Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ups and downs of month one

We said goodbye to Linda today, which means we've been in Jamaica for four weeks. My dad will stay for the next week and then a string of other family members and friends will come to visit and help out with Caleb. I remember traveling when I was younger and always saying - I'm going to keep doing this all my life, and when I have kids, I'll just bring them along on my adventures. As I got older and actually had a child I quickly realized that this dream would not be as easy as I had once thought. I know now that without the incredible support of my family and friends I couldn't have made this trip happen, and I truly appreciate it.

Seeing Linda off
Our first month has been full of wonderful experiences, some more challenging than others. Two animal encounters have been particularly tough. As in all developing nations, Negril is full of stray cats and dogs. I knew they were malnourished and I had already begun throwing scraps to the many cats that come running every time we ate a meal on our patio. However, I have now seen two tiny kittens who have starved to death. It broke my heart and we all make sure to throw something to the cats each day. I haven't adopted one yet- but I can't promise that I won't be coming home with a little kitten in my bag (maybe Beaker needs a friend, John and Maureen?!?).

During our first week we noticed some flying ants in our apartment. I wasn't too bothered by them, until one evening I had to admit it was no longer 'a few ants' but an entire swarm. We bought some spray, and hoped for the best. For several nights we didn't see any until one fateful night. My dad was sleeping and my mom and I bravely faced a second swarm. We killed close to 100 ants until I finally saw them emerging from the keyhole in a door. We had a nest inside our home - but at least I now knew where it was. I taped up the keyhole, confident we had the problem solved, but the ants kept coming. I found two more small holes along the top of the door, taped them up and went to bed on high alert. The next morning the maintenance man came to remove the door. I was very, very grateful that my dad stayed behind because once he had the door unhinged he said - 'Ok,  now I'll just leave the door in your closet'. Whaaat??? My dad made sure the door was gone - far, far away from our apartment - and thankfully, we haven't seen one flying ant since.

Black-necked stilts resting on a fishing boat
The positive experiences in our first month have by far outweighed the negative. This week my dad and I completed mapping a 40 km stretch of shoreline from Negril to Lucea. The areas we couldn't reach by land, we saw by boat.  It has been amazing to see places that even many locals have never had the change to experience. Beautiful limestone cliffs, water of the most amazing blues and greens, coral reefs, seagrass beds, tiny shacks, giant homes, birds, fish, sugar cane fields and mangrove forests.

A farmer's hut we found on a path leading down to the ocean
One month down and three to go. Only two more months until I get to see my husband. Time will continue to go quickly and I can't wait to experience every single moment - all the ups and all the downs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Scuba Steve

 We had a major breakthrough this week - Caleb learned to swim on his own. Ok, so he was wearing a life jacket, but it was still quite amazing to witness. We spent one morning this week snorkelling, and Caleb couldn't bear to just sit in the boat and watch so the boat captain told him to jump in. Once he was in we didn't know if we'd ever get him back out. While swimming around the boat, miles from shore, he sang out  "That's what it's all about!". The hokey pokey seemed like the best way to express the joy he was feeling. When we were ready to come back to shore, he said 'No, I want to swim back!"

We knew we were in trouble when we got back to the beach and no longer had a life jacket for him. We knew he  simply would not be happy swimming in our arms any longer. We talked to the local lifeguard, Gary, about this and sure enough Gary had a padded wetsuit that was just his size. We made a deal to rent it for the rest of our time here, and voila - Scuba Steve was born! I love that he is fearless in the water. He loves to put on his goggle, plunges his head underwater and looks for starfish on the seafloor. 

Scuba Steve looks quite buff in his new suit!

One of my favourite pasttimes in Jamaica is reading the local papers. I love discovering amazing headlines and laughing with my mom at the somewhat hilarious articles. The best example I can give was a three page spread last Sunday that discussed the pros and cons of marrying a shorter man. Benefits included:

        1. Short men are described by their parents as "nice with a sunny disposition"
        2. Short men are more faithful and make better companions
        3. Cost savings: as shorter men eat up to 1/3 less than taller men, "marrying a shorter man will provide savings on the food bill. "
        4. "It is said that short men are part of the in-trend that compact is better as seen in technology with small MP# players and computers.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mountains and mangroves

'Linger by the Sea' - restaurant at our resort. It took us a few days to figure out what Lingah was!
 It's Sunday morning and I'm sitting in the outdoor lobby of our resort getting ready to edit some videos and listening to beautiful gospel singing coming from the church that happens to be directly above our room (which I just realized right now!). And in Fredericton, all of the Jeffries family is watching Alan play at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival's 'Bluegrass Brunch'. Thankfully my sister-in-law, Mary, is sharing photos and videos of the show with me.

We've had a great week in Negril. My favourite part of the day besides our sunset swims is taking time to talk to locals and hear their fascinating stories. I've heard of how the beach used to be so wide that they would play football games in front of the hotels. Now so much of the beach has been lost that there only a few meters of beach is left in many places, and some hotels have waves literally crashing at their front steps. I also had a chance to talk to a man, Mr. Arthur, whose father opened the very first tourist spot in Negril in 1952. Back then this was just a  very small fishing village, and now almost everyone earns their living from something related to tourism. Mr. Arthur showed me a photo of his father with Negril's first ever tourist - a woman from L.A. who gave him 4 pounds to help build his business. Last night I had a chance to sit on the beach and look at the stars. Just as I was thinking how nice it was to finally be alone for a moment, a rasta walked up the beach, singing to himself.  When he spotted me he came over and asked if we could have a talk. He said 'I've never had a chance to talk to someone strange before, and I've always wanted to talk to someone strange.' I figured this must be a compliment, so I invited him to sit down and we talked for awhile about the beliefs of rastas - respect and love for all people - and about his life growing fruit in the mountains. I love that I can take the time to listen and enjoy stories such as these. The pace of life here always allows for time to talk to your friends and neighbours - and even people who are strange.

