Thursday, January 26, 2017

Your Chance to Help!

How many of you have thought you might be interested in the Peace Corps, but simply cannot commit to the two year requirement? Is there anyone who would enjoy paying to do a service project with me in my beautiful village for one week? If you have a week of vacation this summer, as well as the interest in doing a “Peace Corps-like” project, you can apply to join an organized work group heading for my village July 21-29, 2017.

There is an American charity entitled “Courts For Kids” that was started over ten years ago. Their idea was that building a playing court (which is essentially nothing but a big concrete slab) would be an easy project for Americans to work with local villagers in developing countries. The youth of the village would benefit from the new facility, while the visiting Americans would learn about life in a developing country—a win-win situation. Apparently many folks who participated previously with this charity often add a few days of their own vacation after the project is completed to enjoy the area.

Courts For Kids (CFK) invites communities around the world to apply for their program. They directly provide $5000 US dollars towards the construction of the playing court. CFK also solicits work teams from colleges, churches, large employers, etc. Sometimes, especially with a destination that might be of interest (such as the beautiful “Nature Island” of Dominica), they open it up to the general public to apply to join the work team.

I submitted a grant application in 2016, and recently learned that it was approved. We are very excited to have won this competition! Not only will this be the first CFK project in Dominica—it will be the first time that CFK has come to ANY island in the Eastern Caribbean! We want to make our project successful so that other villages in this region can benefit from this charity in the future.

Courts For Kids' standard agreement is to provide:

* $5,000 (in U.S. dollars—which translates to about $13,350 in Eastern Caribbean dollars) to be used for construction materials and/or labor costs. [They say a typical 28 meter by 15 meter court costs between $8-10,000 U.S. dollars, so they want the local community to help pay the balance for the court. However, in-kind donations can be counted towards the community's total.]
* Expertise from completing courts all over the world.
* A team of American volunteers to help assist with the manual labor and prepared to learn about the culture and community.
* Fiber mesh to reinforce concrete as a replacement for wire mesh.
* Sports equipment, including basketball rims and backboards.

My village must do the following:

* Commit to raising money and/or donated materials to help with the remainder of court costs.
* Supply volunteer labor from the community.
* Ensure all prep-work is completed prior to the American volunteer group’s arrival.
* Identify an experienced local contractor to oversee the project, acquire the materials, and be accountable to the timeline.
* Coordinate in-country logistics (lodging, travel from airport, food, etc.). The American volunteers will pay their own expenses and expect to stay within the community in simple accommodations (we are thinking about converting the new preschool plus the adjacent old preschool into makeshift dormitories for the week they are here).
* Ensure the safety of the group (not a problem here!).
* Provide opportunities for a rich cultural exchange between the two groups (we've already reached out to a couple of cultural dance groups to perform). In addition, at least one full day will be devoted solely to tourist activities.

I've learned from discussions with CFK that they were impressed with my village's response to Tropical Storm Erika. I had written in my Erika blog post about how the villagers here chose to immediately work together to dig out on our own, by cleaning up landslides with shovels and wheelbarrows, rather than waiting on the government to arrive with excavators and backhoes.

In addition, my blog itself was viewed as another positive aspect, because work team members would be able to read all about life in this village prior to their arrival. Finally, the fact that our court will also be used for netball was of interest to them, especially after reading that our girls don't have a place to practice here (as I wrote about in this blog post). I'm glad that these reasons resulted in our village being chosen!

So, if you've been reading my blog and you are intrigued about life in Dominica, click on this link: to explore the application (and the fees) to become part of the work crew coming to my village for a week. Anyone can come--the group already has a few adults and their children, so parents and their kids are encouraged to join us.

You'll get a brief taste of what life is like in Dominica, as well as a sampling of what it is like to be a member of the Peace Corps. We will be doing a good service for my students, and at the same time you will have a memorable experience to last a lifetime. Come join me!

If you can't fly to Dominica for a week, you can still help this worthwhile project with a tax deductible donation to Courts For Kids. Any amount, no matter how small, would be welcomed by the good people in my village! Courts For Kids can receive financial donations designated for my project via their website at Just choose “Donations toward host-country partner” and indicate in the comments section that this is for the Dominica project. We would be extremely grateful! And if you can't come or contribute, we also appreciate your positive thoughts from afar. Thank you!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Ambassador Returns!

