Friday, October 31, 2008

Waiting for Elaine

I’m standing in front of the Bank of Saint Lucia, grateful that my bank errand is complete. Banking is an activity much like what we experienced pre-ATM. They have ATM machines, although they are not always working – and when they are, many times there are lines twenty persons deep. The grocery store, Super J, is the only place I’ve found that honors ATM cards for purchases. This has made budgeting a challenge for me. It’s not, “do I have enough in my account?” Although my boys call me “cheap”, I prefer to think of myself as frugile – I know how to save money. No, it isn’t about how much money is in my account, it’s “how much cash will I need until the next time I get to either Castries or Vieux Fort?” Getting cash is at least a half day chore, so planning is critical.

The lines inside the bank? Are you old enough to remember when we used to do our banking exclusively at the bank? If not, use your imagination – banks were always busy. Fridays? One never went to the bank on Friday unless it was an absolute necessity. There were two reasons: First, Friday is payday, second, everyone needed enough cash to get through the weekend. Take that visual memory and times it by a factor of two. Why? Well, because the bank is not only where you keep your money, but where people pay their bills. . . the electric bill, the cell phone bill, the water bill. They are all paid at the bank. So, bring a good book, pull up a seat, and prepare to settle in. They will call you when it’s your turn. So, needless to say, I was more than grateful to see Naomi, Bea’s daughter there. She works at the bank and allowed me to bypass the system. I was in and out so quickly it put a smile on my face.

Now I’m waiting for Elaine, one of the EC78 volunteers. She called this morning to see how I am. I told her I was on my way to Castries. She explained she is meeting a few of the volunteers for lunch near the cinema. We are going to take the bus together to a place called Rituals. I can use a couple of relaxing hours with fellow PCVs.

As I wait, I hear a whisper in my ear, “you are so beautiful”. I look over and there is a man with dirty clothes, rotting teeth and emitting an unpleasant odor. Lovely. I’m polite and say “thank you”. He says, “I’ve never had a white woman before.” I respond, “and you aren’t going to have one now either”. He asks me if I’m married and I tell him I’m waiting for my husband. That doesn’t discourage him. I move a few inches away from him. The order coming from him is disturbing. He moves in closer and says, “Do you cheat?” I don’t answer. This banter goes on for two or three minutes until I finally say, “You are annoying me, please move on”. He moves back and says, “God will reward you in heaven because you don’t cheat.” He was persistent, but my rudeness is what was needed for him to get the message and move on.

Yuck! Is this it? This is what is attracted to me? It can’t get worse than this . . . I hope. There is Elaine. What a welcome sight.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jounen Kweyol

It’s strange to see white people in my village. People on ships and those staying in expensive hotels venture out and participate in Jounen Kweyol. As I sit on my balcony, I am watching some of them walk down my street. There are two men strolling down the middle of the street. One has a camera with a lens stretching longer than my forearm. He stops to take a picture of the street scene. The picture he will take home includes men and women dressed in Creole colors, food booths, bars stocked with local rum and Pitons, as well as booths with crafts and Jounen Kweyol memorabilia.

Jounen Kweyol translated means Creole Day. It’s a day when people reflect on their heritage and their culture – the food they eat, the drinks they make, how they cook, the music and their dance, and the way they survived so many years ago. It’s a day they reflect on their rich history and the culture that has been handed down generation by generation. It may look like just another Caribbean party, but it’s not, and to many, it’s an important day of reflection; to some Saint Lucian’s, however, it’s a party.

Just as I was about to walk through the streets of my village to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the day, my landlady, Elizabeth, came out and said, “Are you leaving?” I responded that I was going to take a walk to see what Jounen Kweyol had to offer. She asked me if I would wait as she was preparing a traditional Kweyol breakfast for me. I readily complied. A few minutes later she brought up a tray and explained each food: Co Co Tea made from the Co Co Beans, boiled with water and cinnamon, and mixed with a small amount of milk and a lot of sugar; the small wedge is Cassava, a type of potato which they add sugar to and cook on a large black iron surface; bakes, a traditional bread sometimes filled with tuna, salt fish or cheese; There was a container with tomato, salt fish and watercress.

Early Days
The first European name for Saint Lucia was El Falcon and its first inhabitants were the Kalinago – Juannaloa. – now called Hewanorra. Hewanorra is the name of the International Airport on the island. The Kalinago were those whom Columbus found in today’s Caribbean region. Archaeologists have dated their earliest presence to around 5,000 BC.

The Arawak people’s presence is believed to have a history of some 2,000 years. They were thought to canoe from the South American mainland. They did not venture inland and it may have been because they thought the forest was full of wild animals or evil spirits. They were known as Ciboney, Guatanabey, or Arawaks.

The Kalingo culture is rich in ceremony and ritual. They had a deep respect for environment. According to tradition, one was not born a Kalina, it was an honor earned. After a long, trying and painful initiation, one became a man, a true Kalina. They taught other islanders the art of survival. Their armed struggle kept the Spanish away and their resistance retarded French and British settlements, as well as the introduction of the plantation` system to the Windward Islands of Dominica, St. Vincent and Grenada. It also reduced the extent to which slave regimes were established on the small islands, as compared to Barbados and Martinique.

The Kalinago vanished leaving hardly a trace. Places where they lived were buried under bush. They would remain there, hidden, until archaeologists started to uncover them in 1950s.

According to the archives in the village library, my village is rich in history. There is evidence of eight to nine settlements found by archaeologists – cooking tools, pots, ornaments have been uncovered.

Many Arawaks were attracted to the rivers of fish and crayfish, the safety to anchor boats, and the fresh wind the blows from the sea – everything needed is in one place.

Women spent days in vegetable patches grating cassava or making clay pots. They painted pots with dyes from plants. They gathered and dried grasses and wove mats and baskets. Men fished in the river with bows and arrows or collected crabs and oysters
Slaves and Sugar Plantations
Sugar cane was introduced by the French around 1764. Slaves were brought from Africa to work on the plantations. By 1775 one-sixth of Saint Lucia was under cultivation and the population had increased to 851 whites, 233 free colored and 6,381 African slaves. Sugar was a major crop. By 1790, the population was 22,000. Whites accounted for only 2,170 and free colored 1,636.

My village had 84 estates, which made it one of islands most important agricultural areas. The island was never a successful plantation colony. Whenever the island changed hands between the British and French, the slaves took the opportunity to escape into the impenetrable forest from where they were reluctant to emerge.

Some descendants of those slaves now own and farm their own land. Ruins of old factories and water wheels can still be seen as a reminder that sugar was once as important to this village as it was to the rest of the island, as important as bananas are today.

