The train is finally pulling out of procrastination station. It’s been there for a while, so I haven’t written a blog post in like 2 ½ months. Do you forgive me? I know you do. There’s plenty of click bait on the Internet to keep you busy for the next 5 million years. However, I’m now ready to throw another shout into the void with this blog post. Basically I’m just going to make an attempt at summarizing my whirlwind of a summer.
So around the end of May, I took a little 3-day trip to Puerto Rico to take the Foreign Service Officer Test. I had taken it a couple years ago and sadly did not pass. I think I was a little too green and needed to get some experience under my belt. It’s very much what I’m determined to do with my life (for reasons too numerous to mention here), so I decided that the Peace Corps would be my route to getting some more life experience. So here I am, and when the opportunity to take the test mid service came up, I decided to give it my second try.
So, I packed my little backpack, booked a flight, and flew to Puerto Rico to make my attempt. I figured it couldn’t hurt. After a ridiculous amount of stops on my Liat flight (I ended up stopping on 8 islands during this trip), I arrived at the Double Tree in San Juan. I got there the day before my test, so I was able to spend the first day doinking around the city, eating good pizza, and almost bursting into tears in the grocery store while marveling at the variety of wines. I also got some good pool time in. I spent the night basking in the AC in my room, taking two hot showers, and watching HGTV. It was glorious.
The next day was the test, so I woke up nice and early so that I would make it in plenty of time. Unfortunately, the 80+ year old taxi driver I was given had no idea where we were going and had no cell phone, so we spent the next 2 hours looking for the testing centre which was about 20 minutes away. I got to beg a stranger to let us use his cellphone, en Español, with a single tear running down my cheek, so that was a fun new experience. I’m not one to lose my cool, so I just sort of sat in the back trying to convince myself that it probably just wasn’t meant to be when we were still driving and already 25 minutes late to a test that specifically said not to be late. Trying to remember that quote about even all the best-made plans… Anyway, we finally made it, almost 45 minutes late, but thank the Jeebus, the ladies at the testing centre were beautiful angels who let me take it anyway. I probably wasn’t as sharp as I could have been, considering the stress of the morning, but I gave it the old college try.
When I finished the test, I headed to the beach. I spent the rest of the day watching kite surfers, having a nice lunch in a restaurant on the water, and wandering around San Juan. I went to the holy of holies, CVS, and bought some nail polish, and got back to the hotel feeling much relieved. I enjoyed my final AC time and left early the next morning.
To keep a long story short, I did find out in July that I passed the test, which was a huge relief. There are more difficult hoops to jump through, but I know that even if I don’t end up making it through those this round, this first hoop in something I can pass.
So I wrote about the St. Lucia Carnival last year, but I’ll give a quick overview of what goes down. It is basically along the same lines as Mardi Gras, but just MORE. There is a lot of dancing, and the structure of it is essentially a parade that does laps around Kingstown. There are huge trucks with speakers that you follow while dancing.
On Monday morning, we did Jouvert, which starts at about 2am. We went out and danced and drank and people threw coloured powder and paint on everyone. It’s a shit show, but that’s kind of the point. Eventually the truck started running and masses of people crushed up to dance behind it. Your girl here is not the biggest fan of people in small spaces, so I could only handle about and hour of that before I hit it back to the hotel. That was around 10 am. We had already been out for like 7 hours, so I was real done.
Monday night we went out for the t-shirt bands. It’s more following trucks around, dancing and drinking, but this time wearing matching t-shirts. Fun. Crazy, but fun.
Tuesday was the pretty costumes. Chris and his girlfriend Caroline dressed up and “played mas” in one of the bands, but the rest of us didn’t. I’m thinking I will probably do it next year, but I’ll definitely have to save as it’s anywhere from $300-$1000 EC for the costume, which was not in the budget this year.
Overall, Carnival is very tiring, but very fun.
We took a girls trip to Bequia at the end of July. It was lovely and magical as all of our trips to Bequia are, but this time I walked away with some new members of the family. Their names are Dolly and Jolene, and they are baby red footed tortoises. I got them from this Irish expat who lives in Bequia, who we usually stay with. They eat my fruit and veggie scraps and they’re adorable. I bought a big flower pot and filled it half way with dirt and made a little shelter for them out of an old ice cream container. Easiest pets ever.
