“Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have:
But of the best leaders
When their task is accomplished
Their work is done
The people all remark
“We have done it ourselves.”
Aw, blogging. These things, I find, are easier said than done. Perhaps one should take it as a good sign that I have not yet posted. All is good and well. Although I am not extremely busy yet, my mental capacity to convey my new surroundings and corresponding thoughts has been lagging. But for everyone who has been waiting for an email or Facebook “hello”, I write this to you…
Well, as most of you reading this know, I have successfully landed myself in Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean as a trainee as of yet, and a soon to be legit “volunteer” (it takes 2.5 months of training and a lovely swearing in ceremony to illustrate commitment). For those of you familiar with both the Eastern Caribbean and Peace Corps, you may think them to be completely autonomous of one another, i.e., “Why the hell are Peace Corps Volunteers needed in paradise?” Admittedly, it has been difficult to convince family and friends that I will not be sipping banana smoothies while discussing the development of a rum stand closer to site. No, no. First off, Peace Corps would not operate in a location where a need for development was not present. With a few clicks past the general Google of “St. Vincent” (where I will be from next Monday on out) one can discover that HIV/ AIDS is unfortunately a part of many local (or host country nationals) lives, as well as under-developed educational systems, poor infrastructure, inadequate access to resources, and other ingredients that comprise the soup de jour of poverty. A street over from where well-off foreigners leave the ports and harbors and cheap knick knack, rip me off, cater-to-white-person-stores selling everything under the [island] sun, a community of crime and poverty exists. This said, Peace Corps (from my admittedly naïve viewpoint) in my observations, would also not send volunteers to locations where there was not hope for positive social change and potential for impact. As the Canadians say, “where there is a will, there is a way, eh?”
With that out of the way, everything has been wonderful so far; as far as new experiences go. In a nutshell: good people, good weather, good food, and good vibes. I am taking things with a grain of sand, as I know the next two and a half years will definitely be one the hardest things I will ever love to do. But so far, no complaints! (I even have an AC in my room that keeps me cool as I type).
The last few days have been a blur of faces, names, sights, and feelings. After a somewhat emotional goodbye (I am my mother’s daughter folks!) I left San Francisco, CA on 1/26 for Miami for staging, or pre-departure training, which is basically the last chance to back out to avoid having a guilty conscience for wasting tax-payers money on a return ticket to America from your PC location once/if you decide this is not really your cup o’ tea. There was, of course, the initial meet and greets (envision a room of 20 to 60 something year-olds on their best behavior in their best interpretation of “business casual” garb shaking hands under questions they will unlikely remember the answers to, “What’s your name? Where are you from? Do you know what island you are going to? What will you be doing there?”). After we played the “get-to-know-you-game”, which has proven to still be a popular one every day as of yet, we attended the half day of staging. This included a refresher crash course of what precisely PC is all about. I found it to not be stressful or demanding, but rather enjoyed being reminded of why I initially took interest in this development organization. Based on service, commitment to positive and sustainable impact, and peace-building, among many other things, Peace Corps, in theory, could change the world. Created in ’61 by JFK, Peace Corps encourages “international friendship making” (credit to Nick who passed on this adage) through short-term development projects. I have wanted to do Peace Corps since before the economy turned into what it is today, before I accrued a good chunk of federal student loan debt, and before I properly knew what “NGO/ Institution Development” meant (which is, by the way, my official role in St. Vincent). And especially before the 20/20 episode was released reporting a female volunteer in Benin to have been killed in similar fashion to a local goat and Peace Corps being inadequately responsive to her family members and the public. There are risks, of course when one travels. I am in risk right now. But, I am also alive. I want to live. I want to experience the spectrum of emotions granted to me as a human being. I will be as safe and cautious as I can, but some things are externalities beyond my control. Anyway, getting back to my main point (tangents are a common occurrence as any subscriber of my blogs knows), simply put, I have never envisioned doing anything but PC after my schooling was completed- it just felt like the natural progression for me. After the lengthy application process, phone and in-person interviews, and general exhaustion cocktailed with excitement of finally arriving at this point, a back-to-basics day was nice during staging.
