Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Brief Digression...

Tonight there is only one thing on TV. Announcements and celebrations at the news of the death of Osama bin Laden.

I've been watching all of this coverage with both fascination and sadness. Fascination with the passion that so many are exhibiting and sadness at the lack of humanity being displayed.

When people are asked what they're celebrating, they respond that it is the death of bin Laden that has brought them out in such large numbers. Those of us with facebook accounts need only open our pages to see a newsfeed full of status updates glorifying and celebrating the taking of a human life.

I'm not saying that bin Laden didn't do terrible things; he certainly did. He acted in ways that were atrocious and inhumane and his actions resulted in the death of thousands upon thousands of innocent people. Every one of these deaths has been a tragedy that needs to be mourned as a chair sits empty in the house of a family.

However, through our celebration of the death of bin Laden, a man who has become demonized through his own actions around the world, we seem to have lost site of something important.

bin Laden is a man. A human being. A life has ended, and no matter who that person is and what they did during life I feel that it's important to take a moment to recognize the passing of a spirit, a soul, an inner voice, however you personally label the little piece within all of us that makes us human.

I may not agree with the choices that bin Laden made, what he stood for, and the way in which he chose to express himself, but I don't want to lose my own humanity to anger and hatred. Instead I choose to love. Not to love the actions taken by the man who has reigned over al-Qaeda with terror and violence, but to love this man as a member of the human race, someone else with whom I shared this brief blink of time as a human citizen of the world.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
~Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, April 18, 2011

When you photograph people in colour you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in B&W, you photograph their souls! ~Ted Grant

I figured it was about time for me to do some sort of picture update so all you lucky people can see just what I'm up to now that I'm on St Kitts (aside from making long swims and being bitten by centipedes that I keep, for some odd reason, referring to in conversation as scorpions...).

I haven't taken pictures of my house yet, but I promise to include pictures of my apartment and the view from it (it's rather lovely) in my next post!

This is actually from St Vincent, but I realized no one had seen it! Before I left, I had to find a way to say goodbye to my ballet class. There seemed no better way than to have an awards ceremony for them! Each student received a certificate and four of them received special awards (trophies) for "Best Technique," "Most Improved," "Rising Star," and "Dedicated Dancer." I also loaded them up with candy and popsicles before sending them home to their parents. Naturally, I "accidentally" overbought both of these treats so I had some for myself as well...

This is a close-up of the certificate. I made 15 of them. It took about 6 hours and resulted in the death of a few sharpies.

Now, on to St Kitts!

This is the Sandy Point Primary School where I'm assisting with the utilization of the library. It was built in a few installments, and the result is a really lovely nearly enclosed structure that provides a great deal of security and a beautiful area for the kids to wander and play during break time. It also abuts the ocean which is often a concern given that erosion is a pretty big issue.

Voila! My library! Well, not mine. I've been very firm on the fact that I want this space to be entirely student/teacher run. I've been creating check in/out notebooks for each grade so they can easily monitor their own borrowing.

There are over 5000 books and they're already cataloged and organized, but I'm going to revamp the organizational system to make it a little more child friendly.

These are some of my library girls. They come in during lunch and don't want to leave. Ever. I do appreciate them, though. They're usually full of questions and want to help me clean (a chore, you all may know, that is not my favorite). We have a vacuum cleaner in the library, and all the children vie for the opportunity to vacuum the rug during the last 10 minutes of lunch when I kick the majority of the kids out to facilitate student cleaning time.

My camera is a popular obsession when it makes an appearance (rarely) during lunch time. The kids insisted that they be allowed to take my picture, and this was the result. I look pretty bedraggled because they had all been playing in my hair for the last half hour. I have decided to allow this once a month because they get such a kick out of it. They're also convinced that I do something special aside from washing it to make it grow so long.

This is how I feel after lunch has finished on especially busy library days. It can get overwhelming. There are days I'll have over 50 kids in the small space. I need an assistant.

Special Education School

In addition to working at the Sandy Point Primary School, I'm working in the Special Education School with the classroom of Autistic students. They range in age from 9-15, so it can be quite a challenge.

