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 ;)



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.