Sunday, 25 September 2011

My First Hash

 . . .  no not that kind!  I went on my first hash this afternoon with the Hash House Harriers. Hashing began by British Soldiers in Kuala Lumpur in 1938 (The Mother Hash) and now is in many countries, fortunately including Jamaica.  Here is the link to the  local group if you want to read some more:

Some "hares" choose a place every other Sunday afternoon - well mostly - and we meet an hour or more out of Kingston for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours of hashing, followed by libation, food and general merriment.  There wasn't much merriment today as we were all soaking wet and muddy, but cheers all around as everyone finished.  As least I don't think we lost anyone. 

We went up the Guanaboa Vale, northwest of Spanish Town to Spring Vale. This is not mountainous like the Blue Mountains, but is very rural and very hilly.  Went through many lime orchards and fields of sugar cane on the way on lovely winding roads, enjoying the scenery. The hash went up hill seemingly forever, the the thunder and lightening produced the promised rain - and when it rains, it rains! Uphill was all on narrow roads and very picturesque; for the downhill we turned onto a very narrow trail - I'm not sure one could even call it a trail - where the rain ran down and we were often in ankle deep muddy water and very slippery. I didn't fall, but others did.  One hasher, who has been with them for a long time, said this was the worst hash she had ever been on! 

After 90 minutes we were back to Spring Vale school for much welcomed beer and hot soup. Fortunately for me, after years of running in Vancouver and going to weekend races, I brought a dry shirt and shoes with me and had a comfortable drive home. I think there was some covetous glances at my dry shirt :-)

Even with all the walking I have been doing and increasing fitness level, my legs are certainly tired tonight.  Feel like I got some serious exercise. I look forward to my next outing.

Flowers outside my apartment as I await ride to hash.

We stopped in Spanish Town on the way and had a quick look at the historic town square. Established in 1523, Spanish Town was the capital of Jamaica from late 1600's (not sure of the date) to 1872.

Spanish Town

Spanish town

Spanish Town

Uphill in the early stages of hash

Humble abode along the way

It really was raining harder than this. Difficult to take pictures of the rain.

Down the muddy trail

Not sure if these shoes and socks will be clean again

George took the easy way down the trail, on his back. Glad he is alright. 
Thanks for driving, George!

I don't like this picture - makes me look very fat and I really have lost weight! Don't look wet but I am - and happy.

Hashers seeking shelter (and beer) under a tree.  Which really isn't a good idea considering there was a lot of lightening. 

Soup off the back of a van, sheltered with a banana leaf. 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Cats in Jamaica

Those who know me well - and those who only know me a little! - know that I am very fond of all animals, particularly cats and especially my two Russian Blues, Whittington and LizzyBetty. I wanted to bring them to Jamaica, but read online that Jamaica does not allow the importation of cats except from the UK and Ireland. I have left them in the most excellent care of their "foster parents", Mihai and Alexandra, who send me updates and pictures and I know they are safe, well loved, and happy.

However, I miss them terribly. I would love nothing better than to come home to two grey faces welcoming me at the door. 

Last week I visited a veterinary clinic nearby to see if there was any way that, with special permission and medical certificates, that I could bring them to Jamaica.  I guess we could call it the "faint hope clause". Serendipitously, the vet that I spoke to is the recent past-president of the Jamaican Veterinary Association (she graduated from vet school in Ontario). Not only did she say that they have been lobbying for changes to the antiquated regulations for years, but that the Ministry of Agriculture has now agreed to pass legislation and change the regulations!  Unfortunately, we are on "Jamaica time"  and with all the other pressing issues this government faces this is hardly a priority.  I asked if contacting the Ministry would help and she said it could certainly do no harm and may, indeed, assist - if not for me, but for those who follow - and she gave me the names and addresses of those to contact.

I have now written to the Director of Veterinary Services, The Honourable Minister of Agriculture, and the Permanent Secretary, respectfully requesting a Ministerial Permit or whatever as long as I comply with the agreed new regulations. In an effort to nudge Jamaican-time I confirmed that I would be flying back from Vancouver on January 2 and could bring them with at that time.  I will give it a few weeks and then call them. And then I will go meet with whoever it takes. 

