Saturday, July 28, 2007

What a long strange trip ...

We are now back in the US and have officially completed our Peace Corps service. We are very proud of ourselves for making it through and getting our official Close of Service. But there are a few fun things left to talk about at the end of our Peace Corps journey.


At the Portmore Municipal Council they gave us a nice little sendoff party. It actually involved two parts. First, there was a lunch at Prendy's on Hellshire Beach with our closest coworkers in the building and planning departments. This is a restaurant we had been to a few times, and they have really good fish. The only issue is that it takes a long time to get the fish. So this time, we all pre-ordered so that the fish didn't take too long to get ready. The fish lunch was fun, and then the next day we had a little going away meeting in the conference room. I can't really call this a party, since it involved us sitting around the conference room table while speeches and testimonials were given about our service. Then we got some nice gifts: a wooden carving of the Portmore Causeway in a frame, two PMC tote bags, and a thank you card. It lasted about an hour, and then it was over. The main sentiment expressed was that they really appreciated the database we helped build, and they wish they could get more Peace Corps volunteers. Click here for more pictures.


The weekend after we stopped working, we went to a bush party. By that I mean a party in a rural part of St. Elizabeth hosted by our Jamaican friend Sania in honor of her work with our friend Caitlin. A few Volunteers attended, and a lot of Jamaicans. They had food made over a fire, using three stones to prop up the huge pots of mannish water (goat soup), fish tea, rice, curried goat, and oil for fried chicken. The fish tea was very tasty, and we tried a sip of the mannish water, which wasn't too bad. There was also big sound and a dance area. It started out with Jamaican oldies, and it didn't get busy until after midnight, when more people started showing up. Then a few people got crazy on the dance floor, grinding away, while most others watched or just danced a little bit. We left around 3:30 AM, when our taxi man returned to get us because he was too tired to stay up any later. A good experience to have before we left the island. More pictures can be found here.


We got home safe and sound on the 27th, only about 20 minutes behind our scheduled arrival. And only one bag was missing, but it should be delivered to us in a few days. We did only get 3 hours of sleep, because we had to get up at 3 AM in order to get ready and catch a taxi for our 6:40 AM flight. And we didn't finish packing until midnight. But we did get it done.

Our Peace Corps experience taught us a lot. We are glad that we stuck it out and know that it will have a profound affect on our lives in the US. Those things that we took for granted before, like washing machines and other luxuries, will be appreciated much more now. But more than that, the many friends we made amongst the Volunteers and the Jamaicans we got to know will stay with us. It was definitely a rich experience that we will think about for the rest of our lives.

-Shane and Kaelyn

Monday, July 16, 2007

Port Royal

Shane and Kae

For the first time since we have been in Jamaica, we got to explore Port Royal. What we found there is an utterly pleasant and cute community. We took a walking tour of the historical sites before dark and then we went to the Cabin for a fish dinner. We got to sit on the dock and listen to the waves lap and watch the boats go by as we ate our conch soup, fish, festival and bammies. After we finished we walked over to the main dock and checked out all that was happening. It was a Friday night and the place was hoppin - oldies music was playing, people were eating fish and festival at tables in the streets, and there was even an oyster bar set up. Then we got an ice cream and enjoyed it at the Sitting Park while watching lots of kids run and play. In the morning we took a walk on the beach and collected smooth colorful rocks and beach glass.

All in all Port Royal is a great place to go and we wish we had visited sooner.

You can see more of our pictures of Port Royal here. And you can check out the pictures of how we spent the rest of our weekend -- cruising around Montego Bay on the Fiesta Queen.

- Shane and Kae

Monday, July 09, 2007

Inverness Primary and Infant School In the News!

Our Peace Corps friend Malaika works at the Inverness Primary and Infant School in a small rural town in the southern part of St. Ann Parish. Her school is without a lot of basic resources and was damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and still needs repairs. But her kids are really deserving and are getting some help from students at a school in southern Florida. Their donations of school supplies were organized by one very helpful student at the school. Check out this news story and video, which have links that allow you to donate to the school as well.


End of Service Celebration Season

Since our Peace Corps Group is winding up its service, there has been no shortage of fond farewells. After getting to know such nice people, it is going to be hard for us all to go our separate ways and only be able to see each other rarely. Here are links to some pictures from our recent bouts of nostalgia and celebration, along with pithy descriptions.

-Shane and Kaelyn

New Group Arrives!


The new group arrived on island on July 3rd. Check out this article from the Gleaner and we have some pictures up on Flickr. Here's to a great two years on island!


At the same time, the international director of Peace Corps came down to visit Jamaica for a couple of days. He came to our office, along with the Regional Director for Inter-America and Pacific. We didn't have any electricity, so our office was hot and dark. But they got the generator hooked up and we were able to showcase our database and have a meeting with our counterparts at work.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Load Shedding

So we were asking our supervisor why the electricity keeps going off at our office. It has happening a lot lately, often for 3 or 4 hours at a time, after which we usually go home if it hasn't come back on for that amount of time. The answer he gave was load shedding. Specifically, the fact that our office is in Portmore, which is right next to Kingston, the town where the majority of people who live in Portmore work during the day. In these hot summer months, all those Kingston workers are using a lot of air conditioning and other electrical devices. So in order to accommodate this peak load, they cut off the power to Portmore, assuming that not very many people are in Portmore during the day. The truth is, they're right about the small number of people working in Portmore. But for those of us that do, no electricity really cuts down on the amount of work you can do.


Drum Shop

We recently spent the weekend in Negril because we had won a free trip at Merrill's, a hotel on the beach. The prize was for entering a raffle held by our friends Caitlin and Khaled. We entered the raffle sometime in October 2006, but the prize was still valid in June. Mostly, we just sat around the hotel, swam, and relaxed in the luxurious room that was about as big as our apartment. I did make one trip to into Negril in order to get a drum and some guinneps. I was successful on both counts, eventually.