This is Khadel. He's nine. I'm going to be working with him more than the others because he simply needs more one on one time than the others and there is only one teacher, Miss Audaine, and one aide for the classroom of five boys. Coming from a program where there were more adults than children in the class, this is a novel experience.

And this is how we play!

My New Nephew!

Now, don't worry. Neither Rachael or Craig have done anything silly. My new nephew isn't even human. His name is Beau and he's the puppy of my friend Natalie (another PCV). He's basically my pride and joy and I would like nothing better than to steal him from her but she has made it very clear that she will be quite displeased if I do this.

Beau's first bath at just 4 weeks old! He wasn't much of a fan.

After the bath...all wrapped up in a towel. Isn't she such a good momma!

Beau's first ferry ride to Nevis. He rides the vans, takes the ferry, and would probably come to the movies too if he were allowed. I'm sure you'll all be getting frequent picture updates of his growth! Sigh...I'm in love...


I made this pizza. You should all be incredibly jealous. If you ask me really nicely and help provide some of the ingredients I might be good enough to make you one sometime, too. But only if you ask really nicely.

That's all for now! I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

There's Nothing Like An Early Morning Swim

Every year at the end of March for the last nine years there has been a race taking place in St Kitts and Nevis. It's called the StarMile 2.5 and involves swimming from Nevis across the 2.5 mile channel to Cockleshell beach on St Kitts.

I first heard about this race when I arrived on island and was reading a magazine. It sounded like a lot of fun, but as often happens with things like this I talked to a couple people about it and promptly forgot until last week when I suddenly realized that the end of March was upon us and that meant the race was coming up!

Natalie, one of the PCVs, had agreed to sign up with me and I soon found out that another volunteer, Maggie, would be swimming as well. Everything was going without a hitch until this morning when Natalie and I had to figure out how we were going to get to Cockleshell.

Let me tell you a little about St Kitts...

The island looks like a cricket bat with the thicker body of the island and a peninsula. The main area is where most native Kittitians live. It's very easy to get around with bus services running anywhere you would want to go. The peninsula is primarily made up of ex-pats and vacation areas. The buses don't go there, making it very hard for those of us who either don't have cars or, per Peace Corps policy, are not allowed to drive. Cockleshell Beach is essentially at the tip of the peninsula.

In order to get over to Nevis where the race began, we had to get to the ferry at Cockleshell at 6:30am. I'll give you a play by play of how the morning went:

4am: My alarm goes off. I'm very confused as to why there is a jarring noise in my bedroom. I finally figure out why I'm awake in the dark and pull myself out of bed.

4:10am: I sit down on my couch to check my e-mail to see if anyone who I e-mailed had gotten back to me about lifts to the beach. They hadn't.

4:15am: There is a horrible pain in my hip. I look down and see a centipede biting me and jump screaming from the couch. Centipedes are horrible and look like aliens. See below-

4:16am: The centipede has disappeared. I cannot find it. I begin walking everywhere with a heavy shoe.

4:20am: I walk into the living room and see the centipede squirming along the floor. I smash it with a sneaker. It seems to be in the process of succumbing to its injuries, so I leave it and continue going about my business.

4:25am: I walk back into the living room to see that the centipede has recovered and is wandering about. I smash it 7 more times to make sure it's dead. I don't want to touch it. I leave it for the ants.

4:30am: I call Natalie and tell her that I'm going to head over to her house so we can come up with our game plan.

4:45am: I get a lift to Natalie's house when Adams, a police officer who does the Peace Corps police presentations during training, sees me waiting for the bus.

5:15am: Natalie and I start walking and hoping for a bus. There are none in sight.

5:45am: We have walked all the way to Ross University. There are still no buses. I start to panic. We stop to ask the security guard at the entrance if he might be able to call us a taxi. Before he can, luck finally finds us and we catch a bus.

5:55am: The bus drops us off in town. We start searching for taxis. Naturally, we can't find one because we need one. If we hadn't, 15 of them would have passed by already.

6:05am: I'm about to cry. I want to race and there doesn't seem any way we're going to get there.

6:07am: FINALLY! A TAXI! It's going the wrong way, however. I flag it down and he says he'll come back for us after he drops his passengers off.

