Sunday, December 27, 2009


I walk through the village and say, “Hello”, “Bonjour”, “Good Afternoon”. People are friendly and respond “Are you ok?” which is their version of “How are you?” I walk past the parliamentary representative office and the receptionist yells out, “Good Morning Karen”. As I pass the school children they say, “Miss, Miss! Hello Miss Karen”.

I pass by Jeffrey’s house. He is an old man who lost his wife two years ago. He eats his lunch on the porch while a pack of friendly and hungry stray dogs wait for a bit of kindness. I walk by Mrs. Nichols house. She is an old woman in her nineties. She sits on her porch every day greeting passersby. I bring her homemade cookies or cakes when I think about it.

The other day while walking to the bus I saw Sly Joseph. He is the Rasta who has land in the country. He has acquired grants and developed a partnership with the University of Vermont. He makes his own electricity and lives off his land. He is living the definition of “green”. He wants to invite Peace Corps Volunteers and the Japanese Volunteers to camp overnight on his property, swing from the rope to swim in his waters and enjoy a meal with him.

Walks through my village are a source of enjoyment for me. However, I’m always surprised when I greet one man in particular. He carries a cutlass, is dirty and must work hard in the fields. His response to my greeting is always the same. In a very slow and deliberate manner he says, “Fuck You Bitch”. He pronounces each word very slowly and very carefully as if to make sure he is completely understood. Forgetting about this strange greeting, I have been met with the same words on a few occasions now.

I know I’m different here. Maybe he’s had a problem with a white woman before. Maybe he’s heard stories about a white person. Who knows. I suppose it doesn’t matter. I related this story. The people there laughed and knew exactly who it is that greets me in such an unconventional manner. They said, “Oh, he says that to everybody”. I guess I’m really not that different. The truth is he doesn’t seem to like anyone and it doesn’t matter what I look like.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Pigs are Screaming

It’s Friday morning, a beautiful day. Four days of rain have let up to a bright sunny day. The children are dressed in their crisply ironed uniforms. The boys shoes are polished and the girls have colorful ties in their hair. They are walking down the street to school. I listen to the church bells ring and the roosters crow. I hear the goats and the dogs barking. The village has come alive as a new day begins. It’s a beautiful hot day with a wonderful island breeze.

I’m sitting in my apartment with the windows locked and secured, the doors closed and the heat is penetrating the brick structure. It is hot and opening the windows would provide the cool island breeze relief from the suns heat. On this morning, however, it is not possible. The windows will remain closed. I can’t make them stop. I can only hope their story ends soon. I live two blocks from the slaughterhouse. It’s Friday morning and the pigs are screaming.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top 10 Ways to Satisfy my Craving for a Chicken Taco

10. A friend mails it through regular mail

9. Find a friend who has more money and sends it FedEx

8. Spend all my retirement money to hire someone to bring one to me

7. Request a transfer to a country in Central America where they make them, knowing my request will be denied because my only reason would be to obtain and eat a chicken taco.

6. Evaluate what is important in life and then request an early termination from Peace Corps.

5. Use the rules of substitution to make a taco: bakes, cheddar cheese and cabbage

4. Concentrate really hard on the lasagna I wanted last week to change the craving, knowing I can’t have that either.

3. Think about the poor dying chicken to make it unappetizing.

2. Send my boys to Florida to build a large sling shot and shoot one to me

1. Learn to cook

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Beating Drums and Santa Hats

It is December 12, 2009. It’s 6:00 a.m. and there is a party. No, wait; it’s a parade. And, they stop under my window for a few minutes. They slowly move down the street and stop again. This appears to be a permanent destination. This is where the village limes. There are about fifty of them, some wearing Santa Hats and jumping up and down, while others supply a steady beat by beating on drums and pots and pans. Everyone is yelling. I'm not sure what they are saying as they are all yelling at one time.

The wind whips through the island signifying a new ten minute rain dump is about to occur. Surely this will stop the revelry. They continue beating the drums, jumping up and down and yelling. This is curious because normally the slightest hint of rain sends them seeking shelter. What is going on? This will be my second and final taste of National Day.

