SVG One Month In…
This past week we were sworn in as Official Peace Corps Volunteers, and even though I have been saying this for 10 or so weeks now, it still does not seem real. All 32 of us have successfully completed our training, and though there are trials ahead known and unknown, we can proudly stand among other PCV’s across the globe as believers in change, both big and small. I have been contemplating this post for sometime, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t another paint by numbers blog, so now with a month living here in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, or SVG, I can finally shed some light on what it’s been like. If you have a cup of coffee, beer, juice, or whatever your poison is I’d get a refill because this is a long one.
Training was long to say to least which kind of threw a wrench into the blog upkeep, as well as adjusting to a new village, people, customs, heat (it’s much hotter than St. Lucia I didn’t think that possible), and new commute have made these past weeks fly by. Below you will find some episodes of my time here that highlight the people, culture, food, transportation, and work ahead. Also I’d rather post when I can feel out what I’m writing, I’m still and observer and active participant here for some time now and ahead, but I’d rather have a sense of what I’m writing about, rather than something generic, hollow, and without some bigger picture thinking, looking at you Fox News. Sorry for the delay, but here are some episodes from my first month here in SVG or Hairoun “The Blessed Land” (also the name for the local beer).
The Basics: Integration Runs Deep, American Stubbornness, Fight Clubs
Integration Runs Deep
“ Yay a just go round dat der gap, run ova to dat gap down dey way, an you gon stay left just now til ya hit dat gap right der yay ya ya be well good xercise der,” My host brother in law Everton says to me as I try and decipher through his Vinci Creole where I can run safety.
It’s my first full day living with my new host family in St. Vincent, and even with the late arrival in Kingstown the night before, I know if I want to stick to my exercise routine from St. Lucia, might as well start right out the gate. It is also a good way to discover the community I’ll be living in for the next two years, using that Peace Corps favorite word of Integration. It’s already noticeably hotter and more humid, since we moved from the rolling mountain hills of Babbonau to the deep river valley of South Rivers. I’m already covered in sweat when I bump into my ‘Rasta’ brother in law Everton as he prepared food and cleans the kitchen simultaneously.
“So how far am I going?” I’ve seen the neighboring villages in the dark from a spur of the moment drive the night before, trying my best to look confident and make a mental map so I don’t end up lost day two into my home stay of my new country.
“It’s not tat far you gon see dey Brya sign, den tun lef an ee gon run up dat wey and ee gon stey leff ti ya see dat der river so” Everton say’s to me, not breaking eye contact with the rich Caliloo soup he’s been preparing. It’s only morning, but food for the day ahead is set up early, and in a big portion to be eaten throughout the day be it soup, stew, meat, or veggies.
“Is it like flat?
“Nah. It like way up in the pasha and den co round da roa der ba to da house here.” He’s waving me out to start and laughing a long the way.
“Yes. So how long will it take?” I just want to feel the place out, I don’t have a phone yet, and I can feel the sun climbing higher into the cloud free sky, signalling my white body to sweat like a pig in a sweater.
“You ca bak around just now.” Just now. Just now seems to mean just right this moment, one would think? Wrong.
This began one of the toughest run’s I have ever gone through in my 24 year old career being a somewhat active male who does things outside when not trolling the internet for movies and food pictures. Running in St. Lucia had been an endeavor with the hills, humidity, and general lack of human safety from the mini bus drivers doing the morning rounds. St. Vincent is very similar with its volcanic rocks, rolling pastures, Jason Statham-esque driving styles, but being so close to sea level within a river valley and not in the mountains with winds makes running here akin to running in humus whilst wearing a garbage bag. Also apparently the term “just now” mean’s “much much much later, as in not soon, turning a seemingly small run to an adjacent village, into a multi hour run where I questioned my safety and sanity afterwords. That’s a usual occurrence as of late, but more on that later.
Though my 7 weeks of training in St. Lucia opened me up to the general lifestyle and tempo here in the developing Caribbean world, life in St. Vincent will be similar, but that of a much more peculiar dialect (literally). The national language is English, but Vinci Creole is spoken widely, and has a mix of all the colonial and ancestrial flavors from the past. I hear it and know there’s English in there somewhere, I just try and follow along smiling until they slow down. It’s like finding bacon in a salad, you know it’s in there if you made it or saw it on the menu, you just gotta weed through the green stuff like an explorer armed with a fork, to find those golden flavor nuggets that you liberally scooped in among st the croutons and dressing. If you can tell I miss bacon, but I digress.
Everton and my host father Ricky looked in disbelief and laughter as I returned drenched in sweat, sun burnt, confused, dizzy, and utterly thirsty. My mouth screamed for water, my muscles for me to lie down, and my little voice in my head was calling myself and idiot. So great start to your first full day in SVG.
