Sunday, March 19, 2017

An Epic Battle

There were two big events this past week at my school. After qualifying in the regional competition last month, the football (soccer) team traveled to Castle Bruce on Thursday for the next level of the primary school tournament. While I understand we won some games there, we unfortunately did not qualify for the next stage. This is the same situation we found ourselves in last year. Oh well!

This story is not about an epic battle on the football field. It is about an academic battle between two primary school intellectual heavyweights from vastly different backgrounds, who fought valiantly until only one prevailed. In these two contestants, one can see them as a representation of the battle that many of us around the world face. But before describing this battle, let me describe the whole day.

I did not go with the football team this year, because I had accompanied the footballers to Castle Bruce last year. This year, I opted to help chaperone those children going to the French Festival held on Wednesday at a school near the capital so that I could get a different experience. I'm glad I did.

Various schools from across the island convene at a school so large that it has a separate auditorium. Several officials from organizations such as the Ministry of Education gave opening remarks. There was a parade of flags for all Francophonie countries (places that have some sort of French influence). A number of these countries are similar to Dominica—our official language is English, and we were a British colony prior to independence, but the local Creole language is related to French, and at times prior to the end of the 1700s, Dominica belonged to the French. That is apparently enough for the French to lay claim to us.

Our school was assigned to do a display about St. Lucia, another Caribbean island with a similar background as Dominica. The French island of Martinique (which is definitely French) lies between Dominica and St. Lucia, but both of us were primarily controlled by the British. I was a bit surprised that we were working on a display for an English-speaking country for the French Festival, but that is just how it worked out.

We (meaning the staff with some involvement from the students) did a lot of work for our display (our first grade teacher pictured above is also the French teacher for the upper grades). We created a paper-mache rendition of St. Lucia's most famous landmark, the twin volcanic spires known as Petit Piton and Gros Piton (read about my grueling hike to the top of Gros Piton in 2015 ). A couple of the Seamester college students who are artists were enlisted during their one-day visit earlier in the month to help create the background for a diorama.
One of the teachers (shown above) created a doll dressed in traditional St. Lucian clothing. One of the parents prepared a nice plate of fig and saltfish, a common meal there (as well as in Dominica). I drew a St. Lucian flag furling in the breeze, created a freehand map of the rugged coastline (and cut it out), painted the diorama (except for the background), and did lots of calligraphy for our signs. I think it all came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
However, the last and biggest event of the day was the French spelling competition (that is the official program shown above). Students who are selected to represent their school are given a list in advance of nearly 500 French words to memorize, and they must spell them while designating the proper accent marks. Needless to say, it is a lot more difficult than a traditional spelling bee.

Our little school is so small (just 34 students) that we had no sixth graders last year. Thus, our top fifth grade girl competed last year. This year, she was back again as a sixth grader. She did an excellent job as one by one, the other competitors were eliminated until only two remained—our girl from a small “country school” in the far northern corner of the island (with overall substandard test scores causing some to look down on us), and a local boy from this large, successful city school that has been hosting this major event over the years. As a native of rural West Virginia, I could really identify with this match-up! Indeed, it is the essence of a classic struggle faced by many people throughout the world.

The two of them (pictured above with him sitting as she provided an answer--the official reading the words was standing just out of the frame on the left) went back and forth for several rounds as the tension built (now I know how my parents felt when they came to watch some of my College Bowl competitions). Each time I was so nervous before she gave her answers, and then so excited after she answered successfully. To put it in sports terms, could our girl actually pull off this “Cinderella story” upset of the host school favorite?
Alas, there would be no Disney movie ending to this story. She finally got tripped up by a word, giving the victory to the boy who goes to school where the event was held. However, she was awarded a nice trophy and gift bag of school supplies for second place. In the photo above, the winner is on the left, with second through fifth--there must have been a tie for fifth--arrayed in sequential order towards the right (note that only the top three got trophies and the bigger gift bags).

