Peaked

I guess you could say that I have “peaked” here in Grenada. 

Last weekend, I hiked to the summit of Mt. St. Catherine, the highest point in Grenada at roughly 2,750 feet above sea level.  

Yet, in reality there’s more to it than that.  

This week we returned to school from the two-week Easter vacation, meaning that the final stretch of my Peace Corps service has arrived. This has me feeling a wide range of mixed emotions.  

Before I go any further, I should explain how I reached this moment of complexity.  

The second term of the academic year closed out with a Hiking Day at my school. It was a day in which several of the classes hiked from Gouyave to what’s known locally as “The Dig,” a nearby lake up in the mountains. It was an ambitious hike, particularly for the younger students. This manifested itself in the “jockeys” (piggy-back rides) I gave a few of the students at various points along the way. However, it was a pleasantly active day and although I was exhausted by the time we got back to the school, the students with their endless energy went on to play football for the remainder of the school day.  

This hiking day was followed by our end-of-term Teacher’s Social at BBC Beach. As per St. Peter’s RC School tradition, the teachers organized a cook-up to celebrate the end of the term and the imminent Easter holiday. Much of the day was spent playing cricket on the beach, a game that I’ve truly developed an appreciation for in my time here. Other activities of the day included dominoes, Rummy, and bathing in the sea. At one point, one of my colleagues even captured an iguana to proudly show off before a group of entertained tourists. With all that, my vacation was off and running.  

The following day Suzanna Swanson (PCV St. Lucia), my first visitor of the break, arrived. The weekend was spent exploring Ft. George, my community of Gouyave, and hiking to the Concord Waterfalls and Black Bay Beach with PCV John Lyness. The most ambitious of our adventures came on a later day, when we not only hiked to the fifth of the Seven Sisters Waterfalls but also were able to visit the Royal Mt. Carmel Waterfalls, in due thanks to an incredibly friendly Danish man we hitch-hiked with. That same afternoon in the nearby town of Grenville, we were able to spend some time with PCVs Katie Riley, Katelyn Earnest, Sydney Roth, and the assortment of visitors each of them had before making the long trek of buses back to Gouyave.  

Then joining us on our Grenadian adventures was another St. Lucia PCV, Madeleine Humm. Directly from the airport we stopped at the West Indies Brewing Co., one of the only places to find craft beer on the island. After which, we spent the rest of the afternoon on Grand Anse Beach with PCVs Katie, Katleyn, Paige Simianer, Renea Perry, Amanda Cady, and others. While out in the water and equipped with an ever-scarce pair of goggles, we discovered numerous starfish of various sizes on the sea floor intermixed with the urchins and coral.  

The next item on our itinerary was the infamous “Welcome Stone,” on the northern coast of Grenada. From this overlook the islands of Union, Carriacou, and Petit Martinique can be seen on the far-left, distant horizon. In front of us lay Levera Beach and the uninhabited keys of Sugar Loaf, Green, and Sandy Islands. To the right of the overlook was Bathway Beach, along the eastern coastline that leads all the way back to the town of Grenville. Due South of us, Mt. St. Catherine’s clouded peak loomed ominously.  

After a brief stop at the Diamond Chocolate Factory in Victoria, we finally made our way back to Gouyave. Grabbing an order of fish and chips from Kelly’s HotSpot, we went up the road for drinks by Mansa. Halfway through the week and our around-the-island adventures was already nearing its end.  

But the adventures didn’t stop there. After a brief stop at Grand Etang National Reserve to see Grenada’s Mona monkeys, we joined a few other PCVs to spend the holiday weekend at an Air BnB near Grand Anse. A quaint little home tucked into a hillside community, we spent the night playing cards and celebrating the mini-PC, cross-island reunion.  

Good Friday was honestly one of the bigger highlights of the break. PCV Lili Gradilla and a local friend from her community organized a joint birthday cruise. Gathered for the celebration were Lili’s parents, local friends and counselors from last year’s Camp GLOW, members of Lili’s tight-knit community of Paraclete, and various PCVs.  

The cruise took us out to the Underwater Sculpture Park, where we had the opportunity to explore the world-famous reefs and sunken statues in Dragon Bay. Then sailing back across the southeastern coast we anchored out in BBC Beach to continue the birthday festivities. By the time the sun had set, we graciously caught a bus home. That is before it broke down, as soon we found ourselves pushing the bus off to the side of the road and out of the way of traffic. Consequently, we quickly hopped into a nearby pick-up truck and hitched a ride back home. 

Over the course of the weekend Suzanna and Maddie both caught their flights back to St. Lucia, as I returned back to Gouyave for the Easter holiday. True to the nature of Grenada’s “City that Never Sleeps,” an Easter Regatta was taking place on Easter Sunday and Monday. Therefore, my days were spent ‘liming’ alongside Mr. Ferguson, a fellow teacher, and a few other local men cooking-up a fish pot and watching the sailboats from a tarp-sheltered beach camp.  

The regatta was an eventful one, complete with a greasy pole competition, swimming races, football matches, and tug-of-war contests. To top off this lively weekend was getting an opportunity to sail on one of the boats in the regatta. Cheered on by a few of my students from the shore while I was taken out to sea by one of the sailors and a teenage-girl in training, I did my best to stay out of the way and ensure the boat didn’t tip over on my account. It was incredibly liberating being out on the water like that and the view of Gouyave from the sea is one I’ll certainly cherish. 

The following day, I joined PCVs Amanda, Paige, Renae, Briana Peterson, and Rachel Dean out to the V-23 Concert. It was a birthday celebration for one of Grenada’s acclaimed groovy soca artisits, Vaughn. The show featured performances by 23 soca artisits including Farmer Nappy, Lil Natty and Thunda, Mr. Killa, and a gold-suit bedazzled Vaughn himself.  

With another beach day on Grand Anse intertwined with a few days of laying low at home and in the community, I then went on the aforementioned hike to Mt. St. Catherine with the Institute Hikers, checking off the final item on my Grenadian bucket list.  

Now that the break is over, it’s back to the regularly scheduled programming of my Peace Corps service. I have ten weeks remaining of school, anticipating a return home shortly thereafter. It seems surreal that I’ve reached this point in my service already. Although it certainly has flown by, it is definitely beginning to feel like I’ve been here for a long time.

Admittedly, I almost feel like I’m running on empty. In my 23 months going on 24, I’ve poured everything I have into my Peace Corps service. I’ve integrated and served as a productive member of the community. I’ve explored just about all there is to see on this beautiful Isle of Spice, showcasing it to visiting friends and family alike on several occasions. I’ve experienced the culture, the lifestyle, formed friendships, and created memories that will all last a lifetime. 

In short, I feel like I’ve wrung this towel dry. 

But just as every mountain has its peak, the journey is not complete when you reach the top. 

There’s still the return trip home.

Consequently, I’m going to enjoy riding this one out. 

Cheers! 

These Glory Days

Rubbing soft sleep from my eyes 

A bright light takes to the sky,

An emerging sun on the horizon 

Burning, glaring 

like a lighthouse beacon.

Declares the dawning of a new day 

Parents bathe while children play, 

Splashing around in the crashing waves;

Family memories, 

we secretly crave.

Silhouettes of the off-shore isles  

Loom silently,  

holding court to our trials. 

Remote destinations to be ever chased, 

A location where

Office daydreams take place. 

Leaning back in the soft sand

Beside, a friendly beach hound.

Salty air on an ocean breeze

Inhaling deeply,

This moment of ease.

The hourglass turns and the tide pulls away

For much of the morning, you were content to stay.

Up

Now the sun, in this scene of serenity

Time, too

In its evanescent brevity.


Bounding off the deep sea breakers

In this fisherman’s boat,

Rings the laughter

Of friends,

As the view of the island

Changes its lens.

Coasting in on water so clear

Seemingly drifting across thin air.

Reaching that once distant

isle destination,

Office daydream; now manifestation.

Palm trees lean out over water transparent

Another day, in a life

aberrant.

Conch shells lie under the reef

Tempting to be taken

By a nautical thief.

Across the sea an island overshadowed

By stormy clouds, yet somehow,

Hallowed.

The crystal clear waters beckon to swim,

Irresistible,

Like the call of ancient Sirens.

Diving in the water so chill

For a brief moment,

Heart held still.

Surfacing, surveying,

The tropical haze

With a deep sigh, as if to say,

“I’m just not ready to leave,

These glory days.”

This is the first poem that I’ve ever written and published myself. During my undergraduate studies, I experimented a little bit with poetry but never stuck with it. In an effort to switch things up and continue trying new things, I felt poetry would be a proper avenue to express a spontaneous weekend adventure I just recently had.

After spending a night camping in a hammock by the beach with some fellow PCVs, I was able to witness my first Caribbean sunrise. The remainder of the morning I spent reading, bathing, and relaxing on the beach with only a friendly stray dog to accompany me. That afternoon, I was fortunate enough take a trip to Sandy Island, an uninhabited isle just off the northern coast of Grenada with a few other PCV friends.

