Monday, June 26, 2006

A Jamaican Day at the Beach

On Saturday we went to the beach with our co-workers for the launching of the Portmore Municipal Council Social Welfare Club. We were scheduled to depart at 7:00am from the PMC office, however in typical Jamaican fashion we left at 8:37. While we were waiting the girls went on one of their many food runs of the day to Tastee Patties for some breakfast (liver and onions or saltfish with food). Since there is only a little bar and restaurant at the beach we were instructed to bring along snacks and even though the girls brought coolers and bags onto the bus there was still an insistence for many food stops. Finally, we were off picking up the one last person on our way out of town instead of waiting on her to reach. Since there were so many of us, around 20 persons, we were riding in style in an air conditioned coaster bus with plush seats - the kind you see tourists traveling around Jamaica in, it was pretty sweet! And the cost of the bus ride (J$500 each/ US$ 7.70)was actually less then we would have paid traveling by public transportation which would have been way more cramped and sweaty.

We made it all the way to Spanish Town before our next pit stop. This time it was for ice, bathrooms, and KFC. Spanish Town is approximately 10km from Portmore so at this rate I figured we would be getting to the beach around noon. Once we were off again we journeyed over the imfamous Flat Bridge - a single lane bridge that washes out almost everytime it rains. And we of course all lifted our feet to prevent the duppies (ghosts) from grabbing hold of us and pulling the bus into the Rio Cobre. Then it was through the Gorge and up over the wicked Mt. Rosser where you can get stuck for hours when the big trucks break down. Luckily no trucks! Our next stop was off the side of the road to buy some juicy pine (pineapple). It was already peeled (the hardest part) and cut up in the baggies so it was ready for eating. Very tasty and only J$100 (US$1.50)!

The bus ride was pretty eventful with lots of dancing in the aisles and screaming, laughing, and drinking. I was surprised to see the "dutty wine" (a current popular, quite risque dance) being busted out at 9:00 in the morning but I suppose anything goes. The girls not only had mixed CDs for the driver to play but had a boom box of thier own in the back as well. Shane almost lost an eye due to some fast hair whipping action in the aisle next to his seat. But some would consider him a lucky man being so close to such movements.

Then we pulled into Ocho Rios, a cruise ship town on the St. Ann coast, and of course stopped for lunch even though it was only 10:30am. We pulled up to the main street and luckily it wasn't a cruise ship day so there weren't massive amounts of white people mulling around which made things much calmer than normal. We headed for Juici Beef Patties for vegetable patties and then stopped into Baskin Robbins for a rare treat. Others hit up Island Grill, Burger King, and of course KFC. Then it was off to the beach which was down the road aways and over the border into St. Mary.

Reggae Beach was a really nice, clean, low-key white sand beach. Since it is outside of Ochi it doesn't get so much tourist traffic and caters more to Jamaicans. We heard some music videos have even been filmed there. It was J$200 (US$3.00) each to enter but worth it for the cleanliness, bathrooms, and lack of harrassment. There were lots of shade trees and picnic tables and even a volleyball net. We had a tree swing near our spot and further down there were hammocks. Of course the Jamaicans mostly hung out in the shade (sun hot!) , snacking and napping. We chose to soak up the sun and do some swimming. Some of our friends did get in the water and there were a few attempts at swimming lessons. Dominoes and bingo were played and of course there was lots of eating. At some point in the day another KFC run was made too. After the girls were successful in building a pyramid in the water it was time to head home.

Of course the return trip warranted pit stops too. First it was to buy a big whole pine - but not for the tourist price of J$500 (they didn't even weigh it, the nerve!) but for the more reasonable price of J$200 that we got 2 stops later. Then we stopped at Faith's Pen for some jerk - it is a large string of roadside stalls who all sell jerk meats and roast vegetables. We got some roast corn, yam and breadfruit plus some festivals (fried dough). It was really, really tasty! We finally rolled back into Portmore around 7:30pm, tired with our bellies full!

- Kaelyn

Monday, June 19, 2006

My Tale

My journey began when I was unsuspectingly snatched away from my mother in the nice cool hills of St. Elizabeth and dropped into a shoe box that someone tied up with string and carried around as if a cake was inside. There were plenty of air holes which also provided me a view of my surroundings and allowed in the many smells of my trip. My first stop was Santa Cruz which I didn't like too much because big wet rain drops started to disintegrate my little house. Luckily my carrier had some tape handy and was able to patch it up. Then there were many bus and taxi rides. I tried to meow every so often so people would be certain that I was a cat and not a cake but there was so much loud music I'm not sure if anyone even heard me. I peeked out of my air holes but some of the other people on the bus were pretty stinky so I had to be careful which holes I used.