I'm so proud because she conducted herself with such poise, such grace, such brains—she truly is an incredible young woman (she is the same student who wrote the message in the sand to me in this blog story). Personally, I'm okay with how it ended—I was getting so wrapped up in the “underdog wins” storyline that I probably would have cried tears of joy for her, and the kids didn't need to see a grown man get emotional like that!

Afterwards, we took the students over to the KFC (which I had done last year with the football team). This is the only American restaurant on the island, and is very popular throughout the Caribbean. Just like last year after leaving Castle Bruce, I bought a bucket of chicken for everyone to share, and french fries for all the students. Above is a picture of a few of them standing by our bus enjoying their KFC treat (I think they were going for a "gangsta" pose). Then as we were leaving town, we stopped at a convenience store and I purchased ice cream for everyone. Those two stops cost me over a hundred dollars, but it was worth every penny. They are all good children, and it had been another memorable day on this beautiful island.


P.S. I just wanted to urge my readers to donate towards building a playing court for my village, as part of the matching funds to the grant I won (described in this previous story).

For anyone leery of donating via a website using your credit card (the instructions for the electronic donation process can be found in the link above), it is also possible to donate the old fashioned way. You can mail a check to Courts for Kids, and just note “Thibaud, Dominica community court” in the memo line. Make the check out to “Courts for Kids” and mail it to:

Courts for Kids
PO Box 873786
Vancouver, WA 98687

Thank you for at least considering a donation, whether electronically or by check! It will make a big difference for my students and others in the village.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Second Sea-mester

Thursday was set to be a big day for me. Unfortunately, it began with a cold shower in the darkness. It surely isn't a good way to start the day!

Normally, the weather here is fantastic! However, we've been suffering lately with a lot of wind, rain, and colder temperatures (the children wear coats, sweaters, and sweatshirts to school when it gets down around 70 degrees—I tell them that 70 is NOT cold compared to what I am accustomed to experiencing at this time of the year). I went to bed Wednesday night knowing that all the planning for my important day on Thursday might be scrapped because of the bad weather. Listening to the sheets of rain hitting the roof as well as the whistling wind did not contribute to a good night's rest.

What I didn't count on was the howling winds overnight knocking out the power to our village (and other locations) during the night. That meant that I had to get ready for my big day by taking a cold shower. Although it took me several months after I got here before I dared to try the 220 volt electric hot water heater in the shower head, I've grown very used to it now. Reverting back to a cold shower (in the dark, no less) on a cool, dreary, wet morning was not much fun. But I had to do it because this was a special day—a shipload of friends I had never met were coming (as well as the Prime Minister).

Some of you may recall that last fall I had made a connection with a program called Sea-mester, which brings college students from across America together to spend a semester on a schooner in the Caribbean. About a dozen of them came to my little village to help out on Community Service Day on November 4th. After we had made all the arrangements for them to come and help us, the U.S. Ambassador decided that she would also visit my village on that same date. It was quite a wonderful day spent with those college students, along with the surprise addition of the Ambassador.

The leaders of the Sea-mester program said they enjoyed getting off their ship, contributing to some community service work, spending time with children, and seeing life in a small Dominican village. They had such a good time, they told me they would stop again with a new group of students during the next term. Thursday was the day their ship would be in Portsmouth for the spring semester. Fortunately, the electric company was able to restore power just before the bus full of the Sea-mester students arrived around noon.

I had planned for them to spend time at the school, interact with the children, and then do some outdoor work projects. I was also eager to show off our new tourist trail to the bat cave, as well as some adventure hiking and rock climbing on L'islette and Morne Rouge. I wanted them to have some time for fun while they were off the ship for a day.

Last fall, we fixed a big lunch for them, which we could tell they truly appreciated. As a treat for our students as well as the Sea-mester students, I splurged and purchased three gallon tubs of ice cream (over $100 EC from my own pocket). We knew our children would love the ice cream, but what we had not anticipated was how much the college students enjoyed it, because is seems they don't get ice cream on their ship.

