Not ready to serve in the Peace Corps:
Ready to serve in the Peace Corps:
PCVs receive all three free from the Peace Corps. Bless their hearts!
Not ready to serve in the Peace Corps:
Ready to serve in the Peace Corps:
PCVs receive all three free from the Peace Corps. Bless their hearts!
In the next post and the one after that I describe sports day. In Laborie, sports day begins with a march from the school through the village to the field. You will notice that the first team is the green team, Caribbean Pine. The team that wins the previous year gets to lead the march the following year. So next year my team, Lucaena, will lead the march because we won this year.
The next post explains what sports day is in St. Lucian primary school. This is a little video of a day of training for sports day. . Click on the video and try to identify the odd sound in the background. And notice teachers Amanda and Jeanneve trying diligently not to be on camera.
Yes, its the OCEAN! The Caribbean Sea to be more specific. Right there! This is the Laborie playing field and cricket balls and footballs are commonly hit or kicked so far they land in the ocean.
Term 2 in St. Lucian primary schools is known as sports term. Each school has a sports day, which is basically a track meet. It's a terrible term for teachers, though, because they do all the training for sports day during school time. Many afternoons everyone goes down to the village field and practices running. But the time on the field is mostly a chaotic waste of time.
Anyway last Friday was Sports Day and then this past Monday they gave out medals. Our school has three houses, all named after local trees: Caribbean Pine, Blue Mahoe, and Lucaena (my house).
Here are some pictures of the medal ceremony.
There are many interruptions to the school day here. That is time off task. But the time spent training for Sports Day is repeated and systematic time off task. Though I want to mention that my house, Lucaena, won sports day.
I limit Scruffy's web surfing to 30 minutes a day. And I had to block ASPCA.org!
This post was supposed to appear on September 29, 2016. I just realized it was still in my drafts folder. Sorry about that.
Tropical Storm Matthew has come and gone. We were lucky in St. Lucia that we did not feel the full brunt of the storm. And I think on St. Lucia, Laborie did not get the worst of it. We had some flooding but no real damage.
It basically rained for 24 hours, sometimes very heavily. But much of the damage of a storm comes from high winds and we did not have dangerously high winds. My guess is that they were gusting to 40 mph or so. What is so interesting is that the foliage in places like this has evolved, at least in part, to tolerate high winds. Here, plants and trees bend but don't break. Unless the wind is extremely strong. I bet everyone has seen those videos of hurricanes bending palm trees to the ground.
After school on Tuesday I had stocked up on groceries in case the storm was bad enough to prevent leaving the village for a few days. Around 6 pm, when the storm was intensifying I realized that if the power went out none of the food I bought would be much good uncooked. So I raced to put together a pizza and cook it. An uglier pizza you will never see. More a pizza pile than a pizza pie. And I tried to whip up some hummus. The pizza turned out fine but my blender is so terrible that it doesn't really blend. I need to buy a new one. So I am racing against the storm and the blender is not blending. I fed the dogs some turkey and one of the puppies wanted it so badly that it bit through my finger. There I am, throwing the pizza together, cursing the blender, and bleeding, while racing to beat the inevitable loss of power. I thought what a fine mess this was. In the end, I did not lose power until about 9:30 pm.
I was kept company by the six dogs I have been feeding. They were happy to have a port in the storm. In the video you can hear the rain, which obviously isn't keeping the dogs from napping:
Fortunately, Tropical Storm Matthew didn't do significant damage in the Eastern Caribbean.
I wanted to let you all know that I am going to start blogging again very soon. I have several good things to write about. But let me say that for the last 6 months I have been spending most of my waking moments thinking about what to do next.
I have been here just over 20 months now and I finish here in St. Lucia on August 25th. Part of my thinking has been whether or not I should extend my service here and stay another year. After almost constant dwelling, I have decided not to extend. So, if not here, doing this, then where, doing what?
First a little background. All my life, until I quitired (see QUITIRITIS! (WHAT?) /MARCH 21, 2015) in 2015 I was on a steady path from school to school to school to work. And then I stayed at my first job for 25 years. So a big part of my change of life (very different from the change of life) was jumping off the path and living life a little more spontaneously. That was all well and good when I had a 27-month appointment and, importantly, 27 months of paid health insurance, ahead of me. Now that I have just 179 health insured days left, the terrain is rougher. Keep in mind, I wasn't stressing about it at all when ObamaCare was around. But then some of you went and did the unthinkable.
