Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Cultural Connection

It’s official:  I've been in Grenada for a whole year and am rapidly approaching the half-way point of my service.  When I look back at the last year I cannot believe how much we accomplished, and how quickly the time went by.  Two years seem daunting at the start, but time flies once you identify your purpose.

I am thankful for my assignment and my community.  I love the village life and appreciate all of the support I've received from the community.  My students are really starting to progress, and seeing that change motivates me to continue to explore literacy in hopes of graduating them from the program.

Most importantly, I am thankful for the opportunity to explore culture in a way that I've never been able to before.  I knew before I started that I wanted to explore dance in whatever country Peace Corps sent me to, but I had no idea that I would get the opportunity to immerse myself to such a capacity.  Dancing and drumming classes have allowed me to form an understanding of what art and culture mean in Grenada.  Most movements and rhythms in Afro-Caribbean dance and drumming are so closely tied to life that it’s like your breathing through every beat.  The technique liberates while the music inspires.  

I am so excited to finally have enough of a grasp of the art to teach it in my dance classes.   These kids are extremely invested in creative exploration, continuously encouraging me to challenge them in ways they've never been before.  I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do together in the next year. 

Drumming at Jazz Night held every first Friday at the National Museum.
ps. Remember Grenada's Independence Day Celebrations from last year? This year, we performed during the festivities. So cool.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Living in a Topsy-Turvy World

Four weeks ago I boarded a plane filled to the brim with American medical students and their pets.  I suppose all of us had the same idea:  to go home for a well-deserved Christmas break.  For some of us, ie. me, this simple vacation turned into a total mental test.

It all started at the airport.  Being surrounded by fifty plus American twenty-something year olds after living in rural Grenada on a modest stipend does not help with culture shock.  I couldn’t believe that this was what I was going back to.  I can’t really describe a particular event that threw me over the edge.  Rather, it was the culmination of a three-hour waiting period filled with observing interactions that are so completely different from the Grenadian norm.

Fast-forward twenty-four hours, I get to take my first hot shower of the year! Except, my body no longer appreciates the heat.  For the entirety of those ten-minutes, and every shower afterwards, my skin crawled and creeped, very much confused by the cranked up temperature.  Whilst I still complain about my cold showers (Grenada gets rather chilly this time of year), my body appreciates the return of normalcy.

Living in a small-island developing nation sure twists your perspectives on the everyday life.  I am so thankful to have been able to go home and visit my family.  My Grenadian co-workers have told me I blossomed like a flower while I was gone and have returned refreshed.  I’m not so sure about the flower part, but I definitely feel a renewed sense of excitement.  I have all of my projects for the year planned out and have decided on what’s in store for me in 2014 when I complete my service. So, 2013, I’m ready for ya, let’s get started!

December in Grenada.
December in the States. Loved the snow!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Happy International Volunteers Day!

Here is a passage from one of my more frivolous reads:

“’Yes, but I’ve found most people harbor dreams of a more exciting vocation.  The one that’s too crazy to ever actually do.  The one that’s too hard, too much work, or just too ‘out there.’ The gas station attendant who dreams of being a rock star.  The accountant who wishes she’d taken art history classes instead of statistics.  People put their dreams off, either because they think it’s impossible, or because they’ll do it ‘someday.’’”

Don’t wait to make time for your dreams.  Just do it.  Follow your heart, and it’ll never lead you astray.

First and foremost, never undervalue what you have to offer.  Too many times I’ve heard people say that they don’t have the training, or the skills to be able to follow their dreams.  You have the passion, and that passion will evolve into the technical ability that will allow you to do the work that fulfills your desires. 

Did I think I could teach literacy to children with special needs? Never. But my dream was to serve abroad while learning about the realities of development.  By golly, I’m going to try my best to teach these kids that the gibberish symbols they see every second of their lives mean something.

Did I ever think that I would have the opportunity to teach dance and choreograph to my heart’s content? No. No. No. and No.  I was never the dancer.  I love dancing, but I don’t have the years of ballet that coincide with adult dance enthusiasts.  However, living in Grenada and continuing my exploration in movement has helped me realize that dance will always be a part of my life.

I don’t mean to say that my life is an example of perfection.  Rather, I want to encourage you, especially you younger siblings, to reach for your dreams.  Even though they may seem impossible, or wrong, just go for it.   It’s scary.  Following my dreams into international development is one of the scariest things I’ve done, but every moment of my life is so extremely satisfying that I will never settle for some half-life that doesn’t engage my passion and curiosity.  I’m not thinking about what I wish I would have done, but am expanding my goals and reaching out to the seemingly impractical to see what I can make of my life.

 No one is ordinary, so don’t force yourself to fit in. Dream big, and live large because if you have the will you will find the way.

