Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Journey too Important to Interupt

A breadcrumb was moving across my floor. I thought it was a gust of wind from my door. On closer inspection I found it to be a tiny ant carrying the weight of the world. It was determined and on an important mission. I didn't interfere with it's journey.

An Uncommon Weekend – Part III

Japan's Country Director and his wife announced that they were opening their home to all the volunteers. We packed up our things, changed clothes and walked to their house. It was only a couple of blocks from the Conference Centre. We walked through mud and puddles of water on the unpaved road that led to their home. Just when I think I’ve seen it all; Rituals Coffee, Wi-Fi, Burger King, Gelato Ice Cream, a movie theater, I pass by Rodney Bay Mall and then past a Curves Gym. I wonder if I left the island and forgot.

We walked through a large gate into a community of town homes. We took off our shoes and washed our feet from the bucket provided on the porch. Through the entry way is a small living room; to the left is a kitchen and a dining room. The dining room and living room each had doors leading to a patio. Smells of hamburgers and hotdogs filled the air. Some of the volunteers were already enjoying the blue sparkling pool beyond the BBQ.
We stayed there for a few hours enjoying good company, a nice BBQ and wonderful homemade sushi, rice balls, and other good food . The highlight for many of us was watching the JOVC Volunteers practice a traditional Fishing Dance that they are to perform next weekend during the Japan Day they are planning in the Castries Town Center.

We left their home with a warm feeling. We made many new friends and learned so much about each other. Two busses later and a few shouts of “Hey Blondie”, the familiar sounds of smoochie man, and I’m back home in my little village writing about an experience I never would have had if it hadn’t been for the day I filled out the Peace Corps application form.

Epilogue: This is the end of this piece, but I can’t wait to tell you about our reunion with the JOVC the following Saturday at “Japan Day” in Castries. I have a couple of videos that I’ll be posting to show you all I’ve learned. And wait till you see the me in a new outfit!

One final thought: You may be wondering “does she work?” Well, yes I do, and that post will be forthcoming. Also, you may cast your opinion at the bottom of each post, and I really do love hearing your comments!

Friday, November 28, 2008

An Uncommon Weekend – Part II

It's morning. I can smell the coffee coming from the new drip coffee maker that Lois and Scott purchased. They are coffee lovers and were heartbroken when the coffee press they brought from the U.S. broke and a new coffee pot was at the top of their budget list. They are extreme about the dark roasted bean. They researched coffee and its availability on the island before they left. When they discovered that coffee makers and beans can be difficult to find, they decided to forgo extra clothes and other items many would believe essential. Instead, they each packed ten pounds of coffee. They lugged twenty pounds of their black treasured bean from home to hotel, from hotel to hotel, from hotel to their home stay, and finally to where they are now - their final destination of these two years. This may sound extreme to those that don’t know Lois and Scott. To me, I would expect nothing different. This is a perfectly logical behavior.

Excited about the moment ahead, I asked Lois if I could take a shower. She told me where to find a towel and the process of turning the water on. I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and turned on the water – then I shouted, “Ok Lois”. Lois flipped the switch just outside the bathroom door. And what happened next was nothing short of a miracle. I only have two words to explain it. Hot water. The shower gods were shining on me. Hot water was pouring out of the shower head and onto my body. I didn’t have to hold my breath while my body acclimated to the cold water – instead the water acclimated to me. I had been dreaming of this all night. Could this be a continuation of yesterday’s dream? Or do people actually live like this? Once again I yelled, “Ok Lois”, she flipped the switch off and the hot water evaporated. I silently thanked the gods and got dressed.

I smelled the aroma of a fresh brew and moved to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Lois was on her was out the door for a morning walk which sounded good to me. I grabbed my coffee and we slowly walked around her neighborhood. We greeted each person we passed; we moved quickly towards the side of the road when cars turned each corner at alarming speeds; and when we stopped to take in a view we were in awe. The people were friendly, we discovered a bakery, and returned ready to start the day.

We quickly put on our business clothes, left their house, and boarded a bus for that would put us in the direction of Rodney Bay. We stopped a few feet from the Bay Garden Hotel and walked to the Conference Centre. We were there to attend the First JOVC/PCV Conference. JOVCs are Japan’s Overseas Volunteer Cooperation, the equivalent of the United States Peace Corps.

This is the first time that volunteers from Japan and the United States would come together to share experiences. JOVC was established in 1965, four years after Peace Corps. The JOVC is much like Peace Corps with a few exceptions. They have two months of training, but they are trained in Japan while we are trained in country. They receive only twenty days of vacation, whereas we receive forty-eight days. We are free to travel during vacation times; they are restricted to seven countries and Japan is not one of those countries. They have two tiers of volunteers, Junior Volunteers and Senior Volunteers – those under forty and those over forty; we have a 50+ Initiative. They treat senior volunteers different because of the knowledge and experience they bring to the job. Senior Volunteers are given the opportunity to bring their families with them. They are given double wages and they are able to drive cars. Peace Corps Volunteers over fifty are treated without distinction.

