23 December 2012

Rounding Off The Story

Here it is, already December of 2012.  I am writing from my new apartment home in Sandy Springs, GA, where I hold down a job at Aptean, Inc.'s new global headquarters.

I am very thankful to God for directing my path to this new development, but even more so for protecting me and seeing me through my 27 months in St. Kitts.  As with all PCVs, undoubtedly, I had my share of experiences when I didn't know if I would even want to stay any longer, but with God's help, I got through the tough times, the scary times, and even the boring in-between times.  Now when I'm not tailoring a database query or constructing a Crystal report, I am daydreaming fondly of the sunsets at Shipwreck Beach Bar, or leading the kids in a math activity, or hiking the rainforest interior.  I never thought I would be subject to the same truth that so many other volunteers before me had averred: "You will leave realizing you are taking more with you than you left behind."  But now, just a couple months after returning to the States, I know this to be true for me too. 

It was my pleasure before leaving to participate at the 3rd Annual 2K Walk and 5K Run in support of the St. Christopher Children's Home, my second occasion to do so.   This time, however, I volunteered to man the t-shirt distribution table – handing out shirts to all registered runners and donors.  It was a great success, raising in excess of EC$200,000 for the orphanage's 2013 operating expenses.  Plenty of people, Kittitians, Brits, Ross Students, and PCVs alike all gather in the interest of contributing to the worthy cause, and it has been a great joy for me and many of the other Hashers to align ourselves with the annual event.  The 5K race spans the length of the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club course, reaching all the way out to Half Moon Bay.  I ran the course in 2010, and I can say with some degree of confidence that the assertion that the path is only 5 kilometers long is a lie.  I know when I reached 5 kilometers, and I still had at least half a kilometer yet to go.  Anyway, having occasion to help out at the Children's Home myself, I know what a blessing the knowledge that all the resources the home needs are taken care of will be to the sweet people that help out there, and also to the kids. 

Well well, it's a new (and final) blog header.  Just in time to celebrate over 10,000 blog pageviews.  Woo!

16 October 2012

The Final Test

Then Tropical Storm Rafael (now Hurricane Rafael) passed through St. Kitts from late Friday through Monday, dropping torrential rains and causing mudslides all through Basseterre and around the island.  Since the center of the storm sort of hugged our southern coastline, the brunt of the winds came from the South, which means that Basseterre received a worse buffeting than usual.  Many of the primary North-to-South ghauts were completely flooded and drained water, mud, shrubberies, building supplies, and even cars into the bay!  A few of us volunteers had been saying we wanted to experience our very own lifelike hurricane, since our time up to now had been dotted with largely benign storms – it seems that we got what we asked for this weekend.  In fact, there is a sort of remarkable symmetry to it: when my group arrived on island in September of 2010, Hurricane Earl had just swept through the NE Caribbean, and the island was recovering from the shock of that.  Now, as I am preparing to leave, I am part of the contingent recovering from the shock of Hurricane Rafael.

In addition, I have been without running water since late Saturday, what with the storm knocking out the power for large swaths of time over the weekend and my neighborhood's water supply reliant on the water being pumped to the top of the hill I live on.  Usually this long after having power restored would be sufficient time for the water pump to have recovered, but the fact that it hasn't is indicative to me that it may be damaged and in need of repair.  Which means that my usual routines have been somewhat transformed: taking a shower has become bathing from a bucket, washing the dishes under cold running water has become soaking the dishes in room temperature soapy water, and washing my toothbrush off with running water has become saving potable water to rinse the toothpaste off.  Even things you wouldn't think about, like shaving or flushing the commode is different.  And this being the third day as such, it's doubtless I wouldn't have made it this far without the gracious help of my good friend Joy, who delivered a couple 10 gallon water containers to my apartment on Sunday. 

Current weather issues aside, I've been struggling to get myself over the hump to actually getting ready to leave.  I'm constantly pulled two ways about whether it's too early to pack something, whether it belongs in this suitcase or that, whether I need to pack it at all or leave it for the benefit of a friend or the next tenant in my apartment, etc.  It strikes me that this may be one of those "I'm not going to get to it until I feel the urgency pressing on me" issues.  So the over-under for when I get through packing is set for, I think, midnight Wednesday.  Mind you, my flight leaves SKB at 3:00 Thursday afternoon.  Now taking bets!

I've got some errands to run in town today: get some closeout papers signed and delivered to the Peace Corps office, close my savings account at the bank, and return the LIME modem that I am using to send this near-final update.  I already held my closing interview with my APCD, which went off without a hitch.  And after capturing some last minute photographs of my walk into town, which I am going to do this morning, I will be all caught up with my list of final things to do before leaving the island.  I have to say, though – I'm going to feel kind of guilty about the state that I'm going to be leaving the apartment in if I don't get running water with which to clean it up very soon.

Also, here's to the 200th post!

08 October 2012

I Believe

Whilst in a Monday meeting with my coworkers at the NSTP,  we were discussing the upcoming graduation ceremony for the A Ganar graduates.  I pointed out that I would be busy that Saturday volunteering at the 3rd Annual 5K Run for the St. Christopher Children's Home, and wouldn't be able to make it to the graduation.  And when the theme "I Believe; I Can Achieve" was discussed, I was inspired to contribute a poem in lieu of attending.  So I spent the time in the meeting composing the following poem; it was all done in about an hour's time.

My friends, my mentors, they encourage me;
My parents, my teachers, they want to see
The best come through in all I do
And show the world that I, for true,
Am worth the sacrifices they’ve made.  For
This I believe; I can achieve more
When I study those that want me to succeed.

The finish line looks far away,
But I’m being careful not to stray
From the path that takes me to the top.
Until I reach, I nah gon’ stop.
Some may doubt, but in my soul,
I believe; I can achieve the goal
That I have placed before myself.

In school, I’d fight and sweat and strive –
But thanks to A GANAR, I thrive
On the knowledge that I can do my part
To forge myself a brand-new start
Preparing myself for life’s big test.
I believe; I can achieve my best
By taking seriously the chances I’ve been blessed with.

I may not grow up to be rich,
My clothes may wear at every stitch,
But I know that yet still more import
Is found in whether I’m the sort
Of person the highest riches affords.
I believe; I can achieve rewards
In heaven and earth by doing my best every day.

I was favored with the attendance of over 50 friends, neighbors, and fellow volunteers at my 'Thanks and Goodbye' party on the evening of Friday the 28th.  Waking up at 6:00AM to start the cooking and going all the way through until guests began arriving around 5:30 that afternoon, I was almost completely spent even before the fun began.  But with the help of my good friend who showed me the ropes in preparing each of the local dishes on the menu (i.e. Cookup, Ginger Wings, Breadfruit Salad, Macaroni Pie) we got through it and was able to serve everyone who showed up looking for some good food and a good lime.  The Peace Corps and my work office were both well represented, and plenty of other friends and neighbors showed up and stayed until 10:00 that evening, just as the Tiki torches began to die out.  It was a success in the eyes of all the guests, and I took the rest of the weekend to recover.

I have but 10 days remaining in the Caribbean.  Some things left on my last minute to-do list are getting wrapped up presently: I went by Caribelle Batik at Romney Manor and purchased the portrait batik of a SK rum shop that will hang in my office, whenever and wherever I have one.  I submitted my health insurance application today, a small benefit when returning home after two years abroad.  Additionally, I was able to negotiate a discounted rate at the Royal St. Kitts Golf Course in Frigate Bay, and hope to take advantage of it this Thursday.  Aside from those three things, I'll have the first half of next week to complete any remaining trivial things before catching my flight back next Thursday the 18th. 

