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Thursday
Mar232017

Ross

In Jamaica, it’s good to be resourceful and make contacts for a plethora of needs. For example, one of my fellow Canadian interns had a designated ‘pineapple guy’. She promised to buy pineapple from him exclusively as long as she got the local price in return. One of my needs happened to be transportation – transport to and from work, transport to the gym, transport to the dance studio etc. I had a list of my favourite taxi drivers I could call whenever I needed to get from point A to point B, but there was one driver that stood out to me like no other – his name was Ross.

“Ay pretty girl!”

That’s how Ross answers the phone every time I call him. His enthusiasm always makes me smile.

“Hey Ross, I was wondering if you were free at 7pm, I’m planning to go to the dance studio tonight.”

“Yes girl, I’ll be there to pick you up then!”

When I hop into the front seat, he never hesitates to ask me how my day went, what I did that day, how I’m liking Jamaica. My answers are usually positive or “I’m tired”. When I reciprocate the question, his answer was, “I’ve been working”.

At first, I took it at face value and left it at that. But the more I rode in his taxi, and asked him how he was doing, I realized his answer was always the same, “I’ve been working”.

So I asked him, “Working…. doing what?”

Turns out he drives a van during the regular day hours, and operates a taxi from 6pm to midnight. Ross was working more than 12 hours a day.

“Why do you work so much Ross?”

Ross has 3 kids and a wife to support. His wife is a stay at home mom; she loves to bake and also sings in the church choir.

The way Ross describes his kids is always animated. One night I went to my cousin’s birthday party where there was someone making balloon animals. I thought it would be cool to have some made for Ross’ kids so I got a sword and an animal of some kind. After I gave them to him, I saw him the next day and he said to me, “Zoe! My kids love di balloon animals! They fought over it!” He proceeded to motion the swishing of a sword in the air, mimicking their play.

There was another time I remember where he picked me up from the studio with most of his family in the car. We were so squished I didn’t even notice his youngest son was in the backseat till I got out and a little voice said, “byebye!” to me.

I think the reason why I am so intrigued by Ross is because of the way he shares his life through stories.

I remember sitting on the beach at Doctor’s Cave in Montego Bay on a Friday afternoon. I was about to doze off when I received a call from Ross. Curious, I picked up to hear Ross excitedly telling me that his US VISA got approved and could finally travel with his family to New York! I was really happy for him. Although out of all people, I wondered, why did he call to tell me? He said, “I just wanted to tell the world Zoe, this is such great news! It’s good to tell people good news.” And good news it was.

But out of all of the moments we spent together, I think my favourites were the times he talked about his wife. He described his wife as wonderful, faithful, trusting and simply lovely.

“She’s so good to me Zoe, she’s a GOOD woman. Sometimes women stray, and men too, but with a woman like that, there’s no need to.”

I asked him, “What makes a great marriage Ross?”

He replied, “Trust and communication. I like relationships where the two people get to know each other for a long time and get married.”

I said, “Did you wait a long time to get married?”

He meekly replied, “Ah, no. But you see it was ordained! We dated for a year and got married, then God came to me and told me “Marry this girl” and God came to her and said “Marry this man”, so we got married!”

Through Ross, I’ve uncovered many simplicities of life through his humility, liveliness and gratitude. We’ve shared many laughs and conversations that ventured beyond common formalities. For me, there’s no better way to get to know Jamaica than through the people. The moment I knew Ross and I broke the barrier between foreigner and local was when he said, “You know Zoe. I’m thankful for you. You listen to me, you treat me like a human being.”

A realization I came to the other day, was the fact that global development is one of the only disciplines whose focus is on others. So if there’s something I wish for those of you pursuing global development, it is the curiosity to build meaningful connections. Really sit down with someone and ask a question other than, “How are you?” because the questions you ask will determine the answers you receive. And what’s hidden in those answers not only gives you the ability to bridge a connection, but also harness a form of truth. If it is this truth that you seek, then be prepared to feel uncomfortable, because it is this vulnerability that will allow you to tackle the problems you so desperately want to solve in this world. One day you will emerge from your tumultuous mixture of emotions and it is on this day that I hope you feel clear headed and calm. Why? Because you had the courage to ask the questions nobody else asked and developed a library of knowledge because of it. And it is this knowledge that provides you with the foundation for all your solutions for the world.