In my village, National Day starts on December 12. This appears to be a warm-up for the real event. Here’s a peek at the activities my villagers find to be a fun and enjoyable activity at six o’clock in the morning. It’s taken from my balcony. I’ve given up any hope of sleep for the next 48 hours. So, as a truly integrated and happy volunteer, I drink my coffee and enjoy my final December holiday experience.

I love how Saint Lucia describes this day: “Each December 13, a variety of sports and cultural events celebrate St Lucia's National Day. The Festival of Lights lantern-making competition is popular and villages throughout the country can be seen decorated with lights. It is a day of pride that celebrates culture and religion. This is the day that kicks off the holiday season.” I’ve never seen these activities, but they do sound interesting. Maybe I should show this description to the villagers and let them know they are doing it wrong.

It’s now twenty-four hours later and the crowd has increased to hundreds. They have added a DJ and a bar was constructed out of bamboo and other natural materials. The Soca Music is being played at record decibels and can likely be heard within a five mile radius. I am three houses away from the stage. You say you don’t know what Soca is? Well, for my older friends who are still listening to traditional Rock and Roll and are musically challenged, simply click on Soca and be instantly entertained.

It’s about 5:45 a.m. I don’t know about them, but I’m ready for some sleep. Do you think they are partied out yet?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welcome to my Planet

Teaching IT class is organized and disciplined when Greg comes to help. Unfortunately, Greg lives in the United States and isn't a regular at the After-School Program. Aren't these children cute. They are so well mannered. I wrote this post before I taught IT at the after-school program today. It's obvious. Greg wasn't there today. It's obvious. I'm on a steep learning curve.

I wrote this post before the little girl pointed her finger at me and told me how I should fix her problem. I wrote this post before the children gave each other the middle finger and before one little boy was punched in the stomach during class. I wrote this post before I discovered the secret rumble post after-school program today. A little boy plans to beat up a little girl.

I am teaching the children to be ladies and gentlemen. Please don’t laugh. I am teaching the boys to respect the girls: ladies first, give up your chair; the little things. I am teaching the girls to be ladies, sit up straight and say thank you. Alright, I’m laughing. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, if I can’t laugh at myself, things will get pretty grim.

I wrote this piece before the little boy told me the Bible says man was made first and girls should show their men respect and men need not give the same respect back. I’m really trying to find the humor here. I’m sure it will come although I may need to put on my red sparkly shoes and click my heels several times. I’m glad I wrote this post so that I can get back to centered idealism, if not total denial, where I so conveniently live: Karen’s Planet.

This was this afternoon, but here’s a look at my morning: my clashing and contrasting planet.

It’s early, at least early for me. It is Monday morning. Mornings are mine. I do most of my work in the afternoons and evenings. Mornings are spent working on my computer, cleaning, walking, contemplating, reflecting, enjoying; all of those things we do when we are alone. It is a time for meditative relaxation…the calm before the storm. This afternoon I will be working with children.

I listen to The Hammond Song, a newly rediscovered song by the Roches. Music is a one of those things I have more time for since arriving on the island. How could I have distanced myself from the music that was the vehicle that centered me all those years? In the past months, I have spent hours building my music library with old favorites and finding new favorites. How would I have ever discovered the Cave Singers had I not had this time for reflection?

I sit on the plastic white chair on my back porch overlooking the village, drink my fresh pot of Starbucks Coffee and watch the village go about its business.

A man who lives behind my house is working in his outdoor kitchen. He is making local juice. His sink consists of buckets sitting on countertop of aluminum used for roofing material. He meticulously cleans his pans and utensils, while carefully wiping down the counter.

The woman two houses from mine is hanging laundry on the line. The day care school across the way begins to fill with children; Bible Songs start their day. The birds are chirping and sitting on the cable and telephone wires.

People go about their business accepting life as it is on this tiny island. Many will never leave the island and some will never leave the village. Life is simple. Sometimes I see it as better, sometimes worse, but most of the time I just see it as different. For many, life appears to be unbearably hard and I wonder if they see it that way. The man making local juice in his yard has no indoor plumbing, but I do see a cable TV wire running to his home. Does he see his life as hard? I wonder.

Thinking about it, this is a perfect way to jump-start retirement. Peace Corps has given me so much and most of it is unexpected. It was easy for me to lose my way during my thirty years buried in corporate life. Teaching was a nice bridge because it gave me perspective as I listened to those who were still fighting the corporate war on a daily basis.

