Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Coming Home - Feeling Lucky

This is my group in the beginning.  We never know how this adventure will unfold. And now, here I am at the ending. I'm sure each of our individual endings look different and any expectations we had when this photo was taken are a distant memory.

Only a handful of people know that I only have two weeks left on the island. I have one foot firmly standing on Saint Lucia soil and the other foot stepping back into California.


I am excited to go home and spend time with my three sons and daughter-in-law, my granddaughter, friends, my dog Barkley and a newly acquired kitty, Riley. I am looking forward to seeing my youngest son, Kevin, who is coming to help me move.


I spoke with my granddaughter and she is anxious for me to watch her take tap dancing lessons. I have another granddaughter who will arrive in November. I anticipate and look forward to this next chapter but I feel a pull from Saint Lucia, the country I have grown to appreciate and love.


Two weeks later. It is near midnight. It seems as if I have been travelling for hours. Oh, I almost forgot – I have been travelling for hours.


Edward picked Kevin and I up at my apartment at 1:00 p.m. I looked around one last time at the two bedroom apartment that had become my home.


The main road in my village where I walked
to the highway to catch a bus
Earlier I said my last goodbyes to Elvinette, Brenda and Lyle. The night before, I said goodbyes to my neighbors and my friend Angelina. I walked down the stairs for the last time where John and Elizabeth were waiting to say goodbye. Within just a minute or so we were on our way and I was looking out the window of the van getting a last glimpse of Micoud Village as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

The lines at Hewanorra Airport were longer than I have ever seen. I get lucky. They took my three over-packed suitcases without weighing them and gave Kevin and I boarding passes. We look over at the three hundred people waiting in a line nearby realizing this is the line to get through security.


My last glimpse of Saint Lucia
And, finally - the plane is here
The plane is an hour late and we are warned that we will likely miss our connection. We are given seats in the front of the plane so we can rush the crowd, move through customs, claim our baggage and try to make the Los Angeles flight. This is definitely a sign that I am leaving my slow-paced life where everything will eventually happen and into a world where the word stress is part of life. I am entering the crazy fast moving ridiculous way of life that just two years ago I accepted as normal. Yes, this will be a long day.


No one dares get in our way. We are focused. We successfully navigate our way through Miami Airport getting through customs in record time.


Our luggage is among the first bags thrown onto the luggage carousal. I find two carts, Kevin throws the bags onto the carts and we run through the airport, clearing the last x-ray check in record time.


I yell over at Kevin, “Over here”, knowing where the re-check for Los Angeles is located. A few beads of sweat are on my forehead but I have a feeling of complete satisfaction that we were going to make our flight. A woman behind the ropes approaches. Breathless, I say, “LAX”. She looks at me in an almost bored manner and simply says, “too late” as she pointed to the re-booking line. I look in the direction of her pointing finger and witness the sedentary line with three hundred impatient, grumbling and angry people. This is a fitting welcome to my former life.

The American Airlines agent tells us how "lucky" we are because our flight delay was late due to maintenance. Most of the people in the re-booking line were there due to weather delays.  She explains, "If your flight was late because of weather, American would only re-book your flight".


Quietly, I wondered why this was considered lucky. Wouldn't lucky be considered getting to our destination ahead of time? Or, wouldn't lucky be a free first-class upgrade and getting to our destination on time? Isn't lucky not having to pay for over-packed, bulging bags checked with 'Heavy' tags fastened to them?  Alright, I could continue to contrast my definition of lucky with American Airlines definition, but you get the point I'm trying to make.


After standing in the line for over an hour, and trying to put a 'I feel lucky look' on our face, we are re-booked for the next morning and handed food and hotel vouchers. We were on our way to find the hotel shuttle.


Tomorrow the journey would continue with yet another stop and change of planes. In the end, this simple 'lucky' trip became an adventure which included more than 24 hours, two countries, three states, one missed flight, a hotel stay, three bus rides and a car ride before arriving home.


During our Close of Service Conference, we were warned about re-entry into the United States and the readjustment that people feel. Twice I’d vacationed at home since leaving for my Peace Corps assignment. I am sure these warnings don’t apply to my situation.


My next and maybe last post will describe three stories where I found myself looking at simple things in a very different way.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Experience: A Retrospective-Part II

THINGS I WILL MISS

In the beginning, I often questioned my decision to become a Peace Corps Volunteer and then slowly things fell into place. When that happened life took over. I am goal oriented and my work was always aimed at the finish line – sustainability. I would think about going home, but it was only during my last couple of days that reality hit. Two years seems like a long time but they went as quickly as Champaign glasses clink in the celebration.

