Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kids with Kerosene and Hurricane Tomas

This past weekend was St. Lucia's "Jounen Creole" (joonay cree-ole) celebration. I think the translation is "day of Creole." It's a time when everyone gets together to celebrate Creole traditions and heritage. My favorite part of Jounen Creole is the food. I was particularly looking forward to indulging in some bakes (fried dough), saltfish (fish cured in salt that has been soaked and stewed), and cocoa tea (cocoa, spices, and milk cooked into a delicious chocolaty tea). This combination of food is somewhat of a traditional Creole breakfast, and take my word for it, it's scrumptious!


I went to school on Friday morning happy that the week was almost over and looking forward to some fun and relaxation over the weekend. I was welcomed with the sound of loud "BOOMS" and children yelling and laughing; all of this was coming from the center of the schoolyard. Naturally, I walked in their direction to see what all the hype was about. Upon closer inspection, it was as I suspected. The children (let me emphasize that these are elementary school-aged children) were participating in the tradition of bamboo bursting. This was my first encounter with bamboo bursting, so I was rather excited. I'm told it is unique to St. Lucia.


Bamboo bursting is worth describing to you. Basically a "canon" is formed out of a long piece of large bamboo. (Large as in both my hands would not rap completely around the stalk and tall as in almost as tall as I am.) One end is left closed, and a small hold is burrowed in the side of that end of the bamboo. To "burst" the bamboo, one must pour kerosene down the small hold and light it repeatedly while blowing on the flame. My assumption is that this forms flammable vapors that build up within the tube of the "canon." Eventually when you hold your flame over the small hole, a loud BOOM is produced and a puff of smoke and kerosene droplets emit from the small hole and the end of the canon. This process is performed over and over for the sheer enjoyment of playing with fire and making loud noises. These BOOMS can be heard a lot during holiday times such as Jounen Creole and Christmas.


So! I approached a group of elementary school-aged children who had a healthy supply of kerosene, matches, and at least 3-5 "canons." The resourceful children had partially filled a beer bottle with kerosene, stuck a wick in the mouth, and set it afire to give them a steady supply of flame to light their canons. This beer-bottle-on-fire is known amongst the locals as the "flambo." They would hold sticks over the "flambo" until they caught fire and then bring the flaming stick to the holes in their canons to light the kerosene. I needn't mention that they carried their supply of kerosene in local rum bottles. I stood by with the other tiny onlookers (no teachers were around) and watched with amazement as they set off explosion after explosion. Some of them were better at it than others; their explosions were much louder and more frequent. The smell of kerosene filled the air and each explosion seemed to bring a little wave of heat and sometimes a burst of flame. There was excitement and fervor in the way the children made themselves busy with the bursting of the bamboo.


Of course, I took out my camera and made sure to capture the moment with picture and video (soon to be posted). Inwardly I contemplated the hilarity of comparing this to American schools. Just imagine American parents letting their 10-year-old kid play with canons, matches, and kerosene. And then imagine them sending their kid to school to do that!? 2+2 = lawsuits and juvy!


The rest of the day was filled with assemblies, singing, dancing, and (my favorite) Creole foods. I excitedly waited my turn to get some fish cakes. These are made of saltfish that has been mixed into a batter and fried. Soooo good! I also enjoyed a delicious cup of cocoa tea. By the end of the day the children were dancing laps around the school while singing in Creole.


Just as I was packing up my things, another Volunteer called me to ask if I had heard anyone else talking about "the storm." I told her no and we hung up; I didn't think much about it. Again as I was waiting for my ride, another teacher said, "there is a storm coming." Sure the sky looked kinda dark in the distance, but this is normal. Rain and storms blow in and out of here all the time. I rode home and laid down for a nap before I was supposed to head out for Steel Pan practice. I awoke to my phone ringing. It was yet another Volunteer on the line. She told me a tropical storm was coming and that Peace Corps was telling us to stay home. I rolled out of bed, tired, and happy to skip steel pan practice. I would go tomorrow… so I thought.


I was up late into Saturday morning watching shows online, but the skies seemed calm. When I finally went to bed, I fell into a deep sleep. I awoke with a start sometime around 6:00am to the sound of my door alarm (Peace Corps just gave us these alarms that you stick in your door). I ran to see what was up, but no one was there. I later deduced that the wind must have jostled the alarm loose, setting it off. Despite my late night, the adrenaline was now pumping, and I could not fall back asleep. At around 8:00am our Safety and Security officer send out a mass text message, "St. Lucia is under a hurricane warning. This is the official alert to STANDFAST!" This means we are to STAY INSIDE! Shortly after that, the winds started howling and the rains came down. It was barely light outside for the clouds were so thick that they blocked the sun. I have never in my life seen such wind or experienced a storm that lasted so long! The wind and rain would come unceasingly for over 24 hours.