I won’t move mountains while I’m here. Change is too slow for that, but perhaps I will touch a few people along the way. Perhaps I can teach just one child to read – or another to discover the gift of critical thinking. Maybe I can help one child learn to love himself. I can leave ideas, help create new ways of doing things, and open the people I interact with to see things differently. Anyone can help to establish an after-school program or teach a Junior Achievement class. They don’t really need Peace Corps for that. It’s the small things I hope to leave behind. One thing I am sure of is this: I am getting far more than I am giving.

Ah, I love living on my planet. I welcome company – want to join me?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Love Yourself

I like working with the children. This might be surprising to you, but I assure you, I’m stunned when I hear myself say those words. Working with children is not something I usually enjoy. I like teaching adults. I love to develop and deliver adult training. But teaching children? It’s never been my specialty.

I can hear the bus drive onto the gravel in the school yard. I emerge from the IT Room and take a deep breath. The children in the after-school program are excited. Elvinette opens the door. They rush out into the school yard, backpacks in hand, greeting those that are already here.

There are forty of them. Forty little balls of energy. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I wonder if I will live through the afternoon. But many times I’m having as much fun as they are. I think my saving grace is that I only have them for about ninety minutes. The program has four segments: Life Skills, Creative Arts, IT and sports.

Lately, I’ve been teaching computers. No, I’ve never taught computers before but as one Peace Corps Volunteer eloquently said, “volunteers are experts in everything”. So true. There are no limits and the stretch is always uncomfortable. I’m accustomed to the discomfort of doing new things. I like it.

The Life Skills Facilitator, Elvinette, is an amazing person. She is young and the mother of a three year old. Regardless of her age and experience with children, she is a natural and should pursue teaching. She is working with the children to help them understand who they are, where they are going and what it will take to get there.

Thursday was an important day. The people who are funding the after-school program were coming to visit. Elvinette recently helped the children make paper shields. They were asked to write statements on their shields. Who do you admire? Name a favorite thing? What do you want to learn? She took the shields and mounted them on cardboard for display.

As I read the shields, I smiled. One boy wants to be a mechanical engineer. I asked Brenda, “What made him say that? He must know someone.” This is a small village and not an answer that one might predict. Brenda responded that his uncle is a very successful mechanical engineer. A lot of the children admired their mothers. Many said their favorite color is red or that they like chicken and bakes.

As I continued reading through the display I came upon the shield of a boy that has been a challenge. He’s been labeled as a “troublemaker” by his peers. I’ve been working with him, “Come on and let’s show them what they say isn’t true. I know that you are a good boy. Let’s show them today how good you can be.” Some days he is successful. I see improvement. Other facilitators are also working with him. He is one of the reasons why I like working with children. As I read his shield, my eyes fill with tears. It’s another moment that stops my world.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


It is loud. It’s early in the morning and the noise wakes me. There is music and people talking. I look out the window and see a crowd in the street. The home across the street is abandoned. It is a miracle that the house is still standing. But as much as it is in bad shape, there is a shed behind it that is in worse shape. This is where Henry lives. I call him “smoochie man” because he smooches the air when he sees me. I just learned his name today.

Smoochie is sitting on the concrete step, trying his best not to fall into the street. He appears disoriented. He tries over and again to put his foot into his flip-flop, but is unable to do it. His head is bleeding. If I didn’t know his history, I would think he is drunk. But he is not. I suspect he must have had a seizure. There is blood on the side of the road. He must have fallen there.

Several months ago I went outside and he was lying in the street unconscious. The neighbors were surrounding him waiting for the ambulance. Elizabeth said he refuses to take his medicine. I hear someone say, “call 911 for the man”.

It is a party atmosphere. There is a man who taunts Henry. He pretends like he is having a seizure, makes strange sounds and then laughs. He dances with glee down the street. It’s hard to understand this cruelty. Henry does not want help and so there is nothing to be done except watch him and hope he does not have another seizure.

After ten or fifteen minutes the ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital. I made a pot of coffee, got dressed and headed for a one day course which was coincidentally to learn emergency first aid procedures.