Although, I do not miss trying to catch a bus at the worst part of the day to get to MOPO, I miss the ride with locals.  I miss walking down the path to Patience Combined School. I miss hearing the goats complain while chomping on the grass at the soccer field. I miss seeing the children pass by in their little uniforms while I walk into the school.




video

I miss the Saint Lucia weather. I miss sitting on my bed listening to a soft rain and hearing the wind whip through the village. At times the wind became so strong that it howled and reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe, whose poetry I read and reread as a kid. When the rain stopped and the windows were opened, the breeze circulated like a giant fan throughout the house.


Janyn's Second Visit

Tracy


I will miss visits from my family and being their tour guide.  I will miss watching my them fall in love with this island in a very special way.

Kevin and Jay


I won’t miss, “Hey white lady”. I’m not sure why people think that’s an appropriate greeting. I’d never say…well, never mind. I never would say it.

I miss the simplicity of life here on the island. Priorities are different here. They value family, church and celebrations in ways I haven't experienced in the United States. They work to live, not something I knew much about when I arrived.


I don’t miss Saint Lucia television commercials as well as Joey the Weatherman and his stupid parrot Bob. I don’t miss the cell phone carrier, LIME, trying to sell their company by offering contests with prizes that will enable you to “party like a rock star”. It’s no wonder I stopped watching television during these past two years. I can’t think of anything else I won’t miss.


I made a note on my journal toward the end of May on a Saturday night:  'The church is rocking. The funeral service began in the late afternoon and continues through the evening.'  I will miss the sounds of the church bells, the people singing hymns and watching the people who are dressed in their finest clothes walking down my street towards and going to the church.

Living in a small village where everyone knows everyone's business was amazing.  I am grateful I was part Micoud and MoPo Village.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Experience: A Retrospective-Part I

MY JOURNEY


Thanksgiving 2009
This has been an incredible journey. I started writing notes for this post (which as it turns out will be several posts) last Thanksgiving. I wanted to ensure that each day left was enjoyed and that I capture everything that needs to be said in this one final post. This experience encouraged my own growth and understanding of a tiny piece of the world. I received more than I gave. I am lucky to call myself a RPCV, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.


For those who have read my journal: Your comments and encouragement were appreciated. Writing this journal was therapeutic. One thing I appreciated about writing this blog, was the outlet it provided to laugh at myself. I will miss it, and although this is likely the last series of posts, I will continue writing for my own satisfaction.


There were times when I didn’t want to stay another minute. Those times were usually when I thought I wasn’t making a difference. Then there were times when I could not imagine going home. That’s when I knew that I had made a difference in some small way.


I spent two birthdays here. What better way to celebrate a 60th birthday than to do it as a Peace Corps Volunteer! I spent two Thanksgivings with my family of Peace Corps Volunteers. I left Saint Lucia with great memories of wonderful Saint Lucian friends.


As I settle into my life in the United States and our traditional holidays, I will remember the experience of Saint Lucian celebrations. Saint Lucian holidays are a time to party and celebrate; National Day, Christmas and Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, Independence Day and Nobel Laureates Week along with other cultural holidays such as LaRose, Carnival and Jounen Kweyol. 


I will think of them each year with gratitude while pulling out each memory of this experience. And, perhaps I will pull out the Saint Lucian Flag and fly it in remembrance of the country I left behind.


FRIENDSHIPS


Before arriving in Saint Lucia, I listed reasons why I should become a Peace Corps Volunteer and reasons why I should not. My number one reason for not becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer is that I’m directionally challenged. I get lost easily; once I got lost in a parking lot. I panicked the first week I was here when I was told to find a bus from my host family home and get to Peace Corps in the capitol by myself – this was a two bus, hour and a half journey. The island seemed so big then, but I did it and developed confidence in the process. 


 Later, I confided in a few Peace Corps Volunteers who helped me gain confidence that I should overcome this handicap – or at least try to find various locations without a GPS System.


I will miss my Peace Corps friends, the Japanese Volunteers and others who have crossed my path during these two years.
Learning Chess


Lunch with the girls.

An overnight at my house.





William and his family
I met people because of this blog. Amy emailed me because she is nearing retirement and thinking about applying for Peace Corps.


William and his family came to my village while his ship was docked in Castries. 


I’ve sent postcards to several places including Samoa, the Phillipines and India, all of which were requested through my blog. 


