Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stories From a Little Boy

Me: Hi.

Little Boy: Hi.

Me: How are you?

Little Boy: Good.

Me: Have you done anything special this weekend?

Little Boy: My class got to go to the cinema.

Me: Cool. What did you see?

Little Boy: We saw A Christmas Carol.

Me: Really! How was it??

Little Boy: It was kinda scary.

Me: It was? Why was it scary?

Little Boy: It had ghosts in it. And in the beginning there is this cut off head and it has coins for eyes.

Me: Wow. That does sound scary?

Little Boy: Yeah. There were four ghosts. The first ghost was a guy that the guy who hates Christmas used to work with. And then the second ghost was the ghost of the past. And the third ghost? The third ghost was the ghost of gifts. And the fourth ghost was a shadow and he had black hands and he kept pointing to things. And then the old man who hates Christmas falls into a casket and his feet fly up in the air like this. **little boy throws feet in the air** And then he falls down smack like this **little boy imitates falling flat on his face** And then he likes Christmas again.

Gotta love little kids…

Petit Piton and Thanksgiving

Mountains, Feasts, Songs

Petit Piton

A month ago I was able to hike Petit Piton (3rd tallest mountain on St. Lucia) with the hiking group. We got off to a late start… of course, starting the hike at around 11. The beginning of the trail was flat for the 20 yards that it took to reach the base of the mountain, at which point we all craned our necks to look straight up at the trail and the mountain that lay before us. From that point on it was hand over hand climbing or crawling up the mountain. It is the steepest and probably the most difficult hike I've ever done. It was amazing. The first half hour was really hard; my legs were burning! After that, we got into a rhythm and it wasn't so bad. It took us a little over 3 hours to reach the top. At some places we had to use ropes to pull ourselves up rock faces. There was also the loose rock that our steps would send rolling down the mountain much to the dislike of those in the rear of the line. We had to rely on each other and work as a team just to get past some of the more challenging sections, but the view from the top was really worth it. The top was so tiny; it was just a little area maybe the size of half a basketball court. From the top we could see Gros Piton, Soufriere, and most of the southern part of the island…oh and of course the endless sea.

Due to our late start we had about 15 minutes to enjoy the view and cram down some food before we began the grueling trip back down. We were trying to beat the dark… but it didn't work. The trek down was slow going. You can't really rush when you're going down something that steep. Most of us resorted to sliding from rock to rock, especially since our knees were so weak by that point. As we inched down the mountain, the sun inched toward the horizon. It got darker and darker until eventually it was pitch black and we were still 1/3 of the way up the mountain. I was leading the group… with no flashlight. A few times I lead us straight off the trail. One hiker had to use the flashlight on his phone to run back and forth to help us get our bearings. Oh, and in the dark the loose falling rocks became extremely scary. All you would hear was this thudding rolling in your direction, and you would just scramble for a tree in hopes of avoiding a big blow. One falling stone caught me right between the eyes. When we finally reached the bottom we had to have our bus driver beep his horn and turn on his lights so we could find the road. Some friends at the bottom welcomed us with cold fresh honeydew melon and water. Most of us had depleted our water supplies by the time we reached the top so we welcomed the juicy treats.

The start of the trail was just across the way from the mineral baths, which are closed at night (meaning we can get in for free). So we wandered down another dark path until we found this wonderful little pool in the tropical forest. Most of us hadn't brought swimsuits, but it was dark, so we just stripped down to our underwear and jumped in. The water was warm and it felt so good on our aching muscles and joints. From the mineral bath you could look straight up and see a dark sky full of stars. It was one of those moments where I was just completely happy and content. I couldn't have had better company for such an amazing adventure. It was a beautiful day.

On the bus ride home we all shared what snacks we had left over. I enjoyed some snickers provided by a good friend back home ;) (thanks Vickie). By the time I got to my apartment I was waddling. I headed straight for bed, but no matter which way I laid, it hurt! That's probably the sorest I've been since I tried snowboarding for the first time… but it was all worth it.

Thanksgiving

For thanksgiving all the volunteers decided to gather up North at a volunteer couple's house. We assigned all the traditional dishes to each other so that we would be sure to have a real thanksgiving meal. Peace Corps staff was also invited. All in all we probably had around 30 folks, mostly American but some Lucian. The feast table included 2 turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, pineapple casserole (my family specialty), cranberry sauce, some Lucian dishes, apple pie, pumpkin pie, key lime pie, chocolate cake, and much much more. But! Being the half starved Peace Corps volunteers that we are, we annihilated it! We watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and some football. We attempted to have a football game amongst ourselves but a broken finger brought the game to an end before it started. It was wonderful and it was a great experience. It was nice to be gathered with so many people and to fill in for each other as family.

Progress

On the project side of things it is slow going. I am continually thinking and brainstorming ways to move things along, but it is difficult. I can celebrate a little bit though. I have been able to help put together a curriculum for life skills in the primary school where I am attached. The principal began teaching life skills with the 6th grade students once a week toward the latter half of the term. The lessons went extremely well and the kids responded amazingly. One of the kids in the class showed great behavior improvements and me and the principal both were excited to see it. Due to some schedule interruptions we were only able to do 3 lessons this term, but we will continue next term and I am excited to see where it will go. The principal is very supportive of these lessons and thinks that it is extremely important for the children. It is SO nice to be working with someone who is proactive and energetic about helping these kids. This term we focused on "understanding self" and next term we will work on "decision-making." I sincerely hope that these lessons will stick with the kids for a long time.

Christmas Carols

I have started going back to steel pan practice on Saturdays. They are teaching a lot of beginners on the weekends now so we have been able to go back and learn some of the basics, like the C scale. We have also been learning Christmas songs! We started with Winter Wonderland and just recently we learned Silent Night. It feels weird to hear and play Christmas music and see Christmas decorations all over when I'm sweating and wearing a tank top, but it still feels like the holiday season somehow. Also, all the Christmas music down here has a Caribbean twist… it's strange but kind of entertaining.

Speaking of Christmas, I have only 2 weeks left before I get to visit home!!! I have made plans to see a lot of friends while I am home and I am really excited. I think the visit will be good for a break and to be filled with love and support from everyone that I love.

And so, I get to sign off by saying: SEE YOU SOON!!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

¿Qué?

I was sitting in on a Spanish class recently. It's neat to experience the teaching styles of locals and the learning styles for that matter. Anyway, the teacher was covering verb conjugation. She wrote some sentences on the board with blanks where the verbs should go and the students were to fill in the blanks with the proper form of the verb. As I was reading and beginning to understand the sentences, I was shocked. The first sentence said something like, "He drinks Bounty." (Bounty is a Lucian rum) The second sentence said, "Peter drinks beer." And the third set of sentences is what really got me, "My mom is boring. She drinks water." I watched as the teacher helped the 13-14 year old students insert the right verb and then translate these sentences. Then the boy 2 seats over said, "Oh I get it, you're boring if you don't drink alcohol."

Whoa! Immediately I started thinking about this in my own American context. If this were to happen in the States people would go nuts; somebody would get sued. I mean, parents and schools are fighting over whether Obama's video should be played to their children and that carries a positive message! The teacher smiled as if this was completely normal. And I was internally devastated. Children, from the time they are young, are not only observing but being told that it is socially acceptable to drink alcohol and boring to choose not to. It's like they are being taught peer pressure. I am still shaking my head…. It is just hard to wrap my brain around it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Checking Out the Logos Hope


The New Peace Corps Office Coming Together


German and Lucian Oktoberfest unite!


