Jamaica: Small Shifts, Small Planes

24 Sep

What more can I say about Jamaica…

I have just returned from a 6 week stay in Spanish Town, Jamaica (end of July to beginning of September). Not much has changed, and by the same token, a lot has gotten worse. It absolutely kills me to see my second home in the state that it’s in. Sad and angry. The same sentiment as last year… And when I speak to native Jamaicans, some don’t feel the same way I do, because they’re so used to the madness and insanity, they don’t know anything else – and they wouldn’t even know how to go about improving it. However, Ex-pats who have lived abroad who return home to retire, share my views and don’t know how it got to that state. Other Jamaicans, share my views – and just give up hope. Which is usually the case.

If the Jamaican Government, doesn’t make some significant policy changes, the problem will just continue to escalate and the suffering will continue. I think it’s past the point of fixing. Already it’s getting to the point where there is systematic legalized child sex-abuse, legalized violence against women, and the general violence is out of control. Their policies are absolutely ridiculous, with a lack of regard for humanitarian needs, a general misconstrued idea of priority (putting tablets ahead of food and education), and furthermore…a general lack of education among the people, to know what they’ve been conditioned to believe untruths. The propaganda the Government feeds them is out of this world. I often wonder if people are able to think for themselves…

And for myself trying to understand the situation, I can only comment on what I see. I do not live there full-time, so I cannot even attempt to make suggestions, based on flawed policies. So I find myself locked in a vicious cycle. Trying to help even on a local and personal level, becomes more and more difficult, because everyone still needs to adhere to a higher system that they’ve been dragged into. So when I suggest a different method, which might work in a modern and mechanized “Canadian” world, doesn’t work there, because the system does not work. Even when I suggest something as simple as, “read more,” it is a problem. The Jamaican system is broken. But it works broken. And trying to fix the broken wheel, will not make the entire ‘bike’ run any smoother, so to speak.

If you want to get a picture of how the country really is, go to Hellshire Beach and talk to Vernon, my Dreadlock friend. He will tell you everything you need to know, and then some. Talking to the people who are on the pulse is the best way to get a sense of the undercurrent of a country. Every story has a similar thread: inflation, no work, higher prices for education, fees for everything, long waits for everything, theft, violence, .. it’s the same story over, and over, and over again.

I always visit during their Independence Day, August 6th, and every year I just shake my head. What did they gain independence for? To be an impoverished, non-improving state? I don’t know what will become of Jamaica. All I can do is pray that a positive wave interjects soon, and at least attempts to shift the pendulum the other way.

I wanted to encourage a shift in thought on a small level, and have a greater effect on more people, but any change would need longer than 6weeks. I need to go for 6 months and see what I can achieve. And I just don’t have that time right now. I might have achieved a shift on a very small plane, and I’m really happy about that… but any large shift in the paradigm will have to come over a longer people of time I suspect. I’m still thinking on it…

Regardless of the political and/or my humanitarian efforts… I still had a blast. The sun, air, great food, great people… make enduring the chaos all worth it. It’s paradise, despite the insanity one has to live through. Of course if you’re on a resort(unlike me), it’s a much different vibe, but I like my set-up. It works for me. I would go just for the food!

And as always… onto the next trip! Punta Cana, you best get ready for Ms.Stef. 😉
shopping sky 4 Hellshire 3

Advertisements

Movie on the Marina

1 Jul

And so our circumnavigating the Caribbean saw us again in Cuba… it’s becoming my 3rd home. And while each trip has its indelible moments, this particular trip seemed to bring the most joy and comfort. I went to visit a friend who works in Cuba, and chose Marina Veradero because it was closest to his home, and because it was a newly built resort.

