A Jamaican adventure paid for by my students, Week 2: Ocho Rios

Week 2 was about getting out of Kingston and into the Jamaican countryside. Ocho Rios is the main tourist destination of Jamaica and is a fairly small coastal town with many luxurious resorts. We made sure we spent our time on the beach and by the pool. There were surprisingly few actual tourists about in town except on cruise ship days, giving a nice local feel to the area, but not so good for the Jamaican economy because all the tourists hide in their all-inclusive hotels.

View from my apartment window

View from my apartment window

This does mean that the local souvenir sellers were very pushy at times – I was even followed down the road by a man on a motorbike who it turned out was only trying to sell me a CD. 

Ocho Rios finally tested my teacherly role on the trip when a student fell ill with a stomach bug that looked suspiciously like a hangover. I spent a whole day playing nurse as I tended her bedside and watched Frozen on quiet in the girl’s living room. As a result, I can’t tell you what Montego Bay is like! It did make me feel slightly less guilty about spending my other days in the pool however, where I was definitely not actively teaching anybody anything. 

As a food enthusiast I can’t miss out on telling you the types of food I ate in Kingston. The meals tend to be rather veg low; meat or fish with the stereotype rice and peas. I have eaten so much chicken and rice and peas that I am now on a chicken detox. It was all rather delicious. Jerk chicken was most yummy and not as spicy as I was fearing. I ate sweet sweet honey roast

Some takeaway curry goat

Some takeaway curry goat

plantain and sweet potato. Callaloo, a kale-like dark green vegetable steamed or cooked with salt fish for a deep flavour. Ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica, actually a rather tasteless white fruit but cooked with salt fish for a meaty tasting breakfast. Patties for lunch, like a Cornish pasty but with thin spicy pastry. So many new tastes to explore and enjoy. 

Now my favourite food swiftly became a side dish known as festivals. These are apparently fairly new  to Jamaican cuisine and were invented by adding sugar to the traditional Jamaican Johnny Cakes (dumplings)  and making them into a stick shape, They are, in all honesty, doughnuts. There is no other way to describe deep fried sugary dough. Doughnut like carbs as a legitimate side for dinner? I was very quickly addicted. I had festivals with my chicken, festivals and fresh cooked fish, festivals for lunch. I now miss eating such obviously unhealthy food as my dinner, but I can’t quite justify rinsing off a doughnut and eating it with my roast so I will try to live without. 

The highlight of the week for me was Dunn’s River Falls. A very touristy spot and not cheap at all, but we went early so it wasn’t busy and the guided climb up the waterfalls was a fantastic experience and a good change from the constant lying by the pool or beach. Not exactly a hard life you are thinking, being forced to relax by the pool in Jamaica for free, and I would agree with

Walking up the falls

Walking up the falls

you. I did, however, start to go a little stir crazy towards the end when I became bored of the one street and stretch of beach that Ocho Rios has to offer. I like to walk. Usually I walk for about forty minutes every day. Jamaica is not conducive for walking, there are no pavements on the main roads and when you walk too far up the beach a security guard turns you around before you encroach on a hotel’s private stretch. By the end of fourteen days I was looking forward to coming home to somewhere I could explore without a car. 

 

Thanks Jamaica, in the words of the lego movie, everything was awesome. 

 

A Jamaican adventure paid for by my students, Week 1: Kingston

I had been careful to have absolutely no expectations before I boarded my nine hour flight to the other side of the world. It was as far away from home as I had ever been and I wasn’t paying a penny – awesome. I also had to be a responsible adult in charge of four teenage girls. I think describing myself as out of my depth would have been an understatement. I was downright terrified. Warned not to take anything valuable with me in case it was ‘ripped off me’, I had even left my engagement ring at home and had packed a first aid kit to cover all eventualities. What lay ahead were two weeks where I experienced so many things that I am going to struggle to fit them into two blog posts. 

