Last Days in Kingston

Looks like I didn’t quite finish up on the events of New Year’s Eve, so I’ll start with that.  Jade and Lacey came in just in time to celebrate New Year’s Day.  In the evening, we saw very little fireworks, but once midnight came, there were many fireworks displays from the people who lived nearby.  We had almost a 360 degree view from where we were, so for about an hour, we were pointing out to each other all the beautiful fireworks we saw.  Due to lack of funds, there weren’t official sanctioned fireworks by the government, but the private fireworks were beautiful just the same.

1/1/08, Missionaries of the Poor

In the morning, my cousin made us the National Breakfast of Jamaica, ackee fruit and salted fish.  The ackee fruit looked like scrambled eggs, but it fell under the “acquired taste” category.  I loved the salted fish.  After breakfast, we rested for a short while and then drove into the city again.  Because of the holiday, there were hardly any cars on the road.  We went to visit my cousin, Father Richard Ho Lung.  He is my mom’s sister’s son.  According to my mom’s story, his mother immigrated to Jamaica but stopped off in San Francisco to visit my mom when she was pregnant with me.  My aunt gave me a gold bracelet as a present, which I still have.  My aunt went on to have four children.  Father Ho Lung start an organization in Kingston called the Missionaries of the Poor in 1981.  They have separate facilities to care for disabled and abandoned children, homeless women and men, homeless seniors, and patients with HIV/AIDS.  We arrived to the church after Mass ended, and I was introduced to Father Ho Lung.  We spoke briefly as he had another meeting to attend.  After Mass, the congregation ate lunch that was prepared by the brothers who dedicate their lives to the priesthood and live out their days in helping people.

Father Ho Lung

Two brothers drove us to their housing facilities, and we shook hands and hugged some of the people we met.  There were people dying with AIDS and homeless seniors but yet were very gracious to us.  They live in dormitory-like facilities and have a family environment to live out their days.  We also visited the Bethlehem Home for children who are abandoned by their parents or are orphans.  Most, if not all, are disabled.  Almost all the children of various ages were in their cribs, but when they needed assistance, the brothers would help them, whether changing their diapers, bathing them, or providing them with food.  We saw a boy the size of a young child lying in a crib, but he was a 12 year old with a disability that affected his growth.  The brother explained that the children are cared for until they die, and the brothers take care of burying them.  There were many workers, brothers and volunteers, who assisted the children, so there was a lot of one-on-one attention.  All the facilities were clean, and the people were well-attended to.  There was a lot of interaction between the brothers and the people they served.

We returned to the church and had lunch.  It was a very good meal of potato salad, rice and red beans, and curried goat (or chicken).  All the brothers had their tasks and knew when and what to do.  After lunch, a group came out and cleared the tables and swept the floor while another group washed all the dishes.  Then it was their turn to eat.  A bell rang, and the brother from all over the church came and partook in the food.

One brother told us that several years ago, a sniper fired into their kitchen and killed two brothers with one bullet.  A group of brothers were washing dishes like any other ordinary day as part of their chores, and they were in various positions (standing straight, reaching over, hovering, etc.).  It is theorized that someone shot one bullet aiming at the brothers at head level; one bullet hit the first brother, came out and hit another brother in the same position.  The bullet was recovered, but the murderer was never found.  Both brothers died and were buried on the church grounds, and we stopped to pay our respects.  It is hard to believe that someone would kill people who are making a difference in helping people in need.

Before leaving, we said our goodbyes to Father Ho Lung.

Our next task was to find a supermarket to buy groceries for dinner.  Almost all stores were closed, but I felt that Chinese in Jamaica were the same as Chinese everywhere else and suggested that my cousin find a store owned by Chinese grocers.  Indeed, we found one store, and it was open!  She bought some foods, and that evening, we had a wonderful meal of beef stew, carrots, and potatoes.  I also saw firsthand how a pressure cooker works… I’ve got to get me one of those!

That evening was our last night in Jamaica, and I felt sad.  It is so different going on a vacation where you spend time living with the people there rather in a hotel and only getting the tourist’s view of the country.  I’ve grown close to my cousin and her family and really hated leaving.  Even though there’s a lot of poverty and things are far from perfect, I can see why foreigners choose to move to Jamaica; people seem to genuinely care about each other.  We packed up, showered, and watched a little TV before going to bed.

