June 12, 1998 - Personal Web Page: Many are surprised when I tell them I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the island of Antigua

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Antigua: Peace Corps Antigua : The Peace Corps in Antigua: June 12, 1998 - Personal Web Page: Many are surprised when I tell them I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the island of Antigua

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, April 06, 2003 - 10:59 am: Edit Post

Many are surprised when I tell them I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the island of Antigua

Many are surprised when I tell them I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the island of Antigua


Many are surprised when I tell them I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the island of Antigua. It seems the image of Peace Corps is not entirely consistent with that of the stereotypical Caribbean lifestyle. Unfortunately, poverty, poor medical care and other social ills are as real here - and the level of need no less intimidating - as they are in any "typical" third world country. But the beauty in Antigua goes far beyond that which is expressed in the glossy posters that hang from our travel agents' window. My Peace Corps experience took me to a community that appears dramatically in contrast to what the tour guides promote.

Gray's Green, a densely populated village just outside the capital of St. John's, is considered a ghetto by many who live on the island. It is so stigmatized that many who have lived in Antigua their whole lives have never ventured into this area and instruct their children not to. Failing infrastructure, dirty, crowded classrooms, drug activity and poor medical facilities are some of what characterizes this community. Many times during my service in Gray's Green the immense need made me long for my privileged home.

But the problems that are so present here are not what define this village for me. Far from it. What defines Gray's Green is the beauty that comes from its reality, its honesty. There is nothing pretentious about this village - the laughter is rich with relief and spirit; the arguments - often shared with neighbors - are hot and necessary and proud. The community is alive with colors, smells and sounds that seem perfectly - sometimes tragically - pure. When I think of Gray's Green I don't think of the despairing conditions, I remember the children. And their parents, their teachers, their pastors. Indeed, in the two years I spent working in this community, Gray's Green became, for me, a uniquely beautiful place. Far more real and far more beautiful than the sandy beaches and fancy resorts that many in Antigua want you to visit and never go beyond.

The purpose of the photographs in this series is to offer a more realistic sense of what this isolated village in Antigua looks like and how it behaves. Children carrying water from "the pipe", a woman washing clothes with her great-granddaughter, the choir on Sunday morning. Most of these photographs were taken in Gray's Green in the spring of 1996 and shown at The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda in September of that year. Some, however, were taken a year later when my friend Esther Pullman, who produced a series of photographs of Antiguan houses, came to visit. The later images I made include other areas of the island of Antigua.

Along with this text I have included prose that was written by my colleague and friend Amy Foster-Wexler who also served in Gray's Green.

Jesse Putnam: June 12, 1998

And now, Amy's beautiful poem....
Pain is Pain

...and injustice is injustice. Sometimes I walk down the dingy, litter strewn roads in Gray's Farm -- startled but no longer disgusted at nearly stepping on a squashed rat or half flattened puppy. I know this is how it is here. I know I will be leaving in four months. I don't have to live in this place of patched up galvanized fences with heavy steel chains, I don't have to worry about the kids who cut each other up with cutlasses or throw stones at the skinny Rastafari girl while adults look on.

Most days I'm thankful to have been let into this life, to catch a pregnant glimpse, to laugh with and scream at these wondrous kids filled with life in a place of limited dreams. Somedays I'm just ashamed; at my attitude, my escape, my ability to walk away.

I'm loving this place like a troubled kid. Watching men smoking crack on the corner, drinking themselves wet until the patched galvanized looks pretty like a rainbow of color. I see a naked man bathing his skin with a bucket of water from the pipe, standing on splintered wood and rusty nails from when his shack came down after hurricane Luis.

Dion Brown and Shakeem come throwing stones at the kids in the school-yard. Ashley runs in, "The bad twins mash the girl up." Teacher Maudlyn, a one woman show, talks to the kids -- really talks and really listens. She tells them, "it's not nice to throw stones".

Three minutes later I see them mashing up the already broken playground equipment. I tell them "STOP -- COME" in my biggest voice. They do. We talk. This time I learn that they don't go to school, "because they're uniforms are rotten. They don't have no shoes."
Now why can't, no, why don't I buy them both shoes and shirts and shorts and walk with them to school? I ponder hard on this one. I can't help everyone -- can't buy the world a safe and happy home. So why not buy two kids a piece of baked chicken?

On the way home, walking once again through crack alley and dominoes lane, I wave, smile and greet folks as "hi teacher, gawn home?" comes my way. I walk the maze of high ground to avoid the mud puzzles and water soaked, dirt road. I look up to say hi and step into a big pile of dog poop.

Now the man with the abscessed foot ("the man with the foot" is how Steve and I identify him -- as if a foot was some sort of rarity here on planet earth) comes up. Sloppy drunk is he. A bottle of half empty vodka in his hand. He grabs my hand and spurts out a "heysistah gibmeaquart". I tell him I don't have any money for him today. He's not satisfied, tries again, a little more dramatically -- grabs my hand to plant a kiss. I pull my hand away and say good-bye. I keep doing that thing -- pulling my hand away and saying good-bye. Somehow with precious kids its harder -- tugs harder at the heart strings.

In the end I walk away pleased at learning boundaries -- understanding, finding realistic expectations. That is a 'Peace Corps' success. But I keep wondering -- Success? Huh?

And amidst the feces, the rough edges, the poverty, the violence, there are strong roots in this community -- there is laughter, music, pink flowers creeping over these broken down fences.

Amy Foster-Wexler: March 1997

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Story Source: Personal Web Page

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Antigua; Photography - Antigua



By TabathaAboumrad (node-423a39a2.san.onnet.us.uu.net - on Thursday, January 13, 2005 - 6:31 pm: Edit Post

Could someone help me locate a RPCV from Antigua?! I am a childhood friend of Amy Peterson - she served in 1993-1995 (give or take a year). I went to Gabon from 1996-1998 and we lost touch. If anyone has contact info for her please let me know at t_aboumrad@yahoo.com or just give her my email address.

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