I is for Island Time


As I walk by, sometimes I catch two Jamaicans looking at each other, “Where’s the fire?” I see in their exchange of glances.  They’re wondering why someone might be in such a rush.   From my perspective, as I walk around town, I constantly run into fellow pedestrians doing a slow, slow, shuffle.  I’m a brisk walker and an energetic pace feels natural to me.  And I have a learned, deliberate walk that comes from years of being in places where a single, expat woman is the target of every panhandler and cat caller in my path,  so I walk fast to avoid their advances.  The problem is that when others amble along in front, walk three abreast, stop to check their phone with no warning, light their cigarette, or just stop to smell the friggin’ roses– in the mIDDLe of the sidewalk – it can be a tad frustrating.

But, unfortunately, that’s no excuse.  I know that I can’t be that foreigner who barges past and demands that everyone get out of my way.  It’s rude, tacky, and after all, I’m in their space.  So in addition to the uneven surface, crazy driver, dog poo and pothole radars, I need to add “slow walking person” to my calculations, so I can slow down a little before I approach the ambler, so as to not scare the bejesus out of them.  They are, in turn, supposed to notice that someone is coming up behind them and step out of the way.  But they often remain blithely unaware and I need to pull out technique two:  “Good morning, ladies,” I say cheerily.  “How are you?”  “Good morning,” they say back, coming to a complete halt to search for something at the bottom of their bag.  So, when that fails, there’s technique three: a hop, skip and jump up and down the curb (or between a gap in the fence) where I use my speed advantage to quickly nip around them.  The problem here is that the aforementioned dog poo, pot hole or uneven road surface sits lurking at just the point where I need to do that little jig,  just like a little unexploded bomb.

Is it worth it you ask?  After all, island time is the call of all visitors to Jamaica who long for their famous “no worries” laid back vibe.  It’s hot, take it slow, go with the flow.  Why not stop and smell the Jamaican roses?  Because there are no roses.  Because the traffic light is about to change and that bus is going to blow toxic diesel smoke in my face.  Because the corner panhandler has already spotted me, and I know the guy leaning up against the wall is planning on making me his next taxi fare.  Ugh, no thanks.  Gotta go!

 

 

H is for Hurricane


hurricane

In early October last year, Hurricane Matthew was on its way to Jamaica.  At one point it was upgraded to a category 5 storm that was looking very much as though it would make landfall on island.   Colleagues were full of terrible stories from the last major hurricane to hit, Gilbert, who in 1988 caused extensive damage to houses, farms and infrastructure– and Gilbert was only a category 3.

With impending disaster heading our way, the Embassy was put on voluntary departure and most families with small children headed to the States.  Those remaining, like us, were told to leave our homes and shelter at the main Embassy residential compound so we would all be together in a building with hurricane windows, an independent water supply and a generator.  That meant we had to pack up our house (as best we could) to weather the storm.  I stood in my living room surveying my options:  rugs, soft furnishings, book cases, metal items…there were all sorts of things that could be permanently damaged by a flood.  The prospect of moving heavy furniture so that rugs could be rolled up was not appealing, but the thought of returning to soaking, moulding furnishings was not an option.  We had never been through heavy weather in this house before and had no idea if the windows would leak or from what direction the weather would come, so we had no choice but to move it all.  So rugs were rolled and elevated, bookcases were raised on cans of tuna, we dragged big heavy plants inside so they wouldn’t snap in the high winds.  It all took several hours.

Around midday we were done.  The skies looked stormy and the palm trees were whipping, but the storm still hadn’t arrived.  It seemed like a good time to head out for the 30 minute drive before the rains hit.  It took 10-15 minutes to load the car with several days of food and provisions and, in that brief time,  the rain and wind started up.  Suddenly we were in a fierce squall and packed the last few items in high wind and pounding rain that easily found its way under the protective cover of the car port.  By the time we pulled the car door shut and drove towards the exit, the windscreen wipers could hardly keep up.  “Here it comes…” we thought…  but the car started to make a strange rattling noise before we departed the front gate and Robert decided it was better to be cautious and figure out what was wrong with the car, so we headed back to the house.  Thirty minutes passed, the car issue was fixed, the squall was over, and we made our second exit.