Friday, January 13th was a lucky day for me! Our school was honored to have a second visit by the U.S. Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean, the Honorable Linda S. Taglialatela. The Ambassador had enjoyed herself so much during her previous visit to my village on Community Service Day that she had forgotten to give us some books which she had intended on donating for our school library. Thus, during her recent visit to Dominica, she made a brief stop on her way to the airport so that she could do a quick read-aloud session with the children and leave some books for us.
Her schedule was such that she would not be arriving until 4:00 PM, while school usually lets out at 3:30 PM. We could not force the children to stay, but nearly all of them chose to do so. A few of them helped me to hang up the school banner and the Dominican flag, as well as an American flag that my parents had given me (as shown in the picture above). It gave a nice international look to our little school.
In addition to reading a couple of the books, she also told the children that she had been in a meeting with the Prime Minister of Dominica earlier that day (see photo I found above). When she asked if the students knew the name of the Prime Minister, all of them quickly responded with “Skerrit.” Our village is actually on the southern end of his parliamentary district, so Dr. Roosevelt Skerrit is well known here.
She told the students that during the course of their conversation together earlier Friday, she had told him that she would be stopping by this primary school. Apparently the Prime Minister was both surprised and pleased that she was going to be making a stop in our little village. He assured her that we would be getting a new school building soon (the old school was torn down several years ago and we have been surviving in temporary quarters since then). Although we had heard this was going to happen, it was still very reassuring news for all of us to hear this confirmation.
This wasn't the only good news from her trip to Dominica. The local media outlets were already trumpeting the previous day's donation by the American government of a couple of Bobcat excavators, water pumps, and light towers to Dominica's Office of Disaster Management. This equipment was identified as needed in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Erika, and was valued at over half a million dollars. Donations like this from America and other foreign countries mean a lot to a little island nation such as Dominica.
Obviously, I'm glad that the American Ambassador is now familiar with a small, isolated village located far from Dominica's capital city. Visiting here gives her (and her talented staffers) a taste of what real life is like for most Dominicans. Her support of my students, my village, and the Peace Corps is truly appreciated!

[It isn't worth a separate story, but I thought I would throw in a picture of this baby goat that was born on Thursday. Goats are a big part of life in the Caribbean.]

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sails on the Horizon

Today was a first for me, so I want to share this brief story. On clear days, the distant view from my village looks across the Atlantic Ocean towards the small French island known as Marie-Galante, which is part of Guadeloupe (Dominica's neighboring island to the north). Most of the time, there are no ships to be seen on our part of the ocean, but on rare occasions, a large tanker or container ship will pass between us. One time last year, as dusk arrived, the lights of a large cruise ship could be seen passing through (I was told that sometimes if a ship is running ahead of schedule, they choose to take the long way and pass through the channel between Dominica and Marie Gallant).
During school this morning, I happened to gaze across the horizon to see a small but unusual sight. There were three large white sails of a sizable sailing vessel passing through the channel. It would have been nice to have had a pair of binoculars, or even a telescope, to see it more clearly. I tried to take a picture with my old cell phone, but as you can see, the quality leaves a lot to be desired. This story contains only that one picture, but subsequent versions are enlarged.
It had to have been some sort of “tall ship” as they are often called (similar to the one I visited in this previous story). I made sure to show it to the students who were outside for their morning break. I talked to them about how in the old days, it could have been what a pirate ship would have looked like. I also talked about how this view might have been what the natives to this island might have first viewed when Christopher Columbus first “discovered” Dominica (he named it Dominica, which in Latin means Sunday, because that was the day of the week the island was sighted).
It was fascinating for me to think about what the Kalinago natives (the indigenous people who inhabitated Dominica) must have thought when they saw these strange, towering white shapes coming over the horizon in 1493. They would have had no idea that these were sails connected to ships. It would have been so absolutely alien to them. Little did they know what massive changes would accompany these ships. I'm glad I got the opportunity to see what that view was like.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as I quietly walked along the roadway in front of our playing field. Suddenly in the distance, I noticed the wheel of a vehicle lying on it side, with only that top rear wheel visible from my vantage point. Assuming that a wreck had recently occurred, I ran to the beach area where the vehicle had toppled over after missing the uphill turn. Somebody might need help!
I was relieved to discover that no one was around (not only because there were no victims to be found, but also because I was so out of breath after running!), and that the wreck had probably occurred long before I saw it. The air bags had deployed, but there was no sign of blood. However, the minivan, which appeared to be relatively new and in decent shape, was severely damaged.
The driver had failed to negotiate the bend in the road near our beach, where the road starts up the long hill. Drifting too far to the left, the vehicle hit a concrete drainage box where rainwater collects from along the curb coming down the hill. Not only were the wheels, CV joints, and various suspension parts damaged in this violent scrape against the concrete drain and curbing, but the oil pan also appeared to have been damaged. Fortunately, I assume the internal engine damage was minimal since I doubt the engine ran very long after the vehicle came to rest on its side.
Unlike America, where law enforcement officers would be quick to arrive on the scene, and a tow truck would be dispatched right away to remove virtually all traces of the wreck, in Dominica things are done differently. Eventually I heard that this wreck had occurred late the previous night, and that thankfully no one had been seriously injured. However, the vehicle was left where it rested for future retrieval.
The sad remains of the metal carcass certainly got a lot of attention all day from most other vehicles passing by, as well as from my students and other villagers. I'm hoping it served as an important lesson about the potential dangers inherent in driving (especially for my male students, all of whom anxiously look forward to the day that they might be able to drive). Crashing a vehicle down here, where few people are rich or even well off, probably means a major blow to one's budget.

