Saturday, July 31, 2010


The city of New York is dense. I get that. People Density=a lot of trash. I get that. But they pick up everyday! What are they throwing away? Coming from a small island where resources are scarce, it makes me wonder. No judgment, I just wonder.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Anyone who knows me would say, “the last place I will see Karen is behind a bar in Bartender’s school making a Long Island Iced Tea”. Will, here I am learning how to bartend! Who would have thought that during my time in Peace Corps I would have developed this skill! I wasn’t there long enough to get certified, but I do know how to make a killer Watermelon Chiller.

Resting and looking forward to another jam-packed day, we ordered in and sat on the balcony enjoying the incredible view. And, yes, there may have been some Watermelon Chillers involved.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


What must it have been like? To walk up to the tall doors and open them? When I came to Saint Lucia, I was alone but it isn’t the same. I was going home in two plus years. I had a job and purpose. What is it like for immigrants, like Kate my mother-in-law, to come to this land of opportunity? What kind of expectations do they bring? There is no ‘training’ to go through or someone to show you the ropes as you try to navigate through the doors and to a life in a new country and new culture.

Is there a contrast when they see the Statue of Liberty for the first time and five years later? Do they see the American Dream as a possibility or an illusion? There are so many questions. I wish I had taken the time to seek the answers when Kate was alive.

What is it like today, for new immigrants, possibly those from Saint Lucia coming to the United States? Since the beginning of Ellis Island, many laws have been enacted to protect immigrants from exploitation, however, quotas and 9/11 and the current depressed economy has also had an impact. I wonder what it is like to immigrate to the United States now.

We took the ferry to Ellis Island. We stood in the Great Hall, once used as the Registry Room and spoke to a Park Ranger and Historian. Imagine going through the quarantine and medical check process only to find one or two members of the family would be deported while others would find an open door.

Downstairs we looked at the exhibits depicting the people who came through those doors; the demographics, the luggage, the tired faces from days of steerage passage.

Looking at the exhibit and standing where so many first entered the United States has an impact.

Then I had a "huh?" moment: the “Barbie” exhibit. What? A Barbie Exhibit? I suppose there must have been a money exchange in there some

We sat on an outside bench watching the birds and giving our bodies a break from an incredibly awful snack that sounded like a good idea at the time. For anyone interested, I do not recommend putting big chunks of homemade Oreo Cookie Fudge on top of English Shortbread Cookies. And I certainly don't recommend that you eat the entire package of cookies. What were we thinking?

We took the ferry to see Liberty Island. What we found when we got there was that there is a four week wait to go into the statue where the museum is located. All we could do is walk around the parameter. We decided this was unacceptable and after a few minutes talking to the man who was taking tickets, the rope was lifted and we were inside.

The museum displayed the mold which was used to make her foot, and a replica of the foot and face were on display.

There were touching and emotional letters on display from those that immigrated and saw the statue for the first time.

By far, the most curious thing I saw was a poster of her. She points, saying “Make America a Better Place, Leave the Country”. It was so offensive – and then Janyn pointed out the tiny letters on the bottom left part of the poster: “Peace Corps Volunteer Campaign”. I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

We finished the day in
New York City. We walked through the city and were just in time to see sunset on top of the Empire State Building.
Somehow we managed to talk the guy into giving us free 'radio guides'. We found them a little boring to use and gave them to others standing in line as we left. When we got to the elevator, the man who gave them to us asked for them back. Oops, we really should do a better job thinking things through. Dinner in Little Italy and a long walk through the city got us home by

A long, fun and tiring day, we were looking forward to a slower day in the morning; business first and then a most surprising activity!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Humm? A new trend? A fashion statement?

My report on New York is being interrupted for this special news bulletin.

Yesterday I stopped to take shelter during a rain storm. Is there a fashion trend going on here?

Considerable research determined the answer is yes, it must be a new trend.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New York

I am in Miami Airport. Anyone who knows me, understands this airport is my least favorite. (Reference The Secret of the Yellow Dots) Fortunately, my layover is only two hours and it takes an hour to get through customs and go through the ridiculous process of finding my luggage to re-check it to New York JFK, my final destination.

I have no watch and the Saint Lucia flip phone is packed away because there is little need for a non-working phone while I’m here in the United States. I can’t even pull it out to look cool. I look around for a snack to bring on the plane, but nothing is appealing. What time is it? Do I have time to stand in these insanely long lines?