Then all of a sudden the car rides were over and I was being let out of my box. Everywhere I turned there was concrete, I was definitely not in St. Bess anymore. What had happened to the beautiful mountains, the crisp clean air, the grass and the trees? Most importantly what had happened to my mother? There were those pesky humans who I recognized from my mother's house, two of them who had always been there and the other two who had come to visit. I later learned that this new house belonged to the two visitors, not nearly as enjoyable as my former home but at least they had a litter box for me to use because after that long journey I had to go! I looked around for something to eat, no milk just hard food - boy was this going to take some getting used to.

The first night they made me sleep outside on the veranda, but soon they learned that those silly iron bars weren't going to stop me from adventuring. When they all left on Saturday I decided I wasn't going to spend my day all alone on the porch. I climbed around the roof tops and found lots of other humans to take pity on me and give me milk. Unfortunately, only having been at this new home for 1 day I didn't quite know my way back home. Luckily, my new owners searched high and low until they found me. But should they really be that worried, nobody would believe a fat, fluffy kitten like me could be a stray - of course they would take care of me until I was returned to my home.

But after that it was inside for me. Apparently, there are scary things out there I don't know about and I'm not big enough to defend myself yet. So now I just have to dart out whenever the door is opened, but that's okay because inside is fun too. There are lots of electrical cords to swat at and I have a nice little ball made out of newspaper and duct tape. I even got to watch my favorite football team Brazil play yesterday. Mostly I was mesmerized and sat staring at the TV but every once in a while I got inspired and showed off how I too could carry my ball across the floor like a ballet dancer. That's how I earned my full name - Duodinho. I'm pretty thankful they named me after Ronaldinho and not Ronaldo because I'd much rather be hip and cool than looking a bit fat and sloppy. Then of course there were plenty of naps to take and the heat here was really getting to me, sometimes I just have to lie on the floor and cool off. Those fans are nice too but they make all my fur stick up like a mohawk.

The humans are pretty fun too, they have nice laps to curl up in and I really crave the attention they give me. I couldn't believe it this morning when it was 6:00am and those silly owners of mine weren't up yet. I had to sneak into their room and convince them to come out and play with me. I mean really if they were planning on leaving me in the house all alone while they went to work today the least they should do is give me lots of attention in the morning! All in all I think I'll manage just fine in my new home, especially once they decide I'm big enough to venture outside on my own and if they keep giving me little treats like milk and tuna.

- Duo

Monday, June 12, 2006

Picture Update

Since we have been a bit behind in updating there is a hodgepodge of new pictures on the Flickr site. But they do offer some more insight into what we have been up to the past few weeks. Two weekends ago we chilled around our house, for the first time in a long while not going anywhere or having any visitors. We hung out with one of the neighborhood girls, Regina, for a bit and even took a little walk to get some tasty ice cream. She is quiet the talker and told us all about her plans to go to the U.S. and all the things she is going to buy and bring back. She also drew a nice picture of me or I should say of Candee which is what she has taken to calling me. And she has informed all the other kids in the neighborhood of my name too, which they love to call out whenever they see me.

Then we had a visit from our friend Khaled who has been helping with our database project at work. He is convinced that I can learn Visual Basic in a week. But since I haven't had a week yet to go through his tutorial he has to come and do the programming for now. We had a bit of a scare when Access went berserk and locked us out thanks to some security corruption. But luckily the solution came to Khaled in a dream and everything was back up and running again the next day.

Quarterly meetings happened the first weekend in June. Those are always a good time to catch up with everyone. And of course there is Happy Hour at the Four Seasons which is always lots of fun. But there are also lots of meetings which can last forever. What we need is more Happy Hour and less meetings! Another exciting note of the weekend - we discovered some sunflowers in New Kingston. As we walked along between the bus stop and the Peace Corps office there they were giving us a lovely reminder of our Kansas home. Ahhh, the things that make you smile!