Maybe it would make a greater impression on American drivers if our wrecks were not so quickly and professionally cleaned up, and perhaps left purposely along the road to serve as a reminder to not drink and drive, or text and drive, or speed, or whatever. With the way some careless Americans can't stay off their smart phones while behind the steering wheel, I'm glad that self-driving cars are being developed for them. For myself, I prefer to drive, because I take the responsibility seriously.

Late in the afternoon, a front-end loader/backhoe arrived to salvage the vehicle. Heavy chains were attached to get the vehicle upright and off the hillside. Then it was dragged (since none of the wheels seemed to be working properly) through the dirt and up on the road, where it was loaded onto a tilt-bed truck (actually, it was like a dump truck but with low walls on the bed). Once loaded, the truck with the damaged vehicle drove away, perhaps never to be seen here again. What had been for a day the center of attention had now disappeared from the life of our village.
Needless to say, there were additional damages done to the vehicle during the attempts to extricate it from the hillside and move it to where it could be loaded up. Oh well! That is just how things go in this foreign country sometimes. Hopefully, some folks learned a valuable life lesson from this experience.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Two-Week Tourist

I had a friend from America visit over Christmas. Here is a quick review of the activities we were able to enjoy, all within easy reach of my village in the northern end of the island.
Sunday, December 18 – After arriving in the afternoon, the big event was the Village Council's Christmas Party that evening, where I played Santa Claus (see above). This year, we even had a spirited marching band to kick off the celebration (see below). I also led our school's choir with the song they performed, when the teacher who had rehearsed with them had to unexpectedly leave. [I trust that will be my first and last time conducting a musical performance.]
Monday, December 19 – The day was spent at the school, getting everything ready for the big Christmas dinner that began late that afternoon. The students all arrived dressed quite nicely (see below), and we enjoyed an incredible formal dinner (I was asked to offer the official toast for our sparkling juice drinks—first I gave a typical toast, but I couldn't resist also sharing with them the one I learned as a kid, “Over the teeth and past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes!”).
Tuesday, December 20 – This was a low-key day, highlighted by a trip to Portsmouth, where we shopped at the local produce market and made a stop at the IGA grocery store.
Wednesday, December 21 – We started with a hike to the Bwa Nef waterfall, then walking back to Au Too. Despite the diagonal orientation, the picture above doesn't fully capture this waterfall, hidden back in a slot canyon, with two huge boulders straddling the crack far above. This trip was very similar to the previous blog story I wrote about taking my students on this day trip.
Thursday, December 22 – On this day, we caught a ride to the Calabishie area, a beautiful part of this island. We explored Red Rocks, which I had described in a previous blog story. This time, the nearby chocolate factory was open, so we got to take a tour and see the process (plus eat some decadent chocolate). We also enjoyed a meal at a nice restaurant. We both got lionfish, doing our small part to eliminate this menace. The picture above shows Red Rocks at the distant point on the upper left corner, while the restaurant where we ate is right along the edge of the water beyond the beach in the foreground.
Friday, December 23 – We got a ride to the upper end of Penville, to the trailhead for Segment 13 of the Waitukubuli Trail. Dominica has a hiking trail that transverses the entire island, from Scotts Head in the south to Cabrits in the north. Segment 13 runs from Penville to Capuchin, through the lush forest, with many beautiful views looking north towards the French island of Guadeloupe (see above). We continued onto Segment 14, which drops down precariously to the rocky beach and follows the shoreline most of the way. We stopped briefly at the restaurant at Toucarie Bay where I had recently celebrated Thanksgiving with the other Peace Corps Volunteers.
Saturday, December 24 – We stayed in our village and hiked up the creek that passes my home (with a couple of my students, as shown in the picture above). We had hiked it on two previous occasions, going higher each time, but we never made it to the source. Although we went further this time, far up this narrow valley, we still didn't find the end before we needed to turn around to make sure we weren't hiking back in the dark. Someday we will find the end.

