17 October – 30 November 1991: At long last, the moment us EI Trainees had been waiting for – our arrival in not-so-sunny Jamaica. What would the next six weeks have in store for us? Initially we were greeted by a blanket of hot air as we stepped off the plane in Monkey Bay, Jamaica – a pleasant change from the freezing cold of Canada, we’d left some 4 hours earlier. Jamaica was a lot hotter than Canada, but considerably more humid – everything seemed to be continually damp! It feelt to me like a really hot summer, so it was strange to see some of the Jamaicans wearing pullovers. I liked not having to wear a jumper even in the evening. It usually rained once a day, and when it did so it felt like God is pouring a bucket of warm water on us! One thing that really struck me, is just how very green the hillsides were, as they were covered in tropical trees + plants. It was amazing to see poinsettias growing as huge bushes rather than the little plants I’d seen that we have at Christmas time. The green of the plants did stand out in stark contrast to the very red earth that was mined for its bauxite, leaving great red scars in the hillside. Up here in the mountains, any sound made seemed at least 3 times as loud as usual, so we’ were all adjusting to talking in much quieter tones! I was very apprehensive about meeting the multitude of creepy crawlies that I’d thought would be facing me at every turn – in my rather overactive imagination, I expected to be confronted by 1,000’s of mosquitos, all competing with each other to see which could bite me first, and a visit to the loo would mean facing a cockroach infestation!! However, I’d obviously been watching too much TV as the reality was much the opposite – a few mosquitos in the evenings, and the only cockroach was dead and nowhere near the loo! I haven’t got any photos of the creepy crawlies, but I have got one of the pit – loo!!! Our accommodation was basic but adequate. We had showers fed from the water stored in the rain-catchment tank nearby (see photo below). The water though cold was also very soft, so my hair felt great! 🙂 I had been warned that Jamaican public transport was somewhat different, but I wasn’t really prepared for just how different. The nearest town (Brownstown) was 20 mins on the bus and I counted 28 people on the 12-seater bus that we’d boarded. However, it probably was a good idea that we were packed in so tightly, because the driver drove so fast round the tight corners on the twisty roads, that we’d have been constantly flung from side-to-side otherwise. The horn seems to be a vital part to any vehicle, because it is used, whenever, we overtake, go round the slightest bend presumably to let other drivers know that we’re coming.
5 Day Community-Living Experience:
One of the most valuable experiences I had in Jamaica was spending 5 days with another trainee (Tracey), living with a Jamaican family and experiencing what life is like for them. Grants Bailey was our destination, a tiny, very remote community, way up in the mountains. Here was a fantastic opportunity to put into practice what we’d been learning about in the classroom. My first impression of Grants Bailey was that it was a very poor place, the children were wearing clothes that were falling apart and hardly any of them had shoes. We stayed with a lovely lady, Sister Lin and her family. Her kitchen was a wooden shed, next to the house, and food is cooked on a 3-stone fire. There was a home-made tent where we could take in a bowl of water, to wash, and of course a pit-loo! On one of the days, we went to work in the ‘bush’ where the family farm was – a 25 minute walk away, up + down many steep hilly slopes – but the view of the mountains was fantastic. We helped cut and pick a whole load of cabbages, for selling at market and carried them back in Jamaican-style on our heads. My load was heavy and I certainly couldn’t have carried more, but I felt a complete wimp compared to Sister Lin, who carried her enormous load with ease and with no hands! We created quite a stir coming back, the local people bursting into fits of laughter when they saw Tracey and I trying to balance our loads on our heads, but I think they appreciated our efforts!!
We did get to visit some of the tourist places too – the beach, Duns River Falls and a beautiful retreat centre – before we flew back to Canada