6:13am: The taxi's back. We explain what we're doing and where we're going and that we have to be there in 17 minutes. I tell him to drive as fast as possible. He essentially tells me he'll drive as fast as is safe. Who ever heard of responsible driving? psh.

6:30am: We arrived at the beach! Right on time! Success! There is, however, no sign of the boat. Plenty of other people are waiting.

7:00am: The boat finally shows up to take us all across.

8:00am: RACE TIME!!

So yes. That was the morning leading up to the goal. The race started a little late, 8:20 or so, and we barreled into the Caribbean Sea with over 100 other swimmers all in yellow or orange swim caps (a good way to keep track of everyone). I wore yellow, which means I was registered as an open, or unassisted, swimmer. Orange meant assisted swimmers, aka those using fins.

The current was incredibly strong. It pulled us all far to the right and added a significant distance to the swim.

The swim itself was fairly uneventful. There were some white caps in the center of the channel, but nothing that was insurmountable. The kayakers did a great job watching out for everyone and providing assistance and water to those who wanted it, and it was pretty easy to follow other swimmers so as not to get lost.

When I was within about 45 minutes of the shore, I started to see some interesting things on the bottom. there were brightly colored fish, starfish, coral, and, most exciting, a 3 foot ray!

The hardest part of the entire swim was the end. I could clearly see the beach and everyone on it about half an hour before I was there. The current was so strong that it was very hard to make any headway against it, and you had to fight not to be pulled backward.

When my feet finally hit the ground, I almost couldn't stand up. I couldn't quite seem to remember how to walk, but I had to make it to the arch that signified the end to check in my time. Unfortunately for my legs, as soon as everyone got to the arch, cameras and a microphone were shoved in your face and you had to tell everyone your name and such. I was not excited, but then a smiling 10 year old put a medal over my head, so I decided that it was alright.

We were given t-shirts, fed, and then there was a "beach bash" where the winners were announced. Natalie and I didn't stay for the entire thing opting, instead, to catch a lift with a group of 3 Ross students who had been kayaking. After the morning's fiasco, we certainly couldn't pass up a driver's generosity!

So, I survived a 2.5 mile ocean swim, a centipede attack, and am only minimally physically exhausted at this point.

I can't wait to do it all again next year!

PS. Easter is coming up. If anyone wants to send me Easter candy, I would love you forever. Specifically I would like Peeps. and chocolate.

My new address is to the left of the post!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Adventure Continues with a Change in Venue

Hello to you all!

I know it's been an inexcusable length of time since I last wrote here but, to be perfectly honest, I was having to work through a lot of things that simply permeated my mind and I didn't think they were appropriate to write about for the whole internet to see.

Many of you already know about what's been going on in relation to my Peace Corps experience, but I know many of you don't, so before I explain where I am and why I'm where I am now, I figure I should at least give a brief explanation.

At the end of December, I had a pretty terrible safety incident in my apartment on St Vincent. I won't go into detail here, but please feel free to e-mail me or whatnot if you want to know specifics.

Due to the traumatic nature of the event, I simply no longer felt safe on the island that I have called home for the last six months and a couple weeks ago, I finally made the decision that I needed to move to another country for my own peace of mind and in the interest of preserving my mental health.

That's the very short story of how I've now ended up on the island of St Kitts. The full name of the country is St Christopher and Nevis, but it's rare to see "Christopher" written out as "Kitts" has become the standard abbreviation. It's a country made up of two islands, and they look remarkably like a baseball and bat.

The trip here wasn't without some delay and drama in and of itself. Liat (it's jokingly said that the letters stand for "Leave Island Any time") is notorious for having things go wrong and is, unfortunately, a necessary evil when traveling in the Eastern Caribbean.

My journey began on Monday, the 7 of March, with a 5am taxi ride to the airport. I boarded my plane on time at 7am and, according to my itinerary, should have landed on St Kitts at 10:45am after stopovers in St Lucia and Antigua (you also can never get a direct flight within the Caribbean).

After landing on St Lucia, we were forced to go through security again, but fortunately most of my plane from St Vincent was slated to travel together on the same plane to continue on to their destinations so, although this caused a slight delay, the flight was held for us.

