Saturday, October 22, 2016

Back To My Island Home

I've been traveling most of the past three weeks, and absent from my school. I left Dominica the day after the Village Council Inauguration on October 3 to head back to America for my daughter's wedding. It was held at Coopers Rocks, a beautiful setting!
In addition, I was able to attend Homecoming Weekend with many of my closest friends at the University of Charleston (which had the bonus of a huge car show in downtown Charleston that same weekend). The photo below shows the West Virginia State Capitol building as taken from the UC Rotunda during one of the alumni events.
There were several other memorable events during my time back home. I spoke at McKinley Elementary (my partner school through the Peace Corps World Wise Schools program) one day, as pictured below, and to classes at West Virginia University at Parkersburg on another day. Fortunately, I was able to hand deliver my absentee ballot to the County Clerk's office for the 2016 election (thus no need to worry about whether it would make it back in time). Plus, I brought back a lot of stuff for my school.
I returned to my village on Saturday evening, October 15, but had to leave the next day for the island of St. Lucia, where all the members of my “class” of Eastern Caribbean Peace Corps Volunteers were reconvening for our Mid-Service Training program. It was nice to see my friends from other islands who I had not seen in over a year. It was held at the Benedictine Abbey where we had spent our first few nights together in the Caribbean back in June 2015 (the picture below shows the stained glass in their chapel--I love stained glass windows!). The food the nuns cooked for us was even better than I had remembered (probably because I have been cooking my own food for the past year).
On Friday morning, I boarded a plane to return to Dominica. Once I arrived and stashed my suitcase at my cottage, I walked through the village towards the school shortly before lunch. One of the classes had been outside when some of them noticed my approach. There were about ten students who ran across the playing field to greet me with hugs. It was an incredible welcome! After lunch, I had a fellow teacher take this picture of students encircling me with a group hug.
Once school was out, the students wanted to go swimming at our beach, so I rushed home and put on my trunks. Soon there were a couple dozen of us playing in the ocean. To celebrate my return, I decided to finally break down and accept the kids' invitation to try their “refrigerator boat” (which I mentioned in a previous story). I was successful in staying upright through the waves, and enjoyed pretending that I was a kid again. I wish I had a picture of me in it, but I didn't have my camera. If you want to see the refrigerator boat, see the previous story linked above.

While we were swimming at the beach, our local fisherman returned from his day at sea. I joined with other villagers to drag his heavy boat up the beach (it is a routine neighborly gesture to help pull the boat ashore). I also purchased fresh fish from him which became my meal later that evening.

I went home, showered, changed clothes, and returned to the village with my cannister of glow stick bracelets. To make this day even better, I had received an email from NASA that the Space Station would fly over our village that evening, from 6:31 to 6:35 PM. My first federal job had been with the Business Management Division for the Office of Space Station at NASA. Thus, we often hold a Space Station watch party when it passes overhead, especially since the story about us was retweeted by the astronauts on board.

I had alerted the children at school, as well as told other villagers, and promised to give away glow bracelets to anyone who came out on the playing field to watch it with me. There were dozens of people who turned out to see it. The kids love those glow bracelets, even if they only work for one night. I especially enjoy when they attach them to their ankles and run around quickly—seeing the glow on their fast moving ankles catches your eyes even more than simply hanging on your wrist. The picture below just captures a fraction of these glowing lights which fascinate the children.

All in all, it was a perfect day for me. Lots of hugs and good wishes for my return to the village, a swim in the ocean (including a maiden voyage on the S.S. Refrigerator), a fresh fish dinner, and a glow party following the overhead passage of the Space Station. It was wonderful!
Finally, one of the reasons why I like my village so much is that it is a bit like a Caribbean version of the little town of Mayberry on the old Andy Griffith show. Thus, it was only fitting that during my brief visit home to West Virginia that I should visit the new bronze statue of Don Knotts, the Morgantown, West Virginia native who played Deputy Barney Fife on that show. [And yes, it felt strange while I was home to be wearing long sleeves again, much less a hooded sweatshirt.]

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