Tuesday, May 28, 2013

With regards to Mr. Flynn

Sorry for the delay on this post, I was going to put it up earlier, but a recent nap turned into a 14 or 15 hour sleep and kind of threw my plans a bit....

Things have been going pretty well over the past week, although we had a few issues come to a head over the weekend, which led to two clients being discharged and another suspended. In addition another client's mental health has been deteriorating pretty severely over the past few weeks and nothing we do seems to help her, to the point where we had to lock her in the shelter on Sunday. We've been desperately trying to get her admitted to the hospital, but they keep refusing. We're convinced its because she's so well-known around Port Antonio and they don't want to have to deal with her which is just despicable. It's getting to the point where we can't control her, so I'm not sure what's going to happen.

It's not all bad news though, one of the clients we discharged came back and apologised to everyone and asked if he could be let back, he's also managed to get a job so fingers crossed we'll be able to work with him to get him back on his feed and rehabilitated. We've also got a cake sale on tomorrow that we've managed to sell quite a few tickets for so hopefully with the money we've raised from that we're going to take the clients on a trip to Reach Falls which should be really nice.

One of the resort's resident turtles

As far as myself, I've been doing pretty well, really enjoying myself at the moment. There's been a few crazy hijinks over the past week or so and I'll do my best to fill you all in on what's been going down.

The biggest event of the past seven days was definitely a party we went to on Thursday called offshore.    The premise was this: there's an island just out in the harbour (once owned by Errol Flynn as it turns out) called Navy Island, and for $1000 Jamaican you got a boat trip out to the island and all you could drink once there. Needless to say we all went. The first indication that things were going to get hectic (a phrase/word that I'm gradually introducing here) was when I went to the bar and asked for a beer. The response was thus: 'oh no if you want a beer you'll have to pay, only the over-proof rum is included in your ticket price.......'

Nevertheless, like the true soldiers we are we stuck with and proceeded to drink exclusively over-proof rum for the 7 or 8 hours that we were there. The party itself was really cool, obviously the extreme amounts of rum that were being drunk definitely helped and I will say this about Jamaican girls, they will wear as little as possible when the occasion calls for it. In this case swimsuits were very much de rigeur. The island itself offered some amazing sights as well. Basically there was a really big resort on the island that fell into receivership and disrepair, and then got taken over again by the jungle. So while we were partying, in the background you could see these overgrown, ruined buildings. It was really awesome, kind of like an apocalyptic/The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 kind of vibe. Unfortunately I have no pictures (I don't trust myself with my camera and copious amounts of alcohol), but fingers crossed I might be getting a chance to head back over there and take some photos.

Rum and fresh coconut water: fast becoming my favourite new drink
So the party went awesomely well (too well at times perhaps, apparently the other volunteers have an excellent selection of both photos and videos of me), right up until the end. At this point, approximately 2am or so, the parrty ended and everyone wanted to get back to the mainland. Here I will point out that there were hundreds of people on the island for this party, who all wanted to get back. Finally the transport for everyone arrived, a single boat, capable of carrying maybe 15-20 people safely.

Then it started to rain.

This wasn't your average downpour either, this was a tropical storm. I was immediately reminded of a scene from a disaster/war movie, when hundreds of refugees are fleeing a destroyed city on a ramshackle fleet of boats. So one boat came, then another, then the other volunteers got onto a boat that I couldn't make it to in time and so I got to watch them from the edge of the pier, disappearing into the darkness. At this point I was so drenched that I might as well have just jumped in the water and swam back to Port Antonio. Finally when another boat came I jumped on board and grabbed a hold of the side like my life depended on it. No one was getting me off this boat. Unfortunately a lot of people also had the same idea and the boat itself nearly capsized, while we all frantically bailed water out of its bottom before the captain cut his losses and pushed the boat off the pier. We then very slowly (and very low in the water) made our way back to the mainland. The icing on the cake was getting my toe squished between the pier and the boat as we disembarked.

