Union Island and The Tobago Cays

Sorry if this one reads like a bit of a tourism ad, but it can’t be helped. The Grenadines are truly awesome. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is one country, so we are able to visit “our little sister islands” on personal leave (of which we get 3 days a month). October 27th is SVG’s Independence Day, so we got a 4-day weekend. We decided to use it to visit Union Island, the most distant Grenadine. The occasion was also used to celebrate 3 October volunteer birthdays, including my own.

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We decided to take a plane, as it was only a bit more expensive than the ferry, and would give us more hours to play. It is only a 16 minute flight, but a 4 hour ferry ride. We arrived on Saturday morning and, after a 10 minute walk from the airport, checked into our hotel, King’s Landing (GoT anyone?). We made quick time in getting settled and heading off to Sparrows Beach Club. We ate cheeseburgers, drank some beers, and lounged on the beach for most of the day. It was exactly what I pictured when I found out I was moving to the Caribbean, but so seldom see. There was also a big, shaggy, black dog there that let us pet him. The dogs here hardly ever let you touch them, so it was nice to have a little dog cuddle time.

King's Landing

King’s Landing

When we came back to the hotel, we had a little pool time before we headed to dinner. We went to a cool restaurant called La’Aquarium that had (you guessed it) an aquarium with various fish, lobsters, jellyfish, eels, and a shark. Union Island caters to the yachting crowd, so it has some really nice restaurants. I had pizza, and the other volunteers surprised us who had October birthdays with a cake and presents. It was so nice and turned one of my most mediocre birthdays (I spent the actual day eating mashed potatoes and poptarts and feeling sorry for myself) into one of the best ones yet.

After dinner, a few of us made an attempt to go out, but it was really too early. In the Caribbean, the party doesn’t really start until after 1am. We did, however, find a club that had been decorated with live foliage. Someone had gone into the bush and cut down a bunch of branches and trees, and had tied them to the walls. There was also a thick carpet of leaves on the ground. It felt like walking into a jungle, except a jungle with laser lights and Soca music blasting.

The next day was supposed to be our sailing day, but the weather prevented that. Most of the morning was quite rainy. But, we’re PCV’s so we made the best of things. We went postcard shopping and enjoyed some beverages while we sat filling out our postcards. After we got back to the hotel, the weather had cleared, so some people went for a hike, some rested, and the rest of us had a pool day. We also played some dice and card games. We had a really good dinner at the Yacht Club. And went to bed pretty early so that we would be rested for our sailing day.

On our last day, be got up early and were taken by dingy to our sailing schooner, the Scaramouche. We spent the day snorkeling with sea turtles and enjoying life to the fullest. The waters around the Grenadines are indescribably beautiful. We went to Mayreau, the Tobago Cays, and the resort on Palm Island. The Tobago Cays should be on everyone’s bucket list. This was also a perfect time to go because it is before high season in winter, when there will be tons of people, and the turtle watching will be sub par.

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DCIM100GOPRO

When we were on Palm Island, it made me realize that we are slowly exiting the world of Western polite society. It is a very pricey resort island, so we weren’t allowed to even sit on the beach chairs. As we were sitting in the sand, looking at the rich people with envy, an iguana came onto the beach. The correct thing to do would have been to snap a couple of pictures and marvel at the beauty of nature. What we did was immediately discuss whether or not we could eat it (people in St. Vincent eat iguanas) and attempt to touch it. We lured it with leaves and lunged at it to try and touch it. The whole scene was pretty much the opposite of the vibe Palm Island Resort seems like it’s trying to set. It showed that you can take the PCV out of the village, but you can’t take the village out of the PCV.

After we returned to Union, we quickly grabbed our things from the hotel and hopped the next flight back to St. Vincent. As soon as we landed, we were immediately plunged back into the real world of trying to get a van home in the dark and the rain. It was an awesome get away that was just what I needed. Now I’m feeling a lot more energized to finish this first term.

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Fear and Loathing in SVG

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During our Pre Service Training (PST) in St. Lucia, Peace Corps gave us this handy dandy “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment”. At the time, we were going through a pretty intense bout of culture shock and homesickness, so it was not really appreciated. We didn’t want to hear that we would be getting more miserable in the months to come. Oh how true this stupid chart is though. Now that we’ve passed 4 months of being here, it is becoming more apparent that the honeymoon is over. The stress of being in a new country and having absolutely every detail of my life changed has hit me like a truck. Don’t get me wrong; the external factors are mostly manageable… My basic needs are taken care of, I have food, shelter, and safety (sort of), but we all know it takes more than that to be happy.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to answer the question, “Are you happy?” The answer would change on a minute-by-minute basis, and depending on the scope. I am happy that I am gaining life skills. I am not happy that I feel like a more pessimistic person. I am happy that the students are so loving and funny. I am not happy that they don’t respect me because I don’t beat them. I am happy to have my new kitten. I am not happy that I share my house with probably about 1000 bats. I am happy to have such great co-teachers. I am not happy that our resources are limited, to put it mildly. I am happy to be here. I am not happy to be away from home. It feels selfish and small to be unhappy at all. I worked so hard to be here and I know it’s a wonderful opportunity to help others, become a better person, and experience the world. The day to day though is so foreign to me, mostly because I used to be VERY laid back. It took a lot to rile me. Now all it takes is missing the bus. I know it will get better, just look at the Cycle! In 2 months I’ll enter the adjustment phase, then every thing will be great right? RIGHT?? In the meantime, “big picture, big picture, big picture” has become my mantra. The small things have also become so much sweeter. If you ask, “Are you happy?” after I see my friends, find a favorite food in town, go to the beach, discover that I can make a new food, get a big hug from a second grader, or get a care package, the answer would be a resounding “YES!” Time will make it better. I’m full of clichés.

