After leaving from Pittsburgh early this morning, I arrived in Miami and met my cohorts for the next two years. What an amazing group of individuals! There are about 30 of us, from all parts of America, in all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors (including a married couple). After spending the afternoon and into the evening in training (with some talented Peace Corps employees who have previously served as volunteers), I have come to realize one thing--it will be awesome working with these folks! The Peace Corps is an incredible organization!
I will say that I was surprised at the size of our group. There is a special Facebook group for the Eastern Caribbean, and based on comments made on that site, I thought our group was only comprised of about 15 people. It has been nice getting to know those who had participated in this Facebook group, because when I arrived I recognized them and immediately felt like I had finally met my new friends. However, it turned out that there was about twice as many of us than I had realized. Some of them simply don't do Facebook, and perhaps others simply chose to "fly under the radar." I don't mean to second-guess their strategy, but if you are reading this as a prospective Peace Corps volunteer, I recommend that you get involved with your Facebook group prior to departure. Just a little tidbit of advice from someone who spent a lot of time researching Peace Corps blogs prior to my application and selection.
We had to get checked out of our Miami hotel and meet in the lobby at 5:00, which meant a second straight night of getting up around 4:00 AM. A charter bus took us to the airport where we had check in, get our bags weighed, and then run the TSA gauntlet. Our flight didn't start boarding until 9:00, but with 32 of us, with major baggage, it took a long time to get through the process.
The flight on an American Airlines 757 was less than four hours. This time I got a window seat, and it was fun looking down on various islands, with their turquoise blue shallow waters surrounding them.
Soon we were preparing to land on St. Lucia, as its mountainous peaks came into view. We deboarded (using the old-fashioned stairways moved into place against the fuselage allowing you down to the Tarmac), met the Eastern Caribbean Peace Corps Director, went through customs, gathered our bags, and walked out of the terminal. Some current Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) met us outside and helped get our luggage organized and onto a truck, and then we boarded two buses to take us to a Benedictine Abbey on the other end of the island.
The drive from the airport at the southern end of the island to the Abbey in the north took nearly two hours, as the roads are narrow and twisty. Because of its British past, vehicles run on the opposite side of the road from what we are accustomed to seeing. We passed through many small towns along the way. This was not in any glamorous, touristy area--the poverty was obvious.
Once we arrived, we met more of the local Peace Corps staff, got our rooms, and had some free time before dinner. The Abbey is perched on a hill overlooking the sea. The nuns wear white robes. The food they prepared for us was fantastic (especially since I had not eaten much lately because I try to avoid filling up before flying).
After dinner, I happened to notice that the television in the lounge was tuned into the local news (there are no TVs in our rooms). It was very interesting for a news-aholic like me to watch a newscast where the only mention of news from the United States was that Golden State had evened the series with Cleveland for the NBA Championship. This was only mentioned at the very end of the sports segment, after major coverage of cricket, soccer, and a local basketball tournament.
The news itself covered topics such as water shortages related to the drought, the opening of a St. Lucian embassy in Taiwan (including concerns by an opposition party about its impact on relations with China), a controversy about whether trade unionists would be better not being identified with a particular party, a local blood drive, a deforestation study, a student leadership award program sponsored by RBC Bank, and a visit by a college group from Guyana.
The advertisements during the news were also illuminating. There were several bank commercials, the two major cell phone companies (Lime and Digicel), a local grocery store, some clothing stores, etc. Between the news and the commercials, I got a sense of my new home. It was a good way to end my first day "in country."