28 February 2011

A Welcome Change

Well, not bad for a first day of IST, all things considered.  Institutional Point Persons, our NGO or school counterparts were encouraged to attend today's session, and both my IPPs made showings, however at staggered intervals during the day.  So in all, I really only ended up with one 20 minute segment out of a whole day to participate in the proceedings with just one of my two counterparts.  And while this made it a bit awkward at times, the benefits of getting to meet everyone else's counterparts once again was helpful and somewhat refreshing.  Also, spending time in the glorious Kittitian tradition of singing each others' praises was somewhat rewarding as well.

One IPP in particular stole the show.  She is a social worker specializing in AIDS awareness and prevention – nothing unusual about this, as I have met several since being on island.  However, she actually lives the shamelessness one has to adopt to overcome the taboos and social proclivities of discussing sexual health.  And she even goes beyond that, to the point of simply overcompensating.  Going even beyond the realm of practicality or expediency, every single thought she broached or contributed was a metaphor pregnant with innuendo. (Emphasis added to reinforce that this is in no way an exaggeration.)   To the sophomoric mind like the one I bear, this was met with astounding amusement, however I can confidently say that the sentiment was not universal.  It goes a long way, in my mind, towards reopening the questions of gender equality in our respective societies, since I fear the reactions to her interjections would not have been the same had she been male.  But that is just my opinion.  Ask me about it sometime if you care to know more.

Amongst the hubbub of volunteers telling other poignant anecdotes, I discovered I am unique in possessing one talent in particular: I actively involve myself willingly into lots of diverse things – at work and otherwise.  Not to compare myself with my colleagues; I merely observed that a goodly portion of the positive things my coworkers, counterparts, and cohorts (PCVs) thought of to say about me were things that didn't directly coincide with my projects, but rather (1) helping clean up the NSTP building and site, (2) visiting and documenting an NSTP class graduation on a Sunday evening, (3) helping out at the Queen pageant (that is, a fund raising beauty pageant at my primary school), and of course (4) joining a troupe for J'ouvert, which has been mentioned before by other parties though was not mentioned today.

I spent Saturday over on Nevis, and had a great time helping break-in the new home of a fellow volunteer at her housewarming party.  I met some old friends (can they be old friends, if I met them under six months ago?) and made some new friends there.  An even do' dey be on Nevis, me be tinkin' dat me be seein' dem again soon.

Starting Training Today

Just a brief heads-up:

Since I know you are anxiously awaiting my post for Monday, please be aware that I am starting InterService Training today, and so my posting schedule will be moved back to the evenings for the first half of this week.  I'll tell all about the day's events, and save some funnyquote gems for the coming weeks at the same time.

And with this PSA, the navigation bar on the left (<---) is, for the very first time, longer than the homepage posts.

Anyway, more to come.

25 February 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Your quote for the week comes from a revelation of my mother after I mentioned my increased workload for this and next month:

"Well, your six months of vacation are over."

Right.  Vacation.  Thank you.

A visit to school yesterday, in which I piloted three of the Math Activities I had prepared back in October, went just about as well as could be expected.  That is to say, the morning 1-hour session went like a breeze, and the kids were focused, motivated, and capable.  It was a pleasure to see the group dynamics in action, and to see the students challenged appropriately and more often than not rise to beat that challenge.  Then, the noontime 45-minute session with another class went okay, with the kids losing interest right in time for lunch.  And finally, the 30-minute session with yet another class in the afternoon went by far too quickly: I had scheduled an hour in the event it went longer than I planned, but the activity was mostly beneath the abilities of the kids and they breezed through it with little or no difficulty.  And when I managed to raise the difficulty to attempt to challenge the class further, with no tangible goal in sight, they quickly lost interest.  Suffice to say, some clear lessons were learned for the sake of running three more sessions next Thursday, as well as for improving the activities in general.  So good news there!

