The Butterfly Effect: The Challenge of Integration

Butterfly Effect: (n.) the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.

Perhaps you’ve heard of this theory before. You may also recognize it from the Ashton Kutcher movie. But for me, this theory has come to take on an particularly personal meaning. To more accurately depict what it means to me, I’m going to alter the name of it just a bit to: “The Social Butterfly Effect.” This sums up perfectly the challenge that is integrating into a foreign community.

In layman’s terms, the butterfly effect means that every decision you make in the present moment can trigger a series of events later on. On the other hand, “The Social Butterfly Effect,” means that every decision on how you spend your time now will affect how often you are seen by others in your community.

There’s something to be said about the challenge that is integrating into a foreign community. It’s not exactly easy, even for a “social butterfly.” But in order to integrate well into a foreign community, you almost have to become a ‘Yes Man’ of sorts. Any time you are invited to take part in something, no matter whether you want to or not, you almost have to say yes. After all, if you don’t say yes, you may be perceived as anti-social and not get asked again. Consequently, you have to take advantage of every opportunity you can get to make friends, be seen, and integrate.

A problem can develop when, by saying yes to two or three invitations, you find yourself in a conflict of schedules. Not wanting to say no upfront and waiting until the last minute to cancel can also be detrimental, though, as then you can be perceived as flaky when you end up bailing. This can also lead to fewer invitations.

It’s not like you can use the excuse of, “I’ve been busy lately,” either. Let’s be honest here: no one ever really buys that excuse. After all, aren’t we all busy? But sometimes it just so happens that when you try to appease everyone, you lose touch with certain people for a certain stretch of time. You always make an effort to see them again, but sometimes that’s not until after a few weeks have already gone by.

Consequently, you consistently find yourself conflicted in having to decide between the things you need to do, the things you said yes to, and the things you want to do. Sometimes they all can get jumbled up into a mess of a weekend in which you seemingly have to juggle and jump through hoops to make it through it all. Well, for me, that sums up this past weekend.

* * *

“Raise your hand if you shared what you wrote today,” I say, reaching into my backpack for the pack of TeaTime Biscuits (basically off-brand Oreos that are oddly addictive).

Seven out of the dozen or so students gathered raise their hands and I toss a packet of cookies across the room to each one of them. Their eyes light up as they catch the cookies, happy to have been rewarded the treat. The other students, who didn’t share what superpower they would have (as that was the prompt of the day), looked on with a bit of jealousy, disappointed in the fact they didn’t get any cookies. I don’t feel bad. They know I bring the cookies to every Creative Writing Club meeting. At first, I used them as an incentive just for the students to attend. Now I use them to encourage their sharing of the work they come up with. I’ll never force a student to share their work with the rest of the group, as that would not to be true to the nature of creative writing. Yes, ideally any creative writing piece ought to be shared; but creative writing is also a means of personal expression and to an extent, a release or an escape from the outside world. Consequently, I do encourage them to share but the decision to is wholly theirs.

“All right,” I say. “That’s all I had for you today. You’re free to go. Have a good weekend.”

Before I can finish the word ‘weekend,’ they’ve already jumped from their seats and scrambled out the door. A few linger behind to either share what they’ve written in their free time or to try and coax another pack of cookies out of me (jokes on them, I reserve the leftovers for myself). The school bell echoes through the compound. All the students are joyously running free outside while my classroom finally has peace and quiet within. Moving sluggishly after another long day of being on my feet, I slowly piece the room back together.

I gather all my things into my backpack, strap it on, and head for home. On my way out, I run into one of the caretakers of the school who I’ve always made time to speak with. We agree to ‘make a lime later,’ local lingo for going out for a couple drinks. When I reach home, I begin to decompress the moment I step into my apartment. After changing my clothes, I collapse on my bed beside the soothing breeze of my fan. The daily hustle and bustle of the street chatters outside my bedroom window. The pink curtains of my room give off a superficial pink lighting as the sun shines through them. They rustle subtly in the breeze as the sweet scent of barbeque drifts into my room. I sit up in my bed.

“It’s been awhile since you got some chicken,” I say to myself. “You should go.”

I slide out of bed, slip on a pair of sandals, and walk out the door. Turning the corner in front of the market, I hustle across the street to where Thomas has his barbeque chicken grill set up. A tall man, bald with smiling eyes and dressed in a greasy apron, maneuvers efficiently behind the grill as he turns the chicken legs over and lathers a smooth layer of homemade barbeque sauce on them.

“Good afternoon Thomas,” I say. “How have you been?”

“Yeah, afternoon mon,” he replies. “Been awhile since ah seen you. You good?”

He serves me up a leg of barbeque chicken wrapped in foil. I lean against the stone wall, alongside the rest of his patrons as we catch up on what’s been going on. He tells me about his catering service and to look for him cooking his specialty, oil down, on Saturdays at the junction. Cars and buses rumble past on the street. Pedestrians walk along sidewalks so narrow, you have to turn your shoulders to make sure there’s room to pass. A guy walks up, a toothy smile full of green braces, and reaches out to me with a fist-bump. I never met this guy before, but I suppose the fact that I’m ‘liming’ with the rest of them on the street and eating Thomas’s barbeque has earned his respect. Licking my fingers clean and wiping off my chin with a napkin, I thank Thomas for the chicken and turn the corner back home.

Once back, I take this opportunity to sit back on my couch and read Jimmy Buffett’s autobiography A Pirate Looks at Fifty. I have been quite taken by this book lately and have been cruising through it. It’s been awhile since a book has captivated me like this one has. I’ve been trying to take more time to read and this book has enabled me to do just that. As I read, however, I always leave my door open so I can keep an eye on the sky above the bank in front of my apartment. I notice the clouds have taken on a glowing, yellow color–foreshadowing the stunning sunset to come. Engulfed in the book, but pestered by the distracting beauty of the clouds, I finally tear myself away and go for a walk down the road.

By the time I get there, an orange ball of fire burns on the horizon. The yellow of the clouds is all but gone, as they’ve become purple silhouettes floating aimlessly in the sky. Due to the recent sea surge, waves roll in from the far-out sea. They grow progressively bigger until crashing violently on the rock shoreline.

“Many appreciate the beauty of the sea when it’s calm, but few recognize its beauty when it’s angry,” a man says as he approaches me.

His name is Crispin, a thin man with gray stubble on his chin and dressed in a black-and-white checkered shirt, I had met him a few months prior while watching the sun go down. We agree that it’s one thing to appreciate a calm sea, but we must not neglect the intimidating beauty of an angry sea. We talk about the upcoming general election, the hot topic of the past month. He gives me a Grenadian history lesson, telling me tales of Sir Eric Gairy and the rise and fall of Maurice Bishop that preceded the American Invasion in the early 1980s. By this time the sun had vanished, and we parted ways as the stars began appearing in the early nighttime sky.

I return home and read another chapter. One chapter was all I had time for,though, as then it was time for Fish Friday. I had to go a little earlier than usual, to make sure I was home in time for the caretaker at my school to come for me. The DJ was playing reggae from the speakers as I weaved through the dancing patrons all the way to the red tent at the end of the road. I had been meaning to try the fish at this tent, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. While I was there, two familiar faces walk up. It was Roseanne and her son, who I’ll refer to as ‘J.’ Originally from Barabados, they moved into my apartment complex at the start of the new year. I have gotten to know them pretty well, especially considering that J was placed in my class. I hadn’t spent time with them in about two weeks or so, which Roseanne teased me for. We sat down together and began to catch up on all that’s been going on since we last spoke. She told me the two of them will be returning to Barbados in June–just goes to show how much can change in just two weeks’ time.

After checking the time, I excuse myself so I could be home in time for the caretaker to check me. While I waited, I pulled up the Columbus Blue Jackets game online. I spoke to my brother Jeff the night before, and he told me he was going to the game with my sister-in-law Joy. I told him I’d try and catch the game. It’s funny, I lived in Columbus for four years and always somewhat followed the Blue Jackets, but I would only ever sit down and watch their games when I was home in Cleveland on Christmas or Easter Break. Consequently, while watching the game I felt a tinge of homesickness. But it was refreshing to watch a game I would usually be watching if I was home. After about an hour or so, the caretaker still hadn’t come by yet. He doesn’t have a phone, so he wouldn’t have a way of telling me if something came up. I wasn’t going to spend my whole night waiting for him in my apartment, time is too valuable when trying to integrate. I closed my laptop and went up the road to Mansa’s.

All the now-familiar faces at Mansa’s were there. Cosa, a shorter man with a Rasta beanie askew on the top of his head, puts his arm around my shoulder.

“Been awhile since ah seen you boy,” he says.

“Yeah,” I reply with smile. “But I’ll always be coming back.”

“Yeah mon.”

I order a rum and coke and circulate into the rotation of pool games. The Cleveland Cavaliers were playing the LA Clippers that night, the game buffering on the internet TV hung up in the corner of the bar. A G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) discussion then ensues on whether the best player of all time was Lebron James or Michael Jordan. Apparently, some debates truly are global. Although I admit to my hometown bias, I definitely vouched for The King.

After shooting a few games of pool, I walk home under a nighttime sky blanketed with clouds. A few clear patches of stars sporadically poked through. The town is quiet except for a few people standing or sitting idly on the street, the reason Gouyave is known as, “The City That Never Sleeps.” I always enjoy this short walk home, coming at the conclusion of a night well-spent.

The next morning the alarm to my phone goes off and I immediately hit the snooze button. Turning over, the chatter of the vegetable market next door fills my room. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I climb out of bed and begin my morning routine. It was the second Saturday of the month, which for me, means running the Saturday Reading Hour session at the local St. John’s Public Library. The fact that I have a public library in my community is a pretty big deal, but that doesn’t mean it’s always utilized the way it should be. Therefore, I’ve joined a group of active and retired teachers to do rotations of literacy activities on Saturday mornings to draw students in.

I walk next door to pick up J, as I’d promised the night before to take him with me. We walked down the road, dodging the passing vehicles, bustling pedestrians, and patrons of the market. I wave to Thomas, who sure enough was on the corner of the junction cooking his oil down. As I’m waiting to cross, a vehicle drives past with a friendly honk. I wave to my host father, Dakka, who was in the driver’s seat.

After reaching the library, I climb the three flights of stairs to reach the top floor, where Reading Hour is held. A group of about a seven girls and a small boy file in shortly after, taking up the seats around a large wooden table. Teacher Rita, my counterpart for these sessions, hadn’t arrived yet. So I begin with the go-to, time-killing game that my third-graders love. The premise of the game is that we are all going on a trip. Each child around the table can go on the trip, but they’re only allowed to go if they bring two certain items. The catch, which they have to figure out, is that the only items they can bring are ones that begin with the first letter of their first and last names. They’re clue to realizing this is that they have to introduce themselves every time before they try. (i.e. “My name is Scott King. On my trip to Disney World I will bring socks and a kite). I always get a kick out of the baffled look of surprise when I tell a student they can’t come on the trip. It usually takes them awhile to understand what they need to do in order to come, but once one students gets it, all the other students become excited to figure out how they can come along, too.

When Teacher Rita arrives, we begin our session. I’ve recently gotten into using Mad Libs, a fun way to get the students to practice using their parts of speech and create their own stories. It’s also an opportunity to use the card game version that my friend Kevin had brought it for me when he visited back in December, which operates much like the game Apples to Apples. The students have started to buy into it, too, which is exciting to see.

Just like that, an hour passes and our session goes about an extra fifteen minutes over. I had made plans to go see the Concord Waterfalls with some other Volunteers at noon, and now was going to be late. I hustle back home and quickly change into clothes for the hike, packing a suit and a lunch as well. I run up the road to pay the rent to my landlord and speak to him for a few minutes. Then I skipped next door to the market to visit Esther, the lady with a pleasant smile I buy my fruits and vegetables from.

“It’s been some time since I’ve seen you,” she says. “Everything good?”

“Yeah, things have picked up a bit for me the past couple weeks.”

I buy saffron, celery, peppers, plantains, and christophenes from her. I enjoy stopping in to see her during Saturday Market because she’ll explain to me what I can do to prepare the various fruits and vegetables I get from her. I’m not experienced in the least bit when it comes to the kitchen, so I can use all the help I can get. I’d never heard of christophene before, so she explains to me how I can prepare it. I run home to drop the produce off and hop on a bus to Concord.

By the time I reach Concord, PCVs Sarah, John, and Hannah are all at the bus stop waiting for me. The door opens and everyone piles out so I can get off. I pay the conductor as he slides back into the bus, closing the door simultaneously as the bus drives off down the road in a moment’s notice. I turn around and we begin our hike up to the falls.

The hike to the first waterfall was up a paved road. It was a steep incline, as we were hiking up into the mountains. Simple homes and stretches of trees and gardens ran alongside the bends and turns of the road, as locals waved to us and wished us well on our journey to the falls (it’s no secret that here foreigners walking up the road are headed to the waterfall). Some children and parents call out, “Mr. John!” recognizing him from school.  Just goes to show that the “fish bowl effect” is alive and well for us Volunteers in the Grenada.

After about forty-five minutes’ walk into the steep hills and mountains of Concord, we arrived at the first waterfall. Tucked behind a simple shop was a sole palm tree over a small, natural pool. The waterfall behind it cascades down the rock chute from about 25 feet up or so. We jump into the refreshingly chilly water. Swimming into the base of the waterfall, the strong, circulating current from the crashing falls pushes me under the water and around the pool. I grab hold of a notch in the stone wall, hanging on as the current pushes past me while I catch my breath. We weren’t the only ones enjoying the falls that day, as various families both local and foreign were bathing in its waters. In the sky, Mother Nature couldn’t seem to decide whether it should be a cloudy day or not. The was sun vanishing and re-appearing periodically, constantly changing the temperature of the water. We took turns climbing up to a small ledge about ten feet above the water and leaping into the pool below.

It was like being a kid again, dancing across the rocks and exploring the small area surrounding the falls. Downstream was another set of waterfalls; this one much more rapid and beautifully violent. I climbed to the edge and peered down, looking on in awe but not daring to go a step further. Part of me wished I could pull a Bear Grylls and find a way to get to the bottom, but I knew that just wasn’t in the cards for me.

After we got our fill bathing in the falls, we decided we had enough time to make a hike to the second waterfall, another thirty minutes’ up through the forest. So we were on our way, leaping across rivers, climbing over rocks, and hiking through soft patches of mud through the bush. The mountains towered over us through the canopy of the trees. We would stop and try to identify the different things we could see: sorrel, pineapples, nutmeg trees, and cocoa trees as well as various animals like blue herons, manicou, and butterflies. At one point, the others had gone ahead as I had fallen a bit behind. I was captivated by a certain simple stream that funneled between large rocks and trickled into a little pool. It was like a baby waterfall hoping to grow up into a big one someday.

Snickering at the little analogy I came up with, I lifted myself onto the large rock above it. Wiping off my hands on my shorts, I look up and…


Right in front of me was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. A rush of water stampedes about forty feet down a channel of rocks, tucked away in the bend of another natural pool. I was still quite a-ways from the falls, as massive boulders and fallen logs were impeding my way. I quickly climbed on, along, and around them until I finally reached it. To my left was two large boulders and I jumped from one to another until I reached the final one. This vantage point gave me an unbelievable panoramic view. In front of me were the falls, a faint rainbow protruding from the mist at the base. The pool was a transparent turquoise color of distinctly fresh water. Trees, shrubs, and ferns surrounded the scene like a forest-green wallpaper. The land around it was steep and uneven, the roots of trees exposed and clinging on for dear life. Moss-covered rocks and boulders provided a natural pier from which one could jump into the spring. Birds chirped from the trees and crickets periodically echoed from somewhere in the bush. All of those sounds, however, were drowned out by the powerful rushing of the falls.

This waterfall immediately jumped to my second-favorite spot on the island, outside of Levera Beach on the northern coast. It was beautiful in its isolated and natural surroundings; pure as it was simple. It is a place you could hide away to forget about life for awhile.

But we couldn’t stay for long, unfortunately, as at this point the sun was beginning its descent and rain threatened from the dark clouds in the distance. The hike back went by faster than the hike there and before I knew it, I caught a bus and was back home to my apartment in Gouyave. I had made it back with about half an hour to spare before basketball practice. Yes, in the past couple of weeks, I’ve joined a local team to play in an upcoming knock-out tournament. Consequently, I’ve had to practice and scrimmage against Gouyave’s primary team, the Sparklers, at least three nights a week.

With a snap of the fingers I was at the court, warming and taking shots before our scrimmage. The game starts and for some reason they have me at point guard, a position I never played growing up. Crossing half-court, the Sparklers are playing a 2-3 zone defense and are swarming quick. A teammate of mine is on the right wing. I dish it to him just as the front-men of the zone collapse on me. I take off straight ahead between them, running down the lane as the ball is passed back to me in a classic give-and-go. Grabbing the ball in stride and with a bounce down the lane, I go for the basket. Whiz, the center for the Sparklers who stands at a tall and lanky 6″4′, rushes to me. I leap forward and lay the ball off the backboard, hoping to get the shot off before he can block it. Running past the backboard and into the fence, I look over my shoulder as the ball falls through the net. My team celebrates briefly as we quickly take off to the back-court to play defense.

The reason I tell you about that play is, well, because that was the only basket I scored during the scrimmage. My team is made up of the guys who I play with on Sunday nights. We decided to come together and make a team for the tournament. We’re still figuring out a system and a style of play that works best for us. We’ve found that playing a faster game and going with a man-to-man defense serves us better. The Sparklers are easily the best team on the island, as just about everyone on that team is twice my size. Consequently, they provide a good challenge for us. We’re not where we need to be, but with each practice we are getting better. We have about two more weeks left of training before our game against the Gouyave Police on March 27th.

After the scrimmage, I walk home on the shoreline sidewalk with Livern, a man with a slender build and braided corn-rows who essentially put the team together. The waves are still crashing violently on the shore as we talk about how the scrimmage went and what we need to do moving forward. The conversation then moves to politics, as that’s still the hot topic of the island right now.

When I finally reached home, I felt like I had someplace else to go or somebody else to meet. But I was exhausted. I cut up the produce I purchased at the market earlier that morning and roasted it with chicken drumsticks. The rest of my Saturday night was spent simply: making and eating a meal on my own. I finally had a moment to catch my breath and relax. I wanted to and felt like I should go out and ‘show face’ again in the community. But that’s the thing: as important as it is for me to integrate into the community, it’s just as important, if not more so, that I take time for myself to decompress. Integrating can be a stressful process, even after a couple months. If I have to sacrifice a Saturday night every now and then to do that, then so be it.

But that’s the thing about the so-called, “Social Butterfly Effect.” It’s a Catch-22 of sorts, juggling your time and energy between the things you have to do, the things you said yes to, and the things you want to do. When you spend time with as many people as you can, the amount of times you see them varies. That’s to mention that giving up a Saturday night for yourself means one more night that you won’t see somebody. That’s one more opportunity missed in which someone may later tell you, “It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you.”

The next morning, I went to church and sat down next to Dakka, my host father, who quietly says, “You’ve gone and come back.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “I’ll always come back.”

It seems like there’s never enough time to spend with everyone you want or need to. When you spend time with one person or group of people, it often comes at the expense of another. Not to mention when you do make plans and they end up falling through anyway. It can become frustrating when it seems you can’t even find time just for yourself.

Integrating is a challenge, particularly on a social aspect. There’s places to go, people to meet, and things to do. It’s next to impossible to please everyone. I’m trying my best to make the most of my short time down here. Between my students, my fellow teachers, the guys at court, the guys at Mansa’s, my host family, and the other PCVs, there’s always something I seemingly have to do. I’m trying to spread myself out as much as I can, to foster a relationship with as many people as I can while I’m here. Sometimes, however, it comes at the expense of not only others, but myself.

