Latest Entries »

Gettin’ Wet

Last night was Wet Fete, an event held by my community as a build up to the major Carnival events held in late June and early July.  I strolled down the street around 10 o’clock and rounded the corner to where the event was being held – at the Dauphine Community Center (a big cricket field and community building).  I walked down to a vendor, bought a Guiness and made my way up to the flat concrete surface where the main event was happening.  It was mostly dark, with only a small light facing me at the opposite end of the concrete slab/dance floor.  I watched the dancing silhouettes of Vincys as they thrashed about, free of any inhibitions, celebrating total freedom with a fierce energy.  One guy had a power blaster and a shower cap (yes, a shower cap), toned down enough to spray people in the face but with enough volume to fill the air with a hazy blanket of water.  It was exciting, and I wanted to be in it.  I finished my beer, went down to grab another, bumped into a couple people I had met in the community before and encouraged them to escort me into the dancing mass.  We made our way upstairs and through the thick of the crowd where we approached the man with the H2O.  The beat was hitting hard, but my focus was on the waterboy in front of me, waiting for him to spot the dry people at his 3 o’clock.  When my turn finally came, it fueled everything, and the night began.  Every few minutes we would get blasted.  The crowd grew, the music got louder, people were alive.  One guy yelled to me “THIS IS HOW WE DO IT IN VINCYYYY!!”  Things got a little surreal when I heard a bunch of my students yelling my name from a few feet away, but I quickly brushed aside the awkwardness and returned an equally electrified greeting.

Everything changed, though, when I felt a swift hand shoot into my right pocket.  Instinctually, my hand shot down to swat it away.  I looked down to trace the hand to the arm and finally to the guy in the white t-shirt it was attached to.  He bolted and I chased closely behind, grabbing his arm and telling him to give me my stuff back.  He finally turned around yelling something I couldn’t comprehend over the blaring music and showed me his empty hands.  I felt my pocket to find my camera safe and sound.  It was a benign attempt at robbing me, but it was enough to put me on edge and on guard the rest of the night.  I left about 25 minutes later to go home and hit the shower.  Near theft experience aside, the night was an invigorating adventure.

I’m a PCV

I was officially sworn in yesterday as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  The ceremony was nice, my favorite part being Country Director Kevin Carley’s personal words with the volunteers after we took oath.  In his consistently laid-back, mellow and undemanding demeanor, he stated that from here on out our service lies solely in our hands.  He’s seen the whole spectrum of volunteers — from those who have worked tirelessly on many projects to those who have just skated by.  I didn’t interpret his speech as having a free pass to sit around and be ineffective, but it definitely allowed me to take a deep breath and take time to focus on how I can contribute for the next two years.

The ceremony was followed by a trip to the beach, naturally.

43 days in.  Not that I’m counting; I had to look at a calendar to figure out the exact number.  I’m sitting on the balcony in near pitch black.  The only light is beaming straight at me from my computer screen with the exception of some fireflies I can see floating above a nearby tree.  The air couldn’t be more pleasant, with a barely noticeable breeze making itself known. Listening to Bonobo, my latest music obsession.  Very downtempo and chill with worldly sounds.  I think you’d like it!  Had a random urge to blog out my feelings — to type up the moment and give some perspective.  The weeks have been pretty routine.  Wake up by way of watch alarm at 6:15, shut it off, wake up 5 minutes later by way of REI travel alarm clock.  Eat breakfast, usually a bowl of generic brand corn flakes and ALWAYS peanut butter toast.  I’ve never eaten so much peanut butter in my entire life, but it’s quick and available at my host family’s house.  They can only be appalled by the rate it’s disappearing.  The morning moves along as I iron my clothing and pants, dress, wet down the mop that is my hair in order to shape it into an acceptable mess, hang out until the family is ready to move out, then pile into the car.  On Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays I go downtown for training.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Junior drops me off at the top of the street where my school is located.  I walk down about 10 minutes, say hello to Macfee the cabbage farmer, and approach my school from the rear where I hear the distant reverberation of student chatter and scraping chairs in concrete classrooms.