1/2/08, Leaving Jamaica

The night before, we decided to take the rest of the household out for breakfast in the morning.  My cousin had been cooking for us every morning, and we hadn’t had the opportunity to help out with the food cost.  It turned out that only she was able to go.  Before we left the house, we took photos all around her house.  We ate the breakfast buffet at the Courtleigh Hotel, a typical breakfast of fruit, yogurt, eggs, sausage, and omelettes.  Afterwards, she drove us to the airport.  While waiting for our flight, we found a store that sold patties and hardough bread, foods that we ate while we were in Jamaica, so we bought some to bring home.  While I was getting my pedicure on New Year’s Eve, my cousin and my family went to the bakery, Tastee’s, to buy some “patties,” which was a pastry item filled with meat.  In the middle of my pedicure, my cousin delivered one for me to try, and it was very good.  We had hardough bread every morning for breakfast.  It is like our white bread except it is very dense, so you can really taste the bread rather than all the air.

More on Miami later… there will be a surprise!

The Ultimate Planner… with NO Plans!

 When I go on a vacation, it is generally with a well-planned out itinerary that schedules from morning through evening and include what time we get up, what attractions we will venture to, what restaurants we go to, and what time we go to bed.  When I first starting planning vacations, I was much more controlling and would get upset when people didn’t move at my speed, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more flexible, but it still takes the guess work out of the day when we get into the “Where do you want to eat?  I don’t know, where do you want to eat” situations.  This doesn’t work for a lot of people, especially those who like to take it easy and relax… which is not what I usually do on vacation, but it ensures that I get to visit the places I want to go to rather than staying in the hotel room and watching TV.  One thing you can’t say about vacationing with me is that you didn’t do enough stuff! 

Kingston was a little different.  We were staying with relatives, specifically, my cousin and her boyfriend, and the plan was that they would take us around.  Several months before we arrived, I read up on Jamaica in general but didn’t do any planning as to where to go or what to do.  I wanted to relax, take in  the non-resort side of Jamaica, and learn about their people and places.  Therefore, I did no planning… and hey, the world didn’t end!  Here’s what we did in a very general sense (I’ll go through the details in future blogs):

12/29/07 Ocho Rios

My cousin drove us to Ocho Rios, a two-hour drive through some beautiful scenery, including Fern Gully (no relationship to the cartoon movie) with plans for Caitlin to swim with dolphins.  However, we didn’t have a reservation, so it would have been a 2 1/2 hour wait.  The cost for Caitlin was $195, and $45/each for us to watch… we decided that she can do that another time in her life.  Instead, we walked around Island Village, a two-story shopping area, instead.  We bought souvenirs from various stores and ice cream from Devon House I Scream.  In one of thei gift shops, we saw the bobsled used by the Olympics Jamaican Bobsled Team made famous by the movie, Cool Runnings.

On the way back to Kingston, we stopped on the side of the road to visit a fruit vendor.  This vendor was a woman with two young sons dressed in tattered clothes full of holes playing with whatever they could find, sticks, rocks, fruit peels, while their mom sold fruits to customers.  She skillfully used a machete to cut up a coconut that she was holding in her hand.  Once cut open, you drink the juice inside, probably equivalent to 16 oz.  Then you hand the coconut to her, and she will cut off a slice of the rind for you, so you can scoop up the opaque gooey stuff inside the coconut.  All of it tastes like water with a little sweet flavor.

We also bought some tangerines that were green and yellow.  Most of the ones we had weren’t very juicy, but they were sweet and meant to eat as is; they were not going to turn orange.

12/30/07, Blue Mountains

After breakfast, we went to with my cousin to a local strip mall, which looks like our strip malls, except the mall guard wears a baton!  We waited for my cousin to quickly buy something before going to a supermarket.  This supermarket is about 1/2 the size of a Safeway, Lucky’s, or Ralphs.  The shelves carried similar items: pasta, sauces, vegetables, rice, fruits, meats, etc., but it was noticeable that they lack the quantities.  It looked a lot like our supermarkets the night of a big holiday associated with eating (like Thanksgiving). 