I would continue to run in the following weeks, trying to aim earlier in the day 5amish or later in the evening after training before it got dark, because living on the East Side (Windward Side) of the island has us start our day with the sun for a much longer and viscerally hotter period of time. Though the humidity and heat would be consistent, I found that overcoming my anxiety of running through new villages, getting strange looks, and even sometime a lone jogger for a few paces, had been paying off. Now weeks later folks I haven’t met personally know my name, wave, and even in some cases have given me a ride home when the buses don’t make it into the village. Being the weird, larger, hairy, sweaty, tattooed guy has it’s pluses sometimes?
Remembering my host father in St. Lucia say time and time again “Take ya Time. Take ya Time,” had sunk in, in many ways here in SVG. In an era in the US where so many question’s can be answered with a few thumb clicks, Google, Yelp, Siri, at rapid speeds in the blink of an eye, finding out basic info here takes a different kind of search engine. It is usually by word of mouth, and with a large grain of salt. You will get a seemingly different answer on techniques, timing, location, and locale from various villagers depending on the question, and that can make or break your day, especially if you are trying to get somewhere new, and don’t have a phone. You can’t be overly pushy, or expect rock solid answers, because the tempo of the day to day here is much more lax, which can be seemingly a breathe of fresh air for some, but also a cultural frustration if you want to have a meeting at a certain time, find a specific location, or proper way to say, pay your bills and rent of have wifi.
I should have listened to my Lucian host father’s words when I saw those dumbbells sitting at the ACE Hardware in Kingstown.
I myself do not consider myself to be a meat head, gym rat, or cross fit occultist. I have literally ordered food from the gym locker room, hiding my voice saying “extra cheese” from occupants, after spending 2 plus hours there, because I can time it right so when I leave it’s at the door, and sometime you just need to treat yourself. With great power comes great responsibility. I will say I do enjoy the cathartic use of my time, the endorphin rush, and it is extremely meditative whenever I went to the gym or trained back in the states. Training be it for rugby, myself, or my health be it physical or mental was integral in my day to day back in Philadelphia. Be it the early mornings, late nights, or two a days, it felt good to challenge yourself on a personal level, zone out to some loud music, and sweat it out be it good time or bad vibes in your head, or whatever poison you picked the night before on the weekend.
I knew heading to the Peace Corps there wouldn’t be a gym in the literal sense, but I was up for the challenge because your body and muscles don’t care about the color and texture of the weight or machine, but they care about the work being done. That led to a lot of research, tweeks, turns, and focus bringing me to using cinder blocks, focusing on stretching and breathing or just hucking biggest rocks around that I could find ( a Lucian aptly named the rock I’d work out with ‘Chris Rock’) .
I hope you can understand the surprise, excitement, and somewhat salivation of finding two 45 lb dumbbells at a hardware store in the middle of the Caribbean. Okay that will be the most meat head thing I have uttered, but hey at least I have a liberal arts degree, and the understand importance of the word provenance in terms of the Third Reich’s plundered art during WWII and it’s effect on cultural identity seen today in thode regions so HA! (Thank you sincerely Professor Shoaf).
In the words of the infallible Tom Haverford of Parks and Rec I decided I should treat myself, thus giving me 90 pound to get out of a capital, up the coast line, and inland to my village, a solid warm up.
Let’s take a little time to highlight some geography, and some realities on getting around SVG, and in particular my village of South River’s. The lay of the land here in SVG is extremely mountainous volcanic rock, cliffs, deep jungles, and pastureland .The island is split into two sides: the Caribbean West known as the Leeward, and the Atlantic East known as the Windward. They are very different in terms of getting around since there is a Leeward and Windward highway that run up the cost as north as possible before hitting the mountains, but they do not cut across because of the complex terrain in the interior. It is almost like two different islands, and the roads themselves form a sloppily made V or U shape of sorts around the perimeter. More on the intricacies of getting around the island and the difficulties of making it back to the ‘countryside’ where I live later, but here’s the breakdown. If I miss a bus to South River’s ( there are only a handful) I need to take a bus to Georgetown (no prepstars, boat shoes, trust funds, or Greek letters to be found) and take it to Colonaire ( pronounced ‘Canary’) and then I need to walk a solid 2 miles back to Park Hill (where my host family lives). If I was living in South Rivers at the time it would be close to a 3 mile walk, also take note I had no idea of the distance, how to correctly catch a proper van at the time, and was still maladjusted to the weather.
So the sweat covered, overly eager me saw the weights, and thought “Treat yo Self”, not knowing I would have to carry them to the office (uphill through crowded streets) back to the bus stop, cram it onto a van with 25 other people, and maybe walk 2 miles home, whilst wearing dressed in business casual, bearded/shaggy, in 90 degree weather.