Today, I decided to shadow Mrs. Raymond’s Form 2 Room 5 English A class, as my literacy counterpart Ms. Moe only has two classes at the end of the day on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Normally I’ll be in the literacy room assisting some straggling and struggling students who apparently don’t have class, or I’ll be desperately studying phonics books to become a literacy teacher in a day.  I wanted to switch it up, so I sat in on Mrs. Raymond’s class.  I sat in one of the desks among the students and soaked it all up.  Mrs. Raymond wrote a few questions on the board pertaining to the story she was about to read, “The Gold Cadillac”.  She read, then gave the class lots of time to answer in their notebooks.  Some kids worked, some didn’t feel like it.  The final activity was for kids to individually stand at the front of the class and read passages they wrote talking about their experiences during Heats (the kids went to Arnos Vale playing field last week so their “houses” could compete in various events).  Most kids had difficulty reading what they wrote and the ideas were simple, but there was beauty in it.  They made an effort to make the simple things like the sun, breeze, even hot dogs, become real to the listener.

So that was English class.  I hope to use the remainder of my shadowing days to sit in on a few other classes.  The rest of the day was spent working one-on-one with a few other kids until it was 3:00 and time to leave.  I enjoy my walk home from school.  I usually get a chance to talk with a nice lady named Savannah who lives a few houses away from school.  She has a small arcade and pool table in a room attached to her house that she keeps open to the community.  She also runs a country western karaoke night on Saturdays, which I’m supposed to attend this weekend.  Country isn’t usually my thing, but in St. Vincent it’s super popular, and I actually enjoy it here.  The rest of my walk lets me think, decompress and figure out what I’m doing here.

That’s all for now.  Missing and loving everyone back home.

First day of school

And it was a positive experience.  I arrived at West St. George Secondary at about 7:45 am.  The faculty building was locked, as most students and teachers don’t arrive until 8:10.  The school is a compound, with each “form” (there are 5 forms, or grades, in secondary school here) occupying their own floor of the two story buildings.  I wandered around until I found the cafeteria, which is a small building nestled in the corner of the compound.  It’s set up “concession stand style”, so kids and staff can walk up to the window and purchase from a pretty good selection of snacks and food.  One of the faculty members was sitting on a bench with a student, selling “popsicles” in plastic sandwich bags.  I bought a red one and killed some time until someone showed up to unlock the faculty building.  As the school grounds began to fill up and kids started going to their classes, principal Asfo Stephens took me to each room to introduce me.  Asfo carries around a 3 foot cane with a silver nub at the end.  When he enters a room he bangs the end of his cane against the door so everyone will show him the respect he expects.  He made a nice introduction for me, “This is Mr. LaRoche.  He will be assisting with the literacy teach.  Yada yada.”  After he finished his speech, the entire class would repeat “Mr. LaRoshhhhh”.  Every class.  As we would walk out of the door, I could hear them through the windows repeating it to each other; emphasis on SSHHHHH.  Asfo finally showed me to the room where I’ll be spending most of my time; the reading room.  It is the only air conditioned room in the school.  You would think that’s nice, but the air felt like 15 degrees.  I found relief when I would walk into the Caribbean sun.

I was introduced to the literacy teacher, Ms. Moe.  Nice lady, and during class, very good at keeping the students under control.  She taught me how to conduct the battery of tests used to assess the reading level of students.  A few students were in the room reading, as they had no teacher for the class they were supposed to be in.  There are no substitute teachers.  After she explained some things to me, she had a kid go retrieve a student who I could administer the test to.  In came Natasha.  She sat down and we began.  She was a form 3 student (I think??) which would make her about 14 years old, and we began her on the pre-primary (pre-school) reading level test.  She had to recognize simple words like “I”, and “but”.  She couldn’t do it.  Watching a girl of her age struggle through this was actually really hard to watch.  I’ve never seen illiteracy at this level, and I felt a strong surge of emotion.  When Natasha was finished, another boy named Abdul came in.  I think he was form 2, but he did better on his tests.  He was reading at a 6th grade level, jumping a full grade from the last time he was assessed.  The day gave me a good idea of what kind of work I have cut out for me.  My time will be spent focusing on those students who are beyond behind.

Class aside, I am also excited about a certain music room we have.  There is a small room at the back of the compound which contains a DRUM SET.  Also, a bass guitar, electric guitar, PA system and piano.  There is a steel drum as well, and the principal made it sound like there is interest in getting a steel drum band going.  Also in the world of music, there was a group of guys on African drums playing up the street from me last Saturday.  One of the guys, Byron, told me they play on Thursday nights at Kingstown Park and that I’m welcome to come by.  That’s all for now, keep you posted!

