30 April 2011

I'm Visiting the States in May!

For those that don't already know, I am going to be in Georgia for the entire last week of May.  Admittedly, it will be Memorial Day weekend, so I realize that many people will be traveling, and I'll be attending a wedding on Sunday, so I may or may not be able to visit church on Sunday morning.  But if you are interested in seeing me while at home this Spring, leave a comment or send me an e-mail and I'll be sure to get hold of you one of the days I'm there.  Hope to see everybody that I can in the (too short) week I'll be there!

29 April 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Here's the quote for this week:

"[I don't want fried chicken,] right now I'm so
hungry I could go for all of Noah's Ark deep-fried."

May 1st is Labour Day in many British and formerly British countries, so Monday is a work holiday, making this the second long weekend in a row.  So perhaps I will be able to get back on a regular schedule with my blog posts.  Or not; I haven't yet decided what to do on Monday, though hopefully it will involve liming somewhere fun.

Not much to update today.  I've been extra careful with my budget as of late, changing my typical purchasing habits to reflect the fact that I need to start saving up for some newly anticipated expenses, which include, not least of all, a gym membership fee.  This is assuming the place I plan on checking out today does, in fact, have showers available and a good selection of weight machines for upper-body building.  After getting in a workout routine my senior year at Tech, I have missed that self-efficacy boost that comes from seeing results after a month or so of work.  So I plan on trying to remedy that now.  Maybe "work" on my tan a little, while I'm here, too.

27 April 2011

Of Grease and Caprice

Well, as mentioned on Friday, the long Easter weekend made for ample opportunity for some rather unique experiences, recounted here.

There is a Kittitian tradition of spending Good Friday cooking a lunch of Salt Fish and Fritters while the kids go outside and fly kites in the mild early summer weather.  I took part in the festivities by visiting a friend in Trinity, the next village over from my home, sharing an afternoon meal and enjoying local company over board games and dominoes.  (In fact, don't spread this around too much, but I actually beat a couple local friends in a dominoes best-of-three contest, and they take their dominoes very seriously! /needless whispering)  A good time was had by all, and I was able to get my mind off of being the only guy in the office that day who didn't know that Good Friday was a day off.

Saturday I got to try out a new technique for keeping in touch with family.  In the way that only he could come up with, Dad set up the Scrabble board in such a way that the webcam on their end was looking down onto the reflective letters on the board and on my stand, and the four of us together played a couple rounds of Skype rock-'em sock-'em with letters.  A truly novel experience, it made for a pleasant evening that followed a day otherwise dominated by ennui.  But now that Easter weekend is over, I do anticipate more of my friends from home being available for Skype-ing.

I did attend church on Easter Sunday, naturally.  And apart from the overtly ornamental garb worn by the clergy and the use of the Easter-only passages in the BCP, there wasn't too drastic a change in the Eucharistic service.  Which was fine by me; on a hot summer morning in a stone building filled with warm bodies and no A/C, I didn't particularly care for the service to go over the requisite 2 hours.

Monday, on the other hand, was a day like no other before.  It started with the trappings of a beautiful early summer day, inviting those of us that had been cooped up in our 328 sq. ft. apartments all weekend out into town, into the sun, onto the ferry dock, where the community was holding its annual Greased Pole Walk for Easter Monday.  The rules are simple: walk out onto an anchored telephone pole that has been slathered with pink engine grease, keep your footing long enough to reach the suspended ham at the end, and untie the ham whilst still clinging to the pole.  I took good video capture of all of the goings-on, and compiled it in the highlight reel for this month.  Spoiler alert: the whole event only took 8 1/2 minutes before the eventual victor nabbed the prize.  So our 2 hour wait in the sun was nearly for naught.

But we had that in hand, too: afterwards, to cool down, we trucked over to the Bird Rock Hotel beach, and soaked up some Easter Monday sun and shade.  I was lucky enough, while there, to make friends with a Ross student interested in a lot of the same things that I am.  She is on her two week break before summer semester begins, so she has lots of time to pal around with my PCV friends and I during that time – just long enough to share in our planned Cinco de Mayo celebration!  (Don't be the guy that asks when that is...)

Oh, and despite all the busyness, it seems I have the highlights video ready a little earlier this month:

22 April 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Overheard at a Frigate Bay beach bar:

"It's Kurt; like Kurt Douglas."

