You would think that the biggest transition would be going from the U.S. to the Caribbean, but that would be incorrect. The biggest transition for me was going from St. Lucia to St. Vincent. We have left the land of parties, Carnival, beach bars, and 32 friends to pick from every weekend. We are all moved into our permanent villages, which means the quiet life has begun. There are 8 of us that came to St. Vincent from EC87. We are joining 6 other volunteers who are already here.
I was lucky enough to get another great host family. Admittedly, it took a minute for us to warm up to each other, but now that I’ve been living with my host mother for a little over 2 weeks, we are starting to understand each other. It’s not a cultural norm for Vincentians to ask you a lot of questions about yourself, so the getting to know you process is taking a bit longer. It is just she and I who live in the house, which is kind of nice because having a lot of people in the house can make an already overwhelming process seem even harder. She does have a lot of family who live nearby, so I am able to take advantage of that. So far my assimilation strategy has been to sit on the porch and read while greeting people who go by (which I call passive integration). The other strategy is to basically follow people around. I’ve gone into town to run errands with the neighbor, rode with some host cousins to check out the construction site of their new house, and basically followed my host mother to about a million church functions. Lesson for all of these activities: ALWAYS BRING A BOOK. The amount of waiting around that I do here is astounding, so it’s good to have a backup form of entertainment.
Another change that has been a bit difficult to get used to is being in such a tiny town. The place we stayed in St. Lucia wasn’t exactly a metropolis, but it was a couple short bus rides away from some touristy, affluent areas. We probably took too much advantage of this for our own good, but it was fun while it lasted. Now, I have to walk down to the main highway to catch a bus at the gap. I can’t walk down the highway after dark, because it gets pretty sketchy. That effectively traps me in my village every evening. I need to make a friend who has a car.
That’s not to say we haven’t had any fun. We had a lovely beach day at Villa beach, which is small, but pretty. Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here, and the place Johnny Depp stayed is on a little island next to Villa. After I learned about that being filmed here, I basically find any opportunity to bring it up in conversation. We also got a nice little mini tour of the island on Saturday. We went to Fort Charlotte, an old English fort above Kingstown Harbour. We went to the oldest botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere and saw a breadfruit tree that was a sucker from the one originally brought here by Captain Bligh (look him up kids). We also went to an old, bat filled tunnel that was carved by slaves to aid in the transport of sugar cane. On top of all that, we have found a couple of cool little bars in Kingstown where we can grab a local Hairoun beer after training.
We move into our houses in about 2 weeks, the Saturday after we swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. I cannot wait to move in. So far I’ve only seen my place from the outside, but it looks cute. Now it’s just a waiting game while we finish up these last couple weeks of training.
Speaking of waiting around, I have been taking an hour bus ride to and from training each day during the time I have been here. They STUFF the busses here. They are basically 15 person vans that will usually have anywhere from 20-25 people in them. This means that we are like little sardines. It’s kind of funny because it makes you lose basically all ability to move your arms and legs. The result of this is that I tend to get really introspective on the bus. There have been quite a few moments where I’m sitting, squished between two fat men, and wonder why I have done this with my life. Then there are moments, like today, when a sweet girl asked me politely if she could lay her head on my backpack, in my lap, so she could rest on the ride. I figured, “why not?”, and said that was fine. Sitting with her snoozing on my lap made me realize how much human connection matters. Even though her lying there further restricted my movement, I couldn’t have cared less. In that moment, it honestly just felt good to help someone else feel good. And that dear friends, is why I am really here. So, moral of the story, squish yourself on a tiny bus to help you understand the meaning of life.