Busy and....Something by Alan Strathman

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.

Scruffy -- skin and bones despite my ongoing efforts

Scruffy -- skin and bones despite my ongoing efforts

As yet unnamed puppy -- still hasn't let me close enough to touch her, but she's getting there

As yet unnamed puppy -- still hasn't let me close enough to touch her, but she's getting there

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:


  •   Person #1 (age 52) doesn't appear to be eligible for a premium tax credit or other savings.

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.


Below $11,880

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. 

 Next steps

If your income is below $11,880:

·       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.

A Star is Nowhere Near Born by Alan Strathman

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.

My second first day by Alan Strathman

Today was the first day of my second school year. And what a difference a year makes.  Last year I had no idea what I was doing or who I was doing it with. Today was much better.  it was much better for several reasons.

Parents and teachers know me and they make me feel like a valued member of the school.  Last year I worked with Grades 1 and 2 (I do this year too) and today a few parents of my Grade 2 boys who are now in Grade 3 wondered whether I could continue working with them. Either with their current teacher or instead of her. 

Both of my co-teachers this year will be great to work with and have been very open to incorporating my ideas.

I understand what I should be doing.  I'm still not always sure how to do it, but that is what the job is all about.

I feel good about what I accomplished in the first year and I have clear ideas for what I want to accomplish this year.

So, all in all, the second first day was much better than the first first day.

Home Again by Alan Strathman

Though it was a week ago I wanted to write briefly  about my visit to Tampa.  It is an odd trip. The main goal is to visit my dad and his wife Claudia.  That's not what makes it odd.  What does is that I never lived in Tampa, so i don't know anyone else.  I went for 10 days because that was all the vacation time I had from the Peace Corps and it wouldn't have been any shorter because it is so expensive to fly from St. Lucia.

But it is a solitary 10 days.  I am out most days and the only way to describe what I do is to say that I am soaking up life in the U.S.  That is to say reveling in the freedom that comes with a rental car, enjoying the wide variety of ethic food options, and sitting in coffee shops reading or listening to an audiobook. But all those things I do alone.

When I used to come to Tampa from my life in Missouri, the solitary nature of the trip was nice because back in Missouri I had friends to hang out with. Here, during the week I see people that I have a good relationship with, people who enjoy my company,  but would never, for instance, call me up to do anything.  This is kind of how I thought it would be so it's neither here nor there, but it does mean I don't need more solitary time in Tampa.

Back to food for a minute. People think that because this is "the islands" the food is light and fresh and healthy.  It isn't.  Much of the food is fried, which is partially responsible for the high rates of diabetes and hypertension. The food is also exactly the same across the island. If one orders a fish meal one gets, no matter where one is,  one or two fish steaks (often tuna, but not sushi grade or anything; no place serves fish filets), rice and lentils or other beans, and ground provisions (see a much earlier blog post where I explain ground provisions).  Rice and beans is not light and ground provisions are the heaviest foods imaginable. 

St. Lucia doesn't have any kind of "foodie" culture. Most of the restaurants serve Lucian food. Few people eat out but when they do they eat Lucian food.  That is, they eat exactly what they eat at home. In the tourist area of the island there is more choice but it's also more expensive.  And not that good. There is one Mexican restaurant in the touristy part of the island up north, but it's Lucian Mexican (Luc-Mex).

Both times I have returned from Tampa I have been in a bit of a funk.  It takes a few days or a week to return, re-enter, and readapt. Which I have now done.

Alone Alone by Alan Strathman

I am waiting in the departure lounge at the St. Lucia airport (Hewanorra International) for my flight to Miami and then to Tampa. Going back to the U.S. in April was surreal because I had become accustomed to life here.  U.S. life through "Lucianized" eyes is, literally, incredible. Even though I have only recently become Lucianized I stare with disbelief at many of the things I see: indoor malls the size of villages; price tags that I know are more than people here have made in their entire lives; the silly, random, unnecessary things that people buy. 

In addition to seeing my dad and Claudia, eating and driving are the two joys of returning to the U.S. As well as the ability to eat and drive without anyone noticing me.  I can blend in the U.S. in ways I cannot in a small village in St. Lucia. For all of us PCVs, the feeling of living in a fishbowl is a bit tiresome.

Anyway, what has caught my attention at the moment, as I watch tourists stream in to fly home after their vacation/honeymoon, is this: I am the only person in this entire airport traveling alone. Granted, it is not a huge airport.  As you'll notice below there are only five flights leaving this afternoon, though each flight will probably have 100-200 passengers.  And it strikes me that his is the first time I have ever been the only solo passenger at an airport. Most airports have thousands of travelers, many of whom are traveling alone on business. But here, without many business travelers.

