24 February 2012

Funnyquote Friday

Trying to find a fellow Peace Corps' home in Keys Village, I was given the following directions:  Get off the bus, and go up the hill.  Take the second right off the main road.  Then,

"Keep going until you pass the squished frog."

What makes this extra funny, is that my traveling companion and I did actually find this remnant of an unfortunate amphibious excursion, the latest victim of mindless road rage and an unwitting landmark guidepost.

This is my last week of work on the Serious Ting before it goes off for approval in St. Lucia.  I'm pretty excited about how it's shaping up, and as usual I look forward to seeing the end result in print form.  I've cordoned off this weekend entirely for putting the final pieces together, and exporting the result.

I've spent every evening this week visiting a different high school in town and interviewing applicants of the A Ganar project for official USAID paperwork purposes.  Every evening beginning at 5:00 and going until after sunset, trying to coax thoughtful responses from 4A6 students (high school seniors, lowest achievement stream), I am exhausted by the end of the day.  The result has been that when I get home in the evening, I'm too tired to cook and eat simple high-carb meals like PB&Js or Mac&Cheese.  As the week has progressed, I didn't have the energy to get up early to perform my usual workout regimen, which has made me feel even more bleahhh...  So even though it is the start of Lent this week and I was hoping to use that as further incentive to keep to my new self-improvement activity, I'm likely going to have to wait until this weekend to continue going with that.

My mother, in response to my laments of loneliness here on my island, mercifully and charitably (though guilelessly) recommended I read the book of James – given that was the material her church family is currently exploring in a sermon series on that book of the Bible.  But anyone that knows the book of James knows that it is hardly applicable to someone that sincerely needs a morale boost.  Instead, she should have recommended the wise words of Holland-Dozier-Holland via the dulcet chords of Phil Collins.  Now, far be it from me to compare this favorably against scripture; I'm just saying that in this great big world and full life we've been given, inspiration can come from all kinds of different sources.

17 February 2012

Funnyquote Friday

In a joint training session for instructors of the NSTP and Project Strong, one that devolved into nothing more than a philosophical discussion about who was more at fault for the declining standards of this generation's youth - the parents or the youth themselves, one individual provided the token technophobic argument, by pointing out,

"They all have a Blackberry®. 
I have a gooseberry."

So, what's going on?  Let's see... Last weekend was a real trial for me, but I got through it with only a few scratches.  Valentine's Day on this lonely island was no better, but there's nothing like a Valentine's Day come and gone to push oneself to get more fit.  So the last few days I've got started on my running once again.  My sleep schedule is finally such that I can go to bed regularly around 9:00, get up refreshed at 6:00 sharp, and be done with my workout by 7:00, in time for an early shower.  I'm going to supplement my runs, this go-around, with sets of push-ups and sit-ups.  I did that this morning, but really I had no choice: I noticed a spasmatic muscle/tendon behind my left knee this morning, and it was bad enough to prevent me from running.  So I'm going to give that the weekend to heal, and try and focus on my upper body in the meantime.

Work on the Ting continues.  I'm down to my last two weekends before I need to send away a final draft to St. Lucia for official PC/EC approval.  I'm still sanguine in my chances for pulling off the one-month turnaround time, but next week's schedule of A Ganar interviews every weekday evening from around 5:00 to 10:00 is going to be grueling, not to mention interfere with my Ting work time (and sleep schedule! *gloom*)  Anyway, seeing how the month is half gone, I should probably let my boss know that my family is going to be in town come March.  One thing's for sure – having a hard deadline at the end of the month sure makes the days fly by a lot faster!

10 February 2012

Funnyquote Friday

There are multiple ferry companies that service the route between Basseterre, St. Kitts, and Charlestown, Nevis.  However, one of the companies has inexplicably stopped running since before the new year – the Mark Twain, as it is called, has grounded its boats "until further notice."  This means that other companies, in order to fill the now vacant timeslots, have tried running more boats to meet the demand.  The Sea Hustler, for one, has a half-passenger half-vehicle ferry that I had not seen running before this month, but now see all the time.  The locals commiserate with me on the drop in quality of these "new" additions to the fleet: in the words of my Nevisian coworker,

"The Sea Hustler – it doesn't really hustle..."

