Thursday, February 23, 2012

Let’s Talk About This

Busses:  If you want to go anywhere in Grenada, you have to flag down one of these bad boys.  It’s a relatively easy system with just one flaw--all of the busses are privately owned.  This means that there is no schedule therefore, no dependability.  My particular bus route is a bit of a pain.  I live out of the way and most of the busses on my route like to stop before they get anywhere close to my little village.  So, before I get on the bus I ask the driver if he’s headed to my town and, of course, they all say yes.  Unfortunately, they all don’t really mean it.  They like to drop you off at the “end of the line” and tell you to catch the next one.  Now this gets crazy real fast because more often than not the “end of the line” is super sketch.  Fortunately, this has only happened to me once in the last three weeks…unfortunately, that was on day one so now I’m just not a happy bus person.  My point is this:  I have found 3 fabulous dance opportunities and cannot brave the busses…lame. Yes. I know.   One day I’ll figure it all out and be able to dance, but I don’t think that’s going to be for a while. So, if you have any spare courage, send it my way.  It will be much appreciated J

When you move beyond this rather frustrating flaw, you can see that the busses are a great way to immerse yourself into Grenadian culture.  Most of what I have learned about the Grenadian life has come from my bus rides to and from town.  The sense of community never fails to astound me.  I think it’s because of where I’ve grown up.  Suburban North Carolina just doesn’t connect at that level.  People get on these vans without any idea of where they’re going, but the whole busload of people, smashed together and sweaty, will look out for them and stop the bus where they’re supposed to get off.  Many times the bus veers of track to drop women with babies and seniors right in front of their door step.   I’ve even been on one that picked up a blind woman and dropped her off way out of ways, free of charge.  People here understand people and unfortunately, I think that’s one of the strangest things to get used to.  I’m so used to being ignored. I mean, think about it. When you walk down the street do you say “good afternoon” to anyone? Sometimes, we even purposely dig around in our bags for our cell phones so we don’t have to say “hi” to someone.  Think about it…

Ps.  Dad, we had some sugar cane today! I thought about you.  I don’t understand why eating sugarcane isn’t a thing in the states.  It is AMAZING.   Put it on your bucket list, you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hello, my name is…

This week was our first real week of Peace Corps Training.  We’ve officially moved beyond the boring sessions of introductions and definitions.  Now we start the dirty work.  Don’t ask me what that is exactly because it’s going to take a little bit of time to figure out where I’m headed project wise, but it’s nice to finally be able to go to the schools and start learning about their reality and needs.  That said, I don’t think I’ve ever had to introduce myself to this many people before.  Knox’s Pumphandle prepared me for all of the hand shaking, but Grenadian introductions don’t stop after you get to know each other’s names…no, they definitely want your life story & relationship history along with your name, age, and career background.  (one teacher made sure to tell me that that I have to marry an Indian boy so that my kids will get my Indian hair…) Overwhelming much?  I’m sure that there is going to be much more of that in the future.

Introductions aside, I think I’m going to thoroughly enjoy my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer (even though technically I’m not considered to be a volunteer yet).  First, let me describe my setting.  I live in a very small village on the coast of Grenada.  In one of the earlier posts I complain about not being able to have the real rough & tough Peace Corps experience because of Grenada’s relative accessibility and tourists.  I don’t think that’s going to be a concern anymore.   When I say rural, I mean rural, and I’m in love with it.  Besides the houses tucked away into the lush forests on the mountain sides, my village has a small shop, a school, a couple of churches, and a small park.  Yes, that means I have to get on the bus and take an hour-long journey to town if I need anything or have to pay the bills.  It also means that I live in a very small community where everyone takes care of everyone else, definitely not the neighborhood I grew up in.  & the view…who could forget the view!! Mom, Dad, & future husband, I am going to live in house that sits on a ridge and looks out to the ocean, no room for compromise, sorry.  Everywhere I go I have a view of the sea.  Today was a rather rainy day and I felt like the heavy clouds were skipping over the water, it is beautiful and breathtaking.

After visiting the schools I’ve realized just how privileged we are in the U.S.  Our school system always seems to be so dysfunctional, but at the end of the day our kids have so many resources right at their fingertips.  Of my two schools, one is definitely better off when compared to the other and I can’t wait to dive in, get dirty, and start some sustainable programs that will hopefully peak these kids interests. 

Schools here are chaos!  There are kids running around everywhere! It’s a lot of fun, but it’s going to take me a while to get into “teacher” mode.  So many calls of “miss” follow me around that I can’t even remember who called my name.  On Tuesday I think I had 15 girls in my hair, trying to see if I was wearing a wig.  There is so much energy! However, many of the classrooms here are harsh and abrupt.  It’s sometimes very scary to be observing a class because of the teacher-student relationship.  Dad, now I know what your education in India was like…thanks for immigrating to the U.S.  There is a lot of work to be done, especially relating to literature and remedial reading.  Many kids have been discouraged by their environment and the people in their lives.  I’m hoping to be able to connect with these kids and really help them value their education and realize that they don’t have to settle or be discouraged by their situation.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to succeed.  Peace Corps mission, here I come!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

When reality strikes & how to recover

Since we’ve started Pre-Service Training, PST, we have been talked to about community integration.  Basically, everything that we hope to achieve in our service depends on how connected we are in the community.  We’ve been told that it’s not an easy road to travel, that it takes time, patience, and perseverance, and that it will get messy and be stressful.  Yes, PC trainers I listened to you, but, to be honest, those words didn’t mean very much to me until this weekend when I finally arrived in Grenada and started the homestay component of PST.