I closed all my windows except the front ones (protected by the porch). I spent the morning watching the wind and rain beat the trees outside. At around 11:00am (Saturday) I still had power, Internet, and phone service. By then I was getting tired from my late night, so I decided to take a nap. When I woke up around 1:00pm I had no electricity and no water. I sent text messages to my brothers to have them let mom and dad know that I was in the storm but doing ok. I turned on my little hand crank radio to see what was happening elsewhere. People were calling in from all over the island giving reports. The hurricane was between us and St. Vincent (south of us); so the southern part of the island was getting the worst of it. One caller said that their community secondary school had lost its roof. Others reported houses losing their roofs and some landslides. In the evening, 100mph winds were recorded at the southern airport (and that was before the worst of it!). At 6:00ish we were thrown into complete darkness as, I assumed, the sun went down. I lit my candles and made some hot cocoa. The wind was literally howling and thundering; my screens were whistling violently. I could see lightning, but I could not hear the thunder and the rain beat against my windows in rhythm with the wind.


With nothing better to do, I went to bed early with my headlamp and a book, turning my phone off to preserve the battery. I slept intermittently, always waking to the sound of the howling wind and rain. Sometime during the wee hours of the morning I couldn't sleep anymore, so I made a cup of hot tea. The sky was lightening ever so slightly which, I assumed, was the sunrise. I watched the wind and rain for a while before I finally fell back asleep. When I awoke around 9:00am Sunday, the storm was over, just like that. The sun was even peaking through the clouds.


I spent Sunday and Monday listening to reports on the radio and receiving visits from my friends around the area. I didn't get cell service back until around 1:00 Sunday afternoon, at which point I started furiously texting my brothers to let them know I was ok! Electricity finally returned Monday evening. (I've never been so excited to see a light turn on or hear the hum of my fridge!)


Overall the damages seem pretty bad. The southern half of the island is disconnected from the north as roads have been blocked or washed out by landslides, trees, or collapsed bridges. People are now using boats to get back and forth. Soufriere (southwestern side) seems to have been hit pretty bad with some large landslides. I'm hearing that some areas may be evacuated. The radio reports a number of deaths, but I've not heard any report on injuries. Many homes have been lost. The Red Cross and other organizations have been hard at work trying to assess and address the aftermath. Tourists are being moved to the north by boat and rerouted through the northern airport. By Tuesday morning all Peace Corps Volunteers had finally been accounted for. The southern volunteers have been collected by boat and consolidated in the north. The northern volunteers will be consolidated in the next few days.


St. Lucia's water system is shut down for now because of damages. No one has pipe water. We are not sure how long it will take to get it back up and running. The lack of water could quickly turn into a serious crisis. I am honestly not sure what's in store for us volunteers over these next few days, weeks, and months. It's unpredictable. I'm trying to prepare for anything. My cat, Sergeant Tibbs, will hopefully be going to a new home soon, just in case.


Keep St. Lucia in your thoughts and prayers. It will take a long time to bounce back after this one. I will try to keep you posted, but have no guarantee of internet contact!


Love,

Kath

Monday, October 11, 2010

“I only have one problem…”

At this point in my service, time really flies faster and faster. It seems like only yesterday we were at 8 months left and now we are down to 6.5. The countdown on my computer tells me that I have 190 days to go, total. Like mom said, "I can remember when Tom's wedding was that far away!"


At my schools, my days are filled with creating as much excitement about libraries and reading as I can. I am working with the teachers to organize the masses of teaching resources. With the kids, I am reading to them and providing various activities to create incentives to keep them reading on their own.


At my main school assignment we have been conducting parent satisfaction surveys. We want to get feedback from the parents so that the teachers and principal can discuss some of the things they are doing well and some of the things they need to improve. This was really successful with our student surveys, so I hope for a similar outcome with the parent surveys.


We are also presenting "life skills" to all the teachers this week. We did life skills last year with the principal and tested it out with one class. It was a really positive experience for the kids, so we want all the teachers to get on the bandwagon. This week I will be talking to them about the benefits of life skills teaching and helping them learn how to incorporate it in their classroom. The principal is very supportive of this; she is determined to make it a part of their curriculum, which means this will be sustainable!!! That's exciting for me.


A story…


Every now and again our Peace Corps director does site visits at our main work site. She comes for an hour and a half to talk to you and your counterpart just to see how things are going. These have been kind of intimidating for me in the past, especially when I was really struggling. So I made sure to put my best foot forward. Things have been going well, so I didn't count on any issues arising.


The first thing the director asked was, "have any issues or difficulties come up in your working relationship?" I'm thinking everything has been going great, so no worries.


The principal responded, "Well I only have one problem…"


My heard plummeted! Inside, I was panicking, "this is so unfair, especially since she didn't bother to talk to me about it." I even go as far as to think, "after all I've been through, just send me home now. Clearly I just can't get this right."


I kept a straight face and waited for the principal to finish her thought, "and that is, that Katherine is not staying for another year."


Relief overwhelmed me! Later I laughed at my internal panic. The rest of the visit went great. And I just have to say that it feels so good to be on the right track, working together with Lucians on things that really seem to matter.