It’s important that I reserve time just for myself, something I have not been accustomed to doing in the past. But I’m learning; it’s all part of the process. The important thing is that for every, “It’s been awhile” I receive, it’ll mean that at least I came back for them to tell me that. It also shows that I have integrated into the community, to the point where people notice when I’ve been away.

That’s the big take-away for me from this weekend. I’ve been trying to make the most of my time here with the people I am with in the present moment. Consequently, it may take time before I see others again. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve forgotten about them, it just means I’m investing in the people I’m with at the moment. I may be gone for certain lengths of time, but like I told Dakka this past weekend, “I’ll always come back.”

That doubles for everyone reading this at home. I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m trying my best to Facetime with all those I can. If you’d like to Facetime with me, feel free to reach out, as it’s always good for me to see a familiar face.

But like a butterfly fluttering in a strong breeze, I’m just trying to stay the course. The wind is taking me in all sorts of directions along the route, but I’ll always come back.

In the meantime, however, I’ll also be making time for myself.

After all, sometimes even a butterfly needs to stop and rest.


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P.S. The Rainforest Is You

Julien Fedon, a Grenadian revolutionary, set out to abolish slavery and rid Grenada of British rule in 1795. The destination of my second hike of the year was to the site of his base camp during the rebellion. From this high point overlooking both the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts of Grenada, Fedon successfully and simultaneously coordinated attacks on the towns of Grenville and Gouyave. This was a particularly impressive feat; especially given the fact that he conquered two large towns, on opposite sides of the island, at the same time. Fedon’s Rebellion continued to the point where he had gained control over the entire island outside of the parish of St. George, where the British government was seated in the capital city of St. George’s. Unfortunately for Fedon, his rebellion was put down in June of 1796 and British order was restored across the island. Slavery would go on for another 38 years, not being abolished until 1834.

As I was gathered in a circle with my fellow hikers, this brief history lesson left me captivated. It was a dreary, overcast morning complete with a persistent drizzle. The night before, a rainstorm poured heavily throughout the night, promising a muddy hike in the morning.

I took on the hike the same way I’ve taken on the others, sticking toward the back to allow myself time to enjoy the surroundings and take a few photos along the way. This hike, however, I must say was the most challenging one yet. The mud sucked in my boots, dragging my feet like a child bear-hugging his father’s leg. The hills were incredibly steep, forcing me to rely on vines, branches, and trees to pull myself up. It truly felt like I was hiking through a tropical rainforest, surrounded by the sounds of the birds in the trees and trekking through the mud with a cool breeze blowing mist onto my face. At certain points along the way, viewpoints on the mountain opened up so I could overlook the forest-covered hills that stretched all the way out to the coast. Unfortunately, the true potential of the viewpoint was compromised due to the low-hanging, stagnant rain-clouds. I wasn’t upset, however, because the ominous clouds gave the rainforest the kind of foreboding aura that something big was coming; you could feel the impending doom like a chill in your bones. It felt almost as if I was walking through a scene in Jurassic Park, where the fog and mist eerily creeps between the trees. Despite the heavy fog and clouds of the morning, the viewpoints along the way were nonetheless absolutely stunning.

By the time I reached the summit, a simple stone monument marked the site of Fedon’s Camp. Allegedly, this is the only spot on Grenada where you will find Fedon’s name. This is because after his rebellion was put down, the British essentially wiped his name from from the history books. In the small clearing atop the mountain, we stood idly around the monument surrounded by short, green foliage. Beyond the foliage, the clouds were so thick around us that we quite literally were surrounded by a wall of gray. Since this is the site where you can supposedly see both Gouyave and Grenville, I admit I was a little disappointed that the fog was so thick. But it was still enjoyable, though, because I still couldn’t get over how eerie and cool being surrounded by the clouds seemed. It was like I had quite literally hiked my way into heaven.

After a slippery and often-times treacherous trek down the mountain (during which I can proudly say I only fell once), I was exhausted. I rinsed off my clothes and boots in the stream and switched into a dry set of clothes I had stored in my backpack. Climbing into a car that served as my ride back to Gouyave, I passed out the moment we hit the winding roads. Upon arriving home, I stumbled inside and proceeded to shower and go straight to my bed for what became a glorious two-hour nap.

When I woke up, I went through the photos that I had taken that morning and began editing them. As I did this, I found them to be quite jaw-dropping. It was almost hard to accept the fact that I had actually hiked through the surreal beauty of a natural rainforest just a few hours prior. When it came time for me to sit down and translate my experience into this blog, I quite literally was at a loss for words.

But then I had an idea. I found this to be a unique opportunity to switch things up and explore something I’ve been meaning to for quite some time now. I did find the words that accurately reflected my experience hiking to Fedon’s Camp; they come in the form of a poem.

Now before you roll your eyes (as you may already have), bear with me.  Poetry is a complex field of language arts. It often takes time and effort to truly understand and appreciate a poem, which is why it can be often overlooked and neglected. However, when read appropriately it can be an enlightening experience for the reader. Consequently, when I found myself a bit puzzled on where to begin this next post-I turned to poetry to guide me.

Before you begin your own reading of the poem, let me pass on a word of advice from an old college professor of mine: when reading a poem, you must read it at least three times. The first time to become introduced to the main idea or theme of the poem; the second time as an attempt to grasp an understanding; the third time to appreciate and capture meaning from it. It may even help you to read it out loud. Now you don’t have to read it three times over or even reflect on it yourself, as I have done this already. When you hike through a mountainous rainforest, a lot of thoughts cross your mind. Multiple viewpoints offer various opportunities for reflection on many different aspects of life. My thoughts and reflections on this hike covered many things related to life, the rainforest, and the relationship between the two. I have come to find that this poem appropriately and accurately depicts my experience hiking to Fedon’s Camp:

P.S. The Rainforest is You

a young rainforest has yet to know of the world 
the harsh reality of mistrust, humiliation, and disappointment  
but maybe thats the charm of it all 
trees strung about in a wild fun mess of branches 
smells of flowers and mildewy ferns on the floors 
welcomes me to close my eyes and be comfortable 
every little detail has its own story to tell 
every little creature a character of its own 
in between the plants it whispers to me 
songs and tales of the forest’s past, present, and future 
the surface of it so bright and colorful 
and the bottom so dark and wonderfully cool 
for each drop of rain that falls feels warm against the skin 
embracing me as one of its own 
not knowing of what I have seen and felt before. 

But that does not matter, 
for the rainforest is handsome, compelling, and full of surprises, 
it takes when it can and gives even more- 
optimism that everything is alright, 
that when I am in such a beautiful place, 
there is no reason to worry- 
in truly heartbreaking silence, 
I think to myself- 
I hope I never have to leave. 

-Victoria Ellison

This first time I read this, I breezed right through and moved on to the next one. Yet, like any good poem, something about it remained in the back of my mind until I couldn’t resist returning to it. The more I read it, the more I found it captured not only my experience with the hike to Fedon’s Camp, but also my relationship with the rainforest and how I have come to fall in love with hikes such as this one. Focusing on simple excerpts at a time, analyzing this poem enabled me to put words to the contemplative experience this hike became for me. What follows is the introspective, line-by-line breakdown of the poem. It is a poem that captures the reflective nature of my hike and what an experience like this truly means.

a young rainforest has yet to know of the world
the harsh reality of mistrust, humiliation, and disappointment
but maybe thats the charm of it all

The rainforest, much like the one I had just trekked through, is largely untouched by human presence. It is purely raw and natural, uncompromised by the development of cities, towns, and communities. Human contact with the rainforest can be deceitful; as although many explore and delve into the forest to appreciate its natural beauty, others take advantage of its resources. This can come in the form of the logging, housing, and trophy-hunting industries which in turn lead not only to the deterioration of the rainforest, but also diminishes the natural habitats and population-rates of the animals existing within. The rainforest, always welcoming the adventurous explorers with open arms, can often be betrayed as its resources are abused by the very same people it aims to please.

Despite what could go wrong, the rainforest maintains the naivety and innocence of a child. It is ‘forever young,’ expecting the best of everyone and always trusting for no rhyme or reason. To the rainforest, everyone arrives with a clean slate. It’s the very same fresh outlook and genuine spirit that we find so appealing in children and seem to have lost ourselves somewhere along the way during our self-righteous, “know-it-all,” teenage years. We can all learn from this confiding characteristic of the rainforest, in the same way we can always learn a thing or two from the unwavering, trusting nature of our children.

trees strung about in a wild fun mess of branches
smells of flowers and mildewy ferns on the floors
welcomes me to close my eyes and be comfortable

Did you capture a visual image in your mind with this passage? Maybe you envisioned a tree standing curved but strong, surrounded by other trees with branches so intermingled, you don’t know where the first one begins and the other one ends. Maybe you pictured a tree fallen over. Held up by its unwavering counterparts, the fallen tree is covered in a thick coat of moss and draped in vines. Maybe you inhaled deep breath of fresh scents coming from exotic and vibrantly-colored flowers. Maybe you envisioned the patterned-layers of green ferns across a sun-spotted forest floor. Visual as much as it is experiential, this passage begins to describe the relationship between man and rainforest.

The forest, not concerned with any opinion you may have of it, exists as itself unapologetically. When you can appreciate and acknowledge this aspect of the rainforest, recognizing there’s no concern for any judgment to be passed, you can free up yourself to be unapologetically you. You feel at home, at peace with yourself: who you are, how far you’ve come, where you’re headed, and why you’ve come here in the first place. You close your eyes, comforted by the sweet seclusion the forest offers you.

every little detail has its own story to tell
every little creature a character of its own

As simple as a forest may seem, it’s truly complicated within. Do you remember those ecosystem graphics in the science textbooks of your early school days? In the river there’s fish, in the sky there’s birds, and there’s various animals pictured in the forest between. Cyclical arrows are drawn around the page to signify that something is always happening. The sun with its light feeds the plants, which in turn gives off the oxygen we breathe. Some animals eat the plants, while other animals higher up in the food chain feed on them. When the animals and plants die, they decompose to feed the soil, which in turn feeds the plants and the cycle begins all over again. The cycle is never-ending and constantly moving. Each plant and animal plays a vital role, whether it’s as a minor or major character in the story of the forest. Yet no matter how large or small the role each character plays, the forest would be incomplete without it. On top of it all, each of these “characters,” has its own story entirely unique to itself. Therefore, the variety of characters and their stories are what truly brings the rainforest to life.

in between the plants it whispers to me
songs and tales of the forest’s past, present, and future

Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking alone through the rainforest. Now ask yourself, “Do you feel like you’re alone?” If you’re like me, you never feel alone in the woods. Whether it’s the birds chirping in the trees, the small lizards scurrying on the ground, or the rustling branches in the breeze, there’s always something that seems to give you that ominous feeling that you are not alone. Much like this passage describes, it’s almost as if the forest speaks to you. It speaks to you in a language that you hear, but may not always understand.

Yet, you can feel the history breathing within. It’s like you’ve stepped back into the past, to a time when a small army of rebels and escaped slaves are stalking through the woods to find a proper place to set up camp. It’s a time when your next day isn’t guaranteed, much less your next meal. It’s a time where you have to rely on the natural resources that surround you: the fish in the rivers, the fruits in the trees, and the game in the forest.

The rainforest you find yourself in is one that seems lost in time, enabling you to return to the past despite existing in the present. This rainforest seems not to care about the development of the outside world: where cities literally scrape the sky, stadiums light up the night, and airplanes soar through the air. The forest just continues on its stubborn path, disinterested in the changing world we live in and seeking only mind its own business. It will always maintain this mindset, as the present forever chases the future with each passing second.

the surface of it so bright and colorful
and the bottom so dark and wonderfully cool   

This excerpt simply expresses the beauty of your surroundings in the forest. All around you there are assorted, vibrant shades of green. The rain-soaked palm leaves sparkle from its glimmering coat of rain. Bright red and yellow flowers blossom by your side, opening its bell to take in what rain it can. The fog pushes through the canopy of trees, oddly enlightening the scene around you despite its intimidating presence. The forest floor is thick with mud that stains the otherwise clear streams. Freshly-fallen green leaves, along with the lackluster brown of decomposing ones, blanket the soft ground beneath your boots. The incessant breeze brings the mist, cooling you off with a refreshing, yet hair-tingling chill. The canopy of the trees provides concealment and cover on your hike, as if you were penetrating the forest in secrecy from the omniscient sun.

for each drop of rain that falls feels warm against the skin
embracing me as one of its own
not knowing of what I have seen and felt before.

That’s the beauty about the rain, it falls on everyone. The rain is unbiased and beautifully color-blind. It treats everyone the same. It doesn’t care about who you are or what you’ve done, good or bad, it falls on you just the same. I find the rain to be a fascinating thing in this manner. It’s funny-people often carry a negative connotation with the rain. After all, the rain is synonymous with dreary, lazy days curled up on a couch with a good book. In my time down here, the slightest rain has also come to mean the fear and likelihood of catching a cold (which might sound bizarre at first, but believe me: when you’ve been in the Caribbean long enough, it happens).

Yet despite this negative connotation, I find the rain to be soothing and refreshing in nature. Early on in my Peace Corps journey, I came across a quote from Bob Marley that simply states: “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” I first came to appreciate this quote when I reached the top of Gros Piton Mountain on a rain-soaked morning in St. Lucia. That morning I cast a glance to the sky, rain falling through the canopy of the trees. My arms outstretched, I embraced the feeling of the rain falling on my skin. It was cool, yet soothing. The rain can certainly be dreary; but more importantly, it can be cleansing. It washes away your past and impresses a self-reflection into the present. When it falls gently, it calmly offers you an opportunity for a fresh start and promises you a clean slate after it passes.

But that does not matter,
for the rainforest is handsome, compelling, and full of surprises,

When I came across this part of the poem, I found the word “compelling” to be a particularly striking way to describe the rainforest. Yet, after some thought I find it accurate. There is a presence about it that convinces you to move forward. It necessitates action on your part, all the while somehow convincing you that the decision to move forward was one of your own accord.

This goes without mentioning, of course, that the forest will always throw a curveball or two your way. You dig your heels into the mud, careful of each step and mindful of where the vines and trees are in the event you need to catch your fall. But right when you think you’re in the clear, your foot slips and gives way. Arms flailing, as if crossed up between the decision of reaching for something to grab or stubbornly thinking they can maintain your balance, you land in the thick mud.

You can’t help but laugh…Rainforest: 1 You: 0. That’s the underlying beauty of the rainforest, it’s not afraid to knock you on your ass and remind you who’s boss. Which leads us to the next excerpt…

it takes when it can and gives even more-
optimism that everything is alright,
that when I am in such a beautiful place,
there is no reason to worry-

The rainforest is by no means a gift-giver. It can disorient you, take advantage of you, and manipulate you unforgivingly. But as much as it takes from you, it leaves as compensation that beautiful word called, “optimism.” To have optimism is to maintain hope. This hope can take the form of many things: hope for a better future, hope for a successful career, hope for a healthy family, hope for a peaceful world. There is a saying that goes: “Hope is seeing the light in spite of being surrounded by darkness.” This reinforces the point that as long as we have hope, in reality that is all we really need. Hope provides the motivation to make our dreams become reality. Hope inspires us to overcome our setbacks and challenges us to reach our goals. So for every setback and challenge the rainforest throws your way, as long as you maintain hope that you will make it to your destination, you will. The rainforest teaches you patience, as you may not reach your destination right away. But as long as you maintain that hope and continue moving forward, there is no need to worry. You will reach your destination and your goal. I find comfort in this.

in truly heartbreaking silence,
I think to myself-
I hope I never have to leave.

Ahh-the feeling that comes at the completion of every successful hike. Your limbs ache with exhaustion, but spiritually you are rejuvenated and alive. You’re disappointed that your journey has to come to an end and you have to return to the world of schedules and responsibilities. The rainforest is the epitome of an escape, a sanctuary from the stressful and often irrelevant cares of the world. It provides an opportunity for self-reflection and promises hope for the future. It reminds you that there are things in the world larger than you. It humbles you and reminds you to be patient, re-assuring you that you will overcome your struggles all in due time. It serves as a distraction from the seemingly overwhelming responsibilities the societal world forces upon you. It takes you back in time, all while appreciating the present and contemplative of what the future holds. It reminds you that even on a rainy, dreary day there is awe-inspiring beauty to be found in this world. It leaves you comforted by the thought that one day you’ll return to the sanctuary of ‘escapism’ that the rainforest has become.

Above all, perhaps, it reminds you of the most important thing: you. It reminds you of who you are. It reminds you that you must first understand yourself, before you can truly be yourself. Once you’ve accomplished this, much like the rainforest, you can unapologetically be yourself. You can keep that innocence and trust of a child, seeing the best in people regardless of their past. You can appreciate the various characters that play vital roles in your story, no matter how big or small their roles in your life may be. You can recognize your appearance on the surface and find value in both its beauty and its blemishes, the flowers and the mud. Much like the rain, you can embrace the fact that we are all in this life together, despite how checkered our past may or may not be. You can acknowledge the fact that despite the challenges that darken our surroundings, you don’t ever have to worry because you always have that flashlight we call, ‘Hope.’

Now let’s return to that final line:

I hope I never have to leave.

Now allow me to let you in on a little secret…you don’t have to.

Remember the title?

P.S. The Rainforest Is You



“On to De Next One”; St. Peter’s RC Sports Day

The school system here is structured into three academic terms. The first one, from the first week of September to the first week of December, is essentially when the majority of classroom learning is done. The second term, known as “Sports Term,” runs from January to Easter and is usually the shortest of the three terms. This is the term where sports takes priority, as students are pulled from the classrooms to train for Sports Day. The third term, from after Easter until about the first week of July, is largely focused on assessments and preparing the students for the next level.

I can’t speak much to the third term, given I’ve only been here for the first term and now halfway through the second. Knowing my schedule will be more challenging, I set out at the start of January to seize every opportunity I would have to work with my pull-out students.

Thank God for rain.

Grenada’s rainy season on a calendar-year historically runs from June 1st to January 1st. It’s now late February, and still raining nearly every day (keep in mind by raining, I mean passing showers that last a few minutes at a time throughout the day). Due to the unusual lingering of the rainy season this year, much of the sports training has gotten pushed back and postponed due to the wet and muddy field conditions. As a result, I’ve been able to meet with my pull-out students pretty regularly; I’m happy with the progress we’re making with long vowel sounds and the “Silent E.” With my two students reading at the Pre-K level, we’re building up fluency skills before moving on to the next step. That being said, for the past two weeks the weather has been more favorable and I have had to compete with sports training for time with my students. But as I’ve learned, Sports Day is a pretty big deal for the school and the community.

Now I know why.

I showed up at school early on Friday morning, dressed in my casual pair of khaki pants and my bright yellow Ecuador football jersey and wearing a yellow hat. All the teachers were dressed in their respective red, green, blue, and yellow colors. Much like Hogwarts in Harry Potter, the students and teachers here are divided into one of four houses: red, green, blue, and yellow. When I first arrived I was placed in blue house, but was soon moved to yellow. In recent years tending to finish toward the bottom of the totem pole in sports, yellow house is the school underdog. But luckily since I’m from Cleveland, the home of the underdog story, yellow house suits me just fine.

