Thursday, October 29, 2009

From My Cold Dead Hands

I worried before I came to Saint Lucia. What would I do without a car? I took a bus once in San Francisco with my friend Leslie. It was fun. It was a novelty. There are hundreds of miles of freeways in Los Angeles. . . guaranteed, every mile is in a state of gridlock as I write this post. Before I retired I drove eight miles to work; a 45 minute commute. Los Angeleans drive. How could I adjust to life without my car?

Several years ago, a new mass transit system was built. There are blue lines and green lines. There might even be yellow lines and red lines. I’m not sure. I don’t know who rides those lines. There is no need to figure out all these colors and schedules because Los Angelean’s have cars . . . lots and lots of cars. Everyone in my family has a car. And if one car breaks down, my son has a spare. He’s not rich, just a practical Los Angelean. Could I adjust to mass transit?

A car is a source of stress. I build in time because my keys are usually “lost”. Everyone gets up and starts looking when my keys are lost. This is even more stressful because I see the stress I’m putting on my family. The oil needs to be changed every 3000 miles. Sometimes I push it to 4000 miles, but then there is a nagging voice inside my head that says, “you will pay for this later”. I hate that voice. It’s another source of stress. Even still, I need a car.

My son, Brendan, doesn’t like to stop for gas. He runs out often. If I sneak a peak at the gas tank, he makes me feel like I’m intruding on his territory. The thought of running out of gas is more stressful than the act itself. This is just another thing we must learn to deal with, because we need our cars.

My son, Kevin, is a nightmare in traffic. A recent Facebook status on his page reads, “1:45 minutes to go 20 miles on the 405. I love L.A.?” Oh, am I glad I wasn’t in his car that day. Being in a car with Kevin would guarantee the Maharishi high blood pressure. But still, this is the price we pay to live in the Sunshine State.

I had a transponder pass for the 91 Express Lane. My transponder was pure joy. Ah, the key to a stress free ten mile drive. I willingly pay up to $5 for the privilege to race down the freeway with a queen-like attitude glancing over at the snarly, ugly, bumper-to-bumper traffic where my subjects have looks of exasperation permanently imprinted on their faces. I would sail through the fast track lane at eighty miles an hour, yelling and laughing at those who were either ill-prepared or too cheap to buy their way out of a situation that would cost them an hour of their life, only to find at the end of the ten mile privileged ride that I too would be ensnarled with the others and transformed as just another commoner stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Why would I want to give all this up?

I spoke to Jay, my oldest son, today. I explained that one thing I dreaded before leaving for Saint Lucia was not having a car to drive. I explained to him that it is likely one of the more liberating things that’s happened to me since becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. I look forward to my bus rides. I dread having to drive a car when I return home. Having lived in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer he understood and agreed. As he recalled his days in Honduras, he exclaimed with glee, “it’s so nice having someone else fight all the stresses of driving”. While he was talking, I thought to myself “Why would I ever want to drive again?”

When there is talk about car-pooling in L.A., the reaction invokes such emotion that it’s easy to envision Charlton Heston rising from his grave hold a steering wheel high in the air in one hand saying, “From my cold dead hands”. I have to admit I was one of them. But while I was talking to my son, I heard words come from my mouth that even surprised me, “When I get home we ought to explore the option of public transportation together”. He left Peace Corps and Honduras ten years ago and his Los Angelean reaction was, “I don’t think it would work out mom, we’d have to move.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fre-Way Little League

When I came to Saint Lucia it never occurred to me that I might attend a meeting where my education wasn’t needed. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t use the skills I built in the thirty years of my corporate life or the college teaching experience I gained in the first years of my retirement. They didn’t need any of this . . . no, what they needed was my experience as a Fre-Way Little League team mom, coach, manager and all around “what-ever-you-need, I’m here to help” person. When I applied to Peace Corps they never asked me if I had Little League experience.

I am helping Brenda, the Community Development Officer and a Peace Corps Volunteer, Andy, who is having so much fun here he’s extended for an additional six months. Brenda and Andy have worked on a plan to implement an after-school program pilot program. This is a national pilot program and a neighboring village is lucky enough to be included in it. A small group of forty children were selected to participate in activities that will include sports, life skills, the arts, IT and academic assistance. After school programs like this don’t exist in small villages and they are a lucky group of children to be chosen to participate.

The one requirement to be included in this program is commitment and participation. I can’t imagine this will be a problem for the children, but how to gain commitment and participation from the parents is another matter. The question arose, “how can we get them to participate?” There were many answers: we could invite the mothers to tea or give special training programs to help them build a consistent message for their children to hear and to bond home life and the program together. They were good ideas that will probably be used, but still something is missing.