Once everyone was through security, we were told we could go out to prepare to board the plane. We were all standing waiting outside, when we were told that we would have to go back into the waiting area due to "technical difficulties." We weren't told what these were, just that they existed, so with a lot of grumbling, we all headed back into the lounge. Within 20 minutes, we were told that things had been taken care of and we were once again outside waiting to board the prop plane that would take us to our various destinations.

We boarded without a hitch. I stuffed my large carry on items into the overhead compartments and sat with my "single serving friend" who was on his way to Puerto Rico to board the cruise ship that he works on. The plane began to taxi to the runway and the engines were being revved for takeoff when the flight attendant suddenly went running up the aisle to talk to the pilot. The right engine was leaking copious amounts of fuel and had somehow gone undetected until people looked out the window...

Needless to say, they didn't take off and kill us but instead we were sent back, once again, to the lounge. By this time it was obvious that we were all missing our connections in Antigua and would have to be rerouted and rescheduled. I ended up not getting to Antigua until after 1pm and there wasn't a flight to St Kitts from there until 7:45 my 3.5 hour day of travel was increased by 10 hours and I missed my own welcome party that the volunteers had planned.

On the plus side, I have an utterly wonderful apartment here. I even have amenities such as hot water, a microwave, a blender, cable, internet, water, and electricity included in the rent, and a/c (although I don't use it because I'd have to pay extra if I wanted to). I have a spare bedroom as well, so if you're thinking about visiting the Caribbean...

And I suppose that you're all wondering what I'll be doing in relation to work. Or maybe you aren't in which case you can just stop reading now. I'll be working in at least two locations. One will be the Sandy Point Primary School where I'll be in charge of the library and the other is the Special Education School where I'll be working with the classroom of autistic students! I'm especially exited about the latter.

I haven't yet visited the Special Education School, but I've been to Sandy Point a few times now and it's really a nice school. They have a wonderful faculty who all seem very knowledgeable and they even have a full time reading specialist on staff who works with students one on one who are falling behind in reading. The library has a/c and the school also has a computer room (although the computers aren't all set up). The school day is longer here: 8:30-3:30 as opposed to 9-3 on St Vincent. I'll make sure to take some pictures in the next couple days to show you all!

Anyway...That's where I am and what I'm up to. I'm feeling safe and secure here and will hopefully be able to finish out the next year and a half of my Peace Corps service without a hitch.
I hope you're all well at home as Spring approaches!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Vincy Christmas!

Yes yes. I know. I haven't posted anything in a month.

I hope everyone had an incredible Christmas and has fun plans brewing for the New Year!

As I posted in my last blog post, I've been working with several groups of kids for the last month on various dance routines for Christmas programs at their churches. I've also added a preschool dance class to my work schedule, but alas I do not have a video of their adorable performance to Raffi singing "We wish you a Merry Christmas. I do, however, have the videos of all the other dances that I choreographed!

At the church I regularly attend, there is already a lot of dance. I was asked to help one of the regular choreographers who was choreographing a group of 10-14 year old girls. She had finished about a minute and a half of a routine to "Still the Lamb" by Mary Mary. As I listened to it with Sandra, we decided that it would be neat to incorporate sign language into the dance and Heather, another Peace Corps Volunteer, knows sign language so I asked her if she could help. Therefore, this dance was truly a collaborative effort. The first half was done by Melissa, Heather did all the sign language, and I did the choreography from the end of the first bit of signing to the end. Enjoy!

You've all already seen the first bit of the dance I was choreographing for the kids who take class at my house, but now that it's done I want you all to see the finished product!

There are actually two versions: a modified version for two girls (Saneze and her friend Danielle) and the original for all the children in the class.

I hope you all enjoy the videos! The kids did a wonderful job and I'm really excited to keep working with all of them in 2011.

I'll make sure to write a more word heavy post soon, but it's late and I need to head off to bed so I can head to the beach in the morning. (it's a rough life...the beach in December...)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shall we dance?

One of the most enjoyable things I've been doing here on St Vincent has been teaching dance classes for a few children between the ages of 6 and 10.

