Friday, April 15, 2011

The Cave

For the Women of St. Vincent & Any Volunteer Who Has Served or Will Serve in the Future

Having lived in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for almost two years, I grew to know (and love) the culture. For the most part, the people are loving and giving. They are honest. They are hardworking.

But there is a large part of the culture that is obsessed with sex. From the music to the cat calls, everything is infused with sex. Children are exposed to sex at an early age & that level of exposure doesn't ever seem to stop.

In 2007, the United Nations reported that St. Vincent and the Grenadines had the third highest reported cases of rape in the world. This statistic does not surprise me. The UNHCR reported that a citizen in St. Vincent was 98% more likely to be sexually assaulted than a citizen in America. Again, no shock to me.

So what do we do? (hint: the answer is not blame the behavior of the victim).

I am challenging us as Peace Corps volunteers and staff to start looking at sexual assault against volunteers in a different light. Women and men who have been assaulted or raped in the past, you did nothing wrong. Let me say that again, you did nothing wrong. Preventing rape and sexual assault against predators is nearly impossible. I will say that again too: it is nearly impossible.

Volunteers have been raped while in their homes. They have been sexually assaulted while riding vans. They have been raped at parties, while coming home from clubs. They have been raped by friends and boyfriends. They have been sexually assaulted by strangers.

I challenge us as Peace Corps volunteers and staff to find the constant in these incidences. Because it is not drinking. It is not being out late. It is not the level of our integration or our own personal behaviors. And attempting to blame the situation on any of these reasons is ignorant and purposefully damaging to the victim and the country in which we reside.

Our job as Peace Corps volunteers is to make a difference in our host country and within ourselves during our two year stint. And I can guarantee we are further handicapping our host country and ourselves by blaming the victim.

Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men. --Boondock Saints

Thursday, March 3, 2011

But When You Go Hard, Your Nay's Become Yay's

A month I wrote a very positive blog post. It was full of high hopes and motivation. It was just a month ago. Now, as I reread the post, I can't help but laugh. I am in a completely different mindset today. Things that I thought were going to work out, haven't. Money that I thought was there, isn't. And support that I once had is gone.

I feel my projects have been abandoned not only by the community, but by Peace Corps as well.

But I think this is a good thing. Plunging forward into things that I consider important only supports my forever growing ego. Instead, I think this is God's, Allah's, Jah's, the Universe's or whatever you want to call it's way of telling me to slow down, look around. Realize that this isn't about me. What works out, will work out. The rest I have no control over.

So here's to drinking a cold beer, enjoying my house on the Atlantic and letting the exterior worries go. Cheers.

Sure, you can come live with me. But I think that where ever you go, you will always miss your mom.--Mitzie Lindsey

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where You Invest Your Love, You Invest Your Life

I have not written in a long time for many reasons. But mostly because I have been stuck in limbo, not moving forward or backward, but finding myself simultaneously looking both directions wondering what my next move will be.

Home helped to clarify my future a little more. While I was in the States I realized what had been missing from the past year and a half in St. Vincent: my family. One night, in a hotel room in Jackson, Mississippi, my mom, sister and I sat up talking until three o'clock in the morning. I had never felt closer to anyone in my life. And I realized that I didn't want to give that up anymore. Two and a half years was enough time. But when that's finished, I need to come home.

Deciding to complete my service and return home completely changed the way I was viewing my current service in-country. It re focused my goals, which in turn really motivated me. There are several projects that I am really excited about for the upcoming months.

Thankfully, we have solidified enough local sponsors to keep the volleyball program running long after I am gone. So I have been able to create and assist in other programs though out the island.

My neighbor, KC, has been asking me for months to start a beach clean up on the Georgetown beach. But instead of just doing one beach for one month, we decided to do beaches all along the coast. And instead of making it a small project, we decided to make it big. We want dumpsters, trash cans. We want volunteers from all around the island. We want laws against littering on the beaches. We want signs. We, like Barack, want change.