Peace Corps could learn from Japan. My biggest, and probably only real criticism of Peace Corps is that they have not planned the 50+ Initiative beyond achieving increased numbers; an goal that is easily measured. They are losing the experience they are working so hard to achieve because they have no idea what to do with the experience we bring once we get here. I think they are having growing pains and hopefully the bureaucracy won’t get in the way of making meaningful change that will enable them to get the results they desire. In the meantime, sometimes I feel like their science project, and other times I feel like an anthropology experiment. Japan seems to be doing this better than the United States.

Volunteers from both sides shared processes and methodologies and experiences. We talked about areas where we could collaborate.

Before the meeting and during the breaks we had time to talk to meet each other. We didn't have to ask Sana what he was interested in. His T-shirt said it all. Many JOVCs had only been speaking English for a few months, but were able to communicate clearly and concisely. Many were motivated to join JOVC to get international business experience. They were interested in the educational and business systems in the United States as well as talking about the differences between the two countries and Saint Lucia.

It was four hours well spent. We had plans for a beach BBQ, but it was pouring rain. So here we were. Many people had prepared food for the BBQ; we brought are bathing suits and our casual clothes. We weren’t ready to say good-bye to our new friends. The room was booked in the afternoon so we couldn’t stay there. Just when it looked like the day was over, there was a solution. Stay tuned for Part III, the ending to this story…

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Uncommon Weekend – Part I

It’s Friday. I just got off the phone with Elaine. We agreed to meet in Castries between 3:30 and 4:00 this afternoon. I finish putting a few things into the red backpack Brendan recently mailed to me. My nightgown, a brush, my toothbrush, swimsuit, a couple of bags of almonds and a nutrition bar, a dress, and a pair of nice shoes. All this for one day, but everything is needed. I wanted to bring a book to read, but I don’t want the extra weight to carry. I compromise and bring my IPod which has a few books I recently loaded onto it. I put on a pair of jeans a t-shirt and my sandals, grab my purse, check to ensure I have money, my camera, the IPod and cell phone, put on my backpack and I’m out the door…just in time to connect eyes with “smoochie man” across the street making ridiculous smoochie noises at me with his lips. I say hello and move quickly down the street to catch a bus to Castries, a one hour ride.

I arrive in Castries and make my way over to the next bus, which will transform my world. I’m headed to Rituals Coffee Shop where Lois, Elaine and I agreed to meet. Rituals is next door to the only movie theater on the island, affectionately known as the Cinema. It’s a perfect landmark. I’ve been there a couple of times, but never gone there by myself, so when I get on the bus, I greet everyone and ask “Will this bus take me to the Cinema?” The woman I sit next to shakes her head yes. Then she says, “I’ll tell you when to get off”. Perfect, I immediately like this woman. A few minutes into the ride, I see the bus stop ahead and hear the woman next to me shout, “Stopping Driver”. This is the signal passengers give to the driver when their stop is ahead. As promised, she’s taken care of me.

I cross the street and look past the cars in the parking lot. There are a few people sitting on chairs at tables with large green umbrellas. They are drinking coffee while staring at the screens of their laptops carefully placed on the tables. There are big green letters on the building. Any serious coffee drinker would expect to see the letters spell “Starbucks”, but not here; not on this island. The letters spell “Rituals”. I’m in awe. There is nothing like this in my village. A movie theater and Rituals! Could this be a dream?

I open the door and the air conditioning rushes past me and immediately cools my body. Lois and Elaine are at the table just past the door. Lois is totally wired – no, not on coffee. She has her laptop on the table with one hand on the mouse and the other on her cell phone. She is checking her email while engaged in a conversation with her daughter. Elaine is holding a paper cup with the familiar words “Burger King”. I think this may be a dream.

I put my purse down, take off my backpack and sat in a chair where we spend the next couple of hours chatting, checking email and blogs, and generally having a good time. The time went fast and I found myself surprised at how comfortable I feel with these two amazing women. Lois husband, Scott, and two more volunteers, Ashley and Melaney joined us. After we finished the Rituals sandwiches we ordered for dinner, we set out in search of a dessert. We didn’t have to go far. We walked past the movie theater and a Dominoes Pizza Restaurant, and into a gelato parlor. That settles it, this is a dream!