It’s times like these I often have to “pinch myself,” to make sure it’s all real (which, I checked, it is). But these spontaneous weekend adventures are some of the things that I’m truly going to cherish when all is said and done.

This poem is my attempt at capturing not only that weekend experience, but the feelings that come with it. This narrative poem is written in free verse, as although it’s made up of a number of rhyming couplets, it doesn’t follow a set rhyme scheme or pattern. It might help to use a dictionary, as I learned and used some new words myself this time around.

I hope you enjoyed it and thanks again for following along.

Cheers!

Unbridled and Free

I lean back on the steel screen fencing of the market, watching as vehicles cruise past on the road. Throngs of people bustle throughout the cloud of barbeque smoke billowing from a grill over the street. Some of them are running errands, others waiting on a bus or chatting with a friend, leaving the rest of us to simply watch as the world goes by. The rhythmic pounding of soca music vibrates from the windows of a vehicle parked against the sidewalk. There’s an energy in the air, the type of atmosphere you feel when you know something exciting is about to happen.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, a vehicle turns into the side-street before the market that leads to my apartment. Excusing myself from a conversation, I walk back to my apartment around the corner, where the vehicle had parked next to my gate. The passenger seat door opens as Zack Valletta, an old friend from high school, steps out. With his arms outstretched victoriously, it was smiles around as we were reunited again. 

“Welcome to the tropics,” I laugh.  

After dropping his things in my guest room, we walk back onto the road. There I introduce him to a few of the people gathered around and “making a lime.” Just like that, this whirlwind of a week was off and running.  

After a few beers by the road we hopped in a vehicle with Ocean and Cocoa Tea, two local friends of mine we ran into at the street-side barbeque. A short drive later we’re parked on the jetty in The Lance, on the far side of Gouyave. When Zack had mentioned his hearing about the fish in Gouyave, true to Grenadian hospitality, it was in that moment that showing him the jetty and fish market became objective number one.  

Fishermen, pedestrians, and children line the edges of the concrete jetty that juts out into the sea. Small, colored fishing boats subtly bob with the rise and fall of the Caribbean Sea, tethered to the concrete posts. A few kids toss fishing lines into the water, peering over the edge before reeling in their hooks with a plastic bottle. Looking back, small houses decorate the hillsides like ornaments on a tree. Gray clouds threaten rain as they pass over the coastal town from the inland mountains and out to the Sea.

The clouds stretch all the way to the horizon, the sun fading into the haze. Although now hidden, the sun’s effects were still present as minutes after its disappearance, the sky began coming to life. At first comes the purple over the mountains, providing an unusual backdrop to the ominous gray clouds lingering over Gouyave. Out over the water, however, the backdrop of color transitions seamlessly as the purple fades to blue, orange, yellow, and even green. The surface of the water reflects that array of color, each transition identifiable by a definitive line, quibbling in the water. Anchored out on the water were a few fishing boats and even a yacht or two, lights blinking periodically, marking their presence in the darkening evening sky.

“Come,” Ocean beckons, in his distinct, raspy voice. “Let’s show you some of the fish in the market.” 

Leaving the jetty and stepping into the fish market, a man stands beside a large fish being gutted on a countertop. The pungent aroma of fish fills the market, a stifling reminder to anyone inside where they are. After a brief introduction, a fisherman proudly shows us his largest catch of the day, a nearly four-foot yellowfin tuna. It was the largest catch I’ve seen before, despite admittedly not spending a whole lot of time fishing or even at the fish market. The man proceeds to explain the cleaning process the fishermen undertake in order to get their catches ready for market-sale. 

A visit to the fish market being accomplished, we hop back in the vehicle and drive to a nearby bar, next to the newly-built bridge that now joins The Lance with the other, “Downstreet” part of Gouyave. The four of us pull chairs around a small square table, as a round of Stag and Carib beers are placed on it. The conversation shifts to football, to which Zack asserts he is an avid Arsenal fan. Cocoa Tea, a former FIFA referee and the only licensed FIFA official in Grenada, shares his input and experience in the global game. Having officiated matches in various countries across the world, it was amazing as he described the atmospheres of the different stadiums: from RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. all the way to Cutbert Peters Park here in Gouyave.

The conversation soon wraps up, as Cocoa Tea leaves to return home to his family. We part ways with Ocean, after setting plans to meet again. Then it was off to the Fish Friday street festival and a stop by Mansa’s. After all, it was a Friday in Gouyave.

The next day was spent visiting the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. Hosting a visitor from home serves as good of an excuse as any to visit the refreshingly cold, clear waters in the center of the natural rainforest. The scene never ceases to the blow me away, seeing the water crash over the double-decker falls engulfed in a lush forest, its pools sparkling a shimmering green in the penetrating sunlight.  

After returning back to Gouyave, the rest of the evening was spent awaiting the celebrative arrival of Mr. Killa, a Gouyave native and the first foreign winner of the International Soca Monarch Competition in Trinidad, with his hot hit “Run Wid It” (aside: the night he won the ISM, and the consequential celebration in the streets, is a whole other story in and of itself. Mr. Killa’s victory puts him on par with 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and Gouyave native, Kirani James). Hundreds of people turned out at the park to see Killa and the other Grenadian soca artists perform and celebrate the historical victory.

Consequently, due to the nature of Zack’s first two days on the island, a lazy Sunday was in order. 

But not too lazy. 

Late on Sunday afternoon, after watching an Arsenal match on my laptop, we made our way to the park. The sun once again hides behind a floating blanket of clouds. The grass on the field is a faded green. The dusty brown dirt is breaching through the patches of grass; a poignant reminder that the island is still very much in the midst of the dry season.

A bright orange Ultimate frisbee disk is flung back and forth between us. Plucking it from the air in stride, Zack flings it back to me. Catching it in front of my eyes, I turn to the three children flying a kite a few feet away. A small boy was looking up curiously, his plastic-bag-kite falling to the ground in front of him.  

“You wanna try?” I ask, as he nods quietly.

Flinging the frisbee softly towards him, he drops his stick of thread and slaps his hands together, fumbling with the frisbee before it bounces to the ground.  

“Oh! You almost had it!” I laugh. 

The boy picks up the disk, tossing it toward Zack almost naturally, who catches it with ease. 

“Hey! That’s a pretty good throw there,” Zack responds, as an accomplished, excited smile cracks across the boy’s face.  

The older boy and girl that were with him leave the kite on the ground and walk over to join. In short time, a friendly game of catch unfolds, as the frisbee is tossed around between the five of us.

On the far side of the field, a few men are gathering on the grass. They stand in a circle, kicking a football back and forth between them, the newcomers tying their cleats on the ground. Slipping away from the frisbee game, I make my way toward them. 

“Got room for two more?” I ask Ronnie, a local friend from the basketball court.

“Yeah, man,” he smiles. “Come join.” 

Leaving the frisbee with the kids, Zack and I ease our way into the pick-up football match that was starting. Jogging to the far end of the field back-ended by the river, I take up a defensive position. After all the Sunday nights on the basketball court here, I hadn’t delved much into the pick-up football scene. I knew a few names and faces, but otherwise it was yet another step into unchartered territory. Consequently, it took a few possessions just to figure out who was on my team and who was not.  

After a few possessions, the goalkeeper on the opposite side of the field lines up the ball in front of him. Running up to it with a boot, the ball is launched in my direction.  

“This is my chance for a header!” the thought races in my mind as I run back, following the trajectory of the ball.

The ball sails easily through the air, looming larger as it reaches to me. Planting my feet and jumping from the ground, I strain my neck out for the ball and…

Whish. 

Nothing but air. 

The ball passes over my head, landing at the feet of an attacker behind me with a free shot at the small-cage goal. My heart stops, time seemingly slowing down as his foot connects with the ball sending it…wide of the net. With a heavy sigh of relief, my heart resumes beating. 

“Must get it,” a teammate encourages me. “Must get it.” 

Just your daily reminder that white men can’t jump, I suppose.  

A few possessions later the ball is passed to Zack, who is on the other team. He glances up, surveying the field and striking the ball with the outside of his foot. The ball bends around a defender to one of his teammates, a murmur of surprise rumbling across the field as the players realize that at least one of the white boys can play.

The ball is passed across the field to Ronnie, who I immediately break to defend on the sideline. He dances quickly with the ball, as I break down my momentum toward him. Following his movements best I could, I matched him stride for stride, step-back for step-back.

“Eh, Eh!” A voice calls. “White boy is fast!”  

Encouraged by the comment, I stick with him as he turns in toward the center of the field, kicking the ball through a web of running bodies to a teammate. Ricocheting off his teammate, one of my teammates intercepts the ball, weaving it back through the midfield. A defender crashes on him quickly, jarring the ball loose from his possession and bouncing it my way. Keeping another teammate of mine in the corner of my eye, I stop the ball under my foot and pass it toward him to continue the counterattack.

