Monday, November 15, 2010
I work at an incredible organization. It's an Innercity Youth organization that focuses on mentoring and developing employability skills. My days are spent mostly with the Board of Directors, working on Strategic Development, but I take every possible opportunity to spend time with the kids in our Youth Centre. I have hosted a few workshops already on business skills, resumes writing, interviewing, etc. The kids are all so keen and I often join them for a game of football (soccer) in the afternoons! These kids are truly amazing, they have everything stacked against them and little opportunity, most can't even afford bus fare to get here, let alone breakfast or lunch, but they continue to show up EVERY DAY and they wear their best business attire and always come upstairs to show me and to wish me a "good morning" ...part of the business etiquette I have taught them! They are so driven...I am learning a lot from them.
The city itself leaves a lot to be desired. I have never experienced such a contrast between the "haves" and the "have nots." The number of people living in poverty in Kingston is not nearly as shocking as the vast disparities in living condition.
It is chaos for the most part. Traffic rules are merely recommendations, as are most rules. The pollution is mind boggling, both the garbage and the noise. Many of my neighbours don't have electricity, therefore no fridge, stove, etc. I am living a VERY modest life out here, but still feel so much more fortunate then most. It is really amazing how quickly you get conditioned to something though. I feel totally at home. The locals are starting to call me "brownin" instead of "whitie" haha! I have the transportation system mastered...basically take a deep breath, close your eyes and hang on for dear life! Haha! I sometimes get to work in 20 minutes, sometimes in 2 hours...hence "Jamaican time."
I am training in Capoeira (Brazilian martial art) and taking Zumba (latin dance) classes, as well as informal Spanish with a colleague of mine whenever I can. There are a few great places to run and a fairly decent gym that I have a membership at. No golf as yet, not really in the budget anyway. I am having a blast learning about the cuisine, and of course taking every recipe and "cleaning" it up. My entire office is getting on board with "healthy eating" which is definitely not a part of the culture here...it's really cool! My Excutive Director told me today that she has noticed a change in the atmosphere since I arrived, she says there is an amazing new level of energy in the office! A few of the girls now join me for runs after work, and they are always excited to show me what they brought for lunch! haha! It's so crazy and flattering!!
On the weekends I try to get out of the city...it's all you can do to remain sane in this chaos! There are a number of beaches within an hour, totally empty!! I have been blessed to have found an amazing network of friends here, I meet someone new just about every day...guess it helps that I talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime! haha! This weekend I discovered a surf camp just east of town. A bunch of Rasta's that live on the beach, surf every day, play music every night! I am joining them for a surf/live music weekend in two weeks, sleeping in a hammock on the beach, bon-fire...so excited! This weekend I am taking a few extra days off and going to an area called Port Antonio, just the girls...sooooo needed. On Wednesday my friends have arranged a birthday celebration for me!!! They have reserved an entire restaurant and are doing everything they can to keep me from feeling homesick! I am really blessed!
Life is so much more of a struggle down here, but for different reasons and yet everything just seems so much simpler!!
Thursday, November 4, 2010
As you have probably heard on the news, we are anticipating a major tropical storm down here.
Not to worry, there are a lot of people looking out for me here. I am as prepared as I can be (water, food, laterns, windows taped, etc). If sh#t were to hit the fan, I will be quite comfortable in my apartment for a couple of weeks...my shakes will keep me going! It is a solid and secure building. This is not anticipated to be a disaster in Jamaica, but we will get A LOT of heavy rain, roads and bridges are likely to be damaged, loss of power and water is normal. When Nicole hit 5 weeks ago, it was the same drill, the city was pretty much shut down for a week or so, and cleanup with be on going, but it will be back to business as usual in no time.
If you don't hear from me for a few days, relax and remember how capable and resourceful I am! And know that there are a lot of people looking for the niave little white girl in Jamaica! haha!
We are closing the office today at Noon, everyone is heading for cover, and not likely reporting to work on Friday.
Again, these are all just precautions, the storm will likely just pass us by with little effect, but better safe then sorry.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Jamaica is incredible, amazing, confusing, beautiful, dirty...everything I expected and yet not at all!
Kingston is the furthest thing from paradise, but I LOVE IT NONETHELESS!!!
It has been a whirlwind 2 weeks, as you can well imagine. I spent my first week getting oriented with the city and settled into my new apartment and making it feel like home. I have no hot water, and oven doesn't work, but I have a lovely view of the mountains and the sun rises on my face every morning!
Learning the transportation un-system (system would imply a sense of order) has been the biggest challenge, especially because I must plan my days events around getting home before dark. It is not a safe city to be roaming around at night alone. I am getting the hang of it though, and now understand the importance of "Jamaican Time," as it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to commute depending on the traffic and weather. This is just accepted. It is rainy season now, so commuting is dramatically effected; roads have potholes that could swallow a small bus, bridges are washed out, streets are flooded, the list goes on.