It’s 8:00 at night, the ice cream has been eaten, the email’s have been checked and re-checked, it’s cooled and the air conditioning feels too cold to continue in this dream. We’re tired and it’s time to go home and get some rest so we can get up early tomorrow morning. All of the volunteers are gathering tomorrow to do something that has not been done before. We say our goodbyes. Elaine, Ashley, Scott and Lois all live nearby. Melaney is staying with Ashley. I’ll be staying with Lois and Scott tonight.

We move past the dream and back into reality as the bus gets closer to our destination. Their house is cute. It’s very “sixties” and what one might expect a Saint Lucia Peace Corps house to look like. It’s attached to other apartments, has wonderful fruit trees and areas where they can garden. They are composting in back of their house. There are two amazing features about this house. The first can be found before the front door is opened. They have a screen door. This is extremely uncommon. Lois had Dengue Fever during training and so this isn’t a nice thing to have, this is important. They explained what they wanted, and a carpenter built it for them. This isn’t something that is easily found on the shelf. They can leave the font door opened and let the fresh air in while keeping the buzzing biting Dengue carriers out.

The front door opens into a small, but well-equipped kitchen. There are bookshelves in the adjoining living room that store books and a television. There are two bedrooms and the house is comfortable. That night before I go to bed, Lois and Scott told me about the second feature in their home. In the morning, I will have a new experience; one I have enjoyed only once since coming to this island. Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Here’s Looking at You

The people I’m renting my apartment from live downstairs. Elizabeth and John are probably two of the kindest and most gentle people I’ve met. The first full day I was here, I experienced an electrical problem. There was a loud pop and the television was dead. John came up to investigate and when he didn’t have an answer he called his wife. He said to me, “I’m so disappointed. We want you to be very comfortable here. We will get you another television.” They had an electrician here within a couple of hours who promptly fixed the problem, bringing the cable television back to life. Now, when you are on Saint Lucian time – that is lightening speed!

The morning of Jounen Kreywol, Elizabeth brought me a traditional breakfast. She knew I had been living on the other side of the village for the past few weeks, so she took me on a small tour, showing me the supermarket and the village bakery. Last night she came up for two reasons. The first was to ask me if I wanted to join her and other village people in the morning to re-paint the cross walk. I quickly said “Yes!” Although I wanted to say “Hell, no!”.

Many times I’d rather read a book or spend time alone. Other times I'm glad I say yes when I want to say no. This was one of those times. Things like this take me away from my comfort zone – then I remember that’s part of the reason I’m here. . . to get out of that zone. I had a great time, met some new people, and learned a new skill. . . painting on asphalt. Anyone who comes to visit me will be immediately taken to the spot that I painted. It’s impressive.

Getting out of my comfort zone leads me to explain her second reason for the visit. She said, “Do you like red snapper?” I told her, yes I do. She said she had some to give me. Great, I love fish! Then she explained that she had a previous volunteer who lived here. She said the first time she gave him snapper, the heads were still on and the bones were still in its little body. She said that he was a little turned off by its sight and from then on she needed to fillet them for him. I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh! You need to do that for me too!” But, I politely respond, “Yes, there are a lot of us from the United States who feel that way.” I was hoping she would hear the message.

She gave me a little bag this morning. They were wrapped in a black plastic bag so I was unable to get a visual. The whole day, I’m thinking – please God, let me see them the way I do in a restaurant…no heads, tail, bones or skin. I have been talking to myself all day, knowing I have to deal with this. It’s Brendan’s birthday and when I called him he said, “Mom, take pictures.”
Well, here they are. They are looking at me. This is terrible.

I’ve been slowly eliminating things from my diet for the past twenty years. First it was steak, then pork, then hamburger, then hot dogs. Then I started eliminating body parts – nothing but chicken breast, nothing with bones, definitely nothing ground. This was not a planned lifestyle, but rather a slow process of becoming completely disgusted at the thought of eating a chicken leg or a piece of rare steak, or even jello.

So, now they are looking at me. They gave their little life for me and this is anything but appetizing. I have to do it. It’s not fair to them if I don’t. I covered one of their little heads with the black bag. This way I didn’t have to look at them. I beheaded it. I’m so sorry. Then I did it again. I’m even more sorry.

Neither of these creatures have a head. Now it’s time to filet them. I had no idea what I was doing…but I think I came up with a good three ounces of meat.

I wrapped them up and put them in the freezer. The vision of what I had just done was too fresh. I will eat them another day. I promise. For tonight, I will eat leftover vegetarian pasta.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Game

Part of being in Peace Corps is learning to be more resourceful with what you have. We don’t always have everything we need and so a little creativity is at times necessary. This was demonstrated in a primary school I visited in September. I created a post titled, “Grateful Reflection” which describes how they use the resources they have to teach children in different and creative ways. The axiom holds true; give a person a fish and they will eat for a night, teach the person to fish and they will eat for a lifetime. Peace Corps subscribes to the philosophy of “teaching people to fish”.