I quickly hopped into my principal’s car with one of the caretakers of the school, and the three of us went down to the park to begin preparing the field for Sports Day. Stepping out of the car and unloading the trunk, we carried the miscellaneous contents to the field. It was a picturesque summer morning. Birds chirped from the trees and the sun seemed to  burn increasingly hotter by the minute. A few, puffy white clouds drifted gently in the sky, pushed by a warm breeze that passed through.

The first task at hand was staking in small flags of various colors around the track. Hammer in hand, I squatted down in the hot sun, pounding the wooden-staked flags into the soft ground. As I did this, flashbacks of preparing ball fields for baseball tournaments came to mind. This time, instead of measuring and chalking baselines, I was pounding in flags marking the inside perimeter of the track.

The next step was carrying chairs out to the two tents set-up in the center of the field, where the scoreboard and special invited guests were to be seated. Students from a local secondary school were completing their javelin and discus training. As I dropped a set of three chairs under a tent, one of the female students turns to me and says hello. Looking up, I acknowledge her with a smile and hello before turning to double-back for more chairs.

“I like you,” she says. “Do you like me?”

I paused, caught off guard and not sure what to say. So with a polite smile I said, “Sure, I do.”

“You like me to be your girlfriend?”

Well this is awkward.

“Oh,” I say. “I’m sorry no, I can’t. But have a good day.”

I shuffled off and went to get more chairs. You know, I knew I was signing up for a lot of unexpected things when I joined the Peace Corps, but being asked out by a fifteen-year-old was not one of those things.

The rest of the morning was spent carrying chairs, tables, benches, coolers, and those metal barricade fencing you always see at parades downtown. The DJ set up his speaker system in front of the stands. “I Feel It Coming,” by The Weeknd was blasting on repeat from the speakers with a delayed echo reverberating off the surrounding mountains. The DJ would cut in intermittently, “Check. One. Two. Sound check. One. Two.” By this time I was seated in the chairs under the tent in the center of the field. Wiping the sweat from my brow and resting my legs, I was exhausted from being on my feet all morning. I was taking a brief moment to rest alongside the caretaker and the physical education teacher, who had been helping set up the field all morning as well. Somehow the microphones found their way out to us, and we laughed as we passed it around sound-checking it ourselves and throwing our own karaoke-take into “Skankin’ Sweet,” the song by reggae artist Chronixx the DJ now had blaring.

The environment of the morning at this point was exciting and anticipatory. You could feel the impending excitement ahead, envisioning when the stands would be full, the athletes on the track, and the races taking place. Drifting off in thought, I was sitting in a chair underneath the same type of large, white tents you would always see at graduation parties. The last time I was sitting under one of these tents before an event was before my going-away party the day before I left for the Peace Corps. Back then I was seated under a white tent in my parent’s backyard. The birds were chirping on a cool, spring morning and much like today, you could feel the sun get increasingly hotter as the morning went on. The excitement I felt at this moment was similar to that of my going-away party, when you’re tired from the morning’s preparations but excited for the day’s events to come. I’ve come a long way since that cool, spring morning, but I look fondly back on that day frequently as it was easily one of the best days of my life.

I suppose that’s what happens when you’re living abroad by yourself, simple things trigger your memories of home.

The morning drifted into the early afternoon and the sun continued beating down mercilessly. A few people began trickling into the stands. Carrying the two blackboards out to the scorer’s tent, I pulled out the chalk and began writing down the current standings. It took a couple of tries, as I’m not even sure why I was the one assigned this task in the first place, given my lack of artistic ability. Needless to say, I was somewhat relieved when another teacher arrived and ‘fixed’ my scoreboard so it looked more like a scoreboard and less like a neighborhood sidewalk.

Drums thundered from down the road, as the students were about to arrive. I ran over to the entrance and watched the students, dressed in their colorful costumes and covered in glitter, march to the field. A few remarks were said and after some formalities, including a singing of Grenada’s national anthem, St. Peter’s RC Sports Day was officially underway. I took my seat alongside the three other teachers assigned to scoreboard-duty. We kicked back under the life-saving shade of the tent and watched as race after race unfolded before us. The students would line up in their respective lanes and take their mark; some were donning sneakers or cleats, others opted to run barefoot in the grass. The official would raise the gun and fire, unleashing a puff of smoke as the students took off in a sprint for the finish. I would step out into the sun, calling out and cheering my yellow house students on. I needed yellow house to do well, as pride was at stake. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know who takes house pride more seriously: the students or the teachers. All the teachers, myself included, would laugh and ‘talk smack’ back and forth about each race, depending on which house won or lost. I would return to the scoreboard, taking turns reading the scores, rubbing off the board, counting, and re-writing the scores with the other teachers.

Somewhere along the way my chair was taken, but I was too busy running back and forth from the track and scoreboard to mind. A group of kindergartners were lined up in the distance, prepared for their inauguration into Sports Day with a 100-meter dash. The gun goes off and the children take off with it, running as fast as their little legs could carry them.

“Go Williams!” one of the teachers, a member of Williams House (otherwise known as red house), calls as she jumps from her seat and pounds on the desk of score-papers.

“Come on, Glean!” I shout louder, rooting for my girl in yellow running neck-in-neck with the girl in red.

The competition between the two girls quickly unfolded into a competition of pride between the two of us, cheering our respective girl on so we can thumb our nose in the others’ face afterwards with a laugh.

The girl in red out-stepped the girl in yellow as they crossed the finish line. I shake my head and laugh, “We almost had you there,” I tell the red house teacher. “Don’t lie you were nervous for a second there.”

“Nope. We had it the whole way,” she remarks slyly.

Then an uproar of calls captures our attention. I turn around to realize (along with everyone else in the park), that the kindergarten girls were still running! Caught up in the adrenaline of the race, they ran right past the finish line and kept right on going. They didn’t realize the race was over, much to the amusement of everyone watching. After that, a teacher was placed behind the finish line to ‘catch’ and stop the younger students after the finish.

As the day progressed, the races for the older children began taking place. My feet began to ache but I continued on, running back and forth between the scoreboard and the track to cheer on my yellow house students. Before I knew it, the sun had begun its descent and we had reached the day’s intermission. Seeing an open chair as an opportunity, I plopped down with a sigh. Being on my feet all day under the overbearing heat of the sun, combined with the emotional roller-coaster of excitement that was the races, my energy level was depleted. I stretched my legs out and crossed them at the ankles. Tilting my cap over my eyes, I closed them to try and catch a moment’s rest.

“Mr. King,” I was roused awake with a nudge on the shoulder. “Have you eaten your meal yet?”

“No, not since lunch,” I replied, still dazed and confused from the snooze and unsure of what she was talking about.

I was then handed a styrofoam box, inside of which was a typical Grenadian meal complete with a leg of barbeque chicken, macaroni pie, dasheen, rice, beans, plantains, and a small side-salad. It was just the hearty pick-me-up meal that I needed.

In the distance, I could see a group of police officers arrive at the gate. They strode out to the center of the field, as if on official business. A secondary school drum corps played rhythmically as the houses gathered to make their march pass. Dressed in full uniform and carrying the banner to their respective house, the four houses performed their “eyes right,” marching in unison and passing in front of the now-packed audience in the stands. After each house made their military-esque march pass, the police officers of the community gathered to score each house’s performance.

While they did this, it was time for the cheerleading performances to take place. Now, over the course of the term so far, groups of students would frequently lock and barricade themselves into a classroom after school. They took extreme measures to ensure that no one could see the rehearsal unfolding inside, while many idle students did everything they could to sneak a peek to see what that respective house’s cheerleading performance was going to be. There was a lot of talk about the cheerleading performances, as it is one of the focal points of Sports Day. It didn’t disappoint either, as it was wildly entertaining.

The blue house students started it off, dancing to various excerpts of music dressed as sailors. They completed their performance with a student in a cardboard boat ‘eliminating the enemy,’ by throwing water balloon ‘cannonballs’ at three students dressed in a red, green, and yellow shirts.

Green house went next. A Peter-Pan themed performance, the girls were dressed as fairies as the boys danced with them chivalrously. Frequent prop changes occurred with each song that was played, culminating in one of the boys wearing a dread-locked Rastafarian hat as the sweet reggae tune of “Skankin’ Sweet,” boomed yet again from the speakers. I might be a little biased, as all the students that performed for green house are part of my third grade class, but theirs was already my favorite.

Next was red house, dressed in beautiful, flowing African garb and decorative hats. A boy brought out a drum and beat it while the girls danced and twirled in a circle around him. Two other boys ran back and forth in front of them, catapulting themselves into somersaults and front-flips before the crowd. A blue, green, and yellow-painted fence was brought out, to which the girls knocked down and destroyed. At the conclusion of their dance, the crowd erupted in applause.

It was at this time I happened to look behind me. The sun was down, and a jaw-dropping shade of pink, purple, and dark blue was cast across the sky while a remnant trace of yellow lingered on the horizon. The stadium lights around the park had kicked on, illuminating the field around us. But quite honestly, the sky was doing enough of that already.

The music of yellow house’s performance kicked off with the all-too-familiar, “Are you ready kids?” “Eye, eye, captain!” call-and-response of the Spongebob Squarepants introduction. Snapping myself out the trance that was the sky, I ran back over to see the yellow house performance. Dressed in bright, yellow sailor uniforms, the students danced in circles, swaying back and forth to the music. They carried a yellow-painted cardboard coffin, moving systematically with and around it while twirling foam pirate swords. It concluded with three of the girls losing in a sword fight with the boy sailor. The three ‘casualties’ were then placed in the coffin as red, blue, and green shirts were thrown on each of one of them.

All the performances were wildly entertaining and incredibly creative. I got great amusement, particularly, out of the creative ways each house “destroyed,” their competition. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have seen it from the stands, particularly with the lavish-colored sky in the background. But now I can see why it was such a big deal to keep their rehearsals concealed and in-secret. By the end of the cheerleading performances, my cheeks were sore from smiling.

Now it was time for the relays and medleys to complete the second half of the Sports Day. The races unfolded much like they did earlier in the day, as I ran back and forth from the scoreboard and the track to cheer on my yellows.

I called out to one of my students in yellow, “Get us going strong now! You got this!”

He looked up, a wide grin spreading across his face as he nodded in acknowledgement. I ran over to where the second leg of the race was to begin.

I call out to the boy in yellow and he looks up.

“[He] is going to get us going,” I said, pointing to the first yellow runner. “Then it’s your turn to get us through!”

He jumped up excitedly and clapped his hands, ready for the challenge.


The gun went off and the students in the first leg took off to a roar of the crowd.

“Let’s go Gleeaaaaaannn!!” I called.

The students came around the bend and handed off the batons, passing right in front of me. Blue and red were out front, followed by green, and then tailed by my guy in yellow. I bit my lip and smacked my hands together as I began walking back to the tent, eyes still on the race. This one just didn’t seem like it was to be our race. I looked down momentarily, as the third leg came around the far side of the track to the final hand-off of the 4×100 relay. My yellows had closed the gap and we’re still looking at a third place finish at-best, still trailing blue and red. As my third yellow handed the baton to the fourth, it was like the boy was touched by the speed-inducing golden mushroom from Mario Kart. The boy in yellow quickly jumped to the pace of blue before sprinting past him to catch up with red. The crowd simultaneously jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering the students on. It was shaping up to be a close finish.

“Go! Go! Go Glean! Go!” I called out, sprinting past the tent toward the finish line.

Coming down the home stretch, the boys in red and yellow were running stride-for-stride. Students chased them along the edge of the track, urging their housemates on. Teachers were jumping up and down, waving their arms frantically, trying to be heard over the crowd and their opposing colleagues. I ran right up alongside the teachers, calling out with a rough and now-strained voice. The boys’ had grimaces on their sweaty faces, pushing as hard as they could to beat the other to the finish. As they leaned across the finish line, it was clear which one had won. In the last few steps, he had created enough separation to out-step the other at the finish. The underdog yellow house won the race!

I leaped in the air, throwing my fist forward and yelling victoriously. Arms raised in celebration, I also made sure to throw a wide grin at the other teachers in red.

“Now that was a relay,” one of them says.

This is what sports is all about. Oh, how I’ve missed playing sports. I primarily played baseball my entire life,  including two years in college. When I stopped playing, I channeled my competitive drive toward running: completing a half-marathon and a full-marathon in subsequent years. I stayed around the game of baseball by coaching a youth travel team in the summer. It’s hard to lose that competitive drive when its been ingrained into who you are.

But someone once said, “Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.”

Well, my wish came true. The second-to-last race on Sports Day is known as, “The Teachers Race.” Myself and the other teachers were divided into four teams for a 4×100 meter relay race. I was to take the last leg for my team, so I ran through an old calisthenics routine from my baseball days to warm-up.  My heartbeat quickened, as the familiar feeling of adrenaline began pumping through my body.

At this point I’d like to digress by letting you in on a little secret about the King family: we’re all built like runners, but we’re notorious for seemingly running in slow-motion. During my time playing baseball, I largely played in the corner outfield spots. Laying out for a diving catch was always my favorite part. It’s a feeling like none other when you dive to the grass, the baseball falling seamlessly into the leather pocket of the glove. It’s a good thing I enjoyed diving for catches anyway, because fact of the matter is I wasn’t fast enough to catch those fly balls on the run. But when it came to running, I was always preferential to the endurance races anyway; the races where I can strategically set a proper pace before sprinting to the finish. But this was to be a plain, good old-fashioned sprint to the finish. So I took my place in Lane 5, the adjacent lane to my principal. The word on the street is he was quite the runner, so I knew I was going to have to put in some work to keep up with him.

The gun was fired and the teachers in the first leg took off. I could see a little bit of the race unfolding in the distance, but it was hard to see through the tents and spectators on the field. The batons were handed off to the second leg. The second leg on my relay team was taken by the District Education Officer for the parish of St. John’s. Due to some unexpected last-minute changes, he had joined the race lineup despite being dressed in full shirt and tie. But that didn’t stop him, as he ran a great leg and just about gave my team the lead coming into the third leg.

He handed the baton off to his daughter, whom came around the bend a step behind the leading team. Reaching back, I grabbed the baton from her and took off.  I knew there was no way I could beat the physical education teacher of the school, whose team was in first place at the final leg. So I had just one goal: give my principal a run for his money. At this point I was in second place, receiving my baton a moment ahead of him.

I came around the last of the bend to the straight-away, pumping my arms and lengthening my stride. I was running as hard and as fast as my legs could take me. My principal quickly caught up to me and forged ahead. A dark mountainside momentarily concealed the stands and stadium lights from our view, but as we hit the lights of the straight-away it was unveiled to the crowd that it might be a tight finish for second place. I pushed to keep up my pace, giving all I had to make this a close race for second. I think the crowd realized this, too, almost gasping collectively in anticipation as I tailed the pace of my principal closely; that is, until he took over the final stretch with a closing speed that I just didn’t have. I kept pushing my pace, but I was already going as fast as I could. I strode through the finish line in third place, a smile on my face.

I was happy with the race; I finished it strong. For a moment I gave the crowd hope that I could beat my principal, but for them it was just a tease before realizing my little ‘King family secret.’ I walked over to my principal and shook his hand as we laughed about the race.

“I almost had you there!” I grinned, panting and out of breath.

Next thing I knew, a flurry of students came running up to my side. They grabbed my hands and jumped on my arms, wanting their own opportunity to race Mr. King (as this was the first time they’ve seen me do anything remotely active). I just laughed, still needing to catch my breath first. That was the hardest I ran in a long time. I was going to be sore the next morning.

But it was worth it; it was all worth it. Yes, it is more challenging to accomplish what I’m here to do during Sports Term. But there is a value in having a term primarily devoted to sports. It stresses to the students the importance of maintaining good, physical health. There’s a reason every one here seems so fit, even the elderly are active. It’s also the reason, I believe, the Caribbean nations are so competitive during the Summer Olympics.

By the end of the night, blue house had won both the boys and girls division championship, sweeping St. Peter’s RC Sports Day. Red house, however, won the march pass and cheerleading competition. My yellow house finished third in the girls division, last in the boys division, and third in the march pass.

But like any unreasonably faithful underdog would say, “Maybe next year.”

In the meantime, the focus now shifts to the Branch Sports Championship. In two weeks’ time, St. Peter’s RC will go against our rival school, St. John’s Anglican. Other schools like Concord Government, Grand Roy Primary, and Florida Government will be competing as well to determine which school has the best sports in the parish of St. John’s. St. Peter’s RC won the Branch Sports last year, so this year we will have a target on our backs. If my school’s Sports Day was this exciting, I can’t wait to see what the Branch Sports will be like.

Last year the St. Peter’s RC rallying anthem was, “Take it to dem,” which they did. This year, our motto for Branch Sports will be, “On to de next one.”

So until that day comes, there’s work to be done.

“On to de next one.”


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From the Stars and Stripes to the Isle of Spice; Independence Day in Grenada

I stepped in front of the school yard, facing the compound of St. Peter’s RC School. A sea of children dressed in bright red, green, and yellow colors were congregated in a somewhat orderly fashion. A colorful banner hung over the school entrance with Independence Day scripted across it. Alternating-colored pennants zig-zagged back and forth over the lot. Two large trucks hauling massive speakers boomed with patriotic Grenadian folk music. The vibrations from the booming speakers shook not only the ground below my feet, but my ear drums as well.

The first truck kicked to a start and left the compound as the children of the pre-school followed behind it, shuffled along by the teachers like sheep in a flock. Following them was the kindergartners, first graders, second graders, and so on. Once the whole student body of St. Peter’s RC had begun the parade, the students of the remaining schools in Gouyave followed suit. All in all, there were about four or five different schools gathered that morning for the traditional community parade to celebrate Grenada’s National Day of Colours.

Each year on February 6, the day before Independence Day, Grenada celebrates National Colours Day with parades, songs, dancing, and other cultural performances. Much like the 4th of July in the States, everyone wears at least one, if not all, of the national colors that day. The color red represents courage and vitality, yellow for wisdom and warmth, and green for vegetation and agriculture.  Also a tribute to the Rastafarian influence in the heritage of the country, the red, yellow, and green colors serve for a brilliant display of national pride. There’s a certain vibrancy to the colors that conveys a passion for life that I believe properly suits the culture and people of Grenada. It is much different from the red, white, and blue of the USA that I was used to wearing when celebrating every 4th of July. But that was okay with me; these are their colors, their country, their pride.

I walked alongside the parade, keeping an eye on the whereabouts of my third graders and doing my part to ensure we returned with as many students as we had when we left. That didn’t stop me, however, from taking in the tremendous scene around me. I stopped frequently for pictures, blown away by the almost overwhelming mass of red, yellow, and green that snaked endlessly along the road in front of me and behind me. Humble homes of other various colors stood above and below us on either side of the hilly road. Trees reached to the sky above them, some of them tall enough to cast a merciful shade from the overbearing sun. The sun was burning hot that day, as it was the first cloudless, clear day we’ve had in weeks. (Attributed to the influence of global warming, this year the rainy season has long-passed its traditional January 1st deadline and has now stretched into February).

A small hand grasps my palm and I look down to find one of the second-grade girls by my side. An array of colorful beads decorated her hair and as she held a small, Grenadian flag and nervously sucked her thumb. With a personality true to the nature of the word ‘sweetheart,’ she has been the highlight of my day more times than not. Whether I’m walking down the corridor, through the school grounds, or to and from school, she oftentimes will grab my hand to walk with me. I could just be standing on the school grounds and she’ll run up just for the sake of holding my hand. Its incredible how much of a difference little, innocent gestures like that can make. What I did to deserve her faithful accompaniment, I don’t know, but she has certainly been a highlight of my service. So we continued walking together, hand-in-hand, stopping and starting with the parade as we came around bends and turns along the community streets.

