Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Year, New projects

When I first arrived in St.Kitts everyone back home and on island kept asking me about my work, what I was doing, and how it was going. A lot of times it overwhelmed me because quite honestly, I didn't feel like I was doing very much. Some of the other volunteers jumped right in and found all kinds of things to do, and they would go on and on about all of their projects and meetings and planning. Meanwhile I was just here in St.Paul's going to the school every week but without a clear objective or reason for being there. During training they often warned us that there might be a lack of activity or direction, but it is still a surprisingly difficult adjustment from the American perspective of work and productivity. I can not explain how intimidating it can be to show up at "work," and have absolutely no clue what your job is suppose to be. Despite the awkwardness I often felt, I continued to visit the school regularly and a lot of time just hung out there. Sometimes I would observe in the classroom, sometimes I would play games with the students, and other times I would lead a short lesson while a teacher was out. Before long, the students got used to seeing me and became very comfortable with me, and eventually the staff members grew more accustom and friendly towards me as well. So although a lot of time it felt like I wasn't really doing anything, I can see now that I was actually taking the time to get to know my school and community, and more importantly giving them the time to get to know and trust me.
Allowing myself this acculturation period has actually been very beneficial for me and my long term goals. The new school term began on January 4, and at this time I was ready to introduce two new projects to Saint Paul's Primary School based on what I have observed, and how I felt I could best be of service. The first is in conjunction with the community organization I am paired with, St.Paul's Family Initiative. It is a literacy project that aims to promote family bonding through reading. Basically I spend a couple of hours each week in the classrooms doing an interactive story hour. Sometimes I read to the students, sometimes they read to me or to each other. I ask question and hold discussion to check for comprehension, and the kids really enjoy the books! I then encourage them to keep reading at home by facilitating library check-outs. Each week they get a book to take home and read with their parents, and when they bring the books back to class, I give them a chance to tell us about the story. They are always a little shy at first, but the promise of stickers always helps to loosen them up a bit. Yeah I am totally not beyond bribing the kids to read :-). Friends and family back home have even gotten involved with my reading project, and started a MUCH NEEDED book drive! My Mom and sisters have put their passions (read Panama blog) to great use and have rallied there friends and neighbors to donate old children's books to the students at St.Paul's primary school. I am so please and proud of everyone for helping me out and making this contribution to my kids. THANKS GUYS!
The second project I introduced this month is one that is really near and dear to me, definitely my pet project. It's an after school girls group, and I feel so strongly about it, that it is difficult for me to articulate why I think it is so important, but I just know that it is. I started this group at two different campuses, with the idea that I could provide these young women with a safe and healthy environment in which to explore issues that are specific to them. Our projects will focus on body image, leadership skills, dating & sex, challenges at home, goal building, health & wellness, etc. I also set aside time each week for reading or doing homework, trying always to reiterate to the girls the importance of education. So far the group has been very well received, the girls at each campus are really taking ownership of it. At St.Paul's they have chosen to name themselves The Precious Girls Club, and at Newton Ground they are the Girls Friendship Club. Both groups are still in their infancy stages, but I am REALLY REALLY exited to see each them grow. Here are some photos from this weeks' activities:

St.Paul's "Precious Girls Club," fitness hike. The girls and I took a walk to our local beach. Initially I told them no swimming, but come on, you can't take kids to the coast and expect them to stay dry. As soon as they hit the sand, the threw off their uniforms and jumped in. In one photo, you can see me yelling, "ok, but only 5 minutes!"

Newton Ground Primary ""Girls Friendship Club," working quietly and productively during homework hour. Don't let them fool, they do not always act so sweet!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Dade Miami says Happy Birthday to baby Jesus.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I spent my Christmas in Miami, and not the nice South Beach part. The icky area, near the the airport. While I was happy to be on my way home from Panama, I was still frustrated, annoyed, sad, and angry that I would be spending the holiday alone. When I got to there, Miami did nothing to quell my concerns . . .but it did get better.

The people at the Miami hotel were idiots, and not helpful at all. I was hoping to have sushi for dinner, since it was my one night in the States. I kept asking about what restaurants or movie theaters were open, and how much a taxi would cost, they knew nothing and suspected that EVERYTHING was closed for the holiday. They did however recommend the super seedy diviest of dive bars that was attached to the hotel, "Travelers" for Christmas dinner. You should have seen the spread, I should have taken pictures. It was so . . .trailer park. Words do not do it justice. But the women serving it was actually really sweet and enthusiastic about the meal, reminding me twice that it was all homemade. So I said what the hell and let her load up my plate, which was in fact very tasty. I took a seat at the bar and another friendly older woman took my order while puffing away on a Virginia Slim cigarette. She introduced herself as Barbie, was also very sweet, and she took care of me all night. The regulars continued to eyeball me through dinner, and once they were sure I had been adequately fed, the moved in for the kill. It was hilarious, these dudes were literally 55+ and more than half-drunk by 7PM. But that did not stop them from trying to run their game. Luckily they kept the creep factor to a minimum and even bought me drinks and keep me laughing all night. Two of the guys were old Viet Nam veterans and they were awesome. Friendly, funny, and making all kinds of ridiculous promises-like offering to fly me first class to Dallas for steak dinner! One of them even took out his glass eye for me!! Yeah it was that kind of crowd. It was equally disgusting and amazing, my jaw dropped, and he just laughed and said something highly inappropriate. By 10PM they were offering me hard drugs, so I knew it was time for me to cut the night short, but before I left the other one insisted that I take a half case of cigars with me. I still have the box, it's very nice looking, and everyone in St.Kitts got one for New Year's Eve.

