Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Banking in Jamaica

I have a bank account! I haven't been this excited about having a bank account since I was seven years old.  It is quite a process and I am told that I have been very fortunate to accomplish this in only two trips to the bank, each of about 90 minutes. There are rules and there are forms and then there are the rules that they changed and didn't tell you about.  

Of course, money laundering is a problem in Jamaica so they need to have tight controls on who can open an account.  Mind you, the amount of $$ that I will be depositing could hardly be called money-laundering.  It is more likely to be referred to as the dole.  Anyway, it is their country and I must abide by their regulations. I must say that the people I dealt with at CIBC First Caribbean were very pleasant and professional, and perhaps this is as frustrating for them as it was for me.

I had my passport and other picture ID (you need two with your picture and fortunately I have a driver's licence); proof of residence, which is the signed lease to my apartment; proof of "source of income", which is a letter from CUSO-VSO; and letter of recommendation from my bank manager in Vancouver.  However, when I arrived at the bank with all of this they then told me that I would also require two more personal references vouching for my good citizenship and all-round reliability AND that these would have to be from doctor/lawyer/notary/minister (sorry, school superintendents don't quality) AND they have to be originals mailed (yes, the old way) directly to the bank manager.

After negotiations and discussions with staff and said bank manager (and I was joined by another volunteer who was also in banking purgatory), the manager agreed that only one more personal reference would be required and a fax would be acceptable in the short term as long as the original was on its way. If mail arrives in Jamaica-time, it could be here by Christmas. I emailed my lawyer friend and she was very quick to write an embarrassingly nice letter, mail and fax right away.  Of course, the fax would not go through.  I called the bank and they said "yes, the fax often doesn't work".  I arrived with my emailed, scanned copy this morning and miraculously it was accepted. I expressed my profuse thanks to all. 

This is a long story, but think of how long it was for me :-)  I have an account and a bank card to make withdrawals because you can never get to the bank as it is only open 8:30-2 M-Th and 8:30-4 on Fridays. I understand that CUSO-VSO will direct deposit my monthly living allowance . . .  but I expect a catch here somewhere . . . 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Trenchtown and Getting Settled

On Thursday we went to Trenchtown, visiting the Culture Yard and walking to Boys Town and around the area.  Very interesting and informative - was good to see the area and talk with those who live and work there. Enormous problems and challenges and a place that I wouldn't be walking by myself; though also a place of hope and where families raise their children with the hopes of the future. 

Friday afternoon we went on to the Liberty Hall in downtown and learned of the work of Marcus Garvey, Jamaican National Hero.  Also had a quick tour, via van and Mr. Mason, of downtown and the markets.  It was very busy as everyone was setting up for the Friday night and Saturday markets. We finished the tour at Devon House on Waterloo Road, which is a few steps from my soon-to-be abode. 

Friday evening, we newbies were hosted by current volunteers at Kim and Helen's place in Abbey Court.  Very nice and great to get to know my new colleagues.  I am very fortunate to have George and Carol working almost across the street from me and can either travel with them and/or get together some lunch times. They work at the Dispute Resolution Foundation (DRF).  George is from Ontario and Carol is from Victoria - and they are both on the "elder" end of the scale just like me!

All is very well here and finished my week of in-country orientation. Now am off until I start work on September 5, staying at Liguanea Club until end of the week and move to my new place on September 2.  Met with my landlord this morning, Miss Sterling, who is very nice and owns a number of apartments around New Kingston and has often leased to CUSO-VSO volunteers.  She says we make great tenants because we are long term leases and we take exceptional care of the places - so she gives us a good deal. Anyway, my bedroom and bathroom  will be a pale, sunshine yellow and the kitchen/living room will be a very pale blue.  It is all kind of a peachy colour now and a bit dull, so this will lighten and brighten things up. 

Fortunately, the internet and cable is already set up in my landlord's name and I just take over the payments, so I will have access right from the day I move in.  This may not sound like a big deal to you in Canada, but it sure is here and I am so thankful!  Everything here requires a long line and then you receive the service on Jamaica time -  I could otherwise quite easily be waiting weeks or months for internet or cable. For instance, I went to buy my transit "seniors smart card" this morning, only to discover that they have been out of stock for 4 months though are thinking they might have some by the end of September.  I still only pay $20 J each trip, but will have to show my ID each time to prove age.  They don't seem to believe that I am over 60 :-)
I walked to Half Way Tree (HWT) - the transportation centre and shopping hub for uptown area - and checked out where everything is and explored the prices: Brooklyns - supermarket; True Value Hardware - which is huge and like Home Depot; Woolworths - where you can get anything at a good price; pharmacy, bank, etc.  The bank is open Mon-Thurs 8:30 am - 2 pm, until 4 pm on Fridays, closed on Saturdays.  Other than taking time off from work, I have not idea how one is supposed to go the the bank! Fortunately, I will be able to go this week and set up my account - I had to wait until I had a signed lease to prove residency.  I also have my reference letters from HSBC.  Then walked back - about 2.5 km each way.