As Peace Corps Volunteers in the Eastern Caribbean, we all have full time jobs working in Primary schools. However, that leaves us with the summer and holidays to take up what are called secondary projects. PC doesn’t make you do this, but it’s just another way to positively influence the community, so many PCV’s do. Another volunteer recruited me, when I got here, to work with a non-profit group called Youth Empowered for Community Action (YECA). I came onto the Board of Directors as the Programme Manager. Another volunteer, Marcia, came on board shortly after to share responsibilities with me. We decided to continue the tradition that YECA had set of having an annual youth summer programme. We got to work fundraising and planning throughout the Spring. At first we had some help from local counterparts, but since most of them were youth, it was a bit hard to get them to consistently complete tasks. We had some trouble getting financing, and there were differences in opinion, but Marcia and I were determined to make this thing happen, so we just kept swimming. Some people who had committed to help either flaked on tasks or quit altogether, which threw a wrench in things, but at that point Marcia and I were fully engaged in getting the programme organized, so we refrained from throwing shade and persevered.
Finally, the time came, and with the help of some really great Vincentian youth, we conducted the 5-day long summer programme. We had some awesome guest speakers that worked with us to teach the 27 participants about job skills, leadership, community service, sexual health, career planning, and a multitude of other things. We’re in the second stage of the programme right now, where the participants are planning and orchestrating projects within their own communities. I’m very proud of them for taking the things they learned in the workshop phase and putting them to immediate use. I definitely foresee good things coming from them.
Marcia is my angel hero, and I don’t know what I would have done without her while planning this thing. She was a great partner, and we definitely learned a lot of lessons. It was a ton of work, but we’re looking forward to being even more engaged with YECA going forward and empowering more Vincentian youth to be leaders.
A few of us PCV’s from St. Vincent went to have Carnival round 2 in Grenada. We stayed with some other members of our EC87 group that are in Grenada. The carnival activities were fun, but I really loved just seeing another country. Grenada is so beautiful, and waaaay more developed than St. Vincent. It also has some absolutely incredible beaches.
The Jouvert experience in Grenada is the most markedly different thing from the Vincy Carnival. It’s still starts before the butt crack of dawn on Monday morning, but it has a totally different feel. There is this concept where people try to dress like devils or as disturbing as possible, called jab. My understanding of it was that it was the ex-slaves tradition to dress that way in order to call out the French slave holders that used to refer to them as devils or demons. When they were free and finally able to participate in carnival activities, they rubbed themselves in motor oil and wore horned helmets and chains as a tongue in cheek way of making fun of the French. I’m sure it’s described much more eloquently elsewhere, and I would encourage you to look up some videos of it, because it’s really something to behold.
The whole experience was really fun, and it was great to get back together with volunteers from our training in St. Lucia.
The New Volunteers from EC88 got here this summer and swore in in August. We got 7 new volunteers. One of them dipped and went back to St. Lucia, so we have 6 now. Their swear in was really cute. They sang a Vincy folk song and recited poems that they had written in dialect. I’m looking forward to seeing how they do. They all seem nice.
Family and Friend Visits
Shortly after returning from Grenada, my parents arrived for their visit to the island. I had missed them painfully, so it was so nice to have them here and show them around the island. It’s certainly not easy to get here, so I was so grateful that they were able to come. I was also grateful for the suitcase full of snacks and other goodies that they brought me.
We spent a couple days in Bequia, snorkeled, explored, climbed the Volcano, went out to dinners, and did some serious beach time. They got to meet my host mom and see my place in the village. I think it was good for them to get some perspective on what my life is like here. I blubbered like a baby when they left, but I consoled myself with the thought that I would be seeing them in 4 months, when I’m finally going to get to go home for Christmas.
A couple of days after they left, my best friend Nicole and her boyfriend Phil came to stay with me for a few days. We squeezed in a trip to Bequia and a hike up the volcano, along with trips to the Owia Salt Pond, and the beach. I loved having them stay with me. It felt good to reminisce, and she and I FaceTimed with some other friends in the US, so it almost felt like we were all together again. Again, I feel so grateful that they were able to come down here.
So that was my summer in a rather large nutshell. School starts up again next Monday, so I’m hoping that what people always say about the second year being easier is really true.