I’ll share a story from last weekend to wrap up this weird little post.

We went into the capital for a Peace Corps training session on Friday, a couple weeks ago. It was an all day training, so Peace Corps provided us with a catered lunch. Peace Corps volunteers love catered lunch. After weeks of surviving on our own varying levels of cooking skill, it’s nice to have someone else cook. We had some lovely chicken, rice, fish, veggies, etc. Everything was beautiful and delicious. That night, I spent the night at a board member’s house of a non-profit I’m going to be working for. It was a retreat where we planned the non-profit’s events for the next few months. Not relevant to the story, but it was a really good time. We played a really funny cross-cultural game of charades and watched Frozen. Anyway, after that was over on Saturday, I decided I would go to the grocery store before heading home. I finished with my groceries and attempted to catch a bus back up North to the village. I waited over an hour, but all the busses coming from the South were full. So, I decided to catch a bus going South into town and go to the bus terminal there in the hopes of getting on a bus before they were full. I got to the terminal, and waited there a good long time with no bus. At this point, it was starting to get dark. It gets real sketchy after dark, so I started to get nervous. As it got darker and still no bus, I got more and more nervous. Just when I was about to call in the US government to helicopter me out of there (kidding) a bus finally came. I got on, but wasn’t out of the woods yet because, if the bus dropped me off at my gap, I would have to walk through the dark down a VERY sketchy street to my village. I had called my host mother, and she said she would send someone to walk me home, but that still would involve me waiting on the side of the dark highway until she got there. As I got on, my backpack was pulled out of my hands because it didn’t fit on my lap with the groceries. My backpack had my laptop in it, which is worth more than my life, so as I watched it disappear into the front of the bus, out of sight, I continued to lose my marbles a few at a time. However, by this point, I had lost enough marbles that I was paralyzed and unable to do anything but watch helplessly as the backpack was taken. At this point, the conductor of the bus noticed my distress and asked if I was ok. I told him what village I was stopping at and the lady next to me said she was going there as well, so he agreed to bring us into the village. This made my walk much safer after the bus dropped us off. It was a huge relief. I walked the rest of the way home and one of my kind neighbors helped me carry my bags. When I got back, I collapsed onto my floor and soon began experiencing what we will tactfully refer to as “intestinal distress”. I immediately convinced myself that it was fear that had liquefied my insides. WebMD confirmed my theory, as it always does. So I spent a rather sleepless night believing that the fear I had experienced was cleaning out my insides. Then low and behold, I got word from a few of the other volunteers that they were going through the same thing. After some confirmation from the PC doctor, we learned we had food poisoning from our catered lunch on Friday. There is some disagreement, but we believe it was the chicken. Shysted by WebMD again! Moral of the story and confirmation of my life’s motto: trust no one (especially not the chicken).

So that’s my little scary story. It was a rough week. Here’s to hoping the “Cycle of Fear and Loathing”… oops I mean, “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment” is correct and things will start looking rosier soon.

On the bright side, I turned 24 on the 15th. I had some of the other volunteers over on the Friday and we hung out, made a good dinner, had a case of Hairoun, and played cards. It was fun and made for a nice laid back birthday celebration. Another nice thing about the unpredictable mail here is that I have presents trickling in slowly, which extends the birthday fun. This weekend, almost all of the SVG volunteers are going to Union Island to celebrate all our October birthdays and Vincentian Independence day. We’re going on a old schooner to go snorkeling in the Tobago Cays, where they filmed the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean when Jack and Elizabeth get marooned on the rum runner’s island. It’s a beautiful marine park and I’m looking forward to seeing some sea turtles.

Lastly: Here is a link to an interview I did on one of the national radio stations last week.

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My New Kitten: Bean Andcheese Burrito

After much thought, I finally got a pet. My host mom saw me walking to work one morning last week and let me know that she had gotten a kitten for me from her neighbor, and that I could come pick it up after work. This put me in an immediate good mood. I spent the rest of the day in gleeful anticipation. After school got out, I hurried over to her place to find my kitten tied up on her porch. She is about 10 weeks old (by my estimation) and had been prowling the neighborhood since day one. This means that she has essentially been feral. This also means that she’s not the cuddliest kitten. She hissed and spit at me, but I was not deterred. I scooped her up anyway and carried her back to my house.

