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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jump: A Vertical Movement

To start off the school year, we are doing a huge push with our volleyball organization, Vertical. With the help of some friends, I have put together a blog that will center around the participants as well as people affected by the programs.

So check it out if you feel so inclined
The first entry is, of course, my man Gus Gus.

We also have a new fundraising website
So, check that out too if you're bored.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those who helped get us through the last year, and those who have catapulted us into the next. A million thank yous.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Summer Skin

One of my largest struggles within St. Vincent over the past year has been the Christianity-infused culture. My first three months here I attended many church services and just could never seem to buy into it. I looked around me and saw so many children without fathers, so many women with unnecessary bruises and so many men with alcohol permanently staining their breath.

I heard countless anti-gay comments naming God as their source. The same men I saw ostracizing other men they considered feminine in the name of their God, were with a different woman every weekend while their wife stayed at home with the kids. I have always believed in God, but I couldn't seem to find God here.

The hypocrisy of the whole ordeal created such a disdain in my heart that I couldn't see passed my own judgement to understand their's.

It wasn't until I woke up to the screeching tires of a vehicle crashing into my house that I realized where I was wrong about religion. At least religion here.

I woke up at 6:45 in the morning to a van wrapped around the pole in my yard. The village was silent except for the eerie moans of the van driver, who was the only one left in the van. When I stepped outside my house to see if I could help, I was directed to a man who had been hit on the road. His legs were mangled and he was propped up on the wall next to my house. His body had gone into shock and all he could feel were the ants biting his feet. As I sat next to him, wiping off the dozens of ants that just kept reappearing, all I could do was pray. I didn't ask God what to do. I didn't ask God to change things. I just asked God to help me and those around me get through this.

Maybe Vincentians have got it right all along. Intrinsically, we as people know the difference from right and wrong. We don't need the Ten Commandments for that. And religion cannot change what happened or what will happen. But religion can get you through things. And although I will probably never attend any more church services here, it is comforting to know that each night me and thousands of other Vincentians ask God to help us get through the next day together. And maybe that's all religion needs to be.

'I don't even know what I was running for - I guess I just felt like it'--Holden Claufield, Catcher in the Rye

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thank you

I really appreciate all of the nice things people have been sending me. Unfortunately, most have not gotten to me and probably never will. And when they do get to me, they have been opened or damaged through the postal service here.

So, in the future, if you could please send it to the address below and my mom will just send it through FedEx.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Your love will be safe with me

I'm officially one year older and one year in. And as I sit on my porch overlooking the Atlantic, it's hard to put a finger on exactly what I've learned and how far I have come. Most of what has changed within me is slight shifts in values or perceptions of things, probably only noticeable to myself. However, there is one thing I think is very important for Americans to know through my own experience. And, this might be the only thing I know for sure anymore...

Roosters don't just sit on the roof of a red barn on a cute little farm, waiting for the sun to come up so they can crow and wake up their owners. They are not used as organic alarm clocks the way they are depicted in American storybooks and TV shows. No, they actually crow at all times of day, including when I'm trying to get in a nap. They crow at three o'clock in the morning, they crow at three o'clock in the afternoon. They are persistently loud and obnoxious.

I initially sat down to write this blog in a list form. It was going to be a solidified list of everything I had learned in the year I have been here. But when I started writing, the only thing I could think of was the roosters. And just how wrong my initial American perspective of them was. How the storybooks were that off about these insanely annoying animals I'll never know. But when I hit the enter key and typed the number '2', I realized there was nothing else I could write down. I literally knew nothing else. And that's when I knew I had changed.

If there's one thing I've learned this passed year, it's that you (and me..) know absolutely nothing. We are often comforted by our college degrees and worldly experience, but that tends to only give us a false sense of security. There is still so much out there to learn about people, about places. About reasons why people are the way they are. And when you think you've learned all you need to learn, you find something or someone else that surprises you.

I have learned that there is no fact, there is no reality. There are only assumptions and perspectives. After all, it was a fact once that the world was flat, wasn't it? And we all thought Y2K was the reality of the situation, didn't we?