Other highlights:


We just got a new supermarket up north. I went in the other day and thought I'd stepped through some kind of portal into the United States. It's bigger, better, and more stocked than any other supermarket here. I spread the good news and soon a bunch of us were running around like little children saying, "did you see the portobello mushrooms? did you see the artichokes? did you see the cream cheese? did you see the tortillas? did you see the chips?" It's been rather hysterical, culturally shocking, and exciting. I'm not sure if this new supermarket is a good thing for my budget. Since discovering it, I have indulged in Portobello mushrooms, hummus, yogurt and granola, and real celery. All of that might sound pretty ordinary to you, but for me it's been heaven.


This weekend one of the other volunteers organized a "bake day" for all the PC girls who could make it. She's been watching a little too much food network. So, we all gathered at my house with our various baked dishes. It was worse than Thanksgiving. We literally ate ALL day long. It started with coffee, my homemade cranberry biscotti, and my apple crisp (with real whipped cream). Then we moved to spinach quiche, baked pears, and homemade snicker doodles. We finished up with some fancy pasta, potato skins, and a chicken broccoli casserole. By the end of it we were all laying around in food comas, barely able to move. It was truly a beautiful experience.


Life is pretty good, and I'm thankful for it. Christmas plans are nailed down. I'll be home for just under two weeks of running around seeing people, and then I'm back to St. Lucia for that last stretch. Thanks for all the prayers and support. As always, I look forward to hearing from you all.


Friday, September 10, 2010

The Shoe Leftovers


The Shoe Leftovers


Tom & Brynn's Wedding



Tom & Brynn's Wedding

Wedding Bells

(Not MY wedding bells! Nobody Panic!)


Last week I made the MUCH anticipated trip to Texas for my brother's wedding. I'm not sure I've ever been so exhausted in my life! I spent the summer semi-isolated because I was trying to save myself from spending too much money. So I went from semi-isolation to PEOPLE and lots of them! It was like a family reunion x 2. I got to see friends and family that I haven't seen, some of them in over a year and a half. I hadn't seen some of Tom's friends in who knows how many years! However, I was also getting to know a new (and wonderful!) family. I spent a lot of time hopping from one bunch to the other, trying to get in some quality time with everyone. It was a blast, but also a whirlwind!


The whole week was such an amazing celebration. I just can't put together words that explain how special it was. I was so glad to be a part of the festivities in planning and participation. I couldn't be more proud of my brother. Tom and Brynn's story is nothing short of God ordained and miraculous! They are so in love and have made a beautiful commitment to each other. I shed many a tear, laughed a lot, and smiled the whole week. I wish I could capture the memories vividly forever! There were so many special moments and beautiful things said. This marriage is just soaked in love and support. (Thanks to those of you who came out to Texas and pitched in!)


And it seems all of a sudden I'm back to reality. I'm trying to piece together the events of last week and the weeks before and figure out how to pick up where I left off. The Pile of emails is a little intimidating! But! School is back in session and it's good to have a schedule and goals to accomplish! I've only got a little less than 8 months! Which is just gonna fly, probably too fast.


Onward and Upward!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tackling Gimie

"Kitkat, what are you doing Sunday?" asked Lenn, as I was putting the last few ingredients for taco salad on the table. A few of us had gathered for dinner and a movie at my place, Last of the Mohicans, a classic tragedy that only served to remind me of how much I miss the mountains of the Carolinas.

"I don't know," I said, "I don't have any plans."

"Well you do now; we're doing Gimie."

A wave of excitement and dread passed over me. For those of you who don't know, Mt. Gimie is the tallest mountain in St. Lucia. In the beginning I was gung ho about tackling Gimie and the Pitons, but it had been ages since I hiked and let's just say I wasn't in the fittest of forms… Gimie is known to be a tough, long, grueling hike. Other Peace Corps Volunteers had told tales of getting stuck out in the dark and stumbling through the blackness for hours, even past midnight, before they reached "civilization" again. But I LOVE adventure and challenge. I couldn't pass this up.

****

Sunday morning at 6:00am my alarm startled me out of a slumber I DID NOT want to end. I rolled out of bed, crammed some cereal in my mouth, gathered my "gear," and headed out. My "gear" was not much to speak of… I didn't bring that much with me in my 2 bags for 2 years. I was wearing a tank top, moisture wick shirt, hiking pants, and an old pair of tennis shoes. When I say old, I mean ancient. These guys had been with me since high school. I also had a small lumbar daypack… crammed full with water, food, first aid kit, and rain coat.

I was the last to arrive at the square in town, which is unusual. Typically Lucians, especially these guys, are way late. So we hopped in the vehicles and began the 1-hour drive down to Soufriere where we would turn inland to get to the trailhead. Now, Lenn had originally told me that the group would be 10 strong at most, but by the time the cars were parked and everyone was out we were a healthy 29…. 29?… 29 people! Have any of you ever tried to hike with 29 people!? Give it a try some day and let me know how it goes. A few guys took charge and decided it would be smart to divide the group into 4 subgroups so as to keep track of everybody, but the moment we started up the trail, the groups became futile. We started moving at around 10:00am. Gimie is estimated to take about 8 hours to hike. Two hours to the base, two hours up the mountain, and then reverse it to get down. Do the math in your head. The Caribbean goes dark at around 6:00pm… so from the very beginning we were pushing the limits.

