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.

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