27 December 2011

Sugar Mas Is In The Air

The cats are earning their keep.  As you may recall, I'm watching my girlfriend's cats while she's on winter vacation in the States.  In under one week that I've been watching them, they've already managed to trap and kill four cockroaches and a centipede!  Nebula is the more personable of the two; she finds plenty of opportunities to find me and rub up against my arm when I am at the computer table (like right now).  Pigeon stays mostly to herself, but they both make their presence felt when it's feeding time.  The effort on my part is miniscule, as it would turn out: cleaning two small litter boxes and feeding the cats twice daily is hardly a chore, and more like fair wages paid in the name of free cleaning service.  (No cobwebs when you have two diminutive, omnipresent wanderers!)  Mostly they're a pleasure to have around, whenever Nubs isn't trying to pull my septum out of my head.

The Christmas concert was Monday the 19th; it didn't offer quite as many "edgy" pieces as last year, and eliminated all of the performances differing from singing a traditional Christmas carol.  Fortunately, my friends and I were in attendance foremost for the music, but I was disappointed to see that, perhaps, the planning committee felt that the free thinking, alternative works of poetry and dance (a few of a more political persuasion, in fact) were not in the spirit of the event.  Whatever the reason, we still enjoyed reaffirming our now veritable Christmas tradition of singing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus as loudly and as functionally correct as possible at the end of the service.  That's one thing that, come this time next year, I expect I will miss about not being here!

J'ouvert was a fun ride again this year.  What with it being my second go-around, I had a jump on most of the other Caucasoids that partook in this year's reveling.  Oh, and before you ask, I'm sad to report I have no picture and video this time, due to my one planning oversight: double-checking to see that the camera I brought along had an actual battery cartridge loaded in it.  Apart from this, the measures I took were largely responsible for the whole day going off without a hitch, so to speak.  I caught a lift to the meeting place no earlier than midnight, which means I had at least 3 hours of sleep before joining the others this time (plenty if you're not planning on staying up any later than noon).  I brought along both food and water this time, as much to sate my inevitable morning hunger as to avoid a regrettable migraine should the threat arise.  Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I remembered to bring ear plugs along!  I cannot overstate how critical these little devices are at a j'ouvert jump-up.  Lastly, I did virtually all of my alcohol imbibing at the meeting place before going on the march, where the drinks were mostly harder stuff like mixed rum punch and the like.  By writing in big Sharpie® letters on my hand "BEER," I didn't even have to shout my order to the bar-trailer attendants over the cacophony of the soca blaring from over a dozen amps 100 feet away.  In the end, I had the equivalent of 2 beers during the march, which settled in nicely with the principle of always following hard drinks with beer chasers, and not the other way around.  All of this planning went a great way towards making sure I actually enjoyed myself during this year's revelries.  Now if I could just find a girl to wuk up with...

I think Peace Corps are the street performers of the world.  I say this for a couple reasons: first, because the similarities are too clear to me to be denied.  We move from a place far away to a new home, often with little or no experiential concept of the place we're going, and always end up trying to make a living doing some good works under impoverished means.  Even the people we're trying to help ultimately are presented with the choice to pay attention, or else to simply ignore us completely.  And, depending on who you ask, we probably have a comparable success rate.  Furthermore, we choose to live our lives under the wary eyes of the entire community we serve, winning some hearts and minds and confounding others.  Perhaps the last one is not unlike life everywhere for most, but when the only real currency one traffics in is personal contacts, and when one has as pessimistic an outlook as myself, a single bad connection is a tougher drain on morale than half a dozen good ones can make up for.

The second reason I've been cogitating on this is because I find myself at a vulnerable point in my term of service.  With a whole three weeks to devote in part to secondary projects, namely the ones I have let languish as the 2011 work year wound down, I nonetheless prove to have difficulty summoning the emotional energy to tackle them, fearing that my best efforts will somehow prove fruitless.  So instead of being able to address these concerns by actually trying to do the work on a given day, I am hamstrung into lounging around, choosing instead to read Fahrenheit 451, or catch up on my virtual baseball team, or write this blogpost.  Can anyone offer me any clarity on where the fault in my emotional expectations lie: in the inflexible goals that I set for myself before the holiday began, or in the fear that I've doomed my own productivity by not following through on them?  As someone who derives so much of his self-esteem from his own sense of productivity, this question is deeply concerning to me; yet even as I write it, I realize that the true answer is probably a third option that I have not considered at all.

16 December 2011

Funnyquote Friday

"Ask not about the stipend.  When it is ready,
you will be informed.  In the meantime,
learn as much as you can!"

This admonishment can now be found posted above every door and archway at the NSTP, presumably in response to the swarm of inquiries, phone calls, and possibly impolite nudging by the trainees and their families, wondering about the first portion of their training stipend.  Despite being a mere pittance, on the order of EC$40, many are counting on it to supplement their Christmas shopping demands.  So while the need is real and serious, I couldn't help but laugh at the measures the office attendants took to assuage the more boisterous trainees.

Nothing much new to report – as I mentioned, today is my final stopoff at the office for the year, as all government agencies will be closed through the winter holidays and Carnival.  This will give me the opportunity to alter my focus for a time to some unfinished secondary projects, including finalizing the (Not Just) Math Games booklet, adding to the Youth Group proposal (which I'm considering naming S-Pres – but I can't remember why now), and getting a head start on the next issue of the Serious Ting.  All while attending Carnival goings-on in town in the evenings.  And catching up on reading.  And watching my girlfriend's cats.  And... Wait, will I have more free time, or less?

14 December 2011

36 Hawksbill Sea Turtles Saved

Following Team Trivia last night, the alarm went out through the SKN sea turtle conservation team (generally a Ross U. student-led organization) that a nest of dozens of baby sea turtles had been found outside their usual nesting grounds: instead of in Keys or somewhere on the Atlantic coast, this nest had been found on the East Bay Road in Basseterre, far closer to the city and its bright lights.  A team of locals, who stumbled across them, contacted the right people, and soon the conservation team's director was on the scene and directing helping hands and foot traffic.  She informed all of us there that the nest that had been found were of the hawksbill variety, and that they were critically endangered, so it was fortuitous that they had been found and collected.  She made an easy count as we set down 3-5 at a time on the shore nearer the water.  The hatchlings then began their three day, food-less trek to reach as far into the ocean as possible before getting settled and... doing whatever comes next – that was the extent of what I gleaned from last night's excursion.  But what an uncommon opportunity!

In other news, Murphy's Law strikes again: I brought in little Christmas gifts for my coworkers today, only to have everyone save one not show up due to feeling ill, taking vacation, or being busy with personal matters.  After spending a couple hours cogitating and manipulating a meager supply of holiday wrapping to satisfy the demands of seven, rather small, pyramids of chocolates, I am able to give out less than half of the presents I prepared.  Oh woe is me; I'll just have to wait until Friday, and hopefully the chocolates won't melt before then.

Also, Happy [2 × 13]th Birthday to me.  I don't feel a day over 25 – until I stop and think that I'm a mere four years from 30! *horror*

12 December 2011

HARD WUK Wuz Hyah!

Objectively speaking, I cannot blame my lack of updates the past few weeks on the usual biannual laziness (read: May and December), and instead refer the reader to the long, long week of activities that the NSTP had planned out for its 25th Anniversary celebration, observed this year.  Beginning Sunday, the NSTP was a collective guest at the Antioch Baptist Church in Basseterre.  That is to say, staff and students from the NSTP filled the center row or pews, and a special comments were made by each of two representatives of the NSTP - the interest of which was quickly overshadowed by the announcement of one parishioner's 90th birthday, which received tremendous acclamation.  All the same, it had been a long while since I was in church, and God used the opportunity to share with me.  He taught me, along with a reading from 1 Thessalonians chapters 1 and 2, to remind me of a simple truth: that success in my mission here will not be measured by my ability to help those that do not want to be helped.  This reminder altered first my perspective on closing out my assignments here a year from now, when the Peace Corps pulls out of St. Kitts for the foreseeable future, and second helped me to deal differently with day-to-day setbacks.  Just last Monday, in fact, the printer failed to print in black ink, and despite my best efforts of manually cleaning the printhead, would not submit to its share of the labor.  Even replacing it with its older predecessor has proved ineffective.  But rather than get discouraged, something that would be very easy for me given that in the interim the onus is on me, the IT "expert," to print copies in demand despite the lack of working hard-copy producing printing devices.  Did I mention the copier has been out of toner for a few weeks?

