Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Second Sea-mester

Thursday was set to be a big day for me. Unfortunately, it began with a cold shower in the darkness. It surely isn't a good way to start the day!

Normally, the weather here is fantastic! However, we've been suffering lately with a lot of wind, rain, and colder temperatures (the children wear coats, sweaters, and sweatshirts to school when it gets down around 70 degrees—I tell them that 70 is NOT cold compared to what I am accustomed to experiencing at this time of the year). I went to bed Wednesday night knowing that all the planning for my important day on Thursday might be scrapped because of the bad weather. Listening to the sheets of rain hitting the roof as well as the whistling wind did not contribute to a good night's rest.

What I didn't count on was the howling winds overnight knocking out the power to our village (and other locations) during the night. That meant that I had to get ready for my big day by taking a cold shower. Although it took me several months after I got here before I dared to try the 220 volt electric hot water heater in the shower head, I've grown very used to it now. Reverting back to a cold shower (in the dark, no less) on a cool, dreary, wet morning was not much fun. But I had to do it because this was a special day—a shipload of friends I had never met were coming (as well as the Prime Minister).

Some of you may recall that last fall I had made a connection with a program called Sea-mester, which brings college students from across America together to spend a semester on a schooner in the Caribbean. About a dozen of them came to my little village to help out on Community Service Day on November 4th. After we had made all the arrangements for them to come and help us, the U.S. Ambassador decided that she would also visit my village on that same date. It was quite a wonderful day spent with those college students, along with the surprise addition of the Ambassador.

The leaders of the Sea-mester program said they enjoyed getting off their ship, contributing to some community service work, spending time with children, and seeing life in a small Dominican village. They had such a good time, they told me they would stop again with a new group of students during the next term. Thursday was the day their ship would be in Portsmouth for the spring semester. Fortunately, the electric company was able to restore power just before the bus full of the Sea-mester students arrived around noon.

I had planned for them to spend time at the school, interact with the children, and then do some outdoor work projects. I was also eager to show off our new tourist trail to the bat cave, as well as some adventure hiking and rock climbing on L'islette and Morne Rouge. I wanted them to have some time for fun while they were off the ship for a day.

Last fall, we fixed a big lunch for them, which we could tell they truly appreciated. As a treat for our students as well as the Sea-mester students, I splurged and purchased three gallon tubs of ice cream (over $100 EC from my own pocket). We knew our children would love the ice cream, but what we had not anticipated was how much the college students enjoyed it, because is seems they don't get ice cream on their ship.

So we planned a big lunch for them this year as well, with another round of ice cream for everyone. In addition to buying the ice cream, I paid nearly another $100 EC for salted codfish, a common dish down here. It was served both regular style and San Coche style (with coconut milk). We also served up lentils, Dominica style dumplings, and a large array of “provisions”—dasheen, yam, tania, green fig, plantain, etc. Local tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and carrots provided some salad, plus we had a fruit salad appetizer. It was a good example of local Dominican cuisine and was quite a spread!

I must mention that our school cook came down sick at the beginning of the week and had to be hospitalized. All of the work for planning, purchasing, and preparing this special meal (for the 16 guests, 34 students, and about 10 staff and volunteers) fell to staff members and some very talented parents (most of my blog readers know that cooking is not my forte). I am very grateful we were able to pull off such a nice meal (plus I'm grateful that our school cook is out of the hospital now and recovering nicely)!
The intermittent rain canceled the big plans I had made for activities with the Sea-mester students. However, one of the things I have learned in the Peace Corps is resiliency. One has to “roll with the punches” and be flexible. We ended up letting them spend the afternoon in the classrooms, interacting with the school children, as shown above.

Some of them gave presentations about life on the boat, teaching our students about their 88 foot, two-masted schooner named the “Ocean Star.” Our students learned about port and starboard, aft and bow, etc. They also were taught about tying knots. We put some of the more artistically inclined college students to work for us creating some educational posters. The next three pictures demonstrate these activities.

A few times, the rain subsided enough that we let the children go outside of the cramped classrooms and play with the college students. There were lots of big smiles on the faces of both our school children and their new college student friends! It was such a positive experience for both groups to spend time together.
Even though the college students seemed to be having a good time with our school children, I'm not sure it would have been quite as nice a day for them had it not been for one other stroke of luck. You see, the Honorable Dr. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica, is actually the parliamentary representative for the district my village is in. On occasion, he visits villages in his district to update his constituents. He had planned to hold a special meeting about small business development in my village a few weeks ago, but pressing business required him to cancel the previous meeting.

I found out last Sunday that the meeting had been rescheduled for Thursday at 4:00 in the school building. I made sure his local contacts knew that there would be 16 American college students who would love to meet him before his meeting started. They let me know he would do a quick meet and greet with them.

When I alerted the Sea-mester leader on the Ocean Star via e-mail about this late-breaking development, I asked her if maybe the ship was really the “Lucky Star” because of the fact that on both of their visits, they had lucked into a chance meeting with a dignitary. The last time it was the U.S. Ambassador and now they would get the chance to meet the leader of a Caribbean island nation.

So, as a grand finale to what had been a much different day than we had planned, a couple of black SUVs (with one carrying the Dominican flag on its front fender) pulled into our school. Eventually, the Prime Minister stepped out of the vehicle, and came over to the large group of white Americans gathered at the corner outside of the school. He shook hands with each of the visiting Seamester students and thanked them for volunteering that day. He then proceeded to spend several minutes talking to them about his college days in America (New Mexico State and Ole Miss). He was very gracious with them and spent longer talking with them than I had imagined he would. The students came away very impressed with him, as evidenced in the well-written story from the official Sea-mester blog about their day in my village. The following three pictures capture his discussion with us (look close and you can see me on the other side of the Prime Minister in the last picture).
The meeting with the Prime Minister certainly helped to salvage a memorable day for them, despite the lousy weather. The good news is that they want to stop again during their summer term! Plus, I got the wonderful opportunity later that evening to talk directly with the Prime Minister about the Courts for Kids grant that I won to build a netball/basketball court for our school (you can help us out by donating to this project).

As I have often learned in the Caribbean, even the best laid plans can go awry, so you just try to make the best of things. Generally, it all works out in the long run!

No comments:

Post a Comment