I started work last week and I am very impressed with the organization I am working with; they are doing a really great thing for the inner city youth of Kingston. My colleagues are all very warm and welcoming, and many have taken me on tours of the city. I will be working closely with the Director and the Board. My primary objectives are Strategic Planning and Partnership Development, complete with an overall organizational assessment. It is going to be a very challenging and rewarding 6 months!!
I was quick to appreciate the previous annoyances (Air-care) and luxuries (hot showers) of Vancouver, but also quick to forget the overwhelming level of "living large" that just isn't a priority in this culture. Strolling down the streets of Yaletown with a latte, enjoying a nice glass of wine at a coal harbour bistro, pedicures, golf, gym...definitely things of the past (for now...haha)! Getting home without getting killed in traffic, or breaking my ankle on the quasi-sidewalks, hoping my Coaster driver isn't too drunk, finding a shop that sells lettuce, getting to the laundromat before it closes (and hoping they have water), trying to understand patois (the local lingo), and being grateful that I have mended almost all of the holes in my mosquito net...these are the things I look forward to in my day.
So much still to learn, and enjoying every step of the process!
Sunday, October 3, 2010
In just two short days I have met some of the most interesting and amazing people here in Kingston. I met Delphine during our preparing for change training in Ottawa in June 2010; we instantly hit it off and became good friends. It was only by coincidence that we both ended up working on projects in the same country!! She has been by my side since I arrived; touring me around town, introducing me to other volunteers, helping me search for apartments, getting me a cell phone (I think Digicel needs to hire you!), showing me the importance of comfortable shoes, and of course...Devon House Ice cream! Bless you Delphine for being such a great friend!
It has all been exhilarating and a little overwhelming but the other CUSO-VSO volunteers are wonderful and so supportive...my instant family!
So far what I have discovered...one never walks alone at night (this is not much of a walking culture at all actually), forget strolling with a latte and window shopping in areas like Yaletown (think more luke warm sodas on Hastings @ Main), a cloudy day doesn’t always equate to rain, however, a sunny day certainly could, gum boots would have been a great idea (Vancouver rain has nothing on this!), there are 2 A/C settings...cold and colder, there are 2 jerk chicken settings...hot and hotter, and most importantly...LOOK RIGHT, always LOOK RIGHT before stepping off the curb!
As for the rest of my week, well in typical Coreena fashion, it's packed...I meet my CUSO-VSO team on Monday followed by meeting my colleagues at YOU. Tuesday there is a going away dinner for one of our departing volunteers. Wednesday I move into my lovely little apartment. Thursday I will attend my first Capoeira class. Friday is a YOU social function. Saturday I will introduce my famous Sweet Potato Pie (clean version) for our CUSO-VSO Thanksgiving celebration (I brought a tonne of decorations from Canada, hehe!) and Sunday...I thought I would leave that one to chance...
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
So now the real reason I am here...Preparing for Change. So far this work shop is exactly what I expected, although the major theme of this adventure that I am about to partake in is to have NO EXPECTATIONS!! We have covered a lot of ground already in just 2 days; travel documents, saying goodbye, stereo-types, expectations, defining "development", dealing with isolation and loneliness, relationships (building new ones and managing current ones), cultural differences, communication...and it's only just begun!
It is really wonderful to be surrounded with so many other like minded people. We are all so different and yet we share similar values and passions...even though some of us have a hard time defining or expressing what it is that we are feeling and our motivations, we all "get" each other! We are all here for the same underlying reason...world citizenship. Thank you to my new friend Delphine for that concept!
I am getting even more excited about my upcoming trip. The unknown is exhilarating and scary. There is so much to think about and consider...where will I go, what will I be doing, will I do a good job, will I make friends, will I be safe, what will my new home look like, will I miss my family and my friends, will they even notice I am gone, will I succeed in changing the world in only 6 short months (haha).
I take comfort in knowing that everything will work out just as it should!!
Through this new CUSO-VSO Employee Fellowship Program, 3 employees in Canada would be selected to fill overseas volunteer positions for a period of 6 - 12 months.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? I get to fulfill a dream of living and working in a developing country AND I am guaranteed to have my job when I return??? Where to I apply right???
Needless to say, after a 4 month application process (first through my company, then through the volunteer organization), on May 17, 2010 I received official word that out of 163 applicants, I was accepted into the program!!! YIPPEE!!!
I was then presented with an amazing opportunity to work with the Board of Directors at an inner-city organization (Youth Opportunities Unlimited), in Kingston, Jamaica!!
I depart on October 1, 2010!!
I want to thank my colleagues and superiors at my company that have unconditionally supported me in my pursuit of this life changing opportunity! Thank you to the Selection Committee for believing in me as an ambassador for my company! Thank you to CUSO-VSO for believing in my skills and abilities to potentially make a difference in the developing worlds, and as a representative of your organization. And most of all...thank you to all of my family and friends that have provided me unconditional love and support throughout this whole process!! But your work is not done yet...the hard part begins on October 1, 2010, and I do hope for your continued support once I depart to pursue this new chapter in my life!!
Check out my Journal and Photo Gallery regularly for updates throughout my journey, and PLEASE stay in touch!