29 June 2011

My Second Top 11

I was lucky to share part of my childhood with a sandy-haired boy and his striped feline friend.  The former was diminuitive of stature, but possessed a compensatory boldness of spirit, while the latter was world-wise, yet often cynical.  Between the two and their animated discussions of life, philosophy, tradition, parenthood, childhood, and what it means to be human, it frequently forced the issue of where the idealism truly lay in each issue, and in each one of us.  I'm speaking, of course, of my good friends, Calvin and Hobbes.

It occurred to me that, though I have partaken of the sagacity that Bill Watterson proffered in his daily benefactions, I have not yet made full recompense of the debt.  Therefore, dear readers, as part of my immolation to the nostalgia gods, I lay before you:

The Top 11...
Life Lessons I Learned From Reading Calvin and Hobbes

11.   Wearing your favorite rocketship underpants doesn't guarantee a good day, but it doesn't hurt, either.
10.   Girls are G.R.O.S.S.
9.   It doesn't matter how much of Dad's so-called "character" it builds, the damage to body, mind, or soul is far worse.
8.   Sometimes, the only rule that makes sense is not allowing rules.
7.   Bullies and nighttime monsters may break your bones, but they can never take away your stinging repartee.
6.   You can tell your best friend anything.
5.   Always remember to compliment Mom on her dinner meal, unless it starts singing off-key.
4.   When stranded in the late Cretaceous, knowing all of the predators of a ferocious pterosaur is more useful than knowing who invented the cotton gin.
3.   Only insufferable suburban elitists bother combing their hair.
2.   If you ever get lost, the worst that can happen is you end up in the Yukon.  (not so bad...)

And the number 1 life lesson learned from reading Calvin and Hobbes...
1.   Only comic strip characters have just one alter ego.

There you have it.  These life lessons have served me well; may they guide you to a more fulfilling and babysitter-free future.

And with this post, I equal the total number of last year's posts this year, at the halfway point.  Far from being a real milestone, I just hope to keep up the stamina and interest for another 59 posts over the next six months.

27 June 2011

Jah Bless

I'm basically finished with the NSTP's newfangled client database, and ready to roll it out.  It's a 1.5MB MSExcel sheet of all 3000+ clients in the NGO's history, since its founding in 1986.  I am currently going through the list of names and spying out double entries and combining them into one to make the list more efficient and precise.  Then, when I'm convinced all the data entry is complete and comprehensive, I'll arrange the names, dates, and numbers in such ways as to divine a few telling statistics, (e.g. average number of courses taken per client, average number of days waited before client-course match is made, distribution of clientele by constituency) all useful in confirming for grant writing purposes.  And any moneys that can be made through any means, not least of all grants, is most helpful at this stage.

I had an absolutely wonderful weekend, sharing in a number of activities with my girlfriend of nearly 2 months.  We visited the "Eat Local Foods" Day festival in Independence Square on Friday, and had a lovely meal of ital, rabbit, monkey, and carrot cake, and we took home some five-fingers wine prepared by the students of an agro-processing course offered by none other than the NSTP itself. 

Then, come Saturday passed, we enjoyed a lovely evening at a friend's house in Trinity, cooking for her a meal of Coconut Fried Shrimp on a bed of Basmati brown rice and a garden salad.  The blessed evening was overshadowed, unfortunately, by a harrowing event, when a local dog that we had briefly come to know ran into traffic and got hit by a passing bus.  It all happened right in front of us, while we were waiting for a lift.  My girlfriend, being a veterinary student and a friend to all animals, was understandably traumatized, but she stayed strong and we remembered the recently deceased animal in our conversation later that night.

Fortunately, Sunday was a few more steps in the right direction, as we joined a group of fellow PCVs for a day off at the Ocean Terrace Inn, complete with snacks, pools, lounges, cable television, and most importantly, air conditioning.  You'd have thought we were spending the day at Disneyland.  It was great to get together with everyone again, and afterwards the two of us went to Port Zante for ice cream and a bus lift home.

I know I haven't been on Skype during the weekends very consistently, and I'm sorry.  Most likely, that will be my tendency for a while: available on Skype most weekday evenings after 5:00; and if I'm on during the weekend at all, it will be sometime during the day.