After a short while we came around another forested bend and came upon the main stretch of road leading back into the heart of Gouyave. Leaving the shaded roads of the forest, we entered the fully-exposed streets in the glaring sun as the previously merciful trees were replaced by homes and buildings of various sizes. But the parade marched on, the sweet, rhythmic melody of Zedel Jefrey’s Happy Birthday (Grenada’s very-catchy Independence Song) blasted on repeat from the truck speakers. As we reached back into the town, members of the community were lined along both sides of the street. It felt like any other parade back in the States, as the parade-watchers on the sidewalks called out to the friends and family in the parade. They held their phones out, recording their loved ones as they waved back.

“Sir! Ah thirsty,” one of your third grade girls says as she tugs on your shirt sleeve.

“You want your water bottle?” I ask as she nods.

Flipping my backpack to the front, I reach in and pull out the water bottle she gave me before we left. I couldn’t help but feel like that father you would see at the zoo, playing the role of pack mule for the family, carrying all the water bottles and snacks for the children.

As we reached closer back to school, I looked back to see the parade had somewhat diminished behind us, as the other schools diverted from the parade as we passed their school grounds. As we crossed a bridge over a streaming river, the students, faculty, and staff of St. Peter’s RC were all that was left of the parade. By the time I reached my classroom, I plopped into my desk chair tired and sweaty, my ears ringing from the blaring music of the parade trucks.

After the classes held their respective lunch parties, the students gathered together for an assembly. Each class performed some sort of cultural song, dance, or presentation in front of the whole school. I kept one eye on the clock, however, as I had to leave school early. A US diplomat was in Grenada for the Independence Day festivities, and it was arranged for the Volunteers to meet her for a dinner. I lingered at the school as long as possible, wanting to see my third graders perform. After they performed their rendition of the song Coconut Woman, I snuck out around the back and hustled home. Quickly ironing a blue dress shirt and a fresh pair of khakis, I switched from my national colors attire into something a little more professional. Throwing a tie in my backpack, I locked the door and ran out to catch a bus.

Two bus rides later, I reached the Peace Corps office in St. George’s just in time. Myself and the other Volunteers able to make the dinner piled into two vehicles driven by on-island Peace Corps staff, off to the home of the Chargé d’Affaires, Mr. Stephen Frahm,  (the highest-ranking US diplomat on Grenada). Driving through a part of Grenada that was unchartered territory for me, elegant homes with grand gate entrances lined the roads. On the right-hand side we passed by the US Embassy, one of the smallest embassies in the world. Finally, we arrived to a large house with a security guard standing out front. The gate lifted and he waved us through. Stepping out of the vehicles, we were greeted on the veranda by Mr. Frahm and Ms. Laura Griesmer, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Barbados, among other local staff.

We took our seats in the high-backed chairs and the firm, red couches in the sitting area. Through the glass doors was a pool, shimmering in the setting sun, on a patio overlooking a seaside bay. The high-vaulted ceiling, tile floors, intricate paintings, and glass tables left the impression that this place belonged to someone of great significance. Glass bowls of roasted peanuts were even scattered throughout the home, almost as if they were simply for show.

As we were seated around the sitting room, myself and the other Volunteers introduced ourselves and explained a little bit about what we do at each of our sites. After my turn, I realized I neglected to mention where from the States I was originally from, but I shrugged it off as not a big deal and the meeting carried on. We discussed foreign matters as it relates to Grenada and the US, and were given the opportunity to ask the two diplomats questions pertaining to their job and field of foreign affairs in general. After all was said and done, we all shook hands and agreed to meet again.

I asked Mr. Frahm for his business card or contact information, as opportunities to meet prominent individuals such as himself and Ms. Griesmer really don’t come all that often. After receiving his card, I asked Ms. Griesmer for hers, of which she did not have. So she wrote down her information on the back of the business card Mr. Frahm gave me. While she did this, she asked me about my background, how I came to join the Peace Corps, and what I plan on doing after my service. When I told her I just graduated with a degree in Professional Writing from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, she nodded in acknowledgement.

“Wait,” I paused, “You know about Capital?”

“Sure I do,” she laughed. “I’m from Ohio; Cleveland, actually.”

“No way!” I smiled. “Me too! Where from in Cleveland?”

“Cleveland Heights, by Forrest Hills Park.”

“That’s crazy! I’m from Richmond Heights!”

The world just got small, but it was about to get smaller. Not only did she grow up about five minutes from where I did (I played baseball and worked at the very same Forrest Hills Park growing up), but also attended Beaumont High School. I knew many students who attended Beaumont, an all-girls Catholic high school on the East side of Cleveland. But her brother attended St. Ignatius High School, an all-boys Catholic high school in Cleveland and my alma mater. What a small, small world we live in. I mean really, what are the odds? To think, I had neglected to mention where I was from and if I hadn’t asked Ms. Griesmer for her business card, this conversation never would have happened.

The next morning was Independence Day, which meant no school. It was an opportunity to sleep in, and I took advantage by not getting out of bed until 9:00 a.m. After a quick breakfast, I threw on my newly-purchased Grenada flag t-shirt and walked up the road to my host family’s house. Out of breath hiking up the steep drive to their house, I waved to my host mother, Donna, who was waiting on the veranda balcony for me. We had arranged a few days prior for her to show me how to make oil down, Grenada’s national dish.

It was my first time in that home, my first in Grenada, in a couple months. After a pleasant greeting and hug, I placed my bag on a chair and joined Donna in the kitchen. She already had pig tail boiling in a pot of water, the first step to making a proper oil down. While catching up on the happenings in our lives since the last we’ve seen each other, she walked me through the steps to make oil down. An avid cook, her experience was on display as she effortlessly cut the coconut out of its shell. She let me try, handing me the knife and the open-faced coconut. Careful not to cut myself and moving painstakingly slow, she laughed as I chipped away at it, popping pieces of the coconut from the shell. She explained to me that her daughter has gone back to school in Oklahoma, a place she appreciates for its quietness. She throws the contents of the coconut into a blender, but not until after showing me the proper way to grate it, as they would in the old days. She peeled the breadfruit and cut out its core. I asked her if it’s possible to find all the necessary ingredients to make oil down in the States. She said it’s possible, but you can only find breadfruit in New York as far she knew. Pulling out the callaloo, she rinsed it and threw it into the pot along with the blended coconut, breadfruit, saffron powder, chicken wings, back, and neck. She explains her homemade seasoning that she makes from scratch, which she used with the chicken for this oil down. A small, black bird flutters into the kitchen and lands on the table. She waves it away as I laugh. Due to the broad width of the open windows, birds frequently fly into the house, much to her chagrin. Reaching into the cupboard, she pulls out flour and salt, kneading it and rolling it together into the long shape of dumplings.

“We’ll use a lot of dumplings,” she says. “Everyone loves dumplings.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Adding the dumplings to the pot, she threw in another layer of callaloo, onions, sweet peppers, carrots, and green figs (bananas). She turned up the heat under the pot.

“Why don’t you turn on the television and rest a little bit,” she tells me. “It’ll be some time now until it’s ready.”

Walking into their sitting area, I flipped on the television to find a movie just beginning to start. I didn’t recognize it, but it caught my attention as one of the lead roles was Jeff Bridges (cue my love for his role as ‘The Dude” in The Big Lebowski). I sat down and was immediately dialed into the movie, a story about a handful of young, teenage boys joining a school on a small sailing ship through the Caribbean.

My host father, Dakka, and host brother, Dexter, entered the room. Hot and sweaty from a morning working the land on their property up in Maran, they cleaned up before joining me on the couch to watch the movie. Dakka, an avid movie enthusiast (particularly the American Westerns), explained to me the true backstory of the movie White Squall. Much of the movie, in fact, was shot in St. George’s as the Albatross and its crew of schoolboys spend a significant amount of time in Grenada throughout the story. He beamed with pride as he pointed out the different buildings and features of Grenada he was able to identify in the background. Even the Piton Mountains of St. Lucia, one of which I hiked during my time there, was featured in passing.

I caught up with my host brother, the member of the family that played the most pivotal role in my early days of integrating into Gouyave. A welder, his work has slowed down as boating season is now in full gear (as opposed to the heavy workload he carries from October-December to prepare and repair boats for the upcoming season). He’s happy to have more time at home to spend time with his daughter, Denae, who is just about two years old now. Walking around freely in her Pampers and a tiny tank-top, she manages to utter, “Cot,” an attempt at saying my name. As it turns out, she hasn’t forgotten me after all this time. I suppose all the times my host father repeated my name to her in an attempt to get her to say it had finally paid off. As per usual, she would grab random items in the room and hand them to me. Whether it was the television remote, a juice box, or one of her toys, she was always generous to me in this regard. I was sorry that I didn’t bring my flip-flops, as she would always steal those and try to walk in them with her tiny feet.

After a short while, the oil down was ready. My host mother fixed me a dish, along with one for Dexter and one for herself. We sat on the balcony, with a view that overlooks Gouyave, while we ate. A filling and sustainable meal for any point in the day, the oil down was as good as ever. I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle making it on my own, but at least now I’ll have something to work from with the notes I took. Despite the meal in front of us, however, we all kept a watchful eye on the television. The movie was just getting good, and we took turns guessing what would happen next.

When the meal was finished, I cleaned the dish and returned to my spot on the couch. I was just hooked on this movie. I suppose it was because I could see myself in the boys on the ship. They were young, inexperienced, and learning not only about sailing, but about life as a whole while they journeyed throughout the Caribbean. I’ll spare the ending for those who have seen it already. If you haven’t, I certainly recommend it. It was the first movie I had seen start-to-finish in quite some time, and it didn’t disappoint. I was left thinking about it the rest of the day, a mark of a quality film if you ask me.

When the movie ended, I thanked Donna, Dakka, and Dexter for such a pleasant morning and made my way down the road to school. It was time to head to the National Stadium for the ceremonial military parade. I arrived at the school where a handful of students and teachers were waiting for the buses to take us down. While waiting, I checked with my principal if I could use the washroom in his office, as the staff room was locked. He nodded and I took the opportunity to use the commode. As I was washing my hands, however, I heard the thud of two heavy locks turning. My eyes got big in my reflection in the mirror. Yep, I was locked inside my principal’s office. Seriously, you just can’t make this stuff up.

I wasn’t concerned, however, as 1) I had packed a sandwich and orange in my bag so was inadvertently prepared for an overnight and 2) I doubt they would leave without noticing they were missing the only white guy. I opened the shutter window and stuck my arm out, waving and calling out to the bus driver who had just arrived. He had a puzzled look on his face, one which I wish you could see. Put yourself in his shoes for a moment, for he just arrived to simply take students and teachers to the National Stadium, and here’s an arm of a white guy waving to him outside an otherwise closed office window.

He got my message though, laughing when I told him I was locked in. My principal then came to unlock the door and let me out, as we laughed heartily about the whole ordeal that resulted from a minor miscommunication.

We climbed into the buses and made our way to the National Stadium. The ceremony started as the various branches of military and police came marching out in their sharp, pristine uniforms. A unit that was evidently their own military band marched along with them. The ceremony that ensued was very formally and professionally done. The Prime Minister and Governor General of Grenada were welcomed with a thundering applause as the crowd of red, yellow, and green waved their mini-flags vigorously. After the ceremonial marches around the stadium field by each unit, the Prime Minister of Grenada, The Right Honorable Dr. Kieth Mitchell, gave a short speech acknowledging the importance of recognizing and celebrating Grenada’s Independence. Rain had come and gone, as the mountains in the backdrop beyond the stadium disappeared and reappeared with the passing clouds. When the parade was finished and the politicians were escorted out, a crew began preparing the stage for a concert that was going to take place soon thereafter. I considered staying, but after a lengthy ceremony, I admit I was ready to head back home.

It was a good decision, ultimately, as the rain came back in torrential downpours as we waited outside the stadium for the buses to pick us up. The other students and teachers huddled under their umbrellas. I just raised my backpack over my head, doing the little I could to stay dry and accepting my rain-soaked fate. When the buses arrived, I piled in with the rest of the students and teachers and was on my home. My weight shifting with every bend and turn, I rested my head on the seat back behind me and closed my eyes.

Instead of seeing the black darkness of the back of my eyelids, all I could envision was the flowing rush of red, yellow, and green from the past two days. It was a busy two days, after all. They were filled with celebrations, parades, cultural performances, meeting diplomats, cooking oil down, and ceremonial marches.

Not quite your 4th of July cookout or firework display, but I enjoyed it all the same. Independence is a tremendous thing to celebrate, no matter where you are or how you do it. I was happy to be a part of it.

Happy Independence Day, Grenada.


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Which Would You Choose?

You stand on the side of the road, hands on the shoulder-straps of your backpack as you wait for a car to pass. In front of you there is an open field, a silhouette of trees running along the back. A faded shade of blue spans across the dawning sky, while a burning yellow from the rising sun gently touches the underside of the clouds above them. The early morning breeze is cool and soothing.

A car appears on the road and you point to your left, indicating the direction you want to go. The car flashes its lights as it passes by, acknowledging your request for a ride but politely declining with the signal. A few minutes later a bus appears and your spirits lift, because surely they’ll have room to take you. But the bus, too, flashes its lights as it is already packed full.

This goes on for about forty-five minutes or so, as cars continue to pass you by. You’ve hitch-hiked before; it’s relatively easy here. But this is the longest you’ve ever waited and if you don’t catch a ride in the next fifteen minutes, you’re going to miss your next ride to the hike.

Just as you’re about to give up hope, a white sedan comes up slowly along the road. He pulls to the side right in front of you. He removes the items from the passenger seat as you climb in.

“Thanks so much,” you tell him. “I appreciate it.”

You ride along silently, as the man shuffles through his reggae music until he finds his song of choice. You pass through communities, winding up and down hills and crossing bridges until reaching a road along the shoreline. The sun is burning bright now, hovering just over the top of the horizon and casting its light like a lighthouse through the beachfront shops, homes, and trees to your right.

A small, billboard sign greets you to the town Grenville, the second largest town on Grenada. Usually a bustling hub during the day, the town was evidently still waking up in the early morning as shops began opening and preparing for the Saturday market rush.

“How far you going?” the driver asks.

“You can just drop me up there,” pointing to a spot on the side of the road in front of a shop.

After graciously thanking him again, you step out of the vehicle and gently close the door. He drives off as you strap on your backpack and make your way to the meeting point. When you reach the photo studio, you dial the number you were given of the person arranged to meet you.

“Yes, I just parked and will be right there,” she answers.

A short while later Nevlyn appears, introducing herself with an upbeat personality and giddiness about her. You’ve seen her before as a member of Institute Hikers, the hiking group you’ve joined, but this is the first time you’ve spoken to her. Together you walk to the bus terminal where you await a third person before getting on the bus. You check your watch as it lists 7:15 a.m. The hike was scheduled for 7:00 a.m., but you’re not concerned about being late because she is in contact with the head of the group and they won’t start the hike until you get there. They won’t start on time anyway. You know, because ‘island time’ and all.

After the next girl arrives, you all hop on a bus. Nevlyn laughs with the bus driver, clearly indicating that they know each other well. You rest your head on your backpack, trying to catch a quick snooze while on the way to the hike. You snap awake as the bus halts to a stop and climb out when the door opens. You reach into your pocket to collect the coins to pay the fare but as you do so, the bus takes off down the road. You must have had a befuddled look on your face, as Nevlyn laughs as she tells you we didn’t have to pay because she personally knew the driver. Just goes to show no matter where you are: it’s not what you know, but who you know.

The hiking group was gathered on the side of the road, tucked in behind a red van. The lush, green trees stood tall on either side of the road. The air was cool and the ground was wet with dew. It’s been raining heavily and frequently lately, so everyone is gearing up for a muddy hike. Some were tying the laces on their boots, others spraying on bug repellent, while some others took photos together. As you scan the faces of the twenty people or so gathered, you notice there were smiles all around. It was the first hike of 2018, a ‘Hills and Valleys Challenge’ starting from Black Forest in St. George and finishing in Windsor Forest in St. David. After a two-month hiatus from the hikes due to the holidays, everyone seemed genuinely happy to be back together again.

“Scott!” Peter, a man with glasses and a bucket hat sitting on the bumper of the van, calls out as he puts on a pair of long socks and rubber boots. “Where are your Peace Corps friends?”

“Just me today,” you smile back.

Peter, the head of the Institute Hikers group, then gathers everyone in a large circle and we number ourselves off. After Peter gives a brief, welcoming message and explanation of the hiking trail ahead of us, it was time to begin.

The circle quickly mashes into a column as we line up to make our way into the bush. It stops suddenly, as you realize your feet has sunken into mud an inch-thick. A nervous yet excited laughter spreads down the line as the reality that the weeks of rain we’ve been having in Grenada literally ‘sinks in.’ But you wager on with a smile on your face, knowing full-well that sometimes the best hikes are often meant to be muddy.

The morning was spent hiking up and down hills, enveloped by brilliant shades of green. A stream, deep enough to have flowing waters but shallow enough to step in without soaking your socks, runs alongside and often intersects with the trail. Whenever the trail cuts into the stream, you dance delicately across the rocks until fearlessly leaping to the other side. Trees of various sizes fan out all around you: some with thin trunks, others with trunks broader than your shoulders, some trees stand erect, while others are fallen as if pushed over by a bullying breeze. Broad leaves reach skyward in hopes of catching the few rays of sunshine able to breach the heavy cover of the canopy. A muddy trail appears and vanishes sporadically, often covered by the thick layer of fallen leaves and foliage.

When climbing up the hills, you place your steps into the footfalls of the hikers ahead of you. That doesn’t account for a time or two when your foot gives way in the mud as you desperately grab a tree or vine to catch yourself from falling.

Going down the hills calls for strategic planning: calculating the firmest ground and being conscious of the streaks of mud where hikers’ feet gave way before. You delicately step sideways down each decline, as you know that’s the most efficient and steady way down a hill. You’re particularly mindful of ‘stable’ trees, branches, and vines around you, just in case you start sliding and need a safety measure.

A part of the group ventures far ahead, out of sight in the thick foliage of the forest. They call back occasionally, looking to ensure you are still within earshot. You elected to stay back with the slower group, particularly at the end of the line. You recently have taken an interest in photography, and want to stop often to take pictures. You notice some of the ladies in the group struggling getting traction with their tennis shoes in the thick mud. So you often work alongside Drake, one of the lead guys in the group, in helping them along. Their pace is perfect for what you’re looking for. Not only can you stop to take photos, but take your time to appreciate the serenity that is the forest. A soft, cool breeze rustles the leaves of the trees. The trickling sound of the stream provides the melody to coincide with the harmony that is the songs of the birds in the trees. Rays of sunshine poke through the trees to give the surrounding forest a sparkle. Bamboo shoots seem to burst from the ground, congregated at the base but reaching out so broadly almost as in the shape of a fire. You’re reminded why hiking has always been a favorite hobby of yours.

You think back to the time you went backpacking through the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania with your brother. The terrain was very similar, the path going up and down hills and often narrowing to the point where a wrong step would lead you cascading down the side of a hill so steep, it’s as if you’d slide into oblivion. You look around to the spots you could theoretically set up camp for the night, wishing you could do so here like you did back in Allegheny. Life can be so simple when backpacking through the woods.

It’s at this point you return to the old adage you have that says there are two types of people in this world: the “cabin-in-the-woods type,” and the “cottage-on-the-beach type.” You always identified as a cottage-on-the-beach type of person. But now you’re thinking twice. You’ve seen the beauty of the Caribbean beaches, but there is a simplicity to the forest that is unmatched by anything in the world. There’s an appeal to the raw, untouched nature that brings you back to the roots of humankind. There’s a sense of preserved history and a connection with the life of your ancestors that have gone before you. You decide you might just be a cabin-in-the-woods type of person after all.

