Monday, October 24, 2016

Aerial Art

My father had his private pilots license, and I fondly remember him “renting” a Cessna 150 to take me flying with him when I was a youngster (he had also been a part-owner of an old Piper Cub but it was before my time). My uncle (Dad's brother) was a career pilot in the U.S. Air Force (he served in Germany with future Apollo 15 commander David Scott). Plus, I've mentioned previously that my grandmother (their mother) was a "Rosie the Riveter" who helped build U.S. Navy Corsair fighter planes during World War II. So I guess there is some love of aviation in my genes.

With my recent travels from my home island, I got to spend a good bit of time flying. I always try to get a window seat, because I am mesmerized by the views. I took pictures from my various flights and will share some of them with you. I hope you find them as interesting as I do.

The photo above shows the moment I was over American soil again. That is Fort Lauderdale, Florida as my plane left the ocean, crossed the beach, and descended to the airport.
The pictures above and below were taken when it appeared as if these two ships (tankers?) were being “sucked into” the jet engine intake just outside my window (most other ships I saw didn't line up with the intake exactly right).
The next half-dozen pictures show various islands in the Bahamas chain (technically, a few might be from the Turks & Caicos islands—it's hard to tell them all apart), as my return flight flew from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The first photo below shows an island that was off to our side, and thus a bit harder to see. However, I like it because it shows the winglet on the end of the wing, plus it gives you a sense of how the sky gets darker blue the higher you look—and it would become black if you get high enough above the atmosphere. I am always in a state of awe when I fly!
Here are five pictures taken virtually overhead of the islands. Notice the channels that can be seen in the sandy shallow waters. Each picture has its own unique characteristics, but all of them have those beautiful blue (deep water) and aqua (shallow water) colors. While I hope you find them picturesque, my camera doesn't totally capture how colorful it was to my eyes.
These are just a five of the islands we flew over—there were many more, plus some incredible views of San Juan as we came in to land there. I thought about posting the Puerto Rico pictures, too, but they just weren't as beautiful as the island pictures.
I thought the photo above was fascinating, because my phone's camera was able to capture at least a distorted view of the propeller in motion. The turboprop engine on this LIAT (Leeward Islands Air Transport) airplane is turning thousands of revolutions per minute, yet the camera could freeze it. I'm not sure why more blades (too many, actually) are shown on top than on bottom—perhaps because they were coming towards me rather than moving away. Regardless, I found it very interesting.
The photo above shows the runway at Dominica's major airport, which is built in a valley that leads to the edge of the Atlantic. Most of the time, my flights have taken off in the direction of the ocean, while arriving planes maneuver through the twists and turns of the upper valley before descending onto the runway for landing. The photo below shows a view of the jungle as the plane banks sharply through one of the turns.
During my return from the United States, I was on the Seaborn Airlines flight that often buzzes over our village. At the conclusion of my blog story about my other trip home, I show a great picture of my village that I took on that earlier flight.

Unfortunately, the view on this trip was not nearly as good. The plane was further out over the Atlantic, plus the sun was going down over the mountains (our village is squeezed between the coastline and the mountains). However, it is clearly our village, with the peninsula of “L'islet” jutting out towards the airplane.

Even if it can't be seen as well in this picture, it is always good to return to my island home! [West Virginia is my home, but Dominica will always be my island home.]

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.]

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Concorde SST

I have fond memories of a small newspaper read by many grade schoolers during my era called “My Weekly Reader.” This weekly compilation of current events and issues for young students opened my eyes to much that was happening in the late 1960s/early 1970s around the world.

Being interested in science (and things that go fast), I was fascinated by the development of an SST—a supersonic transport. Would America go ahead with plans to create one? Eventually, our plans were shelved, partly to the budget concerns that still plague us today, as well as environmental concerns. However, the British and the French went ahead and built the first SST which they named the Concorde. It was a grand plane with swept back wings and a needle-like nose that drooped for better visibility during landing!