I am not unrealistically hopeful, but I have to try. 

A few photos of why I miss them . . . 

Whittington with little sister, LizzyBetty

Whittington lounging as only a cat can.

LizzyBetty  loves a tummy rub

W in window of cottage

Cozy on a winter day

Still best friends at 6 and 5 years old

Summer Chilling

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Birds & Butterlies

. . . and flowers too. 

Before I came to Jamaica and was researching things to do and places to discover, I was keen to go hiking and explore the flora and fauna far from the tourist track. 

Haven't quite got there yet, but now have the proper resources: field guides for "Butterflies of Jamaica", "Birds of Jamaica", "Flowers of Jamaica", and Guide to the Blue and John Crow Mountains".

Now I just have to get out there with my binoculars and camera . . . Though I have already recorded a number of birds, butterflies and flowers.  I have three distinct bird calls that I hear most mornings at about 5 am - I need to get out there with my binoculars and identify the perpetrators (hopefully on a weekend so I can go back to bed!).

Was hoping to be out with the Hash House Harriers on Sunday, but now seems that this week's hash (they meet every other Sunday afternoon) may be cancelled.  If that is so, I will either be out to Lime Cay or San San Beach near Port Antonio. I am in need of some serious beach time, swimming in the ocean, and snorkeling (brought my gear!) . . . . 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Pool Party

On Saturday afternoon Erin and Del, who are from Ottawa and I met at my training in Ottawa in June,  invited all the CUSO-VSO volunteers to their place for an afternoon pool party.  They have a very nice pool - in the shade! - and covered game/party area. Their apartment is very nice and conveniently located on the ground floor, a few steps from the pool.  See Erin's blog:

There was a good attendance and I met some volunteers for the first time. Everyone brought something to share, drinks and snacks.  A good time was had by all.  

Interestingly, though I walk everywhere and am getting quite used to it, I don't usually walk at 1 pm.  Even though they are only 20 minutes from my place, that 20 minute walk in the blazing sun was about as much as I wanted.  Something about "mad dogs and Englishmen out in the noon day sun . . . ."

Thank you to Erin and Del!

Del is a teacher and has a hobby of being a DJ. He brought his equipment with him and treated us to an afternoon of music.  That is Onyka, Helen and Carol is serious conversation in the background. 

More serious conversation!

Many of us have cooled off in the pool. Very nice patio area.

Daughter of one of the volunteers (have left names off for security reasons) leaping into the deep end. She and I had lots of fun and I have promised to visit her weekly for a swim at her place, which is a 10 minute walk from home. 

Meetings Jamaica Style

I have had quite a few meetings and a busy second week. All meetings here - or at least the ones that I attend - start with a prayer. And many of them go the full measure. At one last week we had a devotion and reading of Psalm 13, a prayer, and then a rousing gospel version of "I Am Blessed" - everyone standing, singing, clapping and praising.  I did a lot of humming and smiling, but admit that I rather enjoyed the experience and was very impressed at how everyone knew the words (except me). 

Another thing about meetings: don't pay to much attention to start times.  The small committee meetings of about six people tend to start reasonably on time, usually within 15 minutes or so (just like Canada).  The larger groups are another matter.  We had a workshop last week, where the agenda had been earlier distributed, that had a 8:30-9:00 registration and 9 am start.  The first person arrived at 9:50; by 10:30 the remaining 40 where there and everything commenced (see above re praying and singing).  I, of course, was there at 7:40 am as I have found the morning buses to be a little unpredictable and did want to embarrass myself by being late :-)

The good thing about meetings is that everyone is genuinely happy to be there and I enjoyed speaking with everyone.  I am learning!

Mrs. Mary Clark, first Children's Advocate in Jamaica -passionate on the rights of the child!
Very interesting and engaging presentation.

Children, wards of the state, from various care homes get together to listen to Mrs. Clark to be informed of their rights and responsibilities and to, hopefully, form an children's council.  These are amazing kids! The come from backgrounds that you cannot even imagine and yet they are so eager to learn and respond so well when you listen and give them respect. I learned more than they did. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Port Royal

On Saturday I went with friends Erin and Del to Port Royal - we all wanted to get out of the city after three weeks.  We figured out the buses - and now know how to get there on an even better route! - and spent a few hours in the sea air.