The rest of the week was no less hectic.  Monday was capped with a three-hour Facilitator Workshop and Professional Development Seminar hosted by the NSTP and patronized by our sister organization Project Strong, as well as ministry education officials and a keynote speaker from local conglomerate TDC, Inc.  On Tuesday, I submitted the final copy of the World AIDS Calendar, a project begun by my PCV colleague as a fundraiser for the Ministry of Health and as a tool for HIV/AIDS awareness and stigma reduction.  The cover art is to the left; it is a collage of works prepared by school children on the importance of accurate AIDS information.

Wednesday saw an office-wide excursion to Nevis with the Electrician class to see the new developments in alternative energy being installed here in the Federation.  Already, a fully functioning wind farm exists on Nevis, supplying around 3MW, sufficient to cover half of the island's electricity needs at every time except peak demand.  Furthermore, eighty acres on the western side of the island have been cordoned off for the new geothermal energy-harnessing plants, whose wells are scheduled to begin drilling come March 2012.  Both fully renewable and eco-friendly energy sources, the combination of the two would fully cover the energy demands of Nevis and St. Kitts for the foreseeable future, with enough leftover to sell to neighboring islands.

Finally, on Friday, I was up at 5:00 AM to head into town for the fitness "walkathon" hosted by the office.  Sporting my new T-shirt with the 25th Anniversary info emblazoned on it, I walked about five miles from the tamarind tree in Greenlands to the Sir Kennedy Simmonds Highway roundabout in Frigate Bay.  Leaving at 6:30, I arrived at 8:30, to a lovely rainbow and a light breakfast.  Due to the ensuing rain, however, the motivational speakers (one was none other than my APCD) had to be moved from the idyllic outdoor sanctuary under the trees to a stuffy classroom back at the office.  But we got through with the ceremony, and around noon I cashed in the goodwill that I had built up all week and bought a lift home, whereupon I slept for a solid two hours.

In other news, my food selection of late has been long on grains and proteins and lipids, but short on excitement.   In order to combat the diet doldrums, every other month or so I stock up on hot dog items and conjure up a meal once or twice a week.  (Not counting special spectator sporting events!)  This habit has led me to make the following observation: eating two hot dogs is just a little bit too much for my stomach.  That is, the preparation time is substantial enough that I am generally very hungry by the time I start on the first hot dog.  Then, after inhaling the entire first one, my hunger has peaked but not yet begun to appreciably decline.  So I begin the second with no sense of fear or indecision, only to be confronted with a sudden wall of pain about three-quarters of the way through the second hot dog.  The final two bites, then, are decidedly unpleasant: thoughts of "Why??  Why am I doing this to myself?" pervade my mind.  A pall of regret hangs over my decision to ingest the last four or five centimeters, but I bite the bullet (so to speak) and finish my cursed meal.  The diagram to the right further clarifies my deliciously deplorable experience.  Well, here's to Tomato Soup and Stir Fry the rest of the way.

I just finished November's highlight reel, so I've added it below.  Truth be told, I'm already working on the December flick, chock full of bits from the NSTP's busy week; but that will have to wait until next month to be posted.  In the meantime, enjoy:


30 November 2011

Photo Reel

It's so intense...
In a week graced with multiple rare acts of God, this last one was a pleasure to see: a double rainbow that popped up during a brief sun shower.  Just over the gardens to the East of my house, this picture was taken from my front porch yesterday afternoon.  At one point, the rain was coming down hard and fast on the right side of my porch, but the ground was completely dry everywhere on the left side.

The view of the Basseterre Harbor from atop the Ocean Terrace Inn
The weather was hit and miss during MST, when we volunteers spent the workweek in training at the Ocean Terrace Inn in Basseterre.  In this picture, of course, the weather is impeccable, but the other half of the time saw overcast skies and occasional drizzles.  That trend has mostly held up these last few weeks, and now mosquitoes are finding droves of lawns with standing water to repopulate.  The offshoot is that I can't keep my door open during the morning or evening for fear of letting in dozens of mosquitoes.

St. Kitts' 25 Most Remarkable Teens honored at Parliament, 23 November 2011
If I can be so forward as to say, the most important aspect of the 25 Most Remarkable Teens ceremony was the clear and dazzling display of government buy-in.  For a project that claims only one specific goal, to celebrate the positive achievements of today's youth contrasted against the seemingly endless flow of negative press bulletins and falling public sentiment, the program actually has many aspects that promote positivity and cooperation in the Federation, between youth and adults, as well as political parties.  For further details on the event, plus a retelling of each of the teenagers' remarkable stories, make sure to visit my colleague's blog.

What volunteers do in their spare time?
When an EC80 couple, good friends to me and so many around the island, were forced to end their term of service a few months early, we volunteers congregated at their abode to wish them well in their travels (and to clean up some of the household goods that weren't coming with them).  In this case, everyone was guaranteed 2 rolls of toilet paper, but everything else was first-come, first-served.  The said older couple has recently moved nearer their oldest son's family in Alaska; if they read this, I extend once again my sincerest best wishes.

Peace Corps (unofficial) motto
One of the changes in the mood following MST is the now constant awareness of the impermanence of the vast majority of things one does here, whether big projects or small.  I feel like this decidedly melancholy sense is doubled for those of us on islands that the Peace Corps will be pulling out from following our term of service.  However, when discussing it with my APCD, she related to me a peace that she has felt about the situation recently: paraphrased, she felt like our job, now, was to "leave with dignity," with the knowledge of a job well done.  By extension of the Peace Corps' mission, it's as much a victory as a concession when we move out of a country, and maybe St. Kitts and Nevis is ready to move along for a little while without us?

Revisiting my inspiration for joining the Peace Corps in the first place, and with a vote of thanks to Jesse Cline, here are two good illustrations of what I believe the Peace Corps will mean to me in the coming years.
Comic A and Comic B

28 November 2011

Shaking Things Up

St. Kitts enjoyed an earthquake of 4.7 on the Richter scale at 1:45 this morning.  It was just enough to wake me from the sound of the upstairs creaking, and from the shaking of my bed springs.  But it only lasted a second or two, and I was back to sleep.  To my knowledge, it's the first one that I've experienced since beginning here in August 2010.  I'm still very proud of my quake senses, the ability to wake up to an earthquake and immediately recognize it for what it is – Not mulling around in bed thinking, "Did I leave the dryer running again?" or "Why is the neighbor's donkey rubbing up against my house?"

I'm going to spend today working on two items: a fun and educational activity using Microsoft Word for the students in my Intro to Computer Applications class, and laying out a 2012 calendar in Adobe InDesign for the AIDS alliance, to be used as a fundraiser.  The former is proving difficult to conjure from the internets – I haven't found any activities yet that are suitable for students ages 15+ that have below average literacy rates.  I'm considering reaching back into my own experience and having one student, a different one every 20 minutes, pulled out from the regular instruction and placed in front of a word processor and continue a narrative that his/her peers have also been working on.  That could prove to be a nice deviation from the norm.  Now if only I could come up with another idea for a collective activity...  As for the calendar, I've been given the pictures already, so the rest should be easy; I'll post the cover art as soon as it is finished.

And as promised, here are pictures from Thursday's official opening of the books sent by Hands Across the Sea.  Enjoy!

25 November 2011

Funnyquote Friday

When Ms. Cuffy started her computer on Monday morning, there was nothing functionally wrong with it.  Yet upon opening her internet browser, she was greeted with a pop-up that informed her that her system had been infected by malignant viruses, hard drive and memory errors, registry errors, trojans, network problems, and all kinds of mean, nasty things.  Not wanting her system to be at risk, she dutifully clicked on the "Fix Errors" button for the SystemFix alert. (Link is to an info page about the virus.)  She was not prepared, then, for her system to reboot, and systematically rewrite her Windows system files such that her Start Menu and desktop was now empty save for a single shortcut to SystemFix.  Even booting up the system in Safe Mode did nothing to alleviate the situation.  When I saw the effects the malware had wrought on her system, I recognized the severity of the situation and immediately phoned IT support staff for the Ministry of Education.  The worker at the other end began with the most basic litany of questions, like inquiring if the system was running slow or not booting at all.  I explained the situation in full orchestration and four-part harmony, and inquired if the MoE had a corporate license of Windows that he could bring with him in case we needed to reformat the drive and reinstall Windows on it.  He didn't say that he did, but in his voice he seemed concerned about the nature of the damage, so I suggested that he should come by the office and inspect the machine for himself as soon as possible.  At this point, he asked me,

"So it not turning on, or it just running slow?"

