Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Fish Tale

Before I left for Saint Lucia I lived within a five square mile radius. Why? Because I get lost. I got lost in a parking lot once. I have no clue how it happened. My friend, Linda was with me. I looked at her and said, “Where am I?” The look on her face was strange. I knew at that moment that I should have found a more discreet way to get out of that situation.

Another time I got lost driving in a park. For the life of me, I could not find the exit. I just kept driving by the same picnic over and over again. It was reminiscent of the Chevy Chase scene in European Vacation, “Look kids, Big Ben – Parliament”. Even if I had found the exit, I had no clear plan as to how I would find the freeway to get home. The park was outside my five square mile radius.

The problem is that people don’t understand. Sometimes they think I’m playing dumb. I assure you; I am not. This is a “condition”. My mother had it. It must be inherited. It might be DNA. Someone said it’s a brain disorder. I’ve heard it referred to as a disability. I accept that. I fit the perfect profile target audience for GPS.

Today, I went on a hunt. It was a hide and seek game. What was hiding? The doctor’s office. It’s time for our mid-service physical examinations. Peace Corps staff set up the appointments and gave us dates, times and phone numbers...but no address; largely because there are no addresses in Saint Lucia. I’m on my own to find it. How can I find the doctor’s office when the only thing I clearly understand is that it is in Castries? This makes me crazy. I still panic, but not nearly as much as I did when I first arrived.

In the end, I got two sets of directions. Go to Monroe College. Check! I know how to get there. One person said, “turn right”. Another said, “turn left”. And these are my friends! Sometimes I think they just like to have fun with me. I was looking for a pink or peach house with a little sign on it that said “Doctor’s Office”. Surprisingly, I found it right away. I only had to ask one person for directions. She happened to be a teacher who was teaching a class which I interrupted. She was very patient while telling me how to get there. She must be a good teacher.

I sat in the waiting room until it was my turn. The woman at the desk said, “You can go in now”. She points to a closed door. I walk over and open the door. There is a desk and an examination table, a scale and curtains. A woman was sitting at the desk. She smiled and I sat down. I wasn’t sure who she was. After a few seconds I realized she is the doctor. How refreshing; the doctor is waiting for me!

She said she needed a urine sample - stop reading if this stuff grosses you out. Jay, this definitely means you. I thought twice about whether I should publish this story, but I liked it and decided to share it. After all, it may be personal, but come on – we’ve all given a urine sample at some time in our lives. Right? And, I’m sure you want to know how giving a sample in Saint Lucia is different from giving a sample in Los Angeles. Don’t you? Be honest.

Anyway, now that I’ve clearly stated the disclaimer and lost half my readers I can move on.

When the doctor was finished it was time for my next game. The hunt was on again! You guessed it. I have yet one more opportunity to play hide and seek. I must now hunt for the lab. The doctor tells me it is in Castries and then she begins explaining something about two bridges and rivers; she talks about streets and building colors. I am clearly bored with all these directions and understand almost none of it.

When she mentions the fire department, I perk up and say, “Oh yes, I know exactly where that is”. But then she tells me it’s not on that street. I’m not sure why the fire department even came up in the conversation. Maybe my friends put her up to this. Or, it could be she was just having such a good time talking about it. I nod my head like I am hanging on to each and every meticulous detail. In reality, Elaine is meeting me here and I hope she can find it for me.

With little trouble and because Elaine had been there before, we found the lab right away. It is a good thing I am with her because based on what I heard the doctor say, I’m not sure I would have been on the right island once I got done with the doctor’s directions.

Once inside the lab, I wait an obnoxiously long time for someone to come to the counter. Elaine and I can hear her behind the wall talking to someone about every detail of her weekend. There are young men sitting on the sofas and none is even remotely considering giving up his seat. Finally a woman enters, takes my paper and says, "Wait here". Another few minutes ramble by and she comes out with a fishing tackle box and says “follow me”.

Are we are going fishing? I think about all the times I got up before dawn and went fishing with my dad. Those were nice trips. We would take a speed boat to the barge which was covered in fish scales and smelled. It was barely light outside when we arrived. All the men had floppy hats decorated with lures and they would stand back as their poles were resting on the rails in holders. Some more serious fishermen fished with two poles. Seagulls swarmed the barge hoping for a tasty morsel. I didn’t do a lot of fishing. I spent more time playing with the live bait in the tank and at the canteen buying candy and soda; mom would likely not approve.

