Here’s a few favourite Jamaican oddballs for Cee’s challenge this week. I have an abandoned clothing theme going on:
They do look dangerous, although I’ve never seen a warning sign on any beach. But if you don’t pay attention, this happens:
The brittle spines do not come out easily. Expect to hobble around for a week until they work themselves out of your flesh! Of course there is always this revenge:
WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/danger/
Before I came to Jamaica, I was really only aware that most Jamaicans came originally as slaves from West Africa, although there were some white Jamaicans of British origin who roots can be traced back to those dark days. However, I had no idea of how many other nationalities and ethnicities had come into the mix.
After independence from the British in 1962, Jamaica had a new flag and a new motto: “Out of Many, One People.” In the little less than two years I’ve been here, I’ve come to understand a bit more of the complexities of why they picked that slogan. I won’t attempt to write much on the sensitive subject of racial history and harmony, but a short history statement might be interesting to some:
Taíno Indians, also known as the Arawaks, were the original aboriginal inhabitants of Xamayca until the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th Century. Western diseases wiped out the Arawaks, and today all that remains of them are a few genes and some rock paintings. The country remained under Spanish rule until 1655, when it came under British possession, and Jamaica remained as a British colony until its independence fifty years ago. During British rule, ships brought slaves in from Ghana until the early 1800s when political awareness in the UK started to reject the concept of slavery. As it became harder to bring enforced labour from Africa, large numbers of Indian and Chinese workers were brought instead. Later, immigrants from Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon fled the Middle East for a better life in Jamaica in the early 20th century, many of whom were Christians escaping persecution at the hands of Ottoman Muslims. I had no idea that Jamaica was such a melting pot. Interestingly, the pot literally includes a fushion of cuisines too: curried goat from India, Jamaican patties from the UK, callalloo from West Africa, and there’s plenty of Chinese restaurants in Kingston.
So, do I see it as a harmonious blend? I know that many don’t and tell me there’s plenty of racial prejudice and race-based economic disparity to go around. Although I have no doubt that is true, my personal impression has been pretty positive. My Jamaican colleagues at work come in many skin tones and include ethnic European, West African, Indian and Chinese – or a mix of all of the above – much like their American counterparts. Out of Many, One People may be a work in progress, but this is also true everywhere else in the world. We all still need to work on getting along.
I’ve been to Belgrade once before on a train. I remember rolling into the busy station and watching throngs of people spill out on to the platform. We had recently arrived in Yugoslavia and, for the first time, had crossed the great divide between Western Europe and the Communist Bloc. It wasn’t quite the black and white world of old photographs that I’d imagined, but it was distinctly different, like I had traveled back in time 30 years. Everything seemed strangely otherworldly: the uniforms, the faces, the ubiquitous portraits of Tito, the Cyrillic signage and the distinct absence of English.
We were on our way to Athens, so we stayed put as the train waited for half an hour for everyone to embark. Vendors with carts and trays cruised past the carriages and waved up at us from the platform. One guy looked at our foreign faces and yelled “Cheez Pie” in English. He was carrying giant, round pies wrapped in greaseproof paper. I pushed down the heavy sash window and bought one, and then ate it hungrily, amazed at the size and delicious, greasy foreignness of it. That cheese pie is my biggest memory of Belgrade. I was 20 years old.
Serbia, the world, and I have all changed a lot since then. Now, two months before we leave Kingston, its time to re-learn the little that I know about Belgrade and perhaps expand my knowledge beyond the communist era train station. So I asked Google: What’s the city like? What is there to do? Where to go? What its like to live there?
I learnt that Belgrade, broadly speaking, is split into two halves: the old city with more traditional architecture and narrow streets, and New Belgrade, with more utilitarian, communist-style residential communities. Twenty years after the Balkan war, the city has rebuilt but there are still pockets of destruction and ruined buildings awaiting demolition. I’m excited to learn that it seems to be a very walkable city. Firstly there are sidewalks, which I greatly miss, and there seems to be an abundance of parks compared to anywhere else that I have lived other than London. There’s also a good public transportation system, affordable taxis and perhaps river trips, which sound cool. Belgrade also seems to have lots to do. There seems to be a different themed street festival going on every other week: beer, cheese, wine…. They seem to take Christmas seriously too, with German-style Christkindlmarts popping up around the city.
The country has four seasons, cold winters (with snow), hot summers and mild spring and fall weather. When we tell people where we are going next, they say “Oh, that’s really different. Its sooo cold there….brrrr.” If this was just Jamaicans, I’d understand. But it seems to be practically everyone, including people who don’t really know where it is! We think they may be confusing “Serbia” with “Siberia”, as we don’t get the same reaction if we just say, “We’re heading to Belgrade.” I’ve been spoilt with all this tropical living and, although I remember how fantastic the spring can be after the long winter months, I also miss wrapping up and getting out in the cool and cold. Four seasons will be a pleasant change.