Settling down…for now

I’m HERE.  I landed in St. Vincent yesterday, and I’m currently on day two of my homestay experience.  The past week has been something else.  I landed in Miami on January 27th for a day of staging.  Between the lack of sleep, all the new people, hours of orientation and the realization that this thing just kicked off made me feel pretty unstable that night.  When I woke up the next morning, however, I felt like a million bucks.  Myself and 43 other trainees bound for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, (pronounced Dom-ih-nee-cuh) Grenada (Gre-nay-duh) and St. Lucia all boarded a plane to depart for a weeklong orientation session in St. Lucia.  Only when we arrived, we were told we had an entire weekend of nothing but free time.  Not a bad start.  When we arrived, we boarded a bus and drove an hour north to the Pastoral Center in Marisule.  We stayed in a seminary for the week and attended safety, health, and cross-cultural training from 8:30 am to 4ish, Monday-Friday.  Throughout the week, training was followed by walks to the nearby beach and usually games at night.  It was a truly amazing week of bonding with these great people.  Many people with many different interests, but each with a similar outlook on life.

So fast forward to my arrival on St. Vincent yesterday morning.  It was a sad day to split with the rest of the group, but it was exciting to finally reach the place where I’ll be spending the next two years.  The 12 of us were greeted by our Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) known only by the name of Cuthbert “Mr. Cool” James.  We crammed our luggage and ourselves in the bus and headed out to the Peace Corps office in Kingstown.  There we were greeted by most of the current PC volunteers on the island.  As expected, more awesome people.  It was a brief hello and introduction, as our host families started arriving one by one to pick us up.  Just like day care.

I’m pretty sure I was the second or third to get picked up.  I heard my name being shouted across the room, and there stood Junior, my host dad.  I assume that’s his spelling; I’ve only heard it.  He just so happens to be the Youth Development trainer for the next 2 months as well.  I’m the teachers son.  I think I hit the jackpot.  We collected my bags and made our way to his convertible.  Sweet.  We weaved our way through downtown Kingstown on a sunny day, stopped off for bread where I found time to slather on some sun block on my pasty self.  Finally, we made our way through the city, up and around winding turns and hills until we reached his home in Dauphne.  There I met (I’m about to butcher these poor souls’ names) 11 year old Jishauna and wife Glenda.  I later met 23 year old Jinetta.  Junior has 4 daughters, two of which live in the US (New York and Miami).  He is Mr. Popular around town as he is the host of a local talk radio program centered around politics.  The family is wonderful.  Kind and welcoming, what else could I ask for.  Their backyard is filled with vegetation; coconut trees, breadfruit trees, lemon trees, cocoa trees, pineapple bushes, etc.  They have a dog named “Sanchez” (a pitbull/lab mix?) who frequently joins the chorus of 20 other dogs in the near vicinity, barking at anything and everything.  Dogs are everywhere, either tied up in yards or wandering aimlessly.  Yesterday, I went for a walk with Glenda and Jishauna.  Every so often Glenda would reach over and snatch a leave of some random tree, “This is one spice, this is another…”  Our destination was a mineral spring in Belair.  Apparently, people come from all over to stock up on this water.  Rainwater enters the ground high above and collects various minerals as it travels down to a small opening.  I gave it a taste and sure enough it was identical to soda water.  I’ve been drinking it all weekend.  We filled up then headed home.  Yeesh this blog is getting long.  This morning was “church”, aka going to the beach with “dad” so he could hang out with his buds.  It provided a good time for me to take a much needed run along the beach.  Today I retrieved my first breadfruit.  Junior coached me, and it was a hell of a lot harder than I expected.  It required tying a knife to the end of a 25 foot long bamboo pole, climbing up a ladder and sticking this pole out to snip the fruit off the branch.  When I FINALLY got it, Junior threw it on some coals to roast it.  That will be tomorrow’s lunch.  And tonight, watched a little Super Bowl until the end of halftime.  Yes, there is internet.  Yes, there is TV.  Yes, there is running water and a toilet.  It is not the Peace Corps experience I envisioned, but I am 100% okay with this.  The language is practically foreign to me; I miss out on a LOT  conversation.  My family is good and patient with me, though, repeating all 5 times I have to ask them.  There will be many challenges that I can’t even fathom right now.  My mood as been positive and stable, with a few dips now and then.  For whatever reason the dips come whenever I wake up from a nap.  It’s waking up hearing dogs barking, roosters crowing, and realizing I’m here in an unfamiliar house/country for a long time.  It’s the inevitable part of this experience that will pop its head out every now and then.  All I can do at this point is focus on making new relationships and strengthening them.  Training will be a good thing to keep my mind busy as well.  It starts tomorrow at 8, and yes, I get a ride to work with the teacher.