I follow the woman around the corner and down a hallway until we come to a locked door. Surely, there is not a fishing barge behind this door. She opens the door and hands me the tackle box. She says "Everything is in here. Just put the cup back in the box when you are done". Well at least I don't have to worry about whether or not I can still caste a fishing line. It’s clear I’m not here to fish.

I enter the bathroom and there is no toilet paper - great - typical. I open the tackle box and there is everything one needs to give a sample plus hand soap, and....ta da toilet paper. But it’s kind of creepy, because although the toilet paper is in a plastic baggie, my imagination is running overtime as to where this half-spent roll of paper has been. There were no towels to dry my hands, but they had thought of everything else to put into a well-stocked fishing tackle box. When I come out there is a line-up of people with tackle boxes waiting their turn. I wonder if they think they are going fishing too. Very strange.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving - Peace Corps Style

If I were forced to estimate, I would say forty people were there today. Having a Peace Corps Thanksgiving is special; there were volunteers, local people, staff and a new baby. It is fun to share our holidays with local friends.

When I got up this morning I made a pot of coffee and it felt like a holiday. I turned on the Today Show and then watched a few minutes of the Macy’s Parade. I ate a banana, got dressed and headed for the bus. The strange thing is that I half expected to see people enjoying a holiday. Of course, this is just an ordinary day in Saint Lucia. Elizabeth came out as I was leaving and said, “Happy Thanksgiving Karen”. The lady at the gas station where I stopped to buy a bottle of water also greeted me with “Happy Thanksgiving”. She lived in Florida for several years. It’s a strange feeling being in a foreign country on an American holiday.

I got on the bus this morning to go to the far northern part of the island where one of our volunteer couples live. I met Elaine at her house and we picked up bread and butter on the way to the bus. This was my contribution to the meal. Lucky for them, I didn’t cook anything.

I have a lot of time to think during bus rides. As I rode up to Castries, I couldn’t help thinking about how grateful I am for this life. I get frustrated with the work I’m doing, but in the end doing this is my dream being realized. I also get a lot of pleasure when something works well. It feels good to know that there are a few small things I will be leaving that will be sustained. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer can be hard . . . and then sometimes it’s so easy when things fall into place. I’m so fortunate to be here today.

After dinner “fun-tivities” were organized by a couple of volunteers. Fun-tivities is not something my family does. It was entertaining. After a long day of bus rides, food, football and cheap fun-tivity entertainment I was ready to head back.

One of the volunteers had a visitor who rented a car. This is a very big deal. BIG! Anyway, they had to pass by my village to get home so I bummed a ride with them – in an air conditioned vehicle. Did I say BIG? The conversation was interesting and it’s moments like these that reconfirms I’m in the right place. I loved today. I am so thankful that I have been given this opportunity. And family – Jay, Brendan, Kevin, Theresa…get ready for next year. We’ll be incorporating some fun-tivities into our 2010 Thanksgiving Day!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snippets: Things to Remember

A cool breeze strengthens and I look up and the sky is purple. It’s a good indication that I need to step up my pace and head for shelter before the down pour. These are the moments when I pause to reflect that I’m living in a village on an island.

It’s a nice night for a walk. I walk down the street, passing make-shift houses in between a few sturdy modern homes. Dogs are wondering in the streets and people are sitting outside enjoying the cool breeze of the evening. People greet me with “Hi Karen”. My village has a lot of bars and I pass by several in the two blocks. There are crowds of men and women in the streets with beer in hand. Country music is so loud it leaves my ears ringing. Many of the people I tonight, I will see sitting outside the hardware store in the morning. Jobs are not easy to find.

I’m working in my bedroom and enjoying the fresh air blowing through the room when I hear the sound of steel pans. I look out my window and see the Catholic Church; lighted and the doors open. I quickly dress and head for the church which is less than a minute from my house. I walk into the church and sit in a pew. A few friends notice me, smile and wave. The music is nice and children are dancing up and down the isles as the musicians practice. It is casual and a happy place. The church is where people worship but also where people congregate to have fun.