So we planned a big lunch for them this year as well, with another round of ice cream for everyone. In addition to buying the ice cream, I paid nearly another $100 EC for salted codfish, a common dish down here. It was served both regular style and San Coche style (with coconut milk). We also served up lentils, Dominica style dumplings, and a large array of “provisions”—dasheen, yam, tania, green fig, plantain, etc. Local tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and carrots provided some salad, plus we had a fruit salad appetizer. It was a good example of local Dominican cuisine and was quite a spread!

I must mention that our school cook came down sick at the beginning of the week and had to be hospitalized. All of the work for planning, purchasing, and preparing this special meal (for the 16 guests, 34 students, and about 10 staff and volunteers) fell to staff members and some very talented parents (most of my blog readers know that cooking is not my forte). I am very grateful we were able to pull off such a nice meal (plus I'm grateful that our school cook is out of the hospital now and recovering nicely)!
The intermittent rain canceled the big plans I had made for activities with the Sea-mester students. However, one of the things I have learned in the Peace Corps is resiliency. One has to “roll with the punches” and be flexible. We ended up letting them spend the afternoon in the classrooms, interacting with the school children, as shown above.

Some of them gave presentations about life on the boat, teaching our students about their 88 foot, two-masted schooner named the “Ocean Star.” Our students learned about port and starboard, aft and bow, etc. They also were taught about tying knots. We put some of the more artistically inclined college students to work for us creating some educational posters. The next three pictures demonstrate these activities.

A few times, the rain subsided enough that we let the children go outside of the cramped classrooms and play with the college students. There were lots of big smiles on the faces of both our school children and their new college student friends! It was such a positive experience for both groups to spend time together.
Even though the college students seemed to be having a good time with our school children, I'm not sure it would have been quite as nice a day for them had it not been for one other stroke of luck. You see, the Honorable Dr. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica, is actually the parliamentary representative for the district my village is in. On occasion, he visits villages in his district to update his constituents. He had planned to hold a special meeting about small business development in my village a few weeks ago, but pressing business required him to cancel the previous meeting.

I found out last Sunday that the meeting had been rescheduled for Thursday at 4:00 in the school building. I made sure his local contacts knew that there would be 16 American college students who would love to meet him before his meeting started. They let me know he would do a quick meet and greet with them.

When I alerted the Sea-mester leader on the Ocean Star via e-mail about this late-breaking development, I asked her if maybe the ship was really the “Lucky Star” because of the fact that on both of their visits, they had lucked into a chance meeting with a dignitary. The last time it was the U.S. Ambassador and now they would get the chance to meet the leader of a Caribbean island nation.

So, as a grand finale to what had been a much different day than we had planned, a couple of black SUVs (with one carrying the Dominican flag on its front fender) pulled into our school. Eventually, the Prime Minister stepped out of the vehicle, and came over to the large group of white Americans gathered at the corner outside of the school. He shook hands with each of the visiting Seamester students and thanked them for volunteering that day. He then proceeded to spend several minutes talking to them about his college days in America (New Mexico State and Ole Miss). He was very gracious with them and spent longer talking with them than I had imagined he would. The students came away very impressed with him, as evidenced in the well-written story from the official Sea-mester blog about their day in my village. The following three pictures capture his discussion with us (look close and you can see me on the other side of the Prime Minister in the last picture).
The meeting with the Prime Minister certainly helped to salvage a memorable day for them, despite the lousy weather. The good news is that they want to stop again during their summer term! Plus, I got the wonderful opportunity later that evening to talk directly with the Prime Minister about the Courts for Kids grant that I won to build a netball/basketball court for our school (you can help us out by donating to this project).

