Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Graphic Arts

[Before I start this story, I want to briefly mention that after a year and a half of wearing my WVU gear around this little island, I finally crossed paths with another WVU alum (we might be the only two here). Cherie Thomas lives here, but attended WVU from 1986 to 1990 and was a member of the WVU track team. We enjoyed talking about Morgantown, the PRT, and more. Go Mountaineers!]

I've always dabbled in art, and especially graphic arts. I made a lot of posters for student government during college. For my legislative and school board campaigns, I designed my own logo, brochures, advertisements, etc. During my federal career, I won several poster awards. I don't claim to be an expert (as I stated in this previous story), but it's just something that I enjoy doing.

Many of you know about my life-long involvement with auto racing. When I was young, I was fascinated with how the paint jobs, lettering, and number fonts could give “personalities” to the different cars. I figured out how the sign painters could use a flat brush to make the thick and thin strokes used in fancy lettering. That made it easy for me to quickly pick up on calligraphy when I got my first fountain pen.

I had not foreseen it, but these graphic arts skills are proving useful in my school as well as the community. I recently provided some much needed signage identifying our village by painting the side of the bus stop along the main road (shown below). I've written previous stories that mentioned other projects, including the big sign for our village feast and the beautiful new marching banner for our school, inspired by the design elements of the Dominican flag.

I am often asked by teachers to create signs for their classrooms. Usually they have an idea of what they want to convey, and I just draw it up for them freehand, rarely using a ruler or anything. With many of these posters, in America I would have used different color combinations, but we are limited here to what cardboard scraps (called Bristol board here) and markers are available. Below is a portfolio of some of my recent work (with comments underneath each photo).
CFS stands for Child Friendly Schools. It is hard to see, but there are some subtle shading differences on the various sides of the "engraved" lettering.
This poster is a huge one that the teacher will put spelling words as leaves on the “word tree.” That is the “Cat in the Hat” drawn underneath the tree, with butterflies, birds, clouds, and other small details she suggested.
I enjoyed trying to remember how a digital clock's numbers look when I made this (there is a slight error on the bottom left corner of the “2,” but I doubt any of the students pick up on it).
I like the tangled vines on this one, helping to separate the different ecosystem types. You can also see in the top left corner the bottom of a cloud-shaped “Science Corner” sign—several classrooms have multiple “subject corner” signs.
For some variety, I used something like a gothic script on this one, designed to show off student papers.
Rather than one large poster, this is a small central rectangle surrounded with multiple groupings taped to the wall. It is a way to utilize smaller pieces of Bristol board.
Some of my former college students could have benefited from this poster! However, I messed up the original version when I colored the stoplight just as it would be in America, with the red light on the top. Unfortunately, that doesn't work with the concept they are trying to teach. A sharp knife let us flip the red and green lights around.
Notice in these two posters that periods are called “full stops” down here. With that, I'll come to a full stop on this short story.

Since this post is so brief, I thought I'd add a reminder that my blog readers could do a great service for my little village if you would make a tax-deductible donation to the “Courts For Kids” project. Our first ever basketball/netball court will be built this summer, thanks to the partial grant I won. However, the more money I can get my friends to donate, fewer dollars will need to be raised from the local residents here (who don't have all that much disposable income). Just go to http://courtsforkids.org/donate/, choose “Donations toward host-country partner,” and indicate in the comments section that this is for the Dominica project. We would be extremely grateful for anything you can share with us! Thank you in advance for your assistance!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Friday Fun-day

It's Carnival season here in Dominica (similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans). There will be no school on Monday and Tuesday as our village joins with the rest of the island in a big celebration prior to the start of Lent. [Click here to read my account of the carnival celebration last year.]

This year, I didn't attend the big kick-off parade in the capital (which I wrote about last year), but I did try to go to the parade in the second largest city of Portsmouth. Unfortunately, their parade was held on Sunday, February 12, and buses don't normally run on Sundays here. It took too long to get there, and so we only caught the tail end of the parade. I did enjoy “dancing” with some of my young female students riding on my shoulders, as shown below amidst the crowd that followed along behind the band in the final float.