I know how I arrived at this spot in life; that is, the spot of always traveling alone. And being here, existentially, is consistent with how I remember feeling my whole life.  I have been thinking existentially a lot lately, which should make anyone think, "Oh, no, what now?" It is nothing bad, just....well, just something. If I can figure out how to write about it I'll let you know.

As I said, there are only five flights departing this afternoon.  Here is the departure board.  See if you can identify what's odd about it:

Yes, North Carolina has become place where airplanes land. I'm not surprised. They have all seemed pretty confused in North Carolina lately.  What with all the concern about who's peeing where. My guess is that they really don't have any idea where the plane will land. I figure that because airplanes don't care who uses which lavatory, North Carolina is pretty ambivalent about having airplanes land at all. I think gender-specific travel will soon come to pass. Alternatively, we could just stop worrying about bathroom use. {P.S. I have no idea how this blog post turned political.}

CH-CH-CH-Changes... by Alan Strathman

From time to time people ask me if I've changed over the 14 months and 2 days I have been here. Sometimes they seem to be asking a little too hopefully! Anyway, it is hard for me to say if I have changed because I live with myself so any change would be incremental, and, therefore, hard to see.

Last week, though, Kim, one of the PCVs who is finishing her service this month, remarked that my Lucian accent is coming along well.  So that's good news.

And I am aware of one other way I have changed. This is how I turn on the fan now.

In the U.S. I would have considered this fan broken.  But Lucians would not. They would think this fan works just fine.

Incidentally, I can also start propeller jets this way too.

The Summer Reading Camp has happened! by Alan Strathman

The six days of the summer reading camp have come to an end!  I think it was a grand success.  And it would not have even happened without the support I received through the GoFundMe.com campaign.  Thank you all so much. Without your help it would have been nothing more than an idea. A missed opportunity. A disappointment because we had teachers interested in teaching and students interested in learning.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to hold the camp. And even more grateful to Dr. A, Jessie, Lauren, and Sarah, who came from Missouri to serve as teachers. Jessie, Lauren, and Sarah were very brave to sign up for this study abroad experience in this first year.  I am sure they understood that they would be the guinea pigs who would help us learn how to, and how not to, run a summer reading camp in St. Lucia. They came from the U.S. to this developing country with open minds and very generous spirits. Most people come to a place like St. Lucia and leave with their bags fuller and heavier (with souvenirs) than when they arrived.  Or they leave with an extra suitcase. Not so for these four folks.  They brought so many materials and prizes and books, all of which they left for our students, that they left not even needing the suitcases they brought. They were able to pack one bag inside another and still have room for their clothes and things.

Thank you Jessie, Lauren, Sarah, and Dr. A.

Jessie, Lauren, and Sarah arrived on July 31. August 1st is Freedom Day in St. Lucia and Carnival in Laborie. The Carnival parade is nothing if not eye-opening and mind-expanding. It was also their first of many doses of music blasting so loudly that no communication, or thought for that matter, is possible. We had dinner after the parade outside on the village square. We sat down, ordered food, and then listened as a deejay informed us that music was starting. It started and we never spoke again. As we were paying the bill, the music ended. Good timing.

Jessie, Lauren, and Sarah are studying to be librarians, not teachers. But they bravely taught groups of children that tend to be somewhat troublesome.  Fortunately we had both boys and girls and the girls help to moderate the boys' behavior.

The camp ran from 9 am to 1 pm, including lunch for the students. In the afternoons and on weekends we toured the island.  Here we are at Tet Paul, a short hiking trail with fabulous views of the Pitons.

Dr. A., Jessie, Lauren, Sarah, and I with our friends Doug and Hannah and her friend Lauren

Dr. A., Jessie, Lauren, Sarah, and I with our friends Doug and Hannah and her friend Lauren

Here are some images from the camp.

Jessie's class with the paper bag dragons they made after reading The Paper Bag Princess.

Jessie's class with the paper bag dragons they made after reading The Paper Bag Princess.

Karvel spelling in shaving cream in Jessie's class.

Karvel spelling in shaving cream in Jessie's class.

Derrell and Lee spelling Froot Loop words in Lauren's class. (Had to use generic fruit circles because Foot Loops are too expensive here.)

Derrell and Lee spelling Froot Loop words in Lauren's class. (Had to use generic fruit circles because Foot Loops are too expensive here.)

Ruthie and Teryn too.

Ruthie and Teryn too.

And, of course, Jaydah.

And, of course, Jaydah.

Sarah and her students Dave-v, Derrell, Derwren, and Kianté doing their morning class song.

Sarah and her students Dave-v, Derrell, Derwren, and Kianté doing their morning class song.