As I have often learned in the Caribbean, even the best laid plans can go awry, so you just try to make the best of things. Generally, it all works out in the long run!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

My "Ode" to Radio

Life without television has not been a problem for me. I enjoy multi-tasking while listening to the radio (via the internet here). I grew up in an era when we only had three television choices, so I often resorted to listening to the radio. This began in my youth but has continued throughout my life. We lived far enough away from town when I was growing up that it was hard to get the radio stations from our nearest town—back then many stations reduced their broadcast power after sundown. So I grew up listening to high-power, 50,000 watt stations from around the nation.

Atmospheric conditions would vary causing different stations to come in crystal clear on some nights, yet too static-filled on other nights, but there was always something interesting to listen to. Examples would include WCFL Chicago and WOWO Fort Wayne for music; news talk radio from stations such as WBZ Boston, WRVA Richmond, WBT Charlotte, and KMOX St. Louis; and Pete Franklin's Sportsline call-in show on WWWE Cleveland. I got a great sense of American geography and diversity by listening to the radio in my bedroom.

One of the reasons why I enjoy listening to radio stations goes back to my formative years. Growing up in the Cold War made me a bit paranoid about wanting to know if the Russians had launched their nukes. The ominous Emergency Broadcast System tested more often back then, and it had a lasting impact from my childhood. Plus, the jarring interruptions of radio and television for emergency bulletins to announce the assassination of JFK, MLK, RFK, and other scary events made me want to be “connected” to always know what is happening, because I had learned that anything can happen at any time. I'd much prefer to listen to a live radio broadcast than a podcast that is detached from any potential live interruption for the latest bulletin. [By the way, I understand some of my childhood memories were selected to be featured in a new book entitled "Growing Up in a Land Called Honalee: The Sixties in the Lives of American Children."]

I brought a transistor radio with me, but with my village hugging the coastline while surrounded by mountains, it means that radio reception here is poor. I can't get any Dominican stations on my radio—the only station I was able to get was a French speaking station from the nearby island of Guadeloupe. It wasn't very useful for me.

At first, I didn't have internet at my house. I read a lot more books and downloaded podcasts when I only had limited internet access at school or my host family's house. About six months into my service, another company started providing internet services in my village at a cheaper rate, so I've been online ever since then. The price started at about $67 per month, but this month raised to $85 Eastern Caribbean dollars ($1 US dollar = $2.70 EC dollars). It is worth it to me, just to hear radio at my convenience.

I downloaded an app called “TuneIn” which provides me with a wealth of listening options. [By the way, I like the name of this app, because it reminds me of the “Tune Inn” on Capitol Hill in Washington. As a young intern working on Capitol Hill, that “red neck” bar (which was owned and operated by a family from West Virginia) was an important link to home for a country kid living in the big city.]

TuneIn lets me hear local Dominican stations such as DBS and Kairi-FM, which I regularly listen to for their local newscasts. I can listen to West Virginia Public Radio and WOUB, Ohio University's public radio station (I always enjoyed WOUB because it had a lot of public radio shows that West Virginia Public Radio didn't carry, plus their music was much better in my mind). WAMU, which was my favorite public radio station when I lived in Washington, DC, is also on my TuneIn list of favorites.

However, with TuneIn, I can listen to public radio stations from across the nation. If I don't get home in time to hear All Things Considered, I can catch it on public radio stations located in time zones further west. When I miss Weekend Edition to go to church from 8:00 to 10:00 on Sunday mornings, I can still hear Will Shortz's “Sunday puzzle” on KQED San Francisco (or other west coast stations). The ability to “time shift” using different time zones is very handy.

I can also see the programs that public radio stations are currently airing, so I can pick up any of my favorites such as Science Friday, On Being, Living on Earth, Le Show, The Takeaway, TED Radio Hour, On the Media, and To the Best of our Knowledge. If none are currently airing, I can also listen to their pre-recorded podcasts via TuneIn.

I don't just listen to public radio. I also listen to sports, such as the WVU sports network and the two main auto racing networks (MRN and PRN). There is an Indianapolis station that I listen to for Indy racing news. I have WCHS Charleston as one of my favorites, so that I can listen to the West Virginia Statewide Sportsline (or the Hoppy Kercheval show). When Stanley Cup playoffs begin, I may also listen to some hockey games as I did last spring.

