31 October 2011

My Fourth Top 11

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

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

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

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

Happy Halloween, everyone!

28 October 2011

Funnyquote Friday

This should be the mantra of every PCV:

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

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

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

I feel like this is me most days.

Also, it's HomecomingBetter beat those TigersNo excuses.

26 October 2011

My Third Top 11

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

My Top 11...
"Small Island" Moments

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

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

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

21 October 2011

Funnyquote Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 October 2011

Funnyquote Friday

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

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

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

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

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

07 October 2011

Funnyquote Friday

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

"Your wife's HOT!!"

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

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

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

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

03 October 2011

Lessons Remembered

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

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

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

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

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