The Kweyol language is African-French dialect. They are very proud of their bi-lingual culture. In church I’ve heard them give praise to God for giving them this gift. Music is adopted from French planters. National musical instruments are the drum, the quartok, the chac chac and the baba, although the lead instrument has always been the violin which until recently was made of wild breadfruit wood. Music and dance is important on the island. During Jounen Kweyol traditional music is prevalent, but you can also hear country western and reggae coming from load speakers on almost every corner in the village.

When asked, many say this village houses the “new poor” on the island. Most people in the village are either farmers or fishermen. I spoke with one of the fishermen who said it is common to catch marlin. They catch them on these small fishing boats. They use only heavy fishing line and spears to catch them – there are no poles. There fishing methodology is much like it was hundreds of years ago. He said it’s common to catch four or five of them and tie them to the boat, dragging them behind to shore. There are people waiting by the shore until they are cut, weighed and ready to be sold. After selling to those waiting at the docks, they pack up their fish and put them into large plastic containers. With a large shell in hand they go through the village blowing the shell like a horn to announce fresh fish are for sale.

Sunday Morning
It’s early on Sunday morning. I look over at my clock and it’s not yet six in the morning. The church bells have already rung and there is loud traditional Kweyol music playing. My windows and doors are shut, but I can hear the music as if the speakers are right next to my ear. It’s time to get up. The voices of children in the background, roosters crowing, and goats making goat noises can be heard. I open the window; the ocean breeze comes streaming inside my bedroom as well as the smells of Kweyol food.

There are four official sites where Jounen Kweyol is celebrated. My village is one of them. The plan for this celebration includes my street, as well as several others, where booths are located. As I prepare my morning coffee a parade comes down the street. They are beating on drums and sticks and headed for the stage a half block away in the Catholic Church parking lot.

After I finished my coffee and the breakfast that Elizabeth prepared for me, I went out to explore. Many were using traditional methods to cook their food, others were cooking traditional foods using, by Saint Lucia standards, more modern methods.
I went to an exhibition at the Village Infant School. They had a display that was only about 40-50 years old. It’s amazing how far they have come. The man is demonstrating a child’s toy made from wood collected in the forest.
The items on display reminded me of things we might identify as being used in the late 1800s. I talked to the Brenda, the Community Development Officer about this. She is younger than me and remembers using the things that were on display.

A couple of weeks ago a poster appeared in our training center. It had pictures of Japanese people describing the jobs they are doing in Saint Lucia. They are Japan’s Volunteers. As I round the corner to return home, I spotted a young Asian woman. She looked at me and I could tell she was wondering if I was U.S. Peace Corps. I stopped and asked her, “Are you Japanese?” She said yes. I said, “Are you part of the volunteers here?” Again she said yes. We talked for several minutes and exchanged information. She said they were trying to arrange a meeting with us in November. That would be interesting.

It’s been twelve hours since I was awakened to the sounds of music, the smell of food, and the church bells ringing. As I finish writing this blog entry, I am sitting on my balcony and realize this party is only just beginning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No Particular Plans

It’s Saturday. I have no particular plans. I might have gone to church. I may have taken a walk through the village. I definitely would have slept in. It was to be a casual and somewhat lazy day today. That was my agenda. In Torrance, I know what I will be doing and when I will be doing it. I keep a calendar. People call before they come over. We make plans in advance. Not here.

I found a good book that kept me up late last night. It was 5:30 this morning when I answered the phone. I heard a voice say, “Come Karen, get up.” I had no idea who it was or why someone would be calling me at such a strange time. After a minute or so I realized it was Neena. Again she said “Come Karen”. They call people the way I call my dog, Barkley. It’s the culture here. I accept it. I started to protest, but decided to comply. I can sleep later. I said, “Neena, where are we going?” and she responded, “to the sulfur springs – bring a towel”.

I got up and dressed in my swimsuit and a half an hour later she was here. I ran down the stairs with my towel and house keys in hand. I climbed into the black pick-up truck and recognized Gerardo, Neena’s fiancé in the driver’s seat. There are two other men in the back seat. They moved over to make room for me. I look over and introduce myself. One of them says, “my name is Bob, I’m Obama’s cousin”. Then he laughed because the look on my face said I wasn’t buying it.

I asked him about the election and the entire truck came alive with conversation. I was riding with three well-informed men. I asked them why they supported Obama. They feel he is better equipped to handle domestic issues, including the economy. They think McCain is too focused on war. They call him a “war monger.” Although that may be unfair, it is their perception. They said when the United States is prosperous, so goes the world. We talked about the war, the economy, health care and the importance of race in the campaign. So my previous post is misleading. I said “most don’t know much about the issues”. After having this conversation, I question that statement. I need more data points.

We are heading to the west side of the island – the side I haven’t seen yet. We pass Choisuel and other small villages. This side of the island faces the Caribbean Sea. It is a different world. It houses the Pitons and they are amazing – two large peaks emerge high into the sky, one larger than the other. The Gros Piton is 2,640 feet above sea level. The Petit Piton is 2,461 feet above sea level. They are located just south of Soufriere. We see many people by the roadside setting up structures to sell food and crafts tomorrow. It’s a big day tomorrow – Jounen Kweyol. It will be party time throughout the island. They are celebrating their heritage and their culture.

Gerardo turns off the road and Neena announces, “We are driving into the crater of a volcano.” The sulphur smell is strong. The volcano is eight miles in diameter and includes all of Soufriere. It’s been three hundred years since the last eruption. Gerardo parked the car, we grabbed our towels, pass the fee collection window (local’s don’t pay and I’m with them, so neither do I), and head to the sulfur springs. It’s now about seven in the morning. People go early because they say the water is too hot in the middle of the day. Some even visit the springs at night. Steam is coming from the soaking pool at the top of a small incline. I walked past two round picnic tables with grass umbrellas and into the pool and watched the water falling from the high above. It was comfortably hot. As I relaxed in the pool, I noticed the overflow water was streaming into the river bed below. There were a couple of men who were lathering copious amounts of black mud onto their skin. That looked too good to pass up so I navigated the rocks and tree branches to reach the river. I asked them for instructions on what they were doing. The told me to reach way under a rock and when I felt a soft muddy substance, I should grab a handful. One man said, “Don’t worry; nothing is down there that will hurt you”. I reached down and felt the soft mud. I picked up a handful of the black substance. I squeezed the water from it to make a paste. I put the black mud on my arms and legs and face. They laughed at me and said, “Now you are a local”. It felt nice that these two strangers could feel this comfortable with me.