Other stations in my favorites include WTOP, a news station in Washington, DC. I also enjoy listening to astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson on his StarTalk Radio 24/7. Plus, I sometimes indulge in the overnight craziness on Coast to Coast AM (I'm skeptical of some of their topics, but still enjoy listening to the wide variety ranging from UFOs to Nostradamus to assassination conspiracies and more).

When it comes to music, there is a syndicated program I've always enjoyed called “Time Warp” with Bill St. James. It includes not just music, but snippets from newscasts and TV shows to relive a particular time period. Because it is played at different times on different stations, I often listen to it on a variety of stations such as one from Montana and one from Colorado. It is neat to hear the local commercials and imagine life in those locations.

On rare occasions, I will listen overnight to a Charleston station known as V100 that carries the John Tesh show. I can still remember from my undergraduate days at the University of Charleston the huge controversy when V100 changed their format.

If I want to go to sleep listening to music, more often than not I will listen to WCFL Chicago, which I mentioned at the beginning of this story. The 50,000 watt WCFL radio station that I listened to as a youngster is no more, but it has been revived as an Internet radio station that anyone can listen to on the web. There is no broadcast tower, but some fans and former employees have re-created what they think the station would be like today if it had survived. They have lots of the original WCFL promotional tapes that make it seem like I'm listening in my adolescent bedroom again.

To me, it is one of the wonders of the internet that historic WCFL still lives on. But I never dreamed I would be listening to it about 50 years later while living on a beautiful tropical island!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Graphic Arts

[Before I start this story, I want to briefly mention that after a year and a half of wearing my WVU gear around this little island, I finally crossed paths with another WVU alum (we might be the only two here). Cherie Thomas lives here, but attended WVU from 1986 to 1990 and was a member of the WVU track team. We enjoyed talking about Morgantown, the PRT, and more. Go Mountaineers!]


I've always dabbled in art, and especially graphic arts. I made a lot of posters for student government during college. For my legislative and school board campaigns, I designed my own logo, brochures, advertisements, etc. During my federal career, I won several poster awards. I don't claim to be an expert (as I stated in this previous story), but it's just something that I enjoy doing.

Many of you know about my life-long involvement with auto racing. When I was young, I was fascinated with how the paint jobs, lettering, and number fonts could give “personalities” to the different cars. I figured out how the sign painters could use a flat brush to make the thick and thin strokes used in fancy lettering. That made it easy for me to quickly pick up on calligraphy when I got my first fountain pen.

I had not foreseen it, but these graphic arts skills are proving useful in my school as well as the community. I recently provided some much needed signage identifying our village by painting the side of the bus stop along the main road (shown below). I've written previous stories that mentioned other projects, including the big sign for our village feast and the beautiful new marching banner for our school, inspired by the design elements of the Dominican flag.

I am often asked by teachers to create signs for their classrooms. Usually they have an idea of what they want to convey, and I just draw it up for them freehand, rarely using a ruler or anything. With many of these posters, in America I would have used different color combinations, but we are limited here to what cardboard scraps (called Bristol board here) and markers are available. Below is a portfolio of some of my recent work (with comments underneath each photo).
CFS stands for Child Friendly Schools. It is hard to see, but there are some subtle shading differences on the various sides of the "engraved" lettering.
This poster is a huge one that the teacher will put spelling words as leaves on the “word tree.” That is the “Cat in the Hat” drawn underneath the tree, with butterflies, birds, clouds, and other small details she suggested.
I enjoyed trying to remember how a digital clock's numbers look when I made this (there is a slight error on the bottom left corner of the “2,” but I doubt any of the students pick up on it).
I like the tangled vines on this one, helping to separate the different ecosystem types. You can also see in the top left corner the bottom of a cloud-shaped “Science Corner” sign—several classrooms have multiple “subject corner” signs.
For some variety, I used something like a gothic script on this one, designed to show off student papers.
Rather than one large poster, this is a small central rectangle surrounded with multiple groupings taped to the wall. It is a way to utilize smaller pieces of Bristol board.
Some of my former college students could have benefited from this poster! However, I messed up the original version when I colored the stoplight just as it would be in America, with the red light on the top. Unfortunately, that doesn't work with the concept they are trying to teach. A sharp knife let us flip the red and green lights around.
Notice in these two posters that periods are called “full stops” down here. With that, I'll come to a full stop on this short story.


