30 March 2011

Sounds Like Rain On A Metal Roof

Well, the Iron Band's first practice with instruments happened Tuesday.  It went, all things considered, as well as could reasonably be hoped.  All the students showed up, including half-a-dozen unwelcome guests who, on several occasions, tried to muscle their way into playing an instrument.  It was harder than I expected maintaining control of 10+ students without the aid of audible speech.  So for a good 30 minutes or more, all of our respective abilities to hear deteriorated somewhat.  As an aside, I have looked around in town for earplugs, but as of yet have not found them.

What I did find, however, were a couple different items useful for striking the various pots, pans, and objects that form the instrumentation of a traditional iron band.  For a mere EC$25, I was able to purchase 10 drumsticks, which should be enough for everyone to strike their respective instruments with.  In addition, my neighbor, who cuts the metal for burglar bars as a side business, had some scrap pieces of rebar that we ground the sharp edges off to be used on the pans.  With everyone getting a chance to "knock" on something, a good time was had by all, and the kids really look forward to future meetings.

The only exception to all this is one student by the name of Shakimba, who you will no doubt be hearing plenty about for the coming months.  For all of those readers faithful in their resolution to pray for me and my mission here, I ask you to remember one more item: Shakimba is an 10 year old boy who, in addition to being placed in the lowest stream of 3rd graders, displays classic EBD tendencies.  He has difficulty participating in group activities, and deeply resents both disciplinary action and being singled out for any reason.  While it is widely understood that he shows a strong competency for drumming already, making him the prime recommendation of (not one, not two, but) three different staff members, of their own accord, the clear reason they suggested him was due in large part to his need for a positive group activity.  And now that the responsibility of engaging him in those activities lies with me, and I don't have any material training in dealing with EBD students, I request your prayers for him and me in the days ahead.

Well, that's about it for now.  So, right on schedule, here's the highlight reel for March.

28 March 2011

A Kayak Counts, Too

Picture © Star Production International
This weekend saw the 9th annual StarMile Nevis to St. Kitts Cross Channel Swim.  Three PCVs took part in and completed the 2.5 mile race across the Narrows, including one of our number who finished 35th out of 100 with a time of 91 minutes.  Another PCV friend and myself did not take part in the race, but instead served as lifeguard assistants, manning a 2-seat kayak and traveling along with the field of swimmers.  Our mandate was to help any and all swimmers that required assistance, a water break, or help with their bearing.  And despite our willingness and occasional offers of service, nobody took us up on a water break.

Photo © Star Production International
As one might expect, the race is a grueling test of endurance, as the average swimmer is out in open water for around 2 hours, all the while fighting currents, swells, and the urge to stop.  Many swimmers even experience panic when they find themselves halfway across the Narrows after an hour of swimming, with only the boats around as a safeguard.  (An understandable sentiment, to be sure)  And on top of all that, imagine paying a fee of US$50 to enter?!  For my money, a free kayak trip between two of the nicest beaches in the Federation is good enough.

Photo © Star Production International
The water proved to be choppier than I expected, with swells between 2 and 4 feet in the middle of the channel.  It didn't cause any particular problems for us in the kayak, aside from merely drenching our legs and rears after drying comfortably in the warm morning sun.  But it did make following the swimmers more difficult, since the only marker of their presence was their yellow swim caps, and we occasionally had trouble seeing over the swells to locate swimmers that had strayed from the course.  And after an hour, the swimmers had sufficiently spread out to the point that this was trickier than it sounds.

Photo © Star Production International
But the bottom line is that everybody made it safely, particularly all of our volunteers, some of whom had never done open-water swimming before.  And my kayaking partner, who had never kayaked before, managed not to tip the boat over while we were out over deep water (or at all, thankfully).  The swimmers were able to partake in a special breakfast prepared for them as part of their entrance fee, and we were able to cheer them on and celebrate their arrival on Cockleshell Beach.

25 March 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Asked (in jest, of course) of my fellow volunteer just before hiking up Mt. Liamuiga:

"Would you like to be the [Peace Corps]
Country Director's water carrier?"

I have some pretty entertaining 10-minute conversations with my coworker every day on the commute home after work.  The topic for Wednesday was "stress," no doubt brought on by her unfortunate scramble at the end of that day to finish something last-minute, in the Kittitian way, all with the constant supervision of our boss.  She said she remembered a time not so long ago when she didn't have a care in the world, and where the constant stresses of today didn't find her.  I told her that was just being silly, that I was willing to bet she had many serious stresses even then, e.g. school, looking for a job, parental expectations, living at home, etc.  And while they may not be the same stressors that we both face today, their respective magnitudes and effect on our day-to-day happiness is difficult for anyone to gauge.  She then interpreted my cogitations as experiential, and asked if I was somehow immune to stress, citing my general nonchalance in the office.  I argued that I did indeed have stresses, not unlike hers, but my ability to compartmentalize in combination with the relaxed nature of my NSTP projects against, say, my school projects, inclines me to appear relaxed when I am at work.  In truth, I didn't believe the words as they were leaving my mouth.

