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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
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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.

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Family Vacation in the Sumatran Jungle

oldmanoftheforest

I decided to take my family on an unusual vacation

The big question when our kids have an extended school break is always, “what are we going to do?” Often times the first response is to think of where to go outside Indonesia. This time I was determined that we try an Indonesian adventure. For most expats here, the easy go-to place is Bali but we have never fallen in love with Bali  so that was not going to be an option for the picky Rodriques bunch.

Hubby has been speaking about a trip to Banka Belitung. The place is said to have nice beaches and rock formations but without the overrun of tourists. I am also curious about Banka Belitung but felt we needed something different. My mind churned for days until it hit me: how about a vacation outside of our usual norm?

I felt devious. I started to scheme a plan for a vacation. I love planning surprises and so the family (except the youngest) was kept in the dark about my plans for our jungle trekking trip.

My friend Charlie had already visited the Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra and raved about the awesomeness of the experience. I mirrored Charlie’s experience and we had a fantastic time.

Really hating early morning flights we leisurely got up and caught a 10:20 am flight to Medan. Up until then my beloved husband, our first born and her friend who was tagging along had no clue where we were heading. The flight from Jakarta is a quick two-hour hop over to the 3rd largest city in Indonesia. Surprise surprise when we got to Medan: the airport is actually quite nice having only been opened two and a half months prior to our visit.

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On arrival to Medan we began a 4-hour drive to the Gunung Leuser National Park in Bukit Lawang. The National Park is home to orangutans which are a critically endangered species in Indonesia. It also has a rehabilitation center for orangutans that were rescued from captivity or which were being hunted.

When we got to Bukit Lawang I glanced around but could not figure what was happening. Firstly, this did not look like a rain-forest and secondly I did not see a place for us to stay. While I did not expect luxury I certainly expected something decent. I didn’t see any sign of a decent hotel in sight!

Seeing the initial puzzled look on our faces we were told that we had not yet arrived at our lodgings. Cars could not drive into the area and as such we had to walk to the Jungle Inn at which we were booked to stay. How quaint, I thought, still apprehensive about what to expect after the walk.

Parts of the path are steep

Parts of the path are steep

Typical Indonesian style we were asked if we wanted to pay someone to carry our bags. We said no but after walking for 10 minutes on sloped and less than perfect surfaces we regretted the choice of not paying less than Rp 20 000 (US$2) per bag for the much needed help. Seeing our struggle, our guide Yosep gave us a hand and took my suitcase. Once again Yosep proved himself to be very helpful. Since starting to plan the vacation I had been in touch with Yosep who arranged our transport from Medan, all our activities and our lodgings. A more receptive guide we could not have asked for. Given my OCD tendencies while planning trips it was awesome having Yosep respond to my million texts shortly after receiving them.

There are shops along the way - good for souvenirs, water, or a Bob Marley t-shirt

There are shops along the way – good for souvenirs, water, or a Bob Marley t-shirt

It wasn’t a short walk. After a 20 minute walk my confusion and apprehension gave way to a smile. Along the walk to the Inn we saw monkeys traipsing along as though they owned the place; we also caught glimpses of other foreigners relaxing with iced cold beers in their hands.

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Everywhere you looked there were monkeys along the way

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In a couple of local shops we saw t-shirts with picture of Bob Marley and even the Jamaican flag. This was beginning to get interesting. Especially exciting for some in the family was the sight of folks tubing down the river and seeming to enjoy a ride which would not have complied with US safety standards. But it wasn’t too scary. I made a note: yours truly, the biggest coward on land or sea, would go tubing as well. And I would drag the rest of the Rodriqueses with me!

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This is how the tubes get back up

Folks nearing the end of their tubing

Folks nearing the end of their tubing

By the end of our time in the Sumatran jungle I had tubed, seen monkeys, orangutans and other critters, eaten awesome food and yelled like never before when a leech decided he wanted some of my blood. To top it off, I slept like a baby at nights to the sounds of the jungle and the waterfall right outside our bedroom.

Money-wise this was one of our cheapest vacations ever but the memories created will last a lifetime.

For more photos visit hubby’s website at srodriquesphotography.wordpress.com

TIDBITS

* For Rp 20 000 per bag someone will carry your luggage for the 20 minute walk to the Jungle Inn or any other hotels along the way. This is well worth the price as the path is not evenly paved, has puddles of water and has bits that are uphill.

* We used a guide call Yosep for our trip to Bukit Lwang. He works with the Jungle Inn and made all the arrangements for our transport, accommodation, jungle trek, tubing, viewing of the feeding of the orangutans.