Nevertheless, the night was an extremely good one and I think if it hadn't have rained the whole leaving at the end thing would have been a bit more enjoyable. Thankfully I haven't caught a cold (yet) and my toe seems ok. The hangover was also pretty mild the next day, possibly because I had been mixing my rum exclusively with juice the whole evening.
Some of the reading material at Great Huts (I'm currently on a book about the Queen of Sheba as an historical figure)
Friday night was very very low-key, with Adventure Time and early bed the order of the day. Saturday however, things picked up a notch. There was a fund-raiser for a local community centre on down the road, so we went and hung out there for a bit while Gayleon DJed, and watched some of the sports that were being played. Later on in the night I left the others to go check out a pool party down the road where a big DJ from IrieFM was apparently playing. The pool party was pretty rad, as I mentioned previously, Jamaican girls don't need much of an excuse to wear less clothing and the place was pretty packed. At one point the DJ started throwing money into the pool to get girls to jump in and party, which led to some crazy, splashy cat fights and such.

Street art at Winifred Beach
Sunday night we had what I thought was going to be a small going away karaoke session in Port Antonio for Steffi, who leaves on Thursday. However by 2am at a club called roof bar, I decided that, with only 2 or 3 hours sleep under my belt from the night before, it was time for me to go home. I'm still not sure what time everyone else got back.

Anyway I need to wrap this up as we are in the middle of cake sale preparations and I promised the girls that I'd go into work early to give them a hand. I hope you enjoyed reading and I'll leave you with this, a tune that I discovered (thanks to Ben Taaffe) and that I think is fucking amazing.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


So this post will be a bit wordier and less picture-y than the others, I'm having a bit of camera trouble at the moment so I haven't been able to take as many pictures as I would like. This has proven extremely disappointing, as you will find out.

The week has thus far been pretty intense at the shelter, we've had some serious problems with a few of the clients and we're still trying to sort some of them out. The first issue was with one of the clients we have who is unfortunately addicted to crack cocaine, and had actually ended up being suspended from the shelter because he had been staying out past 11 (on weekdays the gates to the shelter are locked between 11pm and 11am, any clients who stay out past those hours have to stay out of the shelter for the night), smoking crack and then climbing the fence back into the shelter in the wee hours of the morning. He came back to the shelter on Thursday, before his suspension had run its course, with a prescription from a doctor and claiming that he'd been really sick and that's why he'd been staying out so late.

It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the change in him after just four or five days, he'd lost so much weight and his lips were all burned and scabbed from the pipes he'd been using. Unfortunately all we could offer him was lunch and a shower, and we told him to come back on Saturday when his suspension had finished to talk about his future at the shelter. We actually met him again that night downtown and he asked us for money to buy food in the morning, although we got him a cup of tea and a sweet bun and told him to meet the girls in the same spot in the morning at 9am (they were going to be in town to meet a pastor) instead and we could get him some food then. The girls went back in the morning but he wasn't there.

He was readmitted back into the shelter on Saturday, although his future is pretty uncertain. Lloyda has informed us that he's got one more chance, and if he starts acting up again he'll be let go permanently. It might sound harsh and to some extents I really really feel for him, he's a great guy and I'd always had some really positive interactions for him, but the shelter has rules and (extremely) limited funding, and can't afford to keep on clients who aren't willing to take part in the program.

There's been a similar problem with one of the girls, who is both deaf and mute. She has been causing a lot of trouble in the shelter, stealing people's things and staying out all night before climbing over the fence in the morning. The biggest concern we have about her is that she has a very real risk of being assaulted/raped, which we think may have happened previously, or that she may be prostituting herself on the streets. We do our best to promote safe-sex at the shelter and make condoms and other forms of birth control available, but a lot of the time the clients won't ask, or if you offer it to them they will get really embarrassed and refuse. Obviously the shelter doesn't have anything like the kind of facilities that would be required to look after a baby and it goes without saying that she's at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

The problem here is the position we're placed in by her behaviour. As someone who is both deaf and mute, and illiterate (thus making learning sign language extremely difficult), the shelter is really the only place for her to stay safely. The idea of suspending or discharging her is one that we really can't approach lightly/even think about approaching. However she doesn't care at all about the rules and will just laugh at you when you tell her that she's approaching a suspension. If we keep tolerating her poor behaviour however, it upsets the other clients because they see it as being two sets of rules or favouritism. Suffice to say it's a problem that's not going to go away easily and we're just going to have to work at it.

