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.