Proudly giving 'respect' in his new Bob Marley shirt. I took this photo for Alan and Caleb thinks his dad needs a matching shirt for Christmas. 
Mangrove Man! 
 We decided to visit some of the country yesterday and took a boat tour of Black River. The drive to the river was beautiful - fields of banana trees and sugar cane, mountains in the distance, small coastal villages with kids fishing from rocks in the sea, small food stands selling ackee, fish and bamby and many other delicious fruits. Black River is lined with mangrove trees, herons and egrets. Seeing the crocodiles was definitely the highlight of the trip for Caleb - especially when he got to say 'see you later alligator, after awhile crocodile' - his favourite saying for the past few weeks!

 Even more surprising than spotting crocodiles was watching the local fisherman snorkelling and using a spear gun to catch fish within meters of the crocodile. What a way to make a living.
Cale spends his mornings with Linda while Greg and I work. They play games, read books and do crafts like this masterpiece. We collected shells, leaves and flowers and cut out newspaper photos and then let Cale loose with the glue. I asked to see his drawing when got home from work, and he said - 'Mom, it's not a drawing, it's a glueing!'

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Life's a beach

Nice up yuh self!

Cale’s blond hair and round cheeks have earned him a new nickname from the locals on the beach – Richie Rich! I’ll walk by after a morning of work and Duke the fishermen will call out “Is it Richie time now?”. It is quite amazing to see Jamaica through the eyes of a two year old. Cale has quickly learned how to respond to all the people on the beach trying to sell us fruit, crafts and boat rides – he’ll very politely say “No thanks, not today. Maybe tomorrow!”. He’s also commented how people in Jamaica “love to honk their car horns” and that the “ocean water is awfully warm”! Only once so far has he spotted Bob Marley. Although we are surrounded by dreadlocked rastas, only one man really caught his attention and as he called out “what is your name?” to the man, he whispered to me, “look mom, it’s Bob Marley!”.

It seems Caleb has grown up in the short time that we’ve been here. He is incredibly confident in the water, talks to everyone he meets and I’m very proud to say that he is very close to being fully potty trained. After several months of trying, he finally had his first successful poop on the potty! We had enticed him with promises of a ‘potty party’ and told him we could skype with his dad as soon as he did it. We had the party, complete with popsicles, balloons and several games of hide and go seek, and I’ve rarely seen him beaming with such pride as when he got to call his dad and tell him the good news.

Potty Party!

Lunch time coconut water. We eat every meal outside on our patio
The beach mapping is coming along well. My dad and I head out each morning together with our GPS and other gear in tow. We watch the frigate birds and pelicans circle above our heads as we measure the beach and look for signs of erosion. We are quickly learning to troubleshoot problems as they arise, and we now know to give ourselves extra time to talk to everyone we meet along the way. Everyone has questions about the surveys we are doing, and they all offer up great information on how the beach has changed and eroded during their lifetimes. I’m planning to begin filming some of the people I talk to as a record of the wealth of local knowledge I’m encountering.

New friend Caden, his grandma works at our resort.

Caden is a little unsure of the hand holding!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The adventure begins


Hey mon! We’ve arrived in Jamaica to begin our 4 month Caribbean adventure. Our first few days have been wonderful. My solo plane ride with Caleb was a huge success – his barely containable excitement, the Cars movie on demand, a two hour nap and no questions at immigration made for an easy trip. I was, however, very happy to see my parents at the airport in Montego Bay. They arrived only 10 minutes before us and we all made the 1.5 hour bus trip to Negril together. It was beginning to feel a bit like we were on Amazing Race: Family Edition at times, but we made it here in one piece and are now quickly getting settled into our new home.

We have rented a large (and thankfully air-conditioned) two bedroom at the ‘Negril Beach Club Resort’. The name sounds much more wild than it actually is, at least for now. I’m sure things won’t be as quiet by the time tourist season hits in November. The local crafters and hotel workers are super friendly and everyone knows Caleb by name. He has become quite popular with all the rastas on the beach - giving fist pumps and saying ‘hey mon’ to everyone who passes by.

Cale was vey happy to find our first Bob Marley statue!
One of our many daily beach walks
Hanging with local crafter, Octavius
 We are quickly adjusting to Caribbean time and I am more than happy to leave our usual hurried pace of life behind me. In Negril life is all about the slow walks, long talks and taking time to watch the sunset each night. When I find myself stresses at how long it takes for a meal to arrive, or how several people have given me completely different info on how to buy a cell phone and hook up internet in my apartment, I just take a breath and remember the wise words of Bob Marley - Don't worry about a thing, everything little thing is gonna be alright!

I’ll start working tomorrow by introducing myself to the local NGOs and I will begin mapping the coastline in the next few days. My dad will be my field assistant and my mom will be the babysitter. Everything should go smoothly as long as we don’t melt in the Caribbean sun! Lots of ocean dips will be a requirement in my work day. 
New favourite game - Cale the lifeguard