As you come to this realization, the sound of rushing water echoes through the trees. You hustle through the mud to the edge and grabbing a tree to lean from, find that the stream spills into a waterfall. A natural wonder no matter how big or small, waterfalls never cease to amaze you. Ever since you were little, you always found great joy and amusement from eyeing a drop of water and watch it get thrown from the top and cascade through the air, time seeming to slow down until it’s lost into the turmoil at the bottom.

A short while later, the trail gives way to a road. The road weaves through a humble little community until reaching a preschool that marked the ending point of the hike, as that was the location of everyone’s cars. All the hikers began changing into alternate clothes and shoes while laughing, smiling, and sharing stories from the hike. It was another Saturday morning well-spent.

You check the time: 11:36 a.m.

“Wow, I still have all day,” you say to yourself.

You pull your phone out of your bag and call fellow PCV John Lyness.

After a short conversation, it was agreed upon to meet at BBC Beach to spend the afternoon. You hop in the car of a friend you made along the hike, Lucille, who is originally from England but of Grenadian descent and has lived in St. David for the past twenty years.

She drives you back to town, dropping you near Grand Anse Beach. Meeting up with John, you two walk over the hill to BBC Beach. You lay your towels in the sand underneath a tree in front of the Kalinago Resort. White clouds with a touch of gray underneath flatten out across the sky, while pockets of blue sky attempt to break free from the concealment of the clouds. The sun was hot but the air was cool while you rest underneath the protected shade of the tree.

A short time later you make your way out into the transparent water. A chill numbs your feet and crawls farther up your back with each step you take. You take off your hat and fall backwards into the water, submerging yourself in the cold water; it soothingly cools your body, tired and aching from that morning’s hike. The waves push through you, causing your toes to momentarily lose their grip from the sandy bottom until falling back into place. You spread yourself out, feeling the waves as your arms rise and fall with each passing one.

A blonde woman in a leopard-print bikini had been running back and forth along the shoreline. Eventually, she steps into the water and swims out to you and John.

“You here on holiday?” she asks in a tough, almost-Russian accent.

The three of you strike up conversation. Originally from Croatia, she traveled the world as a model before ending up in Grenada with her husband. After a divorce, her ex-husband returned to Croatia while she opted to stay, running a business of her own for the past seven years. You discuss different features of Grenada, along with the culture of the locals from the shared “outside perspective,” that you all have. You talk about accents, in which she pleads her case that the thick, tough, accent of Croatians often leads to impress an arrogant, pompous personality on foreigners not used to hearing it. It opens your eyes (and ears to that point), that her accent certainly led you to attach that personality to her. But to her point, it’s simply just the way she talks.

A short while later, you guys drift over to some vacationing Canadians from Winnipeg that were scattered about in the water. Doug, with short white hair and stubble of a beard, speaks in a manner that almost reminds you of Oaken, the “Woo hoo, big summer blowout,” guy in the Disney movie Frozen. Their accent and way of conversation remind you how the term “Canadian-nice” must have come about. They have been coming to the Kalinago Resort annually for almost twelve years now to escape the cold in Winnipeg at this time of year. You guys trade stories of the way life is in cold, northern winters.

Eventually you step out of the water, ringing your suit dry as the sun begins its initial descent from the top of the sky in its desire to be reunited with the horizon. You fall back onto your towel in the sand, under the same tree, but this time directly in the sun. You tilt your cap over your eyes, blocking the direct sunlight but leaving a tunnel of vision to the shimmering water in front of you.

A metallic, tropical sound all of sudden resonates somewhere in the distance behind you. Sitting up and lifting your cap, you notice a steel pan group has begun playing at the resort. With a smirk creeping across your face, you lie back down and drop the hat back over your eyes. You let the familiar tropical sounds of the steel pan serenade you as feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.

The steel pan group plays song after song, hit after hit. They were playing songs you never heard of, and songs you didn’t know could sound so good on steel pan. Eventually, persuaded by the music, you and John gather your things and make your way to the resort. A few people sat on the stools of the pool-side bar, but no one was seated in the patio area where the steel pan was playing. You order a beer and take a seat in front of the steel pan trio. All of a sudden, it was as if they were playing just for you. They play their separate rhythms, but their parts all intertwined so seamlessly into a thing of beauty. They were smiling, moving, and literally feeling the music as they played in unison not only with each other, but also the drums as well.

Content with the late afternoon well-spent, you and John make a move to La Plywood, the restaurant with fantastic fish tacos at the end of the beach. A group of SGU students, clearly identifiable as Americans, were playing a game of spike ball on the beach. John, walking a little bit ahead of you, laughs with them about something before moving on toward La Plywood.

“Love it!” you call out to them as you pass by.

“Yeah, you want to play?” the one with a backwards mesh hat and green cutoff asks.

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah,” they all wave you in.

“Hey John, hold up!” you call out. “Cool if I play a quick game?”

“Oh yeah!” he laughs, coming back to watch the game.

While the sun begins creeping closer to the horizon, you pass, shuffle, spike, and dive around the small, trampoline net. You angle your hat to try and block the sun, which now has come to the point of blinding you every time you look to your right. But you were having too much fun to care. You hadn’t played spike ball in over a year, since college, so it brings up some fond memories while you play. Your team ends up winning. With some high-fives all around and an exchange of numbers, you agree to meet up with them sometime to play again.

You make your way through the warm sand until you reach La Plywood, climbing the multi-colored balcony steps fit only for a beach-side bar. You place an order of your go-to, fish tacos, while John goes for the fish sandwich that was recommended by the Croatian model from earlier. After getting a taste of both, you wish you got the fish sandwich. You thought the tacos were good? Wow. You realize you’ve developed a taste for fish in your time here.

A young couple from England takes a seat at the table next to you. You guys strike up conversation. They’ve been traveling on a sailboat all through the Caribbean, and frequently come to Grenada on their trips here. The four of you talk while the sun fades behind the horizon until finally disappearing. While the sun has finally gone down, a burnt orange now paints itself across the sky. Night begins to fall as the stars come out to glitter the sky. You and John agree that it’s time you begin working your way back to your respective homes on the northern side of the island.

On the bus ride back to Gouyave, you begin reflecting on the beauty of the beach that afternoon and evening. From the turquoise waters and blue skies, sailboats decorating the horizon, and rhythmic steel pan sound of the tropics, to the people from from various parts of the world, you acknowledge that a beach is an awe-inspiring place to be. There’s a peacefulness and a greater sense of meaning to life when at the beach. It reminds you not to take life too seriously and to enjoy what time you have. Living out the rest of your life on a beach wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

So you think back again to the old adage: cabin-in-the-woods person, or cottage-on-the-beach person?

For me, right now it’s a toss-up. I’ve always identified as a beach-person, but lately the woods is having a greater appeal. I suppose I’m fascinated so much with this question because someday I see myself having to make that decision, on where I would be happiest to live out the rest of my life. But for now, I am grateful to be able to experience both in one day, from sun-up to sun-down.

There’s a beauty and appeal to both. Ultimately, though, I think it’s a win-win.

But I’ll leave it you, as now you’ve experienced a bit of both: if you had to decide where you would live the rest of your life, either a cabin-in-the-woods or a cottage-on-the-beach…which would you choose?


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A Flip of the Switch; My Return to Life on Grenada

Returning to Grenada was a particularly conflicting experience. It was conflicting because although every fiber in my being wanted more time at home, I still remembered the fact that I did not even want to leave Grenada in the first place just a week before.

“Wasn’t it just two weeks ago, leaving for St. Vincent that you said you didn’t want to leave Grenada?” I tried consoling myself, but to no avail.

I didn’t have any time to process my time at home in the grand scheme of things. Consequently, I was forced to overwhelmingly try and process it all during my flight from Cleveland to Miami. The three prior weeks were an incredible stretch of time in which I did so much and saw so many people in such a short span of time. Having burnt out from this non-stop, three-countries-in-three-weeks itinerary, I was straight exhausted. I was drained emotionally, and had just become numb to my surroundings. I was constantly trapped in thought, and had flat-lined from an energy standpoint.

Fitting to my less-than-exuberant state when arriving in Miami, I found out I missed my connecting flight to Trinidad. Consequently, I was stranded in Miami, a place I didn’t know a soul.

So I called my mother.

“Hold on, let me call your Aunt Colleen,” she told me. “I think she actually might be in Miami.”

I hung up the phone, looking at it puzzlingly. I have family in Northern Florida, but not in Miami.

“No way,” I shook my head. “What would they be doing in Miami?”

A moment later my phone lit up with a call from one of my cousins.

“Wait, so you guys are in Miami?” I asked.

“Yeah! We’re on our way to get you right now,” she answered.

Grabbing my suitcase and stepping out into a bright, sunny Miami day, I waited outside as cars circled past like a never-ending carousel. While waiting, I dialed the airline number and was put on hold, forever trying to get through so I could re-schedule my flight (the airliner’s desk had already closed).

Eventually a car rolled up, with two familiar, smiling faces inside.

“Boy, am I glad to see you guys,” I laughed, hugging my cousins as they helped me load my luggage into the rental car.

Riding in the backseat along a Miami highway, I was re-familiarized with the sight of palm trees and a blue summer sky. I wasn’t able to appreciate the passing views much, however, as I still had a phone pressed to my ear waiting for the incessant ‘elevator music’ to end. As we reached the hotel, just to my luck, the call dropped. So, putting it off for the time being, I was reunited with the Willis family: my aunt, uncle, and cousins on my mother’s side. They helped me get situated into their hotel room and waited at the lobby bar while I paced aimlessly back and forth, once again on the phone with the airline. Then about forty-five minutes to an hour later, my flight the next morning was booked. Crisis averted. I was still going to make it to Grenada.

I was down, but with my flight resolved I could now enjoy my time with the extended family. Being with them was exactly the pick-me-up I needed. I hadn’t seen any of them since my cousin Billy’s wedding back in April. I tagged along as they had a family gathering to attend. In a quiet, retirement community, we spent time together around a dinner table while the young children ran around in games of hide and seek. My uncle showed me his father’s office space. Old, faded photos hung on the walls and shelves. In many of the photos, vintage race cars were on a track, a helmet peeking out of the seat behind the wheel. The helmeted man was his father, a former racer and avid car-enthusiast, whose home I was graciously welcomed into despite being teased for my Notre Dame shirt.

I needed a night like this for many reasons. Mostly, it served as a buffer. For me, it was one final home-cooked meal. It was one more night in the States. It was one more hot-water, strong-pressure shower. It was one more night’s rest in complete silence. It was one more night of being with family, catching up on each other’s lives and re-telling of old family tales.

Although appreciative of one extra night in the States, it was still time for me to return. The next morning it was yet another round of goodbyes, this time in a hotel parking lot, as they then took me back to the airport.

I made it through check-in and TSA seamlessly, boarded my flight and was off to Trinidad.

In all the airports I’ve flown in to, I am always somewhat lost in terms of where I should go, particularly after disembarking from the airplane. When I arrived in Trinidad, it was no different. I stepped off the plane and proceeded to follow the people in front of me, presuming I was headed in the right direction. After making a couple turns and going down a set of stairs, I found myself in the immigration line.

“Okay, something’s not right,” I thought to myself.

I walked around to the front of the line and asked for assistance, given I was supposed to catch a connecting flight to Grenada. The lady asked me to wait for a moment, disappearing behind the desk. Re-emerging she asked me to come with her, along with the two other Americans also going to Grenada that had followed me to the desk.

“Your flight has been canceled,” she tells us. “You will be put on the next flight that leaves at 5:30 tomorrow morning.”

“Okay,” I shrugged passively.

I didn’t mind. I saw this simply as an opportunity, as it brought back a memory of the last time a flight of mine was canceled. On my way back from Cape Town last year, I had a connecting flight to Cleveland from JFK Airport in New York City. At the time I had never been to New York City, so when they requested for someone to offer up their seat I quickly jumped at the opportunity. As it turned out, the flight was canceled anyway due to weather. But regardless, the airline put me up in the Holiday Inn at Times Square. So late that night and early the next morning, I took advantage of staying in the heart of the City, running around and finding sights such as Times Square and the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center (not to mention getting lost a time or two). It was an awe-inspiring experience seeing the towering skyscrapers, endless traffic, and bright lights. Although I only got to spend a few hours in the Big Apple, I hope to return someday to experience it more fully.

Anyway, after waiting for quite some time, a taxi finally arrived at the airport to take us to the nearby hotel. We stepped out in the hot, humid, Caribbean air as standing puddles from a recent rainfall were spotted the street. We piled in the van and after arriving, checked in to the hotel.

I was giddy. After another day of dwelling on what I left behind in the States, the overnight stay in Trinidad reminded me why I love international travel so much. I got the same excitement I have whenever I arrive in a new country. It was that bubbly, new, not-sure-what’s-going-to-happen-next type of feeling. It’s a feeling I’ve become addicted to, a feeling otherwise known as the travel bug.

The hotel and the accommodation I was provided was nothing short of fantastic. The tile floors of the halls were polished and clean. A glass chandelier hung elegantly in the lobby. Adventures of a Lifetime, a song from Coldplay’s ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ album played over the lobby speakers. (This was particularly ironic, as it was that very same Coldplay album that I listened on repeat during my twelve-hour flights to and from South Africa). The hotel room itself was pristine, yet subtle, as a hotel room should be in order for one to relax and truly be at ease. The bed was large and the pillows were firm, but comfortable nonetheless. A single lounge chair sat in the corner and a flat screen TV was mounted on the wall.

With my new-found energy, I went over to the bar next to the lobby. The only individual there was the bartender, a light-skinned woman with her hair pulled back into a pony-tail as wiped down the countertop. I took a seat at one of the stools and ordered a beer. But the beer really wasn’t what I was looking for.

While a tennis match played idly on the television in the background, we struck up conversation. She was a local Trinidadian. With a pleasant smile, she began to explain to me how Trinidad differs from the other islands. A large producer of oil, the economy is a lot stronger and the population is a lot bigger than many of the other, smaller Eastern Caribbean islands. But with the higher population, she noted, inevitably comes higher crime rates. She described a country that benefited from the stable rule as a British colony before gaining its own Independence. She delved into the make-up of ‘Trini’s’, as one half of the population comes from African descent, while the other comes from Indian descent; meanwhile, with the addition of the original Carib people, a melting pot of cultures and people have come to fruition here.

She spent some time bartending on Turks and Caicos, an island-nation made up of countless, smaller islands on both the Turks-side and the Caicos-side. Her favorite part, she said, was a part of Caicos with a highway on a stretch of land so narrow, the Caribbean Sea straddled you on either side.

She hasn’t visited much of the Eastern Caribbean islands, with the exception of St. Lucia. However, she mentioned there was one thing that remained the same no matter where you went in the Caribbean: the generosity of the people. The best island, in her opinion, was the Bahamas. With an economy almost solely reliant on tourism, she described the people as willing to go above and beyond to accommodate their visitors. They are the type of people that would open your door and lay their jacket down so you wouldn’t have to step in the mud. Of course, that’s not to mention the pristine, white-sand beaches and turquoise waters unmatched by the rest of the Caribbean. To her, the Bahamas is the penultimate Caribbean experience.

Rejuvenated from the conversation, I thanked her and bid her good night, returning to my room. Leaping into the finely-made bed, I shut the lights and flipped on the television, where I found Ohio State playing in their bowl game. Now it was time for me to relax, and enjoy one more night to myself, doing what I would be if I were at home: watching football.

But ultimately, the overnight in Trinidad was just another blessing for me to count. It meant another opportunity to learn about and experience (to a small extent), a new country. It meant one more night’s rest in complete silence. It meant one more night of having access to a television. It meant one more night with a hot water, strong-pressure shower. This goes without mentioning my favorite part, that it also meant one more stamp on my passport.

By sunrise the next morning, I had arrived in Grenada after a twenty minute flight. Jumping into the first available taxi, I cruised up the coast to Gouyave. I passed the same beaches, the same resorts, the same towns, the same mountains, and the Caribbean Sea was as beautiful as ever. Flashbacks from my first ride up to Gouyave, in the shotgun seat with my host dad on a late July afternoon, ran through my mind. The views were just as stunning, but this time I wasn’t so thrilled. Having come down from the ‘high’ that Trinidad was for me, I was back to ‘old, familiar Grenada.’ Truthfully, it took a couple days for me to re-gather my bearings. After all, my break from school was a non-stop emotional roller coaster that included traveling for three weeks straight. All of a sudden, I was brought back to reality.

Thankfully, school has started up and since then I’ve had time to process all that has happened and reflect on the experience. I have come to terms with my return and I can assure you, I am happy to be back.

Which brings me to this: While I was at home I was frequently asked the question, “What is it like to be back home?”

My answer: “It was like a flip of the switch.”

It was such a seamless transition back into my life at home that it almost seemed as if the past six months never happened.

From the beginning they always said, “The culture shock when returning home is tougher than the culture shock upon arriving in your host country.”

So when coming home for this past Christmas I had mentally prepared for the impending culture shock. I had a taste of it when I toured St. George’s University’s campus a couple months prior: when the sight of water fountains, clean public restrooms, spacious roads, and air-conditioning units was almost overwhelming. That experience largely led to my uneasiness about what it would be like for me to return home.

But as my previous post showed, it was like I had never left in the first place.

While I was home, everything was go-go-go. I had places to go, people to see. I had a full agenda to see as many of my family and friends as I possibly could in the short week I was allotted at home. Although I did not see everyone, I am satisfied with how many of my family and friends I was able to see.

But that would not have been possible if not for you guys. You guys stepped up; and I mean stepped UP.

It was an incredibly touching and heart-warming experience for me to witness those that went entirely out of their way to see me. For those that tried and weren’t able to, the conversation and effort you gave was truly appreciated.

It humbled me and reminded me about what I gave up in coming here. Let me tell you, I gave up a lot.

From meeting out to get breakfast, to buying a drink, to covering the uber, to stopping by my home, and everything in between I am truly grateful for everyone that made my time at home so enjoyable.

So when it came time for me to leave, it’s not surprising that I wasn’t ready. I had returned to the place I’m from, with the people I love. I was home.

But home is not where I need to be right now. I need to be here.

I need to be here because I have a purpose. During the first week of school, I re-evaluated my pull-out students. There were a total of fourteen students from the third grade that I worked with over the course of the last term. Using the same assessment I used to gauge their reading levels when I first arrived, I went to measure their progress. From the results, I discovered that seven out of my fourteen students’ reading improved by one grade level. By this, I mean a student could have improved from a Pre-K reading level to Kindergarten, Kindergarten to grade one, or grade one to grade two, etc. Out of the seven students that showed one grade level of progress, three of them improved from a grade two to grade three. Given that those three are now reading at their actual grade level, I will no longer be pulling them out for additional work. Aside from the seven that improved, four maintained their initial reading level and three actually declined.

I’m very encouraged by the results of my second assessment. I only met with the students once per week. I’m also not a true teacher by any means. But having witnessed a student read something they couldn’t before is incredibly rewarding, to say the least.

I can’t take full credit, however. Some of the students could have had a difficult time or been lackadaisical the day of the first assessment, and been at full focus on the second assessment, or vice versa. But, these results are what I’ve measured. I’m proud of my students and the work they put in, but I’m not satisfied.