And, finally, two all-camp pictures, including campers, counselors, teachers, and camp cooks.

So many people came together to make this camp a success. All students experience summer loss. My hope is that the camp will help these 31 students experience less loss and be more ready to make progress when the new year begins. Thank you everyone.

It's Official! I have joined a new club! by Alan Strathman

Today I received a call from the PC doctor who told me that the Zika test I took a month ago when I was not feeling well was positive.  I had Zika!  I feel important.  Like I am part of an elite club.

About a month ago, I woke up on a Monday morning with pain behind my eyes.  I thought that I was dehydrated so I drank a lot of water. That didn't help.  I googled "pain behind the eyes," and only got hits about sinus problems. My sinuses were fine.  I went to work that day and the following Tuesday and Wednesday too.  I didn't feel great but I wasn't in agony either. But I decided to stay home Thursday and Friday because by then I had terrible joint pain. My fingers and wrists and back were really painful.  You don't realize just how many joints you have in your fingers until every single one is radiating red-hot pain. Though the pain behind my eyes was gone.

My friend Jan took me to the lab to get tests done and in the car it looked like I had a rash on my arm.  It's a little hard to tell because with all the sun I get here, I am always kind of red anyway. And often very red.  Often at school a boy will say, "Sir, why you so red?" I either say, "I'm red because I'm white," which always confuses them or, when the situation calls for it, I will say, "Because I'm ANGRY!"  Though that happens less as time goes on.

So, I had terrible joint pain on Thursday and Friday and then was fine on Saturday.  I even travelled on several buses up north that day and stayed overnight.

I know it's a little anticlimactic to learn that a month ago I had Zika. But a month ago I had Zika.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! by Alan Strathman

I was visiting the guest house where the MU students will be staying while they are here teaching at the summer reading camp we are offering.   It is a guest house that has two apartments on the ground floor and then the owner lives in a big space on the second floor.

I was looking at the place with Frances, who is the guest house manager.  She is also the sister of Mama Ju, my host mom, with whom I lived for three weeks when I first arrived in Laborie. After she showed me where the students will stay she and the guest house caretaker went upstairs to the owner's place.  The owner spends most of his time in Minnesota.  Frances looked through the cupboards and started throwing things out that were past the expiration date.  Some of the things "expired" only last month. Including this:

I may have eaten Kraft macaroni and cheese three times in my whole life.  I didn't even eat it in graduate school.  But I snapped up this box like I was a first year grad student who couldn't boil water.

One way in which graduate school and Peace Corps are alike is that with neither do you get a salary. Instead, you are given a stipend. Here is a lesson for you: If you are taking a position in which you are being given a stipend, start hoarding mac and cheese.  And don't say no to rice and beans.  

Really, the lesson is that you should start acclimating to "and" foods.  Here is a quiz: Which of the following can you afford on a PC stipend?

a. mac and cheese
b. chateaubriand  (trick question because the "and" is not between two other foods)
c. rice and beans
d. filet mignon
e. cheese and crackers
f. sushi
g. peanut butter and jelly (but, in St. Lucia, only cheap pb) 

If you guessed a, c, e, g then you have a good understanding of PC life. The long-time slogan of the PC is "The toughest job you'll ever love." It's good.  And accurate for many. But here is one that is even more accurate: Peace Corps: The toughest job you''ll ever wish you got paid more for.

The PC just rolled out a new logo. Maybe its time to freshen up the slogan too!

On or Off Oven by Alan Strathman

I have started making pizzas at home.  They are really delicious.  And the grocery stores here have all the fixings. Except that fresh mushrooms are too expensive so I have to use canned.

On the package of frozen crusts I buy they offer the following directions: Preheat oven to 425F then reduce to 375F for 12-15 minutes. Preheat oven to 425F then reduce to 375F? Uhhh.......This is my oven control button:

I have not yet figured out what the little rounded rectangle means. The only kind of cooking directions I can actually follow are: Turn oven on. Cook food. Turn oven off.  How will I ever make a soufflé under these conditions?

Big (Dumb) Bird by Alan Strathman

As most of you know, I arrived in St. Lucia without having ever taught literacy to primary school students. One consequence of not having taught primary school is that I did not have a stock of materials that I had found worked well in class.  Contrast this to teaching Introductory Psychology, which I had done for more than 15 years. For every topic, I had great examples, engaging demonstrations, and countless charts, graphs, etc.

So, not having anything to work with, I went to a local teachers store. The store was like a wonderland of teaching materials. It had so many resources that I, literally, had no idea where to start. Not being an expert in primary literacy education, I relied on a tried and true, well-loved institution in the world of children's education:

How could I go wrong? Who doesn't trust Big Bird? Well, now, I don't.

