Feels like home. 

Very wearily we made our way back to the farm. To get there you have to go up a huge, (well it feels huge)  steep hill. It feels like you have to crawl on your hands and knees almost to get up it; upon our arrival back at the farm, huge heavy backpacks on, after being squeezed into a 12 seater bus with 26 people in it, that hill had never been easier or look so beautiful.

Everyone was happy to see us back, which was such a nice feeling, especially Brando and Tyler. For my reminding time at the farm they stayed by me all the time. Slept on my porch at night and stayed close during the day,  they were also extremely protective if I went anywhere in the dark, so much so I often tripped over them. The little puppy, Tash, was just happy to have someone else to chew on. It was so good to hear “good morning beautiful” again .

We were there for 27 days, and they were excellent. The thing about Jamaica, which I mentioned before and is something I still find hard to deal with is that harassment. It’s continuous, in your face and pressing for your money or to buy something or a taxi, even when you say no it doesn’t stop, they continue to see if you change your mind and sometimes angry when you don’t. Thankfully as time went on I got more used to it, and as the locals got to recognise me more, It slowed down. I found when I wasn’t with Jacob it happened hardly at all, I think because I wasn’t with an obvious ‘white tourist’. I did get a few men come up to me, but honestly I found it a little bit of a compliment. They soon went away when they I saw Jacob, (well most did). I don’t blame them, He has got this grumpy, no-one come near me kind if look. But I love it.

The work was was relatively the same; weeding, sorting the veg, harvesting, we continued with that with the earth bag building, while seating around the fire pit was left forgotten.

One day we sorted out the chicken coop. I quite enjoy doing this, we cleaned it all out and then laid a new floor. Another day we set up an irrigation system, and another was removing large swathes of lemon grass which started to overthrow the whole farm if left abandoned. It took four of us, three whole days or more to remove at all.
They were building a new house with a yoga platform while we were there. Before we left we had done the painting of the wood for the roof and doing some concreting. Now we were inside plastering the walls and painting. They had used drywall, and to be honest they had not done it well. I spent a lot of time working with Canadian Michael, who was at the end of his tether, trying to fix the mess they had left. If it was in England they would have the show Cowboy builders in.

When I was plastering, the men watched me the whole time, and as soon as I walked away, they went over to check the work. I’d already got the impression that a building site was ‘not for women’ but they seem pretty satisfied by what I did. As I spent more time at the site, the more open they were to the fact I was there, and was fine that I was able to do exactly the same as them, and maybe a little impressed that I was able to as well.

We tried to do our best at everything. Michael and Lise was so great you wanted to try to do well, but it wasn’t always the case. One day Jacob and I were cutting the parsley for the market and completely destroyed it by cutting it all wrong. It had been eaten by some bug anyway, so most of it was a unusable, but still we made it a lot harder for him to grow his parsley again. Jacob also managed to pull a lot of lettuces he wasnt ment to. Thankfully, Michael’s helper – Lator – who was awesome to work with, went round and sort it all out again.

We helped with the thatched roof which was on the new house temporarily while they’re building it, the guys had pulled it down and we had to sort it out basically. It was a very dirty job, and I coped really well despite the rotten, wet thatch and cockroaches. I did manage to save three frogs though, so it was worth it. I

Then that was it. Work was over. The next post I will talk about the activities we did while there.

Despite how hard everything was for me to adapt, especially the first few months. To be honest I am still adapting, still finding it stressful and working alongside the constant change, I enjoyed it. I found Jamaica to be great, but I think that was mainly down staying with Michael and Lise. Michael said I spoiled Tash, but to be perfectly honest, he definitely spoilt us.

Not the best side of Jamaica… Or America either.

Once I wrote a poem where one of the lines was:

“We were always told that we should love and help out neighbour, but society has taught us, screw them if it’s in your favour.”

Our time in Portland made me think this is very much true.