Once back at my place, I tied her to a chair in the corner and set up a litter box for her. This was just my Peace Corps med kit with some sand in it. Actually, 4 days later, this is still her box. The sand works fine, you just have to clean it more frequently. Anyway, after an hour or so, I freed her from the chair and let her roam the house. I gave her some tuna, which she demolished. We ended up eating the same thing for dinner.

First Hour

First Hour

She likes to be very close to me and follows me around the house, but when I reach out to touch her, she runs away. I’m not too worried about it though. I figure she’ll come around. She’s already shown signs of attitude adjustment: she doesn’t hiss at me anymore.

Cat Nap

Cat Nap

I went to Kingstown on Friday for my salary day and bought her some Purina kitten food. Most people around here feed the cats table scraps, but I don’t really have many since I don’t eat much fish or anything. I figured I’d go the easy way and just use cat food.

I am also looking into getting her vaccinations and spayed, but like everything else here, it’s harder than in the States. I have to figure out a vet to take her to, and then bring her on the van, in a box. That’s going to be a really special experience.

I’m keeping her in the house for the time being. When I’m sure that she likes me, and will come back, I’ll let her out to roam the neighborhood. I obviously need to get her spayed first as well. I also need her for pest control in the house. Hopefully this cat owning thing goes well. It certainly is nice to have another living thing in the house (aside from the bats, rats, spiders, mice, and lizards).

Lizard Hiding in Fear

Lizard Hiding in Fear

I did name her by the way. I named her after something I miss dearly from home. Her name is Bean Andcheese Burrito. Andcheese is an old family name. That would be “Beans” for short though.

Beans

Beans

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My New House

I’m sitting here writing this blog on my first night in my new house. I just got here from a day out of site. I have the time to write right now because I have to wait for my bathroom to air out. I have to wait for it to air out because I let loose an insecticide bomb of epic proportions in there. There was a MASSIVE spider in the shower. Now, I had encountered this kind of spider before, so I know they are fast and they don’t go down easy. I had to have my host mom kill one for me a couple weeks ago. These things are easily as big as my hand. First she tried to convince me that, “the spider won’t trouble you Kate.” I was like, “Nah girl, it’s troubling me. Big time.” She tried to kill it with Bop (the bug spray), but honestly, with the little spurts she was shooting at it, she would have been more likely to kill me than that behemoth. It kept running away every time she would spray it. She ended up having to beat it with my yoga mat. Anyway, when I saw one of these in my shower tonight, I knew I was going to have to come in hot. So I got my gigantic can of Bop and decided that I could sneak up on it and take it down. I held my breath and unleashed the fires of arachnid hell. The spider didn’t move. The spider was already dead. So now I am sitting here in my dining room waiting for the back half of the house to stop being poisonous. Food for thought: Why does it always seem to happen that creepy-crawlies are encountered while naked?

Later.

I successfully took a shower, but do not possess the strength of will to remove the spider body. I don’t possess the strength of will to even brush my hair. Which is probably a nice sight for my neighbors. They are noticing that the lights are on in here and call for me to come out onto my balcony to say hi. I don’t think they expect the wild eyed, wild haired lady that comes out. The kids are asking me if they can come in. Haha. No. That’s not happening tonight. It’s 7:23 and I’m going to drink my precious blue Gatorade, eat some cookies and go to bed. Speaking of bed, I managed to only bring twin sheets, and I have a full size bed…

Next Day.

I thought I would absolutely love living alone. I have looked forward to it since I was a little kid. I would think about how much I would love to have my own space, and not have to worry about being bothered. I have never been so wrong about anything in my life. Last night and today have been the toughest for me in a very long time. I don’t like being alone in the house. I keep wishing that I had someone else here.

I think I really am going to have to get a dog. We aren’t supposed to have dogs in the house, but I think I can keep one on my balcony and create some sort of dog run behind the house. I don’t like this whole “alone with my thoughts” thing. That’s fine for a little while, but I’m really not that interesting. It’s also a bit scary to be the only one here. I had to call another PCV last night because I felt so lonely. She has been in her house for a while and says it gets better once you settle in a bit.

I have spent all of today cleaning. I washed every dish in the kitchen, and cleaned out all the cockroaches from the cupboards using heavy doses of Bop. I unpacked my suitcases (finally) and put all my clothes away. I also hung up my hammock on the balcony. I am realizing that I still have a lot of essentials that I need to buy. They will have to wait until I can go into the capital next weekend. That’s another hard thing, to get almost anything, I have to take a bus/van into the capital and carry whatever I buy back on my lap.