Yosep may be reached at +62 821 6596 4000

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To be Jamaican or Not

For the last few days nothing much has bothered me; not the traffic in Jakarta, not the mosquitoes buzzing around more than usual and not the fact that my mother is too distracted to respond to my emails. Jamaica is not only celebrating 50 years of Independence but we are also celebrating our might in short distance athletics. Like everyone else from my homeland I am on top of the world. I am prouder than ever to be Jamaican and I am waving the flag and screaming every time our athletes approach the field. The result of all this euphoria is that I spend more time than usual on Facebook and Twitter and it is from this world of social media that I have found the inspiration for this blog. For that I must thank none other than @BigBlackBarry whose earlier tweets prodded me to put fingers to keys (something I have not done for several months).

@BigBlackBarry is not a personal friend, I have never met him but I feel a connection. Not only is he Jamaican but he is who he is with no pretensions or inhibitions. He says what he feels, at whatever time, about whomever. I look forward to his tweets, he serves as my way of keeping in touch with the lingua of the day and the expressions of the unbridled while I live tens of thousands of miles from my home country.

So today @BigBlackBarry posted the following tweets,

TWEET 1: Question. If you could get a crime free country with employment and good healthcare and good governance, would you be willing to (cont)

TWEET 2: Give up Bolt, reggae music, marley, ie. our current positives? Would you swap places with singapore?

TWEET 3: Be a boring unrecognized functioning crime free economically strong state? Or a vibesy popular crime ridden murder capital with some stars?

These tweets got my attention and I replied to @BigBlackBarry by pointing out that I would not give up being Jamaican to be from Singapore. Many people rave about Singapore’s economic success and it is to be admired. Before moving to Asia I argued extensively that Jamaica should strive to be like Singapore. When former Prime Minister Golding became leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), my gift to him was Lee Kuan Yew’s book, From Third World to First. Now living next door to this small nation that has made the most of next to nothing levels of natural resources I am still impressed but would not give up being Jamaican for what they have.

For me, Jamaica is the eighth wonder of the world. How else does one explain a nation-state with a population of

100m Men’s Finals London Olympics 2012.
Photo from I Am A Jamaican’s Facebook Page

less than 3 million people with global success and recognition greater than countries ten times its size? How do you explain that in nearly every corner of the earth there is at least one Jamaican. We have developed a religion, we have created a music form that is globally loved and copied, we have the world’s fastest man and fastest woman. We are vibrant and alive and we are proud. Yes our crime rate is higher than it should be, yes some of our systems do not work as they should but every country has its issues. I disagree that our healthcare does not work – I have learned living away for so long that our healthcare is probably only surpassed by a few developed nations.

I wasn’t the only person who took an interest in what @BigBlackBarry had to say. The responses were many and varied. To me he responded with. “@NatsCR the people who have said they would keep us as we are in my unofficial poll all don’t live here.”

The results of his unofficial poll are quite telling. Is it that those of us who live out of Jamaica appreciate the country more because we are not faced with power cuts during Olympics coverage and we are often not faced with high levels of crime? Or is it that when you live elsewhere you realize that to truly enjoy life is more than economic indicators and statistics? There is poverty everywhere in this world, there is also unemployment, crime and instability. What isn’t everywhere is the sound of reggae music pumping throughout the land, there isn’t a sense of vibrancy and amusement in simple things such as a day at the beach. There isn’t the depth of flavour to basic meats such as chicken, goat and fish and without doubt there isn’t that same level of expressiveness as we find at home. As with every other country, there are issues and there are problems but what doesn’t exist anywhere else is the spirit of Jamaica. 

I AM JAMAICAN born and bred. I have left my homeland but only for a time. From Jamaica I was born and to Jamaica I shall return.

Until next time…ONE LOVE!!!!!

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Life’s Interference with Enjoying Small Moments…

Yesterday I was sitting outside in our backyard and decided to lay flat on my back and stare at the sky. In Jakarta I rarely spend much time looking at nature so the moment felt quite strange. Weirdly I enjoyed doing it and was reminded of the fact that clouds move across the sky at quite an unexpected pace (unexpected to me that is). The moment had me thinking of the fact that it has been a while since I last smelt a rose or looked at a sunrise or a sunset (not possible now in Jakarta anyway as we are in the rainy season). Without doubt I have allowed “life” to take control of me and sure enough the small pleasures of nature and “life” itself are passing me by.

I have a gut feeling I am not the only one which is why I am sharing the story and video below with my readers. The photo and write-up are from The Wedding Live Band’s – The Raw Note Facebook Page and the video is taken from Youtube.

Enjoy and let me know your thoughts.

“In Washington DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After about four minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About four minutes later, the violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At six minutes, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At ten minutes, a three-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At forty-five minutes: The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After one hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…
How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?”

Video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myq8upzJDJc

Click “like” at : http://www.facebook.com/WeddingLiveBandTheRawNote

Until next time…….ONE LOVE

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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.

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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?