Incidentally, he didn't make it out to the office that day.  In fact, here it is Friday, and he still hasn't come by to check it out.

And a late happy T-giving to everyone.  Readers may remember that I missed the island goings-on last year due to sickness, but thanks to one of my colleagues rushing a carb-laden plate over to me, I was able to enjoy the delicious food even so.  This year, the get-together was held at the same place, but hosted by a wholly different volunteer.  We had another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, and I reveled in the polite company of all the volunteers, friends, neighbors, and new acquaintances that were there.  There was pigskin tossing, card playing, music listening, fat chewing, merry making, and all kinds of groovy things going on there.

Well, I got the 27 8x10 color glossy pictures (really, just 2 or 3) that Hands Across the Sea requests for their records and to be used on special thank-you notes to the contributors that helped front the money for the new library books at the school.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my USB-to-miniUSB cable with me to work, so I will not be able to retrieve those photos from my camera in time for this post.  So despite my intentions, readers will be forced to wait one more weekend for some neat update photography.  The real work with the school library, however, begins after Carnival, when the entirety of the library is being moved from upstairs, in the climate-controlled, well-lit, tiled, public space that I spent hours and days reorganizing, to its new home downstairs in an open-air, dim, humid, concrete-floored, former classroom.  The new school administrators' decision to move the library appears to have been motivated by reasons wholly removed from anything relating to me or the library itself, yet I feel my frustration over this myopic, unilateral change is not unjustified.

Oh, and it seems there's a football game this weekend.  Wouldn't want to jinx anybody like some claim I did last year, but I feel compelled to offer my cheers for the brave and bold in this battle for the hearts and minds of the state.  So here's to my Alma Mater, where the best and brightest get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected, and selected.

23 November 2011

July in November?

I went by the school yesterday in order to take picture and video of the children receiving the books from Hands Across the Sea, which did in fact arrive while I was attending to matters in the States.  However, the principal suggested that I might do better to come on Thursday morning of this week.  I said that even though it was Thanksgiving, I would be happy to come in briefly that morning and snap some shots.  So, sooner rather than later, we should have some new material for the blog in the form of happy kids and teachers getting an early Christmas surprise.

If I'm not careful, I'm going to forget about the special event tonight: starting at 7:30 at the Parliamentary Chambers in the Government Headquarters is the Remarkable Teen project presentation, which my dutiful colleague has spent months in preparations for, and who plans to welcome many government dignitaries to the ceremony.  I don't know how long it will go (or how long it will go over, for that matter), but I'm interested in seeing if the government leaders in attendance will appear sincere in their accolades for these couple dozen remarkable Kittitian teenagers.  The best part of it, I suppose, is that I'm free of any duties for the evening, so I have the luxury of just sitting back and enjoying the spectacle!

A couple of blog matters to tend to: first, here's a doff of the cap to 150 blogposts.  A milestone of sesquicentennial proportions!  Admittedly, I find it hard to imagine 149 other posts as trite and uninformative as this one.  And sadly, I have no real cake to mark the occasion, so this will have to do:

And in honor of this (quite pedestrian) achievement, I decided to prepare a little surprise for everyone; I know how long it's been since you last enjoyed a new movie from me, so I took a little extra time to make this latest video something new and exciting.  I hope you like it as much as the others, despite the content being four months old.  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments on the video below.

21 November 2011

Work Is A Dish Best Served Fast

Wow, Thanksgiving week got here fast!  I guess that's what happens when the first three weeks of the month are spent away from the familiar.  And while it was a long three weeks, with enjoyable diversions and manifest chances to catch up with friends and family, the time seems to have been compressed to a pinpoint now that it is all over.  But I have a relaxing Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday to look forward to – my first one, after missing last year's due to a brief brush with the dengue.  Furthermore, I'll be walking with a dish that my girlfriend is preparing: a Jewish noodle casserole called Kugel.  Since somebody already offered to bring green bean casserole, and yet I was looking forward to making that myself, I volunteered to prepare it for my girlfriend's Thanksgiving get-together, in exchange for her T-giving dish.  So I'm excited to try it for myself for the first time!

Life at the NSTP continues, in spite of my absence, and new IT issues at the NSTP seem to have cropped up (quite literally) overnight: tighter "parental controls" need to be placed on a few of the desktop computers in the newly expanded computer lab, while Ms. Cuffy's office desktop seems to have become infected with a particularly hostile virus, apparently rewriting many Windows system files and rendering it essentially unusable.  I'm crossing my fingers that the Ministry of Education's IT Specialist remembers to bring a corporate copy of Windows with him, in the event we need to reformat the disk.  I have also been tasked with designing and publishing the NSTP's corporate Facebook page.  An opportunity to familiarize myself with the website controls, and especially develop some much-needed marketing experience.  So I'm right back to being busy here at National Skills.

Even as I write this, I am enjoying listening to the hospitality class start a new unit in the adjacent classroom.  They are discussing general cooking knowledge, the instructor deftly tugging at the trainees' previous experiences and wrapping them around new pillars of technique to be employed in the kitchen: how long does shrimp cook? what is christophene and when do you use it? what is salt fish, and what is the process for preparing it? what does 'au gratin' mean? what is linguine? what are three common uses of breadfruit?  Some of these I know the answer to, and some I am learning on the fly, no different from any of the 15-20 year olds sitting in the classroom right now.  It is interesting, and I sincerely hope that when I teach my two hour class on Wednesdays that I engage the students in the same way.  The most difficult part, perhaps, might be divining the individual students' previous experiences with computers, which can constitute a wide spectrum in even a small class.  But I have faith that the more time we spend in class, the more comfortable the students will be with me and the more willing they will be to share their own experiences that others can learn from.

EDIT: Ha ha, how out of touch do I have to be for posts without the funnyquote at the top to look weird?

18 November 2011

Funnyquote Friday

During MST, when discussing the realities of living alone in a foreign country as expatriate volunteers, one of the subjects that comes up is relationships, perhaps intimate ones, with the people you find yourself amongst, whether host country nationals or otherwise.  And one of the strategies used by Peace Corps to give volunteers the tools to avoid any "rash" decisions is one that I was quite familiar with: listing the qualities of a potential partner before meeting someone.  This opened the door for one of my colleagues who has a penchant for undercutting the seriousness of a situation by, sometimes crudely, drawing attention to the absurdness of it all; as she pointed out,

"Don't date the local homeless guy
[just to date someone.]"

And so MST came to a close Thursday afternoon, and those of us staying behind on St. Kitts saw the Antiguan and Vincentian contingents off to the airport early this morning.  The training went over well, and I felt that we avoided, in large part, any time spent on superfluous topics or inapplicable teachings, though I fear that not everyone came away with the same assurance.  For my part, I was especially excited to hear about other volunteers' "One Thing That Worked," a five-minute summary of a project or activity that was met with positive feedback.  One example was a "juicebox wallet," a very chic/pop looking accessory that could be fashioned out of nothing more than a used juice box, some electrical tape, and a staple.  Not a stapler, a staple.  Moreover, the young woman who presented this fantastic and creative idea continued to apologize about it not being originally her idea, but that she had borrowed it from another Peace Corps Volunteer from Facebook.  All the while, I'm thinking, "Why are you apologizing? We all need to be pulling more from such an apparently deep pool of collective ideas."

In the end, the things I will remember most from my MidService Training will be the relationships with my fellow volunteers from Antigua and SVG: catching up with old friends, re-befriending new ones, and the surprising new developments in the lives of both.  I can't express how much I was looking forward to getting back together with everyone, a large group that I at once respect deeply, and again shake my head at, confounded.  Such a diverse group of people includes ones I am attracted to, ones I am repelled from, ones I look up to, ones who look up to me (though admittedly I may never know who those are, and am mostly projecting on that one), ones I trust, ones I don't trust, ones I'll always remember, and ones who won't remember my name, come Close Of Service conference in late July.

