29 September 2010

Talk and Chalk, Chalk and Talk...

I am pleased to report that I had a very productive visit to my school attachment yesterday.  The principal and management staff had, in the two weeks I was absent, come up with three specific, long-term projects for me to work on: first, develop some low-cost math activities that engage the kids and reinforce the curriculum.  In fact, the title of this post is a reference to what the math teacher at school dispassionately called the current math activities that fit into the school's budget.  I recommended, in the interest of affordable materials, playing cards and origami activities, but will be developing other new ideas over the next few weeks.  Feel free to submit other ideas as well.  Second, to organize and somehow expand the students' library on-site.  Third, to introduce some new alternatives for after-school extracurricular activities.  At first blush, the last item sounds like a great opportunity to push an introductory chess program – but the sheer reality is, that's exactly what it would be: pushing.  Since the most important aspect of introducing a Peace Corps initiative is to be sure that the program is infused with self-sustaining elements, the better part of which is measured in community "buy-in," I have to defer to activities that have that wide acceptance built in.  And the best idea so far?  Music.  Specifically rhythm, soca, percussion, each of which I have some familiarity with.  So I'm starting to get excited about the idea of co-facilitating a youth rhythm band.

If there's anything I can say to reflect just how much more comfortable I've become with my surroundings in just the past week or two, I would.  I hitched my first lift with a coworker, I walked all the way to the last part of the island I had not been to, I got my ATM card validated, I ate lunch in the city on my own, I shipped a package from the post office.  Best of all, I ran into a coworker at the bank the other day, and there is no feeling like being spotted by a local friend and her feeling comfortable enough to stop me and say "hi."

There has been some mention of care packages sent my way, and the need for shipping info.  Let me first express my greatest thanks to those of you considering remembering me in this way.  But if I could implore you into delaying your generosities for about a month, that would be far more ideal.  The reason is this: while I am staying with my host family, I have basically all of my immediate needs met: food, shelter, laundry, etc.  I am only wanting in cash resources, and that is as much a learning process in budgeting as anything else.  HOWEVER, by this time next month, my situation will have flipped 180 degrees, as I will be entrusted with a moving-in allowance from the Peace Corps to help with household appliances, food, and toiletries.  But even so, there will be a need for something, whether it is because I cannot find a particular commodity or just an affordable one.  For example, a simple stand-up fan, which would normally run $20-30 retail in the US, here is a mind-blowing EC$275, or USD 100.  So I will not know until then exactly what those needs will be, but I will be very forthcoming at that time.  Thank you all again.

Video.  So stop your clamoring for pics and check it out:

27 September 2010

My Legs Are So Sore

Another weekend come and gone, and things are moving smoothly enough on the island.  I stayed very busy this weekend, splitting my time between going on excursions around the island and staying home and catching up on my steady stream of homework.  On Saturday, I awoke very early for an official island-wide 8:00 run/walk up to Brimstone Hill, where we visited last week.  The path up to the top is a steady hill of between a 20° and a 40° incline for about a mile-and-a-half.  I was able to traverse it in 15 minutes, which is about 3-5 minutes past competitive in my age group.  But I was the second PCV to the top, so that's what I'm counting.  All things considered, I got exactly what I wanted out of it: a challenging run, a chance to see what the course would feel like, and the motivation to improve next year.

Then, that afternoon, I turned the GT game off at halftime to march down to the Southern Peninsula with some friends, where we relaxed at the beach for a few hours.  There's a beautiful white sand beach that is used by the Marriott, the major resort hotel (I know, not what you'd expect) at Frigate Bay.  We made an afternoon of it, since walking there is about an hour hike from town, where I started.  Thank heavens we procured a lift back into town with a friend who has a car, because my calves were aching at that point.

Jon, thanks for the comment; I replied.  Looking forward to a more normal week here: three days of training, one day at my school attachment, and one day at work.  I promise more pictures soon, and, if my workload is lighter this week, maybe even a short YouTube video to boot!

