Monday, June 29, 2009

Another Goodbye

It’s been amazing, but I know you have to go. It’s been fun, but I know your adventure has ended. I will think about you, but I know you will remain strong. I will miss you, but I know you are in good hands. When I think of you one word will come to mind . . . strength.

When I think about the road we traveled together, I think about the long days in training – and the days you weren’t there, but were hospitalized with Dengue Fever. I think about a special Coal Pot dinner, Christmas Eve at the Cathedral and Christmas day in your village. I think about a warm Thanksgiving Day walking the roads of Dennery.

I will fondly remember our slumber parties, baking cakes, walking to Vierge Point, the Dennery Charity Walk. I will also remember hiding under a quickly made shelter on the beach at Laborie during an unexpected rain.

And, oh yes, who could forget your green thumb and spinning lettuce in your semi-automatic washing machine.

More recently, I will smile when I think about large flying roaches and the imagined possibility of ugly rats staring down from the top of a sofa. Whose idea was that? Oh yes, that secret location, known by just the three of us was your idea!

Now that you’ve made your decision, you are on a path of recovery and a land with plentiful toilet paper, while I’m left to anticipate fending off the next two pound flying cockroach because you are no longer here to save me from this fate.

I love you my friend and you will remain in my heart. Take care, stay strong and keep in touch. Until the next time our paths cross, stay safe and be happy! I’ll see you again on “the other side”.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Monday Morning, Part 2

Brenda drives into Castries, getting us there just in time to board the bus which is sitting in front of the Ministry of Social Transformation Office. The bus will take us to Canaries. Although it’s not a great distance, the road is winding and the driver must honk to alert people coming from the opposite direction…I’m used to it now. We drive through Anse Le Rey and into Canneries. As we head up the road to our destination, we pass the best bread bakery on the island. Everyone begins shouting at the driver at the same time. The volume is high and the sounds are demanding. “Driver, you must stop here on the way back so we can buy bread”, and the driver nods. I don’t think he wants to argue with fourteen demanding women.

I like women’s conferences. I have been preparing material for this conference workshop for the past three weeks. I am here to facilitate a six hour workshop for representatives of the Associated Country Women of the World. They are holding a week long regional conference in Saint Lucia. Women leaders from many different countries are here to learn, reflect, and gain new insights and tools to create and build new visions for the future of their communities and themselves. I am here to deliver this information as a “train-the-trainer” exercise.

As I walk in the room, I see the television cameras being set up. There is a table in the front of the room with crafts for sale. Tables are arranged in a U-shape and Saint Lucia colored cloth is placed over the tables. There are dozens of extra chairs behind the U-shaped tables. The wall has a large banner on it announcing the organizations that made this conference possible. It also pictures the Saint Lucian Flag.

At the front of the room is a table filled with craft items for sale which some of women have brought with them.

I’ve been nervous because I didn’t know much about the audience, but after the bus ride I’m feeling quite confident. The women are leaders in their communities. They come with good ideas and skills and lots of passion. The World President, Dato Ursula Goh, comes from Malaysia. She gave me her card and invited me to look her up if I get to her part of the world. She explained that the organization has a membership of nine million and is located in seventy countries, including the United States. The annual world conference will be held in Arkansas next year.

In the end I spent the day with some fifty wonderful women. I developed the workshop to include video material, activities, a workbook and discussion. They learned how to strengthen and lead their organizations and I learned about this incredible fellowship of women which I intend to stay connected to. I hope they gained as much as I did from this day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monday Morning, Part I

It’s raining. I don’t like to get out of bed when it’s raining. If I were at home in the United States, I wouldn’t. Instead, I would turn on the news, open up my computer, or read a good book. I would make a pot of coffee and unwrap a nutrition bar. I may emerge from the bedroom at noon. . . or maybe not.

Here, it’s different. This is the rainy season and it rains every day. June 1 is the official opening of the season as well as the beginning of hurricane season. Rain showed up on queue. At home, rain is an event to be savored. Here rain is a regular occurrence that needs to be managed. I never had an umbrella until I came here. I’ve managed to lose three so far.