On Friday, 1/28, we left Miami airport for St. Lucia, the main hub for PCEC, Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean, which actually currently encompasses Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. We will be here for the next week, for health and safety training, and then each group will head to their own island for customized training. The group, in total, makes up about 44 people. St. Lucia will hold the most volunteers, while the rest of us are split amongst the other three main islands. We will join other current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) already at their sight. Next Monday up to March 25th will consist of 9-5 days, M-F of training on everything you could possibly imagine for living, working, and readjusting to two years of living in a developing country. This will also include living with a local host family during that duration. Once we are sworn-in on 3/25, we will receive our precise assignment, move to our post (which I have heard and seen to be pretty nice in the EC) and commence work. I am not going to get into too many details here, as to a) not bore those who already understand how Peace Corps works, and b) not to tell you something that another reliable resource can say better for me:)
They gave us the weekend off, so this morning we had a brief meeting with the PC Admin Staff; the country director, CD, medical officer, PCMO, and other logistical crew to welcome us and give us some tips about what to do this free weekend- but only after we got shots (no, not of the local rum!) and had medical interviews. A group of us went down to the nearby beach. We are staying at a local retreat center with hints of allegiance to the pope (picture Pope Beny up on the wall next to Jesus at the last supper). It is a pastoral/ seminary center tucked away from town proper, Castries. The food is excellently prepared morning, midday, and evening by the staff, the beds are clean, and the AC is currently humming in the background, only complimenting the hum of island creatures penetrating the cracked window in (uh huh) my own bathroom with running water, my own toilet, and sink and shower. Yes folks, once could dare to call this “Posh Corps” at first glance ;) As luck would have it for an only child, I got the room to myself. I was partnered with a guy in my group; we are still figuring out which name sounds more male/ female respectively, “Kiersten” or “Christopher” but that is besides the point…This does take a stab in bonding with a new bff, but it is nice to have private time and soak all this in. There will be plenty of time this upcoming week (as time to date has proven) for bonding and befriending of friends on the beloved Facebook. I am sure environments will change, if not dramatically, once I get to St. “Vinny”, but for now things are very comfortable.
So what else? Well, the weather is ideal. Many of you reading this (thanks to those of you who still are!) are in cooler climates with heaters cranked and winter jackets ready, so it may be hard to imagine. Let’s just say, by packing light cotton dresses, breezy blouses, and flow-y skirts- I did right. Today was hot in the direct sunlight, but it is a different kind of heat. It is a tolerable heat in knowing that this is not a “heat wave” as dreaded by many in summer months, with extreme temperatures for the region, but rather, this is a constant and comfortable tropical heat telling you it is “not going anywhere”, so “don’t complain” as it whispers through the fingering palm leaves. Yes, this is the type of weather that causes the body to crave little more than electrolytes, water, and fresh equatorial fruit- the perfect kind of weather in my opinion.
The food, thus far, has been fine. Of course chicken, fish and the occasional UFO (unidentified fried object) are present at most meals, the veggies have been plenty enough to keep me going, along with the fresh cut fruit during breaks and banana muffins at breakfast. Tonight’s dinner was wonderful; brown lentils, herbed potatoes, fresh salad, and seasoned rice. Starchy, but yummy. There are also local grocers and markets to visit, and St. Lucia caters to tourists with Burger Kings and Subways; one can also find many western products (at tourist prices) in the stores. Stay posted for how the cuisine scene changes once I move in with my host family…
As mentioned, today a group of us went down to the water by East Winds Inn Have you ever seen contact? Well, for those of you cool enough, like myself, who have and remember the scene in which Jodie Foster’s character sees her “dad” on that deserted cosmic island beach, envision that. Not so much the deserted part, as there were some tourists poking their snorkels out of the water while their purses and newspapers tanned on their elevated lawn-chairs, but the tilted palms and pristine water was sure a highlight. I kept thinking, “two and a half years of this… at least!” Then I reminded myself, “I am not here for vacation, I am not here for vacation…” But, it is important to take time off, and take time for my soul and myself. When that opportunity arises, I will partake gladly ;) I got a little color through my Neutrogena 70 sunscreen; I think it was just the islands way to formally introduce itself and welcome me to the region.
In terms of my group, EC83 (we are the 83rd group of PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) to serve in the Eastern Caribbean) everyone is super nice. And, I am not just saying that because some might be reading this after I link it to my Facebook. I genuinely mean it. America is beautifully represented (except Alaska and Hawaii) and experiences brought the table are rich. I am enjoying everyone’s’ company, learning names, and developing connections with people of like mind. I feel like there was a bit of eagerness and anxiousness to meet everyone quickly and get their life story (as I felt this was the case somewhat when I began at MIIS), but here, I am trying my best to incorporate “island-time” in every applicable situation. That means, lay back, relax, and let things happen; because in the end, everything that is meant to be- is meant to be… So far, so good. The peeps heading to St. Vinny with me are great, and I am greatly looking forward to expanding upon those connections already made over the course of the next 27 months.
Tomorrow, Sunday 1/30, is an international food festival about 15 minutes up the road. I am pretty sure all of us are heading up to check it out then go for a locally recommended hike in the area of Rodney Bay. Should be a nice day and a good way to relax before a pretty intense week preceding, oh wait, 7 more intense weeks. :)
I plan to blog as much as I can, and upload photos weekly. Feel free to send me emails, or leave comments- I would greatly welcome any and all love given out! I would also welcome any letters/ care packages/ kombucha cases delivered to(flexible/ padded envelopes large and small are best for travel here to avoid fees):
Kiersten N. Anderson
U.S. Peace Corps (St. Vincent)
P.O. Box 884
St. Vincent, West Indies
Excerpt from a handout from PC about packages:
Family members often like to send care packages through the mail. Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience due to the high incidence of theft and heavy customs taxes. You may want to try to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend, however, that costly items be sent through the mail. Even though many Volunteers choose to get local post office boxes, you may use the following addresses to send letters and/or packages via international expedited mail (example: DHL) to your family member.
Have a wonderful day all!