First, I went to the drum shop, but Lloyd, the Rasta drum maker, was not there. So I asked after him at the cook shop next door. They suggested calling the number written on his sign. So I did. It turned out Lloyd was at lunch, but he told me he would be back soon. So I went down to small fruit vendor area in Negril, which was prety close to the drum shop. I talked to the fruit ladies there, and I was lucky enough to get the last bag of guinep.

Row of Fruit Stands

After talking to the ladies for a while, I went back to the drum shop. But it was still closed. So I went to the cookshop and got some coconut water. They were out of their classic tuna water, but that was OK because I didn't really want to drink tuna water. Eventually, the drum maker returned and we were able to talk for a couple of hours and I chose a drum made of guango wood. Here is Lloyd and his shop. He makes really nice drums under the name Lion Claw out of various woods such as guango, saparilla, and coconut.

Drum Shop and Lloyd, the Drum Maker

Make sure to check Lloyd near the round-a-bout in Negril if you are interested in drumming or want to buy a nice hand drum.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Strawberry Hill

Restaurant Building

After all the excitement and hard work of the Creative Thinking Contest, we decided we deserved a treat. We had heard lots of good reviews about Strawberry Hill, a resort and restaurant in Irish Town, St. Andrew. And although it is a bit pricey for the Peace Corps Volunteer budget we decided to splurge and venture up into the hills of the Blue Mountains for Sunday brunch. We were joined by our friends Caitlin, Khaled, and Brooke and we spent most of the day at Strawberry Hill enjoying good conversation, wonderful food, and spectacular views.

Cold Foods Plate

The Sunday brunch features dozens of salads, seafood, Jamaican cooked food, and fabulous desserts. Our favorite items on the spread were the smoked marlin and the cold garlic shrimp salad. Strawberry Hill's beautiful restaurant and villas are nestled in the Blue Mountains overlooking Kingston. The grounds are breathtaking, with paths and nooks circling through rich vegetation, flowers, and historic buildings. It was truly a delightful day!

Mona Reservoir

- Kaelyn

You can view the rest of our pictures of Strawberry Hill here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Creative Thinking Contest Fun Day

The Schedule

On June 16th, the Creative Thinking Contest (CTC) Fun Day was held at the Peace Corps Office. The CTC is an event put on by the Gender and Development (GAD) Committee of the US Peace Corps in Jamaica, a group which tries to understand more about how gender and development intersect in Jamaica. The goal of this contest was to get Jamaican school children thinking about how gender is an important part of playing games, and see if they could think of a game that was interesting and fun for both boys and girls. Two of my fellow Volunteers, Brooke Dumain and Khaled Alquaddoomi, organized the event, and I helped them out.

Judging Tunnel of Survival

The planning for this event started over a year ago, when GAD started fundraising and deciding on the theme for the event. We thought that making a game would be a fun way for kids to think about gender issues, as opposed to writing an essay or other creative work. Then, students were contacted in parishes across the island, often with the help of volunteers who worked at the schools. Teams from the schools were judged and ten finalists were chosen from 5 schools to participate in the final round of judging.

The Winning Team!

The Fun Day and final round of judging went off very well. The heart of the day was all of the finalists demonstrating their game for all of the judges (who were high school students) and allowing all those in attendance to play the games. There was also a DJ bus from Digicel, a popcorn and snowcone machine, dancing, and lots of food and gifts for the participants. Shane ran the popcorn machine for much of the day, and Kaelyn was in charge of the prize drawings. The winner was Tivoli Gardens High School, from Kingston. You can read more about the Fun Day from the Gleaner here and see more of our pictures here.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Negril with the Fam

Eating at Just Natural

Kaelyn's family came down to Jamaica to visit us from June 3 -7. We thought that Negril would be the best place to go, because it has the beach, the cliffs, many local and international style restaurants, and is easy to get to from the airport. It turned out to be a good choice.

Three Sisters at LTU

During the trip, we ate many fabulous meals, hung out on the cliffs and the beach, and enjoyed the relaxed vibe in Negril. One of the best restaurants was Just Natural, it was right down the road from the hotel, Samsara, which is on the West End (cliff side as opposed to beach side) of Negril. Just Natural features tasty fresh fruit and breakfast as well as vegetarian and seafood entrees, and the tables are outdoors in a garden setting. The fruit juices and blended drinks are especially delicious. We also went to Rick's (the famous Negril spot for cliff jumping and sunset cocktails), Margaritaville, LTU, and Three Dives Jerk. Everyone (including Kaelyn's teenage sisters) was adventurous and tried new things like curry goat, curry conch, jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, and Jamaican style patties (beef in a pastry shell).

Rick's Sunset

Besides eating, we did a few other activities. There was snorkeling off the cliffs at Samsara. And although most of the coral reefs around Jamaica are dead we did spot some pockets of color and saw several schools of fish. We even spotted some dolphins, which we hadn't seen anywhere else in Jamaica. We spent an interesting and tiring day at the Negril craft market and found some nice pieces to buy. They got to experience exhilarating route taxi rides and smalling up going back and forth from the hotel. And most importantly the weather was sunny the whole trip, so there was plenty of time to lay in the sun, tan, read, and relax. All in all a fantastic family vacation!

You can see more pictures here.