22 September 2012

Rounding Off the List

The Peace Corps purchased my ticket for the 18th of next month, and so I have precisely 27 days remaining in my term of service.  I accepted this reality long ago – at around six months out, I first started dealing with the realization that I had not long to go, and that I should temper my expectations accordingly.  On the other hand, as a rule, West Indians are reluctant to deal with rapid changes.  As I wrote in my sixth and final Volunteer Report Form:
Even positive changes are met with mild degrees of consternation, usually manifesting in the form of public grumblings.  The irony of it all is that, while my initial arrivals into work and social scenarios was met with some standoffish-ness and questions of "Why are you volunteering here?" those same people are now looking at me with deep regard and asking me to reconsider leaving.  As the stereotype holds, the nature of Kittitians is to focus almost exclusively on the present, largely at the expense of the past and future.  The curious practical offshoot of this is that a full two years after my arrival on island, people are surprised to hear that it is now my time to go.  And while I have since made peace with this, my last month or so on island, it is challenging for me to have to tell the long story every time about why I can't stay any longer.  I even include the reasons why I would want to stay, like what I would do if I stayed with the Peace Corps.  It all serves to simply make me consider every time just how much longer I have before I won't be required to answer those questions any longer.

I hiked Nevis Peak this past weekend.  It was really, really hard, and largely treacherous.  A two hour climb that involved over thirty muddy ropes, at least two flat rock faces that we had to cross laterally, and one great view that made it all worthwhile in the end.  As the reader may recall, Nevis Peak is visible from my home every day, and about 364 days out of the year it is ringed at the top by some puffy white clouds.  Hence the name: as legend has it, when Columbus (re-)discovered the smaller of the two islands, called Oualie by the Caribs there, he rechristened it Nevis (Nee`-vis), a derivative of the Spanish word for "snowy."  It stands exactly 3232 feet above sea level, the second-tallest peak in the federation.
The first "window" on the way up the slope. 
You can see we are still well below cloud level, but this would change very shortly.
 I can't emphasize how treacherous the hike up the slope was.  The exhausting hike climb was replete with ropes to aid the roughly 70° angle that was our ascent for a solid two hours.  It is always damp in the rainforest, and so the ropes were waterlogged and muddy.  This made for largely easy gripping on the way up, to our benefit, but once the mud and grime on our hands dried, and with no more water to wash them off, the ropes became much more slippery on the way down. 
Our guide, Evanston, made sure we didn't veer off course. 
There wasn't a lot he could do to prevent us from falling on our face, however.
 I did come close to falling to my doom at one point, where I was anchored by only a rope above me and my foot lodged in a crack on a flat rock face with about a ten-foot drop to the next flat area below me.  As I shifted my weight to step across to the continuation of the trail to my right, my anchor foot slipped, but thankfully did not dislodge.  If it had, our guide might have witnessed his first unconscious guest on the hike in the hundreds of trips he has taken up and down the mountain.
After two muddy and sweat-drenched hours, we finally reached the cloudy peak.
Yes, the view from the top was worth the climb; it always is, it seems.  While I was exhilarated that I had made it, the part of me that was sympathetic with my browbeaten body was disappointed that I couldn't be mad at the mountain for failing to deliver.  (Does that even make sense?)

It was Independence Week in the Federation this past week.  National Heroes Day, celebrated on the 16th of September and largely equivalent to Presidents' Day in the US, gave us Monday the 17th off from work, and Independence day is celebrated on the 19th.  This is the Federation's 29th year of independence from Great Britain.  I celebrated my doing something I had not done before: I attended the Governor-General's Ball at the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday night.  A formal event, I wore my suit and crashed the event with some of my PCV colleagues.  (This is, apparently, common practice: while no PCV has officially received an invitation in the three independence seasons I've been here, a handful of volunteers have, in fact, attended each year.)  Everybody was there; I saw people that I hadn't run into in nearly a year's time (small island, don't forget!).  In fact, so many people attended that they managed to run out of catered food a good hour before it was time to leave.  And they even ran out of drinks before the night was over, to the disappointment of many.

I'm hosting a "Goodbye" party at my home in a week's time: on Friday the 28th, I'll be cooking local dishes for upwards of 60 persons for a handful of hours at my apartment.  As you know, my space isn't nearly large enough to house that many people, so I'm setting up a shade tent on the lawn and some Tiki torches and having the party mostly outside.  And I'm not equipped to provide people with snacks and drinks for the entire night, so I'm having the party go from 4:30 (early, to accommodate those Atlantic-side denizens that require two bus rides to get home) to 8:30; essentially 2 hours before sunset to 2 hours after sunset.  Hopefully I will put the EC$100-worth of Tiki torches to good use in that time.

24 August 2012

Funnyquote Friday

As I mentioned, I went to church last Sunday, where, during the Parish Notices segment (i.e. announcements), I was treated to this gem:  "Thanks to all the parishioners that donated to the youth fund drive...

"The vouchers you received, redeemable at Walgreens or Wal-Mart, are a token of our appreciation."

This unironic blurb earned a chuckle from the congregation that morning.  There are, of course, no Walgreens or Wal-Marts on island, and it's likely that the closest they could be found would be in Puerto Rico, a US$200 flight on LIAT from here.

Well, Tropical Storm Isaac did pass by here, waving his arrival on the Atlantic/windward side of the island, and waving his departure on the Caribbean/leeward side.  As I am on a hill facing the Caribbean Sea to the south, the brunt of the northern reaches of the storm hit my side of the island around 4:00-6:00 P.M. on Wednesday.  But being high up on a hill and also on the first floor of an apartment building, I have the best of both worlds: no flooding at all.  And even a full day later, the Caribbean Sea is still swollen, with waves buffeting the Bay Road in Basseterre relentlessly, washing up silt, sand, and kelp right onto the road.

No real news with regards to projects; it's slow going with the TRI website, but I expect to have things a little bit clearer come Tuesday of next week, when I am scheduled for my second meeting with our representative from the ICT Department.  That's it for now – here's looking forward to a productive weekend.

21 August 2012

Keys to the Kingdom

I'm just going to leave this here...

This is the surprise gift basket that the UWI Project Coordinator in charge of the Smart Moves Strategy Board Games Summer Camp sent to my home yesterday.  Allow me to emphasize that this was a complete shock; she had requested directions to my house, ostensibly to send me a thank you gift, but I was envisioning something along the lines of a book or the long-lost Chess Display Board – nothing of this caliber.  And considering that I've been feeling under the weather the last few days, this came at an absolutely ideal time: I don't feel up to going out and grocery shopping, I can stock up on fresh fruits to combat this fever, and we are expecting a tropical depression to visit us in the next day or so.  (Barring power outages, I'll keep readers informed of the status here in the northeastern Caribbean.)

I went to church Sunday.  It was the first time in some months.  I've been having trouble reconciling God's plan for my life with my job search situation (sound familiar?).  The brass tacks of it all, and the part I have to come to grips with, is that whatever next step God has for me may not be revealed until the eleventh hour.  There is some precedent for this in my life, and so I would do well to keep the faith that, like He did this time over two years ago, He will have a next stepping stone waiting for me when it comes time to take that step.  With no clear vector from where I am standing, however, the reader will understand why it is so hard to stay positive in light of the prospect of time forcing me off my stone right into the river below. 

I'm working on the website for The Ripple Institute.  The ICT Department uses a rather sophisticated open source content management system called Drupal, which is more useful for corporate enterprise management of multiple websites and entities than setting up a simple non-profit web portal.  But the upside is that I am forced to sit down and learn a wholly different (and rather elaborate) system for creating an attractive and suitable website using software whose tenets will undoubtedly be transferable into whatever design work I find myself doing in the next phase of my life.  As for the website itself, though, I am exhausted by merely the prospect of having to plan out each of the 20+ different pages that will make up the core of the website, going through and (with no known shortcuts yet) creating and populating each one by hand.  What with the construction on the new house going up just a matter of yards from where I'm sitting at home, I feel a small connection to the 'locked workers toiling in the heat: they are building a house from the ground up, and I am constructing a website from the ground up.  And while one job is more physically taxing, both are equal parts invigorating and exhausting.  I'm just pleased to actually be working on something substantial after all this time of waiting on the ICT, to be honest.

Lastly, this is the link to the radio program that aired on Sunday at 2:30 on WINN FM.   It's called "Perfect Day" and my friend Dodd hosts the approximately 45 minute show.  To listen, just load the embedded player below.  Enjoy!

