“Usually the hardest thing to do, is the what you need to get done,” that quote is probably muddled by the years, extracurricular activities, and chemicals, but for the most part I remember my father saying that. Between that and “Do it right the first time,” I think I have a solid amount of quotes to build a firm foundation as a 24 year old serving abroad, and as most kids don’t appreciate what we are being told in the present, I truly appreciate those words as the days tick by here.
It’s been 6 weeks since flying out of Miami, and we are closing up with Phase 1 of PST, Pre Service Training. Between the acronyms, PCMO, APCD, SSO, GTFO, the length of the daily training, trying to discern a language, integrate into host families, and learn our role here within the Peace Corps, it can be hard to see the light, let alone properly read and write.
These past two-three weeks I’ve been away from the blog, but if you follow SnapChat or Facebook there has been a ton of movement here on this end from hiking the Gros Piton, Model School, travelling via boat to Soufreire, Carnivale, and our closing days of PST Phase One.
Though it happened two weeks ago, I’m pretty confident my legs back have consistently been sore since hiking the Gros Piton. 25 of us took part at the crack of dawn one Sunday morning, and mostly all of us made it up the steep 2,500 ft incline (no one died, the heat, humidity, and some age difference was a major factor). The hike was 4 hours, 2 hrs up, 2 hrs down, and the mileage on paper is nowhere near some places I’ve been lucky to hike through be it Harriman State Park in NY, the Cascade Mountains in WA, or Table Mountain in Cape Town, the trek was not easy. It was like hiking up the escalators in the DC metro, whilst wearing a garbage bag over a sweat suit akin to Bradley Cooper in Silver Lining’s Playbook. The grunting, moaning, stumbling payed off as we were graced with a panoramic view of the southern part of the island, Soufriere, and the Petit Piton (which is smaller but more strenuous), and Mt. Gimie (Jimmy) the tallest mountain range in St. Lucia. It was a physical mountain we had to strain through, but if it reflects anything of what is to come, it is both intimidating and exciting. This mountainous terrain was followed by a similar experience that was Model School, which was our first real foray into the Caribbean education system, and for many their first time back in a classroom since childhood.
30 Peace Corps Volunteers, 10 master teachers from local school throughout the island, and a 100 some odd struggling readers from grades K to 4th. This was probably the closest we could get to an educational NFL combine, or dress rehearsal before the big performance that is in fact our real service. There were no 40 yard dashes, feats of strength, or general BS spoken by ESPN commentators, but the time, practice, patience, combined effort, and focus in the classroom was not far from that seen on the field. I was partnered with two PCV trainees who have had extensive experience teaching younger students and from parts of the country I have yet to explore, Texas, and Louisiana. We also had a brilliantly talented, and calm local master teacher, who let us stride, struggle, and succeed on our own. The model school was the culmination of a massive amount of theoretical training, slogging sessions, and frustrations, and in the end produced an extremely rewarding experience for us as trainees, but hopefully even more for the kids. They were engaged, excited, and energetic for a “reading” camp, but it also showed us the tip of the ice berg of what a Caribbean classroom can be in practice, behavior, and focus. It is going to a mighty experience in and out of the classroom but putting theory to practice led to a beyond assuring sense among st us, rather than doubt.
Boats n Trainees/ Carnivale
Finishing Model School led to a long, and much needed 4 day weekend to spend with ourselves, host families, and prepare for the Carnivale. We started our weekend with a full day boat tour, with a local crew full of good vibes, music, sights, and liquids to drink if you so choose to do such a thing. While the weekend before had us straining and struggling up a cliff, this boat ride let us see the island from a whole other perspective, and it is incredibly immense how much diversity from small cities, rural villages, modern day 1%er resorts, and natural beauty there can be on only one side of the island. It was a realization that however much stress, turmoil, highs and lows we can go through when in the class or service, that we are extremely lucky to how quickly and with ease we can disengage to explore and bask in some utterly beautiful spaces, places, and people.
Carnivale came and went like a storm. The population of the small island seemed to inhabit the capital of Castries for 3 days of partying and celebration. When asking why, or what does Carnivale celebrate the simple answer is that folks just wanted a good reason to party en mass. Though we could not “jump” as trainees, we were able to view the massive parades, costumes, and libations from the sidelines thick with viewers and revelers. “Jumping” is when you partake in one of the 10 bands, which have multiple sections made up of 30-100+ people, so a band could have 10 sections of jumpers with well over 1,000 members strong. They compete in costume, theme, dance, and how they present themselves during the two day parade. Jumping is no easy feat of day drinking and partying, but a mutli mile sprawl from outside of the city, onto a stage, and back out again lasting many hours. The rain, heat, humidity made it extremely sweaty, but the good vibes from the people jumping, and the general attitude was very positive. Getting a mini bus outside of the city was another story entirely.
That is not to say everything is peachy in paradise. Myself and other trainees have seen plenty of the developing sections of this country where there is prevalent alcoholism/drug abuse, lack of sanitation, gender biases to women and LGBTQ, unclean/unsafe water, lack of educational/infrastructural resources. Yet, within the small glimpses of the culture I have been lucky to see and partaken in I have caught a rare look at the resiliency and strength within these people, and a far deeper understanding of what a community is. There are plenty of bumps and mountains ahead , but it is becoming apparently clear how lucky I am to be here in this context, and around such people be it locals and PCV’s alike.
The Road to St. Vincent
This quote from the unflappable Ron Swanson, played by the epic Nick Offerman has been a foundational idea of my life before PC, now especially that much more here on island. I find myself wandering internally through speakers of my life real and fictiosiuous from Teddy Roosevelt, grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, Aziz Ansari, Buzz Lightyear, Action Bronson, Steven Hawking, and the great Anthony Bourdain. The more and more I find differences, confusions, questions, delights, deliciousness, quandaries and new imperfections on this small island the more I am comforted and excited for the things to come, not only for myself, but the friends and family I am blessed with, and the characters both leading and supporting who have yet to come on stage.
I will be heading to my site within the community of South Rivers St. Vincent, working within the 1st,2nd,3rd grade to promote literacy excellence, revamp the library, engage the staff in professional development, and begin a new adventure. I also have the luck to continue with my rugby passion (or addiction), climb some volcanoes, meet new PCV’s, and explore the 30+ islands within the Grenadines. It will be a new change, and I will miss the bond of the fellow trainees amongst myself, but it’s time to get to it, and living on a tropical island for the next 2+ years isn’t the worst problem to have.
I apologize if this blog isn’t the ABC of classic abroad archive of selfies with local, perfectly framed Instragramable shots of local food, messages written in the sand, or blisteringly filtered vistas that could be ripped off of a google page. This space is for me as much as it is to share with you awesome folks, so I hope you enjoy the ride for the next two years as much as we are here. By this time next week I will be within a new community, on a new island, with a new culture, cuisine, dialect, geography to dive into, so stay posted and thanks again for taking part in the ramble thoughts of a sun fried brain.
These are some of the links to some of my fellow PCV trainee blogs, which are awesome and you should check out:
– David : http://kuribbean.blogspot.com/
– Shelby: https://shelbyec.wordpress.com/
– Mary: http://www.theknockabout.org/
– Alan: http://www.pcinec.net/