As you can tell, I am feeling very sorry for myself right now. I have so far managed to have a pretty positive attitude about things, and I still know that things will get better, but I am definitely having a moment. I think slowing down and being alone makes me miss everyone even more. To counterbalance the negativity, let me write about some of the things I am looking forward to…

  1. School starts tomorrow. I have already met the other teachers, and I really like them. There are quite a few that are close to my age, which is nice. I am also looking forward to meeting the kids. I have met a few here and there in the village, but I’m excited to meet them in a school setting. I am going to spend the first month or so observing since I haven’t really seen how a Caribbean school functions yet.
  2. I get Wi-Fi tomorrow. Kind of pathetic, I know, but this will put me back in touch with my family and friends, which is exciting. It’s also really really nice to zone out with some Netflix once in a while.
  3. I get to cook in my kitchen. Everyone I have lived with has been really good at/enjoyed cooking. For this reason, I have rarely gotten the opportunity to cook anything more than quesadillas. I am excited to experiment a little and hopefully have dome people over to try my experiments. I also bought a blender, so I can make smoothies with all the wonderful fruit here.
  4. I get to decorate. I brought some stuff to decorate with me, like a couple tapestries and a California flag. I also plan on getting some Christmas lights to hang up to brighten up the house. There are a few bare bulbs here and there, but I thing it will be nice to add some softer lights. I also want to make some shelves and put indoor plants around. I’ll also have to get some area rugs since I have cheap vinyl floors that have rough seams, which I keep tripping over. I don’t have a couch, but I do have an extra bed frame, so I am going buy a mattress for that and turn it into a couch of sorts with cushions.
  5. Getting an animal. Whether it be a dog, like I mentioned earlier, or a cat, it will be good to have another creature in here with me. I am a very strong believer that having animals prolongs your life.

Actually, just writing that list makes me feel better already.

15 September, 2015

I’m sitting in my house writing this bit about a week and a half after I wrote the previous text. I am feeling SO much better. I almost wanted to scrap what I wrote before due to the general negativity. However, part of the reason I wrote this blog is because I want to give an honest portrait of my experience. I always liked those blogs best when I was trying to decide whether or not to join the Peace Corps.

So yes, much better. I have to say that I was pretty pathetic with feeding myself this first week. It’s so time consuming to get groceries that I ended up with only those I could carry on my lap on that first Saturday. About 90% of my meals were peanut butter and honey sandwiches. As you can imagine, this didn’t make me feel too great. This week, I’ve made a concerted effort to eat some more nutritious food. I have chicken in the oven now, which is my first attempt at domesticity. There are a couple of vans that pass by every day that sell fresh bread for $1 EC per loaf, which is nice. I won’t starve.

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My Masterpiece

My Masterpiece

I entertained myself by reading and listening to lots of NPR. I’ve probably listened to every Fresh Air podcast on iTunes (which I downloaded with the Wi-Fi in school). As of yesterday, I am hooked up to Wi-Fi in my house. This is very comforting, because it connects me with my friends and family again, whom I was missing pretty intensely. It’s very weird to feel like I’ve reverted back to feeling like a little kid who misses her parents. It made me so happy to talk to them last night.

For now, I am content. I am feeling more grateful that I have a relaxing place to go to after school is over. I will talk about school in another post, but suffice it to say that I really need quiet time after the bell rings at 3.

 

I can’t really post pictures of the outside of my house for security reasons, but if you know me and want some, let me know, and I will email them.

 

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Living Room and Front Door

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Dining Room

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Flags and Kitchen Entrance

Bedroom with Too Small Sheets

Bedroom with Too Small Sheets

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Kitchen

Shower

Shower

 

The other two bedrooms are pretty much empty.

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1st Care Package! Yay!

Yesterday was swear-in, but yesterday was also the day I got my first care package! Yay! I also found out that I don’t get to move into my house on Saturday like everyone else, so I was a little bummed, but then I got handed the slip of paper that said I had a parcel waiting for me at the post office, so I felt a lot better. My mom told me that they had sent me this package 3 weeks ago, so it has been one of those little things that I have been looking forward to which helped me get through all the hard stuff. My move in day was another one of the things I was looking forward to, but I guess I get to look forward to that a little longer. The place has termites, so there’s nothing I can really do except wait while the problem gets taken care of.

Anyway, so I went to the post office to pick up the package after our swear-in ceremony was done. I paid the $5 processing fee, and mentioned loudly and many times that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer so that I wouldn’t have to pay duty on the contents. The customs officer opened my package and glanced over it. A package of tea had spilled open inside of it and had covered everything in flakey dried tealeaves. The customs officer gave me a raised eyebrow, but I hurriedly explained that it was just tea and nothing untoward. Obviously I have a trustworthy face, because she just shrugged and let me take my package without dismantling everything inside. She also didn’t charge be any duty fees. I then took the box and went on my merry way. It was quite heavy, so one of my fellow volunteers helped me lug it around for a while. Then, I was able to look very pathetic at the end of the day and convince my bus driver that it would be a good thing to drive me 10 minutes out of his way to drop me off at my house so I wouldn’t have to carry it from the main road. Once I got to my host family’s house, I was finally able to go through it and see all of the wonderful things that my mom and dad sent me.

Some of the stuff were things I had bought but couldn’t take with me when I left the US, some of the stuff were things from my room, and some of the stuff were brand new surprises.