 

After a sad goodbye to Michael and Lise, we left Ocho Rios and headed for Port Antonio. There are not really any busses on a Sunday, so had to get a route taxi from Ocho to Port Maria, then to Antono Bay, then to Port Antonio, and finally Boston. The changing of taxis and not really knowing where we were going, along with our huge rucksack’s and being squished seven in a car made my anxiety shoot right up, and to be honest, luckily anxiety has never been something I have had a huge problem with. Our driver took the liberty of driving us to the door of great huts in Boston (which is where we were staying), as it was obvious we didn’t know where we were going and charged us near quadruple the price for doing so… Thanks.

Great huts, if you look it up, is stunning. Lots of huts and animals and a seafront board walk along the cliff top and a private beach. Great huts was giving us subsidised accommodation in single sex, three bed dorms as a donation to the Portland homeless and Rehabilitation Shelter. This was where we were doing our next workaway. We were planning on staying here one month.

 

When we got there, they said there was a mix up in the dorms so we got our own private room together, which was a huge plus as I don’t think I would have done well, being alone after being so stressed. It was lovely. We had our own sink and cold water shower, a four-poster bed and mosquito net. Complete luxury really. (Had a look at the price per night and it needs to be luxury!) The only thing was, there was no lock on the door and the door was only half the size of the frame, like a saloon door you see in old cowboy movies, not a problem it’s just something Jake found weird.

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Great huts is in the epicentre of where jerk favouring began. You have to walk down a street full of vendors to get to it, all of them shouting to you and trying to get you to come in to their place and ignore their neighbour. This put me very on edge. I think I have mentioned before, that having Autism – for me – makes lots of noise very difficult and having a lot of people in your face doesn’t help either. One man, who after saying no to some of his moonshine drink berated us with forceful anger, cursing us as bad people as we didn’t ‘buy local’. Scared me actually.

We hadn’t eaten that day, so we stopping in one of these kettle metal rooms for some food and made the mistake of not confirming the price beforehand, they too ripped us off, for a single plate of jerk chicken and rice they wanted $25! We managed to haggle them down thankfully but not by much.

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We were to pay $5 each for accommodation and the same for food. In workaway your meant to get that for free in return for work, so it was a bit annoying to pay for the privilege of volunteering. They said the food was optional add-on, but there was nowhere to cook or keep food and no food allowed in rooms, so we didn’t really have any choice – to pay or to be left to the mercy of the street vendors outside.

We met the only other workaway there – Malte. He was from Germany too. He said we don’t get lunch, and we get exactly the same every day for breakfast and dinner. I am gong to reply miss vegetables a lot – something I never thought if say. I feel like this annoyance is very much #first.world.problems

It is a twenty-minute drive to the shelter from the Huts. Good job taxis are not too expensive, but I could see it really adding up over the next month. We got there at half nine and met the lady who ran the shelter. I’ll call her *Miss Amy. She said that the place runs of donations, church help and other contributors, we are here to try to raise money from sponsors and entertain the residents.

We had to read a few files, then we introduced ourselves to everyone. There were eleven clients and two other official staff. Met a man *Josh who liked drawing. Later that day we went down to a little craft shop they ran and saw his pictures, they were really good, I told him how I like drawing too, that made him smile.

Jake sat talking to a woman, *Chole, who was reading Angles and Daemons, just very slowly. He had a good chat with her. The rest just sat around, not talking, eyes blank. It felt kind of depressed.

I had done a year’s work experience in a low secure mental health hospital in england, here in Jamaica, nearly all the patients had some sort of mental health issue, such as bipolar or schizophrenia, and the two places seemed so different. Here it was just… Unhappy.

We worked from 10 till 3. Very different from the previous 7 till 11. The late start was nicer, but as you didn’t get back till half three, there was very little you could do after work, especially as the sun goes down at six. it also poured with rain. You could tell We were in a rainforest. We did go down to the beach for a bit. The waves were huge and rough, but there were seats cut into the rock, so we sat there and watched the sun go down.

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Next day the same. We went to the shelter and had a look at some of their files. They seemed to be on the correct medication, but then it topped up with tranquilizers. No wonder everyone sat around in a zombiefied state!

