Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Elaine is coming to meet me in my village. We decided to go together. I’m helping Egbert set up a learning event for Saint Lucia’s Thirtieth Anniversary of their Independence from Great Britain. It’s hard to believe that only six months ago people were coming to welcome us to the island. Today, we are going to welcome EC79, the newest Peace Corps group on the island. They are called EC79 because they are the 79th group of volunteers to come to the Eastern Caribbean. Eight of the twenty-two new volunteers will stay on this island.

Elaine calls and she is here. We make a quick stop at my house to catch up and hydrate, then we are off and headed to the highway to catch a bus to Hewanorra Airport in Vieux Fort, a twenty minute drive. Of course, Flat Erika is with me. Hopefully, I can make this a teaching opportunity for my next entry on Flat Erika’s blog. As we wait for the bus, one of the Peace Corps Staffers sees us and stops to pick us up.

There are several of us at the airport, several volunteers from EC78 which is my group, as well as some volunteers from EC77 who will be closing service later this year. I ask them to pose for pictures with Flat Erika.

We hear the announcement that the plane has landed. We gather near the exit knowing they will go through an expedited Peace Corps process. We hold up our Peace Corps banner.

And here they are; looking exhausted. We follow them out to the Peace Corps bus that they will take to their retreat up north. Peace Corps staff is loading the pile of luggage and bags onto a truck that will follow the bus. EC79 volunteers climb onto the bus, many looking tired and weary. It brings back the feeling I had that seems so long ago when in fact it’s only been six months.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Flat Erika

Hermina sent an email to me. There’s a box and a letter. I quickly asked, “who is the letter from”. When she responded, I knew she had arrived. Flat Erika is here. Flat Erika is part of a Flat Stanley class project.

Flat Stanley is a school project where children make a paper cut-out, draw a face and dress them. They then take on the name of the child who makes them; hence Flat Erika. Each child is asked to send their Flat cut-out to someone who will take them on adventures and journal what they learn. So yesterday, Flat Erika joined me. We will be permanently joined at the hip for the next forty days. My sons will be visiting and will escort her safely home to California when they leave.

I guess you might say I’m over the top. Why can’t I just take her a couple of place, take a picture and mail her back? Well, because it just isn’t my style. I am going to dress her in a traditional Saint Lucian national dress and she has already attended a college class. Of course, my sons are even more over the top than me. They are going to ensure she has another flat friend and are busy making “mad” plans for this adventure.

She is going to be an honorary Peace Corps Volunteer, she already has her own blog and she will be my BFF for the next forty days. The best thing about this is that I'm almost sixty years old and I can still have fun playing with paper dolls!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bertha and Me

Bertha called earlier this week. There’s a faculty meeting in Castries on Sunday. “Are you going?” she said. I told her I was and we made arrangements to meet at the bus stop to ride in together. She is a professor I met at Monroe College; she lives in the same village as I do. Her husband is the Pentecostal Preacher. I hope you can stand yet another bus story. I love bus rides because they give me time to meet people, reflect on being here and let's face it - being from California, bus rides aren't something I am used to doing!

Bertha called and said, “Where are you?” I told her I was just leaving my house for the five minute walk. She was worried about getting there on time and I realized my tardiness was contributing to her anxiety so I quickly locked my door and ran down the stairs. Elizabeth shouted to me just as I reached the street. I went back and talked to her for a couple of minutes. She wants to go into my house and look at the light bulbs. They are going to change them to energy saving bulbs; it’s something that some people in the village are focusing on and together they will get a better deal on the expensive bulbs. This is a little surprising to me as people are not aware of environmental issues here. Thinking about it, they are more than likely focusing on the expensive electric bills we are faced with each month. I tell her she is welcome to use her key as I run down the road.

I turn the corner and there is a young man carrying some bags. He recognizes me, but I can’t place him. I greet him with the usual “are you ok?”. In Saint Lucia that means “How are you?” It’s just a greeting not intended for an honest answer. He stops and says yes, he’s ok, but it is a challenging day for him. We agree that life is full of challenges and it’s those challenges that allow us to grow. The conversation is turning a bit deep when a jeep drives up. Bertha sticks her head out the window and says, “Get in; my friend will take us to the bus stop.” I say farewell to my friend and promise myself that I’ll figure out who he is and discover his name. I get into the back seat for the two minute ride up the road. Saint Lucians, by their own admission, don’t like to walk.