First, before you read any further, generate a list of words you would expect to see in this box of "beginning" words.....

(just try it)

 

(come on)

 

(don't cheat)

Ok, if you made an effort at this I bet you generated words like these:

Words you might expect to see in a set of beginning words.

Words you might expect to see in a set of beginning words.

OK, fine. No problem so far. These are, indeed, beginning words. But the deck also has these words:

These may seem like easy words. They're short. But they are not that simple for beginning readers to decode. Combinations like "ea," "oa," and "ai" are called vowel digraphs and students have a hard time with them. Eventually you teach them the rule, "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking," meaning one pronounces these letter combinations by making the long sound of the first vowel. In the interest of time let's just ignore the fact that  "ice cream" is doubly confusing because it has a soft "c" sound in the first word but a hard "c" sound in the second.

But anyway, they learn this "when two vowels go walking...." rule and then why don't we confuse them right away with this:

Ok, whatever, so then we teach them that "ou" makes a sound that isn't like an "o" and isn't like a "u" but is a sort-of melange of the two..  Though teaching "ou" isn't too bad because they have all made that sound when something hurt. And when we teach them the "ou" sound we also teach them that "ow" makes the same sound (see, look at that--you just read sound with an ou). (Now you did it again by reading now.) :) So it would (would--an "ou" exception) make sense that if Big Bird is going to consider "ou" a beginning sound he would include a card with an "ow" to help a brother teach his 7-year olds that the two combinations make the same sound. Except Big Bird did this:

Oh no he didn't!! Well, I'm afraid he did. He picked an "ow" that is an exception.

Oh no he didn't!! Well, I'm afraid he did. He picked an "ow" that is an exception.

Having forayed into tricky vowel digraphs why should he not include a consonant digraph:

So does it sound like "sosks" or is it a hard c but then that would sound like "sok-ks????" So you're saying I just ignore the middle letter??? To first graders the correct pronunciation of "socks" is "WTF!"

So does it sound like "sosks" or is it a hard c but then that would sound like "sok-ks????" So you're saying I just ignore the middle letter??? To first graders the correct pronunciation of "socks" is "WTF!"

And for good measure Big Bird threw in that well-known beginning word, practically the first word a toddler utters, right after mama and dada:

Look, this language is hard enough to teach as it is. One day, and it will be the day they start hating me because they'll think I'm just messing with them, we have to make them understand  "though," "thought," and "through." And then "drought!" And "rough!" What sound does "ough" make? Apparently any sound you want it to.

It's exhausting. Next time, let Oscar choose the words. At least they'll know "grouch."

Horrified to be an American by Alan Strathman

Oh, no! Again! And worse than ever before! Another mass shooting in the U.S.  And this one both a terrorist attack and a hate crime. 

One this day, my one year anniversary of arriving in St. Lucia, I am wondering where I will go after my service in St. Lucia is completed. One option is to come back to the U.S. But everyday, it seems, something happens to make that possibility less likely.  In 2015 there were 372 mass shootings (defined as four or more people killed or wounded) in the U.S. An average of just over one per day.  Already in 2016 there have been 133 mass shootings in the U.S.  They can happen anywhere on any day.

If American voters elect the despicable Donald Trump, who is not at all opposed to such events when they further his cause, things will get even worse. And I won't return.

Horrified to be an American.

 

Anniversary by Alan Strathman

June 12, 2016--I arrived in St. Lucia one year ago today.  The year has gone quickly, though when I think about the day I arrived it feels like a lifetime ago. On Friday, my group of volunteers went to the airport to greet the new cohort of volunteers. They have quite a year ahead of them.

The day I arrived in St. Lucia it was sunny and warm, like about 340 of the days that followed. Today is cloudy and rainy, which is always a pleasure.  When you come to St. Lucia on holidays a cloudy day is unfortunate.  If you live here, it's delightful. But I have learned that when it is cloudy and rainy here, somewhere else is probably getting hit by a tropical storm or hurricane. When a tropical storm is in the vicinity (i.e., anywhere in the Atlantic I think) we get an email from the Peace Corps alerting us to the situation. Here is the most recent note:

--------------
An upper trough over the northeast Atlantic is supporting a cold front that enters the area near 32N32W and extends to 30N42W. A weak surface ridge dominates the remainder of the Atlantic anchored by a 1019 mb high in the east Atlantic near 25N27W and a 1021 mb high the central Atlantic near 25N59W. Tropical Storm Colin will continue to accelerate northeast out of the area today. Scattered showers as well as Strong winds and large seas will persist across the northern waters of the west Atlantic today through Wednesday night.
---------

Because I do not have a degree in metereology, this is unhelpful. I understand that the storm is 32N32W, but where the hell am I? I just looked it up and discovered that my village of Laborie is 14N61W.  OK, now what? I think I am north and west of the storm and the warning says the storm is moving north and east so I think St. Lucia is out of it's path.  But I could have any part of this wrong.