Well, I had a bit of a surprise this morning: as it turns out, people do not work on Good Friday.  Cayon Street was virtually devoid of traffic, the NSTP office was closed as tight as a drumhead, and even the buses going into and leaving from town were mostly deserted.  I feel about the same way I did whenever I missed Daylight Savings Time in my college years (it happened twice).  But mostly I'm just surprised that I stumbled into a long weekend that I didn't even know I was looking forward to.

Part of 'making it' in a new and different place is figuring out the opportunity costs of acquiring the niceties of living that one comes to depend on.  For me, I require a handful of things to not go stir-crazy: exercise a few times a week, 3 meals a day, and internet access are three of the big ones.  And lately I've been meeting these needs by playing soccer on Thursdays, which is a free (albeit socially stressful) activity and doesn't impede on my budget.  Due to recent events, however, I'm electing to shift one more item from the "could go without" heap to the "must focus attentions on" queue: I want to improve my appearance by increasing upper body strength and muscular definition.

... I can, even now, hear you chuckling.  The truth is, even after I lost the initial 15 pounds after living with my host family for just one month, I'm down yet another 5 pounds from that.  Which is diving rapidly into the more uncertain regions of underweight-ness.  I've always been comfortable at 140 lbs., but dipping below that is probably unwise, especially for someone with previous vasovagal episodes.  So I've concluded I can head this off by increasing my caloric expenditure, forcing my body to demand more caloric intake.  And I'll accomplish this by joining the gym in town, just a short jaunt from my office, and visit in the mornings before work three days a week.  Naturally, this relieving the stress of one factor introduces new constraints on a second: my understanding is that the membership fee is around EC$75 per month, which is what I'm paying for internet service right now (before tax).  And since roughly 80-90% of my monthly budget goes towards groceries, if I decide to undertake this additional expense, the difference will be met almost entirely in my grocery spending.

I'm aware of the inherent contradiction here: work out more to eat more, but spend less on eating.  The truth is, I could afford to cut back on portions of my shopping list.  Some of my fellow PCVs here, especially the ones that have 18 months of service already, have pointed to my tendency to purchase Classico brand Vodka Sauce as an example of unwitting overspending.  My thinking is, "I'm eating spaghetti = I'm saving money." But their argument is, I'm paying EC$13.60 for a jar of premium spaghetti sauce, plus EC$10.72 on a carton of mushrooms, all in all about $25 before the spaghetti, for an amount that lasts about two meals.  The alternative, they say, would be to purchase the cheap Hunt's brand spaghetti sauce in a can, about three meals' worth, at EC$6.50.  Season it up however I want, of course, but at minimal expense.  And I must confess this makes a lot of sense, though is markedly less appealing to my sense of appetite.

The signs of Spring here, are, to the best of my knowledge, limited to the appreciable increase in exposure of birds and bird varieties.  I've already spotted two new nests in the last week, a half dozen fledgling Mourning Doves, and a hummingbird in the past week.  Apart from that, the air is slightly warmer in the day, slightly dryer, and slightly less breezy.  So basically showing the signs of a rapid push to summer weather, which will last all the way through to November – 6+ months of awesome!

20 April 2011

My First Top 11

Even while I'm staying busy, I'm soaking up all the enjoyment I can get from being off from school for the past two weeks.  And I suppose that has made me a little bit lazy on my posting, so I apologize for that.  But I'll make it up to you; here is a little bit of humor that I've been working on for a while.

The Top 11...
Signs You've Been A PCV In The Caribbean Too Long

11.   Your White friends have to politely tell you to "turn the soca down."
10.   You're convinced humidity was intended as "nature's ironing board."
9.     Lunch yesterday was conch roti, cookup, and johnny cakes.
8.    You have a preternatural fear of leaving the store with more than two grocery bags.
7.    You're now referred to as, "that clear guy."
6.    Deep down, you hope driving a car is a lot like riding a bicycle...
5.    Your neighbors can't understand you because you dialeck dun get too tick.
4.    Christmas doesn't feel like Christmas without going to the beach.
3.    What's the freezer for, if not for dirty dishes?
2.    You feel the windows without burglar bars are detracting from the room's feng shui.

And the number 1 sign you've been a PCV in the Caribbean too long...

1. The smell of OFF! turns you ON!

Also, I'm pleased to announce another milestone for today: 4,500 pageviews since August '10.  Which, by my calculations, translates to roughly... 12,000 in EC!  (Just kidding.)  Many thanks to everyone!

15 April 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Your quote for the week is a Caribbean idiom, used most commonly to draw attention to a particularly bizarre non sequitur:

"Morning, Peter.  Cabbage, Ma'am."