10 August 2012

Funnyquote Friday

On a date a couple Wednesdays ago, I impressed a girl with my knowledge of Caribbean cultural tropes and expressions enough to warrant the comment,

"I never met a White boy who could stroopes before."

For the uninitiated, stroopes is the act of one person, as they say here, "kissing his teeth."  That is, it's a common singular oral gesture, used when expressing discontent or distaste of something or someone.  It's usable in largely the same situations that Americans might say "Pssh!" or something to that effect.  It rings synonymous with expressions of "I can't believe it!" or "The utter gall!"

I'm finding it difficult to concentrate on the important aspects of closing out my term of service.  Yes, I'm carefully getting through my necessary medical clearances; yes, I'm considering all the possibilities of what I might be doing when my term of service ends, scheduled for October 18th; but even so I wonder if I'm doing enough to put my respective institutions in a place for them to sustain the work that I put in place without my presence here.  As so many of the Volunteers getting ready to leave will tell you, this simple answer is usually "no."  That reality sinking in even as time slips away from me, in conjunction with a few pervasive distractions, some pleasant and some not, serves to sap my strength and motivation away from what should rightfully be the most significant and memorable three months of my entire term of service.  Instead, the uncertainty of what I will be doing following my term of service is stifling, and the ambiguity of what good I could be doing now for my organizations with the limited time I have left is disheartening.

08 August 2012

A Glance Back Over the Shoulder

I'm spending part of today working on my Description of Service, the official government record of my activities here in St. Kitts.  It's simple enough to take the complete but concise overview of each project of mine from the trimesterly Volunteer Report Forms I've submitted before, but adding in the quantitative and qualitative impact into each item – that's a little tougher.  Furthermore, neither making it fit into a more or less standardized form nor limiting that to at most three pages is consistent with my natural writing tendencies.  Not that I'm strictly concerned; I just want the official standard record of my service here to be clear and complete.  And like this blog, the usual way that I ensure both standards are met is to overcompensate on thoroughness and repetition. (You're welcome.)

I've had occasion to tell others about the work I did at the Smart Moves Strategy Board Game Summer Camp, and whenever I do, I'm always inclined to rank it as among the most rewarding work that I've had the privilege to undertake in my term of service.  So much so, in fact, that I volunteer my own willingness to have a go at it again, though likely not in a similar camp setting.  Fortunately, my secondary attachment at The Ripple Institute gives me the opportunity to do exactly that, with the blessing of my IPP already.  Whether or not I will personally be around to lead instructional classes on Chess or manage a local chess club, I can certainly hand off my lesson plans for each of the days I taught at camp to another qualified individual.

I've been asked by a local friend of mine to appear on his radio show on Sunday.  I'm to prepare notes on what I would like to do on My Perfect Day: no expense barred, no location too distant, and (shockingly) no time-space continuum interference.  So for the hour broadcast, I will get to talk about how I would spend an 8 hour period seeing all my favorite time periods from history, with three meals unfettered by the bounds of reality, and set to whatever soundtrack I desire.  Quite the open-ended question!  I've already got some ideas, but I don't want to spoil them here in the event I am able to acquire a recording of the broadcast - I'll certainly keep everyone posted on that.  In the meantime, a new Funnyquote is expected on Friday.  I can't wait!

06 August 2012

It's Over 9000!!!

I really did enjoy the Chess camp so much that I have come to realize that it is something I would like to do again – not necessarily in a camp setting, but certainly with children of roughly that same age group as a sort of extracurricular activity at a school.  I keep falling back on the Saddleback Knights  youth chess organization that visited my elementary school once a week and taught me the baseline strategy wherein my life's pursuit of stronger Chess has been grounded.  It was my great pleasure to be able to transfer all the things I learned from those before-school sessions in 4th and 5th grade unto this group of youngsters.  Their willingness to learn was, of course, all the difference, and I hope that kind of buy-in could be expected in other settings as well.  But until the time I find out, I have these pictures to remind me of a successful first attempt:

My cubbyhole of a classroom.  Thankfully I was away from the hubbub of the other students.
Day 1 practice.  The students had just learned how pieces move for the first time.
Day 2 instruction: Check, Checkmate, Stalemate, and Castling.
One of my most promising students.  I hope she has the opportunity to continue practicing after this summer.
Some haggling over end-of-session rewards may have taken place.
Day 5 final group – we were all a little reluctant to leave that day.
The glazed expression on everyone's countenance bespeaks of an exhausting week, but also rewarding!
Today is a work holiday in St. Kitts, probably honoring Nevis's Culturama weekend, which is its mid-summer Carnival.  It has its own jump up (read: J'ouvert) and everything, but it tends to be significantly smaller celebration than St. Kitts' own winter bacchanalia.  I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing Culturama myself, but two SK Carnivals is probably enough for me anyway – I'm not concerned that I'm missing out on anything.

And lastly, a big "Thank You!" for everyone that has followed along with my blog for the last two years; yes, here on the two-year anniversary of Chris in the Eastern Caribbean, I'm thrilled to say that we finally reached my goal of over 9000 pageviews!  So, as per my promise, here is a special surprise to commemorate the achievement:

03 August 2012

Funnyquote Friday

As you may know, I've been heading up the Chess instruction at the Smart Moves Strategy Board Game Summer Camp at the University of the West Indies open campus this past week.  This morning I return for day 5 with the 20+ 10-12 year old kids from the greater Basseterre, and pray that I don't lose my voice from all of the talking, whispering, and shouting that I've done over the last five days.  And despite the kids' anticipated rambunctiousness, I've found that, on average,
  • 50% of the students really love the game of Chess, get excited about learning something new, and look forward to Chess class every day
  • 25% look on it as more than a game: the allure of the deeper meanings in Chess and the desire to become a stronger player is in their eyes
  • and 25% are more or less ambivalent, content to come to class and play with the others, but not particularly enthralled about the advent of Chess as a hobby
A funny practical offshoot of dealing everyday with all three groups of students (usually in the same class) is that they all relate to me differently.  The top-performing 25% hang on my every word, and often seek out my attention for things that only loosely require it.  Furthermore, when a student from this subgroup happens to be a girl, (recall, this is the 10-12 year old range) they are oftentimes unabashedly seeking my attention more fervently than is, perhaps, appropriate.  Take, for example, when one girl took notice of my hair, and at one point reached out, uninvited, and grasped my (now relatively long) goatee, saying "I like your hair and all –

"But this... this has to go."

It's been a very rewarding week for me, as you might expect, and equally exhausting.  Even as I write this in anticipation of the day's events, I can't fathom yet another 8 hours with the students.  That said, I have been duly blessed by their cooperation and buy-in to my Chess teachings, particularly the ones that have taken off on their own and seek to challenge themselves further.  I look forward to trying out a possible mini-tournament, every hour on the hour for the four students at a time that I am hosting in the Chess classroom.  I'll let the readers know how that goes with my post next week.

Well, it must be hurricane season again, because we're already starting to get alerts for possible hazardous storm systems coming up from the Atlantic.  The first big one that is approaching is predicted to pass South of us, though as we know oftentimes the storms tend to gravitate North when they approach the chain of Lesser Antilles.  Still, as I was telling others, I would welcome the excitement of a little mini-hurricane: it would be the first one I've experienced since living in my own apartment.  But I don't want to jinx myself either, of course.

30 July 2012

Chess Camp, Day 1

I will go hoarse by the week's end, I'd be willing to bet a month's Volunteer Living Allowance.

Today I taught all the rules of chess five times to five small groups of kids ages 10-12.  It really is the perfect age to learn chess: one is mature enough to sit quietly to learn and study the game (or at the very least feign interest), smart enough to capture all the rules in under an hour, and yet young enough to just have fun moving the pieces in unsophisticated fashions around the board.  And the fun for me comes from the one student in each group that shows a genuine interest in the dynamics of the game and the intellectual appeal.  It's especially rewarding to me to be handed the opportunity to, once in my life, pass down the knowledge and experience of something that means so much to me.  On average, in each group of four students, one student was especially interested and showed promise in the further development of his/her abilities, two more students expressed real enjoyment of the game and a desire to play further, and the last student just played along.  But you can be sure of this: 23 more young people in St. Kitts now know how to play Chess than did yesterday. 