16 November 2011

MidService Training

The first day of MST is over, and I (thinking it was still Monday) completely forgot about Tuesday Trivia down at Frigate Bay – so I ended up stranding my team for a third week straight.  But it's not really that big of a deal.

Instead, the first day was given over to presentations on Peace Corps impact in the Caribbean, specifically projects as started by volunteers in St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.  For the St. Kitts presentation, we held a faux "fashion show" in which each volunteer dressed up as an example of a functional area, e.g. Healthy Lifestyles, Culture, or HIV/AIDS awareness.  A video was taken, so pics and clips will soon be made available of this "hot, hot" event, so you will be able to see for yourself my colleague in his getup made entirely of red ribbon and condoms.  (That's not a joke – or an exaggeration.)  I walked out to the theme of Entrepreneurship, wearing various "accessories" to symbolize each of the initiatives on-island.  Overall, it was a success, and much delighted our colleagues from around the Caribbean (and staff, too!).

I also enjoyed spending the evening going through the initial planning of the next edition of the Serious Ting with my fantastic colleague serving on St. Vincent.  Speaking of which, I have a virtual copy of the latest Ting available on the web here.  So if you didn't have a chance to see it before, please check it out – remember I did all of the design layout for the magazine, and it's the first edition (to my knowledge) in full color for both cover and interior articles.

15 November 2011

Back – Just In Time for MST

Sorry about the long delay; I just got back from two weeks in the States for my brother's wedding.  It was a lovely event, and if you're reading this, it's highly likely that you either know someone on Facebook that can link you to the pictures, or, perhaps, were even at the wedding yourself.

Anyway, MST is starting today, and so I will be sending brief, sporadic updates as things unfold.  I have to say, it has already been quite a trip getting to see everybody again, and catch up with friends from Antigua and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  It's certainly living up to expectations – now, if only the training can be productive as well.  Looking forward to a good week!

31 October 2011

My Fourth Top 11

Well, as of this post, I am in transit back to the States.  Since it will be difficult for me to post as frequently as usual (which lately, I confess, is really saying something), I thought I would send along this bonus Top 11.  I hope you enjoy reading it half twice as much as I did writing it, and maybe get a small enormous glimpse into my life at university.

The Top 11...
Things I (Really) Learned from Business School

11.   A penny saved is 0.998 of a penny earned.
10.   There's little shame in taking the M-train if it means leaving the station in one piece.
9.   When "Someday, I'll be their boss" is your mantra, you're trying to compensate for something.
8.   It doesn't matter if you're a big fish in a small bowl, or a small fish in a big tank: sooner or later, the food is going to get scarce.
7.   It's not the books you read, it's the books you're seen reading.
6.   If the market determines the price, then the cost of tuition must be a lagging indicator.
5.   Despite what they might say, nobody really cares if you know what NASDAQ stands for.
4.   The difference between happy fulfillment and hopeless despair is budget cuts.
3.   Classrooms built in the cold shadow of Wall Street save money on air conditioning.
2.   Specialization is the future.  I live in the past.

And the number 1 thing I learned from business school...
1.   If your professors were any good at social interaction, they would have stayed in business.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

28 October 2011

Funnyquote Friday

This should be the mantra of every PCV:

"We do everything we can,
but we can't do everything."

I've certainly taken this to heart the past month or so, what with the cavalcade of ongoing projects that came across my proverbial desk.  While it feels good to be busy and see a fresh turnover of worthwhile projects, the hectic pace can be grueling, like the whine of pistons in an engine that isn't downshifting.  At the same time, I'm preparing to go on leave to Georgia, so all of my duties here are being compressed into an even shorter frame of time.  But I guess that kind of anxiety is to be expected before a big flight overseas.

So the big news is out: MidService Training will be held on St. Kitts, which means my team of PCVs and I will, unfortunately, not be able to use this chance to see and tour our sister isles in the Lesser Antilles.  Instead, we will be playing host to the other two island countries represented in our class of PCVs, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.  Despite the disappointment about the placement, I will be thrilled to see everyone from my class of EC82 once again, and catch up with them.

I feel like this is me most days.

Also, it's HomecomingBetter beat those TigersNo excuses.

26 October 2011

My Third Top 11

Only been here a year, and already I can fill up a list of these occasionally ironic, often comical, potentially awkward situations where I have revealed previously unknown connections to friends and acquaintances on island.  It may be a small world after all, but around here I like to refer to them as Small Island moments – because every time they happen, you can't help but be reminded just how small this island is.  So, without further ado,

My Top 11...
"Small Island" Moments

11    When I helped a fellow volunteer film the teaser for her Healthy Breakfast project (you can see the video here), the music was provided by two gentlemen volunteering from the Ministry of Culture, a Mr. Nigel Williams who played guitar, and a djembe player who introduced himself simply as "Roy."  Not a week later, when reading through some past SKN volunteers' blogs, I stumble across a picture of an old volunteer and her on-island percussion instructor, Mr. Royd.  It was the same man.
10    I made a friend playing soccer.  Justin is a showboating, flashy striker who has good touch on the ball, but takes lots of high-difficulty shots on goal.  Nonetheless, I didn't have too many allies on the pitch, so by passing him the ball a whole lot, I made an ally.  The following week, at work, some students in the A/C Repair class asked if their instructor Mr. Caines was in, and I said I wasn't sure.  That afternoon, Mr. Caines came by to take his class to the worksite – and he turned out to be Justin.
  The volunteer that lives closest to me lives in a duplex in Palmetto Point.  She told me once that I must enjoy working at the NSTP, and that I must be especially glad that the administrative assistant at the NSTP also works there, since she was so attractive.  Knowing that she had never been to my office, I asked what she was talking about, and how she knew who our administrative assistant was.  She said, "Oh, Tonesha's mother and stepfather are my landlords."
  I had a quick initiation into the Hash House Harriers, the so-called "drinking club with a running problem" that (at the time) boasted about 50 local members.  Part of the difficulty of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is not having our own transportation, and the Hash runs are held in obscure, sometimes difficult to reach places all around the island.  My neighbor, a retired British expatriate, plays chess, and when I had him over for a couple matches, I mentioned my difficulty in getting to the Hashes.  He said not to worry about it – he goes every month, and would give me a lift.
  Also living in the same duplex in Palmetto Point is a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, who, coincidentally, was planning a short trip back home at the same time I was returning for a friend's wedding.  As we had the same American Airlines flight out, we coordinated a Taxi together, sharing the cost.  A friend recommended a local driver out of Trinity (near Palmetto Point) and through discussion it turned out that the driver, Greg Seaton, was Tonesha's uncle, the brother of the PCRV's landlord.
  Mr. Lawrence is the second-stream 6th grade teacher at Dr. William Connor Primary.  A young, humorless, sharp wit, I had occasion to work closely with him on the Math Activities booklet.  He remained very distant through the process, as though he never really felt comfortable working with me.  My host father is a jovial, warm, well-to-do Nevisian who is content to employ some social connections to hang on to a few part-time jobs here and there, even after retirement.  One Sunday on the way home from attending church, he and I both spotted Mr. Lawrence walking with his daughter on the sidewalk.  My host father slowed and said, "Hang on, I should stop a minute to talk to my son and granddaughter."
  My girlfriend's air conditioning unit was faltering: the minimum temperature had risen noticeably, and when she turned it on, it took significantly longer to cool off the room.  Since the blower and display seemed unaffected, I assumed it had something to do with the refrigerant.  When she informed her landlady of the situation, she said the A/C repairman would be around to handle it that evening.  A few hours later, a girl drove up to the apartment and let out her boyfriend, apparently the A/C repairman, who turned out to be... Justin Caines.
  My first trip to Nevis, I broke my digital camera.  I spent the month following looking for suitable on-island replacements, of which there were none.  I tried all the tech stores I knew, including one upstairs at Port Zante.  I recall the man there was clearly a vocal American, and seemed willing but unable to help me find the quality of digital camera I was looking for, short of ordering it and incurring the unsavory customs tax.  Tuesday night trivia at Frigate Bay is a weekly ritual for me and another Peace Corps volunteer.  Through trivia, we have made friends with a number of non-locals, including Sam, a tall, loud young man with a bushy head of curly hair.  After a few weeks, I asked Sam what he did on-island – he said he owns and runs a tech store upstairs at Port Zante.
  Since meeting him, Mr. Greg Seaton has been my go-to taxi service whenever I've needed one – his cell number stays in my phone for emergencies.  When he picked me up to go to the airport, and noted where I lived, he asked if I had a girlfriend who was a Ross student.  Confused, I said I did, but how did he know?  He mentioned that he brought a girl over to my neighborhood a few weeks back, who said she was going to see her boyfriend.  Was I that boyfriend?  I couldn't say for sure, since I didn't remember my girlfriend mentioning anything about hitching a lift with a taxi.  He said she was dressed very exotically (think, say, East Indian exotic).  I conceded, astonished, that it must have been her.
  My first week in St. Kitts included a visit to my host father's church and an orientation at my new job site.  The pastor at church that first Sunday morning was the associate rector, the reverend Father Christopher Archibald.  On Thursday, my boss at work informed me that he was being promoted out of the organization, and they were advancing his subordinate, Mrs. June James, to be my new acting boss.  After the independence celebrations that September, when I heard Father Archibald deliver a rousing message at the State Service Mass, I was chatting about it with my boss, who casually informed me, "Oh, he's my brother."