I walk down the road and smell the chicken cooking on the coal pot. A woman is roasting corn by the roadside. There are a few bananas and a couple of heaps of grapefruits sitting on the ground next to my favorite vendor. She is holding her grandchild who is less than one year. She gently rocks her grandchild in her arms while selling her fruit.

The cucumber vendor is just down the street. Many times she is upstairs inside her home. The cucumbers are left downstairs, sometimes with prices on them, sometimes not. To buy them, I must knock on her door and give her the money…trust is a matter of environment.

Turning the corner I say a quick hello to Jeffrey. He is an elderly and lonely gentleman who just lost his wife of fifty plus years. James, mentally impaired and always with a smile calls out, “Hello my lady”. The children in the village excitedly jump up and down saying, “Miss, Miss” when I pass. I like the people in my village.

There is a goat clearing the weeds from the cracks in the street. He looks at me, unimpressed, makes a goat noise and goes back to eating his snack. I look over and there are a half dozen more goats tending to the soccer field. Two pigs cross the road and there is a horse beyond the chain link fence tied to a tree. In the distance I hear dogs barking and roosters crowing. There is a mother hen and her chicks flapping about in the gutter water. Life seems so basic.

There is a fundraiser for the village Steel Pan Band. They need covers for their instruments. They are roasting fresh bakes and Dahl in large Dutch ovens sitting on coal pots. They are barbequing chicken and hot dogs. There is ice cream for dessert and plenty of beer at the bar. A few nights ago they were looking for additional ways to make money. They would be making money on food and drink, but they needed to make a little more. I explained Fre-Way Little League’s 50/50 raffle. Tickets cost $1 each and the pot is split 50/50. They liked the idea. They raised another $80 but called the raffle Half and Half. My Little League experience has proved to be quite useful in recent weeks. As the musicians are beating on the steel pans young children form a chain and line dance. Simple things are sustainable.

On a recent evening, I walked the darkened streets and maneuvered my way through the crowds of people, I think about how safe I feel in my village. It never stops surprising me. I approached a house with the colorful lights and there is a lighted sign that says “Merry Christmas” and lights in the shape of bells with more lights outlining the windows. My glasses easily fog in the evening humidity.

I’ve been here long enough now to learn the secrets of Saint Lucia, the secrets of my village. I recently learned why it is so difficult to get a chess club started here. It had to do with a village secret, something only whispered about – likely whispered in Kweyol. It took a trusted friend from the inside to fill me in. It’s a small community and gossip is a past time. Consequently, there are things that are simply not talked about, but swept under the rug. I’m beginning to hear the details. These are the ugly truths that lurk within societies. We have them in the United States. They have them here. Some are the same, others are not. Secrets can be difficult to hear when I’m powerless to make a change.

I met a couple on the internet, Greg and Karen. We connected through this blog. Although they live in Brooklyn, Greg is originally from Saint Lucia and they are planning to move here. Greg came for a visit and I have spent some time with him in the last couple of days. He took me to a primary school in the south. We spent some time with the principal before going into a classroom to help. The principal told a story of used teddy bear donations she receives. She gives each child a teddy bear during the holidays. Some lucky children will receive a used teddy bear for Christmas.

There is a fine line between hope and no hope. In the end it matters which line you choose to stand in. It can change the course of a life. Sometimes it’s harder to get into the line that encourages hope.

As my service charges through my second year, I find myself looking at my surroundings in a reflective manner. I want to capture the details and remember the fine points. There are many things I know I will miss and it is becoming increasingly important to record these pictures into my mind. I won't miss the ants that are crawling on my computer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lazy Days of Summer and a Request

It’s taken a year to appreciate the island’s education challenge. It is only now that I am beginning to grasp the obstacles that plague improvement. Recently, I have been spending more time with schools as well as helping establish an after-school program. This has illuminated the problem. If a child is having difficulty reading some parents feel ashamed. It’s not a topic for discussion. Much of the culture is rich and passed down orally through dance, song and poetry. It is a visual culture and I wonder if that makes it easier to hide the problem .