I began thinking of my own experience so many years ago. I had three boys, a full-time job, shopping, cleaning and taking care of all the little things that come up in life when raising a young family. I thought I had no time to fit even one more minute of activity into my schedule. I remember mowing the lawn after I fed my children dinner. I painted the hallway at midnight to cover all those smudgy little handprints. I paid bills after they went to bed and did laundry to ensure we all had clean clothes for the next morning. I remember thinking, “someday I will wonder how I did this”. Today, I wonder how I did it.

One day I picked my oldest up from the babysitter and he told me he registered for t-ball. He was five years old and made this decision all on his own. That was the beginning of a new life… maybe for him, but definitely for me.

I was a Fre-Way Little League coach, manager, team mom and scorekeeper from the time my oldest was five years old until my youngest was twelve years old. As my lawn grew, the hallway re-smudged and laundry overflowed in the hamper, I worked in the snack shack, coached t-ball and was on the board of directors for the next several years.

The calendar I carried in my purse that was once used to track my work schedule, suddenly became the “family” calendar with game schedules, snack commitments and pizza parties scheduled in between my work meetings and occasional travel. I would often find one of my sons fishing through my purse to locate the calendar and study our schedule.

I was able to flex my hours and travel ensuring I made every Little League commitment a priority. It was an incredible bonding experience, not just for our family, but for the community as well. I made friends I would never have had the opportunity to make without Little League. We were at the field for practice, games, and fun.

Toyota loaned Fre-Way Little League the land. There were three fields, a conference room and a snack shack. There was electricity and water. Many times after the games were completed, we would build a big fire pit in back of the snack shack. On two occasions we dug a pit and roasted a pig. As we partied by the fire late into the night, our children would play on the fields and run themselves into exhaustion. It was a safe family-focused time. During the off-season, we continued to attend picnics and pizza parties. When we were at home, Little League was always the common topic that we could all talk about. When is opening day? Who will be the starring pitcher? Which team will I be on? Remember when I hit that homerun? How many bones have you broken? I’ve broken more than you! Our orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Uniten, unknowingly became a silent member of the team.

When my children decided they were done with baseball, it was my life that crumbled. What was I going to do with all my time? Who are my friends? How will I adjust? All the team parents felt this way. Occasionally I run into one of those parents and we reminisce about the great times we had.

The Fre-Way Little League sign is long gone as is the old snack shack and conference room. The manicured fields that the fathers spent hours mowing are long gone. The old field boasts of new Toyota buildings with tall trees producing shade and pretty foliage that gardeners tend each day. It has a freshly paved road where the dirt road once was.

We live in the same house and pass by it often. My children are in their thirties now and we have moved on from life on that field. Many of the parents are now grandparents; some have moved away while others remained. We’ve all moved on with our lives. But anytime I’m with one of my kids and we pass the field, I hear a soft whisper, “those were some of the greatest times I can remember”. There was an amazing sense of community and family that was built on that field.

At the Orientation Meeting for the After-School Program a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that many parents in the room didn’t know one another. Some parents were shy and didn’t say anything. It was then that I knew what was needed! I discussed this with Brenda and Andy and they agreed. At the next meeting we would implement the plan.

Brenda called the Parents Meeting to give a status of the program and to ask for their help. The children had already been split into four after-school groups: A, B, C and D. When it was my turn to speak I asked the parents to meet in their child’s group and to pick a “team parent” who would make sure children had snacks and would agree to be the contact for their team for special meetings and informational sessions.

I asked them to think about anything else they could do to help make this program a success. I told them about the team banners we made and about the competition between parents that developed. Then Andy came up with a stroke a simple brilliance …name your teams.

The parents were slow to mix with each other. In some groups only two or three parents were talking. Andy, Brenda and I walked around and encouraged the parents thinking and group discussion. At the end of an hour the room was buzzing. Three teams came up with great names, the Progressives, the Energizers, and the Stars. The fourth team is still looking for the perfect name. Everyone had a Team Parent and there were a lot of Assistant Team Parents who were named as well.

One team decided to plan a walk to fund-raise. Another said they couldn’t wait for that and agreed to and collected dues of $1. Their treasury is now $6. The cheers became progressively louder as each team was called by name. It was incredible to see this type of enthusiasm . . . and all it took was an American Little League team experience to be passed on to another country. Brenda declared it a big success and said their enthusiasm has taken a weight off her shoulders.