Following the rush downfield, I crash toward the weak side of the goal as a shot rebounds off a defender’s foot. Adrenaline pumps fast through my veins as I see the ball bounce once again toward me. With full momentum going forward, I strike the ball with my inner right foot toward the goal, taking my shot. But to no avail, the goalie bats it away.

“Ahh, that was my chance at glory!” I smirk to Zack, who was laughing as he ran past. 

At one point in the match, the ball was inadvertently launched off the field and into the river behind one of the goals. Jogging over to the edge of the riverbank and peering down several feet, the ball was drifting under the bridge and out to the Sea. As a few players scrambled to retrieve it, I turn back towards the field. The players still on the field were sprawled out across the grass in various positions, taking advantage of the moment’s rest. Looking up, the clouded sky was cast with that familiar, bright purple color. Forested mountains loomed in the distance, palm trees protruding from the blanket of trees, silhouetted against the darkening sky. Behind me, the surface of the Sea’s distant horizon seemed to be brimming over the top of the concrete wall, reflecting the sky’s radiant color.

I shake my head in subtle disbelief, goosebumps raising down my arms. Who would have thought I’d ever be in a position like this? 

A pick-up football match on an open field. 

A backdrop of rugged, green mountains. 

A soft, running river adjacent to the field streaming into the Sea and completing an awe-inspiring panoramic view. 

These are the scenes that I hope never to forget.  

The following morning, it was time for school. Currently a school teacher back in Cleveland, Zack has plans to teach abroad next year. With these plans in motion and having observed the British school system when he studied abroad in London, he was excited to attend school with me. My principal, counterpart, staff, and students didn’t mind him tagging along. In fact, they welcomed “Mr. Zack,” in typical Caribbean fashion, bringing him forward in front of the whole school assembly for a proper introduction and warm applause.  

Our Language Arts lessons for the day covered writing friendly letters. My counterpart and I divided the class into group-tables based on their skill levels, with assignments catering for the differentiated abilities in the class. My counterpart, Ms. Pierre, centered her attention on the “focus group” of the day, (that day being the table with the struggling readers). Meanwhile, I directed my attention to the other three tables. Much to the students’ excitement and satisfaction, Mr. Zack was even able to lend a helping hand, guiding some of the students along in their work.

After lunch, he observed my pull-out lessons with the struggling readers, during which we covered compound words. Using whiteboards, markers, pencils, and a worksheet, I ran them through simple exercises combining small words together to make compound words.  

“I love what you guys are doing,” Zack told me and my counterpart, the afternoon bell having rung and the students scattering in different directions for the day. “That’s textbook for differentiated learning. I have to do the exact same thing myself back home.”

“Any tips or suggestions on what more we can do?” Ms. Pierre asks, always seeking fresh insight and ideas for the classroom.  

An educational conversation ensues, as we share in the common themes and struggles of our classrooms. A conversation, honestly, that applies to just about any primary school across the globe. 

How can we best engage our students’ differentiated learning? 

Whether resources are strong or slim, one thing is for certain: creativity is the lifeline of education.

For the rest of the week, Zack was on his own. After adjusting to the bus system in the few days he was here, he set out on a search for all the sights and sounds of Grenada. He ventured to two waterfalls, two beaches, an underwater sculpture park, a chocolate factory, a national forest, and explored the confines of an old military fort and agricultural processing plant. He soaked up the history, the culture, and the way things are in the Caribbean. He laughed at the bar, shot pool, rode buses, conversed with locals, visited the markets, enjoyed the beaches, and hiked the waterfalls.

“Where’s Mr. Zack?” the students and teachers alike would ask me during those days he was away.  

“He’s seeing the island,” I responded once, after being asked by a fellow teacher. 

“He’s taking the busses on his own?” the teacher replied, a look of surprise in his eyes.  

“Yeah, I think he got a good feel for them this weekend.” 

“Oh-ho! He’s out with the Grenadians, boy,” he laughs, shaking his head.

I spent the remainder of my week attending to my obligations at school, including conducting the third “Story Night at the R.C.” My counterpart for the event, Teacher Rita, and I decided to switch things up a bit. Earlier in the week, Zack shared with me an online resource: www.storylineonline.net. It’s a website with short video logs of various celebrities reading their favorite childhood stories, a goldmine of opportunity for an event like Story Night. We decided to utilize the website for Story Night, watching a reading of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, a cute story about a Donkey that accidentally turns himself into a rock with magic pebble. For the follow-up activity, the families and students created their own “alternate endings,” coming up with all sorts of outrageous scenarios that one might imagine would come from a donkey finding a magic pebble.

Between school and Zack’s solo island adventures, the rest of the week flew by, as we filled in the down-time in the evenings playing dominoes, cards, and shooting pool at the bar. 

All in all, I must say, it was amazing watching Zack’s experience unfold right before my eyes.  

It was almost like re-living my first few weeks on-island, a time where I was still figuring out my way in this new, exciting, foreign world. I made plenty of mistakes, the same mistakes Zack was “almost” making. But that all comes with being caught up in the free, unbridled spirit of excitement that comes with living abroad. It amazes me how seamlessly he was able to sit-in on the authentic, roller-coaster experience of Peace Corps all jam-packed into one week.

However, it is this experience: one where I can live so freely, so vividly, so exotically, yet purely authentically, that I’ve come to cherish. My mind has been on this a lot lately, particularly with how open my lifestyle has been here. This recent perspective comes with special consideration, especially now as I look towards the future.

This summer, after closing my Peace Corps service in August, I will continue my studies at the University of Nevada-Reno. There I will serve as a Peace Corps Coverdell Fellow, a partnership the University and Peace Corps have only just recently made. All things considered, although still far from home in Cleveland, I firmly believe that this is the right destination for me at this point and time in my life. I will be earning my Master’s degree in Media Innovation, exploring techniques and strategies and the relationship between storytelling and digital media. I’m excited for what’s to come in my time there.

However, while things are moving fast in that direction, my eyes are still on the clock. Thankfully, I still have a few months to go. Looking back on my second year, it’s been nothing but an enlightening experience thus far. I’m impressed each day with the astounding progress my students have made in their reading already. I’m enjoying how the Volunteers on-island are coming together, founded in a common mission of improving literacy rates across the country. I’m savoring the cultural explosions that seemingly occur almost every weekend. I’m relishing in the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny, waterfall, beach, forest, and town on this island and foster new friendships along the way. 

It’s these experiences, in all their intensity, that I wish could last forever.

Experiences like Zack’s final day, sun-soaked and spent on the white sands of Grand Anse beach. We had a Volunteer Advisory Council meeting in town, (a position from which I’ve recently been retired and succeeded by PCV Paige Simianer), so what better way to make of a meeting in town than by spending the rest of it on the beach after? Immersed in the international crowd that comes from a life with Peace Corps Volunteers, there was a diverse mix of PCVs, locals, and ex-pats passing through over the course of the day.

In the evening, Zack and I found ourselves in an intense game of paddle ball. Invigorated, we teamed up against PCV Brianna Kennedy and her friend from Lebanon, who we had just met that day. As the sun glowed into the hillside coast stretching on the horizon, we jumped, dove, spun, and leapt through the sand. The games were spirited and exciting, so much so that it wasn’t long before it drew the attention of a few local children who wanted to join.

It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in a long time. 

Zack’s visit reminded me how unique this time in my life is. 

A time where each day is a new adventure to be had, a new story to be written. 

A time so intense, so vibrant that the only way to absorb it is by experiencing it the way Zack did: unbridled and free.

Unbridled and free. 

That’s got a ring to it, doesn’t it?

Cheers! 

Marching On

7:21 a.m.

My phone alarm’s muffled ring comes from somewhere buried under the sheets. In that momentary burst of energy that comes from a sudden arousal from sleep, I dig through the bed sheets, tossing pillows aside and hitting the snooze button almost immediately. 

The alarm now silent, I exhale softly. Rolling back over, I close my eyes and doze off for just a few more minutes as the bustling street sounds of pedestrians, school children, traffic, and the incessant early morning crows of what seems like a thousand roosters echoing outside my window.  

I was never much for the snooze button. For much of my life, I had always set my alarm for the last possible moment to ensure the longest duration of uninterrupted sleep. But in my apartment here, just about everything outside my window interrupts my sleep anyway. Consequently, I’ve come to relish in the powers of the snooze button.  

After finally climbing out of bed, I prepare a quick breakfast. Chopping up tomatoes, onions, and peppers, I throw them in a frying pan as I scramble some eggs that I purchased from the market. Served with a dash of the local hot pepper sauce, it’s just the kickstart meal I need for the school day ahead.  Locking my door, I step out onto the road and begin my walk to school.

8:30 a.m.