Port Royal is the original pirate enclave and capital until most of it was washed into the sea in an earthquake in the late 1600's.  Then it became a British garrison in the mid-1800's, the remnants of which are still there. Port Royal is now a small fishing village and we headed to Gloria's, a local gem and destination, for fresh fish and beer. 

We hope to go back to Port Royal and catch a boat to Lime Cay, for a day of sun, swimming, and snorkeling.  

 We changed buses downtown at the Parade, stopping at the markets on the way back to buy a few things - clothes pegs! - and fresh fruits.  The prices are about 1/3 of uptown and will definitely go back to explore on another Saturday.  I need a few sundresses and this will be the place to buy them.
 Graveyard at the old Anglican church at Port Royal. Historic and very lovely gardens.
 Erin posing with the cannon at Fort Charles at Port Royal.  Notice how they have moved the cannons to point inwards at us, not outwards at the pirates!

 Proof that I really in Jamaica.
 Erin and Del at the entrance to the museum of Fort Charles.
 Fishing boats at Port Royal
There are about as many old fishing boats discarded on the shore as there are working in the water.
Glorias is a few tents with plastic tables and chairs and you have to swat the flies who seem to know when your food arrives. The fish was fresh and delicious, served with steamed rice and bammy (which is like fried cornbread). I had curried lobster, Erin had garlic lobster, and Del had steamed fish - the WHOLE fish! There was a steady stream of cars arriving, with locals coming for well-known lunches at Glorias - think we were the only ones who took local transport. 

First Week of Work

I have finished my first week of work at the National Volunteer Centre (NVC).  Like any first week of work, there is a huge learning curve ranging from adding faces to names to trying to figure out how to use a PC.  I am so used to the ease of my Mac that I had forgotten how frustrating a PC can be - why can't I just drag things and what is with the right click and the left click?!

Delighted to say that everyone is very friendly and I really feel welcomed and supported.  Ms. Jackson, Mrs. Cobourne, Miss Lotoya, and Miss Norma are my daily contacts, though there are many more people coming and going from the Centre for Voluntary Social Services (CVSS) and its 110 member agencies.  It will take a few more weeks to figure out my work plan and I will do this with Ms. Jackson and we will then meet with CUSO-VSO in about four weeks time with our draft and hopefully finalize it.  This is the plan against my performance will be assessed and the success (hopefully!) of a CUSO-VSO placement at the NVC. Keep tuned.

I also have my transportation routes figured out, though I might try a few others to see which ones work best.  In the mornings, I walk about 10 minutes to the Half Way Tree (HWT) transportation centre to catch a bus to Crossroads - I leave at 7:30 am and there are lots of buses going to at that time and I usually catch one right away and get a seat; 15 minute ride; then another 12-15 minute walk from Crossroads to the NVC. Even though it is 7:30 in the morning, I am a sweaty mess my the time I get there.  So I have left two pairs of shoes, two jackets, towel and toiletries at the office and carry my work clothes in my backpack, wearing runners, T and shorts to commute. At least 3 days a week, I walk all the way home - about 45-50 minutes.  The evening return commute is much busier and the bus actually takes longer than walking. However, I will take the bus several days or when severe rain (see following pictures), as my arthritic knees need a bit of a rest so that I can do lots of walking on the weekends!

 Many afternoons at this time of year, you will see the sky darken and there will be thunder and lightening.  The rains sometimes come and sometimes stay in the mountains or in isolated areas.  And yes, that is a guard tower and they have large guns - the NVC is across the street from a prison and a military complex.
When it does rain, it really rains! View from door of NVC, though the picture does not really capture how much rain was falling.
Waiting for the bus in the rain storm.  The water becomes ankle deep and is unavoidable as it crosses most streets and sidewalks.  I will be taking my red wellingtons to work on Monday and leaving them in readiness for wet walks home. At least the water is warm!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

No Hurricanes - Yet

Travel books, internet, etc. cite the rainy/hurricane season as June to November.  Actually, it is from about now until November. I am not really worried about hurricanes - might actually enjoy the experience and would be a great opportunity for photos.  Remember, I am the one who loves the winter storms at Keats. Hurricanes usually run up the eastern Caribbean and we are on the western front. 