As expected, after failing to gather enough (i.e. any) volunteers for my planned training session last week, the Chess demonstration board that I specifically requested for this pursuit did not come through.  Instead, I was relegated to my own oversized vinyl set for teaching the kids how to move and such.  Not that this was a problem for four kids and one adult huddled around a table; I was just careful to not allow them to play on my set after I was done teaching them.  *Shudder* I can still feel their icky school-aged hands all over my chess set.  And also as expected, the money for gourmet catered lunches from Neville's Eatery did not come in, so my lunch today was limited to two hot dogs.  Still, at 1 o'clock and after (essentially) lecturing for three hours at that point, it was delicious!

As not expected, we've had a minor weather system move in from the East, and it was Rainy Rainy Windy Windy all day.  This means that the planned outdoor games in the afternoon was halted.  And you, as wise readers, can extrapolate what that means for 23 young persons' energy levels.  Much like the rain in some places, they were through the roof.  Also not entirely expected, with the apparent dearth of volunteers, I was usually on my own in the Chess classroom, and there were only a handful of volunteers manning the Games room across the hall; one of the planners stopped by only very briefly in the morning and left again, much to the UWI director's consternation.  I'm still not sure what sort of miscommunication went on there, but suffice to say that if we hadn't had a recently dubbed young teacher come by and handle the students that afternoon, I don't expect that anyone would have.

It made for an exciting day, and I really look forward to the progress each of these students will make, particularly tomorrow when we discuss Check, Checkmate, and Stalemate, and the students get to play through their first real match.

23 July 2012

Centipede Central

I am Hitler to ants.

Like Ender before me, I have attempted and committed acts of xenocide against the Formicidae family.  They seem to wait in-season, for warm dry spells with not much wind, before raiding my living quarters.  But when they do, they do so in calculated strikes of overwhelming numbers.  I have had to put up with (not one, not two, not even three, but) four different entry points all around the apartment since before leaving for COS.  I'm convinced that they only travel in single file, in order to hide their numbers.  But they can't run away from the fact that I have doused, wiped and disposed of thousands of their brethren over just the last couple of weeks, and continue to wipe the floor with their bony carcasses (literally).

The tangible downside to having hundreds upon hundreds of ants in your house at once is that the sudden infusion of protein invites other unwanted guests, specifically the hundred-or-so-legged variety.  The reader will recall that before now I have been stung by a centipede while laying in bed, to no great or lasting discomfort.  On the night before I was scheduled to fly to Antigua, I had another run-in with my Chilopedal nemesis, this time with no evidence save for the familiar stinging sensation localized on my upper arm.  I snapped awake, turned on the light, and collected a glass jar from the cabinet.  I then carefully searched the environs, subtly pulling back one sheet at a time, removing a pillow here, an article of clothing there, until my bed was nearly clear – no sightings of any creatures scurrying back to darkness.  What to do now?  But then, I had an epiphany, and I pulled back the mattress from against the wall, and... BINGO.  There, vertically astride the mattress edge, was the offending centipede, standing at about 5 inches long, but boasting venom claws reaching at least an inch from its body.  Unlike its predecessors, this one exhibited no sense of urgency about having its location revealed, but instead displayed a decidedly nonchalant attitude about moving.  It was as if it was saying, when it saw me,
"Heyo!  Oh, it was me you's lookin' fer, dawg?  Ohhhhhh, I was just here chillin'."
I quickly captured the scoundrel, suffering a simultaneous foot cramp in my nervous excitement, but nonetheless successfully incarcerating the villain in his newfound glass prison.  Completely bereft of my composure at this point, and also carefully monitoring the sting for possible swelling, I decided I would do better to relax for an hour, until sometime about 3:00 in the morning, before trying to once again fall asleep.

When the time arrived, and my hackles had relaxed somewhat, I was carefully walking across my bedroom floor and the bridge of my foot crossed something long and substantial.  Nerves frayed already, I jumped, only to realize I had just stepped on my shoelace.  I breathed a sigh of relief and casually moved my shoe off to the side...  And there, under the shoe, was a grand inch-and-a-half cockroach that quickly scuttled to safety as my body flung itself on the bed, suffering from a mix of harried anguish and mock amusement.  And that is the end of my funny story.

Close Of Service Conference is now over, and I am returned home to St. Kitts.  Three days, four nights of being wined and dined at Jolly Harbor in Antigua was a good break for many of us, and it was, as always, a great joy to see all of my displaced compatriots for what will amount to the last time during our Peace Corps terms of service.  The training was largely logistics for exiting PCVs: insurance offerings, travel accommodations, medical clearances, and the like.  It was, actually, a lot of hard information to take in, and I expect a review will very soon be in order.  But in the meantime, I am swamped with work, most notably preparing for the weeklong board games camp that is scheduled for next week – I'll add more about that later.

20 July 2012

COS Day 1

Have I got a story for you.  What do you do when the Dash 8 prop plane that arrives from Tortola en route to Antigua has three more passengers than the airline anticipated, limiting their passenger pickup in St. Kitts?  You take one for the team, let the others be responsible for your luggage (!), and spend the next eight hours chilling out and waiting for the next flight leaving for Antigua.  You buy a bottle of wine, cook a kick-ass dinner, and enjoy an afternoon on the island where nobody is expecting you to be.  And so that's what I and two other PCVs from my island did.  We waited out the booking mistake by Liat and went through airport security for the second time that day for a 9:40PM departure time.  But we arrived in Antigua safely, and didn't miss anything – our COS training was scheduled to begin at 9:00 the following morning.  And since we had missed out on the majority of the evening's opportunities to socialize and catch up on all the news, a few of us hung out until the bar closed at 12:30 and relaxed after a long long day.

The first day went by rapidly, with some training in facts about what happens to PCVs after their term of service is ended, as well as how best to summarize the long list of things we accomplished into resumé sized "power statements."  And I'll elaborate further on interesting things (when they actually happen) when I have more time.

16 July 2012

COS Pon Us

It's funny how PC training is one of those things that one finds repellent at the beginning, when it is forced upon us for weeks at a time, but then looks forward to by the end of service.  Now, instead of being a month-long ordeal of flipcharts, security briefings, cultural awareness sessions, and more flipcharts, it's all about reconnecting with our fellow volunteers who have been serving on Antigua and St. Vincent for the last two years, and a dose of inspiration and retraining at the same time.  (Nothing like a little sugar to help the medicine go down.)  So it is in Antigua for Close Of Service Training where I will find myself from Wednesday to Sunday this week.  I will, as always, attempt to keep readers abreast of goings on at training with a brief post of the day's events each evening.  But until then, the news from the week past:

Imagine if the Dream Team came to town one day to play an Olympic qualifying match against, say, Spain, in a best-of-three format set to last all day.  Everybody who could would, most likely, get off work in the interest of seeing this nationally heralded confluence of talent.  In fact, if the town is small enough, businesses and government offices that were savvy to this might not even bother to try and operate on that day, conceding priority to this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.  That scenario is a little like what we saw happen in St. Kitts on Wednesday: earlier in the week, in anticipation of the West Indies Test Cricket team hosting New Zealand to a 50 Overs one-day match at Warner Park, the government called for a work holiday that day in support of the Cricket match.  And rather than stroupes, shake my head, and wonder aloud what could be so important about a Cricket match as to shut down businesses that day, I chose instead to embrace the deviation from regular life and go attend the match.  I certainly learned a lot, most notably all about limited-overs Cricket, and enjoyed having an excuse to sit out in the sun for six hours (10AM to 4PM).  Unfortunately, the Windies underperformed that day, and dropped a match 249-168.  In fact, the pummeling was so harsh and our home team's showing so dismal, that one PCV friend of mine tried to cast it in a positive light by saying, "Well, at least we came within a hundred!"

