Saturday, December 19, 2009

Open your eyes

Here is a video I did for the National AIDS Secretariat here in St. Vincent.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Then I see your face drop.

I have struggled with many things lately. Some were just ideas, some were problems, some were things I had done and some were things I wished I had done. When you’re in a country that is essentially unfamiliar, you are inevitably put in unfamiliar situations as well.

Some of the answers came to me quickly like, ‘Should I starve my dog so she will eat all the cockroaches in my house?’ I decided that was morally wrong, although you wouldn’t believe the internal battle I had with that one.

Some answers came to me within days, like ‘Should I go home?’ During my two week stint with Dengue Fever, I questioned my ability to actually survive here, emotionally and physically. I asked one of my local friends here what he thought and his answer was ‘This is your home.’ That still makes me smile.

Some answers came to me without me even realizing it, like ’How do I say no?’ We are brought into a third world country with the notion that we are needed. That we have resources that they themselves cannot get and because we are American, we can. Neither is true. For my first three months here I felt guilty for being brought up with so much and knowing I had so much to go back to. So I gave everything I had. If someone needed money I gave it to them. If my kids wanted a party, I threw one. If a parent wanted a night alone, I kept their kids. I am currently in the thick of month four broke, tired and frustrated. The kids want parties every weekend, the same people I gave money to last month are back for more and I have 14 year old boys sleeping in the other room (weird and inappropriate--I’m aware). For the last two weeks, I have been struggling with the thought that if I didn’t extend favors I am greedy, but when I do extend favors they become greedy. And it wasn’t until Shafeeka (my 12 year old who lives down the street) came up to me with three dollars she had saved, because I just didn’t have three dollars on me last week, that I realized my favors were doing them no good. If anything, my favors were handicapping them. I was doing them a disservice by not believing they could do it on their own. By saying no to Shafeeka, she learned how to save three dollars to go into town, and she was proud of it. So that’s what I’m working on--balancing out my no’s and yes’s.

However, some answers have yet to come, like ‘How integrated do I want to be?’ The main focal point of my Peace Corps training was integration. It’s an essential part of your Peace Corps experience; however, it is equally as tricky. I have set aside personal barriers and nuances in the effort to better integrate myself. I let sweaty people press tightly on me in vans. I hold back my tears when people hit dogs. I don’t stare at women openly breastfeeding. I walk slower and dance faster. But where do you draw the line? In order to be fully integrated, should I also hit kids in school? Allow men to disrespect me? Hate gay people? Sleep with multiple partners?* The Peace Corps talks so much about how we’re supposed to be like the locals. But what part of me do I keep? This question, I fear, will be haunting me my whole two years.

If I don’t blog before then, I hope everyone has a great holiday. And to my family--I will really miss you this Christmas.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself--Leo Tolstoy

*Mom and Dad--I’m not seriously considering sleeping with multiple partners.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I'm a bird in your hand, so take me as I am.

Yonic at Scabby Dam.

Kamal at Scabby Dam.

Some of the kids in my neighborhood at Scabby Dam. Luda is in the picture too.

Luda and I at Brighton Beach. She's much bigger now.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!
–Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who says I can't be free from all of the things that I used to be. Who says I can't be free.

The absence of blog entries has not been due to a lack of motivation or activities, but rather the lack of Internet access. If there's one thing I've learned in the last three months, it is that things are MUCH slower. So, you just breathe, take it all in, and realize that things will come, but in their own time. So, four weeks since I turned in my Internet application, I am breathing and trying to take it all in. It will come. I will skype soon (let's hope..)

These past couple of weeks have been full of firsts. My first trip to Bequia (the neighboring Grenadine island) for nation's Independence Day celebration. My first lesson in whining (the type of dancing they do here). My first scorpion sting. And my first volleyball match since my last knee surgery.

Then there were more meaningful firsts...

