Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I have said it before, blogging is hard! While here in St. Kitts, something happens every day to change my mood from high, to low, and back again. It is very difficult for me to capture it all in words, but I am going to try.
I believe May 2010 was my last legit post, and SO much has happened since then. I have met and passed my one year mark with the Peace Corps, and now have only 8 months left in this beautiful paradise! It is such a weird feeling to see the end in sight. There have been so many days where I felt like tearing my hair out, or giving up a pinkie toe to get off this freakin' rock! It is such a tiny little country, and the sameness of everything can become so overwhelming. But with the realization that it will all be over before I know it, I (generally) have a renewed passion for my Caribbean home. I still love to wake up every morning and look across the sparkling blue sea, then turn a 180* and stare up at the Volcanic peak; or walk through my village as all of my neighbors call out my name and wish me good morning; and the ultimate day brightener is still arriving at school and being BOMBARDED by dozens of 1st & 2nd grade students all trying to get their turn at hugging me. Just to reflect on it now, forces me to acknowledge how very much I love this place, and how terribly I will miss it. I have found a second home in St. Kitts, and a piece of my heart will always  be here.
In addition to surpassing my 1/2 way mark, there have been other highlights. Old PCVs left, and new PCVs arrived between Sept. & Oct. 2010. For me personally, it could not have happened at a better time. The new volunteers brought with them a fun & positive energy that I really needed to be exposed to. They are a group of extremely hard working, genuine, intelligent people. I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with and get to know the EC82 volunteers.
EC 82 (Nat, Chris, Drew, Tiff), Zah, and me

I also turned 30 in October! Some of my family members back home thought I might FREAK OUT at the death of my twenties. In truth, it has been an easy transition. I feel really blessed to be at this stage of my life. I love what I'm doing! I love traveling, I love meeting new people, I love being of service, I love my lifestyle! So I am proud to turn 30. I don't have everything I want just yet, but I feel like if I just keep on this path, it will all come in due time. My good friend Philippe came to visit for our birthdays (his 6/10, mine 7/10), and we had a mixture of fun adventures while he was here. Including getting stranded by flooding in the capital city on the night of his birthday. Some of the other fun things we did were a 5k run along the beach, a catamaran snorkeling trip, plenty of bar hoping, dancing, and mingling-and Philippe even made his way over to Nevis for a full Federation experience. It had been years since Philippe I had seen each other, and I am so glad that he took the time to come visit me here in St. Kitts.
Birthday Partiers-Philippe, Kimson, Ramish, Tiffany, Natalie, Chris, Me, CK, Andrew

3 weeks after Philippe returned to Amsterdam, Hurricane Viejas Locas hit St. Kitts aka My mother Rose, my godmother Denise, and my aunt Mona arrived. It was a very quick trip, and we had A LOT to do in a short amount of time! I loved having my family me here, and I was SO SO proud to show off my island, especially my village St. Paul's. Having my mom come with me to the school and watching me work with my girls was definitely a Peace Corps highlight. I don't live near my parents, like my other two sisters do (not even when I am back in the States). So my family doesn't always get a well rounded picture of what my life is truly like. But I feel like when my mom saw me interact with my girls, she could tell how much they mean to me, and how much working with them really drives me. I feel like she knows better now, and I am very glad for that. Plus she LOVED my kids, and totally spoiled them, even when I told her not to! I guess its just the grandmother in her.
My mother & godmother with students from St. Paul's Primary

Other highlights include Carnival, J'Ouvert Morning, NYE at the Marriott, bonfire bbqs, hikes,etc., etc. I definitely want to share my J'Ouvert experience. It was incredible, so I will let that be my inspiration for my next blog. Hopefully to come sooner, rather than later.
NYE weekend with my girls at the Marriott-we flexin' hard!


Response PCV David Resetar & me on his last night in SK :-(

Our farewell bbq for David

I still dream about this spread, lol

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A year and a Sunday!

