Friday, June 30, 2017

Public Art

I've written before of how my limited artistic talents have proven beneficial at the school (for example, read “Graphic Arts” or “I'm no Michelangelo”). However, I've been doing a lot of work away from the school as well lately.

I don't have any pictures, but I painted the name and the registration number on both sides of a fishing boat at the nearby port of Anse-de-Mai. Another fisherman wants me to do his boat as well. Rather than paying me cash, I arranged for fish to be donated for feeding the Courts for Kids people who are coming to build the playing court in my village at the end of July. [Special thanks to those of you who donated to this project! I can still get donations over the next ten days or so if you want to help.]

I've also done some painting for the Village Council. To promote our annual village feast—known as “Fete Thibaud” in the kweyol language—I painted the wall along the road near the beach where the feast is held. I only did a red outline of the letters to preserve the yellow and black traffic control theme of the existing wall.

I told my students (this wall is across from the school entrance) that all the letters look like they are dancing (or drunk), except for the letter “U”—which is also a bit thinner than the other letters. I told them that is because I want all of them to stay on the “straight and narrow,” so I crafted that life advice reminder into the sign.
The new bat cave trail is important to the future of our village. In order to make drive through tourists more aware of it, I painted a mural on the front of the building known as the fundraising center that the Village Council owns along the main road. I wanted to make it similar to the logo for the old Batman television show. As it turned out, I was working on this mural the weekend that Adam West, the actor who portrayed Batman on television, died. Thus, it is a bit of my own personal tribute to him. I especially like the picture above (that someone else had taken without my knowledge) because it shows me explaining what I was doing to one of my young first graders.
I also wanted to promote Fete Thibaud along the side of the fundraising center that faces oncoming traffic. To the left of the doorway (see above), I have a festive “Fete” in different colored letters above a calligraphy version of Thibaud. To the right of the doorway (see below), the date of the village feast is explained in terms that won't require repainting each year (ignore the exposed wiring for the missing electric meter).
I've shown this “Welcome to Thibaud” sign that I painted on the bus stop before, but I have since gone back and added a dark shadowing to make the letters stand out more. I'm limited in paint color selection, as it is expensive here and I must rely on donated paint.
There is no signage along the main road to Portsmouth alerting drivers where to turn off to go to Thibaud. Most Dominicans already know where everything is, so road signs are not that important to them. I walked out to the main road a few weeks ago and looked for possibilities to increase our visibility and awareness to drivers. All I could find that was available was this end of an 8 inch wide concrete retaining wall near the turnoff. It isn't much, but at least now we have some form of presence along the main road that we didn't have before. Little steps can lead to big changes.
Finally, I did this painting today for my landlord's shop along the main road. She seemed to like the Old English look to the lettering (that is her husband standing in the doorway in the picture below). It may not be perfect, but at least we are getting a bit more of a presence along the roadway. When I first got here, you could drive through the village and never know the name of it. It wasn't very inviting to outsiders. My hope is that in some way these “public art” projects will eventually help to bring in some much needed tourist money. This village can certainly use it!

P.S. I thought I'd share with you what I had for lunch today. We got out of school early today (thus no school lunch), so I purchased some pig snout soup from one of the shops to have for lunch today. Pig's feet, pig tail, and pig snout are commonly used in Caribbean cooking, and they really aren't all that bad. I have described pig snout as tasting like ham, only chewier.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Horses and a Hot Beach

One of my favorite aspects of being a Peace Corps Volunteer down here is helping my students have experiences they've never had before. Whether it is as simple as watching the Space Station pass overhead (and enjoying “magical” glow bracelets afterwards), sailing on a 40 foot yacht, seeing a real airplane close up, building a bamboo raft to float on the river, swimming in a real swimming pool, or countless other first time experiences (many of which—including the ones I just listed here—have been documented in this blog), I've loved every one of them. The excitement of doing something for the very first time is quite invigorating, even if you are just watching someone else go through something to which you're already accustomed.
This week I had the opportunity to enjoy the students' broad smiles as they got the chance to try something new—riding horses. Check out the pictures that I have interspersed in this story to see for yourself. There is a horse stable, the Brandy Manor Equestrian Center, that offers schools a program where for just $10 EC per student (less than $4 U.S. dollars), they get to go for a guided trail ride on a real horse. We arranged an afternoon outing for our 5th and 6th grade class, and caught a bus headed that direction after we ate lunch at school on Wednesday. [This is the same horse stable we encountered on our Belle Marche last year when we tried to go to Brandy Falls.]
The seven students all had a blast. Some had a few initial trepidations, but it was great to see them overcome their fears and end up sitting tall in the saddle. All who did it came back with huge smiles and the overwhelming desire to do it again someday.
I emphasized to all of them that the feeling they had of riding atop a large horse ambling along a trail was similar to what mankind around the world had experienced for countless generations when traveling distances until the growth of the automobile in just the last century. Hopefully they can remember that feeling and it will help some future secondary school history lesson come alive for them.
Afterward, we hiked back out to the main road, and walked along it until we caught a bus with enough room to take us all to Portsmouth. From there, we caught a bus taking us to the southern end of Picard, where we got out and walked to Coconut Beach. We finished the afternoon with some swimming and some cricket on the beach. We also ate the breadfruit and codfish the teacher brought along, as well as the can of Pringles I contributed.
[I made them do some mental math to figure out how many Pringle chips there were in the can based on the average serving size of 15 and with 6 servings per can. Then I made them divide into that total to decide how much each person should get (plus we figured out other totals to continue the lesson). It was a good opportunity to demonstrate math in action.]
I had been to Coconut Beach several times, but I learned something during this trip that I had not been aware of before. The students showed me how if you dug down in the sand, it was very hot. I knew there was a hot spring in nearby Glanvalia, but I did not realize that Coconut Beach was in a “hot zone.” You could dig your feet in the sand under the water and instantly feel the heat. The students liked smearing the hot wet sand on their faces and skin (I tried it as well). I tried digging with my hands in shallow water, and only got about 6-8 inches deep before it was too hot for my hands to go any deeper. It's hard to believe that the magma of the earth is so close to the surface on this island.
We ended the day by walking back into Picard to an ice cream store, where I purchased an ice cream cone for everyone (me buying ice cream on these special trips has become a tradition). It was a great way to end a great day! [Notice that you can see me in the background of the picture below.]
Finally, I just want to mention how busy my week has been, beyond just teaching school. Sunday was the Annual General Meeting of the National Cooperative Credit Union down in the capital city. Monday night was a committee meeting for the basketball court project. Tuesday night was the disaster management committee meeting. Wednesday night was the tourism committee. Thursday night was the Village Feast committee meeting. It isn't always this busy, but I'm glad to be actively involved in my community. It is a good place to be!

