Friday, December 30, 2005

New Pictures

We posted pictures from our Christmas in Treasure Beach on our Flickr site (see link to the right). Hope you enjoy!

- Kaelyn

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Exciting Tings From Faarin

'Tis the season and have we ever been blessed with gifts aplenty from abroad. While we definitely recognize that Christmas is about much more than giving and getting, this year it was especially meaningful to get some nice familiar presents from home.

Since we had a visitor we had the fortune of receiving many things that wouldn't be as easy to send in a box. Shane's Mom brought us a duffel bag stuffed full of treats, more than we ever imagined we would be getting. The highlight was a queen size air mattress so now we can have guests and they won't have to sleep on the lawn furniture. We are hoping this will increase our popularity among the Peace Corps crowd, especially since Portmore isn't a popular destination spot on the island. No ThermaRest pads needed at our house; we offer superior comfort and only need 8 hours notice to charge up the pump! The rest of the duffel was crammed full of Clif Bars, Mike & Ikes, and Fruit Leather, oh my! As luck would have it Costco carries these things in bulk so we now have an ample supply. No more Clif Bar rationing - yippie! Our other treats were candles and incense (now we can combat the burning trash smell); magnets; licorice; lotion, soap, and body spray for Kaelyn; 2 huge bottles of hand sanitizer; and the card game Phase 10 (which Kaelyn kicked Shane's butt at yesterday). It was a truly overwhelming experience and we are well set with treats to send us into the new year! Plus Shane's Mom brought some super yummy homemade cookies from his brother's family and a cute snowman ornament made by our niece.

We also got a Christmas package on Friday from Shane's Dad which was filled with lots of festive treats, including: cocoa and Christmas chocolates, holiday scented candles, clothes, and Christmas kitchen towels. Also in the box was a wall decoration which reads Welcome to the McCalls and has a different hanging piece for each holiday and season. Right now we have a cute snowflake hanging from it. It really transforms our apartment and makes it feel homey! So while we may have been a bit lacking in the Christmas spirit before it definitely found us before it was too late. We realized that with a few touches from home we could still feel connected to the Christmas Past that we had been longing for. And it isn't over yet, we must have been extra good this year because there are a few more Christmas treats in transit!

A very special thanks to our wonderful family and friends who through their emails, cards, phone calls, and treats have helped us to be far away yet still feel connected!

- Kaelyn and Shane

Xmas at Treasure Beach

We recently stayed in Treasure Beach (in St. Elizabeth on the South Coast) over Christmas, and I must say that the place pretty much lives up to the hype. It's renowned as a Jamaican hotspot for "community tourism", where visitors can interact with Jamaicans and get to experience some of the local way of life. It certainly does this much better than a town like Ochi (Ocho Rios), on the North Coast where many of the cruise ships dock.

Some highlights.
  • The Treasure Beach hotel is pretty nice. It has a different feel than many of the other lodgings down here: stately rather than funky. However, it is owned by a Jamaican and many Jamaicans stay there. Their breakfast is also quite good, although the rest of the meal offerings seem way overpriced (e.g. US$45 for lobster?). The grounds are really beautiful and it's a good place to chill out and has easy access to the beach.
  • Jack Sprats restaurant is really good. Try the conch soup and pizza. (We can give you the conch soup recomendation on good authority now because we have just begun eating seafood after a 5 year hiatus.) There is also a nice stretch of beach here. The atmosphere is casual and the prices are very reasonable.
  • Floyd's Pelican Bar is a must-see. It is a bar built on stilts on a sandbar a half-mile out from the coast. You can get a boat ride from Treasure Beach. The drinks are cold, the water is clear and warm, and there are sea creatures to look at underneath the bar.

We also shared Christmas with a group of volunteers at another PCV's house, which was a lot more fun than eating at a hotel buffet. There was stuffed chicken, gungo pea stirfry, roast yams, and homemade carrot cake, among other things. We opened some crackers which had 8 whistles inside. Each of the whistles had a number that corresponded to a note in the C scale. The set came with songs; each person blew the whistle when the conductor pointed, and you could recognize the Christmas Carols. You haven't been moved by "Silent Night" until you have heard it done by eight kazoo-whistles blown by people who are laughing so hard they sometimes get confused about when they are supposed to blow.