7.5 months, Crazy bus, Sushi, Chocolate Chips, Crowds, Ships

I got on a bus one afternoon with my backpack and grocery sack full of stuff, sat, and waited for it to fill. As soon as all the seats were full the bus driver hopped in, and we were off down the increasingly pot-holed road that leads up into the hills where I live. I rested my chin on my backpack as the bus jerked and swerved and groaned over all the bumps and came to abrupt halts to let people off and on. I watched, but was not phased, as he stopped so that the man in the front left could run across the road and collect his gas tank from the gas station and later as another woman in front right ran across the road to pick up her child from day care. No one blinked; they just kept staring out the windows, chatting in Patois, or listening to music on their phones and ipods. I smiled to myself. I was imagining the chaos and violence that would erupt if such a thing were ever to happen on, say, a New York City bus, "Hey driver, stop for a moment, I gotta pick up my kid." … I daresay the comments that would follow would be quite explosive.

***

Last month I was invited over to a Japanese volunteer's apartment for dinner. There were about 5 Japanese volunteers there and 4 Peace Corps volunteers. They made a whole spread of Japanese food and we sat around eating with chopsticks and enjoying light conversation. Most of the Japanese volunteers speak English very well, but it can still be hard to catch everything they say. We did manage to understand each other enough to see that we face a lot of the same struggles and challenges. It was neat to see that even though we come from different cultures we can still share in a common experience.

***

It is amazing what kinds of things become comforts when you are far away from everything you know. I never thought I would adjust enough to pay $46 for a bag of chocolate chips, but yes indeed I did. I have also progressed from paying $9 for average corn flakes to $11.99 for IGA's version of golden grahams (or even $29 for a bulk box of lucky charms!). I have even splurged on a $20 bucket of ice cream. Recently I made the switch from powdered milk to boxed milk. It's still nothing like fresh carton milk but it's close enough that I can have a glass of it with my best attempt at homemade chocolate chip cookies. It's also nice not to have to mix my milk anymore.

***

A few Mondays ago was a Lucian Holiday, Thanksgiving I believe. I heard a rumor that the zip line tourist attraction in my community was to be free for locals on said holiday. So I headed out there with a few other Peace Corps Volunteers and some local friends. We arrived a little late so we didn't quite beat the crowds. We took our place in the back of a wide, semi-long line of people and we waited…. for 2.5 hours. As noon rolled around and the hot sun was beating down from overhead, the impatience of the crowded line grew to a breaking point. Now, the zip line experience begins with a sky tram through the forest canopy, which can only hold about 8 people at a time, and it only goes so fast. So really, there is no way to rush the process, no reason to push or pack it in like sardines. But that didn't seem to matter to the cranky people in the "line" that suddenly began to take the shape of a blob as people started to push their way forward to "speed" the process. Our group had been waiting patiently in the middle for quite a while when people began to shift, slide, and push up behind us… and then around us… and then in front of us. We were so crowded that we were dripping with sweat. The people on either side of us began to fight with each other, blaming the other side as the one messing up the line and claiming their "right" as "line violators" that they should go next. We sat in the middle, confused, dismayed, and quite frustrated with the lack of "respect" for the line… Americans are so into the "line" thing… you don't break the line code… you just don't. It's a line, and it works this way, and that is just how it goes, right?

Eventually, a small group of children were pushed up against us from behind. They must have been from a rural community because they were quite fascinated with us white folk. We could tell because they kept staring at us and smiling real big. And then they began to pet the soft hair on our arms like we were some kind of exotic creatures. It was about this time that our patience grew thin, and we gave up on the whole experience. We had come to a standstill and the "line violators" were the only ones getting through. We shoved our way out of the blob and gasped in some cool, fresh air. When we looked back we saw that the "line" had burgeoned outward and packed itself in so much that it no longer even resembled anything organized. It looked kinda like the last 2 pieces of food in the world were right behind that gate and people were desperately trying to get the only remaining sustenance, which made it necessary to fight, and push, and suffocate small children to get it. I mean, free ride on a zip line guys, it will kill you if you don't get one, so act now! Sometimes being American gets the better of you when it comes to patience in these things…

***

There is a mission organization called Operation Mobilization which has two boats that sail all around the world visiting ports and doing all sorts of different ministry activities onboard and on land. While in college I used to hear speakers and recruiters talk about OM and these ships. Well one of the ships, the Logos Hope, is in the Castries port this week! Pretty random!? We met a few of the workers and they got us some visitors' passes and gave us a tour and even let us have dinner with them! (feed a Peace Corps Volunteer and we love you). There are 45 different nationalities on board all serving together for a common goal. They get to visit ports all over the place, so they get a ton of cross-cultural interaction. One of the main things that the ship does is a giant book fair that offers cheap books. Books in St. Lucia are terribly expensive, so people save up a lot of money for when the Logos comes and then they buy tons of books. I bought a few myself and thoroughly enjoyed just being in a big book store.

It was really need to sit and talk with our new friends and share our cross-cultural experiences and struggles. We come from different places and do such different things but the struggles seem to be almost universal. Never thought I'd be hanging out with some Logos missionaries while serving in the Peace Corps in St. Lucia…

***

As always, I appreciate all the support and love I get from all of you. I always love getting emails and I love to hear what's on your heart.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Breaking Point

(a journal entry)

I have left behind a loving family, a mass of wonderful and supportive friends, a fun job, my dogs, my car, and everything I love about the mountains, rivers, trees, and lakes of the south. I have put off grad school and a career to be here. I have invested money (thanks mom and dad), much time, and a lot of heart into this whole ordeal.

For What?

At first it is because you want to help people; help them work together and find solutions and learn stuff. But then you get stressed with everything: culture, communication, time, loneliness, homesickness, and feeling like you are not doing any good. So your focus turns inward. You forget your original reason for being here and you start thinking, "what can I get out of this?" If nothing else you at least wanna make sure you have a good time, right? But you may even get to a point where even that is not motivation enough.

You look at yourself and realize you are miserable. You feel under-appreciated, used, and mistreated. You are exhausted, angry, hurt, frustrated, and fed up. Your brain is so fogged you can't make sense of anything. And you feel quite ready to just give up and end your misery. Why try anymore if you are this down and out?

You cry and blubber and hyperventilate, pitch your fits, and call for back-up. And maybe someone gives you that chance to take 2 steps back and think. And you realize that yes maybe you do still have strength even if you don't want to admit it. And maybe your pride falters and you think perhaps you have made mistakes and maybe you haven't tried everything… as angry as it makes you feel to say it.

It's the breaking point. A time when you decide what you really give a rats behind about. A time when you have to lay your stubbornness aside, and your pride, even when you feel like that is all you have left. As humans don't we just hate being humble? And we hate letting go of what little control we feel we have…

Grrrrr

I don't want to. I don't have to. But I think I can and maybe I should… even if and when it hurts. If I duck and cover through this entire experience I will never learn anything.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

hikin'

I know I know... it's been a while

There's not much to explain other than the fact the Peace Corps is the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life. Sometimes the frustrations outweigh the successes and the joy. In those times I find it better not to write updates.

In the spirit of remaining positive I will catch you up on a few of the exciting things that have happened lately.

Red Cross-

Recently I went through Instructor Training for CPR and First Aid. There were about 15 of us in the training and I was the only non-Lucian, so it was a lot of fun. Three teachers from different chapters of the American Red Cross came down just to do this training. They barely even had time to see more of St. Lucia than their hotel and the Red Cross building! On the last day some of the volunteers took them for a little trip down to Soufriere. Since the training, I have been doing a few classes here and there and teaching gives me a lot of insight into the culture and socio-economic issues of St. Lucia.  In some cases I really wish I knew fluent Kweyol because some of the students would have a much easier time understanding me.