Grudgingly, I got up and got dressed in a nice pantsuit. It will be hot and humid, but for this day, I must dress accordingly. I hope a pantsuit is appropriate. I brought one dress with me, but I’m far more comfortable in pants. The people on the island are very formal. I combed my hair and put on makeup. Brenda drove up at 7:00 a.m. and honked the horn. She works for the Ministry of Social Transformation as the Community Development Officer in my district. Just as my landlord John announced, “she’s coming”, I ran down the stairs and entered the small white four door compact car with over 250,000 miles on it. I introduced myself to the woman sitting in the backseat of the car. I was relieved when I inspected their clothes. They were both in pantsuits. We drove to the next village and picked up another passenger. She walks down the stairs in a flowing pink dress with a matching umbrella. She is incredibly beautiful. As she entered the vehicle, the door protests, squeaking and crackling. The little car is filled to capacity and we are on our way.

One woman attempts to roll the window down and it resists with a loud creaking noise. Brenda warns, “the sound means you need to stop trying to roll the window down”. The little white car chugs along while attempting a hill. The weight of four of us is apparent. The rain has subsided, the windows are down and we are traveling along the main two-lane highway tapping our fingers and toes to the blasting gospel music.

The music is lowered and the conversation is filled with judgments about increasing drug traffic, violence and abuse. The women conclude the only hope is to turn our lives over to God. We pass a pack of homeless dogs. “I wish I could take them all home” one of the ladies says. Everyone nods in agreement. Then she says, “I don’t like to see them shoot the dogs”. I just learned something new . . . the island has so many strays and this must be their way of controlling the population. I often wondered why there were not more strays. I responded with care and said, “I hope I never have to witness that. I’m sure it must be disturbing”. Everyone is in agreement. It is disturbing.

Dogs with homes are tied up in the backyard. Few people allow them in their homes. It took awhile for me to understand why they would tie them. Then I realized it’s because they are not spayed or neutered so it’s necessary to tether them to a tree. People are compassionate. They feed the strays and so it’s uncommon to see scrawny animals. I remember seeing starving animals in Honduras and Guatemala and it was heartbreaking. Homeless dogs here are well-fed. My landlady has two dogs tied in the backyard. They are loved. She found the second one, who she named Lucky, sitting on my porch recently. He was sick and weak. The vet came to visit, gave him medicine and she took him in. He really is Lucky.

I sat quietly for the next few minutes thinking of my toy poodle, Barkley Bear. He is groomed every four weeks and gets his teeth brushed and his nails clipped. He is fluffed and buffed and returned to me smelling like lavender shampoo. He’s with my sons who tell me the new ritual after grooming is to allow him to pick out a new chew bone as a reward for being a good boy at the pet spa. Each year he visits the veterinarian, who performs a vast array of tests, gives him shots and flea medicine and a clean bill of health. He is trained, well-mannered and a good companion for my two-year old granddaughter. My son Jay has the responsibility to take care of my financial matters during my absence. When I left I told him, “Barkley has a budget. Make sure he gets what he needs”. I love my dog and Elizabeth loves her dogs. The United States must control the dog population and as does Saint Lucia.

My thoughts are interrupted as we pull up in front of the Ministry of Social Transformation. I've been preparing for the past three weeks. It's been a stressful three weeks. Three trips to Castries, numerous phone calls to the United States, and endless emails asking for assistance and review have been my focus. In just a few hours, I can rest and hopefully reflect on the success of the day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

It just takes a little creativity

The workers have been hammering and cutting and plastering for the past six weeks. They are working on a new addition for Elizabeth and John, who live downstairs. They added five feet to my back deck and new ballisters to both front and back decks. The problem is that I haven’t had water in my kitchen for the last four weeks, which includes both my sink and my semi-automatic washing machine.

And the dust . . . well, it’s everywhere. I was trying to hold out until they were finished before I clean, but today I woke up and couldn’t help myself. It was time to get things in order. It’s been two weeks since I last mopped the floor and two weeks here is an awfully long time.

I cleaned the bathrooms. Then I filled my kettle in the bathroom with water. I heated the water, dumped it into a dishpan and soaped up my dirty dishes – and then rinsed them in the shower. I dusted and polished and tidied up and then it was time to get creative.

I heated another kettle of water fetched from the bathroom sink, found a sauce pan and a cleaning bucket, scouring pad, storage container, two 5-liter bottles, grabbed the bleach and the laundry soap, sorted the dirty clothes, and drug the hamper behind me and headed for my bathroom shower.

I stepped into my cold shower and mixed some of the kettle water with cold water dripping from the shower head. I carefully poured small portions into the small disposable storage container. I used it to wash my hair and rinse it with creme rinse. My hair is so brittle, broken and long that I’m hoping that warm water makes a difference.