24 June 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Seen on a sign at the Rasta health foods vendor, Kalabash, adjacent the image of a trained gun:

"I don't phone 911."

The tables have turned on me – now I'm facing all new stressors with my Iron Band project, while my work at the NSTP is looking up with conclusions to old projects and the addition of new ones.  My fears for the Iron Band center primarily around actually having requests for bookings, and at the same time having students that do not have, in my eyes at least, a legitimate show to perform.  This leaves me in a confusing place: do I allow them to continue to perform shows, which they are keen to do, but which means transportation costs for shows in other villages, and which means they play for 45-second intervals for 5 minutes before I and everyone else is fed up with trying to make something go that won't; or else do I squelch the traveling until I invest some more time in trying to nail down a helper, someone from the Ministry of Culture who would be better suited to training the kids in musical instruction?  I do not know the answer to that yet, and in the meantime, I'm beating myself up in the knowledge that I am failing to prepare students for these high-anxiety performances, putting both them and myself in positions of uncertainty.

But the weekend is coming up, so I'm looking forward to relaxing at a friend's house and cooking Coconut-Fried Shrimp on Saturday.  I'm using a tested recipe, so I have high hopes for it.  And as promised, pictures today are from the Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary celebration, held on June the 3rd.

Seventeen volunteers from all over the U.S. are serving in St. Kitts right now.

A rather unflattering photo of me getting the Iron Band pumped up for their first public performance.

A quilt, composed of pieces of cloth contributed by students and guests in attendance, was auctioned off that afternoon.
Over 500 students, guests, and tourists visited our info and activity booths, including students from Maurice Hillier Primary.
The Peace Corps motto.

22 June 2011

Links and Leftovers

Well, it's been a little while since I've done one of these.

By the way, Dad, I forgot to mention that I have your Father's Day gift: it's an XL shirt commemorating the Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary.

...which in turn brings to mind this little thought.

In other news, there's good news, and there's bad news.

Hurricane season has begun.

More important to me than the awesomeness of the instrument, is the music: anybody know something about getting sheet music of the piece that I can transcribe for marimba?

It's time I returned a little love to my most frequent referral source, PCJ.  Thanks, PCJ.

I really need to get around to reaping this list of all its goodness...

And, as promised, more pictures!  Highlights from Cinco de Mayo follow.

It was a 'stache bash.  Most absurd/glorious/super 'stache wins.
My girlfriend didn't mind my 'stache submission for the day.  I, on the other hand, was eager to shave afterwards.
A wild and crazy time was had by all.
Allow yourself to bask in the cuteness of my friend's pup, Beau, about 1 month old at the time.
Well, ultimately I did win the Super 'Stache contest.  A fun and memorable Cinco de Mayo.

20 June 2011


Finished Inter-Service Training on Friday, so I'm officially all trained up for another six months.  Due up: Mid-Service Training, come November of this year.  Which reminds me– I need to ask off for the first couple of weeks of November for my brother's wedding.  I hope the two don't overlap...

If there is one thing that IST is actually good for, it's the (albeit mild) external motivation to take a second look at stalled projects, consider some alternative routes for success in those projects, and the very welcome inspiration to create some new projects at the same time.  I jotted down notes on a few new ideas, as follows in order of closeness to actualization: (a) scheduling a Teacher training in Math Activities before the start of the school term in September, (b) start up an IT training course at the NSTP, possibly in combination with another PCV who has experience in PC hardware repair, and (c) a boy's abstinence club under the auspices of St. George's Anglican, in conjunction with the junior priest there, Fr. Christopher Archibald.  I don't have any personal experience in Youth ministry, but I think this kind of thing would be pretty simple, as long as community buy-in was high and activities were kept diverse and entertaining.  I'll keep everyone updated, of course, but in the meantime, pray for motivation and fortitude to finish my current projects before fully diving into these others.