My first house. I don't share it with anyone and my parents aren't putting money into my account to pay for it. This is finally MY house. After three days of cleaning out the spider webs (many have reappeared), bleaching the floors and purchasing a much needed fan, I can finally call it home. It's pretty big--two feasible bedrooms, one bath--but the one aspect worth noting is the porch. The front porch looks out onto the beach and the back porch looks out onto the mountains. There is a huge garden with mango trees, plantain trees, avocado, peas, sugar apple and corn. I am also trying to grow several things myself, but I highly doubt these will sustain.

My first dog. I have had plenty of dogs running around my house growing up, but raising a puppy that has been weened from its mother too young, that's a whole different story. She poops where she shouldn't, cries uncontrollably, chews up the one pair of sandals I actually brought here and has worms. Yes, people, she has worms. Worms that land on my kitchen floor while she's pooping where she shouldn't be. I haven't been able to eat ramon noodles since. Oh, and I named her Luda after Ludacris. Gotta rep the A.

My first photo shoot. When one of my friends said he needed a white girl for his AIDS awareness campaign, I hopped right on board. I had no idea it was an actual advertised campaign for the AIDS Secretariat here in St. Vincent. I thought I was just going to get to dress up in heavy makeup and have someone straighten my hair. So, if you can imagine me, a 6'0" 155 lb white girl, standing next to 5'10" 110 lb beautiful black models, I looked a tad out of place. And 175 shots later..I still looked out of place. I begged the director to take me out of the shot, but he kept saying I added 'ethnic flair.' That's another first--never before have I added ethnic flair.

My first teaching job. As an advertising and graphic design major, you'd think I would have been aware of my lack in teaching skills. But instead, I plunged head first into a classroom full of misbehaving, ill-mannered and completely uncontrollable third, forth and fifth graders...all without a lesson plan or classroom management skills. But that was two weeks ago and I am starting to get the hang of it. The kids still say 'hey whitey', but that's better then 'hey sexy biatch.' Next week I'm aiming for 'hey miss'. Baby steps.

So far things have been good. My emotions are about as predictable as the public transportation system here--but me and Deepak are working on that (my emotions, that is). I have 'I can't believe I'm here' moments and 'I wish I was there' moments as well. But I guess it all comes with the territory. So for now I'm just breathing and taking it all in.

And even though I'm not in America and still had to go to work today, I want to thank our veterans, especially my family members and friends.

The price of greatness is responsibility--Winston Churchill

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You can do it, put your back into it

An Independent’s View

I have to say that I was a bit shocked when they awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama. He tends to fall far too left for me to ever give him my full support, but I do think he is a good man. A good man with lofty promises. That, too me, is not what the Nobel Peace Prize stands for.

We are too great of a nation and too big of a world to measure someone on their promises. Just eleven days after Obama was inaugurated, the nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were closed. Just eleven days. Then, and even now, most of what we have is his intentions. He promises to end the war in Iraq; however, if you live close to Ft. Benning, Ga, you know more troops are sent there every three months. He promises to shut down Guantanamo Bay, but continues to reassign more people. He promises to give the nation healthcare, but politics and hidden agendas have tied him up in Congress.

None of the above mentioned should be accomplished already in terms of a President who has been in office for such a short time. But for a Nobel Peace winner, I think at least one should have happened before an award was even discussed on his behalf.

Roosevelt was honored with the award for brokering an agreement between Russia and Japan. Woodrow Wilson took the award for his role in ending WWI and creating the League of Nations. Obama won the award for promising the world a better America.

Lofty promises lead to disappointment. Lofty promises carrying this much clout---lead to disaster.

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. -Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Well we are all golden here

This might come as a shock to those reading this---but I am quite dramatic. So, when I was hovering over the toilet at 3am as the water in my house simultaneously stopped dripping out of the faucet three days ago, let's just say, the next day I made sure everyone knew what kind of disastrous condition I was in.

Also another very astute observation--I think I'm a badass. (Sorry for the language, Mom, but it was the only word that was appropriate). This, in itself, landed me in the mess I was in at 3 am. It all started last Saturday, when a volunteer asked me to go hiking in the Vermont Nature Trails with her. These are trails maintained by the Ministry of Forestry within St. Vincent's rainforest. While we were hiking, dismissing the previous water safety training administered to us two weeks ago, I decided to fill my water bottle with river water coming down the mountain. Did anyone else in my group think this was a good idea? No. But my underlying desire to prove that rules (and common water safety knowledge) do not apply to me took over and I filled my big jug of water up...twice.