I walk up to the first person I see with a watch and ask the time. She looks at me confused and says, “no English”. I reply, “Que hora es?” and she responds. It is only then I realize how ridiculous the situation is because I have no idea what she is saying in her reply.

It is July 4th and there are fireworks in the sky. It is a beautiful site landing in New York. After greeting my sister, Janyn, and gathering up my suitcase we proceeded to New Jersey. This is my first trip to New Jersey and New York. The George Washington Bridge is beautiful. It was close to midnight when we arrived at her condominium on the 23rd floor. Saint Lucia seemed like a long way away as we sat on the balcony and watched the fireworks for the next couple of hours.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I don't have a lot of choice. I can move to a new house. I can pay for a flight to bring one of my boys here. I can spend my entire retirement fund to stay in a luxurious hotel with a swimming pool and lounges on the beach. Alright, the most realistic option is to pay for one of my boys to come here. Why? Will look at what I am finding around my house! I am sure this is a mouse dropping!

Frightening as it is, I have dealt with this in the least girly way possible, largely because the mouse has never come out in the open and so I’ve never seen it! I've seen these droppings for awhile now, but have lived in denial.

I've convinced myself it is not real and if I don't talk about it, it is not true. Another story I tell myself is that these are old droppings and the mouse has long left the premises. I found one dropping in a bedroom drawer. Since then I rattle drawers, cupboards and closets before opening them in order to give the vermin fair warning to get out of sight and let me remain in my happy place.

I have a fear of these four-legged low-to-the-ground, silent and sneaky things. I remember my mother standing on the dining room table screaming one afternoon; a frightening vision leaving this once impressionable mind indelibly stained with terror. Yes, mom too was deathly afraid of these creatures.

Years ago and early one morning I was sitting on the sofa, drinking my first cup of coffee. It was Sunday Morning. I was reading the paper and listening to news on the television. This particular morning was different and the event is crystal clear in my mind. Within my periphery, I saw something move. I turned my head and met its gnarly eyes. I was sure this creature was going to attack me.

I knew what I had to do. I immediately looked for Putter, my beloved black kitty-cat and fierce hunter who slept with one eye opened and loved nothing more than living for his purpose. He loved slinging mice high into the air like little toy things. After playing with it until all signs of life were a distant memory, Putter would then bite its head off, decapitating it on the spot.

Although Putter has gone to the big kitty litter box in the sky and is no longer available to save his best friend, the story lingers. That morning I picked Putter up and pointed his face in the mouse’s direction. Putter yawned and jumped back on the sofa quickly regaining his lazy comfort.

I ran into Kevin's room and woke him. Now one thing you must understand about Kevin is that no one would describe him as “friendly” in the morning and especially not friendly in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. However, after exchanging words, he begrudgingly got out of bed, snarling words that would make any mother run for cover. I ran from the house, not knowing how he would capture the intruder. Minutes later he appeared on the doorstep with only his boxer shorts on. The mouse was firmly in the clutch of his hand and its little tail wrapped around his arm. Kevin shouted, "What do you want me to do with it?"

I have several more stories similar to this one, but I will spare you the details as I’m sure you understand the depth of the predicament that was in front of me. So, lets get back to the point of this story.

Given the situation I was in, I reacted in the only logical way I could think. I left an email for my boys giving them specific instructions about coming to the island to capture this dangerous and ugly creature and save me from the horrible fate that I was sure to face.

Then I confided in Elvinette telling her what I had done. She looked at me and said, "Karen, those are Gecko droppings". Disaster averted and my happy place resumed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


“I can’t watch those slave movies. It hurts too much.” She goes on to say that slavery is used as an excuse and it impedes today’s progress. Her pain is visibly set on her sleeve, yet she knows that progress begins when she moves forward.

Violence is rooted in cultural norms. One woman alleges “men twist scripture to their advantage”. Heads are nodding around the room.

Another woman says, “The priest's solution is to pray about it”. Her church completes her identify. The other half of her identity is the man who is beating her.

And so it goes when women congregate in a safe environment to talk about the women’s role in Saint Lucian society. The invisible veils that cover their lives come off and women get real. Some talk about how they teach their daughters to submit to the same cultural norms they criticize today.

Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, it takes a few women to awaken to the shadows of their past that do not represent truth. A woman looks over at me and says, “it’s hard to be a woman”.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bank on Learning

I remember when my oldest son was just approaching his teenage years. He came into the house one evening, excited and loud, declaring his love for the perfect food. He made a declaration of truth, “they fill you up, they are cheap and they taste good!” I’m glad he grew out of that because, although he made valid points in his argument, donuts aren’t exactly nutritious.