"A year, and a Sunday," is one of my favorite island expressions. Basically it means a very long time, or more specifically an inordinate amount of time. So yes, I realize that it has been a year, and a Sunday since my last post. Several of my friends have been encouraging me to write, and I am so very flattered by their interest.
I have a lot I want to write about, which often is the reason that I don't. It is so hard to edit down into blog size entries. So I will keep this one short, but sweet, with the promise that I will post a proper blog sometime in the very near future. In the meantime, here is a picture from the Girls Club movie field trip. Aren't they gorgeous?!
My Girls: Cha-Cha, Z, Mac, Christie, Tasha, Ya-ya, Iya, Levicia, Shanice, Glencia, & Neci

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dung by Betty

Cultural integration is an important part of the Peace Corps process, and at times it can be a lofty and elusive goal.  It is difficult to gage how Kittitian I have "become," especially when my local friend still laugh when I try to speak dialect, and some of my neighbors still refer to me as "the white gyurl dung de road." Still every now and then, I have these a-ha like moments where I say to myself (never aloud,  because that would contradictory), "yup, that was SO  Kittitian." My last visit "dung by Betty," was definitely a So Kittitian worthy moment.
Betty is a local St. Paul's lady who lives down the road (aka dung de road) on the other side of the ghaut (gully). She has little board shop where Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights she sells THE ISLAND'S BEST CHICKEN & CHIPS (chips as in french fries). Friday is the big limin' night on the island, and many Kittitians prefer to take it easy and leave the cooking for the weekend. So Betty Shop (lack of apostrophe 's' intentional, ala dialect) is literally filled to well over capacity with people from all over the village. Arriving any time after 7PM pretty much guarantees that you will be waiting around 45min-1hour for a drum stick and fries. But trust me, it is worth the wait. The tricky thing is though, there is no line to wait in dung by Betty. It is just a tightly packed group of Kittitians spilling all over each other and out the door while making jokes, having a drink, talking LOT'S of trash, and yelling at Betty (who never actually leaves the back of the shop, where the frier is) to hurry up with their food.
The first time I went dung by Betty, Annivea & Fostrona carried me (as in, they took me there). You should have seen the looks on every ones faces when "the white gyurl" came walking into Betty Shop. It lasted just a split second, but there was a collective moment of shocked silence. I was really intimidated, and had no clue how to navigate the place. I gladly let Annivea take care of all of the logistics, and patiently waited for my food outside with Fostrona. It went on like this for about the next 2-3 visits. Then one evening I asked Fostrona to go with me to the shop, but planned on trying to order for myself. I reached Betty Shop before she did, and as I walked up towards everyone, the children from my school graciously greeted me in the standard Kittitian, "Miss Tiffany, good night." This kindly signaled to the others that I was familiar with St.Paul's and people knew me, I was not entirely an outsider. I was very grateful for this. I walked up to the last person standing outside the door, and took my place behind them waiting to order. I stood there about 5-10 minutes before Fostrona joined me, and when she came up to me, she asked if I had ordered yet. I said, "No I am waiting my turn." Fostrona looked confused. As mentioned before, there is no line dung by Betty.So Fostrona kinda of laughed, took up my money and asked me what I wanted, "a big or small?" and then pushed her way to the front of the crowd and shouted pass the girl at the counter to Betty in the back, "Good night! Betty please for me two small!" 40 minutes later, we had our chicken, and it was delicious.
Now that I had taken note of how this was done, I worked up my courage to try it again. This time on my own, kind of. I went on a Sunday (the slowest of the three nights), and I took another Peace Corps volunteer with me. I'll admit it, I didn't get it exactly right. There were a few raised eyebrows and giggles, but we got our chicken, and it was delicious. It took me about 2 more visits before it went well. I kept calling it a large instead of a big, and I would try to order with the girl at the counter instead of past her and directly to Betty, but my last visit dung by Betty...integration success.
It was a Friday night, just before the rush. I walked directly to the counter with ease. Greeted hello & good night to the other customers; then in a clear, steady voice called out, "Good night, Betty. Please for me a big." With that, I kept my money in my pocket and walked outside to wait. Before long, more and more of my neighbors came crowding in, I was so glad that I had beat the rush. Then after about 20mins, I heard the standard yelling and complaints of "Betty, where my chicken. I hungry now." But this time, Tessa, the counter girl's response was, "Hold up, where Tiffany, her chicken ready..." With that I jumped up, nearly skipped inside, paid for my food, yelled my thanks and headed home. I played it cool, but inside I WAS ECSTATIC, and thinking that was so Kittitian!! 1.) Tessa called me by my name, not "whitey", 2.) I had successfully ordered chicken and chips BY MYSELF, and 3.) I was gonna have enough of Betty chicken & chips for breakfast!!
To me this experience epitomizes my integration process here in St. Kitts, and specifically in St. Paul's. Of course I still have challenges with the cultural barriers. My friends laugh at the American things I do, like wearing my backpack into town on a Saturday; and I can't get the primary students to stop laughing at my accent; and I'm having a very hard time convincing people that I am Latina, and what the significance of that is. Fortunately though, I am no longer just the token white girl in St. Paul's . . .and dung by Betty, they know me by name!