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New bikini, new dresses, a cardigan, a scarf, and my grumpy cat given to be by my best friend.

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Shoes! (Which wear out here almost instantly) The 2 top middle pairs are new, the rest I owned.

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Tea, tea, and more tea. Seeds for my garden. Jelly Beans.

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School stuff I bought for the kids before I left. My bucket shower head. Tape and a random voltage sign I picked up on a run once. Plus a mosquito net under everything.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my parents for sending me this stuff. It’s hard to adequately express how grateful I am and what a big pick-me-up this was.

 

On a more important note, the island of Dominica was hit extremely hard by Tropical Storm Erika during the last few days. There has been massive flooding, landslides, and infrastructure damage. There has been 14 fatalities last I checked, with more missing in inaccessible areas. There are 8 members of my group on Dominica who were supposed to swear in today, but have had to postpone and try to keep themselves safe along with the other people of the country and the current volunteers. The situation in that country is bad, and considering the limited resources, it could remain bad for quite a while. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

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Swear In- A Love Letter to EC87

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Well folks, We are now the genuine articles. We are those people that left comfortable home to work in a developing country. We swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s). “But wait”, you might say, “you’ve been gone for months already… were you just jacking around in the tropics?” To you I say, “Nah.” I’ve been with my fellow masochists in a special level called Pre Service Training ([PST]… sorry about throwing all these acronyms at you, but trust friend, I’ve got acronyms for days).

We had the joy of uprooting everything that we love and throwing some of it into a suitcase, leaving most of it behind, and moving to a brand new country. We did some very swift and intense bonding while we were hustled through easily a year’s worth of teacher training, health training, safety training, culture, language, etc. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Literally. Then, we were sent to our sites. Separated but still connected in so many ways. Do you know what happened though? We all made it, all 32 of us. Whether it be a stroke of fate, the hand of God, strength of will, or just blind luck, we all made it to our swear-in week. This is a rare thing for a group of Peace Corps trainees. You don’t make it through this unless you’re of a rare breed. I will forever have respect for those who call themselves RPCV’s (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

This is just the beginning though. Now we can do what we came here to do. We can integrate. We can teach. We can learn. We can grow. It feels so good to move on to the next leg of this insane journey.

We on St. Vincent and the Grenadines swore in today. We celebrated afterwards with the volunteers who came here last year. We have so much to look forward to. Let’s do this EC87. I am so proud of us for making it this far. Only 24 months to go.

 

I have a lot more to write about, but these are just some brief thoughts for the day. Easily one of the most important days of my life and those of my colleagues.

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Vincentian Introduction

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.

Passive Integration

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.

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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.

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Food. Part 2/1000: Leaving St. Lucia

I should be packing up to leave tomorrow, but I figured I’d write a blog post instead because… procrastination. In all seriousness, I feel like I should do one more food post because I’m leaving St. Lucia tomorrow. The food shouldn’t be too too different, but who knows what I’ll actually be eating once I have to start feeding myself in my own home. I have grand plans to replicate some of this stuff, but the reality is that I’ll probably be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for 80% of my meals because… lazy.

First, I want to start with something that I have been eating way too much of. I know this because my host aunt has nonchalantly mentioned to me that I’ve put on weight. I don’t think that she knows how much I don’t want to hear that since I’m in a bikini every other day, but it’s probably a good thing. Anyway, the food I’ve been eating too often is bakes. They can alternatively be called floats, depending on whether you use baking powder or yeast. Essentially what this is, is a fried piece of dough. It’s not especially sweet, so you can put cheese, meat, sugar, Nutella, or my favorite, chocolate and bananas into it. You can also eat it plain, which is what I usually do. There are food stalls everywhere here, and they all sell bakes. I have jokingly been saying, “a bake a day keeps the doctor away”, but it’s probably the opposite. They’re just so good! I am planning to use my Peace Corps service like a prison sentence and come back super ripped, so my bake habit will have to end.

Bake

Bake

Roti is another love. It’s curry chicken or fish (there’s heavy Indian influence in the cuisine here) inside a roti shell. The roti shell is like a tortilla. There are ladies that sell these out of coolers on the beach. I haven’t partaken at that location due to logistical issues with sand, but I hear they are quite good.

Roti

Roti

Next, dhal. Dhals are basically fried dough with seasoned meat or smashed peas inside. Another thing that I enjoy way too much for my own good. They can also be found at many, if not all of the food stalls here.

Dhal

Dhal

I’ve also still been enjoying to mango season. My host mother likes me to eat the mangoes “like a Lucian.” I just can’t do it. It requires sucking the fruit part off of the almond shaped pit. This involves getting juice and fruit all over your face and hands. Not a fan. I don’t like getting messy when I eat. I always cut my mangoes, which my host mother cannot fathom, but I have to do it. I’m just weird like that. Forks are our friends.