What would be more helpful is a weather alert system, maybe similar to the U.S. terror alert system:

 

But general vs. significant vs. high vs. severe threat? Too complicated. St. Lucians would not really resonate with this system.  They need something closer to this:

Slide1.jpg

Good news! Currently we are in condition:  

 

The Library Project by Alan Strathman

Many of you know that I have been working on creating a library at my school.  It has been a big, big task. But a rewarding one. The library would NOT be possible without many very generous people. Many of you all donated funds on my GoFundMe.com site.  And many of you have donated books in one of the recent book drives.  I particularly want to thank my friend Meli Sheldon who organized the recent book drive.  You have no idea how much effort goes into collecting books and trying to figure out how to send them to a developing country. My friend Judy W. donated a beautiful set of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. And I want to thank my sister Judy S. who has been so kind in arranging book donations.  I have another box from her waiting at a shipping company up north.  Hopefully my principal will find a day sometime soon when he can take me to pick it up.

I just posted an update on the GoFundMe site but the site only allows one to post three pictures with an update.  But it takes many pictures to give you a sense of the transition that has occurred. So here goes...

The good news is that there was a room that was designated as the library. This is not the case at some of the schools with Peace Corps Volunteers.

The good news is that there was a room that was designated as the library. This is not the case at some of the schools with Peace Corps Volunteers.

The entire middle of the room was taken up with this large table with outdated computers that were no longer in use.

The entire middle of the room was taken up with this large table with outdated computers that were no longer in use.

One major part of the transition was opening and organizing the dozens of boxes and two barrels of books that had been donated.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the books that had been donated were unsuitable for a children's library in the Caribbean.

One major part of the transition was opening and organizing the dozens of boxes and two barrels of books that had been donated.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the books that had been donated were unsuitable for a children's library in the Caribbean.

At first glance it looks like the library was stocked with books from the beginning. It was, just not with books that one would want to have in a children's library. Ninety percent of the books on the shelves had to be discarded.

At first glance it looks like the library was stocked with books from the beginning. It was, just not with books that one would want to have in a children's library. Ninety percent of the books on the shelves had to be discarded.

Ugh!

Ugh!

Oy!

Oy!

Stored in this shelving unit were more than a dozen books by L. Ron Hubbard, about....L. Ron Hubbard. Umm.....no.

Stored in this shelving unit were more than a dozen books by L. Ron Hubbard, about....L. Ron Hubbard. Umm.....no.

No, no, no.

No, no, no.

In a few of the boxes we had 25 copies of the biography of Madeleine Albright.

In a few of the boxes we had 25 copies of the biography of Madeleine Albright.

Great person. Unsuitable book.

Great person. Unsuitable book.

On the first prep day at school, on September 2, 2015, I convinced the principal that the large table in the middle had to go. We are still working on creating an IT lab in another room. I would like to have a couple of laptops, in the library, but not on a table taking up so much space. Great progress on Library Creation Day 1.

On the first prep day at school, on September 2, 2015, I convinced the principal that the large table in the middle had to go. We are still working on creating an IT lab in another room. I would like to have a couple of laptops, in the library, but not on a table taking up so much space. Great progress on Library Creation Day 1.

Organizing, cleaning, painting, throwing out about 700 inappropriate and unsuitable books, giving away another 500 books to students, and sorting out the boxes and barrels took a lot of time. And sweat. Some blood. Fortunately, no tears.  

You may be thinking that books should not be thrown out; instead we should have donated them. But one thing I learned in this project is that the reason that many books are donated is that they are simply no longer wanted by whomever donated them. But it became clear that in most cases if someone else didn't want a book, we didn't either. And neither would anyone else. So donating them would have just been passing our problem on to someone else. 

We're getting somewhere...

Books off the shelves to start cleaning and then painting.

Books off the shelves to start cleaning and then painting.

The dark wood shelves make the room feel dark and uninviting.

The dark wood shelves make the room feel dark and uninviting.

Yellow, green and blue shelves correspond to books that are for beginning, intermediate, and advanced readers. The colors come from the three house teams in the school, named after St. Lucian trees: Leuecaena, Caribbean Pine, and Blue Mahoe.

Yellow, green and blue shelves correspond to books that are for beginning, intermediate, and advanced readers. The colors come from the three house teams in the school, named after St. Lucian trees: Leuecaena, Caribbean Pine, and Blue Mahoe.