In fact, it takes a few minutes over an hour for this unideal ferry to traverse the miles between wharfs, which means that after its 7:00 departure from St. Kitts, it reaches Nevis at 8:05, with a scheduled 8:00 departure time.  With minutes to board, and scurrying along the water, it reaches St. Kitts at 9:10, and prepares for its 9:00 departure.  With a boat that loses 5 minutes every hour, it only makes sense to schedule it for hour-and-a-half runs so it can reasonably maintain its timeslots and not make all its passengers late.  But since the hour-by-hour method is the way it has always been done, there is too much inertia to overcome, and this almost certainly will not change.

Progress on the Ting is coming along nicely.  With several articles typeset already, and work put into the holistic look of this new issue, I'd estimate that I am on track to meet my deadline of February 26.  No decision on the cover artwork yet, though that might get pushed nearer the end of the month, once the tone of the whole magazine has been established. 

In other news, things at work are getting a little strained.  Now that my Intro to Computers class has ended, and the A Ganar project has started up, I have effectively run out of projects at work to keep me busy.  So my time is mostly filled up with small IT trouble-shooting, a task that is so coarse and unnerving for me that just one out-of-control situation is enough to make me unsettled.  It's hard to explain how stressful it is being the "go to guy" – since I am apparently the senior staff member in terms of experience with these tech issues – and yet not really being properly equipped to handle 60-75% of them.  The expectations of my coworkers is that I know these great and terrible secrets about their computers, and that I can magically flip their console upside down and, with a wave of my hand, fix all their computer inadequacies.  Since this is not the case, 60-75% of the time I fall below expectations, which is a heavy performance anxiety burden for someone like me, who's not used to being so unhelpful.  This, combined with the fact that I don't have much else going on there, means that my job satisfaction at my primary assignment is suffering right now.  I'm considering calling a meeting with my boss and my APCD for the end of the month – I don't want to do it sooner, due to my being busy with Serious Ting goings-on.

03 February 2012

Funnyquote Friday

The funnyquote is back!  After a month's hiatus, the first funnyquote of the year comes from my buddy Sheldon, a local bus driver, who was popping in to my house for some grub after ferrying my girlfriend and her cats to my house.  On that occasion, I had Handel's Messiah playing for mood music in the background, which elicited this response, containing more than a note – in fact, make it a chord of incredulity:

"What is this, opera??"

Part of Sheldon's appeal is his flagrant disregard for anything civilized, so in retrospect, this should not have come as a surprise.  When camping, in fact, I helped him siphon some gas from our friend's car (with the friend's permission, mind you) in order to start the campfire – something I figured would be grounds for either my death in a glorious explosion, or else my christening as a full-blown redneck.  Either way, it couldn't be good.

I took a little spill in the bathroom this morning.  Given the tiled floors of every building in this country, this could prove to be particularly hazardous, but I only suffered a bloody lip and a bruised cheekbone.  So I'm doing alright now, and I'm even expected to help out with photography this afternoon at A Ganar's opening ceremonies, a joint effort by the NSTP and Project Strong.  So I'll write all about it on Monday!

P.S. I got paid today, so no worries about that anymore!

01 February 2012

In the Lee of the Stone

Despite the otherworldly silence that I had managed to keep for the greater part of January, things continue to happen here on my little island.  Incidentally, I've got some good news, some bad news, and some as-of-yet neutral updates to share with the reader.  (And pictures!)

Let's start with the bad news this time.  There was a burglary at another Peace Corps Volunteer's home last weekend, the second at that particular location.  It's clear from the M.O. that not only was the criminal most likely an acquaintance of the victim, but also that surveillance was being kept on the volunteer's home immediately prior to the incident, as the victim was away from the premises for no more than a few hours, by her reckoning.  In this case, they broke into a hard-to-reach second story window that was not barricaded, and proceeded to work their way through the cordoned-off second floor to the victim's apartment downstairs.  Furthermore, without actually making a big mess of things, they carried out several high-value items that had been placed in hidden-away locations around the apartment.  When I received word of all this, I was taken back to the feeling I had when someone attempted to break into my apartment, and I tried to amplify the unsettled feelings of insecurity and betrayal with feelings of remorse and helplessness.  That meager attempt at empathy was enough to alert me to two truths: first, that I would be unable to grasp the full extent of my colleague's turmoil, and second, that I had been very blessed to make it this far without any equally fearful invasions of my own safety.  Especially with the documented rise in violent crime in the Federation in the time I've been serving here, I feel more than ever like I've been kept in the lee of the stone, a place where I am in the middle of all of the turbulence of life, yet return unscathed from the plow's blade.

