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Jamaica 2012

Week 2: Work & Play

Jan. 30, 2012

I am way too tired to write this, but I’m going to push through the fatigue long days hand out as a reward for hard work — just for you.

What you have to look forward to:

Classes
Web Site
Dead Yard
Kingston: Take Two

WORK

Though I’ve already posted a few installments of my Caribbean story here, I’ve failed to describe my classes, i.e. the reason I’m in Jamaica in the first place. The main organization I’m working for is the AOC, short for the Association of Community Based Organizations. This org is composed of several smaller local community clubs, one of which is the Petersfield Sports & Community Center where Mr. Brown works. He assigned me the job of designing a web site for the AOC and training several members in its maintenance. We started this course as an HTML & CSS course. So far the students have been exposed to all of the basics of web design from structuring their pages with paragraphs and headings to styling the page with different colors and sizes, to adding links between pages for easy navigation. I would say this class is progressing at a steady rate, and they should be able to continue learning once I’ve left the island. I have around ten students who attend lessons, and maybe four who never miss a class. They’ve begun grouping up, which makes teaching much easier and I believe leads to better learning when they are well paired, since they are able to teach each other and work through doubts together.

I’ve also started teaching a basic computer literacy course at H.E.A.R.T. which is just down the road from the Petersfield Center. HEART is a government school for adults (17 and up) that provides classes in a wide array of subjects. The I.T. instructor there is Mrs. Johnson, a young 6-month-pregnant woman who is very kind and extremely helpful. She can’t be much older than me, maybe a couple years at most. Anyway, she gave me several pointers for teaching adult learners and is giving me some teaching materials as well. Today was the first day of class, besides the introductory class last week. The majority of my students are women in their thirties or older and then two random young people- Janice and Ralreece. Ralreece is my classroom helper. He prepares the projector and locks up the computer lab, etc. That’s another thing— the lab at HEART has about 20 or so functioning computers with lots of space and a desk for the instructor as well as a white board for notes, while the lab at the Petersfield center has about five computers that turn on with only two of them functioning reliably, little space, and no board. I wish I could use the lab at HEART all of the time. The environment makes a big difference in my effectiveness. Anyway, we went over how to navigate around a computer today and still had some time to be introduced to MS Word. Apparently I moved too quickly, so I need to find a natural way to slow down. This problem is something I’ll be ironing out over the next week. It’s also difficult teaching an older version of the software because I can’t use my own computer in examples.

So the classes are going well all in all, and I expect they’ll only get smoother as the weeks progress.

The website, on the other hand, was at a complete stand still until today. On one of the first days in Jamaica, I discovered that Mr. Brown wanted a free website. I was totally ok with that because it makes my job about 90% easier. I love Google, so I chose to mock up an example using Google Sites. This project took me all of an hour maybe. The point is that it took little effort, and even less time. Since then I’ve been focusing on the classes and/or Mr. Brown and his secretary Keesha have been busy. It wasn’t until today that we really started adding content. I also gave them an idea of the steps required to get the content on the site, like finding AOC official documents and logos, etc. I’m going to edit it this week to make it look nicer, but I’m happy with the spurt of progress.

