Wednesday, September 15, 2010

And its only been a month!

So my lovely friend Christian decided to send me a little surprise to let me know he is always thinking about me! So I wanted to share it with all of you! Since one of my recent blogs touched on this subject. 

Even the NY Times is interested!
I believe the appropriate attitude for this year abroad is, "don't worry you can sleep in a year!" I am also trying to incorporate the never say no mantra so I can do everything Jamaica has to offer. Since Tuesday it has been non-stop. Jazz's birthday, first grad class ever, Rosh Hashanah dinner, American football, Samir (Anita's boyfriend) arrived, FURI's founder who live in NY is here for a solid week of FURI work, a trip to Ochie & MoBay and the tumultuous task of keeping up on the personal work I've created for myself.

We kept Jazz's birthday fairly low key, but since half of this trip is dedicated to eating our way through Jamaica we decided to try Market Place a ingenious half outdoor and half indoor restaurant complex. So here is the genius part... if you sit in the middle section and don't pick a specific restaurant you and your buddies can choose from anyone of the 5 or so restaurants. Indian, Chinese, Mediterranean, Japanese and French. So yeah were going to try them all...obviously. We started with Japanese which was outrageously good. Reminds me of some places in NYC, Hagi to be specific.

We all had an early morning, Jazz was getting the "don't fall in love lecture at the embassy" and we told her to be ON TIME. Anita as usual trucks through the "M" everyday, and I started my first grad class ever. Caribbean Political Institutions! So stoked. The class represented many countries, most heavily represented was the French and their overseas region Martinique, about 5 French and 3 from Martinique. I was the only American and there was one Barbadian and 3 Jamaicans. There is a 5 year comparative politics program set up between Bordeaux France , Mona Jamaica, and Martinique. 3 years at your primary institution and then 1 at each affiliate university. Pretty cool! So the teacher taught his first 30 minutes with his sunglasses and his first main point was that Caribbean Political Institutions don't work, and that we should, as politics/governance majors, fix it. Bottom line is the Caribbean function in Crisis governance mode almost consistently. And there are a few major reasons for it. First Caribbean Islands poorest to wealthiest: Based on GDP per capita in USD in 2009.

1) Haiti - $733
2) Jamaica - $4,390
3) Dominicana - $4,949
4) Domincan Republic - $5,176
5) Saint Vincent and the Grenadines - $ 5.261
6) Saint Lucia - $5,671
7) Grenada - $5,969
8) Saint Kitts and Nevis - $10,315
9)Barbados - $13,003
10) Antigua & Barbuda - $13,852
11) Trinidad & Tobago -$15,851
12) Bahamas - $21,529

Needless to say these many of these countries have incomprehensible Debt to GDP ratios, they are in the middle of hurricane territory( Haiti), also on a fault line which makes them highly susceptible to earthquakes (Haiti), the literacy rate is abysmal, and corruptions ripples through most institutions, private and government alike. Not to mention that they are in the middle of the ocean and the polar ice caps are melting, potential HUGE CRISIS. So yeah, maybe the should worry a bit.
But everything is done without careful planning because there is an awful game taking place that forces these nations to always play catchup and use band aids. They are also highly aid dependent and they have a "taking mentality" that is pervasive in their fiscal management but also in the way the they participate in the global market. They import almost everything, and there exports are low. They have a market in tourism that suffers from crime, but not as much as you would think.
There is a lack of foreign investment and the political environment is polarized by violent political affiliations. This all equals crisis governance. So whats in the future for the Caribbean? More after Wednesday! Oh I am also teacher assisting a class on Crime, Violence, & Political Strife in the Caribbean! Someone should probably tell me to "big up myself" right now.

Jazzy & I made our way to the Genzer's for Rosh Hashanna dinner where we had Matzoh Ball Soup & Koogel just like we would at home! We had the traditionally apples & honey for dessert and overall it was a great way to spend the Jewish New Year! Mom, Dad, I hope you guys are impressed that I continued to stay Jewish in Jamaica!

Samir, Anita, Me, Jazzy & Kam @ club Fiction
Samir came on Thursday so we showed him around Kingston for the night which inevitably resulted in Friday being dedicated to some serious rest that was well deserved. I don't think Jazzy & I moved till 10pm when the craving for pan chicken became too strong. I was also resting up for my trip to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios with FURI. Carmeta was picking me up Saturday at 6:30am! Carmeta, Martha, Marleen, Ishon & I were driving through the mountains into the country to see a community of deportees that was really suffering. Martha came from this community and made her way to Kingston and now wanted to bring back FURI to help those she left behind.

We traveled through Spanish Town which used to be the capital of Jamaica, as of April 17th it is ranked as the most dangerous place to live in Jamaica Despite the well known political violence Spanish Town is vibrant, colorful, and eccentric. All kinds reside in the old city that is nicknamed "Prison Oval". Some of the prisoners can see through there bars an oval cricket field and potentially catch part of the match.

In other disturbing news, the Jamaica Gleaner (daily news) posts the death/murder count on the front page of every paper. Also there is monument deep in the "M" on Church Street where all the names of children or teens who have been killed due to violence are listed. Jamaica has many ironies rooted in their violent history. There national hero Marcus Garvey, father of pan-africanism, was a peaceful man (despite the means in which mass movements advocate, protests etc). He is also considered a prophet by the Rastafari and Garvey's legacy is pervasive throughout Jamaican music, poetry, architecture, and political rhetoric. Garvey is quoted constantly. Specific to my cause, GARVEY HIMSELF WAS DEPORTED. Yet most Jamaican's refuse to associate themselves with deportees. I'll be meeting with a few experts on Jamaican criminology so more to come once I'm more informed!