I’ve said “That is the stupidest thing I have signed up for/willingly done/ agree too,” far too many time’s to remember, and this surely won’t be the last time, but it will be up there at the top, right next to chugging Soy Milk (that was apparently Almond Milk) before Pitchers and Wings back in college (Looking at you Ben), and paying to see the Nicholas Cage’s movie Knowing during my senior year of High School. My back may still be sore, or incredibly injured I do not know I teach writing I’m not a Doctor, but I do know that it made my presence known in the village. Either as incredible idiotic, or as Ron’s Swanson stated “It’s always a good idea to demonstrate to your coworkers that you are capable of withstanding a tremendous amount of pain”.
One big difference I’ve noticed from the culture here to that of one in St. Lucia is the level of every day aggressiveness. That is not always a bad thing either, so stick with me here. Just now (literally now not 15 minutes ahead) my younger host brother and friends have been wrestling, hitting each other, and doing whatever bodily damage they can do to each other without drawing blood ( even then sometimes). This isn’t just a case of ‘boys being boys’ there is a palpable level of aggression be it physical or verbal here within the culture.
That is not surprising though when you look the intense history and steps that brought the country to where it is today, notice it was only a free state in 1979 and the British ties are visible on the money and namesake of many of the location (the capital itself is Kingstown). I don’t want to take away from the rich and interesting cultural history of the people, but I also don’t want to create a bibliography page, or waste too much of your day, but here is the brief synopsis of the colonial power struggles that happened here on SVG.
The island was predominantly occupied by the Carib people stemming from parts of South/Central America, who did a splendid job of scaring away, and fighting off both British and French settlers until the early 1700’s. During that time slaves who had escaped from other island be it Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, or shipwrecked were finding refuge on SVG and intermarrying with the native Carib’s creating the Black Carib’s or Garifuna (there is a current movement and political situation with modern day Garifuna returning to SVG as we speak). The first foray of colonial power came from the French in 1719 where they harvested coffee, tobacco, sugar, and other plantations utilizing the ever so gruesome tactic of slaves primarily from Africa. SVG was in their colonial grips until the British earned it after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, leading to the first Carib War, and in 1779 the French regained ownership until 1783 where the British regain a foothold following the treaty of Versailles in 1783. Notice these treaties were cause by out of state delegations, wars, and issues that come with the territory of trying to rule the world, but they deeply ripple out to affect the peoples everyday world’s connected such as those in SVG and other colonial territories.
Various fractions and fighting took place with those loyal to British Rule, French rule, or native ownership, and after a series of uprisings, wars, and battles the British exiled 5,000 off of the coast of the island, where many died of starvation and exposure. These fights, lack of control, and use of colonial tactics, slavery and resource manipulation did not sow the firmest of seeds for Democracy. Slavery was abolished throughout the British empire in 1834, but this was followed by a crippling system of indentured servitude, immigrant labourers, and a stagnant economy. Did I mention the island has a volcano called La Soufriere? We it does and it went off in 1812 doing immense damage for months, and in 1902 killing more than 2,00 people, while damaging cropland, and changing entire portions of the island. The country was granted associated statehood in 1969, but did not gain full independence in 1979, along with another eruption of the La Soufriere volcano ( it hasn’t exploded since, fingers crossed for next two years).
That was an extremely short winded explanation of the colonial history here, but the point I wanted to get across is that is a extremely young country, without a firm sense of democratic values in place, and barely 50ish years ago was it a free state. We as a nation are extremely young in terms of the global international playing ground, and everyday are our failures not highlighted on 24 hr news cycles be it : gun control, immigrant treatment, racial tenseness, separation of church and state, weed legalization, Donald Trump, and Donald Trump’s hair. The land itself here breeds strong people, both in body and mind. I could not imagine the fear a British or French soldier had on patrol out in these valleys. Between the alien locale, ancient hardware (took almost 10 minutes to load a gun, if it wasn’t too damp to fire), wool clothing, and knowledge that the folks who hated you most knew the land and were probably watching you, right now. I could also imagine the fierce pride and steps the Vinci people were willing to go to take up arms against a seemingly unlimited supplied empire that was occupying their lands with such simple modes as small arms, machetes, and pride.