Lucian Mango Eating

Lucian Mango Eating

Silly American way to eat a mango

Silly American way to eat a mango

I would be remiss not to mention the Piton. This is the local beer, and it’s basically a slightly tastier Corona. No self-respecting rum shop will sell it for more than $4 EC which is about $1.50 US. It’s a little more expensive if you get into the more touristy areas of the island like Rodney Bay. There, you’ll find it for about $8 EC or $3-5 US. Anyway, it’s ubiquitous at all our gatherings and nights out because we’re poor, and you don’t get too many fancy tropical drinks when you’re poor. If we’re not drinking Pitons, we’re usually drinking rum because we live in the Caribbean, so obviously we drink rum.

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Speaking of tropical drinks, I did try a coconut for the first time. I actually got to chop it open with a big knife. After I drank all of the coconut water, I hacked it in half with a machete (or cutlass as they call it here) and ate the “jelly”, which is the meat of the coconut. [Side note: “Chopping” is a common crime here. This is when one is chopped with a cutlass, sometimes resulting in death, sometimes not. There are way more people walking around with cutlasses than seems necessary. One of my Peace Corps goals is to not get chopped.] The coconut was really good. I was never a fan of the coconut water that you buy at the store in the US, but fresh water is completely different. It doesn’t taste like dirt for one. I’m hoping I have access to regular coconuts in St. Vincent. It will give me an excuse to buy a cutlass.

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Another fun thing we did was to roast cashews. In case you didn’t know, cashews are actually on the bottom of a pear sized red fruit. I didn’t take a picture, but you should Google “cashew fruit”. You can eat/juice the fruit part. The cashews themselves, you remove and dry. The nut is covered is a thick shell. To remove the shell, you roast the cashews over an open flame. Then, you crack the burnt shell part off with a rock. I sat in the driveway cracking cashews for a good long time, but it was totally worth it. They are so good! My host sister was hoarding them like a little cashew dragon. She’s normally good with sharing, but I wouldn’t ask her to share those nuts.

Roasting Cashews

Roasting Cashews

Another ubiquitous presence in the Caribbean diet is ground provisions. This essentially means starch, starch, and more starch. Things like potatoes, breadfruit, dasheen, plantains, green figs and others make up the bulk of the diet. Meat is usually pretty few and far between, which has been painful for me. There are cows wandering free everywhere, and I’m wondering if anyone will notice if I snag one… Though, I probably don’t want to get a reputation as the deranged livestock thief girl. I can just see the headline now, “Crazy White Lady Seen Chopping Cattle and Eating Them ‘Rare’ (Like an Animal. Doesn’t She Know Civilized People Cook Their Food?)”. Maybe it’s a little long, but I could see it happening. Yeah… I guess I’ll skip the cattle rustling. For now.

Maybe I'll just eat this goat...

Maybe I’ll just eat this goat…

I have also been drinking a lot of fruit smoothies and juice. The fruit is so good here. This morning, I had a guava/banana/cherry smoothie that was almost life changing. Smoothies will have to join the PB&J’s as part of my daily diet in my new home. This will be especially important, as there probably won’t be a very extensive market or grocery store in the small community that I am moving to. I’ll have to get creative with what I can find (and stock up on peanut butter when I go to town).

Fresh Juice and Netflix: A Winning Combo

Fresh Juice and Netflix: A Winning Combo

Lastly, I planted some fruit trees. I planted an avocado, soursop, and lime tree in my host family’s yard. We used a cutlass to dig the holes (another reason to get a cutlass). They won’t bear fruit for a few years, but hopefully I’ll come back some day to see them.

Now that I’ve procrastinated, I’m going to go try and pack (which really means I’m probably going to watch 3 episodes of House of Cards). My next post will be from St. Vincent. Goodbyes today were hard, but I’m really excited! I’m not sure what the Internet situation will be, so I don’t know how often I will be able to post. I do try to post more frequently on Instagram. You can look at my Instagram feed by clicking on the pictures to the right, or going to: https://instagram.com/kaitlinannbennett/

 

I hope everyone is well! I miss all of you, and will try to start writing letters to you all soon. Remember my address is at the top of this blog under the tab “Mail Me Schtuff”.

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St. Vincent!! (and other schtuff)

First thing’s first: I’m going to St. Vincent. We had a Harry Potter inspired sorting hat ceremony on Friday. We each had the hat put on our head, and a Peace Corps staffer announced which island the hat “said” we were going to. I’m not going to lie; I was completely shocked when the name St. Vincent was said. I had done a little campaigning for another island, and had considered St. Vincent to be the least likely island that I would go to. I was one of the first one’s to find out. As I sat at my table, I waited nervously to find out who would be joining me; I tried to remember that every situation is defined by how you react. I found it easier and easier to be at peace with this as some really great people were sorted and joined me at the St. Vincent table. Now that I’ve had a few days to think, I’m even more excited. The 7 other volunteers who will be joining me are a really solid group, and I’m happy.