So with that philosophy and the examples I have seen on the island so far I’ve had to be creative in the way I help people as well as how I deal with everyday life. I'm learning to "fish".

This is what I want to do: Heat leftovers.

This is what I want to avoid: Using my propane because I want to conserve it for only essential cooking.

Here’s what I have in the kitchen: My propane stove and matches to light it, an electric kettle, a toaster, a refrigerator. I have bowls, pots, pans, glasses, and flatware, as well as assorted cooking utensils e.g., big forks, spoons, strainers.

The situation: I made spaghetti last night and I want to warm it up and eat the leftovers for dinner. How will I do this given the information above? Tell me what you would do, and then I will tell you what I did.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Things with Cords - and the insignificance of Microwave Ovens

My friend Barbara was being helpful. As she reads my blog she knows I probably will never rise to the level of “Chef”. Maybe “cook” someday, although I don’t think so. We both know I’m capable. The problem is this; it takes desire to want to do something and cooking is just never high on my priority list. She lovingly wrote directions for me to make an easy, fast and wonderful microwaved apple. And then, I chidingly and with the sarcastic humor I knew she would understand, wrote back, “and just what makes you think I have a microwave? Oh, how we take things for granted!” I began a reply to her about electronics and the relationship it plays in Saint Lucia. Then, a few sentences into my response, I wrote, “never mind, I am going to respond to this on my blog”.

First, let’s establish that things with cords aren't cheap - and sometimes they may be models from a previous decade. For example, I saw a projection TV in the store the other day - it's just like the one I have at home, purchased nine years ago. It had a price in the neighborhood of almost $3K.

Another example is cell phones. People with flip or slide phones are considered very cool. Internet on the phone? You can purchase a Blackberry - they aren't the norm as they are in the US. IPhones are not available. It’s the expense of using them that is prohibitive. I have a cell phone. The phone is part of the deal Peace Corps made for us. They struck a deal with the company that includes the phone and unlimited calls to other Peace Corps Volunteers for a very small sum each month. The phone I received is exactly like one of the first smaller phones I had in the United States in the 1990s. It’s a Motorola. I think I’m the only one on the island with this kind of phone as I was the last volunteer to pick up their phone. I’m amazed this old phone is still around. Nothing is discarded. Although these Motorola’s aren’t on EBay yet, I’m sure it’s a collector’s item and someday will be worth tens of thousands of dollars! You may detect some sarcasm, but I want to assure you I am grateful to have this phone.

If anything comes through the mail with a cord - it's taxed. The post office opens packages to ensure this. Those of you who have been kind enough to send my favorite breakfast bars, coffee, and nuts; all of those packages were opened and inspected.

There are many things that are either expensive or just not available. People with relatives in the United States have items shipped to them. For instance, Bea is having a big birthday party in December. Birthdays are a big deal to many Saint Lucian’s. It’s customary for the person having the birthday to pay for all the food and alcohol. Bea has asked her relatives in the United States to send a barrel. They send these large barrel’s full of goods by ship. She will have aluminum foil,. plastic garbage bags, paper goods, bags of candy and other snack items sent in this barrel.

Another person on the island has barrels sent a few times a year. She has a small child and disposable diapers are one of the main items in her barrel. Although the officials open these barrels, there is so much in them that sometimes they miss the occasional microwave or toaster oven carefully placed at the bottom of the barrel.

This is a nation that imports everything it doesn’t make or grow or do – which is a lot. Bananas have been the main export industry for the past few decades. This industry is waning and now the government is looking for something to replace it. The cost of living is soaring and many who depended on the banana industry will need to transition into a new economy.

This is a small slice of where Saint Lucia is, but how they got here is a story in itself. So let me try to explain why having Cable TV with only forty channels and an old Motorola Cell Phone is so amazing and why not having a microwave oven is so insignificant.

Beginning in 1763, Saint Lucia was a sugar producing nation. Plantation labor was supplied by slaves. The nation was passed between the British and French several times. The British ruled during the later years. Saint Lucia did not obtain its full independence until February 22, 1979. Because of its close proximity and other political reasons, Western Europe and the United States have maintained an active interest in Saint Lucia.

Emancipation was enacted in 1838. Sugar maintained the economics on the island. Although there were other businesses, most were there to support sugar. Plantation owners imported people from India to replace emancipated slaves. They were confined to the restraints of indentured servitude. Many emancipated slaves chose to stay and work on the plantations because it was familiar and also because they felt powerless to do anything else. Plantation owners exploited them, charging them for housing and for the use of small plots of land they used to grow their food while providing them with very little wages.