The old dirt road quickly turned into a skinny, bush entangled, MUDDY trail. Our shoes were sinking into the mud and making a nice "sshhhhloock!" as we attempted to move forward. I quickly realized that a number of folks in the group were NOT hikers. Just ten minutes in, one of the girls, in what I dubbed the "sissy" group, had given her pack to one of the guys. This was a GREAT sign. The trail took us around steep hills. So, often the ground dropped away from us on one side and rose up to meet us on the other. We had about a foot wide path to work with. This girl was so afraid of falling down a hill that she plastered herself to the upper hillside and was trying to walk at the same time. She and her other sissy friends also began to complain, "this is not what I signed up for; I just didn't think this is how it would be." I have a pretty good sense of humor, even when things go all wrong, but not with complainers and sissies… this was gonna be a long day…

The trail to the base of the mountain was no easy breeze. We climbed up and down, slid all over the place, got rained on, and crossed several little creeks before we got to "the base". This took us about 3 hours. Keep this in mind because we have to come back to this trail later. The first part of the ascent was pretty steep; I'll describe it as a muddy stair climb. We moved at the pace of the sissy girls. I'll be honest; at that point, I was getting tired and was thankful for an excuse to go at a slower pace.

Along the way Lenn found a tarantula and stayed by the trail to "pet" it. From this point onward I suffered from the creepy crawlies…

About halfway up, we reached a ridge that took us to the last leg of the climb. Here, the sissy girls gave up and sat down to wait for us to summit. The last section I will describe as straight up. Oh, and don't forget it was MUDDY. Before long I was literally crawling on my hands and knees, utterly exhausted. My arms were covered in mud; my pants were covered in mud; my hands were covered in mud. I even had mud on my face. Twenty minutes from the summit, my left shoe made a funny noise. I looked down to see the sole separating from my shoe. When I say sole, I'm not talking about that little rubber flap with tread on it; I'm talking about the whole thick piece of rubber that SHOULD stay glued to the bottom of what is nothing more than a nylon bootie… At that point, however, there was nothing much I could do about it, so I just kept going.

As I was crawling up the last section with my shoe in pieces, the MAN in front of me (a grown MAN!) turned around and said in all seriousness, "We need to call St. Lucia helicopters to come get us. We're not gonna make it outta here." I clarified that this was a stupid thought and that no one was going to come rescue an uninjured MAN with food and water supplies who was simply dreading the fact that it was going to take us forever and a day to get out of there. He and the PCV behind me were pretty dehydrated at this point so I gave them both some electrolyte tablets that I had just happened to throw in my first aid kit. Oh, and speaking of dehydration, did I mention that one of the sissy girls abandoned two FULL water bottles earlier on the side of the trail because they got tired of carrying them?? I discussed this with Lenn and informed him that there should be a screening process for these things…

Finally we reached the top completely beat. Everyone just hit the ground with barely a word. Our view?? Nothing but a white cloud. We sat on a small grassy knoll looking into a white abyss. I hardly cared. I just reached in my pack for whatever nourishment I could find. It felt good to not move… but it was short-lived. It was about 3:00ish in the afternoon and Lenn started encouraging us to move back down. We really needed to get going if we were gonna beat sundown, but I somehow knew that beating sundown was just plain wishful thinking. As everyone was moving toward the trail, I sat down and attempted to tie the sole of my shoe on with my shoelace. It wasn't pretty, but I hoped it would help.

I was 2 from the back as I started the return journey. I made it about 10 feet before my right shoe sole ripped almost entirely off. It was dangling by the toe and looked more like a flip-flop needing repair than anything resembling a shoe. Exhaustion turned into hysteria, and I just started laughing. The guys behind me took pictures. I sat down and attempted to tie the right sole on with my shoelace, but looking at it I knew this was gonna be an interesting journey. Soon a layer of mud had formed between the detached sole and nylon slipper so that each time I took a step, my foot would slide out of the sole. It wasn't long before the entire sole was hanging only by the shoelace.

At this point I gave up on the idea of walking down the mountain, sat down, and started to slide like a small child. Surprisingly, the mud made for some GREAT slides. I was having so much fun sliding that I was giggling in fits. All the while I was cutting up with the 2 guys behind me, joking and laughing. We sang She'll be sliding around the mountain when she comes, made up rhymes about my dirty pants, and even coined the phrase, "save a shoe, ride a cheek." Our delirious state may have been equivalent to that of slight drunkenness.

The sliding continued all the way down the mountain. During this time, my right "nylon slipper" completely wore out on the bottom. I had the frame of a shoe around my foot and nothing but an increasingly holey sock between me and the great outdoors… lovely. I suppose I can be thankful that it was my shoe and not my pants! By the time we reached the creak at the base, I was caked in mud. Without hesitation I said, "Excuse me, I need to take a bath," and completely submerged my mud covered body in the water to scrub down.

