Saturday, October 31, 2015

Left is Right?

Many of you know that I've always been interested in cars, motorcycles, bicycles, etc. There is something about motion that appeals to me—I love being in control of a wheeled vehicle. Unfortunately, I've had to give up on that major interest for the next couple of years.

One of the rules of the Peace Corps is that we are not allowed to drive a car while we are here—after all, they drive on the opposite side of the roadway (in other words, the left side is the “right” side), which can be very disconcerting at first. Needless to say, riding a motorcycle is also forbidden. Heck, we can't even ride a bicycle in Dominica unless we ride with a bicycle helmet—which absolutely NO ONE wears down here (plus the steep hills here and the narrow roads take the fun out of bicycling). Violating these vehicular rules will result in getting banished from the country.

I suppose this rule makes sense, for safety reasons as well as because we are supposed to be living in the same manner (and on a similar budget) as the residents of the village we serve, and very few villagers own their own cars. Even if you could afford the high cost of buying one of the cars that are imported here, there are ongoing maintenance costs (exacerbated by the salt air), insurance, taxes, etc. Thus, nearly everyone relies on public transport, which consists of a variety of privately owned vans that run folks back and forth. Often they are filled to maximum capacity.

I referred to them as “vans” in the paragraph above, but that would be the word that Americans use to refer to these box-shaped vehicles. I'm learning that the preferred term to use down here is “bus” (or perhaps even a “transport”). Note that nearly every one of them is a “cab forward” design (where the front doors open ahead of the front wheels) that you can't get any longer in the USA because that design can't pass the safety tests in head-on crashes.

One reason why I shouldn't call them a van is because the term “van” is what some (but certainly not all) Dominicans use to refer to what Americans would call a pick-up truck. I think this variation in terms is used more by older Dominicans and those less influenced by the onslaught of American television. Thus, if you are hauling some dirt, you might shovel it into the open bed on the back of your van (which sounds very strange to me). Also, any SUV is referred to as a Jeep, even if the manufacturer is not Jeep. In other words, small Suzuki SUVs are common down here, but they are called “Jeeps” (or perhaps a “Suzuki Jeep”).

It gets even more confusing—don't call what Americans would refer to as a dump truck by that name down here. Dominicans would call a big truck with a tilting box on the back a dumper, not a dump truck. The term dump truck is reserved for describing what we would call a trash truck. To them, it makes sense to call a trash truck a dump truck because it picks up a trash dumpster and dumps it in the back. Dump trucks, dumpers, and dumpsters can get very confusing. Oh well—at least a car is still called a car down here.

They have a lot of vehicles down here that we don't see at home. If I were to have a car down here, I like the unique roofline and other design elements on the Nissan March. However, if I could have a vehicle here, I'd probably be tempted to forego the expense of a car and just ride a motorcycle. Like West Virginia, this place has lots of twisty, curvy, mountain roads that would be a blast on two wheels (unlike West Virginia, they never have to drive such roads in the winter time—I could ride a motorcycle year round!).

The roofline is a bit reminiscent of a VW bug, but it has its own distinctive look.
I've also been interested in a few of the gas stations I have seen here. The largest brand is “Rubis,” and they employ neatly dressed pump attendants to fill your tank. Their stations are pretty similar to what we have at home (except for the attendants). There is also a brand called “NP,” and I noticed one of their stations has its pumps on a circular island. It appears that there were originally four pumps around the circle, but one of them was removed. From what I have witnessed, it seems hard enough getting three vehicles into place around the circle, so I'd imagine four pumps created even more chaos.
There is usually some maneuvering involved to get in and out of this unusual station.
Finally, in the capital of Roseau, the gasoline brand “West Indies” has built a small station at the narrow angle of a “V” where two streets separate. Vehicles pull up along either street to fill up. These pumps have the longest hoses I've ever seen in order to be able to stretch to either side of vehicles on both adjacent streets.
This was an inventive use for a triangular wedge of downtown property.
I'm learning a lot about how they do things here in Dominica. I just hope that I can remember how to drive once I get back in the USA!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Rainbow Bridge

Somebody's dog must have died yesterday because I saw the “rainbow bridge” that supposedly is used by dogs to cross into heaven.
“Over the Rainbow Bridge”--this is the second picture I took, where I tried to zoom in further.
I was sitting alone on my front porch, eating my dinner while enjoying the view of my village and the ocean beyond. Although I am not exactly close to the ocean, I can still see pelicans diving for fish, frigate birds gliding gracefully on the air currents, and fishermen returning to the nearby port in their small wooden boats (not to mention the nightly bat exodus).