Anyway, though I don't have any solid plans for my future I have adopted a much healthier perspective: Relax, it will all work out.
St. Lucia has two Nobel Laureates, and they were both born on this day. This is why this week is celebrated as Nobel Laureates Week in the schools. Click on their names to find out more about Sir Arthur Lewis (Economics) and the Honorable Derek Walcott (Literature).
By the way it is impressive, and a huge source of Lucian pride, that this little island has two Nobel Laureates.
Today I was up early to go with two other teachers and 12 students to see Prince Harry who is visiting a few Caribbean islands and today was participating in a "fun" cricket exhibition. The Darren Sammy National Cricket Grounds, named after a current successful Lucian cricketer, is in the north of the island, a 75-minute bus ride from Laborie. That is, it's a 75-minute bus ride if you don't stop many times for various boys to vomit.
In fact, five times we stopped because one boy or another felt car sick and had to throw up. We came to find out that none of these boys had either a good breakfast or any breakfast at all. I'm afraid it became a little tiresome.
We finally made it to the stadium. Not long thereafter Prince Harry came out to shake hands with the members of the two teams. The Prince's team was playing the Prime Minister's team. Both teams were composed of members of representatives from the Prime Minister's political party and members of the media.
I was disturbed that the public address announcer kept referring to Prince Harry as Prince Henry. At least a dozen times he did this. Finally, I guess, someone mentioned it to him. Thereafter, he alternated between the two. He ought to have been so mortified that he never said it wrong again. But Lucians don't do mortified.
It turned out to be a boring event, just very chummy playing at cricket. Which left just the long drive home. I had some motion sickness pills in my bag and I gave one to each of the vomiters. They may have helped because only one boy continued to be sick. This one boy, Toby, did not have breakfast and had not eaten anything all day. Some of the boys were hungry so the bus stopped at KFC. The first thing Toby had all day was fried chicken and french fries! Was it any surprise that we had to stop again for him.
All in all this was a waste of time, though it did not have to be. There was just no teaching surrounding the event. But there are so many possible ways to have turned this into an educational field trip. My guess is that only three of the 12 boys could even tell you why we went to watch this silly event.
A few times I have said that one reason I like blogging is because, after spending 25 years writing lectures and journal articles that required clear, concise, linear writing, I am thrilled to just ramble. Not all of my posts are rambling. But this one will be.
Today is U.S. Thanksgiving; it is not a holiday in St. Lucia. And I had a TG unlike any other, which I suppose was one of the goals of retiring and joining the PC. I was going to stay home today and watch football and cook TG dinner. But then a) my Principal told me that the school was going to be visited by a group of primary school principals in the afternoon and he wanted me to be there to show off the library and b) sadly the husband of my Grade 2 teacher, Irma, passed away suddenly and the teachers at my school decided we would go visit Irma after school today. So, I went to school in the afternoon.
Before I went to school I made some chicken--turkey is very expensive here, about $16 EC per kilo, and all the turkeys were at least 4 kilos (8.8 pounds)--and mashed potatoes. Last night I made cranberry sauce. And I planned to make stuffing and corn when I got home (I need to learn how to make gravy). After we visited Irma, some of the teachers wanted to go for a drink. Now, in St. Lucia, that doesn't mean finding a bar. It means going to the store having their yearly alcohol sale, buying $110 EC worth of liquor and driving to the beach to drink. But before that my Principal, who was driving me, decided he would drive for about 25 minutes to get some pork.
When we got to the beach we started drinking rum and soon they all starting talking about relationships and sex. Many times I wanted to interrupt and say, "Excuse me, the research clearly shows that...," but I didn't think that would go over well. So I just listened and drank rum.
Then I came home, heated up the food I made in the morning and cooked the stuffing and corn. It was delicious. I missed both of the early football games. And the dog show for that matter. Many of the Peace Corps are getting together on Saturday for a more traditional TG celebration.