We only made it a short distance beyond the base before darkness fell. The next 4 or 5 hours were spent slowly and meticulously stumbling our way through blackness with shared flashlights. The sissy girls seemed to freak out at the slightest challenges. Every time someone asked what time it was, I screamed, "I don't wanna know!! It doesn't matter!!" All we could do was put one foot in front of the other. It seemed as if we would never see the end of that trail.

On the way down the group naturally split into three sub-groups. The first group fled the scene and made it out before dark. My group, the second group, emerged at about 10:00pm-ish (this included a 1 hour wait for the last group just to make sure they were safe before continuing). The final group stumbled out of the wilderness no earlier that 11:00pm. That is over 12 hours of hiking!!! I couldn't even feel my feet anymore. Everything ached.

By the time our bus finally dropped me at my home, it was about 1:30. I threw everything on the porch, stripped down, and headed straight for the shower. I was SO thankful that the water was actually on!! I had to scrub several times and still couldn't get some of the dirt off. When I finally lay down to sleep, my bed felt amazing for all of 2 seconds and then every muscle touching anything began to hurt. Fortunately exhaustion brought quick, long slumber…

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Scuba Family Bowyer

Scuba

After years of being afraid of scuba diving, I finally decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. Dad, Tom, and Tim have all been certified for a while. Mom and I always find other things to do when they go. They have been begging us to get certified. My excuses? I like being ABOVE the water; not under it. I like being able to surface whenever necessary. I am afraid my ears won't equalize. I'm afraid I'll forget to breath right and get whatever they call it "the bends" or worse some serious lung problem. And a long line of "what ifs" that probably only happen in super freak accidents… But with the family coming to visit, dad really wanted all of us to be able to go together. Even Mom got certified.

So… I did it! And… I loved it!!! Through a friend I found a great deal at the Sandals resorts down here. (I know, Sandals, keep your comments…) I took the class with a fellow volunteer. Our instructors were amazing and very thorough. I made it through all the pool skills, surprisingly. Then we had our open water dives. I was nervous, but before I knew it we were at 35 feet and my ears were fine and I was fine… and it was soooo cool!

On our first dive we went to a reef just below Anse La Raye called Anse Kochon (bay of pigs, I believe). I have snorkeled there before, but I quickly learned that snorkeling and scuba are so different. Instead of looking down from above, I found myself swimming IN the schools of fish and looking at coral and creatures from all angles! Towards the end of our first dive we rode a little current out around the tip of the little reef. Suddenly, I couldn't find my Peace Corps scuba buddy! I looked around, even swam around a big rock, and he was nowhere! I looked at our guide and shrugged with my hands up like "I don't know where he went!" I was just thinking, "what a terrible scuba buddy I am! I lost my buddy!" when a sea turtle swam right beneath us! He was so cute! The guide tapped his tank for the other groups to come over so we could all admire… never mind my lost buddy. Then he looked at me and pointed up. I looked and sure enough there was my buddy, at the surface! I forgot about looking up!! That's a new dimension when looking for people… oops! We surfaced and it turns out my buddy had buoyancy issues. His empty tank gave him more buoyancy toward the end of the dive and he couldn't help but float up! Too bad for him, because he missed the sea turtle!

On our second dive we got to see a puffer fish puff up for us! And for our 3rd dive we got to go down 60ft to a shipwreck! It was covered in coral and there were fish all around. We even swam inside! I was so excited and happy on each dive. I'm certain that if I could have talked underwater, the fish would have been annoyed, because I was just so amazed and so excited about EVERYTHING! I am so glad I did it and now feel as though I've been missing out for years! And how cool that I got to do this in St. Lucia, with Sandals nonetheless… they provided free snacks by the way! Peace Corps Volunteers LOVE free snacks!

Family

My scuba certification was just in time for the arrival of my family less than a week later. In the last days before their arrival I could hardly contain my excitement. On Saturday I rode down to the airport with the car rental pick up. We arrived about an hour early, but I was too antsy to sit in the taxi. Sometimes flights come in early so I crossed my fingers… and I stood… for an hour… and a half! Waiting! I kept asking people which flights they came from. The anticipation was brutal! Finally I saw Mom, Dad, and Tim come through the doors. I ran to them and got a great big hug from Tim, and Mom, and then Dad! I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. Mom had us all line up for a picture. Just as she was snapping the photo, I felt a brotherly tap on my head. I turned around and there were Tom and his fiancĂ© Brynn!!! They surprised me! Not 2 days before Tom had been telling me how busy he and Brynn were and how much he wished he could go scuba diving. The rascal! I was so excited to have them and so excited to finally meet Brynn!