A couple weeks ago I was able to organize with Peace Corps to have a visiting Coast Guard crew come and help paint the Red Cross building. About 20 guys showed up and, with the help of a few Red Cross Volunteers and some girls from a local school, we knocked out almost the whole inside of the upper floor (main area). Everyone really seemed to enjoy the day and it helped the Red Cross a lot as this is usually a big expense. I laughed on one occasion when I walked around to check on everyone. I was munching on a piece of cake from the snack table that the director had prepared, and when I approached one small cluster of Coast Guard guys one of them said to me, "you know that cake had ants crawling all over it don't you?" The fact is I had NOT noticed, but I deal with little ants in my kitchen on a daily basis, so this seemed no big deal. I looked down at my cake and then shrugged my shoulders and said, "well, I kinda live with ants… they don't really hurt anything…" The guys looked at me like I was crazy, which confused me on several levels. I mean, they are just ants, and I guess I just figured that a few little ants wouldn't bother big tough Coast Guard guys… but then again, maybe I've just been in Peace Corps too long. Moving on…

The school term is just about to start so things should be getting busier. The hope is that I will be able to go around and do HIV/AIDS education and peer education training with some of the secondary school groups. It should be fun if it all comes together. I am also hoping to pull together a small group of kids to form a junior Red Cross youth committee. With this group I will be able to do leadership training, life skills training, HIV/AIDS training, project design and management training, and even proposal writing (if I can learn to do that myself). Some of our training and activities will depend on what the group really wants, but ideally we will plan some peer education projects for HIV/AIDS education amongst youth.

Also! I got in touch with the Upstate SC Red Cross chapter Youth Services Specialist. She has put together some materials to send to me that I might find useful for leading a Red Cross youth group. She is also excited to start up a correspondence between my group and hers. This should be a fun way to build cross-cultural awareness.

That's a lot of fluff to explain what I would like to see happen. Currently not much is happening but planning and brainstorming. From what I understand this is normal for Peace Corps at this stage… at least I hope so.

Hiking-

After going a month or so with only one beach visit and no hiking, I FINALLY hooked up with the hiking group again this past Sunday. The day began in the typical fashion with meeting time at 7:30am but actual departure occurring at 10:00 or later. We traveled down to an area called Saltibus, which is sorta in the middle of the southern part of St. Lucia. From there we hiked to an incredible waterfall that had several big drops into large, welcoming pools of cool water (by Lucian standards COLD water). We spent some time swimming around and jumping off the lower part of the rocks around the waterfall. I had a good laugh at the shivering Lucians that braved the frigid waters. The water felt so nice. I think that's the first freshwater swim I have had in maybe over half a year!

We reluctantly left the waterfalls, donned our packs, and headed for a nice sloshing-wet hike through and around some streams toward a community called Fond St. Jacques. We had to bushwhack a little bit before we came to some rural trails and farmland. A few random goats, cows, and pigs were dispersed amongst the land and they gave us some hearty hellos. We stopped for a break while the guys reigned in the better half of a guava tree to pick some snacks J. Finally, we emerged from the wilderness onto a small road where we continued to walk almost all the way to Soufriere. Our bus, of course, was late. So we made up games for an hour and a half while sheltering under a bus stand. Five minutes into the wild and curvy bus ride home we were all dozing off between swerves and bumps.

Can't wait for the next adventure! Nothing like the forest to make your stress seem a million miles away…

As always, prayer and support is much needed and appreciated. I love to hear from you!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Carnival 2009



Me and Ilani at Carnival 2009



Crazy Carnival 2009

Yesterday I had the opportunity to experience St. Lucia Carnival. The past few weeks have been filled with parties to build up to this one big event. It is two days of dancing and parading. The Lucians call it "Jumping." If you are "jumping" it means that you are in a band or group of people that will parade, drink, and dance together. They parade all the way down a major highway by the northern airport into the capital, Castries, where they make a loop and start back again.

Each band has unique costumes that vary in amounts of coverage, some being rather skimpy. All the costumes are colorful and eccentric and some include masks and head dresses with all sorts of feathers and glitter. A few costumes had giant extensions that stretched almost all the way across the road.

The larger bands had semi trucks, which traveled with them carrying massive sound systems with towering, ear-busting speakers. Smaller vehicles provided food and drink for the parade participants and some bands even had trucks with outhouses in the back! Almost everyone at the parade had a cup, bottle, or hydration pack full of some sort of alcoholic beverage.

A group of us started watching at around 11:00am just outside of town at the corner where the parades were just beginning. The bands got increasingly wilder and crazier as the day went on. We later moved closer to town where the crowds were bigger. I snacked on chicken and bakes while I watched the mayhem commence. Rain sprinkled on and off all day long so we alternated between standing by the road, sheltering under a tent, and standing under our umbrellas. I was impressed that the parade marched on even in the rain… it's the only time I have ever seen so many Lucians out in the rain.

Around 5:00 the sky let loose. The rain came pouring down in sheets and the wind really picked up. Everyone dashed for the overhangs of the big buildings by the harbor. We waited for about an hour, but when the rains didn't seem to be letting up we decided to go ahead and face it and head to the busses. I had to brace my umbrella with my arm to keep it from collapsing as I pushed against the wind and sloshed through puddles (thank you chacos!). When I finally got to my bus stop, the busses were really scarce. One lone bus was sitting empty by the bus shelter and I promptly positioned myself near the door with a few others. I eyed the growing crowd under the shelter suspiciously as we all waited for the bus driver to return. At around 7:00, one hour later, the bus driver showed up and I was suddenly bombarded by a mob of wet, tired people. I grabbed the side of the door and literally pulled myself into the bus. It reminded me of the metro in Egypt, no lines, and no personal space. We crammed about 4 extra people into that tiny little bus. The ride home took another hour. Traffic was so backed up that the bus driver had to keep trying all sorts of different back routes that I had never seen before. The windows kept fogging and the air was musty from all the warm bodies packed in there like sardines.

I was so thankful to get home which was around 8:00pm. It was a long day on my feet and I was actually kind of cold in the rain! I put on comfy pajama pants and a hoodie and snuggled up in my warm little apartment. Yes, that's right a hoodie and pants in the Caribbean… I will truly freeze when I go home for Christmas!

What an adventure…

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Steel Pan Fiesta 2009



Egypt Flashback Over Petit Piton



Normalcy Returns

A moment like this, where I get to be at home long enough to write for you, is rare these days. I am cherishing this day so much that I almost put off writing for another day at least! I'll attempt to give you a short but entertaining catch-up of these last few weeks, although I should say that it is becoming increasingly difficult to relate interesting stuff since life here seems ever more normal…

Recent Peace Corps Stuff:

School is out for the "summer" so I am using my school days to work on lesson plans for the life skills group that I will be working with in the primary school next term. I am making my lesson plans from scratch using various materials from the Peace Corps office and the Internet, which I am so thankful to have. The principal from my school will be joining me for a training session provided by the Peace Corps about life skills. I am hoping that this will be a helpful and informative time.

Since school is out, my work at the Red Cross is even less structured. Most of the Red Cross youth are a part of youth groups in the schools, so they will not be meeting again until next term. My days there are never the same. Some days I help edit a co-worker's poetry and others I end up at random camps helping with arts and crafts. I have been discussing with my counterpart the possibility of doing individual group work with the school groups next term; perhaps HIV/AIDS education curriculums or peer education. I am trying to be patient and let things develop as they may, which is easier said then done.