So instead of making a list of everything I want to accomplish this next year and make all these lofty promises, I'm just going to make a vow to not see things at face value. To question and then re question. To remember that as loud as I may talk, I still don't know much. And to never assume I know what someone has gone through. Because, really, you never do.

As much as a boast and brag about making it a year, it is an even bigger accomplishment that my parents have made it through 25. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Hippie Hop
I have no program for
saving this world or scuttling
the next: I know no political,
sexual, racial cures: I make
analogies, my bucketful of
flowers: I give flowers to people
of all policies, sexes, and races
including the vicious, the
uncertain, and the white.
A.R. Ammons

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ya bumper in trouble, gyal

The past few weeks since my last entry have probably been the most interesting couple of weeks in my life. That's one thing about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vincy, there's always something to do, something to see or something to drink. All three make for a very interesting day.

Regular classes have ended and my summer classes have started. For the beginning of the summer I am taking it slow with two classes of remedial reading a week. As the summer progresses I will begin my volleyball classes and camps. I have been very fortunate to receive some donations from local sponsors and a very generous donation of balls from my old high school coach, Joe Camp. Funding continues to be a problem, but honestly, when isn't it? I don't think I've spent a day in St. Vincent without worrying about money. This better pay off, either in a life lesson or some good karma.

Problems with my knee still seem to surface every once in a while, but as my beach partner kept reiterating, it could be worse. That seems to be a reoccurring theme for my Peace Corps experience...'it could be worse.'

Carnival provided a breath of fresh air as I danced behind trucks blasting Soca music. Vincy's say nothing is wrong during Carnival and this proved to be true. Nothing mattered. Financial problems, work problems, your home life. Carnival is a time to let loose and forget about this year's problems. And I did.

The day after Carnival my house was broken into again while I was sleeping. They didn't take anything, but my vulnerability scared me. The Peace Corps is in the process of replacing my door and making my house safer. Gut checks for me used to be when you're serving the ball during the opposing team's game point. This is a gut check on a completely different level. But, it could be worse.

It has almost been a year since I left the states. And I'm almost 24. Sometimes it shocks me how much I've changed. And other times it shocks me how much I haven't. Lines have been clearly drawn, then blurred. Friends have let me down and picked me up. I've wanted to quit and live here forever all in the same day. But one thing that has remained stagnent is the importance of the family we were born with and the family we choose. I have built a beautiful family here, but desperately miss my family back home. And depend on both.

'Freedom is the equal opportunity to succeed. But it is also the equal opportunity to fail.'

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Brendan now you've got to come, she's where I get my smile from.

When I tell people I just recently tore my ACL for the fourth time, they have a pretty predictable reaction. Probably pretty similar to the one you're having if you're reading this for the first time. I've had people call me crazy, stubborn, passionate. Resilient, dedicated, stupid. Although my heart can't seem to settle on one of their assumptions. Questions about my intentions and the source of my motivation always leave me wondering myself.
And for a long time I had no answer for their questions, or my own. Maybe I did it because it was how I was raised, it was all I knew. I'm a Thomson and we don't give up. I can tell you stories that parallel mine about almost every member of my family. From Winston Churchill quotes to scenes from Rudy, my life has been immersed in the notion that to quit is to fail.

I could recite hundreds of cliches to explain my actions, but none seem to fit with me or my situation.

But only now do I see the whole picture; only now do I fully understand what is behind my desire to keep going, to never give up. And it has nothing to do with a quote. In fact it is quite simple: it's worth it.

The pain, the rehab, the crutches all pale in comparison to the experience the sport has given me. Without volleyball, I would have never been to Europe or California. I would have never won a National Championship. I would have never gone to the University of Tampa or represented my country in a National Competition. I would have never met the people I consider family. And I probably would have never joined the Peace Corps.

So I return a dropped jaw with a smile, because I know. I know the benefits I have reaped through this long process. And I know that if I was given a chance to play again, I would take it without question.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Off I go. Where I fall is where I land.

For my sister:

I know you’ve been to Africa before, but this time will be different. You’re staying for three months. This isn’t a vacation and you will not be a tourist. Things will change, you will change.