Produce, or green markets as they are called in Belgrade, are everywhere selling seasonal produce, which I expect to be every bit as good as Greece. That is exciting for me. I get excited about vegetables!
Everyone in the Foreign Service community that has lived or worked there tells me they loved it. Its central Europe location makes other travel easy – Belgrade is close to the Hungarian and Romanian borders, as well as the other ex-Yugoslavian countries, and about a 13hr drive to Greece if we are feeling adventurous. We are close to Spetses and London and friends. Its been a long time since we are only a few hours away.
How do I imagine Belgrade today beyond that first impression? As a mixture of Greece and Russia: one part traditional Athenian coffee culture with sidewalk cafes and boisterous, loud customers, and one part cold, grey Sovietism. We will see. Maybe I will stand corrected?
But first, once we get there in August, on my personal to-do list… the minute I get some time to explore by myself… is to go back to Belgrade station and find myself one of those cheese pies. I wonder if they are still for sale?
I know I get around more than most. One of the downsides of moving all the time is that it can wear out the spark or lust for adventure. Just figuring out how to get your bills paid can be adventure enough at times! For my real getaway–my real adventure– is to go long distance walking: Seeing the trail written before you. Following it despite whatever the weather throws at you. Wondering what is around the next corner.
Last November we went to Utah for a week. Everyone was eagerly waiting for the first snowfall, which was unusually late. It finally came just a day or two before we left and this is the first dusting in the local park. I hadn’t seen snow in nine years. It felt very odd pulling coats out the back of our Jamaican wardrobe, but we needed them when the snow finally started!
Utah was beautiful and I was very pleased with these shots because they have almost a sepia feel.
Next month we are heading back to Negril for our sixth and final visit. The small resort town has checked all the right boxes for us, more so than anywhere else on the island. Old school fans of Negril say that it has grown beyond recognition and that its former laid back, hippie style has been replaced with large, modern resorts that suck all the charm out of the place. Although I never knew it in the old days, I can see evidence of both Negrils. Hippie Negril is still there in West End with cute little cook shops, tourists shacks and bakeries selling hash brownies. It is looking a little run down now, and the cars roar past on the sidewalk-less road, making it hard to stop and look around. But there are some pretty nice cliff-top hotels too, where we’ve considered staying. The new Negril, situated on a long stretch of its famous beach, has expensive, high-end resorts with butler service, tropical cabanas, lounge chairs and destination wedding facilities. But for us the attraction has been neither.
The Negril we discovered was a resort village with 200+ small, individually-owned units on the north end of seven mile beach, just past the luxury resorts. The development is private and over twenty years old, and clearly had maintenance issues going on. We liked it immediately, even though it was a little frayed around the edges. But in the last year the management association has really worked to fix up the swimming pool, paint were its needed, and tear down the old buildings. It just a short time, it has smartened it up quite a bit.
Point Village has three, small sandy beaches that are clean and quiet. There are no vendors to bug you. The water is pretty and the swimming is easy. We like the coastline very much.
The units there are also priced reasonably. For about $125/night you can find a 1-bedroom or studio unit. They all have small kitchens were we can reheat food we have brought from Kingston and not spend a fortune eating out three times a day. As they are individually owned, they vary a great deal in quality. We’ve been a few times to the same one now, which has become a favourite with its sliding glass doors, shaded balcony, and views straight out to sea. Opposite is Booby Island, where we watch the little boats chugging back and forth with a handful of tourists on a visit. Most special of all is the spectacular sunsets every evening, right from our balcony:
A short walk away is the beginning of seven mile beach. Getting there involves walking through the nudist resort of Hedonism II, where everyone is letting it all hang out — most literally, I’m afraid! You get used to it though, and we just head through with sunglasses and a purpose, and you end up at the north end of Sandals resort and the beginning of miles of sandy walking. Unusually, Negril doesn’t allow the hotels to section off the beach to non-residents, so its possible to walk the entire length if you wish. This is an enormous bonus. Most large resorts take the best beaches and then stop public access. I’m so glad that the Negril township had the good sense to realize that open access to the long expanse of their beautiful beach is an important reason why people come.