The resort itself, was fantastic, clean and spacious, friendly staff… but the details are what makes the experience. And while I am satisfied with bare bones accommodations, I think certain improvements and higher standards would have made it an exceptional experience. If you raise the bar – you’ll get higher! 😉

It’s apparent that there is a forward-thinking strategy occurring with the building of this type of resort. Anticipating perhaps a new clientele in the future… from a very close, yet distant neighbour? It’s very ambitious. But they’d need to increase the wow-quality if they want to ‘keep’ them. The resort had three distinct vibes, the pool vibe, the beach vibe, and the marina vibe.. which resembles the St.Maarten boardwalk scene – with supermarkets, small shops, cafes, and places to lounge around.

Again, I met amazing people on this trip, from Toronto, England, Germany, Switzerland, and of course meeting the Cubans. The highlight of meeting new friends is what makes the experience fulfilling. I love the Caribbean vibe the most, because it’s more community-oriented, sharing and giving. We went around, bummed on the beach, and another  purpose of the trip was my health recovery, so I attempted to do that.

I am a great supporter of traveling, I feel it’s the best form of education you can achieve. You learn about other people and their cultures, gain breadth in your thinking and mindset, hopefully become open and available to new possibilities for yourself and for others, and again hopefully recognize what you have and become thankful for everything even more when you get home. I think if more people traveled, they’d be more enlightened, more appreciative, more accepting of others, and less judgmental. Or perhaps each has their own journey to have and lessons to learn, and either way.. traveling just enhances that experience.

I think of trips as mini-movies, where you can lose yourself for a moment, become that lead protagonist and have that star-quality moment and shine. I always feel more confident when I return from a trip, always ready for the next one. 😉

Are you ready for the next trip? I’m packing! 😀
condo view

the marina3

beach hat

on the beach

 

Give Your Love As A Gift

9 Mar

The Story of Mariam

I frequent a particular make-up store, and have been recognized by one of the sales associates, Mariam. One day last Summer she asked me, “Where’ve you been? Haven’t seen you in so long!” I explained that I had been on a series of trips with my mum and friends, and she became curious.

We stood there in the middle of the store talking about life, love, traveling and family. She confessed to me that she’d love to go on a trip to Cuba, but was saving up enough money to see her extremely ill sister in El Salvador. This broke my heart. Both of us bawling uncontrollably, next to the eyeshadow and mascara.

We consoled each other, and I left her feeling a sense of fullness and emptiness at the same time. On one hand, realizing yet again, how precious life is, and how fortunate I am to have this time to share with my mum traveling around. And on the other hand, emptiness and helplessness, as I couldn’t help her situation, short of sending her to El Salvador.

I left and immediately wanted to lift her spirits somehow. I returned to see her three days later, with a little gift for her. It was one of those old school espresso makers attached to a pack of Cuban coffee. It was a souvenir from my last trip in May. I explained it was a little piece of Cuba, UNTIL she found her way there. More uncontrollable bawling, next to the blush.

Since that moment, I cannot tell you what an impact she has had on my life. It’s a privilege to know her and spend time with her. This experience has moved me in a way I had never expected or anticipated. That one gesture activated a series of exchanges, moments and gifts that never end… and now that I am on a medical hiatus, she has been so helpful and loving. I’m so grateful to thankful to know her. I didn’t and wasn’t expecting anything when I gave her that little token. I just wanted her to know that I was thinking about her and the situation.

The moral of this story has been repeated a million times, but I’m restating it. If you purposely and with intent, GIVE, no matter how big or small… it will come back to you in ways that you didn’t even know or realize you needed. Just Give Your Love as a Gift. It doesn’t have to be a physical gift, it could be a gesture or good deed. Just Give. You’d be surprised what happens as a result.

Stay tuned for The Story of Pearl…

lurve!

2013: The BIG Mentions!

31 Dec

I can’t even begin to describe the year I’ve had. It was a year of personal growth, rediscovering who I am, where I want to be, and how I want to fulfill my dreams. I’ve touched on just a couple of topics here.. the rest are either TOO big to be spoken of, or too insignificant to mention.