Books from the first book drive organized by my friend Meli Sheldon. Now, THESE are the kinds of books we want.

Books from the first book drive organized by my friend Meli Sheldon. Now, THESE are the kinds of books we want.

The organization is progressing.

The organization is progressing.

And, finally, the plan is coming together...

Library rules. So very necessary. Break a rule and you leave the library. And they'd rather not leave.

Library rules. So very necessary. Break a rule and you leave the library. And they'd rather not leave.

The goal is not to cram as many books in as possible.  But rather to create an inviting scene that will encourage boys to investigate.

The goal is not to cram as many books in as possible.  But rather to create an inviting scene that will encourage boys to investigate.

The library is a shoe-free zone. Boys must leave their shoes at the door. Note the air fresheners on the shelf. Enough said.

The library is a shoe-free zone. Boys must leave their shoes at the door. Note the air fresheners on the shelf. Enough said.

My friend Judy was so kind to donate a beautiful, complete, hardback set of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, which the boys love more than life itself. They are all always checked out. I think my sister Judy (different Judy) said there were some more copies in the box she recently sent. Thanks goodness.

My friend Judy was so kind to donate a beautiful, complete, hardback set of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, which the boys love more than life itself. They are all always checked out. I think my sister Judy (different Judy) said there were some more copies in the box she recently sent. Thanks goodness.

In addition to reading, boys can draw, colour, do puzzles, and play games. All of which will help them develop their literacy skills, while they have fun.

In addition to reading, boys can draw, colour, do puzzles, and play games. All of which will help them develop their literacy skills, while they have fun.

Love this picture. This is just what it is supposed to look like.

Love this picture. This is just what it is supposed to look like.

Kianté, one of my Grade 2 boys.

Kianté, one of my Grade 2 boys.

Delano, one of my Grade 1 boys.

Delano, one of my Grade 1 boys.

I think of a library as a living, breathing being, always growing, changing, evolving. We definitely need more good books.  And, frankly, windows and air conditioning.

There is no glass in any of the windows in the school. There is really no point in having it. The library windows have the blinds on the outside and then bars on the inside. But no glass.

There is no glass in any of the windows in the school. There is really no point in having it. The library windows have the blinds on the outside and then bars on the inside. But no glass.

Windows and air conditioning would help maintain the books. The other reason why we need glass and A/C is that it is so loud at breaks and during lunch that the outside noise carries into the library, causing the boys in the library to be loud too.  It is impossible for the library to be quiet when it is so noisy outside. Glass and A/C would take care of this.

Thank you to everyone who donated books and funds. This library would not exist without your help. I hope you can see that your contributions have been put to good use.  Thank you so much.

A Real Peace Corps Experience by Alan Strathman

Below is a blog post that I wrote at the end of March and thought I posted. Tonight, as I was cleaning up my laptop desktop, I saw it. So here it is.

 

We are 9.5 months in to our 27.5 months of service.  Three months of training and 6.5 months of service in our schools and communities. And a couple of weeks ago we had, what was for me, a watershed moment (googling watershed moment is interesting). I have thought about it a great deal and have also talked about it with my fellow PCVs. This is what happened.

One of the key Peace Corps staff positions here is the Director of Programming and Training (DPT).  I assume it is a key position in every Peace Corps location. The DPT that was with us for training, a nice young woman named Sara, timed out of the Peace Corps so we have a new DPT. Our new DPT is a nice even younger man named Wes. Wes invited all the PCVs to lunch to begin to get to know us.

During lunch some of us were grumbling about this and that. Some of this was griping about the way things run at our schools, in our communities, and on the island. Some of this was grousing about the way the PC in our region functions.  Wes took it all in, smiled, and said, "It sounds like you are having a real Peace Corps experience."

Yes, that's right! I think it was beneficial for all to hear that this is the way Peace Corps service is. It is what it is. This is it. It functions here, in the Eastern Caribbean, like it does everywhere else.  And it's not going to change.  Cope.  Number 3 on the list of "Core Expectations for Peace Corps Volunteers" (see it here if interested) is: Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.  One can't serve under conditions of hardship without it sometimes being...hard.

Now, let me say this about that:

1. I want it to be hard. I was looking for a challenge.

2. In my days as a professor I said to many students who were struggling with some aspect of college life: If it was easy anyone could do it. And that would lessen the accomplishment. This is true of my experience here.

3. I hoped this would be a life-changing experience.  I needed it to be. I still do.  And I have discovered, many times over in fact, that from time to time during any life-changing experience, I find myself wondering something like, "what the hell was I thinking!" If you never wonder what you were thinking then it is not likely to be a life-changing experience.

4. Considering all the possible placements I could have received, and the difficulties I could be facing, I do not experience any real hardship.