Zoe Chung was working as a  Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Specialist with Eve for Life in Kingston, Jamaica.

Thursday
Mar232017

Meeting of cattle farmers 

This past February I had the opportunity to travel to the Western region of Uganda to a village near the district of Mbarara. It was past midnight when I arrived the first night and after getting off the bus my fellow traveller and I had to take a boda boda through the bush, on a rough and rugged terrain in almost total darkness. In the morning, I awoke to the sounds of cows “mooing,” something I had never experienced before and found to be much more pleasant than the sounds of roosters crowing which I had grown accustomed to in the city. As I opened my eyes, I was able to see for the first time the beautiful landscape of the countryside, the rolling hills and lush terrain.

It is here in this village where I met a farmer called Robert, who has bred cattle and lived in the village his whole life. Robert and other farmers lead a simple life but are extremely diligent and hard-working. They wake up just before the sunrise to tend to the cows and perform other duties in the village such as fetching water using jerry cans which can total over 10 kms in walking distance.  

Robert raised many concerns he and farmers have had due to the lack of rain in Uganda. Because there is a high dependency on rain to water the grass for grazing, the drought has meant that the cattle have had less to eat and drink and as a result many are dying due to starvation.  This is a huge issue that over the years has caused considerable stress on farmers and their villages who rely on cattle for their income and livelihoods.

The cattle here Robert explains are of an indigenous species, known for their distinct horns, and are quite hardy to adverse conditions. Despite this he has lost some cows and fears that many others will not survive. Robert has had to guide his herd long distances (and sometimes into other districts) in search of water and pasture as transporting water and food from other sources can prove to be quite costly. There are times when Robert has been left with no choice but to sell his cattle at extremely low prices. He notes that in Uganda, farmers are fighting for the limited amount of pasture and water available which has caused considerable strain and tension between groups and tribes.

Increased aid and better preparation for weather conditions are important he notes but in addition to this a more long term sustainable option must be implemented. There is hope as farmers across Uganda have proven to be very innovative and resilient to harsh conditions. For example, cattle farmers have tried to cross-breed their indigenous cattle with other more disease and drought resistant cattle. As well, other districts in Uganda such as Nakaseke and Nakasongola have begun to grow drought resistant grass and crops in attempts to tackle the challenges brought about by climate change.

 

Jessica Chen was working as an Intern in Rural Livelihoods with South and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) in Kampala, Uganda.

Thursday
Mar232017

The Patois Perspective

Patois is the official language spoken in Jamaica. It is a dialect derived from English and Creole. It originated in the 1800s, a time when Jamaica was a colony of ruling European empires. First occupied by the Spanish, Jamaica was later taken over by the British who developed sugar cane plantations across the island. African slaves were imported by the British as labourers to serve on these plantations during this time. Majority of the slaves that were brought to Jamaica originated from the Western Coast of Africa, which influenced the development of the language.

One of the key tactics used by slaveholders to maintain control over the growing population was to divide and rule. This meant that upon arrival on the island, individuals were separated from members of their family and community. This was done to prevent any possible uprising by the slave populations. Given the diversity in culture and language among African communities, this meant that slaves on a single plantation often did not speak the same language. Patois was thus developed as a means of communication among the slave populations that differed from what was spoken and understood by their Masters.

Below is a list of a few popular Patois phrases:

What’s up? – Wah gwaan, Whappen, Whe yu a seh?
Everything is good – Mi deh yah, Everyting criss
I Will Be Right Back – Mi Soon Come
To Eat – Nyam
Jamaica – Jamrock, Jamdown, Yard
Friend – Bredren (male), Sistren (female)
Well Done – Big up! Respect!
I understand – Zeen
Over there – Ova deh
What Are You Up To? – Wha Yuh Deh Pon?

Despite a lot of similarities in words between English and Patois, the Jamaican pronunciation of words is quite different. This was a big part of the learning experience when we first arrived on the island. And now, 6 months later, Zeen.

Manal Rajan was working as a Health Administrator intern with Jamaica Family Planning Association/FAMPLAN in St. Ann’s Parish, Jamaica.