And the number 1 Small Island moment...
  No island is "smaller" than Nevis.  When arriving at Nevis for an evening get-together, I took a late ferry and arrived after dark.  It was the first time finding my way around Charlestown on my own, and I got a little turned around, ending up at the Westbound bus stop when I was looking for the Eastbound bus stop.  One large figure, in his late 20s, noticed my wandering, and asked if I knew where I was going.  I assured him I was fine, and asked if the buses here went to Rawlins Ground.  He responded by asking me if I was going to the Peace Corps party in the country.  Dumbfounded, I figured it was useless to lie at this point, and said I was.  His eyes lit up, and said "Great!  That's where I'm going.  I'll show you how to get there!"

Status update coming up on Friday.  In the meantime, I have to further prepare for today's Intro to Computers lecture.

21 October 2011

Funnyquote Friday

When I go in to work at the NSTP, I have a few places in the office I feel comfortable working at.  The highlight video from January shows my work station in the central breezeway, where most of my coworkers can be found.  I like working there, but sacrifice strong wireless internet connectivity, desk space, access to a 110V power outlet, and air conditioning when I do.  All four of these things can be found instead in the computer lounge adjacent the breezeway.  Indeed, that is where I find myself as I compose today's post.  Well, one day my frequent Kittitian companion in the computer room, Maurice, commented on the state of the air conditioning.  As it had been blowing nonstop at full power for the whole workday, it was rather chilly in the room.  I observed that the air conditioning could stand to be turned down a little – his response:

"That's not air conditioning, that's cold storage!"

It's certainly been an eventful week.  I enjoyed spending the weekend on Nevis, where I said goodbye to my fellow volunteer whose term of service just finished.  Then we had her over to St. Kitts on Monday night for a goodbye dinner, before she caught her flight out Tuesday morning.  All of us here really enjoyed getting to know her, and we're sorry to see her go, but we're also happy that she was able to fulfill her two years here and spend that whole time helping the youth on Nevis become more mature, responsible adults, as well as better swimmers and Mandarin speakers!

Also on Monday I submitted the final changes to the Remarkable Teen pamphlet to the printer, and discovered that I found a caffeinated beverage at Rituals, the local coffee shop in town, that I like: a spiced chai latte.  Which, fortunately for me, is basic enough that I expect I can find it just about anywhere.  This makes the third beverage I have grown to like in just the year that I have lived on island.  The others, namely beer (in which drinking from a glass bottle does change the taste a little, but mostly just getting past the initial "I want to try it" to the "I want to like it" stage was what proved to be most crucial) and rum (in which it turns out that so-called "Caribbean Rum" marketed in the US is way WAY stronger and more pungent than the cheaper rums sold in the Caribbean) have also helped ease some of my limitations around social drinking.   Now whether its a bartender or barrista asking me what I want, I'm set!

Then on Tuesday, I visited my new acquaintance, Ms. Learnice Mitchell, down at the National Museum.  Her idea of using the auspices of the St. Christopher National Trust to publish a special pamphlet/magazine celebrating the renovation of the St. Thomas Anglican Church is taking off, and I'm happy to be participating.  It's the first time ever, I believe, that I've been brought on to a project in a sort of consultant role, where my expertise and opinions are valued and followed!  The resulting confidence boost and ego trip is rather exciting, too.  It really serves to confirm my belief that I would, in fact, be well suited for a career in consulting, whatever the consultancy firms and their hiring reps say.  I must confess, though – I may have made a bit of a power play to get the SCNT to take me seriously.  I did bring by a copy of my recently published issue of Serious Ting, in it 40-page full color glory, knowing that this was something above and beyond what Learnice envisioned for her project.  The result was as I had hoped: she nearly fell out of her chair when she saw what was possible if given the time, skill and resources.  Naturally, she now wants to bring the project as close to this benchmark as possible, but we're already running into the issue of financing – the moneys for printing would almost exclusively have to come from in-print advertisements, which means marketing a not-as-yet-seen product to the businesses around the island, specifically the ones that target tourist business.  Which, in turn, means that the content of the magazine should be appealing to tourists, and made readily available to them (perhaps to be sold?).  There are still lots of questions to be answered, so more on that later.

Then again, on Wednesday, I taught my first Intro to Computers Applications course:  from 1:00 to 3:00, I spent the afternoon in an airy classroom with 5 teenagers enrolled in the Certified Electrician course offered at the NSTP.  As part of the curriculum, two hours a week are given to supplementary material on working with computers, and I was asked to pick up that class.  It went almost exactly as expected: the kids were bright, felt engaged when we talked about something of interest to them (which wasn't the same for everybody, but everybody found something at some point in that span), and did whatever they felt they could get away with to disengage when they got bored (i.e. listen to an iPod, fiddle with a laptop, leave to use the restroom).  Still, we somehow managed to get through all of the material I had planned for that day, using up the full two hours – wouldn't want to set a bad precedent!  And even though the material is supplementary in nature, and the kids probably won't even be tested on it, I hope that they still learned something in the process.  Call me cynical, but even though the kids were grateful and clearly eager to take home the notes we copied for them, a finer investigation might just reveal the blank side of the paper being used at home as free copier paper, something that remains rare and expensive on island.

Furthermore, on Thursday, I continued working on a new project for my PC administrative assistant here in St. Kitts.  Her church is celebrating an anniversary (so sorry, I don't remember which!) this November, and she wants a highlight video to be compiled and prepared especially for this occasion.  A simple enough task, you say?  Excepting, of course, that the source material that she acquired for the video is actually film on VHS tapes – requiring a conversion that is certainly possible but for which I do not have the necessary tools.  So I left it to her: get me digitized copies of the source material, and I'll do whatever I can do.  She got back to me last weekend with the DVDs, which I inserted into my MacBook on Thursday to find, to my dismay, that the video had been converted as video viewable by a DVD player.  This meant that I had to spend about 4 hours ripping three 2-hour videos from the DVDs to my hard drive, into a .m4v format.  When I tried importing these into iMovie, I discovered, to my even greater dismay, that the encoding was slightly off, and I first needed to convert these DVD rips to MPEG-4, which would be readable by iMovie.  This conversion, frame by frame, took my computer over 7 hours straight, finishing off my day.  The good news in the end was that I was able to import the final converted ripped videos into iMovie (which took another 30 minutes) and managed to get some housework done, too!

Whew; told you it was a busy week.  So, what do you think of my new favicon?  (That little square to the left of the URL in your browser.)  Cool, eh?  At least until Ting soda bottlers find it and tell me to take it down...

14 October 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Every Tuesday night is an excuse to go down to Frigate Bay for Team Trivia, an event patronized by British expatriates, Ross students and PCVs alike.  Since it is too far down on the Southern Peninsula for public buses to travel down there, "grounded" folk like myself have to hitch lifts from other gracious residents of the neighborhood – in my case, my neighbors and their friends.  Practically, this means that I am regaled weekly with amusing stories from Nottinghamshire and The Old Country, and often partake in discussions about the quirky differences in our allegedly common language.  One such discussion led to naming car parts.  In the information age, of course, everybody calls parts of the computer (the CPU, RAM, monitor, mouse, keyboard) the same thing, since they were developed in the time of near-instant overseas communication.  But autos?  At the turn of the (previous) century, everyone presumably had to come up with their own names for things.  And as it were, popular acceptance of car part names varied greatly across the pond.  For example, when our friends' jeep is crowded, and I have to sit behind the back seat, in the trunk, it is not to be called the trunk.  It's "the boot."  As in, "into the boot wit' ya."  Alternatively, if you needed to check under the hood, Brits would give you a double take, since it is not called a hood.  It's called "the bonnet."  So from boot to bonnet, our names for things are very different.  More often than not, the British name is accepted as the end-all-be-all, but occasionally the American English word is considered more practical.  For as my British neighbor so adroitly observed, to all of our great amusement,

"You'd never see a movie called
Boyz In the Bonnet."