When I joined the Peace Corps, figuring to spend most of my time in a small isolated village somewhere, I had no idea that one day I would get to climb aboard the amazing Concorde and experience it for myself—although unfortunately, without getting off the ground. However, one of the things I've learned is that the Peace Corps adventure is truly unpredictable, and opportunities abound for discovering new and interesting experiences.
I had to fly home for my daughter's wedding, and my flight routed me through the island of Barbados. It turns out that one of the last remaining Concordes was parked at the airport there and turned into a tourist display. Barbados used to be a weekly destination for Concorde flights, bringing Europeans to the eastern Caribbean. A temporary was building was erected around it on the tarmac, and for $20 you can explore the Barbados Concorde Experience. I knew I wanted to do it!
Unlike other Concordes that were distributed to museums such as the Smithsonian at Dulles Airport in Washington or the Intrepid Museum in New York, this is the only one where you can go inside the plane. It is also the only one that still gets monthly maintenance checks, so if British Airways ever needed an SST, this would be the one pressed back into service.
One of the interesting facts about flying on the Concorde is that the pressurization at the ultra high altitudes it flew (about twice the height of commercial aircraft), as well as the skin heat due to the high speeds, both cause the fuselage to expand, so that had to be taken into consideration. I was shown where the carpet stretches to accommodate this lengthening.
I also found it interesting that rather than one large fuel tank, the Concorde has many smaller cells so that unused fuel can be pumped around to maintain the perfect center of gravity. Yet another point of interest is that they sometimes left at night from Europe flying across the Atlantic, and flew so fast that they caught up with the sun, allowing a rare view of the sun rising in the west rather than the east. These are just a few of the fascinating stories I heard from my tour guide.

It is a shame that one of the other casualties of September 11, 2001 was the age of Supersonic Transport via the Concorde. They had just started flying again after the tragic crash in Paris when 9/11 shook the aviation industry. The business falloff led to the decision to retire these elegant and incredible machines. However, I've read recently that some companies are talking about resurrecting the idea of supersonic transport, with new advanced designs. Perhaps the day will come again when commercial flights are available that arrive before the time you departed.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Inauguration Day

Monday, October 3, was Inauguration Day in my village (I was without my laptop recently, so I'm a bit behind with my stories). Several weeks before this Inauguration Day, an election was held to fill five seats on the Village Council, the governing body of our community. [See my previous story about when I served as an election observer.]

Local government in Dominica is a bit different than what I am accustomed to in the USA. The five elected council persons are joined by three councilors selected by the national government. All eight are referred to as council members and treated equally, as (to their credit) no distinction seems to be made between those who were appointed and those who ran in the election.

I'm guessing that they prefer having an even number of council members, because this encourages consensus, since if something doesn't get a majority of at least five members, then it can't be undertaken. In other words, a slim majority of just one vote can't make a difference, as happens when you have an odd number on the council. Even numbers require a two vote margin (in this case, 5 to 3).

On Monday, trucks from the Bureau of Local Government (or some similarly named bureaucratic agency) showed up with tents, chairs, and a low platform stage. They set it all up at the edge of the playing field close to the village. Madras cloth material (a Dominican tradition) was affixed to the upper sides of the tent, the Dominican flag was set up, balloons were inflated, and floral arrangements were added. In a short time during the afternoon, a nice venue was created.

The ceremony started at 4:00 with the arrival of dignitaries. There were three members of Parliament there, including one who was serving as the Acting Prime Minister (since our Prime Minister was currently out of the country on business). Several other government officials were there as well.

However, the highest official who came was none other than the President of Dominica, Charles Savarin. Here is a picture of him being escorted from the sharp black BMW limousine that brought him to our isolated village from the capital (notice the small Dominican flag on the front corner of the car).

Let me try to explain what little I know about how Dominica is governed. I think it is similar to many other Caribbean island nations as well as other former British colonies around the world.

Dominica has a population of about 70,000 (which is a good bit less than the 90,000 residents of Wood County whom I was elected to serve two four-year terms in 1992 and 1996). The island is divided up into 12 parishes, which each elect a parliamentary representative (often referred to as a "par rep").

From among these 12, one is selected to serve as the Prime Minister, which is the real seat of power in this country. The President, although highly respected, seems to me to be more of a figurehead for ceremonial purposes. However, everyone seemed proud that he was there.