Not having fast food available isn't a hardship; it's an opportunity. I cook at home more and have lost weight. (If you cooked like me you would lose weight too!)

Not being allowed to drive a car isn't a hardship; it's a rule.

Living in a country with inconsistent bus service isn't a hardship; it's an inconvenience.

Having to store everything in tupperware with tight lids, or in ziploc bags, or in ziploc bags inside tupperware with tight lids isn't a hardship; it's life on an island in the middle of the ocean.

Teaching at a school where things often don't operate as I think they should isn't a hardship; it's the reason the Peace Corps is here.  When Doug and I were in Martinique in December we often joked that we wished we had been assigned to Peace Corps Martinique.  But the reasons why we wished we lived there are the reasons why we aren't living there. Martinique doesn't need the Peace Corps. St. Lucia does.  When I find myself complaining about the workings at my school, or in my village, or on the island, I usually end the complaint with, "And that's why we're here!"

This is how it is. It isn't going to change. Now what are you going to make of it?!

Sweeping Change in St. Lucia by Alan Strathman

The election results are in and St. Lucians overwhelmingly decided to make a change.  Remember, this is a parliamentary system.  Each Lucian casts only one vote, for their local representative. There are 17 constituencies so the party that wins more seats is the party in power and the head of that party becomes Prime Minister.

Until Tuesday the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) was in power with an 11-6 majority. Starting Tuesday, the United Workers' Party took over with their own 11-6 majority. The new Prime Minister is Allen Chastanet.   He is a son in one of the richest families on the island.  His family owns all the grocery stores (and I mean ALL the grocery stores). He is a white St. Lucian, and several people have stopped me on the street to ask if I'm his brother. Evidently we look something alike.

A few points:

1. Terms are 5 years and are not staggered like they are in the U.S. So every five years every seat is up for grabs.

2. There is no legitimate polling here so there really is no way to know who is going to win.  As a result, there is no way to prepare yourself for a result, especially for a huge shift like this one. Where's 538 when you need it?

3.  They still use actual ballot boxes.  So when they report results on the news, they say how many boxes have been counted and how many are remaining.

4.  As I mentioned in an earlier post the literacy and education rates are very low in St. Lucia. This swing was clearly the result of young people voting, and it is clear from watching the process that a very large percentage of people voted without even a vague awareness of the issues in play.

5. Having said that, I should also say that young people carried the day and the youth unemployment rate is almost 50%. So it may be more accurate to say that for many people it was a one-issue election.

6. Thank goodness that the election was called for only 19 days ahead.  Mercifully short. And tolerable.  What a good way to do it. (I'm looking at you U.S. politicians.)

Character Day by Alan Strathman

Friday was character day at school. Kids dressed up in costumes. Here a few of the Grade K kids:

And a larger group of students:

Unfortunately I did not get a picture of the boy in my favorite costume.  He came dressed as a butler.

Election Eve by Alan Strathman

Here is an old joke I just made up:

What do you call an election on a Caribbean island?  A political party.

Last night I took a bus from the north of the island all the way south to Laborie, down the east coast highway. And it was unlike any other experience I have had.  You may remember that in a recent post I mentioned that St. Lucians are treating the election tomorrow like it is a sport. Last night it became obvious that it is much more like a party.

It is hard to describe the bus ride I took.  It started about 6:20, when it was starting to get dark. First the drive took twice as long as usual. The reason is because we were dealing with all the traffic from a red (SLP) rally going south to a village called Desruisseaux and all the traffic going north to a yellow (UWP) rally in Cul-de-sac.

So, going south, we were in the middle of caravans and convoys of cars, pick-up trucks, busses, dump trucks, flat bed trucks with everyone hanging out the windows, filling the beds of trucks, drinking, blaring horns, and blasting music.  Both sides of the road most of the way down the island were lined with people wearing red or yellow and waving flags, banners, or any red or yellow thing they could find. When a group of vehicles passed by a group of similarly-minded people on the side of the road, they would just put their trucks/cars/busses in park in the middle of the lane, get out, and party with the supporters. 

This is a two-lane road, one lane in each direction. So when someone parks their truck in one of the lanes it creates a huge problem.  And this was happening in both directions! Our bus driver did a great job passing when when the opportunity presented itself, and even when it didn't. At times we were driving as fast as possible in the lane of oncoming traffic for a minute or more. Had he been more conservative in his decisions to pass or not we would still be on the road.  

Here are a couple of pics taken by Brenda and Krista, fellow PCVs, who were in a bus ahead of us.