There was a church group that morning, so we say outside for the first hour. Miss Any said we should join in, regardless of our own religious views, Jake was not very happy. He nearly said he didn’t want to as he is pagan, but that may have given her a heart attack.

Afterwards I tried to set up a CrowdFund page. When I asked for the charity ID and Tax number, I was told I couldn’t have them, and not to start a page as, and I quote, “we don’t want too much money coming in.” That sounded extremely strange to me, as yesterday I was told they are desperate for money. That they could only pay their 4 staff members 50 US dollars a month! Which I can tell you, in Jamaica doesn’t go far, and that they couldn’t afford to buy four screws to set up a table tennis net. It set a lot of questions in our heads going.

That night Jake did some research, and the person who owned Great Huts also owned the shelter, so it wasn’t really a charitable donation to let us stay, we were paying this American man for the privilege of working for him! He not only owned this huge resort. He is on two university medical boards, and is a high-end, private doctor, who specialises in call outs in Washington D.C.

A man like that could surely fork out enough to pay his staff a decent wage and look after the shelter properly; even just some decent games so the residents had something to do, and not have to beg local churches for food. It didn’t make sense. What is more, he knew about the tranquillising. Everything we learnt made us more and more put off; Jake wanted to leave as soon as we could.

He contacted Michael who was happy to have us back thankfully, Jake was happy to be going but I felt so bad for the residents, although there was nothing we could really do. Most of them had forgotten us from the day before because they were so doped up.

We talked about it, and Jake was so unhappy there we decided to leave the next day, that night we got drunk (well I did) on the swinging seat over the cliff top walkway and looked at the moon dancing on the sea. It was a truly beautiful place.

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The next morning, Jake had been looking into it more, and realised that the other ‘charitable donations’ the place had got, were from the owner’s business associates, and friends. Most of which we extremely rich business people, many owned their own lawfirms and were high up in a fortune 500 company (one of the top 500 successful business in america.)

This may be blind speculation, but it seems that the shelter was used as a tax haven for wealthy Americans. Give money to charity, don’t pay as much tax in their country, and the ‘donation’ went into a bank to get interest and the shelter saw the very bare minimum of it to keep the place ticking over. The people who suffered were the ones at the shelter, the ones most in need. It is sickening really.

We went on to say goodbye and tell miss Amy we were going. I felt so bad for the residents, although I was glad to say bye to miss Amy; she wasn’t the nicest person that could be there to help some of the most vulnerable people  in need of support, not by a long shot. I felt like a really shit person for leaving them.

One months work turned into three days, we didn’t have the power to change anything. Hopefully one day we, or some who cares can.

Hell to Heaven – Ocho Rios pt 2

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Workaway, so far, has been excellent for us. It has given us a way to travel (without breaking the bank…hopefully), and live in the real life of these countries and cultures. The only downside is, you do have to spend some of your time working which isn’t for everyone, but you do get a lot of time off to have fun, and the working side seems to make everything more authentic and a real experience. If your lucky you will meet hosts such as Michael and Lise who make your time with them so great it doesn’t matter. (Also it will hopefully took good on my CV)

As I said last, we arrived on Sunday. After work the following day we went into Ocho Rios town. Not for anything in particular. Just to look around and get a feel for the place. It instantly made me feel a lot safer than in Montego Bay. We didn’t stay long, we were tired, but I do remember the ice cream. My love of ice cream could match Joe Biden’s and I had one nearly everyday. If you are in Jamaica I do recommend the Devonshire House. It is the way to go, especially Black Cherry. Tuesday was the same. Hanging out with Marco and Chris, playing cards and teaching them Mills; but on Wednesday they got a puppy!

There were a few animals already at the farm. Dogs, Tyler and Brando, a few chickens and that evil rouster. A goat I named granny, and a cat – Tipi. Tipi was small, bossy and liked sitting on your shoulder and digging in his claws. He also liked bread. In the Sunday we arrived we had brought a loaf of bread and some other things. Ten minutes of it being left alone in the room and Tipi had found it, ripped through the plastic bags and ate about five slices. Not whole ones, just select corners. You could get him to do almost anything if bread was involved.