But don’t be scared of the changes. Your core will still be there in the end.

The American ideals and values you have been instilled with will be challenged daily. Lose some of them. They’re shit anyways.

Don’t be afraid to cry. Just don’t cry in front of any of the locals. No matter how much you explain to them, they will never understand.

Don’t worry if you lose your faith. It will come back again.

Try to see the beauty in everything. It may be impossible, but trying is the most important part.

Nurture your relationships with your fellow missionaries. They will be the only ones who understand what you went through.

You will see and experience things that no one back home can understand. Don’t fault them for this.

Wear bug spray.

Work as much as you can with children. They are the most impressionable and your impact on them is far greater than you think.

Don’t compromise who you are just to fit in. Ever.

Find a beach when there‘s a full moon.

Video tape everything.

Don’t drink the local rum..every day. It’s homemade and ridiculously strong.

Take diarrhea medicine as soon as your stomach starts to feel even a little weird.
If there‘s one thing Americans need, it is a broader sense of right and wrong. Just because they do something different, doesn’t make them wrong. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to convert witch doctors :)

Take a piece of home with you. Whether it be a picture, a stuffed animal or a song. You’ll want to feel home from time to time.
Your weight will fluctuate from week to week. Don't stress about it, because it will be the least of your worries.

Hug people a lot this last week you’re home. You have no idea how much you will miss getting a real hug from people that love you.

Take a journal.

And always, always remember how much you are loved and missed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I try my best, and you do. And all you want is something you can move to.

Because of recent donations, we were able to add two more programs in the areas of Sandy Bay and North Union. Your donations are greatly appreciated and put to good use :)
If you are interested in donating, you can email me or send checks to:
Neely Thomson
US Peace Corps
Cyrus Street
New Montrose
St. Vincent, WI
'We need more people speaking out. This country is not overrun with rebels and free thinkers. It's overrun with sheep and conformists.' --Bill Maher

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

They call me Mr. Boombastic

It's the rainy season. Never before has rain meant so much. It means I will get free tomatoes from my neighbors. It means cockroaches will be forever present in my kitchen. It means lettuce will be cheaper. It means I won't have to go to school some days. But, most importantly it means that my garden will start to grow.

Thanks to some very nice friends of my mom, I was able to plant broccoli, cabbage, marigolds, tomatoes and cilantro in my yard...all with the help of a local of course. I mean, come on, me instinctively knowing how to plant a garden, not gonna happen. But it's day 4 and nothing has died yet. Nothing has actually grown either, but that's a glass half empty way to look at it.

This morning it started to pour during break time, so I had a couple minutes to myself before students would rush into my classroom. And I got to thinking about all the various and controversial teaching methods I use. Most, of which, would disappoint anyone with a teaching degree and probably most without one.

How I became in charge of the whole remedial reading department at my primary school is beyond me. My classroom management skills are sub par and my knowledge of teaching strategies is even worse.

Case in point: I spit gum at a student once because she wouldn't stop talking.

I also give my students a 10 second countdown to return from using the restroom. This strategy prevents any hand washing or toilet paper use. But, hey, I get on with my lesson. This is probably the reason I get a virus every other Tuesday.

When a kid starts to complain about homework or my strict 10 second rule, I start fake crying. The crying gets louder until the kid stops complaining.

If someone tattles, I mock them.

We have dance offs and hand slapping competitions. Farting contests and animal noise impressions. And I have yet to end a class without playing hangman, where, of course, I always win.

And every once in a while I'll catch myself in the middle of one of these and wonder what the American Board of Education would have to say about this. And then I realize that thankfully they will never have to know.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you and miss you everyday.

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

Monday, April 19, 2010

If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans

This term is off to a great start. I have finally caught up financially and have even managed to save a little. While visiting my parents in St. Lucia, I was able to really take some time to reevaluate my prorities and purpose here and have come up with a pretty solid work plan. I always like to write down what I 'plan' to do and see how much of it gets altered or changed by the time everything works its way out. However, despite my faith in an evolving work plan, I am very excited about my current outline.