It only took 17 hours for whatever was in that water to make it through my system. And little did I know it would stay there for the next three days. The pains were so bad, it caused me to leave a beer unfinished and a political rally mid-scream. This was getting serious.

Finally, I had made it home without any embarrassing mishaps. I dove into my bed, thinking the worst was over.

Three o'clock in the morning rolls around and my jaw starts to quiver. Saliva collects in the mouth and I know exactly what is about to happen. Those two beers and macaroni salad were coming back to haunt me. I bury my head in the toilet for the next twenty minutes (sorry for the graphics, Mom). As I reach up to flush the toilet, I realize the bathroom is missing something. The familiar drip from the faucet was replaced with an eerie silence. I pushed hard on the handle. Nothing. I turned the knob on the shower. Nothing. I run out to the kitchen to try the sink. Nothing. In normal stateside circumstances, I would have called my father, screaming at what a horrible circumstance I had gotten myself into and begging him to do whatever was in his power to circumvent it (ie my infamous tire fiasco of 2008). No such reaction would do this time.

In a very non Neely-esque way, I turned off the light in the bathroom and went to sleep. The water would surely be back on by morning.

If I had to predict what hell would be like, it would involve being sick with a water borne illness in a foreign country with no running water. Waking up to sweat-soaked sheets, chewing your advil because there's nothing to swallow it with, 3-day old sweat gluing your clothes to your skin, eating bread with dirty fingernails, waking up at 2 am and running out to the yard to use the restroom, waking up your neighbors because you're throwing up in the lawn so loudly, giving a presentation that determines whether you are sworn in as a volunteer or not with nappy, greasy hair, and of course, the over-dramatic email to home explaining how you're probably dying. Yes, this is definitely my hell.

But, I survived. I'm at the end of day three, fully bathed, drinking cold water and swating misquitoes away from my computer screen. I'd say things were back to normal. But, a cockroach just landed in my drink, so I'm going to go take care of that. This time I won't drink the water.

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth. " — Raymond Carver

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I'm down like the economy

One of my assignments while I'm here--clean up the beaches.

Cows on the beach. I prefer them on a bun--but this'll do.

I joined in a little later. Wasn't pretty.

The only reason why I haven't ET'ed. Just kidding, Mom.

Sarah and I at Villa Beach in St. Vincent.

Sunset in St. Vincent. So perfect.

"Kanye West is a jackass"-Barack Obama
(I paraphrased for emphasis)

Monday, September 28, 2009

I will play my games beneath the spin light

I am officially a month into my service here in St. Vincent--or Vincy. My lifestyle has dramatically changed in some ways and remained completely stagnant in others; however if you had asked me to predict the outcome of either, I would have been way off. My reliance on pop culture is waining, whereas my interest in politics is continuing to increase. I have learned to fully depend on people for certain things, such as a ride into town or food on the table, but have become self sufficient in other areas, such as braiding my hair (if you've ever lived with know what a big deal this is.) Finding time to myself has become a constant, yet important, struggle; whereas I am finding it easier and easier to develop fascinating and forever evolving relationships. I have learned how to bite my tongue at differences but speak louder when boundaries are crossed. I've learned that just glancing at the ocean or a worn out note from an old friend can change the outcome of a day. And I've learned that there's something to be said about taking it slow--whether it be a relationship, a friendship, a job or just an unfamiliar situation.

