One starfish at a time.

A good summary of my first few weeks in St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean would be:

1. Pre-Service Training

2. Crazy transportation

3. New noises

4. Bucket baths

5. Fantastic food

After many days of travel and busy schedules, EC 87 finally arrived in St. Lucia on June 12. Except for one little fiasco at the airport, we arrived safely without any problems. Traveling with 34 people in a group is not easy, and considering we only had one person searched and interrogated, I would say that is pretty good. We arrived at the Benedictine Abbey in Coubaril after a 2 hour drive from the airport in the southern end of the island. The Abbey was absolutely wonderful. The nuns living there prepared our meals, provided nice rooms for us, and kept us safe during our stay. During our weekend in the Abbey, we had orientation, medical check ups, and got the necessary shots before service.

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The Benedictine Abbey in Coubaril, St. Lucia.

On Sunday June 14th, we finally got to meet our host families in St. Lucia for our 7 weeks of training on-island. My host sister, Iyinka, came to pick me up from the multi-purpose center in Babonneau where we met. Immediately when I sat my things down in my new room, I met my host mom, and then Iyinka and I set off in her friend’s car again to go on an “adventure”. Little did I know, this adventure would turn into one of the most exciting first days I could have imagined… We went to go pick up my host sister’s new puppy! Meet Brownie:

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Mandatory selfie on the car ride home from picking up Brownie.
Brownie
He is so cuddly and fluffy!

For the next 7 weeks, I will be staying in a community called La Guerre. It is about a 5-10 minute drive from Babonneau, the community where our training takes place. We have training on Monday-Friday from 8:30 to 5ish. During this time we listen to presentations about medical information, safety and security, literacy and more. Throughout the day we partake in interactive activities that help prepare us for success as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). On a side note, the transportation here is a bit different than in the U.S.A., and I am not just referring to the fact that they drive on the opposite side of the road. Every morning I walk to the bus stop to catch a “minibus” down the hill to Babonneau. As I climb into the bus and say “good morning” to everyone, I usually head to the farthest back open seat. The busses are packed full of seats/people and the roads are very tiny and windy. As we drive down the hill, the bus driver honks at every car he passes (as if to say hello). He also stops every once in a while at unmarked “bus stops” when people wave their hand (indicating that they want a ride). I hold on tight to my backpack and get an ab workout while I try not to fall onto the people next to me on the many turns. They drive very quickly down the hill and passengers get thrown right and left, forward and back during the journey. At first, this kind of seemingly reckless driving scared me, and I thought we were going to crash at every blind turn that the bus tried to pass the car in front of us (with oncoming traffic). After two shorts weeks of riding this bus down the hill, I have started getting used to the sure terror that filled me during my first “minibus” ride. In fact, now it almost feels like a rollercoaster ride on my way to school :).

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One of the mini-busses that roam through the neighboring communities.
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My house for the next 7 weeks. You can see my host mom, Julitta peeking out on the balcony.

I have been experiencing new auditory stimuli in the last few weeks… Both at night and in the early, early morning, I hear various interesting sounds coming from outside of my window. Included in these noises are roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing, crickets chirping, dogs barking/whining, cows mooing, goats bleating and loud music blasting. Surprisingly I am starting to get used to these noises and actually embrace their presence. When the crickets chirp, it reminds me that it is bedtime, when the roosters start their morning routine, I realize that it is too early to wake up just yet, and I fall back asleep. When the country/gospel music starts blasting from my neighbor’s house at 5am, I know that I have about an hour left to sleep. These noises have become the most unique soundtrack to my life in St. Lucia.

Let me tell you a little bit about the bucket bath. To preface this topic I will tell you that St. Lucia, and the EC in general is going through a huge drought. The whole water conservation issue is very important here. The government controls when they send the water to houses, and how much water they give each house in different communities. That being said, most mornings I wake up and head to the bathroom, turn the shower on (which is mostly a dribble), and let the bucket catch all the water. Once the bucket is filled, I proceed to shower by using a small bowl to pour the water on myself to wash my hair/body. As you could imagine, the water that I am using is absolutely FREEZING. I have the option to boil some water, and pour it into my bucket to have a nice, warm shower. However, I honestly embrace the cold in this hot island climate.

These are the large drums that water gets sent to in our backyard.
These are the large drums that water gets sent to in our backyard.

My host mother is the sweetest. She has been teaching me a bit of creole (Kweyol) over the last two weeks. The first phrase she taught me was “ish mue” which means “my daughter”. She calls me this daily along with “darling”, “my girl”, and other endearing terms. She has even threatened to my parents over the phone that she is going to adopt me. In return, I call my host mother “mama mue” which means “my mother”. I realize that I have only know this woman for two weeks, but her and I truly are close and connected already. We are very open with each other, and make sure that we are honest and keep communication lines open between us. This is very important, especially when there could be certain cultural misunderstandings between us. On an unrelated note, my host mom has a garden in the backyard that she is extremely proud of, and for a good reason. Here are some photos of the different kinds of plants/trees that she has:

Papaya tree.
Papaya tree.
Eggplant.
Eggplant.