I had a very heartening meeting on Thursday regarding the board games summer camp, now entitled Smart Moves Summer Board Games Camp.  I will be primarily responsible for two things: first, beginning next week, a day-long training session for the volunteers, and secondly of course the actual Chess instruction during the camp.  I have overarching outline already prepared –
  • MONDAY • 60 min. • Individual Piece Movements, Rules of Chess
  • TUESDAY • 30 min. • Starting and Ending a Match, Check & Checkmate • 30 min. • Freeplay
  • WEDNESDAY • 30 min. • Openings, Piece Development • 30 min. • Freeplay
  • THURSDAY • 30 min. • Common Mates, Endgame • 30 min. • Freeplay
  • FRIDAY • 60 min. • Freeplay
Possibly, if I think the students are mentally ready for this step, I may institute a short 1-hour tournament, maybe 4 15-minute matches, for Friday's session.  I have lots of prizes left over from working at the school, so I'll happily use those then.  I'm already getting excited about this endeavor, and about the prospect of sharing my knowledge of something very important to me with the young people of St. Kitts.

I hope you enjoyed the last couple of videos added; if you didn't get to see them yet, check the Videos page.  Otherwise, if you're like me and anxiously anticipating the following months' contributions (February through June), know that they are on their way and should offer further glimpses into my work here in SKN as well as the beauty in nature that can be found here.  Additionally, (and I keep forgetting to mention this) please pray for assistance in my finding a job, specifically that I might hear back quickly from the two organizations I currently have outstanding applications with.  Finding the motivation and the focus to continue to job search is getting increasingly difficult, and I'm rapidly wearying from the process.  Thanks, and don't forget to give me a shout on Skype if you're not busy.

09 July 2012

Health and Happiness

I was down with strep throat last weekend – it was so bad earlier in the week that I had to go to the doctor's office.  To the relief of my swollen tonsils, I was given a prescription for amoxicillin and sent on my way.  My condition, while not so painful as to be debilitating during the day, was disastrous on my energy level and appetite: I found I could only eat about 2 small meals a day and had to separate those with 2-3 hour naps in the middle of the day.  And all this without a fever!  At the time, I couldn't make any sense of it, except to wait out the July 4th holiday (Peace Corps Staff must take this day off, which means I couldn't see the doctor that day) and hope it was only a case of strep throat.  The doctor, short of giving me a throat swab, opined that it was indeed strep, and not a worse infection.  Still on the antibiotics now, I'm back at work, though I still have mild symptoms in the evenings for now.

My landlord, longtime resident of New England, landed in St. Kitts yesterday, quite literally "out of the blue."  I had never met the man face to face before then, but he wasn't interested in getting to know me so much as apologizing for the state of the yard which, to his excited confusion, was "bad like he'd never seen it before."  He cited his ignorance of the degree to which the yard had been neglected, but given the constant reminders that I sent his way, this doesn't seem plausible.  Simply because he was incapable of imagining grass that had grown knee-high and thick as brush does not excuse him from being loathe to arrange to cut it for six months' time.  He will undoubtedly be staying in the unfinished two bedroom apartment adjacent mine, which means I will now have to manage my sound level a little bit more carefully.  No blasting dubstep electronica through my 6-inch speakers anymore!

Busy, busy at work today – the A Ganar Datacard is up for submission once again, so my job just became more hectic overnight.  A very basic Excel worksheet, the Datacard is just A Ganar's streamlined method for collecting and rapidly organizing the pertinent data that marks the overall success of a given program implementation.  However, for the likes of the NSTP, this sort of data entry demands are not the usual fare, and since the necessary data that goes on this Datacard has not been regularly maintained during the collection phases, a mad scramble to conjure the correct input mere days before it is due is the m.o.  Further, it is my boss who tries to do the rounding up, but she is so busy with answering phone calls, attending offsite meetings and handling special requests, that she hardly has the time or presence of mind to do these menial bits.  I am required for nothing more than simply interpreting and inputting the data once it becomes available, a job that really any office lackey could handle, if there were any other person trained (and willing to learn!) on handling MS Excel.  The reader will recall that I did lead a couple of trainings in basic MS Office applications just last summer here at the NSTP for my coworkers.  However, since none have had occasion to use it since, I am still the only one who works with it regularly and can boast any sort of comfort level with it.

No word as yet on my prospective employer's hiring decision.  I am becoming increasingly disconcerted by their extended silence, it being now a week since I sent a contact e-mail their way.  All in all, the process involved in getting hired by this little non-profit, and the valuable time they have hijacked from my last half-year on island has been thus:
03 April
Application submitted
05 April -  28 April
Completed assignment deliverables
Wait for interview selections
May 29
First-round interview
June 05
Second-round interview
June 12
Reschedule third-round interview
June 19
Third-round interview
July 02
Send last contact letter
It's a harrowing ordeal, going through the hiring process.  I shudder when I think that my latest contact e-mail is sitting in an employee's inbox, and all the while he's thinking, Oh how laughable - he still thinks he has a chance at a job here!  I'm not even going to bother responding, I'll just let him sweat it out.  For a company that was careful to alert its applicants when they were taking an especially long time in May to make a decision, it seems inhumane to have waited to respond to my personal e-mails now that I've gone through the interview process.

Oh, and I almost forgot.  Here's the January highlight video, only 21 weeks late.

02 July 2012

My Fifth Top 11

It's been a while since my last Top 11 list.  I came up with the idea for this one last week, and I've been collecting potential entries in it since then.  Every time I went to the Bus Terminal in Basseterre, I made a mental note of all the entries I could remember, and picked the best ones here.  If you don't recall what I'm referring to here, this post has a simple primer.  So without further ado, for your reading pleasure,

The Top 11...
Bus Names in St. Kitts, Caribbean Side

11.  De Original  Not to be confused with the other Original.
10.  Up 2 De Time  But there are no less than 4 of you on the road.
9.  Juggler  And does your skills in jocularity transfer nicely to your chosen profession?
8.  Sailor  A fish out of water?
7.  King of the Hill  In the land of beaches, the man with a hill is king.
6.  Street Freak  Congrats!  You've managed to find the one job where this is acceptable.
5.  Love Sponge  A one-sided relationship if ever there was one.
4.  John Glen  Circumnavigate the island, orbit the earth... it's almost the same thing.
3.  No Comment  But... I... never mind.
2.  Bashment  If this is before the accident, what would we call you after?  Wreck-ment?

...and the number 1 bus name in St. Kitts:
1.  De Ninja  Then why can I still see you?

Had quite an eventful weekend, defined largely by one 8 hour period in particular.  At 9:00 on Saturday night, I went into town to meet a friend for the 16th Annual St. Kitts Music Festival, which hosted four performers on Saturday night: (in order of performance) The Liamuiga Project, Roberta Flack, Toni Braxton, and Omarion.  The first was a jazz ensemble with an accompanying dance troupe, although I didn't get to fully appreciate the performance as they were done before I arrived.  Instead, to my chagrin, Roberta Flack had already been on stage 10 minutes when I entered Warner Park.  My disappointment was soon cooled, however, when it became clear that the performance I was anticipating from Ms. Flack was not to be.  Instead of a seasoned, graceful, powerful but charming performer singing on stage these lovely melodic ballads, we in the audience were presented with a crotchety, strung out old woman whose vocal range had clearly diminished and who never left the piano keys even when she wasn't playing.  She opted to play her three hits at the opening, but the mood was very unrefined and lacking in poise, and it was mostly downhill from that point on.  She played a few Beatles covers, but nothing seemed to settle in until she pulled out SKN's favorite power anthem.  That was the only point that I felt like the audience had a good time while she was on stage.