One of my main focuses is the organization I started about two months ago, Vertical. The central idea behind Vertical is to fund and sustain volleyball programs and teams within the rural areas of St. Vincent. So far, we have started 4 programs in the areas of New Grounds, Langley Park, Georgetown and Dickson. We have helped fund a men's volleyball team out of Dickson. And hold a Saturday volleyball camp for primary school students every week.

When this all began, I only wanted to rely on local sponsors. But as things progress, I am now realizing how unrealistic that is. One thing I admire about Americans is our sense of volunteerism and charity. Whether the incentive is a good feeling in our chest or a tax break, we give. And somewhere in the last 20 years, this concept has been lost on Vincentians. I am very thankful to the scattered donations we have been recieving from local sponsors, they have kept us afloat thus far. But extra funds are necessary.

Funds are needed for transportation, food, volleyball shoes (you will notice in the pictures below how many children play barefoot), volleyball tournament fees, volleyball uniforms (jersey, tights and socks), volleyball net, volleyball ball basket and volleyballs.

If you are interested in donating, you can email me at or send checks to :

Neely Thomson, US Peace Corps

Cyrus Street, New Montrose

Kingstown, Saint Vincent W.I.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

Thursday, March 11, 2010

When you're wrapped up in my arms, dancing to a reggae song.

I have had a little bit of an identity crisis lately. Using the word crisis is a little over dramatic. What I really mean is I just cried to my mom for an hour.. some crisis.

My mother always said, 'you are who you hang out with.' And for the past seven months I have been on the financial level of my friends, eaten their food, danced with them, worked with them, lived with them, loved them. But I could never shake the color of my skin. I tanned until I burned, used black people hair dye, talked like them, lived like them. But I could never get rid of the person I was and the evidence lay plastered on my skin. I was different and always would be.

This past week my friends from the States came to visit and I was placed in a completely different world. White people, money, sail boats, American music, American dancing. And as much as I wanted to fit in, I just couldn't shake the person I had become. My clothes didn't match up, I wasn't as affluent and whenever they would ask where I was from, I proudly exclaimed 'I'm not a tourist. I live here.' I was different from them and always would be.

So, as I lay in my bed completely defeated, feeling as if I didn't belong in either world, I realized that maybe we're not who we hang out with. Maybe sometimes we just are who we are.

There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who eats Grape Nuts on principle. --G.K. Chesterton

Monday, February 15, 2010

I believe

Gus Gus is a member of my running group. He was about 50 pounds overweight when we started running about two months ago. Since then he never lets me off the hook. Whether it's raining, 'cold' outside or getting dark, he's always calling at my gate asking to go running. He doesn't care if I'm hungover or tired or just don't feel like running. And since I met Gus Gus, I don't either.

He and I have been running six days a week (I give him Sunday off so he can go to church) for the past two months and he is the only student that hasn't missed a day. Most kids show up for 2 or 3 running sessions a week, but not Gus Gus.

We look ridiculous running together down the main highway in St. Vincent, but he doesn't seem to notice. He's short and noticeably overweight. I am tall and noticeably white. People yell and laugh at us. They shout 'fat man' and 'whitey' around every corner we turn. And finally one day I asked Gus Gus if it hurt his feelings when people called him 'fat man'. And, to my surprise, he said it did. He said it 'made his heart hurt', which in turn hurt mine. So whenever people shout 'run fat man run' at him, I have started saying 'shut up! he's not fat!' Every time I said this, Gus Gus would get the biggest smile on his face. And now, every time someone shouts 'run white girl run' he says 'shut up! she's not white!' We both run with big smiles on our faces now.

I have been wanting to write about Gus Gus for a while now. There's always that one thing that gets you up in the morning, the one thing that makes you keep going. Gus Gus is my thing. And today, I have never been happier or more willing to get out of bed. It was our two month mark. Two months ago I bought a scale and weighed Gus Gus and me. Two months ago Gus Gus was 200 pounds. Today Gus Gus is 182. Today Gus Gus tried on an old pair of jeans and they fit. Today Gus Gus walked taller than I have ever seen him. Today was a great day.