After some initial remarks, each of the new council members was formally sworn into office, in a manner similar to the swearing in ceremonies that I went through. Below is a picture of my host-sister being sworn in.

Then the program called for remarks from the outgoing chairman, followed by remarks from the incoming chairman of the village council. In our case, the incumbent won re-election, and his new council members voted to keep him as chairman, so we only had one speech rather than two. Below is a picture of all eight of our new village council members. The five who were elected were all incumbents from the previous council, while the three appointees are new (although they have been active in the community).
The Acting Prime Minister gave a nice talk, as did one of the other elected members of parliament. At the closing of the ceremony, one of our students, dressed in her finest traditional costume, presented the dignitaries with baskets of fruit. Here she is after the ceremony was over with her parents.
Then, our school choir (with all the other students dressed in their school uniforms) went up on stage to sing a song for the ceremony (which was all being filmed for the television news). They did an excellent job! Here they are performing (with one teacher directing in front while another helps the singing from her position in the corner of the back row).
After the ceremony, free food and drinks were provided, and folks milled about socializing even after it became dark. All in all, it was a nice way to celebrate democracy in my village. I look forward to continuing my work with the new village council.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

If Mars Had An Ocean

If Mars had an ocean, the coastline might look like what I witnessed Saturday. Some of us Peace Corps Volunteers had an outing to visit “Red Rocks” at Pointe Baptiste near the village of Calibishie. The bizarre, reddish, alien landscape was surreal. After recently reading numerous articles on Elon Musk announcing his plans for trips to Mars, my mind eagerly embraced this opportunity to explore a red, Martian-like terrain.

The best way to describe this day is with pictures—and even pictures don't do this unusual place the justice it deserves. The first group of pictures will cover a tight canyon that cuts through the rust-colored rock. It reminded me of some places I've been in the Utah, Colorado, Arizona area.

Above is a view down the canyon towards where it empties into the Atlantic.
This is a different view, looking up the canyon. Note where it tightens into a mere crack in the earth. Also notice the “steps” hewn out of the hillside towards the right.
The steps lead down to a man-made cave carved out of the soft volcanic rock commonly found here.
Further up the canyon is the “crack” that requires squeezing through about 10 feet or so to get to a large “room” further up.
One of my Peace Corps colleagues gazes skyward in the small chamber that opens up after you squeeze through the crack.
In the photo above, she is climbing the hand-hewn steps out of the canyon.
Another view showing the top of the canyon. Note the red hills further above.
A semi-circular feature in the wall further down the canyon.
Here is where water from the canyon empties into the ocean (you can see the semi-circle high on the wall in the back).
Above, some of the rest of our group emerge up the steps from their visit to the canyon floor.

The remaining ten pictures are from a variety of places around Red Rocks. It is a beautiful locale!

I enjoy diagonal pictures—this one captures the sky, the ocean, and the red colors of the rolling terrain.
Look close to see one of the girls crossing the ridge to the northern side of Red Rocks.
This view is gazing toward the south, and on the left you can see part of our group talking with our guide, Danny (who did a great job!). [If you look close, you might be able to see the white sand beach in the upper right corner where we walked to after exploring Red Rocks.]
A beautiful little cove on the north side, with the village of Calibishie on the shoreline in the distance.
Waves crash against the side wall of a sea cave (I wonder if it has bats?). Further back, you can see the black sand beach.
The north side of the point leading out to one of the offshore rocks at the end of this peninsula. My pictures don't really show it, but we could glimpse Guadeloupe and Marie-Galante islands on the distant horizon.
It isn't easy to capture the eruption of seawater that comes up from a blow-hole, but here is my best attempt at capturing these two that were very close together.
This view towards the north of the island shows a cloud passing across the top of a high mountain. [My village is up that way.]
There were numerous places where “steps” had been cut into the soft rock to make hiking easier.
Finally, here I am taking some of these pictures with my old phone. It was an amazing day at another exotic location on the Nature Island of Dominica! If Elon Musk as well as other intrepid dreamers and future adventurers ever succeed in terraforming the planet Mars to be like Earth, then there may come a day when Mars does indeed have an ocean with a coastline such as this.