It seems that all of us are having a good time down here! Bring on the new school year!
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Saturday, August 27, 2016
The main road between the two largest cities (Portsmouth and the capital of Roseau) has three bridges that were all destroyed. Detours were built to temporary single-lane Bailey Bridges (named for the British designer back in WWII) that are still being used today. There are other places along the road where caution barrels warn of the roadway being undercut from the water damages during the storm, plus a large section of the road that fell into the Layou River, resulting in a major dirt detour up the hill and around the slip. It will be awhile before this, the most important road on the island, gets back to normal.
If you haven't already seen them, I've written four blog stories related to this storm.
With this story, I just want to cover a few points. First, the worst part about this storm was the loss of communication. Not being able to let the outside world—whether it was Peace Corps officials or my friends and family back in the USA—know that I was safe was very worrisome. We got a lot of rain, but it really didn't seem all that bad. It was the repercussions from all the rain that made life difficult. With our local spring, life without public water wasn't difficult. Dealing with no electricity was not a huge problem. However, the loss of phone service and internet was the most frustrating in today's world. Technology is essential in today's world. I remember writing in the first story listed above that if I was to try to lay out a huge message on our playing field to communicate with airplanes or helicopters passing overhead, I would be saying “Send Internet” rather than the conventional “Send Food.”
Secondly, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, it is tough in developing countries to recover from an unexpected disaster such as this. There were a lot of countries that provided disaster assistance (and were much more visible than the USA), but even with a lot of outside help, the signs of damages are still readily apparent. I think it will be a long time before all remnants of the storm damage has been fixed.
Thirdly, I found out later that I was being talked about in the upper echelons of the Peace Corps and the State Department. As the only Peace Corps Volunteer who had not been able to check in and confirm my safety during this disaster, both government bureaucracies were concerned. Thus, by Sunday, when ships started running passengers between Roseau and Portsmouth, the Peace Corps security manager and my country director sailed to Portsmouth and then hired a driver to bring them to my village so they could confirm I was alive (and to relocate me to the capital if I had desired). They went to my host family's house, only to be told that I was helping out with the landslide removal on a nearby street. They eventually found me, and the security manager took the picture below of me with my country director (with my shovel and a wheelbarrow behind me). I declined their offer to relocate me, because I was fine in my village, and there was still a lot of work to do. If the residents were staying, so was I.
Despite this silver lining, I hope I don't experience any more major storms during my stay here!
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Titou Gorge (“Ti tou” means “little-thoat” in the local Creole dialect) is a narrow canyon with a deep, cold, clear stream running through it. It reminded me of cave tours I have done (including Old Man's Cave State Park in Ohio), with its stark stone walls winding on either side. However, if one gazes upward, there is a narrow slit of blue sky and green vegetation at the top (probably fifty feet or so above you at its highest point). It is a surreal setting.
I understand that one of the recent episodes of Discovery Channel's “American Tarzan” featured Titou Gorge. With the help of ropes, they went further up the gorge than the typical tourist, as shown in this brief video clip.
As you wade into the water, it is rather cold at first. The water deepens quickly, and I was eager to swim just to warm my body. You do get a workout swimming upstream, because the current in the narrow parts of the gorge is fighting against you (there was one wider “room” which had a point on the side where you could stand on the bottom and rest). The current becomes more prominent as you approach the first waterfall.
Just to the right of the waterfall is a small round area just slightly larger than a telephone booth, where folks can get out of the current and stand for a rest. From this point, you climb along the rocky wall towards the waterfall, using a limited number of handholds while your feet struggle to find solid points under the frothy water. Upon reaching the waterfall (actually more of a cascade), the guide helped us to climb up it, stepping through the strong flow of the water which was coming down “steps” (a drop of about five feet over about a three foot length). It was a bit challenging, but all of us made it.
The next pool above the first waterfall was much shorter, but just as cold and cave-like. There was a much larger waterfall (about 10-12 feet?) dumping itself at the head of this pool. It was possible to work your way around the back of the falls, or to “take a shower” under the force of the falling water. However, this was the end of the line for most visitors swimming up the Titou Gorge.