"Summer" is a good time to take advantage of opportunities to experience other activities implemented by other Volunteers to help me get ideas and whatnot. So, last week I participated in Camp Lajwa (Kweyol for "Joy"), a camp for persons with disabilities. The first day we spent at Pigeon Island with disabled persons from the northern part of the island. A separate camp was held for the south. The second day the whole island came together at the stadium near Vieux Fort. It was really neat to see the kids smiling. Some of them never really get out because of the lack of resources here. It was obvious that they enjoyed having something that was set up just for them and spending time with people who cared for and loved them. These moments remind me why this is worth it…

Recent Activities:

Last week I was able to hike Gros Piton with a few of my friends from the hiking group, Escapades. One of them is a teacher and he set up the trip for a few of his students and fellow teachers. I just tagged along with a few others. Gros Piton is the second tallest mountain on St. Lucia at 2,619 feet above sea level. It is located just south of Soufriere, which is about an hour's drive from Castries. The trail is moderate at the beginning, but quickly turns into a pretty grueling and rocky stair climb. Having not hiked in about 5 months I had to take it slow, but it was so refreshing to be surrounded by beauty and pushing myself to the max. The view from the top was incredible. There are two views: one of the southern part of the island and another of Petit Piton. Both Petit Piton and Gros Piton are volcanic mountains; they are tall, steep, and pointy. The hike down, though faster and "easier" was just as hard on my knees and leg muscles as the hike up, but it was all worth it. Just at the end of the trail one of the guys helped me get a fresh mango from a massive mango tree. It was a nice little snack to finish the day. Some of you who followed my Egypt adventures may enjoy the pictures from my Gros Piton hike.

After hiking I went straight to steel pan practice. These past few weeks we have had practice quite a bit to prepare for the "Pan Fiesta" which happened on Friday of this week. It is part of the build up to Carnival. Normally they have something called Panorama in which all the pan groups actually compete, but there was some sort of controversy that kept it from happening this year. Thankfully the Pan Fiesta was not a competition, which meant that we were able to play with the group even though we've only been playing for a couple of months. We were the third orchestra to play and we played three songs including Thriller (of course). Off-and-on rain caused us to finish playing and carrying our drums off the field by about midnight at which point it down poured. Soaked and tired I headed home with a few other volunteers and we graciously accepted a ride from the brother of one of the kids who came to camp Lajwa!

The Ups and Downs

The ups and downs continue to come, although I am adjusting to the idea that this is how it will be. Just about five months in and I think I am finally feeling comfortable. The anxiety of all the newness and unexpected stuff is calming down and life is beginning to feel normal. The cramped busses and crazy driving are routine and the 15 Eastern Caribbean Dollar cereal box somehow doesn't seem so bad anymore. Sometimes I still reflect on the fact that I did something this crazy, but I am glad that I did. There is much to be learned through this experience however hard it may be.

As always I would love to hear from all of you… seriously ;)

Bless,

Katherine

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pigeon Island

Swimming Against the Current

This could be a really cool figurative title, but my story is actual very literal. I visited a park in St. Lucia called Pigeon Island this past weekend. I was supposed to meet a few others there for some relaxation and snorkeling. Of course, I showed up an hour late and those I was supposed to meet showed up several hours late. Nothing unusual. I walked around and explored for a while; got to see a lot of cool really old buildings. Then I chilled on the beach until me and a couple others finally decided to snorkel.

 

Pigeon Island used to be, well, an island, but a causeway was constructed closing in the gap between St. Lucia and the little Pigeon Island. So now it completes what is a really large bay known as Rodney bay. So when we started snorkeling we were headed towards the opening of the bay. There isn’t much coral in the area, just some cool fish, some neat plants, and a few creatures here and there. We swam quite a ways almost to the tip of the island with nothing ahead of us but open sea.

 

As we approached the end of the island and it started to curve around, I noticed a slight current pulling us out to sea, but nothing serious. I decided not to mention it because we were planning on turning around soon. That side of the island is very rocky, almost cliff-like. The rocks underwater were covered in black sea urchins, which, if you didn’t know, will sting you and leave little prickles in your skin if you touch them or step on them. One of my snorkeling buddies climbed up on shore for a rest, and as I popped up to check on him I realized that the shore was moving awful fast, rather, I was moving awful fast! I yelled at Ashley that we were in a current. We turned around and tried to swim against it to test how strong it was and we were still moving out to sea! Luckily, the current was running parallel to shore. So we both headed straight for the rocks. Climbing on shore was made difficult by the current, some minor waves, and our attempts to try not to step on sea urchins hiding in the crevices! We made it though and had to take a moment to catch our breath after all that!


We ended up hiking back up the shore, climbing over rocks and such to a spot where the current wasn’t so bad. Then we swam all the way back. We made it in just before dark. It turns out that the current was created when they dug rocks and sand from that area to make the causeway to connect Pigeon Island to the main island. The depression on the ocean floor never filled and it created a current. Everyone else seemed to know about this, but no one seemed to think it important to warn us. All in all it was an interesting adrenaline rush and we got to see some cool fish on the way.

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Tough Work Down Here...



Can't Help the Views :)


African Drum



Archaeological Dig


Turtle Watching: Leatherback Turtle Laying Eggs



Exploring


Ah Life...

I've been telling myself I need to write for almost a month now... and now there is too much to tell. So I'll just give you some short snippets of the ups and downs of the past few weeks.

 

Up: Met some U.S. navy guys off a ship docked in the Castries bay. The chaplain went to Clemson and was from upstate South Carolina. He knew where I went to high school and even my favorite barbeque place. His accent was perfect and made me grin from ear to ear... a nice little touch from home.

 

Down: Homesickness has really crept up on me. Friendships here are nice, but nothing compared to the friends I left behind. I want everyone to know that I appreciate even the smallest most mundane emails from home (the good and the bad). It makes me feel important and loved to still be included in the happenings of life back home. Don't let my emails fool you into thinking that everything is hunky dory down here. Life here has the same (if not more) frustrations as any life anywhere... and that requires love and support from friends and fam.

 

Up: I've been playing more with the steel pan group. We are learning new songs and getting to know the band members more. I'm improving with each practice and I always enjoy playing. Smiling and having fun and making music has been a great break from some of the stresses I face everyday.

 

Down: English may be the language of choice, but basic communications and interactions here can sometimes bring about misunderstandings and frustrations. Often I feel that my skills and experience are inadequate and unneeded, causing me to question the reason for my being here. Those thoughts can be kind of depressing.

 

Up: I got to go to a beach party with the mothers and fathers groups from my community. The women cooked some seriously delicious St. Lucian dishes over the fire. Old toothless ladies got jiggy with it African style around some old handmade drums (it was awesome). The beach we visited was really neat and had all sorts of rock formations and areas to explore. This included an archaeological dig that was happening right at the end of the beach. I got to see some uncovered skeletons (old graves), talk to the volunteers about what they were looking for, and talk to archaeologists about all the stuff you can learn from looking at dirt! I also got to hit my volleyball around with some of the kids from my community.

 

Down: The blatant sexuality of this culture continues to shock me everyday. It seems that many locals are under the impression that American girls are loose and party crazy. It's disconcerting to have men come up to you without even introducing themselves and ask you if you want to go to bed with them. Sometimes it makes me angry, but I don't know whether to be angry at the naïveté of the culture or at Hollywood, because they get this idea from American television. There is no question as to why HIV/AIDS is such a big issue down here. In contrast, this causes men who don't stare at you, who actually seem interested in you as a person (not a sexual object), and who can carry on an appropriate conversation seem 10 times more attractive.

 

Up: I met up with a group that goes hiking and exploring on Sundays. We got to go on a tour through a huge plantation. I really enjoyed their company and being able to share my love of nature. This group may be my saving grace as far as being a wholesome, healthy, and non-party atmosphere that I can relate with.

 

Up: I cooked pumpkin this week for the first time in my life. I made pumpkin bread and it turned out amazing. This was encouraging since my pita bread from last week turned out more like hockey pucks. It was also fun to share pumpkin bread with my landlord, neighbors, and hiking buddies... none of them had ever tried it before.