I have been playing volleyball pretty regularly with some of the locals. They play shoeless on some of the hardest concrete I have ever stepped on. The experience has far exceeded the daily workout I anticipated. One of the other volunteers gave me a book about a volunteer in Africa and he explained my situation so brilliantly that I had never looked at it this way until I read it right off the pages. You come into the Peace Corps with the intention of learning how to live off of minimum wage, how to modestly conduct yourself for the next two years--only focusing on what you don't have. When, in actuality, the antithesis comes up and slaps you in the face when you're least expecting it. I never realized the men I played next to each night had no other choice--I thought they were just opting out of shoes. When I asked one of them why they didn't wear shoes, he looked at the ground, ashamed, and said 'I don't have any, miss.' In my mind, I couldn't fathom someone not having tennis shoes. And then it hit me. This isn't just about learning how to live without things--it's also about realizing just how much I do have. I might play volleyball on an uneven concrete court with only three balls for the next two years, but I will go home. I will go home to air conditioned gyms with brand new balls and perfect lighting. I will go home to a country where the majority of people have a job and a health care plan. I will go home to diversity and a melting pot of religions, ethnicity and backgrounds. But they will still be playing on that concrete court without any shoes.

Better to die standing, than to live on your knees--Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Whoop Whoop, chicken chicken. Whoop Whoop chicken head.

It has been over a week since I have started training in St. Vincent--two weeks since I started the Peace Corps. Everything is going relatively well..nothing too horrifying has happened yet. I have to travel pretty far for Internet access, which is why my contact with anyone in the states has been scarce.

My host family experience so far has been amazing. My host mom is the principal at a local school and an excellent cook. My favorites so far have been the fresh banana bread and cod fish (separately..of course). Most of what she cooks is extremely fresh and locally grown. I've heard she also makes delicious cakes--I'm looking forward to devouring those. I have also formed a good relationship with her niece. She is 17 and goes to one of the community colleges on the island. The first night in my homestay while sitting down to eat dinner with the rest of the family, I asked her what type of music she liked. When she responded 'Lil' Wayne' I immediately shouted 'SCHWING', while shooting my hand in the air for a high five. Everyone just stared at me, but she started laughing. We've been friends ever since.

I went to my worksite last week and have been in contact with the principal since then. I will be mainly focusing on remedial reading, but they also want me to start some after school sports teams, which I am so pumped about. However, there are many resource challenges that come with the project. They have a VERY limited supply of sporting equipment and hardly no areas to compete. And until I can figure out a way to combat these complications, I will just have to make due.

I have enjoyed my time with the other Peace Corps volunteers. This weekend I was able to visit 3 different beaches with various volunteers. I was also able to see the house I will be living in for the duration of my 2 years. It is absolutely beautiful! I cannot wait to have visitors :)

Church on Sunday went well. It is an integrated part of society and it was a good experience to see how they conduct their worship services. For some reason Sunday made me the most homesick. Once Church was over, all I wanted to do was eat one of my Dad's elaborate Sunday breakfasts and watch golf. Although neither was possible, it was still good to be able to relax at my homestay.

Yesterday a man came up to me and asked me if misquitoes had bitten my face. I guess I need to get some acne medication.

On that note, I'm going to head back to my village. I'll let you know how the acne thing works out.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I've never been so alone. And I've never been so alive.

Food at the local market. Everything is locally grown..(my dad would be pleased)

A little girl at the market, getting scolded by her mom. I think her expression is priceless.

Famous St. Lucian statue.

Catholic church in Castilles. The vibrant colors they use in the murals and stained glass make the church very unique.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Amazing still it seems, I'll be 23

Today was definitely the best day so far. For the first time all week, we were let out of the retreat and were sent out on a scavenger hunt through the city of Castries, St. Lucia. Not quite as aesthetically pleasing as the villages of St. Lucia but the richness of the culture easily made up for it.

The Caribbean people as a whole are some of the nicest and most modest people I have ever met. The lifestyle which they have acquired over hundreds of years has an interesting blend of casual seriousness, if that makes sense. They are typically easy going, readily available for assistance, but take their culture, family and pride very seriously. I can't think of anything more perfect. The Peace Corps warned us about the constant 'cat calls' from men. But to tell you the truth, I kind of like it, haha. Never before has a man hissed at me (because that's literally what they do) while I'm looking as desheveled as I do when I'm walking the streets of St. Lucia. I've given plenty of descriptions of my current appearance in previous blogs. [insert here].