Walking in through the gate at the compound of the school, the bell rings as screaming and laughing children dash in every direction to their respective classrooms. After greeting my principal, Mr. George, I slip off into the stage area behind a pull-out chalkboard wall. Taking a seat, I check the log book I keep of my lessons. Looking through my supplies box, I ensure that I have all the materials for that afternoon’s pull-outs. I pick up my bag and step back outside.  

My shades dim the hot, early morning sun as I hug the walls of the corridor, staying within the shade it provides. Without much shade cover in my five-minute walking commute through the streets of Gouyave, I’m already sweatier than I care to admit. 

Climbing up the stairs to the second floor and turning a corner, I step into my classroom with a soft knock on the door.  

“Good morning,” I say. 

“Good morning, sir,” my counterpart, Ms. Pierre, responds as she looks up from behind her desk. 

I’m welcomed by a chorus of “Good morning, sir!” or “Good morning, Mr. King!” from the students, who reach out for my hand or wrap me in a hug as I walk to my small desk in the back of the room. 

9:00 a.m.

This is the time our first Language Arts lesson of the day typically begins. The Language Tree textbook, workbook, and their exercise notebooks are the foundational materials of all our lessons. Looking around the room, various posters and charts my counterpart made out of colorful bristle board decorate the front and back of the room. A soft breeze rolls through from the forested trees outside the windows, partially blocked by a large, immovable bookcase. Adjacent to my desk is the “Activity Corner,” a small table on top of which are hand-drawn alphabet memory cards, magnetic letters, dry erase boards, and beginning blend and vowel team sample sheets sealed in plastic wrap. The Activity Corner has been a recent endeavor of my counterpart and mine to liven up the classroom. The kids have finally started buying into it, too.  

“Sir, can I lend the cards?” 

It’s a question I’m often asked now during any downtime in class. It began at the beginning of this school year, when on a stack of notecards I hand-drew letters of the alphabet and created poorly-drawn pictures corresponding with each letter sound (i.e. Aa, apple). I used the notecards in a few pull-out lessons for some of my students in the beginning of the year, those who needed further instruction in letter recognition and sounds. With the cards we’d play a “memory game,” flipping them over and trying to match the letters with their example sounds to win the game. One day I brought it back with me into the classroom and it’s been a hit ever since. 

My counterpart calls the attention of the students as the lesson is about to begin. Standing up, I take my place beside her desk along the windows. Leaning back against the shutters, the breeze from the river outside rolls in with a soothing relief. I follow along as my counterpart introduces the lesson.  

Our working relationship in the classroom often works in a “One Teach, One Assist” fashion. Ms. Pierre often takes the lead in the first lesson of the day, during which I provide support from the side. Once the instructional part of the lesson is completed, the students have time to work on their in-class assignments. During this time, we circulate around the room to provide support and further explanation for the students, particularly guiding the ones we know tend to struggle.

10:00 a.m. 

The bell rings, concluding the first part of the morning. The students scramble from their seats, running outside for their break time. The laughs, shouts, and cries of students reverberate endlessly outside, the prototypical sounds of the schoolyard. If a student lingers back to finish their work and needs guidance, I’ll stay alongside them until they finish. Otherwise, I return to my desk in the back of the room and pull out whatever book I’m reading. 

I’ve made it a resolution to read more books this year, an alternative to wasting time scrolling aimlessly through the apps on my phone. I’m on my fifth book and counting now, filling little gaps of time in my day to escape to wherever each novel might take me.  

Students often come and go, curiously stopping by to ask me what I’m reading, see what I’m doing, or show me something they created.  

10:25 a.m. 

The bell rings again as the students rush back into the classroom, sweaty and riled up from their time playing outside. It takes a few minutes for them to calm down, their excitement bubbling over as they drink water from their plastic bottles and finish their snacks.  

It’s time for the classes to switch, as we have two grade three classes in my school. The first lesson is typically a shorter version of the second lesson, but since the schedule alternates each day, the lesson time balances out over the course of the week.  

My counterpart and I try to bring technology into the classroom, whether it be through the school’s Smart TV, my laptop, or Ms. Pierre’s Bluetooth speaker, and a downloaded song or video. It’s important we have everything downloaded, as the Wi-Fi connection is not always reliable in our part of the school compound. The way we use the technology varies, whether it be a song about similes, a dance routine with verbs, or a simple phonics lesson video for the students to watch. We’ve come to incorporate it as much as we can, as it engages our students’ interest much better than the standard style of, “chalk and talk.” 

In the second class, I typically take the reigns of introducing the lesson while my counterpart provides support. After a Literacy Workshop hosted by Peace Corps for the Volunteers and their counterparts, our chemistry in the classroom has blossomed. As it turns out, our styles of running a classroom are very much in-sync. We feed off each other and aren’t afraid of asking each other questions, while addressing the needs and concerns of the classroom together. 

After conducting the lesson at hand we’ll assign the class work of the day, typically a couple sentence or story problems out of the Language Tree textbook. Walking over to one of the students that typically struggles, I crouch beside him. 

“How are we doing?” I ask. “You understand what you have to do?” 

“Yes, sir,” the boy smiles. 

“Sir!” another boy raises his hand, catching my attention. “I don’t understand.” 

I take my place beside the next student, tactfully helping him along in a way that he still finds the answer himself. It’s a delicate process, as I don’t want him to have to rely on me entirely for each answer. After all, there will come a day where I won’t be there to help him. Consequently, I encourage him to sound out and read the sentence problems on his own, before asking the necessary questions to guide his understanding.

“Okay, now try the next one on your own,” I say with a pat on the shoulder, standing up and looking around the room. 

Another student has her hand raised, so I move over to her and begin the process all over again. It’s in these little opportunities during their school work I try to reinforce the lessons from my pull-out sessions. It’s also a time for me to see how well they’re understanding the material and progressing in their school work. If they struggle with a particular word or phrase, I begin a call-and-response process for them to remember what to do: 

“What happens when we have a ‘Silent e?’” 

“The vowel says its name!” 

 “And what happens when two vowels go walking?” 

“The first one does the talking!” 

“What do the letters s and h say together?” 

“Shhhhh,” they respond with a finger to their lips. 

As I work around one end of the room, my counterpart is working her way around the other. This continues for the remainder of the class time. 

12:00 p.m.  

Again the bell rings, the students breathing a collective sigh of relief as everyone in the school begins assembling outside for prayer. After prayer, the students scatter in all directions. Some run to the kitchen for their lunch, others straight for the footballs or cricket bats and wickets. The principal gets on the microphone and repeats that morning’s announcements over the laughs, calls, and cries of the playing school children. 

I reach into my backpack and pull out a book and walk to the staff room. In the staff room, a few teachers are gathered around the table and eating their lunches. I join them there, having either what the school provided for lunch or something I brought from home. I try and make the most of that hour off at lunch, taking part in conversation with the other teachers or reading my book, sometimes both.  

1:00 p.m. 

After the bell rings again, the students freeze momentarily before scrambling in a frenzy back to their classrooms. I walk back up to my classroom, gathering my backpack and going downstairs to my designated area by the stage. The students recognize what I’m doing, gesturing and calling after me in hopes that this time it might be their turn to, “get a try.” 

I smile and pass it off with a simple shrug and a “maybe,” “we’ll see,” or “I’ll let you know.” 

I never knew how to navigate that conversation with them. I don’t want them to know that the students I pull-out for lessons downstairs are the struggling readers. As far as they’re concerned, I might as well be choosing them at random and the same ones I always take are just supremely lucky. For as long as possible, I try to keep it that way so none of my students would be teased because of it. The other students can be jealous at times because the ones I do take often come back with tales of the games they’ve played and large stickers proudly displayed on their uniform.  

1:05 p.m. 

Downstairs, I organize the stage for the lesson. I join two desks together with two chairs for the students, and one for me on the other side. While I do this, a student’s voice nervously comes over the loudspeaker, prompted by a teacher. It’s the “live-reading” that takes place immediately after lunch every day. A grade is assigned to it each week, an opportunity of showcasing students’ reading capabilities in front of the school. 

When the third grade is assigned for the live reading, my counterpart and I try and to give an opportunity for students who haven’t done it before. Coincidentally, these are typically the students I work with in my pull-out sessions. You may recall my experience with one student last year, in my post Little Victories.

A few weeks ago, in thanks to live reading I’ve had a similar experience that I had with the student mentioned in that post from last year. During our live reading week, we had three students who had never done it before read to the school: T, S, and A. T was the first one from that group of improving readers to go. He had struggled through most of the first semester, seemingly lacking motivation. Yet since the start of the second term, he’s been improving in his efforts. Due to this, I believed he was ready and could really benefit from the live reading experience.

“Hey, T,” I said to him one morning. “How would you like to do the live reading today?” 

“Yeah!” His eyes glimmered with a mix of surprise and excitement. 

I picked out an excerpt from a short story from one of the larger books in our classroom library. After practicing the reading and rehearsing some of the tougher words, he was ready. 