Now, we're talking about a EC$100 ticket here – so the price of admission was clearly wrapped up in a youthful 44 year old Toni Braxton.  Wearing only a sheer wrap over a sequined one-piece, the audience was graced to enjoy a pair of hips that would not quit.  Boasting a handful of hits from her long career, and singing each of them interspersed with some pieces I was not familiar with, her performance was met with much more excitement and audience participation (an element that was, no joke, squelched by Ms. Flack a couple instances).  Even a sudden downpour at the outdoor stadium could not stop her performance, though it did cut out the sound equipment a half-dozen times or so in the 15 minute deluge.  It was a memorable and exciting experience, even if the rain scared off my Kittitian friends and sent them home prematurely to dry off.  For a night that was, by all accounts, much more reserved than the other, more youth-centric nights, it was a worthy investment in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

I'm finally starting on Washington Archibald's second book about life in St. Kitts, this one more of a memoir than a political history, entitled A View From Baby's Traffic.  The great conceit of his work, I'm quickly discovering, is how this blooming idealist portrays his world as a sort of fatalistic hopscotch: brief moments of ecstasy floating in a chasm of despair and disillusionment.  And instead of a clean, graduated continuum between the two ends, which probably serves to better exemplify real life, he instead loves to tell his stories in a way that make superhuman leaps from one end of the spectrum to the other in a matter of just a few sentences.  It makes for a jaunty but entertaining ride through what would appear, in the global perspective, to be an utterly insignificant bit of historical geography.  But I'm learning more about the realities of living in SKN every day, and enjoying it while I do!

Also, there's a lesson here.  I think.

29 June 2012

Funnyquote Friday

At Team Trivia this past Tuesday, the very amicable Canadian couple asking the quiz were, despite their best efforts, not able to avoid a smattering of scoring irregularities, particularly when they asked the question: "How many colored balls are used in billiards?"  Now, as any connoisseur will tell you, billiards refers to a long-played tabletop game that involves a mere three balls – the two players' respective cue balls, and a single colored ball (typically red) that is communal and responsible for earning tallies in score.  This is the common understanding in England and other English-speaking countries not found in North America.  This is not to be confused with pool, of course, which uses a single communal cue ball and no less than fifteen colored balls.  It is unfortunate that, in North America, the term billiards serves to act as an umbrella term for all cue-related sports.  Thus the quizmasters, being North Americans and not familiar with the former game, were unaware of the discrepancy, and when the room burst into chaotic babble at the revelation that a scoring injustice had been made, the question was eventually scrapped in the interest of civility.  The ensuing question, "How many pips are on a pair of dice?" was met with much less controversy, to which the quizmaster replied, tongue-in-cheek,

"What do you know?
They have the same dice here as in England."

It was a strange week, all things considered.  The Ripple Institute received another community donation in the form of a secretarial desk, and I had to be on-hand at the office to receive it.  I was pleased to see it finally arrive, too – a mere 52 hours after it was originally promised to be delivered.  I ended up waiting at the office each of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons for this desk.  And even though this was a hassle, it gave me ample opportunity to get caught up on the bits of work I can do at TRI just to feel like I'm contributing: I designed a new business card this week, to be used by officers of the organization; I am still working on converting the recently completed Youth Council Group Application into an Individual Applicant version; I am waiting to hear back from my contact at the ICT for confirmation on the establishment of the website.  I'm so confounded with what molehills here in St. Kitts are rapidly morphed into mountains – I can't even get a 6" x 24" sign hung in a week's time!

St. Kitts MusicFest is all weekend, starting last night.  I'm still debating whether or not to attend, as the entrance price is a steep XCD $100 per night.  I don't relish the thought of dropping that kind of cash and finding myself standing at the back of a J'ouvert-esque mosh pit for 4-5 hours straight.  The issue has caused me some unfortunate anxiety, however, as I am confronted with some degree of social expectation to take part in the festivities.  I thought a nice compromise would be to go Saturday night, when the headliners Roberta Flack and Toni Braxton would be playing, but I've still not come to grips with this as of yet.  We'll see what happens, and I'll report back next week accordingly.

January's video is complete, incidentally, but I'll roll it out next week, so as not to crowd the homepage with embedded YouTube videos.

EDIT: It seems I missed Tau day.  Oh well.

22 June 2012

Funnyquote Friday

This past Wednesday, my boss was serenaded by the Food Preparation and Hospitality Training class in a chorus of "Happy Birthday."  The traditional follow-up here in the Caribbean is a second verse, set to the same tune, with the words, "How old are you now?" repeated four times.  It serves as a practical safeguard for avoiding the awkwardness of guessing how old someone is, and instead transfers the embarrassment to the birthday guest, who is almost socially required to answer now.  But my boss deftly responded, in the same sing-song tune,

 "As old as I look / As old as I look..."

Not much to add this week; I think I'll let the new (old?) video do the talking for me.  It's highlights from last December – hence the Christmas music.  But who couldn't use a little Christmas music in June?

15 June 2012

Funnyquote Friday

The office I work at in Basseterre, the NSTP, is in an old, decrepit building that is heavily infested with termites, among other vermin.  We've looked for other locations to move to, but the government, as a rule, cannot afford the down payment on a nicer office space.  The room where I work, the computer room (also the only climate-controlled room in the building) unfortunately has a wood floor in lieu of the more common tiled concrete floor, and in certain places the wood is sinking, warped, cracked, or quite literally falling through.  When Betty, the transient cleaning lady came by one afternoon and stuck her head in to the computer room, she stumbled on the threshold when it nearly gave way under even her meager weight.  She frantically exclaimed,

"Oi! [Prime Minister] Douglas ain't got no money
to look out for me?!"

We EC82 Volunteers received a welcome surprise on Wednesday: Close Of Service training, scheduled for the third week of July, will be held in St. Mary's, Antigua.  So I get to see everyone a third time and experience a third EC island, making this an experience I'm very much looking forward to once again.  COS is intended to help us, in the words of our Training Officer,
1. Reflect on, share and celebrate your experiences in the Peace Corps.
2. Develop plans for your remaining Peace Corps service as well as your readjustment to the United States.
3. Consider your short- and long-term goals, and determine options for life after Peace Corps.
... particularly in view of our remaining three months of service, which will be immediately in front of us come July.  In related news, judging by the guest list, my class of EC82 has diminished from its high-water mark of 28 down to 24 – that's only four volunteers lost in 22 months of service!  To give you some idea of how much I feel connected to the group, my first reaction to seeing the list was one of shock at what felt like a bunch of PCVs missing – but, in retrospect, I can now tick off the four in my head.  So that's an 86% retention rate - not too shabby!

I've spent a lot of time at The Ripple Institute this week, and I got a lot of work done towards a number of projects that promote the institute's public presence.  The new building sign will be hung on the office this week (barring any setbacks) and the logo (seen right) has been completed, approved, and finalized.  With this out of the way I was able to create official copies of the letterhead, enrollment form, and government NGO license.  The work there is rewarding, and something closer to what I had envisioned myself doing in NGO development on island.  And even though my time is more and more rapidly coming to a close, I hope to be around just long enough to see the Institute open and start functioning at capacity.

Well, the interview did not happen as planned on Tuesday, but it was rescheduled for the following week.  The company posted some new videos on YouTube this week, however, so I was able to catch up on some history and additional info that will hopefully serve me well.  Please remember me this upcoming Tuesday afternoon, when I will field questions from the co-founder and Senior Vice President of the company.

08 June 2012

Funnyquote Friday

Well well, it snuck up on us again... the Funnyquote Fridays in Review!  And you know what that means: even more funny, often inane, but occasionally insightful, translations from our friends at Bad Translator.  Here are the last 24 weeks of funnyquotes and their repeated translation through 56 different world languages:

16 September 2011: *Whistle* "I'm coming back.  Coming back!"
... becomes, "Get the police!"

23 September 2011: "As Benjamin Franklin, former U.S. President, famously said..."
... becomes, "The most popular singer, Former President of the United States, said of Benjamin Franklin, and the most popular artists..."

07 October 2011: "Your wife's HOT!"
... becomes, "Spice Girls!"

14 October 2011: "You'd never see a movie called Boyz in the Bonnet."
... becomes, "The film takes place here."

21 October 2011: "That's not air conditioning, that's cold storage!"
... becomes, "Air conditioners, refrigerators, no!"

28 October 2011: "We do everything we can, but we can't do everything."
... becomes, "We can do that."
... and, "We tried, but did not."

18 November 2011: "Don't date the local homeless guy [just to date someone]."
... becomes, "It's time to go home."

25 November 2011: "So it not turning on, or it just running slow?"
... becomes, "You need glasses."

16 December 2011: "Ask not about the stipend. When it is ready, you will be informed. In the meantime, learn as much as you can!"
... becomes, "You don't have to pay the witness to find that now."