Once my hair was clean, I put laundry soap in the bucket and washed my dark clothes, squeezing and soaking them to rinse the suds before tossing them into the empty hamper. I emptied the water and added fresh water and more laundry soap and some bleach. This time going through the same process for my whites – only using some of the hot water in this process. Finally, I fill up the two 5-liter bottles with water that I will lug back into the kitchen to use for small cleaning projects this week.

Now that I’m done with me, my hair, my laundry, and filling empty containers with water, the shower needs to be cleaned. I have a bucket of soapy water with bleach – ah, perfect for cleaning the tiles – and that’s when the scouring pad comes in handy.

I wash the bucket so that it sparkles and is ready for the next time I need to multi-task. The perfect process - within a forty minute period, I'm clean, my hair is clean, my shower is clean, my laundry is done, spare water containers are filled and my cleaning supplies sparkle with readiness for their next use. Now all I have to do is get the extension cord and hook up the semi-automatic washing machine so I can use the spin cycle before hanging my clothes out to dry. And, who says Peace Corps can be challenging?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

They’re Back!

I’ve been patient – hey, I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer. Patience is something we have to learn. Slow down. Everything will work itself out. There’s no hurry. Well, I was patient. I slowed down. It worked. They are back.

I ate my first Saint Lucian mango when I arrived on the island in late August 2008. It was heaven. I hadn't had anything like this since my trip to Honduras. The street vendors sell the most magnificent pineapple, mango, and soursop. Cocoa pods produce small cocoa beans when broken open which are a wonderful treat to share with a friends. As quickly as they appeared they were gone. But, now they are back and each morning I enjoy a little piece of heaven.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I started writing this post some time ago. I found other things to write about and lost interest. Consequently, it’s been unfinished until now. My friend Barbara posted a picture and on Facebook which prompted me to renew my interest (click on the picture and it will take you to the site)

A couple of weeks ago I read a post on Facebook written by another friend, Kristi. She was watching Earth 2100, a documentary about the earth’s future. It became too frightening to watch and she turned it off. I do the same thing. It is so out of my control.

Before I left the United States, I would carefully separate my trash, wash recyclable cans and use caution to not waste water. Last night, my son Jay told me they are under emergency and mandatory water rationing; our lawns can only be watered twice a week and only after 4:00 p.m. Before I left, I watched with curiosity and judged a neighbor harshly for watering her driveway every morning.

Today, it’s different. I chuck cans into the garbage along with everything else. When I turn on the water faucet 45% of the water seeps into the ground through the broken pipes in the village. Printer Ink Cartridges? Batteries? What else would a reasonable person do with them? In the garbage. But not everything ends up in the garbage. Many times these things just end up by the roadside or down by the sea. People don’t think twice about throwing an empty water bottle on the ground. There is no recycling program here; money is the issue. There is a garbage truck that comes by twice a week. Where does all this stuff go? Well, of course – into the rain forest. I don’t even want to tell you about what goes into the sea.

On the other side of this issue, bumper-to-bumper traffic is almost non-existent. The main highway is a two lane road that travels around the island. I have seen a few cars piled up during rush hour in Castries, but nothing like the twelve lane highways in Los Angeles that are filled to capacity with gas guzzling SUVs at three o’clock in the morning on a weekday. People take the bus here, they hitch rides and share rides with friends.

Things are built by hand. I’ve been watching the carpenters, plumbers, and electricians build a room downstairs. I’ve heard an electric “something” once. The chain on my toilet broke earlier this week. I told Elizabeth, the landlady, that I would pick up a kit in Vieux Fort to get it fixed. She looked at me like I was crazy. All that plastic and casing is fine – it was only the chain that was broken – and likely that could be fixed.

It may be incredibly distasteful for us to see all the trash and lack of recycling programs, but think about it: where does our waste go? Sure some of it is recycled, but much of it is sent overseas to poor countries. So here’s what I think. We all leave a carbon footprint. While I may be appalled at the trash along the road, the bottom line is that it’s easy to “see” the damage that people are doing on this island. We cover our damage up.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Grocery Shopping

The cakes Elaine, Yoko, Lois and I made a couple of weeks ago were really good. I decided I would make one of the cakes and cut it up into pieces and freeze them for my breakfast. Since I mostly work at home it will be a nice project to do while giving me a break from working on my computer.