“Can I go tell my mother?” he asks. 

“Is she here?”  

He points through the window across the school compound, where I recognized his mother talking to his older sister outside of another classroom. 

“Go ahead.” 

Moving over to another student, I kept him in the corner of my eye as he approached his mother across the way. After a brief exchange, his mother immediately fixed his collar and pulled out a comb, running it through his hair. A smile cracked across my face, although the live reading would be done hidden away with the sound system in the staff room, he was going to look the part.  

The live reading with T went well, as my counterpart worked alongside him for it. In the weeks that followed, T began staying inside during break time and lunch time. Unprompted and independently, he was delving into that large book I had given him, reading his live reading story start to finish and reading new ones. Ever since his live reading that day, his motivation in the classroom has taken off and it has shown in the progress of his work. I used to have to monitor him regularly on in-class assignments. Now, he’s bringing his completed work to me on his own like the rest of the class. That right there, is why an opportunity like live reading is so important for a young student. 

On the weeks the other grades conduct live reading, I simply prepare for my pull-out lesson during that time. I review my log book again, a record of which students I met with last and what we covered, how it went, and what they’re ready for next. After determining a plan, I’ll wander the school compound, looking to connect to the Wi-Fi to load a literacy video, or set up a literacy game for them to play.

1:20 p.m. 

When the live reading is finished, I walk back upstairs to the classroom. On the way, I pass the fourth grade classes that are typically lined up outside, about to exchange rooms for the afternoon. These are my students from last year, whom I don’t have much direct involvement with anymore. They welcome me with calls of “Sir!” and outstretched fists. I reach out to give each one a “bounce,” knowing what’s coming.  

“Jellyfish!” one girl laughs, pulling her hand away at the last minute, moving it like a jellyfish. 

“Snail!” another student ducks under my fist-bump with his hand and two outstretched fingers. 

A next one fakes me out with a dab. 

“Wave!” another boy exclaims as he waves his hand over my outstretched fist.

“Squirrel!” One boy, with a broad grin says as he chases his hand up my shoulder.  

“Aha! Good one!” I laugh.  

I can’t help but smile at that one. Last year, a scene was made when one of the boys faked me out on a fist-bump in front of the class. In turn, I took that opportunity to teach them a few creative ways to pull the same trick. When I first mentioned the squirrel maneuver, they had all looked at me with confused, dumbfounded faces. Then it hit me. 

There aren’t squirrels here. They’ve probably never seen a squirrel before in their life.

So I looked up a few photos of squirrels online and explained to them what they were and how they move. Since that day, let’s just say the squirrel has become a fan-favorite.  

Moving past the fourth graders, I step into the doorway of one of the third-grade classrooms. With a soft tap on the door and confirming with the teacher (sometimes my counterpart, other times the other third grade teacher) that the students aren’t taking an exam and are available to come with me, their hands shoot up in the air as all eyes light up with eager anticipation. I call out the names of the students I want, as they celebrate victoriously between themselves and hustle out of the classroom while the rest sigh dejectedly. Giving them a bounce as they step out into the corridor, they take off in a sprint downstairs to the stage. They know the drill.  

Downstairs, I conduct my pull-out lessons. They largely focus on phonics, ranging from the magic e, bossy r, vowel teams, and everything in between. With one or two of them that struggle the most, we’re still working on CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant words, i.e. cat, dog). Based on their reading levels and personalities, I’ve paired most of them with another like-minded student. A few others I take individually, as they benefit more from the personalized attention. Admittedly, most of the activities I use with them comes from Pinterest, an unlikely but honestly well-equipped source of materials, ideas, and resources for phonics lessons. For those that are paired, I use games in which they compete against each other. They love the opportunity to challenge each other and come out victorious.

When the lesson is completed, typically after about twenty minutes, I dismiss them back to the classroom as they run off. I record in my notebook who I had and what we did before returning upstairs. After selecting another set of students, the whole process begins again. On most days, I’m able to conduct three separate pull-out sessions in a single afternoon. 

2:30 p.m. 

The bell rings a final time, a conclusion to the school day. I pack together my things and close up the stage, returning back upstairs to my classroom. I sit down with my counterpart as we discuss the events of the day, review our students’ work, and discuss our lesson plans for the next day. When this is done, we close up the classroom before heading home.  

Some afternoons I’ll linger on the campus, hanging out with a few teachers in the pre-school, chatting with the caretaker, or playing cricket with a few of the older students that have stayed back after school to play.  

“Sir! I’m gonna hit a six off you!” one student exclaims (a six being the cricket equivalent of hitting a homerun in baseball). 

“Oh, you think so?” I smile back, tossing the tennis ball up and down in my hands. “I’ll show you a six.” 

With a soft step I bowl the ball to the boy, who hits into an out, the ball having been caught by another student playing the field. The boy hands me the bat as I give him the ball. I take the bat and stand in front of the wickets. 

“Sir, this isn’t baseball!” another laughs after seeing how I was holding the bat. 

I just smiled. Although cricket is somewhat different than baseball, they’re more alike than they are different. Not to mention that before I came down here, I did play a year and a half of collegiate baseball; they were about to find that out. The boy runs forward with a start, flailing his arms as he releases the ball toward me. The ball veers down to my feet, just in front of me. I throw my hands out, the flat side of the bat connecting with the ball as I lift it into the air. Powering through, the ball launches over the roof of the school to the carpark on the other side. 

“Now, that’s how you hit a six!” I laugh as after a momentary shock, the boys chase after the ball.   

“Mr. King!” my principal appears, gesturing for the ball as the boys return a moment later. 

The boys toss him the ball excitedly, anxious to see what will happen. My principal grasps it strategically in his hands as I take my stance in front of the wickets, honing my vision on the ball in his hand. He runs forward and arms flailing, releases the ball toward me. I start my swing, following the trajectory of the ball into the ground as I look to play it off its bounce. Then just as it strikes the ground, the ball takes off in a tailspin and slips under the flat front of my bat and strikes the wickets behind me.  

The kids roar with laughter and excitement, as I grin sheepishly and begrudgingly congratulate my principal on the out.  

What goes around comes around. 

4:15 p.m.  

I typically arrive home around this time. Immediately undressing into something comfortable, I down a cold glass of water and take some time to cool off in front of my fan. After collecting myself, I set out on the tasks I have in mind for the day. This varies greatly from day to day, week to week. Sometimes I spend the afternoon reading, other times writing, sometimes running errands, hand-washing my laundry, cleaning my apartment, or picking up groceries in the market down the road.  

4:45 p.m. 

Honk! Honk! Honk! 

A very distinct horn sounds above all the traffic on the road as a small white van cruises to a stop. Happy Time Bakery is painted in bold red letters across the door, which slides open as pedestrians flock toward it, including me.  

“Ehh, Scott!” The driver smiles broadly, wearing a dark t-shirt and a flat-brimmed cap. 

“Kelly! How you doing, man?” I ask him. 

“Good, man. Good.” 

I reach inside and pull out two of the cheese rolls, my absolute favorite item from the bread truck. I slip a few dollar coins into his hand and head back to my apartment, waving to a few students waiting for a bus on the side of the road. Sometimes, catching the bread truck is quite literally the highlight of my day. 

6:00 p.m. 

I pull the chicken out of a bowl of water, where it’s been thawing and soaking with freshly-squeezed limes, a tip I picked up from a neighbor. Taking out a knife and cutting board, I chop up tyme and cilantro and throw them into another bowl with the chicken. Shaking various spices and pepper sauce on the chicken, I mix them all round so the contents are spread evenly across it. I put them on a pan and slide them into my gas stove oven.  

Walking out to my verandah, I peek at the sky for a glow in the clouds. If the sky is taking color, I walk down the road to the Sea. Stopping and chatting with community members I see along the way, I pause on the seaside rock-line or the small beachhead to watch the sun fade below the cloudy horizon. Pedestrians and traffic go by, hardly paying mind to the colorful display overtaking the sky. A peaceful transition into the night, it’s just what I need to step back for a moment and appreciate where I am. Not to mention right now it’s cruise ship season and it’s pretty wild watching those “floating cities” drift by on the horizon.

7:35 p.m.

Digging through the vegetable drawer in my refrigerator, I set its contents on my counter: cabbage, onions, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. Coming fresh from Esther, the lady I purchase them from in the market next door every Saturday, I make myself a salad. After throwing some plantains on a frying pan with some jerk seasoning, I pull the chicken out of the oven.

On most nights this is my dinner: roast chicken, a tossed salad, and sometimes fried plantains or homemade bakes. It’s pretty lean, but it’s also pretty healthy. It took some time, admittedly, but I finally learned how to cook well for myself on my own. Occasionally, I’ll mix it up with a local dish of saltfish, tania log, or walk down the road for fish and chips if I’m feeling for eating out.  

8:30 p.m. 