There are more employees at the NSTP than ever before.  I was surprised to come in to work today and find the premises practically inundated with people.  Besides the trainees, who are here for the last weeks of their Basic Electricity and Hospitality Industry courses, there are 40% more employees in attendance since before the Christmas holidays.  I'm unclear, as monetary concerns are paramount and all new operations by the NSTP are on hold until monies are sent over by the Ministry of Finance, whether or not the addition of full-time employees to the payroll is a wise step.  For that matter, I'm as of yet unclear exactly what purpose more than one of the individuals in questions serve in the organization.  And as if the premises were not constricted enough, the addition of 10 "new" computer monitors, of the 20-inch CRT variety (i.e. MASSIVE), were just donated from TDC, Inc. to the NSTP's computer lab.  The downside?  We already had more flatscreen monitors than operable computers, so they're definitely not needed in the computer lab.  They can still find use as objects in a computer repairs class, though the issue of Where to keep them in the meantime? goes unresolved.  They are currently eating up whole cubic yards of space in the already-cramped computer lab, my bastion of air conditioning, electrical current, and productivity. 

To the best of my knowledge, we volunteers here in St. Kitts still have not received our living allowances for the month of February.  This means that rent, bills, and any other living expenses that come up at the beginning of the month are either covered by the leftover funds from the previous month, or else ignored until the funds do arrive.  Fortunately, for my part, I was careful to cultivate a EC$1000 cushion with which to weather just such a situation.  Most of my colleagues, on the other hand, were not so fastidious, and are now running into the same end-of-the-month issues that so many people living on tight budgets face, here and everywhere.  I do have one particular complication, though: my rent is automatically deducted from my savings account here, in a standing order for the end of every month.  But my monthly rent is greater than the monetary cushion I regularly keep (in what seems like an untimely oversight now), meaning that as of yesterday, my account is either in overdraft (in hardly any fault of my own) or else my landlord, who resides in New Jersey, has not yet received payment for this month's rent.  Either way, when I head into town today, I will have to go by the bank and take stock of the situation before spending any more of my standing cash.

I'm helping out at Beach Allen Primary School on Tuesdays now, tutoring a small group of students that have been selected by their teachers as requiring special assistance in mathematics.  We've had four sessions already, the last four Tuesdays in the month of January, and I'm starting to get to know the students a little better now.  One grade at a time, I pull out a single student from his/her classroom and gather the three to five children in a separate room, with stools, a chalkboard, and air conditioning.  Curiously, the last is such a disparate change from the usual for the students, that it oftentimes proves to be more of a distraction than a boon to the students' concentration.  But assisted by my bag of math implements and cadre of classroom activities, we put in a half-hour session where I give special time to each student that displays a need in a particular area that the teacher has identified in previous classroom time.  Already, in our short time together, I have seen dramatic improvement in the form of positive affect in one student, who, when she isn't acting depressed and moody, participates at a level that should categorize her as solidly mainstream, leaving her special-needs peers in the dust.  I intend on recommending to her teacher that she soon be replaced with another student whose needs in mathematics are more pressing.  So that might prove to be my success story for this trimester's Volunteer Report Form!

And work with the Serious Ting is gearing up at the same time.  It's now February (the reader may have noticed) and so my deadline looms now in the radar of my mind.  I plan to spend nearly all of my free time for this month on design editing the next issue, scheduled to be printed and distributed by April.  If I can maintain a pace of about 1 article per day, that should be sufficient to achieve my goal of submitting the completed first copy to St. Lucia for approval by Sunday the 26th, giving that week for final changes.  If everything happens in the planned timetable, then the issue will be all ready and in Volunteers' hands before the class of EC81 departs for their close of service.

Oh, and I got to go camping, too!  A few weekends ago, half a dozen of us went over to Banana Bay adjacent Cockleshell Beach on the Southern Peninsula to test our abilities to wield fire at will and engineer a makeshift shelter before sunset.  The experiment was a success, and I had a blast camping beside the omnipresent waves.  I even awoke before sunrise to see the Southern Cross just above the southern horizon!

The three-sided tarp shelter design was my idea.  It kept the wind out of our hair for the night.

A bright Sunday sunrise between St. Kitts and Nevis at 6:00 AM.

Breakfast is the camper's special: bacon and cheese omelet hamburgers.  <-- Not a typo

By all appearances, no worse for the wear.  (This may or may not in fact be the case.)