Spoke to co-workers and they said Jamaica has not had a hurricane for several years and not a serious one for quite a few. Maybe this means we are due!

The Gleaner, daily paper that most read, today had a supplement on hurricane preparedness.  Not one to panic, but can confess that I now have a list and will be shopping on the weekend for my "hurricane survival kit":  food that can be stored and eaten cold (may be eating a lot of beans, canned peas, peanut butter, crackers, and applesauce) and a couple of 4 litre containers of water. I already have candles/matches and spare batteries for my flashlight. 

Most days this week we have had late afternoon thunderstorms and sudden rains, though the rains are isolated and over almost before they start.  However, in those moments they do deliver a prodigious amount of water which creates floods on roads and everywhere - when you are walking home from work, they are unavoidable.  I have two folding umbrellas and one is always with me. And very wet and dirty runners. 

No pics re rainstorms yet, but will get some and post soon.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

My New Jamaica Home

I have finally moved into #2 Waterloo Square, 6 Waterloo Avenue, Kingston 10!  #2 is 450 sq ft and the patio is another 60 sq ft - patio is very spacious by local standards and I intend to spend many hours there. My place is north facing and never gets direct sunlight.  With the shutters open - there are few windows here, only shutters - I get a lovely cross breeze.  My place is wonderfully cool and think it will be a rare occasion that I turn on the AC.  Electricity is expensive and I want to keep within my rental allowance. 

Speaking of electricity, my place has 10 potential light sockets and had only four bulbs in place. I have made a significant investment at True Value Hardware and now have low energy/warm light bulbs in all sockets.  The place looks much sunnier and I can actually see what is in the closet.  Will still be very careful and keep lights off most times. I turned the HW on for an hour on Friday to wash some dishes and have not had it on since.  As the ambient temperature is naturally warm, the water is warm and I can have a reasonable shower without the HW.  When the temperatures dip in the winter months :) I will experiment with the HW. 

Friday was a long day, particularly as I had painter and cleaner here until 9 pm.  My place is an older apartment, though am very fortunate to have a wonderful landlord who has had the whole place, including the patio, repainted and every shelf, nook and cranny, curtain, etc. spotlessly cleaned. Also fortunate to have new towels, sheets and shower curtains provided and the wee kitchen is well stocked with most things that I will need.  Kitchen counter is a bit old, but new ones being installed next week.  

Spent Saturday and Sunday getting settled and making many trips afoot for groceries and household supplies. I had forgotten how expensive and time consuming it can be to be buying cleaners, spices, etc. when starting from zero. I have indulged in what might be the only 'shopping cart' in Kingston.  Found it in a dusty corner of the grocery story and it has saved my back and life - though I get many odd looks and laughter as I pack my own groceries, decline bags and trundle off for a 15 minute walk home trailing my cart.  No one here walks anywhere and definitely not at a significant pace hauling a cart :-) 

Enough talking and now for a few pictures . . . very happy to have a place of my own.  Now off to work in the morning . . . .

Waterloo Avenue - nice little street

Waterloo Square

Entrance to Waterloo Square with 24/7 security guard and gate

View of courtyard from my kitchen window and front door

Michael, who looks just like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean,  painting the living area. A very nice young man who is at trade school to become a welder - and who enjoyed listening to the CBC radio online with me!  We also watched Bolt win the 200 metres. Michael was here all day Friday & Saturday.
He is the nephew of the cleaner, Claudette, who is the cousin of the landlord. Everyone here is related.
AND, they all have a at least one relative in Canada, mostly in southern Ontario. 

Living area - cable and internet all working well.  Patio beyond the "grill".

Small bathroom, very clean and all I need. It is off the bedroom, separated by spacious clothes closet and storage cupboard.

Bedroom.  I am enjoying my 'baroque period'.

Kitchen. Note the curtains flying in the afternoon breeze. 

View from my patio

Patio.  Note the very comfy blue Cape Cod chair :-)