This all sounds a bit doom and gloom-y and probably makes out like I'm having a worse week than I am. Actually I've had some pretty cool experiences this week, especially on Friday night. Our plan was to go and eat at a restaurant that I'd been hanging out to go to since I got here, a place called Dickie's Best Kept Secret. Before that though we went to meet our friend Mario, who is the bosun on a massive luxury yacht that's been harboured in Port Antonio for the past few weeks. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the yacht and all I can say is WOW

Even the galley on the yacht was the kind of kitchen most people would die to have in their house, the yacht had massive, wood panelled living areas, flat screen TV's up the wazoo, and a sauna!!!! I tried to take some photos and I would put them up, but unfortunately due the aforementioned camera issues I can't. It was a weird feeling being on this yacht, secure in the knowledge that this was something that I will never, ever, be able to afford or own haha

After that we heading to the restaurant for dinner. Dickie's is a really, really unassuming building (shack even), perched on the side of a cliff. When you go in, you climb down some stairs and realise that the whole thing is actually really big and built down the side of the cliff. Admittedly the room we ate in was in a slight downward slant, but it was still an amazing experience. The food was really good, just simple, home-cooked stuff but with some great flavours. We had fruits, shrimp, lobster, kingfish, rice, vegetables, omelettes, coffee and cake (a five course meal in all), and the price was really reasonable. In fact we had such an awesome time that before we realised it it was 11pm and we all had to go home because of work the next day!

So that's all for today, hopefully I'll be able to get my camera problems sorted and put some more photos up in the next few days, until then I'll leave you with this, a tune that has been soundtracking my morning thus far:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Absolutely Crabulous

So this post might be a little long...
I'd been planning to do a smaller update during the week but owing to a storm and a power outage, the internet was down at Great Huts for three days, and by then it was the weekend and I didn't have the drive/I was really hungover, so this post is a compendium of some things that happened during the week, but also the weekend as well.
To kick things off, I got sick on Tuesday night, meaning I missed dinner at 'Dickie's Best Kept Secret,' which is an awesome little restaurant built on the side of a cliff, where they cook you whatever they caught in the ocean that day, along with a whole bunch of other local fare. Suffice to say I was pretty disappointed, but the other volunteers and I are making plans to try and go again so hopefully that'll come off next time. Nevertheless, it meant I was bed ridden for most of Wednesday and Thursday, although that didn't matter so much given that we had some pretty big storms over those two days and a lot of rain.

And rain of course means....crabs.

Thankfully my room remained relatively crab-free (in the sense that I'm not finding big ones at the foot of my bed, although I can still hear the little ones and the hermit crabs scuttling around all night), as I was worried that in my delicate, bed-ridden state I would have been easy prey for them. There were also some crab-related shenanigans going on at the shelter that I missed out on, in the arrival of a crab deemed large enough to cook up in a stew for the clients. (The photo credits go to Lindsay, one of the other volunteers)

The Crab in Question

To get an idea of scale
You can see from the photo the size of crab I have to deal with here, these aren't your garden variety land crabs, these are mutant monstrosities complete with appendage-lopping claws. I honestly cannot begin to imagine how I would react if I woke up to find that guy in my room. Still, we're already halfway through 'crab season' so with any luck I can maintain my crab-free run. Another, smaller, crab was donated to the shelter on Friday, although he managed to mastermind an escape from the bucket he was being kept in.

