Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Fate Revealed

The last few days have been a whirlwind! After training on Friday afternoon (the end of our sixth week of Pre-Service Training in St. Lucia), we were told the island on which we would serve our next two years. Eight of the 32 would stay on St. Lucia, while the remainder would be evenly divided among Grenada, Dominica, and St. Vincent.

Last year's class started a tradition of treating assignment day as something from the Harry Potter movie—bringing the class members up one by one to learn their fate. This year, we enhanced that Harry Potter theme by creating a red, white, and blue wizard's sorting hat, and adding special signs that matched the different “houses” from Hogwarts to the different islands. The twenty-somethings in our class who are big Harry Potter fans really enjoyed the sorting hat ceremony.

I was enlisted to do the calligraphy.

She is better at modeling hats than I am.

When it came my turn, the sorting hat decided to send me to Dominica—which is nicknamed “the nature isle.” Of the four islands that Peace Corps supports, it is the largest in land mass (290 square miles), but the smallest in population (~75,000). It has a lot of land that is set aside as nature preserves. In addition, it also has one of the only “reservations” for the original Carib tribes that lived on the island prior to Columbus (who named the island Dominica because he discovered it on a Sunday). By the way, it is important to pronounce it DominEEka, because this helps to avoid confusion with the Dominican Republic, a Spanish speaking Caribbean country which shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti.

I will be working in a school on the north-northeast section of the coastline, in a small fishing and farming village. It will be a long bus ride to the capital (and cruise ship port) of Roseau, which is on the southwest coast. I don't know much else yet at this point, but my assignment sheet also mentions that they want me to coach the football team (so if any of my friends have tips for coaching an elementary soccer team, let me know).

On Friday night, my Peace Corps class had an awards party, where “class superlatives” were given. I won the “Best Dad” award (for providing advice as well as a watchful eye), and got my picture taken with all my “daughters.” I was proud to receive this award! I will miss seeing three-quarters of them once we get split up among the islands.

This picture was taken before some of the girls got into the picture, but it came out better than the entire group picture.

Speaking of splitting up, we will finish our seventh and final week of training in Babonneau this coming week. Then on Saturday, August 1, we will be transported to our assigned locations (even those staying on St. Lucia will be moved to their new villages). While training on our individual islands for three more weeks, we will be living with a new host family to acclimate to our new location. At the end of our ten total weeks of Pre-Service Training, we will be sworn in as full-fledged volunteers. At that point we will be able to move into our own housing which the Peace Corps has selected for us. I'm looking forward to that.

Last night (Saturday, July 25), the Peace Corps staff organized a cultural appreciation night. There was a local band, a folk dance group, and steel drum performers. In addition, our Peace Corps class was encouraged to dress in traditional St. Lucian costumes and participate in some fashion. Some of us danced, read poetry, and even hosted a cooking show.

Without much talent of my own (but with a habit of watching the local news), I did a tribute to a newscaster (Alex Bousquet) who specializes in man-on-the-street interviews (which are often insightful and/or entertaining). Usually he asks for opinions on important topics, but on Fridays he asks a riddle. I shared my favorite “Street Vibes” riddle, first in the Kweyol language and then in English. My “Street Vibes” riddle was: “How do you make Holy Water? You boil the hell out of it!”

In order to be properly attired for the cultural program last night, my host mom and I rode the bus to Castries on Saturday morning. We went to purchase a traditional madras shirt for me from one of our neighbors, who has a small shop inside the marketplace. She had some shirts that she had made, in addition to some that were imported from India. I was fortunate to find a shirt she had handmade, plus it featured the colors of the Dominican flag—green, red, yellow, and black. I'm glad I had just found out where I was going to serve, because this shirt will be put to good use in Dominica as well. Plus, knowing that it was made in the little St. Lucian community I lived in for seven weeks, by a woman I've met thanks to my host mom, makes this traditional shirt even more special.

This was taken on the front porch of my host home.

I must say that this last week will be bittersweet. Not only will I be saying goodbye to three-quarters of my new friends (who I had never met until June 11 in Miami), but I will also be saying goodbye to my wonderful host family here. I have had a fantastic time living with them, and received a lot of good advice along the way. Working with the Peace Corps is an intense experience, and the relationships you forge are the type that will likely stay with you for the rest of your life. I look forward to keeping in touch with my St. Lucian host family after I move on to Dominica.

A new chapter of my life begins next Saturday!

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