L is for Lighting Up


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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?!

 

 

K is for Kingston


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Yes, K has to be for Kingston.

I have no clear memory of what I expected of the city before I moved here.  Arriving in a new place, knowing its going to be home from now on, I look around with fresh eyes and wonder when I will ever start thinking of all the sights as normal? The people, the streets, the noise, the traffic….figuring out where you are.  Processing it all takes a while and there is no defining moment when the new becomes normal, it just sort of sneaks up on you.

As our time here comes to an end, and by way of reflection, I asked myself some questions.  Mainly I was looking for something new to say that I haven’t already covered earlier.

What were my first impressions?  This one’s easy.  I did a post on it earlier.  I remember thinking how calm and clean Kingston was after Kathmandu. I also didn’t expect it to be so green. Looking down on the city from high up, buildings are nestled between trees and it all looks quite charming.  The northern suburbs especially, where the birds and flowers make the city look pretty attractive. I enjoy looking out to the mountains also, which are mostly visible with dramatic clouds. Compared to the chaos of Manila and Kathmandu, the roads seem relatively orderly, there are traffic lights and drains that work.

What did I like most about living here?  From my first few months to my last few, my favourite things haven’t really changed.  I love the greenery and the mountains, walking around Mona, and sitting in my screen porch writing and listening to the wind blow through the palm leaves.  I can add that I have made friends with Jamaican colleagues, who have been some of the kindest people with a great sense of humour.  Jamaicans know how to laugh!  I’ve also read and learnt about the Caribbean and its history, and –wow– does it have some history, although there is little left to see these days.

What did I dislike most about living here? I have felt trapped and dependent on others my whole stay.  The dangers of crime, vulnerability of being a foreigner, health issues, lack of realistic transportation options and not being able to go out at night have made exploring the city close to impossible for me.  And there just isn’t that much to do for the unconnected in Kingston.  Colleagues with small children have loved it here, as its a great outdoor city and there are nice beaches less than an hour away.  But I’m so ready for a safer city with a public transportation system and urban events that will make it easier to meet people.  I’m looking at you Belgrade!

What do you think you’ll take away from your time here? In each new place we have lived, each comes with its own challenges and benefits.  And I’ve always believed its up to me to figure how to make the best of it.  We chose this life to experience the change and learn from each new place and, perhaps, leave it a little better (however small) than when we arrived.  This time,  its got me.  I don’t truly know what my takeaway from Kingston will be.  Right now it just feels like its an acceptance of “you can’t win them all.”   Hopefully time will teach me there’s something more.

So, I’ll just end with a few random photos of Kingston not covered elsewhere:

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Curlers!  Many Jamaican ladies have no problem going out while they are still fixin’ their hair.  Always makes me smile!

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Street scene near Papine.

 

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A post-apocalptic scene from the downtown.

 

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View from the Northern suburbs of Kingston way out to the Port.

 

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And finally…From the dock of a cruise ship out to the “giraffes” of the dock that I see from pretty much anywhere in Kingston.   Kingston port is still an important harbour in the Carribean and the heart and soul of this island’s economy.

WPC: Nature’s Good Match


Its been a while since I did a WordPress Photo Challenge and I’ve missed them!  Here’s a few of my favourite nature camouflage pictures:

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If you are feeling crabby, hiding might be the best bet…

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So…did you spot him?

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Well camouflaged moth with his more visible buddy. (I actually spotted the big one because of the little one.) Be careful who you hang out with!

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/a-good-match/

E is for Elections


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One of only a handful of election posters during the February 2016 election.

It was interesting to me when we first arrived in Jamaica in 2015 that there would soon be a general election. We arrived to a similar situation in Nepal in 2013, but the circumstances were a lot different. In Nepal, free elections were almost a brand new concept and the country was still struggling to stop tire-burning demonstrations,molotov cocktails being lobbed on street corners and spontaneous rioting.  Efforts were underway to prevent illegal voting and the city was transformed into a ghost town on election day, with all moving vehicles (except for official vehicles) banned from the street.  Voters had to walk to polling stations in an effort to prevent bussing.

Here in Jamaica they have their own  history of election violence, but in recent years it has been much less prelevant. Part of the tactics used to prevent election unrest includes control on the display of party materials, which was explained to me when I asked why there were so few political posters around.  Instead of the usual visual blast spread all over a city during elections, Kingston only displayed a modest few.  Close to the election date, we did see bus loads of orange-clad (PNP) and green-clad (JLP) supporters  – the two main parties — as they headed off to rallys, and we watched their orange and green litter blowing down Hope Road on the days leading up to the vote.  On 26th February 2016, Andrew Holness of the JLP was elected Prime Minister with very little civil unrest, and the Jamaican world moved on.

