Tag Archives: St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Peace Corps Summer 2016

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.

 

Puerto Rico

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.

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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.

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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.

Vincy Carnival

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.

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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.

New Pets

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.

Dolly and Jolene

Dolly and Jolene

YECA Workshop

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.

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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.

Angel Hero

Angel Hero

Grenada

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.

New Volunteers

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.

Back Row Current Volunteers. Front Row New Volunteers.

Back Row Current Volunteers.
Front Row New Volunteers.

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.

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A Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer- Typical Work Day

To celebrate the final stretch of this school year, I wanted to write a blog post about what it’s like to live and work here in St. Vincent as a Peace Corps volunteer. My daily experience sometimes feels like Groundhog Day, but it can also be completely surprising. It’s hard to decide whether I should choose an eventful day to talk about, or a quiet, more “typical day”. In an attempt to authentically represent a little of both, I’m going to give two accounts, one from a work day in the village, and one from a day where I went to town. For each of these, I took note of what I thought, felt, and did. For the record, I realize that I’m a little crazy. I estimated the times as close as possible. Since these are rather lengthy, I will separate them into two separate posts. This is the first, and the next will come at a later date. So, without any more lead up, here is my “Day in the life…”

 

“Typical Work Day”

 

6:00 am:         Alarm goes off. The cat hears me moving around and immediately starts to try and beat down the door to get in. I let him in and stare at the ceiling for a while.

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6:30 am:         I peel myself out of bed and go turn on my kettle and get some water. I make my favourite Lady Grey tea, and take it back to bed with me.

6:45 am:         I drink my tea and organize my planner for the day. I listen to the New York Times read aloud on the Audible app.

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7:00 am:         I basically lay around, listening to the NYT and looking at social media for an hour. I keep meaning to use this time to workout, but I’ve been feelin REAL lazy lately.

8:00 am:         I finally start getting ready for work. I always have my outfits put together on hangers about a week ahead of time, so I just pick whatever is next in the rotation. I wash my work clothes about every 3 wears, so I might spray a little febreeze on them if they don’t smell great. I have to hand-wash clothes, and I’m not about to be washing clothes every other day. The beauty routine consists of putting on eyebrow powder, mascara, and some sunscreen. Then, I usually put my hair up in a messy bun or pony tail. The whole process takes about 10 minutes tops.

8:15 am:         I take my lunch and dinner out of the freezer to defrost. I pre-make almost all my meals on the weekend to save on gas and effort. I fill up 2 liter sized Nalgene bottles with filtered water and pack it in my backpack to bring to school. I pack my lunch (a strawberry/ mango/ banana/ yogurt/ flax seed smoothie today) and a straw.

8:30 am          I get my laptop, some construction paper from my stash, and my headphones to bring with me to school and pack everything in my backpack.

8:40 am          I bid adieu to the gato and head down the hill to the school.

8:42 am          A first grader catches up with me and walks with me to school, cheerfully telling me about how she is going to win the athletic award next year because she is actually faster than this years winner but got pushed by the “fat girl” during the race.

8:45 am          We pass the rum shops on the road. Some men “psssst” at me. I ignore. Some people I know say, “good morning”, I happily return that greeting.

8:47 am:         I cross the river via stepping-stones to get to the school.

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8:50 am:         The bell rings, calling everyone to “prayers”, aka morning assembly. It is a Tuesday, so the lower grades will meet downstairs, and the upper, upstairs. I go put my smoothie and water in the fridge and open up the library. Then, I go to the lower grades prayers to help supervise.

9:00 am          Prayers start, they have memorized their prayers and recite them easily. There is NO separation of church and state here; so all the students are required to participate (not that anyone objects on the grounds of religious freedom). Christianity is the dogma du jour in this country, and it’s hard to find anything else (aside from some Syrian Muslims who mainly live closer to town). They usually also get a Bible story and are allowed to report any news that they might have heard. This could be anything from village gossip to global events, but usually they just talk about car crashes on the island.