So... good news!  A great vote of thanks to the Jabez Sunday School Class of McConnell Baptist in Hiawassee, who have collectively covered the $300 to fund a donation of books to the library at the Dr. William Connor Primary School.  This means that my first fundraising undertaking in the Caribbean was a success, and the results should be seen very soon – as per my understanding, the books should have already been purchased, and will be shipped within days.  I now have to prepare the library for the incoming book barrage!
Cover design by Yours Truly

Additionally, I just finished putting together the event program for the Remarkable Teen project, a youth empowerment project as envisioned by my colleague here on St. Kitts.  The same creative mind that put together the Healthy Breakfast project has, for this latest idea, collected the names and inspirational stories of 25 teenagers as nominated by the community.  The honorees will then be presented their awards at a specially called session of parliament.  Unfortunately, I will be in the States come November 10th, but I'm sure the event will go as smoothly as envisioned.  At the least, I know the students are thrilled about their selection, and excited to be noticed for something positive, instead of negative.  The event program itself is a behemoth: 25 pages of profiles, each between 1/2 and 1 full page of 12pt, single-spaced text in length.  I had the pleasure of reading each person's story (ranging from the familiar, to the unfamiliar, and all the way to the horrific) and their strong, self-propelled climb to the place they find themselves today.  It's a terrific project, and I was happy to be able to contribute to it in a creative, productive fashion.

Mid-Service Training has been scheduled for the week of November 14th, so I anticipate being busy for those five days, with the possibility of being on a different island!  From my sources right now, the odds are 50/50 that we on St. Kitts could be shipping to a different island for training.  Travel costs and available facilities are, naturally, the biggest determining factors of that decision.  So I'm eager to find out soon, and especially to see some familiar faces after a full year of service!

07 October 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Seen on a sign at Frigate Bay, advertising for home air conditioning sales and services:

"Your wife's HOT!!"

Well, I'm pleased to report that I have a bit of a swagger back in my step after the doomy gloomy first half of the week.  A few notable things going down helped to get me back in a positive frame of mind: First, I met with fellow volunteer (whose blog you can read here) who asked me to sign on with her "Remarkable Teen" recognition program, running through the Ministry of Youth.  I'll help put together a booklet highlighting each of the 25 students that have been selected for commendation, in a broad array of categories like "Scholar Athlete," "Civic Involvement" and "Fashion Design."  The booklet will be distributed to parents and community leaders, and a special session of Parliament will be called to honor the students in early November.  I met with my friend over lunch to discuss the project, and I was impressed, as always, with the scope and magnitude of the undertaking.  That, as well as being complimented on work I hadn't even submitted yet helped soften me up to take on the assignment.

Second, I was asked by another fellow volunteer to visit the National Museum on Thursday in order to discuss my involvement in their upcoming newsletter, which will feature renovations on the old St. Thomas's Anglican Church.  Ms. Mitchell, who works for the St. Christopher National Trust and is in charge of the newsletter, was grateful for my vote of assistance in either writing or copy design, and I'm expecting a note from her in the future with more details on how I can help with it.

Thirdly, and most exciting, the Serious Ting has been printed and shipped – I picked up my 5 copies this morning!  One will go to the office, one will stay at my apartment, one will come home with me for friends and family, and two will remain free-floating until I find a use for them.  And they turned out great: 40+ pages of full color photos alongside challenging articles written exclusively by Peace Corps Volunteers currently serving in the Eastern Caribbean.  I'm very proud of my involvement in the project, and look forward to participating once again for the next issue.  Even 3 shots in my shoulders this morning (HepA, HepB, and Flu Vaccine) couldn't bring me down!

Good to be back.  Also, someone's finally getting a little long-deserved credit, it seems.

03 October 2011

Lessons Remembered

I came down with a very mild dengue fever a week ago Monday, so I took that day off from work.  Now, one week later, I'm feeling better and more rested.  But I'm concerned that my effort to save money by further limiting my groceries to only inexpensive, easily-stored foodstuffs like spaghetti, tuna, or macaroni and cheese, is taking its toll on my body.  In Pre-Service Training, we were taught to eat leafy greens and plenty of veggies and proteins to try and stave off common illnesses.  Instead, it's just bread and sugar, bread and sugar, for every meal (and sometimes salt).  Oatmeal, cheese bread, or pop tarts for breakfast; spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, or sandwiches for dinner; leftovers for lunch.  With little to no variation for weeks at a time, my enjoyment and interest in eating is waning fast.

Well, I think I've finally reached it: the second of two anticipated dips in morale during a typical PCV's term of service.  Back during Pre-Service Training, we were taught that the average volunteer goes through two valleys in the span of a two year term of service: the first after six months, the second after one year.  My thought at the time was that I would have an irregular graph, something with dips and peaks at different times from everybody else.  As it turns out, I was wrong – my chart would look the same as the average volunteer's, and I'm currently riding through the deepest period of frustration and disenchantment.

In addition, I'm having some trouble finding things to write about these days.  Contrarily, I don't seem to have any difficulty being inspired to extrapolate some trends from the NSTP's new secondary-school trainees database, or the average points scored from all 462 different dice-roll combinations in Zilch.  It seems that my head is so full of numbers, I have no space left for emotions and words to express them.  That was one of the discoveries of my anxiety therapy some years ago, and at the time I made strides towards improving my ability to be more self-aware of my own emotions.  Short of any dramatic backsliding in this area, I believe the cause is more related to a dearth of variation of experience lately.  It was some time ago that I crossed from daily seeing or participating in some new and positive experience – now I find myself going weeks through the same routine, only to be surprised when I realize it's Friday afternoon and I've created nothing new for the week.  And I know myself well enough to know that is what I derive the most job satisfaction from: producing new and useful creations to the people and companies I serve.  But I can't seem to refocus on creating new ideas for projects at work when I have these unfinished, unmoving new ideas from months ago crowding the tunnel of my mind.

On Thursday, I drove with my host family to the grocery/hardware store across town, in order to pick up some lightbulbs that work on a 220V circuit.  I can now see in my apartment after 6:30 PM!  There was a bit of a scare at the checkout line, however: while I was carefully monitoring the total price of my groceries, knowing that I had exactly EC$185 on me, I forewent purchasing the potato chips when the total exceeded $165.  Then as I pulled the cash from my wallet, I noticed there was only $165 there – $20 had gone to purchasing the lightbulbs at the hardware!  Oh wait, I also had the change left over from that transaction.  In the end, there was just enough to cover the groceries.

Oh, and before I forget, here's to 6000 pageviews.  I think reaching 10,000 in my term of service could be a real possibility – and remember, I have a surprise for everyone at 9000!

23 September 2011

Funnyquote Friday

In response to a local in-party dispute regarding the duties of the Deputy Prime Minister / Minister of National Security, our esteemed current DPM the honorable Mr. Sam Condor gave a public address that I had the pleasure of listening to part of on the bus. At one point, however, serious discourse on political fair treatment and the responsibilities of political office took a turn for the comical when he uttered this intro:

"... as Benjamin Franklin, former US President,
famously said, ..."

I couldn't help but chuckle at that, but I fear I was the only one on the bus that did.

With Tropical Storm Ophelia looming on the horizon, nobody knows if our weekend is going to be shot yet.  Although NOAA has the projection cone bending further and further north as the week goes on, so we may be in the clear.  Even so, my weekend trip to Nevis with my girlfriend will have to be postponed.  But there is some vacationing in the works even so: the tickets for my trip back to the States for my brother's wedding have been purchased.  So I am officially set to be in and around Atlanta from between the days of October 31 and November 11.  Or Halloween and Veteran's Day, for those of a variant nomenclature.

