Ital (eye'-tal): of or from the earth; vital; life giving; natural.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Saying Grace

The title of this post comes from an essay written by Barbara Kingsolver with the same title. The essay is part of a larger collection called, "Small Wonder", and was a recent acquisition from one of the neighborhood book stores. Although published in 2002 and reflecting mostly on the then recent World Trade Center attacks, the book explores the relationship the U.S. has to the rest of the world as well as its relationship with its own natural resources. I bought it both as a reminder of what I left behind and as a means to get some perspective on my native land now that I'm thousands of miles away.

In "Saying Grace", Kingsolver writes about her family's decision to visit the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving in 2001 instead of making the cross country trip to the East to visit with extended family. She writes that she was first hit with a twinge of guilt and regret for not following tradition and "giving thanks" in the grandiosity of an elaborate meal. But upon seeing the Grand Canyon she reflected, "how greedy can one be to want more than the Grand Canyon..." The point of the essay is that the U.S. culture of consumption (or over-consumption rather) needs to change and we need to turn our attention away from the material possessions and instead focus on the nature and bounty of land that constitutes the country.
One of the burdens we were trying to overcome while living in Brooklyn was that constant pressure to consume. Battling more than one period of unemployment over the last two years put a strain on us financially...to the point where we were making tough decisions about which bills to pay and how many groceries to buy. We had already been living frugally...forgoing cable TV, elaborate cell phone plans, vacations and nights out...and this is when we had jobs. With one or both of us being out of work, we felt we had little left to cut out of lives...the occasional night of ordering take out ceased as did our regular trips to the coffee shop. But otherwise we were already living "bare bones"...or so we thought.

See , we just couldn't escape the pressure to spend, buy, have. Although Mo and I both agreed long ago to a minimal lifestyle, it was just so easy to fill our lives with stuff in Brooklyn...it was on the street corner just waiting for us to come by and pick it up. In fact most of what we had acquired in our apartment had been found or reclaimed items off the street. Stuff was so easy to come by and so easy to dispose of...people did (do) it often. When it was time to start purging for the move, we both had difficulty deciding which items were to come with us and which were to be left behind. One of the determining factors was sentimental value...the other was replacement value. As artists we can't help but see some possibility for creation in the smallest bit of material. So it was a tough job. At the time, I thought we got through it remarkably well because we managed to significantly reduce the amount of stuff we own, either by selling it, donating it to charity or giving it away to friends.

But now, we are here and there isn't the same kind of pressure to consume. And we are realizing that we are living just fine without all of our stuff. Of course there are those irreplaceable items such as photographs and artwork which we long for, but for the most part, we are sustaining ourselves perfectly with what we could fit in our suitcases. In fact, the boys that have come over to play with Shine exclaim, "Wha', so many toys, you 'ave?!" and I keep thinking, this is not even half of what he has. Don't misunderstand me, people have possessions here and there are many who live extravagant lives. In fact, there are 3 major shopping centers within walking distance of us with all sorts of luxuries for sale, but that constant bombardment of advertising, those giant box stores with discount prices, a president telling you to go out and shop because it's good for the country...that just doesn't exist here.

There is something that does exist here however, grace. There is a graciousness...a thankfulness for what one does have...even if it is just for a bit of shade from the hot sun and a fresh piece of fruit from the tree. In America there is poverty, yes...but we keep it well hidden. In Brooklyn it was more apparent at times. (We had a homeless man who collected glass bottles and cans on our block and sang Otis Redding to get him through his day...) But for the most part, you can be poor in America and still have TV or electricity for that matter and running water and a roof over your head. It's not the same here. To be poor means to have no electricity, no running water and walls literally made out of tin. But even without those things, people get by...survive...are even happy that they have been blessed with another day of life.
Last week, Shine and I went downtown with Mo to the office where he will be working. He was meeting with some of the people from his department and I decided to take Shine to the National Art Gallery to view some art. When we were finished at the Gallery we waited in the little park next to Mo's office and watched the large cargo ships on the harbour. It wasn't long before we were approached by Bamboo Man. He earned his living by carving pictures into dried bamboo stalks which he had made into savings banks. He had various sizes which he sold at varying prices. The small ones went for $100 JA and the larger ones for $250. So between roughly $1.5o and $3.00 US if so much. We admired his craftsmanship but explained that we weren't in a position to buy at that moment. He understood and decided to sit and work on some new carvings next to us. We struck up conversation all the same and he filled us in on the goings-on downtown between the JDF and the gangs and the state of emergency. (See Dudus Extradition) He had some deep philosophies and well thought out ideas. Bamboo Man was one of those people who was poor in the material sense but very rich with ideas and talent. He was very proud of his craft and blessed for all that he had been given in life. For him to be sitting next to us and hold a conversation and be treated as someone who had knowledge to share wasn't out of the ordinary. Before we parted, Mo shook his hand and thanked him for all that he shared with us. Shine even bid him good bye with a smile and friendly wave. I tried imagining a similar scene in Brooklyn. It just wouldn't happen. And I think the main reason it wouldn't happen is because the person asking for money wouldn't have the same sense of self respect/self worth/grace...

