Cleaning, Tossing, Donating, Decluttering.....then Packing by Alan Strathman

Life is not easy for a packrat with no fixed address. I can't help but to collect things, always thinking one day I might find a use for them. But as someone who no longer has a fixed address I must stay mobile. 

Before I left for the PC in June 2015, I sold or donated almost everything I owned. I admit that I probably should have kept a few more things than I did. Like a winter coat. But at the time I felt like I needed to be free of my earthly possessions.

I arrived here in St. Lucia with two suitcases and a carry-on. And now, the question is whether I can fit everything I have now, after 27 months, in two suitcases and a carry-on. I am just at the very beginning of the packing process but I can already tell you the answer is no. And that is despite leaving here much of the stuff I brought. For example, I arrived here with a pillow, two sets of sheets, two bath towels, two hand towels, and two face cloths (matching of course). And none of that am I taking home. So with all that space freed up surely I would have enough room for whatever I accumulated here. Nope!

On Sunday I began sorting through all the stuff that completely filled my large set of shelves. I was not yet done with this task when I took this picture:

There is a little of everything in this pile a lot of paper. During the many and varied PC trainings we experienced we all collected vast amounts of paper.  I will scan in a small number of pages and the rest will end up in a pile. Monday and Thursdays are trash days and I put out 5 bags of trash today.

All I can say at this point, like I did in 2015, some tough decisions will have to be made. I hope I can find someone to make them.

If I could take home just one boy...... by Alan Strathman

I could easily choose a group of 20 boys to take home with me. Ordinarily, it would be much harder to decide on just one. But not in this case.  If I could take home just one boy, it would be Dave-v.

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Dave-v (basically pronounced Davey) is the youngest of five children: Davius, Daviana, Dave-0, and a girl he just calls Sis. As you can see from his head covering Dave-v is from a Rasta family. You may be able to guess that his father's name is Dave. 

His father is, unfortunately, not a nice man.  He did not treat his wife well. About six months before I arrived in 2015 his mum learned that she was pregnant.  One day the children went off to school and when they returned home they discovered that their mum had died during a home abortion.  By all accounts his mum was a sweet and kind woman who held the family together.

There are many Rastas in St. Lucia, though nowhere near as many as in, say, Jamaica. And Lucians don't always embrace Rastas. My friend and former PCV, Greg, used to say that if you hear a story on the news about a bus accident the reporter might say something like, "Killed were three women, two men, and a Rasta."

This is not the right place to discuss in detail why Rastas are not widely embraced here, though it is more evidence that prejudices are inherently human and seemingly unavoidable.

I will sure miss Dave-v. I will also miss most of the other children here too.  It is actually my first really thorough involvement with 5-12 year olds.  And I have loved getting to know them. (Despite how troublesome they are in school.)  I will miss walking anywhere and hearing children shout "Mr. Alan." I will miss arriving at school and having groups of boys come up and hug me.  This is just about the sweetest thing I have ever experienced.  I have decided that every time a boy hugs me it adds a month to my life.

One of my proudest achievements is the wonderful relationship I developed with the children.

Never get tired of this by Alan Strathman

With 42 days until my close of service, I have started, mostly unconsciously,  to identify things here I will miss.  And I'm sure it comes as no surprise that one of the things I will miss is living on right on the Caribbean Sea.

On Wednesday I had lunch at a place that is right on the beach.  The food was terribly overcooked and dry, like it always is there, but the view is stunning.  I won't ever tire of this kind of view, which I had from my chair in the little restaurant:

The end of school by Alan Strathman

Today, finally, I had my last day of school. It is hard for me to believe that I have completed my two school years.  

I have 48 days remaining, 24 this month and 24 next month.  I am looking forward to enjoying the summer.

The light.... by Alan Strathman

At school today I really felt for the first time how little time I have left here. 

Technically school ends on Friday July 7th. But...
July 7th is a day for teachers but not students.
July 6th is graduation at an off-school site and there is no school that day.
July 5th is a field trip for a picnic with the infant department (Grades K, 1, 2).
July 4th the PC is hosting a barbecue on the beach in my village.
July 3rd is school but by then very few parents will be sending their boys to school.
June 30th is school and only slightly more parents will be sending their boys.
June 29th, tomorrow,  I have close-of-service medical exams in Castries.
June 28th, today, we finished exams.

