancouver.  Also, Toronto Air Canada Cargo no longer has overnight services. So, after two hours of paperwork at both Air Canada Cargo and Canada Customs - fortunately it was all in order, with appropriate health certificates, export permits, import permits -  and a taxi fare that we do not even want to discuss, the three of us arrived at the Travelodge. 

Kittens were unsure and a bit spooked, though arrived healthy and alert.  And they were happy to explore hotel room, using the "facilitates" (I brought a cat box and litter in my luggage), eating and drinking water.  We were all tired, so had a good sleep: me on the bed, they under it. 

After getting the coffee going and turning on the TV news this morning, I opened the hotel room door to see if there was a newspaper out there. Usain bolted. I immediately went after him and easily picked him up a few doors down: he must realized it was a false start and no sense going any further. I quickly realized that I was standing on the 5th floor of a hotel hall, room locked, no key, and a cat in my pyjamas. (Please excuse the misplaced modifier, but if you know your Groucho Marx you will understand . . . )  Fortunately, and unusually, I was wearing pyjamas.

Do you have any idea how busy an airport hotel lobby is at 7:30 am?  Everyone is checking out and heading to their planes. There I was, barefoot with a Jamaican cat under my arm. The clerks were all busy and I simply got in line.  People were very polite but they were not too ready to engage - hey, I am back in Canada.  Wondering if they thought I had confused the coming Christmas season with Halloween?  Or if I was the one who had escaped, not Usain. 

The Travelodge does not have a concierge, etc. However it is pet friendly and I got a seniors discount, so I was okay to wait.  Finally, I spoke to the gentleman at the counter and explained the situation.  With neither pause nor humour he asked me if I had identification. Really. I momentarily thought of explaining that if I had had the forethought to go back in the room for my identification, I would likely have taken the key instead. I just as quickly reconsidered that this would not be a fruitful dialogue. How often does this hotel experience a women, complete with bedhead, standing at the counter with a cat in her pyjamas? Anyway, they found a spare person who escorted me to my room and I showed him my ID. Veronica was pleased to see both of us safely returned from our morning adventure. 

Soon to start our next adventure and last leg on the trip, Toronto to Vancouver . . . stay tuned.

Did not take Veronica long to be her curious self.

The bolting Usain.

Tired after a long trip . . . 

Nothing like a good wash from your brother to settle things down :-)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Good Night, Jamaica

This is my last blog from Jamaica. I leave in the morning . . . 

There is no list of what I will miss most; as there are too many too list.

There is no list of what I will miss least; as there will be few.

There is no list of regrets; as there are none. 

Good night, Jamaica. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Faces of the Homeless

Four sleeps before I leave Jamaica and return to Canada. Technically I have finished at work, though going to an early morning meeting on Tuesday :-)  However, I very much wanted to finish my work here with the 7th annual Day of Care. I participated in this last year - check out blog in December 2011 - but this time was much more involved.  I did a report after the 6th annual and I think we made some progress on the organization end this year.  These events can always be better and I trust that the Council of Voluntary Social Services and the National Volunteer Centre will make the 8th even better.  

This day is always held on the Saturday that culminates the International Day of the Volunteer, December 5th.  It is held in Saint William Grant Park in middle of "Parade" in downtown Kingston - not a place we white girls would go alone in the daytime and never, even in groups, at night. However, this is where the homeless live. So we were there today.

Being homeless in any country is not good and fraught with multiple problems.  We think that being homeless in Canada is bad - and it is - but at least we have services to provide. And, of course, homeless in other countries will be worse. I can only speak from where I work. here in Jamaica. While there is assistance for the homeless in Jamaica, it is minimal and mostly provided by wonderful volunteers and many ecumenical groups. 

The Day of Care provides a one day shopping stop, all donated: clothes, snacks, lunches, hygiene bags (toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, wash cloths, sanitary supplies for women), eye exams, medical exams, diabetes testing, foot care for the diabetic, blood pressure testing, HIV testing and information, and even hair cuts and shaving!  And lots of care, understanding, and - yes - loving. 

It is a lot of organization and we had 75 volunteers running off their feet to support about 650 homeless who came through the park today.  I cannot individually thank all the volunteers here - you are too many!  Though please know that I saw each one and what you offered and I will ever hold those memories close. 

Faces to remember . . . 

Volunteer briefing as the day commences.