The growing stash of Pringles Cans in various sizes under my sink provides constant pangs of guilt. I already filled the mostly empty cupboard once. I gathered them up and took them to the after-school program. I was confident they would find a myriad of uses for the wonderful cast-away and ever-growing collection of cylindrical containers.

But alas, my collection grows. The only other thing occupying space within this cupboard is an extension cord which I must use when I need electricity to my washing machine. It’s annoying when I open the door to remove the cord. The containers spill over onto the floor and throughout the shelf. I must bend down and neatly arrange them, pushing them backward and hoping that when I return the cord to its rightful shelf space, the cans will not behave in the same manner and cause me more grief. What’s a Pringle Loving Girl to do? Surely, I shouldn’t give up my love of these crunchy salty delights! The Pringles cans are just one part of the story so let us move forward.

I’m teaching a Grade One Junior Achievement class. This is my first effort teaching this grade. I was excited when the teacher asked me if I would do it…that is until I looked through the kit. I previously taught Grade Three and found it a challenge because this American company made no cultural considerations in the curriculum. They used donuts for an exercise when many of my children had never eaten a donut. They gave me a cassette to play music when I had nothing to play it with. It became quickly apparent that Grade One is no different.

But first, let me be fair. These problems have been brought to the attention of Junior Achievement Worldwide and they have pledged to improve the worldwide portion of the program. It is a great program. I was in Junior Achievement in high school so many years ago and learned a great deal from it. But, like the Pringles Cans, this is just one point in the story and so again, let us move forward.

The focus of this course is to learn about acquisition. In other words, how to trade, barter and buy the things we need and want and how to save money to obtain things beyond our immediate reach. The kit contains stickers of coins and posters with blown up pictures of money. So, what’s the problem? Saint Lucia doesn’t use American Dollars; they use Eastern Caribbean Dollars. So once again, I must get creative.

When my niece taught the class she pasted American change side by side with Eastern Caribbean change so that the children could see the comparison. This was a good exercise because tourism is a growing industry in Saint Lucia. It is likely that they may see American dollars at some point in their life.

The instructions for this class were to read a story about a little girl who earns and saves money to buy a present for her friend. Then the children are given a sheet with four choices of presents they would like to buy. They are to choose one and put American coin stickers beside the item to pay for it. I quickly see this will make absolutely no sense to these little six year old children.

So, you may be asking at this point: What do Pringles and Junior Achievement have in common? Is she totally isolated in her village on a remote island and she just babbles on about nothing?

I looked at the material and made an executive decision to chuck it. After all, I’m the executive in this Junior Achievement class. And then it came to me . . . the vision. Suddenly 23 Pringles Cans would have a new home and my power cord could once again claim the space in my cupboard that it had enjoyed for so long before I discovered this new tasty food.

Yup, time to make 23 banks…and better yet, I’d just found a use for all those coins that I don’t use (reference my post, “Money”, March 2009). I knew I was in for the fight of my life and had to prepare like a prize fighter. I was determined to win the battle to deliver an effective class. Alright, I admit there may be a possibility that I'm being a little dramatic here.

I measured and cut paper. I glued smaller pieces of colored paper onto the white paper. The children will decorate the paper before taping their artwork to the Pringles Cans. I separated all the coins I’ve collected in the last year and divided them into the cans. I even went to the local credit union to get some quarters, adding two to each can. I made my own can. Look at this talent! Am I amazing or what?

The next day, I was armed with the Junior Achievement storybook and twenty three cans, each filled with coins. I walked down my stairs and through my village streets, the cans loudly clinking, the loud sounds ringing in my ears and drawing the attention of each passerby. I boarded the bus and finally made my way to the MoPo.

I showed the children my bank and asked, “would you like to make one of these today?” Of course they all declared with excitement, “Yes, Miss”. I pulled out several coins and put them on a nearby desk next to my can.

The story for this week is about a little girl who works for money which she saves to buy a birthday present for her friend. I read the story to the children. Each time the little girl in the story earned money, I would take coins from the pile and toss them into the can. They made a loud noise, capturing the children’s attention.

After reading them the story I gave each child a Pringles Can complete with about a dollar in change. I asked them to take the money and find all the one cent coins, two cent coins, five cent coins and so on. I asked them to identify each coin.

I told them because they had worked so hard in the Junior Achievement class, they would be able to keep the coins. One little boy whispered in my ear, “I have money!” I responded, “yes, you do”.