I have encountered that fierceness in both pride and the physical aspect. The area that surrounds where van’s pick you up in Kingstown is known as Tokyo (no Tokyo drifting, as of yet, but a man can dream) and is surrounded by rum shops, small bars, and stands that sell everything from bubble gum, beer, ice cream, to 80-90 Proof ‘Strong Rum’. That rum, the hot sun, loud crowds, and tempo of the environment have resulted in some folks who are extremely quick to fight since they may not be in the best mindset to “Talk it out”. I vividly remember seeing two men fight outside of my van, and then saw them the next day drinking and laughing together, even though they had used the makeshift wooden stools from the bar as weapons, staining each other with blood and sweat in the middle of the day. Even one of my first run’s into my village of South River’s I saw two men yelling at each other, one was in a car, the other outside of a shop. A crowd was gathering and the man outside of the car pulled the other man shirt first through the passenger window, leading to more cursing, scratching, fighting, and an eerily over enthusiastic crowd laughing and taking pictures. Did I mention the men were ‘little people’? I glanced to the people on the street asking “Am I good to go through,” and they laughed and motioned that I was fine, as if there wasn’t a bloodletting fight next to me as I awkwardly sidestepped by.
I distinctly remember one man looking at me and saying “Welcome to the Neighborhood” as I continued on, and the crowd broke the fight up laughing.
I put this piece on aggression into this not to add a layer of fear, sending me care packages of pepper spray and knives (send Sriracha folks), Facebook likes, or “OMG” comments, but just to tell it how it is straight no chaser. Before folks freak out or worry, I will say that each of these fights were broken up on their own, the crowd kept them separated, and even in one case I saw the men share a drink afterword. What I took for verbal aggression and abuse on van rides between conductors (men who shove the people into the buses and organize payments) I saw another level of playfulness that passengers had akin to family with in jokes and commentary. Almost like siblings or cousins wrestle and mess with each other, that level of aggression be it verbal mockery or light shoving/slapstick would bring waves of laughter, and the sooner I opened up to that end of the equation, the more comfortable I felt.
Folks here are definitely “blunt” to put it lightly, my host mom asked me after I ran out of toilet paper, “So you having a lot of diarrhea? I no cook good?” as I got off the bus van one, causing me to turn red in the face, and exclaim how good her cooking was. Another person saw me dribbling a basketball and said “You no play good do you? You don’t look very good when you do that.” Correct sir, now that will not be a 2ndary project of mine in the future, and where will you find me? In the corner crying.
Getting Around: Ms Elsa, Human Tetris: I don’t know what to do with my hands…
This was a brief encounter I had during my first week of Phase 2 training, and has been a stark reminder not to always trust little old ladies.
Phase 2 of training required us to be at the Peace Corps Office at 8:30 am within a neighborhood residing in the capital of Kingstown. The city is at the southernmost tip of the main island, and the capital city can be briskly walked end to end in maybe 20 minutes, tops. This commute was our first challenge coming into SVG, where the Windward and Leeward sides might as well be two entirely different islands. If I don’t catch one of the van’s leaving my village at 6:30 am I won’t be able to catch one until almost 8 am since I’d have to wait for the van’s to make it up the entirety of the coast line back inland to us. I will not complain about getting out of South Rivers, it pretty straight forward hour or so ride in a sardine can, and many of my friends who are north of me in Sandy Bay or Owio (northernmost tip) had well over 2 hour commute every morning to the capital. This will be a regular commute for us if we wish to: pay rent, pay for phone/wifi, leave the island, shop, and feed ourselves. I will say that figuring out the best way back to South River’s and which route tied directly to my A) Need to get Home timely B) Sweat Level C) Tiredness and or Hunger D) American Energetic Eagerness E) Confusion/ Awkwardness/Sweat Level.
I met Ms. Elsa on the 2nd day of this commute while waiting in Tokya looking for drag racing and drifting, but to no avail. It was this day and evening, where I learned two big lessons. Don’t trust little old ladies all the time, and there are about 14 different ways to get back to the village, I just need to take my time and figure them out. Many of these “bus stops” are just areas you wait until your lucky, and if not then move to the next one, and so on, which I know now.
I had been feeling pretty comfortable and confident meeting folks from the runs by awkwardly saying “HELLO!” too loud to compensate for the increasingly ear splitting music that was destroying my inner ear drums, which was a process only started two days prior. So I surely had enough data, and experience to navigate the intricacies of the social climate here in SVG, pure hubris on my part. Call it hubristic confidence, or just being friendly but I make it a point here in the EC if you make eye contact with someone just give them a nod or say “Mawnin, Afternoon, Goodnight, etc.” instead of nervously ducking my head down and pretend to be using my smart phone to look at sloth gifs (looking at you every 20 something year old in Lower Manhattan, and every brunch I’ve attended). Doing so usually broke the awkward ice that was in the air with me not looking like a tourist, well away from the beach, and usually led to some awesome conversations between folks, and even a few friends made.
