0

WOW !!! Almost Two Years Since I Last Blogged

Unbelievable that it has been almost two years since I last wrote a blog post. Wow! What have I been doing? Why have I ignored this very therapeutic pastime? Only a shrink can truly answer that but in all honesty it does not matter. I am back and hopefully here to write more frequently.

What has happened since my last post? Well other than the fact that the world is almost upside down, the PNP is still in power in Jamaica and Donald Trump may be the next president of the US? A lot actually.

My locs are now longer. Have stopped cutting them.

We no longer live in Indonesia. Now in Rwanda.

Sign to Tanzania and Uganda

I have picked up running and love every km. This means my waistline is smaller and I can drink wine with less feelings of guilt.

The kids are taller, at least the younger one.

I have started my own business. Yes I still do development consulting work but am now a business owner in Rwanda. Would love if you could like and share my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/ForrestJacksonRelo/

Am cooking more often. Also now a huge fan of lacto-fermentation and home-made yogurt.

So much to tell but for now this is it!

Walk good and see you again soon….

Btw, as you can imagine, my posts will no longer be so much about Jakarta, life stories will now be primarily of happenings here in Rwanda.

 

 

 

Aside
2

Word has it that if all expats in the world were pooled together in one territory, we would form the 5th most populous country in the world. When I first saw this data I was amazed. Are there truly that many people living outside the borders of their home country?

When we moved from Jamaica to the United States I didn’t feel like an expatriate; I felt more like an immigrant. This feeling stems from the fact that, for Jamaicans, living in the USA is what people do. Everyone in Jamaica has a friend and/or family member living in the US. The fact that we relocated specifically for hubby’s job did not change that feeling of immigrant vs expatriate.

The move from the US to Indonesia has, however, now placed me squarely in the expatriate box. There are tons of articles written on the expatriate lifestyle. Many create fantasies while others try to understand the emotional and realistic lives of all age groups within the expatriate community. The expat life isn’t always a bed of roses. For example, as a Jamaican, it kills me to not have the rhythm of my music, of my people and of the life on a small island. Say what you will about the problems in my home country, it is and forever will be home.

Photos below of a beautiful spot in Portland, Jamaica and of Red Stripe beer (the most refreshing beer in the world).

Portland

Real Jamaican Beer

Personally, I love the expatriate life. I like seeing the world as a tourist and as a resident. I feel as though the world is my own cocoon. My family and I are now champions at figuring out which countries have safe enough to eat street food (well hubby and I do as the kids are anti street food). We are also masters at figuring out in which cities hunger is a more viable option than touching anything cooked in a restaurant with less than 4 stars. We have seen so many World Heritage Sites and have felt the warmth of so many cultures that anything other than gratitude for our lives is thankless.

Among the many things I truly love about expatriate life is the hunt. The hunt for the next place to live. For me, the hunt starts long before we are scheduled to leave the current post. It is when the mind tells me I need to learn a little more about living as an expat in a particular country. It is when a newly made friend is re-posted and is moving to a country that holds a fascination. It is when I meet someone who, over dinner, revels in the memories of their last posting. That city in which they regularly had monkeys in their backyards or where Friday nights in the high-end clubs are free Cosmopolitans (the drink) for women until 11 pm. The funny part about the Friday free cosmopolitans is that the country in question is a religious state. That discussion is for another day and time.

When I hunt, I hunt well. I go detailed. I look at houses and compounds. I learn details about schools: is there a British school or an American school or both? Do the students at the British school study for A’level exams or the International Baccalaureatette (am I the only one who finds it difficult to spell that word)? Is City X a family duty station or not? Ah, fun fact on family duty stations: Iran and Pakistan are family duty stations but Haiti isn’t. Hmmm, not sure I get the logic of that one. Other fun fact: everyone I have ever met who has served as an expatriate in Zimbabwe wants to go back. One such friend describes Zimbabwe as the secret duty station. It is that place we hear about and assume it is awful but in reality it offers a wonderful life for expatriates, or so my friends proclaim.

Where to next, we have no clue. Catch me after a trip to the Caribbean and I may say any Caribbean island. Catch me after watching a documentary on life in Buenos Aires and I may nag hubby to move us to Latin America. Let me see Africans dancing on my tv screen or hear the roar of lions and nothing can rattle my conviction I am destined to reside in a country somewhere on the African continent.

The reality is we know not when or where we will next have an address. What we do know though is that we still have much to see and do in Indonesia. Right here on the Ring of Fire in the country with the most volcanoes in the world.

8

Should I Learn to Dive or Belly/Pole Dance or Simply be Grateful?