Last year, the Friday preceding Carnival was called “Freaky Friday” which I wrote about in this story. This year, our celebration was called “Friday Fun-Day” and took place on February 24. Coming up with a costume is always difficult for me, but this year I decided to try and create a suit of armor out of aluminum foil and silver duct tape. Isn't it every woman's dream to fall for a knight in shining armor? Unfortunately, I ran out of foil before I could totally finish it (maybe that's why there were no women throwing themselves at me). The kids seemed to enjoy it, though. Several of the local villagers got a good laugh seeing me walking to school at 8:00 AM in full costume.
One of the first activities of the day was to hold a parade from the school, past the playing field, and up the main street in the village before returning. It was similar to the Diabetes March we held a few months ago, except that our students were all dressed up in a variety of costumes, ranging from store-bought masks to a simple large rice bag with neck and arm holes, and plenty of scissor cuts to create fringe. Unlike the modern Halloween “industry” in America, most of these creations were handmade by the students.
A variety of organized games were played throughout the day. For example, marbles were placed in a water-filled tub that was filled with large chunks of ice, with ping-pong balls floating on top. The object was to stick one foot into the ice cold water, pick up marbles with your toes, and then drop them in a cup about a yard away from the tub, all within 60 seconds.
Another game was a version of “Pin the tail on the donkey,” but this was “Put the nose on the clown.” Students were blindfolded and spun around before trying to stick the nose in the middle of the clown's face. [I'm the one who drew the clown's face.] Notice the student dressed like an old man on the left of the clown poster below—he played his role quite well.
A very talented woman provided face painting, as shown in the following pictures.
My biggest contribution to the celebration was to conduct the first-ever model rocket launches in my village. For the weeks leading up to this day, I had worked with the fifth and sixth graders, teaching them about rocketry. We built our own launch pad, using scrap wood, a coat hanger, and a tin can lid. We built our own electronic launch controller as well. I also taught them how we could determine the altitude the rocket reached.
Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in coordinating the launches, that I didn't take any pictures. However, I was given the picture above, which shows me supervising a few of the kids, crouching behind the makeshift protective blast screen near the launchpad (which was too far to the right to be included in this picture). However, you can see a girl dressed in a Minnie Mouse costume standing against the light pole in the distance behind us. She is one of four students (distributed around the field) viewing the rocket through a paper tube, waiting to follow it to its zenith, and then record the angle from their pre-measured positions. Using these angles (and a tangent table) we could mathematically calculate the altitude.
By the end of the day, everyone had a great time! Plus, all the kids are eager for more rocket flights. They loved the sound and smoke of the rocket blasting off from the launch pad, climbing almost out of sight, and then seeing the orange and white parachute unfurl for a slow return to earth. Model rocketry was a big hobby of mine when I was their age, and it was a “blast” for me to share this experience with them (using an Estes rocket and B6-4 engines, just as I had used in my youth). Besides having fun, hopefully they learned some science and math as well.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Let There Be Light

There is some big news in my village! But before I can explain, I need to be sure you understand my little village.
We are fortunate to have a nice playing field across the river from our village (be aware that they don't have creeks here—every stream is called a river). You can see the big green playing field beyond the village in the photo above (the school is located on the far side of the playing field).
Nearly a year ago, the government announced that our playing field was to be one of just five fields chosen from throughout the island to participate in a project to try solar powered lighting. It took awhile for this project to come to fruition (not uncommon in developing countries), but at the end of January, the light poles were delivered around our field. On the morning of February 1, I snapped the picture above (from the second floor at the school) of a rainbow hovering above our village. In the foreground, you can see some of the poles resting on the ground. A few days later, a large sign was placed along the roadway for all to see, as shown below.
Finally, last Sunday, a construction crew erected the light poles, with the solar panels, LED lights, and battery boxes. The first few nights of the bright lights shining through the evening darkness was quite a sight for us to see. In a village where the onset of darkness often meant the end of a long day, the glow from the new lights was other-worldly. Plus, after trying to teach students about solar energy, it is nice to have a real-world example so they can better appreciate the concept.
Prior to the lights, there would often be large groups playing football (soccer), ranging in age from my older primary school students to teenagers to twenty-somethings. However, their games always dissipated as the darkness set in for the night. Now they are going to be able to continue their games much longer. [Hopefully this won't impact my students doing their homework. However, it will make it more difficult to hold my Space Station watch parties that I have enjoyed holding on the dark open field at night, but sometimes one must sacrifice for progress.]
I almost posted this story last week when we were all still so excited about it. However, I think it is better that I waited to tell “the rest of the story.” After the first few nights, it became apparent that there was a problem. The lights were often burning during the daylight hours (as shown above), and not operating after dark. Perhaps it is controlled by timers that need to be set properly? We have heard that another field nearby is experiencing the same problem. We are all hoping that the experts return soon to alleviate this problem (because there is nothing we can do to fix the problem). It is a beautiful marvel to behold when it is working properly, as shown below.
One other potentially positive aspect is that the lights may also be beneficial to the new basketball/netball court we will be building this summer on the edge of the playing field. There are still spots available on the “Courts For Kids” work team if you are interested in coming down here July 21-29. Also, as explained in the last paragraph of this earlier blog post, you can make a tax deductible contribution to this important project for my village. Any amount will be deeply appreciated—just click the link near the end of that story. It will be a big help! Thanks!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sailing with Sophia