Because when I got home, and I stopped to really think about it, I realized that this wasn't the reason that I was able to go into work seemingly stress-free three days a week.  I'm instead beginning to believe that it is actually because, for the first time, I am exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to be doing right now.  Maybe telling all those people that the reason I joined the Peace Corps was because "the timing was right" has got me believing it now, too.  In truth, I'd not rather be in the States, concerned with keeping peace and control in a family, maintaining a high level of performance output at work, and exploring new levels of sedentary livelihood; I'd rather be here, astride the ocean, contributing to society, and enjoying my youth as I do.  Even now, as I write this, I am in shorts and drinking a Skol, watching the cruise ships head south to whatever-destination awaits.

In retrospect, I bet this whole bit is just an outcropping of the sense of relief I feel after successfully identifying the 10 new members of the DWC Iron Band, which I did Tuesday, and in turn holding our first meeting on Thursday.  The meeting went well, as 8 of the 10 I invited to be part of the Iron Band were able to attend, discuss our respective ideas for the programme, and get in a little face time.  It's pretty clear to me already who the highly-motivated students will be, who the clowns will be, and who the late bloomers will prove to be.  The bottom line, however: this is a good group of kids that are eager to get to "knocking on stuff," as one of them put it, and use some of that after-school energy on a positive pursuit.  In fact, despite not having touched an instrument yet, they are already begging for permission to perform at the next morning assembly.  An excellent dry run once we establish an act, I thought, before going across town to perform for the first time.  So I might have some progress to report on our first performance sooner than I expected; but before I give the green light for that, I would like to actually hear them first!

22 March 2011

Various Forms of Buyer's Remorse

My office's Internet Service Provider, The Cable, has been out of commission for over a week now – which means the NSTP has been paying for internet that hasn't been available since Friday the 11th! Which is also why I've been forced to cut back to this two-updates-per-week schedule.  I know sometimes things go wrong for cable and internet companies, and it is a lot of lines to monitor and manage, but a service outage of more than a day or two is unacceptable.  And it's island-wide!  It's a good thing Cable & Wireless provides my internet, or else I wouldn't be able to transmit this missive over the web atall.

I cooked barbecued pulled pork on Saturday.  It was a bit of an involved process: purchasing all of the ingredients before Saturday morning, like brown sugar, Kraft barbecue sauce, and Shur-Fine (the local off-brand) apple cider vinegar; getting up at dawn to make it into town and the meat market by 7:00, where I selected the hog from whence the 4 lbs. of shoulder meat was hewn.  Then I seared the pork, warmed a pot with the ingredients, and began the pork simmering at 8:45.  Then it was just a normal Saturday of doing nothing but chilling at the apartment and watching a pot simmer for eight more hours.  I managed to wash my dishes, get some sudoku done, some reading, and watched a few more entries from my Hulu queue.  Good times.

I have this unusual dilemma to confront tonight: my time is torn between two competing interests in late Tuesday night activities.  The first is football (soccer), which I have not been able to attend for some weeks, and I've been promising fellow footballers I would try to make it tonight.  The other is Tuesday Trivia, held at a hotel lounge at Frigate Bay, and for whom I will be responsible for generating and asking questions a week from now.  Both begin about the same time, after dark, and go until late evening, thus the two are mutually exclusive activities.  Both I need to negotiate a lift to.  Which social responsibility do I act on and which one do I shirk?  It's a conundrum.

18 March 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Overheard at last week's Sports Day:

"You so slow, I gonna lap you in the 100 meters."

Thursday was a change in pace for me: I got to sleep in and at noon headed out to Sandy Point, on the northwest part of the island, to co-teach a couple of Junior High classes using my Math Games.  The 13-15 year-olds received the material very well, and the only difficulty my PCV partner and I had was keeping the sound and energy level at reasonable levels with the larger of the two classes.  All in all, I've gotten great feedback from these trial runs; in addition to improving the material in the process, I'm also gathering requests for access to the ideas.  So hopefully all the work I've put in to this so far will have future pay offs.

