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 www.theliguaneaclub.com 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 . . . . .
Terrace at Liguanea Club where we have breakfast each morning and some dinners.