I asked Lois for the recipe and found I needed almost everything to make the cake: flour, sugar, eggs, butter, walnuts. I walked over to the “supermarket” a block from my house. Humm, no eggs, walnuts or butter. They do have sugar and flour. I know from experience that if I don’t buy it now, it may not be here later. I quickly snatched a plastic clear sack of each. That was last week. I’ve been in search of eggs since. They don’t sell fresh vegetables in my village “supermarket”. They never have butter here; I know I must go to Vieux Fort for that.

Grocery shopping is different here. For instance, things that are pre-packaged are opened, put it clear plastic bags, weighed and priced. A 50 pound bag of Alpo Dried Dog Food is opened and sold in five pound clear bags and marked with a black ink marker. It is easy to see why the cost of living is high when it comes to anything not grown on the island. It’s possible to just buy one; one egg, a one serving bag of cookies that is carefully marked by the manufacturer, “not for individual sale”.

I’ve been looking for Helman’s Mayonnaise for three weeks now. I’m picky when it comes to mayo; I don’t like off brands. A small jar of Hellman’s is $11.36 as opposed to the off-brand that is a mere $6.00. Milk is sold in boxes on the dry shelf, or there is dry milk or condensed milk. Fresh milk can be found but it requires a search. I’m glad I don’t drink it. There are not many cows on the island. Beef is very expensive when you can find it. I’m glad I don’t eat it. Goat, chicken and fish are easily found here.

Diet Coke is another difficult-to-find item. Sugared Coke is everywhere. Milky Way Dark is on the shelf for $4.00, whereas off brand candy is a fraction of the price. Their chocolate-of-choice is Cadbury – that’s the English influence on the island. Like American candy, it’s expensive. Although I love candy, I don’t buy much of it. My brother-in-law, Tommy, has sent several pounds of See’s Candy to me since I’ve been here. During a recent phone conversation, he said, “So, are you ready for another box of candy?” I like that.

Saint Lucian’s like sugar, fried foods, white breads. They have the biggest percentage of Diabetes in the world. It’s common to see people walking on crutches with one leg. One woman told me her mother had diabetes and lost both her legs. She said, “they are quick to amputate here”.

In any village in Saint Lucia you will see people sitting on the sidewalks with fruits and vegetables beside them. Of course bananas are everywhere. They also sell spices and eggs, homemade fudge, jams, etc.

Today, I looked around my village for someone who might be selling mangos. I like to eat them for breakfast. I ate the last one yesterday and now I’m desperate. I also want a pineapple and the only one I’ve found here is $15, which seems a bit pricy. The process of pricing pineapples is baffling to me. There may be several on the sidewalk. They all look the same to me. I ask, “How much?” The woman will pick up two that look almost identical and say, “this one is $10 and this one is $11”. I have no idea why the price difference, but when I say I don’t have that much money, she picks a third and says, “this one you can have for $7”. They all look alike to me. One time, I tried to ask why the difference but the woman was confused with the question. I’ve given up trying to figure this out.

I want some cucumbers too. There’s a fruit and vegetable sale here on Friday’s, but if you don’t get there at five in the morning, there won’t be much left. I keep promising myself I’m going to get up early on Friday to do it, but now I have to realize this is not going to happen. It’s definitely time for a trip to Vieux Fort.

I went to Vieux Fort today. I walked the two blocks to the street where they sell fruit and vegetables and quickly spotted mangos. I asked, ‘how much?” She responded, “five dollars a heap”. A heap is five mangos. She gave me six. I put them in my backpack and continued the search for pineapple and cucumber, neither of which I could find.

I walked back to the big supermarket, which is slightly larger than a convenience store. It’s always crowded. There is no such thing as “Three’s a crowd”. It has an odor likely from salt fish and other unidentifiable items. All the meat is frozen and their alcohol department takes up an entire isle. Considering there are only five isles, this is a significant amount of space. Ah, they have Hellmans! Score! And butter! Another score! They have my favorite icey’s and cucumbers that are fresh! It’s a banner day at the supermarket!

I leave the supermarket to find my bus back to my village. On my way to the bus, I see her; an old toothless lady by the road with several pineapples. “How much?” I ask. She picks up two and says “This one is $12 and this one is $10” I said, “oh, I don’t have that much money”. She picked up a third and said “This one is $7”. Guess which one I bought.