24 September 2010

Funnyquote Friday

Here's the quote for this week, paraphrased,

"[Much like the Red Cross,] in this day and age
and no matter where you are in the world,
Blackberry® can save your life."

This little gem had my fellow trainees and I rolling (figuratively) on the ground with laughter.  The situation was this: at the Youth Parliamentarians' meeting on Sunday, one young gentleman regaled us with a beautiful poem about the island of St. Christopher that he had ostensibly memorized.  However, after reaching a particular point he could not recall how to continue, and after attempting once again and reaching the same impasse, he deftly consulted his Blackberry for the next line.  And in the same serious voice, while we were anticipating the continuation of the ballad, we instead are met with the glorious witticism intoned above.  Later that evening, when representatives of the Red Cross were being recognized for their contributions to society on the island, our very clever and charming host pointed out that, like Blackberry, the Red Cross can also save your life.

To business: I shy from saying "I gotcha...", because there was, as with all things I do, a degree of truth in my vision of, perhaps one day, getting a ring in my left ear.  But the reality of the situation is that while I am a representative of the Peace Corps, and especially before firmly ingraining myself in the community here, to do so would be counterproductive to my goal of being approachable to all types of people while differentiating myself from common stereotypes of Americans.  Thus, the primary intention for posting my idea was to create an impetus for readers to feel compelled to post their comments – a sort of internet ice breaker, if you will.  And it worked.  Thanks to each of you that posted your thoughts, and to each of you that considered but decided against it, I say Remember, it gets lonely here shouting at the blogosphere, so I appreciate some two-way conversation now and again.  And it's free, so take advantage.

Before I forget, my friend is in St. Vincent and she keeps a blog as well, which contains a fantastic slideshow of many of the sights I have had the pleasure of sharing in St. Lucia.

I went to my work attachment at the NSTP (the National Skills Training Programme) yesterday, and enjoyed a staff meeting in the morning where they officially welcomed me to work and where we officially said farewell to the PCV preceding me in that capacity.  It was a joyous sort of goodbye, with a review of accomplishments since having taken him on board, and the wish for happiness and fulfillment in his future pursuits.  I feel very welcome there, and am quite comfortable with the idea of working there for the next two years, God willing.

20 September 2010

Lots of Things Going Down

In a good way.

Brimstone Hill Fort
The Northern Range and cannonade from Brimstone Hill
For those that were concerned about my appearance changing while down here, I am finally starting to see a little color on my face and forearms.  Here's the rub, though: unless I'm at the beach, I'm generally in business attire.  So if I come home with a tan at all, it will be the most awesome farmer's tan you have ever laid eyes on.  And on a related if unconnected note, the more I look in the mirror, the more I see a small, tasteful ring in my left ear.  Is the heat getting to me, or am I on to something?  Let me down gently with your thoughts and comments here.

 Went up to Brimstone Hill on Saturday.  A beautifully preserved and renovated fort from the English colonial period, built in the 1600s.  It offered some Pirates Of The Caribbean-esque thrills on the inside and some one-of-a-kind views of the western quadrant of the island on the outside.  My class of EC82 went there for a cultural history training class, where we enjoyed singing some local folk songs and learning about colonial life on the island.  You could even see St. Eustatius and Saba from there, our neighboring islands to the Northwest.  They are part of the same island chain as St. Christopher and Nevis, but are Dutch territories.  They hold a population of 4000+ combined.

Sandy Point Town and St. Eustatius in the distance
The Federation is excited about 27 years of independence!  Activities have been held nearly every day this weekend.  On Sunday, my fellow Peace Corps and I were invited to the St. Kitts National Youth Parliament Association's monthly meeting, where we were graced with beautiful artistic expressions of music, dance and poetry, each laced with a grain of social commentary.  At the end, the Peace Corps as a whole was thanked for its contributions to the state in recent years.  Moreover, the SKNYPArians volunteered their 40 hours of expected community service to each of the state services represented there, and I know a few Peace Corps ears perked up at that point.