Peace Corps organized a four day mid-service training which is lovingly referred to as MST. It was held last week. All the volunteers from our group reunited. There are thirty of us left out of the original group of thirty-nine. We are living on four islands: Saint Vincent, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Saint Lucia. MST was held on Saint Lucia. Peace Corps reserved rooms for us to stay in and organized meaningful training sessions. I learned a lot during these three days.

Our service is more than half complete. I have often heard volunteers say, “the second year goes so fast!” I am beginning to understand that statement. I have spent a year building projects and creating work. Now, suddenly I must refocus. The holidays are coming and after the first or second week of December island time slows to a halt. My last three months here will be spent winding down and handing over work ensuring sustainability.

There is a new frenzy going on privately within my brain. This frenzy is occupying a great deal of time in my daily thoughts. Many Peace Corps Volunteers in my group are just beginning to toy with a new word: “E x t e n d”. Since that word will likely not be part of my service vocabulary, it is increasingly apparent that I must focus on what I want to achieve in the time remaining. So, let me take you on a journey through the organizational thought process inside my head.

As I sit in the conference room on the second day of MST I ponder which training track to choose. There is an open session with the Country Director and a session on Project Management. However, as I read through the agenda the third session is intriguing: Remedial Reading. The session is in another building. I walk outside around the pool and courtyard which is filled with flowers and patches of grass, to the cabana. (Photo compliments of Diane’s Facebook)

The room is small, intimate and dark. We immediately begin opening the drapes to let the light in. As twelve of us sit around a large square conference table, I notice that most, if not all of them, are either teachers or volunteers who are working with children.

As I listen, I hear stories from volunteers who teach remedial reading and I begin to understand this problem is larger than I originally understood. Many children in the secondary school cannot read. I’m not sure how they are passed through the system but I know we have a similar problem in the United States.

I’d not pondered the complexities of learning to read until now. Like math, the learning process builds. A child who does not recognize the letters of the alphabet cannot learn the sounds of letters. A child who has not established a solid foundation of sounding words phonetically cannot become fluent.

One volunteer relates a story when she was working one-on-one with a third grade child. When she asked him to make the sound of a “C”, he smiled and said, “meow”. That very answer was one indicator of his ability and helped her diagnose his reading level. He associates pictures but not sounds. It is a cute reaction and an amusing story now, but I think it will lose it’s appeal when this child is twenty or thirty years old.

As I listen I think back to a few days ago. I jumped on the bus. I headed for the after-school program classrooms in the next village. The first hour is focused on completing homework. The facilitators are struggling because so many of the children are having reading issues. There are forty children and I wonder if the four facilitators are equipped to deal with this problem.

I continue listening and participating in the remedial reading session I realize many in the room seem to have a level of understanding far deeper than mine. There are so many people and experiences from which I can learn. I picked the right session. I will suggest a similar session with our after-school facilitators and the woman who is running this session.

Children are bored during the summer. I see them sitting on their porches as I pass. “Hello Crystal, how are you today?” I say. “I’m bored”, she answers. “Good Afternoon Yvette, what’s going on today”, I ask. She responds, “nothing, I’m just waiting to see if the library will open”. Sometimes they come to my house and just say “teach me”.

Children recite key learning together. They read things together or are read to by the teacher. They copy things from the chalk board into their notebooks. From my observations much of what they learn is rote memorization. I have observed some teachers who gather their children around them and facilitate discussions and evaluate problems and situations which invoke critical thinking. I think these teachers might be the exception.

When I taught Strategic Management at Monroe College last year, my students were terrified when I told them I did not test using T/F and multiple choice testing methodology. Instead, I would evaluate their learning based on how well they understood the material and evaluated problems: the dreaded essay. They had been trained to memorize and preferred this familiar testing method.

It frightens me when I see so many people in my village who have no work and not much to do. They talk about village tourism, kayaking and fish processing. However, I’ve come to believe that, although these things may have merit, it is the children that need attention. Literacy, critical thinkin
g, social skills, motivation and building confidence in the up-coming generation will be required in order to build new business opportunities and sustain an economy. The after-school program is one such vehicle designed for just this purpose.