Friday night was pretty low key, as I was still not feeling 100% and wanted to try and get a good nights sleep to save myself for Saturday. We had a pretty good staff training session on Friday, where we looked at transactional analysis and determined what ego states we usually spent most of out time in (it turns out I switch imperceptibly back and forth between adult and child). Things got a bit more exciting when I stopped off at my friend Thea's bar for a drink on the way home and found out that I was DJing at a party down the road that night. What followed was a frantic search for music and CD burning session in order to get ready.

The party itself was pretty low key, but I had a lot of fun playing music to people for the first time in 6 weeks, while Gayleon MC'ed for me and managed to even get a few rewinds thrown in for good measure. After we wrapped up there we moved on to a ninth night party back in Boston.

The concept of a ninth night party is a pretty interesting one and revolves around the Caribbean funerary tradition of 'Nine Nights.' Basically it is an extended wakewith roots in African tradition, that lasts for several days. During this time, friends and family come together to the home of the deceased. They share their condolences and memories while singing hymns and eating food together. In the old days, the nights supposedly were calm and reserved for the most part - but that tradition has changed with the times. Today, these gatherings resemble parties much more than they resemble wakes. The biggest party of all is saved for the 'ninth night,' which is the night before the funeral.

The woman who had passed away was extremely well known in Boston so almost the entire town turned up for her party. We got there close to midnight and the playing fields where it was being held were absolutely rammed with people all dancing to a live ska band that had set up at the top of the field.We linked up with a load of people we knew and spent the whole night just dancing right up near the stage and having a really awesome time, until about 4am when we all headed to a club down the road. 

I had a great night, but it left me with some pretty confused feelings about the whole thing. It seemed weird saying that we'd had such a good time because obviously the only reason the party was being held was because a lady had passed away. I suppose that maybe its better to remember someone in that way, although I still felt kind of ashamed that I'd enjoyed myself so much because I didn't really know the lady. I can say though that I think I would prefer people to celebrate my funeral with a big party like that, rather than just sitting around being upset.

Anyway that's all I have time to write as my laptop is about to run out of battery and I foolishly managed to forget to bring my adapter to the internet cafe I'm at....
I'm hopefully going to be having a tour of a luxury yacht later on in the week so I'll be sure to post up a blog about that as soon as it happens. Until next time!!


Monday, May 6, 2013

First Impressions

So since last Saturday I've had a pretty good week. Just a really nice combination of events that have all come together to help me get over some of the homesickness I was experiencing last week. Monday was a pretty cruisy day as far as work and such went, it was really around Tuesday that things picked up a bit.

One of the clients, Stephen, had expressed a desire to try and improve his reading. Although his reading skills are a bit better than the other clients, he still felt he needed some improvement and as part of the reading and writing workshops that we're now running throughout the week, and asked if we could help him out. I had a chat with about getting a book or something to read, asking what kind of stuff he'd be interested in and in the end we decided to settle on The Hobbit. This is one of my favourite books, so to be able to share it with him was a really amazing thing for me. Basically I just sat by him and helped him as he read the book out loud, but Stephen really seemed to enjoy it and we've been reading a bit more since, just slowly working our way through it. I was worried that he might have a bit of trouble but he hasn't needed a lot of prompting and he reads pretty well.

The dive boat
The next day (Wednesday) was my day off, and finally my days off and the weather had combined to make it possible for me to go diving. I was diving with a company called Lady G'Diver, who operate out of the Errol Flynn Marina in the western harbour of Port Anotnio. The company is run by a husband and wife team, called Steve and Jan respectively, and it was Jan who took me diving. Jan turned out to be a really nice lady, with a whole host of stories. Apparently she'd been teaching SCUBA diving in Jamaica for 40 years, and also trained the British army in SCUBA diving throughout the year as well as running the dive shop.

