Playing Catch Up

I have not written a new blog post in a while because I have not had wi-fi set up in my house until now. It was a long and frustrating process to get the wi-fi installed, with many visits to the office in town, phone calls and follow up. I really forget how long some things take here in St. Vincent and the other Caribbean Islands. Many refer to it as “Island Time”. I have really forced myself to try and be more patient here, especially because being impatient and getting frustrated leads to nothing positive. If I am patient, go with the flow and let things happen in their own time, I find I am much happier and at peace.

This post will cover many topics including our official Peace Corps Swearing-In Ceremony, moving into my own house and the first few weeks of School in my village. To start off, on Thursday August 27th, myself and 7 others were officially sworn in as EC87 Peace Corps Volunteers in the Eastern Caribbean. The rest of the volunteers (32 in total) were sworn in during that same week on the other islands of Dominica, St. Lucia and Grenada. The volunteers in Dominica had a bit of a set back because of Tropical Storm Erika. The storm passed through Dominica causing flooding, mudslides and overall damage to the island. As a result, the volunteers were unable to hold a ceremony. There are many efforts to raise relief funds for Dominica to aid with the rebuilding of the island communities. Luckily all of the volunteers were unharmed in the Tropical Storm and they were able to be sworn in a few days later.

To continue, the ceremony marks the end of one period of Peace Corps life- Training. Training was both difficult and necessary. It was frustrating at times however it provided endless hours of bonding amongst the volunteers. This was our time to form a support group with each other and build lasting bonds. I am appreciative for that as well as the useful information that we were given during some sessions. During the Swearing-In Ceremony, all of us were asked to give a cultural performance. We sang two songs in Dialect- Compay come leh we labor, and Obeah Man. One song is about how a man wants to work hard so that he can provide for his family, and the other song is about an “Obeah Man” who does voodoo, tricks a woman and robs her. After this terrible humiliation of singing in front of the whole audience, we were then expected to recite an oath with our right hands up in the air. This is what brought us to become OFFICIAL volunteers. Hooray! I want to make a side note here that ALL 32 of the volunteers who came to the Eastern Caribbean on June 10th, 2015 are STILL HERE. That is not very common for any Peace Corps Training group. Usually there are a few people who leave throughout training for various reasons: health, homesickness, realizing that this is not what they want to do, or just overall unhappiness. So, I want to congratulate all of EC87 for sticking it out for this long and being so determined and positive throughout this journey.

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A photo of all 8 of the Volunteers: (from top left to right) Sarah (Peace Corps Staff), Heather, Kate, Rosie, Marcia and a guest speaker. (from bottom left to right) Mr. Cool (Peace Corps Staff), Robbie, Me, Chris and Joe.
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We are taking the oath.

I have been living in my own home now for about three and a half weeks. I was very excited to move in on my own and start my service, however it was sad to leave my host family. They definitely made me feel at home and provided a certain feeling of safety when I was staying with them. The first night at my home was an interesting one… I moved in around 5 pm, so I unpacked a few things and then made dinner- spaghetti. I decided to put “flavor peppers” in the dish which I had never used to cook with before. These peppers are not supposed to be hot, so I chopped a few of them and put them in the pan. Little did I know, a few minutes later my face/eyes/skin started to burn up and I realized that I had wiped my face with the hand that had touched the peppers. I am going to be honest- the first night was terrible: my face was burning from the peppers, I jumped at every little noise that I heard, and I could not sleep. I felt lonely, scared, sad, homesick and much more. Without wi-fi, you definitely have a lot of time to think and reflect on things. I used these first few day at my home to think about why I was here, and why I would ever want to live alone… I also spent a lot of time outside chatting with my landlord and her family. We have gotten very close over the past few weeks. In addition, I started my own garden to keep myself busy. I used a hoe to scrape away all of the grass/weeds in the land, a fork to loosen up the soil, and then a neighbor made banks for me to plant in. Gardening is not an easy task, especially in the hot sun. With a lot of effort, sweat, hard work and motivation I finished the garden and planted a few seeds: tomatoes, zucchini, squash, watermelon, sunflowers, beets, cucumber and peas. Now all I have to do is wait! I am now at week 4 of living alone, and I have to say it is not so bad. In fact, I really like it. I cook for myself, clean for myself, have alone time to focus on activities that I want to do, etc. Yes it is lonely at times, but with a crazy work schedule, sometimes I want to be alone 🙂

