Friday 10 February 2012
Arrive in Jamaica! One hour to get through baggage reclaim and immigration, 10 hours in the air, two hours at Gatwick, a night in a hotel at Gatwick worrying about the snow, coach ride as the only passenger from Oxford with a driver clearly not very happy with me, all now seems a distant memory. Mr Spence, the University driver, was waiting for me outside the airport and gave a warm welcome, with a most interesting commentary through Kingston to Aqueduct Flats where I’ll be staying initially. Somewhat bemused to find myself in a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat, rather greater square footage than my house back home! Three heavy duty fans but no air conditioning. And a balcony facing out onto playing fields with a view also of the Blue Mountains. A wonderful hamper plus other essentials waiting for me. What a great place to be, what fantastic people to be working with.
Saturday 11 February 2012
Awoke at 4.30am., which seemed quite an achievement given the 5 hour time difference. Updated my phone with a Jamaican SIM card and contacts and read waiting for a reasonable hour to start unpacking properly, didn’t want to disturb the neighbours. Found the washing machines for the flats in a hut adjoining, starting to feel that I’m getting to grips with where I am. Mr Spence came back to take me shopping, first giving a guided tour of the extensive University campus, complete with swimming pool, extensive medical school and reggae studies department (not necessarily in order of importance). Arrived at the supermarket. Of course, in one sense, a supermarket is a supermarket wherever you are in the world. But there are so many small and large differences. In general, locally produced goods – most fruit and vegetables, rum, rice and also unbranded washing powder in simple packaging – are much cheaper than I’m used to. Imported, branded goods – many of which I recognise – are at least as expensive if not more than in the UK. But there are some oddities here. Chicken seems to be very expensive, as is vegetable oil. Almost certainly a good bit cheaper in markets, but I'm not feeling brave enough to venture outside of supermarkets to shop. One particular surprise is the fresh vegetables, being used to eg. carrots and onions all pretty much the same size and looking immaculate, now different sizes with blemishes. How sensible! Perfectly edible, cuts out huge waste, can I put in a plea for this idea to be taken to the UK? Meat is also a trap for the unwary. Couldn’t find beef mince, either frozen or fresh (but have subsequently), but could find chicken feet and other cuts I don’t remember seeing on the shelves. And, of course, no label on them with cooking instructions – I suppose there’s always the Internet…
Arrive at the checkout and start putting the good onto the belt to be scanned, to be told, very politely and very firmly by a smartly uniformed young shop assistant that that is his job, not mine, with another assistant packing at the other end into what look like miniature bin liners ideal for the kitchen bin, which then get taken for me to Mr Spence’s car. Then a sudden panic – is this part of the normal service for which a simple ‘thank you’ will suffice, or am I supposed to tip, and if so, how much is reasonable? Fortunately Mr Spence is close by – how fortunate to have the assistance of such a helpful person with huge experience of dealing with dippy foreigners like me. No tip necessary, I’m told.
And paying is also interesting – handling notes isn’t too bad, but end up minutely examining the coins to work out how much they’re worth until the cashier takes pity on me and plucks the right change out of my hand. A walk in the afternoon trying to get my bearings and also on the hunt for a tin opener, not having checked whether there was one in the flat before setting out in the morning.
Out walking I find the thing which attracts my attention more than anything else is the road signage. So many aspects I like, the directness:
the love of children
I've previously seen the road sign, “Spare 10 minutes a day to pray for the children of Jamaica” – if I can I’ll upload a picture. And also Biblical texts in unexpected places:
As far as I could see, no attached church or any other specific reason for this being up!
Also love signs which one wouldn't expect to see elsewhere in the world necessarily:
Although would point out this isn't a specifically Jamaican phenomenon, consider this sign from the French Alps:
And this one from Malta:
Anyway, back to Jamaica. Some indication as to just how dry the conditions are relative to expectations:
Although water is available 24 hours as far as I can tell, which is not always the case.
Now I find myself cooking for the first time outside England and Wales ever that I can remember. Standard casserole with some local touches, getting used to cooking electric. Beginning to feel at home…
Sunday 12 February 2012
Up at 4am., wondering if this is the hour when it gets coldest (relatively, of course). Had noted a church in Mona near the American embassy when out and about yesterday, with a 7am. service, so set out for that. Then started to think about it. Would need a hat, sun cream, and sun glasses – but not just yet. Water would be good. And a camera. Not forgetting my business cards. And a mobile ‘phone. Before long a simple walk into town to go to church becomes a major expedition. The walk covered the time from darkness to light – cool to walk, mountains first appearing as silhouettes with detail gradually added. Took a few more pictures:
...although the best images I couldn’t take. Does perching a hard hat on top of an elaborate knitted hat on top of a mass of dreadlocks really give any protection? And is dragging a 10 foot long branch felled in pruning from the driver’s window of a car really safe?
Arrived at 0645 to find the building almost empty, although by 0730 it was pretty full. Some familiar elements, some not so, with some of the songs incorporating some Patois expressions. 5 hours difference, 4500 miles, heat starting to build, worshipping the same crucified, risen and ascended Lord Jesus. Given a warm welcome from the members, who were amused to see me applying sun cream as I left – still only two days since I left the snow and ice, can’t be too careful! Further exploration of the campus in the afternoon – but cannot for the life of me retrace my steps to the barbershop! Think I’ve got a sense of where things are at least up to a point. Quite big downpour after I got back, including with the sun shining brightly which was quite a strange effect. Otherwise, gathering up the energy for the day ahead!