As we drove through the mostly empty Kingston streets, we could see scattered branches lying in the road and huge amounts of water carrying dirt and debris down the drains.  It was easy to see how this city’s draining system could clog and flood the streets.  The massive gullies were running hard with water, but not too deep for our vehicle to pass….but things could quickly change.

There are gullies like this all over the city for a reason.

By the time we reached our destination, the rain had stopped altogether.  The sky remained steely gray but the air was still.  Maintenance crews were moving everything that wasn’t tied down and we settled into our loaned space to make it our base for the next few days.

We waited and watched.  The apartment building has excellent views and we periodically scanned the horizon wondering when it was coming.  The national hurricane website gave updates every 4-8 hrs, and the storm seemed to be heading east.  By the next day there was still no rain.  By the third day, it was clear that Matthew was going to miss Jamaica altogether but was heading straight for poor Haiti, which is still recovering from the earthquake after all these  years.  This was tragic for Haiti and excellent news for Jamaica, but by then I was suffering from a very bad case of cabin fever.  All the precautions, packing and waiting was making me feel very tense.  It was impossible to just relax and try to read a book or binge watch Netflix.  I just wanted to go home.  We returned to a dark house that needed reassembling and the boards needed to be removed from the windows.  Amazingly the internet was still working and we set about the unwelcome task of putting everything back where it belonged.  Friends reached out to ask if we were ok, now that Matthew was making international news headlines because of the damage to Haiti and the impending implications for the US coastline.  However, for us it was over.

After Typhoon Pedring in the Philippines and the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, we knew that the odds were real that we could add a hurricane to our list of disasters experienced three posts in a row.  This time Jamaica dodged the bullet.

 

 

 

 

WPC: Monkey’n Around (Atop)


monkey
For some unknown reason (as I can’t read Nepali) a Nepali bank had strung a banner to a tree at the famous Pashnupathi temple. The monkeys loved it!

ontop1
They used it as a hammock, a swing, and as a launching pad to jump down on other unsuspecting monkeys who were hanging around for the fun.

ontop2

I guess you say they were making a monkey out of banks!

S0103820

last

In response to this week’s challenge:  https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/atop/

G is for Grand Cayman


 

dscf1848

Note the mileage to Serbia – our next home!

Georgetown, Grand Cayman is about an hour flight from Jamaica. I had heard good things about it, so when Robert had to go there with work, I came along for the ride. If you asked what I knew about Grand Cayman’s before I arrived, I think I would have told you its a tax haven, lots of really rich people live there and there’s plenty of high end resorts on exclusive beaches. All of those things may be true to some degree, but the Georgetown that we saw was a small, modern, island community with a side of funk.

First of all, I hadn’t done my homework and didn’t remember that the Caymans were part of the British Commonwealth. Before 1962 , when Jamaica achieved independence from the UK,  the Caymans and Jamaica were one territory. The Cayman Islanders, however, wanted to stay British, and today a portrait of the Queen still greets new arrivals in the airport’s Customs Hall,  along with a sign admonishing the inappropriate treatment of women by drunks! Very British and rightly so! (Unfortunately I don’t have a picture as taking photos in customs halls is never a very good idea.)

Georgetown streets are modern with no potholes, usable sidewalks, modern malls and no hawkers.  Drivers stopped at stop signs and waited at lights.  We didn’t see anyone speed or jay walk.  It was all very strange!

dscf1792

Driving around in Georgetown.

We shopped at home stores and a supermarket called Kirks, which reminded me a lot of Whole Foods, and surprisingly the prices and quality were more American too. Why can’t I find better quality produce in Jamaica, when –just one island over– the same imported items are fresh and cost less? I understand how a wealthy island can afford the infrastructure, but I don’t understand the unnecessary squandering of quality.  I think it must just be a lack of customer expectation.  Needless to say, we took home a supermarket haul.

We stayed at the Marriott, a resort hotel right on a very long, beautiful sandy beach.  Again, no vendors to bug you, and we enjoyed miles of sand walking and looked around at the sea views.  We were surprised to find that the beachfront was not covered in all-inclusive hotels.  There were several other resorts, but mainly we saw residential apartment complexes.  They were nice units with sea views and I’m sure they cost a pretty penny, but they weren’t fancy or over the top.  The emphasis was on residential tourism — probably second homes for many.