What happens when school is in recess this summer and the Crystals and Yvettes are once again sitting on their porches hoping that the library will be open that day? What happens to the sense of community that the after-school program is achieving when summer comes?

Looking at the village as a system I began thinking of easy to implement and easy to sustain activities. I have three ideas. First, help launch a chess club; second, create a book club for those that can read; third, create a family movie night and discussion.

There are good films with good life lessons. I just ordered four films: The Wizard of Oz, The Clique, Ratatouille, and If the Earth Were a Village. I’m looking for books that are 80-100 pages, second grade level, and fai
rly cheap to start a book club. The government has loaned us a couple of chess sets and I will try to identify a teacher to launch this project.

In addition to this, I have been asked to create and deliver a one-day training session for the teachers working at the schools for disabled on the island.

If I can focus my time on these few things and be successful at just one of them, then I will declare success!

So here it is. I have a request

  • If you, my friends, have suggestions of books that would be suitable I would love to hear your ideas. Reading level would be first and second grade; no more than 80-100 pages.

  • If you want to donate a book once I have identified the title please let me know.

  • If you are feeling particularly generous during the holiday season and have used DVDs that are collecting dust, suitable for family viewing and have life lesson messages embedded into the story, feel free to donate them.

  • Finally, if you would like to donate one card game "SLAM", they are about $6, I need ten games.We will use them in the after school program as a spelling and reading tool.

All you have to do is leave a comment on this post, send me an email at, or contact one of my children.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Call Him Sir

I learned more from a third grade boy than from anyone or anything I have done while on this island. What I learned stunned me. It left me speechless. I still don’t fully understand it. It happened on the last day we met.

I have spent one hour a week for the last five weeks with third graders. I volunteered to do this as an extra assignment. Yes, I did this willingly. This was not a requirement. I’m sure you are wondering, “Why would you do this?” You might even ask, “Are you alright?” or “Do you have an issue with the word ‘no’?” At times I wonder the same thing.

I am teaching Junior Achievement, a five week primary school course. Junior Achievement curriculum is designed to start in the primary school grades. Each year the curriculum builds and develops the child’s skills. Finally, at the secondary level, students run an actual business and put their skills to practical use. The material is at times challenging. It is developed through the eyes of American educators. Little thought has been given to how the material relates to children living in a small village in another country.

During the first class I asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” One little boy wants to be a fireman and another wants to be a policeman. A little girl wants to be a nurse and another wants to be a pharmacist. Of course there are a lot of budding farmers and fishermen, shopkeepers and mothers. One little boy said he wanted to be a “sir”. Male teachers are referred to as "sirs" as female teachers are referred as "miss".

On another day, I gave the children cut outs of donuts. I also gave them stickers with pictures of ingredients that go into making a donut. With crayons, stickers, direction and a little imagination the children learned the difference between unit production and mass production while making paper donuts. The problem was that my children had never eaten a donut and were curious about what one must taste like. We talked about donut commercials they had seen. Cable TV broadcasts American television with American commercials. One little girl told me she knows someone who has eaten a donut. We spent a lot of class time on that sticking point.

Monday was our final class together. The lesson demonstrated how the economics of the village depends on the movement of money. Junior Achievement supplied a cassette tape with a cute little rap song and the story of a quarter. My children love music and I was looking forward to this lesson.

Miraculously, I have a cassette tape player in my apartment. It’s a boom box that came with the furnishings. As I prepared for the lesson, I put the cassette into the holder and turned it on . . . nothing. I turned up the sound . . . nothing. It would have made the lesson a lot of fun for them had it worked. Resources are thin in my village and I had to quickly adapt. I bet you are wondering why Junior Achievement gave us a cassette tape and not a CD. I am too.

I decided to do the lesson without the music and tell the story in a very animated way. I made little packages of homemade cookies. The cookies had nothing to do with the lesson, but I tried to make up for the lack of music. I have no idea why. They didn’t know it should have had music. Perhaps it was a twinge of guilt.

So, with materials, freshly baked cookies and a plan in my head I walked down to the primary school for our last meeting. I was anxious to teach them a simple economics lesson and unprepared for the life lesson I was about to receive.