Not much else to write about today – I have a meeting at NEDD to hand over my first revision of the Small Business Financial Management presentation I have prepared to supplement the Introduction to Entrepreneurship curriculum that they are compiling.  And at noon I have a charity luncheon to attend – not even sure what it was I signed up for yet, so I'll let you know next week who the beneficiaries of the fundraiser are.  All of this before I spend the weekend creating a digital promo poster for a cultural gala fundraiser on Nevis, compile and edit the February highlight video for publishing before the end of the month, and finish some homework in preparation for InterService Training beginning Monday.  Oh, and I get to celebrate a housewarming on Nevis Saturday night.  So lots of fun projects to keep me busy, and hopefully I won't get overwhelmed!


23 February 2011

The Sports Page

In the States, we pay attention to our Olympic athletes, inasmuch as NBC gives us reason to.  We know of the swimmer most likely to earn gold in multiple events; we know of the Dream Team's anticipated double-digit average margin of victory; we know of the fastest American competing in the 100m sprint.  In fact, if I asked you to name the fastest man in the world circa 2000, many of you could probably tell me.  (If you said this man, you are right!)  But there are still a lot of other world athletes that we Americans, understandably, don't have the need or interest to follow.  And that's the inspiration for this deviation: an introduction to one of St. Kitts and Nevis's most successful international competitive athletes, Mr. Kim Collins.  A timely post, considering his success at a recent qualifying meet.

Mr. Collins, a short distance sprinter who attended TCU, set his personal best time of 6.53 seconds in the 60m race in a meet at the University of Arkansas when he was 23 years old.  Mind you, the 60m is not a medalling event at the Summer Olympics, though it is at the World Indoor Championships.  Even so, Collins saw success in the 100m and 200m sprints in international competition, medalling in three World Championships (held in Olympic off-years) in those events.  This included one fateful sprint in Paris in 2003: Collins, in his prime, had advanced to the 100m finals.  The favorite, world record holder and previous gold medalist Maurice Greene, had already been eliminated, opening up the field for a new champion.  Collins, running his personal best sub-10 second sprint, clinched his first and only Gold Medal at the World Championships, and second gold in international competitions.  Thus, for a year, the World's Fastest Man designation was bestowed upon a great athlete from the smallest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Fast forward to this month.  Collins, all of 34 and well past his prime, is still in superior condition and competes regularly.  A World Indoor Championships qualifying meet held in Germany was the venue.  To nobody's surprise, Collins performed well in the 60m heat, managing to win and beat fellow competitors Mike Rodgers (USA) and Marc Burns (Trinidad & Tobago).  To everyone's surprise, however, Collins ran a new personal best time of 6.52 seconds, outrunning his previous best set eleven years earlier.  Feel free to check out the press release for yourself.  A sincere congratulations to Mr. Collins, whose efforts have managed to inspire even those of us just visiting his country for a few years.

In other news, I am proud to report a breakthrough in my soccer "trials," as it were.  Through a combination of switching teams from Light Jerseys to Dark Jerseys, and playing a higher percentage of the match up front, and shedding a heavy portion of nerves, I had a much more successful evening last night on the pitch.  I did make a few mistakes, of course, but I made up for it with many more clean passes, some solid shots on goal, and a little luck to help.  I may have angered a teammate or two when I nearly tripped over the ball at one point, but I definitely angered the other team when I put two passes, at different times, between the legs of the same defenseman.

Also, I kind of made a new friend.  The flashy striker on our side (every team's got one, pretty much) goes by the name of Justin, and he seems to have taken to me faster than some of the others.  And while I am relieved that I can, indeed, make personal connections out on the pitch, I am not surprised in this case.  You see, I know the hidden truth about strikers, and I'll let you in on that now.  [whispers] Down deep, we're all secretly Prima Donnas.  It's true; ask anyone that has played on a team.  If they argue or say that's not entirely the case, Congratulations!  You just met that team's striker.  So what does this mean?  Justin has some talent, as it were, and often I found I could feed him the ball pretty effectively, to varying degrees of success.  (Early on, I did have my first semi-assist: I struck a shot on-goal, which was defended, and Justin relayed the ricochet to a gentleman named Hilton who dove to put the ball in the net.)  And, as Prima Donna's, all we want is to be fed the ball over and over, like guinea pigs at the water tube.  So the best way to get on a striker's good side is, quite simply, feed him the ball.  Over and over again.  Keep doing it.  Even when he's ostensibly covered and there are other options, and at the expense of all your other teammate's opinions of your able-mindedness, keep feeding him the ball.  It doesn't matter how ill-advised or awry the pass is, in his mind, you have just earned a brownie point.  Several brownie points later, I had a guy who was giving me thumbs-up, high-fives, and fist bumps even when I hadn't really done anything.