My friends came down to join me. They found white mud and spread it on their bodies. Now they looked more like me. They painted their faces to look like war paint, and then performed their silly versions of African dance. They were laughing at themselves. It was really very funny. The mud dried on our bodies as we sat on the rocks and talked. We jumped back in the water and washed it off. We moved back up the rocks to our towels, dried off, and headed towards the truck. This mud bath would have cost a couple of hundred dollars at my spa – here it was the real thing, and free. And the company I was with was rich and rewarding. My skin has never felt better. More, the experience was good for my soul.

We headed further up the island and stopped at a lookout point overlooking Soufriere, the former capitol of Saint Lucia. This is a place where many pictures are taken. The view is amazing. No one takes the island for granted. We stood silent for several minutes, taking in the beauty of the scenery. Nina went to the car to retrieve Geraldo’s cell phone for a photo opportunity. I did not bring my camera. It was early and I hadn’t even thought about bringing it. Neena said she regretted that she didn’t “advise me” to bring it. (Sometimes language is more formal – other times it is short and abrupt.) It would have been nice to have my camera, but it was also nice that I wasn’t concerned with preserving the scene – I only had to be focused on the moment.

We got back in the truck and headed to Soufriere. Gerardo stopped at a small outdoor restaurant and we ordered bakes. It was going to take ten minutes to make them so we headed to the pier. The sea is amazing. It’s like Catalina Island was so many years ago. I sat on the ramp and watched schools of fish swimming. The water was probably 10 feet deep at that point and the floor of the sea was visible. Bob pulled out a brown sack. It had warm traditional Kweyol bread inside. I asked him what made it traditional Kweyol bread and everyone chimed in to answer – it’s the oil, it’s the water, it’s the process, it’s the oven. It was good.

We went back and picked up our bakes, drove back up to the look out point and ate them in silence as we looked at the beauty of the Caribbean Sea. On our way home we stopped in Vieux Fort to “bath” in the sea – we swim in the ocean – they bath in the sea. I found an incredible tree with branches a foot wide. I climbed the tree and found a branch that was perfect for a short nap.

I usually don’t allow myself the luxury of this kind of day unless it’s on the calendar. There was no pre-planning. No understanding of what I would be doing from one minute to the next. All I had to do was say, “Yes, I’ll come” when I was called.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Campaigning in Saint Lucia

As I leave the drug store in Castries, there is a large man standing outside the door. He is young, possibly in his thirties, with a smile and a pleasant manner. He has long dreadlocks and although he isn’t wearing the Rasta colors, he has the look. He is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. There, on his shirt is a campaign pin. He is campaigning for Barack Obama. I have no idea why. I am the only person within miles eligible to vote in this election. As I exit the store he looks at me and says, “Barack Obama for president”. I respond, “yes, we are ready for change”. He smiles and goes on to the next person.

Everyone here is very excited about the prospect of a black U.S. President. Most know little about the candidates other than one is black and the other isn’t. Most are surprised when I tell them McCain is a war hero and P.O.W. who was in a Viet Nam prison for years. When I tell them he was tortured and walks with a limp and can’t lift his arms above his shoulders, they want to know more.

There are Obama campaign stickers throughout the island. They are on cars, stuck on houses, and can be found in stores. Lois, who was hospitalized with Dengue Fever, bought an Obama button from one of the nurses. When I was in an internet café today, I heard someone watching YouTube Obama videos.

People on this island see Obama as hope. They believe that if Obama wins, they will, as a people, indirectly benefit from our cultural progress. At the same time, many have expressed fear for his safety.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Swear!

Today was the big day. It’s official. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. No more intense training. It was a nice relaxing day today. I got up early and put on the nice dress that I brought for this occasion. I made a cup of coffee and watched CNN for a few minutes before heading out the door to walk the five minutes it takes to get to the junction (bus stop). I brought my camera with me for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted some pictures of the day, and second, I’m fulfilling Jay’s request to show him pictures of Saint Lucia – so you will be seeing those in a later post.

I met Angelina at the bus stop. She is one of my counterparts (the people who request PCVs – Peace Corps Volunteers). We hopped on a bus and talked the whole way. I’ve been trying to schedule a meeting with her, so this was the perfect opportunity. She is a gentle and kind person and I felt an immediate connection with her when we met several weeks ago. When we got to Castries, Angelina had some shopping to do. We said goodbye knowing she would meet me later at the ceremony. I got off the bus at the next stop, and like a tourist began taking pictures of Saint Lucia. I snapped a picture of my favorite banana vendor, the bakery I frequent, and the fruit and vegetable market.

I got to the Super J (grocery store) just in time to meet my Peace Corps friends who were waiting for the Peace Corps staff to pick us up and take us to the venue.

We were taken to the Saint Lucia Civil Conference Room. It was decorated for the occasion. There were flowers, streamers, and balloons.

The balloons were in Saint Lucian colors as well as red, white, and blue representing the United States. The Saint Lucia flag’s symbolism is interesting:

Cerulean blue represents fidelity. This blue reflects our tropical sky and also the emerald surrounding waters – the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

Gold represents the prevailing sunshine in the Caribbean as well as prosperity.

Black and white stand for the cultural influences – the white part represents the white culture, the black part represents the black culture - two races living and working in unity.

The triangle, the shape of which is an isosceles triangle, is reminiscent of the island’s famous twin Pitons at Soufriere, rising sheer out of the sea, towards the sky – themselves a symbol of hope and the aspiration of the people.

Government officials, our training team, Peace Corps staff, our counterparts, and home stay families were all invited. We were there early and so it was one of those “Kodak” moments – a time to catch up on picture taking. The woman who is sitting down and chatting on the right was the unlucky one who was hospitalized with Dengue Fever. She’s alright now, but was really sick. My son, Jay, had Dengue in Honduras when he was a PCV, so as I heard about her illness and recovery, I became more aware of just how hard this must have been for him.
Margo is posing next to me. She is the Eastern Caribbean Country Director. She served in Africa a couple of decades ago. She is a delight – supportive, sincere, and warm. She is always a welcome sight for volunteers.

The event is televised on the Caribbean Channel. The ceremony included opening remarks, a prayer, and two volunteers from EC77 played the Saint Lucia and U.S. National Anthems on their violins. They played Saint Lucia’s first, and when the started playing our anthem I noticed a couple in the front row. They were one of the home stay families. The woman immediately put her hand over her heart – and then elbowed her husband to do the same. So here we are, swearing in…finally. We take the same oath of office that the president and all federal employees take – we promise to “defend the constitution of the United States against all foes”. We weren’t sure how that applies in this situation, but we promised anyway.