9:30 am          Prayers are over and everyone heads to their appropriate classes. I doink around on my computer for a while, answering emails, doing a survey for Peace Corps, etc.

10:00 am       I pull out four second graders to work with me on literacy. Today we play a card game with sight words. They try to read more words than their opponents. We play this game frequently, and it’s nice to see them read the words faster and faster.

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10:30 am       The bell rings for break and I let them go. I take notes on what words they have down, and which ones we need to work with more. Village women and farmers come to the school to sell a variety of fruits and snacks to the kids. Today I buy a bag of 10 mangoes from a farmer for the equivalent of about $1 US. Usually they would cost more, but this farmer and I are cool, so he usually undercharges me. I repay him by being a loyal customer.

10:50 am       The bell rings, calling the kids back to class. I go back into the library and put in my headphones to listen to NPR podcasts. I start my Sisyphean task of cleaning up books and organizing.

11:50 am       The lunch bell rings. The kids say their prayers. Some kids walk home to get lunch, some buy from the “Tuk Shop” or kitchen. Today they eat pileau, which is rice and all kinds of veggies and meat all mixed up in a bowl. Kind of like jambalaya.

12:00 pm       I get my smoothie from the fridge and position myself by the library door. I put my legs up like a turnstile and only allow the kids in who are supposed to be there. Today is grade 2’s turn, so they come to check out books, play games, read, and have me read to them. Some stray 4th graders try to force their way in, but luckily I am stronger than most 4th graders (I say most because one fourth grader did beat me in an arm wrestling contest. I have no idea how she is so strong). Anyway, I keep them out and the sassier ones stick around to chat with me and tell me how unfair I’m being (like they haven’t had the same library schedule for 2 terms). I don’t mind. They’re entertaining and remind me of myself at that age.

Human Turnstile

Human Turnstile

12:50 pm:      The bell rings to end lunch. I have the grade 2 students clean up the messes they made in the library, then release them back to class. All the kids run around, trying to get a few more minutes of play in before returning to class.

1:00 pm:        My co teacher comes into the library and asks for some help on an assignment. She is getting her bachelor’s degree and I frequently help her with her papers. We sit and I help her write an outline, and timeline for her research paper. Usually I go home for lunch at this time, for an hour, but not today.

1:45 pm:        I get my lesson plan and materials ready for my afternoon pull out and shoot the shit with my library “helper”.

2:00 pm:        Four grade 3 students come for their pull out. I read them a book called Tortilla Cat and ask them all kinds of reading comprehension questions. Mostly trying to get them to recognize setting, plot, characters, etc. They kind of stay on task, but I have to continually ask they to listen quietly as I read. One of them seems like he’s physically not capable of doing that.

2:50 pm:        The bell rings for the kids to go home. They say prayers again and pack up. I lock up the library and leave at the same time. The four grade one students that usually walk home with me fight about who will hold my hand until I make them take turns.

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3:00 pm:        We cross the river again and chat while we walk up the hill to our homes. Some of them stop to buy snacks at the rum shops. More “pssssts” and “hey sexys” as I walk by. More ignoring by me. No one too aggressive today though, which is nice.

3:05 pm:        I stop by my host mom’s house to drop off some postcards and money for postage. She works in the post office a few days a week. We chat for a while in her kitchen about this and that, then I head home.

3:20 pm:        I reach home and am greeted by a joyful cat. I immediately jump in the shower. I like to shower right when I get home because I am hot and sweaty, and the cold water feels great.

3:30 pm:        I put some laundry in the sink and start soaking it. I also turn on the stove and make some popcorn to have for a snack. I don’t have a microwave, so I make it in a pot with a little oil. I see that I’m almost out and add it to my grocery list for Saturday’s trip to town. I make some green tea.

3:45 pm:        I eat my popcorn, drink my tea, and turn on some more NPR. I also look at what the interwebs has to offer.

