My black and silver Parker ballpoint pen, hiding from the unscrutinizing writer with its pacifying curvature, simple lines and basic colors, is nonetheless a thing of beauty. Unapologetic in its utility, it also expresses its own sort of architectural confidence, even arrogance.
This pen was tucked in the sleeve of my backpack, at the ready in the pocket of my jeans, or resting in the pages of a notebook the entire time I traveled through South East Asia, assisting me as I circled landmarks and planned convoluted routes on coffee stained Lonely Planet guides or wrote down my thoughts on a long train ride through Vietnamese mountains.
The silver Sheaffer pen is a new acquisition and, while very nice, does not spin quite as well in my hand.
As departure for Jamaica draws ever nearer, I am finding more ways that my old life, connections and interests are and can be a part of my new job. Cooperatives and the cooperative business model have long been an interest of mine, of course, and my job as a Labor Reporting Officer will give me a special opportunity to see how coops fit in to the community of workers and larger economy of the island.
I spent the past five days meeting people and learning about conventions, practices, international agreements and organizations, etc that are consequential to labor, both in the United States and around the world. Today, at the Solidarity Center, the focus was on the international labor movement, especially how labor activists in the US were not only forging and maintaining bonds with communities of workers in other countries but how they are supporting labor movements in countries where labor standards are not as well enforced as they are in places like the US, Canada, and many others.
China was always an interesting caveat in these discussions, since the government controlled union is one of the world’s largest and because it is illegal to form private unions. While this poses challenges to the broader community of workers seeking solidarity with the workers of China, that is not to say that labor plays a small role in the country. On the contrary, despite the controlled nature of much of China’s news media, labor activists that I talked to today said howÂ prominentlyÂ workers issues, working standards, and worker actions against unacceptable work conditions were featured in Chinese media.
I have been going to the same gym, on L Street in the West End neighborhood of DC, for about a year and a half now. The gym is in the basement of an office building, majority Spanish speaking, and there is at least one guy living out of the locker room. I come and go, and there are many familiar faces – but no one knows my name.
When I land in Kingston and move into my room, I will have access to one of the best gyms in the entire island nation. Foreign Service Officers, to whom exercise and fitness can become a routine and a comfort that can be brought along even as they have to leave the rest of their lives behind, are nothing if not proactive in equipping a gym. A few floors down from my own apartment, and adjacent to the pool.
However, going to the gym, not knowing anyone, being alone amongst others, will be a thing of the past.
How does one prepare him or her self to move life to a place they have never been before? Lately I find myself walking a line between a complacent acceptance that I don’t really know what Jamaica or life on that Caribbean island will be like for me, and trying to solidify expectations of what my daily activities will be, the people I will meet, the challenges I will face.
Expectations are influenced, of course, by what other people say, and since every single person seems to have a different story, this can be very confusing. But there are some common threads. For example, I am having a very active discussion on an online bike forum about the possibility of riding my bicycle from my apartment to work while in Kingston. Many people instantly and strongly discourage it, describing Kingston as a dangerous place with horrid rodes and deadly traffic. This creates one image in my mind. On the other hand, people have said that to me about biking in DC, and I have done that every day for the past two years.
A few voices, however, are quite encouraging, saying that it is quite possible indeed, though admitting that it is… exhilerating, and one needs to keep their radar up at all times. I can see one author smiling from fond memories when he typed to me “The roads are narrow and rough but I thought the drivers were more aware of bikers and others (scooters, donkey karts, pedestrians) than US drivers… [and it is] exciting when they make sudden stops or turns.” He added, “Just watch it, when they come after you with a machetee, they will use it even for a petty crime.”