The ceremony included the Minister of Social Transformation who was there on behalf of the government of Saint Lucia. The picture was taken after the ceremony – I’m with Angelina and the Minister)

Everyone received a certificate, a Peace Corps patch and an Eastern Caribbean pin as a token gift.

So here we are – trained, sworn-in, and on our own! There are rules, but the restrictions we’ve been living under are gone. The others were sworn-in on their own islands.
Now it’s party time. All fourteen of us find a bus and head to Rodney Bay. Many of the other island volunteers also joined us. Judy, is the only volunteer who will be leaving the island. She is assigned to another island and is leaving tomorrow – so the lunch is not just a celebration, but a send-off for Judy. (The picture, from right to left, Judy, me and Hallie)
After a fifteen minute ride, and a short walk, our world is transformed from what we know of Saint Lucia to the other side. . . the tourist side. Below is a view from the outdoor café, me in front of the restaurant and a view of us at lunch.

We had a nice lunch, a few drinks, and a small break . . . but it was time to leave the tourist view and get back to reality.

I made my way back to the bus stop. Jumped on a bus and headed back to Castries to catch the next bus home. I peeled an orange and sat down to write this entry. Brendan called. I talked with him and my little granddaughter, Ava. I do miss them. Isn’t she darling! I hope my experience will show Ava that there are so many possibilities for girls – possibilities like this were not on my radar when I was young. So that was my day today. It’s 10:00 now and I’m exhausted. . . good night.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes!

I’m here – my own place! But, the frustrations of settling in are high. I have a small two bedroom upstairs apartment. Each bedroom has its own bathroom (with a urinal as well as a toilet!) The kitchen is large. The landlady, Elizabeth, has furnished the house with everything I could possibly need. I have an electric tea kettle, a toaster, all the pots and pans, silverware, and knives I could possibly need. She even bought a bottle of water and put it in the new refrigerator she purchased for the apartment. I have towels and sheets and a television with cable. I have a red sofa and two chairs (my favorite color). She even left a boombox and a pothos plant in the living room. I have a dining table too. The apartment has two balconies – one in the back outside the kitchen door and one off the living room. There is a view of the Atlantic Ocean from both bedroom windows.

There is a washing machine and spinner on the kitchen balcony. No one has dryers here. Washers are operated manually. In other words, I put the soap and clothes in the machine, turn on the water and monitor the water level. When it’s full enough I turn off the water and put it on a timed agitate. Then I go through a similar process to rinse the clothes. Finally, I put the clothes in the spinner to get the majority of water out before I hang them on a clothes line. I’m lucky to have this machine. The apartment is clean and I am extremely comfortable here. I appreciate having a nice place to live in. Not all of the volunteers are feeling this way.

I’m curious about the neighborhoods in which people live. Rich, middle income and poor all live on the same streets. George Foreman owns a home in the next village and it’s mixed in with everyone else in the village. I look directly across the street and see shacks and wonder how the poor possibly manage. There are public toilets and showers in the village. When I look at the homes across the street I’m reminded of the reason I’m here. My job is to work with the Village Development Foundation which focuses on health and wellness, job skills, poverty, and education. The people across the street are those that need to directly benefit from this foundation.

I went to Castries today (Monday) to finish my last day of training. I had my language assessment and passed. Actually, I think they fixed it so everyone passed. I suck. They told us today that if anyone needed a tutor, Peace Corps will pay for it. I am going to take them up on their offer. Wednesday we have our swearing-in ceremony and then we are off to do the jobs we were brought here to do. I completed my application for Peace Corps in the Spring of 2007 and it’s taken this long to get to where I am. The entire EC78 group will swear-in. No one went home early. This is highly unusual. It’s all very exciting.

After training today, I spent a few minutes updating my blog and sending a couple of emails, then rushed out the door. I went to the grocery store and bought some fruit, cheese, and bread. Then I was in search of the Cable and Wireless store to order an internet line. Everything is so hard. It was so frustrating and I was in tears. Bernard, the man helping me looked at me with deep concern. He excused himself and was gone a few minutes. He returned with tissue and said “I can’t stand to see a woman cry”. He explained what information I needed to get and bring back. He said to make sure I see him and he will expedite the whole process. I felt silly becoming so emotional over such a small thing, but small things touch my emotions . . . I can handle bigger things a lot easier. Even finding things isn’t difficult for me – even though I’m perpetually lost. I guess because I expect to get lost. I don’t expect things, like ordering internet, to become projects.

I spoke with my landlady tonight and she gave me the information I need. Her husband, John, said anytime I want to use the internet I can use their computer. They are so nice. Tomorrow I will trek back up to Castries, ask to speak to Bernard and see if he can expedite the process.

I left Cable and Wireless and stopped in a couple of stores looking for tacks. I only need four and I know they have them on this island. Simple things I took for granted in Torrance, become projects. If I were in Torrance, I’d go to Rite-Aid and get them. Finding Diet Coke is no different. It’s called Coke Lite here and I’m sure no one drinks it except Peace Corps Volunteers. Saint Lucian’s love their sugar. I thought I’d buy a couple of bottles on the way home – simple, huh? Not so. I went to three stores, including the biggest supermarket. Later, when I returned home, I made a pitcher of iced tea.

I went into a store that I thought might have tacks. It is a store like Rite-Aid. They sell prescriptions, alcohol, umbrellas, wrapping paper, and there is a whole section with notebooks, pencils, pens, and paper. I was sure there would be tacks there, but there were none. Oh well, this gives me a reason to get up tomorrow morning!

Here’s the bottom line. I’m so fortunate to have Peace Corps structure to integrate into Saint Lucian life. They provide us with training that includes how to open a bank account, what to do in case of emergency, how to ride the bus, the culture, and language. They find housing for us that is safe to live in. They have an extensive plan for emergency evacuations. They are there for support when we need it. We are given enough money to live on. All this and it’s still hard to be dropped into a foreign land. I can’t imagine what it must be like when people illegally cross the border leaving behind families living in poverty in shacks like the ones I see across the street. They risk their lives traveling to the United States and when they get there, they do everything on their own with little resources and an inability to understand the language. This thought makes it easier for me when it gets harder. When sit on the balcony and look at my neighborhood I’m embarrassed that issues like the internet, tacks, and Diet Coke upset me. It’s really a good learning process.