I also enjoy watching the sky. At night, we are treated to great views of the Milky Way, and I am much more attuned to the phases of the moon down here. During the day time, beautiful blue skies and puffy white clouds are typical. It is interesting to watch the weather forming far out to sea.

On this particular day, I noticed that a smaller but higher cloud had decided, for whatever reason, to dump its load of moisture. A smear was apparent where rain was falling from this cloud, and with the nearly horizontal late afternoon sun, a rainbow quickly formed. However, instead of a typical 180 degree rainbow, this was just a much smaller arc segment. The spectral colors were amazingly brilliant.

At first I resisted the urge to take a picture of what reminded me of that proverbial “rainbow bridge.” My excuses were that “it will never turn out to look as fantastic as it does to my eyes at this moment” and “by the time I get my camera out and ready, it will probably have diminished or disappeared altogether.” Fortunately, I changed my tune and went to get my camera.

This is the first shot I took, and the wide angle shows a bit of my village with the ocean in the distance (just ignore the utility lines).
While these two shots are still not as stunning as what the naked eye could see, they still came out pretty good (maybe if I had not made excuses at first and had taken them sooner, I could have got better pictures). It was unusual to see such a short piece of a rainbow, especially one that was obviously occurring because some unknown catalyst enticed a small cloud to start letting loose of its water droplets.

Eventually, the rainbow arc, as well as the raincloud from which it sprang, disappeared. Below is the last shot I took, when the cloud was merely a smudge of pale white on God's sky blue canvas.

Maybe I should have described this in the passage above as “a paler shade of white” for any Procol Harum fans.
The cloud was gone, and apparently so was somebody's dog. At least I was inspired enough to get up out of my chair and grab my camera. Let's all try to remember to catch life's rainbows rather than come up with excuses.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Favorite Bar

First, let me start by saying that I don't think there are any candy bars that I'd turn down if I were hungry. All of them are good—it is just that some are better than others. However, I was recently asked to pick my favorite candy bar so that some of them could be sent in a “care package” from my family back home. I was able to quickly name my favorite.

My earliest recollections of candy bars go back to the early to mid-'60s, when my dad was the manager of Ohio Valley Speedway. I spent every Saturday night at the race track during racing season. My sister generally stayed in the concession stand where my mom worked, but I was allowed to sit on the bleacher row in front of the judges' stand where the announcer worked. I loved sitting up there by myself (there were other folks sitting around me who my parents trusted, but I felt like I was “grown up” because my parents let me stay there on my own) watching the races!

Each night at the conclusion, I'd go down to the concession stand to wait with my mom and sister until we all went home. That is where I learned about different candy bars. This was back in the 1960s, before all the new-fangled candy bars came along—back when a Hershey bar was simply plain chocolate rather than today's Hershey bars that feature multiple different flavor choices (such as “Cookies and Cream Hershey bar”, “Mint Hershey bar”, etc.). These were the days of classic brands such as Clark, Oh Henry, Fifth Avenue, Payday, etc. Most people seem to pick the big names such as Snickers or Three Musketeers. My favorite at that early age was a Zagnut bar, which can still be found today but isn't very common. It isn't a chocolate bar because it has no chocolate—just a golden toasted coconut coating.

After Ohio Valley Speedway changed hands and we no longer were tied to that track, Dad and I started going to the races at Pennsboro Speedway. This historic half-mile county fairground racetrack with its huge covered grandstand had started in the late 1800s as a horse track, but eventually race cars took over. It is wedged in a small valley amidst tall hills, with three bridges spanning the creeks that run through the infield.