We had a great week together jam packed full with activity. It was a balance of "let-me-show-you-where-I-live-and-what-I-do" and "enjoy-family-and-have-crazy-fun" time. We got to go zip lining in the rain forest, drive around the island, get pictures with the famous Pitons, eat tons of delicious local dishes, bread and seafood, explore several different beaches, snorkel, sail, hang out with all the Peace Corps staff and volunteers for the 4th of July, visit my schools, deliver some chess sets, meet my local hiking friends, go cliff jumping, shop in the market, drink all the different fruit juices, and go scuba diving!! It was amazing. I was overjoyed to have them be a part of my experience here and overwhelmed to be with such an incredible family. I feel proud of how strong we are and how much we grow and change as time flies by. It was a whirlwind week and I think we exhausted ourselves (so much for vacation!). It was tough to see everyone off, but what a great time we had.

In just 1.5 months I'll be in Texas with the WHOLE family for Tom and Brynn's wedding. Three months later I'll be home for Christmas. And then 4 months later I'll be home for good. I can hardly believe I've been here almost a year and a half. It is all flying by so fast.

Blessings to you all. Would love to hear from you,


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Books and the Classroom

The library space at the new school where I work is nice compared to most I've seen here. The fact that the school has a "library" is nice… period. The kids are used to using the space, so having a white lady there just draws even more of them in. I even had to keep them away from the books for a while in order to get the catalogue system going. I have finished most of the books now, though, and they are shelved and ready for use.

Last week during lunch I could tell there were a lot of kids waiting to use the books. So I gobbled down my food and returned to the library to keep it open for them. Most of them came rushing in and then just stood around looking at me as I sorted through books. So I asked them, "Would you like to read a book?" They shyly nodded their heads. I showed them where they could pick out a book and where they should put it when they were done. About 8 kids gathered around a table looking through and reading books. I pretended to "work" but I was having so much fun watching them, and I was keeping my eye out to make sure they were keeping things in order. One little one was picking out books left and right. He finally found one about Jesus and promptly looked at me and shouted, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!!" running to the table to open his book. He returned to the same spot 2 more times to pick out more stories about Jesus. I chuckled to myself thinking, "whatever gets you excited about reading, buddy…" When the bell rang for class to resume the disappointment was clearly written on their faces, but they dutifully put their books on the "to be shelved" pile and ran off to class. I watched them go and then turned to the heap of books that had gathered over lunch period, but I was happy to shelve them.

Seeing excitement about books and reading here is so thrilling. This is just the beginning of my library and reading club adventures at this new school. I really hope that I can give them a permanent hunger for books in my time here… that would be my idea of sustainability…

***

This week I start Kweyol classes again. Kweyol or Creole or Patois is the local language. Everyone speaks English, but they also speak Patois (Patwah) and I hear it all the time. We learned a little bit over a year ago in training, but it was really the least of my concerns then. The Ministry of Education is offering the class and we have Peace Corps Volunteers, Japanese Volunteers, and Locals participating. I'm hoping to learn enough to be able to understand the basics of what I hear around me… and honestly, I am really enjoying being in a classroom again! It's surprising, but I am enjoying engaging my mind in learning new things and having homework assignments! The class is being held at a primary school in town, so we sit in these tiny handmade wooden desks, look on as our teacher scribbles all over a chalkboard, and try our best to ignore the loud noises carrying in through the vented walls. It's interesting to experience this Lucian classroom… I don't know how the kids focus here!

***

Only 17 days until Mom, Dad, and Tim arrive!! I already have a schedule written out and have been making preparations! I can't wait!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sunset Cruise on the Unicorn

Mid-Service Training


The Cashew and the Calabash Bowls


Hiking and Camping


Canaries Waterfall


Nana and Papa Visit St. Lucia

Celebrating 1 Year!


Painting a Giant Chess Board


Visiting a US Navy Ship


EC 81 swears in!


My first passover by myself!


The Highlights of My LONG Break in Updates!

It has been so long since my last update that I have to look through my pictures to see what I have not told you!! I'll try to hit the high points; there have been a lot of high points in the last few months!

The number one high point is a change in work site! After one year at the Red Cross, things were just not as successful as one would hope. So Peace Corps transferred me to two primary schools: my first school attachment and a new school attachment. This change was so exciting and I love it so much. I work primarily on their libraries. I am helping to create a catalog and check-out system to encourage the use of the books and reading among the kids. I will also be helping out with the chess programs at both schools when I can. Life skills lessons continue at my first school. At my new school we hope to start a reading club soon. It is so enjoyable and I feel more in my element, which is a huge relief. It gives me a lot to look forward to in this second year.

Another great highlight is my grandparents' visit! My Nana and Papa booked a cruise around the Eastern Caribbean islands and one stop was St. Lucia! We spent one whole day together and I got to show them around. First I took them to my primary school attachment. Earlier in the year my grandparents donated chess materials to the school and I wanted them to meet the chess club. The whole school came out to express thanks. They presented Nana and Papa with a wonderful photo of the kids playing on their new chess sets and they sang some songs. It was exciting and really fun for them to see the meaningfulness of their donation. Next I took them to my apartment to show them where I live. Then we went to a resort, The Windjammer, for lunch on the beachfront. Another volunteer joined us and we spent the afternoon catching up and playing games. After that they were pretty tired so I took them back to the cruise ship and waved goodbye. It was so good to see them and so great to be able to show them a bit of my life here. It is special to share this experience with the ones I love so much!

