Thursday, June 16, 2011
A lot has happened since I last wrote anything. For starters, its gotten HOT. Seriously hot. So hot I've had some close calls with passing out at inopportune and down right awkward moments. I could actually deal with the temperature if the thick air wasn't trying to suffocate me. 85 degrees with 80% humidity is worse than any dry 100 degree day, I don't care what anyone says. Not even my Hawaiian roots could prepare me for this. And certainly not my years in Washington State. I really do miss the crisp NW air............. So, i've retired my jeans until Fall, turned my fan up to level 3, and started icing my coffee in the mornings. I also try to remind myself that I am surrounded by Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, so complaining is kind of ridiculous.
Work has been going really well lately. My 9th graders just finished their exams and are basically done for the summer. Some of them will move on to secondary school but many will, as one teacher put it, be thrown to the wolves. I've had a hard time accepting this reality, but it is a reality. It's their reality. I wish them absolutely nothing but the best. There is not a single one of them that doesn't have it in them to do great - to be great. They drove me crazy more than a few times. I actually screamed at a few to get out of my classroom on one particularly bad day, which is something I never thought i'd do. But I really will miss my Tuesdays with them. Im not the same person I was the first day I first stepped into their classrooms. I am stronger now and much more patient. I found that I have it in me to be assertive without losing my softness and my compassion. And I know now that the only way to survive teaching is to not take yourself too seriously. You gotta laugh. And I mean really laugh.
The last few months at The Environmental Awareness Group have been spent organising and hosting a Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, continuing to get ready for Camp GROW, and dedicating some weekends to helping out with our annual bird and snake surveys - all of which have been incredibly successful and rewarding experiences. *Camping on a beautiful, uninhabited island with ridiculously amazing company while practicing my snake catching skills is not something I will soon forget...
As if my time at school and the EAG didn't keep me busy enough, I just recently began a THIRD assignment assisting counsellors at the Student Support Centre which provides intervention and life-skills training to at-risk teens. I couldn't be more excited about this opportunity. The work will not be easy. After only three weeks I am already beyond frustrated at the non-functioning social services in this country. But the bottom line is that I get to spend my time challenging these teens to see in themselves the hope and opportunity that I see in them, and if it turns out thats all I can do, thats good enough for me.
Besides work-life, I am hanging in there. Yesterday the volunteers in Antigua had a mental health session with our Medical Officer from headquarters in St. Lucia. I didn't realize how much I needed it until I started crying my little eyes when it was my turn to talk. It suprised me as much as it did everyone else sitting at the table. The truth is, Im tired. Im lonely. Im emotionally drained. I miss my family. Sometimes I wake up and wonder what the hell I am actually doing here - if this is really worth what I sacrificed and left behind. But like I said, Im hanging in there. I get up each morning and leave my house with wide eyes and high hopes because even though I may not understand it now, I know eventually I will. And when that happens, I don't want to feel like I missed out. For now i'll just keep on embracing the beauty in my uncertainty.
And now mixed bag of photos for your viewing pleasure
Friday, April 8, 2011
Ive planted dozens of seeds in dozens of trays over the past 7 months, mostly metaphorical and a few literal (I must say my basil is doing quite well!) Most of these seeds never sprouted. Maybe they didn't get enough oxygen or support from the community. Maybe they just weren't ready. Many of the seeds that did initially sprout have since shrivled up. Too much sun light, too small of a pot, or not enough resources to see it into fruition.
I won't lie. Its frustrating to spend time and energy on an idea or a project that never even sprouts. But as time has passed I have become profoundly aware that the work is not done in vain. The lessons hidden within the unsprouted seeds are sometimes the greatest.
That being said, its really really exciting to see one of your seedlings sprout and transform from an idea to an actual project! Camp GROW (Gaining a Respect for the Outdoors and our World) is one of these projects.