My friend Greg helping me in IT Class
Greg and Karen are people who I would never met had it not been for this experience, my blog and Karen’s need to know more about the traditional Saint Lucia Formal Dress. A Google search turned up one of my posts and resulted in a new friendship that is very valuable to me. 


Rachel is a brand new Eastern Caribbean Invitee and will be here in late-August. I’m sorry I will miss meeting her. There are countless other contacts and comments from people who have read this blog.


Several people in Saint Lucia took special interest and helped me adjust and find meaningful work.  I will be forever grateful to Brenda, Elvinette, Cynthia Charles and Elizabeth as people who were there to point me in a positive direction. Other friends include Marylene and Melissa.
My friend Angelina

Elvinette playing Bingo at the Mexican Embassey

Cynthia Charles teaching the children

Brenda and Marylene at High Tea

John and Elizabeth with my boys Kevin and Jay

Melissa, my friend

Brenda, my friend and the woman who 'makes it happen in Micoud District




I will miss the friendships with the MoPo children and wish them continued progress on their journey to adulthood.
Me and some of my MoPo kids.


And finally, my special friend Julian.  A friend who I will think of often.  A friend who I am bonded to in a very special way.
Our friend Julian who I cannot say enough about
And so, here it is: the first part of the last posts about my Peace Corps experience - stay tuned.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A little time

It will take a couple of weeks.  I will gather my thoughts and reflect on this past two years. Then I will write one last post.

Packing


I finished Peace Corps Training two years ago before being sworn-in advancing to the status of Peace Corps Volunteer. The best part was being given the key to the apartment where I would spend the next two years. Neil, my home stay host, put my suitcase in the back of his truck and carried it up the stairs. After a short conversation, Neil left.

I looked around and my new apartment looked bare and lonely. I unzipped my suitcase and looked inside to find a few framed pictures to make this home.

It took some time, but little by little my apartment has become home. It feels like my place now. Elizabeth has rented it to someone else during the months of November and December. It’s strange knowing someone else will be living in my apartment. This week I began packing a few things, putting them back into that same suitcase. Once again, I will begin starting a new life.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Moving On


As I take down pictures and pack memorabilia that I have accumulated over the past two years, I become more aware of the reality that I am leaving. My apartment is beginning to look similar to that which I first entered.

I watch Kevin as he struggles to understand that he will not be able to stream his Sirius Radio because for some reason I can’t seem to get wifi on my wireless. I watch him on Facebook and can’t get his attention so I wire another laptop and start a Facebook Chat with him. As he sits on the porch and I sit in my living room, he chats with my sister in New Jersey and me, just five feet away. The conversation turns to phones and which type will I choose when I return. We conclude there are so many Smart Phones and so little time.

In a couple of days time technology will become my new reality. Saint Lucia is only now beginning to advertise post-paid plans with Blackberries and a gig of usage for a monthly price. They, too, will live in a world where people are tethered to a world of e-communication.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Morning Coffee


I am having my morning coffee on the balcony. It is my last week here in Saint Lucia. I may come back for a visit, but it will never be like it is now. This is my home now, but upon return I will be a visitor. I listen to the roosters crowing, the wind blowing and the dogs barking. It is my last Monday. Just one short week from now, I will be sitting on my porch, holding my dog, talking to my granddaughter and having my first cup of morning coffee while contemplating rejoining the life I left two years ago.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dazed


And so my service comes to a close. Kevin, my youngest son, is on island and will be helping me pack and move back home. My mood is both high and low. High, knowing I will see my family, friends and dog. Low, knowing some must figure out how to accommodate yet one more person into this tiny house. High knowing I have left some good sustainable projects behind. Low knowing I must leave my home and friends. High, knowing I will get my hair cut and colored, perhaps visit my spa and stay in the mountains for a few days of rest and relaxation.

I met Kevin at the airport yesterday. I arrived a few minutes early and as I sat waiting for him, I thought about my arrival just two years ago. Everything looks so familiar now and it was so foreign then. I thought about meeting new groups of volunteers and seeing their dazed and tired faces. My thoughts turned to when I arrived in Tegucigalpa a few years ago to visit my oldest son who was Peace Corps Honduras. I wondered if he had the same thoughts as he waited for us to move through customs.

Today we took a morning walk through the village. This is a quiet time. School is closed for the summer and people are vacationing. There are many who will not be available to say goodbye. This will be easier on me, but I’m sorry I won’t see them before I leave.