That's something I didn't know I had been missing.

21 February 2011

My GamersCorps Achievements

Saturday was full of surprises.  One of the big ones was the revelation that they have ice cream trucks here; much to my dismay, it was the same kind that play the same silly tunes that nobody knows, as loudly as possible, and are just catchy and irritating enough to get stuck in your head for the rest of the day.  But here in the islands, there is an added twist: since the special refrigerated truck is not manufactured anywhere around here save for the States, the driver's side is, as with so many industrial vehicles here, on the left side instead of the right.  Nothing particularly strange about that, but as it is set up for children to approach the passenger's side to purchase ice cream, this means that (no exaggeration here) children have to stand out in traffic as they wait for their ice cream.  Brilliant.

Also on the highlight reel was a remarkable first: the family in my neighborhood that was the first to actually initiate a conversation with me also was the first to offer me a meal – in this case it was a sampler plate from a child's birthday party that was going on concurrently with my passing on the road, and so was a polite gesture and a good-faith gesture of their promise to visit me in my "new" home soon.  But nonetheless, I very gratefully accepted it in the spirit of a better-late-than-never housewarming gift.  And it was wonderful!  And I thought to myself, You know, I finally broke a barrier there, and I want to acknowledge it.

So in the spirit of XBOX Gamerscore achievements, I made an achievement for myself.

At that point, I thought to myself, What other achievements would contribute to my GamersCorps?  So here's a look at some of the potential noteworthy events I have or have not achieved.

18 February 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Hey, guess what – it's the 25th edition of Funnyquote Friday!  And in honor of this (in)significant achievement, I present: Funnyquote Fridays In Review.  I'm going to go through the 24 previous weeks of quotes and, as an added twist, run them through 56 translations on my new favorite toy, Bad Translator!  Here goes...

27 August 2010: "If you see red, turn it into Pink Clouds and float away on them."
... becomes: "You know, I wear a red rose."

03 September 2010: "(No) Beach Corps"
... becomes: "Sex on the beach (not available)"

 10 September 2010: "There's something calling me to Nevis... And it has a British accent."
... becomes: "That's what Snow said: 'FS British accent.' "

17 September 2010: "The Best Water People"
... becomes: "People are drinking water."

24 September 2010: "[Much like the Red Cross,] in this day and age and no matter where you are in the world, Blackberry can save your life."
... becomes: "The Red Cross and the living world of Blackberry exceptions."

01 October 2010: "If you like it up North, stay up North."
... becomes: "You and I live in the North."

08 October 2010: "Did you know that there is a tropical cyclone formation right over you?"
... becomes: "You know, you are tropical cyclones?"

15 October 2010: "For the next activity, I want you all to pretend... like you can work together."
... becomes: "I'm from the future, I want everyone to work together, I like that in general."

22 October 2010: "Enjoy the ride! P.S. The weird looking thing in the freezer is Conch."
... becomes:  "You can stop it in the refrigerator, and Travel Bolts is a very serious matter."
... as well as: "This is a serious problem, Cool on the Main Street."

29 October 2010: [Recipe for Curry Eggplant] 1 Medium eggplant, 4 tbsp. Butter, Juice of 1/2 lemon, 102 tsp. sweet or hot curry powder
... becomes: [Engine Recipe] oil, lemon juice or a teaspoon of clean water and four kinds of hits.

05 November 2010: "If the wire reaches everywhere in your house, it counts as wireless."
... becomes: "He said to the house, '...and if you have time to fly...' "

12 November 2010: "16 3/4 Miles to Dieppe Bay; 14 1/4 Miles to Dieppe Bay"
... becomes: "Sea 1000 3.4 14:16, 4 kg"

19 November 2010: "Sometimes it's okay to throw stones at women."
... becomes: "Sometimes the best women throw stones."

26 November 2010: "You know, algebra is just so useful, all of the time... I'm just sayin'."
... becomes: "... But I know algebra."