- Kaelyn and Shane

Saturday, June 02, 2007


Lizard Throat Bubble

We have been getting a lot of rain recently, and I think this has increased the population of lizards in the ackee tree behind the apartment. I saw four of them in the tree one day. There appeared to be some sort of mating/killing ritual going on between two of them. The big lizard that you see in the picture was doing something to the little lizard. But the cool thing you see in the picture is that the lizard was inflating its throat like a balloon. Neat. Just like Animal Planet.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Labour Day

Kids Digging

Jamaican Labour Day was last Wednesday, May 23rd. This is a national holiday in Jamaica. On this day, many Jamaicans, given a day off from work, elect to use their free time on a community project. These projects usually take the form of cleaning up, bushing, or refurbishing a building, park, school, or church. The Portmore Municipal Council's official Labour Day project was to build a small park with a monument showing the historical importance of Passage Fort, a district in Portmore. If you would drive around Jamaica on Labour Day, you would see small groups of people hunched over, painting, picking up trash, or weeding in their straw hats.

Kaelyn and Friends

That it the type of sight we saw as we traveled to our destination, a school in St. Andrew where our friend Brooke works. When we got there, we saw that Brooke and her students had been hard at work collecting rocks and starting to dig a terrace into the small hill in front of their school. Their goal was to spell out the name of the school using the rocks. Shane helped out by grabbing the pickaxe and extending the terrace over about 10 feet, with the help of the students. At that time, it began to rain and didn't let up for about three hours. Since we couldn't work outside, we went inside and talked with the students and staff at the school. They were very nice and kept us amused while we waited out the rain.

Brooke View 1

By the time it stopped raining, all we had time to do was clean up the work site a little bit. The rest of the project would have to wait for another day. Afterwards, we took a little tour of the town and got to see where Brooke lives and the view she has from her apartment.


Thursday, May 24, 2007


Star Fruit Closeup

That's the name for star fruit in Jamaica. It can be hard to find in the super market, but I found some for only J$20 per fruit up in Point Hill, St. Catherine. It was tart and sweet, so I think it would have been better mixed with another fruit. It's really pretty, though.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Fun Citi Fun Day

Kaelyn and Shane

This past Saturday, we spent the day with orphans from group homes around Jamaica to celebrate a fun day at Fun Citi, a private beach and club in Portmore. The Fun Day is sponsored by Food for the Poor, a US based charity that supports 12 group homes in Jamaica, among their other activities. The kids got to go to Fun Citi as a reward for their good behavior. Shane also attended the Fun Day last year, and this year was even better.


Fun Citi has a lot of different things for the kids to do, including a beach, beach soccer, volleyball, basketball, skating rink, and a basketball court. Besides these, there was also tug of war, a dance and singing competition, arts and crafts, refreshments, popcorn machines, and snow cones. Our job was to help watch out for the kids and make sure they all played safe, and to keep things organized. Kaelyn helped out a lot in the refreshment area, and Shane was assigned to the Mt. Olivet home for boys to be a general helper.

Kaelyn Giving Gift Bags

The day was packed with activities. Shane was a life guard for the beach area. He also made sure all of the boys from Mt. Olivet didn't miss any of the scheduled events. Kaelyn was also involved in handing out the gifts that all the kids got as they left the club. You can see more pictures of our exciting and rewarding day here.

-Shane and Kaelyn

Monday, May 14, 2007

COS Conference and Other Goings On

Group 76

So it has been a while since our last post and quite a bit has been going on. We were judges for the National 4-H Achievement Day which was very similar to the St. Elizabeth Achievement Day which we judged in March except this time it was the top entry from each parish. We both judged the creative portion of the Environmental Challenge competition, Kaelyn for the younger kids and Shane for the older kids. It was either a song or skit (or sometimes both) about disaster management and some of them were very creative and included costumes and dances. The kids were very cute and this was a pretty fun entry to judge. We also got to walk around and check out the displays they were setting up in the parish booths - our favorite display was the 4-H shamrock made out of peppers. And while we were at the Denbigh 4-H grounds in Clarendon we got to check out our fellow PCV's biodisel project that he is working on there. He has been turning rotisserie chicken drippings into tractor fuel - a very interesting project for Jamaica considering all the fried chicken consumed on a daily basis.

Then Shane had to take an unexpected trip to the US for 9 days to attend the funeral of his grandmother in St. Paul, Minnesota which was very unfortunate. While he was gone I was in Negril at the Close of Service (COS) Conference for our group of volunteers. You can see most of the "surviving" members Group 76 in the picture above. Out of the 62 volunteers that flew to Jamaica with us in July 2005, only 38 have made it this far. We are definitely proud of ourselves for being among those who have stuck it out! It was really great to see all the other volunteers at the Conference, some people I hadn't seen since our last group conference in November 2005. And it started to put some closure on this whole experience; things are really starting to wind down now!

Shane returned last Tuesday with some very lovely surprises from the US - mini bottles of diet Coke, dark chocolate M&Ms and natural peanut butter! Since then we have been working on a Microsoft Access Workshop that we are going to be doing for our coworkers. We checked out the new (and only) Mexican restaurant in Kingston for dinner Friday night and we were pleasantly surprised with how fabulous it was. They had chips & salsa, guacamole, and Corona's with lime! I predict we shall be visiting often. Other than that our weekend was pretty typical - our apartment was unbearably hot and we had little to no water. All the more reason to spend as many weekends as possible traveling before we leave!

- Kaelyn

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cold Cinema, Rocking Restaurant, and a Van with A View

A few interesting things happened over the past weekend when we traveled to Ocho Rios (aka Ochi) to visit our friend Darius.