P.S. I just wanted to once again plead with my readers to donate towards building a playing court for my village, as part of the matching funds to the grant I won (described in this previous story) from an American charity. Time is running out because the charity will be transferring most of our money by the end of this month. I'm very grateful for the donations that have already been made, but I'd love to get more money to help out this wonderful community who has been so welcoming to me. Every U.S. dollar gets multiplied by about 2.67 when converting to Eastern Caribbean dollars, so a simple $38 donation from America becomes a triple figure ($100 EC) donation down here. It makes a difference!

For anyone leery of donating via a website using your credit card (the instructions for the electronic donation process can be found in the link above), it is also possible to donate the old fashioned way. You can mail a check to Courts for Kids, and just note “Thibaud, Dominica community court” in the memo line. Make the check out to “Courts for Kids” and mail it to:

Courts for Kids
PO Box 873786
Vancouver, WA 98687

Thank you for at least considering a donation, whether electronically or by check! It will make a big difference for my students and others in the village. The good folks here will surely appreciate your generosity!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Two Years; One Fear

These last few days have been important anniversaries for me. Two years ago on June 10, after retiring from my job, selling my house (and motorcycle), and giving my car to my daughter, I left West Virginia to overnight near the Pittsburgh airport. On June 11, 2015, I boarded a plane early that morning to join others in my group at our staging point in Miami. Two years ago today, on June 12, 2015, a total of 32 new Peace Corps recruits left a Miami hotel, boarded an international flight, and headed to the Caribbean. It was truly a leap into the unknown—the first steps on an incredible journey!
Fast forward two years to today, and I know I am a changed man. I've learned so many things about people, life, and myself. I've made lots of new friends (both Dominicans and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers). I have a comfortable life in a loving village that cares about me. I'm truly blessed to have been given this opportunity (that is my shirt shown below).
Serving in President John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps is quite an honor. This is the centennial of JFK's birth in 1917 (it's virtually impossible to imagine him as 100 years old, since the assassin's bullet essentially froze him at age 46 in our memories), and many special events are being held to commemorate this centennial. I recently saw a video of Congressman Joe Kennedy III speaking about his great uncle and the Peace Corps. If you have the time and interest, it's worth watching by clicking here.
To commemorate the two year anniversary of the start of our Peace Corps careers, my colleagues and I went sailing on Saturday. The five of us from my class were joined by four of the other Peace Corps Volunteers. This was my third time on this boat (see my previous accounts here and here), but the first time for all the others. Everyone had a great time, as shown in these pictures! Plus, this time we got to see a huge sea turtle surface near the boat. It was a great way to celebrate this major milestone, and spend time together before we start heading our separate ways later this summer.
I have mixed emotions about my Peace Corps service coming to an end. I love the place where I was assigned. It will not be easy to leave the friends I have made here. The only thing that makes it palatable is knowing that I have already made arrangements to come back next winter for a vacation here, just to check up on everyone (and escape the cold weather). I will forever be connected to Dominica.

However, I need to go back to my West Virginia home. That point was hammered home to me once I got back to my house after the sailing trip on Saturday. My sister—my only sibling—who was one year behind me all through school, sent me a message that popped up on the small screen of my phone. All I could see was the first line: “Have some bad news to tell you.”

I immediately assumed she was referring to the death of Adam West, star of the “Batman” television show we both loved as children in the 1960s. My Facebook newsfeed was already full of this news from my contemporaries who had also been fans, so I thought I knew what she was going to tell me.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the bad news. She shared with me that she had been diagnosed with cancer on Friday. This shocking news hit me like a ton of bricks! Hopefully they caught it early enough and she will be able to beat it. She asked me to bring her back a Dominica souvenir bandana that she can wear to cover her head when her hair falls out from the chemo treatments. I purchased two bandanas today—one for her and one for me to wear in solidarity with her (shown in the photo at the top of this story).

This unexpected development shows why I need to get home in August. It also emphasized to me the fragility of life. You just never know when your life can be turned upside down. Thus, you should make the most of each and every day. I will leave you with one of my favorite photos of the two of us, in front of our 1970 Volkswagen when we were leaving home to head to the University of Charleston about 40 years ago.