April 6, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Caroline's Caribbean Adventure in the Peace Corps

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Caroline's Caribbean Adventure in the Peace Corps

Caroline's Caribbean Adventure in the Peace Corps

Welcome to Caroline's Caribbean Adventure, documenting experiences serving in the U.S. Peace Corps on the island of St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean. I arrived on St. Lucia July 26, 2002, and was sworn in September 8, 2002.

I am living in Castries, the largest city on the island, and I'm working for the National Skills Development Center, a St. Lucian government agency which provides job training to at-risk young people. We offer training in a number of trades--unglamorous but necessary things like heavy equipment maintenance and fish processing and also tourist trade-oriented skills like floral arrangement, massage therapy and pastry preparation.

One of my assignments is to oversee a rehabilitation of NSDC satellite facilities. The Choiseul Arts and Crafts Center is one of the satellites, and is my current project. I'm hoping to help the Crafts Center become profitable as a producer of high quality basketry and carvings.

I am also teaching beginning swimming to little kids.

In my free time, I've been exploring St. Lucia, enjoying hiking amidst the gorgeous scenery, and also testing out the numerous beaches.


The Barbados Trip

Friday morning, Sam, Shannon, Deb and I set off for a weekend in Barbados. There are two other Canadian volunteers there, so we were going to hang out with them, and they’d show us around a bit. Our flights left at 6am, so we’d have the full day to hang out in Barbados. We got there, got settled in our room, did a little grocery shopping and came back to eat breakfast. When the girls tried to find their friend Christie, though, they got some bad news. Christie was in the hospital for something she caught while they were all in Trinidad the week before. So on our way into town to wander around, we stopped by the hospital to visit Christie. It was unlucky for her, that the weekend we all came in, and that Spring Break was happening, she’s stuck in the hospital. But she had her boyfriend there to keep her company.

In town, we stopped for lunch and then wandered around and shopped. Many of the shops were like back home, big department stores with Clinique counters, and things like that. It was nice to see some fancy stuff for a bit of a change! In town, we got the average amount of harassment that we would find here.

After being in town, we all were kind of drained so we went to lay on the beach. The beaches in Barbados were AMAZING. Our standard beach in St. Lucia is beautiful. The water is blue and the sand is ‘white’. But in Barbados the sand was truly white, with flecks of pink. Next to this, the water was amazingly blue. The sky looked dark and cloudy next to the water. We splurged and rented chairs because the wind kept blowing sand all over us.

Later in the afternoon, Emily, the other Canadian volunteer, and some friends of hers came over to play volleyball. I took a nap.

In the evening, all the volleyball players met us in a town called Oistins, just down from where we were staying (in the heart of the tourist strip). Oistins is the fishing capital of the island, and they have a big fish fry every Friday. For those who have been to Anse La Raye in St. Lucia, this was three times bigger. The fish was a little different too. Most of it was barbecued instead of roasted, fried or cooked in juices and foil. And they had better side dishes to go along with it, instead of just bakes (like biscuits). There were all kinds of tourists and spring breakers there. It was a little strange at times… I’m not a tourist like these kids are, but I am still a tourist to Barbados. Anyway, we had a drink there, then went to a bar that normally is the place to be on Fridays, and was even more so with the Spring Break stuff. It was called Harbour Lights. It was a giant house with several bars, but most of the stuff was happening outside. There were several different areas with dancing space, and lower down, closer to the beach, there were picnic tables in the sand.

The music situation was kind of funny. At first, we were really excited to hear something that was not soca/reggae/hip hop. They were playing some pretty cool techno. But I found that I had forgotten how to dance to that! We all just kind of stood around. But when they came on with the soca, Caribbean stuff, and BET stuff, we all went nuts and danced. I felt special that I knew the Caribbean songs and the spring-breakers didn’t! At first we were kind of apprehensive to see that everyone in the line to get in the bar was about 18 years old. But as we were hanging around, we all met some cool people. There were several kids about my age in a group visiting from St. Vincent. They all appeared to be Americans, and they are in a medical school program in St. Vincent and Grenada. Later on, Deb and I found some of our Digicel friends, Donal and Stephen (who I met for the first time). They normally are on St. Lucia, but were in Barbados setting up for their company. (This is all part of the cell phone war encompassing the entire Caribbean these days). So it was kind of funny to go all the way to Barbados and see people we normally hang out with in St. Lucia, but we had a good time.