 The Culture Yard in Trenchtown, where Bob Marley lived, learned to play the guitar and began his music.
Bob Marley's first car. Really.
 Grandma in the gift shop.
 Old Rasta
 Recording in the Culture Yard "studio"
 Streets of Trenchtown
 Two little lads, one strutting his stuff!

Our new friend, Michael, who joined us as we walked through Trenchtown.  He was particularly attached to Julia (Erin on the left). 

Liguanea Club is very nice, but really looking forward to getting settled in my own place. Will send pics when I am.

Wendy In Jamaica

This is my first blog posting, so I have basically copied the group email that I sent to many a few days ago.  This way the message will be the beginning of my Jamaica sojourn.  

If this is  too much information, you will be forgiven for scanning or going directly to the trash . . .  They won't all be this long.  Hey, I just got here and have much to share!  

I will try and post something at least once a week, though I cannot promise when I am busy.  I will send notices on Facebook if I add something really important.  Otherwise, this is yours to peruse when you want to see what I am up to in Jamaica

Left Vancouver at midnight on Sunday and slept for over 3 hours on plane - thanks to Jill and Gary and the wonderful sushi and sake they treated me to at YVR; 3 hour change in TO; then slept another 2 hours on flight to Kingston, arriving in Jamaica about 1:30 pm local time.   Met three other volunteers - Erin (and Del), Julia and Kim -  at airport in TO and we are all newbies.  We were met at the airport by Mr. Mason who has a van and is the driver for CUSO-VSO.  Not only does he fetch and deliver to the airport, he drives up to the orientation sessions and also takes us wherever re finding accommodation.  After that, we are on our own!

Mr. Mason, on the way to hotel, stopped at Digicel (now affectionately referred to as DigiHell) where we all emerged about two hours later. I now have new cell phone.  Cost $30 CDN for little Nokia and I am on pay as you go plan.  They have a sale on international minutes so bought 1000 international minutes - that is a lot of minutes! - for equivalent of $10 CDN.  Bought 100 local minutes for $10.  International texts cost 6 cents CDN (yes, that is cents!) each, and local texts are 3 cents each.  Incoming text are free for me to receive, but you should check your own cell providers to confirm the cost for you sending a text to Jamaica. My cell is:  (876) 459-0069  From Canada and the USA, just dial 1 and the number.

Will also use Skype, but nice to know I can also phone regularly.

Staying at the Liguanea Club which is  a hold over from the British Empire days, very lovely with the appropriate amount of tat, and is now used as a sports club complete with cricket. Room comfy and clean with AC and a nice pool.  It comes with breakfast, which is a delightful plate of fresh local fruit, toast, juice and coffee.  We usually have dinner on the patio also, as we are tired at the end of the day and the food is good at excellent prices. 

Mr. Mason picked us up on Tuesday morning to take us to the first day of in-country orientation, none of us knowing what to expect.  The only thing we expected was that we were going to the CUSO-VSO offices for the four day orientation. Much to my surprise, particularly, was that the orientation is held at the National Volunteer Centre - which is where I will be working!  So I have already met the Programme Director, to whom I report and work with, Miss Jackson; and Miss Anne-Marie and Miss Lotoya.  Thank heavens I was dressed appropriately because first impressions count.  The vestiges of the British Empire exist in workplace nomenclature and dress: until told otherwise, everyone is Miss/Mrs//Mr and you "dress" for work. I am Miss Wendy. 

The orientation has so far been excellent and long days, and the schedule for the rest of the week looks equally good.  Here is what we are doing:
Tuesday:  Polices and Practices; Development in Jamaica; Life in Jamaica; briefing on health system
Wednesday:  Expectations and partnerships; briefing on transportation; corruption in Jamaica; and then the afternoon on safety and security at a gym where we learned - and practiced! - basic defensive moves should we be attacked!
Thursday: visits to three partner organizations; trip and tour of Trenchtown (scene of the murderous violence of a few years ago and still a very dodgy place).
Friday: Culture and Adaptation; Political and Social Context; Language and Communication

The people from CUSO-VSO are very professional, knowledgeable, supportive and with wonderful senses of humour.  Hats off to Tarik, Kerrie, Warren, and Shaun.