I now have additional time available after releasing the three students from the pull-out program. Having two third-graders reading at a Pre-K level, I aim to meet with them twice a week to provide them that much more one-on-one attention. I will also be adding a second grader and a seventh grader to my schedule. Assessing the seventh grader, I discovered he was able to identify only fourteen letters and make just six letter sounds. He’s fifteen years old and now I am now his last chance at being able to read. Just another humble reminder of why Peace Corps is needed here.

Having spent the past term in a Caribbean classroom, I can see how a student like my seventh-grader can slip through the cracks. It might seem unbelievable or implausible at home, but believe me, differentiated classrooms are a very real thing and a difficult problem to address.

During our parent-teacher conferences, it was clear which students had a family foundation at home. It was not surprising which ones didn’t. Consequently, I have witnessed how a solid family foundation can positively influence a student’s academic abilities.

Being here has led me to realize that I am a product of the efforts of my parents and the family foundation they provided for me. Without them, or any of my teachers throughout my years of education, I don’t know where I would be. I certainly wouldn’t be here.

That foundation was exactly why leaving the States was so difficult for me. I wasn’t ready to come back. I was thriving in the blessings I was born with and was provided all my life. I admit, I didn’t feel much regret for having grown up with more than what my students have grown up with here. I’ve just come to recognize the blessings I have and truly appreciate them. What I can do, however, is do everything in my power to take the same blessings and opportunities I received, and relay them to my students here. So, in this sense, it was a humbling reminder and a re-kindling of motivation for me to return home.

In the meantime, I have once again flipped the switch. I flipped back into my alternative life that is uniquely my own, and distinctly Caribbean. The same students still passes by my window, calling my name in requests to go to the park and throw the frisbee or the “American football.” The same group of guys still play basketball every Sunday night. I returned to the Fish Fridays and shoot pool at Mansah’s. I have returned to my community walks to see the sun set. I even shook the hand of Grenada’s only Olympic gold medalist Kirani James, who hails from Gouyave, at the local church.

Last weekend, I met up with the other Volunteers at Grand Anse Beach. Every time we have gone, some local men with their speedboats and inflatable couches and tubes persistently offer to take us for a ride, wanting our business. I always turn them down. But last Saturday, after initially declining the offer out of reflex, I joined some other Volunteers for a water-tubing joyride. White-knuckling the handles to my sides, I hung on for dear life as the boat accelerated at tremendous speeds. We sped back and forth along the coast, the beach and resorts passing in a blur. Mist from the wakes of the boat sprayed on my face as I laughed uncontrollably, doing everything in my power not to get tossed from my seat. What a thrill.

So yes, I did have a difficult time re-adjusting to Grenada. But now that I’ve had time to process all that has happened in the past two months, I am happy to be back. I’m back into the swing of things.

My time at home reminded me of what I’m missing. But it also left me comforted with the thought of knowing what I’ll be blessed to return to when my service is up.

In the meantime, the switch is flipped. When I originally left the States, I was only here for six months. Those six months, although they felt long, really went by like a snap of the fingers. But I still have a year and a half left. I certainly aim to make the most of it.

Here’s to looking ahead at the adventures and the progress to come.



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The Sweet Escape Part III: Home

I woke up on the morning of December 20th and it felt like any other morning. As I put my feet on the floor, kids were laughing, cars were passing, and conversations were being had just outside my bedroom window. I’ve grown accustomed to the noise right outside to the point I hardly even notice it anymore. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, which was, in fact, exactly what was unusual.

It was December 20th. I have a calendar that hangs on the inside of my bedroom door. December 20th was the date with the word Home scrawled in the box. It was the ever-distant milestone that I had been chasing ever since my flight home was booked. It became a ritual for me to tick off each box at the end of the day to make myself feel like I was that much closer to December 20th, that much closer to home.

I opened the fridge and prepared a simple breakfast of eggs and back bacon ham. After taking a quick shower, I checked through my luggage one last time. I wasn’t bringing back much. I had a backpack full of spare clothes and a suitcase empty except for some Christmas gifts for my family. I dressed in the heaviest set of clothes I had, casual khaki pants, boots, a long-sleeve shirt, and jacket. Ironically enough, all the clothes I had here would be useless at home. I was leaving 80s and sunshine for 30s and snow.

I sat down on my bed, staring at my suitcase. The conversations and sounds of passing vehicles continued outside my window.

“By the end of today, I’ll be home,” I said softly, trying to convince myself it was real.

“Well, might as well get going,” I shrugged as I collected my things.

A moment of excitement came through me and on my way out I slapped the wall above my door, similar in fashion to the old Notre Dame football tradition. This was it. I was on my way home.

I closed up my apartment and stepped out into a bright sunny day, complete with a baby blue sky and puffy-white clouds. Setting my suitcase down, I waited on the sidewalk for a bus to pass. Traffic and pedestrians were bustling by. A few members of the community, upon seeing me with a suitcase on the side of the road, inquired about my intentions. I explained to them I was going home for the holiday and I’ll be back in one week.

“Mr. King!” two students of mine called out from across the street. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going back home. I’ll see you in a week!” I answered, reassuring them of my return.

Truth be told, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was them I was reassuring, or me.

A bus came by and I climbed in with my suitcase. I had to pay for two seats because of the suitcase, but I didn’t mind. It was still way cheaper to pay extra on the buses than to taxi all the way to the airport.

As the driver and conductor dropped me off they inquired where I was going and bid me safe travels. My last sight of Grenada was their smiling faces, waving as the van door closed while they drove off. It was quite a friendly send-off from two guys I didn’t know. I wasn’t surprised, though. That’s just how they are here.

As I waited in line to check in, I struck up conversation with an Asian American girl from L.A. that attends St. George’s University. She was halfway through her first year at the Med School, and had arrived on the island just about the same time I did. She was surprised to find out that Peace Corps was in Grenada, and confessed she never knew anyone who did Peace Corps until me. I tried to establish common ground by talking about different features of Grenada, but everything seemed to fall flat. She couldn’t believe I took the buses to get to the airport. It was baffling to her that I was only going home for one week. She had never been up to Gouyave or even heard of ‘Fish Friday,’ much less been to any other parish (Grenada’s equivalent of states and provinces) on the island.

It was a striking conversation, as we were two Americans living abroad on Grenada. Although we did have somewhat of a connection in that regard, our experiences couldn’t have been more different. Her Grenada was different than mine, plain and simple.

After clearing security and entering the waiting area for the second time in as many weeks, I went upstairs to grab a bite to eat. I sat down at the bar and ordered a chicken roti and a Ting. (For those that don’t know what Ting is, it is probably the most refreshing and glorious carbonated beverage I’ve ever had). As my meal was brought to me, I looked up to see Sportscenter playing on the television. I haven’t watched a single television program in months, having cancelled my cable awhile back. So with a passive disinterest in the Sportscenter broadcast, my attention was drawn to the mirror backdrop of the bar. I paused, finding my reflection looking back at me. I was left captivated and intrigued.

I was intrigued because I not only looked the same, but also felt the same. Since the start of this journey, I had almost envisioned a grand reveal of a ‘new me,’ re-born by this experience, whenever the time came for me to return home. But now that I was finally on my way home, I looked and felt no different. I re-started my life in a new country, and I felt as if I should feel different. All those months of walking into rooms not knowing a soul, of awkward conversations, of not being able to understand the locals, of being uncertain about what I am eating, and out of all of that difficulty I somehow managed to successfully create a life for myself. Having landed on my feet, so to speak, this experience has given me a confidence I never knew I needed. Every day is unpredictable here, and somehow I’ve come to establish a routine out of this unpredictability. But seeing my reflection, there was nothing to show for it on the outside. It made me curious to see what, if any, changes my family and friends would see in me.

Moving back downstairs to the waiting area of the terminal, it was flooded with SGU students and tourists. For the first time in six months, I once again was a part of the majority, and not the minority. Truthfully, I became nervous; I felt out of place. It was such a puzzling feeling. Why would I be uncomfortable now? Particularly considering the fact that I am no longer a minority? And if I feel uncomfortable here, how will I feel when I finally reach the States?

I began to look around for someone to distract myself with conversation. A stewardess was waiting to board another flight. We happened to strike up conversation. She was a local woman. I explained to her who I was and how I ended up living in Gouyave. She was from St. George’s. Much like in the States, those that grow up in cities and those that grow up in the country have vastly different life experiences. St. George’s is the city life; everything else, including Gouyave, is considered country. So we laughed about the differences of living in St. George’s and Gouyave. Nevertheless, we had ample things to talk about. I was comfortable again. It was ironic: I had more of a personal connection with a local Grenadian, than with an American SGU student living in Grenada. This realization didn’t help my growing uneasiness.

My boarding number was called and after saying a quick goodbye, I left the terminal to board my flight to Miami. It was time.

The flight to Miami was relatively uneventful. They played a movie about phones and apps, I forget what it was called. It was baffling, yet unsurprising, that they would make a movie solely based on iPhones and their apps. I didn’t pay it much attention, as I plugged my earbuds into the armrest radio and started thumbing through the airline’s limited selection of music.

As I arrived in Miami, however, I realized I was going to be cutting it close on my connecting flight. I claimed my luggage, re-checked it, and passed through customs seamlessly. But upon arriving at the TSA line, I gave up all hope. The line snaked endlessly in and around bends and I only had twenty minutes until I was supposed to board. To reinforce this point, my boarding number was the last one. I resigned to my fate and accepted the fact that I likely won’t actually make it home in one try.

A British man, suddenly, came bulldozing through shouting, “I’m sorry! Coming through! I have a connecting to catch! I’m going to miss it!”’

I thought about following his lead. It worked for him, as he made his way right to the front. I was in the same position as him, if not a more desperate one. I considered it, but I couldn’t make myself push ahead of everybody. So I waited.

The line surprisingly shuffled steadily along and when I cleared TSA, I looked at my watch to see that I had five minutes left to board. Grabbing my backpack, boots, belt, and tablet out of the bins, I hustled to the television prompter with the gate listings.

I found the departures for Cleveland. The gate listed was D60. I spun around to see what gate I was next to…D25.

“D60?! You gotta be kidding me!” I blurted as I took off running.

“Good luck!” the man that was standing next to me called.

I didn’t acknowledge it at the time, given I had a flight to catch, but I appreciated that call of support.

So there I was, dashing through the airport, weaving in and out of people calmly walking to their gates and destinations. Everyone in the airport must’ve known exactly what my situation was. Mind you, I hadn’t even put on my boots yet. Running in my socks, holding up my pants, my boots, belt, and tablet in my hands and the backpack unstrapped, bouncing on my back, I must have looked all out of sorts.

It was at this point I realized, despite playing basketball and going on hikes, I was not in as good of shape as I thought. I was out of breath by D35. I thought about slowing down to catch my breath and consequently sealing my fate; but as fast as that thought came through, it passed. I had to catch this flight.

So I kept running.

D40, D45, D50. Ten gates to go. D55, D56, D57, D58, D59….staircase.

My heart dropped.

Of course it had to be that much farther.

I stumbled down the staircase and upon reaching ground level, my momentum carried me forward. A line was in front of me and I ran right into the group of people congregated in the back.

“Is this to Cleveland?” I blurted, stumbling into the circle, panting.

All eyes in the waiting area seemed to turn to the guy that just ran into the line, completely out of breath and looking entirely disheveled.

“Yeah, you made it,” One of them says, clapping me on the back.

I sighed in great relief as they broke out in laughter. I laughed along with them. I could laugh because I made it. I was going home.

I boarded the flight almost immediately, stumbling into my boots in an attempt to pull myself back together.

As the plane took off I was in awe at the expanse of lights, endlessly stretching across the distance. The lights seemed to pulsate hypnotically, which lead me to realize that it was the Christmas lights strung up throughout the neighborhoods that gave that pulsating impression. Captivated by the colorful and pulsating lights, I drifted off to sleep…

The plane skidded onto the runway and I snapped awake. Ice stuck to the outside of the window as the cold air seemed to try and creep its way inside. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I threw on my jacket and rubbed my shoulders while I waited to disembark.

I stepped off the plane and into the airport, ironically enough at the gate adjacent to the one I left from six long months ago. As I made my way to the baggage claim, flashbacks of the morning I left ran through my mind. I thought about how much has changed in those six months.

Going down the stairs and coming around the bend, I found the track to my flight’s baggage claim. As I walked toward it, a familiar face walking with that ‘King strut’ looked up to the screen to check the flight number associated with the baggage claim. The face was familiar because, well, I saw that face every day growing up. I smiled slyly, but tried to contain the excitement bubbling within me. I thought about calling out, but didn’t. The moment I waited and envisioned in my head for the past six months was finally here. He turned as I approached.

“Boy, am I glad to see you,” I grinned, embracing my twin brother, Tom, in a long-awaited hug.

“Welcome home, dude,” he answered.

Gathering my suitcase, we stepped outside into the brisk, Cleveland-winter air. Out from the driver-side door stepped my sister, Mj. I wrapped her up in a big hug as the trunk popped open.

The parade of hugs had begun.

The drive home was short, it was after 1:00 a.m. and I-71 was clear of traffic. We passed through the familiar landscape of Cleveland: the Terminal Tower lit in festive green and red lights, the Lebron banner hung from the building across from the Q Arena, Dead Man’s Curve, and an empty Muni Lot.

Finally reaching home, I dropped everything and climbed up the stairs to my parents’ bedroom. Having done this all through high school and college, I was cautious and tapped lightly on the door before entering. For those who know my mother well, she has quite a sudden wake-up when awoken unexpectedly.

“Mom,” I whispered, poking my head in. “Dad. I’m home.”

Let me tell you, I have never seen my mother jump out of bed faster.

The parade of hugs continued as I went downstairs and woke up my grandmother, who opened her arms for a warm hug only a grandmother could give.

The first part of my weekend was spent trying to see as many people in the one, short week I would have at home.

The first night some old high school friends came over and we took to my parents’ basement, the old stomping grounds for many late nights over the years. I took a seat next to the pool table, but wasn’t sitting often. I had to keep getting up as familiar face after familiar face came down the stairs and the parade continued. These guys were some of my oldest and closest friends, having gone through high school together and spending much time throughout our college years as well. These were the guys I made some of the best, worst, and most questionable decisions of my life with. These guys saw me at my best, and they were with me during my worst.

The last time I saw their faces was six months ago, on a sunny and cool late May morning. They were all that were left of my going-away party the night before. Conversation was minimal, as we all sat around my family room, hungover, waiting, wishing to prolong the inevitable just a minute longer. (Okay, maybe that was just me). The inevitable came and the guys stood up for me as I prepared to make my final round of goodbyes. I didn’t make it through my first hug before I broke down uncontrollably. I hugged each one of them goodbye, tears streaming down my cheeks.

But this time the hugs were different. They were just as strong, just as caring. But these were joyful hugs, hugs of reunion. I was home; and life was good.

We went out bar-hopping in Ohio City, just a short walk from the high school we attended together. We started out at Porco’s, a hole-in-the-wall tiki bar inside a plain brick building. It made sense to start there, as that’s where we first went when we became of age. That’s where we would meet after work during our internships downtown in the summer. That’s where we would start the night before going out to downtown, an Indians game, or Cavaliers watch-party. At Porco’s, more familiar faces rolled through, as the parade of hugs marched on. In just one night, I had seen just about each one of my friends from high school. I even reunited with a close friend I coached a youth baseball team with for a summer.

The night that ensued was just like any other I had with them: another night of drinks, another night of stories, another night of laughs, but most importantly, another night of memories. Nothing seemed different. It was like I had never left. All seemed right in the world.

The next morning, Tom and I drove down to Columbus, Ohio. It was wedding time. A roommate and close friend of mine from college was getting married that day, and it was time to celebrate. Tom dropped me off at the location of the wedding, held in a quiet, beautiful little community center in Mount Vernon, Ohio. The reunion with the two of my senior year roommates was quick and seamless, as we fell right into place to prepare for pictures and the ensuing ceremony.

I stood outside in the waiting area, pinning my corsage on with the other groomsmen when all of a sudden, “Scott!” was shouted and a tackling hug hit me from behind.
I laughed, turning around and embracing the other college friends able to attend the ceremony; but the reunion was prolonged for later, as just like that the ceremony started.

The wedding was small, but beautiful as you could feel the love emanating from the close family and friends in the room. It was a wonderful time in which the smile never left my face. What a beautiful thing, weddings are.

After the wedding, it was time to commute to Columbus for the reception at a bar downtown. The area upstairs was rented out and reserved for us. Upon arriving, I was wrapped up in a conversation downstairs and I hadn’t even made it up to the reception yet, when another, “Scott!” rang out.

Looking up at the top of the stairs was another close friend of mine from school. She ran down the stairs and I moved immediately to greet her in another celebratory, reunion-type hug. Then proceeding upstairs, I found Tom sitting with more college friends of mine, those that weren’t able to be at the wedding but were able to make the reception. Included in this group was one of my first college friends, who I hadn’t seen in over a year since he had moved to Florida. The parade marched on.

For the duration of the night, I was surrounded by the people I love, friends who became family. We were finally reunited, in celebration of the holy union of two of our own. The night was much like the one I had the night before, only this time with a set of people from a completely different facet of my life. It was crazy to think that just one year ago, we all lived within a two-minute walk from one another. Oh, how life has changed in just one year. But for this night, much like the last, you wouldn’t have known the difference. Nothing seemed different. It was like I had never left. All seemed right in the world.

On our way back home the next morning, Tom and I stopped to see our brother Jeff and his wife Joy, in their new home just outside of Columbus. The morning was pleasant, as he proudly showed off each part of his newly-acquired home. You could tell from their smiles that they were happy there. Their house certainly beats the small, one-room apartment they used to live in, one in which I would crash on the couch at various times throughout college. We kicked back together and watched Ocean’s Thirteen, a movie I hadn’t seen before. The family time was simple. Our presence together was all that mattered.

The next day was Christmas. The reunions and parade of hugs continued, from my brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and of course a long-awaited kiss to my new-born niece and goddaughter, Brenna. We gathered in our family room around the tree, mimosas and coffee-Baileys in hand, and opened and exchanged gifts. Christmas this past year operated much like many of the holidays before it. Everyone gathered in the kitchen, a million conversations going on at once, a grand family dinner, a holiday-themed game, and a late-night trip to see the ‘West Side Rodgers.’ Nothing seemed different. It was like I had never left. All seemed right in the world.

Two days later, it was time for Brenna’s baptism. My immediate family and other close family gathered at the same church in Twinsburg, Ohio, that my two nephews were baptized in just a few years before. The ceremony was small and quiet; peaceful, really. The priest went through a short sermon and proceeded through the ceremony. Tom and I shared the honors of godfather. Fitting, as having two godfathers is a blessing only a King girl could have. At this time let me say that there are many things of which I am proud of, but being a godfather has to be one of the biggest honors I’ve ever had the privilege of having.

After the christening, we returned to my brother’s house for a light brunch. I was surrounded by the people I love. I was surrounded by all those who have been with me and supported me since Day 1. It’s not often that we get all the Kings together in one room, so times like these carry a special weight. Once again, nothing seemed different. Once again, it was like I had never left. Once again, all seemed right in the world.

Then it was time to say goodbye. It was at this point, reality began to set in. Time suddenly began to feel like sand sifting through my fingers as I desperately tried to hold on to it. My return flight was set to leave the next day, and this would be the last time I would be seeing most of my family. I knelt down to say goodbye to my nephews, already having grown so much in my six months’ abroad. I started my rounds farewell-hugs, being re-acquainted with the sinking pit in my stomach. The tears welled up in my eyes and a knot tightened in my chest. I didn’t want to let go. I returned back to where my nephews were one last time,

“Give me another hug,” I said, as they leaned in and ‘squeezed the stuffing out of me.’