I walked another block and found a bus back to my village. There was one woman in it. Buses don’t leave until they are full, so I knew it would be awhile before twelve more exhausted passengers would come along with bags of groceries, mops and large boxes of who-knows-what that need to be spaced around the passengers who would fill the seats. After about forty minutes the bus is full and we are on our way – well, sort of. There was the small issue of an overloaded and overheated bus which sent us to wait by the side of the road until it was cooled down. Riding back on the bus I realized I forgot to look for tomatoes. I’ll save that for another day. I think I will also save baking that cake for another day too.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

We say goodbye and we say hello. . .and then we say goodbye again

Saying goodbye is part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer. I hadn’t thought enough about this when I first applied to Peace Corps. I had to say goodbye to the people I left. But it’s not just the people. I said goodbye to my life; goodbye to my job, my home, driving, hot water, freeways, well-stocked grocery stores, clean streets and a well-designed infrastructure in my city.

When I entered the Peace Corps on August 25, 2008, there were the hellos: to the strangers that would become my friends; to the sights and smells I could not have imagined just the day before. My first few weeks, while I was a trainee, I was under so many restrictions that I realized I had said goodbye to the free lifestyle that I lived.

I said hello to the family I would live with for the next two months; hello to being accountable for my movements; hello to every meal being prepared for me; hello to new foods, new weather and new language and accents. I also said hello to public transportation and hello to an endless supply of mosquitoes; hello to beds made with only sheets because it’s so hot for blankets and hello to crawling insects with more legs than one could possibly count and faces that only a mother insect could possibly love. Training came to an end. Just as I became familiar with my new hellos it was once again time to say goodbye.

In October 2008, I said hello to my new apartment; a landlord and a very small stipend that needs to be budgeted; hello to new friends I would meet on morning walks and hello to the endless peanut butter sandwiches I eat because I don’t cook much; hello to a new job and a new routine. Hello to a lifestyle with far less accountability for my everyday whereabouts and movements. Hello to independence.

I have settled into a new routine, have made friends and there is some structure and a daily routine. But, it’s only been seven months since I began saying hello when I once again must say goodbye. Elaine and I met at the Peace Corps Office yesterday. Another volunteer from the group who arrived before us was there. Until yesterday, neither Elaine nor I had had the opportunity to get to know her. She was interesting and introspective. We talked about feelings and experiences we’ve had as volunteers that create a unique bond between us. The conversation was wonderful and as I listened I felt sorry that I hadn’t been able to spend any time with her before this. She is leaving in just a few short weeks. Elaine and I were saying hello and goodbye to her all in one sitting.

Elaine and I walked over to the Market in Castries and into a restaurant where we met Lois who was sitting with Cheiko and Yoko, Japanese Volunteers. We first met Yoko in November. I said hello to Yoko at the JOVC/Peace Corps Conference in November. The conference was a one day affair and ended at the Japan Country Director’s home.

I watched the Japanese Volunteers practice their traditional fishing dance, A few days later I said hello again when I attended Japan Day which was designed to showcase Japanese Culture.

Yoko and the other Japanese Volunteers taught everyone how to perform their traditional dance. I was just beginning to know Yoko and the hellos were incredible.

Recently, Yoko came to my house with Elaine and Lois. We walked to Vierge Point and around the village; that was the famous night when I actually cooked dinner. I loaned her the movie, Sex in the City.

The next day we flagged down a bus to Dennery for a charity walk.

A few weeks later Elaine, Yoko and I stayed the night with Lois at her house. Yoko taught us how to make Japanese Green Tea Cake and Sushi. We help her with her English. At my house she learned the meaning of “awesome”. But after watching Sex in the City and taking copious notes, she came with questions. She showed us her notebook of questions and we laughed – not at her, but more laughing at ourselves and our language. In her perfect English handwriting we see the words, “Fifty Fucking Thousand Dollars”. She is perplexed. She knows that it is a bad word, but she does not understand the placement of the word and she says, “I not sure why fucking in between words.” We all looked at each other laughing and wondering how we could possibly explain it…so we didn’t. Instead, I gave her the movie as a gift. This is one of those memories that will stay with me for a lifetime.

Having said hello to Yoko such a short time ago, it is now time to say good-bye. Her service will be complete in just a few days and she is headed back to Japan.

We eat lunch, enjoy the conversation, exchange gifts and take pictures. She made a card for each of us. It was made out of two postcards from Japan. Each of our cards included personalized pictures and a note. I love this gift.

This is a tough goodbye because there is a strong possibility I will not see her again. So goodbye my friend. I love you and will miss you. I will think of you often.