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My Bedroom.
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Living Room. No, I do not have cable, but the TV has one channel that works if I get the antennae just right 🙂
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Dining room. You can see the nice water filter in the corner that the Peace Corps provides us with. Really, I could drink the tap water and not get sick, but since I have the filter I use it. At school however, I just drink out of the tap- it is safe.
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My Kitchen.
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The start of the garden. If you look at the green weeds/grass, that is what this ground looked like before I started working on it.
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Some of the seeds have sprouted and are growing nicely!
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I have been spending a lot of time cooking. This is Bohemian Macaroni Pie. It is one of my favorite Caribbean dishes! It is meant to be a side dish, but sometimes I cheat and eat only this for a meal…
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I even made crystalized ginger. I bought the ginger root from the market in town. I cut the ginger into slices, boiled it in a simple syrup, let it drain and then rolled it in sugar and set it out to dry.

My first few weeks at school have been hectic and exciting. I work at a primary school in my village that has Grade K-Grade 6. There are 200 students, about 30+ students per classroom, and only one teacher. If they are lucky, they will have two teachers in one classroom like in Grade K and Grade 6. I have filled many roles at my school so far including Librarian, Teacher, Secretary, Artist, Caretaker, Janitor and more. The first week I helped out where I could. My main job was to work on cleaning up the library. The first project was to put down “carpet” which is actually linoleum “tiling”. They are working on a new International Airport near my village which has consequently left all of the books in the library caked with dust/dirt from the construction. So, every day I arrived at school, filled a bucket with water and disinfectant, and got to work dusting off every single book one by one. The children love to follow me around and beg for me to let them help with whatever I am doing. They carry things for me, make way for me in the hallways, and they love to ask me questions and touch my hair/skin.

The next step was to get rid of books that do not belong in a Primary School Library. For example, there were many high school or college level textbooks in the library that Primary School students would have no use for. After that, I began to place the books on makeshift shelves and organize them into different topics. This step is still in progress and might take a while. I hope to alphabetize the books once the organization is done. I hope to open up the library by next week so that classes can come in and check out library books. Week two involved a lot of classroom observations in the morning and library work in the afternoons. Our true principal is out sick, so one of the teachers is the “Acting Principal” while she is away. She always seems run down with work, so I also help her out whenever I can. She says that I have a knack for creativity, so she has asked me to make different posters to put up around the school. Now that we are in week three and the library is coming along nicely, I have been able to actually teach in the classrooms more. I am working with Grades 1, 2 and 3 on literacy, so I co-teach with the teachers in those grades as well as do small group instruction for those children who need more help.

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The front of my School.
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Library before picture.
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Library before picture.
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Library before picture.
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Library in progress.
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Library in progress.
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Our school got a donation of school supplies, and here are some of the children receiving new notebooks, pencils, pens and pencil sharpeners.

Now here are a few more photos of experiences I have had in the past few weeks:

The group of volunteers who came a year before us, EC86 had a nice welcoming potluck for us a few weeks ago. We ate snacks, swam in the ocean, and chatted about our experiences. It was very enjoyable.

potluck2

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I made guacamole for the potluck. Because let’s be real, who doesn’t like guacamole..?

While a technician was trying to find a wire in my house, he came across 10 lizard eggs behind one of the outlets. I decided to keep the eggs in a mug and one day a lizard hatched! So far, 3 of them have hatched and climbed out of the mug.

lizard

Last week, my landlord’s daughter took me to watch a football (soccer) match in my village. During half time, we went to take a look at the beach next to the field. As you can see, it is very rocky. If you look at the left, you can see the very edge of the International Airport that they are building. Before the construction, this beach used to be sandy and people would hang out here during the summer. Now people fish along the edge instead. It is still a very pretty place.

stubbs

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Chatting with local children at a netball game in Owia.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my experiences. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I enjoy experiencing them! Until next time..

Shelby

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