03 December 2010: "Your references are always lost on me."
... becomes: "I lost a contact."

10 December 2010: "OK, that stinks. Well, have fun reading this weekend."
... becomes: "So during the week there's no hope."

17 December 2010: "Tonight, I bring a message for our Very Anxious Times (VAT)."
... becomes: "Now, we learn that the Times (ICM) is a concern." 

31 December 2010: "I think it's just despicable that you're in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts..."
... becomes: "Shirt and pants, I'm afraid... "

07 January 2011: "Life: remember to keep breathing."
... becomes: "Do not forget to breathe new life."

14 January 2011: "It's okay to let spiders chill in your bathroom for months... until they are the size of a Susan B. Anthony."
... becomes: "Susan B. Anthony dressed like a cold shower... a trillion in the next few months."

... and " 'Silent Night' is followed by a j'ouvert."
... becomes: " 'Ropes Night' rust."

... and "Everyone in your village has an uncle in New York or Miami."
... becomes: "Miami, New York: where everyone makes comments."

21 January 2011: "The way I see it, if I fall on my face, it won't be on concrete, it'll be on the sand."
... becomes: "If you have sand on your face, in my opinion, it is obvious at first sight." 

28 January 2011: "No podría comprender al profesor, porque pronuncía mal."
... translated to English, is "I couldn't understand the professor, because he pronounced poorly."
... becomes: "The teacher knows very well I do not understand him."

04 February 2011: "Birthday or Anniversary?"
... becomes: "...or His Majesty the King's birthday?"

11 February 2011: "Ghost Prosecution Planned"
... becomes: "The Phantom of the Accusation should be taken."

And for an update, you know what I got to do yesterday?  I hiked the trail up to the rim of the crater atop Mt. Liamuiga, the highest point in St. Kitts and the original volcano (dormant now) that formed the island.  It was a comfortable hike for the most part: a clearly defined trail on a shallow slope going about 2.5 miles in, and taking about one-and-a-half hours one way.  The closer one got to the top, however, the steeper and rockier the terrain became, and for the last 50 feet or so, one has to do a lot of careful maneuvering on very large rocks using all four limbs.  But the spectacular and one-of-a-kind view makes the effort quite worth it in the end.  I got lots of good capture, and promise to share it with everyone... but for now I'm saving some material for the end of the month highlight film – gotta hold back something to show then!

I hope you have enjoyed this very special Review edition of the Funnyquote Friday.   Have a good weekend.

16 February 2011

Too School For Cool, Part 2

In keeping with this week's theme, here is a look at the pageviews accrued by the site so far, and that data extrapolated over the remainder of my term of service.  With only a handful of months to work with, the projection process was far from scientific and delved more into glorified guesswork.  But the idea remains the same.  My ultimate goal, I suppose, is to match or beat the projection of 18,000 I'm throwing out there right now, and as such I promise a special site surprise when we reach half that mark.

I'm at an unusual and mildly frustrating point in my Peace Corps service, presently defined by a number of projects well thought-out but ill-managed.  As is the way with all of my projects right now, it would seem, there is but one thing holding up progress on the Iron Band: finding a viable and willing source of "instruments."  A good friend recommended I go to the resort hotels and ask their kitchen staff if they had old or unused pots and pans that could be converted into noisemakers, with no concern for human eardrum health, and so I plan to make a few phone calls this week and see if this is possible.  The culture here does not habitually put any inherent value on volunteerism or donation, so even this good idea may prove fruitless; even so, it doesn't cost me anything to ask! (assuming I can use the PC Office's phone, because otherwise it would cost me something.)

A meeting with the new EC Country Director on Friday regarding 50th Anniversary goings-on in the Federation will undoubtedly give me something new to report on next week.  But before then, I'm sure everyone will enjoy a special Review edition of the Funnyquote Friday.  I know I enjoyed making it.

Also, my life after the spider.