Tomorrow, I am going to school early so I can chaperone a group of 15 boys to a cricket match up north where Prince Harry, who is visiting St. Lucia, will be in attendance. See, different.
By the way, this is a picture of Daphne, who really likes it on the couch but who smelled chicken.
I hope you all had a nice TG.
On Tuesday I went with three Grade 3 students, who I know well because I worked with them in Grade 2 last year, to the District 7 Grade 3 Spelling Bee. Justin was our speller and Jaden and Sayid were supporting. All are very nice boys and we had a good time, despite the fact that our speller did not correctly spell any of the words he was given. In Round 1 each student was given 10 words to spell. Alas, Justin struggled. In a funny twist, the spelling bee is sponsored by the dental association (dental health on the island is atrocious) so all the words were dental in nature. It's funny hearing little kids spelling words like temporomandibular and apicoectomy.
Anyway, we traveled to the bee with the students and teachers from Banse-La Grace Combined School, which is up the hill from us, and Laborie Girls' RC Primary School. During a break, Doug, the PCV at Banse-La Grace Combined, wished happy birthday to one of his teachers. She is a young-looking woman and when I asked how old she was she said she was 21. Not just young-looking, young-being.
On the way home I sat next to her on the bus and asked her what she had done before beginning as a teacher this year. She said that she had worked at Coconut Bay Resort, first as a waitress and then at the front desk.
So, in sum, she graduated from secondary school at age 17, worked at a resort for three years, and then began as a primary school teacher. When I asked how she liked it she said it was okay. I suggested that it must be better than working at a resort and she seemed ambivalent, remarking that the children are often difficult. In her defense Doug says the children in her class are extraordinarily troublesome. The class comprises only 9 students but Doug says each student displays five-students'-worth of troublesomeness.
My point, though, is that primary and secondary education must be a calling. No one can go lightly into a teaching career and hope to remain for very long. There are teachers in the village for whom teaching is a calling. They genuinely care about the students and cannot imagine doing anything else. And this is what St. Lucia needs. Reforming the education system is such a significant task that it must be undertaken by people who have the children's best interest at heart. Without this kind of passion little change will result.
On this island, teachers are still hired for mysterious reasons. Teaching is not a calling for the new teacher at Banse-La Grace Combined. It is certainly not a passion. In fact, from my conversation, it is not even clear that it's an interest of hers.
Coming away from my conversation with the new teacher left me wondering about her motivation to teach. We could have an equally frustrating conversation about her ability to teach. She graduated from high school. There are no education courses in high school. She did no student teaching. She simply has no idea how to teach primary school. She can only rely on what she learned going through an education system in need of a major overhaul.
Sadly, hiring teachers who are not passionate about teaching and who have no experience teaching is not a recipe for child-friendly education reform.
As I have said many times the boys here face a wide range of hurdles in learning to read and write. One of the easily fixable ones is having school books with many errors. Here is one example:
My co-teacher Amanda and I gave the book authors and editors every chance to be correct. The word car is not made plural by adding "es," and neither is auto, automobile, vehicle, thing, moving thing, or transportation device. It isn't made plural by adding an es in French either (la voiture). Aha, wait, they must have meant automobile in Spanish: automóvil to automóviles. Glad we figured that out!
By the way, the item after the car isn't made plural by adding "es" either.
As I have mentioned a few times now (and bemoan daily), the root of the illiteracy problem in St. Lucian primary schools is the amount of time spent off task. Starting with the fact that grades K-2 have just 4 hours and 15 minutes of class time a day, continuing with all the ways that schools shrink class time for sports, religious speakers, prayer, and countless other ways, and including all the time spent when class is actually meeting on behavior management rather than teaching and learning, it is no wonder that students are not performing at grade level.
Time off task is also greatly affected by school attendance. Many parents keep children home from school for any number of reasons not related to illness or other legitimate causes. In Grade 1, the same four boys (plus random others) are usually absent. And these boys are, by now, way behind the other students.
Case in point. One of the village elders died a couple of weeks ago and his funeral was scheduled for Friday at 3:00 pm. With this in mind, school let out at noon (time off task). Because this was announced in advance, many parents decided it was not worth their time to send their children to school for a half day. Grades 1 and 2 each had just six boys show up.
