Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
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
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
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.
Saturday I got to go on an island tour with all the other trainees. Our tour guide was the host dad of one of our trainees and is a taxi driver who does these kinds of tours for a living. He offers good prices for Peace Corps Volunteers so we took advantage of the opportunity. We started in Castries right by the waterfront where the cruise ships come in and we traveled down around the whole island going down the West coast and then up the East coast. We went through Anse La Raye, Canaries, Soufriere, Choiseul, Laborie, Vieux Fort, Micoud, Dennery, and Grand Riviere and then we returned to Castries. We stopped at lots of little viewpoints along the way to check out the gorgeous scenery. We even passed two of the Japanese Volunteers that we had met at our welcome party last weekend. They were in the middle of a several day hike around the whole island! In Soufriere we got to see one of the ships they used in Pirates of the Caribbean. We also got to see the famous Pitons (2 striking pyramid-like mountains that stand side by side right on the coast). Near Soufriere we were able to take a cool dip in a waterfall pool. Then we warmed up with a dip in a sulfur spring. In Vieux Fort we passed the airport where we first landed on St. Lucia. In town we picked up some coal pots, which are clay pots hand-made by St. Lucians. It's a traditional craft and it has been used in cooking for many years. Basically you have a bowl shape with wholes in the bottom that is attached to a hollow stand. You put coals in the bowl and the ashes fall through the holes into the bottom section where you can scoop them out. You can put a bowl on top and cook stew or you can use it like a hibachi grill. I'm looking forward to grilling on mine! After we picked up the pots our taxi driver took us to the southernmost part of the Island where we could see both the Caribbean and Atlantic seas. In the distance we could see the faint outline of St. Vincent. We took another dip in the ocean in a small bay on our way up the East Coast where we got to see some kite surfing. And one of our fellow trainees bought a bundle of fresh crabs just as we passed by Dennery.
It was a very interesting day and we all left feeling pretty tired. It was nice to get a break from training and to be a tourist for a day, although we didn't care for the constant interactions with vendors. We were able to identify some spots that we would like to revisit and some places we would like to explore more. Good thing we have two years to do it!
This week we will be going through our final assessments. This means we will be taking some tests and being interviewed. So pray that it goes well! I will be working out a schedule with my worksite for the next three months (integration months). And hopefully I will get a chance to visit my apartment to get an idea of where I will be living and what kinds of things I will need. Lots of things need to be done this week, so pray that I can stay on top of it all.
Also, please keep my host family in your prayers. My host sister's boyfriend died in a terrible car accident Easter morning and it has been pretty devastating for the family. My host sister especially is going to have a hard time in the weeks and months to come. They had been together for five years.
I love you all and as always I love to hear from you!
Monday, April 6, 2009
Only two weeks left of training! We are all itching for it to end. Only 4 or 5 days left for training in the office and the rest is worksite days or shadowing days. Then we get a week to move into our new places before we swear in! I haven't seen my place yet but I know that it will be farther away from town and it's an apartment in the bottom of a house. The rumor is I won't have hot water. I've also heard it's rather new and is just now being furnished, so I don't know what will be included in that. I don't mind not having hot water. I'm more concerned about how far away it will be from my worksite and how much I may have to spend to fill in with furnishings that I will need. I am trying to be patient and not jump to conclusions, but it's hard!
This past weekend was very full. We were able to convince our director to move Friday's training to this Tuesday so that we could go to a cricket match: West Indies vs. England. We explained that it was important for our cultural integration and they actually agreed J! So we bought the cheapest tickets for the grounds area, which is just a big patch of grass. Upon hearing that traffic for cricket games is terrible, we decided to get an early start. We met in town at 8:00 and were at the stadium by 9:00. It rained the whole morning, longer than we've seen it rain here yet. And if you don't know, they don't play cricket in the rain… so this caused a delay. The game didn't start till 2:00!! So we sat in the sun for five hours before we saw any action on the field. But it was interesting to observe the partying crowd. Almost everyone brings coolers with liquor and juice and some snacks. And if you forget yours there are drinks available. In fact, one section of stands is called the party stands. You pay one big price for all inclusive food and drink. They play loud music and from what I understand no one really even watches the game from that section.
Several other Volunteers were there so we were able to meet some new people. By the time the game started we were getting tired. Not too mention my shoulders were turning into toast despite frequent applications of sunscreen. So after a few hours I left with a few others, came home, showered, and took a small nap. When I woke up I saw the tail end of the game on TV. England won. I learned that St. Lucians party hard no matter who wins.
Friday night my host parents took to to Anse La Raye for the fish fry. It's like a big street festival with lots of Creole food including lots of fish. There's music and karaoke and steel drum bands and craft tables and all sorts of things. I ate some king fish and a bek with my host mom and we wandered around for a little bit before retiring to the car at 11:00pm. It was about a 45 minute drive from our house, so we didn't get in until around midnight! After a full day in the sun and a late night at the fish fry I was exhausted. I slept very well.
Saturday the current Volunteers organized a little get together at the beach to welcome us trainees. We met at Choc beach (which I discovered is a very nice beach… great for swimming), where we had hotdogs and snacks and played some volleyball and chatted all day. We cooked the hotdogs on this cute little clay stove that is a craft of St. Lucians. I hope to acquire one at some point during my stay. It was really nice to meet some of the other Volunteers and we were even able to meet some Japanese Volunteers (Japan has a similar program to Peace Corps).
Saturday evening I discovered my host sister's love for movies and we watched two of the DVDs I brought. It was fun to spend some time with her and fun to have a movie night… as we all know I love movie nights J.
Sunday was a nice relaxing day, which was good after such a weekend. And of course, it all starts over again today (Monday) with training… yay. Just two more weeks!