If you had read our blog posts from the fall of 2005, you probably don't remember what they said. So I will refresh your memory, we used to go to the movie theatre in Portmore and see whatever was playing there on 2 for 1 Tuesdays. Sadly, that theatre was closed down at the end of 2005 because it was crappy. There are other cinemas in Jamaica, but they are harder to travel to than the one that used to be in Portmore. Because of the difficulty in getting to the cinema, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was the last film we saw, on July 16, 2006. So when we noticed that Meet the Robinsons was playing as the matinee in Ochi, we had to go. The movie was very entertaining, if a tad manic and confusing. But the whole package -- popcorn, a/c, darkened theatre, loud speakers, and weird animated characters -- made it a diverting experience.

Later that night, we went to the newly opened Hard Rock Cafe. Did you know there are about 200 of these things around the world? It was fun there, though, because they have one of the only happy hours that I have seen in Jamaica. This means buy one drink get one free, and unlimited gratis chips and salsa. The deal used to cover all blended and premium drinks and all types of beer, until the Hard Rock Jamaica was informed by corporate that the special only pertains to rum drinks and Red Stripe. Still a good deal. They also show music videos and concert clips from a range of performers such as The Bangles, ABBA, and Panic! At the Disco. A weird mix of 80's, 90's, and current rock/pop bands.

The other interesting thing was on the trip home on the minibus. Since Mt. Rosser was blocked due to repairs, we had to take a detour onto a small road that parallels the Mt. Rosser route. But it had an awesome view of the hilly country in southern St. Ann that is similar to Cockpit Country. The road was about at the top of the hill, with a valley to the right that went straight down. From the road, the hills in the distance look like an infinite line of egg cartons, but each one is hundreds of feet high.

Thanks Darius for a really fun time.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Jamaican Idol?

Rising Stars Stage

Rising Stars is a Jamaican show that discovers new talent through a televised singing contest in which people can vote for their favorite singer by phone, similar to American Idol in the United States. It is very popular in Jamaica, and the island has a huge number of aspiring singers and musical artists. This past weekend, we happened to be in Ochi visiting a friend and the Rising Stars auditions were taking place there as well.

The auditions were held at Island Village, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex located near the cruise ship dock in Ocho Rios. There were about 400 contestants lined up, but according to the Gleaner this was a lot less than last year. There was very little excitement in the air at Island Village. What we noticed most was the police, wooden barriers, and checkpoints that made it hard to move around the area.

The main problem with the auditions, though, is that they didn't broadcast the singers through a PA system. So there was people watching, people singing, a stage ... but no sound to be heard. Why hold the auditions in a very public outdoor venue if you are not going to let the public hear the auditions? If you don't want people to hear them, hold the tryouts indoors.

Let's hope this season of Rising Stars finds some talented singers. My personal favorite from last year was Brushy One String, who played all of his songs using a one string guitar and wore a cowboy hat for every episode. He made it to the top 10.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ants in the Shower

For some strange reason a large number of ants have taken up residence in our shower. We believe that they are consolidating in the handles. They aren't usually seen until you turn on the water and are actually in the shower, then they come rushing out of the handles onto the wall and run around in circles for a while. I'm pretty sure they are trying not to get wet, but if that was the goal why would they take up residence in the shower in the first place? The really stupid ones are those that try to escape along the tub sides and seek protection among the soap and shampoo bottles, I find them to be too close for comfort so they all get drowned. I know that seems harsh but I'm afraid of them jumping off the shampoo bottle into my hair when I wash it and the thought of ants in my hair is just too much. But other than those we have pretty much decided to co-exist with the ants in the shower, mostly because we don't know how to get rid of them. So for now we just have to deal with the unpleasantness of hundreds of ants coming out to join you while bathing.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Putting Java to the Test


In an earlier post, I had written about trying to brew the best cup of coffee I could, using my French press, grinder, and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans. But it dawned on me over the weekend that I had never directly compared this coffee to other varieties grown on the island to determine if it was truly the best. So, on Sunday, I put the assumption of Blue Mountain superiority to the test.

Shane Sipping

I bought three types of coffee: Blue Mountain beans, High Mountain beans, and Mountain Choice grounds (these are listed in order of price, from highest to lowest). Since I only have one press, I brewed the coffee in mugs, using one scoop of ground coffee for each mug and filling them up with boiling water to the same level. The grounds were stirred and steeped for about 5 minutes, then filtered with the press. I cleaned the press out between each filtration. Then all of the cups were sampled with no additives (i.e. milk or sugar). I also varied the order of the sips to compare the different varieties against each other.

Kaelyn with a Cup

The results (ranked in order of taste preference):
  1. Blue Mountain
  2. High Mountain
  3. Mountain Choice

This is what you would expect based on their respective prices, but comparing the coffees against each other revealed that the Blue Mountain is far superior to the other two. What distinguished the winner was that it had an earthy, rich taste that was pleasing to the palate. So pleasing that it could be enjoyed with nothing added to it. The other important factor was that there was no bitter or acidic aftertaste. The finish was clean.

Blue Mountain Brewing

The Winner

The High Mountain had some problems, including a woody smell and acidic taste, but seemed to get better after sitting for a while. The Mountain Choice was worse than Folgers, with a bad aftertaste and a flavor that evoked the mildew smell arising from a tent that has been left in a damp basement for many months. Both of them would need reinforcements of milk and sugar to be drunk on a regular basis.

The final verdict: the Blue Mountain is definitely worth the price of admission if you can afford it.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Goats Beware

Goats Beware

I saw this sign last week and thought it was pretty funny. I'm pretty sure it was a joke considering it was outside a store in the New Kingston area, but you never know.

- Kaelyn

Trelawny Yam Fest

I had been hearing about the Yam Fest, it seems, for as long as I had been in Jamaica. It is an event that Volunteers helped start, and current Volunteers help to set it up this year. This year it was held at a fairgrounds near Falmouth, the capital of the parish of Trelawny last Monday. The Monday after Easter is a national holiday in Jamaica, so there was no work.

