2006.07.01: July 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Eastern Caribbean: Happiness: Art: Painting: Horn Book Magazine: Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka says: Being thankful is easy, being happy is a little harder, but being useful is the hardest thing of all

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Eastern Caribbean: Peace Corps: Eastern Caribbean : Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean: Newest Stories: 2006.07.01: July 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Eastern Caribbean: Happiness: Art: Painting: Horn Book Magazine: Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka says: Being thankful is easy, being happy is a little harder, but being useful is the hardest thing of all

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Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka says: Being thankful is easy, being happy is a little harder, but being useful is the hardest thing of all

Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka says: Being thankful is easy, being happy is a little harder, but being useful is the hardest thing of all

"Our job was a good job, a job of service, but a job also of extreme stress. To put it too briefly, we were responsible for nine orphaned or foster children, aged three to twelve-beautiful children, but children who had already endured more than we ever could. Perhaps our feelings of uselessness came from the knowledge of our own guilt and entanglement in New World history, the ills of slavery and its racism reaching across the generations to trip us: we, the descendants of the slave-owning race, fresh-faced, happy, healthy, well-fed, thrilled by an adventure in the islands; the children, the descendants of the enslaved race, dirty-faced, unhappy, unhealthy, unfed, caught already by the woundedness of the islands."

Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka says: Being thankful is easy, being happy is a little harder, but being useful is the hardest thing of all

Caldecott Medal Acceptance

Jul 1, 2006

Horn Book Magazine

[Excerpt]

A FEW YEARS later I was very unhappy. I had just gotten married; but this was not the reason. Lydie and I were on our way to Liberia in the Peace Corps, but a number of complications, including an imminent civil war, detoured us to St. Croix in the Caribbean. We began a job there that made us both very unhappy. In fact, we felt less than useless.

Our job was a good job, a job of service, but a job also of extreme stress. To put it too briefly, we were responsible for nine orphaned or foster children, aged three to twelve-beautiful children, but children who had already endured more than we ever could. Perhaps our feelings of uselessness came from the knowledge of our own guilt and entanglement in New World history, the ills of slavery and its racism reaching across the generations to trip us: we, the descendants of the slave-owning race, fresh-faced, happy, healthy, well-fed, thrilled by an adventure in the islands; the children, the descendants of the enslaved race, dirty-faced, unhappy, unhealthy, unfed, caught already by the woundedness of the islands.
VVe did what we could.

Thankfully, we were given some time off, seemingly scant; but in hours and minutes, a third of our time was our own. The work schedule followed a three-week cycle, like this: three days on, two days off, three days on, two days off, four days on, one day off, four days on, then two days off before beginning again. (We learned a couple of years ago that the Vista Volunteers who now form the staff changed this schedule to seven days on 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., then seven days on 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.-in other words, every day on for twelve hours-which they find much easier, which tells me that if that schedule is better than our old one, then my memory of grueling days must not be far wrong.)

A particularity of the old schedule was that the work shift began and ended at 2:00 p.m. with a briefing of the new workers. Thus, during the dreaded and so-called 4-1-4, the off-going workers had exactly from the end of the meeting sometime after 2:00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon to 2:00 p.m. on the following Monday afternoon to do whatever was necessary to heal themselves from the past four days and prepare themselves for the next four.

But this leads me from my point. My point is that I was unhappy. And Lydie was unhappy. In an effort to find an antidote, we turned to what had brought us together in the first place-painting. I can remember my father saying to us as we left for Detroit and then the plane south to the Caribbean, "I'm sure you'll find a lot to paint." And we did.

As our turn on a Sunday afternoon came and we faced our scant twenty-four hours to ourselves, we asked ourselves, Where to? We answered, Out, out; open spaces are needed, air, sun, breezes. So thinking, we climbed into one of the little cars kept for off-hour use and, quite literally, headed for the hills.

One afternoon, we found ourselves in the beautiful Danish colonial town of Christiansted \on the other side of the island. We parked the car on a steep side street of charming if dilapidated Victorian gingerbread houses, tilting telephone poles, and much populated by great numbers of frightened stray dogs. We gathered up our big watercolor blocks, pencils, and X-ACTO blades and simply walked out of town, uphill. Soon the red tin or tile roofs lay wrinkled below us, the overall yellow of the house walls peeking out between them and beneath the green of the palms, themselves revealed by the glory of the scarlet flamboyant trees in bloom.
Should we stop here? No, a little further up; we wanted the island to ourselves. The air became clearer, the breeze stronger, and the whole of the town sat below us, cupped by the piercing blues of the Caribbean sky and sea.

We sat down on rocks among acacia trees, cooled by that perfumed breeze of mangos and rot, listening to and watching the life of the town, and drawing. The hours passed. At last, backs and knees creaking, we gathered our things, walked down the cooling hill and drove back to the west side of the island. There, from the brick steps of a tumbledown house not far from the apartment where we stayed, we again watched the life of a town, this time the poor town of Frederiksted, lit up by the horizontal rays of the setting sun in yellows and greens to stop all speech.

After the sun had plunged below the horizon, remarkably speedily the way it does in the tropics, we turned the lights on, and the various chameleons and cockroaches watched us as we painted late into the night, painting the scenes we had observed in the afternoon- painting not, however, in the colors of the Caribbean, but in emulation of their glory, we used the purples and oranges and greens of the fauves we loved so much and for a time produced paintings remarkably alike.

Twenty-one years and six months have passed since we began painting pictures on St. Croix, and I sigh each time I think of that great joy we had. Painting was useless work, but, strangely enough, for those twenty-four hours, we were incredibly happy.





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Story Source: Horn Book Magazine

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Eastern Caribbean; Happiness; Art; Painting

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