This experience gave me pause to reflect on a wonderful time in my life and so I’d like to whisper to my boys, Jay, Kevin and Brendan “those were some of the best times of my life”. I love you guys.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just for the record…Children are alright. I love my own children to death. My granddaughter is incredible. Children are our future. People tell me they are precious gifts from God. Sometimes other people’s children are alright…and sometimes not. Why is that? I think I can answer this question.

Teaching children who cut up cardboard and stick it in their ears or who take stickers off paper and punch holes in the paper and plaster it on their faces so that only their eyes are showing is strange. Teaching children who are hitting and punching other children and who are throwing objects from their desks across the room is weird. Watching children use chairs like a bullfighter uses his cape is well, annoying.

Teaching children when half of them are in the bathroom makes me wonder if there is a mysterious urinary problem in the school. And, while I’m wondering, can they all be this thirsty? Should I mention this to the principal? Oh, never mind – she’s the one who left me there alone because the teacher is absent and she said, “I have some ‘principal’ things to do”.

Generally, I think other people’s children aren’t much fun. Specifically, I was not given the gift to teach third graders. I thought you might enjoy looking at this picture of my little darlings.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chocolate Cake Balls

I love to bake. It relaxes me and it’s something I’m good at, but it’s difficult to bake here when everything is different; the ingredients, the stove, the pans, the tools to mix things and measure things. The last post I talked about my search for cake ingredients.

I got everything I needed except eggs. Did I mentioned I only need four eggs? It’s possible to purchase one egg, two eggs, or a dozen eggs. I can also go to the store and buy one stick of gum. I can open a package of individual wrapped cookies that says “not for individual sale” and buy one package. It’s just the way things are here. I went to the market to get the eggs and they weren’t on the shelf. “Are you out of eggs?” I said. “How many you want?” said the woman behind the counter. I quickly respond “four”. She disappears and comes back minutes later with four eggs – still warm.

Today it has rained almost all day and so I decide this is a good day to make this cake. It’s Friday and Brenda will likely be at the Village Council Office down the road. She’s the whole reason I decided to make this cake. It was her birthday this week. She is the Community Development Officer and I’m working with her. She’s been good to me and I want to do something nice for her.

This is a recipe I’ve made a hundred times. The only difference is that I will be making it in individual size pans that I found in Castries. Why? Well, because as I’ve mentioned before my stove is run from this propane tank and I have a hard time lighting it. Actually, I’ve only used it once and I was able to light it right away. I think the truth is that I don’t want to use it, but I’m not sure why. But that’s what toaster ovens are for – right?

Oh, there is one more difference. As you might remember, I could not find instant chocolate pudding. I did, however, find custard mix. Although most of the information on the package was in Japanese, I was able to read the English directions that told me this custard was not instant but needed to be cooked.

Anyway, the instant pudding didn’t have to be made before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. The ingredients are simple: a chocolate cake mix, four eggs, sour cream, oil, water, instant pudding and chocolate chips. You just put it all together and stick it in the pan and tada! Cake!

I looked on the internet to find out what people say about using pudding mix that isn’t instant. I found most people said it could be done, just substitute the water for milk. Although there is no fresh milk on this side of the island, I do have instant which I made.

I didn’t have beaters and it took forever to get all the lumps out of the cake. I was going to use the blender but decided it would be much too messy, although it would have been easier to pour the batter into the cake pans. That made me think twice about it, but I then decided that adding the chocolate chips without blending it would make it really complicated. So, it took about 40 minutes of mixing the stuff together. I was alright with this because after all, I wanted this to be nice for Brenda!

I carefully scooped the batter into four of the pans which fit perfectly in the toaster oven. I turned it on and waited. I peeked a few minutes into it and they were looking good. Then just before they were done I was horrified. The cute little bundt cakes were turning into huge chocolate cake balls! They weren’t perfectly round balls, but balls that looked like they were deflated on one side. After inspecting it I think the custard might have congealed together and tried to escape the other parts of the batter making these cakes into horrible cake balls.

I quickly took them out of the oven and thought maybe they would flatten as they cool. You know, like cookies do sometimes? Well, these didn’t. I had four misshaped cake balls sitting on my counter. What could I do? Brenda would be leaving in the next hour and I wanted to give her a nice gift that I made with my own hands. . . not these chocolate misshaped cake balls.