4:30 pm:        I hand wash the laundry soaking in my sink. It takes about an hour. I have to scrub each piece and rinse it multiple times to get the soap out. I hang it out to dry on the wire on my balcony. People greet me as they walk by on the street below.

5:30 pm:        I like the Early Bird Special, so I start making my dinner. Tonight it is baked chicken breast, salsa, rice, and veggies. “Making it” consists of me throwing it in a pan to heat up with a little water.

5:45 pm:        I eat my dinner and some chocolate chips for dessert. Not the best thing I’ve had, not the worst either.

6:00 pm:        I do some Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons online. I try to do this every day. This meme changed my life, and I realized I needed to do something productive on the computer at least once a day instead of Facebook and Netflix.

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7:00 pm:        I do dishes, make some tea, and straighten up the house. I refill my water filter, feed the cat, clean out the litter box, and sweep out the kitchen.

7:30 pm         I Skype with one of my best friends back home. She catches me up on her life, and I catch her up on mine. I like to Skype with someone back home at least twice a week if I can. It keeps me from going crazy missing everyone.

8:45 pm:        I write in my journal for a while. I write about all kinds of things. Some days I write about what happened with me, some days I write about what happened that day, stuff I’m happy about, stuff I’m mad about, stuff I read about, what I believe, what I learned, etc. It’s like a combination captain’s log, diary, manifesto, and burn book. Today I write about what my friend and I talked about on Skype.

9:30 pm:        I brush my teeth, floss, and put on some lotion.

9:45 pm:        I read my book on my kindle.

10:30 pm:      I shut it down and go to bed. I always sleep like a baby, one of my gifts.

So, congratulations if you made it to the end of this. This really was a typical workday for me. Nothing really happened that doesn’t happen on most other days. To me this was kind of a boring day, but also it was good because noting went too drastically wrong. Some days have curveballs that make my life really difficult, some make it more fun. I wake up every day with a general plan, but I’m never quite sure it will work out. Sample curveballs include: surprise guests, losing power, water, aggressive men, angry parents, surprise parties, torrential rain, various farm animal shenanigans, me being in a foul mood, me being in a great mood, and so many more. They always spice things up, which is probably good for me in the long run.

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#firstworldproblems

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So I should start out by saying that the first, second, third world model is suuuuper outdated. In a nutshell, the model was conceived after WWII, during the Cold War era. The “First World” was the US and it’s allies, “Second World” was the Soviet Union, China, and their allies, and the “Third World” was the unaligned states. This is obviously a silly way to classify the world now because allegiances have changed, as well as the relative wealth of countries. For instance, technically Saudi Arabia would be classified as “Third World” under this model. The colloquial use of “Third World” as a descriptor now tends to describe what we in the business call the “Developing World”. This refers more to the need for massive improvements in economy, healthcare, infant mortality rate, poverty level, usage of natural resources etc. Nothing really to do with Cold War alliances. Unfortunately the “Third World” States of that era have largely remained mired in the same issues that they faced 71 years ago, so they are still stuck with the misnomer. It’s especially hard to classify countries this way because even so-called “First World” states, like the U.S. have pockets of poverty and issues resembling those found in developing countries.

Moving right along… So these “Developing Countries” are the countries that Peace Corps gets sent to. These are the countries that have usually been ravaged by colonialism, slavery, extreme tribalism, and other issues that have set them decades, if not centuries behind. Even that is a simplistic explanation for what is going on. Each of those major issues may have been the genesis of their problems, but along the way, more sprout up. Subtler things like attitude, work ethic, treatment of different races, treatment of women, etc. hinder many of these countries in such a way that they find it difficult to interact with the “First World” and its tempos.