The weekend and all of next week is on our own.  We have an opportunity to explore Kingston, get settled, open bank accounts, and - yes - linger by the pool as it may be our last chance for a while. However, The Pegasus Hotel - which is very nice and upscale - allows free access to its pool for all CUSO-VSO volunteers.  My understanding is that the Pegasus becomes the meet-and-greet for volunteers and expats.  Fortunately for me, it is right on my route from my office at the National Volunteer Centre (NVC) to my apartment.  So hoping to stop by at least a couple of times a week on the way home. 

I will have a place to live! Speaking of apartments, yesterday evening Erin and Del (who I met on the training in Ottawa) and I  went, under the care and driving of Mr. Mason, to look at about six different apartments.  Erin and Del are still looking, they want a larger place, but have a better idea of what the prices/places/etc are now.  I found two that were suitable, but one was a little farther from work.  Good, secure places go here very quickly so we are advised to accept if we find the right place.  Then CUSO-VSO deals with the lease and pays directly.  Currently, the monthly accommodation allowance is $49,000 JMD.  They were asking $52,000 plus utilities (which can range from $3,000 to $8,000 per month depending upon usage, particularly air conditioning), but I negotiated $49,000 which includes $5,000 worth of monthly utilities.  I will be very cautious with the AC and turn off the HW when not in use.  

Will send pics after I move in on September 2.  It is very small, but well furnished with all I need:  including a new TV (won't get cable yet and wait until I think I might need it); separate bedroom with air-conditioning; bathroom with tub and shower off the bedroom; sofa for welcomed guests in the living room; well stocked kitchen with all dishes, pans, etc.; microwave; towels; bedding; shared laundry (spotlessly clean) a few steps away; lovely patio looking out onto the garden and grass. The whole place is very clean and well cared for.  Also very secure: there is a 24/7 security guard with gate at the drive, another security gate to enter the courtyard/complex, bars/grates (though they are very artistic) on all doors and windows, including a very large padlock on the gate to the patio.  I will be safe and am really not worried at all. 

Apartment is a great location - other than security, this was my other priority.  I am a 5 minute walk from Half Way Tree (HWT), which is a transportation centre and shopping area.  There are three or four "plazas", which is the reference to shopping areas, connected in HWT so I can walk to buy groceries, anything, etc. I will also catch the bus for work at HWT, taking it to Cross Roads and then a 10 minute walk on the other end to the National Volunteer Centre (NVC).  Oh yes, the bus for most people is 88 cents CDN, but for women over 60 it is 22 cents CDN each way!  (Men have to wait until they are 65.)  So next week I am off to HWT to get my seniors transit card!  

Next week I will test the transportation re bus and will also test several walking routes directly to the office and time them.  If I could walk home from work on most - or many - days, then this will be my fitness programme.  I could take the bus in the morning, as not wanting to arrive too sweaty - it is about 3.5 to 4 km each way from apartment to the NVCC - and change into T and shorts to walk home the end of the day, stopping at the Pegasus some days.  Rainy season my interrupt this plan, but at least it is a plan. Hoping this will work.  I have brought my bike helmet, though everyone here is very negative about biking - very unsafe due to lousy roads and worse drivers.  Will not rush to this, but still on my list to explore. 

My new address is:  
#2 Waterloo Square
6 Waterloo Avenue, 
Kingston 10, Jamaica
For those of you who have been watching the weather network and hearing about hurricanes, please know that it has been sunny with a few high scattered clouds every day with only a breathe of wind in the afternoons and evenings. Will let you  know when the rains and wind arrive. Hopefully not on moving day, September 2!

As you can see from above, I seem to have arrived.  Also, I am going to try very hard to live within my Jamaica budget. Of course, trips home and to DC and other places will be extra, as will Christmas and celebrations.  I think I can do it and am enjoying the challenge. 

The biggest challenge will be my work.  Although I am a volunteer, I also know that I have a big responsibility and that both the NVC and CUSO-VSO will be watching my progress and, hopefully, successes. It will take a while to fully understand the needs of the NVC, though hoping I can bring all of my experience to the conduct of an organizational review and build organizational capacity and sustainability before I head back to northern climes . . .  or . . . . .
 First view of wonderful Jamaican blue waters.
 Kim, Del, Erin and Julia at Kingston airport. That is a lot of red luggage!
 National Volunteer Centre (NVC), my place of work.
 Liguanea Club
 Pool at Liguanea Club
Terrace at Liguanea Club where we have breakfast each morning and some dinners.