Monday, October 20, 2008

More Secrets

Before I left for Saint Lucia, I decided to reveal my secret. I did it in a very public way: on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. It was not an easy decision. I kept journals throughout the years, but never EVER shared my real life. When I saw the draft of my story, in Joe Mozingo’s words, I thought, “What have I done?” I called my friend Adell and she met me at the dog park on 190th Street. While Barkley happily ran around the park with his dog friends, Adell quietly consoled me. She calmly explained to me that I wasn’t going to die – I would be fine. In fact, she said I would feel better when I stopped hiding this part of my life. She was right. Now, it’s written, it’s public knowledge, and I lived through it…and I’m glad I no longer harbor this secret. Since arriving here, I have discovered another secret – maybe not as big, but a secret. These kinds of secrets are like warts. They appear out of nowhere.

I’ve been thinking about this wart since I first arrived on the island. I don’t like thinking about it. I prefer to think about myself without this thought. I don’t want to write this piece. I’ve been resisting for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that when you put things in writing, it becomes real. We are told, “Put your goals in writing. If they are not in writing, they are at risk of never being realized”. Should a thought be put into writing when my thought is something that bothers me? What if I don’t want it to be real? Should I still put it in writing? Or, is denial better . . .if it’s not real, will it go away? The second reason is that I may feel compelled to put this in my blog if I write it. Readers might judge me, but on the flip side, readers may look at themselves and understand. Maybe it’s better to talk about these things. So, this is the dilemma. If you are reading this, you know what I’ve decided. Write it – face it – publish it!

As a boomer growing up in the sixties, I remember some events with extreme accuracy. I was wearing a black skirt and a purple corduroy jacket with a white blouse. It was one of my favorite outfits. I was walking from my office machines classroom to the cafeteria at Thousand Oaks High School. An announcement came over the loud speaker. President Kennedy had been shot. I stopped walking – I was stunned. This is not something that should happen in America. An hour later we were on the football field. The principal was telling us to go home. The President is dead. I walked up the circular driveway and into the house we lived in on Gainsborough Road.

Our house was a two story four bedroom, three bathroom home. My father received a big promotion at work before we moved to Thousand Oaks. It was time to move. We sold our home in Torrance, we packed up and moved “up”.
My mother enjoyed sewing. She was sitting on the living room floor cutting material from a pattern she had purchased at Newberry’s, a chain store that has been out of business for decades. We used to call stores like Newberry’s “dime stores”.

Thousand Oaks was an old farming community that was building new homes and luring young families to a “better life”. There was one Hispanic family in town who owned the local Mexican Food Restaurant. Other than that, it was a homogeneous small town. Although I felt safe there, I was sheltered and I wrestle with whether this was a good or bad thing.

Mom looked at me and said, “What are you doing home?” I watched her expression change from curious to disbelief to shock and sadness and finally tears. It was if time was standing still. This was just the beginning of events that would rock my world.

The next moment I remember is the Watts Riots. I was in my parent’s upstairs bedroom. Their television was on and the pictures we were watching resembled a war zone. Young African Americans were burning their own community. They were smashing large panes of glass in retail stores and carrying away televisions, sofas, clothes and anything of value. The fear coming through the small screen was palpable. It was out of control. Police and other authorities had no control over what was happening.

Thousand Oaks was a 1½ hour drive from the riots and I felt safe in my cocoon. I was living with a mom and a dad and two sisters in a neighborhood that might be termed as a place where people live the American Dream. A few years later I met John. His life was vastly different from mine. He was living in a neighborhood very close to the riots. He was in the Army and was released on emergency leave to protect his mother and their family home. We had contrasting lives until we met. My parents taught me that prejudice and racism had no place in our home. I am grateful for their liberal and sensible approach to skin color; however, I had no direct experience with what they were teaching me. John’s experiences, friends and lifestyle taught me the practical side that shaped what my parents taught me as a young child. The values that I hold dear to this day are a tribute to my parents and John.

In the early 1990s I was working in a corporate office in El Segundo about a half hour from downtown Los Angeles. John and I had been married for a couple of decades. Our children were entering their teens. They were alone at home. I had my own office. I was wearing a suit and heals. I was making a decent salary and trying to climb the ladder. There was an emergency message over the loud speaker system in the office. The Rodney King decision had come in and there are riots in Los Angeles. We were told to go home. They told us to alter our route home – go west, toward the beach.

I packed up my office, grabbed my purse and keys and walked down the stairs and out to the parking lot. I climbed into my 1989 Blue GMC Safari Van. The radio was not working. Cell phones were not yet embedded into our culture. As I exited the facility, it was apparent that the entire city of El Segundo was moving west at a snail’s pace. I had children at home, alone. With no radio and no cell phone, I left in a communication vacuum and determined to get to my family as quickly as possible. Disregarding the advice of my company, I headed east on El Segundo Boulevard. I needed to turn south as soon as possible, but each intersection was jammed with traffic so I continued east. The further east I drove, the more the demographics changed, and the more frightening the drive became. I finally turned south on Hawthorne Boulevard and it was here that things became even more frightening. There were car loads of young African American men. Many were defiantly riding in the back of pick-up trucks holding handguns and shotguns. They were headed toward the Galleria Mall in Torrance.

The cocoon that my parents had built for me so many years ago was shed and I was living in the real world. It didn’t matter what my values were. It didn’t matter if I was empathetic or kind or sympathetic or disgusted or angry. It didn’t matter if I held prejudicial beliefs or if I was a liberal idealist. The only thing that mattered was the color of my skin. I recognized that this might be the way these angry young men might feel every day. No matter who they are inside, people see only the color of their skin. Was I feeling what they live with daily? Maybe.

Every time I passed one of those trucks my heart rate peaked and my palms became sweaty. I checked and re-checked the door locks in the van. I reached my children after three intense hours. Everyone was safe and sound. To this day, the African American’s sitting on the edge of the truck beds, the lawlessness, the guns, and the defiance is a frightening experience to remember.

This brings me to my warts . . . my secret thought . . . my reluctance to admit my imperfect thoughts. It’s not uncommon to see pick-up trucks with black men sitting on the edges of the truck beds in Saint Lucia. Some have a cutlass, a large knife, with them. They are riding down the highways, through the city, and along the small roads in the villages. I see this scene every day, several times a day. Each time, my first thought is fear. It’s a thought I haven’t shed; based on an experience I had two decades ago. But, as quickly as fear sets in, it leaves. It’s legal to ride in the bed of pick-up trucks here. People pick up stranded people on the highway all the time. The big knives? They are used in farming. They cut bananas or breadfruits from trees with them.