Things keep rolling here.  I might just have some updates regarding the work on the Math Activities booklet in a few weeks.  I'll certainly have some updates on the Library Reorganization Project sooner than that.  On the other side of the coin, give me a shout sometime –  Skype or otherwise.

21 September 2011

Help Send New Books to an EC School Library!

Friends and Readers,

I ask you to consider making a small donation towards funding a library expansion at the Dr. William Connor Primary School, one of my goals as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  100% of your donation goes towards purchasing new books that will be shipped, free of charge, to this burgeoning school in the heart of Basseterre.  Furthermore, each dollar donated by you is matched 1 to 1 by the charity organization responsible for this singular opportunity, Hands Across The Sea.  Below you will find a link to the HATS website, and to the left is a link to the specific project that we are initiating.  The deadline for donations is November, so please give soon!

Something Old, Something New

As my term of service stands roughly at one full year, and I recently submitted my third trimesterly progress report to the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C., I felt like this would be a good time to take a small glimpse into that report.  Of the many angles we are asked to look at our service over the previous four months, the most difficult for me to answer is the section labelled "Success Story."  You may come to your own conclusions why that it, but I fear it has mostly to do with my tendency towards apprehensive pessimism.  I do not remember perceived successes as sharply as failures, and this bias often clouds my objective assessment of the effectiveness of my work here.  With that said, here is the story I chose to be this semester's "success story:"
With the school year winding down, I knew I had a little more free time to devote to new secondary projects during the summer.  So I scheduled a couple of meetings in the interest of kicking off a pair of new projects: one with Fr. Christopher Archibald, Associate Rector at the St. George's Anglican Church, in the interest of starting up a youth group to combat AIDS spread and school drop-out rates, and a second with the Ministry of Education's Curriculum Development Unit in the interest of promoting the Math Activities pamphlet and distributing it to the schools on the islands.
Five minutes early to the meeting with Fr. Archibald, I considered the directions he gave me to the church office, and yet I was unable to pinpoint which building was the office.  I spent the next half hour trodding up and down the residential street, stopping occasionally to inquire at houses and ask if they knew the whereabouts of the office.  Finally, as I came upon it, Fr. Archibald met me outside as he was leaving to go on an emergency call he had just received.  We quickly scheduled for next week, pushing my two meetings to the same week.
Attending the CDU meeting which a contact had set up for me, it became clear as time neared that the contact was going to be unable to make the meeting.  Furthermore, the CDU representatives were under the impression that I was prepared to make a multimedia presentation; I had simply brought a single hard-copy of the Math Activities booklet.  Thinking fast, however, I obtained a virtual copy of the document from a previous e-mail I had sent, and borrowed one of the CDU's student-use laptops to make an off-the-cuff hour-long presentation of the material.  The CDU director was pleased, and I will shortly get back in touch with him to finalize the project.
Later that week, I trudged through the beginnings of Tropical Storm Irene to meet with Fr. Archibald, and this time I was forced to wait at his office, as he forgot our agreed time and drove from home to meet me.  In time, however, it became clear that my suggestion for a youth boy's program was something of interest to him and the church, and indeed until just a few years back, the church had been sponsoring a program very similar in nature.  So with many of the foundational aspects already in place, I offered the willingness to pick up a share of the legwork it would take to bring the program back, and this was met with enthusiasm.  I was very grateful, therefore, after much time and anxiety borne of ambiguity, that my ideas for new projects were met with such positive results.
I may not have mentioned yet that I was asked by the new principal of Dr. William Connor Primary to collect some new books in the interest of expanding and revitalizing the defunct school library.  I was referred to a charity organization called Hands Across The Sea, a book purchasing and donating organization whose goal is to promote child literacy in the Eastern Caribbean.  They've already helped several of my compatriots on other islands around the EC, donating upwards of US$25,000 worth of books annually.  Upon contacting them and learning that their book drive delivery is usually mid-October, and that they are in full swing to begin delivering shipments to the 80 schools and libraries they serve, they were still graciously willing to accommodate DWC Primary's request.  This is my first procurement/fundraising project, and it's starting on a strong foot!  Please check out their website, which shares some of their success stories, both in letter and video forms, as well as my own request for aid on their wishlist page.  I am asking for $300 to help HATS purchase new books from Scholastic®, a total which will then be matched by HATS and the sum quantity sent to DWC Primary.  In order to be in compliance, however, we need to have raised the money by November.  So I appreciate any speedy help in achieving this goal.

And I'm pleased to introduce a new blog header for the occasion.  Those are Ting brand bottle caps in the middle.  Enjoy!

16 September 2011

Funnyquote Friday

My girlfriend recently started her fourth semester at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, and with the transition to new subjects and professors came students moving into the newly-vacant apartments around her.  One in particular, her new neighbor living immediately downstairs, owns a couple of dogs and a cockatoo.  Lolly has an abundance of experience with birds, as she owns a few herself and also worked in a pet shop while at university in New York.  So she loves playing with this new addition to the apartment, making him coo and whistle, bounce on his legs and flap his wings.  When we were getting ready to leave, and her neighbor stepped out to take the dogs on a brief walk, the cockatoo from inside the apartment said:

"*Whistle* I'm coming back! Coming back!"

It's that time of year again: the long holiday weekend celebrating both National Heroes' Day and the Federation's 28th year of independence.  National Heroes' Day is similar to our President's Day in February, except in this case, they honor the men and women on whom have been bestowed the honorary of Official National Hero.  The big difference, however, is that there has only been one person declared an official national hero: Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw, the first premiere of the colony of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, who was instrumental in bringing about independence from the Crown in the '50s and '60s.  He did not live to see independence in 1973, but is memorialized as one of the greatest Kittitians in history.  There have been recent pushes to add other names to that list (notably voiced by People's Action Movement, the political party in opposition to the sitting government, the Labour Party, of whom Bradshaw was an adherent).  Upon declaring ruling independence from the U.K. in '73, but retaining their place in the Commonwealth of Former British Nations, (there are 53 countries in all, including India and Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand, Guinea, the Seychelles, Belize, most of the OECS, and Canada to name a few) and keeping the Queen as their Head of State, a few years' passing saw the secession of the Federation's smallest and most distant member, Anguilla, when it restored its official U.K. territory status.  Since then it has been the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, and now it's Nevis's prerogative to speak of disenfranchisement and favoritism.  But, all that will probably be overlooked for the of the coming long weekend, anyway.

12 September 2011

Well, That Was Weird

An entire weekend gone, (*snap*) just sitting at home and waiting for Tropical Storm Maria to pass.  We volunteers were, naturally, held at "Standfast" level of emergency alert all day Saturday, the day that it was originally scheduled to pass.  When everything had mostly cleared late that day, we were given the "All Clear" announcement.  Curiously, this did not correspond at all with the severity of the storm, which had indeed diverted North at this point, but nonetheless had a minor tail of stormy weather that was headed our way on Sunday.  But even then, expecting some degree of thunderstorms, wind, and rain during the day, it did not arrive until late Sunday night and into Monday morning.  The offshoot of all of this is that I got little to no exercise both days, and somewhat restless sleep both nights.  It's odd to think that, while hurricanes have been known to throw schedules completely off the rails, even the mere threat of them can sometimes be just as vexing.  Not to mention disappointing: I was looking forward to facing another storm on my own, and maybe even capturing some of the ferocity for a highlight movie.  But that proved to be impossible this go-around.  Maybe next time?

Last week, and now by default this week, was to be set aside for looking back, a week in review in a sense.  But I have not got around to completing my third trimesterly Volunteer Report Form yet, so I don't know what I would write about yet.  I guess it won't hurt to delay the festivities one more week.  I want to do it right more than I want to do it on time!

I mentioned that my hair has gotten longer; even this has some unusual consequences for me.  For example, I have neither dust bunnies nor cats in my residence, yet a cursory sweep around the apartment uncovers occasionally substantial hairballs.  Furthermore, keeping the mane under control in this climate is proving to be difficult.  What with the constant heat and humidity, the frizziness of my locks tends to skyrocket, creating this shift away from what I am used to it looking like in the states to what it begins to resemble here if I am not careful.  My friends like to tease me about my clear vanity over something as trivial as my hair that day, and I just take it.  But to me it's the difference between "this person looks smart, sexy and professional" and "there's absolutely no way I can take this person seriously."