Definitely check out Treasure Beach if you are looking for a relaxing place to spend a few days and unwind.

-Shane and Kaelyn

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy Holidays from Jamaica


Although we are far away, we are thinking of all our friends and family this holiday season.

We wish you a wonderful Christmas and all the best in the New Year!

Shane and Kaelyn

A Very Dancehall Christmas – November and December Update

Hello All!

Well it has been a busy couple of months here Jamaica. Thanks to the end of the rainy season we have been able to get out and about much more often and have been enjoying seeing more of the island.

In mid- November we attended our Early Service Conference (ESC) in Runaway Bay, St. Ann which is on the North Coast. Although the purpose of the event was to go over more Peace Corps policies and forms for us it was more about catching up with our friends and indulging in all the hotel had to offer. We had a really busy Thanksgiving weekend. For Thanksgiving Day, we prepared a lovely meal for the two of us, using our oven for the first time for roast vegetables and apple crisp. On Friday, we went to a Staff Appreciation BBQ at the Peace Corps Office (complete with jerk turkey). The next day we traveled to Mandeville (in Manchester Parish) to visit some friends, enjoy the cooler climate there, and see Harry Potter 4. The theatre in Portmore is now closed, so we have to go elsewhere for our movie fix.

One exciting part of being with the Portmore Municipal Council is the commemorative events. For Christmas, there was a tree lighting in front of the Portmore Mall, complete with a holiday choir of public bus drivers (Feliz Navidad was their big hit) and a 30 foot tree. There was also a Christmas office party held at the fancy Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston. We dressed up in our best clothes, sent down from the States, which was appropriate because everyone else was very dressed up too, "Cinderella Ball" style. It started out tame with dinner, awards, and oldies Reggae music, but the dancing got really crazy at the end, so we chose to watch and not partake.

December has brought the end of the Hurricane season and also the Christmas Breezes which have cooled things down considerably. Although it is still too hot to sleep without the fan here in deserty Portmore. We have also enjoyed some of the Jamaican Christmas Traditions, especially Christmas Drink (made from Sorrel) and Fruit Cake. And last weekend we visited the Devon House Craft Fair in Kingston where there was lots of local fare and goods. This was a great place for us to pick out our Christmas gifts!

Right now we are busy preparing for our first guest! Shane's Mom will be getting flying into Kingston on Thursday evening to spend Christmas with us. We are planning to spend most of her visit on the beach, what better way to celebrate Christmas in Jamaica? Then we are meeting up with 2 other couples from our group and will be ringing in the New Year in a bamboo hut. We will post pictures of these two trips on our Flickr site! We are very excited about checking out some new places on the island and about getting to celebrate the holidays with family and friends!

Some other exciting news is that we are planning 2 trips home for next year one in March and one in December. As much fun as Jamaica is we are definitely elated to be coming back to visit our favorite places and favorite people!

We wish you all a very Happy Holiday Season!

Kaelyn and Shane

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hotel Party

Last night, we went to Portmore Municipal Council's staff holiday party, held at the fancy Terra Nova Hotel near New Kingston. We decided to spend the night at the hotel so that we would not have to try and get a ride home after the party at 2 AM. Plus we don't mind the hot water, cable TV, and internet available in the hotel room.

We got into the room about 2:30 PM. It had hot water, and cable, and internet. Hey, that was just what we were looking for. That worked out well for us. Plus the big bonus was that the room was carpeted. The last time we saw carpeting was at the hotel in Miami. It was almost too much for our barefoot feet to handle. It was so great not to have to wear flip-flops (Jamaicans call them slippers) while inside plus it felt so soft and clean. We spent the afternoon watching TV, showering, and using the internet. All at the same time. Well almost. At one point Shane was checking his email, watching the KC Chiefs game, while switching back and forth between "Sean of the Dead", which is a funny movie by the way. Kaelyn took two hot showers, to make up for all the cold ones in our apartment.