VOW honours 100 women of Nevis
I did get to go to Nevis on Tuesday, as expected.  On the left is the promotional poster my fellow PCV and I developed over one 6-hour session.  The first 2 hours were spent just trying out different ideas and creating corresponding blank templates for the art.  Since the project will eventually be printed onto 2' x 3' posters, signed (by yours truly) and sold, the blank image was set up to be 24" x 36" at 300 ppi – a mistake, since the resulting filesize would be 1.85 GB.  A simple "save" command in the GIMP of a file that size took longer than 5 minutes.  We eventually settled on a more feasible 100 ppi, to be expanded upon completion if necessary.  The final product, about 6-7 times larger than the image to the left, is still 7.5 MB, one of the largest PNGs I've ever made.  The revealing of the artwork came on Thursday, and was well-received, according to my sources.  Certainly the Institutional Partner on Nevis, who led the event, was pleased with the result.  The design for the woman came from previous artwork that Voices of Women had used in previous promos, but the trace of Nevis and the collage of photos is all original work for the poster.  Here's hoping that my fellow PCV and VOW, her women's empowerment NGO can utilize the project as an effective fundraiser.

I just went through my backlog of photos, so I'll post a small collection from a different event for the next several posts.  (Yay pictures!)  Today's batch is from all the way back in March: St. Patrick's Day, to be precise.  I visited a fellow PCV's class at Sandy Point Secondary for the afternoon and tried out a couple of my Math Games, to much appreciation, participation, and excitement.

Playing "Honey Comb Home" with about 20 second-formers from SPS.

The tactile experience of rolling the dice was a positive causal-relation activity, easy for the students to grasp.
The teacher, after watching one class, got excited enough to get involved in the second round.

Afterwards, we all went down to Old Road to celebrate St. Patty's Day and engage in some local dominoes action.

10 June 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Quoth my girlfriend,

"My theory is that the buses here 
actually hover an inch above the ground."

One can feel the trimester winding down at the primary school, and kids find themselves much less inclined to stay and practice, so yesterday's practice was spent as a free-play day for any and all who showed up (including some non-IB inductees).  It was a positive, catharsis-inducing session, with the boys hamming it up by sitting on chairs in a row, drumming on pans resting on chairs in front of them, like miniature drumsets.  The resulting grooves earned some approving glances from some staff, and the accompanying din earned some appalled glances from others.

I've been invited to visit Nevis on Tuesday, to prepare a photo collage of 100 important women on Nevis, arranged in such a way as to make an impression, in macro, of another woman.  A challenging task, but fortunately I have some experience doing these photo collages from before.  Any excuse to visit Nevis again is a good excuse!

STAR WARS Episodes II & III are on the docket, so if there was anyone who was going to be completely disillusioned about SW, it will be my girlfriend after tonight.

08 June 2011

Can't See The Plank In His Own Eye

Why don't I take a minute (or ten) to introduce you to the D. Connor Band?  It's the DWC School's own premiere student-led Iron Band, which I help "manage" twice a week.  It is composed of ten students, from grades 3 through 6, split between 5 boys and 5 girls.  In the interest of security, I will give them all coded names for this post.

The oldest boy is in 6th grade; Mido we'll call him.  Mido enjoys being in the Iron Band perhaps more than any other student.  He has great natural talent, preferring to drum in his spare time as well.  He has a light, jovial sense of humor, and a big friendly smile.  He tends to be very loyal to those who are kind to him, notably his teachers.  Mido is not in the lowest stream of 6th graders because he is slow – unfortunately he is there primarily for behavioral issues and their tendency to get in the way of his ability to concentrate and learn.  Taking correction rather poorly, he tends to slip into pouting when identified out of a group for either reprehensible behavior or even for positive reinforcement.  Showing a few classic Emotional-Behavioral Disorder tendencies, they are still far less pronounced than those of certain other students I've had occasion to work with at the school.

The oldest girl is also in 6th grade, and we'll title her Chica.  Chica is of Guyanese ethnicity, and thus has been raised in a home where it is more accepted to be positive, blunt, and forward in her speech.  Chica is, incidentally, all of these things.  Most of her peers would describe her as bossy, since she hardly ever considers the thoughts and needs of others in her decisions, being comfortably self-assured in her ability to read every situation honestly and thoroughly.  This can sometimes get her in trouble, of course, when she turns out to be wrong.  Nonetheless, her frankness garners a certain charisma which attracts other girls with a more easy-going disposition.  As for Iron Band members, the number of other girls with a more "easy-going disposition"? One.

