Friday, June 25, 2010

Da Yute Dem

During my stay in Jamaica, I've been hanging out with Ronaldo a lot.  He is Anne and Blacka's nine-year-old son and one of my best friends.  He honestly makes me feel like a kid again.  We spend our days playing made up card games, swimming in the sea and eating everything that is sweet, salty, or made of chocolate.  Speaking of sweets, I thought I almost killed him the first day because he told me he was allergic to peanut butter.  That confession came after I gave him one of those chewy bars with chocolate and peanut butter chips.  He told me he didn't feel any different so I thought the low dose must have not effected him.  Later I asked his mom, Anne, if he was allergic and she just looked at me like I was crazy.  I then questioned Ronaldo about this claim of his and he said, "No, I LOVE peanut butter and chocolate, what's that called?"  He meant he is addicted, not allergic; insert sigh of relief here.  Anyway, Ronaldo and I have been taking photos on Mac's program Photo Booth and he also discovered that you can record video too, which I had no idea about.  So we have been messing around with that; he loves it.  He actually woke me up from a nap today to take pictures with the TNTs he brought home for me. TNTs are just like blowpops, but he thought we should take photos so I can show mi mudda and fadda. So below are photos of Ronaldo and I.  I would post videos, but I would die of embarrassment, its ok to act like you're nine when you're with a nine-year-old, but I don't think a wider audience would appreciate it as much.

The photos of the young girls were taken at the Busy Bee Basic School fashion show.  Jamaica's basic schools enroll kids from age 3-6.  The fashion show took place at the school's "fun day" an annual event to raise money for the school.  The girls walked in bathing suits, active wear and evening wear. After the fashion show, five graduating girls sung a song or read a poem as part of a competition to become the next "Miss Busy Bee."  It was crazy to see young girls competing at such a young age.  They were so confident and comfortable with themselves; if they asked me to get up on the stage, I'd rather run away! 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daily life..

The sun rises over the salt pond near my house around 6:30 a.m.The farmers in St. Thomas Parish wake even earlier than that, but I waited until midmorning to give them a visit.  I talked with a few of the farmers about their crops and the parish in general.   Around lunch time I watched Blacka fix a drainage problem.  The shower was draining slowly, so he busted out all of the cement to uncover the problem.  It turns out that Ronaldo must have let a few of his toys wash down the drain.  Three of them were stuck in the same elbow along with lots rocks, hair and debris.  By the end of the day, Blacka had replaced the PVC pipe, re-poured cement, and painted it to match the rest of the floor. After the plumbing project, I walked to the square to gather groceries for dinner.  When I sat down to have a snack, I noticed  a love letter across the street.  Mom, same goes for you! When I got back to the house, Blacka showed me how to make rice and peas.  Well, he grated the coconut and then Annie took over.  She explained to me how to prepare the beans and water for the rice and then she showed me how to make brown stew chicken and brown stew veggie chunks.  Before I knew it, the sun was setting over Pondside Lane.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Joe Grant probably has a big belly

I learn something new here every day, usually a couple of things.  For instance, Jamaicans don't say bless you after someone sneezes! I find it kind of refreshing to not hear it after every little sneeze, but I still find myself saying it to them every time.  I also learned what it means to make a "flex."  I was at the gas station when someone asked if I was going to flex.  I asked them to repeat themselves about three times and then I finally just smiled and said "yes" even though I had no idea what he was talking about.  I was later told that 'making a flex' means to go on a small trip or to go out and about.  

I also learned how to cook rice and peas and in the meantime found out that the husband I stay with, Blacka, worked as a chef at a restaurant and his wife Annie has her chef's certificate.  So now there are really no excuses for not learning how to cook some Jamaican dishes before I leave.  Blacka said he used to work at a Joe Grant restaurant, which is a term Jamaicans use for a restaurant known to cater to men and their mistresses.  Blacka also told me that the restaurant business is where he acquired the big belly he now sports.  He told me when he was younger he used to look at the men with big bellies and wish to be them when he grew up because they were always wearing nice clothes and smoking cigars.  He finished his story by saying, "And look at me now, I got my wish and I'm still so fucking poor!"  He may be poor, but he is definitely happy.

The three of us often have conversations about our countries to discuss their similarities and differences.  A few days ago we were talking about minimum wage.  In Jamaica, their minimum wage is determined by week not by hour like in the U.S.  Currently the minimum wage is $4,300 per week, but some people are paid less than that.  If you're scratching your head right now, that equates to about $50 U.S. dollars per week.  So when you're busy complaining about you $7/hr job, think about only making $50 per week.  

We also chatted about the process of obtaining a driver's license.  The process in Jamaica requires a lot more money than in the states.  First you must pay for the book to study from and then you must pay for each test, even if you fail it.  You could also go a different route and "buy" your license which means you pay a lot more, but then you are guaranteed to "pass" and walk home with a license. Once you get a license you must renew it every four years and that will also cost you.  Each time you go to get it renewed it will cost about 4,000 dollars, so you'll be spending a week's worth of pay to get your license for the next four years.  There is yet another disadvantage to this process.. if your license expires and you don't have the cash to renew it or you don't have a car at the moment the next time you go to pay for it you will be "renewing" it form the time it expired. So if you wait three years to renew your license, you'll be paying $4,000 for only one year of driving, until you must go renew it again.  I think that is a pretty bogus system and I for one would not be willing to pay a whole weeks salary just to drive for a year; public transit: here I come.