Homeless registration was busy from 9 am to 1 pm. We had wonderful volunteers, including three of my Cuso colleages (Brianna, Erin, and Kate) and even Kelly who was here on a week's holiday - she is here for a holiday, is a social worker in Calgary, and spends a day with the homeless in Jamaica.  How wonderful is that?!  What all the volunteers said was how polite everyone was and that almost all the homeless said thank-you for the meagre provisions we could provide. Gulp.

Waiting in line for registration, where they receive vouchers for food, clothing, and hygiene bags. I love this man clutching his "red Christmas ball".  The Christmas tree in the park was lit two nights ago and, methinks, that is now one red ball short. He was not selling it or flaunting it: only holding it closely.  I spoke to him later, still cradling the red ball, and he said all he wanted to do was to keep it for Christmas. I think that the ball is in good hands. 

Says it all.

The clothing distribution was a busy place and the volunteers were amazing!

Just because you are homeless, does not mean you cannot dance for the camera :-)

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) were there to help and support. Thank you, JCF!

This chap had his clothes and lunch and wanted to show me the "new" shoes he received.  They are my hiking boots!  They have seen me through many hashes (hikes) in Jamaica and  I thought they might be a better contribution to the Day of Care than an addition to my luggage. He was so delighted with them.  What a serendipitous moment.

This rasta was trying to explain to me that he could see distances, but could not see to read anymore.  We soon got him over the eye clinic. 

I don't know his story.  It is in his face.

The Diabetes Association provided testing.

"Children First" provided HIV information, testing, and condoms.

Mickel - my boss! - and Scrappy, who provided transportation for supplies and lunches, sponsored by the Diabetes Association of Jamaica.

Diabetes Association also provided foot care, a very critical and necessary support for people who live rough. 

A most caring and hard working volunteer (on left) escorting a homeless lady to the services she needs. And giving her hug along the way.  Sometimes the hugs were more important than anything else. 

So much history in this face . . . it would be interesting to know the story. Sad as it might be.

This frail gentleman collapsed in a chair, in the sun, and we thought he was near death.

Fortunately, we called a doctor over from the medical services and his vital signs were stable.  He was exhausted and starved, so he had some juice and then soup. The young girl on the left, a volunteer from Hand of Hope, stayed with him all afternoon until he was able to move on his own. The great sadness is that there is no shelter nor hospital to care for this man - the JCF could not even call an ambulance as it would not come for such a case.  He is 70 years old. I don't know where he went.

Haircuts and barbering!

A rag on your head, new clothes under your arm, and a pattie in your hand. Not much, but the best we could provide. 

Volunteer happily engaging with homeless in the lunch line.

A man with many serious challenges, a face full of sores now covered with cream from the medical clinic, shows off his bag of clothes and hygiene supplies. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

One Week to Canada

It is one week today that I will be leave Jamaica, returning to Canada after almost 18 months of volunteering, working, friends, experiences . . .  

Much to do and I have serious lists. Seems that as soon as I cross one thing off the list, several others appear.  Somehow it will all resolve itself and the list will self-destruct on December 12th. Usain and Veronica had their veterinary inspections this morning, all pronounced "fit for air travel".  I keep telling them to grow more fur, but difficult when it is always 30 C outside and inside. 

For those who think of me as a rather organized person, think again.  My wee Jamaican home looks like a war zone and getting worse.  Kate was here this morning to bring bags, clothes, stuff, etc. - all adding to the chaos.  Kate will take over my lease in January upon her return from Christmas holidays.  Coincidentally, she is on the same flight as me on December 12th, then transferring to Ottawa. 

It will, however, be perfect on December 12th -:)

Proof . . . 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Thanksgiving Jamaica Style

We'll pretty much use any excuse to get together for dinner.  Considering none of us are Americans and we all work for a Canadian agency, we thought we'd celebrate American Thanksgiving two days late.  I should note that Josh, Erin's partner, is in fact an American   so that probably gave our dinner some legitimacy.

Erin and Josh invited the Cuso cooperants to their place, offering to supply the roasted chickens, stuffing and mashed potatoes.  It didn't seem right to buy an imported Butterball, considering the availability of fresh, local chicken and vegetables. 

There were eight of us altogether and everyone brought a contribution to the dinner, I bringing two pumpkin pies.  Cooking pumpkins are available year round here and are much better than the ones we get in Canada - yes, I make my pies from scratch cooking and mashing the pumpkins meat the day before.  Here pumpkin is only used as a vegetable - which I often do too - but my Jamaican friends find it very curious that we make pies out of it.  