Afterward I attended the Federation's State Service for Independence, a sort of special mass at the Roman Catholic church in town.  All of the state dignitaries are there, the Prime Minister and his cabinet, many legislators and judiciary, the military, diplomats, the consular corps, and other public servants.   In addition, my host father sings in the National Massed Choir, which performed three beautiful arrangements of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the Lord's Prayer, and a spiritual.  They were a hit; the congregation in its entirety was very pleased and impressed.  About halfway through the mass, my Anglican church's assistant rector was asked to deliver the message, and he spoke for a full hour on this year's theme, "Strengthening Families for Positive Nation Building."  Never have I ever sat on a wooden pew and listened to as moving or challenging a message for a full hour before.  But the audience was captivated and, some I believe convicted, by the call to stronger family life in the islands.

Got stuck with a whole load of homework this weekend.  I don't think it was meant to offset the fun we are having during the long weekend, but it effectively tempers our attitudes to some degree (probably for the better).  Training has been somewhat repetitive this past week, but the promise of only three more weeks is keeping most of us afloat.  I face the spectrum of challenges from day to day, but maintain a positive attitude and confidence and optimism for the near future.  Thanks for each of your continued prayers.

17 September 2010

Funnyquote Friday

Seen on the bottles of a local water distributing label:

"The Best Water People"

Hyphens, it turns out, are very important.  And language, unlike addition, does not have associative identities.

Happy Federation independence, everybody!  National Heroes Day was celebrated on Thursday, and Sunday the 19th is official Independence Day, making for a long, long weekend for us.  My island is even a little bigger now: I enjoyed circumnavigating the island yesterday, taking the bus with a friend to Trinity, where we met up with some other PCVs for a late breakfast and a walk down to the volcanic rock beach.  Then a bus to the northwest corner of the island and Dieppe Bay, home of a beautiful black sand beach.  Unfortunately, what with Igor stirring up some stellar waves, today was not a day for beach relaxing on the Atlantic side.  But we toured the fishing cove anyway, and caught a bus to Saddlers.  After walking around the village for a little while, we caught a bus all the way back to Basseterre, completing our clockwise tour of the island.

I don't yet know what plans are in store for the long weekend, but I'm increasingly excited, the trip around the island going a long way towards keeping me upbeat.

Thanks for the comments, everybody, and if I forgot anything feel free to ask away.

14 September 2010

Never Have I Ever...

... stood 50 feet under a commercial jet as it passed overhead, initiating its landing.  Until now.  Living so close to the airstrip here in Basseterre has given me a unique opportunity indeed.  Usually the Liat props pass over about four or five times a day when I am at home, and make a devilishly loud ruckus when they do.  But this time it was an American Airlines jet, one of the few I have seen on island in my 12 days here.

... led a class of 3rd graders in math and grammar curricula all by myself, until now.  Today was my second visit to my grade school attachment, and I helped out in ways I did not know I could.  I now better understand the challenges of being a grade school teacher, and hope to have increased success in my education endeavors in the near future.

... spent this much time, consecutively, in a foreign country, until now.  Trips to Perú were on the order of 10-11 days each, and I have just surpassed that mark.  Now my target is to live one day by myself in a foreign country, but I will have to wait until October to celebrate that particular mark.  In the meantime, I am enjoying the hospitality of my wonderful homestay family.

Test your knowledge of the Peace Corps at my new Peace Corps Quiz.  <----- shameless plug

Also, pictures!
Nevis Peak in the clouds, an inactive volcano.  Viewed from the War Memorial at Basseterre.
A sidelong view of Bay Road in Basseterre from the southwestern corner of the city.

13 September 2010

Give Me a Call!

I just remembered – I got the prices checked out, and calls that I receive on my cell here are indeed free for me.  For those wondering, this is an issue not because I am cheap, but because I am running a very tight budget.  To give you some idea, a 45-minute phone call to a U.S. cellphone would run me my week's allowance.  But I do not pay for calls I receive on my phone, so do not worry about that – worry only about what it might cost you to call a cellphone overseas.

My phone number is 1 869 665 6027, and feel free to give me a call any evening after 5:00 EDT (which is the same time as here, by the way, until daylight savings time ends).  And while you're at it, check out my friend's blog.

