Thursday, December 17, 2009
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
If you can keep your head when all about you
If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
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
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
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
Monday, September 28, 2009
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
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
Catholic church in Castilles. The vibrant colors they use in the murals and stained glass make the church very unique.
Friday, August 28, 2009
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
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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