We stop at a local shop and buy a few pieces of fried chicken and Kevin pours ketchup on top. That’s the way they roll here. As we continue a leisurely stroll, two children stop me and want to touch my hair. Their mother, embarrassed, encourages them to move on. I look over, “They are only curious. It is alright” and I see her relax. I make a comment on the hardships and living conditions of some and Kevin is surprised. “No, I never get use to it”, I say.

A woman sits on the sidewalk selling a few pieces of fruit and some peppers. I see them from a long distance and know they will be perfect for the spaghetti Kevin will make tonight. Ah, for a Saturday, it’s been a good day for hunting and gathering in the village.

When we returned home I made fruit smoothies and Kevin ate his chicken. We sat on the porch and I asked, “So what is the reaction at home?” He responded, “Everyone is in a daze. They all go around looking like this.” He puts a funny dazed look on his face and we both laugh.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Close of Service Conference!

How quick two years goes by!
In the beginning - August 2008
Eastern Caribbean Group #78



Eastern Caribbean Group #78, All Islands, July 2010

Two Years Later - Eastern Caribbean Group #78, Saint Lucia


Dead People

Alright, maybe the title is a little dramatic. But the two exhibits we saw were centered on people who are dead. I wanted to see the Body Exhibit when it was in Los Angeles, but it didn’t happen. There is a lot of controversy and speculation about the people and how they died. Some believe the bodies are those of Chinese prisoners. That is refuted and it is said the bodies are unclaimed people. At any rate it was a fascinating exhibit and very educational.

It was to be another long day. We drove over to the Ferry and crossed to New York, then took a bus into the city.

The bodies are plastinized. According to a Live Science article from February 2006, the technique was created by German anatomist Gunther von Hagens. With plastination, an “embalmed body is drained of its natural fluids and injected with a polymer solution. The body is posed and then cured and hardened into position,” Those in favor of plastination see it not only as an opportunity to educate the public, but also as a “technology to be used right alongside the traditional methods of dissection taught in medical classrooms.” More information is available throughout the internet.

When I walked through the door and saw the first body I was taken aback. The first body was posed throwing a football. I was not prepared for this. Then I stopped to think about what I was seeing and realized it was posed to show the muscles in the body.


After seeing the first body and as I proceeded through the exhibit, it became increasingly interesting. There were exhibits of bone structure, muscles, and circulatory systems. They had a human heart with a by-pass valve and a knee that had been replaced and a spine with pins in it.

The exhibit included the brain and a vertical dissection of a body. There were lungs of smokers and lungs with emphysema and cancer. The body looks so fragile when viewed in small segments. It was an amazing experience to think this is how I look on the inside.

I was overwhelmed with information. There was so much that I became a little bored. But then I walked into a room that had a pregnant mother with the baby in the womb, fetuses at all stages of development. It was amazing, educational and I am fortunate to have this opportunity.

The next stop was the King Tut (Tutankhamun) Exhibit. All the years this has been around, and I had never seen it. Another thing I meant to do, but it just never happened.

The exhibit focuses on a 100 year history of the Egyption 18th Dynasty. King Tut ruled between 1341 BC – 1323 BC, A fascinating piece of history, the exhibit was organized in a timeline maze beginning with King Tut’s ancestors and ending in his death.


Discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, it is difficult to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first people in thousands of years to enter the tomb. There was a film of people taking artifacts out of the tomb and placing them into trucks. As I watched the film, I silently wondered if maybe it would have been better undiscovered. Some things are sacred. A four minute video documents his discovery and excavation.





A few more hours of sightseeing we were off to Newark for Puerto Rican food. Another packed and long day!

I miss things like this. Going to the Getty during my last visit was so relaxing. Living in Saint Lucia has been amazing, but living without museums and amazing exhibits such as these has been difficult.

As I walked through the city I thought of the children. Imagine never being able to see the immense bones of a dinosaur recreated and standing in the middle of a hall. Imagine never being able to see masterpiece paintings or a sculpture of David. Is it a hardship to them? Maybe not.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Foods

There are so many foods missed while in Peace Corps, so naturally when on vacation there is an obsession and pictures are a must. There was so much to eat and drink that many times we would buy something, split it, take a couple of bites and not finish it because we needed to leave room for the next anticipated delectable bite of something else.

New Packaging for my favorite drink!

So many breakfast choices.

Pizza my way.








A favorite of mine.





Puerto Rican food and Sangria.





I do miss the dessert selection in the United States!





And, finally, although I don't eat hot dogs, the smells from the street carts are amazing.