I have been partaking in many different exercise activities in St. Lucia. A few volunteers and I did yoga one day after training at one of the trainee’s houses. She has a roof with an amazing view of the mountains on the island. We definitely got some interesting looks from neighbors during out yoga session. Also, the bleating of goats truly made it difficult to focus between bouts of laughter. Another exercise activity that I do on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday is a zumba-esque class held at the primary school across from where our training is held. The class is taught by Leo and is completely free of charge. I would not say that these classes would fit under your traditional category of zumba. The class is mainly dancing/aerobics to the beat of local Caribbean music. I have to say that some of the songs get Leo to include “hip thrusts” and “booty shaking” into the dance moves. These classes mainly make me laugh a lot and get exposed to local music. I have found that laughter is the key to staying sane during the intense weeks of training.

The view from Erin's house where we did our yoga session.
The view from Erin’s house where we did our yoga session.

On day 9 of being in St. Lucia, we finally made it to the beach. We deserved a day to relax and finally swim in the ocean. I mean, we are on an island for goodness sake… During our long and relaxing day at Reduit Beach in Rodney Bay, we managed to swim in the ocean, drink from coconuts, sunbathe, put on pounds of sunscreen, and witness a fruit/vegetable boat selling its products. In addition to all of this, we found quite possibly the best local bar around- Anne Marie’s bar. It sat right next to the ocean at the very southern tip of the beach. Anne Marie, the owner, was very sweet and welcoming. She cooked a delicious plate of fish, rice, and fried plantain chips. Overall, the beach day was a success.

Reduit Beach
Reduit Beach, Rodney Bay, St. Lucia
This is the fruit/vegetable boat that miraculously stays afloat while it chugs along the coast selling its products.
This is the fruit/vegetable boat that miraculously stays afloat while it chugs along the coast selling its products.
Behold Anne Marie's delicious meal of fresh fish, rice, and plantain chips.
Behold Anne Marie’s delicious meal of fresh fish, rice, and plantain chips.

I have seen some breathtaking views on St. Lucia so far. Among these is the view from a fellow trainee’s rooftop in a community called Plateau. From her rooftop, you can see all the way to Castries (the main city), and you can see the ocean beyond that. The picture that I added below does not even begin to do justice to the real view. The first night that we went to this rooftop, a bunch of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) came to hang out. At this point we had only known each other for a week. Many expressed that they felt as though they had known each other for a year. The rate at which friendships between Peace Corps Volunteers grow is unbelievable. Being thrown into an unknown culture and place forces you to seek support from others, namely our “Peace Corps Family”. When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I was not expecting to gain 33 family members in the process. Little did I know that only two weeks into my journey I would have a sense that these people would be a huge and lasting part of not only my Peace Corps experience, but my life. Being the youngest member of PC 87, I feel as though I look up to a lot of people in my group. I have gained friends, siblings, fathers, mothers, and possibly even grandmothers in this group of wonderful people.

The view from a fellow trainee's roof in the community of Plateau.
The view from a fellow trainee’s roof in the community of Plateau.
All 34 volunteers from Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean 87.
All 34 volunteers from Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean 87.

To put things into perspective- the worst thing that has happened to me thus far is that I stepped on a warm, melted, orange otter pop that proceeded to geyser and splash all the way up my legs and shorts, then dripped into my shoes. To be honest, at first I was utterly baffled about what had just happened. Once I realized what happened, I could quickly discount the theory that I accidentally peed my pants. Luckily it was just warm, sticky otter pop liquid.. Luckily.

A nice visual for you.
A nice visual for you.

After all of the hours that we spent in training, we finally got to step foot into a real St. Lucian classroom this week. We were split into groups of about 5 trainees and were assigned to different classrooms at the Bocage Primary School. Each group prepared a lesson plan that we implemented in different classrooms at the school. This particular activity is called “micro-teaching”. My group was assigned to a 3rd grade classroom and we taught an hour long lesson on making predictions in books to increase comprehension as well as using rhyming words. Micro teaching at the Bocage Primary school reminded me why I am here in the first place- To teach wonderful, smiling, and precious children how to read and write. Spending so many hours in training, I tend to forget about the big picture of my assignment as a Primary English Literacy Co-teacher. This was a very positive and uplifting experience that was a great reminder of my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I want to end my blog post with a little story:

“A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.”

— Adapted from The Star Thrower
by Loren C. Eiseley

This story really reminds me of why I am here. Although training is very tedious work with long, stressful days, I have to keep the big picture in mind. I love this story because it represents the work that I will be doing in the Eastern Caribbean over the next 27 months. Although I am just making little drops in the stream, eventually my drops will turn into a strong and powerful river. Peace Corps reminds us that our job is to plant the seeds for the tree, however we will not be able to sit in the shade of that tree. In other words, we are just the beginning of a long trek towards literacy development and improvement among the EC’s children. We may not see the benefits that our own work has when we finish service, however we will have left with the seeds planted, and ready to flourish.

Thank you for reading, and look out for my next post!

Shelby

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