I’m still here!  Thought I’d punch out at least ONE blog for the month.  I’ll make it short and sweet.  Anywho, I just walked in the door after spending the weekend with the girlfriend and her family.  We celebrated her grandmother’s 95th (!!) birthday and checked out a Branson, Missouri-esque holiday show to get a little more into the spirit of things.  While I was there, I was able to take care of some much needed shopping at the outlet mall.  For friends and family you ask?!?  I wish, but it was allllll for my upcoming two years abroad ;)  I couldn’t pass up on the sweet deals, as we spent a solid six hours shopping for clothing to add to my non-existent “professional” collection.  I literally did not fit through my bedroom door.  It feels good to have gotten a good start on things.

P.S. I’m always open to suggestions from those current/past/future volunteers in the Eastern Caribbean!

Clearing my head

Some days go by where I’m just not myself.  Occasionally days in a row, sometimes once every couple of weeks.  During these times I’m fully conscious that I’m not myself, but can’t seem to snap out of it.  I’ll get into spells of over-analysis and get sucked into a vortex of thoughts leading me nowhere.  Then I’ll have days like today when I get out and run and run, and just like magic, all better.  Clear thoughts.  Focused.  That’s where I’m at right now.  Ahhhhhhh…Just enjoyed a HOT shower, one of the things I have only a limited amount of time to enjoy.

Just a few thoughts out loud, to whom it may concern.

INVITATION

I failed to update last Wednesday, the day I received my invitation in the mail, so how bout I post it now: I AM OFFICIALLY A YOUTH DEVELOPER HEADING TO ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES (EASTERN CARIBBEAN), AND I DEPART FOR STAGING ON THE 27TH.  Well, nothing is official until I’m sworn in, but you get the idea.  I plan on accepting the invitation on Monday.  Not that I’m second guessing my decision, but just to let everything settle.  Why rush at this point?  It’s in the bag baby.  If anyone in this vast internet-land is heading where I’ll be heading, I’d love to hear from you!  Bye for now, updates to come!

One more day….?

…until I receive my invitation in the mail, but I’m not putting any money on it. To pass the time, I figured I’d share the picture that was on the front page of my local newspaper, the “Missourian”.  It pictures myself on the right and my buddy Clayton on the left.  My girlfriend Lindsey didn’t make the cut, but she was there ;)  I got a text this morning from her saying “YOU’RE FAMOUS!!!”, and figured it had to be about the photographer we bumped into on our hike the previous day.  It was a gorgeous night.  We were enjoying a beautiful sunset and the warm temperatures before they inevitably drop here in the near future.  But yeah, there you have it.  I’ll be at the B & Noble handing out autographed copies if you’re interested.

That’s all for now.  Hopefully I’ll be back tomorrow with SUPER EXCITING NEWS of where I’ll be spending the next couple years of my life.  Bye!!

Thanks Timothy Rice for the sweet pic and ego boost!

I feel like a baby learning how to crawl with this whole blog thing.  Never thought I would create one, but here it is, so here we go.  Just finished working the 10 o’clock newscast and I decided what better time than now to start a blog.  Two days ago I got off the phone for possibly the last time with my Placement Officer, the person I had been waiting 11 months to talk to.  For the past year, I’d been nominated to serve in sub-Saharan Africa in the HIV/AIDS outreach program.  I was convinced  I was headed there, but lo and behold I’m going somewhere in either South/Central America or the Caribbean where I’ll be working with at-risk youth.  My invitation was sent out yesterday, and when I get it in a week or so I’ll know exactly what country I’m going to and what I’ll be doing.  I’ve been a mixed bag of emotions, but I think things have settled down, so now there’s only time to be super stoked.  So there.  First blog post not so painful.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.