The next days, Saturday and Sunday, we mostly recovered from Friday and lay on the beach. It was a long and wide beach, but not very crowded. It was cool to be able to just roll out of bed and onto the beach. The winds were better on that beach than our normal one here, so there were many windsurfers and kite surfers. The kite surfing was crazy. You’re harnessed to a thing that looks like a parachute, and you stand on something about the size of a knee or wake board. The sail is way up in the air and pulls you along. Some of the guys were really good and could leap 15 feet in the air, doing flips and turns, and land 25 feet further down the way. It was amazing, but looked kind of scary. I would worry that I would fly away or something….

Saturday night Deb and I indulged, throwing away all concerns about money and calories. We went to a Mexican Restaurant. We both about jumped for joy when we saw that there was a Mexican place on the island. We got Margaritas (2 for 1 on happy hour); an appetizer that was a wonton filled with cream cheese and chopped jalapenos; and we each had nachos. They were yummy! Since I knew that nachos wouldn’t travel well or be good the next day, I knew I had to eat all of them I could right then. I waddled home.

That night we went for a drink later, but all of us were pretty sleepy from the late night on Friday.

Monday Sam, Deb and I had to tie up our loose ends and spend all our Bajan (bay-jun, easier than saying ‘Barbadian’) dollars before flying home. Shan left Sunday night so she could work on Monday. We went to a number of surf shops so Sam could look for a bathing suit. I also was looking for a hat or visor. Sam and Shan have them and I was jealous the whole trip. I wanted one that said Barbados, and I found it. I also found a picture frame, something I like to get on each trip to frame a picture from the trip.

We left for the airport at about 4. Sam’s flight left at 5:30, but Deb’s and mine got cancelled and we didn’t leave until after 7. Sitting in the crowded, nasty airport for 3 hours was fun indeed.

In keeping with my standard vacation game—while on vacation you need to see someone famous or someone you know (who you didn’t plan to see)—I saw someone I knew. In the airport on the way back, we saw Betty from our training group who’s on Grenada. PCs from our group who are on the other islands are flying in for a training event this week.

So that was the trip. It was lots of fun, and I would recommend Barbados to anyone. If you’re looking for a cheap but decent hotel, inches from the beach, tourist stuff, banks and busses, let me know!

Now though, I’m sick. For the second time in a month. I’m vex.


Here I am! I’ve actually been here awhile now but it’s not so easy to get on a computer here.

Here’s what’s been going on lately:

The first couple days after I left home were spent in Miami at “Staging”. That was our first training part where they laid down the basics of what would be going on for the next couple weeks and did ice breakers with all of the other kids in the training class. There are 51 of us…was 52, but one girl left after the first night. I would say that overall our group is really cool. I was actually surprised at how cool everyone was. I would say that about half of the people graduated from school within the last year. The other half ranges in age from 23 to 71. There are about 9 or 10 people who are over 50, and two married couples. In Miami we stayed at a really nice hotel. I roomed with two other girls, Christina, who is from Las Vegas and/or Seattle , and Martha, who is from San Francisco .

On Thursday the 26th, we set off EARLY for the airport to leave for St. Lucia . I’ve never seen so much luggage in my life. And I think the people were few and far between who actually heeded the “80 total pounds of luggage” rule. But they were really cool about letting us take all of our garbage. Our flight from Miami connected in San Juan , PR. We had a bit of more trouble there with the luggage because we were on a tiny little plane. We were split into two flights because we were too many, and on the second flight two kids had to be left behind because the airplane was overweight. Lucky them, got to tour PR while they waited for the next flight!