The teacher looked my way while the children were coloring and decorating the paper that would cover each can. She said, “where did you get all these cans”. I responded, “easy, I eat a lot of Pringles”. Although I’m sure there was some dietary judgment on her part, she did flash a friendly smile.

I passed by the desk of a little girl, Jilli, who slipped me a homemade card. After the class, I looked at what she had given me. Two princesses with crowns, the printed words “Junior Achievement” and inside the card read, “I love you Miss”.

The teacher kept all the things they had made during Junior Achievement. They would bring them home during the last week of school. On the final day I was there, the teacher pointed to their banks and told me the children were bringing in change they collect and are rapidly filling up their banks.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Flexibility and leaving expectations behind are two things that Peace Corps stresses. Previously, I worked for years for a globalized company and then taught college courses in a minority community college where students came from far corners of the world. I have traveled, read and studied other cultures. Still, I was surprised at the cultural norms that dictated how people viewed me as a volunteer and Peace Corps as an organization. Hence, the words 'flexibility and expectations' continue to add meaning.

Looking back on the last twenty-three months, time was swift. I can recall the musty smell of the hotel conference room we left in Miami after our two-day staging. Small, but memorable, complimentary comments made by hotel staff about Peace Corps Volunteers were gratefully accepted.

It doesn’t seem long ago that I was standing in Miami International Airport with my allotted eighty pounds of luggage, looking around at the other thirty-nine people that would land with me in the Eastern Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.

I remember almost each step I took off the airplane and onto Saint Lucia’s soil in the heat of the day and asking myself “what have I done?” Within a few minutes we were in the parking lot talking with the volunteers who were excited to meet us. Finally, we slowly took cover from the rain inside the bus that would take us to the Pastoral Center for our orientation. I remember thinking “this is so right for me”. After a few days we were sent 'home' with our host families, training began and seven weeks later we were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers.

I have worked with two IPPs (Institutional Point Person which means the person with which a volunteer is assigned) and most clearly remember my first meeting with Brenda. During my time on the island, I have discovered three characteristics that both the IPP and volunteer must have to achieve success.

    1. The IPP and PCV are in it for the right reasons. Both are respected leaders in the community and there is a willing following. The people working along side the IPP and Peace Corps Volunteer are motivated and committed - or at least have the potential to be motivated and committed.
    2. Leave expectations behind and practice flexibility. The PCV and IPP want to collaborate. Together the volunteer and IPP discover diverse ways to do new things, to motivate the people around them and to achieve success in their projects.
    3. Relationships are important and built. Good listening skills, shared leadership, building off each others ideas and giving credit where it is due are just a few things that spawn great relationships.

    Intellectually, this is easily understood but in practice when two people from two cultures come together it can be a challenge.
    If these characteristics are not present it's a waste of time.

    For the most part, Peace Corps Volunteers don't have the answers, but we offer fresh perspective and add a new dimension of thinking diversity. Maximizing collaboration, sharing openly to discover new paths to success, and practicing good communication skills to create understanding, and yes, sometimes tolerance, can be found when an IPP and the Volunteer are chasing the same result: success.

    I have had both successful and unsuccessful experience with IPPs. The most difficult thing for most people to accept is change, and change is not only important for the IPP, but also for the volunteer. The ability of the IPP and volunteer to work together to create meaningful work is dependent on these characteristics. Volunteers are here not just here to teach, but to learn.

    The moment I met Brenda, we clicked. She is a collaborator. We are working on an after-school program together. This is a picture of Brenda and her son Lyle. I've been following her around for a couple of weeks to get a good picture of her. I was never successful so I went to her Facebook page and stole this photo.

    I created a workshop a few months ago for the facilitators. During the workshop we talked about how our perceptions become reality. We discussed a child who was labeled as a “trouble-maker” and they were ready to dismiss him from the program. Although he is only ten, he has the label firmly fastened to his chest. He brought it with him to the program, he brings it with him to school and in the community.

    Together we urged the facilitators of the program to give the boy another chance by changing their expectations of him, thereby allowing him to react in a positive manner. The boy has improved dramatically. After a vacation off-island, I returned to find a message waiting for me from Brenda. It appears his teachers are also marveling at the behavior progress he has shown. She said, “We are making a difference!”

    Success is measured in small and sustainable change. Small change will eventually add up to big change, but not likely pointed at one person. I've concluded it is the team of volunteers, IPPs and the people living in the villages that, over time, achieve real lasting success. It starts with two people from two different cultures working together, being flexible, leaving expectations behind and moving together toward common goals and vision.