So, as a person who has been living and working in a “Developing Country” for the past 10ish months, I feel like I can start making some observations. I believe most people are familiar with the firstworldproblems hashtag. If not, its basically a tongue in cheek recognition of the fact that many of the problems faced by those living in the “First World” are a little ludicrous when compared to those in the developing world. I freely admit, I was the queen of #firstworldproblems. I was the first to get perturbed if the gas pump wasn’t working and I had to move my car to another one, or if my Panera points card hadn’t rewarded me a free cookie in a while, or my favorite treadmill at the gym was occupied. Now I weep at how much I wish I had those problems. I think, “Oh God, I used to have a car, be able to go to Panera, go to the gym!” That was the effing LIFE. Now my problems are things like having my power go out for 2 days, so most of my stuff in the fridge had to be thrown out, so now I have to take a 2 hour trip to town and carry groceries back on my lap on the public van. I have to worry about the fact that a man in my village is a complete sexual predator to little girls and I can’t do much about it except beg the girls not to talk to him. That last one may sound a bit shocking, and trust me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but there isn’t the kind of CPS here as is in the States. I almost can’t believe that these and other social issues are the problems myself and other volunteers see and deal with now, violence, underage drinking, underage drug use, child abuse, and more. I’m perfectly aware that things like this happen everywhere, but not ever in my bubble before. It’s one thing to view them as conceptual problems, but when you actually have to listen to your student tell you about the man they saw shot (as the volunteer a village over had to), what do you do? We thought the main development problem we would focus on would be low literacy rates, but the longer we’re here, the more we see that as simply a symptom of some much bigger problems.

 

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This lil face should have no problems

 

Of course, problems are always relative. #firstworldproblems seemed big in my sphere at home, because that’s all I really dealt with. That’s not a bad thing. I want St. Vincent to get there too. I want the biggest problem my students have to be choosing what college to go to, or whether their parents bought their favorite cereal, or whether they got a free cookie fast enough from their Panera points card. #firstworldproblems are the best. I want them for everyone. As for me, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to care about my #firstworldproblems again.

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Peace Corps Coping Mechanisms

WORST BLOGGER EVER. I swear I’m alive and doing things, I just don’t really have the calling to blog about much in the current moment. In light of this, I want to write about what I do do (haha) to cope with all the changes that come with being in the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps medical staff might refer to these things as coping mechanisms. They ask that you steer away from drugs and alcohol, but Imnotgonnalie, I do have some wine once in a while. Luckily this is more of a “I like wine” thing than a “I need wine” thing, so I think I’m good for now.

Why do you need coping mechanisms (one may ask)? The answer is multifaceted, but in a nutshell: Being in the Peace Corps requires you to give up almost everything you did in your former life (or tweak it drastically). Many of the things that I loved are kind of out of reach. A lot of these things are pieces of my life that I thought really made me who I am. For example, things that I loved from the States that are out of reach here:

-family time

-hanging with my dog

-hanging with my friends

-going out for a meal

-hot showers/most personal grooming (nails, hair, etc.)

-backpacking

-camping

-driving

-shopping

-going to the gym

-seeing a movie

-running

-snowboarding

-going out for drinks

-dating

-going out alone

All of these things, I either can’t do, or won’t do here for various reasons. Usually these reasons are related to either safety or accessibility. For a hot minute here, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself because I couldn’t do these things. I really felt like they made up the person that I was, and without them, I felt kind of empty. Mostly, I felt like much of my independence was taken away. Not being able to drive made me feel so trapped. I don’t mind being alone, but, at home, I would go for a walk or go see a movie alone. Here I can’t really do those things. I do go walking, but the time and places I can do that are very limited. Unfortunately, that’s not just me being paranoid, locals have told me that it’s less than safe. Anyway, I digress. I needed to find a way to fill the holes left in my personality by the absence of these things.

So without further ado, here are some of the coping strategies I have come up with to try and stay sane.