Friday, May 7, 2010

All colors . . .

A haiku written by the St.Paul's Primary Precious Girls Club:

Our caramel skin
Smooth, soft, beautiful skin
Dark shades. All colors.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

For my niece, Aly. I miss you Aly-Goo!

Dear Aly, 
Wow have I been busy here in St.Kitts & Nevis! I miss you and your brother all of the time. Luckily, you sent me a little friend to keep me company. Flat Aly and I have done so many things together here on the islands. She is very brave and adventurous. She reminds me a lot of you! 
One of our first adventures together was a hike up the Nevis Peak! Nevis is the smaller island right next to St.Kitts (where I live). Both islands were formed long ago by active volcanoes, and now each island has a big mountain, which is really a dormant volcano, right in the middle of everything. The Nevis Peak is 3,232 feet high, and is covered in rain forest near the top. It was a very hard climb. It took us about 1-2 hours going up to the top, and about another 2 hours to come down. In some areas we used ropes to pull ourselves up, and in other spots we had to climb over large roots systems from some of the rain forest trees. Flat Aly did a great job, and just kept on smiling the whole time. When we finally reached the top, we looked down to see the villages and the Caribbean sea below. The houses looked so small from that high up. I had a great time hiking with Flat Aly, and I was really impressed with her positive attitude, she really is a lot like you!
Here is Flat Aly getting ready for our big hike. 
Here is a view of the Nevis Peak from our ferry boat. We are going straight to the top!
Flat Aly is imaging what it will be like at the top. 
Our guide, Office Hanely, is a Police Officer in Nevis. 
Flat Aly, with Maggie (a Nevis Peace Corps Volunteer), and me. We made it! Look at those teeny tiny houses below. That's where Maggie lives, Gingerland Village.
OH NO, Flat Aly, don't fall!
On the ferry boat, heading back to St.Kitts.
A view of the Nevis Peak at night. Flat Aly's still smiling :-)

Our next adventure together was Carnival! It is a lot different from the carnivals we have in the United States. Every year in December, Kittitian (Kah-tish-uns) celebrate Carnival Season. It is a time when Christmas festivities, Calypso music, Caribbean dance, costumes, and culture all combine for a whole big party season on the island. The Carnival Season lasts for most of December, but the best days come right towards the end. There is a Jouvert (Ju-vey) Dance Parade on Dec.26th, then a Masquerade Parade on Jan.1st, followed by Last Lap Party on Jan.2nd. Flat Aly and I went to the Masquerade Parade together. This is when a lot of the islanders dress in colorful and wild costumes and dance, dance, dance all through the streets of the capital city, Basseterre. They have women in feathered headdresses, Moko-Jumbies on stilts, and brightly colored clowns, and LOTS of music. I loved to see all the costumes, and Flat Aly really liked the tall moko-jumbies. 
We are really excited to be a the parade!

The costume are so bright and colorful. This last one even has wheels on it!

Flat Aly keeping things safe, and making friends!
Here comes one of the bands. Caribbeans love to play their music LOUD!
Some of the Masquerade Clowns. 
Our favorite dance troop!

There is so much to do and to see in St.Kitts. After our big hike, and all the "liming" at Carnival ("lime" is a Caribbean word used instead of "hanging-out" or partying), Flat Aly and I decided to slow it down a bit. We took a walk Rawlins Plantation in my home village of St.Pauls. For a long time St.Kitts & Nevis used to grow and process sugar cane all over the islands. Many of the homes where the Sugar Plantations were located are still standing, and now they have been turned into beautiful hotels and restaurants. When we visited the Rawlins Plantation, we were able to see the old sugar mill that they have turned into a hotel suite! It is very pretty and peaceful at the plantations, and it was just the break that Flat Aly and I needed. 

This is the old sugar mill, that is now a room you can stay in. There are so many plants and flowers everywhere you look!