14 February 2011

Too School For Cool, Part 1

In light of six months in the Caribbean and 75 blog posts to account for it, I wanted to introduce today some new (old?) material that I've been working on for a little while – but due to my hectic schedule, I won't be able to squeeze it all into a single blog post.  (Notably due to the fact that the second half is, in fact, not finished yet.) So I opted to spread out the theme of "Six Months In Review" across three posts this week.  In the first entry of this two-parter, I present readers with this histogram of all of the previous posts on this blog, with the corresponding number of reader comments per post.

The post with the most comments, Lots of Things Going Down, is unironically also the post with the most pageviews in the blog's brief history.  The inset sorts all of the comments by author, and as the reader will notice, Jonathan and myself represent more than 50% of the concerned commenters on this blog.  All of this may be just a sly way to guilt those of you who have not posted comments yet to get around to doing so.  Or not; a sincere thanks, by the way, to everyone that has contributed and continues to follow along.

On a different note, sometimes I feel like my life is like a big Pac-man: gobbling up experiences and materials, and the majority of my attention is given over to focusing on the meanings and essences of each and trying to make sense of them, contributing to some anxiety when I get overwhelmed.  This has not changed in my life in the Peace Corps.  I know what those much wiser and more balanced in their life would say to me: I need to find make time to step back, step out of the stream of life, and spend that time instead in meditation and reflection.  I think my emotional balance and senses of self-awareness and self-confidence would all benefit from this choice.  Pray for this inspiration to carry over into practical application soon, as well as for continued motivation in each of my projects, especially those that are very, very slow to progress.

Hey, look what I found!  It's my PCV roomie's blog straight from Antigua & Barbuda.
(Pronounced an•TEE•gah and bar•BOO•dah, by the way)  He has a cool collection of quotes applicable to Peace Corps life as well.

11 February 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Your quote this week is this week's headline from a local news periodical, The Observer:

"Ghost Prosecution Planned"

Watch out, ghosts!  Your number is being called!  No, just kidding.  According to this article, it has nothing to do with you ghosts.  So you can go back to your regular haunting activities, or whatever it is you do.  Did you know that in the Caribbean, you ghosts are called jumbies?  It's true!

I can't allow myself to go reading the local news too much; it's frightening.  About the only good news I could find was the award winners from this year's Sugar Mas activities (that is, the competitions around Carnival celebrations).  Naturally, this includes King Konris's show-stopping performance to win this year's Soca Monarch competition – unfortunately the regional finals will be held in Trinidad this year, which means I don't get to see them.  I suppose I can always wait until the highlights are posted on YouTube.

Life just keeps on going back home.  I wonder how long it feels like I've been gone from the perspective of people in Georgia?  From here, what with the lack of appreciable changes in the seasons, their passing might as well have slowed to a time-dilated crawl.  Which isn't to say that the months aren't flying by: indeed, I think the slowed pace of life here in the Caribbean contributes heavily to the tendency for me to not have time to blink before another week has gone by.  The fear of letting valuable time decay like the unused vegetables in my fridge is harrowing, but I choose to fall back on the notion of waiting for the right timing.  We'll see how that plays out.

09 February 2011

Back To My Old Ways

Sorry about the delayed post; I've been much busier than usual this week, and all of my time has been soaked up in new projects and walking all around town.  The first new project is at the NSTP: In a swift and happy return to glittering familiarity, I was assigned to prepare a client information database in a MS Excel spreadsheet.  There's nothing quite as compulsively consuming as populating 25 fields with thousands of records of data over several days.  Haven't tried it?  That's okay, there are probably more rewarding ways to spend one's time – I just haven't found one yet!

What I have found that really intrigues me is a behavioral phenomenon I have recently begun to take notice of.  It is human nature, of course, after repeated exposure to certain things, to begin to ignore them.  In my case, there are a handful of things that, in the five months I have been on island, I have taken progressively less notice of.  Things like my coworkers' cellphone ringtones, cars honking loudly and rapidly as they pass, the squeaks of the S-hooks on my hammock... Oh, and that big ol' ocean in my front yard!

I can't write long; I've got dinner to cook.  But I'll be back Friday with a new funnyquote, I promise!