They endured Yellow Fever and Cholera, a labor revolt in 1849, they survived slavery and they developed their own culture and language in spite of the obstacles they faced in everyday life. In essence, the sugar industry maintained control of Saint Lucian people for the next thirty years. A new industry, coal, provided a vehicle that loosened their shackles.

In 1866, Saint Lucia became the refueling stop for ships with coal burning engines. People went into the forest, cleared trees, chopping them and burning the pieces of wood for several days to make coal. Making coal had an impact on the rainforest as well as the air quality. However, coal created the economic boom people needed. Workers were being treated poorly which resulted in a 1907 worker revolt. The coal industry survived until 1921 when alternative fuels began to be used. In addition to losing their coal industry, their small banana industry was wiped out by a hurricane three years later.

Saint Lucia suffered for the next twenty-seven years. To make matters worse the world was experiencing an economic depression. The United States and Western European countries provided a small amount of aid. In 1948, another tragedy, this time a fire, would assist the people of Saint Lucia in a positive way.

This was the picture I have formed of the mid 20th Century. When I was a young child, sitting in my living room, enjoying my first experience with black and white television, they were living in homes with no electricity. While I took a hot bath in our bathroom, they were using public bathhouses taking cold showers. (If anyone reading this is thinking about parts of the United States with extreme poverty, I know, I know. I’m writing this from a middle-class perspective for which Saint Lucia was sorely lacking at the time). They have come from struggling for hope in the midst of oppression, to an economic boom, to redefining their economic identity in the midst of natural disasters. Sir John Compton, considered the Father of Saint Lucia, is largely credited with Saint Lucia’s progress during the last fifty years of the 20th Century.

In 1948 the next economic boom arose from the ashes of the Castries Fire that devastated seventy-five percent of the city and forced almost 2,300 people into homelessness. When the ashes settled, property damages were estimated to be nine million dollars. However devastating this fire was, it created a new construction industry, one which would be further sustained by the Tourism Industry in the next decade.

In the 1950s the banana industry rose from the rainforest soil and created jobs for anyone on the island who had access to a small plot of land.

(This plot is right next to my house). The fruit united farmers. In 1953, a sugar strike created a vehicle for banana farmer, John Compton. He rose as a leader, standing up to the powerful plantation owners. Through his leadership many began envisioning a new hope for prosperity.

During this time living conditions of people changed. Many homes added indoor plumbing, tiles covered the previous dirt on their floors, and electricity was more common. John Compton earned his place in Saint Lucian leadership. Bananas were the salvation for Saint Lucia, however, the environment was silently impacted by the pesticides that reached the water supply and the forest clearing needed to sustain the golden fruit.

In the 1960s sugar left the island. A hurricane destroyed the banana industry and the Tourism Industry was established. There were more hurricanes in the 1970s and 1980s. The manufacturing industry was established.

Manufacturing had more impact on women than men. Women came out of their homes to work and for the first time and developed a network of friends. Networking was empowering. For men, the ravages of the past are still in the values of today. According to some Saint Lucian authors men thought the manufacturing industry paid “slave” wages. Some preferred to stay unemployed rather than work for low wages.

In the end, weather became the driving force to look for other economic options. The banana industry was struggling and in 1993 a banana strike ended in the deaths of two farmers. They were shot by the police. In some ways, it was the end of an age of innocence. The country is in its next stage of struggle. The banana industry is waning and manufacturing is not providing a wage that enables people to provide the basics for their families. Tourism hasn’t integrated into the island, but instead large hotels have encroached on some of the islands finest beaches, leaving some Saint Lucian’s with the feeling they aren’t welcome. The large hotels and ships that port are contained into inclusive packages – food, drink, entertainment – making it difficult for the average Saint Lucian to profit from this industry.

At the end of the 1990s, 27% of Saint Lucian’s were illiterate. In 2006, one third of the population was under fifteen years old. More people were leaving the island to either get an education or find work. If they weren’t leaving the island, they were leaving small villages in search of more opportunities in bigger cities. Many who leave the island, come back after their careers end to live out their retirement years. The northern end of the island provide professional jobs, whereas, the south end house more manufacturing jobs. This leaves many villages in between searching for a new identity.

It’s easy to understand why technology here can seem basic. However, when I look at it with the Saint Lucian eye, it’s easy to see technology as advanced. They have run at lightening speed in the last fifty years.