That girl is Euro.  Euro is in 5th grade, and (gratefully) is far and away the most laid-back member of the band.  She is extroverted: comfortable with both being the only one speaking in a group, and the only one speaking truth to power, activities she regularly engages in.  Although she's more in tune with taking Iron Band practice seriously, she more naturally takes social leads from the other girls around her, which can sometimes lead to distraction.  She is quick-witted, inquisitive, and sharp, though prefers to maintain a façade of sheer normalcy with her peers.  Even so, not a day has gone by when she hasn't taken advantage of a lull in practice to ask me a question about the States, the Peace Corps, my family, my school, etc.

The other 5th grade boy is Ebb.  Ebb is growing up in an all-too-common Kittitian home: a younger, single, doting mother responsible for him and his little sister.  He generally has a pleasant, eager-to-please attitude, albeit high energy with little regard for short-term hearing loss.  With no father-figure in his immediate family, however, his natural bent when confronted with even the most basic of perceived slights is violence, striking other boys and girls alike, occasionally in disproportionate scale or unprovoked.  In a flash he can be seething with rage, and audibly complains to me, teachers, or anyone who will give him ear about the unfairness of the cosmos.  He has, no doubt, learned from his mother that this kind of behavior is rewarded with special treatment.  Sadly this, and his tendency to speak up at the damnation of others' behaviors (quite often overlooking his own complicity), have become widely accepted anti-social behaviors in Kittitian culture.

Moving on to 4th grade, the only boy is code-named Jester.  Jester always has a sunny outlook; you can't bring him down for more than a few minutes at a time.  He absolutely adores running in the schoolyard, spinning tops on the pavement, and throwing balls up against the wall.  His penchant for pastimes, however, could be a compensation for his hampered ability to easily chat with his peers – he has several mild speech flaws, making communication with someone like me, hard-of-hearing and new to the accent, difficult.  In fact, the only time I have witnessed visible frustration on his persistently-grinning face is when he has to repeat what he is saying to me more than twice.  He enjoys playing the instruments and marching, though practice time often comes at the expense of playing in the yard with his friends.

His counterpart is Twain, a 4th grade girl.  One of the few participants with actual percussive skill and experience prior to joining, Twain has many natural talents and splits her time between IB, dance, and tennis.  The off-shoot of being told how talented she is for so long, I'm afraid, is that she feels quite comfortable pointing this out to her peers as well, who naturally resent her elitism.  And in a natural and expected twist, she in turn does not seem to notice their resentment at all, but keeps on reminding them all the while.  During practice, this habit manifests itself in her unfortunate tendency to drop the instrument she's playing, step over to a peer, and steal their instrument in an effort to "show them the right way to play it."  This is not good behavior for making friends.  Incidentally, she doesn't have many, and as pointed out, she compensates by playing a game that doesn't require many friends.

The Gem of the group, the diamond in the rough so to speak, is another 4th grade girl.  Gem is an oddball, and has an oddball's sense of humor.  On more than one occasion, she has confessed to me that her roiling tears were borne of the fact that her mother "had passed on to be with the Lord, she had."  And when it was clear I wasn't buying it, she switched wholesale into an innocent expression of "well, not yet, anyway."  Short and stout for a girl her age, she is far less girly than her other gendermates in the band, and sometimes this plays into an unfortunate dynamic.  Of the five girls, three like to sing rather than just play percussive instruments.  Of those three, Euro and Chica are natural friends, making a "two's company, three's a crowd" scenario for Gem, who often resents the others for not including her in their singing camaraderie.  She will gleefully resort to borderline-negative behavior for the sake of attention, though she is an enjoyable addition when she does not have to.

The Enigma of the group, contrarily, doesn't go out of her way to draw attention at all.  Only in third grade, Enigma doesn't share the sense of gravity around the Iron Band the way her peers do, and often will come by to say 'hi' to me when class lets out before skipping practice to go home.  Cutesy and shy around others, she never lets on what she is thinking, or even that she comprehends the nature of what is going on around her.  However, she is a rapid learner, and is one of the few participants that I have discovered has the ability to mimic drumming skills merely by observing once or twice.  This has come in handy, and as a result is my preference for playing bass, since she can do a loud, steady beat with minimal guidance.  All of the other boys want to add something to it, or play a complicated beat that is more advanced and difficult to follow.  But she is content to play loud and fast, which is more in the style of what we are looking for in the low registers.