Monday
Mar062017

Snapshots of hope

Hi readers. Put your hand up if you are shocked, saddened, depressed, overwhelmed, or afraid when you learn about current events in the world. Come on, I know it’s not just me. When I look at the news, I feel like we are living in a more hostile world than ever before. Thankfully, there is some dissonance between what I see in the news and what I see in my personal life. Because guess what, guys? In my personal life, here in Kenya, I have been privileged to get to know some of the absolute best people. These people give me hope for the world: that yes, perhaps though the ones in power might be corrupt or violent, corruption and violence can never win as long as there are people like this inhabiting this planet. So, here are some snapshots of hope: people I have met and moments from my time here in Kenya that convince me that we’re going to be OK, after all.

Local 'street youth' in the officeOne day, as part of the Christmas celebrations at our workplace, our office hosted some street youths from Nanyuki. I do not exaggerate when I say these were the poorest of the poor. During this Christmas celebration, we gave each person a loaf of bread and some milk. Now, one of these street youths had a small little girl– I presume her daughter– with her. When nobody was watching, I saw a young man give his loaf of bread to the young mother. At this moment, I knew I had witnessed something beautiful. This man, with tattered shoes and dirty clothes, likely without a shilling to his name, gave the one thing he had to someone who needed it more. His kindness put us all to shame.

Tigithi School: talking to the teacher about the proposal for the feeding programIn my time here, I also got to see the formation of a new program at a rural primary school. I accompanied the eRoots manager and the social worker for the area as they proposed a partnership with the school with to support their feeding program. We talked about the importance of proper nutrition for learning in the school, and surveyed the grounds to see if there was a place suitable for a small farm. The head teacher agreed, and we formed an enthusiastic partnership. Now, like in other schools in the area, the students can learn how to grow food, and they can benefit by eating that food at lunchtime daily. This will hopefully reduce drop-out rates and improve students' academic performance. At the time I left Kenya, the program has already started and the land is being prepared by the students, teachers, and parents, for growing potatoes.

Through home visits and interviews, I met a lot of remarkable people. One of these people was Susan, who runs a children’s home. When I visited people’s homes, I usually had a questionnaire to give them. The first question on this questionnaire was “How many people are in your household?” Susan answered: “Forty-one.” She takes in children to her home and they call her mother. These are children who have nowhere else to go: street children and orphans. These are children who may not be used to having discipline or having a home. They may not be the easiest children to love. Susan has given her life to mothering these children and giving them a place to belong. A few of her children are sponsored through Chalice, but I can’t help but think how small a sponsor’s impact is compared with the huge impact Susan has on these children as she invests in their lives daily.

I also met Hannah, my name-mate, who welcomed me into her home. Her child is sponsored, and she is the secretary of the microfinance group. She has used the money from the microfinance group to start a small shop, and she is making money for her family from this shop. On her little land, she has a kitchen garden. After we visited, she sent us with a bag full of spinach. It fed us for three days.

Mid-meal photo of us eating nyama choma. From left Peter, Donald, and Priscillah (and me)Then, a few days before we left Nanyuki, our coworkers at the office took us out for lunch. They surprised us with nyama choma, a roasted meat meal that is popular for celebrations. I could not believe the generosity of these folks at Chalice’s Baraka site. For four months, we had been with them as outsiders, and from the very beginning they had welcomed us in as one of their own. The Baraka staff had patiently answered our many questions, moved office seating arrangements to accommodate us, carried us on the back of their motorbikes, translated conversations from Swahili and Kikuyu for us, and had even helped us move. I don’t know what my expectations were, but they went absolutely above and beyond them. And after all that—they surprised us with a special meal! There was no way we could ever deserve such love and generosity.

One day, in the microfinance group meeting, I was asking the members some questions about their goals and plans: Where did they hope to be in one year? This was a group of town-dwellers, so they did not have access to land. They expressed desire to have a piece of land of their own where they can reside and farm. “How can you, as a group, help one another to reach this goal?” I asked. One member of the group, Jesse, was very enthusiastic. He began his statements with the question “What if?” I was very inspired by that kind of attitude. Instead of being discouraged by the many obstacles to reaching his goal, he actively tried to think of ways to overcome these obstacles. At the end of my conversation with the group that day, they had made a tentative roadmap of how each group member would obtain a piece of land. Although each person in the group needed land, they knew that together, they could reach their individual goals faster.