 

Up: I spoke to the principal at my primary school about maybe doing some kind of healthy lifestyles after school program with a few kids. She seemed really excited. Hopefully this will turn out to be a positive interaction for both the kids and me. :)

 

Up: I purchased Skype credit and have been calling friends from home, which has been really uplifting. If you want to be able to talk to me for free you can download Skype. It's a free program that works like a phone but through your computer. It's free to talk to people from computer to computer and if you have webcams you can see each other. If you ever get a call from an unavailable number on your cell or home phone, you can probably assume that it's me so pick up!

 

Down: I miss the river and my river buddies. Nothing beats spending the summer outside, doing something you love, with people you love.

 

Up: I labeled almost everything in my apartment with Kweyol words and phrases. I'm hoping to learn more of this language so that I can understand those talking around me everyday. :)

 

Ah life...

 

I also thought it would be fun to share with y'all some of the common St. Lucian phrases... what I guess I should call part of their English dialect.

 

-Going by the beach or to stay by someone = you are going to the beach or staying with someone

 

-Awa = a version of the word "no"

 

-How is me-uh? = Why me? or Why are you doing that to me?

 

-For true = for real

 

-Liming = Hanging out

 

-I'm there = I'm ok or good

 

-Just now = in a little bit or Just a minute

 

-Eh Eeeh (pronounced like the long 'a' sound) = kind of like uh-oh or Oh my goodness, it can be used in response to almost anything

 

-Walk with your lunch = Bring your lunch with you

 

Well, just a little update for you. Until next time...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Some Observations From My Day...

-air fresheners hanging from a minibus rearview mirror that are shaped like marijuana leaves

-salt crystals on my face from sweating from walking around town

-calloused bare feet of locals wandering around the city

-the movie Anaconda playing in what I suspect is the only minibus that has a dvd player for the passengers' entertainment

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Culinary Adventures and Successes



A Taste of Everything

These past two weeks have left me exhausted. So much so that I just spent today resting and cleaning. Let's see if I can catch y'all up.

Two weeks ago I met with a group of students and volunteers at the Red Cross for the purpose of electing a youth committee executive. This will be the team with which I will work with the most… at least that's what I understand. As my counterpart was out for the week, I did my best to lead the meeting. Participation in the meeting was a little low, so it turned out that the five eligible persons present became my five committee executives. I'm hoping that they will turn out to have the time and the passion to do some cool stuff with the youth programs at the Red Cross.

Last weekend I went to the beach to relax, swim, and play some volleyball, which turned out to be a great way to release some stress and energy. And I got to go to steel pan practice, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I discovered that the band with which I practice makes their own drumsticks, and, in fact, sells drumsticks to many other bands on the island. I've been trying to get a pair of my own for a couple weeks now (because we are supposed to have our own), and they are going to make me some soon. Unfortunately, we don't have practice for the next two Saturdays L… so I will just have to wait. Anyway, our teacher was telling us about the upcoming Carnival (Caribbean festival). Apparently during carnival there is an event called panorama during which all the steel pan bands compete. There is a lot of rivalry between bands, so I am looking forward to the show!

Sunday afternoon my community hosted a swearing-in ceremony for the new community council. My landlord's brother and my host dad are both on the council. The ceremony was very interesting. They had a local band playing folk music and they had a community folk dance group perform cultural dances in fancy dresses and everything. Part of the program included a government representative who gave a long-winded speech about all the changes that will be happening in the community. It is the second biggest community in St. Lucia and is its own district now. So there are plans being set in motion for things like a fire station and police station, lighting for some of the playing courts, a new cemetery, etc. I noticed as I watched each person come up to give a speech or make an announcement that it is customary here to make sure everyone is greeted at the beginning of whatever you have to say. So if I were asked to speak at such an important event, I would individually address all important persons, saying their position and name (even if I don't know how to pronounce it), then I might address individual groups, and finally I might acknowledge the general public, the ladies, and the gentlemen. This can be quite a long list if there are a lot of important people at this important event. Even if the speaker only has a short speech, they must go through this process. Thus, you may find yourself sitting a little longer than expected at said ceremonies.

Tuesday night a fellow volunteer and I went to the practice of the dance group that performed in the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday. The younger group practices on Tuesdays and we thought it would be a fun cultural experience. The dancing is, as my mom puts it, "very 'British' or almost 'western square' with a calypso flair!" I guess St. Lucia's history of being 7 times French and 7 times British and finally ending up with the British has impacted their culture. St. Lucians also have an obsession with country music and line dancing… which I don't understand. St. Lucia is really a melting pot of British, French, and African cultures… with American line dancing thrown in there just for kicks and giggles. Anyway, we spent part of the time watching the group practice before two of the guys came over and suavely bowed and asked us to dance. We learned several different steps including a waltz. Despite my aversion to and lack of talent for dancing, I enjoyed the evening.

Wednesday I found myself representing the Red Cross at Youth Parliament. I guess it sorta relates to the idea of a mock government or mock trial in the states, but in this case it isn't necessarily mock. The bills that are discussed are actually presented to the government. This year's youth parliament was different in that they had youth representatives from each area of the Island. They were between 14 and 35 years of age. Just like the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, there were a lot of formalities involved in the process of conducting the parliament including a big wooden stick, robes, bowing, lots of standing and sitting, saying aye or no, and banging on the tables. The bills discussed had to do with what consequences are appropriate for parents whose children are not going school and whether requiring community service for graduation from secondary school is appropriate. Each youth came with a prepared speech and they got intense at times. I was impressed with some of the younger ones; they really gave their opinions rather decidedly, sometimes evoking a cautionary warning from the Speaker. Overall they seemed very eager to point out the faults of the government.

Thursday I joined the Disaster Preparedness Director from the Red Cross in making a visit to Soufriere (southern part of the Island). We went to visit a school that is starting up a Red Cross youth group. I took them the leader materials and did my best to explain the program. It was encouraging to see teachers who are eager to be involved.

Friday I explored my culinary side once again and successfully made tortillas, refried beans, and even a salsa of sorts. My last batch of tortillas were more like crackers, so it was exciting to get it right this time. I'm really enjoying learning to cook. I think I may try making my own yogurt soon, but first I need to collect some jars… guess I'm having lots of jam this week.

And this weekend I finally got to go snorkeling. Really I just visited another volunteer for the day. She lives near a beach and I just took my mask and snorkel just in case I might see some fish. But we ended up seeing some coral, sea urchins, fish, and even some sand dollars. I think we spent nearly two hours just combing the ocean floor. I'm pretty sure I got stung by sea lice while I was out there, and I accidentally kicked a piece of coral and got a giant scratch on my leg, but other than that I came out unscathed. After swimming around we returned to her house to eat vegetarian spaghetti (with soya chunks… which actually tasted good!), play games, and watch movies. We stayed late which led me to discover (thankfully) that busses run up to my house even way late at night. It's nice to know that I have some freedom to go out in the evenings and still find my way home! Also, my bus driver on the way home is part of a group that does excursions all over the island. They go hiking, snorkeling, bird watching, turtle watching, and all sorts of stuff. He knew several other volunteers from these trips and gave me his card so that I can join them on future trips! J

And now it's back to work again… the continuous cycle. This week could prove to be exciting. I don't know if I mentioned it in any earlier updates, but the teachers in St. Lucia have been going on and off strike because of an issue with their pay from the government. It has not been resolved yet, and there has been talk lately of the teachers going on strike for the rest of term three!! This will affect both my school attachment and my work with the youth groups at the Red Cross. Not to mention the fact that many kids will miss out on very important education. So, keep that situation in your prayers. The teachers need more respect and the students need an education!

Well, that's all for now folks! As always, I love hearing from y'all and I miss everyone bunches!!

Enjoy your week!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just One Big Small Town

When you hear “small town” most people think of a little community, almost like a village, with quaint houses, friendly people, mom and pop shops, good home cookin, whimsical habits that only that town understands, an “everybody-knows-everybody” atmosphere (or rather, everybody’s related to everybody), and the always-juicy bits of gossip that might as well be national news.

