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!

Discovering Treasure Beach


DSCF8215 One of the best things about discovering a new country are the many road trips that it takes to find your favourite places.  This involves kissing a few location frogs along the way, but its part of the excitement of adopting a new place.  Fresh off the boat, there’s so much you don’t know, so you just have to pick a place and go and give it a try.

We picked Treasure Beach, an area on the South West coast of Jamaica, about 2-3 hours drive west from Kingston.  We were told it had a low key vibe, unlike the north coast party towns, and was a better choice for people like us who like a simpler less commercial atmosphere.

The drive turned out to be the biggest part of the adventure. Our GPS got very confused when we drove on new, unchartered roads. “Michelle” freaked out a bit and found us an alternative way down to the coast and we listened to her. Big mistake! She took us on increasingly smaller roads until we arrived on the smallest, overgrown, underpaved, pot-hole encrusted back road ever…which stretched on for 30 kilometers with no turn offs. A flat tire or car problem of some description would have been a disaster with no one and nothing to assist for a very long stretch. Fortunately, nothing bad did happen, but lesson learned. Michelle only knows the destination and nothing of the conditions she’s taking us through.  We arrived at our hotel a little later than planned as the detour added at least one hour to the trip.

Treasure Beach turned out to be as laid back as described – possible more so. I’m not sure if it was because it was off season (although many rooms were already booked when I tried to find a hotel) or whether its always like that…but there were few people around and not a lot going on. There were vendors looking for a sale, but they weren’t obnoxious and we mostly had the beach and restaurants to ourselves.

We ate at Frenchman’s Reef restaurant both nights. Very laid back, ok food, and it clearly had a regular local clientele. The most compelling thing about it was there were no less than 30 signs saying “No ganja smoking”: on the walls, on little stands on the tables, on the doors, pasted to the pillars and painted in three foot high letters on the outside wall…in three different places. Yet the air was thick with it. Either they couldn’t read or were too stoned to care! I really wanted to take a picture of four guys leaned up against the big “no ganja smoking” wall, who were dragging on a joint without a care in the world. However, I didn’t have the nerve!

Instead I took a few pictures of the beach and hotel to give a feel for the place.  Here’s a little glimpse of the area:

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Thought for the day from the wall of the excellent nearby Smurf Cafe.  Covered in painted smurfs and somewhere I would never have ordinarily stopped had I not got a tip from a local, Smurfs serves wonderful breakfasts and fantastic home roasted coffee.  Their poem resonated quite a bit with me that day too.  And, yes, the ganja guys were hanging out there too.

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Beautiful sea view from Treasure Beach.  It would be a long drift out to Panama from here.

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Sand filled swimming shorts that puffed and deflated with each wave!

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Our small hotel, Katamah

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Our au natural bathroom complete with shower tree.  The place was appealing rustic but needed a few more finishing touches to be truly comfortable.  It was hard to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night and even harder to keep sand out of the bed.

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The communal kitchen at Katamah.  Lots of character and no lack of pots, pan and spices.

It was a decent first trip out. I’d like to go back to Treasure Beach and stay at somewhere a little fancier. Not fancy, but perhaps a little more comfortable. Maybe somewhere with that shaded veranda that I always covet?

Five Days/Five Greek Photos Day 4: Ouch!


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So, some might say its a Greek initiation. (However, I have– unbelievably– been able to avoid it over the last 30 years.) The sea urchin injury claims almost everyone at some point or another…and it hurts! The spines are very brittle and break off easily into the careless swimmer’s foot. And unlike, say, a thorn or a splinter of wood, the spines have no structural integrity, and cannot hold together through the extraction process. They break off or flake away in pieces, leaving the tip of the spine hopelessly buried in the skin. As you walk, the spines press down painfully and there’s nothing you can do except wait for the body to push them out.

Fluid builds up around the remains of the each spine, pushing the black implants back up to the skin’s surface. Ten days later, you have your foot back. Tread carefully if you don’t want the majority of your vacation compromised!