On Wednesday, Lise went out for work in the morning. Michael popped out and came back with the most tiny puppy. She could easily fit in the palm of his hand. Where she was she wouldn’t have survived. Not well looked after and the smallest in a cage of bigger animals. I fell in love. Late that evening, Lise came home and saw her fast asleep in my lap. The look of shock was fit for a comedy film.

“What is this?”

“Ask Michael” I said.

Oops. someone is in the dog house.

Lise did not know about the puppy, and she wasn’t allowed a Donkey which she proclaimed very unfair, don’t think she wanted it really, was quiet funny to hear her protest though. The puppy was so cute you couldn’t help falling in love with her. They named her Tash. The other dogs were very jealous of the attention she was getting, but got used to her slowly. She liked to play bite, which was cute at first, but her little sharp puppy teeth hurt. Went straight through my dress and she had a liking for Michael’s shoes.

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Our first week we went to the Blue Hole. It’s a set of waterfalls and rivers that you get to jump off, absail down, swim through and rope swing across. It was awesome. Me, Jake, Marco and Chris went. It was great. They highest jump was just over 20ft, which the boys don’t desperately want to do – so I went first. Nearly lost my bikini but was very fun anyway.

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We met a lot of people while we were there. Lises brother and an Air B&B; but other workaways too. Isabel was the first person we met. Only with us for a few days but lovely to talk to. She was from Germany too, (we met lots of Germans in Jamaica) and she was working with J.O.A.M for her university course.  (Jamaican Organic Agricultural Management.)

Manu – German, Fedricka – Italian and Michael – Canadian, all came on the next Sunday. Jake’s birthday. We had already been to the beach with Isabel and that night we all went out to a proper Jamaica jam session, with one of the local men we had met while working, we knew him as Spinal. Jake was so drunk by the end of it they got him to dance and sing (well, more like butcher) Bob Marley on karaoke.

They also said that me and Jake should be married by now and have Jacob Jr on the way. They added some rather graphic sex tips to help with the matter too.

Jake was so hung over the next day he spent most of the time lying in the grass moaning.

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In Ocho we went to a few different beaches, Mahogany beach was our favourite (it was also free as an added bonus). We went there one day with Marco and Chris and met a Rasta Man. He told us all about his beliefs and that the earth is the woman that brings life, the sky is the man and rain being the sperm. Women like the earth, need to be honnered, respected and looked after.  He offered all this up very freely without our asking, not sure how we even go to the conversation to be honest, but was interesting non-the-less. After we had to get a drunk Marco and Chris back home and stop them from walking off with a kids shirt and selling there shoes for weed.

We went to Turtle river park, where as you can guess we saw turtles; and Konoko Falls. Another set of waterfalls where you have to navigate them to climb up. I dealt very well with the sudden cold of the water and wet leaves around my feet. While there you could also see the gardens and a little museum. Konoko was the last day. So on that night we went out for a meal and had this lime and coriander chicken. It was very good but neon green in colour which was a bit strange

Overall we had the most amazing time there and didn’t desperately want to leave after only two weeks. After a tough start in Jamaica they had made it a perfect. I was in much better spirts on the way to a next workaway in Boston – Jamaica. At least it’s the origin of jerk chicken, which is something to look forward to.

Hell to heaven – Ocho Rios pt 1

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There are a lot of things I have learnt to cope with during my life, and I do cope pretty well. Reading faces, change, understand social cues and, to be honest,  being social full stop. I had to face these challenges head-on at uni, it threw me in at the deep end. Now it seems my main difficulties are more sensory; temperature changes, foods smells, textures, mud, bugs and noise especially set me on edge, although I still find being with or around people for long periods of time very exhausting. Luckily I can spend hours with Jake in comfortable silence and neither of us are bothered. Despite this, I have tried to face everything so far head-on and have lived though it (with only the occasional breakdown.)