12 September 2010

Time For A Haircut

My hair is getting to that odd length where it looks just a little too long for the hairstyle, but it's too short to comb into a part.  Fortunately, a fellow PCV pointed out the barber shop he recommends nearby.  So one of these days that I'm in town and I have some time, I have some errands to run – post office and barber salon.

Went to the Wesleyan church this morning with my host family mother.  It was not too different in order of service or preaching style from the Baptist churches in North Georgia, so I felt comfortable enough.  The people were very friendly and magnanimous in allowing me to bring in my bottle of water, which was an utter necessity in the small and very hot building while wearing a suit.

The message in church was on 1 Kings 19, specifically God's inquiry to Elijah in verse 9: "What doest thou here, Elijah?"  The practical offshoot for us being, Where do we find ourselves and are we comfortable where we are?  Or is God calling us to more in our spiritual lives?  A common enough theme, surely, but the Holy Spirit is always moving!  Finding myself moved, I had to ask myself the same question, and I was confronted with a novel realization, recounted below.

First, thank you again to those praying for me.  I know in my heart that one or some of you are praying specifically for the peace that comes from the knowledge that I am in God's will, where God wants me, serving on His islands.  I know this, because when I was challenged with the message and sought the Holy Spirit on the matter, He reassured me with a certainty I have not felt for almost two years.  The bottom line?  I second-guess, I question, I doubt, I get discouraged, I balk, I fear, but I always come back to the realization that God is here with me.  And as the words emblazoned on a taxi here on St. Kitts promulgates, "What then shall we say? If God is for us, who can be against us?"

10 September 2010

Funnyquote Friday

Here's the quote:

"There's something calling me to Nevis... 
And it has a British accent."

This week's quote is a little more of an inside joke, so I'll attempt to explain here.  My friend, who is serving on the island of Nevis, uttered this on Wednesday in reference to his job placement, making light of the fact that he is the only volunteer from our class on Nevis.  And it just so happens that his new boss, who works for the Nevis Ministry of Social Development, is a repatriated Nevisian who spent 42 years in Great Britain.  Hence the accent.

Yesterday at the worksite was a grand experience.  It was a great pleasure to meet my future coworkers and to learn about my work initiatives for the next two years.  Even stepping in a hill of fire ants when we were touring the facility wasn't enough to squelch my positive attitude.  In fact, I've received quite a positive reception from the local wildlife over the past week.  Did you know they have mongooses here?  I have not seen one living yet, but I hope to – delightful images of half-eaten snakes and a certain Kipling short story come to mind.

Changing topics, for everyone wondering what a shandy is, it is apparently different from island to island.  But in St. Kitts it is basically a beer cut with soda.  Here, that means one part Ting brand grapefruit soda and one part Skol brand beer.  It's sweet and very good, as one might expect, and it's popular and kind of a social touchstone.  This is as opposed to St. Lucia, where some of us had become accustomed to ordering a premixed shandy, bottled by the local national brewery.  This caused some initial confusion, incidentally, when we were chatting with the current volunteers here.

Well, I'll miss another beatdown issued by my Yellow Jackets tomorrow, but that's okay, because I'll be joining a local group of runners that meet somewhere on the island every month.  So I'll get to meet some people and have a good time on the beach.  A little relaxation due after a challenging first week on the island!

09 September 2010

A Little Serendipity

My training class of Kittitian and Nevisian trainees met with our Institutional Point Persons yesterday afternoon, which made for a high point to the end of the day.  Lots of positive energy as each of us met our project supervisors (many for the first time) and discussed the ways we could help our respective schools and nonprofits for the next two years.  It turns out that my supervisor is also an avid chess player – yet another serendipitous match!