Arushi, Mihir, Aarya: This one’s for you.  Don't be afraid to defy gravity. (See you 10 days!)

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I recently finished reading a monster of a book titled Shantaram.  It’s a fictional recollection of an escaped convict’s experiences as he attempts to build an anonymous life for himself in India.  Through the entire 900+ pages, he struggles to redefine his identity.  Prison and the events that prelude his arrest severed his human relationships.  When he arrives in India all he has is his own self.  He cannot identify through love, country, or achievement.  Through the novel he overcomes this isolation by realizing that the power to live, experience, and love comes from within.  Everything you do as you breathe and exist on this planet impacts other lives and situations and has the capacity to define who you are.  Your choices make you.

Recently, I've been reflecting on the idea of development work sponsored by the international community.  I believe in it, but sometimes I wonder about the effectiveness of outsiders attempting to influence change.  Every moment of our lives have the potential to either create positive or negative consequences, and quite honestly, we don’t know where the ball will drop.  Even the best intentions and proven techniques can be successfully implemented in one community, but fail miserably in another.  Life’s kinetic variables can change the smallest details and overturn the precious equilibrium we identify as normalcy. 

With that in mind, how do you work as a development worker?  You realize that your presence is equivalent to a scientific variable and live with a freedom that invites influence and idea.  Or, at least that’s what I’m attempting right now as this year comes to a close and a new one begins.  November might be too early for end of the year reflections, but my Peace Corps boat ended up in a storm this week and I’m trying not to drown.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Adventures of Phoebe & Shruti

I digress from my professional and personal reflection, but I promise it’s a good story.

What can I tell you about last night?  Well, it started off pretty good.  Made a whole tray of egg muffins, (a week’s worth of breakfast), skyped with my family, read a few pages from the GRE book and made egg-less chocolate chip cookie dough for dinner.  Pretty fantastic. The not so fantastic part: being locked out of my bedroom and bathroom for half the night.  

11 pm:  Muffins baked, family addressed, books read, cookie dough devoured, check, check, check, and check.  Bed time!
Feed the cat
Turn off all the lights.
Lock the doors
Alright, Tuesday, I’m ready for you!
Attempt to get into bedroom, no such luck.
The door’s locked?

Plan A:  Key, must find the key.  Wait, what key? Okay, don’t have the key to the door.
Plan B:  Try the door to the guest bedroom.  Locked, no key. Okay.
Plan C:  Go outside, and open bedroom door on the veranda. Keys to said door locked in bedroom. Shit.

12 am:  call Megan (PCV) Help! Cultural dilemma! Landlady didn't give me all the keys to the doors! Grenadians go to sleep at 8 pm, do I call her and wake her up? YES! Forget the bed, you’re going to need the bathroom. Great, so much for being a mature adult responsible enough to have her own apartment.

…15 calls to landlady….still locked out. Okay, well, I have my computer, and the internet works.  Google will help me!

Search:  How to unlock bedroom door without key (Google’s awesome)


Attempt to dig a butter knife into the door latch. Fail. Fail. Fail.

Call landlady. Success! She has the keys!

Thanks for coming over at 1 am! How did you do this!! I don’t know!  Help me fix it!

No luck.  She doesn’t have the keys either. Attempt to break into my bedroom from the veranda. Banging arouses neighbor, Junior.

Junior: Shruti, what’s going on? Locked out. Great, do you need my help? YES! Bring your crowbar!

Continue to attempt to break into my bedroom from outside, no luck.

Alright, let’s go back inside.

Attempt to wrench inside door with crowbar.  No success.

Decided:  drill hole in wall to unlatch door. Okay, Junior, go get your tools.

Wait! I like that door! Don’t destroy it! Back to butter knife technique. Nudge. Nudge. Nudge. Click!

2 am:  Success!

Thank you Google.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Surreal Experiences

One of my favorite things about being a Peace Corps volunteer is that about eighty percent of my job depends on what I want to do.  Peace Corps assigns a primary worksite, for me this is the elementary school where I am starting a remedial reading program, but beyond that I have the freedom to do whatever I want.  As many of you know, giving me this much free time is a bad idea.  I’ve been a volunteer for a month and have already met the right people.  Let’s start the story telling!

The last four weeks have been extremely hectic.  Work has been pretty relaxed.  I’ve spent the last three weeks administering the GRS, Grenada Reading Screen, to recommended students.  The screen is a pretty cool test put together by former Peace Corps volunteers and Grenada’s Ministry of Education.  Essentially, it evaluates the student’s reading capacity based on oral vocabulary, auditory and visual discrimination, letter identification, phonemic awareness, reading comprehension, and writing.  Yeah, it’s a lot for the kids to take in, but it helps me decide which of the fifty recommended kids need the most attention.   Picking fifteen kids out of a pool of fifty makes me feel extremely guilty, I mean who am I decide which kids qualify?  But, the decisions have been made, and I officially started teaching! How crazy is that? Parents, watch out, this PCV is going to make your kids work, work, work!