Our first 2 days in St. Lucia we stayed at a hotel in Castries . It was really nice and had a pool. It was really nice to swim after we trucked our luggage around in the Caribbean sun and humidity. At the hotel we met the on-island Peace Corps staff. Every second we were amazed by the scenery. The hotel had a view of the ocean and the town. There were all kinds of flowery trees around.

On Saturday, we left the hotel to meet our families in a town called Babonneau. I was met by my host mother, Theresa, her daughter Shanet and Shanet’s daughter, Chelsea (Chelo). Later I met my host father, Vitalis (I.O.) and the other daughter, Krishna . We had the entire weekend for relaxing and getting to know each other. On the first night I went to the grocery store with Theresa, Chelsea and our neighbor, Flavia. I was really surprised at how American the grocery store was. In Miami , one guy had to make an emergency, last-minute run for Pop-Tarts. But they had them at the grocery store here. They had contact lens solution, most kinds of American cereal, freezer garlic bread (yay!) and almost everything else. Prices on some of the things were high. You could get apples there, but they’re imported from the states and really expensive. The local things are cheaper, but I think they’re cheaper yet at the markets. At the store I saw a few other volunteers. Theirs were about the only other white faces I saw! After shopping, we went and got Domino’s Pizza. It tasted just like the stuff at home. Probably not the most “ Caribbean ” first meal, but it was good!

The next day we went to the beach for a bit. I didn’t swim, but it was nice to hang out there.

Our house is cute. As you drive up to it, you can see Pigeon Point, at the north of the island, the ocean, and Martinique on clear days. I have my own small room. It’s off the main room, and the other bedrooms and bathroom are off another hall. The kitchen is downstairs, and you can only access it from outside. It’s good sized, but BUGGY! The yard is beautiful. Aside from the view, there are lots of trees and plants in the yard. Theresa explained to me what all of them are, but I forgot. Right now there are avocado and star fruit (five-fingers or star apple) trees that are producing. She also has lots of smaller plants, tomatoes, peppers and herbs that are producing, as well as all the flowers.

On Monday we started our official training. The weekend had been nice, but I was glad to get back with the volunteers and compare notes. So far the training has had its ups and downs. Some of our guest speakers have been really great. A man named Dr. Lenox Honeychurch spoke to us about history and culture of the region. A number of political people have also come. The Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, was scheduled to come, but cancelled due to a scandal and shake-up in government (one minister had represented himself as “Dr. whoever” for years, and then it came out that he never had a doctorate. He resigned and they’re replacing him. Now they’re checking up on everyone, including a radio DJ called “Dr. Beats” J )

Anyways, part of the frustration about training is that they’re telling us all these things, but we still don’t know where we’ll be or what our precise assignment will be. Also, there are always a few people who get their panties in a bundle and have to ask the most picky and precise questions, that will all be answered when we get to our real assignments. Other people talk just to hear themselves speak, and feel that at every opportunity for questions they must ask one, AND the people who have to say “well, where I come from it’s like this…” As you can tell, the honeymoon period is over for us getting to know each other!! I guess sensing that, the trainers addressed the issue in a small group session. I thought it was appropriate and effective because it made everyone get their grouchy feelings out in the open.

For the most part, I’ve been busy in training. We have that from 8:30 to 5 every day (M-F). We have sessions on things like safety and health, being prepared for emergencies; and then our “technical sector” groups, mine being business. There we’ve been talking about business basics… everything from consensus building to accounting. Everyone in the training class is in one of these groups: Business, Information Technology, Special Ed, Health Education and Youth and Community Development. Business and Health are the smallest groups, with about 6 people apiece. The other groups are a lot larger.