“I miss you guys,” I whispered, giving in to the tears.

They probably don’t understand at their young ages. I likely won’t see them for another year. After seeing how much they’ve grown over the past six months, I can only imagine how much they’ll grow in the next year.

Then coming around the corner I found my niece, sleeping silently in her motion rocker. I knelt down and kissed her little forehead, still streaked with oil from the christening. Then turning aside, I walked out the door and returned home one final time.

The next day I found myself back at the airport, set to depart for Miami. I checked my bag, cleared customs, and made it to my departure gate. With a deep sigh, I took a seat in the waiting area in front of the window. A small plane sat outside in the cold, early morning light. Looking into the window, I saw my faint reflection looking back at me.

It was the same reflection I saw one week ago in Grenada. My time at home was up. Once again I found myself sitting there, alone, with only my thoughts to keep me company. I thought I had only wanted one week at home. At the time I figured that would be enough. But the week ended just as quickly as it had started. I didn’t have any time to process it all, so I was left wishing ‘if only I had more…’


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The Sweet Escape Part II: Island-Hopping

After saying our goodbyes, Don and Kevin climbed into the taxi and drove off down the road. Turning back into my apartment, I had things to do. The very next morning I had a flight to catch to go to St. Vincent. So after a thorough cleaning of my apartment, I began to pack a bag to prepare for the long weekend ahead of me. There was an excitement building up within me at the prospect of getting to see another island in the Caribbean. When I first learned I would be serving in the EC, I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to do as much island-hopping as possible. So when an opportunity arose when there was talk among some fellow volunteers about a reunion in St. Vincent, I decided to join in. This point in my break marked my transition from being the host on one island, to a tourist on another.

Before the crack of dawn the following morning, fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Katie Riley and I were at the airport waiting to board our flight. After a short time, our boarding number was called and we stepped through the automatic sliding doors and out into the warm, early morning air. Up ahead was our plane, a small aircraft with propellers on the wings. To our left, behind the aircraft, a hint of orange began to seep across the lavender-colored horizon. All around the airfield was the Caribbean Sea, as still and serene as ever, mimicking the lavender of the sky. We climbed the mobile staircase and ducked our heads as we stepped into the plane.

Taking my seat next to the window and looking out, I was soon lost in thought. This was my first time leaving Grenada since I arrived in July. My excitement at seeing a new island soon melted into an uneasy feeling as the flight attendant went through the safety procedures. The plane eased forward and turned toward the runway. The engines kicked into a roar and the plane surged ahead. The uneasy feeling within me jumped to an immediate regret.

“What are you doing? Why would you leave?” I thought to myself, feeling as a child being reluctantly dragged away from a fun afternoon at a friend’s house.

The wheels came off the runway and the plane lifted smoothly into the sky. I closed my eyes and with a deep sigh, came to the realization that I had become emotionally attached to the Spice Isle. Regret was not something I was planning on feeling, especially given that I was on my way to see yet another Caribbean island. But I was comforted by the fact that I felt regret, because regret meant that I was happy. Regret meant that I have a good life in Grenada, where everything makes sense and there’s plenty to do and explore. The feeling of regret, in this particular instance, meant that Grenada has not only been my host country, but has become my home.

As I came to this realization, I opened my eyes and looked out the window. The lavender sky was nearly gone, overrun by a burning orange, early morning light with a fade of pink among the clouds. The landmass of Grenada seemed to crawl out like fingers poking into the sea. A ridge-line of mountains rose from the landmass and sprawled out across the island, like that of the LIFE board game’s playing surface. Colored rooftops speckled the mountainsides, as houses were tucked in sporadically along the ridges and out along the coast. I looked out intently, trying to spot different landmarks and the places I had been. In the distance, I came to recognize Bathway Beach on the northeastern coast. Beyond that was Sugar Loaf, Green, and Sandy Islands, the keys that sit just off the northern coast. Then with a snap of the fingers we drifted into the cotton-strand clouds, blocking my view of the island I have come to call home. It was time to look ahead to the island of St. Vincent.

After a quick layover in Barbados, we arrived in St. Vincent by the early afternoon. At the airport, Katie and I met fellow PCV Madeleine Humm, who had just arrived on her flight from St. Lucia. Equipped with nothing but our backpacks, we stepped out into the hot, Caribbean air. Walking up the road to the top of a hill, we flagged down a bus. Our plan was to take the bus to Stubbs Government School, where PCV Alexa Cline is placed and is just a short distance from the airport. The busses on St. Vincent operate much the same way as the other islands, packed full and speeding around bends and turns. But there were a few differences. In Vincy, the busses are notorious for packing the busses so full that it is not uncommon for not only the conductor, but also passengers to be standing for the ride. Whereas in Grenada you knock on the window to signal a stop, Vincy is much like St. Lucia in that you need to call out to the driver when you’re ready to drop. Additionally, many of the Vincy busses are spray-painted in vibrant, glittery colors of green, purple, blue, and the like. The drivers there take great pride in the appearance of their busses, oftentimes even donning their nicknames spray-painted across the hood.

The bus rumbled to a stop in front of a three-story building, complete with outdoor corridors connecting the classrooms. We walked onto the ground-level, second-story corridor and were greeted by Alexa and an influx of her young students, already excited by the class parties going on during their last day of school. Her school environment was much like mine: loud, chaotic, exciting. We gathered on the corridor as the principal brought us some snacks from the lunch room. I leaned against the railing as the girls sat on the bench while kids darted past us. Feeling a tug on my pant leg, I turned around and looked down the staircase behind me to find three boys trying to hide from my view. What quickly ensued was essentially a loose game of whack-a-mole; as the boys would pop up and reaching through the beams of the rail, tag my leg before crouching low to keep out of my reach in retaliation. This game entertained them, and me, for the next twenty minutes. It’s the simple things, really.

Later that afternoon we met up with PCVs Hannah Schroeder, Diamond Elam, Crystal Sherriff, and Ford Boozer for dinner at a quiet, waterfront restaurant. Within swimming distance across the way was Young Island, teasing to the eye as ideal for a quick island get-away. The dinner was spent conversing and catching up on all that has happened in our lives since we all parted ways after our new home countries were revealed to us that late July afternoon. The sun faded and night fell as we moved next door to a nearby bar. There the reunion continued until it was time to head north. A few of us caught a ride up the coast to Point, a community where a Christmas-lighting festival was taking place as part of the Nine Nights tradition. When we dropped in Point, we were engulfed in a mass of people. Lights of various colors strung up on houses and street posts, illuminating the community all around us. At a fork in the road a stage was set-up, as live music was being played by various bands and performers serving as the focal point of entertainment for the night. The holiday spirit filled the air as families and friends from far and near seemed to gather just for this night under the festive lights. Off the coast in the darkness, a silhouette of a large landmass speckled with a few lights loomed in the distance. I later learned that the silhouette was in fact St. Lucia, just a few miles off the coast.

The next morning we awoke to the steep mountains and hillsides surrounded us, jutting out into the ocean. We had no idea we were surrounded by such beautiful mountains, due to the cloak of darkness that concealed them when we arrived the night before in Owia, where PCV Olivia Chavez is located. Nonetheless, we walked down a steep road to the salt ponds. Sharp rocks protruded out from the collected pools of salt water, constantly filling from the waves that frequently crashed over the wall of rocks at the edge. Being in among the rocks of the salt ponds and surrounded by the green mountainsides, it truly felt as if I were in an entirely different world. We made our way across the rocks to the salt ponds, careful with each step on the sharp rocks and wary of the sea urchins known to dwell in the ponds. Eventually, we reached where the water was deep enough to jump in. The morning was spent floating in the salt ponds as local children soon came to join us. Barefoot, they effortlessly dashed across the rocks, flipping and jumping into the water. From someone who easily spent ten minutes covering the distance it took them to cover in thirty seconds, I was amazed. Then as we were treading in the water, an ominous sound of an incoming wave grew louder and louder. Looking off to my left, a large wave crashed through the crevices and over the top of the rocks. The local children dove wildly into the water as the wave overcame them and pushed all of us across the pond in its current.

After returning from the salt ponds, we spent the rest of the day going out to the Falls of Baleine. An isolated and hard to reach spot, it took quite some time for us to reach it. Lead by a local, we followed a river, dancing across rocks large and small as the towering green trees of the forest seemed to engulf us. A heavy sound of rushing water thundered in the distance, building up the anticipation within me of what was around the bend. I jumped from rock to rock, careful so as not to disturb the clear and transparent water of the river. Then coming around the bend, I look up to see a raging waterfall tucked into the mountains at the end of a tunnel of trees. The view was absolutely astounding. When we reached a point where we could no longer walk across the rocks, we stepped into the river, wading through icy-cold, waist-high water until we reached a path of higher ground that took us directly to the waterfall. Upon reaching the spring at the base of the waterfall, we jumped into its chilling, fresh waters. One of the locals that served as our guide climbed up the jagged rock-face. A few of us followed suit, taking turns leaping off the edge and into the spring below. This place was so isolated, so untouched, and so pure that it has easily become one of my favorite places in the world. I’m saddened to say that my GoPro malfunctioned while I was at the falls, so I lost all photos and footage of our trip there and from the salt ponds, as well. But that’s okay. Although disappointed, some things are best left as a memory.

The next day we embarked for Bequia, the largest and closest Grenadine island to St. Vincent. Our trip there was surprisingly eventful, as we made the trip through ‘The Bullet’ (the rough stretch of water between St. Vincent and Bequia) while a storm passed through. I must admit, I revisited my old affair with seasickness on this trip. As the mainland of St. Vincent faded into the clouds in the distance, the forested coast of Bequia emerged from the clouds ahead. When I saw a forested coast, my heart dropped a little. An uninhabited coast meant the dock was on the other side and we still had a-ways to go. The whole trip there made me question whether Bequia was even going to be worth the trouble. Looking back now, it certainly was. As we made our turn around the edge of the coast into the U-shaped bay of the island, the storm clouds immediately scattered, as if frightened by the omnipotent sun. Spilling into my view was your prototypical Caribbean scene. White sailboats, vessels, and yachts rocked gently in the turquoise blue waters. Simple homes of various colors spotted the luscious green coast and hillsides.

After we docked, I spent some time sitting on the pier and taking in the view in front of me. A few small, humble fishing boats were tethered to the posts of the pier. Two young boys were playing tag, jumping in and out of the boats and leaping into the water as they chased one another. I began speaking to a guy named Glen, a Vincentian fluent in Japanese, who does business in Japan and owns a small business in Manhattan. He was a lean man, donning shades and wearing a white, long-sleeve shirt and cornrow hair. A fast-talking and long-winded individual, I had an enjoyable time learning his story. In between his business travels, he often buys a one-way ticket to St. Lucia and travels to St. Vincent and Bequia by his personal boat. It was clear that he had spent significant time in the States, however, as just by his mannerisms and way of speaking was very American. This was not something I had expected to encounter while I was down here; but nevertheless, I have come to be able to tell who from the locals has spent time in America or England and who has remained in the Caribbean their entire lives. There’s a certain way they speak, dress, and carry themselves that gives it away.

For two picturesque Caribbean days basking in the hot sun and two nights looking up in awe at the vast, starry night sky; life seemed to have been put on hold. We spent the days bathing in the refreshing waters of the Sea and took in the nightlife of the bars and restaurants in the bustling little town on the main strip. Our Air BnB seemed suited for a honeymooning couple, complete with two floors with three bedrooms, a sitting room, fully-equipped kitchen, an outdoor patio ,and dinner table underneath a canopy. Mosquito nets were strung up over the beds, allowing us to sleep with the doors open to catch the warm sea breeze as it passed through. Due to the house being up the hillside, our patio-view was prime viewing for the sun to set down over the peninsula to our left. If you haven’t picked up on it yet: if you intend on vacationing in the Caribbean, Air BnB’s are the way to go.

Plainly said, my time in Bequia was way too short. It had all the characteristics and beauty of the Caribbean, but a humble, bustling character to it that served for a unique experience. Our final night on the island, we walked along the two small stretches of beach, up through a wooded path, and around a boardwalk over the water that bends around a mountain. All the while, the sunset was spilling a majestic array of pink and purple colors across the sky. Being able to spend that night and those few days in such a beautiful place, reuniting with friends undergoing this once in a lifetime experience with me, was truly remarkable. After all, how many people get the chance to experience such a beautiful place with friendships formed abroad?

It was exciting seeing St. Vincent, particularly as it compares to Grenada and St. Lucia. Each island seems to have its own personality that makes it so unique. There are some underlying characteristics that are found on each of the island, especially when it comes to the people. Even the little Grenadine islands like Bequai and Carriacou (the latter I hope to visit soon), have a character about them that makes them unique. But just like the natives of St. Lucia and Grenada, Vincentians have a generosity about them in hopes that you are enjoying visiting their home country as much as they enjoy living there.

Ironically enough, through all of this my favorite part about the trip to St. Vincent and Bequia wasn’t the turquoise water or sandy beaches. It wasn’t the Christmas-lighting in the community of Point. It wasn’t the salt ponds of Owia or Falls of Baleine. It wasn’t experiencing the nightlife of Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent. It wasn’t the ferry rides, sunsets, or nights spent stargazing. My favorite part happened after all that.

On our way back to Grenada, Katie and I had a couple-hour layover in Barbados. During the layover, the air conditioning inside the airport terminal was so chilling, we sat outside in the warmth of the Caribbean air while we waited for our flight. A short man wearing a blue polo shirt was standing off to the side, headphones in and looking at his phone. I sat down on the curb and leaned back on the tree behind me while we waited. The door to the right opened and a gust of cold air rushed out, as another man in a green button-down shirt and well-trimmed mustache walked out briskly, folding his arms and rubbing his shoulders proclaiming, “Ooohh! It’s cold in there!”

The few of us that were outside laughed heartily, for without ever collectively acknowledging it, the air conditioning was exactly why each one of us was outside. I stood up and introduced myself to the man in the green shirt, whose name was Clifton. He was a small-business owner living in Canada, just outside of Toronto and on his way to visit family in his native home country of St. Vincent. I explained to him that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching in Grenada, and had just came from St. Vincent and Bequia. When I told him I am originally from cold-weather Cleveland, Ohio, we laughed and talked about life in the cold as compared to life here. He was nearly in stitches laughing after hearing me confess to him that 78 degrees was now ‘cold’ for me.

The man in the blue polo pulled out his headphones and stepped into the conversation, introducing himself as Leon. Originally from Grenada, he had family on St. Kitts and Nevis and spent the latter part of his life living and raising a family in the Washington D.C. area. An avid Carnival-goer, he attends each Caribbean island’s Carnival every year. I told him about my experience at last year’s Spicemas Carnival on Grenada, to which we swapped stories and photos, as naturally he was there as well.  Having been to Carnivals across the Eastern Caribbean, I asked him where Grenada’s stands among the rest, to which he responded slyly, “Grenada has a good Carnival, but they have the best J’ouvert (joo-vay).” For those who don’t remember or don’t know, the J’ouvert is the Carnival event on Grenada in which everyone parades the streets covered in motor oil. Although I may be a bit biased, I must agree.

It was at this time another burst of cold air came bursting through the doors. An elderly man, probably about 70-something years old came shuffling out of the terminal, digging his hands deep in his jacket pockets. I rushed over to close the door behind him, as we had come to take turns opening and closing the door for people passing through. The purpose of this was actually two-fold: the first for the sake of good, old-fashioned chivalry, the second so that we can close the door shut and trap the cold air in that much faster.

“Coming out to escape the cold?” Clifton asked, as the elderly man stepped into our circle.

“Mhmm,” he nodded.

To be perfectly honest, I wish I could remember this man’s name. For what he said next, I may never forget. He began to tell his story, which was humbling, to say the least. A native Vincentian, he and his wife moved to Maryland to provide a better life and education for their daughters. He was successful in this endeavor, as both of his daughters went on to prestigious schools and have found successful positions in the professional world. I couldn’t help but notice a nervousness about him, however, and it was soon revealed why. He was returning to St. Vincent to lay his wife of fifty years to rest. Tears welled up in his eyes as he painfully explained her valiant fight against cancer, a battle in which he was by her side every step of the way. Clifton and Leon both reached out and placed a hand on of his shoulders in consolation. I just stood there, silent, speechless.

“Wow, she must have been a tremendous woman,” Clifton tells him.

The man then proceeds to tell the story of how he met his wife. Working at a beach-side restaurant, he looked up from a table to see a sailboat out on the water with two girls on it. The man motions as he explains how he had picked up a pair of binoculars to get a better look. You could see the man envisioning it all fondly, as if it happened just yesterday. As it turns out, the first girl was a cousin of a friend of his. But it was the second girl that had truly captivated his attention. As soon as his shift had ended, he jumped in the water and swam out fifty yards to the boat and the rest you could say, was history. He was nineteen at the time; she was seventeen. They were married for over fifty years until her recent passing. The love was evident in his expressions; the pain of his loss still fresh in his eyes. We expressed our condolences.

This was a highlight of my trip because of the people I met and how humbling hearing their stories was for me. It all started simply because I seemed to have lost my ‘Northern blood,’ and had to sit outside in the heat because the air conditioning was too cold. However, the fact that I couldn’t handle the air conditioning isn’t the only thing I had in common with these Caribbean-born men. Here we were, four men from different countries, different backgrounds, and different stages of life. Yet, each of our lives seemed to be intertwined. Each of us lived on an island in the Caribbean at some point in time. Each of us had lived in the United States or Canada at some point in time as well. We all had distinctly unique Caribbean experiences from tasting national dishes like Grenada’s oil down, to travelling on the local buses and visiting the beaches, to jumping in Carnival. We had all been to the various islands of St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Bequia. Each of us had experienced the luxury that life in the West can seem to be compared to the simple lifestyles of those in the Caribbean.

Before this Peace Corps experience I never would have had any common ground to share with these men, nor them to me.  Yet they accepted me like one of their own as we shared our life stories, opinions on politics, recommendations on places to visit, and spoke like old friends reunited after time spent apart. It would likely surprise an unsuspecting passerby to discover that an hour ago we had never even seen each other before. Then one by one, we returned into the air conditioned-terminal to board our respective flights. It’s probably safe to say I will never see any of them again. However, that two-hour layover in Barbados and the time I spent conversing with those three men was one the most incredible experiences I have ever had. Hearing each man’s life story was altogether inspiring and humbling. It truly goes to show that despite all the differences we seem to have, we really are all in this life together.

And just like that I was back on Grenada, but only for one short day as then the moment I waited six long months for finally arrived–it was time to go home. Not home as in Grenada, but home as in the States. Home as in Ohio. Home as in Cleveland.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. How could I? You know what they say…

There’s no place like home.



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The Sweet Escape Part I: A Rec House Reunion

December was the month I had long-awaited for. I had so much anticipation built up for this month for a couple of reasons: 1) the school term ended on December 7th 2) I had a three-week Christmas break with a three-country itinerary planned 3) The final week of that itinerary meant it was finally time to return home to the States for Christmas. Therefore, I decided to take a literal ‘break’ and go off the grid for those three weeks so that I could truly enjoy my time off. After all, it wasn’t easy leaving everything I have ever known to start a new life from scratch in a country I’ve never been before. I had gone through so much over the course of the past six months that I simply needed to escape and take some time to enjoy myself and forget about life for a while.