'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for'--Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We're gonna show this town how to kiss the stars

As I read through my blog posts, I realized I haven't really written much about my job or what I'm actually doing in St. Vincent. So, I will try and describe it the best way I can. Here it goes...

My job is amazingly challenging and funny and forever changing. My main assignment is remedial reading, which I do from 8-12 everyday. I teach 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders phonics and 5th graders comprehension. Then in the afternoons I teach volleyball and in two weeks I will also be teaching a film class. In the evenings I have a running group. I also do work for the AIDS Secretariat and Marion House in town.

However, I have to say that my favorite part of my job is working with my kids. They have become such a big part of my life it is almost embarrassing and I'm well aware that it is a little pathetic. One afternoon after I took my kids running, two of the boys came into my house for a drink of water. Before we started drinking, one of the boys said we had to cheers. The other boy shouted 'Yes! Let's cheers to being best friends!' And without hesitation, I held my water up in the air and clinked my glass against theirs while shouting 'Best friends forever!' with them. It wasn't until after they left that an embarrassing truth came to my attention: I am best friends with 8 year old boys. I looked around the room and saw their artwork covering every inch of white space on my walls. They fill up every weekend and spare minute I have. I talk to them on the phone more than I do people my own age. If my nose starts to look concave and I start referring to St. Vincent as NeverLand..please send someone to come get me.

Twice a week I have fifth graders for comprehension lessons. I handmade them journals (and by handmade I mean I stapled copy paper together..very creative) and have them write in them daily. One of the assignments was to write what you would do if you were Prime Minister. Here is exactly what one kid wrote:

If I was Prime Minister I will help pure people and sent money to Haiti. I will bult house for pure people. And send the People to America to get jop. And bult a library for People ho is interested. And I will bult a house for Neely.

I'm pretty sure building a house for me wouldn't be on any of my friends' agendas if they became President. I guess being best friends with eight year olds isn't so bad after all...

'I'm really going to miss you when you go back in 2012'- Gus Gus

Sunday, January 31, 2010

All we can do is keep breathing

I made it. I made it through the hardest month of my life. I made it through a $17.00 bank statement, ice for dinner, no toilet paper and some very tough nights. I made it through rice for breakfast, skipping lunches and a broken foot. I made it. However, I would not have made it had it not been for certain people. And though they may never read this, I wanted to put it out there anyways.

Thank you..

to my mom. Thank you for your phone calls and text messages. Thank you for listening to me cry. Thank you for making me stop.

to my dad. Thank you for your wisdom and understanding. You forever increase my standards of what a man and father should be.

to my sister. Thank you for your faith. As much hell as I give you, your unwavering trust in the Lord makes me believe--even if it's just a little.

to Cassius. Thank you for the food, your support, finding money when there was none, your family, cleaning my house when I refused to get out of bed, making me get out of bed, laughing at my hysteria, hugging me when I cried. Thank you for everything.

to Sarah. Thank you for the money, the phone calls, the beach trips. Thank you for always listening and making me feel normal. But mostly, thank you for the tequila shots.

to Aunt Lori. Thank you for the package. It had impeccable timing and really made the last few weeks of the month tolerable.

to the Wittenbergs. Thank you for every package, nice facebook message and wall posts. You have no idea what they mean to me.

to Jessica. Thank you for never letting me forget how much I am loved.

to Dh. Thank you for never letting me forget what Jesus said. And of course, making fun of how gay this blog is. I laugh the loudest when I'm with you.

to the Lincolns. Thank you for an amazing Mexican feast and an even more amazing conversation afterwards. My perception of you is forever changed :)

to Sheena & Toussaint. Thank you for your generous portions of food. You constantly remind me of how bad of a cook I actually am.

to every Peace Corps volunteer. Thank you for the beers, laughter and understanding.

'Wake up naked, drinking coffee. Making plans to change the world, while the world is changing us. It was good, good love." DMB

Friday, January 1, 2010

I believe in a thing called love

This Christmas will undoubtedly go down as one of the most eventful Christmas's ever. I pulled all nighters, drank local rum, witnessed my dinner being killed, played Santa Clause, danced with strangers and celebrated with friends.