The youngest member of the group, Beta, is less a certainty.  Being in third grade himself, Beta is still picking up on some standard social cues from his peers, but does so from the back, careful not to draw attention to himself, trying to remain anonymous and unremarkable – to the point that a few weeks in, some of the older participants did not know who I was talking about when I inquired into his whereabouts.  He tends to be more anxious than the others, with a seemingly perpetual expression of shock on his face.  If I or one of the older students have the indecency to suddenly change the activity, venue, or situation in any way, he is the last to know and the first to come running with a look of fear in his eyes, breathlessly asking me what is happening.  I've learned to avoid this momentary distraction by trying to maintain his attention whenever giving out new instructions, but this is often difficult, especially when he has taken off without my notice to spin tops with his buddies.

And finally, DJ rounds the list.  A sixth grade boy in Chica's class, DJ has the unique distinction of being the only participant in the Iron Band who was not originally invited to join.  Instead, he (like so many others have tried to do) wiggled his way in by the interesting coincidence of having a similar name to Beta, and by telling me on our first day that I had, in fact, asked him to join the Iron Band the day before.  This was a bald-faced lie, but after participating for the first practice, and what with the withdrawal of one of our other participants, it didn't seem to be too much of an imposition to allow him to stay.  He has some basic self-esteem issues, and has the most trouble getting home regularly from school (both implying his home situation may be at worst weak, and gratefully not destructive), but his performance IQ is among the highest among band members, as he is able to play, sing, and dance on demand.  His natural bent is to follow the lead of others, however, and often these gifts are masked in the interest of fitting in.

And that's about it.  They had their first public showing for the Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary celebration last Friday, and have been begging to play at the beach, at Port Zante, and at our Challengers engagement ever since.  Thanks for reading, and wish us luck!

06 June 2011

Peace Corps Day: A Critique

All in all, Peace Corps Day in St. Kitts will be remembered as a success.  So many things went as expected, which is the good news.  Things like the kids showed up – and the showed up in droves.  In truth, we never had more than three classes visiting at one time, and after 9:30AM we very rarely had less than one class visiting.  So there were always people to share the experience with, whether primary school students, local adults in the park, tourists in town, or anybody else.  Not to mention the PCVs, all of whom showed up.  Kudos to my fellow volunteers, since there was some debate as to how important or mandatory this type of activity was, but in the end everybody made an appearance and contributed something to the day's activities.  And not to be forgotten, the DJ showed up, and there was music for everybody.  We got started a little earlier than our NAGICO Insurance counterparts, who were sharing the park that day and also supplied their own DJ, but sound pollution was never a serious problem except when the Police approached our DJ and requested that he lower the volume, as the sound was "disturbing the public."  This, even after we sent an official letter to the police department informing them of our planned activities for the day.

There were some (probably unavoidable) oversights on our part – little things like the decorative Peace Tree's leaves and seed clusters may in fact have been poisonous.  At least that's what some of my Ross University friends claimed.  Also, as it would turn out, the DJ didn't really need a tent, as the weather conditions never even approached rainy and he was shaded by the large trees all day.  Thirdly, another tent was completely superfluous, since the catering service never showed up, due to a communication breakdown and a resultant scheduling error.  This meant that all the children who either (a) brought money for a snack or (b) quite simply did not want to completely dehydrate themselves were out of luck.  My poor Iron Band flock got so thirsty after having fried chicken for lunch and marching around in the sun that I had students begging me for water, a direction to water, or money for water, none of which I could give them.