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After Montego Bay, we started out first workaway in Ocho Rios. It was a farm in Fern Gully. Our hosts were French-Canadian Lise and Jamaican Michael; and two nicer people you could never meet. Soon it felt like home. Michael gave me the nickname of “Miss UK” and Jake was “The English Man.”

It was a little shaky start. We arrived Sunday night and our bedroom door had swollen because of the rain and wouldn’t shut. We had to tie it closed from the inside. We also had to cook in this little hut in the dark with giant moths flapping in our faces and trying not the scream at finding a cockroach on top of the fridge door; and let’s not forget the non-flushing compost toilet.

Jake said wait until the morning and everything will get better, and as usual (I hate to say that) he was right. I loved it. We were there for two weeks – at first – and in the end we didn’t want to leave.

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They plan was to work four hours a day, five days a week, 7-11. Now my job back home didn’t usually start till 10, so I usually got up at 8 so I had time to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and be ready at work for quarter to. The idea now of getting up at six was horrifying! Especially while we are technically in holiday. It was so difficult to begin with. The early start and physical work did help me sleep, which was needed as the cockerels had decided it was time to call out every day around 2:30 am.

 

I would not say I am unfit, at home I did swimming, Krav Maga and Pole Fitness classes, but that exercise is very different to farm Labour in the 30° heat at some awful time in the morning. We were working with these two guys from Germany, Marco and Chris who we got along with really well. We chatted a lot, went out together and they taught is card games – which I usually managed to beat them at.

Our first day we were working with a man named Lator, weeding , transplanting Cilantro and Arugula (I think that’s Coriander and Rocket in UK English) and picking the carrots and tomatoes, which were then cooked by the most excellent chef – Colin, for us for lunch.  It was quite fun actually, except I got bit by something that did not agree with me one bit. It made me go dizzy, my ears go fuzzy, and for a bit it got so bright I couldn’t see. It went as fast as it came and I was back after about twenty minutes rest.

Over the two weeks we did lots of different types of work. We built the fire pit; which we had Pizza around one night using the proper clay pizza oven. We did watering, weeding, seeding, planting in the fields, concrete mixing, built an earth bag/ cob house, painting wooden beams for the roof and some wormacompost (well Jake did) – as soon as I realised it was sifting though mud and picking up worms I quickly scampered away.

I have come far, but not that much.

 

Pt 2 I will talk about the people we met, the things we did, and the puppy!

First Stop – Jamaica, Montego Bay.

For someone with autism, I believe I cope with change and the unknown pretty darn well, but the first few days pushed me to my limit.

Day Damn One.

First the flight. We had a short stop in Brussels, which happened to coincide with the Brussels bombing, which meant everything was crowded, and there were tv crews and heavily armed guards everywhere, which put me very on edge. We knew about this stop over, however, we – and it seemed most of the other passengers – didn’t realise that there was another in Santo Domingo in the Dominican republic. One man found this idea so terrible that he proceeded to yell at the top of his voice, exactly what he thought about Dominican people, none of it pleasant. (He was quickly detained as soon as we reached Jamaica)

Secondly, I like children. I can usually block out crying and such, very unlike Jake. However, being sat in the seat in front of a a screeching – not crying, screeching – three year old for ten hours is enough to drain the life out of anyone. Overall it was not a pleasant flight, no matter how often the little women in the mini screen in front of me told to have one. (I did manage to finally watch Finding Dory though.)

Once finally in Jamaica, extremely hot and very frazzled, having been on the go for just under 24 hours, we arrived at our hotel – El Greco. Upon arrival at the front desk, the receptionist said that booking.com had failed to verify my card, so they had cancled our room and sold it to someone else and had nothing left for us.

(Booking.com had E-mailed us of this “unfortunate circumstance” but that email has been sent at 1pm that afternoon, and we were already 6 hours or so into the flight… how helpful.)