We were driven to the Blue Mountains, by way of a windy narrow road barely made for two cars (one in each direction), but as we will learn, “it always fits.”  My cousin has a restaurant there, so we had wonderful lunches there of crab backs, pork chops, and oxtail.  Everything had a wonderful taste to it, the quantity was sufficient, and best of all, we had a beautiful view.

  view

We bought jerk seasoning and the famous Blue Mountain coffee as souvenirs for our friends and family.  On the way down the mountain, I found out that my cousin was involved in getting over 3,000 trees planted in the mountains.  Now years later, our family is able to enjoy the beauty.

Caitlin and Daniel got a chance to swim at my cousin’s pool for a short while, but because it was getting late in the afternoon, it was too cold to swim.

12/31/07 Trenchtown

When we were packing for our vacation, I packed all the t-shirts, shorts, and thin pants I could find from my daughter’s old clothing.  They were all in very good condition, but without a specific purpose, I just didn’t want to give them away.  I decided to bring all these clothing with us to give away in Jamaica.  After breakfast, my cousin drove me to the Trenchtown Reading Centre.  In this reading room, kids could read and play games.  It wasn’t open on this day, but we met some of the children who were playing in the area.  We also gave the clothes to someone who would ensure the clothing went to the neighborhood children.  Despite the poverty they faced, the children seemed very playful and friendly. 

Trenchtown

We saw houses that were shack-like and falling apart and was hard to imagine that it was “home” to them.

We left Trenchtown and rushed across town to my pedicure appointment.  My feet were suffering from extremely dry skin, so it was more for comfort rather than beauty at this point.  Donna used a pedicure footbath similar to one that we would have at home to soak our feet, but other than that, pretty much everything worked the same way.  I picked up my color and sat down for the pedicure.  The only uncomfortable part was having to rest my feet on her knees, but she said she was used to it.  The pedicure cost me a little over $14.

Later that evening, they went to pick up my cousin’s grandchildren who were staying over for about two weeks, so our family stayed home.  Because the home had bars on the windows and gates that require keys to get out, we asked for the keys in case there was an emergency to ensure we could leave the home.  We were in a safe neighborhood, and it would be difficult to rob the home, but it seemed like most homes everywhere had bars.  I don’t know anything about hurricanes, but I wonder if they are put in place in case of hurricanes… and if nothing else, perhaps looting after a hurricane if there were enough damage.

We met her granddaughters, Jade and Lacey, who flew in from Hawaii, a flight several hours longer than ours, and had a late dinner with them.

We still had two more days in Kingston, which I will tell you about later… stay tuned!

Drowning Out the Urban Sounds

Our family spent December 28th through January 8th in Kingston, Jamaica, and Miami, Florida.  My next several blogs in January will cover our discoveries during this trip, hopefully capturing the sights, sounds, and flavors of our experience.

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Imagine if every night you had to sleep among loud music, neighborhood dogs barking, and neighbors speaking and laughing loudly, while you worried about waking up refreshed and getting to work on time.  How stressful would your life be?  Or would you eventually accept your situation and adjust? 

When we were in Kingston, we went to sleep every night around 1:00 a.m.  When I don’t sleep in my own bed, it takes me a while to adjust to my new environment, so I wake up several times a night.  Each time I woke up, I would use the toilet and listen to the sounds of the night (the window was kept open in the bathroom) and heard the dogs taking turns barking and howling.  In between, sometimes I would hear music or car alarms go off.  There was never a moment of silence, something we take for granted “back home.”  Every night while going through my before-bedtime-routine of brushing my teeth and removing my contact lenses in the bathroom, I would hear loud music playing, people talking and laughing, and the dogs barking.  The noises didn’t seem to come from the nearby neighborhood but possibly miles away.

Even with all the different noises, we all slept soundly and was refreshed in the morning because we had the beautiful humming sounds of the air conditioner drowning out the outside noises.  Despite whatever was going on outside, we were in the comforts of a beautiful large home “up in the hills” behind secure metal bars that covered windows and doors and resting peacefully in an air-conditioned room… but that’s not the case for many who live next door to the people who are partying loudly in the middle of the night or who don’t train their animals to keep quiet.