TRAVEL & CAREER
I became a Pirate of the Caribbean with my mum, and dear friends. Circumnavigating the Caribbean sea, first to St.Maarten, then Santa Maria, Cuba, next Jamaica, and then finally to Holguin, Cuba. Of course, I LOVE the sun… but traveling for me is more than just relaxing on the beach… it’s about connecting with people outside of your circle, learning different cultures and discovering where you fit into their worlds and how you might impact their situations. I also find myself being more creative in that environment… ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

In my case, it’s not enough to simply travel, enjoy, take and then come home and forget about them. How can you? The experiences I’ve had on my trips have left me with even more questions and have subsequently created a deep need in my life to fulfill and resolve. There’s just more to life than what we experience here at home, and I wish I could explain in more depth what I mean by that, but I don’t want this to be an epic saga on why I think we should do more for others and make giving back a mission. This has been my personal take-away from journeying around, and has lead me to my next career move in Philanthropy. 🙂

I have also been teaching/mentoring a young student, which has been its own reward. I’m proud of him and what he’s accomplishing, and how he’s growing! I’m a proud momma! 🙂

FITNESS & YOGA
I’ve never had specific goals, like losing 20lbs or being any particular size, I don’t think it’s healthy! I think feeling great about yourself and being healthy should be the goal. I started playing badminton 3 years ago, and started to shed the weight.. And now adding in weight training, have gone from size 12 at 160lbs 3 years ago, to size 8 and 170lbs now!! I’m extremely happy, feel amazing and more comfortable now than I did 10 years ago in my 20s. Also more confident and probably to a degree (according to one in particular…) a little vain about it! :p

I attribute most of my growth and healing to yoga and meditation, and in particular, hot yoga. It has been a source of stability and calm for me – being able to focus my mind on what I need to accomplish, and to help me make decisions that are good for me. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, it is THE secret! I’m urging everyone to try it! 🙂

FRIVOLITY
While I was in JA, I dyed my hair RED. HAHA! 🙂

FIN
And to cap it all off we were stuck in the dark for 6 days last week. Oh that was fun, but ridiculous. That’s where you learn who your true friends are.

MY WISHES FOR YOU IN 2014
Thank you to those close and far to me in my life… To everyone I’ve met on my journeys, and those who are still journeying with me. I Love You! I wish everyone continued good health, prosperity, mindfulness, and compassion.

Here’s a KISS from ME TO YOU!

steffi

Holguin is Paradise, Paradisus Rio De Oro was NOT!!

16 Sep

Just spent a week in Holguin at the Paradisus Rio De Oro, part of the Melia group of hotels – had a CRAPPY time! I’m surprised at the accommodations and level of service for a so-called 5-star resort. I’ve stayed at 4.5-star resorts in Santa Maria that were a million times better than this.

THE ROOM – INFESTED with ants and insects, in the bed no less! We spent 3 days moving, packing and unpacking. The room was dirty. The service was non-existent, days waiting for anything you requested – for simple things like bottles of water.

CLEANLINESS – DURRRTYYYY! One of the dinner servers was seen playing with her hair and picking her nose and then setting the table. Unclean. The food was often reserved – making some people sick. I mean, I’d rather just have a smaller selection of food, than reheated and stale left-overs!

The UPSIDE (if you can call it that) – Because of this universal lack of service – we actually commiserated with one another to lessen the agony. But in doing so, met some amazing people! Pearl from Toronto – my new Yoga buddy, Serge from Montreal – my gym buddy, and a couple of British couples who’ve invited me to London for a visit!

I’ve been to Holguin before – it’s a gorgeous location. It’s unfortunate that this has marred my experience of it. Sadly, I’m reminded that our experiences are all relative – and some people actually loved this resort, because they had only experienced worse!! So this was an upgrade for them?! I shudder to think where they’ve been staying!! *wince*

I’ve already written a scathing letter and sent it to the Melia Head Office. Received a note that they’re “reviewing my query” – let’s see what happens with this… Not expecting anything. Just going to stick with Santa Maria, where my heart belongs…

steffy veil 2

Jamaica, A Duality

12 Aug

Preamble: This trip was not an intended vacation.