But all things considered, as I mentioned before, the ultimate goal was to get the word out about the Peace Corps, noting its 50 years of existence and its presence in the Federation since 1966.  Our VAC had this to say regarding Friday's reception by the community:
The games and activities were a great success, keeping the attention of all participants, particularly the school children. Throughout the day, I met various people walking through the park, some locals, some visitors from the cruise ship, who were impressed by the event and for that, you should be very proud of the work you do as Volunteers.
With Peace Corps day through, and an evening of bat catching following, I was thoroughly exhausted this weekend, and used the lull to catch up on rest and drive the savage anxieties of handling the logistics for Peace Corps Day from my tired mind.  It was good; I'm taking the opportunity to introduce my girlfriend to STAR WARS, by way of an episode a week starting with Episode I and continuing chronologically.  I want to find out what it's like to watch them out of order, and see if the experience is particularly different from mine (as well as basically everybody else that is over the age of 13).

I'll probably end up combining May and June for the sake of a highlight video, though I may change my mind; we'll see just as soon as I get some time to look at that.  Right now going through media capture from Peace Corps Day as well as learning my new duties for editing the Serious Ting will be taking up most of my free time.

03 June 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Seen on a sign hanging on a picket fence gate:

"I owe, I owe, so off to work I go."

It's the official celebration of the Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary today.  Which means I am doing several things all at once:
1. Coordinating with equipment and service providers to make sure everybody knows what is going on.
2. Filming goings-on for posterity and for marketing and awareness purposes at PC headquarters.
3. Arranging and pumping up the D. Connor Iron Band for their first outright public performance.
And, no doubt, by the end, I will have done x number of other things that I did not foresee when I volunteered for the position of "Logistics and Media" in order to get out of preparing awareness activities for children.  I did enjoy helping out in ways that I was particularly suited to, however, like preparing this promotional poster:

With so many uncertainties about logistics and scheduling, namely (a) whether or not we would have exclusive access to the park today, then (b) whether or not we would have legal access to the park at all, (c) how we would arrange to have electricity paid and readied for our use at the park on the day of, (d) how we would alert the general public and the schools about the events with both enough time to plan and in time enough so they don't forget, and (e) how much these and other services like DJing and tent rental would cost, I was quickly overwhelmed by the ambiguity of it all.  Especially Thursday afternoon when I got a call from a representative from the Department of Parks and Recreation with a message of woe: apparently, they had never received from the Peace Corps a letter of intent to reserve the premises on this Friday, and they had since been promised to NAGICO Insurance Corp.  A quick phone call to the head of SKN's NAGICO branch eased the tension and "let the show go on" without officials having to come and escort us off the premises or anything like that.  But that sudden jolt combined with my own fears that the Iron Band will be mostly underwhelming after much anticipation and propping up was enough to cause me a minor panic attack.  Nothing serious, and one I quickly put to rest by dealing with the problems one by one and sharing the unfortunate news with other PCVs on the planning committee.

Following today's events, I should have plenty of pics and video for your perusal very shortly.

01 June 2011

Getting Back

I'm fighting through a bout of sleep deprivation while composing this, but in the interest of trying to start afresh in June with more consistent posts, I'll make an attempt at coherence.

Well, it was a very pleasant trip back to the States. Getting to see everyone was refreshing and rewarding, and the wedding was a joy to behold; best wishes to Meagan and Ryan once again!  I had the pleasure of catching up with old friends from Hiawassee, as well as meeting some new people – in fact, the wedding party itself included a current Peace Corps Volunteer and a soon-to-be PCV.  I also got to see my Marietta friends on Friday night, and we went out for Mexican food and frozen yogurt.  The talk was as animated and technical as ever, much to my delight.  The offshoot of all these trips to Atlanta, however, is that it seemed like every other night I was returning home at 2 or 3 a.m.  I quickly got behind in sleep, and my schedule was further agitated when I had to get up at 5 a.m. on Tuesday to catch the outbound flight from ATL to MIA.  Hence the persistent drowsiness.

On an unrelated note, apparently the Prime Minister of SKN flies commercial.  There we were, boarding a plane at SKB, and who should join our number (presumably following an initial covert security sweep) but Dougie himself.  He took a seat up in business class, and naturally was the first one whisked away by golf cart upon arrival in Miami.   That's the Peace Corps way, you know: rubbing shoulders with foreign heads of state, and all before lunchtime.

I'll try to post a May highlights video if I can, but it will be later than usual (if at all) due to the very busy next two days.