Since this post is so brief, I thought I'd add a reminder that my blog readers could do a great service for my little village if you would make a tax-deductible donation to the “Courts For Kids” project. Our first ever basketball/netball court will be built this summer, thanks to the partial grant I won. However, the more money I can get my friends to donate, fewer dollars will need to be raised from the local residents here (who don't have all that much disposable income). Just go to http://courtsforkids.org/donate/, choose “Donations toward host-country partner,” and indicate in the comments section that this is for the Dominica project. We would be extremely grateful for anything you can share with us! Thank you in advance for your assistance!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Friday Fun-day

It's Carnival season here in Dominica (similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans). There will be no school on Monday and Tuesday as our village joins with the rest of the island in a big celebration prior to the start of Lent. [Click here to read my account of the carnival celebration last year.]

This year, I didn't attend the big kick-off parade in the capital (which I wrote about last year), but I did try to go to the parade in the second largest city of Portsmouth. Unfortunately, their parade was held on Sunday, February 12, and buses don't normally run on Sundays here. It took too long to get there, and so we only caught the tail end of the parade. I did enjoy “dancing” with some of my young female students riding on my shoulders, as shown below amidst the crowd that followed along behind the band in the final float.

Last year, the Friday preceding Carnival was called “Freaky Friday” which I wrote about in this story. This year, our celebration was called “Friday Fun-Day” and took place on February 24. Coming up with a costume is always difficult for me, but this year I decided to try and create a suit of armor out of aluminum foil and silver duct tape. Isn't it every woman's dream to fall for a knight in shining armor? Unfortunately, I ran out of foil before I could totally finish it (maybe that's why there were no women throwing themselves at me). The kids seemed to enjoy it, though. Several of the local villagers got a good laugh seeing me walking to school at 8:00 AM in full costume.
One of the first activities of the day was to hold a parade from the school, past the playing field, and up the main street in the village before returning. It was similar to the Diabetes March we held a few months ago, except that our students were all dressed up in a variety of costumes, ranging from store-bought masks to a simple large rice bag with neck and arm holes, and plenty of scissor cuts to create fringe. Unlike the modern Halloween “industry” in America, most of these creations were handmade by the students.
A variety of organized games were played throughout the day. For example, marbles were placed in a water-filled tub that was filled with large chunks of ice, with ping-pong balls floating on top. The object was to stick one foot into the ice cold water, pick up marbles with your toes, and then drop them in a cup about a yard away from the tub, all within 60 seconds.
Another game was a version of “Pin the tail on the donkey,” but this was “Put the nose on the clown.” Students were blindfolded and spun around before trying to stick the nose in the middle of the clown's face. [I'm the one who drew the clown's face.] Notice the student dressed like an old man on the left of the clown poster below—he played his role quite well.
A very talented woman provided face painting, as shown in the following pictures.
My biggest contribution to the celebration was to conduct the first-ever model rocket launches in my village. For the weeks leading up to this day, I had worked with the fifth and sixth graders, teaching them about rocketry. We built our own launch pad, using scrap wood, a coat hanger, and a tin can lid. We built our own electronic launch controller as well. I also taught them how we could determine the altitude the rocket reached.
Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in coordinating the launches, that I didn't take any pictures. However, I was given the picture above, which shows me supervising a few of the kids, crouching behind the makeshift protective blast screen near the launchpad (which was too far to the right to be included in this picture). However, you can see a girl dressed in a Minnie Mouse costume standing against the light pole in the distance behind us. She is one of four students (distributed around the field) viewing the rocket through a paper tube, waiting to follow it to its zenith, and then record the angle from their pre-measured positions. Using these angles (and a tangent table) we could mathematically calculate the altitude.
By the end of the day, everyone had a great time! Plus, all the kids are eager for more rocket flights. They loved the sound and smoke of the rocket blasting off from the launch pad, climbing almost out of sight, and then seeing the orange and white parachute unfurl for a slow return to earth. Model rocketry was a big hobby of mine when I was their age, and it was a “blast” for me to share this experience with them (using an Estes rocket and B6-4 engines, just as I had used in my youth). Besides having fun, hopefully they learned some science and math as well.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Let There Be Light