Miss Monroe greeted me and as usual the children were excited to see me. “I saw you in the village yesterday” said one boy. A little girl said, “I saw you on the bus”. Another child said, “When I saw you I told my mother you are the Junior Achievement Teacher”. There is always a lot of excitement when I arrive.

We talked about all the things we learned over the weeks and then we began our new lesson. I picked a few children to play parts in the story. I gave a quarter to the banker. As the story progressed, the children participated by passing the quarter around their “village”. The banker gave the quarter to the meat market owner. The meat market owner bought shoes at the shoe store and the shoe store owner bought pizza for lunch at the pizzeria. And the game went on. The quarter was passed all around the village until it finally went back to the bank making a full circle. The children were hanging onto every word.

When the story was over, I asked, “What do you think would happen if the quarter stayed at the bank and didn’t move around the village?” What answer would you anticipate? I thought they would surely say, “Miss, we would have no money to buy pizza”. Or, “The shoe store would not stay in business and there would be nowhere to buy shoes.” There was a lot of chattering and I could tell they were coming to a big consensus. Finally, the decision emerged as I heard one boy say, “We would all be slaves”.

As I write this I’m still speechless. This little boy taught me something valuable on Monday. I should call him “Sir”.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Gamble

I heard a quote that stuck recently. Robin Roberts participated at a recent conference and while talking about her recent fight against breast cancer she said her motto was, “Make your mess your message”.

I spent time thinking about that quote. Coming “out” on the front page of the Los Angeles Times about John’s addiction to alcohol was liberating and also a way to make my mess my message.

I have been living in a mess since coming to Saint Lucia. Sometimes things don’t work out. Organizational Effectiveness can be incredibly rewarding – and terribly frustrating. It’s about helping people focus on the goal rather than individual agendas, helping them focus on passion rather than skill, and on motivators rather than a defined structure. It’s about helping people feel comfortable with risk and learning from failure and celebrating success no matter the magnitude. It’s about patience and realizing slower is usually faster. It’s about helping leadership realize that people need freedom to do a job without interference. It's guiding leadership to share a vision with others and allowing that vision to grow in unimaginable ways.

More often than not teams will succeed. There are a few times, however, when the stars just won’t line up and I have to walk away. Unfortunately, this is the case with my primary assignment in Saint Lucia. This week I walked away from it. I tried everything I could think of and more. I called experts who I knew in the states and asked for advice. Each time I reached a dead end, I picked up the pieces and tried to find another opening. But, when every possible opening was met with resistance it became clear that it was time to move on. It’s not failure – it’s learning. I wish this team the best and hope it can find its way.

The good news is that I now work with what I describe as the best IPP (Institutional Point Person) on the island. Brenda and I have worked together on a few assignments since I arrived.

I am officially working with her on activities such as the after-school pilot program. I am working with another volunteer at the Ministry of Social Transformation to develop training and measurement instruments for the after-school pilot program. Brenda is open to suggestions, enjoys brainstorming and has an amazing capacity to listen and consider change. Yes, I teach her, but she also teaches me.

Although my past primary assignment did not work out, I have accomplished many things in the past year that I feel good about. I have done a lot of leadership training, taught at Monroe College, worked in the secondary and primary school to teach Junior Achievement, planned a very successful event to teach the village children about the two Saint Lucia Nobel Laureates and another to teach children about Saint Lucia’s history on its thirtieth anniversary of independence. I am fulfilled with secondary successes

So, here it is. Organizational Effectiveness is a gamble. My newest mess is now my newest message: You got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. Thanks Kenny!

Friday, November 6, 2009

A New Kind of Water War

I’m used to water wars. I’m a California girl. Worse yet, I’m a Los Angeles girl. We get water from wherever we can find it. We have to because we are in a state of perpetual drought. What once appeared to be a nuisance every few years is now becoming a way of life. The Los Angeles water crisis causes strife between us and our neighbors. The need for water has threatened the ecosystem at Mono Lake and any other water sources within hundreds of miles.

I’m not a water expert and it would take time to research the entire history of the Los Angeles water war. You would likely be pretty bored reading it so let’s leave it this: Los Angeles doesn’t have enough water and must be creative in its ways to quench it’s thirst for the crystal clear liquid gold that sustains its life.