It is the wee hours of the morning and for some reason I cannot seem to stay in bed which for me is strange because a lay-in is as precious a commodity as gold and platinum. So here I am, up writing a blog and torn about what exactly is my issue of the day. For the last few weeks I have been on a Jamaican political path but feel as though I am cheating my readers who follow my blogs to hear about my journey as an ex-politician turned expatriate wife living in a culture so opposite to hers that being zoomed up by a Martian would have seemed more familiar. So today I will focus on me and my life. Oh dear……

As many of you know I have not adjusted fully to my new life (6 years later and I still think of it as my new life). I still miss the things that I love and I am not just referring to jerk pork and stew peas with pig’s tail. I miss the campaign trail, the sense of purpose that does not involve teachers and swimming or golf lessons and most of all I miss having an identity outside of being Stephen’s wife or Alex and Amanda’s mom.

A Papuan Man Wearing His Penis Gourd....

I have lamented so much about these issues that I have not spent enough time being grateful: grateful for a life that has seen me grow both emotionally and physically (since becoming an expat I am at least 35 lbs heavier). Absolutely grateful for the friends I make livng abroad and for the things I get to see and to experience. Grateful for the time I am now able to spend with my family and for the joy in my kids’ eyes when I turn up for every event and meetings at school. My husband for the last few years has also been able to eat dinners and breakfasts cooked by me instead of by someone hired to make our lives easier. These are things which would not have been happening in our old life.

Posing with a 200 yr old mummy in Papua

 What I really need to do is to spend more time appreciating what I have and making the most of the opportunities in front of me instead of lamenting after the ones that have passed and gone. This is easier said than done but if I can adjust to living in a city where there is zero fresh air and 2% open space then by golly I can adjust my way of thinking about my life. What I should do is to start a list of things that I want to do, sort of like a bucket list but not quite so dramatic.

Let’s see, off the bat of my head I would want to:

Learn to ride a motorbike

Spend a month in Italy (here comes another 20lbs)

Learn to dive (I guess I need to learn to swim first. Yes I am from an island and cannot swim – I dare you to comment on this issue!!!!!).

Learn to belly and pole dance

Learn to drive a trailer

Be brave enough to bunjee jump

Run a marathon (not walk but run)

There is nothing stopping me from actually doing most of these things now but somehow I am stuck which is not good, not good at all. Maybe I should include them in my New Year’s Resolution.

Unto more exciting things – social commentary. I promise to be brief since this blog should be about me,  but what am I without social commentary?

Can someone please tell me what’s up with this “Spoil the Ballot Movement” in Jamaica? Come on guys, think of something more productive. A protest must be creative enough to have a following or else doing something as counterproductive as spoiling ballots will seem like mischief. Do not misunderstand me, I am all for protests (check my history of arrest) but they must serve a purpose that is attainable or at least be able to effect change in some way. Spoiling ballots will only cost our country money that it doesn’t have. If you are serious why not start a campaign to raise funds and back an Independent candidate? Why not engage and mobilize youths to get involved in the process and to protest against issues of relevance such as an end to garrison politics or more youth inclusion in policy issues? I poke fun at Betty-Ann Blaine but I respect the fact that she does her thing without being counterproductive.

I invite someone from the “Spoil the Ballot Movement” to make me believe in your cause. Give me a reason to support your movement. An action in itself cannot effect change without a compass to betterment.

Until next time….One Love.

13

When is it ok to Break the Law?

I felt the urge to share this experience that rocked me to the core. 

On arrival to Jakarta we hired our personal household staff but hubby’s office handled the hiring of our security guards. Given my personal distance from that hiring process and the fact that I did not expect to interact much with these men I mentally compartmentalized them as not truly staff. 

Fast forward a few weeks and I realized that our youngest daughter was spending a lot of time with her nanny and the guards in our garage. As a mother I decided to seriously look into what was so compelling to cause her to spend hours on end away from the things that normally held her attention. Low and behold I discovered that not only did the guards play football with her but they had become versed in Uno, Monopoly, Loodu and Scrabble. Keep in mind that their English is as good as my baking (I cannot bake to save my life). In addition, they watched and listened to music videos and allowed our daughter to teach them Jamaican dance moves which they readily performed daily: it was great.