In Grade 1, we reviewed capital letters and punctuation, until the small group seemed to have come to understand it. If we had gone on, the majority of boys who were absent would get even further behind. So I went to the library and got some coloring books and we colored. Here are the six children and their colorings.
It is really hot here. No surprise, it's the Eastern Caribbean after all. But it has been hotter than it needs to be. Even Lucians think it is unusually hot.
So, it's hot and every morning when I walk to school I have to walk up a hill right toward the rising sun. As a result every day I arrive at school drenched in sweat. So drenched I sweat through my shirt. This picture isn't at all as bad as it usually is. And my shirt is soaked through on my back.
I finally realized that I need to wear one shirt to school and bring my school shirt in my bag. The other day I asked Justin, the boy below, why he did not have his uniform on. He said "I did, but my shirt got wet." All I could think was, "So did mine, my boy, so did mine."
By the way, Justin is a very sweet looking boy. You might even be able to tell from this poor photo. He has an angelic face. But do not be fooled. No, no, Justin is no angel. He is as troublesome as a boy can be. Of course so is Jeremy. And Ethan. And Alpha. Jakim. Keyon. Shemron. Oh, never mind.
Very often when I walk by the staff room at my school I see this:
If I was a mischievous, not to mention troublesome, 7-12 year old boy, and we have many, many such boys at my school, I would think it might be funny to put another (less on the ball) boy's head in there and pretend to pull down.
It only takes one beheading to ruin a day at school.
Even after more than 16 months in St. Lucia I continue to be surprised by St. Lucian culture. Here is one minor example.
In Grade 1 Teacher Amanda and I were teaching the "ai" sound, like you have in the word "pail." I was going around as the boys were doing their morning work, in which we had written words like p _ _ l on the board. Boys needed to insert the "ai" to make a word.
One boy asked what a pail is. We live on an island with sandy coasts in the middle of the ocean. So pails are used to make sand castles. I said something like, "it's like a bucket with a handle." The boy said, "like you pee in?" Ha ha, yes, like you pee in.
As I continued around another boy asked what a pail is. I gave him the same answer and he responded by saying, "like you pee in?" Yes, like you pee in.
To the third boy who asked, I added, "like you pee in" to my original answer.
And come to think of it, I have not seen a single Lucian child making sand castles.
On May 21st I wrote about the water outage we were having. In that post I said that water outages for me are not rare, but neither are they too problematic because my house has a big tank and a pump. So even when the crappy water company doesn't send water there is still water coming out of the pipes.
That is.........UNTIL THE TANK IS EMPTY.
We have not had water since Tropical Storm Matthew went through last Wednesday (5 days ago) and the tank ran dry on Saturday. Today is Monday. So since Saturday there has been not a drop of water coming from the pipes.
It's one thing to lose the internet. That's just inconvenient. It's worse to lose electricity. That requires finding solutions for various problems. Losing water is MUCH worse. That requires finding solutions for......surviving.
I bought some big bottles of water. But I am close to running out of the big bottles of water because yesterday was Sunday and stores are only open for a few hours and today is a holiday (Thanksgiving) and nothing is open. Of course, you can't do laundry. You can't wash dishes. You can't flush the toilet. And you can't find any water to drink!
The water company on St. Lucia is called WASCO (Water and Sewer Company) and they are terrible. The send water on what seems like a totally random schedule. Actually, that's not true: they appear to send water only as a way of messing with people. Last night I went to stay with Doug in Banse, his little community in the country. They often have no water and there is not a pump for their tank so the only water he can get comes out of a pipe outside. When we woke up this morning we discovered from a neighbor that the water had been turned on from about 2 am until about 4 am. After that it was off again. Why, why, why?
I asked my landlord about it. He said he called WASCO and they told him that the pipe is blocked. So in Banse that means the pipe was blocked until 2 am. Then it was not blocked until 4 am. Then it was blocked again at 4 am. Un-unh!
In the U.S. if there was no water at all in a community for an extended period of time, the water company or district or whatever would be coming around with cases of water for residents. This would be big news. Someone would get to the bottom of it and it wouldn't happen again. Here it happens all the time and nothing ever is done about it..