The cake balls needed to cool, but recently I’ve had another army of ants coming through my house because I forgot to change the ant poison hotels that sit on my kitchen floor. So I got a dish, a bowl and a plate. I set the bowl upside down inside the dish and the plate on the bowl. I put water in the dish and set the balls on top of the plate. Unless these ants learn to swim they won’t be eating Brenda’s Chocolate Cake Balls anytime soon.

While they were cooling, I spent a lot of time going over my options. I could give them all to the kids in the neighborhood. They will eat anything. I could give some to Mrs. Nichols. She is so old she wouldn’t know the difference. There was only one more option. I cut the bottom off the balls and turned them right side up and put powdered sugar on them. Now they looked like the cute little bundt cakes that they were meant to be.

I now had a dilemma. What should I do with the bottoms? The only thing to do was eat them. They tasted pretty good, but I realized that the custard must have mixed really well with the sour cream and chocolate chips leaving the other part of the cake tasting different. After eating all the bottoms I realized I had just eaten half a cake and wasn’t feeling really good.

I cut open one of the cute little cakes to see if it tasted good enough to give to Brenda. But, by now I couldn’t really tell when I tried a top if the bottoms tasted better. I’d eaten so much cake it all tasted the same. So I chose the best looking cake and wrapped it up in a clear baggie and proudly walked down to the Village Council. I handed the cake to a smiling Brenda. I wonder if she was smiling when she ate it.

If anyone wants the recipe for cake balls just let me know. One recipe makes ten misshaped cake balls. I recommend that you invite some friends over to help you eat the bottoms.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It will get done . . . just now

Advice any Peace Corps Volunteers will give is “slow down and rid yourself of expectations”. It’s the best advice, but also the hardest advice to practice. Advice is always best if put into context. And so, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I will attempt to help you understand in the unlikely event you are mulling over the idea of submitting your three pound application to be considered for a job that pays roughly $720 per month.

My expectations for today could have been:

1. I will go to the supermarket today and get everything I need from one store, come home and bake a cake.

2. I will complete the work on a training package to be delivered next month.

3. I will help the little boy across the street with his homework and he will become an expert in the subject of collective nouns.

4. I will go to my 7 p.m. meeting and help the team develop a complete plan for Nobel Laureates Week. It will include specific goals and an agenda to move forward in planning a great January event.

I know I will be able to count on everyone to do their part to accomplish this list because it really is simple. Right?

But, this is the way the day went . . .

It is an adventure to hunt and gather food. I most likely will not find everything I’m looking for. I set out down the asphalt road. It is a cool 88 degrees today and the bus ride to the market is just 15 minutes. I am in search of instant chocolate pudding, chocolate cake mix, chocolate chips and sour cream, icies, cucumbers and an avocado.

Chocolate chips and cake mix – check. . . bingo! sour cream. No pudding mix of any kind, but they do have something called "custard powder". Whatever that is I bought it. They have eggs, but if I can find them in my village it’s more likely they will make the trip safely to my refrigerator. It always bothers me that the eggs aren’t refrigerated in the village market. I wonder about it. How long have they been sitting there? But I’ve never been sick because of it.

They didn't have avocado or cucumber at the market. I saw a vendor in my village before I left selling avocado's but she will likely be sold out before I get back so I went searching the streets of Vieux Fort and quickly came up with those two items.

I'm ready to return to my village. I walk over to the bus stop and board the bus. I'm the only one in it and it will not go anywhere until it's I wait an hour and a half.

I am at home now and the only thing I need to search out now is eggs, but first I need to unwind. Baking this cake probably won't happen today...I'll save it for some other day when I have more energy.

I turned the computer on and worked on a training package I will deliver next month, answered some emails and continued to read an interesting blog that I’ve become engaged in. I’ve read so many books and now blogs are my new interest. As I develop the six hour training package, I learn that I have only three hours. I need to rethink the content. I will save this for tomorrow.

Koko came by and asked for help doing his homework. He is learning the concept of a collective noun. The first thing he said was “lets use the computer to learn about this”. This is progress as most of the kids in the village see computers as toys, not information highways that can help them learn. Together we completed his homework, but I think the only concept he really understood was getting it done so his teacher doesn’t beat him. Mission sort of accomplished.

At 7:00 p.m. I had a meeting with Angelina and Denise to talk about Nobel Laureate Week. The event is in January, but I’ve pushed them to begin planning now. Denise had steel pan practice and so we agreed to meet there. Angelina and I sat on the steps listening to the music and talking . . . for an hour. We decided to postpone the meeting until the next evening.