I will not lie, at this point I burst into tears. Stressed beyond my limit, no where to go, and no clue what to do. Surprisingly, my complete lapse in self control helped, as the manager took pity on us and upgraded us to a big room for the duration of our stay. Finally, around 1am, we were allowed into our room; where, more out of relief than anything, I burst into tears again and threw myself on the bed, with all the flare and fashion of a Disney princess.

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Our first day in Jamaica, naive and idiotic as we were, we decided to go into the main town. Real Jamaica, no tourists, except us. As soon as we walked out, we were spotted, prepped and taken for a ride.

Happily walking along, seeing the sights, not a care in the world, and suddenly we realised we were being followed, probably by more people than we knew. One man came up to us, very friendly and said “Hello, how was breakfast? I’m the chef at El Greco.” We replied politley, like a stereotypical English person would do and tried to move on, but he was persistent and followed us. Past the first colonial house and into the church, then by some trick of fate, we were following him.

We moved further and further from the main square, to the sea front, school, and the seven national hero’s (soon to be nine, Bob Marley and Usain Bolt are not on it yet) and attempted to get us down these very sketchy looking back allies. We point-blank refused and headed back to the main square as quick as we could. He didn’t seem very happy about this, nor did his mate waiting at the other end.

We headed to the museum to get away, but he blocked our way and demanded money for the ‘tour’. Exhausted and lost we gave him some then rushed inside. Actually, the museum was very good, despite the teenager following us around to give us another ‘unofficial tour’ and wanting money too.

Being followed, harressed and charged extra was something we learnt the hard way, and got used to while in Jamaica. People selling weed, selling fruit, to do our hair, weed, in the supermarket, some art, weed, taxis, cocaine, give us tours, weed and a few prostitutes. In the end I tensed up everytime someone came near us, which is not really how you want to spend your holiday.

We spent the next three days in Montego Bay in the tourist area, by the pool and in the beach. Still nowhere was safe from the constant barrage of people – one old lady even got Jake to spend £8 on a keyring without realising. It was exhausting and nerve-wracking. Far too much information and things going on and in your face all at once. I wouldn’t go back to Montego Bay. Found out later on, that even Jamaicans don’t go to down town Montego Bay, so we had no hope.

I did enjoy the trampoline floating in the middle if the sea though.

 

The beginning

“Shall we go away?”

“Okay, why not.”

That’s how it started, around the 28th of December, my partner wanted to leave his job, I didn’t have one, no kids, no pets, no mortgage; no better time than now.

I had two jobs at the beginning of the year, one at a children’s theme park, Gulliver’s which I loved, and the other a support worker and note taker for university students.

By October end – I had neither. Gulliver’s was seasonal work, and my job as a support worked came to an end because of the racism I have received, my boss basically said, not in these complete terms, either deal with it or leave… so I left.

I had a 1st degree, and lots of varied work experience, I should – by rights – be able to find work. I had done okay before, I had also realised if you don’t say you have autism, they may consider hiring you. Did it work this time?   No.  It had got to the stage where Wetherspoons would not even offer me an interview.

Completely downbeat and depressed by this point, my job at the uni hadn’t help either, my boyfriend said, “we always said we had wanted to live abroad, why not go now, while we still can? ”

So that’s what we did. We sold out furniture, terminated our rent agreement, boxed up, booked a flight and by March we were in Jamaica.

We are doing this thing called workaway – which I would suggest if you want to travel cheaply and want to see the real life of people who live in these cultures and are willing to work.

We work four or five hours a day in return for food and accommodation, we wanted to work to keep up with work experience and to immerse ourselves in real culture, not the touristy side of the counties we were visiting. We are planning to travel for as long as  we can, we are aiming for a year. So here goes.

I am told I am very brave, to give everything up, and head out to the completely unknown, even if I don’t have Autism… and Dyslexia…and Dyspraxia. But if you don’t try. I may never know.

It took 24 hours and a few ups and downs. But on the 22nd of March, about 12pm UK time, we landed in Jamaica and my adventure began.

Wish me luck.