We waited at the bus stop under the shade and shelter of the bus stop for only fifteen minutes; somewhat of a miracle on a Sunday morning. Maybe this has something to do with Bertha, a Pentecostal Preacher’s wife. We got in the bus and were on our way. A man is waiting for a bus at the next village and the driver stops. I look at the window and the man is literally running while taking large leaping jumps into the air while crossing the street and heading for the bus. I’m surprised when he does not leap onto the hood and declare himself King of the Passengers. He has hair wrapped in a white cloth indicating he has long Rasta braids. He is wearing a long sleeved dress white shirt and a pair of jeans. He is happy. I hear Bertha sign and say “ah oh”. For lack of a better name, I will call him Rasta Man.

Rasta Man sits in the empty seat in front of us and the bus driver pulls out and continues up the two lane highway. Rasta Man tries to make conversation, but clearly, those on the bus are uncomfortable. I see many of them glance at me and I’m wondering if I am a contributor to their discomfort. Do they think I would judge Rasta Man? Are they embarrassed because I’m an outsider? Do they think I feel uncomfortable? Unsafe?

We stop for another passenger, a well dressed young woman. She takes a seat next to me and I make some casual conversation. She is very friendly. Rasta Man is becoming irritated that no one is having fun with him. He is becoming agitated. The bus is quiet, except for the continuing diatribe of Rasta Man. Then I suddenly hear him say “Stopping Driver”. The driver stops and Rasta Man jumps out of the bus and leaps to the other side of the street. I declare, “I just love interesting bus rides”. Everyone on the bus is now laughing and they begin an animated conversation. I feel like I’ve known these passengers my whole life. After all, we just had an experience together.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nobel Laureates Week

I can’t seem to move away from it; nope can’t do it. No matter how much I try, it’s there. I did it before I retired; I incorporated it into my marketing classes; I built it into my Teaming and Leadership Course. I’m doing it here. I travelled how many thousand miles . . . and here I am, currently involved in planning another event. While I’m busy helping the Village Librarian, Egbert, plan for Independence Day celebrations, I’m doing the clean-up work from our Nobel Laureate Day two weeks ago. Yes, event planning follows me wherever I go.

Saint Lucia has two Laureates which for a small island is an amazing accomplishment in recognition. Saint Lucians have a tremendous amount of pride for their Laureates. The community college was renamed Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and they dedicated a piece of land in Castries as “Derek Walcott Square”.

Each year the Laureates celebration is planned during the week of January 23, because they were born on the same day – January 23. The best part of these events is that it includes research. The Nobel Laureate Event had lots of research connected with it. The hardest part was to make it a learning event for children.

Sir Arthur Lewis won the Prize in Economics in 1979. He was the first Saint Lucian to win the prize, as well as the first black man to win the prize in other than Peace.

Lewis began developing Dual Economic Theory in the 1950s which led to the prize two decades later. His theory creates a circular pattern; a capitalist sector reinvests drawing upon over-populated subsistence sectors. Cheap labor enables low prices. Over-populated countries need jobs and will settle for low wages. Over-populated sectors become dependent. It’s supply and demand. Lewis legacy suggests the people interrupt the cycle by returning to agriculture. The government and people need to make rural life more attractive to ensure agriculture is nurtured.

Since children are Saint Lucia’s economic future, we decided to teach them a simple model of what Lewis was trying to teach and then ask them to draw a picture of what they want to be when the grow up. There were a variety of answers, some predictable, some entertaining, and others . . . well, odd. They wanted to be lawyers, pilots, teachers, farmers and fishermen, husbands and wives, kings and queens, singers and dancers and rock starts, monkeys and cats.

Walcott is a playwright and poet. He won the prize in 1992 for his lifetime work. We played a video of Walcott reciting his well-known poem, Sea Grapes.

Walcott was moved recently when he saw Barack Obama carrying a book of his poems. In honor of the first black U.S. President, Walcott wrote a new poem “Forty Acres”. It is one of my favorites. The poem is below, and if you want to hear Walcott recite it, you will find it at Comparing and contrasting these two poems created a learning opportunity for the older children.