I am glad we survived.  Because they are using the school as a polling place there is no school tomorrow. And, evidently, school will be cancelled on Tuesday because the winning party will likely declare Tuesday a national holiday of celebration. If I was Lucian, I would vote for whichever party agreed NOT to cancel another absolutely necessary school day.

 

 

Which of these is not like the others? by Alan Strathman

This is a notice posted outside the girls' school here in Laborie.  An identical note is posted outside the boys' school.  Both schools are polling places in tomorrow's election. In fact, in this area, five places will serve as polling places.  Voting seems like it would be much more fun at polling place J5.

It's an election year here too by Alan Strathman

Well before I left to come to St. Lucia, I decided that one of the benefits of leaving the U.S. right then was that I would miss the worst of the general election for President. Then I joined a host family headed by Mama Ju who watches the election coverage on CNN and MSNBC every evening. And after three weeks, I moved into an apartment with American cable television.

But wait, that's not all! It's an election year in St, Lucia too.  Though the process could hardly be more different.  St. Lucia has a parliamentary system with only 17 elected officials (It's a small island).  When a new Prime Minister is elected he then appoints a small group of people, about 10 I think, to serve in the Senate.

St. Lucia has two parties, the Labour party (SLP) and the United Workers Party (UWP). SLP is the red party--red flags, red banners, red shirts, red everything--and UWP is yellow. This time of year no one here wears red or yellow clothing accidentally. If you have a lot of yellow clothing but support SLP, you just put those clothes aside until after June 6th. 

One big difference between the the U.S. and St.  Lucian systems is that here the ruling party calls elections. They have a window of time and can call the election at any point in that window. The current ruling party, SLP, announced on May 18th that the election would be held on June 6. The law states that the ruling party must give at least 14 days notice.  So the election season is blessedly short, rather than ridiculously long as it is in the U.S.  Another big difference is that with each election all elected representatives are up for re-election. The terms are not staggered as they are in the U.S.

Last week I rode up to Castries, which means I passed about 70% of the island, and there were many flags and signs and banners for SLP candidates, but not for UWP candidates. Evidently they were not expecting the election would be so soon and so did not yet have their materials ready. Huge mistake when the time to election is so short.

Laborie, where I live, is an SLP stronghold. The current Prime Minister was raised just up the road a ways and his constituency is in Vieux Fort, the bigger town 15 minutes south of Laborie.

When a St. Lucian enters a voting booth she casts only one ballot, for the race between the SLP and UWP candidates running to serve her district.  So Laborians will vote for either Alva Baptiste (SLP), the incumbent, or his challenger Francisco Jean-Pierre (UWP). Thus, there are 17 races going on island-wide.  Whichever party wins the majority of those races becomes the party in power and the head of the party becomes Prime Minister, provided that the head of party won the election in his constituency.

Ads for the two candidates for the Laborie constituency. Though if you look closely at the pictures they could be twins.

Ads for the two candidates for the Laborie constituency. Though if you look closely at the pictures they could be twins.

The Peace Corps expressly prohibits PCVs from participating in any election-related activity, including conversation. If someone tries to engage us in a political conversation we are to say something like "The PC prohibits us from talking about the election." It sounds kind of silly but it is a good rule; we really don't need to be getting into hot water because of our political views. We are also very careful not to wear red or yellow clothing.  Fortunately, 98% of my clothing is blue or green (I'm a summer). 

One other big difference between political races in the U.S. and St. Lucia is that in St. Lucia people treat their political party like they were players on a team that just won the Super Bowl. They do elections like they do sports. I went for a walk earlier that took me up on the highway. And I was passed by 40-50 vehicles in a UWP procession. In every vehicle--cars, pick up trucks, minibuses, dump trucks--people were hanging out the windows, or standing in the truck beds waving flags and banners, screaming and cheering.  Horns were honking, music was blaring. During these processions, people stand along the roadside and when the vehicles reach them they run into the street jumping and yelling and waving their own flags and banners.  It's really fun to watch and so much different than what happens in the U.S. And, of course, the same thing happens with SLP supporters. And this happens all day on the weekends.  Various processions just make their way around the island all day.  They might stop here and there for an impromptu rally, but then they will load up and carry on.

There is such a high rate of illiteracy that many participate in the election without really having any contact with the issues. They vote based on rumor and gossip. Some refuse to vote for Prime Minister Kenny Anthony (SLP) because they believe his wife is a witch who practices voodoo. And the UWP promotes this belief because they know it will get them votes. 

Unfortunately, there is plenty of the ugliness that now permeates U.S. elections. I guess, in the end, it isn't that Lucian politicians lie any less than American politicians, or make promises they can't possibly keep any less than American politicians, or disparage the work of the opposing candidates any less than American politicians, they just do these things for a short period of time. Which makes the whole process much easier to endure.