Fast forward again to 2 weeks ago when one particular guard (the best dancer of the group) did not turn up for work for a few days. Keep in mind that these guys are not from you know where (that country that starts with J and has the best mangoes in the world) so they do not easily miss work. I asked and was told that he had been hospitalized with stomach problems. Hubby and I were concerned as medical attention for locals is as much a hit or miss as is my mom’s chance of cooking beef without burning or nearly burning it. We were however not overly worried until today when I drove through our gate and noticed a man standing in our yard. I asked our driver if he knew the person; thinking that once again the landlord had sent someone to do work without telling us. I was mentally preparing to call his office and complain when the driver said, “Mrs, its Pak ______”. I couldn’t believe it: the man standing in my yard was at least 50lbs smaller than the Pak______ I knew. This was a mere shell of the man I had come to know.

I quickly went and shook his hand while exchanging a few words. Fighting back tears I ran inside feeling sad as I watched him struggle to breathe, stand and speak. I yelled for hubby to come downstairs and went back outside to invite Pak _______ to take a seat at our dining room table. He sat, we asked about his sons and his wife (who is unemployed); we learned that he was no longer with the security company since he became ill. To this we pointed out that as soon as he was better we would ask for him to be reinstated. We spoke about how he was feeling and we watched the tears reach the brim of his eyes several times in the conversation.

The entire time we sat with him I felt an ache in the pit of my stomach as my brain raced to figure out a way to help. This was made worse by his incessant need to tell us how sorry he was that he left us without one of our guards when he became sick. No matter how many times we told him that there was nothing for him to be sorry about he kept saying it. It was unbelievable that he could feel the need to apologize for something over which he had no control. Something that needed no apology. The heart of the man was big, his soul was warm and he showed kindness where none was needed or expected: he brought beautifully wrapped gifts for the girls. I could not believe it!!!!! I had no idea how this man’s family was eating or paying any bills and here he comes with gifts for our children? The ache in me got even bigger.

My mind was racing while I tried to control myself: could I take him to our doctor just to make sure he would be fine? The answer was no. It is illegal in Indonesia for foreign doctors to treat Indonesians unless they are married to a foreigner. As Pak_________ left our home, hubby jumped on his phone to see if there was any way that our doctor could see our guard and there was none. Absolutely none!!!!! At this point I could hold it no longer and the flood gates opened. I just sat and bawled like a baby, said a silent prayer and allowed my sense of helplessness to overwhelm me. I understand the reasoning behind the government’s policy but rubbish it at this point when a man’s life hangs in the balance.

As I write this blog I ask myself what am I going to do if in a week he doesn’t seem to be improving. I can continue to give money but as I handed him that token today I saw in his eyes that what he truly wanted was his former “life”. With that I say, please God, Allah, Buddha, Haile Selassie and other gods, save Pak _____and give me the answer to this question: when is it ok to break the law?

4

Buddhism and Asthma

Chinese New Year, Jakarta

Given hubby’s work schedule and the hassle of getting around in Jakarta we haven’t managed to see and do as many things as we would have liked. With this is mind, we have resolved to explore and see more in this chaotic city. Yesterday we decided to visit Glodok which is the “Chinatown” of Jakarta. The history behind the establishment of Glodok is quite sad as the Chinese were pushed to live in these ghettos centuries ago when they were being persecuted and massacred for being different. (Intolerance is a wretched thing). For the most part, Chinese Indonesians are still the predominant inhabitants of Glodok and visiting this part of town is an excellent way to visit Traditional Chinese Wet Markets, Buddhist Temples and I am told great Chinese restaurants (we could not find anywhere to eat so I guess we missed that).

We walked through the streets and spent and inordinate amount of time reminding our 12 year old that she cannot just randomly take people’s photos as it was an invasion of their privacy. Truth be told I wanted to take photos too but had to restrain myself. Yes the elderly Chinese man standing behind his counter eating God knows what would make an excellent black and white photo; yes the man sitting over his stall of live toads and frogs along with many varieties of snails in filthy containers would be quite enthralling but no, we have to respect people’s privacy.

Temple Toa Se Bio

The wet market was great but the highlight of the trip was the Buddhist Temple called Toa Se Bio that was built around 1751 by Hookkian immigrants. The Temple got its name from the fact that the main deity worshipped there is Toa Sai Kong. It was an amazing thing watching the worshippers buy and light their many candles and perform their rituals to each deity. To a Christian looking on it seemed like a strange ceremony. Later in the night while I reflected in between sneezes from the high inhalation of smoke I realized that it may seem strange but it was actually a testimony of a religion that encouraged individual relationship with the one they believe to be most high. The Temple encourages all to worship and pray to whomever they believe is the Supreme One or Ones.