Flat Aly and me relaxing by the pool. 
Flat Aly & our friend Annivea smelling the flowers. 
Flat Aly climbing trees. 
Flat Aly with a view of St.Estacia island behind her. 

Flat Aly and I were having such a good time together. I decided to take her to the school where I work, St. Paul's Primary. She was very excited to meet the students and find out what Kittitian schools are like. Some of the things are a lot like schools back in the United States, and some things are pretty different. Students in St.Kitts start kindergarten at around 5 years old; they have mixed classrooms of boys & girls; and go to primary (elementary school) through grade 6, all very similar to the U.S. Some of the differences Flat Aly noticed were the clothes the students wear. Every single school in St.Kitts & Nevis require uniforms for the students, and you can tell what school a person goes to by the color and pattern of their uniform. Students in St.Kitts are also expected to pray together everyday. They have a daily assembly where the read from the bible, and they pray for their meal before they are dismissed for lunch, and at the end of the day before they go home. The school buildings look a lot different too. They are all cement buildings with no carpet anywhere! But the students sit at desk, just like students back in the United States. 
Grade 2 & Flat Aly
Flat Aly & the boys from Grade 2. She liked their checkered shirts.

Flat Aly with the girls from Grade 2. She just loved the braided hair styles that all the girls wear. 
Time to learn, and Flat Aly is ready!
Prayers before lunch. 

As you can tell, we really have been very busy. But I still should have written you much sooner, I bet you were worried about Flat Aly. Don't worry, she has had a great time in the Caribbean, but she is ready to come home to Yucaipa, CA. I will be sending her back to you very soon along with a little gift from the beautiful island of St.Kitts.
I hope that you and your classmates enjoy reading about all of our adventures. I would really like to know what other places their Flat Stanley dolls got to visit, and who traveled the furthest. If you, are any of the students have questions about St.Kitts or the Peace Corps, my students and I love getting letters and answering questions. 
I miss you so so much. I wish that you could have come to visit me, but thanks for sending Flat Aly in your place. Be good!

Lot's & lot's of love, hugs, & kisses, 
Auntie Tiffy

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Bye, bye miss American Pie"

It continues to surprise me, the things that I miss from home, and what can trigger nostalgia. I took some of my school girls to the movies last night, and we saw "Our Family Wedding." Of course, the family in the movie reminded me of my own Latino family and upbringing, but it goes beyond that. It seems that every time I go to the movies in St.Kitts, I get a little homesick. Its the whole ambiance of being in a theater and feeling like I could be in a city in the USA. Its watching the films and seeing all the California landmarks-the LA skyline, the Disney Concert hall, the 10 fwy winding through downtown (I'm mean really, I miss traffic?). It catches me off guard every single time, and when I come back to my apartment, I find myself reflecting on all the things I am missing out on back home. In a way, I am grateful for the feelings of longing and homesickness. Before moving to St.Kitts, I NEVER considered myself a patriotic person, and was often the first to find the flaws in American society. I now have such a renewed and profound appreciation and pride for the US. I love America's sense of individuality, liberty, celebration of diversity, and respect for personal privacy. There are so many things that I took for granted while living in the states, some that I NEVER expected to find an appreciation for. Such as our constitutional right to bare arms. I am NOT a gun enthusiast, or some card carrying member of the NRA. I do think that the restrictions and the process of purchasing firearms could and should be better regulated to improve the safety of many Americans. However, now that I am living in a nation where responsible citizens live in fear of criminals who illicitly obtain illegal weapons,I see how fortunate American citizens are to have the RIGHT to protect themselves as they see necessary. I have no plans whatsoever to go out and buy a gun when I get home, but I am so glad to know that I have the option to do so. Many of the other things I have taken for granted are much less political, like Trader Joe's (or any major grocery store) and convenient access to affordable healthy foods, people who use headsets while listening to their music, noise ordinances, livestock zoning, Target and one stop shopping, a selection of ethnic foods (esp. Sakura Ichi Japanese & Los Jarritos Mexican), affordable clothing, bookstores, bud light, and automatic dryers. I can now proudly say that I LOVE AMERICA!! I love St.Kitts too, but every once in awhile, I need a mental break from living in a foreign land. That being said I want to thank Erin Bryn & Lars, Leeann & Mondo, Dan, Jamie Lyn, and The Jaimes/Janssen family for sending me some pieces of home. You have no idea how much those care packages mean to me, they really make day, even my week! Thank you so very much, I really miss you all.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Friend vs. Friendly