We took a drive around the island, along well maintained roads and through communities with small, attractive houses.  Again, not fancy, but pleasant with a laid-back country feel.  Most of all I noticed the absence of bars on the windows, and no barbed wire or security guards.  I wondered if I was seeing a version of Jamaica from the 1950s?

We ate out a couple of times in restaurants that were not inexpensive, but reasonably priced for the quality.  Pappagallos was very nice, it even had parrots.  And we enjoyed Tukka, a beach restaurant with modern, casual food and a great view, where you can sit back and hunt for shipwrecks and watch chickens at the same time.

I would like to have gone back to the Caymans, but its not exactly a cheap 3-day weekend trip once you factor in airfare and car rental.   I wish there was somewhere here a short drive away that made me feel like the Tukka restaurant did…laid back and safe with good quality food.

dscf1850

Tukka restaurant on the island’s east coast.

dscf1851

Looking out to sea at ship wrecks.   This one was easy to spot but there were many more if you had the patience to scan the horizon.  Tukka even supplied binoculars at every table.

 

s0871865

And we just hung out and watch the beach chickens… yes, apparently, there are lots of tasty scraps for chickens on a beach. …. Don’t they blend in perfectly?!  Great colours.

F is for Frenchman’s Cove


s0294100

The beach at Frenchman’s Cove

We haven’t been on a lot of day trips in Jamaica.  I’ve missed getting out for a few hours to find new places and get to know the island better.  But we did take a trip a couple of weeks ago to Frenchman’s Cove, one of Jamaica’s better known local beaches.

Frenchman’s Cove is located on the North-east coast near Port Antonio, away from the North-west’s string of international, all-inclusive resort hotels.  Back in the day, the North-east was once an exclusive Winter getaway for the rich and famous, and Port Antonio was the hub.  Errol Flynn, Ian Fleming and Noel Coward all had homes there.  It was as charming, as it was undeveloped.  Nowadays it has still has some of the charm left, but of the very faded variety.  Unlike Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, there has been little development of new resorts and no attempt at preserving the character of its older houses or churches.   I enjoyed driving through the town, but there was nothing really there to make you stay a while.  Its a shame, as I think it deserved better.

Frenchman’s Creek is a pay beach, not a public one.  At about $7/head it’s not cheap for many Jamaican families for a day trip, but it does mean that there a no vendors to bug you.  There’s also a small hotel right on the beach, but it badly neglected and Trip Advisor photographs tell a terrible story of bad mildew and disastrous plumbing experiences, which is too bad as the beach is lovely and it would have been great to stay there the night and make a weekend of it.

We arrived on Ash Wednesday, a big Jamaican holiday, and the beach was pretty busy.  There were lots of Jamaican families and singles and , to my knowledge, we were the only foreigners.

s0254094

The sea was a pretty rough — unusually so, I’m told — and a bit too much for me to want to tackle.  But the kids loved it and threw themselves into the breaking white horses, trying to body surf.

s0214088

Way too rough for me!

More kids swung from the rope swings and Tarzan ladders that hung from trees by the river that terminated right on the beach, pouring clean, cold fresh water into the sea. With a calmer tide, it might have been fun to swim through the mixing currents.

s0284099

The water was remarkably clear and cold.   On a quieter day I might have just hung out here.

It is a really nice spot. Although is was a bit too busy for me and the restaurant service was really slow, it didn’t really matter too much. There was no loud music, which made me happy, and it was just fun and peaceful to watch others enjoy the beach.

s0204087

Doesn’t this look like a tourism poster?  The whole beach reminded me of the scene from Dr. No where Ursula Andress emerges from the sea singing “Underneath the Mango Tree.”  That day we had a Jamaican Ursula!

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:

dscf1743

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

dscf6057

So…did you spot him?

dscf1157

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


DSCF1304.jpg

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


s0329137

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.

dscf1348

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.

church4

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.
church

church2

Not an actual sign from Jamaica — but exactly the type of thing I am seeing.