All was excellent from the perfectly roasted chickens, spicy green beans to the yummy cornbread. A nice evening of fine food and friends.

As soon as I get this blog posted I am planning on a piece of leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast.

Our host tends to the gravy

Josh and Doudou deep in conversation

Tracey, who was visiting from Cuso in Ottawa, and Onyka

The feast

Doudou supervises the clean up

Brianna had a little pie with her whip cream

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Blue Mountain Peak

It is late in the evening of November 21st and I am exhausted, though exhilarated. Since I arrived in Jamaica and particularly since I have been hashing (hiking) around and in the Blue Mountains, hiking to the peak has been on my list. I finally did it!

The peak of the Blue Mountains is 2,256 metres, though we drove to about the 1500 metre level to the trail head.  We, therefore, hiked an elevation of about 756 metres over 6 km (one way).  Doesn't sound like much, does it?  As they say in Jamaica, "trust me".  The first 20 minutes was straight up on "Jacob's Ladder" and I was wondering how I was ever going to make it all the way. The trail did change after awhile and we had sections of only slight incline through forests, interspersed with very narrow - as wide as my foot! - steep, rocky, slippery stretches. Coming down was almost as hard as going up; coming down Jacob's Ladder was definitely more difficult with my tired knees literally seizing as I inched my way down. It took up three hours going up stopping to take pictures, enjoy the scenery, rest our legs, catch our breath - this was not a race.  And over two hours on the way down - would have quicker if we could have flown over Jacob's Ladder.

While many go up to Whitfield Hall, camping out in a beautiful but very rustic (dilapidated?) setting and accessing the trail directly from there, we chose to go to Lime Tree Farm  A wiser decision could not have been made!  The co-owners are Charlie Burbury and Roger Bolton, and they have operated a coffee farm of about 8,000 plants staring from nothing about 25 years ago. They have added two homes, kitchen and dining area, and three guest cottages - all built by themselves.  Lime Tree is about 1 1/2 hours from Kingston and they provide return transportation, picking us up at our doors, and nested on its own peak of a ridge at the end of a track - one could not call it a road - into the hills past the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory. 

We had great conversations over dinner the night before, as we ate family style with Charlie, Rodger and families.   We learned that Charlie's grandfather was Sir Hugh Foot, later Lord Caradon, who was the Governor of Jamaica form 1951-57.  Hence, Charlie's connection and the reason he came to Jamaica . . .  it is a great story and you must go to Lime Tree Farm and hear Charlie tell it himself.  Charlie, Suzy, and their son, Alex, live there full time.  When he is not working on the farm or guest houses, Charlie is a commercial diver and works a lot in Kingston harbour.  Rodger also lives with his wife, Tiff, at Lime Tree but he is only there for about 6 months of the year, during coffee harvest season which coincides with tourist/hiking season.  Rodger was our guide.  The other six months of the year, he is the captain of a 40 metre yacht in the Mediterranean!

The lodging at Lime Tree includes meals, accompanied by wine/beer/rum and their own home grown and roasted coffee, Ratcutt.  The meals were some of the best I have had in Jamaica, all freshly prepared with local ingredients. We had a dinner the night before, breakfast at 4:30 am, second-breakfast picnicked at the peak, and were greeted by salad, quiche, and fresh squeezed lemonade upon our return. 

The price of this most exceptional guest house is the two hour drive to the trail head, through Hagley Gap and hamlets all perched precariously on the sides of steep hills. The inhabitants  afoot sharing the narrow track with vehicles, many of them heading to pick coffee.  Most impressive, and somewhat worrisome, were the children, many of them preschoolers, walking many kilometres to school in the dark at 5:30 am and all dressed crisply and spotlessly in their school uniforms.  I wish we could have stopped and taken pictures, but it just was not possible for reasons of darkness, no place to safely stop, and we were already trying to make the trip in two hours. We were transported in an old, but refurbished and reliable, Land Rover ably driven by Rodger.  The road was so steep, rocky, and narrow in places, up the axles in mud in others, that I am sure we would not have made it without the Land Rover. Or Rodger. These are roads (the word 'road' is too kind) that you have to experience to understand - pictures would not do justice.