To exit, we swam back to the top of the first waterfall. The preferred method for getting around this five foot cascade is to jump from the top into the pool below. Normally, this would not be a problem for me, but one must add into your calculations not to jump out too far and hit your head on the “cave” wall above the targeted landing zone. Too far to the left, and the water is too shallow for a safe landing, but too far to the right and you might hit the wall in flight. However, I'm probably making it sound worse than it was, because everyone made the jump with no problem.
From there, we had the current behind us as we swam out of the narrow canyon. I enjoyed swimming on my back so that I could look upward at this very unusual scene. Obviously, I couldn't take my camera with me on this wet adventure, but a friend snapped the picture below as I emerged from the gorge, followed by two of the new volunteers. You can't feel the water temperature in this picture, but you can see the clarity of the water in this stream.
There is also an opportunity to jump (actually, it is more like just stepping off) down between the walls into the deep water about 15 feet below. It is just beyond the opening of the gorge that I am swimming out of in the picture above. I don't have a photograph to share, but I did find a YouTube video of someone else taking the leap if anyone wants to see what it was like.
Personally, I enjoyed my leap off the end of Rodney's Rock into the Caribbean better as far as jumps go, but I am very glad I got to experience this unusual tourist spot on the Nature Island of Dominica. I will remember it for the rest of my life.
Monday, August 22, 2016
If you were a good shooter in basketball and could swish your shots without using the backboard, you'd be an asset for a netball team—because there is no backboard on a netball court. There is just a pole connected to a hoop and net (as shown below). It is either "in the hole" or not—no friendly bounce off the backboard to help you score.
We were just practicing how to move the ball up and down our playing field, because our school does not have a netball court. There is a physical education teacher who travels around to the different schools in our area. Because of our small population of girls (but with our large playing field), she brings with her a handful of female students from another small school, allowing both groups of girls to play sports together. Towards the end of the school year, this combined netball team competed in a tournament at the nice netball court in Portsmouth. Not surprisingly, we lost to larger schools with better facilities.
Saturday, August 13, 2016
The villagers seem relegated to mosquito-borne illnesses. They had already figured out that the symptoms of Zika were a lot milder than the others—with the important exception for the impact it can have on pregnant women. Most of them have had dengue, chikungunya, etc., when those mosquito-borne viruses invaded the island. It is just a fact of life in this part of the world, and they accept it. As Doris Day used to say, “Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be!”
I don't mean to imply that the folks here don't care. I wrote a blog story back in February about the concern for Zika. There were various clean-up efforts to minimize breeding areas, and we tried to educate the school children about it. However, once it finally arrived in our village, no one was surprised. About all we can do is hope there are no babies are born with microcephaly.
On Monday morning after reading my message, the Peace Corps medical officer reminded me that the mosquito which bit me on the back of my hand on Saturday could not have given me Zika. The virus doesn't spread that quickly, so if I had Zika, it must have been from an earlier bite. Or perhaps I had something different. I had complained of headaches (which I almost never get), back ache, and pain in my neck when turning my head. The back of my eyeballs seemed to be the focus for the headache pain. I assured the doctor, however, that this pain was mild compared to the time two decades ago when I had meningitis. I certainly didn't want to go through that experience again! Spinal taps are not fun!
Since I was not going to teach summer school with a 100.2 fever on Monday morning, I walked to a neighbor's house to give some materials to take to my counterpart teacher at the school. Several members of that family had already been through Zika themselves. As soon as they saw me, they noticed all the red rash that I had not noticed yet. [The red rash definitely is more visible on my white skin than on their dark skin!] It had spread up my neck and was starting to work its way out my arms.
I knew my back had been itching a bit, but I thought it was just from a spot of sunburn I received after I didn't get my back completely covered in sunscreen when I was snorkeling. So I lifted my shirt for them to check it—indeed, it was covered in rash. I took some pictures so I could update the doctor. She told me to keep taking the generic Tylenol and arranged for me to get some testing in the capital city for Friday. However, Zika is so prevalent now that they only test to make sure you don't have dengue fever.
