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.

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