Another project that I am excited about is one that my fellow volunteer, Kellan, initially came up with: the creation of an SVG Peace Corps website. St. Vincent is on the cusp of a technological revolution and it is imperative that Peace Corps moves with this change. Using spoken word and handwritten letters is no longer an effective way of mass communication, and it is necessary to communicate on a larger scale. Volunteer profiles, community programs, upcoming events, blogs, links to other SVG NGO's and organizations will all be hosted on the website. This will allow Vincentians a better opportunity to become more involved with the Peace Corps as well as their own community.

The only hold up right now is funding for the domain. It costs $US15.00 per month. We need foreign donations for the first six months, and then local funding will take over from there. If you are interested in donating (even for just one month), please e-mail me. Your donations will be much appreciated.

So for the next nine months I will be pretty busy creating, assisting and finalizing. I have a good feeling about these next nine months. I am ready to finish up my service with a bang.

I want to warn anyone who sees the Peace Corps as an alternative to the draft that life may well be easier at Fort Dix or at apost in Germany than it will be with us. --Sgt. Shriver

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm Going to the Moon Without You

For Boom Boom.

Today Boom Boom's mother was sitting on the side of the street crying. It is rare to see a Vincentian cry, so I sat next to her and asked her what was wrong. Her breath was laced with the local rum, her hair was filled with lint. She was bra-less and shoe-less. Her eyes exemplified the only thing I could really relate to: tears.

She told me she was sorry. Sorry for how she had raised Boom Boom, her eight-year-old child that frequently eats dinner with me. She told me she was sorry for her appearance, for her lack of money. But what shocked me was she said she was sorry for her 15-year-old son, Shamal.

I had heard rumors of Shamal throughout the village. They had typically centered around his mother's alcoholism and his inability to walk, speak or comprehend.

She asked me if I wanted to meet Shamal. Of course I said yes.

Nothing in my year here could have prepared me for what I was about to walk in on. As I stepped into their one bedroom house, I immediately smelled the strong scent of stale urine. There was feces lining the walls and cockroaches covering the floors. Boom Boom's recognizable clothes were scattered throughout the tiny house. I just kept staring at his precious little shoes. Imagining him waking up every morning in this house, smelling identical to it, dressing for school that morning, putting on those shoes. I could just imagine him fearful of what the children would say about him today. About how he smelled, about how parts of the mattress always stuck to his hair. I wanted to take the shoes and run.

But the worst part about it was what was lying in the corner of the room. He looked like spider, all curled up after you stepped on them. His bony black legs intertwined while drool lingered on his chin. He was smiling, but not intentionally. Shamal, the 15 year old myth, was was lying naked on the hard wooden floor. He looked up at me with disturbing contentment oozing out his eyes.

In the background, I could hear his mother complaining about government assistance and lack of care for her boys. She had started crying again.

I wanted to hit her and hug her all at the same time. I wanted to scream at her for how bad she had let things get, but I also felt like crying with her.

I had never seen or felt anything like that in my life.

Several times I have gotten into altercations with community members over Boom Boom. They have long given up on him and wonder why I haven't done the same. And sometimes I feel that way myself. Until now.

After seeing what Boom Boom goes home to every night, yet he still wakes up and puts on clothes in the morning. After seeing the intense abuse and neglect that he has to endure every single day, yet he still approaches the outside world with a smile. After seeing what the community believes he is destined to become, I refuse to give up on him. And I am making it my goal to let him know that every single day.

Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.--Howard Thurman

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Distance is Quite Simply Much Too Far For Me to Row, It Seems Farther Than Ever Before.

My second year begun much like I expected it: busy and chaotic and fun. I feel more like myself in my new village. Maybe it's because I feel safe, maybe it's because the town is a lot bigger, or maybe it's just because it's my second year. Who knows.

My knee problems seem to have subsided for the time being. Because my house is on the beach, I am frequently running alongside the Atlantic in the evenings. For the first time in six years my knee actually feels good when I'm running. And the only time I notice a missing ACL is when I'm coming down a huge mountain, which I try to avoid.