There are some counties that are recycling toilet water and making it into drinking water – yuck! Even as this is done it’s common to see people hosing down their driveways to rid the dirt and dust that may come into their homes. What are they thinking? Water rationing is imposed, but many people still don’t understand the urgency of the problem. People become outraged because their green lawns are turning various shades of brown. Really? This is a picture of just one of my neighbor's homes below me taken after the 2008 Slide Fire.

What happens when the ecosystem becomes unbalanced? Why should we care? Well, over the years the trees have become increasingly dense in the San Bernardino Mountains. The drought has caused many of the trees to be less healthy. Bark Beetles have attacked the trees and literally killed thousands and thousands of them. When the Santa Ana winds kick up, whether it’s a consequence of nature or manmade, fire season is inevitable. I don’t remember California having a bad fire season every year….it’s only been in the past few years. It’s almost too frightening to think about and I'm way to the left of this subject.

Enough about the Los Angeles water problem. Fast forward to Saint Lucia. The amount of water does not seem to be the issue. The issue is how to get the water traveling through the pipes and out of the faucets. Without going into another long drawn out research project, the bottom line is that the pipes are in poor condition and the country doesn’t have money to fix them. They are looking at privatization.

The country’s water system is fragile, pipes break often and many times we don’t have running water. Other times workers must work on the system and shut off the water, giving no advance notice to anyone. People have storage tanks outside their homes filled with water and/or buckets filled with water inside their homes. It’s a matter of expectation. They have learned to be patient and live with their own private water war. I’ve never been without water in Los Angeles, unless on a very rare occasion they give advance notice of dates and times the water will be off for some unusual repair.

Turn on last night’s evening news. Oops, here’s another kind of water war.

The worker’s at the country water facility WASCO are unhappy and striking. Half the island does not have any water. They don’t know how long the strike will last or how long people will be without water. Thousands of people are going about their daily routines without water. The story here is this: if Los Angeles residents went 10 minutes without water, backlash would be immediate. I’ve heard some complaints in Saint Lucia, but nothing close to the next riot I would expect in Los Angeles.

It’s a curious thing. Like I said, it’s a matter of expectation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Koko knocked on my door a few nights ago. Holding his notebook he asked me if I would help him with his math homework. He is learning double digit multiplication. I quickly discovered that he had not memorized his tables yet, making double digit multiplication very difficult and time-consuming. He only had six problems but we both knew it was going to take hours to complete.

Many times he looks to me for the answer, rather than finding and discovering the answer for himself. I often hear him say, “spell it”. My response is always the same, “look it up”. By now, he’s learned I will not give him the answer. He knows I will only help him learn how to figure it out. If he is doing geography or science, I open up the computer and look for maps or videos to help him understand things. He perks up with interest when I show him a YouTube video of a volcano erupting or find pictures of the stars on the computer.

So when he couldn’t figure out how to do his math problems, his question was logical. He said, “Can we find the answers on the computer?” I said, “Yes Koko, we can find the answer on the computer, but that would not help you learn math, would it?” It was a nice try.

I am happy that he now realizes that computers are tools to discover information. Most of the children in the village are not as aware as Koko because there are not enough people in the village that work with the children to help them make this discovery.

Seeing SexyMama, LoveyDoveyMama, YourSexyBabe, WildCat, and YaWannaBabe are common words in the village. What comes to mind when you see these words? Never mind. Don’t answer. I could recount a long list of these names as there are many more. Without giving all the information, these are partial email addresses. These names would probably be down at the bottom of my list just under or Yet, these are email addresses of children who are ten and eleven years old. How does this happen?

For the most part, children who I have come in contact with see computers as tools for games and chatrooms. Chatrooms are huge here. What does a stranger think when YaWannaBabe logs onto a chatroom? One little girl used my computer before I understood this problem. She was receiving email messages from people in those chatrooms. I can only imagine what I don’t know.

Most parents in the villages are not aware of what their children are doing on the internet. Many don’t know how to use a computer. I drafted a training session to teach parents internet safety. I discovered they aren’t ready to hear the message yet. I try to post my blogs from a humorous point of view, but I can’t seem to find a funny angle to this story.