The newest members of the Peace Corps in the Eastern Caribbean were to officially take our oath of office during the last week of August, with the island of Dominica scheduled for the final event on Friday, August 28. Separate ceremonies the previous days were held on St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines where all of them were sworn in. Needless to say, with our island in a state of emergency, plus with roads and communications cut off, we did not meet the U.S. Ambassador in the capital city that Friday for our ceremony.
However, one week later, detours around the broken bridges had reopened the main highway to some intrepid vehicles (but not our usual buses). The Peace Corps arranged for a driver with a four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser to bring the four of us (two from last year's class who are midway through their two-year service, and the two rookies—myself and a woman from Athens, Ohio) from the northern part of the island to Roseau. Bringing us all together with Peace Corps staffers allowed for a major discussion about the storm and its aftermath. Plus, it allowed us to finally get sworn in (albeit without the usual pomp and circumstance).
The trip along the Roseau/Portsmouth highway usually takes about an hour, but it was more like 90 minutes on Friday. Here is a picture of the first bridge we saw that had been destroyed, not far below Portsmouth. The picture below was taken as our vehicle forded the now docile but once raging stream.
It appears that schools will open on September 21, rather than on Monday, September 7 as originally planned. Our discussions indicated that all of us have plenty to keep us busy during this two-week delay before school starts. Finally, at the end of the day on Friday, we were given the oath of office and provided with our official Peace Corps identification cards. Later in the evening, I took this picture of a Venezuelan naval ship at the same wharf where the gigantic U.S. Naval Hospital ship had been docked one month ago (I was impressed that this ship played the Dominican national anthem at sundown).
Our driver decided to get out of his vehicle and research the situation. He walked across a path he thought would allow us to get around the obstacles. He came back and told those of us who had waited in the Land Cruiser that he was going to try his “detour around the detour.” We were willing to give it a try—it was his vehicle after all. [Below is a picture showing the reason for this detour—look close and you can see the second chasm in the distance (yes, I walked up to the precipice to take this shot).]
He tried several times to get unstuck, but to no avail. Our brave attempt to remedy the traffic backup had failed. The driver went off to seek assistance, while some of us tried to dig out the Land Cruiser. I found a length of 2”x6” to use as a shovel, a log to use as a fulcrum when necessary, and a dilapidated piece of corrugated metal to stand on (because the more I dug, the more I was sinking into the mud as well). The driver later came back and gave it one more try, but we just weren't able to make much headway.
To conclude this memorable weekend, my Sunday was devoted to a charitable endeavor. My village prepared massive amounts of food and delivered it to two other villages that were heavily damaged by Erika. It started early in the morning with food preparation. I performed some minor tasks before I was assigned to dumpling duty (rolling balls of flour paste into round dumplings that were added to the two huge pots of soup we cooked outdoors over fires). [This was a much safer activity for me compared to when I tried my hand at trimming coconuts with a machete—fortunately, I still have all my fingers.]
Just as one example, here is a sad picture I took at the Coulibistrie Primary School, which would normally be set to open tomorrow. Unfortunately, the ruined desks, books, computer equipment, etc., sit in muddy piles around the school grounds.
The only bad part about this weekend was my wardrobe choices. You see, I would have been a lot better off to have saved my new Peace Corps Volunteer t-shirt to wear today. It would have looked nice as we delivered meals or when I was serving beverages. Unfortunately, I chose to wear it yesterday, when many cars drove by our hopelessly stuck vehicle (after our hired driver tried to create a detour around the detour). Some of them probably snickered at “those Peace Corps folks” as they drove by our predicament. Oh well!