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  1. Journal. I journal, keep a diary, whatever you want to call it. I’ve done it since high school and it really helps me by acting as a filter between my brain and my mouth. If I need to get something off my chest, it goes right into the journal, which often stops it from spewing onto some unsuspecting soul at a later date. I can reason out my feelings and move on. Because of this, my journal probably reads like that of a homicidal little psycho. It also helps me remember things that have happened. I listen to a lot of crime podcasts and always think, “If that fool had kept a journal, we would know exactly what happened!” Which brings me to #2
  2. Podcasts. I didn’t listen to podcasts that frequently in the States, but here they are my gospel, and Terry Gross and Ira Glass are my patron saints. So yeah, I listen to copious amounts of NPR. It really relaxes me.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
  3. Reading. I’m back to reading tons of books. One of my best friends got me a kindle before I left. I had resisted it for so long, but now I’m glad I have it. I also have access to a huge Google drive full of books from another friend that I’m sure were all obtained legally *cough cough*. I spend a lot of time reading between the classes I teach, which feels far more productive than my next mechanism…
  4. Netflix. We all do it. It’s like the worst drug. There is something really nice about being able to slug out and binge watch something after a long day though.
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  5. Hiking. Hiking the Volcano, Soufriere is a really nice way to spend a Saturday. Another thing that I, unfortunately, can’t do alone, but I can usually rustle up somebody to go with me.
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  6. Beach Days and hanging with other PCV’s. I am so lucky to have found people who I am sure will be lifelong friends. Getting to see them most weekends really revives me when I’m feeling frustrated. I seriously love those people. We usually spent the night at each other’s houses at least once a month.
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  7. Beans. Having a cat has been great. He’s no dog, but my time at home is way more entertaining thanks to him.
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  8. Cooking. I’m slowly but surely learning to make new things. I have lots of fails, but the successes are awesome.
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  9. Host Mom/ Local Friends. I really like going to visit with my host mom. She lives down the street from me and is seriously the funniest lady. I actually don’t visit her enough, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow… I also work with some people at the school who always manage to brighten my day and put me in a good mood. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually love going to school, rather than being afraid of the hoards of small children.
  10. Skyping Family and Friends. It makes me cry just thinking about it, but I could talk to them for hours. This is another thing that makes me feel SO MUCH BETTER.
  11. Finding New Things. Anytime I find a new thing I like, it feels like a little win. For example, the other day it occurred to me that instead of taking an ice cold shower in the morning, I could fill up a bucket with hot water and take a bucket bath. I have no idea why I didn’t do this before, but now that I am, I don’t dread bathing anymore! When instant gratification is no longer an option, the little things become much more valuable.

So anyway, the list could go on, but the point is that I am able to find things to brighten my day. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t need my day brightened so much if I got more respect from some men walking down the street… but I don’t want to harp on that too much. I may not be able to feel safe walking down a lonely road, but I hope one day to get to the point where their rude/ misogynistic comments won’t dampen my spirit. I know the things in the list above will help.

I guess if it weren’t a challenge, everyone would do it. I think that the thought that really gets me through is that the challenge is making me better in a way I couldn’t have experienced at home. When people do things like this, when you get out of your comfort zone, you do it because you want to be a better human when you come out the other side. If I can achieve that, every challenge will be worth it. The added benefit of the Peace Corps is that I can do my best to brighten other people’s days along the way. I can work every day to make myself a better person and give opportunities to the students I work with.

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Peace Corps Resolutions 2016

Ok, so I have been really lazy on the blogging front for like the past month. I’m working on a big “Peace Corps Packing List” blog post that I will post here soon. I just need to take some pictures to go with it. In the meantime, I wanted to post a little something.