PLAY

There is a tradition here called the Dead Yard which celebrates the life of a deceased the night before the funeral. It is an outdoor celebration with plenty of food and drink as well as music, dancing, and domino playing. Mr. Brown made a point to bring me to one in the past week. When we arrived, the main road was lined with cars parked on the grass and I could hear reggae music blaring. We walked into the crowd via a dirt path lined with food carts where venders were selling jerk chicken and various drinks (anything from juice to Red Stripe Lager). At the center of things was a tall sound system playing a new playlist, different from what I first heard. The party was so big that there were multiple DJs. Once at the center, there was more parking on our right, and several games of dominos on our left (and one lone Parchissi game as well!). People had brought their own tables, chairs, and domino sets. Mr. Brown recruited a couple boys (~10 yrs. old) and we drove back to the Petersfield center to acquire our own Domino setup. I played several rounds once we got back to the Dead Yard. I wasn’t nearly as skilled as the others, though I did have a bout of beginners luck winning the first round. If you didn’t know people were playing dominos, you would have thought it was poker. They held their seven dominos like playing cards and slapped their piece down as loud as possible on the table. There were clear strategies, like using the double pieces (like double 4, etc.) early on and making either end of the string have the same number whenever possible. Any other strategies went over my head, however. I’ll have to play more often if I want to keep up with the Jamaicans. While watching the games, I was lucking enough to be near a dancing circle. There would often be a lone person gracefully moving to the beat blaring out of the nearest sound system. I’m amazed how every Jamaican has a steller sense of rhythm, something I’m severely lacking in. They are very creative in the ways they move their body as well, often trying new things out to see how they work. I wish I could describe the dancing better, but you just really had to be there. Though I typically love to dance, I didn’t join in on the dance floor action. My excuse is that I didn’t have anyone my age to dance with, making it too awkward given my strangeness in this environment, however I know that this excuse makes me a total wimp. My mother would have been all over the place absolutely loving it. I think I might consider pushing myself a little bit more when these sorts of situations arise. I’m sure I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Mr. Brown and I called it a night around 11pm, a time in the evening when I used to leave the house to start my evening. My how things have changed since graduation. ha

So that was Friday. The following Sunday, Mr. Brown brought me a few other AOC members back to Kingston for a meeting with the Cubans. The AOC is a member of an even larger organization for those clubs which support Cuba, named something like Friends of Cuba. This group is not political at all. I’m not sure how that works, though. Asa and I were bored, so we decided to walk around Kingston until the meeting was over. Asa brought me to the Devon House, a home built in the 1890s surrounded by a large open grassy area open to the public. It mostly looks like a park with restaurants and a random home on the side. I had the feeling that we were in a completely different town once we walked into the park. It was like an oasis in a sea of concrete and trash. I’m not a huge fan of Kingston, but the public green areas are very nice. I have yet to make it to Emancipation Park, though. I would really like to sit and walk around that area.

Since it was a Sunday, the restaurants were closed and the park and streets were fairly empty. Apparently Sunday is still considered a day of rest. People spend their time going to religious services and preparing for the week ahead by doing laundry, etc. After a while, Asa and I began walking back, but this time we took the back way. On the way we saw the King’s House, Bob Marley’s Museum, and several embassies and high commission buildings from across the globe—including France! After the first group of effective circles, I realized we were lost, but Asa would not admit it. Mr. Brown called us several times, finally telling us that the Cuban High Commission building had to be locked and they were waiting for us. Asa had forgotten to leave the keys with Mr. Brown. >.< We found a taxi driver and told him where to drop us off. Problem was that he didn’t know how to get there. No problem, man. Asa gave him directions from the King’s House. We made it to our final destination, and all was well. No one was angry or frustrated. I was amazed, but I wasn’t about to ruin a good thing. Water! I downed the rest of a water bottle. Then the Cuban representative gave me a packet and a speech about how the US is funding terrorists in Cuba. I was attentive and completely non-judgmental, however when I got back to the Whyte’s house and found that the packet was Cuban propaganda about what they call “the Cuban Five,” I more or less ignored the books. I know how the US intelligence agencies operate, and I think anyone who knows about US history wouldn’t be surprised that US money is going towards funding rebel wars. Does this make us slightly hypocritical? That’s debatable.

I was glad to be leaving the Cubans finally. Being associated with that island makes me nervous. I don’t want to get fired from my job before I even get started! I don’t think it’ll be an issue, but I need to talk to them about it before I start.

After a long day, it was finally time for lunch. KFC! Tastes the same every time. I hadn’t had that much to eat either, so I more or less scarfed down my meal. I had turned down breakfast this time around in favor of some classic citrus fruits and hadn’t really had anything else.

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