Besides work, I’ve been lucky enough to meet the most wonderful woman on the island, and she’s keeping me busy.  When I first got my invitation to serve in Grenada, my dad went crazy researching, and was ecstatic to come on across this organization,, The Indo Grenadian Heritage Foundation.  Guess who’s serving on the board? Yup, wonderful woman friend!   She herself is a descendent of a Grenadian Indian and has made it her personal goal to preserve and promote Grenada’s Indian heritage.  One of her many projects on island include organizing an Indian classical dance classes in Manipuri, via the Indian Embassy in Trinidad & Tobago.  While the prevalence of these classes depends on the Trini calendar of events, the Grenadian women enjoy each and every class and are committed to learning the intricate technique.

In addition to taking these classes I’ve already had the opportunity to perform.  I still can’t believe how fast everything happened.  On 1 May 1857, the ship Maidstone landed in Irwing Bay, Grenada carrying the very first batch on Indian indentured servants.   These were the ancestors of the most the Indians living in Grenada today.  The Indo-Grenadian Heritage foundation annually celebrates their arrival and history.  This year they hosted a fundraiser lunch and performance and erected a plaque on the beach where the Maidstone landed.  What I didn’t realize when I agreed to put together a few pieces for this event was how official the event was.  We danced for the Prime Minister of Grenada, Grenada’s opposition leader, and the High Commissioner of India to Grenada, wowzers.  Furthermore, being surrounded by a population of Indian Grenadians was mind boggling.  I mean you could really see a mix of the cultures.  The traditional Indian culture manifested in the clothes and rituals, but the Grenadian was present in the names and society.  This group of people is definitely Grenadian, but they share the same history that I do.  We’re from the same people yet have culturally evolved in two distinct ways.  I love how much of an effort is being made to preserve the Indian ancestry and can’t wait to become a part of the endeavor.  I do have to say that I am grateful for the presence of Indian food and spices.  It has made transitioning a little bit easier because it’s like I’ve brought a little bit of home here with me.

Callaloo, Mango, & Lentils:  What I've been eating for the past month

Irwing Bay in Sauters, St. Patrick's, Grenada Where the Maidstone first landed bringing Indian indentured servants to Grenada

High Commissioner 

Prime Minister of Grenada Hr. Tillman Thomas

Sam, a fellow PCV recruited to perform & Debolina Paul, our Manipuri instructor  in front of the newly erected plaque

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Beginning of Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Who thought that I would actually be living my dream life after graduation? The idea of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer has been growing in my mind for years.  Over those years, never once did I stop to consider that becoming a volunteer is one of my more attainable goals.  Even now I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that, yes, I, Shruti, am an official sworn-in volunteer. True, I did not imagine that I would be serving anywhere close to the Caribbean.  Instead, I had pictured myself standing outside of a thatched roof house wearing ethnic clothing, lugging water home from a well, and hopelessly attempting to learn a new language in a country no one at home had heard about.   Although this part of my dream will forever remain in my imagination, I’ve come to realize that while many people have a hard time imagining the Eastern Caribbean as a developing region, there is much to be done here.

I am nowhere close to figuring out what these next two years are going to mean for me, but I have an ever growing list of things that I want to get done.  Let me give you an idea of what my life looks like right now.  My primary worksite is a public Roman Catholic primary school right across the street from my house.  My first day at work was Monday.  When I arrived, the principal gave me a list of students recommended by teachers for a remedial class.  Therefore, I am spending this week administering a standardized reading screen developed by a previous Peace Corps volunteer and Grenada’s Ministry of Education.  It’s a rather tedious task, but it will help me organize my classes and create a curriculum.

I’m having a hard time fitting into this teacher role since it is so far off my career path, but over the last couple of days I have realized how much reading matters.  It’s one of those things that I've taken for granted.  We all know that learning to read is important, but have you ever sat down to really consider how essential it is?  Every aspect of my life, from professional to personal is driven by my ability and love for reading and writing.  I read all the time, at all hours of the day, and in all settings regardless of whether or not it’s appropriate.  I read recipes to cook, I read signs to get around, I read books to learn, I read newspapers to stay connected, and I read the shampoo bottle to keep me entertained while I shower.  It’s like breathing. You do it without even realizing. If I can teach these kids how to read, I will be opening their lives to so much. It’s crazy scary how much of an impact one person can have at a micro level.  Hopefully, this one person’s idealism will practically manifest itself during the next two years.

Ready,  Get Set, & Go!

EC 84 Volunteers after swearing in