Then its nice to walk back in time to capture the evening sunset from your balcony or watch the crabs on their evening walkabout down by the rock pool. I know many think we live a glamorous life because we access to places like this, but this is not everyday life. The more challenges present where you live, the more you need to get away once in a while. I wish it was closer, as its a four hour drive each way, but I’m so glad we found this place and could continue to visit regularly during our stay in Jamaica. This is probably the place that I will miss the most.
Mangrove swamps are probably not the first thing that comes to mind when people think about the Jamaican coastline, which is famous for its long stretches of idyllic sandy beaches and swaying palm trees. But, they are very much part of the Caribbean. In Jamaica, mangroves swamps or forests are present all over the island, with the highest concentration on the South coast, probably because it is the least developed.
Swirling with bugs, the murky waters of mangroves aren’t always the most attractive places for tourists to visit, but they are extremely important to local ecosystems in so many ways. Mangroves protect the coastline from erosion, provide habitats and nurseries for wildlife, and food sources for birds and fish. If sustainably managed, there’s plenty to go around, and they provide a livelihood for fishermen too. I personally love visiting them just to see the wildlife. (Though the thought of crocodiles lurking somewhere does freak me out a bit.)
Yet, as in many other places, Jamaican mangroves are under peril from a plethora of threats. Most commonly, they are cleared for construction projects including housing and hotels; I have personally seen dredgers in action, pulling up the mangrove roots in preparation for the expansion of a new upscale resort near Montego Bay. In poor areas the trees are harvested as a source of charcoal production. Near Kingston particularly, pollutants from factories and farming create a toxic environment that kills the resident wildlife and oil pollution kills the mangrove’s roots. As mangroves deteriorate, remaining coastlines become more vulnerable to other threats such as hurricanes. The knock-on impact of all of this is devastating to the mangrove’s delicate ecostructure and, unfortunately, their fate reminds me in so many ways of coral reefs.
Some of my favourite days here have been watching the birds and fish surprise me, and trying to capture them with my camera. Here are a few favourites:
When I think about Earth Day, my strongest memories come from our time in Nepal and the opportunity I had to connect with many Nepali schools on the subject of the environment. In Nepal something like 40% of its population is under the age of 25. In recent years, private schools have sprung up all over Kathmandu in response to this rise in the youth population and the exceedingly poor education offered in public schools. Some private schools are better than others, but some are outstanding, offering education in English and Nepali, and include environmental issues in their curriculum. After the economic growth of the last twenty years, so many developing countries are now knee deep in trash and pollution, and there is a whole generation of young people who think that trashed filled rivers and polluted air are normal. Kathmandu is no exception. Education in understanding how to preserve the environment and build a more ecologically-friendly city is an important start to raising environmentally aware adults of the future.
I visited many of schools while I was there, learning about their eco-clubs and recycling efforts, participating in environmental projects with them and teaching “upcycling” as a creative way of making use of waste. Of course, through necessity, poor countries know more about upcycling than their first world counterparts, but plastic particularly is seen as just trash that needs to be burnt.
Above: Learning how to make useful items out of plastic bottles. I showed them a technique on how make storage containers and vases and then challenged them to come up with their own ideas.
Above: An Eco Club exhibit at a school outside of Kathmandu. The kids came up with allsorts of decorative and practical ideas.
Lastly, one organization collected clean wrappers from packaged food and trained women how to weave them into recyclable products such as colourful baskets and bags, which were sold to tourists to create a livelihood project in the local community.
I often like to walk around our neighbourhood. “Up the hill and down the hill”, I call it, as reference to a way of getting my walking time done. When I first arrived, I tried to find a route to do my usual loop configuration and it failed miserably, as the traffic after work made walking unsafe on busy streets without sidewalks. Once I figured out that a simple “there and back” walk on quieter roads would be more successful, the evening walks took shape. I am constantly warned that walking anywhere in this city, at any time, is a danger, yet I continue to do so because I feel largely safe walking where I do.
I see other regular exercisers too: the friendly rasta guy, the group of chatty moms, and solo joggers who come and go. They say good evening, I smile back and–with some basic awareness and precautions– things feel pretty safe.
The streets near our home have some beautiful houses with gardeners, guards and housekeepers who take care of them. In the evening when I am usually walking uphill, its the time when the household staff and construction workers are heading downhill to the bus. Most of them are smoking a little ganja on their way down to relax and change focus, I’m sure. Its a very subtle thing. Often I don’t see anything in their hands, but the joint is there, cupped away from the breeze. Its only when they pass by that my nose follows the drift of smoke and I head up into their trails which can take minutes to disperse. On one guy’s tail is another and the next ganja cloud. Some days its like Woodstock heading up that hill! I don’t mind the smell and it does leave a chill vibe in the air. At the end of the day we all need to do a little chilling out, right?!