03 February 2012: "What is this, opera??"
... becomes, "This is for me?"

10 February 2012: "The Sea Hustler – it doesn't really hustle..."
... becomes, "Very sharp lie."

17 February 2012: "They all have a Blackberry®. I have a gooseberry."
... becomes, "Can I have a strawberry?"

24 February 2012: "Keep going until you pass the squished frog."
... becomes, "The first set of compressors."

02 March 2012: "What other 4A6 teacher do you know that comes to work on a Friday?"
... becomes, "Mr. President, no dispatch on Friday?"

16 March 2012:  "Now if only the White people would stop coming."
... becomes, "If there is one of these eggs on the ship..."

23 March 2012: "Good night! Drive safely!"
... becomes, "Good night stupid!"

30 March 2012:  "His head was in the living room, and his feet were in the kitchen."
... becomes, "Cooking, cleaning, and living space summit."

06 April 2012: "Please answer 'A' for this question."
... becomes, "Welcome to the response."

13 April 2012: "Boy I wish my camera had a phone on it right now."
... becomes, "I think this would be a mobile phone camera fan."
... and, "My God.  My camera."

20 April 2012: "Hey, you are falling out of tune!"
... becomes, "However, you can create what has been broken open."

27 April 2012: "Woo Peace Corps!  Even lower down the totem pole than UNDP!"
... becomes, "Helping the UN Association of Self-Employed Female Workers group."

04 May 2012: "I can't change the laws of math!"
... becomes, "Count!"

18 May 2012: "Same s**t, different dialect."
... becomes... Well, actually, it rather ironically doesn't change at all.

25 May 2012: "... (Are you reading this, Chris?)"
... becomes, "Even Christopher Lee?"

EDIT: Woo! Got the photo slideshow up and running, finally.  Check it out in the upper-left corner.  From there you can navigate the random 50 photos and also click on any one you want to see larger - it opens in a separate window/tab.  Enjoy!

06 June 2012

"Can't Stay" Says May / Too Soon for June

Wow, 70 hits for Monday's blogpost in two days?? Maybe I should title all of my future posts with allusions to popular rock songs from the '80s.

Now seems like it would be a good time to recount some more achievements of mine since starting my Peace Corps service all the way back in September 2010.  Using the previously seen GamersCorps Achievements format, here is an update to how my last 20 months have shaped up in my mind.

... Oh, and one that stands out above the rest:

It's satisfying to have all of these positive reminders of a fruitful term of service all in one place here.  Hopefully I get to add a little more to it come October and tally up my final score.

Also, new blog header.  I tried to pick the clashingest colors I could find, and I think I succeeded.

04 June 2012

Under Pressure

Ughh... I woke up this morning with sinus pressure strong enough to knock me out.  Unfortunately for me, I didn't recognize it for what it was until after I left home, or else a quick dose of sinus medication would have most likely restored me to my normal self.  But, instead, it's off to work feeling like my head is about to implode and my body drained of energy.  But I think I can still be productive, somehow.  Lately I've been spending the days at the NSTP office entering A Ganar trainees' attendance into the corresponding spreadsheet and calculating their training hours.  Not very engaging or inspiring work, but it takes a little bit of pressure off of a few others around here, freeing them up to deal with the countless other demands of maintaining a government agency while also implementing an island-wide youth program in the high schools.  So I'm happy to help out.

I was the recipient of a grand surprise this weekend: it seems that for the last x months the water bill for my building has not been paid. 
I was caught unawares,
They approached my home in pairs;
My bill was in arrears,
Confirming all my fears.
It took no less than three representatives from the Water Department (and a fourth to drive the get-away car, apparently) to inform me of the outstanding balance in excess of XCD 2,000.  Since I've never had the pleasure of meeting my landlord, he's certainly never personally signed a contract/lease agreement with me, and so in the... (calculating)... ninteteen months I've lived here, there has always been the possibility of this happening.  My neighbors, my APCD and I have always operated under the assumption that electricity and water were included in the rent.  Thankfully, this was confirmed when we finally managed to get hold of my landlord, who lives Stateside and tragically does not ascribe to the standard practice of employing an agent to manage his property down here on the island while he is away.  Instead, my lawn is turning into the untamed bushlands, and my water pressure is at risk of being cut off.  While no definitive resolution has yet been reached, we were successful in contacting the landlord and informing of the urgent nature of the situation.  Incidentally, my future rent payments remain canceled until such a time as the matter is concluded.  I'm not at all keen on the idea of picking up and moving to a new location all of a sudden, but I'm prepared for the possibility of such a necessity.

I enjoyed a long weekend this time last week, in honor of Whit Monday, taking advantage of the chance to release some of the pressure of all the projects I have going on right now.  Since a former PCV's parents were on-island, we took a big group down to the Southern Peninsula for an early summer Sunday at the beach.  It was a delightful romp for all of us, and pleasantly reminiscent of Memorial Day weekend Stateside.  (It always helps to have a bit of a reminder of home from time to time.)  Then a few of us capped it off by enjoying hot dogs and watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  It almost made me a little homesick! (almost)

My fifth trimesterly report is off, leaving just one more come September.  I was on the beach at Nevis on Saturday to finish it.  Those of us PCVs still here on St. Kitts are looking ahead to July, when our Close of Service week-long conference will be held.  This we know – what remains to be seen is whether our wishes for it to be held at any island not St. Kitts will come true.  If historical precedent is any indication, the St. Lucia staff will attempt to make arrangements with a hotel in St. Vincent, far far to the south of here, before pulling out and booking last-minute reservations at the Ocean Terrace Inn in Basseterre.  For my part, at least 79% of the appeal of COS is the chance to see all of our PCV friends from the other islands one last time.  But I'd sure like to augment that with the 21% appeal of getting to see a third Caribbean country during my term of service here.

The reader may recall that I was scheduled for two interviews the last couple of weeks.  The interviews went well, and indeed I am preparing for a second-round interview tomorrow.  I am highly reluctant to say more about it at this time, for fear of overexciting myself and adding more pressure to my performance.  God has already protected me thus far; I can't say enough how much it has eased my mind during interviews knowing that each one is not the end all be all of interviews, even for just that month or week.  Going through the process with two organizations simultaneously has allowed me to remain comfortable and just be myself during the interviews, and the effects are much more positive results, I hope.

Well, that's all the updates I have for now.  It's back to entering endless arrays of students' Present or Absent marks and adding up their training hours.  Then I need to make time for more work on this Ripple Institute website – it's shaping up nicely enough, but I still haven't made contact with the ICT Department yet.  All this to say nothing of organizing a training day for teachers volunteering at a possible Chess Camp this summer, and... oh! I need to contact the people in St. Lucia associated with the Chess Club there, and request info that can be used to persuade government officials here in St. Kitts.  And I need to do all of this soon, or else I fear that the trust these people have put in me and my ability to efficiently and effectively do this work will slip.

...No pressure.

25 May 2012

Funnyquote Friday

Oh man, I almost forgot to post today!  And one of the best weeks I've had here on the island wouldn't be complete without a great new (code for old) quote from April's issue of Serious Ting.  As the reader knows, I was the Design Editor for the second issue running, solely responsible for designing the graphics and layout of the 40-page, full color magazine.  As the previous Editor-in-Chief was on board for the second issue to deliver a couple of articles, one of which was on the "Origins of Serious Ting" which were previously shrouded in mystery, I had worked closely with him and so was not unpleasantly surprised when I discovered a little Easter Egg of sorts in that article.  The line goes like this: "As with other past design editors, [Andy Montgomery's] work in the Ting was a prequel to a long career in graphic design...

"... (Are you reading this, Chris?)"

I nearly fell out of my seat with laughter when I proofread the article the first time.  So, yes, I am reading this and with the requisite amount of glee.  I ended up choosing to move the shout-out to the small comic box adjacent that section of the text, for more comedic framing; to see it for yourself, check out page 3 of Serious Ting Volume XXIII, Issue 1.