Well picture that but in the context of a country. It’s funny, but I often find myself drawing parallels between St. Lucia and the good ole small towns of the south. Let me try to give you a verbal panorama of St. Lucia. As I walk out my door in the morning I step on to a little gravel road that I sometimes share with the neighbor’s goats as they trim the grassy edges. My landlord’s dogs bark after me as I pass the clothesline and begin my journey. Often I meet my neighbors as they also head to work.

I flag down a bus just as if I were hitching a ride and I always remember to say, “good morning” as I board. This is a very important social rule. It is considered weird or rude not to greet people here, no matter whether they are friend or stranger. Anyway, the bus driver speeds off down the road, beeping and shouting at everyone he knows and slamming on the brakes to pick up other patrons. The minivan-sized bus fills with students in school uniforms, adults in business attire, mothers with infants and toddlers, the rich and the poor… up to 14 passengers… and sometimes even more as small school children squeeze between the adults.

On the drive down the mountain I see all sorts of things: mountains that disappear into misty clouds, the distance sea, farmers carrying bundles of bananas or plantains on their heads, people wandering with no shoes and no shirt, rickety houses built into steep hillsides, backyard gardens, and road-side vegetable vendors. The bus driver slows down to swerve around the many potholes that litter the road even in the presence of oncoming traffic. Sometimes they stop to let mothers drop their babies at daycare. This morning my bus slowed to avoid hitting a man on a galloping horse right in the middle of the road! And of course, the seating situation is a constant puzzle. Those in the back seats upset half the bus when they need to unload, but this is all taken in stride, it is a normal part of life.

Approaching town, the road widens and intersections become roundabouts. It is not uncommon to see horses or cows grazing in the middle of these roundabouts. Traffic thickens as everyone heads to work. Approaching my stop, I yell at the bus driver, and he slows down to let me off and waits for me to pay him an amount that I have now committed to memory.

At work, it is normal to have friendly visitors and office conversation is expected. Calling schools and leaving a message does not mean that the message will be passed on. Meetings start 30 to 45 minutes late and absences are expected even if it is important.

At school, students come wearing matching uniforms of the school colors. Teachers keep their belts close by and students scurry into place if they see that belt in hand. Sometimes the slap of the belt and the whimpers of the children can be heard in the principal’s office. At lunchtime the students run around on the field outside making up their own entertainment and playing by the small river.

An average walk through town should include at least 2 sightings of familiar persons. If I don’t recognize anyone in town, they will later tell me they saw me walking here or there. My bus terminal in town is right behind the market, so I see the vendors everyday on my way home. They set out wooden pallets with vegetables, herbs, and spices shading themselves from the sun with umbrellas and waiting for interested buyers. I usually walk right by the guys who sell coconuts out of the backs of their trucks and they sometimes try to sell me coconut water with rehearsed sweet talk.

The streets of town are busy. Every street is lined with shops and in front of the shops are street vendors. Vagrants and beggars linger in front of the supermarket in hopes of collecting sympathy. The smells of bakeries, fish, spices, and fried local food mix with diesel and gas fumes. In the background is the jumbled music of shops and passing cars playing Reggae or remixed American tunes with the bass turned up. Tourists wander here and there doing what they do best with their moneys. Busses line various streets at their respective stops that are spread throughout the entire city. And thick Caribbean accents and Creole remind me that this isn’t Kansas anymore.

Getting a bus for the trip home is a bit different. Where my bus stops in town, behind the market, there are several lanes full of busses that go to my community. There is a system to these lanes that I don’t know if I will ever understand… and from recent conversations, I’m not even sure some Lucians understand it. Anyway, some busses only go to the main area of my community and some go to the extremities. The only real way of knowing whether a bus is going to my area is to ask or to know the driver. So I always ask. My experience has always been successful with the second lane though… so maybe that is part of the system.

So these busses wait in the “terminal” (of sorts) until they are full and then they go speeding off toward their destinations. After a long hot day, and sitting in a still, hot bus for several minutes, the breeze from the windows is refreshing. I usually close my eyes and soak in the cool air as it forms my hair into a windblown knot. It’s all fine and dandy until a few raindrops start to fall and the Lucians snap the windows shut like meltdown is imminent. And then it’s a stuffy sticky ride to the top of the mountain where I welcome the peace and quiet comfort of home.

A Time for Tears

From the moment I started talking about Peace Corps, I’ve been answering the question, “Why?” Friends and family want to know, I suppose, whether your reasoning is rational or crazy. I would say it is a bit of both, but the point is that from the start of it you build a defense, a well-formed explaination as to why this is good for me. And as the departure date approaches, everyone begins to express his or her apprehension about the upcoming two-year separation. And I, being my overly anxious self, spent a lot of time comforting my friends and family, letting them know that it would be OK, just a few short years.

 

Between the hustle and bustle of last goodbyes, packing, and wrapping up loose ends here and there, I became a robot; just taking the next steps, afraid that if I thought too much my courage would fall apart. I put on a brave face and stepped on a plane where I promptly fell asleep from exhaustion. And after that I was swept up into training, adjusting, host families, moving, learning new languages, meeting new people, projects, and the like. Three months later, my heart is finally catching up with me. It’s like it hits you all of a sudden… I just left my family, my friends, my home, my car, and everything that I know. “I just did something crazy!” as our Country Director put it so beautifully.

 

While Peace Corps may be an adventure, something fun, and maybe even a career boost, it is also a sacrifice. Two years, well it’s not a terribly long time, but you can miss a lot in two years. In two years people move, get married, have children, make new friends, get new jobs, travel… the list goes on. True, I will be making new friends here and my life will be joyful and full here… but I will lose something at home. Things will be different when I return. I may miss out on time spent with loved ones. Friendships may fall by the wayside.

 

I don’t think I truly allowed myself to let go of home until this past week. I was just having a homesick day. I was missing family, school friends, river friends, camp friends… all the different facets of my life, and I just broke down and cried till I fell asleep. It wasn’t necessarily a sad, “poor-me” cry or an “O-my-gosh-I’m-not-gonna-make-it” cry. I had just pushed my feelings to the back burner while I dealt with everything else… and I needed to feel it, to let go, in order to move on.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

In my front yard...



Coal Pot Cookin'

A Day

Each week we are supposed to spend some time "integrating." Integration is a rather broad term so it encompasses a variety of activities. I have set aside Friday for integration, whether it be cultural or community or whatever.

So today started with me taking a long walk from the other side of my community (I spent the night with another Volunteer) to my house. Because I live on a mountain, the walk was pretty much all uphill. I stopped by the store to grab some charcoal and bread and a few other items, and by the time I reached my home I was dripping with sweat. I unloaded my groceries and bags and then went to the bathroom to hop in the shower only to find that the water is off… again. This time however, I was prepared. I scooped some water from my little water buckets (filled for exactly this reason) and took a little sponge bath. It was satisfying to be able to feel clean despite the lack of running water.

Then I set about my business. I had planned on doing some baking today. So I started with my mom's good ole pineapple casserole. Though I had to improvise on some of the ingredients, it came out tasting spectacular, a nice reminder of home. Next I baked a loaf of Banana bread; my first one ever. While baking said bread I also managed to send an egg carton smashing to the floor… creating quite a mess… grrr. Anyway, my apartment acquired a wonderfully sweet smell during all this baking and it made me smile. The banana bread came out great, though I have not tasted it. I'm hoping to give it to my host mom as a mother's day gift. While my stuff was baking, I managed to get some coals started in my coal pot. I rigged up my little grate by putting three rocks around the edge so it would sit just above the coals. I roasted a few hotdogs and even some chicken. Thankfully during the day a little bit of water started running so I could wash all the dishes I was dirtying. I also managed to mop my apartment (had to clean up the egg ya know). The running water, however, lasted only a short while.