So, ok, I admit it. I have imperfect thoughts. But now, having admitted it, maybe I can shed the old memory of fear and replace it with a better experience. No matter how much someone is in a hurry, they are never in so much of a hurry that they can’t stop and give a lift to someone who is standing in the hot sun waiting for a ride, cutlass in hand.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Balance Bars

For those that have asked - the balance bars I like are on the right side of this page. If you are thinking of sending a few, be advised that postage is expensive. Thanks to those of you who have put a couple of them in the mail.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pitons and Sheep

People on the island are always preparing for one. They spend time anticipating. They talk about it. It’s on the radio and television. There are events leading up to it. They are at the center of their culture. My village is one of four lucky villages who are “officially” planning a celebration, although unofficially just about every village is planning their own celebration. It’s party time…again. It seems that there is always something to celebrate. The island is one big party. There is Carnival which is a national holiday , the Jazz Festival, Village Days, even OctoberFest. But right now we are busy preparing for Jounen Kreywol (Creole Day).

The purpose is to celebrate and educate Saint Lucian’s about their cultural heritage – but really, it’s a party. The official date for this activity is the last weekend in October; however, because of the level of excitement in the air, there are events that lead to the official activity. Tonight was a re-creation of an authentic Indian Wedding Ceremony. The acoustics in the room were poor and the speakers were load…really load. This is very normal. If it’s load, it’s a party.

When I walk down the streets of any village or the capital there is very loud music coming from shops. There is a rum shop on each corner as well as in the middle of the block. There are make-shift bars on street corners. Many have speaker systems in their cars which they park, blasting music while people gather. Drinking Piton’s (the local beer) on the street, listening to music, and catching up with friends is a typical scene after work. There are tables and chairs set up outside various shops (some rum shops, some restaurants, some clothing stores) and people are drinking and playing dominoes. Music draws people – and, therefore, loud competing music is the order of the day. People drive cars with loud speakers, marketing various products – mostly phone carriers. Music is played between advertising messages.

Nina fixed my hair, Lucian style. Nisha, her sister, argued with her about how to comb it, insisting she could do it better. They are still talking about braiding my hair in corn rows, but there is not enough time tonight. The wedding will be in the village at 7:00 – Saint Lucian time, meaning the wedding will probably take place between nine and ten. The village is where people lime (hang-out) in my community. It is a street in the village that is filled with restaurants and rum shops and loud music. The hall rented for the event is upstairs. As Bea and I drive up we can hear Indian music competing with Reggae at one end of the street and Country music at the other. There are liming people everywhere. It’s very much like a street party. There is little doubt where we are going. We follow the sound of the Indian music. We walk past the person stationed outside the door who is collecting a EC$2 entrance fee and walk up the steps. It is dark and there are a few ceiling fans, some of which work. The floor is cement and the walls are painted a bright blue. There are at least a dozen speakers set up around the room. Each speaker is bigger than me and I notice men struggling when they move them. There is a stage at the far end of the room which is somewhat difficult to see because it’s the darkest part of the room. There are lights throughout the room; some of which work. There is a bar with a list of drinks available written on the small chalkboard positioned on the wall behind the bar. Bea and I walk past the bar and into the room behind it. This is where we are going to set up the food which will be sold. This room is used as a gym during the day. People in Saint Lucia are aware of the benefits of healthy lifestyles. There are signs on the walls “No Pain, No Gain” and “No Idle bodies”. There are exercise balls, free weights and benches.

I think of my son, Jay. He would likely look at this as an eating opportunity. I look at it as an eating nightmare. I don’t really understand Indian food and they have slaughtered a sheep for the event which makes the food even more distasteful in my mind. Fortunately for me, I’ve been assigned to a country that values people who have chosen vegetarianism. When I tell people I only eat chicken and fish on rare occasions and never red meats, they respond in a positive manner. Most have at least tried to be vegetarians and view it as a healthy lifestyle. Things are only partially set up and people are coming in ready to purchase food. I quickly realize they need help. I put my purse under one of the table-clothed draped tables and step behind the tables ready to serve. There is a steady stream of hungry Saint Lucian families. It isn’t just the young party-going crowd that lime. Liming is a family activity.

The music is turned off and the Master of Ceremonies has the microphone. The sound system is the perfect storm. Squeaking and squealing sounds are coming through the huge speakers around the room. No one pays much attention to the imperfections. The speakers were never turned down. He has a thick accent. All these things make it difficult to understand what is being communicated. At times I’m not sure if he’s speaking Kreyol or English. Lucian’s speak so fast that their English is barely understandable. Hearing small bits and pieces of information, I piece together the message. The person who is to officiate the wedding has issued a statement of regrets. He had a funeral to attend and won’t make it to the celebration. The MC goes on to describe what a wedding might look like if we were to actually see it. This takes up several minutes. No one seems to mind because there is plenty of Piton and Sheep left to consume. I wish I knew more about the cultural aspect of this Indian Wedding, but I don’t. What I do know is this: it was a great party! What I am hoping is that my ear drums hold up during these two years.

Grateful Reflection

Several years ago I went to Europe with my friends Linda and Jayne. We saw the London Eye, The Arc de Triumph, the Mona Lisa, and we rode the underwater train. We also saw the Waterworks Park in the Netherlands. Water is a problem there – holding the sea back is an everyday fight and they are the leading world experts on building dams. We American’s forget that we don’t always have the answers; it was the engineers in the Netherlands that were called upon to study the New Orleans problem. The dam is an impressive structure, but almost equally impressive is the educational facility that shares the massive dam structure. It is filled with information. There is a 3D video where we wore those crazy cardboard glasses with green and red cellophane lenses; there were exhibits and interactive stations designed to teach the technology and the effort that goes into keeping their land above water.

As I wandered through the facility, I turned a corner and there was something quite curious. There were several life sized black and white posters. They were big and imposing and I was startled when I turned that corner. They were pictures of African children playing on a dirt field. They had large sticks and they were moving old tires through the field, dust flying and smiles on their faces. A child’s game so life size that I could almost hear their screams of joy. How curious! Standing next to the posters was a woman who was waiting for my question. I’m sure she was asked a million times daily, “Why are these posters here? What does this have to do with anything we are learning?” When the answer came, it was one of those defining moments in my life; one of those moments that would stick in my memory because the answer was so profound. The woman smiled and gave a very simple answer, “We may have too much water, but we must remember that there are those that don’t have enough”. Wow!