Now, I don't want to romanticize poverty or the situation that faces many of the people here. (We were also approached by another man who had his pockets turned out, was disheveled and unkempt and simply begging for a handout.) It's a very complex and tangled situation. But the overwhelming feeling that I get from the people that I've encountered so far is that the emphasis is on counting the blessings and not the possessions...

Until soon...
Peace and Wellness


Ants--they're industrious little creatures. Not to mention social and very complex. Their societal structure can rival many human colonies across the world. I must admit that I admire them. They perform great feats relative to their size and when met with adversaries, are extremely resilient.

And, they are everywhere down here. They are a way of life. Just don't step on one of their hills because these little bugs (and I do mean little...tinier than the ones back in Brooklyn) bite. I found out the hard way when touring the farm at my in-laws. Earth Mother suffered the same fate. She was reaching for a hibiscus flower while I was investigating a pear (avocado) tree. Oooh, do they sting. Earth Mother had tears welling up in her eyes. I danced around as if my foot were lit aflame. Luckily the stinging fades quickly.

Now most will agree that, it's all well and good when the ants are outside and you are in their territory, but like I said, the ants are everywhere. They encroach upon your territory too. In Brooklyn they would be pests and all sorts of remedies from traps to chemical sprays to cayenne pepper would be employed to rid them from your space. Here, they are just...well...here. Outside and inside are so fused that it can't be expected that the bugs stay put. Although there are screens on our bedroom windows, there are none on our sliding wall. Window and door screens are actually rare down here. The windows have louvers on them that when closed keep out the bugs but they also keep out the good things too like the sunshine and the cool breeze. Having access to the outdoors is paramount here. I doubt you'd find anyone who would argue with that. So what we would consider a pest is just an accepted guest in these parts. Being of the Zen Buddhist philosophy that all creatures great or small have a purpose on this earth and are not to be harmed...well, I can accept the ants. Although I would certainly attempt to re-locate them if they happened to discover the food in our pantry...

Peace and Wellness...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

House Warming

Our house has been blessed with its first house plant, a beautiful orchid from Mo's Mom. She is the plant lady and was happy to bring a bit of green to our new home. We are slowly making the space our own. We are still waiting on our things to be shipped from New York. Once they arrive, the apartment will definitely feel more like our own. So, what you have all been waiting for; a picture tour of the new life...

We live in a complex of about 30 units with plenty of greenery all around. This is a view of the front of our building and the coconut trees that reside there. Our apartment faces the front and receives plenty of bright sunshine!

These are our windows. The center one is actually a sliding glass door/wall in the main living space. The two smaller windows are the bedrooms. And below the windows are 3 substantial planting areas that will be our future garden!!

A close up of the coconut tree. I love to hear the wind rustle their large fronds!

This is a view from the front yard of the mountains. They are everywhere you look in Kingston.

This is the side of the building and our main entrance.

And this is the back where you can see a corner of the badminton court which also serves as the futbol court and the bike riding area.

These are the little flats behind the main building. There are 2 full apartments and the office for the managing company. Oh, and the swing which hangs between 2 mango trees.

More backyard.

Shine on the swing. One of his favorite places to be. (Mine too actually because it is shady and cool.)
We counted 6 mango trees in the back. This is one of them.

This is the little path to our laundry room which you see pictured in the back. More on doing laundry soon...

Inside our little space looking into the kitchen. We are hoping to do some renovations and the kitchen will be the first on our list. We are making it work although feng shui it is not!

Peering into Mo and I's room.