Forty Acres, by Derek Walcott

Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem, an engraving

a young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls,

an emblem of impossible prophecy, a crowd

dividing like the furrow which a mule has ploughed,

parting for their president: a field of snow-flecked cotton

forty acres wide, of crows with predictable omens

that the young ploughman ignores for his unforgotten

cotton-haired ancestors, while lined on one branch, is a tense

court of bespectacled owls and, on the field's receding rim —

a gesticulating scarecrow stamping with rage at him.

The small plough continues on this lined page

beyond the moaning ground, the lynching tree, the tornado's black vengeance,

and the young ploughman feels the change in his veins, heart, muscles, tendons,

till the land lies open like a flag as dawn's sure

light streaks the field and furrows wait for the sower.

The children easily related to the poem he wrote for Barack Obama. Many children came back later in the afternoon with friends and family specifically to see this part of the exhibit. There were about 500 children who came with their teachers to see the exhibit. Neema is working toward her teaching certificate at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and is currently doing her teaching internship. I was happy to see her come with her class and mentor. It was a lot of fun…but all those children! I was tired at the end of the day, but it was worth it. Aren't they adorable?.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Gas Station

A foreign non-profit organization has come to Saint Lucia looking for opportunities to help local village economy. They have selected two villages and mine is one of them. The Village Development Foundation will participate in identifying local influential people and businesses; interview them and invite them to an action planning workshop.

It’s Monday and I’m waiting at Esther’s Restaurant, the gathering place for the teams to meet before going out to talk to the people. It’s a good opportunity for me to meet people. There are three teams and each team arrives in a separate car. The second car that arrives with the team I will join today.

The first person we meet is a retired principal. We are invited into his home; we take our shoes off and enter the living room taking a seat on the sofa. His home is comfortable. Opposite the sofa is a coffee table and beyond that are shelves that house his television, pictures, books and a certificate from Monroe College. He’s a pleasant man with good insight into the community. The interview is concluded and I hand him a letter inviting him to Friday’s Action Planning Workshop. Almost everything is done with formal letters, a process that I’m not accustomed to. In the United States, we pick up the phone, here they sometimes call people, but always follow up with a formal letter.

Our next interview, the owner of a gas station, catches me by surprise. We pull up to the gas station on the highway and pass by a man who looks like a mechanic. He’s talking on his cell phone and I wonder if this is our contact. The woman inside the mini-mart confirms he is the owner. He concludes his conversation and enters the mini-mart. He leads us into a small office, continually apologizing to us for the small quarters. He explains his operation is just a small business. It takes several minutes, but eventually we all have a chair and we sit down and the questions begin.

This interview highlights what I already know about people in Saint Lucia: I never know who people are until I talk with them. In the United States, many times the first thing we ask people is, “What do you do?” meaning what kind of work do you do. Then we put them in our mental boxes. Their dress and how they speak help us box them. We might look at what they are driving or where they live to ensure they are boxed appropriately. Saint Lucians are more interested in social systems; the music they listen to, the activities they engage in and their family structure; who is related to who . . . and they are all related in one fashion or another. They live, rich and poor, in the same area community. I don’t hear them speak about money or their next promotion.

He is a humble man with no formal education. We didn't ask him about his education; he volunteered it. Behind his unassuming character is a man who is proud of his accomplishment. As a young child he worked in fields with his father. They had a roadside stand. He attributes his upbringing to his understanding the business world.

As we talk, we discover that not only does he own this gas station, but he owns the restaurant and min-mart as well and upstairs are offices used for other businesses. He is the owner of several businesses around the island. He owns a heavy equipment business, a waste sanitation business, and numerous other businesses. He helped one of his sons establish a thriving business. His wife helps with the business and is responsible for automating those businesses. His sons all have college educations from major United States and England universities; they are lawyers and engineers. He is well connected and knows how to use the system which gives him a competitive advantage as a businessman. He has a passion for business and is still looking for opportunities to develop new businesses. He has the ability to see the business system and know what people want.

When a bank said they would loan him money to build a bed and breakfast, he told them he wasn't interested. He knows at present, there is no market for it. Then he said, "Maybe a nightclub would be better. The people of this village would come."