Back to my MoBay/Ochie trip. After Spanish Town, we crossed Flat Bridge and journeyed toward Fern Gully. Which as far as I knew only existed in an animated film from the 90's! Fern Gully also has the coolest street side craft stands.
Phenomenally rooted trees lined F.G

The trees almost form a canopy over the road
Martha & I with a well endowed statue!
Mainly the streets are lined with wooden statues of all sizes that are individually hand carved. Some racier than others! On another trip I'll certainly be coming back with some crafts for mis amigos back in the states.We arrived in Ochie and you cannot help but notice how blue the ocean is. It blows the bluest skies out of the water
No wonder they consider Jamaica Paradise, it speaks for itself

Although the island is beautiful and the history is rich and captivating we were about to step into a clearing in the woods that is home to many deportees that resort to self-destructive behavior because the social services provided to them are close to none. And even if they did exist, say in Kingston, how would one access the facility which is over 4 hours away by car/bus from MoBay Martha first brings us to Fisherman's beach where in the evening she used to hang out with a desperate crowd. Gambling, drinking, drugs, prostitution and violence are a nightly occurrence. During the day the occupants fish and try to earn a buck by selling loose cigarettes, the days catch and bag juice. Even though they face the days wondering how they will eat, they are laughing, singing and haranguing one another about Rasta tenets and political anecdotes.

The Reggae/Dancehall is loud and the vulgar language under the card gazebo can be heard by all. Everyone is thrilled to see Martha! Even though she is clean, dressed and fed they recognize her as one of their own. Before she could even get out of the car everyone left their seats to get a peak at the new Martha. Many gawked with amazement some started with a twinge of jealousy, yet most were happy to see she was alive. After Martha's reunion we made our way to the highway overpass and instead of walking over it we walk right down underneath it to see a house that was built by a deportee with electricity! Indian was a honorably discharged Marine who served in Cambodia and was ultimately deported from California. He now lives under this bridge and attempts to find work as a welder when someone reads his sign that he carries up to the road.
Going Under the Overpass
Indian's Perch
Work is scare but Indian is grateful he has a place to accumulate some belongings. He notes that

Indian's House, note the light coming through the "window"
one of the hardships endured during homelessness is that anything you accrue is fair game for someone to take since you don't have a place for it. But Indian has a place for his stuff the inside is organized quite well. With a make shift closet, hanging Christmas lights, and a fire pit he is "living comfortably". His place is extemporaneously built but he positioned it on the highest ground possible since the river floods during the rainy season. Without careful planning all of Indian's stuff could wash away. After filming 20 minutes of footage about Indian's story we left him with enough money to purchase a phone so he can keep in contact with us while we attempt to find him work.
"Welder Needs Some Work"

 We also left him with rice, chicken broth, beans, bananas and cane. We were then venturing into the thick brush so we could find the Guinep tree Martha used to sleep under for months. Martha led the way and I followed under strict instructions to only take pictures if I am granted allowance by the residents of the wooded area. After introductions to the group of 12-15 deportees/homeless a relationship was established and we handed out business cards to the deportees who may want to seek social services. This is trickier than is said here, but do to causes for concern I'll keep it simple. This clearing is commanded by a Don we will call Mustafa. Unfortunately the same antics at fisherman's beach run ramped here. Unlike the beach these people sleep amongst the pigs they raise for minimal income.  They sleep on Styrofoam slabs
and when it rains they "all go home". Martha tells us that just means they go under Indian's bridge. They are not proud of living like this so they make it seem as though it is a choice. Remember human beings hold onto pride until there is nothing left. Remember many of these people built lives in the United States only to be sent to a country that they originally chose to leave. We also left these people with food and let them know we were there if and when the decided to seek help. Indian has already followed up and called us. He has high hopes for his future dealings with FURI and we will do our best too meet him halfway.

Needless to say this emotional day wore me out so we had a traditional Jamaican dinner back in Ochie, cooked by Carmeta's childhood friend Cecil. She also let the 5 of us crash at her place and she was such a lovely person to meet. Her house that she built from her self run restaurant was gorgeous. Imagine this view every morning. One of our last stops on this trip was Sunday morning service at Ocho Rios Baptist Church. Oh yeah you better believe it, me Ashley, in a Baptist Church! The singing was angel like the music was heartfelt and the testimony about the prodigal daughter was eloquently preached. The prodigal daughter was bathed, clothed and fed by the church. And ironically that was the reason we were there. This church clothed, bathed & fed Martha, she was this churches prodigal daughter! And when it was her turn, her testimony was a paean for the church from the pulpit! No doubt, inspiring for all. She told the story about how she was dirty and hungry and as she approached the church two teenage sisters said good morning to her. She couldn't believe that she was not invisible and that someone actually noticed her. You can always count on the youth in my opinion! They took her to the church and aided in her transformation that day. Lucky enough for us they were there this Sunday morning! So I'll leave you with this heartwarming reunion that was a pleasure to see after hearing so many heart wrenching stories the day before. We should all thank the Universe for what we have.


  1. My thoughts exactly... What an amazing trip this is... Big up yourself dude! lol

  2. Quite the post, from pleasant to eye opening. Enjoy the journey and we know you'll be making a difference when you can. Love your writing style. Hugs, Donna