We went down to the party/banquet around 8 PM. The food was ok. We think it might have been a little funny because it had been sitting on the buffet line for a while. (We started at 8:30 rather than 7:00, typical Jamaican event) We both got a vegetable plate, and it was really good, with about 12 kinds of vegetables (corn, potato, cabbage, tomato, mushrooms etc. ). After the food, members of staff wowed us with their musical talents. The City Engineer sang some smooth R & B. The accounting staff did a skit and a dance routine. Our boss, the planning director, is a bit of a comedian and did a little standup. We were so proud.

After the performances, the DJ's went through some 70's funk and pop (e.g. Jackson 5), then into oldies reggae and dance hall. We danced a bit, but bowed out when it got a little too hot and heavy for us. Jamaican dancing can sometimes make grinding from back home seem quite tame. It was a fun night, and then we had the next morning to chat online and take more hot showers. Afterwards we went to a Christmas craft fair at Devon House and went out to eat at the Thai restaurant.

All in all, a very nice holiday weekend.

-Shane and Kae

Tennis Clothes Line

For those who don't know, I (Shane) do tennis lessons with students at the local high school on Fridays after school. I hope to expand this to two days a week next semester. The school has the lines drawn onto an asphalt court, and they have 10 tennis racquets, all with strings. There are also some enthusiastic kids and two teachers who are supportive of tennis at the school, one of whom does tennis lessons on a different afternoon. What they don't have is a net.

While teaching them how to play tennis, I was continuously reminding them that, if this had been a real tennis match, their shots would have to go over the net. Then I would point to a spot in the air (approximately 36 inches off the ground) and say, "See that shot, that was a little bit too low, so that would not have gone over the net in a real game." I think they got the point of the whole net thing, but it's kind of hard to practice while trying to visualize the net.

So, last Friday, I finally unveiled my big plan for showing them -- kind of -- what a net would be like. I took two volleyball poles that the school had and tied a length of clothesline between them. I measured the height at the middle so it would be 36" and a little bit higher at each end, as a real tennis net would be. Even though it was the last day of school before the Christmas vacation, I still got 5 kids to come out and practice. Success: the net thing worked, in my opinion. I said, "See, you have to hit it over the net", as I introduced a new concept into my tennis pedagogy. For the most part, they remembered to hit it over the clothesline instead of under.

Then I took the clothesline home so that I could still use it to hang clothes in my apartment. Beautiful. My hopes are that we can have a net donated by Jamaica Tennis Assocation or another source sometime in the spring school semester. Then, in the next school year, we could play competitions against other high schools.

One other thing we need is tennis balls. Right now I only have two that I bought in Kingston. It was a can of three, but we lost one in the tall grass. Now the two we have left are turning brown from dirt and have quite a few burrs (macka is the Jamaican word I learned for burrs) stuck in them. So if anyone out there has any old (or new) tennis balls they would like to send down, feel free to ship them down in with another package or as a separate box.

The address is:

Shane McCall
United States Peace Corps
c/o Suchet Loois, Peace Corps Country Director
8 Worthington Avenue
Kingston 5, Jamaica, West Indies

Thanks for your help.