Camp GROW is a partneship between myself and a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, The Environmental Awareness Group, and The Gilbert Agricultural and Rural Development Center. It seeks to bring youth from around Antigua together for two weeks this summer to have fun and get their hands dirty while cultivating an appreciation and understanding of the natural environment and its links to healthy, sustainable communities.
Camp GROW was recently added to the Peace Corps Partnership Program Website, which means that you can now help fund this project by making donations!! Woohoo!! If you aren't able to donate but you are willing to spread the word to your family and friends, thats great too! Also, if you work for a company that matches employee's charitable donations please keep that in mind. We have already recieved some tremendous community support to fund this project but we need all the help we can get!
To learn more about Camp GROW or make a donation, please visit: https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=538-008
If you have any questions about this project or anything else I am working on in Antigua, please don't hesitate to contact me. I'd love to hear from you!
Hoping this post finds you all happy, healthy and enjoying the spring weather. So far the highlight of spring in Antigua is the start of mango season! Yum Yum Yum
6th Graders learning important lessons about conservation, ecosytems, and engangered species while enjoying a day away from the chalkboard
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Thinking about what we teach our boys. How we raise and how we praise our boys. Ive been lying awake at night wondering how to reach and empower our boys. Wishing we'd hug and show more love to our boys. Maybe have a little more faith in our boys......
Its easy to get down on men, and I must admit, I do it quite a bit. Lets just look at some facts shall we:
85% of murder is committed by men
90% of physical assault.....
95% of domestic violence cases are perpetrated by men
90% of child sexual abuse......
99.8% of people sitting in prison convicted of rape are men
And it is estimated that 1 in 4 men will use some sort of violence against a partner in their lifetime
In Anigua, the majority of families are run by single mothers. It is not uncommon for a man to have dozens of children with different women, many of whom live in the same village and attend the same schools. Mommas shuttling kids around to various family members and daycares before and after work while daddy 'limes' or chills on the block playing dominos is an all too familiar scenario here. On top of it all, our young men are drastically falling behind in school.
So what the hell is going on??
Well, a lot of things. You could spend a lifetime answering this question, and many people have. But the bottom line, or at least a significant part of the bottom line, is POWER-STRENGTH-CONTROL and what these words can mean for young men who are forced into boxes with them. Are men evil? No. Are they inherently violent? Absolutely not. We are socializing them into the roles of dead-beat dads and abusers by our unforgiving and unrelenting rules on what it means to be a 'real man'. We are what we eat, and we seem to be feeding our boys a load of crap.
Its easy to get down on men, this we know. But getting down on men is not the solution, infact I think it is actually part of the problem. If all young boys hear is that 'men are this' and 'men are that', then why try to be anything different? And if we spend all of our energy focusing on the dead-beat dads and the abusers, who is focusing on the rest?
So I would like to take this opportunity to do exactly that, and recognize the amazing men, young and old, that I have had the privledge of knowing over the past 6 months of my Peace Corps Service. When I watch these boys and men...when I hear their stories.....I am too often left heartbroken but always always left inspired.
To the single father who is raising two of the most respectful and tender boys I have encountered on this island---Kudos to you, sir. Kudos to you.To the fellow Peace Corps Volunteer that spoke with such grace and conviction about issues so often deemed 'women's problems'--- Your voice is incredibly powerful in a sea of silence. Thank you.
And to a very young man who has stepped up to help take care of his 3 little sisters while his father sits in jail awaiting trial for brutally assaulting his mother--- I am so sorry that you have had to see the things you've seen. I wish all you had to worry about was being 9. The responsibility you have taken on and the compassion that you are are showing your mother and your sisters....these are what make you a 'real man'. Not the control you can exert over others or the damage you can do with your fist. Don't ever forget that.
To every father, son, brother, husband, boyfriend, ally, and friend out there......I see you and I appreciate you.
So lets hear it for the boy!
I just couldn't resist..