I am just sharing these snippets to remind you, friend, that there is hope. There are people who are doggedly working for the good of their community; there are people who love selflessly and sacrificially. There are people who are lifting themselves out of poverty. There is hope.

Hannah Main is working as a Business Development Coordinator with Crown the Child Africa in Kenya.

Monday
Mar062017

Jamaica, land we love

As I wrap up my 6-month internship here in Jamaica, I look towards the national anthem as an accurate and powerful one-line message. The land of Jamaica is a place I have grown to become particularly fond of. A place I will consider my second home. Each day has been filled with many lessons that will be beneficial beyond work. From the first day we arrived until the day of our departure, each day I continue to learn about working in sexual and reproductive rights, the delicious delicacies and fruits of Jamaica, the history and landscape of the island, the culture, and so much more. Aside from work, a few of my favourite things about Jamaica have been the beautiful mountainous views, the musical culture, and of course, the jerk chicken. So for my last blog post I have decided to write a little more about these said favourite things about Jamaica.

Firstly, the spectacular views that the mountainous island produces are out of this world. I am from a relatively flat part of Canada so to live in a place where mountains can be seen from everywhere on the island is incredibly breathtaking.  During the day the green peaks are a true sight of beauty to the nighttime views of lights up all in the mountains. I never get sick of looking at this, despite the driving through the windy mountain roads that produces an alternate type of sickness (motion sickness). Recently, Georgia, Manal, some local friends, and myself hiked Blue Mountain. It was a truly incredible experience. It takes about 3 hours uphill at a decent pace and 2 hours downhill. The journey to get to the hike start point is a fun and interesting one in itself from local busses to a check in at the local police station to a ride slightly up the mountain in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Along the hike up there is coffee plantations for world famous “Blue Mountain Coffee” and different plants and wildlife to be seen. The coolest part of the hike to me was the fact that this hike crosses two different parishes. The Blue Mountain is spread across two parishes. I think of parishes as like the province of the island. It is said that on clear days that Cuba can be seen from the peak (2256m), although we have heard that is only possible one or two days a year.

My next favourite thing about Jamaica is the musical culture. From reggae, to dancehall, to SOCA, you can never go wrong. There is great music coming from sound systems just about everywhere. February happens to be Reggae month in honour of the legend Bob Marley’s birthday. It’s incredible to see how music brings people together here. It is also spectacular to see the incredible dancing abilities of Jamaicans. For reggae month, there are many live concerts and events that are often free. We were lucky enough to attend Redemption Live, which was a free concert in Half Way Tree (a huge transport center in Kingston) in celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday. Some of the artists that performed were Ky-Mani Marley, Beenie Man, Capleton, Richie Spice, Kabaka Pyramid, Garnet Silk Jr, Jah9, Tifa, Ikaya, and Devin di Dakta. The dancehall and SOCA music is extremely catchy and very hard to resist breaking out a dance move to.

Lastly, my most favourite thing about Jamaica is the jerk chicken. Jerk chicken refers to how the chicken is seasoned and cooked. The jerk is traditionally cooked over pimento wood fires. Pimento is a type of wood that gives it the proper jerk flavor. The jerk is often cooked in a big large drum cut in half and made into a smoker. These can be found on the streets all over and jerk chicken is never too far from reach thankfully! The spices that the chicken is marinated in are ground pimento, ground/chopped scotch bonnet peppers (this gives it the perfect spicy kick), thyme, salt, pepper, garlic, scallions, and small bit of brown sugar. Individual chefs have their secret ingredients, methods, and variations that they use when cooking which adds for delicious surprises here and there.  All I can say is I have never had a bad piece of jerk chicken – it is always delicious!

Overall, 6 months in Jamaica has been an excellent experience. The life lessons have been wonderful and the work experience has been equally as beneficial. Although I am not Jamaican, I posted this picture in my first blog post but I feel as if now I understand this sign even more: “Proud to be Jamaican”

The things I have learned and the relationships I have built will be something I cherish forever and I am sad to be leaving.

Thank you Jamaica – Land We Love!

 

Jennifer Brunet is working as a Health Promotions Manager with Jamaica Family Planning Association/FAMPLAN in Jamaica.