Friday, December 16, 2005

O Christmas Tree

Last night we kicked off our Christmas celebrations and we really started to feel Christmas in the air. We attended the 3rd Annual Portmore Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony which was hosted by our office. It was a very lovely event and the tree was gorgeous. However, at times you thought to yourself how weird it was to be in Jamaica sitting under a 30 foot evergreen tree. The tree was plucked from somebody's yard in Portmore which was a pretty strange in itself considering the dessert like conditions of the area. The setting of the event was also very ironic - it was held by the Portmore Mall on a traffic island that is situated between 3 busy roadways. I'm not sure if traffic island is really the right word but it was a large triangle of green space where the 3 roads come together. Unfortunately, in a few weeks it won't be there any more because it is also the site where the Highway 2000 Project will connect Portmore the the new Causeway. These sorts of green spaces are really as close as you get to parks in Portmore. But it was well groomed and in addition to the tree there was a stage and some potted palm trees decorated with lights . Around 200 chairs were set up in front of the stage to accommodate the community members who came for the ceremony. The scheduled start time was 5:00 but in typical Jamaican fashion things got started around 6:30. While we were waiting the Christmas breezes were blowing all around us and making it quite chilly for Jamaica. Then finally things began with the JUTC choir taking the stage. JUTC is the bus company that serves the Kingston Metropolitan Area, I'm not sure why they have a choir but according to their schedule they will be doing several Christmas performances. Their big hit was Feliz Navidad which they did twice. They really got into that one, dancing and waving. It was very entertaining. Then there was the customary prayer and greetings were given by the Mayor, and by two other people on behalf of the MP (Member of Parliament) and Senator who for whatever reason couldn't attend themselves. The funny thing is that each time someone new comes on stage they have to acknowledge all the important people who are present. Which ends up taking up half their time. And you end up hearing over and over again the names of all the important people who are present. Last night it was: His Honorable George Lee, Mayor of Portmore; four Councilors for Portmore; the Mayor's caretaker (the opposition candidate for mayor); Miss Portmore 2005; the Administrative Manager of the Portmore Municipal Council; an important Reverend; Asst. Supt. of the Police; the Mayor's wife; and a few more of lesser importance who I don't really recall. After they got through all that each greeting was pretty much about the current hard times in Jamaica, the sharing and caring of the Christmas season, and hopes for a prosperous 2006. Then the Mayor, the Councilors and Miss Portmore all gathered around the switch and lit up the tree while Christmas music blared in the background. Afterwards we mingled a bit waiting for the refreshments to be served but they had forgotten the plates and it was taking too long so we left. But all in all it was a fun time and it will be exciting to drive by the mall and see that giant tree all lit up!


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas Drink

In Jamaica sorrel is the traditional Christmas drink. Since the onset of the Christmas season we have been testing out the different varieties on sale at the grocery store. It tastes like a mix between cranberry and grape juice with ginger added. It has definitely made the list of our favorite Jamaican things and it will be sad when the season is over and we can't get any more. Although if we were really into the sorrel thing we would be making our own - for next year. The best sorrel is apparently the home-made variety made a year or years in advance. We have yet to try any home-brew and none of the sorrel we tried had any wine or rum added. So we are mere novices in the sorrel world. But most of you have probably never even heard of sorrel in which case I direct you to the Jamaica Gleaner's Eye on Science section for today which 3 fascinating articles about sorrel. Apparently, in addition to being a mighty tasty drink sorrel has many other uses from chutney to shampoo plus it has many health benefits. It's almost too good to be true!

- Kaelyn

Just in case you happen to get your hands on some sorrel here is the classic Jamaican recipe. Cheers!

1 pound sorrel
2-4 oz. ginger
2 quarts water
wine (optional)
8-12 pimento grains
1. Wash sorrel thoroughly, using the fingers to lift it from the water.
2. Put into a stainless steel container.
3. Scrape and wash ginger. Grate and add to the sorrel. Add pimento grains.
4. Boil water and pour over sorrel.
5. Allow to stand four to six hours. Strain.
6. Sweeten to taste and add rum to taste.
7. Add optional wine.
8. Serve with ice cubes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It's Not Really Looking Alot Like Christmas ...

Or at least looking like the Christmas we have grown accustomed to in the Midwest. It's hard to believe Christmas is less then 2 weeks away. It definitely doesn't feel like Christmas here, today's current temp is 82F. And there aren't many fresh cut evergreen trees or Christmas carolers. But every once in a while you see something that reminds you that it is Christmas time. A few houses in our neighborhood have lights and one even has a fake tree decorated on the roof. We have even heard a couple of Jamaican Christmas songs on the radio ("Santa Claus do you ever come to the ghetto?"). And we are enjoying some of the Jamaican Christmas traditions - especially sorrel and fruitcake. Maybe our office's Christmas party on Saturday will put us in the Christmas spirit. Plus we can always look forward to next year when we will be singing "I'll be home for Christmas".

- Kaelyn

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Our Favorite Jamaican Phrases

We don't hear or use much patois since we aren't in a rural area but these are a few Jamaican sayings we have picked up.

Likkle more (little more) - see or talk to you later
"Okay, likkle more." (At the end of a phone call or conversation.)

Come - used when you want someone to follow or bring you something
"Bring the book come."