I didn't have a very great time at the event. The biggest problem was that it rained for about 75% of the time I was there. This meant all of the attendees were squished together beneath the various tents located on the grounds. The rain also delayed some of the scheduled activities, such as the donkey dressing competition. Then all of the events had to be squeezed into a shorter time frame. The other problem was that there were very few craft vendors, while there seemed to be about 50 food vendors selling chicken and roast yam. I thought there would be some tasty free samples, but most of the experimental yam food cost money. The free sample I did try (yam fritters) wasn't very good.

The things I did like:
  • Rasta Marching band from "Selassie Gardens" with red, green, and yellow uniforms
  • Popcorn man selling freshly popped corn with melted butter
  • Roast Yam with butter and hot sauce was pretty good
Sorry to be such a downer, but the truth is that I don't really like yams that much, and that may have led me to not enjoy this event. And remember, there were many other parts to the Yam Festival spread out over weeks, so hopefully they all went off without a hitch.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rum and Water

Rum and water, the quintessential rum bar drink in Jamaica. But the phrase also describes our recent experiences in St. Elizabeth over the past weekend. There was plenty of both as it rained every day and we visited the Appleton Rum Distillery.


On Thursday, the St. Elizabeth 4H put on their annual achievement day. This is a chance for all of the 4H students in the area to be recognized with awards in such areas as environmental challenge, agricultural production, public speaking, and trash to cash competition. A few of the events were held that day, but most of them had been judged earlier. The main part of the day was to hand out the awards and let the kids have a good time. So there was a carnival air, complete with a Michael Jackson impersonator, sound system, cotton candy, popcorn, and an emcee. The only bad thing was that it rained almost the whole day, so people had to stay underneath the tents in order to stay dry. Big Up to the St. Elizabeth 4H for all its hard work.

HELP! It's Raining

On Friday, we went on the Appleton Rum Tour in the very scenic Nassau Valley of St. Elizabeth. The bad parts of the tour were that it was raining and there was a large crowd of drunk Cubans. This meant that the tour guide rushed through the talk and didn't give us very much information. Luckily, we found another guy who later filled us in on all the stuff we missed. There is also a sampling portion to the tour where about 15 Appleton products are laid out and you get to drink whichever ones you want. The Sangster's Original rum cream, coconut rum cream, and the Rumona (a honey liqueur) were our favorites.

Caitlin and Khaled, our St. Bess hosts, also put out some really tasty food, including a Middle Eastern mezze platter with hummus, rice, and sauted beans. Interestingly for us, the beans they used were fresh gungo peas and fresh broad beans. In Portmore, it's very rare to see any fresh beans or peas being sold, so I didn't even know you could get fresh broad beans. There was also an Italian meal with pasta and garlic butter bammy. It was also Caitlin's birthday on Monday so Khaled made a tasty carrot cake decorated with special fast melting Jamaican candles and we sang Happy Birthday. Thanks guys.

-Shane and Kaelyn

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

World Cup Cricket Match

Pakistan Fields

On March 17th, we attended the World Cup Cricket match between Ireland and Pakistan. Since it was St. Patrick's Day, we expected that the luck of the Irish would prevail, despite the facts that this was the first time Ireland has ever competed in the World Cup, that cricket is the 29th most popular sport in Ireland, and that Pakistan is a traditional cricket powerhouse and was ranked 4th in the world coming into the match. Well, the Irish won, meaning Pakistan could not advance to the second round of the tournament.

Shane and Kae Under Banner

There was much fun to be had at Sabina Park. First, we actually figured out how the sport of cricket was played. Having to sit through every bowl, over, wicket, maiden, and six, plus a few rain delays, gave us plenty of time to absorb the nuances of the sport. And there were smart cricket watchers nearby to help us if something was mysterious, like the DLPar (Basically a formula that determines how many runs a team would be awarded if day light ran out). Our seats were right on the field, too. There were drunk Irish fans, a Jamaican marching band sponsored by Pepsi, and a guy running on the field (that might have been a drunk Irish fan as well, on second thought). They bring Red Stripe right to your seat, and there was Guinness on tap, supposedly delivered straight from Ireland. We also planned ahead and brought in lots of snacks like trail mix, peanut butter and jelly, juice boxes, and cookies. That way we could spend all our money on beers and souvenirs (the hat Shane is wearing in the picture).

Cricket is kind of like baseball, in that there are long periods when nothing much is happening, and the games last a long time. However, baseball has more exciting things and is much shorter compared to a game of cricket. The games start around 9 AM and last until 5 PM. But this gives you plenty of time to talk, drink, and hang out, which are the most fun parts of a baseball game as well. Maybe it could have an audience in the US?


Monday, March 12, 2007

Problems with Power

The first problem with our power is that we didn't have any for about four hours yesterday. I know what you're thinking, "four hours, that's nothing, the ice is still frozen in the freezer after four hours. " Well, let me tell you something, that ice was only halfway frozen. The real issue, though, was that the four non-electrical (or old school) hours happened to encompass the two hours when KU was battling Texas. This was the game we had waited all weekend for, as it was the only game of the Big XII Championship we would be able to watch - since all the others were on some ESPN channel besides ESPN. But then a mere 10 minutes before tip-off and poof no ESPN, no lights, no nothing. So close, yet so far away. Thankfully, our Moms love us and called with the news of the nail biting overtime finish that saw the Jayhawks as the champions and their securing of a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The other pressing issue when the electricity stops is that the fans stop running. Then it gets really hot and and you start sticking to the furniture. Not cool. OK. So finally the power comes back on, so we think that the fan will kick in and cool us off. No dice, the fan (one of two we have) would not come on. Upon smelling it, Shane diagnosed a burnt out motor. This is now the second fan that has died on us in less than two years. Such are the perils of having to run your fan so often.