Depending on the time of year, I’ll watch a game from home; whether that be the Cleveland Indians, Columbus Blue Jackets, or my cousin’s basketball team at Mississippi College. I have pretty reliable Internet connection at home and can find most games using Reddit. Growing up, there always seemed to be a game on the television in the evenings, so in that sense it’s my way of maintaining that connection to home.  

Other nights, I’ll continue reading or writing. Other times I’ll edit photos or videos for various projects I might have going on. Sometimes I’ll connect with friends or family from home via FaceTime.  

Some nights, I’ll walk up the road to Mansa’s. There I’ll watch whatever game or movie is on the television while intermittently shooting a few games of pool with the guys there.

10:00 p.m. 

I settle back into bed, reading to wind my day down to a close. My eyes start getting heavy, despite the resonating sounds of the crickets, the distant crashing of the waves of the Sea, the dogs barking endlessly in the night, or the occasional voice of a passerby or vehicle, I fall asleep. 

7:21 a.m. 

My phone alarm’s muffled ring comes from somewhere buried under the sheets. In that momentary burst of energy that comes from a sudden arousal from sleep, I dig through the bed sheets, tossing pillows aside and hitting the snooze button almost immediately…

The days are flying by. 

Time is marching on.

Cheers!

Note: Below are a few photos from the second “Story Night” I hosted at my school last week. We also had a recent all-Volunteer gathering to celebrate, thank, and properly send-off our Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean Country Director, Mary Kate Lowndes, who will be taking another position with the Peace Corps in Washington D.C. Enjoy!

“Always the Same; Yet Ever Different”

“A feeling generated by the mystery of water; water that seems alive, always rushing past yet never going, always the same yet ever different.” 

* * *

My time at home began with a long, quiet plane ride from Grenada to Miami. The gentle whirring of the plane’s engines provided a monotonous comfort. There’s always been something about long, solo trips that have given me the peace of mind to relax and reflect; not only on where I’m going physically, but holistically. So I gaze out of the small plane window, peeking at the stars above and the clouds below. Inside, different emotions were churning: excitement, nervousness, relief, curiosity. Outside of a brief, six-day stint the year before, I had spent the past year and a half down in the Caribbean, living over 2,000 miles from home. The time I never thought would come was finally here, yet it didn’t feel like it was supposed to be. Questions raced through my mind. 

“What was it going to be like?” 

“Would I feel a reverse culture shock?” 

“Will I be able to see everyone?” 

“How will I feel when I have to return?” 

Just then the bright, blue monitor on the headrest in front of me caught my eye. A small plane was pictured crawling on a trajectory from Grenada to Miami. According to the screen, we were flying directly over the Bahamas. I leaned over to the window and took another peek. 

The clouds below had dissipated, leaving an endless expanse of hazy blue sea. On a closer look, however, a sprawling dark mass seemed to have been splashed upon the surface. A childish excitement coursed through my veins as I glanced from the monitor back to the window and determined that the dark mass was, in fact, one of the numerous islands that make up the Bahamas.  

A short while later the small plane on the screen penetrated the border of Florida. Again looking out the window, the hazy blue sea was gone, replaced instead by a sea of blinking, flashing, colorful lights of the greater Miami neighborhoods. A true testament to the vibrancy of the holiday season, I may not have seen anything so welcoming.  

Reality began to sink in: I was going home.  

After landing, clearing customs, and a quick change over to a connecting flight, I boarded another plane headed for Charlotte.  

Another hour later I was stepping out of the Charlotte airport, a small SUV sitting idle in front of a departure gate. A small, blonde figure was standing outside the open driver’s door and looking back. 

“Hello!” I call with a smile. 

“Oh, Scott!” the figure turns around, my Aunt Colleen.  

After a warm embrace, we climb into the car and she drives me back to her home where I was to briefly stay the night, as my final connecting flight to Cleveland was slotted for early the next morning. We only had a few hours together, but we made the most of it by staying up late into the night and early into the morning, sharing stories over a serving of homemade buffalo chicken dip. We laughed about the rescue mission just a year ago, when she and my cousins picked me up after I was stranded in the Miami airport after missing my return connecting flight to Grenada. By the time we turned in for the night, we awoke only an hour later to return to the airport. After all, this was one connecting flight I couldn’t afford to miss.  

The plane that morning took off into a burning morning sky, orange and pink colors streaking across as if cracked from an egg. Ascending over the brown foothills and mountains of Appalachia, I leaned my head back and nodded off to sleep. 

The subtle commotion of the preparation for landing roused me awake. Passengers strapped on their seatbelts as the flight attendants made one last pass down the aisle. Looking out the window, the coastline of a faded blue Lake Erie appeared in the distance. A few skyscrapers protruded from the dormant-brown landscape below and stuck out into the mid-morning sky. The downtown skyline was complete with stadiums, bridges, buildings, and roads where cars and people alike crawled like ants around a hill. Excitement began bubbling up inside as I looked on with a child-like awe at the bird’s eye view of downtown Cleveland. 

Collecting my things, disembarking, and walking out of another departure gate, a green Subaru pulls in front of me. It was my mother, arriving nothing short of perfect timing. And just like that, I was home.

Just like that, my life in Grenada seemed like an off-distant dream. 

A lot of people asked me, “How is it being back?” 

“It’s really nice, honestly,” I would reply, oftentimes with a joke about cold weather (which was actually pretty mild considering typical Cleveland winter weather).

But it really was nice, something about the word nice just seemed to fit. I finally had time to catch up with a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long time. For many of them, things have changed since we had last met. It was nice for me to see the trajectory with which everyone is taking their lives. Some are taking on new jobs, others are getting engaged, a few are even getting houses. Some are in transition, finishing school, or still figuring out what they’ll do next. But everyone is getting along, moving at their own pace.  

It was kind of numbing at times, witnessing your home life as if it were a movie. All the same characters are there, all existing within a certain setting. Yet each time I’ve come back, although they’re largely the same, their stories are always changing, always different.  More importantly, though, was that this was a time for me to catch up on all the things I’ve been missing for the past year and a half. It was a night out in Cleveland, reuniting with old high school friends and a gathering of old, familiar faces. It was riding around the country roads (and momentarily getting lost), in rural Ohio with a friend. It was sitting on a sofa, eating takeout pizza and watching Netflix with an old roommate in Columbus. It was meeting up with an old friend for lunch, a new one for coffee. It was laughing over a game of What Do You Meme? and watching a football game on a friend’s TV.

King family Christmas photo

A particular highlight was tailgating and attending the Browns game with family and friends. Having watched every game this season from abroad and even going so far as to recruit locals to become Browns fans, this was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. There’s something special about standing outside a tailgate in the Stadium parking lot, the feeling in your toes going numb in the frigid Ohio air. It was incredible experiencing a sold-out crowd at First Energy Stadium, buzzing with excitement as they watched their young team defeat the home-state rival Cincinnati Bengals. I loved every minute of it.

Another highlight was getting to see my niece and nephews again. One thing I was admittedly concerned about, was coming home to see how much they’ve grown since I’d last seen them a year ago. And grown up they have, but it wasn’t as unsettling as I was afraid it was going to be. Although they did get bigger, they’re still the energetic, exciting children that they were a year ago. This was okay with me, for I had experienced them at their previous ages; this was my time to catch up on all I missed at their present age.

So I laid back on the kitchen floor, having been tackled by a seven-year-old and a four-year-old, both of whom were now pinning me to the ground. I couldn’t help but smile and relish that very same moment when my niece spontaneously began walking on her own, a feat she had only recently accomplished. I took comfort in this, having borne witness to yet another step (sorry, pun intended) in their growing up. 

We had our laughs when, on my final afternoon at home we went ice skating together. Much of my first half hour was spent cautiously shuffling along the wall, as I was conveniently masking the fact I was an ice-skating novice while supporting my nephew Collin (4) by his raised arms. We soon, however, found a plastic ‘seal,’ one that he was able skate with and even ride on when he got tired. So taking the seal by its upstretched tailfins, I skated along as Collin rode in front, his skates scuttling across the ice. Soon thereafter, I was skating confidently on my own, racing Connor (7) across the rink and waving at Collin who rode past, being pushed by my brother. After becoming a bit too confident, however, I took a dramatic and sprawling fall to the ice. Collin couldn’t help but giggle with sheer laughter and a pointed finger, laughing at his uncle’s expense. It was moments like these, and moments like sitting in the penalty box with them to “take a breather,” that I’ll be able to remember and cherish as time marches on and they continue growing up.

My time wasn’t finished without some even bigger news, however. My extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends had all gathered around the TV to watch the Clemson-Notre Dame Cotton Bowl game, a ‘house divided’ of sorts considering my family’s deep connections to Notre Dame and my sister’s graduation from Clemson. At some point during the game, the highly-anticipated phone call had arrived as my mother snuck away into another room. She returned with the news of the holiday, that a new princess had arrived in the King family.  