I am often asked when I am leaving and now that I have made flight arrangements I can tell them an exact date (August 24th). Once school is finished the summer will fly by. But it will be a nice time. The whole process of leaving is already exciting and sad.  I am excited to have some time to decompress (August 25th to January 3rd) but I will miss St. Lucia and the people I have met here. Especially the kids.
 

Whale Watching by Alan Strathman

Recently my Grade 1 boys completed a worksheet on the "wh" sound. Here is Jeremy's:

Notice that one task asks them to draw pictures of some "wh" words. I noticed Jeremy's whale and loved it. It's such a happy whale.  As I looked at some other whales I discovered I loved them all.  So I arranged the papers to capture their whale visions.

They just love drawing, still without any worries about what people will think, or if it will be good enough. Every time they draw anything they bring it up to show me because they want me to see what they have drawn, and, I think by now, because they know I will say how great it is. These are some pretty great whales!

C.O.S! (See below) by Alan Strathman

Last week all of the 24 remaining PCVs from the four islands (8 in our group early-terminated) converged on Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. The occasion was our Close of Service (COS) conference. The PC arranged it to be held, and for us to stay, at a nice hotel in the north of the island. Rodney Bay is the tourist part of the island so it has nice hotels and lots of shops and restaurants. Another term for Rodney Bay is Fake St. Lucia.

Our COS date isn't until August 24th but they have COS months ahead of time to help people figure out next steps. Many of the 20-something PCVs are interested in going to graduate school and there are a number of PC-related scholarships available. Slightly older PCVs, who are going back to find a job were interested in sessions on....how to find a job. Service in the PC entitles a volunteer to one year of non-competitive eligibility (NCE) for federal jobs. But as you can imagine there are many ins and outs of using NCE.

Being interested in neither graduate school nor a job, I was free to place my thoughts elsewhere. Often I placed them near the pool and wondered if they would notice if I stopped attending sessions. Being the rule follower I continued to attend regularly but didn't pay much attention. 

After the sessions we had drinks and dinner and caught up with others on the various islands. They scheduled us to have dinner at the Country Director's house and to have a barbecue on the beach. Here we are on the beach:

Much of the week was surreal because when we started serving, COS seemed like it was 10 years off. And we have seen similar pictures from earlier groups. It was a nice week because the 24 of us have a bond. We were together almost every day for 7 weeks during Pre-service Training and over the months we kept in touch with each other and tracked the ups and downs we all had at one time or another.  And, now, after almost two years serving together it is a group of people that I feel close to. Though, closer to some than others! It is also surreal because some of these people I will never see again. Many, though, I am already looking forward to meeting back in normal life.

And just for those of you who still believe that I am serving jail time and not actually in the PC:

99 Bott....Uhhh....Days To Go by Alan Strathman

Today I have 99 days to go until my service is finished. I booked a flight for August 24th. This is the first time that I have thought about my time in the PC in terms of days rather than months or years. For the first 20 months I casually marked the anniversary of my arrival in St. Lucia, June 12th. That is, on the 12th of each month I would reflect on how many months had passed since I had arrived.

But sometime around the 21st month I think I started paying more attention to how much time I had left, being aware that on the 24th of each month I had one month fewer to go.

I'm not sure you can read this far without thinking, "But who's counting!?"  And despite what you might think, none of this is a sign that I don't like it here and am ready to go. I am happy in the PC and happy serving in St. Lucia.

It's not necessarily a good sign that I am so keenly aware of the all these dates. In my pre-PC life I was always so time urgent: where am I going next, what time is it, am I late? When I arrived here in St. Lucia and began serving I put all that behind me. And I think it caused my blood pressure to go down. I still take less blood pressure medication than when I arrived. So being here has been good for my health. One reason I was able to do this was that I knew I would be here for 27 months and that seemed so long that I didn't feel the need to think about time in the same way that I had.