Now that I have free weekends I have been more active with the hiking group. In one of our recent trips we went to the Canaries Waterfall, which was a gorgeous and wonderfully cool place to swim… and feed fish. I got to climb around and be outdoorsy river girl for a day! J After the waterfall we went down to a beach called Anse Koshon. We snorkeled and played games in the water. My face was sore from laughing and smiling, which is always a good sign! The weekend after that I went camping with the group. We stayed near that same beach, Anse Koshon. We hiked to a "cave" that was actually just a big hole under a rock. We did some more snorkeling and hung out by the beach a lot. We also introduced the Lucians to s'mores! We were missing graham crackers so we used ordinary crackers, but they were delicious and the Lucians loved it. I think that is the first time I've been camping in over a year and a half. It was nice… and buggy. We were all sleeping around mango trees so we kept periodically hearing mangos fall and roll down the hill. Some hit our tarp. When I packed up my stuff at the end of the camp I realized I'd been sleeping on a squished mango. They were everywhere. The other volunteers and I also got to experience making Calabash bowls. Calabash is the national fruit (though you can't eat it). It has a hard shell and you can clean it out to make bowls and carve designs in the outside. We did this while snacking on coconut. J

Last week was MST (Mid-Service Training). The other volunteers from Granada and Dominica got to fly in and we all stayed in a hotel for 4 days (3 nights). We THOROUGHLY enjoyed the air conditioning and comfy beds… and the pool. During the training sessions we reflected on the past year and realized how far we have come. It's so easy to feel like we aren't getting anywhere, but when we look back and think about the little things we really have done so much. We also got to hear what other volunteers are doing and pull ideas from each other, which will be really useful in our future projects. There were a few other business sessions, but most of all we came away feeling heard, encouraged, and re-energized. It was good to see everyone, have some time to hang out, and take a break from our routines.

After MST, a few of us took a ride on the Unicorn, a ship that was used in the filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean. We scored a good deal for a 2-hour sunset cruise so we splurged and went. It included drinks and snacks and you can bet us PCVs devoured those snacks. It was cloudy so the sunset wasn't brilliant orange, but it was beautiful nonetheless. The cruise itself was relaxing and fun.

And now it's back to real life again! I'm back at work. We have just over a month left in the school year. My parents and brother are coming in just about 30 days! I need to get scuba certified! I'm having fun and loving life, which is a lot to say and a relief to feel. I have so much to look forward to. And I hope I can do a better job of keeping you all posted!

Much love! As always, I love to hear from you!

Monday, March 15, 2010

I've Got the Hang of This

Expo

Last weekend we held an expo to show what Peace Corps is all about. Although Peace Corps has been in St. Lucia for almost 50 years, many St. Lucians do not have a good understanding of the role of Volunteers in the community. The goal of our expo was to give St. Lucians an idea of what kinds of things we do and how we work with host country nationals. Within the first 5 minutes it was apparent that the schedule could be thrown out the window, as usual in the Caribbean. The media showed up and took up the first hour of events. Being experienced Peace Corps Volunteers we adjusted well. We managed to fit almost everything in throughout the day.

Our displays included volunteer and staff bios, a map of the world and where Peace Corps serves, a US map showing where all our volunteers are from, a table of American "stuff," HIV/AIDS information, pamphlets on how to request a volunteer, an interactive timeline, etc. etc. We also had various events going on throughout the day such as: American and Peace Corps trivia, healthy lifestyles trivia, chess games, disability awareness activities, life skills crafts, and dancing (the chicken dance). We also served hotdogs, chips, and soda. The visitors really seemed to enjoy the day. I was in charge of the trivia and I also did the HIV/AIDS display. The trivia went over really well. It was enjoyed by adults and kids alike.

The whole event was a big success. We got a lot of media coverage and attendance was great. The food was especially a hit. Some of my Red Cross kids even showed up and stayed for almost half the day. It was great to see community participation and support.

Visitor!

This past week I received a visitor!! My cousin came to spend her spring break with me. She brought with her a few special items for me: nutella and olive oil—the essentials—as well as a collection of 10 chess sets and a chess teaching board (donated by my grandmother). We visited a few beaches of course, but the real highlight of the week for me was when we took the chess materials to my school attachment. I arranged for a special chess game in which one of our volunteers played 10 games at once. There were two kids to each board, plus a few backups hanging around behind. The kids put up a real strong fight, but the volunteer beat all of them. It was really neat to see the kids work together and think through the games. Some of them were really entertaining. The principal and chess teacher were very excited to receive the materials and to see how the kids performed in the event. It was exciting for me to see what started as a suggestion and one chessboard turn into a full-fledged program with 40 kids really excited about chess. I don't know all that much about chess, but I know a think or two about pulling a program together. I'm thankful as a development worker to be able to see even a little bit of the impact I have made, however small it may be.