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
I've made it through my first holiday season in Antigua which sent me celebrating all over the island with all sorts of awesome people! There were sailboat races and beach parties, showers with turtles and domino sessions with boys on the block. There were lazy days and late nights full of merriment. Through it all, there was lots and lots of food. Ridiculous amounts of food. Okra fritters and fried chicken, curried goat, callaloo, and my host mom's famous Trinidadian chrismas cake......just to name a few. Of course this was all washed down with healthy portions of rum. Rum with coke, rum with sorrell, and rum with rum. Twas the season!
While it was great spending time with local friends and fellow volunteers all over the island, the holidays reminded me how little I am actually in my own village with my own neighbors. Integration is a word that is drilled into us during training. We are told that our safety and security, as well as the richness of our experience, is dependent upon it. I agree whole heartedly. Of course some of this integration refers to the island community as a whole, but some is more specific to one's immediate community. This is where I struggle. It is difficult to make friends and feel part of a village that I spend very little time in. Sure, the kids yell 'techa!' or 'Miss. Davis!' as I pass through, and the adults know me as the white gyal they say hi to every morning, but except for a few people, that's as far as it goes. Working in town 4 days a week, I find myself sucking my teeth (a standard behavior in the Caribbean) at volunteers lucky enough to work 5 days a week in the village that they live. By the time I get home from town, darkness has set in leaving no time to go off socializing. So....... while I usually shy away from New Years resolutions, as I rang in 2011 with a bottle of champagne and sand between my toes, I resolved to spend more time in Swetes, the quiet village I call home. Since I can't stop going to work, or make the sun set any later, this means finding a balance on weekends between time away and time at home.
That being said, you can imagine how thrilled I was on New Years day when I ran into two of my favorite neighborhood boys on the bus ride home. Levi is in one of my ninth grade health classes, and Joquan is in grade five. Squeezing myself between them, I began my inquisition on what they'd been up to over the three week holiday break. In typical adolescent fashion they responded with "nothing.." They decided they would rather talk about me...like what beach had I just been to? (The sand in my hair gave me away) By the time we got off the bus near our village and began our walk home I found out that these two boys were not just friends, they were brothers! They live with their father, a Rastafarian goat herder, in a small house at the end of the road. Levi mostly hangs out with the older kids on the block, while I often see Joquan riding his donkey down the road or helping his father with the goats. Before we parted ways that New Years afternoon, the two boys asked me if i'd ever want to go pond fishing with them. "Of course!" I replied, "When?" They told me maybe next Sunday. 'Perfect', I thought, as I logged one week from tomorrow into my mental calendar.
That next morning, intent of taking advantage of my last day of vacation, I lazed around in bed until finally getting up to boil some water for the day. Just as my kettle began screeching I heard another high pitched sound coming from the road. "miss daaaaviiiiiiiiss!!!" Still in my pajamas I opened my door to find Joquan perched on a post staring at me in disbelief. "You aren't ready!?!?!" "I thought you said next Sunday!" I replied. No response.....just a disappointed fifth grader with his jaw dropped in astonishment that this white lady would still be in her pajamas at 9:30 in the morning. "Ok Ok, give me 10 minutes" I said. I quickly brushed me teeth, slathered on some sunscreen, threw a 3 day old pb+j and a bottle of water into my backpack and headed out the door. Joquan looked disapprovingly at me as I exited my apartment in flip flops and shorts. "No shoes?" "Ok Ok, give me another minute," I said as I ran back inside and changed into jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt.
"Now you look like you are going into the bush!" he exclaimed, with a giant grin plastered on his face.