I am not the first Peace Corps Volunteer to get Zika. I'm not sure who was the first, or the exact total, but a number of us on the four islands supported by the Peace Corps have been infected. Here is a blog story written by one of my colleagues on St. Lucia who got it. I'm glad my mother (a former nurse) read his account prior to learning that I had acquired the virus, because it made her less worried about me. By the way, my counterpart teacher came down with it the day after I did. We are convinced we got it from a mosquito at the school.
Of course, this means that I am now a carrier of the Zika virus. I need to return to the USA in October for my daughter's wedding (I'm hoping for an early frost to kill all the mosquitoes before I return). I guess every Peace Corps Volunteers brings home some sort of souvenir from their country of service—my “souvenir” is just a bit more unique than a coffee mug or a t-shirt. Indeed, for the first time in my life, I have a disease that is (at least temporarily) capable of being sexually transmitted (also known as an STD). Fortunately, I've not had a lot of young women throwing themselves at me down here.
The mosquito at the bus stop may not have been the one that gave me Zika, but it did bite me in a spot where I've suffered bites before—the back of my hands. After applying repellent, I always wash my hands, so that I don't end up inadvertently getting the chemicals in my eyes or mouth via my fingers. However, that washes the repellent off my hands, making them vulnerable. It is a difficult balance—how much repellent to use to prevent mosquitoes, without suffering consequences from the harsh chemicals? How much effort should one put into what may eventually be inevitable? Some experts have said the best vaccination against Zika is to get Zika, since it is rather mild compared to other diseases. Now that I've had it, I can say it really doesn't amount to all that much.
I guess that is why the locals, for the most part, just go about their normal routine, and chalk up whatever happens as “Que Sera, Sera.”
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
It all started back in 2008, when my village organized a homecoming reunion that proved to be very successful. It was held during the Christmas/New Years time frame, when many relatives who had left the island for work elsewhere were back home to visit. The success of that reunion led the village to think they could expand their traditional August Monday celebration into a larger event that would draw outsiders to our village. [The picture below was taken from part-way up Mont Rouge on Monday afternoon, and gives you an idea of the beautiful setting for our festival.]
So, after our “community carnival” was finished in February, the village leaders turned their focus to planning for the village feast—or as it is known in the local kweyol dialect, the “fete.” The village council set up various committees for the different functions, and representatives from each committee (a mix of elected councilors and citizens) met every other Tuesday night from late February to June. As the date neared, the village feast committee met every Tuesday night for the final month. Throughout these months, the fete was a major topic at the regular monthly village council meetings as well. The different committees that met independently and then reported their activities to these joint meetings included entertainment, publicity (see poster below), vending, security, sports, and exhibition.Tropical Storm Erika hit. Those who helped shovel out the landslides were rewarded with shots of rum, ginger wine, etc. It made it worth shoveling all that dirt!
Between the proceeds from the admission fees, the vendor permits ($100 for a spot to set up your bar on the grounds), and other small fees, this event provides most of the revenue used by the village council for maintenance and improvements. Without it, the village council could not function adequately.
In Dominica, local governments were primarily funded through the payment of “house rates”—something akin to property taxes in the USA. It is a nominal amount based on the size of your house. However, there is no enforcement mechanism to force people to comply—it seems to be considered a voluntary donation over the years that fewer and fewer residents are bothering to pay. In West Virginia, your name is published in the newspaper if you don't pay your property taxes, and eventually your property can be auctioned off from the courthouse steps if you refuse to comply, but this process doesn't exist in Dominica. Technically, the village council could take residents to court, but that it simply not done by one neighbor to another here (or any other villages, as I've heard the problem with non-payment of house rates is widespread). So with the revenue from house rates in decline, the feast came along at an opportune time to enable the council to fill its coffers and balance their budget.