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As for St. Vincent, I have limited knowledge. The only info that I have been able to glean from locals here is that a certain green medicinal is abundant in St. Vincent. The Grenadines are part of the country, and the Internet tells me that they are spectacular. I also get to go there without taking leave, which is great. I’m not going to mention the name of my village in such a public forum, but I will say that it is supposed to be quite rural.

I fly into the country Saturday night, and will stay with a new host family in my village for 3 weeks. After that, I will be in my own house. I’m really looking forward to that. Real talk: living with a host family is challenging. I love the family I’ve had here in St. Lucia for the past 7 weeks, but its been challenging. Not so much because of who they are or what they (or I) have done, but just because it’s hard to have an adult be pushed back into the role of a child. Some parts are lovely: my host mom gives me great advice, my host sister is a doll, I get my room cleaned every week, and I get breakfast made every day. Other parts are a real struggle: always having to be “on”, not being able to come and go as I please, having to explain every minute decision I make, house rules, losing control of my diet, etc. That being said, the experience overall has been great. I’m just ready to be a grown up again.

I’m not looking forward to leaving St. Lucia and so many of the new friends I’ve made. I’ll miss the people I’ve grown so close to. My fellow trainees have completely gotten me through the PST process, which has been fun, tedious, exciting, painfully boring, instructive, and redundant in turns. They have celebrated successes with me, gotten in trouble with me, cheered me up when I’m grumpy, taught me new things, showed me how to relax, and have been there for me at every turn. We’re a weird, beautiful, dysfunctional family that was somehow created in just 7 weeks. I’ll miss them and the other great people I’ve met here. I get a knot in my throat just thinking about it.

However, leaving is just as much of a two sided coin as everything else in this process. With the dread of leaving comes the anticipation of shaking up my life yet again. I know I’ve got good things coming.

I’ll be officially taking reservations now to come visit me. Starting about November, people will be able to stay with me. So if anyone wants a tropical Christmas… Imjussayin. Free place to stay. Dazzling company. What else could you want? I’ll even cook you breadfruit and dasheen.. If you’re into that kind of thing.

 

For those who have been wanting to send me things, I’m going to put my address in a tab at the top of this blog.

 

For the rest of this post, I just want to talk about a couple of the other little things we’ve done outside of training in the past couple weeks.

 

Catamaran

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Thanks to the bargaining and organizational skills of one of my fellow trainees, we were able to take a catamaran cruise around the island. I had one of the most surreal moments of my life. As the boat glided over the water, a group of dolphins began to swim with us. The boat has a net suspended over the water, so we were able to lie on our stomachs and watch the dolphins swim directly underneath us in the crystal clear water. They would swim directly under the surface, just a couple feet below us, so we could look into their eyes and see the freckles on their bellies. It sounds incredibly sappy, but it was one of those incredible moments that really make you appreciate being alive. It completely revitalized me.

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We got to see the beautiful Pitons, which we climbed a couple weeks ago. Quite possibly even more beautiful from the water, and with the knowledge that we didn’t have to climb them again.

We were also able to stop and swim around in a secluded little bay. We snorkeled, and rubbed sand on ourselves, and had a genuinely relaxing time. I was a day that I think we all needed.

Carnival

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Carnival is so many things. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s bright, it’s beautiful, above all, it’s a complete blast. I don’t know if I’ve ever been witness to so much raw, unapologetic humanity.

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The people that “jump” a band and get to be in the parade are the ones in the costumes. With their entrance fee, they get the costume, unlimited food, and most importantly, unlimited drink. Most of them carry a travel mug while they dance along the route. When they run dry, all they have to do in run up to the truck to get a refill. The parade runs on both Monday and Tuesday. There is also an all night party called Jouvert. This year we weren’t allowed to jump or join Jouvert, but rest assured we found a way to have a good time. Next year, I’m going to have to jump. Time to start saving now and work on getting in shape to look good in the costume.

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Cultural Night

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This last Saturday, we had our cultural night. We wore the traditional madras dress of St. Lucia, which essentially looks like tartan with more yellow. Another thing left by the Europeans it seems. Many of the trainees did a performance. I did a “cooking show” with a fellow trainee. We made bakes, which are one of my favorite Caribbean foods. Others did dances, songs, poems, and skits. It was a good time to get all of the families together, and play dress up.

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Other Blogs:

Last thing, I wanted to include some links to fellow trainee/volunteer blogs if you’re interested in reading some other perspectives:

http://www.pcinec.net/

http://kuribbean.blogspot.com/

https://hobbsseehobbsdo.wordpress.com/

https://pcec87adventures.wordpress.com/

https://cannitopeacecorps.wordpress.com/

http://www.theknockabout.org/

https://shelbyec.wordpress.com/

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So Much Room For Activities!

What am I doing with my life? In a nutshell: a lot more than my homebody self was doing a couple months ago. I want to write a little bit about the extracurriculars that I’ve been up to for the last few weeks.

My host family has been so great. They have been happy to hang out with me and let me have free time as well. My host mom likes to have a rest day on Saturdays, and hang out with me on Sundays. This allows me to have some time to explore the island both with my family and with my fellow trainees.