Developing countries are still developing.
It is just after 6 pm EST and the weather is beautiful. It was a good, though not great, beach day. Hot as can be, clear blue skies, though not much breeze. This has been the weather for the last 7 weeks. It has been hot, hot, hot, very humid, and not at all breezy. I walk to school with a change of clothes because I am drenched in sweat by the time I arrive. And I just marinate all day.
I mentioned the weather being nice tonight because that is supposed to change. A storm, cleverly called Invest 97L, is on the way and should arrive in the early morning hours. School has already been cancelled. Imagine that I had not told you that a storm is on the way and see if you can tell from this forecast what day will be bad:
Let me help. Do you think it is the day where they predict 8 millimeters (.31 inches) of rain, 5 mm (.20"), 2 mm (.08"), or 156 mm (6.14")? Invest 97L has yet to be labelled a tropical depression (winds < 37 mph) which means it's very far from a tropical storm (37-73 mph) and very, very far from a Category 1 hurricane (74-95 mph). The PC has issued a STAND FAST order, which means we have to stay put. They actually gave us the option of staying home, staying with another volunteer who lives on higher ground, or staying with our host family. At my home, I am staying....as they say here.
On another note my friend Tony gave me this lobster:
He says he doesn't much care for them; the last time he had one he fed it to the dogs. But he's British. It's a big lobster too, easily 2 lbs. I'm off to cook!
I haven't written in more than a week and today it dawned on me why that's the case. I'm so busy! And of course it's my own fault. I tend to take on more things than I have to. I heard so often that PCVs have so much free time on their hands that they get a lot of reading done. Well, not me. And for me that's probably a good thing.
I've heard the phrase "half-assed job" several times lately and I always hate it. I think it comes from 25 years as a professor hearing students brag that they did a half-assed job on a paper or that they didn't start a paper until the night before it was due. At some point, the things that we should be embarrassed about became badges of accomplishment. So, I tend to take on a lot and I try not to do a half-assed job, because it is not something to be proud of.
Sorry about that little rant. Anyway, here is a smattering of the things that are keeping me busy. Note, that in general these are good things, and tasks I am glad to be engaged in....but they are making me busy.
1. My Grade 1 co-teacher Amanda, with whom I worked last year in Grade 2, has come to embrace the idea of balanced literacy and we have literacy stations during our literacy block, This is very good and I think the students will really benefit, but it means each night I have to prepare for the next day.
2. Currently I am feeding four dogs and two adorable puppies. As anyone who knows me knows, I am a dog person and I love them all. Not only am I the only one feeding them but I am also the only one giving them flea/tick prevention and heartworm pills. All on a PC stipend. Ugh! Plus, my service here is up in 11 months. All that means that I am actively looking to find homes for these dogs. There are two dog rescue organizations and tomorrow or the next day I will post pictures of the dogs on their Facebook sites and see if I can find permanent homes for them.
3. I am beginning to work on organizing a parent workshop. The Primary Literacy Program that I am a part of has three main goals: teach students, train teachers, and reach out to parents and the community at large. One giant problem here is that parents are typically very uninvolved in the education of their children. Parents think that teaching is the school's responsibility and not something they need to contribute to. But each school day here has only 4.5 hours of class time (for Grades K-2 and 4.75 for Grades 3-6) and often that time gets wasted in one way or another. And so I am hoping to persuade parents that they can use some of the remaining 19 hours each day to help their children learn and succeed.
As I said, parents are typically uninvolved in the educational process. There are two main reasons for this. One is that a lot of parents, and I never thought this would be true but I can tell you it is, just don't care enough about their children to make an effort to help them. They sometimes don't make an effort to feed them! How can I expect them to read with them. Maybe I can make inroads with this group or maybe I can't. I'm not sure yet. But the second main reason that parents don't help their children is that they just have no idea how to help them. If they knew what to do they might be more likely to help. And this is the group of parents I'm after. The workshop will basically involve teaching parents some literacy skills so that they can use some of the 19 hours productively.