Why do we whine so much? When we need something, the first thing we demand is money. Throw money at our educational system and all our problems will be fixed. Right? The educational system in Saint Lucia has problems. They have very little resources. Textbooks are difficult to come by and many that they do have are badly out of date. There is very little technology including televisions, DVD players, and computers at the primary school level. The teachers have limited formal education – at most an Associates Degree and a teaching certificate. There is no air conditioning in the classrooms and the noise level is extreme. This is hardly an environment conducive for learning.

One primary school I visited this week has done something about it. With only a few cans of paint, a little plywood, a few seeds, and the helping hands of the village, they created a school that is fun, happy, and filled with physical and mental activities that immediately make children think. The middle of the courtyard is filled with physical education activities. They have large dice that children throw. They must add the numbers on the dice and then they advance throughout a large playing “board” painted on the asphalt. There are spaces that say “Go back three spaces” or “advance two spaces”. There are games where you Jump the Letter and a Wheel of Fortune game where children must form words. I couldn’t resist hopscotch and found it so much more difficult than when I was ten years old. There is a large clock on the wall where children can move the hands to change the time. There is a reading room painted with bright colors and words on the walls and filled with books and comfortable chairs and even a lumpy bed with large pillows for comfy reading. There are toys that teach math as well as reading. Yhatzee, bingo, and other games are used for teaching. Outside there is a garden where children not only learn to grow vegetables, but learn math when planting the seeds. The fruits of their labor are transported to the cafeteria where they learn good nutrition. The leftover vegetables and fruits are sold to the community. This year they made $300; money that can be used to further improve their school. This was one of the happiest schools I’ve seen in awhile. Like the people in the Netherlands, they are grateful for what they have.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Riding the bus is only a small part of my life on Saint Lucia

I love the comments that are left on my blog and I look forward to reading the emails you send. Lately, I have received a couple of comments that go something like this, “Do you do anything besides ride the bus?” Well, the answer is yes, I do lots of other things. After reading through my posts, I can see why you might be a little confused about what I’m doing.

There is extensive training associated with becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. It started with staging in Miami in late August. Our group, known as EC78 (Eastern Caribbean 78), had a twelve hour orientation before we departed for Saint Lucia. There are 38 of us in the group. We filled out mounds of paperwork, decided if we wanted to buy life insurance, got to know one another and talked about Peace Corps in general. After a day and a half we took a bus to the airport and boarded a plane headed for Saint Lucia.

Our plane landed and the Country Director was there to meet us along with other staff and current Peace Corps Volunteers. We collected mounds of suitcases, were loaded into large busses and were transported to the Pastoral Center in the northern part of the island. Once there, we settled in for three more days of orientation, this time more specific to the Eastern Caribbean. We had our pictures taken for our identification cards, were given inoculations and just as we were comfortable, it was once again time to move on.
This was the last time we saw most of our group – and will be the last time we see each other as a whole until close of service in 2010. I stayed in Saint Lucia with thirteen others. The rest were transported to their islands of assignment. Our group was taken to the Peace Corps Office in Saint Lucia. We brought our suitcases into the office which filled an entire room. By now we were sick of all that luggage! It was very tempting to start throwing it over the cliffs but we resisted. We were taken to the training room in the back of the office and each of us waited to meet our host family. One by one, host families came for their volunteers, the luggage dissipating and fear and anticipation growing. Finally, mine came. They piled my stuff into their family pickup truck and brought me to the village where I would be living for two years, and to their house where I would be staying for seven weeks.
Peace Corps arranges for us to stay with a host family for a couple of reasons. First, they help us integrate into the community. Second, during training there is a lot to learn, there is homework and presentations that need to be prepared. While we study, learn about our communities, figure out how to get around, and become acclimated to the new environment, our host family takes care of us. They not only give us a place to stay, but help us with language, prepare our meals and pack meals to go with us and answer our endless questions. They feel a sense of responsibility for us.

Many of us, including me, are grilled each day about what we eat. They serve me so much food and look at me quizzically when I suggest it is way too much. Tonight I was given chicken, beans, macaroni and cheese and vegetables for dinner. I ate none of it and instead suggested that we pack it up and I will take it with me for lunch tomorrow. I always have a back-up of food in the refrigerator to eat. The notion of eating several small meals is a foreign concept in Saint Lucia. Bea looked at me tonight and repeated the same concern she has every night, “I’m worried about you not eating.” I gave her my usual response, “I’m getting plenty of calories. Please don’t worry. If I’m hungry, I’ll tell you.” I’ve heard that there have been volunteers who have said they didn’t get enough food and Peace Corps was not happy about that. I try to reassure Bea this is not the case with me.

The Village Council Building I’ve become familiar with my village. It’s a large community – I believe of 5,000 – although you can’t hold me to that number as I could be wrong. The village has a “center”. It has a Multi-Purpose Center – a place where the community comes together for meetings and events. The Library is on the second floor of the Multi-Purpose Center. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Library researching my village as well as the island. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the Multi-Purpose Building which houses large amounts of mosquitoes. Next to the center is the Village Council Building and next to that is the Credit Union and Post Office. The secondary and primary school are also in this area.

So, what do my weeks look like? Well, three days a week I get up at 6:00 a.m., shower, dress, and at 7:00 I catch the bus to Castries to travel to Peace Corps. I get to the training center at 8:30, hoping I’m early enough to get a few minutes on the only computer available to all fourteen of us. Training starts at 9 a.m. and goes until 4:30 p.m. We are trained in several areas: Technical, Health, Safety, and Language. We have to demonstrate competence in each of these areas. Technical was most interesting. It is centered on change and how to move organizations to change – a subject I know well. Safety can be anything from advice when walking on the street to water safety and what to do in an emergency. Health is anything from how to treat first aid situations to what’s in that medical kit they gave us to how to brush your teeth (yes, I’m not kidding – and not sure why this needed to be demonstrated, but we all smiled and were polite). Language – well, it’s Kweyol. I struggle, but I won’t give up. At the very least I will learn a few phrases. I think it’s harder to learn because everyone speaks English and I don’t get enough practice. Kweyol will help with integration, but it’s not critical.

We are tested in many ways to ensure our competence. Today the technical track was complete and we each had to give a twenty minute presentation on our analysis of the organizations we are going to be working with as well as the strategies we will employ to begin our work. A few weeks ago we had to find our way to our “safe house”. This is the place where we consolidate in case of an emergency. This was a real test for me. There are no street signs, no house addresses…nothing. The directions go something like this: Get on the bus and go north. You will be going to a house two villages from yours. You will get off when you see a church. There will be a dirt road and you follow it until you see a blue house. REALLY? Yes, really. And, ta da! I found it. I only had to ask four people for directions. I was so relieved.