I was sorta waiting for my landlord or her husband to come around so that they could open the laundry room. It's not that I needed to do laundry, but rather I did laundry 3 days ago and didn't get to take it out before the room was locked for the night. Since then I had not seen my landlord to ask her to open it for me. My landlord's husband eventually drove up and opened the laundry room for me. I opened the lid to the washer with a little apprehension about what I would find. Well, there was no mold, but the smell wasn't really nice. I then thought, maybe there's enough water to rewash it. It was only a small load. I started it and it began to fill slowly… but then stopped. But by then it was too late and there was soap in there already. Hmmmm. I didn't want to leave them in there again. So I decided I would use my water buckets to rinse them as best I could and hang them up anyway. The rinsing really turned into washing because the water was so soapy, but by then I had no more water to do any more rinsing. So my towels got hung wet and soapy. I will probably run them through a rinse cycle eventually, but for now at least they are airing out and well, they smell very… soapy.

So, there went my little bucket water supply that I was so proud of. I will fill them again as soon as the water turns back on… which may not happen till tomorrow… or the next day. Anyway, in the evening I heard my neighbors talking and decided that I should go at least say hi. They have hosted Peace Corps Volunteers and Japanese Volunteers in the past, so they know the drill. They welcomed me into their home and we spent some time chatting and getting to know one another. They have two super cute dogs that actually come and let you pet them (a rarity down here). I gave them each a good scratch and they licked my hands. I miss my dogs. While I was there I discovered that they too were frustrated with the water shortages of late. At least it's not just me!

Quite a full day, huh. I baked a lot… made a lot of messes… used up all my reserve water…  got to visit the neighbors… experienced St. Lucian water shortages… and now I'm sitting in my living room listening to the glorious (*sarcastic tone*) karaoke going on nearby (this happens every weekend). And still no water… and to top it off, no Internet… whew, Peace Corps life… at least I get to eat pineapple casserole tomorrow J.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Rain Rain Rain...

I arrived at the Red Cross this morning at around 8:45 just as it began to sprinkle. Shortly after I settled in the office it began to pour and it has not stopped since. The playing field by the office is one giant puddle. The street is basically a river. And the school I was supposed to visit today cancelled our meeting so that the children could make there way home right after school. And of course, Jazz Festival events are sorta on hold. The mountains beyond town have disappeared into a thick white haze and the ocean is looking dark and choppy. It's amazing, I don't think I've ever seen this much rain before.

The Red Cross has been having emergency meetings about the flooding situations and also meetings about the coming hurricane season. Part of me is excited to see what the weather gets like. I like rain... and storms. But really I like them when I can stay inside and read or when it's appropriate for me to run outside and play. Here I have to keep working, which is really gonna stink. I'll be attempting to trudge through puddles while keeping dry pants and clean shoes, which is impossible. And all my clothes are gonna smell mildewy because nothing will ever dry. And most of all, I'll be sleepy because rainy days just make people feel that way....

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Busyness

I never thought I would be so busy so soon into my PC service!! At the Red Cross I have been working on organizing files and resources as well as trying to get a feel for what programs exist and how they work. It's a little overwhelming because I feel that there are high expectations for me and I'm still just getting used to things. It kinda makes my heart jump into my throat when I'm looked at as an expert. The reality is I am just a college grad and this is my first real career! I met with some of the youth leaders on Saturday and got some feedback from them as to what they've been doing and what they'd like to do. We are hoping to plan a summer camp and it is going to take a lot of work to pull it together. I'm just learning as I go.

Working with the school is slow as I'm only there once a week. On top of that, the teachers have been on strike over an issue with their pay. So school has been out on certain days. I've been assisting with the grade 5 class. Currently I'm just acting as a teacher's aid, but I have a few ideas of other things I can do there. It is just going to take some time to get them moving.

Apart from work stuff I've been trying to get out and experience different aspects of Lucian life. I went to steel pan practice again on Saturday and had a great time. I found out the names of the songs we are playing so I can try to listen to them to get a better idea of how they are supposed to sound. And I figured out how to do cool stuff with the songs in GarageBand (program on my Mac)… which kept me up till like 3 a.m. (I know… I'm a dork).

St. Lucia is celebrating Jazz Festival this week. Basically there are all sorts of music events going on around the country. Some are free and some are not, but the idea is you just go and enjoy some good tunes, maybe some good food, and most definitely a good time with friends. I went to one such free event on Sunday with a few other Volunteers. It was on a beach up in the north of the island. The interesting thing about Jazz Festival is that it's not really about Jazz music… just music. So the artist of the evening was the Calypso king from last year. The beach was really crowded and people were really enjoying feeling the music. The other Volunteers and a Lucian attempted to teach me to "dance" without much success…

Monday night I went to a community youth group meeting near where I live. The youth group doesn't necessarily have a regular meeting day, but they do organized activities and such. I figured it'd be a good way to meet and get to know people my age. The topic of the evening (and for the next few weeks) is men's health. So the discussion was all about how men are more at risk for (or more likely to experience) things like STIs, dying in a homicide, getting injured in a automobile accident, having unprotected sex, not going to get regular health checkups, etc, etc. All of them were things that are related to a behavior…, which in principle can be changed. So the leader asked the young guys in the group if it was possible to reverse, or slow down, these negative things in the lives of men in St. Lucia. The idea is that it can be changed if men choose healthier behaviors. It was interesting to hear some of the guys disagree though. Some of them believed it was literally impossible to bring about this kind of change, because men will not alter their behavior (especially in the areas related to sex). I'm told that this is a very common attitude here. Some seem more wiling to deal with the consequences then go without their fun. Anyway, It was nice to meet some other youth my age… I hope that I can continue participating in the group.

Another interesting story:

I woke up Tuesday morning to the sound of torrential rains outside. I mean it was just deafening how loud it was. And the rain was accompanied by wind. It was such a nice sound; all I wanted to do was just lie there and rest and read all day. Tuesday is usually the day I go to school, but it just so happened that the teachers were having another meeting about the strike going on. So school wasn't really happening. Even so, I had to go out to get a few things done in town. As I walked out to catch a bus, with raincoat on and umbrella open, I splashed through little rivers running across the gravel drive by my apartment. By the road, the watershed gutters were gushing with water… it was just flying down the chutes. I welcomed the shelter of the bus. The drive down to the city was interesting. There were areas where the road was even beginning to flood where watershed drains were overflowing. Near town a river runs along the side of the road and the muddy water was nearing the brim. Debris and garbage were floating down and getting caught in trees and roots. The streets in town were full of puddles. I was glad to be wearing flip-flops cause my shoes would have been soaked otherwise.

I learned later that some towns experienced more serious flooding. A few people had to go stay with relatives and friends. And this was just one day of hard rain. I'm told that the month of October is like that every day! So you can imagine, if flooding was experienced from just one day of hard rain, how easily disaster can affect this country. Many of the big towns are actually below sea level.

I'm also learning that during hard rains like that, and even at other times, the water lines can be shut off. So sometimes I come home and go to wash dishes or shower and all of a sudden nothing comes out of the faucets! It usually comes back on after a while, but sometimes it might take overnight. It's strange when I have Internet but no water… just kinda makes me shake my head. Anyway, I bought two large buckets with lids today so I can keep water on hand for these times. Now I can do a little washing and a little bathing even if the water is off.