During a recent ride to the capitol, Angelina and I spoke about him. She described him as very generous. She spoke about an employee who stole from him. Someone asked him “Why don’t you fire this employee? He stole from you.” His reply was, “Then who would be the donkey?” He kept this employee who became loyal and eventually re-gained his trust.

My impression of the man I passed when I entered the gas station and the man I knew when I left was quite different. I wish I could bottle his intuitive business sense and sprinkle it around my classroom.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Formal Letters

I volunteer at Monroe College in Castries, teaching Business Policy and Strategy. Teaching is a secondary assignment. It is an American institution and the textbooks are the same used in the United States. A chapter in the text I’m using describes generational differences, noting the values of Baby Boomers and Gen X. It points out how these differences intersect with the business environment. This is a typical undergrad business issue that generates lively discussion. However, we are not in the United States and it is difficult for the students to understand. When I asked them about it, they said, “Oh, we are Gen X”, but they had no depth or real understanding of the meaning. To my knowledge, there is no similar research for the generations in Saint Lucia.

In another capacity, I am working with the Village Development Foundation; this is my primary assignment as a volunteer. One thing that surprised me is that formal letters are sent for every request. Recently, I was asked to phone twenty-five people in the community and invite them to a meeting. Each of them agreed to come to the meeting, but the telephone conversation would not be recognized as “official” until they received a formal letter confirming our conversation. There was no time to mail the letters so they had to be hand-carried. Even if there was time to mail them, there are no house numbers and consequently, they would all just end up at the post office waiting for them to pick them up. One never knows how long that will take so hand-delivering them is really the only method. OK, now the circular motion of this concept is complete and I’m sure you understand. Don’t you?

I have questioned Darnley, the Foundation Chair, about the need for formal letters on more than one occasion. I explain to him that the invention of computers, technical gadgetry and in the interest of speed there are better and more efficient ways to communicate. I explain to him that the wording in the letters causes misunderstanding which leads to written sparring. I’ve said many times, “Can’t we just walk across the street and talk?” The response is always the same. “That is a good idea, but we will have to follow it up with a formal letter.”

It’s an inside joke between Darnley and me. Whenever anyone mentions a formal letter he always looks at me and smiles. He knows what I am thinking. I nod knowing what the response will be if I voice my opinion. So I don’t; I keep quiet now. But Darnley, is walking across the street to talk to people more frequently. We are both moving toward the center of the discussion. I like that.

Last week I showed my students the timeline I created of Saint Lucia History. It is the beginning stages of creating generational differences for Saint Lucia. This is a gift I want to leave behind. I’m not sure how I will introduce it, but I know I will find the right moment.

I gave my students an assignment. They were to talk with people of different generations. I asked them to uncover values, heroes and differences through hearing the stories heard in their interviews. The end result is for them to understand differences and why these differences should be considered in planning corporate strategy.

They came to class well prepared today. I got them into group discussion; each group taking one generation to explore. The conversation was rich, well researched and fun. What began as “just another homework assignment” for them turned into an exciting learning experience. And, as more than one of them pointed out, I learned with them.

Prior to 1950, life was exceptionally difficult on the island. Many left in search of an easier life. I learned that Saint Lucia didn’t have telephones until late 1959. They dialed the operator and asked for a three digit number. Rural priests, mostly white, traveled on horse and when they passed people would make the sign of the cross and bow to pay reverence.

A couple of months ago, I went to an exhibit of artifacts shown during Jounen Kweyol, translated: Creole Day. The things displayed were used prior to the 1950s. The stories I heard today gave real meaning to the things I saw two months ago. Most people in Saint Lucia did not have indoor plumbing. Families would use a bidet at night. Each morning a vehicle was dispatched through villages to pick up the “night soil”. Most did not have indoor cooking facilities and so they cooked outside on coal pots. These stories were interesting, but it was this next story that stopped me cold. It gets to the purpose of this post.

Years ago, when a man decided to propose to a woman he was required to ask her father for her hand in marriage. He had to follow a formal process. The man would write a formal letter and send it to the woman’s father to request a meeting. Now that puts a big grin on my face. I can’t wait to tell Darnley about this!