After school was out, we trucked over to Old Road, where we met a couple more friends and we all celebrated St. Patrick's Day together.  At a little roadside shack, we engaged in the very Irish Caribbean tradition of lounging at the rumshop and playing dominoes, vigorously throwing down our bones with a loud *CRACK!* on the Formica tabletop.  It was my first opportunity to share in such a uniquely local activity with locals and amongst locals, with local friends and even local strangers who nonetheless recognized me from various local places.  It was not only a great time, but contributed to further my sense of integration in my very small island community.  In fact, funny as it may sound now, a year from now I'll probably be wishing that I had a little more anonymity in my daily activities!

15 March 2011

Nevis Nice

Should I feel guilty after all the fun I had this weekend?  I'm pretty sure there's a stipulation in one of the bylaws stating the limits of just how much fun a PCV is allowed to have while on official business, and I probably broke that rule between Sports Day at my school and this weekend's "Imagine" Fundraiser on Nevis.

The entirety of the second trimester at Kittitian schools is devoted to celebrating inter-school competition through the use of the traditional British "house" system.  (Many readers will be familiar with this system already thanks in large part to the works of one J.K. Rowling.)  The houses represented at Dr. William Connor School are the Red Panthers, the Orange Jaguars, the Yellow Tigers, (some prefer to say Gold) and the Green Pumas.  Each house has spent the last 3 months obtaining points for his/her house through academic trials, competitions, and good behavior.  But come March, the house points are all relatively equal, and so the trimester culminates in a grand Sports Day, not unlike a Field Day at a typical elementary school in the US.

A sixth grade boy helps the Red Panthers take this year's house cup.
The day encompasses a mix of track and field events for students of every age, but is very heavy on footraces, including 60m and 100m sprints and 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1200m runs.  For the shorter races, the teams select their four fastest sprinters, two boys and two girls, for each of four different age brackets: 7 years and younger, 8-9 years, 10-11 years, and 12-13 years.  Then houses earn points based on the finishes of their two entrants.  At most 8 compete in each trial, and the top 5 finishers earn points, making some races for second or third place as exciting as for the top spot!

The community comes out in full force to observe and cheer on their children, friends, favorite houses, etc.  As the races begin with the noontime heat in full force, spectators don't begin arriving until around 2:00.  But then it's an all day event of barbecuing, cheering on tight races, liming with buddies, and just supporting our outstanding students.  And as with so many things here involving official social recognition, the Kittitians take their Sports Day competitions very seriously.  Fortunately there were no altercations this year, as the top spot was awarded to the Red Panthers, who had a stranglehold on the house points lead from even before Sports Day began.  And so the day ended shortly after dusk, around 6:30, with a couple of exhibition 4x100m relays, attracting the fastest students and former students alike with no consideration for house affiliation.  It ultimately garnered the most delight from the fans, who were enthralled with two close finishes from the boys' race and the girls' race.

With that ended, and lots of good pictures and video captured, I turned my attentions to the Pink Lilies/Voices of Women Imagine Fundraiser gala event on Nevis Saturday night, which I had agreed to participate in as drum accompaniment to a fellow volunteer as she read the poem she had prepared in honor of the event.  I was able to get plenty of sleep, then, on Friday night in preparation for traveling to Nevis the next day; and it's a good thing, too, because organizing free transportation over to Nevis for the performers was a logistical nightmare.  We ended up waiting 45 minutes for a free taxi trip (20 minutes) to the Southern Peninsula where we waited another 15 minutes for a short ferry trip across the Narrows (10 minutes) to Oualie Beach on Nevis, where we waited 10 minutes for a bus to pick us up to run us to the Old Manor Hotel in Gingerland (20 minutes).  And we still managed to arrive in-time and intact.

My fellow PCV and I at the gala event
that she helped organize.
The event was in part a fundraiser for Pink Lilies and Voices of Women, both NGOs concerned with gender equality and other social issues, and in part an awareness effort inspired by International Women's Day, celebrated on the 8th of March.  As such, the evening's programme centered on women's empowerment, individualization, and independence.  There was a fine turnout, (at one point fitting 75+ people onto a somewhat confined patio) which included most notably the premiere of Nevis himself, giving the event some much-desired visibility.  The programme of performances were highly-touted, and they killed all evening: a handful of Island Xpressions poets, an a capella trio, a Calypsonian, a jazz instrumentalist, and finally the headlining Kasanova Band.  All in all, the awareness goal of the event was met with vigor, with women's empowerment issues getting a sincere and often powerful look, and we men took some good-humored "mashing up" in the process.  And as for the fund raising goal, at EC$75 a head, I sincerely hope all the paid performers and the institutions themselves garnered a return on the order of what they had envisioned.  There was some talk about turning it into an annual event, so who knows?  Maybe I'll be returning for the encore event next March.