It was on those hot Sunday afternoons at Pennsboro that I discovered my very favorite candy bar. The concession stands at the old Ritchie County Fairgrounds (the original name and purpose of Pennsboro Speedway) were located underneath the old grandstand whose aging wood had long since turned gray over the decades (unfortunately, this historic structure burned down in 1980). They had those big galvanized tubs like are found on farms, but here they were filled with ice. Soft drinks and even candy bars were atop and among the cold ice cubes (sometimes sinking into the frigid meltwater). The candy bars didn't get melted despite the heat because they were nearly frozen hard from sitting on the ice all day. It was at this race track that I discovered the joy of a cold Zero bar. They tasted great on a hot summer afternoon (the big half-mile track at Pennsboro had no lighting system, so they always raced in the day time).

Zero bars can still be found today, but it seems you often have to be looking for them to find one. They still have essentially the same silver and blue wrapper design. I enjoy the white chocolate fudge coating over the caramel and almond nougat. It is definitely different than most other candy bars, and it always makes me think of the good times I had with my father at Pennsboro.

Thus, as I sat here in this tropical climate, the candy bar I quickly chose was a Zero bar. I knew that even if they melted inside the wrappers while they were being shipped down here, I could still put them in my freezer and recreate the chilled version that I remember. I ate one bar already, and gave one to my host family to enjoy (Dominica has a lot of American candy bars, but they don't have Zero bars here, and they liked it). I hope to space the remaining ten out over time, never eating more than one a month (if that).

I still enjoy Zagnuts when I find them, but it is that other “Z” named bar that barely edges it out for the top spot, primarily because of how good it tastes when cold (if I end up freezing them too hard, I can always let them thaw a bit in the tropical heat here). I'm so glad they sent this little reminder of my childhood. The Zero bar gets my award for the best candy bar!

One of my Zero bars in front of my ice cube tray.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Weekend Review

I thought some of you might be interested in knowing what I do on a weekend. I haven't been here long enough to have a “typical” weekend, but this story gives you an idea of how I spent October 16th through the 18th.

Friday evening started with rain, so instead of getting food at a village eatery, I stayed home and cooked macaroni and cheese (before you roll your eyes at my bachelor cooking, be aware that this is the first time since I moved in on September 1st that I have fixed mac and cheese for dinner). I had used up most of my other food, because I was planning to make a run to the marketplace in Portsmouth on Saturday morning, so mac and cheese was a convenient option from among the slim pickings in my kitchen. Mac and cheese is a very popular food here in the Caribbean.

During our hike on Sunday, there was a nice overlook with a small island below.
Eventually the rain stopped and I went down to roam Main Street. In my small village, “strolling” up and down Main Street (or sitting along the curb or on porches) is a social event, where folks exchange pleasantries and share the latest news. I ended up spending most of my evening with some village council members and others, discussing such topics as the need to replace the Main Street bridge (my main Peace Corps project is to help the school, but my secondary project is helping the village council). Of course, the fascinating conversations that evening also covered many other topics. I learn a lot about village life and Dominican history from nights like this.

On Saturday morning, I awoke early and caught a bus for Portsmouth. I walked to the marketplace in the center of town and surveyed the available produce and other products. I ended up purchasing a nice big soursop, some oranges, potatoes, okra, green bell peppers, cucumbers, and some delicious baked goods. [I will do a blog post in the future about the foods I eat here.]

This is a soursop on a full-size dinner plate. It is difficult to describe, but I think it is delicious.
Then I walked over to the apartment where Janet lives. She is another Peace Corps Volunteer who started in my class this year, and is a retiree like myself. Surprisingly, she came from Athens, Ohio, which is not far from my home in West Virginia. I had told her that she needed to get out of the big city (if one can consider the second largest city on Dominica to be a big city) and come see what my life is like in my small village. A few weeks ago, I had invited one of last year's Peace Corps Volunteers to visit my village (she is the closest volunteer to my location) and it had went very well, so I was eager to show off my hometown again to one of my classmates.

As we were waiting for a bus to my village, we saw Pepper's bus, the tour guide who had taken our group of Peace Corps Volunteers to Trafalgar Falls a few weeks ago. We waved at him and he stopped—it turns out that two of our colleagues (the married couple who are retired lawyers) had hired him to take them on a tour of some interesting spots around the northern half of the island. Since my village was not far off the road they would be taking, they agreed to transport us.

The four of us had a good time chatting as we rode through the jungle forest on the way to the Atlantic side of the island. Eventually, he diverted off the main road to take the side road leading to my village. Since they were on a tight schedule to see all that they had planned, they were not able to stay long. However, they got out of the van with Janet and I to check out the beach area and to see my school and its nice playing field (with the village visible beyond that). They were impressed with my location, and mentioned it in their blog posting about their day.