I'm trying to update my résumé currently, in preparation for job hunting all of next year.  It may be no surprise to anyone that I find it mildly challenging to put into brief terms exactly what I do here.  At the moment my descriptions of things I've accomplished feel like the bare bones of my job description; I suppose the goal for the next year is to add some marrow, tendons, muscle and flesh to those bones.  It's a daunting prospect, but it's not impossible.  Indeed, I look forward to finding out what projects hold for the long run.

09 September 2011

Funnyquote Friday

It's that time of year again... the Funnyquote Fridays in Review!  And that means more funny, often inane, but occasionally insightful, translations from Bad Translator.  Here are the last 24 weeks of funnyquotes and their respective 56th translation:

 25 February 2011: "Well, your six months of vacation are over."
... becomes, "So, you can download important messages."

04 March 2011: "The pessimist says, 'The glass is half empty.' The optimist says, 'The glass is half full.' The Peace Corps Volunteer says, 'Who poured the bath for me?' "
... becomes, "The volunteer group for the bathroom said, 'This is the glass half empty; he said he was optimistic.' "

11 March 2011: "Just because the Peace Corps has three goals, doesn't mean you have to start with the first one."
... becomes, "In fact, the Peace Corps has three goals in its first match."

18 March 2011: "You so slow, I'm gonna lap you in the 100 meters."
... becomes, "In my case, 100 meters is very difficult."

25 March 2011: "Would you like to be the Country Director's water carrier?"
... becomes, "How are the locals?"

01 April 2011: "I'm tired of pretending I'm not a total, bitching rock star from Mars."
... becomes, "I'm a rock star to my dismay, Kaye, and very tired of the government."

08 April 2011: "I'm sure Mr. Nelson would rather go home, eat tortilla soup and watch TV."
... becomes, "I think it features Nelson, Tom, and I on TV cooking shows."

15 April 2011: "Morning, Peter.  Cabbage, Ma'am."
... becomes, "Hello, Colonel Peter woman."

22 April 2011: "It's Kurt... like Kurt Douglas."
... becomes, "Kurt Douglas out, especially sun."

29 April 2011: "I don't want fried chicken.  Right now I'm so hungry I could go for all of Noah's Ark deep-fried."
... becomes, "I designed a good appetite: I do not like fried chicken."

06 May 2011: "Simma Dung."
... becomes, "Reduction."

13 May 2011: "Please feel free to contact me with questions.  (As an Alaskan, I am an expert in frostbite and hypothermia, so if you ever get those, you’ll be in good hands!)"
... becomes, "Communication problems: I was frozen in Alaska, the land of experts!"

20 May 2011: "Love the car, Adrian. Love the car!"
... becomes, "Oooh I love the car and my wife!"

03 June 2011: "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go."
... becomes, "This is what you want to do."

10 June 2011: "My theory is that the buses here actually hover an inch above the ground."
... becomes, "My theory is the bottom line."

24 June 2011: "I don't phone 911."
... becomes, "Article 911."

01 July 2011: "We have a special term for them in St. Kitts: we call them 'I' specialists."
... becomes, "San Francisco Information and I, Chris, is closed."

08 July 2011: "Too good to be true."
... becomes, "Maybe."

15 July 2011: "On behalf of the A/C Repair class, I would like to thank you... for doing your job."
... becomes, "Social process: that is the name of the class."

22 July 2011: "Don't take too much advice from other PCVs."
... becomes, "There are many other volunteers to rule the world."

5 August 2011: "So they figured, [after you,] how could they do better?"
... becomes, "You're very popular."

19 August 2011: "...And a very happy birthday to Ms. Janet Caines. She was born on the same day as Fidel Castro."
... becomes, "Congratulations to Mrs. Jeanette Holiday. Fidel Castro was born."

26 August 2011: *gasp* "That's almost thirty minutes!"
... becomes, "Thirty minutes is enough!"

02 September 2011: "Ram's: Where shopping is a pleasure."
... becomes, "Farm attraction."

... and that's it!  Thanks for sticking around for this review edition of the Funnyquote, and for another 25 weeks of the blog!

02 September 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Seen on a grocery bag:

Ram's: Where shopping is a pleasure.

Now where have I heard that before?

Well, it's the Friday before school starts here, and so there is a dull, sickly feeling in the back of every 12-year-old mind, each one trying to squeeze out the last joys of sleeping in.  In my mind, the subtle pressure of submitting and printing the Math Activities booklet before school started is nearly dissipated.  But I'm still putting in the hours on it, in the hopes of seeing it used in schools this year.  I was able to cajole a fellow volunteer into helping grammar-check the document, so it is nearing completion slowly but surely.

Today marks the 1-year anniversary for my being on-island.  So discounting the 5 days I was in the States for my friend's wedding, I have been serving and training in St. Kitts and Nevis for an entire year now, with about 14 months remaining in my term of service.  I'll be writing up my 3rd Trimester service reports to PC St. Lucia very soon, so when I do, I'll do some reflection and cover some of the details here.  Next week: Review time again! Oh boy!

31 August 2011

Ah So Dey Be

Have you ever tasted a ripe mango so soft and sweet, that it made your gums tingle? 
Have you ever heard the screech of a baby monkey calling for its mother?
Have you ever seen the lights of a cruise liner go trundling off at dusk toward its next port-of-call?
Have you ever smelled the mildewy aroma of a stagnant pond in the crater of a volcano?
Have you ever felt the velvety inside of a passion fruit husk?

I have.  But on the other hand...

Have you ever smelled the scent of rotting meat permeating the entire grocery store?
Have you ever seen a 10-year-old boy fail to hold back tears after receiving six lashes on the hand?
Have you ever tasted the acrid sweetness of undiscovered mold on bread purchased the day before?
Have you ever felt the dead corpse of a lizard under your bare feet?
Have you ever heard a tropical rainstorm pound the roof so hard, it sounded like a train?

I have.

I'll keep this entry brief, to maintain some of its intrigue.  I'm a mere one activity away from having an even 20 in the collection, and then I'm going to have it proofread before submitting the final edition to the Curriculum Development Unit to have it printed and distributed.  Wish me the best!

29 August 2011

My Hair Is Getting Pretty Long Now

I'm going to take this opportunity to catch up on a few items left over from this weekend.

My girlfriend finally had her floor repaired.  As it turns out, it was merely tiles cracking above a solid concrete floor, with an inch of grout in-between; not really a threat to fall through to the floor below.  But this hardly explains the violent cracking and sharp angles of the sinking tiles – were they really just breaking and shifting the dried grout underneath?  This would have been hard to imagine for anybody that had been there when the damage was taking place.  But, after all that, a tiler came in on the weekend and replaced the cracked floor tiles, and my girlfriend and I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the dust and rearranging the furniture in her room.  So everything is back to some semblance of normalcy now, though she is still dealing with not being able go home for her two-week summer break.

I mentioned on Friday I delivered a presentation on MS Excel; this morning I finished the two-part Office Applications lecture with a demonstration of MS PowerPoint.  The class is very small: just two of my coworkers, and occasionally my boss drops in if she is free.  We spent two hours on each of Friday and Monday morning going over the bare basics of what Excel and PPoint can do; I was pleased with the broad base of topics we were able to cover in such a short period:
E1 > Cells, Rows, Columns, and Sheets
E2 > Basic Functions and Formulas
E3 > Charts & Graphs
P1 > Adding Text, Pictures, and Sound
P2 > Tools for Creating a Memorable Presentation
P3 > Examples
The participants were grateful for the free training, though one expressed a request for an even lower-level introduction to computer basics, seeming to have some difficulty grasping many of the concepts I covered in the overview.  So I may find myself doing some very directed, remedial tutoring in Windows and computer usage.

In addition, this weekend I continued to add to my Math Activities booklet with three new classroom games.  I have to thank my girlfriend here for her brilliant contributions to the creative process, the gem of our musings being one activity based on the traditional Towers of Hanoi puzzle, but reworked so that the shape of the constituent parts is reminiscent of Mt. Liamuiga.  I think students could really get excited about this one, not least of all since the problem is rather compelling in itself.  (Ooh!  I just came up with another game for dice and a number line – better write it down before I forget.)  I'm hoping to get to work with the Department of Curriculum Development this school year to distribute my booklet of ideas to schools that are interested in incorporating the activities into their math departments.  I'll include more details as things continue to unfold.