There is some big news in my village! But before I can explain, I need to be sure you understand my little village.
We are fortunate to have a nice playing field across the river from our village (be aware that they don't have creeks here—every stream is called a river). You can see the big green playing field beyond the village in the photo above (the school is located on the far side of the playing field).
Nearly a year ago, the government announced that our playing field was to be one of just five fields chosen from throughout the island to participate in a project to try solar powered lighting. It took awhile for this project to come to fruition (not uncommon in developing countries), but at the end of January, the light poles were delivered around our field. On the morning of February 1, I snapped the picture above (from the second floor at the school) of a rainbow hovering above our village. In the foreground, you can see some of the poles resting on the ground. A few days later, a large sign was placed along the roadway for all to see, as shown below.
Finally, last Sunday, a construction crew erected the light poles, with the solar panels, LED lights, and battery boxes. The first few nights of the bright lights shining through the evening darkness was quite a sight for us to see. In a village where the onset of darkness often meant the end of a long day, the glow from the new lights was other-worldly. Plus, after trying to teach students about solar energy, it is nice to have a real-world example so they can better appreciate the concept.
Prior to the lights, there would often be large groups playing football (soccer), ranging in age from my older primary school students to teenagers to twenty-somethings. However, their games always dissipated as the darkness set in for the night. Now they are going to be able to continue their games much longer. [Hopefully this won't impact my students doing their homework. However, it will make it more difficult to hold my Space Station watch parties that I have enjoyed holding on the dark open field at night, but sometimes one must sacrifice for progress.]
I almost posted this story last week when we were all still so excited about it. However, I think it is better that I waited to tell “the rest of the story.” After the first few nights, it became apparent that there was a problem. The lights were often burning during the daylight hours (as shown above), and not operating after dark. Perhaps it is controlled by timers that need to be set properly? We have heard that another field nearby is experiencing the same problem. We are all hoping that the experts return soon to alleviate this problem (because there is nothing we can do to fix the problem). It is a beautiful marvel to behold when it is working properly, as shown below.
One other potentially positive aspect is that the lights may also be beneficial to the new basketball/netball court we will be building this summer on the edge of the playing field. There are still spots available on the “Courts For Kids” work team if you are interested in coming down here July 21-29. Also, as explained in the last paragraph of this earlier blog post, you can make a tax deductible contribution to this important project for my village. Any amount will be deeply appreciated—just click the link near the end of that story. It will be a big help! Thanks!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sailing with Sophia

Earlier this month, I wrote about my trip to Portsmouth where I hired a water taxi to see some of the large sailing vessels in Prince Rupert Bay that weekend. Being on the water and seeing the three tall ships and all those yachts made me interested to try something like that while I'm down here in beautiful Dominica.

As it turns out, I learned about a local yacht that sometimes does charters from Portsmouth. It is a 40.5 foot Hunter Legend sailboat named the “Sophia K.” (the picture below—taken by a drone—is from the “Sail with Sophia Charters” Facebook page). Yesterday, I was able to join a group for an outing up the northwestern coast of Dominica. It was fantastic!