Speaking of public transportation, I took my first lone trip into town (Kingston) yesterday via bus.  It was surprisingly easy and not surprisingly crowded.  I was walking to the square in Yallahs when a bus passed me by and someone yelled, "town?"  I shook my head yes and was on my way.  In Philadelphia I would have waited for a half hour at the bus stop instead of being picked up on my way to the stop!  Public transportation and taxis are top ways of getting around the island so busses are always packed to the maximum.  Imagine the market street subway at 3 p.m. and then picture everyone moving from the subway car into a small van, yeah, that's how crowded.  The price makes it all worth it, only $140 Jamaican a.k.a. $1.62 U.S. for a forty minute bus ride.  Now that I've done it once, I can see myself making the trip many more times over the course of the next month.  

I'm going to top this blog posting off with a popular song in Jamaica at the moment.  My Cup by Richie Loop has been playing on the radio nonstop and consequently is always in my head.  I wasn't too fond of it at first, but like all overplayed songs it somehow finds a little space in your brain where all the lyrics hang out and resound in your head at various times of the day.  I'm sampling this song because it came up as the perfect response during a conversation the other day.  I recommend you list to this song before proceeding on ......

 I was sitting talking with two friends when I asked if men ever drink out of the same bottle.  Jamaicans are known for being quite homophobic and I can tell you, from my experiences that's true.  So, I was wondering if they ever take shots out of the same rum bottle when they're all sitting around drinking.  The two men responded that they usually pour the alcohol into the cap of the bottle and then take the shot from that instead of swigging right from the bottle.  I then asked if they would ever share drinks as a courtesy to let their friends try what they're sippin' on and thats when one of the men replied in song...  "What's in my cup stays in my cup."  

Friday, June 11, 2010

Essential Amenities?

According to Webster, an amenity is something that conduces comfort, convenience, or enjoyment.  These "needed" amenities are sure to vary with standards of living and geographical location, but it is generally agreed upon that everyone enjoys being comfortable and convenience never hurts.  There are many things we think are absolutely necessary.  Small comforts like a couch or a bathroom door are taken for granted, while other larger amenities like an air conditioner or washing machine seem almost impossible to live without.  I've come to the realization that I have been very fortunate to enjoy hundreds of "amenities" all my life and now a few of them have gone by the wayside, and you'll never guess, I survived!  Not only have I survived, but I'm enjoying it.  I used to think water pressure was the most important thing in a household and now I basically take showers with an over head garden hose.  Earlier this year, I actually made a note to specifically check the water pressure when I peruse the housing market while looking to rent in Philly.  Of course, its nice, but necessary?  Not hardly. 

I'm writing this blog post as I am about to wash my clothes, by hand.  This is only the second time I'm doing it and after watching Anne yesterday, I realize how slow and inefficient I may be, but it is somehow gratifying. Of course, there is no need for dryers here, but that is the easy part; the sun will do all of that for me.  

Below are a few photos from the first time I washed my clothes.  One minute it was sunny and suffocating and the next there was a mighty breeze and a short rain storm, which was the perfect rinse for my surely soapy clothes.  The last photo was taken during the sunrise; the light is beautiful here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A week has passed..

It is hard to believe that a week has already gone by since I arrived in Yallahs, Jamaica.  My time has been spent lounging around and getting acclimated with the climate and ferocious mosquitos.  While soaking up the sun, I've also had time to read my new camera's manual, so I will be snapping away with a Nikon D300S instead of my beloved D40.  During the past week I've mostly traveled east in St. Thomas, stopping in places like Morant Bay, Bath and Ceader Valley.  I tried to pull up a map on google, but only a few cities, towns, bushes (?) are noted.  Kingston is the only place referred to as a town in Jamaica, so it is always hard for me to come up with an appropriate name for a small community.  Anyway, I explored St. Thomas Parish at a leisurely pace and this week.

On Wednesday I sat in one spot for about five hours playing around with my camera and reading the manual.  I took about 230 pictures from the same bench!  A lot of them are the same because I was experimenting with different settings and options, but it was cool to see the collection of photos; it was truly a learning experience.  Later that night, I accompanied Laura and the students from Temple University that are studying abroad here in Jamaica to a beach side bar.  They originally planned on going to a bar in Morant Bay, but apparently Jamaicans don't party hard on Wednesdays, because it was closed.  Our driver took us to another place further east in a small bush called Prospect.  The bar was right beside the water and the property was quite large.  There were pool tables, hammocks, several seating areas and a small dock that led to a roof-less gazebo.  Wednesday was a clear night, so the stars were beautiful, the sky and sea kept me occupied most of the time.  It was a nice evening out, but I was kicking myself when I had to wake up a few hours later for a trip to a ginger farm.

I had the chance to accompany Mr. Taylor, a RADA extension officer, to a ginger farm in Ceader Valley.  RADA stands for Rural Agricultural Development Authority, the federal agency assists and educates farmers about a variety of issues.  The farmers in Ceader Valley were learning what ruins a good ginger crop and what preventative measures they can take to try and combat the damage.  While the farmers listened closely, I watched attentively and tried to come away with a few shots for the book I am making.  The book is going to focus on Jamaicans and all the trades they do daily and think nothing of.  In the U.S. there are endless gadgets and machines to make our lives easier and therefore Americans end up using their own strength and skills less and less.  I want to focus primarily on Jamaican's hands and everything they accomplish and make by themselves.

The following shot is of a Jamaican ginger farmer and is probably my favorite of the bunch.  Following that is a shot of the valley I had to slip my way down in order to meet up with the famers.  The others are photos I snapped while hanging with the group.  The colorful night shots were taken at the bar and the clothesline was strung up outside someone's home in Ceader Valley.  The last photo was taken while I was messing around with my camera, but it is also one of my favorite.  The bench in the photo is the one I was sitting on for a few hours and it is where I eat and watch T.V. with my Jamaican family.