I have never seen so many sizes and shapes of red candles just burning. To some extent I felt in awe and wanted to stay a while longer but for the smoke that burnt my eyes, nose and throat. This is what led me to wonder if Buddhists are never asthmatic. By the time my husband got home his chest was tightening and nearly 24 hours later I still have the smell of smoke in my nostrils and my clothes are as smoky as when I used to frequent some of Jamaica’s favourite night spots.  I do not understand: is it that if you are asthmatic you do not practice Buddhism; is it that Chinese (who are the main practitioners of Buddhism) are by nature not afflicted with asthma or is it that the faith is so powerful that such inflictions are deflected by the power of the mind? In my research on Buddhism I found that meditation and its effect on the mind and body can be powerful. (I probably should not share this but: while we lived in the US I joined a class that taught one how to meditate and twice I fell asleep while trying the techniques. My Jamaican pride could not stand being seen among my classmates as the sleeper so I quit). I believe in the possible power of meditation but probably not as fundamentally as those that practice the religion. Within Buddhism there seems to be various principles and practices that are purported as bringing happiness and good health to the body. Is this why there doesn’t seem to be a greater incidence of asthma among Buddhists who practice their religion in the midst of much smoke and ash?

As a Christian (not necessarily a practicing one) I am somewhat skeptical about the power that can be brought from meditation and other such practices but as a social scientist I cannot explain some things and am wondering if the fact that I was born in the West and brought up Christian is limiting my openness to possibilities that could be beneficial to my well- being. What do you think?

 Until next time……..One Love!!!!!!

3

It’s Possible to Remake Yourself in a New Environment or Within the Same Old One

This morning I checked my Facebook page and a friend of mine in Jamaica had the following post:

         “Need a career change for 2011!!! Any ideas guys?”

The post motivated me to write this blog post as I was reminded that career/life change is a big issue for expatriate spouses who often give up their dreams, goals and careers for their family unit. Living as an expatriate brings a fabulous lifestyle that exposes you to new sights, scenes and experiences but when the lights are dimmed there are many who quietly (or like me, loudly) suffer the anguish of not knowing quite what to do with and for themselves. In actuality, this applies not only to expatriate spouses but also to people who are migrating to new countries to be with the ones they love. There are also those like my friend with the Facebook post who simply want to do something different. So what is the solution? I won’t say I have the magical answer that can provide solace or a solution to everyone but I’ll share a few ideas based on my own experience and that of others who have been through similar situations.

  • Many of us from the Western world have been brought up to believe that we need to excel so that we can get the perfect job. What we really need to do is create our own jobs and opportunities. Not everyone can but those who can, should.

 * If you have the capital, invest in a franchise

* Get your real estate license and become a Realtor  www.realtor.com 

* If you live in some exotic place in the world start an export/import business

* Start an online store with ethnic items from your adopted country: the US/European market is wide open to exotic/ethnic items. If you are afraid to start your own store then sell on Ebay or Amazon. http://onlineprofitable.com/ebay/top-ten-ebay-selling-secrets 

  • Ask yourself, “what service can I sell or promote?”

* Are you a highly detailed person? Then start an online     administrative business where you review documents for organizations all over the world without ever leaving your bedroom. Are you good at building/designing websites? Advertise your services to persons in Namibia, Iceland or the Virgin Islands. The point is to start your business, get out your globe and market yourself.

* Don’t be like someone I know (Alexander Mandilow) who doesn’t recognize the gift they have. Check out his blog at www.jamaicanmeditations.blogspot.com  where he shares some of his short stories and poems. My personal favourite being, The Love of Fried Chicken and Other Such Demons.  Check out his blog and leave him a message encouraging him to get his work published.

  • Are you gripped by the fear of the unknown or the possibility of failing with your new idea/business?

* Find a friend who will be your motivator. Mine is Diana Antholis who is founder of the blog Enter:Adulthood www.enteradulthood.com. Diana and I were cohort colleagues in grad school at the George Washington University. She bit the bullet, took the plunge and is determined to be the lord of her own destiny and worklife. In addition to her blog she has also co-developed a consulting company www.anditsonlytuesday.com I reach out to her when I get fretful about the business idea I am currently developing. 

* Hire a life coach to walk you through the maze. My friend and kindred spirit Patrice is such a person. She recently started her own business Catapult Life Coaching LLC. As she often says, “It’s ok to be scared but important to be courageous.” Patrice may be contacted at Patrice@catapultlifecoaching.com 

  • There are opportunities everywhere, even in Yemen (for the love of life Yemen is not such a good option but you get the idea).

The internet provides access to every nook and cranny of this planet earth so use it to develop new ideas. There is a blog for everything; there is free advice and information for anything you may wish to research. Find an opportunity: there is one awaiting you. 

