30 November 2011

Photo Reel

It's so intense...
In a week graced with multiple rare acts of God, this last one was a pleasure to see: a double rainbow that popped up during a brief sun shower.  Just over the gardens to the East of my house, this picture was taken from my front porch yesterday afternoon.  At one point, the rain was coming down hard and fast on the right side of my porch, but the ground was completely dry everywhere on the left side.

The view of the Basseterre Harbor from atop the Ocean Terrace Inn
The weather was hit and miss during MST, when we volunteers spent the workweek in training at the Ocean Terrace Inn in Basseterre.  In this picture, of course, the weather is impeccable, but the other half of the time saw overcast skies and occasional drizzles.  That trend has mostly held up these last few weeks, and now mosquitoes are finding droves of lawns with standing water to repopulate.  The offshoot is that I can't keep my door open during the morning or evening for fear of letting in dozens of mosquitoes.

St. Kitts' 25 Most Remarkable Teens honored at Parliament, 23 November 2011
If I can be so forward as to say, the most important aspect of the 25 Most Remarkable Teens ceremony was the clear and dazzling display of government buy-in.  For a project that claims only one specific goal, to celebrate the positive achievements of today's youth contrasted against the seemingly endless flow of negative press bulletins and falling public sentiment, the program actually has many aspects that promote positivity and cooperation in the Federation, between youth and adults, as well as political parties.  For further details on the event, plus a retelling of each of the teenagers' remarkable stories, make sure to visit my colleague's blog.

What volunteers do in their spare time?
When an EC80 couple, good friends to me and so many around the island, were forced to end their term of service a few months early, we volunteers congregated at their abode to wish them well in their travels (and to clean up some of the household goods that weren't coming with them).  In this case, everyone was guaranteed 2 rolls of toilet paper, but everything else was first-come, first-served.  The said older couple has recently moved nearer their oldest son's family in Alaska; if they read this, I extend once again my sincerest best wishes.

Peace Corps (unofficial) motto
One of the changes in the mood following MST is the now constant awareness of the impermanence of the vast majority of things one does here, whether big projects or small.  I feel like this decidedly melancholy sense is doubled for those of us on islands that the Peace Corps will be pulling out from following our term of service.  However, when discussing it with my APCD, she related to me a peace that she has felt about the situation recently: paraphrased, she felt like our job, now, was to "leave with dignity," with the knowledge of a job well done.  By extension of the Peace Corps' mission, it's as much a victory as a concession when we move out of a country, and maybe St. Kitts and Nevis is ready to move along for a little while without us?

Revisiting my inspiration for joining the Peace Corps in the first place, and with a vote of thanks to Jesse Cline, here are two good illustrations of what I believe the Peace Corps will mean to me in the coming years.
Comic A and Comic B

28 November 2011

Shaking Things Up

St. Kitts enjoyed an earthquake of 4.7 on the Richter scale at 1:45 this morning.  It was just enough to wake me from the sound of the upstairs creaking, and from the shaking of my bed springs.  But it only lasted a second or two, and I was back to sleep.  To my knowledge, it's the first one that I've experienced since beginning here in August 2010.  I'm still very proud of my quake senses, the ability to wake up to an earthquake and immediately recognize it for what it is – Not mulling around in bed thinking, "Did I leave the dryer running again?" or "Why is the neighbor's donkey rubbing up against my house?"

I'm going to spend today working on two items: a fun and educational activity using Microsoft Word for the students in my Intro to Computer Applications class, and laying out a 2012 calendar in Adobe InDesign for the AIDS alliance, to be used as a fundraiser.  The former is proving difficult to conjure from the internets – I haven't found any activities yet that are suitable for students ages 15+ that have below average literacy rates.  I'm considering reaching back into my own experience and having one student, a different one every 20 minutes, pulled out from the regular instruction and placed in front of a word processor and continue a narrative that his/her peers have also been working on.  That could prove to be a nice deviation from the norm.  Now if only I could come up with another idea for a collective activity...  As for the calendar, I've been given the pictures already, so the rest should be easy; I'll post the cover art as soon as it is finished.

And as promised, here are pictures from Thursday's official opening of the books sent by Hands Across the Sea.  Enjoy!

25 November 2011

Funnyquote Friday

When Ms. Cuffy started her computer on Monday morning, there was nothing functionally wrong with it.  Yet upon opening her internet browser, she was greeted with a pop-up that informed her that her system had been infected by malignant viruses, hard drive and memory errors, registry errors, trojans, network problems, and all kinds of mean, nasty things.  Not wanting her system to be at risk, she dutifully clicked on the "Fix Errors" button for the SystemFix alert. (Link is to an info page about the virus.)  She was not prepared, then, for her system to reboot, and systematically rewrite her Windows system files such that her Start Menu and desktop was now empty save for a single shortcut to SystemFix.  Even booting up the system in Safe Mode did nothing to alleviate the situation.  When I saw the effects the malware had wrought on her system, I recognized the severity of the situation and immediately phoned IT support staff for the Ministry of Education.  The worker at the other end began with the most basic litany of questions, like inquiring if the system was running slow or not booting at all.  I explained the situation in full orchestration and four-part harmony, and inquired if the MoE had a corporate license of Windows that he could bring with him in case we needed to reformat the drive and reinstall Windows on it.  He didn't say that he did, but in his voice he seemed concerned about the nature of the damage, so I suggested that he should come by the office and inspect the machine for himself as soon as possible.  At this point, he asked me,

"So it not turning on, or it just running slow?"