When we popped out into the Caribbean heat my first thought was ‘wow, where’s the water?’ Driving through Kingston to our hostel really gave us a feel for the city. The two main imaginatively named areas, downtown and uptown, were polar opposites. Downtown is the poorer area, packed with houses whose inhabitants stood outside on the street chatting and cooking food but also where the shops were all protected by an iron grille with a small serving hatch.

A rum punch from the Usain Bolt bar in uptown Kingston.

A rum punch from the Usain Bolt bar in uptown Kingston.

Uptown is more modern and buzzing, with lots of traffic, shopping malls and bars. The most striking feature were the street hawkers who would wander between the cars at traffic lights. This seemed odd at first but by the end of the week totally practical. I wish in England someone would sell me a morning paper and some local bananas directly to my car window during rush hour. 

At no time did I feel in danger. This was the biggest surprise, after being warned of the dangers of Jamaica I found myself walking down a street in central Kingston feeling safe and secure. Jamaicans are very friendly and they want you to fall in love with their country. The most common question I was asked after ‘where are you from?’ was ‘when will you come back?’. 

Up at the monks' retreat in the Blue Mountains

Up at the monks’ retreat in the Blue Mountains

Now, a place that cannot go without mention is the Blue Mountains. A retreat away from the city, a trip up into the peaks was a breathtaking experience. The tropical splendour of the scenery combined with the views back down over Kingston were fantastic. After an almost two hour drive upwards we popped out at a picnic park complete with pagodas and BBQ areas. That was the most surreal picnic I

have ever had, over 3000ft above sea level and at times in the clouds. 

Kingston is not the most tourist friendly city, there are a few attractions to see, but we weren’t there to be tourists. We took the students to Kingston so that they could work with some of the poorer citizens of Jamaica. They taught a summer school for HIV positive boys living in an orphanage. HIV/AIDS is still a taboo in Jamaica but a charity called Mustard Seed provides homes for HIV positive children. We also worked in a home for disabled children run by monks from the

Me and one of the children, Nicola.

Me and one of the children, Nicola.

Missionaries of the Poor. Working in these homes was the real highlight of the trip for me. An eye opener for the students and a truly unique experience. I loved working with the children. The conditions of the disabled children’s home, known as Bethlehem, seemed shocking and stark at first. However, when I thought about the poverty of the surroundings in Downtown Kingston and I was given an idea of the relatively low standard of free healthcare in Jamaica generally, I saw them in a better light. The children were kept well fed and clean and, the longer I was there the more I realised, they were very well loved. The monks, staff and volunteers doted on those children who were so much fun to be around. I will never forget their joyful faces and the happiness they gave to everybody around them, despite the stark reality of their situation.

The most important message we all learnt in that week was that life is simply luck. We are all lucky to have been born into developed countries. The only thing between our lives and those of the children in that home is the chance of our birth.

The end of week one; I hadn’t been mugged, I had only used my first aid kit for mosquito bites and no student had done anything untoward, yet. I had survived in a very different country, but more than that, I had loved every second. Now off to Ocho Rios for a week of relaxation! 

Colosseum made of Cake

What happens when year 11 ask if they can do something fun on their last lesson before Easter? Do you say yes or no?

“What kind of fun thing?” I ask, suspicious. This year 11 class aren’t the basic Disney Hercules watching kind. They are more inventive. “Can we make something out of cake?” “What about the Colosseum?” “Yes! Can you make us a cake that we can carve into the Colosseum?”

A cake carved into the Colosseum by three 15-16yr olds. What a brilliant idea! I obliged.

Here are the results. I know there is only one tier but forgive me because on a Thursday night in the last week of term I could only manage one cake. And remember, this is my students first attempt at carving cake into Roman amphitheaters with basic kitchen utensils. I am impressed they got so far without eating it all.

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Start by hollowing out

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Carve in some arches and ice the top

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Add some slanted seating and a stage

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Finish off with some buttercream sand and tiny chocolate cake gladiators. Job well done year 11!