After they left, I took Janet up Main Street, pointing out many of the important locations. We stopped briefly at my house, and then proceeded to the spring. [I plan on writing a separate story about the spring later, so stay tuned for more of an explanation in the near future.] I was pleased that Janet was as enamored with the spring as I was from the first time I saw it. It reminds me so much of West Virginia (or in her case, Hocking Hills)! Yes, the vegetation is a bit different, but the general feel of the place is similar to my homeland, and she felt the same way.

My village as seen from its highest point (L'islet can be seen jutting out into the ocean below).
Then we walked up the steep hill to the get a view of the village (and the ocean) from the top of the mountain. It was a grand sweeping view of the region. The walk down was much easier, and we stopped several times to converse with villagers. She also got to meet my “host mom” and see the house where I lived during the month of August.
Here is another view from the top, looking over at some nearby volcano-ish mountains.
As we neared our next stop—L'islet—we happened to see one of the teachers get off a bus at the school (she was doing extra work on her day off). This provided the opportunity for Janet to see inside our school, with its three main classrooms and my small library upstairs. Needless to say, it is a different situation than what her larger school in the big city is like. We noted that just during her first few hours in the village, she had already met nearly half the students (they were all eager to meet the woman I had with me).

Our next stop was the cliff leading to L'islet (see my previous story about L'islet). It is a bit of a challenging climb, but she wanted to do it, and proceeded up the hill just fine. We hiked around L'islet, and then sat for a good while enjoying the view of the surf pounding against the rocks and rushing up on the sandy beach. She could see miles down the coastline, and yet not see anything that was man-made—just all nature's beauty. Living on the Caribbean side, the sea is much calmer, and she doesn't get to see the waves or hear the crash of the surf, and she loved it.

This is just a portion of the panoramic view of wild beaches and rocky coastline visible from our perch on L'islet.
Eventually, she had to catch a bus back to Portsmouth, but she is looking forward to coming back again someday because she had a great time. Unfortunately, I realized that I had not taken any pictures of her visit, so hopefully I will remember to do so the next time.

I then headed back home to take care of all my purchases from the marketplace. I fixed raw peppers and cucumbers to take in my school lunch next week. I boiled the potatoes, but placed a strainer over top so that I could steam the okra at the same time (it is important to be frugal with your gas bottle). I ate one of the potatoes and the okra for dinner before heading down to the beach to see the bat exodus. One of my students joined me there to watch the bats fly out, and then we decided to go play a game of drafts.

Drafts is similar to checkers, but played with different rules. [I hope to write a future story about some of the different games down here, where I will provide more details on how drafts differs checkers, so stay tuned to this blog.] This student has been trying to teach me the nuances of the game, just as I have been trying to teach him (and other students) about chess. Although I had lost about half a dozen games over the previous weeks, I was beginning to get the hang of the game. On this particular night, I ended up winning my first game of drafts (albeit with a little help).

To celebrate (and to keep my student from feeling bad), I said we would go get ice cream. He had recently informed me that there was a shop that sold ice cream cones in the village (meaning that we were not dependent totally on Mr. Whippy). The proprietor simply keeps a couple of gallon tubs in his freezer so that he can dip out cones for his customers. So my student took me over to this shop on Back Street, where we happened to run into two more of my students. I decided I would splurge and purchase four ice cream cones ($3.50 each) so that they could also enjoy the celebration.

The next morning, I awoke early so that I could do some laundry (by hand, using buckets) before church began at 8:00. I returned home after church, changed clothes, and ate some food. At noon, my host sister and I, along with three youngsters from the village, set off on a hike to see some of the territory south of our location. I learned a lot about local history, wildlife, and botany as we walked along the roadway. We also walked into the grounds of the fancy hotel (check it out here if you are interested in a nice place to stay) a few miles away from us, where they let us look around inside.