The class meets every Friday from 4-5pm at my house. The patio serves as class space and a few chairs and steps serve as ballet bars. There isn't any mirror and the girls don't wear leotards and tights but they all come eager to learn and excited to see what I'll teach them.

I know that there have been several of you who have voiced your incredulity that I'm here in the Caribbean teaching kids to dance, and if I were teaching them to club dance everyone's skepticism of my effectiveness in teaching would be warranted. Fortunately I am NOT teaching them to "whine" (Thank heavens. Look it up on youtube if you don't know what I'm talking about) and teaching children ballet here is remarkably like teaching children at home in Massachusetts.

As Christmas rapidly approaches, all the area churches are preparing for their Christmas programs. These always include singing, skits, and dancing. It's a time for church members to highlight their skills and I was asked to choreograph a dance for the kids to perform at their church.

I started teaching the kids the dance on Friday and I wanted to share it with you all! I know that it certainly isn't clean yet and it certainly isn't challenging, but these are kids who have never done ballet before, only have limited dance experience, and virtually no formal training. I've only been working with them all for about a month and I was amazed that all the kids were able to pick up as much of the choreography as they did. For two of the girls, this was actually their first class.

The best part of the video isn't the actual dance but rather the very end once the dancing stops. The joy they all exhibit isn't a show for the camera. Every time they did the dance and got to the end of the section I had taught they reacted this way. I wish I hadn't stopped the video as quickly as I did so I could have captured more of the reaction.

After dance class, Saneze, my landlady's daughter, and I wait for Sandra (her mother/my landlady) and her brother Tye to get home. She wanted me to film her dancing to Beyonce who is rather well loved by all little girls here. I have to give her credit, she did a pretty good job improvising for a 10 year old!

I'm also helping with choreography for a group at the church I've been going to here. I don't have a video of that yet, but as soon as I do I'll make sure to share it with everyone!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Beautiful Day

After being hit by Hurricane Tomas on October 30th and the subsequent canceled week of school, today marked the start of my first full work week as a Peace Corps volunteer.

After a marriage proposal, a request for a date, and having met two new friends, I finally made it to the school and was told all about the death of a litter of puppies by a little girl in grade 2 named Makenna:

Me: What's your dogs name?
Makenna: Rosie
Me: What a good name! So she's a girl?
Makenna: Yes, and she's made puppies before, but they all died.
Me: How did they die?
Makenna: Well there were four. One died of starvation, two died because of other dogs, and my brother sat on one and it exploded.
Me: It explosed!?!?!?
Makenna: Yes. He's very fat.

She tells great stories.

I spent the morning cleaning the library. It isn't secure from the elements and the hurricane caused about 15 pounds of the outdoors to blow in and coat everything with a thick layer of muck. A few grade 5 students came in to help me so the work went quickly.

After lunch I started pulling kids in grades 2 and 3 one at a time to assess where they are in relation to reading. I held up flashcards to see if they knew their letter names and sounds (many don't) and then used a diagnostic test consisting of 10 grade appropriate words that they should be able to read. I also had chosen age appropriate stories for each group and after testing the students I gave them the choice to either read the book to me or have the book read to them.

Every child chose to have the book read to them except one: Marco.

"I'd like to try to read it," he said to me.

Marco's in grade 3 and knew all of his alphabet but could only read about half of the age appropriate words. I had to help him through the whole book, but he finished it and seemed pretty happy with himself.

At the end of the day I went to talk to his teacher about how well he had done and that he had been the only child who had wanted to make the effort to read the book to me.

She smiled and said, "I know! He came back here and told me, 'I had a great time with Miss!' He told me that he read through an entire book with you and he recited the entire story to me, so I told him that he could retell it to the whole class first thing in the morning!"

She then thanked me for helping with all the kids and we all headed home.

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we're warned that we won't see results for up to a year after we begin our service and that we're almost never going to hear "thank you." It seems to me that there's no greater result than being able to see a child actually feel proud enough about having read a whole book that they can't wait to share it with their teacher and classmates.

Today definitely made me feel like being here has been, and will continue to be, worth everything that I have and will put into it.

I can't wait for tomorrow!