With students on their two-week-long Easter break, my Tuesdays and Thursdays are now being devoted to catching up on secondary projects.  And finding myself on the planning committee for the PC's 50th Anniversary celebration here in St. Kitts, as well as the newly-dubbed layout editor of the PC's Eastern Caribbean periodical, Serious Ting, my secondary projects are indeed beginning to pile up.  And after a busy weekend, all of my house chores, not to mention the stable workload at my primary assignment, are combining to keep me very busy, in spite of my ostensibly lax April schedule.  The difficult part, in light of always having projects I could be contributing to, is forcing myself to constantly maintain focus.  At university, one has abounding opportunity to develop a habit of focusing in 90-minute segments, just long enough to grasp what the professor is talking about before shutting down the brain to recoup the spent energy.  But here, the most devoted volunteers have the ability to continue working in full-on brain-drain status.  For my part, I don't care to go that far, relying instead on the knowledge that my best work is usually in the morning when my mind is fresh.  The tradeoff in time devoted to relaxing activities, e.g. correspondence chess, following Major League Baseball, and reading, is something I'm already an expert at!

Also, it's a new milestone: 100 posts!  Here's to the first 100, and to 100 more!

11 April 2011

D. Connor Band Bangs On The Door

The Iron Band had their first "gig" on Thursday, playing for their fellow students during morning assembly.  Since it was the last assembly of the second trimester, the principal was willing to fit in a timeslot for us and observe our progress over the last three weeks.  The students, to no ones' surprise, were very nervous at the prospect of playing for their peers, and some of the younger students even tried to get out of playing on stage, citing fears of being laughed at.  I explained that they would not be the only ones up on stage, and that when all was done, their fellow students would be cheering and dancing, not laughing at them.

This ultimately proved to be true. However, it wasn't clear from the beginning that this would be the case: the musicians' collective stage fright manifested by freezing each one when they got on stage.  So rather than starting out with a bang, they kind of started out with more of a whimper, hardly even playing until after (what seemed to me like) a few minutes.  Finally, they got moving around, and the audience, far from being inclined to dance, still was transfixed on the beat and the motion on stage.  So in the end they earned their applause, and I can only hope that this experience will translate easily into increased confidence for each of the students on future performances.

The students are now enjoying two weeks off for Easter vacation.  Since I knew the Band would most likely lose those four days of practice, due to the difficulty of scheduling meetings, I was amenable to trading that time for a little performance experience before May, when we'll be looking into scheduling our first real gig in Challengers, the next village up the Caribbean side.  Then, in June, all of the PCVs on island will head to Independence Square to host an all-day public meet-and-greet celebrating the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary this year, and I'll bring the Band by to play a set or two.  So the great news is that we're making noise, both figuratively and literally, and hoping that the possibilities don't end with just some out-of-town performances – eventually, a little radio or television exposure would serve to propel their fame much more rapidly, and a highlight video can't be far behind!

Mmm... new header.

08 April 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Your quote for the week is from one of my Iron Band students, a 6th grader with a real type-A personality:

"I'm sure Mr. Nelson [doesn't want to listen to your problems, he] would rather go home, eat tortilla soup and watch TV."

Maybe this bit needs just a little explanation: my Iron Band gaggle and I had just finished playing a memory game, used for the purposes of introduction, where we were all required to state our name and favorite foods.  I declared mine to be tortilla soup, which confounded a few of the students, whose other choices were Kittitian staples like chicken & chips, Chinese food, sōp (that's how to pronounce 'soup' here), goat water, and cookup, among other things.  And this girl, when she was putting one of her peers "in his place," explained to him, incorrectly, that I was less interested in sticking around after practice to discuss one of his concerns.  Of course, I quickly rectified the situation, but I couldn't help but laugh at her comment.

I've been struggling mightily with loneliness the past week.  Not usually one to dwell on emotions, I nonetheless can't seem to escape the painful feeling of emptiness that resides, omnipresent, in my gut.  (And before you say so, I don't think it's just hunger this time.)  My desire for some form of close companionship has recently supplanted my need for broader social circles, which I have managed to see bear fruit this calendar year.  And I'm very thankful for that, but in turn my spirit's gaze has moved on to a more personal need.

To use a metaphor, I've been presented with a number of doors since my arrival on island, but God has seen fit to close all of them so far, which has had a less-than-delightful effect on my self esteem.  And while it still can get me down, I have managed to find a positive way to counteract the negative effects: asking my friends, especially the lady friends, to keep a weather eye open for other potential candidates.  And without exception, this is met with enthusiasm; as it turns out, not only does my friendship with these lovely people carry some weight, but, quite simply, they love playing matchmaker!  So I'm able to turn around my disappointment with the circumstances infringing on my pursual into a positive experience we can share as friends.