On New Years Day, I made my way back down to Columbus to meet Riley Elizabeth King, the first child of my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Joy. I spent part of the afternoon simply holding Riley in my arms, enjoying the few precious moments I would have with her at this time. I was leaving in just a few days to return to Grenada. When I finally do come back at the end of next summer (or “baseball season,” as I later told my nephews), I knew that she’ll certainly be a lot bigger.  So I savored the moments of holding her, peacefully asleep in my arms. By the time we said our goodbyes and walked out the door, I was already looking forward to the time I would be able to see her and the rest of my family again.  

And sure enough, just a few days later I was back in Grenada. Suddenly, now it was the past two weeks at home that felt like the dream. I took my time re-acclimating myself to my life down here, laying low and enjoying my own company in between visits to other Volunteers and community members.  I even stopped at the beach, swimming out into the cool, shimmering waters as the sun dropped gently over the sea’s glowing horizon.  

“Scott, you look good,” a fellow Volunteer had told me earlier that day. “You look refreshed.” 

As I settled back into school, my counterpart teacher actually told me the same thing. I had returned to my regular school routine, co-teaching Language Arts lessons and playing games with my students in their pull-out sessions, games that made them learn without realizing it. I was back in a familiar world, a world that oddly didn’t seem so exotic anymore. Coming back this time was a lot different than the last. I’m established now. I know where I’m at and I know what I’m doing.  

“You look refreshed.” 

When I was first told that, truthfully it kind of caught me off guard. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized how much I really needed that time at home. But although right now it’s my time at home that seems like the distant dream, its effects have remained strong. I’m comfortable now, re-energized and re-vitalized by a little time away to not think about the everyday stresses that come from being 2,000 miles from home.

This past weekend, I traveled across the island to compete in a pool competition. Mansa’s, the bar I frequent, had challenged another bar in Grenville. It was a Gouyave vs. Grenville team competition, bragging rights and prize money on the line for the two Grenadian towns participating. We went over to Grenville, and won the singles and doubles matches for a final score of 11 matches to 5 (I contributed a victory for Gouyave in one of the doubles matches). We left the bar victorious, climbing into the back of the pickup truck we came in. As we huddled inside and took off over the mountains, a heavily-clouded sky began to clear away. A full moon was shining large and bright, almost blinding to the eye but illuminating the night. A faint, faded shadow, however, appeared like a growing blemish on its side. 

“The eclipse is starting now,” someone says, as all our eyes are cast to the sparkling heavens.

Then it was in this moment, the cool breeze of the night from the moving vehicle, the palm trees blurring past, the looming shadows of the mountains, the illuminating glow of the moon and a solar phenomenon taking place above us in a crystal clear and star-scattered sky, that I felt a very distinct feeling inside. 

It was a feeling that was kind of hard to explain.  

It was a feeling that I felt before.

It was a feeling that I believe, is what lead me to feel, “refreshed.” 

I tried to come up with the words to describe that feeling, yet struggled to find them. 

But looking back into a journal, I found just the one:

“A feeling generated by the mystery of water; water that seems alive, always rushing past yet never going, always the same yet ever different.” – Jane Goodall (A Reason for Hope)

Suddenly, it all made sense. 

This, I realized…was the feeling of home.  

Cheers!

A Message in a Bottle

Dear Reader,

There’s that old idea that if you put a letter in a bottle and cast it out to sea, it will cross the entirety of the ocean to its recipient on the other side. As the Christmas season is fast approaching, messages are being sent from all across the world. Trees are being decorated, the old-time carols of Bing Crosby and Dean Martin are playing around the clock, and schools are preparing to close for the holidays.

Last week, I attended a Christmas tree-lighting in my community. There were toys for the children and holiday performances by a steel pan band and a dance group. After spending the night watching the performances, playing dominoes with a few of my students, and shooting pool at the bar, you can say I’ve caught the Christmas spirit. Consequently, I wanted to share with you that next week I will be returning home for the holiday. This time I will be home for two weeks, as opposed to the all-too-brief six day hiatus that was Christmas 2017.

Last year, I figured six days would be all I needed reuniting with friends and family before returning to Grenada. But those six days went by like a flash and just as I had stepped off the plane into the frigid Cleveland air, it seemed I was stepping back into one. When I left for Grenada, I was by no means mentally, physically, or emotionally ready. Those six days were a stark reminder of all that I had given up to be down here. Truthfully, it hurt more saying goodbye the second time than it did the first. So when I finally got back to Grenada, I was overwrought with homesickness and it wasn’t until school started again that things began to go back to normal.

Now it’s hard to believe that 2018 is nearly over and I’ll be going back home again for Christmas. This year was supposed to be the long-haul, the difficult and longest stretch of time away from home in the grand timeline of my service. Although 2018 did bring some of the most challenging and difficult experiences of my life, this year has been nothing short of incredible. I have gotten to explore some pretty amazing places, but more importantly have met some even more amazing people.

I became fully established in my host community of Gouyave, which I can now comfortably call ‘home.’ I no longer stress over the things that I worried about when first trying to integrate. People recognize me, as I recognize them. Early on in my service, I would hustle home from school, anxious to return to the comfort and privacy of my own apartment. Now, I hardly find a reason to rush home at all, oftentimes stopping on the side of the road for half-a-dozen conversations along the way. The activities I originally did just to ‘show face,’ in the community, such as playing basketball or shooting pool, have become things I now enjoy and look forward to each week. In fact, I no longer feel right if I don’t do those things, as they’ve become such an integral part of my routine.

As it pertains to school, I am tremendously proud of the progress my students have made this past year. At the onset of the new school year in September, I took on an intimidating workload of struggling readers. Over the course of the term, we’ve had some unavoidable challenges that led to a number of days away from school. Nonetheless, for the past month since we’ve returned, my students have blown me away with how much they’ve retained and progressed in the short time I’ve had them. For some, I am now covering lessons that it took my students all of last year to complete. Although at times they drive me crazy, in the way that kids have a way of doing, my work with them has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my life. They truly brighten up my day; my time away from them during the teachers’ strike proved that to me.

Anyhow, I digress. Ultimately, it’s amazing to me how much has happened in a year that seems to have gone by so fast. There’s been moments of pure joy, but not without moments of immense sorrow. But as the great inspirational coach Jimmy Valvano once said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.” That being considered, God knows I’ve had plenty of full days down here. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t trade any bit of this experience for the world. It’s been a tough, wild ride, but each day living and working down here reassures me that this was exactly the experience I was looking for.

However, I am very much looking forward to coming home. As much as I have come to love it here, I’m ready for a break to re-charge the batteries. After all, the holiday season is meant to be spent with the ones you love and I fully intend to do just that. So with that I wish you nothing but joy and happiness this Christmas season. If you’ll be traveling home, I wish you a safe and successful journey. If you’ll be staying where you are or enjoying it in your own company, I hope it’s a time of well-deserved rest and reflection. Before we know it, we’ll be back to our routines and the year will be 2019.

I’m grateful for what 2018 has taught me, but I look forward to what 2019 will bring. As this year closes and the next one begins, I also want to thank you for taking the time to read these posts. Whether you’ve only read one, five, or all, I appreciate the support as it helps me still feel connected when I’m so far from home. I hope you take away as much from these stories, as I’ve taken away from experiencing them.

So again, I wish you and your family all the best during the holiday season, in the new year, and the many years to come. Consider this a simple Christmas wish, coming to you as a message in a bottle.

Cheers!

Scott William King

 

P.S. I recently went on a hike to the Welcome Stone in St. Patrick’s. From there, you can see the various islands that make up the St. Vincent Grenadine chain. I have included pictures from the hike below. Enjoy!

My third grade class with my co-teacher, Ms. Pierre.

Lost in the Bush and the Lessons Learned

While the strike continued on and off over the past few weeks, I did what I could to be productive with the time away from school. However, as what often happens when you focus on a task for too long, it’s easy to become a little restless and go a bit ‘stir-crazy,’ if you will. Last week was one of those weeks. I was accomplishing a lot of personal tasks at hand, but it came to a point where I simply had to get out of the house. I was getting restless, my routine had gotten so out of sync that I simply just didn’t feel like myself. So upon hearing of a fellow Volunteer, Stephen Verran’s, plans to hike to a waterfall I hadn’t been to before, I quickly jumped at the opportunity.  

What followed was an absolute adventure in every sense of the word. We had a general idea as to where we were going, but we were mostly delving into the Grenadian bush on a whim to see if we could find Tufton Hall Waterfall. Along the way, we got a bit turned around and, dare I say, a little ‘lost.’ That being said, I learned a few lessons along the way from my day getting lost in the bush… 

When venturing into unchartered territory, all you need is an open-mind. 