One local beer down..many to go. This beer is locally brewed in St. Lucia, but can be found on many of the surrounding islands. It was gooood.

I bragged to the other volunteers about how I never get burned. WRONG. I only laid in the sun for about 2 hours today and am already burned. I'm definitely going to have to be careful while I'm down here.

Monday we leave for our site and I can't wait! I will be living with a host family for 7 weeks and then on to independent housing. It'll be nice to finally unpack my bags. I am extremely excited to start working within my community for the next two years. I have spoken with some volunteers already there and they said I am pretty close to the beach and other PCV's.

Time to go play some cards. I will post sometime next week.

'Be the change you wish to see in the world'--Gandhi via Lauren Hershey

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

And we'll all float on ok

I have a crust of sweat encompassing my whole body. This is honestly the dirtiest I've been in a really long time. My body oozes sweat from 7:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night (which is when I go to bed). DH and my sister would be having laughing if they saw how I looked right now. Glasses, frizzy hair, no makeup, a grey sweaty dress...and a headband. Duh. But not to worry, one of the girls took a picture as I'm standing on a huge rock (for height emphasis) and I'm making my typical 'i hate taking pictures, but secretly love it' face. I'll make sure and tag ya'll in it.

Some of the other girls and I are waking up at 6:45 tomorrow to go for a long walk. I need it. The food here is amazingly fresh but disappointingly fattening. And when am I going to get a chance to eat real Caribbean food again? Oh, that's right--for the next two years. I need to slow my roll or else they're going to require that I purchase two tickets home.

Here is the view from my balcony. I know, I know..I have a really hard life. It's weird having so many amenities right in your backyard and not being able to participate in any of them. Monetary control is going to be the toughest part for me. The PC specifically gives you just enough money to survive on. For the first time in my life I will be a lower class citizen. Government-supplied health care isn't sounding so bad right about now. (Please don't forward this to my dad...)
I'm excited to move onto the next stage of training on Monday. Right now we are definitely getting a lot of work done, but it will be nice to finally be in my village. We recieved our assignments today and I will be working at the New Grounds Primary School in New Grounds, St. Vincent. It isn't too far from the other volunteers, so that will be nice.
I'm exhausted and getting ready for bed. I will try and post again soon.
"Everything is changeable, everything appears and disappears; there is no blissful peace until one passes beyond the agony of life and death" -- The Buddha

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Free Falling

Exhaustion has finally set in--permanently. It will take me weeks to recover from the activities of the past couple of days. However, I’m not sure if the excitement of my arrival in Saint Lucia or the Dunkin Donuts coffee I just chugged is the reason for my current rush in energy. Hence this blog.

I’m not confident that I packed an appropriate amount of clothing. I get an awful feeling that I am missing something--besides my make up. I almost feel bad for the other volunteers. For the next 27 months I will be battling a caffeine addiction sans make up.

The diversity within my training class has given my projected experience an interesting twist. My impression of the Peace Corps was altruistic, single 20-somethings, fresh out of college. However, most of the volunteers have been out of college for a couple of years. And, about 20% of the group is over 50. Two retired married couples, one celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, are here as well. They are probably two of the happiest couples I’ve ever met and definitely the most interesting. I think this would be an awesome experience to share with someone you love. I’ll save that for when I’m 60.

A volunteer and I were talking yesterday about all of the things we wanted to do while living in the Caribbean, so I have put it in writing. Now I actually have to complete it…

Learn how to grow avocados
Have dreads (for a little bit at least)
Try the local beer in each of the islands
Learn to surf
Learn to read Creole (the native language in St. Vincent)
Get a dog
Travel to a different country every month
Take a ‘vacation’ to Haiti
Find the best SCUBA spot
Build a boat (..not sure if I am joking yet or not)
Learn to play the guitar
Live alone--and be ok with that.
Catch a fish and actually cook it

Ok, coffee has worn off. I will try and post again after I get some more training out of the way.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”--President Obama