Walking down the street I learned that the boys' cousin Marlow was a farmer in Body Ponds (a forested area with several large ponds in the middle of the island). Any part of the island remotely forested is considered 'bush' by Antiguans. Marlow would be taking us fishing near his farm. As we neared their house I was properly introduced to 3 or 4 extended family members, two donkeys, a herd of goats, and one horse. Marlow insisted on calling me Miss Davis despite me introducing myself as Jen. Getting anyone who knows me from school to call me by my first name is a lost cause. We piled in the jeep and headed out of Swetes and down a long bumpy country road. As we arrived at Marlow's farm the boys scattered to find me all sorts of goodies. Within minutes I was being fed my first cacao fruit, guavas, and various nuts found on the ground. As we sat in the dirt eating and waiting for Marlow to take care of a few things, Joquan told me of his dreams to one day live out in the bush and farm his own land. He loves the peacefulness and the fact that if you are a farmer you always have food. "You never have to beg because you hungry, " he said.
When Marlow was ready we headed out to find a good spot to fish, stopping along the way to dig up some bait. Levi quickly fashioned us a few poles out of palm frawns and we began to fish. The boys caught dozens of fish while I continued to come up empty handed. "When the fish bite, yank like you taking your purse back from one tief!" they said. I hope a thief never steals my purse because Im not very good at yanking. I finally caught the tiniest pond fish in the world and the boys erupted in congratulations as I began jumping up and down like a crazy person. Today these boys were my teachers, and I was their student. I threw the poor little fish back, which was apparently not the right move. Throwing back your first fish is bad luck, but I explained to them i'd caught many fish in my childhood so it wasn't REALLY my first fish. After catching my second fish, I decided to sit back and watch, handing the bait to the boys when they needed it and taking in the beauty of the day. The fish eventually stopped biting and the boys moved on to climbing coconut palms. Once they'd collected a dozen or so coconuts we sat down an feasted on the juice, jelly, and meat till our bellys were full. The rest we carted back to the jeep so Marlow could use the milk to make coconut rice. As we trudged up the hill against a warm Caribbean breeze with a buckets full of fish and coconuts, Joquan looked back at me and said "Miss Davis, this is what I did on my vacation".
I told him I couldn't think of a better way to spend vacation. And I meant it.
Marlow insisted on loading me up with goodies from his farm before driving me home. My backpack was bursting with cassava, sweet potatoes, seasoning peppers, sugar cane, green papaya, and water bottles full of fresh coconut water as the three boys dropped me off at my apartment that afternoon. "Will you come fishing again Miss Davis?" they asked.
"Next Sunday?" I said
My first introduction to the Cacao fruit
So that's where my chocolate comes from! The Jelly around the seeds is tasty!
One of my skilled teachers
Fishing with a palm frawn, a safety pin hook, and freshly dug earthworm bait
If you look closely, or click to enlarge, you can see an excellent tree climber on a mission for some coconuts
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
No one likes to admit that they've planned out the way certain things in life are going to go, because it doesn't really work that way. But we all do it to one degree or another. Honestly, I don't even realize Im doing it most of the time. The plans are buried somewhere deep in my subconscious until life takes a different turn and I have to come face to face with them and the fact that they will only ever be exactly what they are... plans. I guess its not the plans themselves that cause the problem, its the attachment to the plans that really does you in. Its always the attachment that does you in. But that's a whole Buddhist can-o-worms I won't open right now. I think I am getting off topic. The point is, the past few weeks threw a lot of curve balls my way. One, right after another, until I was pretty sure that just one more might knock me flat on my face. Every time I thought I found my footing, something else came along to challenge my capacity as a good daughter, a good sister, and a good friend. The good news is, I did not fall flat on my face. Thank goodness! (Ive actually done that once before and I like my teeth too much to do it again). A couple AWESOME crying sessions, some much needed floating-in-the-ocean time, and many many hugs from a woman named Norma Jean and where am I now? Well, I am right where I should be. In Antigua, loving and supporting my family as much as I can from afar and trying to suck out all of the goodness from this experience, down down down to the marrow. I am still trying to find my footing here in the Caribbean and working to define my relationships with people near and far. I probably always will be. I think curve balls are good for a person. They challenge you and remind you of what is really important, which leads me to the whole point of this blog post...Thanksgiving!