I walked over to Angelina’s house to help her make coconut fudge. She is sending it to England. It is Jounen Kweyol (Creole Days) this month and her fudge and guava cheese were requested in England.

Angelina has two dogs, Rex and Diablo. Diablo is trained and is part of her family. Rex is not. He’s an eight month old nightmare tied up in the backyard. She wants me to help her train him. It sounds like a good idea. We made the fudge and watched The Biggest Loser together while Diablo played with the cockroach on the living room floor. I'm not sure which was more entertaining.

It was ten o’clock when I left her house. As I walked through the darkened streets of my village I thought about how safe I felt and I contemplated my day. What had I accomplished? Um. Oh yes . . . no I don’t think so . . . maybe . . . no not that. I’ll get back to you on this.

So, as they say in Saint Lucia, “just now” I will think about making that cake. Just now, I will help develop an awesome plan for Nobel Laureate Week. Just now, I will complete that training package. By the way, “just now”? It means “some other time”.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Extraordinary Morning

The neighbors are out and everyone is talking. An hour and half ago it was just another ordinary day. The church bells were rung and the village was lively. The neighbor across the street was sitting on her porch rocking her infant grandchild. Children in perfectly ironed uniforms and shined shoes were walking down the street towards school, umbrellas in hand. The roosters were crowing and the goats were making noise while the mother chickens were leading their chicks to nowhere in particular.

I had my usual breakfast; a banana and biscotti with a cup of black coffee. I took my shower, dressed, put my hair in a ponytail and slipped on my flip-flops. I flipped the music on and turned on the computer. I was catching up on the news and preparing for the Junior Achievement class I will be teaching this afternoon. It’s a rainy morning. Coming from California I am still enjoying every drop I hear on the aluminum roof. Then it happened. The knock . . . the knock that changed this ordinary day into an extraordinary day.

It’s my landlord, John. He apologizes for coming unannounced and I see a host of workers behind him. They were carrying ladders, large boxes and tools. They have been working on the house since June. They added a room to their own place downstairs and extended my balcony upstairs. They had my apartment painted and a few cracks patched. If the smallest thing is wrong, they fix it immediately. They constantly tell me that they want me to be very happy here. I am.

When my boys were coming for a visit last March John said, “Oh, we must get hot water for them”. I responded that my kids did not expect that kind of luxury. When all the work was done on the house, I thought the subject was dead.

“They are here to install a hot water system today”, John said. Are you kidding me? Did I really just take my last cold shower this morning? On some level I will miss the small sacrifice of taking a cold shower. There are only a handful of homes in my village with hot water. Many don’t have water in their homes and use one of the bright blue public facilities throughout the village. It is there that they wash dishes and clothes and take showers. .I got used to cold showers and it was part of my sacrifice that says, “I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer”. Maybe every once in awhile I’ll take a cold shower as a reminder of how much I’ve been given. . . or maybe not.

Just like that, in an hour and a half, it’s done. A new solar heating system rests on the roof. I look over my balcony at Elizabeth and say, “Elizabeth, you are making me look bad. People are not going to think I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer!” She smiles.

As I speak with Elizabeth, the workers are eating their lunch. It is barely noon. The neighbors come to talk and there is a crowd of people in front of the house. The workers break out a large gallon bottle of rum and poor themselves large glasses of rum and coke. It’s time to celebrate a job well done and let the sun do the rest of the work.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beauty vs. Wisdom

It is Jounen Kweyol in Saint Lucia; a time to celebrate culture. Last year there was a huge celebration in the village. The streets were filled with booths offering traditional foods cooked in coal pots as well as large BBQs which are more efficient when cooking for large crowds. Items used in the first half of the 20th Century were displayed with pride. Of course there was plenty of liquor, music and dance to ensure proper traditional entertainment. The Folk Research Center has been planning 2009 activities on the island and the annual Lawenn Lawenn Kweyol Competition is going to be in my village this year.

This is the hottest month of the year and it’s likely ninety degrees in the building. (First mistake of the night: I left my fan sitting in my drawer.) The island breeze has all but disappeared on most days and the air can be very stale.

I take a seat and quickly peruse the program. I’ve seen many pageants in my years. I’m thankful this is an event that won’t require explanation. (I will find out later this is Mistake #2.)

There are three main components: introduction of the five contestants, talent and formal wear. It looks straight forward and simple. I should be home by 11:00. (I should have guessed this to be a mistake that I will call Mistake #3).

Amber and Brian, Peace Corps Volunteers arrived from the north arrive and take a seat next to me.