Here's what I really want you to know: I’m extremely grateful for what I have here. If it wasn’t for the struggle of so many, I would not have indoor plumbing, tiles on my floor, a cell phone, cable television, the internet, and a host of other modern things. As I listen to the crowing roosters and watch the goats move casually down my street, I think of this small history lesson, understanding the bigger picture of why I’m here. The conclusion boils down to this: I think I will buy a toaster oven when I get my stipend next month. I don’t need a microwave oven.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Election Night Party

I woke early on Tuesday morning. Finally, it’s Election Day. I’ve tired of the election rhetoric. I’m tired of George Bush. I won’t mention Dick Cheney. I’m tired of the finger pointing between Congress and the Executive Office. Will anyone take responsibility for this mess? I’m tired of watching the stock market plunge. I’m tired of hearing about sub-prime loans. I’m tired of the war that I never thought was a good idea.

I’m tired of business influence on government. And speaking of their influence, what is up with pork? Doesn’t this belong on the dinner table and not in legislation? If pork is necessary, do we really need a whole barrel of it? I’m sick when I hear a number I can’t understand that is tied to the national debt. I resent bailing out business executives that blatantly stole from the purses of our 401K and other retirement vehicles.

I fear for the declining values of Americans and can’t help but think there might be a link to the declining hope people are feeling. I’m hurt that other countries attitudes toward the United States are increasingly negative. I’m tired of the promises. Change, humm. Let’s see some action. Whew! Now I feel better.

I packed a few things in my lightweight bag; my toothbrush, some shorts and a t-shirt, as well as a change of clothes for the next day. I will stay with Elaine tonight. I checked my purse to ensure I had an umbrella, my phone, some money and, of course, my mosquito repellent. I locked the door and ran down the stairs to walk to the nearest bus stop. I’m on my way to Castries to meet with Peace Corps friends. We are going to the Cultural Center where the U.S. Embassy is hosting an election night party.

The bus ride took me by surprise. I was sitting in the middle of the bus. There were several animated conversations both in front of me and behind me. The common word I heard was “Obama”. A rap song about Obama was spewing from the speakers in the van. I turned to the people directly behind me and said, “It is very exciting to see how Obama has stirred hope in so many”. They agreed and asked several questions about the election. Others on the bus began listening and asking questions. Many wanted to know if the Vice President was a separate vote. All expressed that Obama represented renewed hope for Saint Lucia. Some were going to election night BBQs and other assorted parties.

We met at the Peace Corps Office. We spent an hour catching up and then walked over to the venue. When we arrived there was a table with pins and buttons. The pins were especially nice. An American Flag on one side, the Saint Lucian Flag on the other. There were Obama/Biden buttons and McCain/Palin buttons. The Obama buttons went fast. There were McCain buttons still sitting on the table when we left a few hours later. I did see one couple wearing them.

The party was thoughtful. There was a lot of food and an open bar. There was an official from the Embassy to greet us when we arrived. The people were a mixture of Saint Lucian nationals and United States citizens. I spoke with several of the nationals – one man in particular. He is very interested in Saint Lucian history and its artifacts…a subject I’ve been researching and studying for the last two months.

There were two big televisions on each side of the room and lots of chairs for us to sit on.

It was rumored that Sir John Compton’s widow, Lady Janice Compton, was there – the one wearing all white on the far right. I can’t confirm this is she as I didn’t get a chance to talk with her. Elaine and I, along with a few others left before the election was called.

Two short bus rides later, a walk up a steep hill and we arrived at Elaine’s house. We turned on the television and settled in for what we thought might be a long night. Twenty minutes after the polls closed in the west, the election was called. A few minutes later the concession speech was delivered. I was numb. It’s been two years, but it all happened so fast. I expected the Obama win, but didn’t expect the emotion that came from it.

One Saint Lucian woman said to me, “I had no idea so many white people would vote for a black man”. How have we represented ourselves that someone would make such a statement? The whole thing about French Fries being renamed Freedom Fries was absurd and an example of extreme nationalism gone amuck. It is divisive. It can get in the way of seeing how others see the world and we become blind to how we are driving them further away. I believe the election itself represented positive change, and for the first time in a long time, the world is taking notice. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say this, but I’m proud of our country.

What I observed is something I haven’t felt since Kennedy’s administration. There are similarities that can be drawn from how people felt then and the hope many are feeling now. They both represent a new direction – a passing of the baton. As a young girl, the school gave us the afternoon off when John F. Kennedy came to Torrance. He spoke at the South Bay Shopping Center, now the Galleria. I ran from school with several friends. We didn’t want to be late. Even at the age of ten, I knew this was important. As he was driven off in a convertible we ran after him. The car was moving at a very slow pace and he was shaking hands with the crowd. I moved towards the car just in time to connect with his hand. I remember the 1960 election like no other in history . . . until now. People who didn’t vote for Obama are enthusiastic about the change that has already taken place. Now it’s time to see if he can unite congress, the nation, and the world and deliver on the challenges ahead.