Lick - to hit or beat
"Him lick me sir." (What Shane's students tell him constantly at school.)

Hush - be quiet or stop teasing (A nice replacement for shut up.)

Whagwan or Whampum - what's going on or what's happening?

Lattah (later) - goodbye

Mawnin and Eveling - Good Morning and Good Evening (Said to everyone you pass.)

Beg ya - Can I have some money?
"Beg ya $20"

Mi soff (me soft) - The answer to beg ya meaning you don't have any money.

Pickney - children
"Da pickney dem chat too much." (The kids talk too much.)

Ya so or deh so - over here or over there
"Mi live deh so."

One stop or bus stop - please stop the taxi here

Nuff - a lot or enough
"Mi ave nuff pumpkin." (I have a whole bunch of pumpkin.) ~ This happens sometimes in our fridge when we don't cook it fast enough.

Ole eap (whole heap) - plenty or too many
"Ole eap of violence in Spanish Town."

Mash up - damage or destroy (can be a verb or a noun)
"Wilma mash up da road." or "Da road mash up."

Mi cyaan boder (me can't bother) - I can't deal with that

Faarin (foreign) - the States

Ya'unerstan (do you understand) - you know? (This follows pretty much every other statement.)

- Kae and Shane

Monday, December 05, 2005

Shopping for Entertainment

On Sunday, I made a trip to MegaMart, which is the only big box store in Portmore. It is sort of like Sam's, because it has the really tall aisles with the back stock stacked above the currently selling items. It was kind of fun to wonder through the aisles and gaze upon the vast number of consumer goods. Most of the stuff is available at other places like the supermarket and it doesn't come in big bulk sizes like you would get at Costco or Sam's. It still comes in little bags for most things like chips and cookies. The nice thing about MegaMart is that all of the various things (packaged food, housewares, toiletries, produce, clothing) can be found in one location, instead of going to many different stores.

There were a few exciting things there that I could not find anywhere else. Corona, tequila, and tortillas, will make for a wonderful Mexican night. I also picked up some pretzels and a scented lemongrass citronella mosquito-repellent candle made in Jamaica. You really cannot find these things at most supermarkets. So it is a treat when I found them and, of course, I had to pick some up because I have only been out to Mega Mart three times in six months. I had a fun time wondering the aisles, almost imagining I was back in the states. Shopping is one thing that the states does very efficiently, I must admit, and there is a definite difference down here. On the plus side in Jamaica is that there are little shops all over the residential areas that sell a limited amount of goods like non-perishable foods and a few vegetables and toiletries. I just can't imagine the suburban neighborhoods in the US where every third house is either a shop, barber, bar, or restaurant. Hello zoning, goodbye next door neighbor with bar and gambling games or other neighbor cutting hair in garage.


Package and Interesting Tidbits

On Friday we received a very important package containing the clothes for our office's Christmas Party. The party is very formal - Cinderella Ball style - and we opted to have things we already owned sent from home rather than buying new stuff. Not only was this cheaper but we really didn't think anything new would be worn again so it seemed less wasteful too. A Big Up goes out to my mother for digging our things out of storage and sending them. She's the greatest! The really fascinating thing about this package (since its contents aren't too interesting) is that it made it to Jamaica in only 4 days! Only 4 days to come all the way from Kansas to Jamaica! Too bad Peace Corps only picks up the mail once per week from the airport so it took us another 2 weeks to actually get our hands on the package. But it is here in plenty of time before the party so all is well.

In other interesting weekend news: Shane was presented with a customer appreciation gift basket at our grocery store - we aren't exactly sure why but it made us feel very cool. We found out that our landlady plans on getting a tank so that we can have running water during the daytime - which means no more waking up super early just so that you can have a decent shower. We bought a portable closet and rearranged the apartment to accommodate this new piece of furniture. And Shane made a really yummy vegan chocolate cake from a recipe in our Peace Corps Jamaica Cookbook.

But the most exciting thing of all were the treats Shane brought back from MegaMart! Coronas and Tequila! Isn't he just the awesomest husband ever! He also got some tortillas so now we can have Mexican Night Part 2. I can't wait!

- Kaelyn