Note that I am rather positive regarding the two hour each way trip to the trail head, as I greatly enjoyed the scenery and the adventure.  I must confess that I may have enjoyed it a tad more than my three hiking companions who were hanging onto ropes for stability and trying to remain seated on benches in the back of the Land Rover.  While they were being tossed  about, I was sitting in the front seat with a seat belt.  Age does have its privileges :-)

The entire trip and hike are in the many pictures following, all with their own descriptive captions. It was difficult to take many pictures on the trail as I was too busy watching where my feet were going and did not want to keep taking the camera out of my pack. 

Many groups hike up in the dark to catch the sunrise - you will see this advertised.  I am really glad that we chose to go in the early morning light instead.  Hiking in the dark on that trail would not be fun and could be dangerous. And chances of seeing the sunrise are very limited as the peak is often socked in weather.  We were incredibly lucky to have a sunny day at the peak!  The trail in mostly in forest and the temperature in the mountains is much cooler, so the hot sun is really not a threat. 

Enough talking and now to the pictures to the pictures . . . 

We arrived by 5pm, in time to take some pictures in the late evening light.  This is the view to Kingston from Lime Tree Farm.

View to the Blue Mountains from Lime Tree.  That is where we were going in the morning.

Room shared with Brianna, beautifully appointed with hot water in the shower! We slept here for a few hours, as we were up at 4 am to get ready for breakfast and a 5 am start. 

Our room was on the bottom level of this guest house.

Another guest house, with the kitchen/dining room (orange) on upper right.

The path between guest houses.

An old Land Rover, no longer in use, but home to Cat perched on soft foam in the back.

Gate to Roger and Tiff's house.

Jet, waiting for us to chase him and try to get his orange. Oranges are cheaper than balls in Jamaica. 

Suzy and Keisha in the kitchen. And this was a real gourmet kitchen, not like the fires & pots that you have seen in previous blogs. 

The dining table. Made by Charlie and Rodger out of a pine tree that come down in a storm.

Dining, sitting area: complete with library and bar. Note the tarps that are brought down in the evenings  to keep the bugs out and because it was cool.  We wore jeans and jackets to dinner - imagine that in Jamaica!

Floral arrangement from from plants on the property.

From left: Charlie, Isabel and Bruno (our hiking companions from Quebec City), Brianna, and Rodger.

Land Rover had a bit of a mechanical problem on the way up.  Brianna, Isabel and Bruno made their escape from the back for a leg stretch. Note the walking sticks, without which Brianna and I would not have made it down. 

Typical architecture along the road.

One Englishman to fix the Land Rover; two Jamaicans to watch. Roger says he can fix anything and we were very glad he could. 

Parked and getting ready to hit the trail.

Coffee drying ground.

View to Kingston less than half-way up. That is the ocean in the distance.  The fog came in on the way down, so we were very happy that we took pictures on the way up. 

View to south-east. The Yallahs River is down there somewhere making its way to the sea.

About two-thirds of our way up we made a stop at Portland Gap.

Rodger at Portland Gap

There is a ranger station at Portland Gap, but rarely a ranger. The Forest Service - this is a National Park - simply cannot afford them. 

Calla lilies at Portland Gap.

Garbage at Portland Gap. This pile is much larger and more horrific than it looks. Is seems that the garbage tins, at Portland Gap, are emptied into this tip in the bush rather than take the effort to remove it and take down the mountain.  We caught a quick glimpse from side of trail and went in to investigate.  This is so typical of Jamaica and broke our hearts to see this disgusting mess in such a beautiful place.  They could literally get 100 volunteers, each with gloves and large garbage bag, and clean this up in a day. Hopefully a group could get this organized and maybe make it a project for the next Earth Day.

Sign along the way.  Assuming we passed through the gully?

Signs were sporadic and most have not survived vandalism.  This one did. 

We made it!

Me too.

Kingston is below me in the very far distance.

We were above the clouds, with Cuba somewhere out there. 

Brianna tending to blisters - not from hiking boots, but from shoes she wore last week!

Through the forest on a gentle part of the trail.

If you can read this, it is worth it. Curious that they say that "Litter is ugly and unhealthy. Please use the bins." Then they empty the bins into the forest!

The fog rolls in. 

Felt like we were walking in the Ewok forest.


On the way back we stopped to pick up Alex, Charlie and Suzie's son, from his school in Mavis Bank.

School and yard.

While we waiting in the Land Rover, this little girl peaked up by my window.  She wanted me to take her picture and show it to her: which I did many times and she squealed with delight.  Wish I could have given her a print.

She soon brought her friend to join the fun.