Earlier this month, I wrote about my trip to Portsmouth where I hired a water taxi to see some of the large sailing vessels in Prince Rupert Bay that weekend. Being on the water and seeing the three tall ships and all those yachts made me interested to try something like that while I'm down here in beautiful Dominica.

As it turns out, I learned about a local yacht that sometimes does charters from Portsmouth. It is a 40.5 foot Hunter Legend sailboat named the “Sophia K.” (the picture below—taken by a drone—is from the “Sail with Sophia Charters” Facebook page). Yesterday, I was able to join a group for an outing up the northwestern coast of Dominica. It was fantastic!

A small inflatable dingy was used to transport us from the shore to the boat. Once everyone was on board, we headed out to sea. Soon the engine was silenced and the sail was unfurled. We were riding the wind.
It wasn't long before we were passing the twin hills of the Cabrits National Park—a place I have often visited but had never viewed from this vantage point, bobbing on the deep blue water of the Caribbean as the steady wind drove us northward. The photo below shows the two hills that jut out from the mainland on the left, with Purple Turtle Beach visible in the distance towards the right side. If you look close towards the left, between the twin hills you can see a couple of the restored fort buildings and their orange-tiled roofs amidst all the lush, green forests of the Cabrits National Park. If you look real hard towards the right, you can see the masts of some of the many yachts anchored off Purple Turtle Beach.
We moved along at a moderate pace, past the Cabrits peninsula that separates Prince Rupert Bay from Douglas Bay. I enjoyed watching other boats enjoying the beautiful day on the water, including the fast sailboat pictured below which passed us on the outside (notice that there is yet another sailboat in the distance on the left). The colorful Dominican national flag is also visible as it fluttered in the wind off our stern (note to self: I should have checked my photos because I thought I had successfully captured the flag stretched out fully behind us, but it apparently had just whipped around the staff for a moment when the shutter opened).
Eventually we were passing Capuchin on the northwest corner of the island. The picture below gives you an idea of the rugged terrain here on the Nature Island. Note, too, that another sailboat can be seen near the coast on the left half of the picture.
We continued sailing into the channel that separates Dominica from the French island of Guadeloupe. It was around this time that I took an interest in the instrumentation in front of the captain. It included a depth finder, that indicated the sea floor was over 2600 feet below (about a half a mile). Then we turned around and headed back. The picture below shows our dingy trailing us in the channel. With closer examination, you might be able to pick out the hazy view of the island of Guadeloupe in the distance (look underneath the whitest of the clouds that form a line above the horizon).
Rather than going straight back, we detoured into Toucarie Bay—a beautiful place that I've written about before. We anchored in the middle of the bay to let folks swim for awhile. I had brought my mask and snorkel with me, so I went exploring. I got to see a lot of incredible views, but most of the fish (parrot fish, angel fish, sargent majors, etc.) were ones I had already seen in other places (check out this story for pictures). That is not a complaint, because it was still fantastic to see all the underwater life!

However, the most memorable aspect of this snorkeling experience was the huge school of fish that surrounded me at one point. I'm not sure what kind they were because they were rather non-descript silver colored fish, the largest of which were probably6 to 8 inches long. It seemed as if there were thousands of them, swimming all around me, darting in unison from one direction to the other. I thought it would only last for a short while, but this “fish storm” lasted for several minutes. It was almost disorienting as they whizzed back and forth. None of them touched me, but they didn't seem scared of me and stayed quite close. Since I don't have an underwater camera, I have no proof of this phenomenon, but below is a diagonal picture I took from the boat showing the north side of Toucarie Bay (the Catholic church with its steeple can be seen towards the right).