I love the New Year. I’m pretty sure that I’ve made resolutions every year since I found out what a resolution was. I actually call them “Year Goals” in my little brain space, but really, same diff. I find that I have a lot of success with them because the goals I set for myself tend to be really important to me. For example, here are my goals from 2015:

  1. Get into the Peace Corps (Bam. Done)
  2. Make myself a better candidate for the Foreign Service based on the 12 dimensions. (Walking that road. So win for this one)
  3. Journal more (done)
  4. Read more (done)
  5. Rely less on technology (had a broken smartphone for 5 months so I accidently achieved this one. I’ll call it a win anyway)
  6. Finish a half marathon (done)
  7. Spend less, save more (I’m poor now, so I’m definitely spending less. Still working on the save more)
  8. Be more kind to my family (I literally couldn’t love those people any more after being apart from them, so I’m pretty sure a side effect of that is kindness)
  9. Acceptance of friends without judgment (still working on this one. At least I try to pretend I’m not judging people occasionally)
  10. Drink more tea (I drink more tea than can be comprehended by the human mind. Which reminds me, I have to go pee, brb)
  11. Allow myself to be more enthusiastic about things (stoicism doesn’t make friends. There’s a time and a place. I’ve spent more time being unabashedly stoked about things, so I call this one a yes)

As you can see, my goals were a hodgepodge of both personal and professional last year. I looked at what I wanted and I looked at my weaknesses and made a list. I have some more personal goals this year but for this post I want to focus on my Peace Corps related goals. So, without much further ado, here they are:

Peace Corps Goals 2016

  1. Have lessons planned a week in advance instead of constantly flying by the seat of my pants
  2. Help YECA grow and prosper (The youth program that I am Programme Manager for. I’ll write a future post about it)
  3. Learn all the kids names in the school
  4. Be more comfortable in the village
  5. Stay more organized
  6. See more of the country
  7. Try cooking more Vincy food
  8. Be more open with people
  9. Kick ass.

Some of those are pretty vague and definitely wouldn’t qualify as “S.M.A.R.T.” goals, but rest assured, they are specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, and time bound in my head. I’ve got plans.

As far as personal goals, they are as varied as “Do 1 pull up” to “read 30 books”.

Professionally, I’m still making Foreign Service moves. I hope to take the FSOT at the embassy in Barbados sometime this summer.

Again, I’m sorry for not updating this blog in December, it was a super busy month. I won’t bore you with a long account of our adventures, but suffice it to say it was great. I’ll try to write a post about Christmas if I remember. We went to Bequia, waterfalls, beaches, resorts, and more.

Here are some pictures:

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Looking back at SVG from the Bequia ferry

Bequia

Bequia

Lower Bay, Bequia

Lower Bay, Bequia

Dark View Fall Hamming

Dark View Fall Hamming

 

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Vincy Thanksgiving

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I thought I’d write a short little post so people could see how we celebrated Thanksgiving here in St. Vincent

We were able to pull together a Peace Corps Thanksgiving here on Saturday. They do not celebrate the holiday here, as it is an American holiday, so we had to work on Thursday. Luckily, we managed to celebrate anyway. We did a potluck style dinner with all the usual favorites. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, stuffing, fried rice, macaroni pie, and much more. Each person was responsible for a dish, and a couple of us made turkeys in addition to that. I was in charge of homemade rolls and turkey. Luckily for me, I had our lovely PCV Rosie help me make the turkey. She is awesome. She’s in her late 70’s, so she has had plenty of experience making turkeys. The turkey turned out great. I made way too many rolls, but they were good.

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Due to the ever-lovely fact that none of us can have cars, we had to transport all of our food on the public vans. We had an especially hard time catching a van, so we were over an hour late (or right on time if you use island time). It was frustrating, and tiring, but ended up being worth it. It was good to get most on the PCV’s on St. Vincent together.

Many also invited their friends and coworkers, so we were able to share our American holiday with them, which was great. Peace Corps also gave us $90 to help cover the costs of the meal, which we definitely appreciated since we really are living poor.