Monday, November 10, 2008

And then on the 79th Day, she said, “Let there be Communication” and there was

I can’t believe it. I’m in my apartment. It’s late here – we are four hours ahead of California time. We don’t have daylight savings time. I am looking over my lap top at lights . . . beautiful lights. The lights are on my living room floor. They are in the little electronic boxes. One belongs to my DSL Box and the other to my Vonage Box.

After three visits to the cable office requiring $39 in bus transportation; four phone calls inquiring about the location of the technician, at an untold ridiculous amount of cell phone time; and then two more phone calls wondering why, oh why, doesn’t my internet work it was magic – Brian appeared at my door. My knight in shining amour – my technician . . . He entered my apartment and everything appeared to be in slow motion. As if time were standing still, with the click of a switch, the opening of the browser, here it is: I’m in the 21st Century again. I will always have a special place in my heart for Brian.

A Tour of Saint Lucia – Karen Style

Sometimes I get requests for contents to add to my blog. I’m glad people make requests. It makes blogging more fun. This request was from my son, Jay. He wrote, “could you pleeeeease post some photos of downtown, the harbor, training center, peace corps office, the buses, the people. I'm dying to see what Saint Lucia looks like.” So, I’ve spent some a little time with this request. I’ll give you a tour of Castries and some of the sights I see each day. Then I will give you a short tour of things you may not have seen yet in my village.

Cruise ships can be seen in the harbor quite often. There are duty free stores where tourists shop. Most do not venture into the downtown Castries area. Sometimes I see them walking along the parameters of the city.

This is the main road into and out of Castries. It is directly across from the Super J and very close to the outdoor fruit and vegetable market.

Fresh fruit, fish, and vegetables, are sold here. There is also an indoor craft faire here, but I haven’t had time to do much more than pass through it. According to my research, Choiseul pottery makers sell their traditional ceramics here. The process used to make the pottery has been handed down from the early Amerindians. The potters, mostly women, use special clay to make the pottery. They spend days smoothing, polishing and drying their pieces. Then they heap the pieces in a large pile of wood and kindling and set it ablaze to go through the firing and baking process. This is the Peace Corps Training Facility. This is the place where fourteen of us spent three days a week in training.
Hermina, on the left, is the Administrative Assistant and Agnes, on the right, is the Administrative Attendant. The guy in the middle of this picture is the most popular guy in Peace Corps. He delivers our mail. Hermina greets us in the morning when we come through the door. Agnes helps keep the facility clean.
Sharmon is the APCD, Associate Peace Corps Director. She, as well as those above, are HCNs, Host Country Nationals – meaning their permanent home is in Saint Lucia. Do take notice that there are pictures of our Commander-In-Chief and his Vice President on the wall. We are very excited that they will be replaced by Obama/Biden in January. At least that’s what we are hoping.

The back room with the table is where we attended training. It is air conditioned but many of the chairs are really uncomfortable. Consequently, getting to the center a little early and claiming a chair that offered more comfort, created an opportunity for a small success. The bookshelves in the back are books that we are free to take and then return. We can also leave books that we brought here adding to the collection. That’s how this library was started. I have a couple of books that won’t be coming home with me and will add them to this growing library. The computer is hidden in the corner behind the small refrigerator and laser printer on the left. If you look closely you can just make out Mary Ellen who is using it. That is where I updated my blog during training. There is one computer for all of us and always a waiting list for time. Wireless is not available in the office. In fact, wireless isn’t something that is easily found on the island. It does exist, but it’s not widely available. At night I would write entries on my computer, move them to my flash drive and then quickly copy and paste. We tried not to be computer hogs, which was hard because there are many of us who obviously have an internet addiction – me included

I pass through busy streets, packed with people – some playing cards, some drinking, others listening to music and talking with friends. As I walk through the streets in Castries there are many shops. Outside the shops are vendors who have set up small tables to sell fruits and vegetables. Some set up a small rum bar where drinks are sold on the streets.