Sunday, December 25 – Attended church in the morning, and then was invited to share a traditional Christmas dinner with a local family. It was delicious food and good conversation.

Monday, December 26 – With limited transportation options (December 26 is a holiday called Boxing Day), we just explored around the village and played on L'islet. We also enjoyed flying kites on the playing field with some of my students, pictured above.
Tuesday, December 27 – Along with three of my students acting as our guides (shown above), we hiked to the Chaudiere Pool (I think the pronunciation is “should-wah”). This pool along a river deep in the jungle is supposedly 30 feet deep, and very beautiful. The surrounding rock formations are interesting as well. The boys took us on the longer but easier path to get down to the pool, but decided to take the more direct route that went straight uphill on the way out. It was challenging but fun. We had a good time on the hike back, through the villages of Bense, Anse de Mai, and Anse Sol Dat.
Wednesday, December 28 – There is a horse riding stable that offers a ride where you end up at Purple Turtle Beach and ride the horses in the Caribbean Sea. It began with a trail ride along Segment 14 of the Waitukubuli Trail. Once we arrived at the beach, the saddles were removed from the horses prior to entering the water. This was the first time I had ever been on a horse in water as well as the first time I had ever rode bareback. I have a new appreciation for both aspects.
Thursday, December 29 – This was another long day of hiking through the forest on Segment 12 of the Waitukubuli Trail, with two of my students along with us. We rode a bus to the village of Borne, and made a brief visit to the Indigo Art Gallery (pictured above). This “treehouse” gallery had been a popular hangout for some of the stars when “Pirates of the Caribbean” was being filmed on Dominica. We then trekked up to the island's version of the Continental Divide—we could see the Caribbean on one side of the ridge, and the Atlantic on the opposite side of the ridge. However, we had a lot of hiking to do before getting back to our village.
Early in the hike, a large agouti crossed our path. Agoutis, along with the opossum-like manicou, are sometimes caught and eaten here, but I have yet to taste either. We also enjoyed a few sightings of wild parrots, with their beautiful green and red colorings flashing as they flew away. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to capture any of the animals on camera.
Eventually we made it down to a nice bridge that crosses a creek (shown above the preceding paragraph). From that point on, it was, for the most part, a steep uphill climb. It was such a relief when we finally crested the high ridge above the village of Vieille Case, and could see the Atlantic stretching out into the distance (as shown above). We finally arrived back in our village by the end of the day. We were tired, but felt a great sense of accomplishment.
By the way, the village of Vieille Case was initially a large Kalinago Indian village known by the name Itassi. It was the site of the first Catholic mass held on this island, back in 1646, as shown on the mural above. It is also the hometown of the current Prime Minister of Dominica, and the trail goes right by his residence.
Friday, December 30 – After the big hike the day before, we decided to rest our legs and give our upper bodies a workout by renting a double kayak from Coconut Beach (below Portsmouth) and heading down to Secret Bay. There are some interesting views, such as the “flying buttress” rock shown above. I assume Secret Bay is secretive because it is just a narrow strip of sand surrounded by a gigantic cliff, as shown below. It was a nice afternoon to be paddling on the Caribbean.
Saturday, December 31 – For the last full day of the year and the visit, we stayed close to my village. We did some kite flying with the kids, and then orchestrated a large water balloon battle. A good time was had by all! That evening, the good folks at the Pentecostal Church invited us to attend their New Year's Eve dinner. Just like church dinners back home in West Virginia, there was plenty to eat, including good local foods, such as fig pie, yam pie, macaroni pie, chicken, fish, ham, potato salad, etc. Many of my students were also in attendance. It was a great dinner and a good way to end the year.
Hopefully 2017 will be a good year for us all!