Incidentally, he didn't make it out to the office that day.  In fact, here it is Friday, and he still hasn't come by to check it out.

And a late happy T-giving to everyone.  Readers may remember that I missed the island goings-on last year due to sickness, but thanks to one of my colleagues rushing a carb-laden plate over to me, I was able to enjoy the delicious food even so.  This year, the get-together was held at the same place, but hosted by a wholly different volunteer.  We had another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, and I reveled in the polite company of all the volunteers, friends, neighbors, and new acquaintances that were there.  There was pigskin tossing, card playing, music listening, fat chewing, merry making, and all kinds of groovy things going on there.

Well, I got the 27 8x10 color glossy pictures (really, just 2 or 3) that Hands Across the Sea requests for their records and to be used on special thank-you notes to the contributors that helped front the money for the new library books at the school.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my USB-to-miniUSB cable with me to work, so I will not be able to retrieve those photos from my camera in time for this post.  So despite my intentions, readers will be forced to wait one more weekend for some neat update photography.  The real work with the school library, however, begins after Carnival, when the entirety of the library is being moved from upstairs, in the climate-controlled, well-lit, tiled, public space that I spent hours and days reorganizing, to its new home downstairs in an open-air, dim, humid, concrete-floored, former classroom.  The new school administrators' decision to move the library appears to have been motivated by reasons wholly removed from anything relating to me or the library itself, yet I feel my frustration over this myopic, unilateral change is not unjustified.

Oh, and it seems there's a football game this weekend.  Wouldn't want to jinx anybody like some claim I did last year, but I feel compelled to offer my cheers for the brave and bold in this battle for the hearts and minds of the state.  So here's to my Alma Mater, where the best and brightest get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected, and selected.

23 November 2011

July in November?

I went by the school yesterday in order to take picture and video of the children receiving the books from Hands Across the Sea, which did in fact arrive while I was attending to matters in the States.  However, the principal suggested that I might do better to come on Thursday morning of this week.  I said that even though it was Thanksgiving, I would be happy to come in briefly that morning and snap some shots.  So, sooner rather than later, we should have some new material for the blog in the form of happy kids and teachers getting an early Christmas surprise.

If I'm not careful, I'm going to forget about the special event tonight: starting at 7:30 at the Parliamentary Chambers in the Government Headquarters is the Remarkable Teen project presentation, which my dutiful colleague has spent months in preparations for, and who plans to welcome many government dignitaries to the ceremony.  I don't know how long it will go (or how long it will go over, for that matter), but I'm interested in seeing if the government leaders in attendance will appear sincere in their accolades for these couple dozen remarkable Kittitian teenagers.  The best part of it, I suppose, is that I'm free of any duties for the evening, so I have the luxury of just sitting back and enjoying the spectacle!

A couple of blog matters to tend to: first, here's a doff of the cap to 150 blogposts.  A milestone of sesquicentennial proportions!  Admittedly, I find it hard to imagine 149 other posts as trite and uninformative as this one.  And sadly, I have no real cake to mark the occasion, so this will have to do:

And in honor of this (quite pedestrian) achievement, I decided to prepare a little surprise for everyone; I know how long it's been since you last enjoyed a new movie from me, so I took a little extra time to make this latest video something new and exciting.  I hope you like it as much as the others, despite the content being four months old.  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments on the video below.

21 November 2011

Work Is A Dish Best Served Fast

Wow, Thanksgiving week got here fast!  I guess that's what happens when the first three weeks of the month are spent away from the familiar.  And while it was a long three weeks, with enjoyable diversions and manifest chances to catch up with friends and family, the time seems to have been compressed to a pinpoint now that it is all over.  But I have a relaxing Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday to look forward to – my first one, after missing last year's due to a brief brush with the dengue.  Furthermore, I'll be walking with a dish that my girlfriend is preparing: a Jewish noodle casserole called Kugel.  Since somebody already offered to bring green bean casserole, and yet I was looking forward to making that myself, I volunteered to prepare it for my girlfriend's Thanksgiving get-together, in exchange for her T-giving dish.  So I'm excited to try it for myself for the first time!

Life at the NSTP continues, in spite of my absence, and new IT issues at the NSTP seem to have cropped up (quite literally) overnight: tighter "parental controls" need to be placed on a few of the desktop computers in the newly expanded computer lab, while Ms. Cuffy's office desktop seems to have become infected with a particularly hostile virus, apparently rewriting many Windows system files and rendering it essentially unusable.  I'm crossing my fingers that the Ministry of Education's IT Specialist remembers to bring a corporate copy of Windows with him, in the event we need to reformat the disk.  I have also been tasked with designing and publishing the NSTP's corporate Facebook page.  An opportunity to familiarize myself with the website controls, and especially develop some much-needed marketing experience.  So I'm right back to being busy here at National Skills.