These experiences bring me to the US election, with primaries starting just as the Jamaican election finished.  I feel that my whole time here has been one long — one very long — election season.  Most Jamaicans that I know have access to cable TV with CNN and BBC coverage of what has been going on in US politics and are remarkably informed on the issues as well as the latest scandalous outburst.  In fact, its kind of shocking how closely they follow — its clear that they are not listening to only one media source — and know the ins and outs of each new shenanigan.   There’s an overwhelming disbelief that US politics could be going so badly and that rules, precedents and established norms are being so openly flouted.  I wonder how they feel about what they see in contrast with Jamaican corruption and I can only feel deeply embarrassed from where I stand, which appears to be somewhere in the first twenty minutes of a disaster movie.

I only feel more disheartened for my dear Filipino friends and what it must be like to live in a country that now openly murders people in the street, just a few short years since I lived there.  Democracy is never to be taken for granted.

 

D is for Devotion


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Before I came to Jamaica, I read there were a lot of churches on this small island and, boy, they weren’t wrong; the Guinness Book of Records states that Jamaica has more churches per square mile than anywhere in the world other than the Vatican. They range from tiny little churches in small communities like the one above, to  pretty Victorian stone chapels that might have been transplanted from England, to large, modern open-air domes full of swaying arms and bodies.  On a Sunday, its a common sight to see older ladies in their Sabbath best: conservative mid-calf dresses, sensible shoes, fancy hats and handbags on their forearms.  Running ahead are their adorable grandchildren, all dressed up in lacey fineness with matching shoes and ribbons.  I want to take their pictures but its not appropriate.  It can feel like I just stepped back into 1950.  The children are adorable but something in me feels uncomfortable….I think it is the religious messaging I see.

Unlike most other Caribbean nations, the vast majority of Jamaican Christians are Protestant, with a relatively high percentage being from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, nearly a fifth of the entire country—18.5 percent—is evangelical and another 11 percent is Pentecostal and growing rapidly.

I am not a religious person, although I do respect the religious beliefs of others.  But these statistics explain a lot of about the “fire and brimstone” religious messages that are so common here.

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I don’t particularly like the warnings of a vengeful God that I see relayed everywhere.  I don’t like the hateful LGBT messages published in the newspapers.  The church and its warning to sinners show up everywhere in daily life.

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Books stores I’ve visited seem to sell mainly religious books.  There are religious pamphlets on every store counter.  Its all a bit much for my secular eye and I like to believe that if there is a God, it is a loving one.   I know there are religious groups here that do so much to help those in need, but I don’t see them, they are in areas deemed too unsafe for me to visit.   So what is visible to me is religious fury and I don’t like it.
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Not an actual sign from Jamaica — but exactly the type of thing I am seeing.

B is for Breadfruit


I’ve always associated this strange knobbly fruit with Captain Bly and the Bounty but I had never actually handled one, eaten it or seen one growing on a tree, but I knew it was popular here and I looked forward to trying it.
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In Jamaica they are probably second only to rice as the important carbohydrate content of a meal, although from a little reading I learnt that West African slaves in Jamaica didn’t take to them at first. But the trees grow well here, producing an abundant amount of fruit year round and they eventually became an important part of the local cuisine.

Breadfruit dishes can be roasted, mashed or fried,  but they all start out being cooked on a flame until they are blackened all over.  I really wondered what these guys were doing with their drum barbecues and piles of blackened footballs along the side of the road.

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Whatever were those blackened balls? Now I know…

I have to admit I was really disappointed the first time I tried roasted breadfruit. I didn’t think about “roasted” meaning anything other than crispy, and was disappointed to get a pallid slab of white vegetable that looked (and tasted) a lot like a sponge. I suppose a lot of carbohydrates eaten worldwide — rice, bread, tapicoa — are pretty bland. Its how we use them to eat other parts of our meal. Its how they sop up the gravy, how the remind us of a homemade dinner or give us that feeling of comfort food and a full belly that really make them a favourite. Of course, my experience lacked that connection. I didn’t eat more than a couple of bites.

I tried them again fried and like them much better. (I’m afraid that its true that most things taste better fried.) The same pre-roasted slices of breadfruit had been dropped into hot oil and browned, giving me something which was much more like the “roasted” I had expected the first time. An improvement, but not enough to make me seek it out on a menu again.

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Fried breadfruit…better than the roasted!

In modern kitchens like ours with no gas, the barbecue is the only way to cook them and the production involved means that I haven’t had the drive to experiment with the fruit. A little tour of the internet shows me other have been quite creative with breadfruit used in a wide variety of recipes other than just the ubiquitous, basic roasting and frying.

For me, however, all-in-all not a great new culinary experience, but I do enjoy seeing them around and they grow on some very pretty trees.

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A is for Ackee


One of the first things I noticed on the fruit stalls around Kingston was this odd-shaped fruit:

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They are easy to spot from a distance with those distinctive black seeds busting out of what looks like an overripe casing.  What on earth were they?  I learnt quite quickly that they are the treasured Jamaican ackee fruit, which is used to make the national breakfast dish, Ackee and Saltfish.  More on that later.