After Quarterlies I ventured to Malvern, in exchange for Khaled's help I was off to help the St. Helena's Womens Group with their accounting system. They are a group of weavers who live in Retrieve, St. Elizabeth who Caitlin assists as a secondary project. She is working to help them market their baskets and other woven goods, which are quite gorgeous and I must admit I own a few pieces myself. I spent part of a day up in Retrieve (which would definitely be considered deep bush Jamaica) working with the woman who is in charge of keeping their records and attending a meeting of all the women in the partnership. It was truly one of the most rewarding days I've spent as a Peace Corps volunteer and I hope I have more opportunities to help this group in the future.

While in Malvern I also spent some more quality time with the kitties. Their rank has sadly gone from four to three but they are still as cute as ever. We had previously selected the squeaker as the one we would adopt but he is pretty much a scaredy cat and we don't know that he could handle the bus ride to our house. So we have decided to go with the most outgoing one in the bunch, Duo. Although Brownin is the sweetest and Caitlin's favorite we are pretty sure she is a girl and we just don't think we could handle baby kitties of our own. So Duo it is and he should be arriving at our house this coming weekend which will be all sorts of exciting!

Otherwise we have just been dealing with our "Adventures in Plumbing" and the lack of power at our office. Unfortunately no pictures of the enormous holes in our bathroom floor. The sight was just too much to bear and I really didn't want any reminder. I will say that we are getting better and better at adapting to these annoying instances of no showers, lack of power, and constant rainfall. These are some interesting times!

- Kaelyn

Drains, Rains

It has been a long time since we posted, so we wanted to give everyone a little update on what has been going on with us lately.

A tropical depression developed near Jamaica from about June 4-7. It caused some rain, but nothing heavy enough to cause problems. It mainly meant getting wet and not being able to dry clothes. The power also went out at our office a few times due to the rains. The last week, though, the power at our office has not been functioning even though it has stopped raining. It is due to faulty wiring, and the contractors have not been able to correct the problem yet. It should be fixed soon, and then we can get back to work.

We had been having drain problems since May. At first, the water would take a few minutes extra to go down the drain after you showered. Then, it started pooling around your foot as you bathed, which isn't very pleasant. Finally, it would not drain at all. Why, you ask, did we not get this fixed sooner? The main reason is that we wanted to wait for a our landlady to get back into Jamaica, so we could ask her about it and see if she could reccommend a plumber. In the meantime, we did try using drano and a long piece of wire to try to remove the obstruction, but neither of these worked.

We got a hold of the plumber, and his solution was to dig up our bathroom floor, remove the blocked pipe, and replace that section. I did get to learn about how Jamaican floors are constructed and deconstructed while observing this process. He first removed one tile using a chisel and hammer. There is tinset surrounding the tile and underneath it to hold it in place. Below the tinset is concrete, and the two are about 4 inches thick combined. Then, there is just loose rock and soil and various stuff for about 8 inches underneath the concrete through which all the pipes run. So, he takes all of this dirt and stuff out of the hole in the floor. Unfortunately, no pipe. He tries another one with the same result. I tell him that there are only three good tiles to use as replacements. Finally the third one is paydirt. Instead of removing the pipe, he just knocks it, and this dislodges the "choke" in the pipe. Let's hope this process does not have to be repeated.

-Shane and Kaelyn

Jamaican Migration

After talking to a few Jamaican acquaintances, I learned some interesting facts and stories about how they split their time between Jamaica and the United States. For half of the year, they live in Jamaica, where they own a home and consider it their permanent residence. For the other six months or so, they live in New York City with relatives, working there to earn money to bring back to Jamaica. This lifestyle allows them to work very little or just do odd jobs while they are in Jamaica, since they already own their home. The amount of money they get paid in New York is also much greater than they could earn for equivalent work in Jamaica.

There is also an interesting gender division in their women. The men do construction or painting, while the women work as nannies or live-in household help. The male work is seasonal, since most construction is carried out during the summer months. One couple I talked to even goes at opposite times of the year, so that someone is living in their house throughout the year.

The funny thing is that many Jamaicans can relate stories to me about New York City, like how they were up there during the blackout in the summer of 2003. One of them had to walk all night to get back to his apartment because the buses were not running when there was no transportation. Since I have only been there a few times, the Jamaicans know a lot more about NYC than I ever could, and it is their main image of the United States. I try to describe the Midwest, and how it is quite different from New York, but it is hard to explain.

An interesting example of migrant labor, but one that does not fit the common stereotype of people coming from Mexico to do farm work.