The living/dining room.

Shine's room complete with Uncle T's retro transformer sheets.

Mo and I's room.

This is both Mo and I's favorite piece of furniture in the place...a little stool in our bedroom. The apartment came furnished and although we are grateful that we did not have to ship all of our furniture from Brooklyn, we miss having our own eclectic sense of style.

As always, there will be more soon. Until then,
Peace and Wellness...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Solid Ground

It has been a week since our flight left JFK international airport and touched down at Norman Manley. I am still processing all that has taken place. Our cab came for us at 3:15am. Shine was bright eyed despite the early wake up call. He sat in the back seat of the cab with me counting our numerous suitcases. As we sped down Ocean Avenue, Shine made a game out of the passing street lights. They were helicopters he said and the red lights were dragons. Mo sat up front with the driver and commented on the quiet and lack of traffic. Baby Q was still.

When we reached JFK, there was a slight bustle of activity as passengers checked in and past the security checks. Explaining to Shine that both he and his beloved teddy bear, Winston, would have to go through a scanner proved difficult. He couldn't wrap his sleepy four year old head around it. He and Winston should be able to go through the scanner together he reasoned. Only a few tears were shed as they were parted for a few brief minutes. All in all, it was the most smooth transition through an airport we had ever experienced. By the time we finished breakfast, our plane was already boarding. We found our seats and made ourselves comfortable. Mo had his "Economist" magazine, I the in-house airline magazine and Shine his sketch pad and colored pencils. I was only slightly surprised that Shine did not sleep at all during the 3 1/2 hour flight. The anticipation of reaching the long awaited destination kept him awake.

For months we had been preparing him for the move, calmly explaining that we would be leaving our home in Brooklyn for a new adventure in Kingston. He was excited about the prospect from the very beginning exclaiming proudly, "I'll have a brother and a sister" referring to his then far away half brother, Warrior and half sister, Earth Mother. Then there was the list of animals Shine would get once we settled in our new home. "When we move to Jamaica, I'll have a pet dog and kitty cat and goat." His eyes were big and expectant. Only once did he reflect on leaving behind his Brooklyn friends. "But what if the kids come knock on my door and I'm not here?" he asked. We talked about how sad it would be to leave our friends in Brooklyn but how exciting it would be to make new friends in Kingston. We talked about keeping in touch with our Brooklyn friends by sending pictures and emails and this seemed to satisfy him.

The flight continued without incident. The only notable thing was how many empty seats there were. Baby Q seemed to enjoy the ride choosing to sleep for the duration.

When the plane finally touched down and the requisite applauding ceased, we gathered up our carry on items and prepared ourselves for our new life. It took a bit of time getting through immigration mostly because we filled out the immigration cards improperly. Apparently we were supposed to put our Brooklyn address in the space marked "Home Address". Shine and I both had entry visas from the consulate in New York which are good until September.(A trip to the embassy is in the near future...)The immigration officer was pleasant enough and welcomed Mo back home. He was beaming.

As we moved on to luggage pick up, we noticed that someone was kind enough to place all of our many heavy bags onto a cart for us. And so we were off to customs. The customs officers peaked into a few of our suitcases but seemed uninterested in our tale of relocation. We were through customs quickly and off to wait for our ride.

It wasn't long before Grandma and D's red mini van pulled around the corner. We loaded up and off we went to meet our new apartment. Auntie L was waiting for us along with a kitchen full of groceries. The next couple of hours were a whirlwind of driving about the neighborhood seeing the sights, eating some food and meeting the neighbors. We were already for an early bed that night.

The week has flown by. We have already had many adventures which I will write about soon. We are carving out our little niche and it is slowly starting to feel like home. Mo goes around the apartment knocking on the walls and floors. He loves how solid and sturdy the construction is...not at all like the paper walls of our Brooklyn bungalow. I like that there are mountains out our windows. Right now they are clouded by mist and rain clouds. When the sun is out, the are a green majesty! There are coconut trees in the front of our building and mango trees in the back. We have already eaten some of the mangoes and I must say they are even better than I expected!! Baby Q enjoyed them as well and told me so with kicks and flips. Q also really enjoys the oranges which although not grown on a local tree, were grown on the other end of the island and are juicy sweetness! There is certainly a lot of potential here for us. I see great things happening for all of us.
Until soon...
Peace and Wellness...