It’s difficult to discuss such a beautiful island such as Jamaica without discussing the country’s economic, political and social situations. Everyone associates Jamaica with relaxing, fun and exciting because of its gorgeous beaches, amazing food, crazy parties and festivals, and other ‘indulgences.’ But the reality for its people and mine that I adopt while there, is quite a different scenario.

The truth is that Jamaica is quite a duality. And I realize that every developing nation has its flaws and weaknesses, and even developed nations have their fair share of corruption and debauchery. But when a country and its people have abandoned a sense of hope, and a vision for the future – that’s a different story altogether.

Jamaica IS a beautiful country with an abundance of talent, and obvious potential – but also has a very sad, dark side. The poverty, corruption, extortion, desperation, violence, and the imbalanced distribution of wealth, is just the tip of the iceberg. This insane ‘way of life,’ systematically suppresses its people and the reason why most seek a brighter future elsewhere.

I know it takes time for a country to develop – but exactly how long? How long do those at the top get, to steal every last dollar and leave their people behind? I’ve gone back numerous times in my life, and it’s quite sad to see such a lovely country with a wealth of creativity and beauty, be in the state it is today.

To put it simply, by my eloquent mother: “Coming here just brings on vexation & heartache.” And it’s true. The entire situation first leaves you angry, and it leaves you sad and helpless.

However, despite the obvious struggles, angst and anxiety that one has to endure while there, I managed to have some good moments with my chosen family. That is, I made sure that despite the insanity – I injected my own version of ‘normalcy’ into the mix. And that’s the only way to survive – is to create your own world within the madness. So I kept a low profile, had my fish & festival by the sea, did my own thing with my friends and family, and came home with a new sense of purpose and hope.

And so because I don’t think one can talk about a country with such candor, without offering a way out – I’m going to attempt to provide one. Out of this experience, I’ve resigned myself to a new Philanthropic project, which is a Foundation, that I hope will benefit those who are creative and want to do better for themselves, who have the talent and see themselves rising above it, and for those who like me, do see a brighter future.

looking out

Intangible Santa Maria, I Love U.

18 May

I truly believe a place can hold a special energy that can actually help you heal your soul. In the months after my father’s passing, I took my mum to Santa Maria, a little island off the main island of Cuba, all in an effort to lift the veil of grief a little.

We went for two weeks, and during that time I met some amazing people – who are still a very important part of my life today. One specifically who has helped me heal my spirit and body tremendously. It was a life-changing and life-saving experience. 🙂

Perhaps it was connecting with these people and forgetting my sadness for a while that made me want to return to recreate a similar experience. So, soon after we returned from St.Maarten, we set out again in the quest for more healing, more culture, and more connection…

This time to Melia Buenavista, for an equally powerful experience. If you’re searching for a party resort – this is NOT for you! This is for the person who wants to decompress, de-stress, detach, but connect with something else…

BUENAVISTA is small, peaceful, beautiful, remote, and minimalist. It’s located on the very tip of the island of Santa Maria. It has a personalized concierge service that brings intention to your stay. There’s yoga and a spa – which is fantastic, but the entire space (air, space and water) is spa-like. The stretch of beach along the coastline is just other-worldly. One really has to wonder… One could walk for hours and just lose track of time. I spent my days playing beach volleyball and sailing at the other resorts with thousands of people, then returned to my peaceful zen resort in the afternoons. A great combination. And the music. Always soulful and transforming for me – all you need is some SiCK Salsa music!! 😉

But apart from all the tangible things – there’s something about Santa Maria that I really haven’t been able to capture with words, I’ll just leave it here and sum it up to: MAGIC. And let you experience it for yourself! 😉 There’s a metaphysical pull, something that will always bring me back there.

santa maria beach

Along the coast of Santa Maria. En Route to Barcelo.

view from hammock

One of three beaches at Buenavista Resort.

the bay

The very tip of the island of Santa Maria; The Bay at Buenavista Resort.