In the afternoon the rain let up and I was able to walk down the hill with my landlord. I met her mother and uncle and niece and saw the house where she grew up. Her mother and brothers and sister and uncle all live on the same road. They all do a little gardening so I got to see some of their gardens. My landlords mother kept pointing at things and saying, "this is guava, do you know guava… well when they get ripe we'll show you what guava's like… but you have 2 years, plenty of time, plenty of time to experience all these things." She was cute and sweet. I hope I get to see more of her.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beautiful

I would just like to take a moment to comment on how gorgeous some of the views are here in St. Lucia. Everyday on my bus ride to and from the capital I get to see these incredible views of the mountains all around me. I live up high, so in some places when you look out you can see mountains everywhere, bright blue skies, fluffy clouds with a few vivid gray ones here and there, and sometimes I can even see the Caribbean sea through the gap of the mountains. It's just breathtaking and I see it everyday...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Moving Along

A lot has happened since I last updated. I was sort of waiting until I had substantial stuff to write about… and now I may have too much!

For starters, training is over! We finished last Friday and we were all relieved and excited. Throughout the week I had been collecting items for my new apartment. So by the time Sunday rolled around and my host parents loaded up the truck with my stuff, I had all my original bags plus about 7 grocery bags full and a coal pot. The drive up took about 15 minutes and it only took about 5 minutes to move me in to my new place. I hugged my host family goodbye and my landlord showed me around the property. My apartment is really nice, not what I expected or imagined for Peace Corps. It's a one-bedroom place in the downstairs of my landlord's house. There is another apartment next door to me, but it is currently unoccupied. I have a cute little living room with a couch, two chairs, and a TV (with no cable). My kitchen has a fridge and a gas stove. I have a big covered porch where I was able to hang a clothesline out of rain's way. I even have hot water! And my landlord has wireless Internet and is allowing me to use it for free! The place was just recently finished so it is very clean and comfortable. My landlord is so friendly and accommodating. She even gave me a little bottle of sparkling apple juice as a welcome gift. She checks on me most days just to see how I'm doing.

So this week I have spent a lot of time shopping for kitchen necessities and apartment stuff to make it feel like home. I've attempted making a few meals… I'm sure I'll get better at cooking with time. I visited the Red Cross and the primary school to start planning for what I will do in the future. And Friday we had our swearing-in ceremony, which means that we went from Peace Corps Trainees to official Peace Corps Volunteers. Our host families, work counterparts, and school counterparts came out for the show. Several Peace Corps staff persons spoke and three of us presented a speech in Creole (I had to read a whole page… which made me really nervous). Then we took the "oath." It's the pretty much the same oath that all government employees take, including the president. So I have officially vowed to defend the constitution against all enemies. We were presented with certificates, pins, and patches and many of the guests offered their congratulations. It feels really good to be official. J

After the swearing-in ceremony I had a short drink with some of the other volunteers before I headed on to my host sister's boyfriend's funeral… it just happened to be on the same day. I went with two other volunteers who knew him well. The service was nice and the church was packed with friends and family. It was emotional. Afterward we walked to the cemetery where everyone gathered around, standing on top of and in between other vaults to watch the entire burial. It was a long process with dirt and lots of concrete. Upon finishing the seal, everyone laid flowers and things on top. I saw my host family there and gave them hugs. It was definitely hard on them. After that I finally went home, exhausted.

Saturday, three of us new volunteers decided we needed a "chill" day. So we made plans to go to the beach. The bus ride down for me was interesting. There were only a few other guys on the bus when I boarded and they were getting a kick out of asking me all sorts of questions… namely whether I have a boyfriend back home. I was trying to be nice and evade their remarks politely. By the time I made it to my bus stop they had given me a free coconut and the bus driver didn't even charge me for the ride. Despite the free stuff, I was glad to get off the bus. I met the other two Volunteers and we walked to the beach where we swam, laid in the sun, and played some volleyball.  We even got to listen to some seriously troubled cows mooing and roaming near the beach. And of course I am burnt to a crisp for the third time in 2 months… even with SPF 30. Even so, it felt good to get out and use up some energy.

Saturday afternoon I joined two other volunteers and went to a steel pan orchestra practice. I guess it's a place where kids go and take lessons, but they let Peace Corps join for free. So they got me started right away on a tenor drum (I didn't know there were different ones), and one of the other new volunteers got to play bass. Because we are joining late, we were quickly trying to catch up and learn parts of the songs that the others have been practicing. I think they will eventually perform during St. Lucia's carnival festival and we will hopefully get to join them. I had a lot of fun learning to play. The teachers really love playing and they literally just listen to songs on an mp3 player and figure out how to play them by ear… and that's how we learn. I hope that I will get to continue to play with the group… maybe I'll have my own steel pan by the end of 2 years. J

In my meetings with Red Cross during the week I was able to figure out a little more about what I will be doing exactly. The Red Cross has youth groups in a lot of the secondary schools on island. Each group is lead by a teacher or school staff person. At one time the groups were a big deal and they were very active, but they seem to have lost their energy lately. So I am going to be working with the group leaders and my counterpart at the Red Cross to try to revitalize the groups and hopefully give them some structure. I will be meeting with the group leaders next Saturday and I am going to try to get a feel for what they want to come out of these groups. It seems like they need more structure, like group manuals or something, to help define what they should do with each meeting and what kinds of activities the kids should be participating in. There is also a desire to plan a summer camp for some of the kids, so I will probably also be helping with that. It still feels like a lot is up in the air, but it was good to get a little understanding of the tasks at hand. I'm still working on figuring out how I can be of help at the primary school. I think my focus will be grade 5, but it will take some time to get settled into something there.

So this week is sort of the first official week. I will be with the Red Cross for about 3 or 4 days out of the week and the school for one. This week my focus will mostly be getting to know the Red Cross youth group leaders and organizing the office that I inherited, which is a mess of teetering piles of papers and resources that I have to make sense of. That task will probably take me a few months knowing my organizational obsessions. At any rate I will get a feel for what resources are available and what kinds of things have been done in the past.

Thanks so much for all your prayers and emails J

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Some Woes

I woke up Sunday morning and headed straight for the shower to get ready for the day. It was Easter Sunday and my host family was planning to have the whole family over for a big dinner. Just as I was soaping up I heard loud crying coming from downstairs and people asking about someone who had died. I quickly finished up my shower and cursed as I realized that I had forgotten my towel. I dried off as much as I could and headed for my room to change. When I finally came out and asked what was up I found out that my host sister's boyfriend had been in a terrible accident and was believed to be dead. She was in fits of tears… understandably.

I had no idea what to do or what was appropriate so I kind of paced around trying to feel out the situation. I finally asked my host mom if there was anything I could do, but there really wasn't anything. My host dad and brother drove to the accident scene as soon as they heard about it. They wanted to confirm for themselves whether he had actually died. There were three vehicles involved: two cars and a motorcycle. The car that caused the accident was trying to pass someone on the road in a bad spot and my host sister's boyfriend and the motorcycle had nowhere to go. Four people were killed: two on the motorcycle and two in the car behind it. They were all friends on the way into town. The man who caused the accident had only minor injuries and from what I hear this is not the first fatal accident that he has caused.

I sat with my host mom and sister for the whole course of the morning as people called and visited to offer more information and/or condolences. The Easter dinner was cancelled but was prepared for the family and visitors anyway. My host aunt helped cook. My host cousins comforted my host sister. And I sat very quietly, trying to be as comforting as possible without intruding on the sensitive moment. More people showed up throughout the evening to be with the family.

My host sister's boyfriend was a very friendly guy who has spent a good amount of time at our house. He was always smiling and joking around. He was a people person who liked to have fun, so his absence will affect a lot of people. I kind of feel the loss as well, although I can't say it compares to what the family is going through. My host sister had been dating him for 5 years or so. His mom and dad have both been living in the States. His mom was just days away from visiting him to bring him the papers he needed to get a green card. He was due to go to Barbados next week to finish up the process.

Please be in prayer for everyone affected by this event. This is going to be a long and hard grieving process for many people.