Another reason I have become less time urgent, not at all time urgent really, is that I do not have a car and must rely on travel by bus. But bus travel here is unpredictable and uncertain. When you get on a bus you have to wait until it fills before you leave. This can take minutes or hours. And there is nothing you can do to hurry it along.  So you just sit back, relax, and wait.  It's important that whenever I am meeting other PCVs and am technically late because my bus has not filled yet, I know that the friends I am meeting understand the situation and wherever they are they are waiting patiently for me, and likely others, to arrive. And often I can be sure that even though I am technically late, others are probably later. Through no fault of their own.  I say "technically late" because when we set a time to meet we all understand that meeting at that time is a goal, something to shoot for, but given how little control we have over how quickly we travel somewhere, being on time is a relatively fluid concept.

So, I'm fighting my return to time urgency. I really hope that when I return to the U.S. I can maintain a relatively low level of time urgency.  If I can, it will be one of the many benefits of having served 27 months in PC-St. Lucia.  Though, I admit, if you were betting on who would win the battle--me or time urgency--the smart money is on time urgency! 

How far the Mighty Have Fallen by Alan Strathman

I think I have titled other posts similarly, suggesting I've just slipped another few feet down the slope. For example, teaching at the boys' school has basically flushed 25 years of award-winning university teaching down the drain.  I can't get the boys here to listen to me long enough to learn from me.

Anyway, today was a different example.  As I have said many times, I live in a small fishing village on the southwest coast of St Lucia.  Small fishing villages in developing countries, of course, don't have ATMs.  We do have a credit union but evidently they don't have an ATM because they don't want people taking money out.  I think their reasoning is that if people need to take out cash right away, in a small fishing village where there isn't much to buy, then they are likely going to spend it on rum. I mean, that's what I would do.

So, to get to the nearest ATM I have to take a 15 minute bus ride to the town of Vieux-Fort. St. Lucia has one city (Castries), 2 towns (Vieux-Fort and Soufriere) and then many villages. The bus ride costs $2 EC (that's Eastern Caribbean dollars; $0.74 US). When I looked in my wallet I realized that I only had $0.90 EC.  Sheesh! I did not even have enough money to pay for the bus to get to the place with the ATM.  I had to borrow $1.10 EC from Teacher Irma. It's fortunate she would give it to me because it is close to the end of the month and I might not actually have $1.10 EC in my bank account.  I'm pretty sure she had a pitying look as she handed me the money.

By the way, it is only 118 days until my close of service on August 25th. And then I will move to Vermont. And after that I still have no concrete plans.

 

Home Sweet Home by Alan Strathman

Today is my first day back at school after having taken emergency leave because my dad was ill. Actually I went to Tampa twice.  I went to Tampa on March 10th, returned to St. Lucia on the 17th, went back to Tampa on the 23rd and then came back to St. Lucia on April 3rd. Sadly, my dad passed away on March 25.  He was 93, in bed at home, surrounded by his family. He went as well as we could have hoped for.

Today, my first day back, is also the second to last day of the term. I wanted to come back before the end of the term so that it did not feel like  years since I had been there. But there is no point in coming to school today.  No work happens during the last week of the term. And very few boys attend. Today 5 Grade 1 boys showed up. Here is a picture of what the day looks like.

Five minutes after I took this pic, Rashad, the awake boy fell asleep too. The other two boys are asleep in a different corner of the room.

Five minutes after I took this pic, Rashad, the awake boy fell asleep too. The other two boys are asleep in a different corner of the room.

I am ready for the two week Easter break. Week 2 I will spend on Guadeloupe with Doug, PCVs Ellen and Terry, their friend Pam, and PCVs Mary and Steve.  We have rented a house and will have a great time.  I am ready to rest and relax from all that has happened for the past 5 weeks.

Sports Day March by Alan Strathman

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.

Sports Day Training by Alan Strathman

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. 

Sports Day by Alan Strathman

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.

TS Matthew by Alan Strathman

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.

 

 

Stay tuned..... by Alan Strathman

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.

brb

The Prince....and the Vomit by Alan Strathman

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.