So here it is. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my Mother and the unconditional love that has poured out of her and into me for the last 25 years. I am thankful for my Father who is very likely my number 1 fan, and has taught me that a life without passion is no life at all. I am thankful for my Sister, the most compassionate woman I know and the only person who will ALWAYS rub my feet when I ask. I am thankful for my Niece who reminds me daily of the purity and wisdom that we all begin with and sometimes lose along the way. And I am thankful for a man who believes so much in me and what I am doing that he lovingly watched me go. There are infinitely more things that I am thankful for, and for that I am thankful. Let the feasting commence!
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
There are moments (some beautiful, some horrifying, and some pee-your-pants-from-laughing-so-hard funny) where the world seems to stop spinning and whisper very gently to me, "this is your life". Ok, so maybe its my mind that stops spinning, not the world. It is difficult to separate the two. This is my life. It is a seemingly easy concept to grasp, I know. Yet in these moments, its as if I am realizing it for the first time, every time.
My school attachment has provided my with all sorts of these moments, though I must admit, the horrifying and pee-your-pants-funny have so far greatly outnumbered the beautiful. Each Tuesday, instead of hopping on a bus to my EAG office in the city, I take advantage of my extra half hour by leisurely sipping some coffee on my porch before heading down the road to Irene B. Williams Primary School. During the 10 minute walk I manage to exchange good-mornings with a dozen or so neighbors and completely undo all that my shower and deodorant application achieved just an hour before. I never knew how much I could sweat till I sweat in the Caribbean.
I am greeted at school by a sea of tiny voices calling out 'good morning Miss Davis!' from every possible direction. Then come the hugs. Oh man,I love the hugs. Its like these little guys are aware that I recently left everyone I love miles and miles away across an ocean to come here, and they are attempting to fill the void. That, or I am a tall blonde novelty on campus that is fun to touch. I hope it is a least a little of the former. Ah, but then its time to say goodbye to these unscathed, adorable beings and head upstairs to the angsty teens that I will spend my day with. Don't get me wrong, I love these guys too.... its just more of a 'I want to jump out of the window you are driving bonkers' kind of love. The first time I was left alone with them my self-confidence was obliterated. Ground Rules? What ground rules? Disciplinary skills? Yeah right...
First there was an iPod headphone choking incident. Then there was a little girl-on-guy fondling...ok more like a lot of girl-on-guy fondling. Once those issues were dealt with the rest of the class decided I was hopeless and decided to do whatever the hell they wanted, which included screaming, banging on desks, and simply walking out. "Miss Davis, you should really call the principal in here, " said Levi (the empathetic one).I thought about it, I really did. But I couldn't. I am not calling the principal in here to watch these kids get paddled with a belt because I can't control them. I mean, no serious injury occurred... unless you are taking into account the damage to my pride. So this would be one of those horrifying moments I was talking about.
There have been no choking or fondling incidents since this special, special day, and for that I am grateful. But every day is a struggle. Teaching 15 year olds that can barely read in an education system that relies almost completely on 'chalk and talk' is disheartening to say the least. In school they must read and write Standard English (a.k.a. The Queen's Language) when most of them only speak dialect. Standard English is their second language, and a poor one at that. In a matter of months these students will take an exam that will decide whether they can finally move to the secondary school or whether they are out of the system for good. The odds are stacked against them and they know it. I try to help them with their reading and writing as much as I can but I am only here one day a week and my focus is on health. Whether they learn to read and write, move onto secondary school or not, they NEED health education. With HIV and teen pregnancy rates climbing at an alarming rate, it could be argued that there is nothing they need more. And can you believe it, we are starting to have a little fun together! Today we got to practice putting condoms on cucumbers and do mini demos on lots of other contraceptives. We laughed, we asked questions, and we actually learned something. How’s that for beautiful.