A small inflatable dingy was used to transport us from the shore to the boat. Once everyone was on board, we headed out to sea. Soon the engine was silenced and the sail was unfurled. We were riding the wind.
It wasn't long before we were passing the twin hills of the Cabrits National Park—a place I have often visited but had never viewed from this vantage point, bobbing on the deep blue water of the Caribbean as the steady wind drove us northward. The photo below shows the two hills that jut out from the mainland on the left, with Purple Turtle Beach visible in the distance towards the right side. If you look close towards the left, between the twin hills you can see a couple of the restored fort buildings and their orange-tiled roofs amidst all the lush, green forests of the Cabrits National Park. If you look real hard towards the right, you can see the masts of some of the many yachts anchored off Purple Turtle Beach.
We moved along at a moderate pace, past the Cabrits peninsula that separates Prince Rupert Bay from Douglas Bay. I enjoyed watching other boats enjoying the beautiful day on the water, including the fast sailboat pictured below which passed us on the outside (notice that there is yet another sailboat in the distance on the left). The colorful Dominican national flag is also visible as it fluttered in the wind off our stern (note to self: I should have checked my photos because I thought I had successfully captured the flag stretched out fully behind us, but it apparently had just whipped around the staff for a moment when the shutter opened).
Eventually we were passing Capuchin on the northwest corner of the island. The picture below gives you an idea of the rugged terrain here on the Nature Island. Note, too, that another sailboat can be seen near the coast on the left half of the picture.
We continued sailing into the channel that separates Dominica from the French island of Guadeloupe. It was around this time that I took an interest in the instrumentation in front of the captain. It included a depth finder, that indicated the sea floor was over 2600 feet below (about a half a mile). Then we turned around and headed back. The picture below shows our dingy trailing us in the channel. With closer examination, you might be able to pick out the hazy view of the island of Guadeloupe in the distance (look underneath the whitest of the clouds that form a line above the horizon).
Rather than going straight back, we detoured into Toucarie Bay—a beautiful place that I've written about before. We anchored in the middle of the bay to let folks swim for awhile. I had brought my mask and snorkel with me, so I went exploring. I got to see a lot of incredible views, but most of the fish (parrot fish, angel fish, sargent majors, etc.) were ones I had already seen in other places (check out this story for pictures). That is not a complaint, because it was still fantastic to see all the underwater life!

However, the most memorable aspect of this snorkeling experience was the huge school of fish that surrounded me at one point. I'm not sure what kind they were because they were rather non-descript silver colored fish, the largest of which were probably6 to 8 inches long. It seemed as if there were thousands of them, swimming all around me, darting in unison from one direction to the other. I thought it would only last for a short while, but this “fish storm” lasted for several minutes. It was almost disorienting as they whizzed back and forth. None of them touched me, but they didn't seem scared of me and stayed quite close. Since I don't have an underwater camera, I have no proof of this phenomenon, but below is a diagonal picture I took from the boat showing the north side of Toucarie Bay (the Catholic church with its steeple can be seen towards the right).

Eventually, we gathered on board again, ate some of the food everyone brought, and then headed out of Toucarie Bay. The picture below shows our dingy trailing behind us as we passed by Douglas Bay, on the north side of the Cabrits peninsula. Again, note the mountains in the background.
We cut close the shoreline as we passed the end of Cabrits, as shown in the photo below. The distant shoreline of the Capuchin area can be seen towards the left side. High atop this steep hill is a remaining cannon from the days when France and Britain fought over this island.
After more than five hours (from before 10AM to after 3PM), we finally returned to where we had started. It was well worth the $100 EC (about $40 US dollars) that I paid. The dingy ferried us back to shore after a fun day with new friends, one of whom shared this picture with me.
I wasn't sure what it was going to be like to board a small sailing vessel for most of a day with a bunch of strangers, but it turned out to be a great time. We had lots of good conversations, and found many common areas of interest. One woman had even lived in a log cabin at Fort New Salem in West Virginia for a year—who would have thought I'd meet a Fort New Salem resident in the Caribbean? It just goes to show what a small world we live in!