So I was waiting at the van stop, day two of catching a van crammed full of passengers every shape and size when next to me a small old lady appears. She smiled a toothless smile, and then asked where I was from. This is a question I usually encounter on a day to day, so I was ready to shoot out a quick 10 second elevator speech, “I’m American, North Jersey not too far from NYC (everyone here seems to have either been or have someone living in Brooklyn), and I am living here for the next two years for the Peace Corps,” it usually goes well, and folks are often surprised at how long we are stationed here, lending a little more credibility than stay at the resort for a weekend or volentouring for a handful of days/weeks. The conversation was going well, and I could understand for the most part what she was saying, and if not just smile and nod along.
The conversation was steering into the section of religion and married equality, so I tried steering it elsewhere by asking if she was catching a bus to South Rivers? She said of course, and invited me to meet her family, eat, and rest, which so far wasn’t out of the norm, since folks here when they see your not a tourist and living in the countryside have a tendency to be overly inviting and opening their doors to you. I asked when the next bus was coming and she said, “Just now,” and still I had not clicked together that, that meant not for a long time, it wouldn’t come for another hour and a half.
She then asked if I could watch her bag, she wanted to grab a soft drink at the corner, I would have felt rude not too, and since we would be on the same bus, why not? Wrong. She walked slowly down the corner, and then took a right, well outside of my eye line into the crowd. It was still busy, but I noticed folks were quickly hopping onto buses left and right, and heard the conductors yelling “South Rivers!” “Georgetown!” as they ripped up to the corner and then sped away crammed with sardinelike passengers.
“Where is she?” I said to myself, now the only person at the stop, 5 minutes had turned to 15, to 30, to nearly 45 minutes waiting next to this little lady’s grocery bag full of fish, bread, and eggs. The buses weren’t coming for South Rivers anymore, and the Georgetown one’s were puttering out. Nearly an hour later she came back with a small soda and a big smile, I tried my best to smile as not looked frustrated or psychotic as possible. Without a beat she began talking about the Supreme Court Case granting Gay Marriage immediatley, bringing up fire and brimstone from the church, all with a small toothless smile and a face that you would connect to a grandmother bringing out fresh cookies, rather than spouting misplaced social hate. A final Georgetown van came by, and I told her I need to go, so then she eagerly sat behind me on the van to Georgetown.Every stop or so she’s say into my ear, spittle included, what we were passing, and some other stuff which made no sense to me, but at that point I was trying to find my happy place and tune out the weird. I later found out she didn’t live in South Rivers, and my host family inexplicably laughed at me when I told them who I bumped into.
“Oh you bumped into Ms. Elsa, bless your heart,” and they laughed. In my face. Repeatedly telling me to stay away from her. The lesson of this story don’t be afraid to ask for directions, but don’t let looks fool you because even a textbook old lady could make you miss your bus, walk nearly 3 miles in the dark, and spew incoherence and hate at you on a Tuesday evening after work.
Human Tetris: I don’t know what to do with my hands…
Getting around SVG seemed pretty daunting when leaving St. Lucia, and that was by far a bigger culture shock for me rather than Miami to EC. We were 32 members strong in the same community, going through the same training, had accessibility to each other to hang with, and a pretty decent mode of transportation once you figured out the van system, since nothing was too far away from each other be it friend, beach, or bar.
There is a van system here, but locally within the villages and surrounding areas most things are done by foot if you don’t have a car or bike. The drivers communicate by using their own horns to say hi, honk on blind turns, or pick passengers up. I have not heard a silent car or bus ride in either SLU or SVG, and folks I asked said it would be rude to not do so, since everyone knows just about everyone in one way or another here on the island.
The van’s here have 4 rows, not including a front row next to the driver, and a conductor who is the main person squeezing folks on, organizing where bags go, helping people on and off, all while the van moves at speeds upwards of 100 mph along the cost, with cliffs, sharks, rocks, all that fun stuff. Van’s in St. Lucia held at most that I observed 15-18 people tops (could be off) , but here on SVG I’ve seen nearly 25 people, kids, packages, and a dog inside. “Ease Up! Make ya self small!” are the common phrases you will hear if you want to partake on this ride. The conductor also has the duty of playing tetris with our bodies, since not all of us were created in the imagery of Channing Tatum, some folks are bigger, small, wider, smellier, sweatier, angrier, drunker, hornier, high, old, young, deaf, blind, and confused like myself, so they do their best to shift people between, inside, and on top of each other to get through the ride. There is an immense amount of unspoken communication, simple hand motions for people to get out, pass bags along (sometimes children or pets), there are hidden compartments for groceries if there is need be it cold like fish or meat, and the conductors/drivers have such subtle communication while loud Soca Music blast the bus, it is amazing that they rarely miss a passengers stop. Sometimes no words are spoken at all except “Thank you” as the conductor knows exactly where each of his 20 or more passengers will be getting off.