I was supposed to leave the next morning, but I missed my flight and had to stay another night. I decided to stay out of "Travelers" the 2nd night, so no wild tales to report, but I did have one of the best American dinners I've had in a long time: a cheeseburger and a bottle of bud light. It wasn't sushi, but it was so good, and something you just can't find on St.Kitts. I finally made it home on Sunday the 27th with enough time to catch some of the Carnival fun. So yeah, not exactly an ideal Christmas, but one that I will never forget.

Travelers-best dive bar, EVER.

Back to the blog

I haven't really blogged in a long time. There is so much that happens here, and so much that I want to share with everyone back home, sometimes the thought of editing it down to fit a blog seems so overwhelming. I often end up abandoning the task before I even start. But after reading some of my older posts, I definitely see the benefit of documenting my experiences, if only for myself. So I am going to try and blog more regularly, however for daily updates, I still prefer twitter (@Knee_Socks). Ok, so how can I bring this up to speed from the last couple of months . . .well I guess I can start with my unexpected trip to Panama.
In November I went to see a dermatologist here on island, because I was having some adverse effects from all the sun exposure. For some reason*, she suspected that it could be a sign of lupus, and sent me for some blood tests. She didn't like what she saw, and recommended more testing. The problem was, that the type of testing I needed is not available in St.Kitts. Michelle, our island PCMO informed me that I would need to be medevaced and sent off the island for the additional testing. This was the beginning of December. I assumed that I would be sent back to PC headquarters in Washington, D.C. and I immediately began trying to figure out a way to get sent back to California instead! My thought was, that I didn't have the proper wardrobe to be in D.C. in December, and there was nowhere on island to buy winter clothes (not to mention that on my PCV salary I couldn't afford to). Since CA was still relatively warm, compared to rest of the U.S., it would make more sense for me to go there! Brilliant reasoning, right? Well that was until Michelle explained to me that they were sending me to the Eastern Caribbean medevac location in Panama!
I took this news with mixed emotions. I was excited to visit Panama, since I had never been; I was VERY disappointed to have the trip scheduled right through Christmas and Carnival season on the island; and I was a little worried about my health. I felt just fine, and didn't really think that lupus was a possibility, but the uncertainty of everything was very unsettling. Then I had to tell my family about it all, and God love them, my big sister & mom freaked out and managed to freak me out in the process. To top off all of this, Michelle also informed me that I had to pack my house before I left, because there was always the possibility that a serious health problem would be discovered and I would have to be medically separated from my service in St.Kitts. That was definitely the worse news of all, but I refused to believe that was a possibility.
So on December 13, with only about 4 days notice, just as Christmas break was beginning in St.Kitts, I left for Panama. My time there was full of both highs and lows. I got to see come great things, I loved all the different and affordable foods that I had to choose from, I met AMAZING people, I practiced my Spanish,and the shopping was so good! I also had to stay in a less than stellar hotel, I really didn't get to leave the city much at all, I was stuck there about 5 days longer than necessary, I missed J'Ouvert on island, and I spent Christmas nearly by myself in Dade-Miami(I'll write a separate blog for THAT experience.) Finally after two loooonnnggg weeks, I made it back to St.Kitts medically cleared with no signs of lupus. I arrived home just in time for NYE with the other EC80 volunteers, the Carnival Parade, and Last Lap. I was SO HAPPY to be home, and back in St.Paul's. I really missed it here, the kids, my friends and neighbors, the beautiful accent, the view of the Caribbean sea and the cool Caribbean breezes. I just plain missed St.Kitts, it's only been about 5 months, but it already feels a lot like home.

*The doctor also suspected lupus for another volunteer recently, which seemed like a coincidence, until a third volunteer pointed out that there was an ad on local television "Could it be Lupus," highlighting the disease. We think the doctor may have seen this ad too frequently.

Lorine, a PCV from Guyana, who was also in Panama. She is awesome and I can't wait for her to visit St.Kitts this summer.

Kaitlin, a Panama PCV who showed us around the city and kept us laughing!

The view from our rooftop pool, the one cool thing about the hotel

The Canals

Making Friend~Haciendo Amigos!