And I know what some would say: "You need to focus on the task at hand, and not these frivolous things."  Well, I see the long-term wisdom in that, of course, and ultimately I don't want to sacrifice any time, effort, or resources on short-term or nonpermanent pursuits.  And so my prayer is, at the last, for God to either fulfill this desire common to all of us, or else squelch it for the time-being, in only the way that He can.

Frankly, I'm hoping for a little insight from the Stones.

04 April 2011

I Am Who, Revisited

I hope everyone got a kick out of Friday's Funnyquote: it was an April Fools' special!  Please know that there's no way I actually take anything Mr. Sheen has to say seriously, any more than the media does.  Although I guess I don't have to worry too much, since I think the page received exactly one pageview all weekend.

I'm constantly astounded to discover how little I know about life – as I've mentioned before on this blog, that very idea goes against every natural inclination of my personality.  And if I can be allowed to qualify that statement, I don't believe that my assuming nature is borne out of misplaced pride or arrogance, but more of a steely self-confidence that serves to promote my ability to read people and complex social situations, deal with hardship and letdowns, and even compensate for my fears of being perceived as either too bold and overbearing or as too meek and wimpy.  What I've come to find is that a major part of maturity is discovering that the things we place so much import on don't really matter all that much.  Things like other people's opinions of oneself and the value of one's social contributions.  Things like social status and income levels, they don't affect our long-term happiness.  Of course I have long tried to live my life to reflect these beliefs, but much like Spring cleaning in the attic, every now and then I stumble across a long-lost gem when clearing through the cobwebs of my previous life lessons.  And that's the inspiration for this post.

My high school English teacher was my favorite academic and source of culture in backwater Hiawassee.  And one of her staple assignments that went to all graduating 12th graders was the production of a memory book that served as part creative writing outlet and part nostalgic memento.  I took full advantage of the open-ended nature of the writing topics in concert with my teacher's broad sense of humor for the first writing piece, entitled simply, "Who am I?"  I prefaced my responses with the explanation that I had long ago learned that the accomplished essayist was to answer his debater's questions with a restatement of the question.  So I complied, saying things like, "Who am I?  I am who knows 100 decimal places of pi but doesn't quite understand how a checking account works."  And with a little wit and introspection attached, I figured it was time for another go at it.

So without further ado, Who am I?

  • I am who wears his heart on his sleeve, all day, every day.
  • I am who has been told I have a Messiah complex.  Maybe so, but I'm more worried about that guy who said so and his inability to come up with less impertinent names for social maladies.
  • I am who is a little less certain than I was yesterday.
  • I am who can't formulate anything apart from a functional argument against the Multiverse theory in a question of practical application and its effect on my emotional expectations.
  • I am who in recent memory had a legitimate, life-altering existential crisis.  At first glance I guess I wasn't really expecting that to be on this list so soon.
  • I am who has been told I like to hear myself talk.  Let me tell you about that.
  • I am who habitually looks for hidden significance in numbers, but claims no superstitions. (For example, there are 13 items on this list!)
  • I am who still cares a great deal about what others think, in spite of whatever I may say.
  • I am who is occasionally astounded at just how lazy I can be.
  • I am who can't stomach profound assurances of future performance based solely on previous trends, and yet amidst difficult situations fear foremost that change for the better is impossible.
  • I am who will be the most pleasantly surprised if anything substantially positive for the peoples of St. Kitts comes out of my service in the Peace Corps.
  • I am who never really bought into the phrase, "It's the simple pleasures..."
  • I am who once expected the world of me, but now... I'm not so sure.

But the unanswered question still lingers.  Is this new watered-down perspective the key to happiness, or will my unfulfilled idealistic goals haunt me?  Is 'good enough'... ever really good enough?  Will 'settling for less' prove to be exactly that?

Maybe I still have some growing up to do.

01 April 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Your quote this week:

"I'm tired of pretending like I'm not a total, 
bitching rock star from Mars."

I just wanted to put it out there, and say just how much this quote has meant to me in the past few months.  I think on it sometimes, and you know, if only I had the insight that some of these Hollywood stars have today, and the knowledge and experience that they have investing their lives into the entertainment of others, I think I would really be able to contribute to society then.  It would be a very different path from, say, trying to promote the economy, standard of living, and general welfare of this tiny island nation, but I think it may just prove to be more rewarding and stimulating in the end.  Who knows?  He does.