4. I have just started to think about what I will do when my time here is up. As I mentioned above my service is up in 11 months. This is not tomorrow of course, but the time will fly by. And some things I would need to apply for well in advance. Looking into options has been taking some time. I had a variety of ideas, that is ideas to do this or do that, but I realized the only think I am qualified to do is teach. And after this 27 months I will be able to do more than just teach psychology to 18-22 year old Americans. The new skills and experience are more marketable, it seems, than a Ph.D. in social psychology so that's good.
I will be done here around August 25th 2017 and I would like to have some time off before I do the next thing. But if I have some time off I will need health insurance. The PC will continue my coverage for a month after my close of service, but it might be nice to have more than a month off. So, I began my education into the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And aged 10 years. Here is the situation. My PC stipend pays me about $10,600 US per year (though half of this I use for rent). I have friends in the U.S. who earn more than this and still qualify for subsidies that reduce their insurance cost to next to nothing. So imagine my shock to learn that....and get ready for this..... I actually earn too LITTLE to qualify for a subsidy and will have to pay full price. That means, of the $10,600 I earn yearly, I would pay more than $6,500 of it for insurance. Yes, I would pay more than 60% of my salary in health insurance.
I know you are thinking that I must be confused. And the few friends I emailed about this to check on it said just that. But here is how it works. The Family Poverty Line (FLP) is $11,800 a year for a single individual. So my income would put me below the poverty line. My stipend is 89% of the FPL. In order to qualify for either subsidies or premium tax credits I would need to earn between 100% and 400% of the FLP. Yes, I would have to earn more to be charged less. If I made 44% of the FPL or less than I would qualify for subsidies to reduce the cost. This seems to be known as the Medicaid coverage gap. Individuals (and I think families) who earn between 44% and 99% of the FPL must pay full price. Full price is more than $6,500.
But here is the catch--all of the above is true only in Missouri or one of the other 18 states where Republican Governors did not want the Affordable Care Act to succeed and did not agree to expand Medicaid to cover those in the 44%-99% FPL gap. Those f%$%^&*! Here is a sample of the statements/explanations I have received:
Based on the information provided, members of this household don't appear to be eligible for a premium tax credit or other savings on health insurance. But you can use the Health Insurance Marketplace to shop for a health plan at full price.
Since your state hasn't expanded Medicaid, you probably won't qualify for Medicaid based on your income alone. You also won't qualify for savings on a Marketplace insurance plan.
· Since your state isn't expanding Medicaid, you won't qualify based on income alone.
· Your income also falls below the range needed to qualify for savings on an insurance plan. If you wanted to buy a Marketplace plan, you'd have to pay full price.
All of this really threw me for about two days. Eventually I learned (I think) that because I will have lived outside the U.S. for 27 months and will have just lost my insurance coverage I will be able to return to a state that has expanded Medicaid. Will I ever live in Missouri again? Nope. I also can't live in Florida, which given that my dad lives there, was a likely destination.
So, the "and...Something" in the title of this post refers to feeling a little depressed, harried, put upon, etc. This too shall pass. And other than what I learned about the ACA and its implications, I don't know what I will do when my service ends. Though Thailand looks cool.
One of my friends and fellow PCVs, named Hannah, works in her spare time doing reporting at a Lucian television station. She has done many reports that appear on the evening news. She went to university in Connecticut, which is how her very modest self describes having graduated from Yale. And after her PC service she is hoping to go to graduate school in broadcast journalism. She is really talented and already is terrific on air.
Each Wednesday she creates a segment for the local news called "Corps Values," which is a segment on some aspect of Peace Corps life and work. It is great work and also great public relations for the PC.
I have now appeared in two segments and I just know you are dying to see them. So here are the links.
Segment 1: I served as a counselor at Camp GLOW, which is week-long overnight camp for girls aged 13-18 to help them become more involved and engaged and empowered in their lives. GLOW stands for Girls Leading our World. The camp was organized by another PCV named Cladia. She did a wonderful job of putting the camp together and the girls benefitted greatly. SO the first clip is about the camp. The PC segments starts at 21:54.
The second segment covers the summer reading camp I put together at my school. This clip is begins at 28:48.
As you will see, my suggestion that a star is not born is totally accurate. But I am very glad I participated in both events and happy that they received some attention.