It is also during these times where my mind is filled with the greatest and most articulate descriptions, realizations, and profoundness fit only for a fortune cookie, or Buzzfeed article. But of course my hands are stuck to my side as I am crammed in between a mother feeding her baby, and a man with a machete. Those beautiful life affirming thoughts that you can hear music from a Nicholas Spark’s movie trailer linger as long as I can focus, until either hunger takes over and I try to think about what I will eat at the Tokyo terminal (Sun Rise Chicken, because no time is too early for crispy chicken and bakes), or exhaustion and I simply nod out leaning on another passenger or head outside the window. Some people have shower thoughts, I have sardine van dreams. The ramblings of this blog would be much clearer and up to date if I had a direct line punctured in my head to my keyboard during those trips.
The Sights, Sounds, and Stuff Your Face: La Soufriere,: Pack more water not more cheese, Did someone say ground provisions? Chord? Check. Sack? Check.
La Soufreire,: Pack more water not more cheese
The day to day here may be that of a different beat from SLU and the US, but one thing that will not get old are the sights, sounds, and smells that accompany me here. Even on those crammed van rides, I get to glimpse the waves crashing against volcanic rocks and black sands. Mountain peaks covered with jungles and blue white clouds hugging their peaks are the backdrop to my village. The constant shush shush shush of the village river is ever present as I hear cows mooing, goats walking, and neighbors laughing loudly. I wake up at night to see stars clear as day, and in the morning I can smell the dampness in the air, as flowers stretch themselves open; for the sun will be hot and strong today for man and fauna alike. I never thought there could be so many different hues of green: mango leaf great, papaya leaf, plantain and banana leaves, the green from a wet dew filled morning is much different than the orange green tint the mountains give when the sun is rising, dark greens of forest shadows that reek of wetness, of life, and lushness, the green from the curried chicken being stewed with home cut spices, and the green’s in the fabrics being washed and dried along the river. You can feel the air at night buzz itself to life, not only from the obscene amount of bugs, but the land itself is tilled and sowed and utterly taken care of by these people, it shows that everyone here in one way or another is tied deeply to the agrarian rooted lifestyle.
My host brother in law helped me move into my new house today and within my backyard he pointed out easily ten different fruits growing, and the fruit hadn’t even grown yet, let alone the spices and mint leaves on the side of the house that we were able to sample. To the untrained eye it looks like swaths of jungle, and hills, but every few inches here could feed you, heal you, fix you, and make things taste utterly better. These sights and sounds will be carried with me for the next two years, I hope I can do them justice be it through words or pictures at how lucky I am to be taken aback so often here.
I was recently blown away by the La Soufriere Volcano which we got to hike with some Vinci locals. It is still active, with its last eruption in 1979, but luckily for us it did not blow it’s top, it just turned up the temperature and humidity quiet steadily. The elevation is 4,049 ft, much higher than the Gros Piton we hiked in St. Lucia, but there is also a massive crater that you can repel into and hike around. Seeing the crater was breathtaking, and we did it relatively fast, and before the sun’s peak. Being idiots and not cartographers we saw the rope to climb down along the rim of the crater, and said, “Let’s do it. When’s the next time we will be here?” Probably in a few weeks honestly. The Gros Piton was much more grueling because it’s basically hiking upwards for 2 hours, whereas La Soufriere has twists and turns, but is much more gradual, yet marathon-esque in style. Some of us had ran out of food during the Piton hike, and not wanting a repeat I optioned for a block of cheese and a sleeve of crackers, because why wouldn’t I want to dry my mouth up after I ran through my water, and have it smell of cheese?
The rim hike took longer than expected, and hiking straight into a crater with old ropes added some adrenaline to my H2O lacking body. It was utterly breathtaking on the inside of the crater, and it was like being on another planet of sorts. The vegetation was lush and strange, smoke spewed out of the dome in the center of the crater (think the top of an football stadium dome but made of out sulfurous rocks and pitch black) there was even a small pond on the top. We were with a local park officer, who during the hike up the pointed into the distance the many locally manned weed growing operations.
For the most part the interior of SVG is underpopulated, well over 1/3rd of the island is mountain, jungle, rivers, and weed. Supposedly the soil is so rich, and the climate so perfect that fields of the stuff are grown illegally like corn or bananas. Many farmers or locals say they are “going to the country” to maintain their gro-op, because even though it is illegal, it is very much sought after both domestically and abroad. The real danger for us hiking alone is if we came upon a gro-op from folks who are not from SVG. Just like in the us, some folks immigrate legally and illegally for enterprises related to drugs. Those who come to SVG may be from Trinidad, Grenada, St. Lucia, Martinique, and elsewhere to take part in the rich soil. The states are extremely illegal, and extremely high. I’ve heard many stories of people out at sea waiting for illegal farmers to move the product to another island, only to be gun down and thrown overboard, while the cargo gets plundered. Pirates of the Caribbean crew members were not the only folks fighting it out on the shores it seems here (there are a few places here which it was filmed and the set remains which is pretty sweet).