-Shane & Kaelyn

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Manual Labor

It's been a while since we have done any physical labor outside of our own house cleaning activities such as sweeping, doing dishes, and scrubbing laundry. So it was a breath of fresh air (not literally, of course, due to the stink) to be able to go out to Hellshire beach yesterday and pick up trash. The impetus for this trash removal exercise (T.R.E.) was the upcoming Cricket World Cup, which is motivating many people down here to spruce up their part of the island. The Cup runs from March 13-April 28, and the opening ceremonies and many matches will be in Jamaica.

Hellshire beach is one of the closest beaches to Kingston, and it has tons of fish restaurants. But it is also the home of an informal settlement, so there is not a lot of regularly scheduled cleanups. We picked up trash from the entrance area and the beach, while other people repainted the roundabout and the trees. We picked up lots of plastic bags, food containers, and hundreds of little plastic forks. The beach side was mainly abandoned clothes. The best part was seeing the trash truck come and actually pick up the waste, so we could be assured it didn't get left behind. Plus, the people organizing the cleanup gave us a free fish lunch for helping out.

Big up to the Half Moon Bay Fisherman's Co-Op. You should check out Hellshire Beach if you come to the Kingston area.

-Shane and Kaelyn

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


It has been really windy in Portmore and Kingston for the last month. On the one hand, this means that there is a nice cool breeze so that it doesn't get too hot and stuffy. On the other hand, the breeze blows enormous amounts of dust everywhere. The dust gets on your clothes and body, and into the house, so it makes everything a bit more messy.

But the most interesting thing about this windy weather is the large amount of kite fliers that have come out of the woodwork in Portmore. Who knew that almost every block had a little group of youths who were into kite flying? Some of these kites get so high that you can't even tell where the string is originating from; it could be hundreds of yards away. Plus the sound they make carries for miles. One day, I kept thinking that it was someone was weed whacking somewhere near by. But it went on for a long time and I finally realized it was the sound of the kite and string flapping in the wind. So I am thankful for the wind, because it brings the kites, and the kites manage to give me a nice feeling about life. Something to do with the fact that kite flying is one of those activities that seems to be done just because it is fun, not for some greater good.

Of course, there is some glory to be won by being an excellent kiter. That would be the honor of showing off your kite at the Kite Festival in Ocho Rios to be held Easter Monday.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Celebrate Peace Corps Day

In honor of Peace Corps Day we thought it would be appropriate to share some information and statistics about Peace Corps. If you want more information check out

The Mission and Goals of the Peace Corps
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Peace Corps officially established: March 1, 1961
Total number of Volunteers and trainees to date: 187,000
Total number of countries served: 139

Current Volunteers
Volunteers and trainees: 7,749
Gender: 59% female, 41% male
Marital status: 93% single, 7% married
Minorities: 16% of Volunteers
Age: Average–27 years old
Median–25 years old
Volunteers over 50: 5% of Volunteers
(oldest Volunteer is 79)
Education: 93% have at least an undergraduate degree
12% have graduate studies or degrees

Countries and Sectors
Current number of countries served: 73
Current number of posts: 67

Fiscal year 2006: $318.8 million

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Dry Season

Portmore is usually dry and dusty, and it rains very infrequently, since it is a semi-desert area. However, you can usually get by, as 100's of thousands of other people in the city do, because there is piped water. That is, until the pipe water stops coming for a couple of days, like 5. To top it all off, the tank on our roof is malfunctioning so all of the stored water runs out. And then when the water does come back, there is not enough pressure for it to reach upstairs. So then you fill up lots of bottles from the hose downstairs and carry them upstairs. It works OK, but we had gotten used to there being water in the tank. So we were caught a little off guard when it ran out.

Luckily, we live close enough to the Peace Corps Office that we can go there and take the occasional shower. Yet another reminder that water is really important, because sometimes we all take it for granted.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Touring Eastern Jamaica

Kaelyn’s dad recently came to Jamaica for the first time. So of course we had to show him some of the wonderful things that the island has to offer. We chose to spend our time in Eastern Jamaica, because this would give a sense of city life and the heart of Jamaican music in Kingston, while also allowing for the wonders of jerk and serene beaches in Portland. The trip also allowed for a tour of the concrete jungle that is Portmore.


We started out in Kingston, going to the Bob Marley museum, Knutsford Boulevard, and Devon House. The Marley museum really has a good tour, so you should check it out if you get a chance. There are tons of intimate details such as the bullet holes from where Bob and some of his entourage were shot in a politically motivated murder attempt. You can see where Bob played football, and his favorite shorts to play in. Then there is a short movie that highlights the music and lyrics of Bob Marley and the Wailers.


Knutsford Boulevard had some interesting places to visit. There was Juici Patty, one of the two most popular patty shops in Jamaica. The food is cheap and good, beef patties, vegetable patties, and other treats. Devon House has plenty of fine shops and restaurants. The Grog Shoppe was where we chose to eat dinner. It has a wonderful outdoor eating area set amidst the old stables of the first black millionaire in Jamaica. The food is tasty as well. We also went out to Two Sister’s Cave and Prendy’s on the Beach, both in Hellshire. Prendy’s has some of the best fried and steamed parrot fish on the island, along with lobster, bammy, and festival, as you can see in the picture.


Every beach in Portland seems to be perfect. But Boston Bay is especially interesting because of it has some of the biggest waves in Jamaica and is the site of the biggest jerk centre in the island. Great Huts, a natural paradise with tents and tree houses, was our base in Portland. Boston Bay has beautiful water and waves, some interesting snorkeling, and is surrounded by cliffs, giving you the impression that you are inside of a big bowl while you are swimming. The jerk centre offers jerk chicken, pork, fish, plus festival, breadfruit, and yam.