It is a beautiful hotel, with this terraced pool (there was yet another pool on the level below).
We turned around after exploring the small fishing port south of our location and luckily caught a bus that was heading back to our village. Buses don't run on Sundays, but this driver was from our village and had ran someone on a special trip, and was heading back to his home in the village. We were lucky to get a ride, thus avoiding the long hike home!
My hiking companions at the commercial fishing port several miles from my village.
Upon arrival, I could see that many of my students were swimming at the beach, so I headed off to join them. I had a great time swimming in the ocean with them and playing around with them. Some of the adults had built a fire on the beach to prepare some roasted breadfruit and other delicacies, and shared this food with everyone visiting the beach. I love the sense of community in my village!
This is not the beach in my village, but another nice one that we checked out during our hike.
After I had my fill of sand and saltwater, I headed up to the spring to rinse it all off. Then I changed clothes and dropped down to my host family's house, where we watched the bat exodus before playing dominoes. The game of dominoes is very popular on this island, and there are even tournaments with teams representing different villages. In fact, this evening there was a big tournament here in my village, with lots of folks from other villages coming to see the competition. I'm not ready for the “pros” yet, so it was just good to get some practice in a safe, supportive setting with my host family. The weekend ended with me in my house, typing up this weekend report.
Dominoes is a big sport down here—even the beer companies advertise about it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mr. Whippy

When I was a young child, each summer my Dad, Mom, sister, and me would get in the car for our annual summer vacation to the Virginia Beach area. This meant a long drive over the mountains in the days before interstate highways were common. We didn't actually stay at the beach, but would go there a few times while staying with relatives who lived in nearby Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is known for being our largest naval base.

Mom and Dad had lived in Norfolk when he served in the U.S. Navy. Mom's oldest sister had married a naval officer and had three children, so they had made that area their home. I always enjoyed my three older cousins who I looked up to as a child (and still admire them today).

Since I grew up in rural West Virginia, I never saw an ice cream truck as a child. However, cartoons and TV shows sometimes referenced this magical vehicle that would suddenly appear in urban neighborhoods, dispensing cold, delicious ice cream. I can remember how excited I was when we would visit our cousins in Norfolk and hear the ice cream truck coming, playing music from a loudspeaker. Thus, I always associate ice cream trucks with this childhood memory.

To my surprise, there is an ice cream truck that occasionally visits my secluded village on Dominica. It is not a fancy truck, but rather an old beat up one with fading colors. The name that is painted on it is “Mr. Whippy.” The loudspeaker on this truck only plays one song—over and over again. Of all possible musical choices, the song this Dominican truck plays is a clip of the U.S. Navy theme song (“Anchors Aweigh”). It made me wonder if it had a previous life working the streets of Norfolk.

There isn't an extensive menu—the day I checked it out he just had soft serve vanilla ice cream served in cones. Some of my students were already in line when I arrived on the scene during this hot late afternoon. As I neared the front of the line, one of my littlest kindergarten students had the large top of his cone slide off and land on the sidewalk. He was a bit dumbfounded as to what had just happened to his special treat.

I asked “Mr. Whippy” if he could give my student a new top for his cone, and just give me a short cone. To his credit, he not only put a top on the student's cone (and a big smile back on his little face), but still gave me a healthy portion as well. It was my first ice cream since arriving here, and although it was just a “plain jane” vanilla soft serve cone, it tasted great.

In the meantime, the big blob of ice cream that had landed on the hillside sidewalk started sliding its way down the hill, looking a bit like one of those animated “scrubbing bubbles” from the TV commercials, except this was leaving a flat trail of ice cream behind. I'm sure the ants enjoyed it!

Friday, October 9, 2015

World Wise Introduction

[The Peace Corps has a program called "World Wise Schools" that pairs up volunteers with American schools so that the students can learn about life overseas. I was able to pair with an elementary school in my hometown, where I had performed some after-school volunteer work last year. Periodically I will be posting blog stories that are directed at my World Wise School, but hopefully these stories will still be interesting for all to read.]

Greetings from the small island country of Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean! It is only about 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, with a population of about 70,000 (which is smaller in size and population than Wood County, West Virginia). I came here in August as a Peace Corps Volunteer to work in my village's school for the next two years.

The Peace Corps is a United States government program that sends Americans overseas to help poorer countries. It was started in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. There are three goals--to provide assistance to developing countries; to share with them about America; and to inform Americans about life in foreign countries.

