Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Sandals Conference

I was called to the village secondary school for a meeting about Junior Achievement. One of the volunteers in my group, Elaine, is assigned to build a Junior Achievement Program and when she asked if I would be interested in helping the students in my village with the program I said, “Of course”. Inside, I was actually thinking, “what are you doing, Karen?!?” Working with children is hardly something I feel comfortable with, but Peace Corps is about moving from the familiar comfort zone.

I remember being part of Junior Achievement in high school. I was a freshman and I never felt particularly good at anything until I joined this after school activity. I was an elected officer, the Vice President of Finance. We made candles and sold them at Christmastime. I remember my dad taking them to work. I overheard Dad tell my mother, “this is payback for all the things I have had to purchase from their kids”. It was years later when my boys were selling candy and various items for Little League and school that I could fully appreciate that comment.

My Junior Achievement experience was positive because I wanted to work in business from the time I was ten. It was the second “sign” that this would be my career path. The first sign was the 1950s sitcom “Private Secretary” with Ann Southern who played the secretary Suzie McNemara. I wanted to be her. There was another woman. I think her name was Vi. I didn’t want to be her. Suzie looked important as she answered Mr. Sand’s telephone and worked his schedule. Growing up in the 50s, I accepted the walls and limitations that held my gender. Even though I held the same values espoused by the woman’s movement, I wasn’t able to break free until I was in my 30s.

So when the teacher asked me if I would escort seven girls to the Junior Achievement Conference in Castries, I agreed . . . reluctantly. Seven girls! But, as usual, in the end I was glad I agreed to do it.

None of them had ever been at Sandals which is considered a nice resort by many. They were extremely excited about having their picture taken by the pool. Of course Flat Erika attended the conference and the girls were curious and then happy to pose with her.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ocean Breezes bring Unexpected Surprises

The ocean breeze was too good to resist. It was a beautiful morning. As I had done many times before, I opened my windows and the air flowed through the house. I could clearly see the sea from the bedroom windows and I felt like an “island girl”.

Winter starts around November/December and the breeze here is incredible. It was late last year when I first heard people say they were cold. When it is seventy degrees it’s common to see them shiver when they forget a sweater. I just smile and they say, “I know”. A few days ago, I was sitting on the bench outside the Secondary School. I was there with a few board members of the village foundation. There was a beautiful breeze. I felt cold and I brought the sweater Elaine had given to me. They looked at me and smiled. I said, “I know”.

So when I opened the windows to feel the breeze that morning I put my sweater on and experienced the welcoming breeze throughout the house. Later I realized that the open windows brought more than the fresh island breeze I had enjoyed so many times before. It brought a swarm of mosquitoes and I was dinner. Bottles of Calamine Lotion and cans of Baygone Insect Spray couldn’t compete with hundreds of bites. Sleepless nights, boxes of mosquito coils, ice packs and showers were taking a toll.

This was the first time I seriously thought of throwing in the towel and going home, but not without a fight! I climbed down my stairs and stood on my landlord’s porch shouting “Hello, John? Elizabeth?” That’s what you do here; no one approaches a door to knock. That would be impolite.

John came to the door and I asked him if it would be alright if I hired someone to put screens on my windows. I further explained it would be a small price for me when it comes to comfort. He was clearly concerned. Later that night, his wife Elizabeth, came up and said, “You need screen doors, too! We will have this done right away.”

Elizabeth had the storm drains checked and one of the drains was not draining properly. There was stagnant water just above my bedroom window – the breeding ground for the pesky buzzing creatures that nearly drove me from this island paradise. Knowing my boys are coming for a visit Elizabeth said, “We must get this done before they come.”

Within a week they hired workers who built screens for each window as well as building two screen doors. Nothing ready-made. John inspected the work. He found small gaps and insisted the workers fix them so that no mosquito, no matter how agile and no matter how skilled at maneuvering an obstacle course, could make its way into my apartment.

As I sit here, healing physically and mentally from this experience, I am once again enjoying the morning breeze with every window and door wide open and knowing that my new screens are keeping me safe. I am also wearing my sweater because it is only 72 degrees this morning.

On my way out yesterday, John stopped me and said, “We must put in solar hot water heating so that your sons will have hot showers when they are here”. I responded that they would have no problem with cold showers. Simply amazing!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Flat Erika's Adventure

Some of you have been asking how to find Flat Erika's Blog. If you are interested in following Flat Erika's Adventure, you will find her link on the right side of this blog. I'm having a great time with Flat Erika. She will be with me for about another three weeks.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Money can be confusing. The currency here is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar. The conversion is set at 2.7 Eastern Caribbean Dollars to each United States dollar, although if you go to the bank you never actually get 2.7 to the dollar.