Eventually, we gathered on board again, ate some of the food everyone brought, and then headed out of Toucarie Bay. The picture below shows our dingy trailing behind us as we passed by Douglas Bay, on the north side of the Cabrits peninsula. Again, note the mountains in the background.
We cut close the shoreline as we passed the end of Cabrits, as shown in the photo below. The distant shoreline of the Capuchin area can be seen towards the left side. High atop this steep hill is a remaining cannon from the days when France and Britain fought over this island.
After more than five hours (from before 10AM to after 3PM), we finally returned to where we had started. It was well worth the $100 EC (about $40 US dollars) that I paid. The dingy ferried us back to shore after a fun day with new friends, one of whom shared this picture with me.
I wasn't sure what it was going to be like to board a small sailing vessel for most of a day with a bunch of strangers, but it turned out to be a great time. We had lots of good conversations, and found many common areas of interest. One woman had even lived in a log cabin at Fort New Salem in West Virginia for a year—who would have thought I'd meet a Fort New Salem resident in the Caribbean? It just goes to show what a small world we live in!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Good News!

I've always thought that Habitat for Humanity is one of the best charities. In Dominica, there is an organization known as “Good News” that similarly builds houses for persons in need. Just like Habitat, Good News expects those who benefit from the house to assist in building it (sometimes referred to as “sweat equity”).
In previous years, the Good News charity would send work crews of Americans to Dominica to build houses for a week or so in various villages. This year, a guy in my village was selected for the program. However, for this particular year, the Good News organization provided the funding, but allowed Dominican team members who had experience building these houses to run the operation (along with local volunteers). Thus, there was no work group from America this year, but instead, it was Dominicans coming together to help each other.
It starts a week or so ahead of the build date (which was this past Monday and Tuesday) with laying a foundation—a simple concrete block wall with a level concrete pad on top. On our way home from school (thus his uniform is still on) I had one of my students (who lives next door) stand on the far corner (yes, the concrete was already dry) in the photo above to give you a sense of the size (12 feet by 16 feet).
During the week before the build date, supplies are delivered and some preliminary work is done, such as cutting out window holes and painting the wooden walls. This work was done by local volunteers in the former preschool building across the road from the site for this new house. As shown above, the walls are basically finished when they are temporarily put into place on the official build day.
I made a quick trip home during the school lunch period so that I could see the work. The crew is working to precisely put the back wall in place in the photo above. The shot below shows the nailing of the back corner to the side wall that had been put up first. All four walls were put in place, and some of the rafters attached by the end of the first day.
On the second day, I had to go to the capital to assist with some Peace Corps training. However, the picture below shows that they had successfully finished to roof and the interior wall that day. Notice the ladder—probably not OSHA approved.
On Friday, they had a big dedication ceremony, as shown in the pictures below. The house was blessed by the priest for this area. [The umbrella was for sun protection, not rain.] Prayers were said, songs were sung, and holy water was thrown around the structure. [A joke I heard—How do you make holy water? You boil the hell out of it! (Please forgive me for that joke.)]
There was an official handover of the key and padlock for the house. An official plaque was nailed to the wall beside the door, as shown at the top of this article.
The signing of the contract was performed by the new homeowner, the Village Council chairman, and the head of the local Good News organization. [The plaque can be seen in the upper right corner of the picture below.]
Then the entourage headed off to perform another dedication for one of the houses built in another village. Through the efforts of the Good News charity, a number of Dominicans now have a nice new home in which to live. Just like Habitat for Humanity, this is an excellent way to improve lives.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

An Unusual Taxi Ride

During my trip last Saturday to Dominica's second largest town of Portsmouth to get fresh produce at the marketplace, I noticed some interesting ships anchored in Prince Rupert Bay. However, they were so far away, I knew I couldn't get a decent picture of these beautiful sailing vessels.

I decided to inquire about hiring one of the small boats known as “water taxis” that normally service the many private yachts that are anchored all around the bay (especially at this time of the year when it is cold up north). Powered by outboard motors, these wooden boats (similar to the one I wrote about in this previous story) respond to radio calls from the yachts, and will deliver groceries or supplies, as well as ferry passengers to and from the shore.