Church

The first Sunday, I went to church with my host family, and my fellow trainee who is technically my host cousin. I wasn’t struck by lightening upon entering, so that was a good sign. They are Evangelical Christians, which is very similar to the Methodist church I attended when I was in middle school. Don’t ask me what the specific differences are, because I couldn’t tell you. They sang the same songs though. The style of the sermon was very different. A lot more… spirited. There was a lot of leaning over the podium, shaking fingers, and yelling at the congregation. It was interesting to see. They also did a special Father’s day event where they gave all the fathers in the congregation a gift. It was very nice. It seems like there was an emphasis on how many fathers here don’t stick around, so it’s important to remember the heavenly Father. It was nice though that they showed the fathers present how important they are. It made me miss my dad.

My second church experience was this past Sunday. I didn’t go to the service in the morning because I had committed myself to going to a memorial service in the afternoon. A relative of my host family had passed away at his home in the states last week. The service was held at a Jehovah’s Witness hall. It was very similar to services I have been to in the states. Just a lot more God-centric. It seemed like more of an opportunity to gain new followers rather than to remember the deceased. They did share a couple anecdotes about the gentleman who had passed, but no one from his family spoke, which is one difference from a service in the U.S.. I also didn’t see any tears. Since that was my first experience here, I’m not sure whether or not that was an anomaly. After the service, we went to the daughter’s home and had refreshments. It seemed like the whole neighborhood showed up for the food.

The Beach

I’ve spent quite a few days at the beach during the last few weeks. The first weekend, the trainees had to meet at our consolidation point. That is where we will go if there is a hurricane or other disaster. After we all navigated our way down to the consolidation point (my first time using the public busses), we went into the capital city of Castries for a scavenger hunt. We had to find various landmarks and items around the city. We kind of rushed through it, because after 9 days here, we were desperate for a beach day. We got to Rodney Bay and had such a great day. I got my inaugural sunburn, and swam around in the gorgeous turquoise waters all day. This place isn’t run by the questionable rules present in California, so we were able to get drinks at the bar and bring them right down onto the beach. There are no open container laws here. On that note, you can also drink at 16 apparently, so make of that what you will.

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On the Sunday of that weekend, I went to Pigeon Island with my host family and another trainee. There is an old fort on Pigeon Island that traded hands many times between the French and English when they were the colonial powers in the region. We swam around all afternoon. At one point, a torrential tropical shower swept through. We kept swimming as the clouds emptied on us. It was a really cool experience.

I went again to the beach with the other trainees the following weekend. We found a big, beautiful, coral colored starfish. A couple of us swam into the deep water where the yachts are anchored. We swam around and talked to a few people on their boats. We met some really nice guys from Martinique, who only spoke French. One of them swam back to the beach with us for a drink at a little hole-in-the-wall beach bar that we love. The local beer is a little over a dollar a bottle, which is good for our low budgets.

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We went, as a group, to the beach again on the 4th of July. We celebrated with sunshine and later a BBQ at another host family’s home. It wasn’t fireworks and burgers, but it worked us. We danced and ate and had an awesome time.

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The Pitons

Last Sunday, we hiked Gros Piton, one of the famous cylindrical mountains that rises out of the St. Lucian coast. The hike was a once in a lifetime experience, mostly because I would be happy to have that be the last time I hike it. The way up is brutal, to say the least. The trail is so rocky that you have to keep your eyes on your feet to keep from twisting an ankle (which someone from another group did on the way down). It is also incredibly steep, with tall, shallow steps made out of roots, stones and an occasional board. We were using our hands to crawl up the stairs like babies. I was clinging to every root, tree, or handrail I could find. The summit was, as summits always are, completely worth it. We felt like we were up in the clouds. We had a great view of about half the island as well as the Petit Piton to the North.

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After an even more difficult trek back down, we stopped in Soufriere for linner. I had a chicken roti, which is one of my favorite things to eat here. We also stopped at a little place called Plas Cassav, which makes really excellent cassava bread. (I have tried so many new foods; I’ll have to do another food post soon)

Street Jam

In a nutshell: a party in the street. A jam, if you will. This happens in Gros Islet on friday nights, and it’s a good time. There are street vendors, dancing, a DJ, and fun had by all.

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Recital

I got to go to my host sister’s dance recital. It was a bunch of girls doing everything from ballet to modern dance to traditional african dances. We started on island time (about 45 minutes late). The girls did a really nice job. They were adorable in their big group dances,and you could see the pride on their parents faces. Some things don’t change between cultures.

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It hasn’t been all fun and games, we have also been working very hard in training. The process has been full of ups and down, and I’m hesitant to reflect on it too deeply until I have some time to distance myself from it and get a little perspective. We find out our islands in a week from Friday. Wherever I may end up, I really don’t feel like I’ll lose. I’m just excited to find out whom I will be with. I’ve gotten closer with the trainees in the month we’ve been together than I ever thought possible. It’s reassuring to know that we’re in this together.

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