Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Whaagwan (What's going on)

Training has been going well. We both gave our rapid assessment Power Point presentations two weeks ago. Kaelyn's covered coral reefs and marine life, while Shane's was on environmental history and mass communication. On July 30th and 31st, we traveled to the northern part of Cockpit Country and stayed in Bunker's Hill, Trelawney. We walked through the community to gather information about points of interest because they will soon be including this area in the Cockpit Country Adventure Tours, and eco-tourism project. We also swam in the river, had a cook-out, and a local reggae band played for us. The only downside to the trip was the fact that they only had 2 10-person tents for about 30 people and on top of that it started pouring at around 4 in the morning and the tents leaked. We had to evacuate to the concrete shelter and we didn't really get to go back to sleep. The Denbigh agricultural show Monday August 1st (Jamaican Emancipation Holiday) was exciting. There were representatives from each parish displaying crops and goods, livestock contests, and free samples from the coffee board and citrus growers association, among others. It was very hot, so went home early.

On the afternoon of August 4th at 4:30 PM (Kaelyn's Birthday), we received our site placements, where we will be stationed for the next two years starting on August 26th. We will be going to Portmore, St. Catherine. It is a city of 250,00 situated between Kingston on the east and Spanish Town on the west. It is the fastest growing city in Jamaica. Portmore is one of the most urban site placements that anyone will get and the only other volunteer there is a guy from our group in the Water and Sanitation sector who is actually working in Kingston but not allowed to live there. We will both be working for the Portmore Municipal Council. The municipality is only four years old, and is the first city in Jamaica to elect a mayor, rather than being tied into the national electoral system and have a mayor appointed.

To celebrate Kaelyn's birthday Shane made banana pancakes for breakfast and a wonderful dinner of black beans and rice (Cajun style), fried plantains, pineapple salsa, and pear (avocado). For desert we had a wonderful cake that Shane bought from our host mother's friend and ice cream. There were lots of little surprise gifts that Shane had picked up during our field trips including a carved turtle from Ochi, a bamboo and coconut shell necklace from Denbigh, and a straw bracelet from a Rasta man in Cockpit Country.

This past week we have been in Portmore for our Community Orientation Week. It was an interesting week and a bit more boring than we expected. The housing that they had identified for us to live in for two years and for the week was just a room in a family's house. We realized as soon as we got there that it would not work for our home for two years because we would be sharing a bathroom, kitchen and entrance with a family of 5 and the only space we would have to our own was one room off of their dining room. They didn't have any other housing options to show us so we had to ask everyone we met to keep a lookout for a two bedroom semi-furnished house to rent, hopefully one with a yard and some trees and grass. Staying with this family for the week worked out okay, except that when they found out we were vegetarians they said it wouldn't work for us to have our meals with them and we had to go the grocery store and buy cereal and PB&J to eat all week. Portmore is really just a bunch of subdivisions and most of the people that live there work in Kingston so they pretty much get up, go to work, and come home to sleep. The houses are all really close together and some are in clusters of four called quads and attached to each other. Also, there aren't any fruit trees or farms so fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to come by. The people don't really sit outside and chat or hang out in the neighborhoods - much like the US but not like what we have gotten used to in Ewarton. Also there aren't any of the cook shops or vendors around because the Portmore Municipal Council only allows businesses with approved permits.

The office is located in a shopping center/strip mall and is basically what we would call City Hall since it houses the Mayor and all the divisions of the city administration. There are about 30 employees plus lots of extras like 2 interns from UTECH (a University in Kingston) and 6 students in a youth program. We are assigned to the Planning Department but we still don't have a clear picture of what we will be doing. It sounds like Shane's job will deal with mapping and GIS and Kaelyn's with project proposals but that still seems pretty vague to us. Our strategy right now is to get an idea of what is currently being worked on and who does what and then we might just try and get involved in things that we find interesting. We went to the office every day we were there but they didn't really have much in mind for us to do, so we ended up sitting in a cubicle and reading a lot of material that they gave us. Most of the reading were really thick planning documents like the Environmental Impact Assessment for the new causeway they are building between Kingston and Portmore. The highlight of our week was when our supervisor, Andre, took us to Hellshire beach on Friday afternoon. He took us to the only approved vendor on the beach - Prendy's and we had a free lunch. We met all the people there and they were really nice and fixed us a really yummy vegetarian lunch of roasted vegetables. We feel really comfortable that when we go back to the beach we can go there and they will remember us and sort of make sure people don't really bother us. We also got lots of warnings not to buy anything from anyone else around since they are all illegal vendors. The beach was nice, pretty dirty outside of the swimming areas because that is where the fisherman come in but the water seemed nice and we would definitely go back to swim. Apparently it gets really crowed on the weekends and you can't move without running into people, that will be interesting to check out. All in all we decided that our situation there will definitely be bearable, especially when we have someplace to live and we can devote some time to our secondary projects which we intend to work with on Fridays probably at a school or with a community group. We also have access to lots of things - a big "American like" supermarket, a movie theater, lots of stores and can easily get to anywhere on the island by going to Spanish Town which is only about a 10 minute cab ride away. We were very happy to return to Ewarton on Friday since it seems much more like home right now. I am sure that once we have our own house and we are familiar with our neighborhood then Portmore will seem like home too (hopefully!). It was also nice to talk to our friends some who had really good times and some who shared stories similar to ours. And we definitely have some great places to visit especially those living in houses with views of the ocean!

We have enjoyed getting emails and text messages on our cell phones (thanks especially for the Happy Birthday wishes) and we also got our first piece of mail on Friday August 5th from Grandma and Pop which was very, very exciting. Keep in touch!

Kaelyn and Shane

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