As with most hikes here, we followed a paved road up into the hills until breaking off into a footpath trail. The trail followed along the ridges of the mountains overlooking the St. Mark’s River on our right-hand side. The mountains peered down from above us and as I looked back toward the coast, the Caribbean Sea could be seen rising between the crevice of the mountains. The trail we were following, however, soon reached a point where it was no longer distinguishable. No footprints, no downtrodden paths, nothing but thick, untouched, knee-high grass. We paused often, debating between ourselves which way we ought to go. We’d try one direction, then upon reaching what seemed to be a dead-end to nowhere, turn back and try another route. This happened for the better part of the first half-hour. 

There was one particular time early on where we legitimately thought we had made a wrong turn. Trees climbed up the ridge to our left, while the high-grass we were standing in sloped sharply into a hidden ravine below. With no way up and no way down, we were beginning to think we had missed something. But just as we were ready to turn back, Stephen stepped into the heavy wall of forest ahead of us. As he did this, a footpath was discovered and we had found our way forward. 

In a situation like this, it’s easy to get frustrated or impatient. However, when venturing into unchartered territory you have to embrace the fact that things aren’t going to come easy. You have to approach it with a general goal in mind and a flexible plan on how you’re going to get there. We knew we had to follow the river up into the hills to find the waterfall. Therefore, every decision we made was to ensure that the river stayed on our right-hand side and if not in visibility, at least within earshot.

The lesson learned here is simply to take things as they are with whatever the situation is at hand. It’s important to take our time and understand we are not going to find all the answers right away. Sometimes we need to check every direction, leave no stone unturned, no branch not brushed aside, in order to find the path that we’re looking for.

 

Not everything is as it seems. 

About an hour into our hike, we were into the highlands of the bush. We continued on the course we set, keeping within earshot the rushing sound of the river. However, along the way we found ourselves at numerous ‘forks’ in the path. Whenever this happened, we always took the path to the right to stay alongside the river. But at one particular junction, the sound of running water resounded convincingly from our left. Curious, we turned our backs to the ravine and went further up into the ridge until the path vanished in the bush. We paused, crouching under the low-hanging branches and listened; the sound of the river was gone. Befuddled, we back-tracked and took the other path that we deemed would more likely follow along the river.   

Soon thereafter we found ourselves climbing up and down the hillsides of the ravine. While navigating steep, muddy slopes such as these, I made sure to grab hold of any branch, vine, or tree trunk I could find to support me. On more than one occasion, a vine or branch I grabbed gave way, nearly sending me tumbling down the muddy slope.  

In both instances, what I learned is that not everything is as it seems. When we thought we heard the sound of rushing water to our left, we were simply hearing the wind blowing through the trees. It was pretty convincing, I must say, to the point we thought we inadvertently took a wrong path and somehow ended up on the wrong side of the river. On the numerous occasions that vines or branches broke in my grasp, I was often caught off guard, but ultimately not surprised. It’s for that very reason one ought to test their support system before bearing any weight on it. 

Consequently, over the course of the hike I became a little more cautious, as I realized not everything is truly as it seems.  

 

It’s okay to not only receive help, but to ask for it, too. 

After climbing halfway up a cliffside adjacent to a small waterfall, Stephen and I found ourselves sharing a small ledge with barely enough room for the two of us. Truth be told, the whole scene was laughable if anyone were to have seen it. The rocky cliffside we were clinging to was more clay-like in substance than hard rock. This was evident when with any grip or foothold we tried to put on the cliffside, the rock would crumble under pressure. There were various branches and foliage above us, but none of them were promising enough to ensure a safe ascent (cue once again that not everything is as it seems). It was at this point, we eyed a particular tree trunk just out of reach that would be sturdy enough to pull ourselves up. So gathering what foothold I could, I leaped up against the cliff. Crashing against the ground and clinging desperately to the crumbling clay and soil, I eventually was able to claw my way to the trunk and pull myself the rest of the way up; but that was not without the help of Stephen pushing me up from below. Once on sturdy ground, I was able to turn around and help Stephen climb up, too. 

In another instance we were crossing over the river. The water was rushing steadily over the rocks, making them slick and somewhat unreliable. Stephen had already crossed over to the other side and was standing firmly on the surface of a large, dry rock. The stepping stone to get there, however, was an awkward distance from the rock on which I was standing, with water gently passing over its surface. Therefore, I asked for Stephen to stretch out his hand. As I stepped across, I used his support to get safely to the other side. 

Both of these occasions, are evident to the fact that not only is it okay to receive help, but to ask for it, too. Pride can get in the way of a lot of things and lead us to take a lot of unnecessary risks. So why risk that misstep, slip-up, or fall? Why not go with whatever support system you have around you? After all, like they say, that’s what friends are for.  

 

There is such a thing as a ‘happy accident. 

After a couple hours of following the river deep into the bush, we discovered that the water had just simply stopped. For no rhyme or reason, what we found was not the source of the river, nor the waterfall we hoped to find. A bit puzzled by this, I climbed up the steep hillside to the top of the ridge to see what else I could find. Scrambling to my feet, I found myself in somewhat of a clearing in the trees. Weaving my way through the large rocks, the sporadic pencil-thin trees, and leaf-covered forest floor, I made my way to the far side of the clearing.  

For an unexplained reason, an excitement began bubbling up inside of me. Could it be that the Tufton Hall Waterfall is right around the corner, and we never realized it? I continued on, trying not to get my hopes up but secretly allowing the excitement bubble inside. At the end of the clearing, the soft ridge sloped gently up before dropping sharply over the other side. Hopping over another large rock and hustling to the edge, I held my breath as I peered over. The sharp slope dropped to the bottom of another ravine, where another river could be seen. Then peering through the gaps of the trees, I followed the river up the ravine to a point where it disappeared underneath the overhang of a few massive rocks. On the rocks, I quickly noticed, a stream of water cascaded down into the river. Leaning to my right to get a better look through the trees, I followed the stream of water as it traced its way up a narrow channel of rock that was tucked into the forested hillside and rising roughly seventy feet in the air. 

I looked on in awe at Mother Nature’s spectacle. The waterfall was quiet, peaceful, and every bit the definition of tranquil. The green leaves of the branches bowed in a strong, passing breeze. With the onset of the breeze, a cold rain began falling heavily through the canopy. It was all so surreal, a moment that you could only envision when imagining what finding a waterfall in the heart of a tropical rainforest would be like. The cold rain sent chills down my spine, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

It’s wild to think that we were that close, and in truth very easily could have missed it. Discouraged on losing the river on the hike, we could have turned around and gone back home. But as we later realized, at some point we evidently had followed the wrong river up. Thankfully, an unintended peek over into the next ravine lead us to exactly what we were looking for.

I guess there is such a thing as a ‘happy accident.’ 

 

Sometimes all you can do is let go and hope for the best.  

After finding the waterfall, we were left with two choices. Try and re-trace our complicated, aimless path back to where we came from, or go the surefire way of following the river out. We decided to take the river, for everyone knows that all the rivers eventually flow into the Sea. What we also learned, however, was that following the river down to the Sea also meant re-discovering the laws of gravity. 

As we followed the river out, we came across an incessant number of flowing waterfalls. Some were easy to climb down or around, but others were so steep that we opted to climb up the hill before returning to the river at an easier point of descent. Then we found one that was so intimidating, we contemplated a plan of action for quite some time. We had just used a worn and weathered rope to repel down one waterfall into a small pool. At the end of this pool, another waterfall on our right-hand side was flowing roughly twenty feet down into a small, log-riddled basin. The ravine to our immediate left was a steep, rocky, muddy, barren cliffside. There was simply nowhere to go; nowhere but straight down.  

At our feet was another vertical, muddy, and rocky slope down to a flat ledge adjacent to the basin of the waterfall. From that ledge, we could easily continue down the river. The problem was just getting down to that ledge. With no other options, we resorted to the only one we had. Stephen went first, sitting cautiously down in the mud and digging his heels and hands into the ground beside him. Tenderly, he let his momentum slide, picking up suddenly as he crashed down the rocks onto the ledge below. It was a little rough going down, but he had made it safely. 

Now it was my turn. As I sat down in the soft mud, a large rock was jarred loosed and bounced violently down the slope before landing at Stephen’s feet (a super encouraging omen, by the way). Nonetheless I dug my heels and fingernails into what ground holding I could. Gently shifting my weight forward, I dropped abruptly, sliding violently down the side of the waterfall. Tightly holding my breath, my backside bounced repeatedly off the rocky cliffside as I tried burying my heels harder into the ground, a vain effort in slowing my descent. Then, suddenly, I crashed to a stop a few feet above the ledge. My heels had somehow caught a holding. Exhaling softly, I lifted my now burning and bleeding hands from the rocks and tactfully navigated the quarter inch of holding beneath my feet, before sliding the rest of the way down. 

What I learned from this, was that sometimes you’ll find yourself literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes in those situations, all you can do is let go and hope for the best. Now, I’m not suggesting this strategy for all difficult circumstances (for obvious safety reasons). But given certain risks at hand, the moral of this lesson is to ultimately let go and trust that everything will all work out.