We also visited Port Antonio. There is a busy market with food vendors and craft vendors all in one location. Rock Bottom was the name of one craft vendor who makes really nice wood carvings, although they were ridiculously overpriced. The Port Antonio marina is the site of Norma’s on the Terrace, one of Jamaica’s best restaurants. The restaurant has a view of the marina, and while we were eating a small cruise ship was leaving the dock. There are also a number of impressive yachts to see. The food at Norma’s is really good, we had smoked marlin, butterfish, shrimp salad, and stuffed crab back. As you can see, seafood was the order of the day.


We ended the trip in Ocho Rios. The craft market was fun, but tiring. There are only so many times you can hear a vendor tell you that their wares are the best in the market, better than everyone else, even though most are selling the same items. Then we went down to Island Village, browsed the shops and ate at Margaritaville. The Margaritaville people tried to get us to stay for a party with tourists from all the hotels attending, but at 8:30 there was nobody there yet so we left. The next day we stopped at Walkerswood to take a tour of their facility. It’s really fun. The tour guide shows you how to make jerk paste, and then you get to see their clean, modern factory and sample all of the sauces. They were making jerk sauce the day we went, and the smell of pimento and scotch bonnet pepper suffused the whole compound. It is a very nice tour. We made one last stop for jerk at Faith’s Pen before enduring the backed-up traffic on Mt. Rosser and heading home.

Sadly, the journey had to come to an end. As Bob would say, “Jah live i-tinually.”

-Shane and Kaelyn

Monday, February 05, 2007

Birthday Weekend

The past weekend I celebrated my 26th birthday with many of my Peace Corps friends. I got to celebrate my birthday for three whole days. It was tiring, but well worth it.

On Friday night, some friends came over and we had potato and pumpkin ragout, salad, and frozen rum lemonade. Frozen rum lemonade would turn out to be a theme for the weekend, as we had it on all three days. On Saturday morning, I set out to Lime Cay with a group of about 12 friends. We made it there in the early afternoon, after taking a ferry from Port Royal. The island is very small, and takes about 5 minutes to walk from one end to the other. It is not affected by pollution from Kingston, as there is a strip of land called the Palisadoes that lies in between Kingston and Lime Cay. This means that the water is very clear and there is less debris washed up on the sand. We had a fun time swimming, lounging, and eating some fried fish and festival. I got a really awesome belt from Khaled and Caitlin. It has the really big silver buckle that is popular in Jamaica, but the image on the buckle is a lizard. Kind of reminds me of the famous Jamaican iguana, which is only found in the Hellshire Hills near where we live. Anyway, then we went back to our apartment and had coconut pasta while we watched the KU game. Unfortunately, they lost.

Sunday was spent cooking, eating, and watching the Super Bowl. There was chili, beer bread, twice baked potatoes, seven layer dip, tortillas, tortilla chips, rice krispy treats, chocolate cheesecake, and carrot cake with ice cream (the last being my traditional birthday treat). After all that eating, it was hard to stay awake for the football game. But the team I was nominally rooting for did win. This did not make up for KU losing, but it helped me to move on. All in all, it was a really jam-packed, exciting birthday weekend.


Thursday, February 01, 2007


The other day on while on the bus on the way home from Kingston I witnessed 2 random acts of kindness. The first was bestowed on a man who stood up in the center aisle of the bus and started preaching. Now this is a fairly common occurrence because bus riders are a pretty captive audience, since they don't really have anything else to listen to and are rarely going to leave until they reach their stop. But the man soon revealed that he wasn't really a preacher, in fact he wasn't exactly even a Christian. This was a bit amusing and it seemed that his conscience had gotten the better of him. He started out with the typical preaching beginnings "Good evening in the name of Jesus Christ ..." and then stopped and decided to fess up. But eventually he got to the point, what he really wanted was some money for food. Now I didn't have any smalls (small change) handy or I might have given it to him because at least he was being honest, and fessing up about not being a devout Christian in Jamaica is a pretty big deal. But I did notice that a few other of the passengers gave him some coins and then the women sitting across the aisle from me did a very impressive thing. She opened up her bag and removed a box lunch (a styrofoam container of cooked food) and gave it to the man. Now this was probably her dinner that she was carrying home and I couldn't help but be touched by this kindness. And I also couldn't agree more that giving the man actual food was probably much better than giving him money because then you knew he would be eating a proper meal that night.

Well it wasn't a few minutes later that this woman's kindness was repaid to her. As we were turning onto the causeway the woman made a loud exclamation. She realized that she had missed her stop because she certainly wasn't expecting to be on the bridge heading towards Portmore. Well there must have been 10 people trying to help this lady out, they were yelling at the driver asking him to stop so she could walk back and they were inquiring as to this lady's destination and trying to come up with alternate routes for her to take. Pretty much everyone sitting around her jumped into action and came to her assistance, truly concerned that she get where she need to go. In fact when we finally reached the next stop at the Portmore Mall I even saw persons stand up and look out the window to make sure that she headed in the right direction to get the next bus back to Kingston. And this is something I have often seen in Jamaica, whenever you ask someone for directions or assistance whether you know them or not they will often go out of their way to help you.

There is something refreshing about seeing persons come to the aid of others and even though I had not been personally involved in either act I felt very satisfied that the beggar had gotten a good supper and the women had gotten back to where she needed to go.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Caught in the Rain

Yesterday something happened to us that hasn't happened in a long time, we got drenched by the rain. True it has been the dry season but I have to think back much further to remember the last time I ended up looking like a drowned rat as I ran for cover. In fact the times that come to mind were all during training way back in July and August 2005 when we first arrived in Jamaica. And I really don't think it has been pure luck that has kept us dry for so long. I think it is more the adoption of the Jamaican attitude that getting wet by the rain is really, really bad (cause it will make you sick and crush up your clothes) and you should avoid it at all costs. To do this you either don't go outside when its raining or you think it might rain and you carry an umbrella with you everywhere you go.