My request for a photography run was a bit unusual, but the water taxi driver I spoke with (Lawrence was his name) agreed to take me out and around the three large sailing ships (one of which is pictured above) for $30 in Eastern Caribbean dollars (about $10 US dollars). To me, it was worth it to see these unusual ships up close and get some pictures to share with my blog readers.
This beautiful ship was named after famed Polish composer Frederic Chopin, whose first name is more accurately spelled as Fryderyk (as you can see on the side of the ship in the photo above). It was launched in 1992 from the shipyard in Gdańsk, Poland. This ship's birthplace is particularly interesting to me because in 1980, Gdańsk Shipyard was also the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union movement. The brave workers at this shipyard rose in opposition to the Communist regime in Poland, which led to the end of Communist Party rule in 1989. Their actions sparked a series of protests that successfully overturned the Communist regimes of the former Soviet bloc, helping to end the Cold War that had been a major concern for most of my life up until that point. Solidarity's leader, Lech Wałęsa, went on to become President of Poland in 1990.
According to my internet research (which was invaluable for learning about all three of these ships), since 2011 the Fryderyk Chopin has served as the ship for The Blue School, a sail training project. Although I didn't get a decent picture of it, the red and white Polish flag proudly flies from its stern.

Club Med 2 is a five-masted computer-controlled sailing ship owned and operated by Club Med and operated as a cruise ship since its launch in 1992. This French built ship combines the power of seven computer-operated sails (notice how different they appear) with more traditional diesel-electric power, having four diesel generators that power two electric motors. It appears that the sails can be automatically furled and unfurled because they are wrapped around a shaft.
It is one of the largest sailing cruise ships in the world, carrying up to 386 passengers with a crew of 214. Club Med 2 sails the waters of the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea in the summertime, and the Caribbean in the winter, finding her way into anchorages larger cruise ships cannot reach, such as Portsmouth.
The ship sails at night, making a stop each morning. A water sports deck can be deployed from the stern (as shown above). Although my pictures didn't turn out well and thus don't appear in this story, there were a few Club Med passengers windsurfing around the ship. They really zip around when the wind catches the sail just right!

Sea Cloud was built as a barque for Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband Edward F. Hutton (of Wall Street fame E. F. Hutton & Co.). Launched in 1931, it was the largest private yacht in the world at the time.
During World War II, with no son to send to war, the yacht was offered to the U.S. Navy. It was refitted as a "weather observation station vessel." The four masts were removed and the hull painted battleship gray. Sea Cloud was originally commissioned as a United States Coast Guard Cutter in 1942, and assigned to the Eastern Sea Frontier, with a permanent home port in Boston.
Later, the United States Navy commissioned it as USS Sea Cloud, where it became an important part of naval history. In late 1944, Lieutenant Carlton Skinner took command of the ship. At that time, black seamen were only permitted to serve as ship stewards. After witnessing a black man save the crew of his previous ship, yet still be denied promotion because of the rule, Skinner proposed an experiment to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy. It was agreed that he would be allowed to sail his first weather patrol with a fully integrated crew. Within a few months, fifty black sailors, including two officers, were stationed aboard Sea Cloud. Skinner showed that his integrated crew could work just as efficiently as a segregated crew, if not more so, when his crew passed two fleet inspections with no deficiencies.
Following the war, the Sea Cloud reverted to its original purpose as a private yacht. In 1955, it was sold to the president of the Dominican Republic (the country which shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti, and is often confused with the island of Dominica). In 1979, it was refurbished as a cruise ship with a capacity for 64 passengers as well as a crew of 60. I particularly enjoyed the large gold eagle on the bowsprit, as shown above.
All too soon, my little Caribbean adventure was over, and the photo above shows Lawrence taking me back to the dock. Notice that the Sea Cloud was docked at Cabrits National Park, and the orange tile roofing of some of the buildings at the fort can be seen in the background.

I will leave you with a few pictures of just three of the many private yachts we passed on the way back to the dock. The first picture is a blue boat with a large American flag. The second is a catamaran. The last one is a trimaran (three hulls). Note the beautiful backgrounds in each picture.

Hopefully this story provided some warm thoughts for those of you suffering with winter back home!