I was lucky enough to have a family take me in for the duration of the Christmas holiday, so I was really able to experience a full Vincy Christmas. And I'm proud to say I survived. It's safe to say that I love to party, especially for an occasion like Christmas. But the locals here even put my partying spirit to the test. They begin celebrating 9 mornings before Christmas, and by celebrating I mean they wake up at 3am and party through the night. I was able to attend three of these celebrations and that was plenty for me.

The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day. And a village just north of mine called Georgetown is well-known for it's unique fair. It is VERY important to dress in a brand new outfit--tags must be left on. So when I opened my mother's package for Christmas and saw new clothes, I was relieved. I would be a Vincy, if only for the day. So I arrived, tags and all, ready to dance. However, I'm me. And stories just don't end like that. While whining with some of my primary school kids (all with Guiness's in their hands), they started screaming and kicking this massive toad. I see the locals mistreating, or what I consider mistreating, animals all the time, so I wasn't shocked, but I wasn't just going to let this toad die on my watch. So I pick it up. HUGE MISTAKE. My kids faces turn white, then their mouths drop open. Some start crying, some start screaming. The music stops. And 2,000 people stop dancing to stare at me holding a toad. Then I hear my friend yelling from across the fair, pushing people out of the way. When he finally makes it to where I'm standing, he takes the toad and throws it over the fence. There seemed to be a sigh that resonated throughout the crowd. After my friend saw my confused face, he went on to explain that it was a 'jumbie,' which means ghost, and if I hold it long enough I will turn into a toad. Really? I asked (and still ask..). Yes, he replied. Apparently I was very lucky. I think the Peace Corps would definitely administratively separate me if I turned into a toad.

I have had a string of bad 'luck' lately. I put quotations around luck because I don't really believe in luck. I believe that things happen with a purpose, not randomly, and certainly not by luck. But the word just seems to fit in the sentence. A friend of the Peace Corps, and someone whom I trusted, broke into my house on Christmas Eve. He didn't steal anything valuable, but he mashed up my door and stole all my food and money--specifically my apples. You have no idea how expensive they are here. However, he did feed my dog. I love thoughtful criminals.

My attitude was grim. This was the second time my house had been broken into and I felt vulnerable and violated. I'm the only Peace Corps to get Dengue Fever in thirteen years, my house was continuously being broken into and money was being taken from me. I let a negative feeling swell up inside me about my community, myself and my purpose here. How was I going to make it financially this month? How can I stay somewhere that I don't feel is safe? What if I'm the problem..not the people who keep breaking in?

Then I saw the worst thing I've ever seen in my life. Me and some friends planned to spend New Years in Bequia, and I was supposed to catch a van at 8:30 New Years Eve morning. However, I was running late and as I was running down the gap to catch 'Big One', shouting at him to wait for me, I remembered that I didn't lock the gate. I told him to go ahead, that I would catch the next one. I caught the next van and headed into town. 'Big One' was just ahead of us the whole time and when we rounded the corner, I saw the tire blow. The van flipped several times throwing people out of the window. I heard screams and saw more blood than I had ever seen in my life. As we passed the van, there were dead bodies all along the road, a lot of them children, people screaming, and others seriously wounded. The van I was in went into hysteria. On a small island like this, it is very likely that they knew those people. On a small island like this, everyone is affected.

After the shock wore off and I made many phone calls, I learned that I knew no one in the van. There were no Peace Corps, no New Grounds community members, no New Grounds students. It seemed that my luck was changing.

Until I woke up New Years morning and saw that my overnight bag had been stolen. My life was in that bag--all of my money for the month, wallet, food, clothes, camera, phone...the list keeps going.

However, this time my reaction was much different. I won't be able to pay my rent this month. I won't have a phone until next month and my internet will be cut off soon. I won't have a camera or an excess of food. But I am healthy and alive. And the people I love are just a phone call away. Nothing else matters.

...And, I'm not a toad. That would really suck.

'Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly'-Leah Thomson