Our intrepid Parks officer said he had never hiked the inside of the crater before, and we were ahead of schedule, so why not? What seemed like a stroll around the dome, took us well over two hours, many scrapes, falls, and all of our water. From up high the inside of the crater looks like pasture land, but that is deceiving because of the height, where small bushes from above are actually chest level or higher. The ground is also volcanic in nature (it’s a volcano duhhh) and it makes the ground uneven, with some holes you could fall into as well. It was immensely fun, but also tiring because on the other side of the dome in which we had no glimpse there was an extremely thick jungle, which led to a cliff. If you’re using your mind to visualize, lets use some clock imagery. Imagine from 12-9 counter clockwise is a thick jungle, and when you hit 9 o’clock there is a sheer cliff, inside a crater, in a volcano, and its 80-90 degress. Tack on climbing out of a volcano after hours of that, and then a hike back down to the base of the trail opening, and you have a helluva day ahead of you. We were in no danger, and I can only imagine how embarrassing I will actually do water wise god forbid I am in an emergency, with the kind of thoughts that went through my head. Luckily we found a stream and I must have drank 3 waters of that beautiful, parasite ridden, cold, refreshing water and then some. Next time I will cut out the Gouda and load up on Gatorade, and trek back in keeping an eye and nose up for some of that elusive Vinci Weed or the “Devil’s Lettuce” to steer clear of.
Did someone say ground provisions? Chord? Check. Sack? Check.
I want to end on food, because as pretty as the sights are, the food is just as much if not more beautiful. The diet is very similar to that of SLU’s with lots of ground provisions, fresh foot, meat that always has bones in it, and a diverse array of spices to be had. Ground provisions hearken back to the slavery days, where it was easy to grow tons of starch heavy crops be it potato, yams, dasheen, pumpkin, and more to feed the masses. Most dishes are starch heavy, and stew based, since you make one big pot for the day, and use it throughout. Fruits are readily available locally, and many leafy greens can be bought from farmers, or the main market in Kingstown. Fish from the ocean are not as prominent for myself as it was in SLU since I am farther from the fishing area, but I can easily get cray fish, river lobster, and various river trout and fish right in my backyard. Many kids make their own spear guns, from whatever materials they find, and have some pretty deadly accuracy with them. Men also ride into town with ocean fish while blowing on a conch, and will clean and gut it right in front of you from the back of the truck. The same goes true with farm meats be it poultry, mutton, pork, and beef. Even this morning a man posted up in the village square with a few heads of various animals, a cutting block made from a local tree, a cleaver the size of my arm, cleaving, cutting, and selling each and every part of the animal.
When I mean every part, I mean every part. It occurred to me how true that was when I was eating “chord and sack” from a local cow, or should I say bull. Once you get past the chewiness, and knowledge of what part is was (tripe, and genitals), it was seriously good, and it was the only thing we ate all day from that big hard metaled black pot. I’ve been lucky to be placed in an area without many nuts or peanuts, so my genetic inadequacies have opened up my food experiences to goat head and cow head stew, chicken feet, pork feet, and shark.
There is a part of the island where whaling is allowed, and before you man your Whale Wars boat, and scream for the country to burn, just know it is a handful of whales a year, it is done traditionally ( which morals aside is truly badass when you picture the scene where they are in a small wooden fishing boats, and throwing SPEARS while miles away in the turbulent ocean, at creatures that could easily toss them into the shark teemed waters), and whale or “blackfish” that is killed will feed and entire community, with every part being used. Have yet to try it, and I did love Free Willy, but hey all is fair in love, war, and integration, no?
Closing: Time to Dig in
So first off if you have made it this far into this post, thank you for taking part in this Odyssey and Homer-esque electronic journalist experience, I hope the typos, gifs, and general lack of clarity have made you a stronger reader. These episodes are barely the tip of the iceberg here, another great PC metaphor used along with acronyms, training sessions, etc., but I know now that I am sworn in I can take this experience at my own pace. I can still remember our APCD (Associated Country Director?) Mr. Cool (yes that is what he goes by, its very fitting) telling us this is not a “job”, but an entirely different experience we are about to undertake.
