Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Love Letters in the Sand

I have written before about Mont Rouge, the imposing hillside above our beach. I have climbed on it several times, but it is very steep, with few handholds. Most of my young students can climb it quite easily, but one needs to be very careful and pick your paths wisely. There was one path that I had not explored yet, but I finally crossed that off my list recently.

In the past, I had followed my students up to the big bare rocky spot that looms well above our beach. However, while at the beach one day several weeks ago, I watched one of my students climb even higher on the hillside, through some of the “scrub brush” above the bare rock. It turns out that there is a bit of a path (perhaps it was originally a cleft in the rock) that leads diagonally to a higher point, which ends with a sharp dropoff on the back side.

I knew I wanted to give it a try someday. I like to push myself, albeit in a responsible manner, to test my own boundaries. Could I safely make my way up to this higher vantage point? Recently, another Peace Corps Volunteer had visited my village and attempted to merely get up to the bare rock above the sea (which I've done numerous times), but backed out after seeing how difficult the climb really was without the right shoes. It is a bit challenging!

I had walked down to the beach area on Sunday afternoon, originally intending to just watch and listen to the waves, before seeing if I could find some folks interested in taking a hike somewhere. Thus I had good hiking shoes on, and not simply a swimsuit. While enjoying the beachside serenity, that high spot on the hill beckoned to me. It seemed to be saying that today would be a perfect day to scale its heights. With hardly anybody around the beach at this time, it wouldn't be a big deal if I made it part way up and then changed my mind.
The picture above shows the hillside in question, and the red line I added shows (approximately) the path one must take to climb up to that higher point, which is more than twice as high on this oceanfront side as I had previously been on the front of Mont Rouge (there is another path on the back side that allows you to climb to the top, which is covered in this previous story).
It is always interesting to try a new path, especially when climbing on a steep hillside. It becomes a bit like a chess game, where one has to plan your foot placements, and look for handholds not just in your current spot, but in spots further ahead. All the while, a stiff sea breeze buffets your body. I should also mention that the bushes are quite prickly, and can scratch you up if you aren't careful. Above is a picture I snapped when I made it over the bushes to the diagonal pathway that leads further up the hillside. The mountaintop above the village that I scaled about six weeks ago can be seen in the distance when looking up as I began the final portion of this hike. Below is the opposite view, looking down the diagonal pathway once I reached the top. It is quite a feeling of accomplishment (and a bit of an adrenaline rush) once you overcome the adversities and reach your goal.
At the top, the view was beautiful (which is why I placed the panoramic picture I took there as the first photo near the beginning of this article). I love watching the waves roll in from this overhead angle. It is also cool to see the rocks and other features in the water below (I hoped to perhaps catch a glimpse of a sea turtle swimming in the bay, but I was not as lucky as I've been on a couple of previous occasions). I spent a good bit of time by myself observing my world and contemplating my situation from this high vantage point (plus carefully gazing over the back edge of the precipice, down the cliff and onto the tops of palm trees behind the beach, as shown in the picture below). I enjoyed it very much—but then something even better happened.
During my extended time up there, one of my students showed up on the beach. She noticed me way up on the hillside. I was too high up to talk with her, especially with the sound of the surf crashing on the beach where she was standing. She picked up a stick and decided to send me a message, using what was probably the best way for us to communicate. To my surprise, she slowly started spelling out large letters in the sand on the beach.
I - l - o - v - e - y - o - u
M - r. - K - u - r - t - z
She finished it off with a heart at the end, just as I was able to snap the picture shown below. Awwww! How sweet! As I stood on that pinnacle, I realized once again how blessed I am to be here!
It isn't that a ten year old girl has any romantic intentions towards me. I think it is just a measure of how I've been able to connect with most of the students in the village. There is a great movie from the late 1960s (with an equally great theme song) starring Sidney Poitier as a school teacher entitled “To Sir, With Love.” Because of the British influence in the school system here, the students often address me as “Sir,” which makes me sometimes think of that theme song. So rather than a romantic sentiment, I consider her sand message to be the same sort of general admiration for a teacher who has inspired her—To Mr. Kurtz, With Love.

By the time I had slowly and carefully worked my way back down the steep and treacherous hillside, she had created another smaller one to greet me at the bottom, as shown below. I think these expressions of appreciation are not just for what I've done by myself, but in some respects it is a cumulative result of all the hard-working Peace Corps Volunteers who have served on this little island in the past. Dominicans realize that the Peace Corps (or “Pisko” in the local kweyol dialect) has been coming here to help for many years. Those previous volunteers collectively played a part in creating the appreciation that greets each of us new volunteers when we arrive to help Dominicans.

I feel honored that by serving in the Peace Corps, I help to represent my home country to the residents of Dominica. The Peace Corps is perhaps the best form of foreign aid that the United States can provide to struggling countries. This small agency, started by President Kennedy 55 years ago, uses just a minuscule fraction of a tax dollar but it spreads a lot of good will. Thank you to all my fellow Americans back home for giving me the opportunity to represent you! Just as my students seem to love me, I love all of you back home for supporting me.


  1. Your writing skills never cease to amaze me. This is a wonderful story.

  2. I love it! And I am so glad that I can picture you in your home and in your Dominica life. David, you are a wonderful ambassador of goodwill and all things Peace Corps!