Sunday came quickly the next morning, and my Nevisian volunteer friend and I found time to go beach hopping and see part of the small island that I had not visited before.  I even got to play some pickup soccer in the sand – not only did my team win, but I scored the winning goal!  It was a real workout, but quite a satisfactory high point, especially since it was the first time I had got to play beach soccer since seeing some guys playing all the way back at PST in St. Lucia.  So between that, a round of pool at one of the beach bars, and a quiet nap waiting for the sun to set, we had a very relaxing island kind of day that was enjoyed by all.

P.S. It seems I forgot Pi Day yet again.

11 March 2011

Funnyquote Friday

For this week, a helpful quote from my APCD at InterService Training:

"Just because the Peace Corps has three goals, 
doesn't mean you have to start with the first one."

Not laugh-out-loud funny, I felt, but poignant nonetheless.  For those that aren't familiar with the three goals of the Peace Corps, here they are.

Nothing big to report on since Wednesday; yesterday some of us EC82s finally got to hold a welcoming party for our newest colleague on St. Kitts.  It went well, and the baked goods were well worth he wait.  She's pretty much settled in as well as could be expected in such short order, save for a telephone.

I'll be at Sports Day all day today, and on Nevis almost all weekend.  So I'll likely be out of touch for most of that period.  But I'll make sure the update on Monday is sufficiently detailed to justify the absence.

09 March 2011

Bugs of Lore and Tugs-of-War

Alright! I finally got around to testing out my miniature charcoal grill at the house last night on a no-expense-barred dry run with Caribbean Jerk Chicken.  It turned out way better than I expected – it was bold-flavored and spicy, just like jerk chicken is supposed to taste.  The texture was a little grainier than I was hoping for, so maybe I go a little bit easier on the flour next time.  But other than that, it was a grand experiment in lighting charcoal with naught but newspaper, lighter fluid, a dozen matches and faith.  (Only three of which are actually flammable.)

More updates from the CreepyCrawly files: I've been getting much better at killing mosquitoes, sometimes tallying upwards of 5 a day.  And of course I wash my hands afterward.  But the vermin that stole the show this week was the Mother Of All Cockroaches – this sucker was two inches long, and was hella fast.  Its end was the flat end of a flyswatter when it dared to venture from beneath the couch for too long.  And the fun doesn't end there; I was greeted with surprise guests in my garbage bin yesterday, cleaning the house in preparation for a guest.  What were the ants lining up outside to find at the bottom of my garbage?  A litter of grubs! Yes, this certainly made my day.  It all came to a crushing end, however, when I Raided their lair and swept the confines clean of any infestation.  (I hope.)

The initial stages of the Iron Band programme were pushed back to next week, as this week at school is almost exclusively devoted to Inter-House Sports Day, held on Friday.  I'll be there all day helping out with the races and other events.  I'll make sure and grab some photos and video for the highlight reel this month, so each of you can experience your own Sports Day.  It's a major to-do here on island: every school plans their own full day of events, featuring the best athletes the school can boast in a variety of competitive heats, everything from the very legit track races to the less-so tug-of-war.  All of the community attends, many in the interest of getting an early peek at this nation's future track and field stars.

07 March 2011

Christopher Nelson, Person

I spent the entirety of the weekend being productive: I created, typed and published a 7 page proposal for the Iron Band project, complete with recruiting and financing details, two pages of landmark progress indicators, and a calendar.  It's rather verbose, but got the approval of my APCD this morning, when I went in to the office to receive my Hep A booster shot.  Just one more round of Hep B in April and I think I'm all vaccinated up!  I also contributed to the planning of a youth summer camp that a fellow volunteer is planning for July and which I offered to be a counselor at.  I even reviewed and offered suggestions of a real business plan by the relative of an acquaintance on Nevis.  I stayed very busy!

We EC82s on St. Kitts will be receiving another of our own into the fold today – a volunteer from St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be transferring to St. Kitts for (hopefully) the remainder of her term of service.  We here are, of course, very excited to see her again, and eager to make her feel comfortable reorienting to her new island home.  Not to mention recruit her help on some of our fledgling projects! (I'm only semi-kidding there, mind you.)

On Saturday night, I had a dream that I ordered a set of business cards, and they read, quite simply,



Contact Info Home Address E-mail Website

I promise I'm not going for anything overtly dramatic or corny here, but it did give me pause when I awoke and stopped to think about it.  As readers may know, a great many of the things we dream about are borne out of our subconscious trying to release repressed thoughts and feelings, things we would not consciously let ourselves do or say.  And if that is indeed the case here, I was forced to consider why I would dream this and what it might mean for my future.