Each of us is assigned to a school in our village and one day a week we go there. There is little structure associated with the visits and it’s up to us to figure out how to be “helpful”. This has been the most difficult assignment. I try to do something meaningful but I’m not always sure I’m accomplishing anything. I attend committee meetings that are planning a talent show on the Sunday before Jounen Kreywol (translation Creole Days and I’ll talk more about this in another post). I’ve taught a couple of classes and observed a few.
Each Thursday we are assigned to shadow a someone in the community. This is by far one of the best parts of training. I’ve met so many incredible people and they have taught me much about life in Saint Lucia. Tomorrow, I will be meeting with the Community Development Officer for my village. She has an office at the one-story blue Village Council Building. This is the second time I’ve been assigned to her. I believe she and I will have a great working relationship during my two year stay.
When I get home at night, many times I hear of meetings that are planned. Most are held at the Multi-Purpose Center and they are on various subjects; Village Development Foundation meetings, planning committee for Jounen Kreywol or a public hearing informing the village members about a proposal to create a public/private partnership with a European company to improve the Saint Lucia water supply. The water lines are in terrible shape. Only 40% of the water that runs through the pipes reaches the faucet. The rest is lost to the cracks and leaks prevalent throughout the water pipe system. There are so many vulnerable pipes that when it rains it’s likely a pipe will break and the village will be without water for a day or sometimes two. I will leave the color of the water that reaches inside the house to your imagination. I don’t drink it. Although most of it has been removed, there is still some asbestos in the pipes. There is a lot of education to be done to try to convince people to fix this system. The discussion is price vs. quality. I try to attend as many functions as I can to meet as many people as I can. One thing is a sure thing – I’m not lacking for something to do!
This is how I will continue to spend my days until October 19, when everything changes once again. That’s the day we move from our host family and into our own place. On October 21, we will be sworn-in and then our real work begins. This will be our next big transition as we will have much less contact with one another and will fully integrate into our individual village communities. There is only one other volunteer in my village and he will be leaving later this year. Most importantly is that this will be the last time we have to move those damn suitcases until we leave the island in two years!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Houses on Stilts

I was sure homes were built on stilts because of flooding - or that it had something to do with hurricaines. I was wrong and very surprised at the answer. The answer is "money". Houses are built on stilts because people don't have the money to build the "whole" house. They build pieces of their homes over the years and it's usually the top floor that is built first. The house I'm living in was built on stilts. A few years later they added walls and created an apartment downstairs. Even later they built another building to the front and to the side of their home which is now an apartment upstairs and a pizza shop downstairs.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Next Quiz

It is not uncommon to see homes on stilts. They are everywhere - on high ground and low ground. Why do you think they build them this way?

A Very Exciting Day!

It’s raining and I’m up at 6:00 a.m. I don’t have to be anywhere until 2:00 today but this is a very exciting morning. It’s different that any morning since arriving on the island. Somewhere in this blog I mentioned that no one in Saint Lucia drinks coffee – or at least, no one I’ve met. My host family kindly bought me a jar of Nescafe which I’ve been drinking. On a typical morning, I am served a breakfast of salad and bread, or vegetables and stuffed potatoes, or salad and hot canned tuna to go along with my hot drink.

As I write this piece I ask Neena, the 24-year old daughter in my host family, if she has heard of Starbucks. She replies, “What?” She’s confused. The word means nothing to her. There is not one single Starbucks on this island! I begin to wonder, where do people meet when they want to have a quick meeting? Where is the “Nescafe” Starbucks of Saint Lucia? Starbucks aim is to become the “third place” for its customers – the other two being home and work. Is there a “third place” for Saint Lucians? There is none.

This morning is different. Since writing that piece in my blog, I’ve received a press and three pounds of Starbucks Coffee. One pound of coffee came before the press. I quickly learned how to improvise, nearly burning myself and gulping large mouthfuls of grounds…not exactly “good to the last drop” but I was learning the art of chewing my caffeine. Yesterday, I received an additional two pounds of coffee and the press when I was in Castries. I also received eight of my very favorite Balance Bars.

I could feel the softness of the nutrition bars through the wrapper. I carefully took them from the boxes and gently packed them into an extra bag I brought to the capitol that morning. It felt like Christmas and I had just scored the most extraordinary gift ever! I left the capitol and boarded a bus for the hour and a half ride back to my village, all the while smelling the aroma from the bags of coffee sitting on my lap. When I arrived home I unpacked the booty, set it on the kitchen table and contemplated the aroma along with the taste of my crispy soy based nutrition bars. I almost couldn’t wait until this morning, but knew I had to wait as the penalty would be insomnia. I put one of the nutrition bars into the refrigerator so they wouldn’t be melted in the morning. The others, I carefully stored in my room.

So, at 6:00 a.m., with nowhere to go, I shot out of bed, pushing the mosquito net aside, making my way to the kitchen to brew a fresh pot of coffee. Oh, yes! I sat on the front porch, nutrition bar in one hand and coffee in the other, saying “Bonjour” to those that passed by. I thought about what this would be like at home. Not much different. I’d be on my front porch, coffee in one hand, nutrition bar in the other saying “good morning” to those that pass by.

I sat there until early afternoon when I hopped on a bus and met another volunteer from a nearby village. Andy has been here for over a year. We walked up the steep hills of his village greeting the men and women and with each few yards we inherited another child who would follow us – it was very much like we were the pied-pipers of the village. Every few minutes someone would ask, “Is that your girlfriend?” Or, “Is that your mother?” which was far more appropriate as Andy is only 24 years old. The views in the village were breathtaking, and although the walk was intense because of the heat and the steepness of the terrain, it was well worth the effort. We stopped to buy a “bake” and a “bakery” – a sandwich and a pastry. We stopped at his house and talked for a short time. We headed to a meeting.

We walked into the day care center and started setting up chairs and clearing off the table for the meeting. I was first introduced to an older woman with no front teeth. It is through her effort that this day care center exists. Although I was just an observer they wanted to know who I am, where did I come from, what are my accomplishments, and most importantly, how do I like Saint Lucia. No matter who it is, they always smile when I tell them, “I got the best country.”

The meeting began and Andy was asked to lead us in prayer. Almost every meeting I’ve attended is opened with a prayer. Andy handled it so well. I wondered if I would ever be able to do something that is counter to whom I am and look as comfortable as Andy.

I’ll worry about that later. Right now I’m going to go and clean out my coffee press, put another nutrition bar into the refrigerator and get ready for tomorrow morning!