04 February 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Due to my birthday falling on the week of Fall semester finals, rarely did I get to participate in the Anglican church's custom of honoring weekly birthdays and anniversaries.  So this year, when Sunday, December 12 came around, I took advantage of no longer being in school and having to devote all of my weekend to preparing.  When the call came halfway through the service, I and about six others (two couples, two individuals besides me) got up and made our way to the front.  I took my place on the right side, and Father Christopher Archibald turned to me and mumbled something I couldn't hear.  I leaned in and asked him to repeat it.  He said,

"Birthday or Anniversary?"

Heh, okay.  In all honesty, this of left me with some mixed emotions, but mostly I recognized the humor borne of the absurdity of it all.

Soccer this week went better than previously, so I'm praising and grateful for that.  I actually showed progress in not only a few phases of my game, but also in face-name recognition: I'd estimate that about 50% of the players out there were referring to me by my first name (another 5-10% as simply "Hey White Boy") and I managed to pick up about 5 names as well (out of 25 people or so).   There's still progress to be made, to be sure, but at least I wasn't the butt of people's aggravations this time.

I'm waiting for the right timing to move ahead with the two newest projects I intend on initializing this month: a client record-keeping database for use by the NSTP, and an after-school iron band program.  There are still materials and instructions I lack before I can contribute my portion, but I am taking steps to acquire these and get these projects in the machine.  Also, with regard to the Library Reorganization Project, I helped the DWC school with their student council elections for the year, and in return was given a list of 5 names of students that will be given the first choice to be dubbed the school's first "Library Monitors," a position that will hold some (middling) student government authority and some equivalent duties and expectations.  I hope there is a genuine interest among the students to carry out their duties, and I also hope that the teachers are willing to devote just a fraction of the effort to ensure that their students are, indeed, performing their duties as planned.  I alone will not be able to monitor their activities, but will rely on the faculty instead to do this.

That's all the big news from this week.  Looking forward to more big news from the smallest month.

I believe saying it makes a portion of my soul erode away: Go Pack.  Please just beat Six-Burgh.

02 February 2011

Two Empty Ends of Coconuts...

In a display of superior turnaround time, the pictures in this entry were taken (drum roll please...) last night!  In a widely publicized and highly anticipated experiment in the kitchen involving sharp knives, fish flanks and coconuts, I spent the better part of yesterday evening preparing a rather large helping of Coconut Fried Fish.  I took the liberty of putting together a picture compilation of the procedure as well, starting with the extraction of the coconut juice and meat:

After draining the coconut water into the container on the left,
I broke the shell into two halves by dropping it on the floor (no kidding!)

Using a rather simpleminded technique of scraping out the meat with a knife,
I managed to produce enough coconut shavings for my recipe.
Before and After of the knifing-the-meat-out method before resorting to
prying the meat off of the shell with a spoon.
The final collection of coconut meat; all of those good
coconut shavings!  I'm going to have to find another one.
The process took a little longer than I expected; getting all of the meat out of the coconut took about an hour.  And during it all I felt like quite the historian, finding myself in a situation where countless other humans thousands of years ago found themselves: upon being presented with a fruit not before experienced, having to decide how on earth to extract the delicious contents locked within.  I was pleased, therefore, to succeed in my attempts, though not without the help of a simple tool and a tile floor.  Progressing at last to the cooking portion, I populated the line in preparation of frying the fish fillets:

Dousing the fish fillets in coconut milk and egg whites before coating with
flour and a breadcrumb-coconut blend ensured superior coconut frying goodness.
The final product, after adding the flash-fried fish to a pan of fresh
vegetables simmering in coconut milk and citrus juices.
And look - a novelty cup to boot!  A souvenir from my uniquely island experience.
It was a fun experiment, though much more demanding than any of my previous cooking ventures.  Perhaps, in the future, purchasing pre-shredded sweetened coconut is the way to go?  On the other hand, I wouldn't get to add to my collection of awesome island drinkware.  I'm shooting for a set before the end!

P.S. Don't be the guy that asks, "What about the other half?  Don't you already have a set?"  It has a hole in it, silly!