Now I'm not sure what happened yesterday that caused me to drop the ball and end up soaking wet. I think it was the fact that we left work about an hour later than we normally do because we were trying to finish up a project with an upcoming deadline. So while we are usually home in advance of the occassional eveling (evening) shower that hits Portmore, yesterday we were not. Now of course we should have been carrying an umbrella but in our normal workday routine we don't often need one, shame on us. And in fact we thought we were mostly in the clear becuase as we were walking to get a taxi home it was only spitting and we were pretty sure that it wouldn't really start raining until we had made it home. But as we got closer and closer to our house the raindrops seemed to get bigger and harder on the taxi windshield. And when we finally reached our stop it was a full on downpour. There was really nothing else to do but laugh as we walked to our house getting drenched to the bone. And of course we didn't see another soul outside becuase what sensible Jamaican would dare get caught in the rain like that.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Peanut Butter

For those who don't know, I am a very big consumer of peanut butter. My favorite kind is crunchy natural peanut butter, with no added oil or sugar, just salt. I first tried the stuff at a friend's house in Portland, OR over 6 years ago, and I have been hooked ever since. Although it has its detractors, who will tell you that natural peanut butter separates, or gets hard in the fridge, I believe it is the best kind. For one, you don't have to worry about sugar content or hydrogenated vegetable oil, because it doesn't have any. The best thing about natural peanut butter, though, is the way it melts into a liquid when you put it on a hot piece of toast or bagel. When I went back to the US over Christmas, I made sure to bring back a jar of the good PB. Sadly, it is now gone. Back to the regular stuff for me.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New Passport Rules

For all of you people itching to come visit us:

The new passport rules governing air passengers into Jamaica and other Caribbean and Latin American nations went into effect today. Basically, you have to have a passport if you want to come to Jamaica by air. If you come on a cruise line, you don't need a passport until next January. This may influence some potential visitors not to come, but it shouldn't discourage you. Just start applying for your passport early (like today).

-Shane and Kaelyn

Thursday, January 18, 2007

From One Extreme to the Other

So I think it is worth mentioning some of the details of our journey from the US to Jamaica. On the day we left Kansas City we had to wake up at 3am so that we could be at the airport by 4:15 when the ticket counter opened so that we could fulfill the requirement of checking in 2 hours early for an international flight. This meant that we were leaving our hotel before the airport shuttle began running. Side note: the whole reason we chose to stay in a hotel by the airport was so we could take the shuttle, that didn't really work out now did it. So we asked the person at the front desk to call us a cab. We ended up getting a fancy, schmancy Lincoln Town Car. It had warmed seats and everything, which was a really good thing since it was 27 degrees outside and we had shed all our sweatshirts and coats the day before so we wouldn't have to carry them back to Jamaica where they would just get moldy. So our last impression of the US was luxury and the bitter cold. Many hours and airports later we landed in Jamaica. Another side note: The pizza place in Concourse D near gate 50 of the Miami Airport is most fabulous. El lugar de la pizza en el Concourse D cerca de la puerta 50 del aeropuerto de Miami es lo fabuloso. As always we had encountered a few delays but luckily all our bags made it and we sailed through customs with ease. Then we had to do a little bit of convincing to get an airport taxi driver to take us all the way to our house without charging us an exorbitant fee in American dollars. Luckily we found a nice guy who only charged us J$300 (US$5) over the regular price. He did try to get us to pay the toll too but we weren't falling for that nonsense. As we were driving through Kingston in his beat-up "deportee" station wagon with the windows rolled down I breathed in the familiar scent of burning trash. We finally reached our final destination at 9pm and of course in true Portmore fashion our apartment felt like a sauna, even though it was only 82 degrees outside. After 17 hours (we lost an hour due to time change) and a temperature difference of 55 degrees we were definitely feeling the changes of being back in Jamaica.

- Kaelyn

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Rebel Salute 2K7

After returning to Jamaica from a four week vacation in the US, our only option was to go back to work and then have some relaxation at the end of the week to ease our way back in to the Jamaican lifestyle. So last weekend, we went to our first stage show in Jamaica, called Rebel Salute. Rebel Salute is a big Rastafarian reggae and dancehall concert that is attended by Jamaicans and people even come in from other countries. We had been to other concerts in Jamaica, but none of them had any famous artists or live music, just a big soundsystem with selectors (DJ's) talking over the music. The picture above shows the view of the stage. We got to the show around midnight and stayed until 8 AM, but the music was still going then and we missed an appearance by Beanie Man, one of the top artists in Jamaica today.

Here we are as the sun comes up at Rebel Salute. It got cold enough during the night that we needed long sleeve shirts. It's disorienting to go to a concert all night, because then you have to sleep all the next day. But that is how most concerts work in Jamaica. The big artists, which in the case of Rebel Salute was Buju Banton, don't come on until 3 AM.

There was a good turnout of Peace Corps volunteers at Rebel Salute. Here is Kaelyn with Reina, Sarah, and Lauren.

To read more, there are some newspaper reviews of the event below:
Conscious Lyrics - Jamaica Gleaner (Tuesday, January 16th)
Thumbs Up for Rebel Salute - Jamaica Observer (Tuesday, January 16th)
Buju a class act at Rebel Salute - Jamaica Gleaner (Monday, January 15th)

-Shane and Kaelyn