I think I got the best homestay family, yes fellow Grenadian PCT’s, be jealous!  I’m currently living with my host mom Marlene, my host dad Allison, and their two boys, Garth and Zayne, who are 10 and 2 years old respectively.  It is pretty awesome.  Marlene is a beautiful mother and teacher.  She has done a lot for the community and continues to dream big.  I can’t wait to help her on the many projects she has planned to help the children here reach their potential.  Allison works for the water services in Grenada and has convinced me that the water here is safe to drink.  Garth and Zayne keep me moving and always manage to bring a smile to my face.  Garth is, for sure, going to be the next prime minister.  I just know it.  He is a genius! (sounds like someone else I know: Anish? Prerak? Mihir? He would fit right into our nerd band)

Everything is perfect! But, all of these wonderful new relationships, new food, and new environment have one thing in common, their NEWness.  I didn’t realize how stressful it would be to seamlessly transition from the known to the unknown, especially when I have no obvious stress triggers.  Yet, on Monday I had a total breakdown and by total breakdown I mean bawling for the whole hour-long bus ride home (the Grenadians probably thought I was some crazy tourist).  Mom & Dad, don’t worry, there is no need to get on the next flight to Grenada.  In retrospect, I’m glad it all came out then because now my system is clean and clear and I’m ready to take on all that the PC throws at me.

Since that unfortunate bus incidence, Grenada celebrated 38 years of independence on Tuesday, 7 February .  Below is a picture of my host brother and host grandmother at the national stadium waiting for the military parade and prime minister.  Independence here is HUGE and surprisingly accessible to the everyday population.  I mean, could you imagine Barack Obama just addressing a stadium where anyone could casually walk in and out? Every single person gets dressed up in the Grenadian colors, red, gold, and green, and celebrates the cultural diversity and freedom of the country.  The night before there is a gigantic gig in Grenville where you can enjoy the festivities to the fullest by dancing, singing, and eating the national dish, oil down (more on that later…when I’ve actually managed to get my hands on a vegetarian version).  Everyone is involved in Grenada’s celebration.  It’s actually pretty contagious. 

Today, I got a chance to talk with my supervisor.  He has some great ideas about classes for the kids and is super excited to dance! There is still so much standing between me and all of the projects I want to implement together with the community, but I’ll just keep breathing & take it one day at a time.

On a side note, Stephanie, one of the older volunteers, has sent me some contact information for a dance group in St. George’s so hopefully by this time next week I’ll have started moving & grooving Grenadian style.

Sorry for the long post & odd grammar.  Here are some pictures to make up for it:

EC-84 right when we got off the plane from St. Lucia.  Photo Credit:  Amanda Dombach

My homestay!

Our view.  The house is on a ridge that juts out into the ocean.  Pretty awesome.

 Grandma & Garth at the stadium

National stadium all decked out

Our lovely independence day group!   There is Marlene in the center with baby Zayne. 

Also,(Mom & Dad you’ll be especially proud of this one) I was interviewed for the Grenadian news today.  Now you can say that you know a real life celebrity J

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Welcome to Paradise?

PST-St. Lucia

Everyone keeps telling us that we’ve arrived in Paradise.  I don’t know what it means to be in Paradise, but I can tell you that these last 2 days have been perfect.  Miami was kind of odd, not going to lie.  All 28 of EC 84 meet up there for a small orientation.  Basically, a review of everything all volunteers know about the Peace Corps.  I mean, if you’ve ever applied to the PC you know how long it takes to meet each step of the application and along the way you become very familiar with all of the goals.  Therefore, by the time you actually make it to your country of service you know, without a doubt, that you want to spend the next 27 months serving in the PC.  If you had any qualms you would not have made it this far. There are just too many opportunities to drop out of the race.

I thought that meeting people (fellow volunteers) would be super stressful.  Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Everyone one of us here, ages 22-50, are so similar.  We each have our unique reasons for joining the PC, but at the end of the day we’re all passionate about change and have committed to help.  This alone makes you feel connected to everyone immediately—no cheesy icebreakers needed.

We’ve had a lot of down time recently, a very rare prize in the PC (so I’m told).  We landed in St. Lucia on Friday and have had a relatively chill weekend, meaning lots of trips to the beach.  I know the EC PC has a reputation:  “beach corps”.  In the last 3 days we’ve heard this reference too many times.  Not a moment goes by without one of us asking whether or not this is actually happening to us.  Most of us were nominated for Asia, Africa, or South America so the Caribbean came as a complete surprise to us.  Not going to lie, in Miami a lot of us voiced our objections to the Caribbean:  tourists, no new language to learn, tourists, proximity to the U.S., and oh and did I mention the tourists?  None of us wanted to be on “vacation” we wanted to rough it and really experience the real life of these amazing populations.  Boy weren’t we in for a shock.

The Peace Corps in the Caribbean is not the “Beach Corps.”  Each of these countries has a void that cannot be filled by their citizens, and therefore has invited the U.S. PC to come in and help support so many necessary programs.  Relaxing during the weekend was a special treat.  Since then we’ve officially kicked off our Pre-Service Training and are drowning in information about the Eastern Caribbean and community integration…to be continued.

Here are some pictures I took in St. Lucia.  Enjoy the views.

 ps.  I never thought that I would ever swim in the ocean. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the beach, but am scared of the ocean, specifically, the creatures in the ocean.  Mom & Dad you can be proud of me because I did it! I swam way out in the deep blue...until I saw a fish :)