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We had the meal at a beach bar that let us use their tables and kitchen in exchange for us ordering drinks. I loved being able to have such familiar comfort food in such a great location. We were able to look out over the beautiful Caribbean while we slipped into our tryptophan comas. After we finished with the meal, many went their separate ways, but a few of us went out to the beach and shared some rum. All in all, it was a really awesome time, and a great mixing of cultures. I definitely missed spending the day with my family in California, but that made me appreciate more that I was able to spend it with my Peace Corps family.

thnksgivingrum

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Me Nah Know

Sweaty/ Chaotic, Child Taken Photo. AKA How I Look 99% of the Time

Sweaty/ Chaotic, Child Taken Photo. AKA How I Look 99% of the Time

I’ve noticed something about myself that is changing. It’s weird, and definitely not something that I expected. I am letting go of my need to communicate/ be understood. Now, you should know that in most situations, I was already pretty laid back. I do, however, like to maintain a certain amount of control (aka I’m pretty bossy). Despite this, I would definitely be what you would describe as a type B personality. Being here is making me even “B”er, if you will. So much of my life is out of my control. Whereas back pre-Peace Corps, I would have been pretty annoyed about being late somewhere, here I have to accept that my timing is often completely out of my hands. I can leave with plenty of time to wait and catch a bus, but still get screwed. Usually, it takes about 15-20 minutes to catch a bus/van, I generally give myself a 45-minute window, but wouldn’t you know it, occasionally I’ll have to wait an hour and a half (or more). So what should I do? Give myself 2 hours to catch a van and risk being waaaaaay early most of the time. Nah. I just have to accept that sometimes I’ll be late. If you knew me back home, you know I used to eviscerate my friends for being late. It still irks me when I’m late, but I’m accepting that it’s just out of my control.

What about my previous need to over explain myself? Gone. I used to feel like when I was asked a question, it was my righteous duty to the human race to answer it in full and to the best of my ability. I mean, most of the world’s problems could be solved if we were just better able to communicate with each other right? Someone might ask, “Where are you going?” I would give them the full, “I’m going to go get gas, then I’m going to Panera for lunch, then I’m going to Target, then I’m going to Michael’s house, then I may or may not go to the movies, I’ll let you know when I figure that out.” Now when someone from the village asks me where I’m going, I give one of two responses, “down the road” or “me nah know.” “Me nah know” is my favorite piece of Vincentian slang. It says so little, but immediately ends the conversation. Vincentians are generally not going to pry into your life, and don’t expect you to pry into theirs. Those responses are perfectly acceptable in polite conversation. I love it. I know I will probably drive my friends in the States crazy, because it’s making me even more vague than they already accused me of being (though I didn’t consider myself vague).

I’ve also had to give up control over my work. I can lesson plan and create games and be totally prepared to teach the kids, but if they are having a bad day, it’s not going to go well. This is also my first time teaching kids, so my classroom management skills leave something to be desired. I substitute taught in Kindergarten the other day, and completely lost control. Literally, I was standing in a room with children swirling around me in a maelstrom of sticky fingers and broken crayons. I had been trying unsuccessfully for the past couple hours to get them to focus on their coloring, stop beating each other, and stay in their seats. I tried being nice, being firm, pretending to be angry and laying down the law (I rarely actually get angry, so I have to pretend), and a few other techniques, to no avail. Finally, something broke and I lost them, thus initiating the swirling mass of 4 year olds. As I stood there, I looked at how completely I lost control, and I just started laughing (which was bad because it just egged them on). If I had lost control so completely in the past, I might have stared crying, but no. I just started laughing and joined the chaos. Was this the best move as a teacher? No way. Was it the best way to preserve my sanity? Absolutely. Sometimes you just have to embrace the chaos and swim with the flow.

Will I still try to be controlling in the States? Will I still be angry when people aren’t on time? Will I be vague? Will I get a good job when I get home? Will I feel intense reverse culture shock? Will I be a better or worse person?

Me nah know.

And that’s fine for now.

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Fear and Loathing in SVG

cycle-of-vulnerability-and-adjustment

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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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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