My cousin and I also visited Pigeon Island in the north to explore the old bunkers and canons… and the beach. On Friday to wrap it up we traveled south to see the famous Pitons and visit the sulfur springs and a waterfall. It felt good to be able to share my life here with someone close to me. I feel as if someone else gets it now, at least in a more personal way. Updates can only do so much J. We had a great time together and I miss her already!

Truly Integrated

I am sure my readers remember some of the awkward and almost painful social integration experiences I have described in the past. It is with great pride and excitement that I present to you the following story:

Before: Almost a year ago when I got Internet I had to describe to the company how to find my apartment. St. Lucia has no road names or house numbers. I did my best to explain, and I even drew a map, figuring this was the fail-safe way to give directions. When the day finally came, the truck drove by my road multiple times. The company called me 3 times to connect me with the driver of the truck so that he could find me. I finally walked out to the road and said, "I'm the only white lady standing on the side of the road. You can't miss me." I then led the truck by foot to my gate.

After: This weekend I had to call a taxi to my place to pickup my cousin and I to go to the airport for her flight. When he asked for directions I gave him a few short sentences in my best Lucian terminology and hoped for the best. Saturday morning, 5:45, the taxi rolls straight up to my road and stops on a dime. The driver steps out and says, "those were really good directions!"

And this my friends is what one year will do…

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Life Skills


Homemade Chess Sets

Homemade Tables


Homemade Dominoes

Christmas With the Fam


Christmas Fluff

Just over a month ago I was able to visit home for Christmas! I was so excited to see family that I could barely sit still through the five-hour flight and then I had to stand through customs!! Finally, though, I made it to the Atlanta airport baggage claim where I got 4 long awaited bear hugs from Mom, Dad, Tom and Tim. J There were many more bear hugs throughout the week as I met with tons of friends at a few different "homecoming" parties. I also managed to go skiing and get a much-welcomed day of SNOW!! For those of you who are cursing the cold weather… well, some of us miss it.

 

This Christmas, for me, was one of the most meaningful Christmas's I have ever had. When you are young you are more concerned about that latest toys or clothes, and sure, you love to give gifts to your family, but it is different. This Christmas all of our gifts had such meaning and thought behind them. And I was overwhelmed with stuff that has been incredibly useful to me back here in St. Lucia… such as new sheets that don't feel like sand paper… and books that will challenge me spiritually and intellectually. I felt so loved and so much like I belonged. I felt home and I was absolutely soaking up what family means to me. This was the first Christmas our little family of five has had together in South Carolina (we are usually in Michigan). It was also the first time our family had been to church as a family in… well we never could remember how long it had been. We had a lot of fun; the kind of fun that goes deep and touches your heart and that goes down in the memory files for years to come.

 

So, about 10 pounds heavier from casseroles, Christmas cookies, and some much missed Mexican and Waffle House, I returned to St. Lucia rejuvenated, filled with love and encouragement. I am just 24 days short of 1 full year here and I feel happy and things are going well!

 

Just 2 weeks ago I was assigned to help lead one of the Red Cross youth groups in a secondary school. We have been doing team-building activities and planning fund raisers and events for the next few terms. The group shows real potential and I am excited to see where it goes. I have also been doing presentations on preventing and caring for basic sports injuries and sudden illnesses at the same school. It has sparked more kids to get involved with Red Cross, so I hope the group grows. J

 

The work I am helping with at the primary school is where I really feel like things are moving. This week we started the 'decision-making' chapter of our life skills curriculum. The kids are very enthusiastic about life skills and couldn't wait to get started again. They really seem to get a lot out of the sessions. The youth and sports teacher at the school has also started a chess club. I helped get him a chess set from the National Community Foundation through another Peace Corps Volunteer. He already has 40 kids involved! Almost all of them attended some Chess workshops this past week. I created some makeshift chessboards out of my cereal boxes to help out, but they are going to need a lot more than that for 40 kids! I also spoke with the principal this week about the children's access to books. She said the need is great and we are talking about plans to get books into their library/resource center to encourage reading. Pleasure reading is almost unheard of here (literacy is very low as well)… it's actually almost discouraged, it's the boring thing to do. Often when I tell people I'm not much of a partier they retort with a "what do you like to do, read?" So, I've researched some ways of getting books here and I may be contacting some of you for help soon!

 

Since returning it seems I've gotten a creative bug. I managed to build two tables on my own. So now I have a desk and a table for the porch! My landlord was skeptical of my sawing skills when he handed me his saw. He peeked around the corner as I cut the first leg and then remarked, "I thought I was gonna have to do that for you." Eight cuts and many bent nails later I had two relatively sturdy tables (made from scrap wood and pallets). Add some cheap fabric and they look perty nice if I do say so myself. I also made a full set of Mexican dominoes out of cereal boxes and as I said earlier, 5 chess sets. I even made edible and tasty potato soup last week. I am really enjoying the creative juices especially with my limited resources. J

 

I am really excited for what this next year may bring. I can't believe almost a whole year has passed already. Time really flies.

 

Blessings on you all this year. As always I love to hear from you! I would also like to say thank you to all of you that I got to see while I was home. Each meeting meant so much to me, however short it was.