Then I started to notice Ackee trees around town.  The unripe bell shaped fruits hang from trees everywhere.  They aren’t ready to be picked until they split open and the black seeds are on display, as they are poisonous before they’re ripe.  I understand that you can’t buy them fresh (or canned even) in the US as the FDA have classifed ackee as poisionous and even the canning process doesn’t destroy the toxins if the ackee being processed were picked underripe.  However, this is not a concern here as locals know very well how to pick and process them.

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The trees aren’t native to Jamaica but come originally from West Africa, probably along with the slaves that were also imported from there.  Fruit grows abundantly and can produce a harvest all year long.  I’ve read that the wood is termite resistant, so perhaps that’s another reason that so many people have them in their yards.

Preparation of the national dish, Ackee and Saltfish, starts by removing the fleshy arils from the open husks (taking care to also remove the toxic red membrane) and boiling them until they’re soft.

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Shucked  arils ready for the pot

The arils look a little scrambled eggs when they are cooked and have a similar mild flavour and texture.  They are mixed with flaked salt cod, onions, tomatoes and green peppers to make the famous dish.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and its pretty good!

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Ackee and Saltfish – ready for your Jamaican breakfast

One Year On


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Earlier this week, April 25 to be exact, marked the passing of one year since the Nepali earthquake.  The anniversary was covered a little in the media if you watched carefully, and referenced in the coverage of the more recent earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador. But, it has largely been forgotten by most. Facebook reports from friends in Nepal focus on how little has been achieved since the first wave of humanitarian help, and after donations from all over the world poured in to rebuild homes and infrastructure, the news I hear is not good.  Reconstruction projects are tied up in red tape.  Little has been achieved. Villagers who lost their homes and possessions still live precariously in tent villages waiting for help.  For many the aftermath of the disaster in frozen in time.

One year on for me, its a very different story.  I can hardly believe its been only a year…a particularly challenging one too..with so many changes. New country, new job, new home…in a completely different corner of the planet.  Yet a big part of my heart remains in Nepal.

Among the many reminders of our time there is a tapestry project that I worked on during the crisis.   I’ve made a tapestry cushion in several of the countries that we have lived, picking a subject that appealed to me, as well being symbolic of my time in that country.  After a long online search, I picked a beautiful peacock in shades of blue and purple.  Its a memory of my time in Chitwan where we watched wild peacocks running around on the jungle floor.  The plan was to slowly work on it, especially during all the travel required before we reached Jamaica.  I started work on the tail, a little every night.

We spent the first two nights after the earthquake sleeping on Robert’s office floor.  As we headed over to the safety of the Embassy, I grabbed a little overnight bag, a book, and the tapestry for something to do. In the days that followed immediately after the earthquake, I worked on the tapestry almost non-stop.  There was something extraordinarily calming about the repetition of the “needle in, needle out”needlework stroke, giving my hands something to do and occupying the motor skills function of my brain, which handled the task of deciding the direction of stitching and what section to tackle next, leaving the rest of my brain to work on processing what had happened.  I guess it was kind of a meditation.

Ironically, I was unable to finish it before we left.  The kit I purchased had been mispacked and I had reams of purple and blue leftover, but ran out of the background colour.  The manufacturer in England had gone out of business and I had to search online until I could track down the wool brand, identify the particular shade of white, and find a supplier that could mail it to me.  After several months of unsuccessful tries, I was able to source the wool and finish the tapestry here in Jamaica.   Yet the project is still not complete.  Its yet to become a cushion and now I have to figure out where to buy sewing supplies in Kingston..the hunt goes on!  Its tempting to somehow symbolically connect the project with my personal journey from Nepal to Jamaica, how all the little stitches over time form not just a picture, but their own tapestry of memories, challenges and unresolved issues that have been part of any big change in life, but especially this one….or something like that….

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And then I ran out of yarn for that lower left-hand corner.

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The finished tapestry.  Now where to find a fabric and notions store?

Sign Language: Put on the Red Light…


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Its been a while since I’ve found an interesting subject for Sign Language until I spotted this one. There’s a small town called Red Light on the road half way up the mountain towards Holywell, one of those very respectable “blink and you miss it” places gathered around a small community church. If you look closely you will see this double-sided sign on the roadside, serving as both a welcome and a goodbye notice to drivers passing through on the narrow, windy road. Now I have to ask myself “why is this Red Light district” and not “Red Light town” or simply “Red Light?”  Is this a nod to the history of the place, or an innocent coincidence? The charming care that someone has taken to decorate the sign with flowers adds to the intrigue a little when you realize that the flowers illustrated are the indigenous “hot lips” (see my earlier Holywell post) because they resemble a sexy woman’s lips.  Mmmmh.   Is there a connection?  Did the town really get it name from ladies of the night?  Or some other way?  How intriguing to see a sign that seems to focus on its shady history and encourage visitors to “walk, drive & ride safely” at the same time.  Someone needs to explain this to me!