Since September life in St.Paul's has been running slowly, but smoothly. I have become more comfortable with the community and at the school, and with the Kittitian lifestyle in general, or so I have thought. These past two weeks have been a bit of a reality check, and has definitely shaken my confidence. This leads me to struggle with my commitment, and even though I have no intention of permanently leaving St.Kitts until my COS in Oct 2011, I could use a break. I really want to be home with friends, and family, near familiar places and foods, and in a familiar culture that I am accustom to navigating. But instead I am here, trying to to stay focused, hoping to learn from my mistakes, and looking for a way to grow and improve myself as a result.
The challenge I am facing is with the youth in St.Pauls, but more specifically the dynamic that has been created between us. Which I myself am largely responsible for. In my earnest to have the children like me and be willing to work with me, I extended myself to them in a very friendly, jovial, and accessible manner. I am often found joking and playing with all of the kids in my neighborhood and the local primary school. I mess with their hair when they mess with mine; I show them games like duck-duck-goose and red light, green light; I lift them up for hugs & kisses; I tickle them; and make them laugh when I practice my 'dialect' with them. This is a lot different from how local teachers would approach the children. With the staff at my school, there is a definitive boundary between adults and children. Not to say that the teacher are always stern or callous, but generally more serious and reserved; a definite authority figure. I have realized for sometime now, that many of the teachers seemed skeptical of my approach with the kids, but I took it in stride. I just figured this was all apart of Peace Corps Goal 2 "Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served." I was glad, even proud to show them, that there is different way to do things, that I didn't need the children to fear me, that I could be an instructor and fun and friendly. The problem is, that a lot of the children are now taking advantage of my "soft" demeanor.
I thank God, that it is not all of them. Some of the children respond very well to me still. They are polite, friendly, affectionate, and respectful. They are eager to spend time with me and are cooperative when I need their attention or their help, and allow me my space when I need it. Unfortunately, this is only a fraction of the children I deal with in St.Paul's. Many of the other children now see me as a friend or a peer. They talk to me the same way that they would their classmates, which is in a way they would NEVER speak to teachers or other adults. They ignore my directions, and are often amused at my frustrations. Many time they are blatantly disrespectful, irreverent, and demanding. They will ask me to give them money or food or to visit my house to play, and when I refuse them,they strueps me (a colloquial onomatopoeia that expresses distaste). All of this makes it very hard for me to carry out projects with the student body.
During Girl's Club for example, the majority of my members are very pleasant. However each week, there is a small group of students who stand in the doorway or windows watching and commenting on the activities my girls and I are doing. Caribbean culture is notably inquisitive/intrusive(I'll have to blog about that another time), but having these children, literally staring at us makes it twice as difficult to focus my girls and implement effective programming. I ask, tell, and then yell at the bystanders to GO HOME, but they just stare back at me like I am speaking another language or duck behind a corner until I turn my back and then resume their post. Occasionally another teacher will still be on campus after school, and when I enlist them to help, the children disperse immediately, accentuating the fact that it is just me that they do not listen too. My reading projects do not fare much better. Many times when I go into the classes to facilitate the library hour, the teacher for that class will see it as an opportunity to take a break. It is common for them to leave me alone with their students. Recognizing the shift in power, many students become loud, unruly, and unresponsive to what I am doing at the front of the classroom. If I try to isolate the "difficult" child the offending student often starts to cry, which creates another uproar amongst the others. Then, when the teacher finally returns, the students quiet down and do as they are told. Again proving to me that it is my classroom management that is failing. The whole process leaves me frustrated, agitated, discouraged, and drained.
Not all of the students behave in this way. There are St.Paul's students that are enjoyable to work with, and the Girl's Club at Newton Ground Primary (a much smaller school) rebounds from similar obstacles much more easily and effectively. But my difficulties at St.Paul's are facing me like a brick wall. I know that many of my co-workers saw it coming, and may even be enjoying some feelings of schadenfreude. I guess I was distracted by other aspects of the acculturation process and this issue caught me off-guard. Regardless, this is the challenge that I am facing now. What can I do to amend the situation, how can I get these children to treat me and therefore respect me as an adult? Can I stay friendly without having them treat me as they treat their friends?