So what made this such a great week?  Well, I was primed for a very humbling Tuesday, wherein a nexus of four separate long-term demands had settled onto that same 12-hour period: a maths tutoring session with the Beach Allen Primary students, an change in my status on a very important job application, a first interaction with my contact at the ICT Department, and a Team Trivia Quiz that I was co-leading that evening.  Curiously, in the end, the only thing that did go down as planned was the last of the four.  It was raining Persians and Poodles that morning, so I could not justify the half-hour walk to the school.  And after the debacle there last week, who knows? – maybe it was for the best.  I never did hear from anyone with regards to the ICT Department and their help in preparing server space to host our new website, so I made sure and followed up on that Wednesday.  And as for the job application, I received an e-mail notice at 12:15 the following morning stating that the company had, for the second time, delayed the decision to narrow down its candidate pool.  In unrelated news, I'm getting better every day at dealing with or else ignoring the fears and anxieties of ambiguity in a job search.  So I had most of the day to, instead, prepare a kick-ass quiz for the 18 people that showed up that night.  *sigh*

But then, out of nowhere, a very uplifting Thursday sprung upon me like a swift feline predator.  I spent the better part of the morning untangling the cobwebs in the part of my brain where my HTML and CSS knowledge resides, and managed to crank out the navigation frame of the website I am designing for The Ripple Institute.  ... LOL – the link – it didn't work, did it?  You know why it doesn't work?  'Cause I'm still working on the website! Anyway, even a basic framework is better than nothing, and I'm confident that the project will flesh itself out nicely over the next few weeks, but it won't go live until I am actually able to meet and discuss the specs with a representative from the ICT Department.  Once that happens, of course I'll make the new pages available here.

After this, I did the grocery shopping for tonight's dinner of stir-fried Barbecue/Teriyaki Chicken and Veggies on Rice and prepped for my interview at 1:00 with an organization looking for a Graphic Arts Designer.  It went very well; so well, in fact, that I was late leaving my house to go to the airport and join my friend in picking up her parents at the airport.   But! I ran into Karl, a fellow Hasher (that's a runner in the running club of the same name, btw) who gave me a lift out of the hot, hot sun all the way to the airport.  Finally, with the day's duties fulfilled, I relaxed and agreed to meet up with everyone at Sprat Net to welcome the island's newest guests.  A perfect day!  What could possibly go wrong... barring, perhaps, getting locked out of the car I was hoping to ride home in.  Oh well – another adventure, another excuse to ride the bus home.

18 May 2012

Funnyquote Friday

The reception to my work on-island lately has been as variable as the weather this time of year.   In just the past week, I have been met with both extremes: at once I am praised and thanked for work I have not had a chance to do yet, and then again I am openly criticized for work that is proceeding on-schedule and showing great promise.  Fortunately I've managed to avoid becoming discouraged, or allowing my emotions to become equally mercurial.  Instead, I've managed to keep things in perspective here and maintain an even affect, though this was not particularly easy on Tuesday, when it wasn't just the students who were out to challenge my authority (although this happened in good measure) – it was a teacher as well.  Apparently responsible for the lowest-performing students in the sixth grade, she regularly sends three of her students for maths tutoring, which is two more than the median amount of all the classes.  When I went to pull out the three students as usual, she stopped me and casually informed me that she didn't believe her students were learning anything from me.  Stunned, I simply and politely responded, "Oh?"  She repeated, "I don't think my students are learning anything from you.  Do you think they are learning anything from you?"  I pointed out that, while the progress is slow, particularly for some students, that I believed that the work I was doing was indeed helping.  She requested proof: she asked to see the evidence of the work we were doing on paper for that day.  Since we have been reviewing for the Test of Standards (end-of-course testing) the last few weeks and have been working example problems on paper and in composition books, I obliged, though I was astounded at the gall and impertinence of this woman.  Shaken, I escorted the kids to the classroom, where they were no less unruly than the others had been that day.  We finished the session with less progress than I had hoped to achieve "under the gun," but since the work is largely cumulative, I presented the teacher afterwards with the notes sheet from our previous sessions.  She proceeded to quiz one of her students right there with the notes on the paper, at the entrance to her classroom, in front of me.  At this point I had had enough, so I walked away to collect my final gaggle of sixth graders.  She called after me, "Do you want to keep this sheet?"  To which I replied, "Yes I do.  I'll come back for it."

In my mind that day, I went through a dozen different ways I could have responded more assertively, esprit d'escalier that would have really stuck it to that careless teacher just looking for a scapegoat or someone to bully.  But I'm glad I handled it the way I did – I reminded myself of the support I have from virtually every other adult at the institution, and the positive strides several of the students have made in the handful of months we've been working together.  In this way I got over it in a few days, but I also don't plan to subject myself to that kind of unnecessary harassment again.  So believe me, if she abuses me once again, I will report her to the principal for unprofessional behavior.

My brother told me about a similar incident that happened to him at work recently, where a superior, tragically mistaken, alleged a lack of faith in his abilities.  I commiserated with him on the thoughtlessness of people no matter where you go.  I should have told him then that we have a saying for this down here, though I suspect it's not exclusive:

"Same s**t, different dialect."

Alternatively, I also have good news rife with positive life-changing potential.  I have recently made the acquaintance of a Dr. Izben Williams, former SKN Ambassador to the U.S., who lives on-island and who is involved in starting a youth development NGO in Basseterre.  His organization, picturesquely dubbed The Ripple Institute, has not yet launched and is looking for assistance in starting a website and online presence.  I received word of the need from a fellow PCV, and said I could help.  I've already begun work on ideas for logos, though I am waiting on the SKN Department of Information, Communications and Technology to identify and cordon the server space and domain for the organization's use.  There is no telling how long the turnaround on this largely simple task could take; fortunately, I can begin work of designing a simple website on my local drive.

As with everything I do here, the new work did not go unnoticed, and I have already received one proposition for website design assistance in the efforts of another volunteer.  This is fine; I welcome the sense of busy-ness that comes from having a full schedule, though I hope I can continue to create and problem-solve for as many groups as I can without sacrificing on potency.

Work at the AWANA chapter on-island is also going well.  A missionary couple from Indianapolis (this is their SKN blog) have set up the program at a church in Middle Island, and I go there on Saturday afternoons to be a team leader.  I never really got into AWANA in Hiawassee, even enough to be a Listener, despite my parents' diehard commitment to it.  But here and now, necessity almost demands that I be a Team Leader (Blue Team, so far) every week.  Though I must confess, I enjoy the Book Time with the children far more than either Council Time or Game Time.  I find it very inspiring to listen for the handful of kids that take the verses and activities in their books seriously enough to participate week in and week out.  Sure, there are the majority of the kids who didn't even remember to bring their study book, who are just there for the Game Time or the social aspect or for no other reason than their parents made them.  But every night I've gone, I've been able to find at least one boy or girl who was sharp enough and dedicated enough to have learned at least one section's worth of verses over the previous week, usually coupled with a willingness to study the next section for the half-hour we have devoted to Book Time.  These moments of successfully challenging the children and discussing the meaning of the verses with them has been more rewarding than I expected, and significantly more meaningful than simply watching our team outrun the other three teams around a big circle.

In other news, I received my first invitation for an interview, a mere 2 months after beginning my most recent job search.  Paired with this positive if dubious revelation is the fact that today is, by my understanding, the final day to hear back from the company I applied to last month, the one that I had devoted my entire April's free time to completing the largely abstract deliverable assignments.  Since I have not been scheduled for a telephone interview with that organization yet, I wouldn't be surprised to find out very soon that I have been passed over once again.  Despite these inauspicious results, I'm doing my best to stay positive, and haven't lost steam in continuing to seek out opportunities.

I wasn't exaggerating before: we really have had back-and-forth weather the past few weeks.  After the warmest March in recent memory, and an April that reintroduced rainstorms to the dry island, May has enjoyed equal shares of both phenomena, and seemingly on alternating days.  It's that time of year (again) when one has to pack both an umbrella and a pair of sunglasses, in the event that both are needed in the same short period.