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