I was assigned to a small school (pictured above) in a little village of several hundred people along the Atlantic coast. We are situated between the mountains and the beach, with plenty of coconut trees, breadfruit trees, plantain trees (which are like green bananas), citrus fruit trees, etc. The volcanic soil here is very good for growing things. For example, the cucumbers are larger here than back home, and the local watermelons are delicious!

The people here are very nice, too! My village reminds me of small towns in West Virginia, where everyone pretty much knows everybody else, and people are quick to pitch in to help a neighbor. They have been very welcoming to me.

A view of my village from one of the roads leading into it.
The school where I work is small--we only have three classrooms, all located on the first floor. Upstairs is a small library, the principal's office, bathrooms, two small meeting rooms, and some limited storage. We have just 31 students enrolled in the three classes, with about ten in each classroom. Our classes comprise two grades each, with the one teacher covering both grade levels. Kindergarten and first grade are combined in one room, second and third grades are together in the middle room, and fourth and fifth grades share the last room (we don't have any sixth graders this year).

This is the view of the playing field out my library door, where they play cricket, rounders, and football (not American football--everywhere else but America refers to soccer as football).
One of my duties is to be the school librarian, and they gave me a desk there. My window looks out onto the nearby beach (see the first picture in this story). My door looks out on the playing field, with the village and the mountains behind it. There is no air conditioning down here, so with the temperature generally in the mid- 80s, the door and window louvers are always open during the day.

Here are two views of my little library.
I also help the teachers with struggling students--either inside the classroom, up in the library, or sometimes outside. I help with playground duty, too (but many kids go back to their homes in the village for lunch--we don't have a school cafeteria). My favorite job, though, is that I'm the substitute teacher if one is needed (my least favorite class to teach is the K/1st class, but since they don't read much, I don't have to worry about them reading this comment).

Here is a closer view of the beach just across from my school (with a fisherman's boat).
I look forward to sharing more about life on the beautiful island of Dominica during this school year. Until my next report, please work hard in school! There are lots of students down here who would love to have the resources and opportunities for a good education that you are privileged to have as American school children. Don't waste your chance! Learn as much as you can!
Here's to the dawning of our World Wise Schools relationship!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mail Call

I received my first piece of mail today! It wasn't a simple letter—it was a large 12x12x16 inch box stuffed full of school supplies! There were lots of pencils, erasers, sharpeners, pens, crayons, chalk, flashcards, little toys, tissues, an inflatable globe, etc. Not only did it make me happy, but it also made the principal and my fellow teachers happy.

First, I should explain a bit about how the mailing system works here. Dominica does not employ postal carriers to deliver the mail (not in my area or anywhere else, at least as far as I know). My address is simply my name followed by the name of my village (which the Peace Corps would rather I not specify in my blog). The whole address looks like this:

David Kurtz
{insert the name of my village—send me an email if you want to know}
The Commonwealth of Dominica
West Indies

Within the USA, you can add the zip code of 00109-8000. This isn't something that Dominica uses, but at least the zip code helps to route any Dominica-bound mail while it is still within the U.S. Postal Service's system. Note that it is helpful to use the phrase “The Commonwealth of Dominica” because this differentiates it from another Caribbean nation known as the Dominican Republic. It takes long enough to get mail that comes directly here, so if you can avoid a mistaken detour to the wrong country, you will get your mail faster.

Residents here need to check at the local post office to see if they have any mail. My village's post mistress works on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The post office doesn't have individual post office boxes where you retrieve your own mail. Instead, the post mistress just keeps it all stored alphabetically. You walk inside and simply ask her if you have any mail.

I understand that letters come much more quickly than boxes. This is in part due to the fact that boxes must be opened and inspected, and import duties must be paid. Because of this need to pay the import duties, it cannot be done at the local post office—you must go to the post office in either the capital (Roseau) or the second largest city (Portsmouth). The Customs Office will send a pink notification message to your village post office when your box has been inspected and is ready to be picked up.

Thanks to Facebook, I was able to reconnect with an old friend from my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Charleston. I haven't seen her since around 1978, but Facebook has been great for helping old friends get virtually reunited. She works out west for an educational software company and gets to attend a lot of education conferences, where she often picks up a lot of freebies to send to people such as myself.