  • Become a member of a service club and start networking.

* There is a Rotary Club nearly everywhere in the world. 

  • Many are content and can afford to simply volunteer their time while others need an income and still others need the job, more for self-actualization and gratification than for the salary.

* Be honest with yourself about which category you fall in and own it. Many expat spouses would never admit that their family needs an extra income. No need to share the information with anyone else but be honest with yourself.

Whatever you decide keep in mind that possibilities are endless and we are often the creator and enabler of our own failures.

Until next time……One Love!!!!

5

The Ride Of My Life

Jakarta Traffic

Living in Asia means getting a chance to do many things that would ordinarily not have even crossed my mind as options. One such activity is riding an “ojek” here in Jakarta.  Motorbikes make up 60% of all vehicles on the highly congested streets of Jakarta. They swerve through the traffic like maggots from dead meat, except many of these bikes are moving quite fast and bob and weave like no maggot can. Even if I were to ask the best writers in the world to explain the bike phenomenon of Jakarta they could not evoke the idea of what it’s really like. Before moving here I had the idea that I would learn to ride a motorbike and hop around the city with my locks in the wind and my leather backback on my bag. Yeah right!!!! As my grandmother would say, “get that folly idea out of your head.”

On to the story of my near death experience. On this particular morning I was late and our driver was en route from dropping one of the kids so hubby and I decided to walk out of our ‘lane’ and grab cabs. At the top of our ‘lane’ there are always ojeks and we sometimes feel bad that we never hire them. We are always those expats who walk by and wait on our cabs even if the wait is 20 -30 minutes. We sometimes feel guilty as we sense the eyes of the ojek drivers piercing into our backs while they wonder why the bule never use their service (a bule is the local term for foreigners. Not sure if by definition I am a bule since the term was coined for Caucasians). Between being late and feeling guilty I decided to hire an ojek (keep in mind that hubby was also egging me on while he stepped into a cab, which by the way was initially mine but the driver spoke no english and had no clue where I was going while hubby’s destination was close by and well known).

I have been on campaign trails in Jamaica where our motorcades have been fired on, where our vehicles have been pelted but absolutely nothing, when I say nothing I mean nothing, compares to the level of fear I felt for the 45 minutes I spent on that motorbike. Let me just say that I have never really liked motorbikes and always had a bit of fear for them but this ride would have been scary for anyone except an Indonesian. The bike was being driven at top speed along streets with potholes – I was terrified and quite convinced that I would never live to see my kids graduate college or my husband with a full head of grey hair. To make matters worse the ojek driver did not speak a word of English so I simple had to be quiet and grab his waste even tighter. I could feel the poor man trying to wiggle from my grip but to no avail: I wrapped my arms around his waist and clasped them in front like my life depended on it (actually my life did depend on it). For a split second when we slowed at traffic lights or when he could not ease the bike in between the really small spaces between vehicles with 4 wheels (aka cars) I glanced over at other bikers and noticed 2 things:

  1. The riders were all staring at me gripping this man’s stomach even when the bike was stationary.
  2. No one was hanging on to the drivers of the bikes the way I was. In actuality many were on their cellphones, reading books or just relaxing as though they were riding in cars all securely tucked between sheets of steel and metal. Not to mention the devout Muslim women who riding side straddled. God, Allah, Buddha and Haile Selassie be with them.

At different points I felt as though we were inflight as we flew over the sleeping policemen in the streets. Who knew there were so many in Jakarta? Why didn’t he slow down over them? Why didn’t he recognize that every time he propelled over one my body lifted from the seat and I was then forced to grip him harder?  If you think that is bad let me tell you how much worse it was when he missed a turn and ended up on a one way street facing all 4 lanes of oncoming traffic. Did he slow down at this point? No, he continued speeding while bobbing in and out of oncoming cars that were not slowing down but were rather annoyed at us.

The fact that I am writing this blog tells you that I survived and that I am well but that was 45 minutes of sheer hell. It’s a good thing I have low blood pressure as I am sure I would otherwise have had a heart attack. It is never a good feeling when you think that if you move either of your elbows you are literally touching cars while you straddle a motorbike flying at top speed. I made it and I am happy but I’m not sure how to ask the Supreme Being to allow me to break my promise of not eating rum and raisin ice cream for the next 6 months (I made this promise to him while begging for my life through prayer).

Will I hire an ojek ever again? Maybe yes: after several drinks and zero other options. Am I sorry I did it? No, because I can now cross the need to ride on the “back of a speeding motorbike flowing through heavy traffic” off my Bucket List.

Until next time…..One Love!!!!!