The first thing that came to my mind was the significance of it being printed on a business card – the sort of thing one would show at a job interview.  What kind of job would I be interviewing for that my humanity would be important?  I don't know.  What I do know is that, after school, internships and a stint in the Peace Corps, I want the sort of job that I would want to be doing even if I wasn't being paid.  I hope my lifestyle and nature speak to my credit when I say with complete honesty that it really isn't about the money.  Right?  I can trace this sentiment back to two strong examples in my parents for doing the work that is most important, serves the most people, and is rewarding, but not necessarily in a monetary sense.  After all, money is hardly an end, but merely a means to an end.

Well, I hadn't planned on taking this diversion today, but maybe somebody needed to read this.  Who can tell such things?

04 March 2011

Funnyquote Friday

A fellow volunteer at this week's training spouted this quip regarding the average PCV's perspective:

"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?' "

Thankfully not the case here, though no doubt a reality in other far-flung reaches of the world.

Thursday was another day of playing Roving College Professor with the elementary students, as I visited three different classrooms with three different Math Games to try out.  This time my classes were the highest stream of sixth graders (the de facto cream of the crop at DWC Primary), a mixed class of second and third graders, and a class of kindergartners, the last of which were so adorable and enjoyed the activity so much I wish it had not ended in just 15 minutes.  In between my visits, I took an hour break in the library to get off my feet, prepare for the next session, and catch up on Grisham's The Firm, all to the most accentuated sounds of remedial reading tutoring going on around the bookshelves.  I can't express how delightful are the sounds of young children's voices when they are saying in a voice far too loud, belying their enthusiasm, "SELL... S... E... L... ... L... SELL!"  And in light of the inter-house Spelling Bee scheduled for that night, a timely exercise as well.  Didn't distract me a bit.

I felt too fatigued to go to soccer this week.  What with getting up a little bit earlier than usual all five days, but not having the force of will to go to bed earlier, I'm feeling the exhaustion set in the latter half of this week.  Fortunately, I have but one major activity to complete this weekend: write out a comprehensive plan proposal for the Iron Band project, complete with calendar and application questionnaire for prospective student members.  I have a very strong framework to work from, thanks to training sessions earlier this week, and so I am motivated to get all of my ideas out on paper.  Then it is just a matter of identifying the willing souls to carry out the various parts of the plan for the good of the 10-or-so students.  Who will they be?  How fast will this thing get off the ground?  When will our first gig be?  Will the students sound good?  Will there be community approval/support?  So many questions I expect to get answers to this month.

02 March 2011

"March"-ing Forward

And just like *snap*, IST is over...

The last day was, for my part, far and away the most productive, what with scheduling an elective seminar with a local guidance counselor (i.e., a very cerebral, analytical person, complete with training in emotional intelligence; so just my type of expert!) on the topic of how to make projects more sustainable.  My Iron Band idea was a natural choice for the example du jour, and so I got to further discuss my vision for what that project is capable of, as well as set in writing some calendar dates for moving ahead in that project even without having the instruments in-hand, or what I might rightly call "Plan C." (for inCredible!)

Normal life begins again with tomorrow's plans to take my Math Games into the school another time in order to pilot the curriculum.  I'm looking forward to another day on my feet, but I expect some mild tangible rewards in the end akin to last week's experiment: perhaps one teacher will comment that she didn't know that a deck of cards could be used to teach algebra so effectively; perhaps one teacher will have some constructive advice for the next time I lead these activities; perhaps one student will comment on how fun he thought the activity was, and that he was looking forward to me visiting his class again sometime.

Whatever the outcome, I have increased faith that we are headed towards good things in so many of my projects, and this month especially holds great potential for early spring budding in each and every one of them.

01 March 2011

Happy 50th, Peace Corps!

A change of pace for today: the APCD from Antigua was our guest for the entire training day, and we learned about a method for beginning, maintaining and measuring cultural behavior change.  Useful for weeding out deeply set, perhaps ill-conceived or even destructive cultural behaviors, I believe the training will come in handy if I need to introduce any programs of this sort at my school.  Primary school age is exactly the right time to go about combating any anti-social behaviors, since kids are still receptive and malleable at that age, and I have the unique distinction of being an outsider, who (unlike so many other cultures) Kittitian kids are actually more willing to listen to, share with, and speak honestly about sensitive issues.

Maybe I'll elaborate more on this sometime, but until then, the February highlights video is complete.  Leave a comment if you like it!