I was a little tentative getting in the water as it had been a year since I last went diving, but I was pleasantly surprised that I seemed to slip back into it pretty easily. I was buddied up with Jan, while a British couple that we'd picked up near Blue Lagoon were also diving with us as a pair. The first dive was off the coast of a massive piece of land that is apparently owned by the Hapsburg family, and we went down to about 21 metres and cruised around a number of large reefs. There wasn't a huge amount of large sea life (owing to overfishing), however there were still lots of nice little fish, lobsters and some wonderful coral. I also saw a couple of very large crabs (surprise surprise).

Lionfish (I can't take credit for this photo though as my camera doesn't actually work underwater)
One aspect of the dive that I found very interesting was the presence of a huge number of Lionfish, a really beautiful fish that a lot of people consider themselves extremely lucky to see in parts of Australia. However the lionfish is actually a terrible, introduced pest in Jamaica and is decimating what sea life is left on the reefs surrounding the island as they have no predators and are aggressive hunters. The end result was that every time we saw one, Jan would spear it and put it in a bag to take home to eat (apparently they're quite delicious). I suppose to a lot of people this might seem like something bordering on sacrilege but I guess given the impact that the cane toad has had in Australia I can totally understand it.

After a surface interval spent lounging on the deck of one of the amazing villas near Blue Lagoon, we headed back out for our second dive of the day. This time round we saw more fish and lobsters as well as big eagle ray and a pretty cool eel. I was very pleased that at the end of the dive Jan told me she thought I was a very good diver, and I'm really looking forward to going out again, apparently there are some really awesome drop offs near Port Antonio that I'd love to check out.
Cliff chill spot
On a bit of a high after my awesome day diving, I returned to the resort, picking up a jerk chicken sausage on the way and heading to my favourite chill spot on the cliffs, to unwind a bit. Its here that I have to back track a little bit and introduce the character of Adam. Adam is a guy from Wisconsin who is also staying at the resort, and getting to know him has proven a pretty cool experience. Basically, although at first he seemed a pretty quiet and unassuming guy, after a few conversations he turned out to be this crazy awesome saxophone playing, music producing, spiritual guy who was awesome fun to hang out with. He was hell excited because he was going to Moore Town to go and be present at a 'Music Room.'

Basically the story behind this is that there were communities of escaped slaves in Jamaica following the Spanish, and later British, occupation who are collectively called 'Maroons.' Unlike the rest of Jamaica they don't really practice Christianity. Their religion is much closer to the African religions that the people would have practised prior to their enslavement. Details are pretty sketchy on what actually goes on in the Music Room (the Maroons are quite secretive) but apparently it involves a lot of drumming, resurrection of the dead, possession and lots of voodoo elements. Given the secrecy of the Maroons, the fact that he was going to be allowed to witness it was a really big deal.

I suppose the point of the story is to highlight one of the things that I love most about travelling. The ability to run into and spend time with really fascinating people that you never would have otherwise been able to meet is definitely one of the main reasons I keep travelling.

My next big piece of news also arrived on Wednesday, when Gayleon came up out of the blue and told me that I'd be DJing with him and his soundsystem, Carib Sound, on Saturday. What followed was a frantic three days as I desperately tried to get hold of enough suitable music to play (house music isn't that big in Jamaica as it turns out), and is the main reason that this blog post is a few days late. Unfortunately though, owing to a torrential downpour on Saturday afternoon and evening, the gig has had to be postponed until this coming Saturday. It's a slight relief as it gives me more time to find even more music, but I'd been so psyched up by Saturday evening that it seemed a real shame to have had to postpone...

Other than that everything has been going pretty well, Saturday night turned out to be good fun anyway, as we just went to Gayleon's cousin's bar in Fairy Hill and drank there for a while before convincing her to close early and come party with us a bit further up the road. Sunday was the (now standard) recovery session at Winifred beach, complete with coconut rum, jerk chicken and Red Stripe. I'm working the afternoon shift for the next couple of days so if anyone would like to Skype at around 10pm Perth time for the next couple of days, hit me up at iain.gately