Even as I write this, I am enjoying listening to the hospitality class start a new unit in the adjacent classroom.  They are discussing general cooking knowledge, the instructor deftly tugging at the trainees' previous experiences and wrapping them around new pillars of technique to be employed in the kitchen: how long does shrimp cook? what is christophene and when do you use it? what is salt fish, and what is the process for preparing it? what does 'au gratin' mean? what is linguine? what are three common uses of breadfruit?  Some of these I know the answer to, and some I am learning on the fly, no different from any of the 15-20 year olds sitting in the classroom right now.  It is interesting, and I sincerely hope that when I teach my two hour class on Wednesdays that I engage the students in the same way.  The most difficult part, perhaps, might be divining the individual students' previous experiences with computers, which can constitute a wide spectrum in even a small class.  But I have faith that the more time we spend in class, the more comfortable the students will be with me and the more willing they will be to share their own experiences that others can learn from.

EDIT: Ha ha, how out of touch do I have to be for posts without the funnyquote at the top to look weird?

18 November 2011

Funnyquote Friday

During MST, when discussing the realities of living alone in a foreign country as expatriate volunteers, one of the subjects that comes up is relationships, perhaps intimate ones, with the people you find yourself amongst, whether host country nationals or otherwise.  And one of the strategies used by Peace Corps to give volunteers the tools to avoid any "rash" decisions is one that I was quite familiar with: listing the qualities of a potential partner before meeting someone.  This opened the door for one of my colleagues who has a penchant for undercutting the seriousness of a situation by, sometimes crudely, drawing attention to the absurdness of it all; as she pointed out,

"Don't date the local homeless guy
[just to date someone.]"

And so MST came to a close Thursday afternoon, and those of us staying behind on St. Kitts saw the Antiguan and Vincentian contingents off to the airport early this morning.  The training went over well, and I felt that we avoided, in large part, any time spent on superfluous topics or inapplicable teachings, though I fear that not everyone came away with the same assurance.  For my part, I was especially excited to hear about other volunteers' "One Thing That Worked," a five-minute summary of a project or activity that was met with positive feedback.  One example was a "juicebox wallet," a very chic/pop looking accessory that could be fashioned out of nothing more than a used juice box, some electrical tape, and a staple.  Not a stapler, a staple.  Moreover, the young woman who presented this fantastic and creative idea continued to apologize about it not being originally her idea, but that she had borrowed it from another Peace Corps Volunteer from Facebook.  All the while, I'm thinking, "Why are you apologizing? We all need to be pulling more from such an apparently deep pool of collective ideas."

In the end, the things I will remember most from my MidService Training will be the relationships with my fellow volunteers from Antigua and SVG: catching up with old friends, re-befriending new ones, and the surprising new developments in the lives of both.  I can't express how much I was looking forward to getting back together with everyone, a large group that I at once respect deeply, and again shake my head at, confounded.  Such a diverse group of people includes ones I am attracted to, ones I am repelled from, ones I look up to, ones who look up to me (though admittedly I may never know who those are, and am mostly projecting on that one), ones I trust, ones I don't trust, ones I'll always remember, and ones who won't remember my name, come Close Of Service conference in late July.

16 November 2011

MidService Training

The first day of MST is over, and I (thinking it was still Monday) completely forgot about Tuesday Trivia down at Frigate Bay – so I ended up stranding my team for a third week straight.  But it's not really that big of a deal.

Instead, the first day was given over to presentations on Peace Corps impact in the Caribbean, specifically projects as started by volunteers in St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.  For the St. Kitts presentation, we held a faux "fashion show" in which each volunteer dressed up as an example of a functional area, e.g. Healthy Lifestyles, Culture, or HIV/AIDS awareness.  A video was taken, so pics and clips will soon be made available of this "hot, hot" event, so you will be able to see for yourself my colleague in his getup made entirely of red ribbon and condoms.  (That's not a joke – or an exaggeration.)  I walked out to the theme of Entrepreneurship, wearing various "accessories" to symbolize each of the initiatives on-island.  Overall, it was a success, and much delighted our colleagues from around the Caribbean (and staff, too!).

I also enjoyed spending the evening going through the initial planning of the next edition of the Serious Ting with my fantastic colleague serving on St. Vincent.  Speaking of which, I have a virtual copy of the latest Ting available on the web here.  So if you didn't have a chance to see it before, please check it out – remember I did all of the design layout for the magazine, and it's the first edition (to my knowledge) in full color for both cover and interior articles.

15 November 2011

Back – Just In Time for MST

Sorry about the long delay; I just got back from two weeks in the States for my brother's wedding.  It was a lovely event, and if you're reading this, it's highly likely that you either know someone on Facebook that can link you to the pictures, or, perhaps, were even at the wedding yourself.

Anyway, MST is starting today, and so I will be sending brief, sporadic updates as things unfold.  I have to say, it has already been quite a trip getting to see everybody again, and catch up with friends from Antigua and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  It's certainly living up to expectations – now, if only the training can be productive as well.  Looking forward to a good week!