And speaking of serendipity, I'm coming to find out more and more what it means to have faith in God's ability to meet my emotional needs.  It's very challenging to go through training on island: you spend a day with familiars trudging through very general community development curriculum, and when you're through and exhausted, you catch a bus back to a world where you are a stranger.  In that moment, the feeling of loneliness or the dissatisfaction with this or that is the strongest.  And in spite of the flattering attention I receive from the squadron of mosquitoes apparently breeding outside my bedroom window, the need for familiar companionship (and in my case, preferably of the female persuasion!) is overwhelming.  But the reality is that even under the best of circumstances, there is no way to get around that these first few months, when I am living with my host family, apart from spending time with them.  Which I enjoy very much, please don't get me wrong – but they are busy folk as well, and are not always available to dote on poor old me.

Even in the face of this difficulty, however, God sees my need and has, on more than one occasion already, placed someone or something in my path to help alleviate these longings.  Last Saturday, it was my host family sister who invited me to the movies.  (Sorry, MIG, but I won't need to schedule TCoN:VotDT with you, since it looks like I'll be able to catch just about all the movies I want to see over the next two years, and in a nicer theater, and for about half the price to boot) Monday it was a currently serving Kittitian volunteer (check out her blog here) who invited me and a friend to the docks for a late-afternoon drink, yielding both a new acquaintance, and a nugget of cultural integration: I can mix a local Shandy now!  And then today it was running into a married couple who are also current PC Volunteers on the island (check out their blog here) who I had been trying to get in touch with anyway, because the gentleman is currently preparing to leave the very post I will be assuming at my assigned nonprofit.  So that worked out surprisingly well.

Anyone would tell you that it feels so unnatural to expect these sorts of happenstances, but as I try to keep my eyes open to God's workings around me, I can't help but wonder if that is exactly what God is saying to me right now.  Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God says that the Great Planner who calls us to join Him in His work uses prayer, the Word, circumstances, and the church in order to speak to us.  I believe this is one of those times that he has used identifiable circumstances to point me in the direction of a truth I will need very desperately over the coming years.

 Sorry to those I have not spoken to on the phone in a while – my host family's NetPhone, which is set up to provide local calls to the USA, has been glitchy as of late.  As soon as that is resolved, I'll be able to communicate more freely via telephone.  I'll also consider adding Skype services to my repertoire just as soon as I have a steady wireless internet connection.  That might not happen until I find a place of my own, but I don't mind because I'm awfully busy right now as it is.

Allow me to thank everyone again for their continued prayers, and please continue to remember the Clem family and their tragic loss.  God's peace be with them right now.

07 September 2010

R.I.P. Mark Clem

It is with a very saddened heart that I mourn the loss of friend and mentor Mark Clem.

For info regarding his sudden passing or his community legacy, please contact McConnell Church.

Please know that my prayers and deepest sympathies are with the family at this time.

Promoting World Health – One Dead Mosquito At A Time

And here I thought I was getting better acclimated to the bountiful mosquito population – not so.  I woke up this morning to find not one... not two... three mosquito bites on my face.  They are not swelling and as of yet not immediately visible, but after 15 days in the Caribbean with no bug bites on my face, one would like to think this was a steadfast trend.  No.

Visited my school attachment today.  Hundreds of bright, cheery students greeted me at 8:30 this morning, and I took it upon myself to visit each of the classrooms for a half-hour or so to observe the faculty and answer some questions I had about the challenges of primary school in St. Kitts.  It went surprisingly well, and I managed to make some new friends and contacts there.

Got some laundry done yesterday, finally, so I'm not wanting for anything right now, excepting perhaps familiar company.  I'll get to join my host family father to choir practice tonight, so that should be an additional positive experience.  I promise I'll get pictures of everyone tonight and post them soon.  The island of St. Christopher (a.k.a. St. Kitts) is beautiful and I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on it.

05 September 2010

Still On That Initial High

... Don't know how much longer it's scheduled to last, but I'm holding out for more.  PreService Training is starting to feel like the chain-pull at the beginning of a 2-year-long roller coaster ride: Slow and steady at first, dealing primarily with nerves and not psyching yourself out, before a long series of ups and downs that are practically out of one's own control.  But that's one of the reasons I'm here, right? To give up control.