Although Saint Lucia's independence came in 1979, Grenada's independence 1974, Saint Kitts 1983, Saint Vincent 1979 and so on, the EC money has Queen Elizabeth's picture on it because, according to my sources, she is still recognized as the head of state.

The coins are interesting. They come in one cent, two cent, five cent, ten cent, twenty-five cent, and one dollar. Seems pretty straight forward, huh? Not so fast.

Can you guess which is one cent and which is ten cents? Neither can I so I keep them in a jar and don't spend either coin. It's just easier.

Which one of these are two cents? Both of them. I don't do well memorizing shapes so they go into the jar too.

So you think you are getting good at this game? Which one is five cents? Right, both of them. They accompany the pennies and two cent coins in that jar.

Now here is a quarter and a dollar. Do you know how many times I've tried to pass a quarter for a dollar? They always look at me like I'm trying to get more for less. I have no idea how many times I've given people a dollar thinking it's a quarter. No one has ever mentioned that.

Dollar coins also have various shapes, but they get spent anyway. I have taken the time to figure this out.

Now, here is something I can understand. I spend these - often! The twenty is missing. I've spent all of them!

Nail Files

My boys sent me a box for Christmas. Things in the box were things I can use. Toothpaste, shampoo, Q-tips, almonds; everything was special because they are things I need. But one thing was curious: Nail Files.

I was glad to receive them because I can always use nail files, but I was curious because this is something picked out by my sons. On a recent afternoon I spoke to Brendan and the subject came up. He said he purchased them because, as a young boy, he has a memory of me filing my nails.

I am touched that he would have a memory of such small detail. I may not have noticed this thoughtful gift if it were given to me at home as life is so fast-paced that there is little time for reflection. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer has enabled me to appreciate these small treasures. This will be one of the most memorable gifts in my lifetime.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


It is early afternoon and there is a knock on my door. I am greeted with a smile and a coconut. Egbert is the Village Librarian. He and I have been working on an independence activity in the village library. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Saint Lucia’s independence from Great Britain.

The village library is small but with many books, however, they are dated and much of the material is irrelevant. The schools do not have libraries, consequently, this is the only place in the village where children can do research and get information. I taught for Webster University before I left. Each year the University has a “Volunteer Day”. They select a project and fund a small amount of money for expenses. A couple of years ago I helped make blankets for the families of our soldiers around the world. This year Webster has selected my village library as their project. They held a book drive and are paying to have these books sent to us. I am grateful for this.

Saint Lucians are visual and Egbert saw the PowerPoint slides I put together for Laureates Week last month. At Egbert’s request I helped him make a looping PowerPoint presentation with many pictures and a few words to document the theme, “A journey to be proud of, a future to look forward to”. This is an inexpensive way to create a resource for children and teachers, thereby adding value to the content of the library. Egbert wanted to learn how to do it and I was more than happy to teach him a new skill. The show turned out to be twenty minutes long with traditional music which got good reviews from children as well as their teachers.

Egbert is now the village PowerPoint expert. He showed the presentation to the librarian and others at Castries Central Library. They liked his work and want to make an even better show next year. He is working with them to create a new slide show for the next independence day celebration. This will be distributed island-wide. He is now teaching others the skill I taught him. Amazing!

In addition to his presentation, Egbert created a time line of history which led to independence. He researched his archives and came up with old original publications reporting on Saint Lucia’s Independence. Some publications were created especially for this historical event. Egbert cut them up for his display. Some of the original documents were placed near the display where children were free to thumb through them. I couldn’t help but think that this type of artifact would be precious in the United States and would be placed in a glass display case and handled with white gloves.

Saint Lucians express history through oral means such as folk tales and theater. People in Saint Lucia have passed stories and history down orally through the arts. They don’t have the extensive museums and artifacts that we enjoy. One must hunt for them. Many times collections are found in the homes of villagers. There are some that are concerned about losing their history, but most are more concerned with who is going to tell them what will replace the failing banana industry.

This reminds me of a book I read many years ago, Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel. One of his characters moved to the United States, became rich and visited his aging mother in Poland who was suffering from dementia. It was a harsh winter and she was burning her furniture to stay warm. He left a wad of money on the table as he walked out the door. After he left she burned the money. Value is in the eye of the beholder.