Other than training, I’ve done a few things with my family and the other trainees. I already mentioned going shopping and to the beach with my family. This past weekend, I went out after class with some of the trainees to the beach. It was nice to blow off some steam outside the confines of the training classes and on our own. Later that night, I went with Christina, Martha and their host families. We went to a big fish-bash in a coast town called Anse le Rey. They had several different kinds of fish. Martha had a giant lobster, Christina had some grilled, seasoned dolphin fish, and I had this baked stewed fish thing. It was good, but again mine was the WHOLE FISH, eyeballs and all. Apparently here they eat the whole fish too, and some of the host family members that we were with had to make a big scene of eating the eyeballs, just for me. Later we went to another town, Gros Islet, where they have a street party on the weekends. It was really fun, and people were dancing all over in the streets. We met up with some of the other volunteers there and partied. I was glad that we were with some host brothers, though, for dancing, because there a little less intimidating than the regular guys walking around. We were out till about 2.

The next day I slept in rather than going to church with my family. They go all day on Saturdays. Instead, Christina and I went to the Gablewoods Mall in Castries . We found an internet café there, and some other little shops. We also had a few things to get at the grocery store.

On Sunday, I participated in a fun walk sponsored by a St. Lucian juice company. We started at the airport in Castries , and walked to the north of the island, a place called Pigeon Point. It was 7-8 miles long and took us a couple hours. A bunch of volunteers were there: me, Christina, Peter, Kari, Michelle, Amanda and Ross. We all got t-shirts for the walk, and medals and juice at the end. The finishing point was also the place where we were having a Peace Corps picnic. It was the nicest beach I’ve seen yet. It had really clear water and white sand. There were very few rocks, but some sea urchins and starfish. We swam after the walk until the picnic started. After we ate, we hiked up to the fort on top of the peak at the point. It was neat and had amazing views. By the end of the day, I was really exhausted.

What else…? There are a lot of strange animals around. Most every morning there’s a little lizard in the shower. He eats the bugs in the bathroom. You see them around on the sidewalks too. There are a million and twelve mosquitoes. Most of the volunteers have been suffering greatly and slathering on the DEET. At my house, we have a dog, and there are a lot of dogs milling around. Dogs have a very different role here, mostly they’re for protection, not for pets. Ours is named Snippy. He’s nice, but never comes in the house. Some of the volunteers have other animals at their houses. Christina has a goat that just gave birth to kids, roosters, a pig, and a cat.

The food here is interesting. They eat a lot of starchy foods, what they call ground provisions. These are things like potatoes, plantains, yams, breadfruit, dasheen and bananas. Sometimes they eat it all in one meal. The meals are GIANT. All of the Americans are having trouble adjusting to the size of the meals. Also, they’re a little different than our meals. For breakfast at first, I had bakes--fried donut-y things with cheese or tuna, granola, starfruit, tea, and toast. Finally I laid it down, no meat or hot things for breakfast. It was making me late for school, and I would be sleepy when I got there. Also we have to maintain our figures for the beach! At school we have snacks and lunch. Normally the people here eat their main meal at lunchtime. At the picnic it was really funny. One volunteer, Scott, sat down after going thru the food line and said that he couldn’t fit any more on his plate. Then his host mom came and sat down with her plate totally overflowing. We told Scott that he needed to start thinking in three dimensions. But even though the main meal is earlier, they eat a good sized meal later too. I’m still getting used to it.

I told my family that I was a vegetarian, but that I’m willing to eat fish. We’ve mostly had salted codfish and tuna. I’d prefer fresh fish if I’m going to eat it, but whatever. The other things we’ve had are good. They have some soy stuff here that people use to stretch out their meat or to substitute. Feeding myself fake meat isn’t really my thing, but I suppose it’s healthy. Otherwise we eat a lot of fresh vegetables. I tried breadfruit. They’re these things that look like green brains and grow from trees. They have a kind of spongy fruit inside. Plain, it wasn’t so great, but it was good fried or made into balls. There isn’t anything else super crazy food-wise here that I didn’t already mention. I’m really looking forward to having my own place and maybe a garden.

Several nights Krishna and I have made vinegar-y cucumber salads. She gets all excited about it. Next she wants to make pickles.

The only food thing that I miss here is that they don’t eat many desserts. I think some of the volunteers were going to get together and make a cake or something. Maybe this weekend. We have interviews this weekend to place us for our assignments. We have the whole afternoon free.

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