This is the bakery I stop at most mornings to buy a coconut pastry. It’s been a challenge trying to figure out how to replace my nutrition bars. The coconut pastry is one option and local bread is another. Not a very healthy choice. On days when I don’t go to the city, PB&J on whole wheat toast which is purchased from the local bakery, is my breakfast of choice. Not optimal, but somewhat healthy.
A coconut pastry and a banana from my favorite banana vendor take care of my appetite for quite awhile. I usually buy two bananas’ which cost $.25 EC each. I’ve heard that people who eat bananas are more prone to mosquito bites. I don’t think it matters. I tell people, “stand by me and you will have a natural repellent – mosquitoes love me, and given a choice, will always head in my direction”. Actually, it’s taken me two months, but I am getting the hang of “managing” mosquito bites. I know the places where these annoying biting and buzzing critters hang out; I use the mosquito net Peace Corps gave me; they are no match for the wind produced by a fan; and finally, mosquito repellent is like the American Express Card: never leave home without it. My legs are healing and I no longer want to resign from Peace Corps because I have one hundred and fifty three bites on the ankle of one leg.
Here’s a picture of the Cable and Wireless Store. I’ve spent a lot of time here trying to get internet at my house. It’s not as easy as making a phone call, in fact, making a phone call would get you nowhere. They require the customer to be there, in person. It took me three visits before I fulfilled all their requirements. The first visit was futile because I didn’t have the information they needed; the second visit was used placing the order; the third visit was to pick up the DSL box that was not in stock when I was there for the previous visit. Bernard, my customer service representative, was great. The waiting time was tolerable once I recognized I wasn’t in a hurry; the store is air conditioned; there were comfortable chairs to sit in; it’s an opportunity to watch people going about their daily lives in Saint Lucia; and it was a time I could use to meet people who were also waiting.
There are several KFCs and Burger Kings in Castries and Vieux Fort. I haven’t seen any other American Chain Restaurants – no McDonalds, Starbucks. I did meet a man who said he owns a subway up north and that he is planning on opening another in Castries. One day, while in training, I needed something for lunch and walked to the KFC that is close to the training center. I bought Mac and Cheese. It was tasty, but not the KFC recipe – it was a local recipe. So much for consistency.

After a brisk thirty minute walk, I’m at the bus stop that takes me back to my village. The busses are large vans that carry fourteen passengers, plus the driver. I have found the drivers to be compassionate and caring as well as helpful. I was in the front seat last week when a cat crossed in front of us – we narrowly missed it, but a car going in the opposite direction hit it. There were awful and memorable sounds and the whole thing was terribly upsetting. I didn’t say anything, but the driver must have felt my distress. He gently patted my knee and said “I’m so sorry”. Rarely do I take a bus from Castries to Peace Corps. I’d rather walk the 20-30 minutes. One reason is exercise, but the other is that when they drop me off I must walk across a four lane busy highway that has no crosswalk. I find it frightening and think of John every time I do it. When I get out of the bus, I pay the driver, and many times I hear the driver quietly say, “be very careful crossing the street”.
After a long bus ride, I arrive home. This is a typical road in my village. The “business” area of the village – the village council, the Multi-Purpose building, Library, Credit Union, and Post Office – are in previous posts, so I won’t repeat. It is a short walk to my two-bedroom apartment.
Children wear uniforms to school. They are dressed in crisp freshly ironed uniforms. The girls wear barrettes and bows. The classrooms are hot and I wonder if they ever wish they could wear tank tops and shorts. I know there are some studies in the United States that show more learning takes place when children wear uniforms, but I wonder if that same statistic could apply in a hot and humid climate like this one.

As I walk down the street a large imposing building is in full view. It is the biggest building in the village – as are all Catholic Churches. The bells are run each morning at 5:00 a.m. and in the evening at 6:00 p.m. On Sunday mornings I can hear the church choir. I enjoy it.
My landlady, Elizabeth, showed me around. This is the bakery where fresh bread can be purchased. They are open every day but Saturday as they are Seventh Day Adventists.) Here is the village supermarket. It’s nice. It doesn’t smell like others I’ve been in. The next door down is the bookstore. This is the most popular restaurant in town. I’ve been advised that this is the place to go if I don’t want to cook. Me Cook? Strange thought. I had a vegetable sandwich for dinner tonight. Peanut Butter and jelly is a staple. My fridge houses Coke Lite, peanuts, an avocado, a tomato, apples and my coffee. I also keep my Guava Cheese there. It’s not cheese, rather it is candy made from the pulp of the guava and very good.

My cupboard has a lot of Top Ramon in it. I can use the hot water in the electric tea kettle to make it. I don’t use the oven or stove. The gas is in the propane tank sitting next to it. I don’t understand how to use it – and I’m not sure I want to know. If I become dependent on it, I will need more. That means I have to figure out how to disconnect it and then drag it to one of the places that sells the stuff and then figure out how to get it back to my apartment. Right now this thought puts my stress level over the top. If I can find a cookie sheet, I may decide to learn how to work the oven. But for now, I haven’t found a reason good enough to deal with it. As I write about this, I think about the fridge contents in my son’s college apartment. One of his staples was a baked potato with BBQ sauce. I’m not that desperate . . . yet.

I’m lucky that Peace Corps invited me to be a part of this wonderful island. I’m receiving so much. I’m worried that I’ll never be able to give them enough in return.