Traditional live music is being played. There is a violin, guitars and percussion instruments. The music has a distinctive beat and rhythm. People are in a festive and party mood. Many are wearing blouses, skirts or holding bags made of traditional plaid material. Others have brightly colored outfits with their hair wrapped in colorful cloths that match. People are arriving from all over the island to support their favorite contestant. The planning committee expects close to three hundred people.

Finally, forty minutes late, the event begins . . . in Kweyol. Alright, maybe I was wrong about this being “pageant as usual”.

After prayers and the national anthem and introductory remarks, they introduce each of the contestants. Knowing little Kweyol, I look over at Amber and whisper, “this is going to be a long night”. Amber smiles and nods in agreement. The first thing I notice about the contestants is they are not young women with long legs and perfect bodies. These women are robust and older with lines on their faces and bodies that are aging.

As the talent session begins a woman is standing beside me. I look over and it’s Angelina. She has a smile on her face and says, “you aren’t hard to find in this crowd”. She pulls up a chair and begins translation. Now the pageant is becoming interesting. Angelina tells me what they are saying word for word. I summarize the information for Amber and she passes it on to Brian.

The talent show is much different than what one might expect. Women are dressed in Madras, a three piece traditional costume which consists of a white blouse and an outer skirt made of plaid material which is worn over a long white slip.

Each contestant takes her turn to act out a vignette about Saint Lucian ancestor struggles. One contestant stands over her man. He is sitting at the table with a bottle. She tells him she is a strong Kweyol woman who knows how to harvest cassava with her cutlass. She talks about the struggles she has as a woman, and reminds him that God has made her strong.

Another woman tells us how she is able to take care of her children because she gardens, cooks, sews and washes clothes. She works hard. God provides for their needs and she follows His word. Singing, acting and dancing are all part of these vignettes. The talent show is a reminder of traditional Saint Lucia Creole times. The most prominent message in the talent session is that Creole women are strong and hold strength in the word of God.

Each vignette has singing and dancing. Members of the audience all have their personal preference and they applaud and whistle and yell words of encouragement and support. One man has an air horn which is sounded often inside the building. People rise from their seats when the musc starts and dance in the isles. The acoustics in the building are poor and the level of noise is off the charts. I’m beginning to think this is more party than pageant. Any preconceived notion I had of pageants is now gone.

In between the three parts of the contest we watch traditional dance, listen to more traditional music and we hear folk music from Manmay Lakey, a Saint Lucia singer who has a large fan base.

The traditional formal wear of Saint Lucia is called Wob Dwiyet and was introduced in the eighteenth century. The contestants have sponsors who help pay for the dresses that can cost $600EC. The judges will look at not only the beauty and design of the dress but how each woman carries herself in the costume. Pictures cannot capture how stunning these costumes are.

There is more to come and I’m feeling exhausted. It is close to midnight now. There are likely three hundred people in the building and it feels like an oven. The air is stagnant and bugs are flying around the building. I’ve endured noise at the highest decibels for the last four hours and I am tired. The final portion of the competition takes me by surprise.

This part of the program is called “Pawol Gwan Moun” or “Wisdom of the Elders”. I’m reminded of a James Taylor song where one line is, “Lord knows when the cold wind blows it will turn your head around”. I think of this line often when seemingly ordinary things surprise me.

Angelina carefully translates what each woman says. They talk about family and the importance of values and education. They implore people to take time for their children and to not let modern technology become an obstacle to passing down their heritage. The last part of the ceremony is meant to help judges decide by weighing the wisdom of their years

The queen is chosen because she has lived long enough to become wise; she knows about her heritage and culture and she is comfortable imparting her wisdom through dance, song, customs and a deep sense of the people of Saint Lucia. I think the women’s movement of the past would approve of this pageant.

In the end the queen was crowned and the people literally danced out of the hall and out into the field set up with food tents and refreshments. I learned a lot about the contest. It was not a spectator night, it was a night of participation.

The Voice, a paper in Saint Lucia reported, “The Lawenn competition began in 1997 and the representative of Jacmel emerged the winner. Since that year the competition has grown to include a Creole King. . . The Lawenn Lawenn competition for this year is itself a unique event. Former winners will compete for a Queen of queens award.”

So I went into this event thinking I'd be home and in bed by 11:00 p.m. I fell into bed after 2:00 in the morning. I've lost count of how many times I have forgotten my fan when I've needed it most. I thought this would be a typical pageant and found it to be a rich cultural event that demonstrated the strength of Creole women. It was an entertaining evening and one I'm certainly glad I did not miss.