There are challenges ahead, but I don’t feel beat that I have to do so much to simply get groceries, pay a bill in town, find a hiking trail, or feed myself. There is so much more to service, and I have found the more you put yourself out there, the more doors open for you externally in the places and people you meet, and internally through the realizations you find about yourself and the world around you.
Two years is a long time, and an immensely short time in the scheme of things, and now officially I am at the 24 month marker. Two years ago I was just leaving Ursinus, which freaked the hell out of me, but during those two years in Philly I was lucky enough to find some true friends, grow with old ones, start work on a new tribe of 20 somethings from UC and abroad, dive into service with City Year, and teach at WCS, travel the globe, and ball on a budget, bump into a girl I am lucky for each and every day (thanks to arson), who showed me how small the world is in beautiful ways, I’ve learn not only what love is but to feel it and spread it, as well as discover within our own country folks who are living in a seemingly different world, but still inherently connected.
I’ve seen a lot , I know I don’t know much, tried to do more, and know I will continue on, but I know none of this would be possible without the folks at home who have shown me on purpose, or by accident how lucky I am to be here, sitting as the Caribbean sun sets, next to some dogs, listening to the mountains go to sleep. It seems like a year ago I was flying off to Miami, and getting to know the “spirited” EC 87, or “rummers” called us in closed doors, but even though we are spread to different islands, communities, tasks, and lifestyles, we are still connected. Facebook, SnapChat (chcannito follow me!), and WhatsApp help immensely, but being squished on those buses, droning through the training, discovering the mountain trails, and wandering the cities and villages has continue to teach me not only how one can remain spirited, driven, and passionate in this type of lifestyle, but how much folks are connected here to you in one way or another.
I didn’t even get to speak on rugby here, but there is a team! As well as a RPCV from Philadelphia who herself extended for 4.5 years, and played for the sister team I played for in Philly, if that’s not a small world I don’t know what is. I was lucky to practice with the men’s team here, and as I waited in line for the toilet (many rugby story has started there) a member of the team and myself began talking. He noticed a tattoo on the inside of my right arm, and I explained it was Table Mountain from South Africa with the view being from Robbin Island where Nelson Mandela staye. Inside of it is the saying “Ubuntu” which roughly means , “I am what I am because of what we are,” or simply “I am because we are,” which was a big rallying ideal Mandela used during his movement against the Apartheid government. I got the tattoo in Philly, but I wanted to in Cape Town, but the needle situation there is kind of dodgy, so I had the drawing in my mind for a year, until during my service with City Year I noticed it was a foundation belief in the organization and went ahead with it, bam another small world connection. I told him I studied at UCT abroad for a summer, and was immensely touched by my time there, and the people within the city and township of Khayelitcha. I later found out the guy himself was from Cape Town and moved here with his mother who worked for a cruise line. He even knew where I stayed when I was in Rhondebosch as well as the walk to UCT, and where myself and others stayed at the YMCA in the Observatory area.
Hopefully I’ll keep playing and coaching kids here, and look forward to playing with the team. I look that much more forward though to more interactions like that one, and know if it wasn’t for the folks at home, luck I’ve had, and sense of pride from my friends and family they’ve bestowed on me I wouldn’t be as open to gritting through the weird, reckless, and strange with a smile and hopefully a joke. Here’s to the road ahead, not only for us here in EC 87, but for folks at home and abroad who I’ve been lucky enough to to been an participant in this weird ride with.
I’ve been on a reading marathon as of late, and I am trying to finish 100 books in two years to promote literacy, and the joys of reading. (It also helps me not go insane and not talk to myself so often, so that’s another plus).
So far this has been my list thus far read, If you have any suggestions please comment below! Thanks again! (Anything Not in Bold under number 13 is on deck to be Read, so far 13 books down)
- Cutting For Stone, Abraham Verghese
- Zone 1, Colson Whitehead
- The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon
- Ready Player 1, Ernest Cline
- I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
- Shataram, Gregory David Roberts
- Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali
- Live Your Dreams, Various PCVs
- Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
- Paddle Your Own Canoe, Nick Offerman
- Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
- Oryx and Crake, Margaret Attwood
- The Year of the Flood, Margaret Attwood
- MaddAdam, Margaret Attwood
- Call a Watchma, Harper Lee
- Midnight Children, Salman Rushdie
- Armada, Ernest Cline
- Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
- Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
- Confessions of a Lioness, Mia Couto
- Siddartha, Hermann Hesse
- Dune, Frank Herbert
- Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
- Wild, Cheryl Strayed
- Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
- Fight Club, Chuck Palhniuk
- Crucible, Arthur Miller
- Interview with a Vampire, Anne Rice
- Tell My Horse, Zora Neale Hurston
- Red White and Blood , Christopher Farnsworth
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
- 10:04, Ben Lerner