I should point out that unlike sending boxes to Americans in military service overseas, it is much more expensive and complicated to send boxes to Peace Corps (or anyone other than military). Mail headed to military folks stays in American hands the whole way, through a postal service ran (and subsidized) by the military. For everyone else, the U.S. Postal Service turns the boxes over to the national postal service of whichever country the box is headed. For any Americans who have sent servicemen things overseas, there is a big price difference! I'm not sure what she paid to send the box that arrived today, but my family recently sent me a smaller box (currently en route to the island) and the postage for it was about $75.

Sue, my long lost friend from UC, put together this box of goodies, and mailed it on September 7. She has sent boxes such as mine to other friends of hers overseas, and chose to send it with a tracking option. She informed me that it finally arrived on the island of Dominica on Saturday, September 26.

I knew that the next step was for me to get a pink slip, so I checked at my village post office on Monday. However, there was no mail for me. I checked on Wednesday and still no mail. Unfortunately, I forget to check on my way home from school on Friday. However, the post mistress saw me in the village and let me know that the pink slip had finally arrived. I could pick it up on Monday.

The only trouble was that I was scheduled to spend all day Monday in the capital of Roseau for training in the Peace Corps' new online monitoring and evaluation program (the paperwork that must be kept to show Congress we are really working). Fortunately, my post mistress gave the pink slip to my host sister to give me when I got home from Roseau.

Today, my principal gave me permission to leave at lunch so I could retrieve this box from the Portsmouth post office. I caught a bus from our village to Portsmouth, but had to wait until 2:00 when the Customs officials arrive at the post office. I had no idea what the import duty on school supplies might cost me, but I got lucky—the officials there only charged me two dollars. Nearly one full month (September 7 to October 6) had passed, but I finally received my awesome box of school supplies.

Thank you so much, Sue! We will put these materials to good use! However, we can always use more if anyone else is interested in helping out!

Sunday, October 4, 2015


One of the geographical features of my location is a spit of land that juts out into the Atlantic, separating the two beaches in my village. It begins as a narrow peninsula of land that connects to a small “islet” (hence the French name “L'islette”).
Here is a side view of L'islette from the hillside above the bat cave.
Here is a long-distance view from the mountain behind my village, providing a different angle.
The only catch is that the beginning of this narrow peninsula is a steep hillside (some might call it a cliff) that must be climbed in order to proceed out onto L'islette. The rocks and tree roots provide some hand and footholds, but it is still a bit challenging. Thankfully, someone has tied an old extension cord to a sturdy tree near the top, providing a handy “rope” to assist people climbing up (or down). Once on top, there is a trail that leads across the narrow ridge to the wider end.
My guide is carefully climbing down the steep hillside. One hand is grasping the “rope,” while the other holds a branch of bay leaves he collected in the woods at the far end of L'islette.
My host sister had previously shown me nearly all of the features of our village, but for some reason had left out a tour of L'islette. She is normally a brave woman, but it seems that she doesn't do heights well. Thus, L'islette had not been a part of her comprehensive village tour. Fortunately, one of my students gave me a guided tour of L'islette recently.
Along the trail with my trusty guide (off to the right is a sharp drop-off to the ocean below).
Looking backward to the beach where we swim (this was part of the drop-off I mentioned above).
Eventually the narrow ridge widens and the trail forks. One path goes up to the high ground near the end of the L'islette, providing some beautiful views of the shoreline and the ocean. The other leads down to the rocks at the base. Often there are fisherman out on these rocks at low tide.
My guide showed me a nice view of our village from a small clearing near the top.
I am glad that I finally got the opportunity to explore L'islette, thanks to the expertise of one of my students. Yesterday, I was able to show it off to one of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, who came for a visit to my village. It was fun to hang out on the rocks next to the pounding surf at the far end of L'islette. She even shared a local snack she brought with her—coconut tablet (shredded coconut infused with cinnamon and other spices). After our adventure on L'islette, we went swimming in the ocean at the adjacent beach (I'm so fortunate to have a sandy beach in my village!). We finished the day by watching the nightly bat exodus from a beautiful house on the hillside above the bat cave (which also has an excellent view of L'islette). It was a good day! I'm lucky to live in such an interesting place!
She took this picture of me while we were on the rocks at the end of L'islette. Just above my head (and a bit to the right) is the entrance to the bat cave, and above that is the house where we visited (where the first picture above was taken).