The volleyball program took an exciting turn over the summer. After completing our summer programs, I was introduced to a unique individual who is the President of the National Lottery in St. Vincent. After several meetings and proposal revisions, Mr. Sealley and I came up with a monetary plan that worked for both of us. And the Georgetown Saturday program got funded for an entire year. This means we can provide travel and food for the kids in the area who want to participate on Saturdays. There is still room for expansion in the program, but we took this as a huge step in the right direction. In the meantime, I am still working on writing a grant to expand the program throughout the Windward side of the island.

As for my work in the schools, it is forever challenging. Remedial reading tends to be a very complicated task, as there are many reasons why a child cannot read. Over the summer I spent a lot of time researching different philosophies and techniques and think I made a plan that would fit my students pretty well. Some days my students respond well, and others I'm just not sure what's going through their head. Patience is a virtue. I wrote that on my classroom chalkboard, although I think it was more for me than for them.

I am also picking up small projects here and there. I'm trying to organize a Saturday Beach Clean up for my area; the hurricanes brought all of the trash from the water and organized it not so neatly on our beaches. And there have been many opportunities to tutor kids within my area.

What I am most excited about, however, is my brief return home to the States in December. I am taking a much needed three week break to celebrate Christmas where it should always be celebrated: at home. I am ready to see my family and eat Mexican food. It has been way too long since I've experienced either.

I just hope the States is ready for me.

A happy childhood has spoiled many a promising life--Robertson Davies 'What's Bread in the Bone'

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For me this is heaven

New village, new house, new kids. And here are the pictures...

The kids playing (un)American football with bamboo goal posts

Luda watching my neighbor peel coconuts to sell. (not Gavin)

The view from my back porch.


My students at New Grounds Primary.

The sunset one evening over my house.

“Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate, or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.” - Henry Miller

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Never Say Never

A man from my village named Gavin is a crack addict.

In the mornings before work while I'm drinking my morning coffee on the porch I always see him walking with a big bag of coconuts to go sell, minding his own business. It doesn't take long before I hear my neighbors yelling at him to stop selling coconuts for crack, to get his life together, or to put on some shoes.

When I was coming home from a football game at the village park late one night, I noticed someone walking closely behind me. I started to get nervous, so I stopped walking and turned around. It was Gavin. He had the most beautifully big smile on his face. And I couldn't help but smile back.

Up close he looked so normal. His face was clean shaven, his teeth were perfectly white, something that is very rare here. He looked surprisingly young and I could picture how handsome we could have been, had circumstances been different.

I stuck out my hand and introduced myself.

We walked back from the park together side by side, neither saying a word. When we reached my house, I could hear my neighbor yelling at him to put on some shoes from the next house over. Not seeming to notice, he stuck out his hand and said goodbye.

From then on, every time he passed my house in the morning he would drop a coconut off on the front step of my door. He would never say a thing or ask for anything. He would just go on his way.

One afternoon I asked around to see if any men in the village had any extra shoes. That next morning I put shoes on the doorstep right where I knew the coconut would be later on that morning.

I knew when he picked them up, because I heard my neighbor yell from her window 'You better not sell those, Gavin.' She later told me I was helping out a lost cause. That the shoes would be gone by night time.

Sure enough, he stopped by my house that night not wearing any shoes. I looked at him in disbelief, as he told me he needed to scrub them before he could wear them. In my mind, there was no other explanation, but that he had sold them for crack.

I slammed the door on the same beautiful smile I welcomed earlier that week, feeling defeated and disrespected all at the same time.

But something remarkable happened tonight, which made me reconsider every preconceived notion I have ever had...about anything. Tonight Gavin showed up at my door with two coconuts in his hands and the same dirty shoes I had laid on the doorstep earlier that week, that definitely needed scrubbing. I was wrong and so were my neighbors. This time my smile matched his.

In heaven, all the interesting people are missing--Friedrich Nietzsche