Before I forget, be sure to read up on my pal Andrew's blog - he's a gifted comic and it shows in his posts.  He's on the other side of the island from me (6 o'clock to 12 o'clock), so the only times I get to see him are during training, but that's okay, 'cause that is all I can stand of him anyway. (oh snap!)

Drinking lots of water here.  Around 3 16oz bottles a day.  And of course I'm sweating.  But the heat isn't overpowering for me, and the mosquito bites have toned down, thanks to a fresh bottle of OFF! and a fan in my bedroom.  Also, I come bearing news about a neat custom here.  Perhaps many of you have heard that on the hottest days, it's good for you to eat hot soup?  I had not, but it's common practice here to have hot tea in the morning and hot soup for lunch.  Why?  Wouldn't that be uncomfortably hot in 90°+ weather?  It turns out that, while your body temp does increase almost imperceptibly, it's enough to where the air feels cooler, and it's quite refreshing.  MYTHBUSTERS: CONFIRMED.

 We were given our school attachment assignments yesterday – I will be working at a primary school one day a week for as long as they need me.  I hope to get in touch soon with the volunteers from St. Lucia who have instituted a chess program in their primary schools, so as to borrow curriculum and advice/inspiration for an analogous program here on St. Kitts.  Barring that, I've always got a new soccer ball.

Pics of my host family and St. Kitts soon.  In the meantime, new blog header!

03 September 2010

Funnyquote Friday

Lots to post tonight, so here goes:

For your funnyquote of the week, here's a flipchart post from PreService Training at St. Lucia by our Country Director, citing the trappings of some of us here in paradise.  ------------------->

For the first item, I am indeed here in Basseterre, St. Kitts, with my wonderful host family.  They are both college professors, which makes for excellent conversation and a perfect pairing for me.  Certainly God was involved in the decision to see me to this sweet family, and I am thankful for His wisdom and his perfect plan for me.

Apart from having to clean up some spilled shampoo in one suitcase that was a day late in arriving, my transition from St. Luica to St. Kitts has been mostly seamless.  Unfortunately, people on the island have been busy cleaning up from the recent strike of Hurricane Earl, and so those of us just moving to the island are showing discretion and mercy in our expectations for typically available services, which might be electricity for some, clean laundry for others.

I am in a very positive frame of mind, very thankful that I was delayed by the hurricanes for only two days.  Training continues as usual, and I was able to open a new savings account at the RBC here this morning as well as add minutes to my new local-service cell phone.  For those that want to call me on it, I will first check that calls from outside the network/country will not use up my very limited supply of minutes.  If I can receive calls for free, I will post my phone number here for everyone.

Thanks to everybody for your positive comments, and for your continued prayers.  If the statistics hold, in just a few weeks I will experience some more severe culture shock, and with God's help I'll get through it okay.  Everything is very expensive here in the city, so running a budget is nearly impossible.  Please pray that God would continue to bless me with provisions so that I can serve him here free of fear.

01 September 2010

Peace Corps Limbo

On a Tour of Laborie, St. Lucia

Great news!  Tropical Storm Fiona will have passed the islands soon, and that means that those of us heading up to Antigua and St. Kitts & Nevis will be leaving dark and early tomorrow morning.  We're all very eager to meet our host families, and I'm especially eager to get unpacked and settled in my new home.  I will be living in the city limits of Basseterre, and I expect it will be a short walk to my work site.  God has blessed me by providing me a place to stay and learn the cultural dos and don'ts for a few more months.

Main Street, Laborie, St. Lucia

Training on St. Lucia the past two days has been mostly uneventful, but even our Training Director said that if we weren't leaving tomorrow, she didn't think she'd be able to hang on to our collective attentions much longer.  Probably true.  But we're ready to leave this Peace Corps limbo of being moved from place to place while we're waiting for the weather to behave.  Some have gotten rather down about the circumstances, but the way I look at it is that being waylaid by hurricanes should be part of the training for Eastern Caribbean service anyway.

So I'll be very busy tomorrow, meeting everyone and spending time with my new temporary family, so don't expect an update for just a little while - pretty soon I'll set up a routine to where I can post every other day or so.