So here comes into play one of the best perks of volunteering abroad, aside from the life-changing experience that is international volunteering; and that is the opportunity to explore all that your host country has to offer. This is where all those cool and awesome photos come into play, where people will then question me whether I’m actually doing any work at all or just simply ‘on vacation.’ Trust me, the majority of my time here is, in fact, work. After all, I just spent the past fourteen weeks engrossed with obligations at school. But now that Christmas break was here, it was time to truly take advantage of life in the Caribbean.

That being said, these past three weeks have been nothing short of incredible. Since so much happened over my three-week, three-country vacation, I decided to break down my next blog posts into a series. I titled this series: The Sweet Escape Part 1: A Rec House Reunion, because this break reminded me the wonders of international travel and the amazing people you meet in the most unlikely of places. This first post will cover the week I had the pleasure of hosting and showing around the island two friends I had met while volunteering in Cape Town, South Africa one year ago.

It started as I walked home after my last day at school. Don Nguyen and Kevin Wang, the two friends I volunteered with in Cape Town, had just been dropped off at my apartment by a taxi I had arranged to pick them up at the airport. It had been nearly a year to the day since I last saw them. The previous time I had seen them was as we said goodbye at the infamous “Rec House” volunteer homestay in Muizenberg, just outside of Cape Town, (*insert shameless “Rec House, Best House” plug here). For those that don’t know about my homestay in Cape Town, Rec House was a literal melting pot of volunteers from all over the world. The house included volunteers from countries such as: USA, Netherlands, France, New Zealand, Germany, Morocco, England, and Canada among others. The memories I have with those at Rec House are ones I will cherish forever. Before leaving Rec House, I had told Don and Kevin of my plans to serve with the Peace Corps in the Eastern Caribbean and they had promised they would come visit me. I’ll be brutally honest when I say I didn’t believe them. That’s the thing about forming friendships with people in foreign places, the reality is that you don’t know when or even if you’ll ever see them again. Little did I know, however, that almost exactly one year to the day they would be my first visitors to Grenada. So as I walked out of the alley that leads to my apartment, I looked up the road to my left to see none other than Kevin and Don, awaiting me with big smiles, open arms, and un-canned excitement. Suddenly, their arrival quite literally became real. I was overcome with joy as they were literally the first familiar faces I had seen in six long months.

It was particularly exciting for me, as they were the first ones that got to see first-hand the life I have established for myself down here. This was the first time I got to be the experienced ‘local’ and show off my new home. It also meant that this was the first time I wouldn’t be experiencing everyday life down here alone.

To celebrate, the first night I took them to a beachside restaurant at Grand Anse for dinner and drinks. The Caribbean sky showed off its vibrant colors that evening, as we laughed and recalled stories from our time together in Africa as the sun set slowly on the horizon. We got caught up on what we’ve been doing since Africa under what became a vast, star-speckled night sky while the water lapped calmly on the shore. We had picked up right where we left off, as it seemed nothing had changed from when we were together just one year ago.

The next morning they woke up with my unusual Friday morning ‘alarm,’ a wake-up call not for the faint of heart. Some of you may know that my apartment in Gouyave is located next to a market. Well, within this market is a slaughterhouse. Consequently, every Friday morning at about 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., I am wakened by, ‘calls of distress,’ to put it lightly. Let’s just say that the goats are better than the pigs.

Nevertheless, that day we took to Grand Anse beach, unusually overcrowded with tourists from the cruise ship that docked in St. George’s that morning. There they got to meet two of the other Peace Corps Volunteers on the island, Sarah Bowman and Riley Doerlerr. The day that ensued was a sign of the week to come, as when you get some international volunteers together, there is already a connection established just by being Americans together in a foreign country. After a day of sunshine and bathing in the waters of Grand Anse, we returned to Gouyave. I had a school commitment that night, but Don and Kevin got to experience Gouyave’s Fish Friday festival that occurs just up the road from my apartment.

The next day, Saturday, was probably one of the best days of the trip. We woke up and grabbed an early breakfast before making our way down to Dragon Bay, the location of Grenada’s famous Underwater Sculpture Park. We dropped from a bus and made our way down the hill to a quiet seaside shoreline. A man sitting quietly under a gazebo waved us in. His name was Arendell, a local tour guide and experienced diver. For the next couple hours we dove in and around the statues that rested eerily on the ocean floor. There are a variety of statues in the park, including: a mermaid, a man breaking bread at the table, another man stretching his arms to the sky, and the well-known ring of people holding hands, among others. There is an ominous presence about each and every one of them, silently resting while covered in coral and sea urchins. It was especially fun getting to experience the Sculpture Park with them as the last time I was in ocean waters with these guys, we were shark-cage diving with great white sharks in the African waters of Gansbaii Bay.

Afterwards, we made our way to BBC Beach to meet up with another PCV, John Lyness, and grab what is in my opinion, (and later theirs), the best fish tacos in the world. We didn’t spend much time in the water that day, having been exhausted from the hours-long dive at the Sculpture Park. (Which believe me, totally worth it, but incredibly tiring). Anyhow, the rain from that morning came to pass and the sun broke through the clouds as we all took naps on the beach before bathing in the water and heading back to Gouyave that night.

When we got back I took them to Mansah’s, the local bar I frequent to shoot pool. This was honestly one of the highlights of my week with them. I sat on a stool next to the pool table, awaiting my turn in the game I was playing against one of the locals. Then, looking off to my left was Don, embracing appreciatively one of the locals like old friends having been reunited after a long time apart. It was kind of unexpected and a bit ironic, as after all they never would have met before now. But nevertheless, it was a special moment for me. I’ve told many people that the locals here are so incredibly warm and welcoming, but sometimes you just have to experience it yourself to truly understand. It was comforting, too, after hearing about the conversation Don had with that local man, to know that I am not the only one that has had this type of experience here.

The next morning we were woken up by one of my other unusual alarm clocks, this one a little more pleasant. One of my students, in a high-pitched voice repeatedly called, “Mr. King!” through my apartment window. Sure enough, just as they did with the local kids in South Africa, Don and Kevin quickly befriended the student to the point that by the end of that day and subsequent days there were not only calls of “Mr. King!” through my window, but “Don!” and “Kevin!” as well. They were truly getting my full Peace Corps experience.

Since buses don’t run on Sundays, we walked to Palmiste Beach. Palmiste is a quiet, isolated beach primarily used for fishing that is about a half hour’s walk from Gouyave. It’s the type of beach that has that “untouched” feel to it, where a few pieces of litter are tucked in among the trees and overgrowth behind the sandy shore. We took it easy that day, resting up because we had another big night ahead of us. That night, while Don took some of the local kids skateboarding, Kevin joined me at the community basketball court to square off against the locals that gather there to play every Sunday night. There were enough guys for a three-team, pick-up game rotation. We started playing while the sun began to fade and played for hours on end into the night. Hot, sweaty, and exhausted, we made our way back to my apartment to find Don inside, with roasted chicken coming fresh out of the oven. Let me tell you, that night we feasted like kings. It was a pleasant surprise, which in reality wasn’t actually all that surprising. It wasn’t surprising because just the morning before, Kevin had gone to the supermarket and prepared breakfast for all of us. Kevin said it best that morning when he said, “It’s just like back in Rec House, everyone takes turns cooking for everybody.” He couldn’t have been more right. Once again it was like we were back in Rec House, where the kitchen was the gathering place of food and conversation before hanging out for late night discussions on the veranda out front.

We hit the midway point of their week in Grenada, as the next day we left for La Sagesse Beach in the parish of St. David’s. There we spent the day bathing in the tides of the Atlantic with Peace Corps Volunteers Katie Riley, Katelyn Earnest, and John Lyness. Later that night we stopped in Grenville, the second-largest town on Grenada, for drinks and met additional Volunteers living on that side of the island. It was a truly memorable night of stories, laughs, and dancing to music under the awe-inspiring meteor shower taking place in the heavens above us. I was pleased that they got the chance to meet the other PCVs on Grenada, as I can assure you I’m here with nothing less than the best.

We had finally reached their final day, but that didn’t slow us down as we took to Grand Etang National Park with fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Hannah Melin to see the Mona monkeys. The three of us had to get our ‘wild animal fix,’ as when we were in South Africa, we went on a two-day safari to see Africa’s ‘Big 5:’ elephants, lions, rhinos, water buffaloes, and cheetahs. So after a morning of ‘monkeying around’ and hiking to a jaw-dropping island viewpoint, one in which you can see both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, we went back to Grand Anse for one final beach day and glorious sunset.

After the sun went down it was time to head back to Gouyave, as they were to leave for the airport the next morning. However, one thing was for certain: the fun wasn’t going to stop there. While we were on our way back to Gouyave, we saw a roadside karaoke competition going on in the community of Grand Roy. Now, in Cape Town, there was a tradition in Rec House for the volunteers to go out on Wednesday night and sing karaoke at Brass Bell, a local bar. So, it seemed like a no-brainer to make a little pit stop on our way home. We jumped out of the bus and got drinks at a roadside tent. Across the street from us was a stage at about head-height underneath a large, white tent. On the stage was a DJ crouched behind his laptop and large speakers, playing music while the videos were projected onto the screen. A crowd of people was gathered at and around the junction and in the street, conversing with each other and seemingly waiting for the night to begin. It was clear a karaoke night was going to happen, but as per usual, no one ever wants to be the first to go. So, handing off my backpack to the guys, I walked across the street and up to the stage. The DJ leaned over and I called out my request: Africa by Toto. I chose this song for a couple reasons: 1) the obvious fact that I met Don and Kevin in Africa 2) most locals here are familiar with this song and therefore it will vibe well with the crowd 3) it’s a classic.

The DJ handed me the microphone and I stepped onto the side of the road so I could see the lyrics projected on the screen above me. I began singing until, just as I finished the first verse, the DJ cut the music…

“Ooooh, that was nice; and when something is nice we got to go twice!” He called out as he ran the track back.

That having excited the crowd and built up my confidence even more, I sang the song all the way through the way I believe karaoke ought to be done. After finishing the song, the community of Grand Roy applauded as I handed back the mic and walked back across the street.

Sure enough, now that someone had gone first a que formed to participate in the competition, which we later found out was being broadcast live on a Grenada radio station. Kevin threw down the house with his hip-shaking rendition of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas and Don dropped the always popular track of the Ignition Remix by R. Kelly. Everyone seemed to respond well to each of the songs the ‘foreigners’ were singing, as even the DJ himself proclaimed, “Looks like the foreign nations crowd is representing tonight!”

That’s the way it is with these guys. You can throw them into almost any uncomfortable situation, which can happen often when you’re doing things like singing karaoke in front of a whole community in a foreign country, and they can make it fun. No one likes being in an uncomfortable situation, but when you have each other, that’s all the comfort you need. It’s times like these that led me to fall in love with international travel and creating memories and friendships in foreign places that I will cherish forever .

The next morning the taxi came to pick them up from my apartment. As per another Rec House tradition, I played See You Again by Charlie Puth and Whiz Khalifa, as that was the song we would play when a volunteer was leaving. Last time I heard this song with them and the rest of Rec House, I was fighting back the tears that would eventually overwhelm me until I arrived at the Cape Town airport. Saying goodbye then was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. It was certainly hard saying goodbye this time, too.

However, it was a bit easier than last time because I know that someday, I will see them again. My initial doubts of ever seeing them were proven wrong when they became my first visitors to Grenada. I take comfort in that, even though I don’t know for sure when I will see them again.

The first time we met was the day I arrived in South Africa. The second time we were all together again was on the Eastern Caribbean island of Grenada. So given that we are three Americans that have never been Stateside together, the more pressing question I think is, “Where will we be when we see each other again?”

There was talk of maybe Vietnam. But who knows? Only time will tell.


Note: This post would be incomplete without a few photos from our time together in South Africa. Enjoy!


Coming at You on ‘Island Time,’ My Thanksgiving Reflection

Last weekend, I got together with the other Peace Corps Volunteers on Grenada to celebrate our American Thanksgiving together. It was fitting that we celebrated it a little over a week late, as if maybe now we’re just used to running on ‘island time.’ But since then, I have taken some time to reflect on a few things I have become grateful for since beginning this experience:

Sidewalks: In most towns on Grenada, sidewalks are pretty scarce. The streets that do have sidewalks are often uneven and narrow. Consequently, walking to school, the park, or any other place is always an adventure as vehicles narrowly pass on your shoulder. Often times you can literally feel the air from the vehicle as it brushes past. But after one or two near misses, I’ve grown accustomed to listening for approaching vehicles and moving accordingly.

Boneless Chicken (or boneless anything): Just about any source of meat I’ve had here comes with the bones. I’ve come to appreciate how good I had it back home when I could just pick up a package of boneless chicken from the grocery store, cut it up, and cook it with ease. Eating meat with the bones also makes you eat a bit cautiously, not wanting to get stabbed by any unexpected bones. I admit I could find boneless chicken here, but I have not taken the extra effort to go all the way to the IGA grocery store in Grand Anse that essentially functions like your Western-style grocery. I’d rather get my groceries in the local market that’s just a stone’s throw from my apartment as opposed to an hour’s traveling on two separate busses to and from IGA.

Soca and Reggae Music: Before moving here, I had a very limited exposure to different genres of music. I had never even heard of soca before, but now it is one of my favorite varieties of music. The songs are so fast and rhythmic, they get into your bones and it’s hard to resist dancing (even though I’m the prime example of why some say white people can’t dance). Whenever I heard the word ‘reggae,’ my first thought would always be Bob Marley. Surprisingly, Bob Marley isn’t overly-popular here. You do hear his music occasionally; but I have more been exposed to the likes of Lucky Dube, Beres Hammond, and Chronixx, all of whom I would highly recommend giving a listen.

The Grenadian Bus System: If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen me mention the busses here a number of times. That’s simply because they never fail to amuse me as no two rides are ever the same. This being said, the bus system on Grenada is immensely easier to navigate than St. Lucia’s, and from what I understand, the other islands as well. It is easier here in thanks to the numbered bus routes so you actually know where the bus is going, as well as the conductors who ride along and handle all the monetary transactions, enabling the bus to run more efficiently.

Crickets: The crickets here sound very mechanical, almost like what you would hear from a baby monitor. This was one of the first things I noticed when I arrived in St. Lucia to begin my training for service. Their sound resonates incessantly throughout the night and I have grown so accustomed to hearing them to the point I almost forget they’re there. However, their sound never fails to accompany me and remind me of how lively this place can be, especially at night.

Sunsets: This one is obvious, right? Since I’m living on the west coast that means I see a sunset on the Caribbean Sea just about every night. The colors are absolutely astounding and the pictures, although jaw-dropping in and of themselves, still don’t do the real thing justice. However, I am also grateful because my walks to watch the sunset have helped me in two ways: my integration into the community, and humbling me when I’m feeling homesick. The children that are always by the rocks highlight my day with their tremendous hugs, throwing complete and utter trust in me when they shout, “Mr. King!” and launch themselves off the rocks and onto my back or into my arms. I have also met a number of locals and have had some very meaningful conversations with them while on these walks. On the final note, when I’m feeling homesick, watching the sun go down reminds me of how lucky I am to be here and to be grateful for the opportunity to witness such beauty.

Roosters: Just kidding. They’re the worst; particularly when they call right outside your window endlessly throughout the early morning.

Bucket Baths: During my seven-week homestay in the rural community of Desruisseaux, St. Lucia, I had to take bucket baths. The process was humbling in and of itself, and I was surprised at how quickly I had grown accustomed to it. That being said, I often had to throw on some music to hype myself up for the douse of cold water. But after coming home from working out at the park, the cold water in the bucket was actually quite a relief from the stifling heat. All in all, I did just about cry tears of joy when I discovered I had reliable running water and a hot water tank in both my homestay and my apartment here in Gouyave. It was also a humbling experience in Desruisseaux to have water shut off on you, no matter how inconvenient the time. My host mother had a sixth sense about when it would shut off and would always prepare accordingly, much to my amazement and admiration.

Hand-Washing Clothes: I have come to take pride in the fact that I now hand-wash my clothes. The process I take, I admit, is not as intensive as it probably should be but I can assure you my clothes smell clean and fresh by the time I finish. The hand-washing, in addition to hanging clothes on the line to dry, have turned doing laundry into a full day’s chore. At times it’s very tedious and frustrating, but ultimately I am happy and humbled to have had this experience.

The Rainy Season: The rainy season in Grenada begins June 1st and runs through to January 1st. The rainy season means that there will sometimes be half a dozen or so random rain showers throughout the day. Although this has wrecked havoc on me trying to hang-dry my clothes outside, I enjoy the change in weather as it tends to cool things down from the heat (I know, I sound spoiled). Additionally, the second it starts raining just about everybody makes a break for shelter for fear of catching a cold. At first I got a lot of humor out of this, as I was one to think a little rain never hurt anybody. That being said, as time has gone on I have felt the urge to take shelter as soon as I feel a single rain drop fall. The good thing is, the showers never last more than a few minutes and often bring out beautiful rainbows. While I’m on the topic of rain, however, never have I seen it rain while the sun was out until I reached here. It will rain on you with only a few clouds in the sky and it never fails to baffle me. The locals say that this happens when, “The devil is beating his wife.”

Large Bugs: I’m not actually grateful for them. But what I am grateful for is that since I have become accustomed to seeing them, I react less dramatically. On one occasion, I opened my cupboard door to the likes of a large cockroach flying right past my face. Let me tell you, I never ran faster in my life as I stumbled over my kitchen table trying to get away. After my heart rate settled and I located and took care of said cockroach, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. I’m happy no one else was around to witness this unfold, but I sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. When this happened another time a few months later, I simply grabbed my shoe and took care of it. Additionally, the BOP spray has been tremendously effective in mediating this issue. However, I’m not sure if I should be encouraged or disheartened when I see how effective the spray really is: encouraged by the fact it works, or disheartened by the fact they get in my apartment in the first place.

“Just Now”: I have fallen in love with this expression. It is used by locals to say that whatever task that is the subject of the conversation will be completed, but in a short time. That time can be anything from a few minutes to an hour. This expression I find myself using a lot, as it actually can properly allocate time in my opinion. My personal take is that it also reflects the importance of taking your time and appreciating the moment. Consequently, I have made up my mind to buy a boat someday, solely for the purpose of naming it Just Now. The other Volunteers have heard this already, but I think it would be a perfect name for a boat. After all, when you’re on a boat you can’t help but appreciate the moment. You’re not in any particular rush to get anywhere, as you just take in the open water around you and the coastline in front of you. It’s the “Just Now mentality”: you’ll get to where you’re going, but you’re going to take your time getting there. There’s no rush. You’re a little too preoccupied with enjoying the moment, something we sometimes don’t do enough of.

My Staff: The teachers and staff at my school are nothing short of amazing. They are an incredibly welcoming and fun-loving bunch. From the day I met them, they have looked out for my personal well-being and have encouraged me to ‘free-up.’ They are also incredibly creative. This past weekend we had our school Christmas concert. The Friday before the concert, in about an hour’s time they came up with a hilarious full-length skit in which each character was catered to each one of the teacher’s strengths and personality. On top of that, they’re spontaneous as well, as they adjusted to last-minute changes to the skit even while on stage the night of the performance. As one who has always been prone to ‘winging-it,’ it’s nice to be surrounded by people I can relate to in this way as it keeps things interesting.

The Students: As much as they can drive me nuts and test my patience, my life would be so dull without them. Their endless energy and curiosity has rubbed off on me, as I can almost envision my own 8-year-old self in them. The notes and hugs I receive from them on an almost daily basis, as well as them holding my hand on the walk to school, has easily become one of the best parts of my job. The joy they have reminds me why life is worth living. I have enjoyed the opportunity to teach them how to read, as many are behind the expected reading level of their age group. I can only hope that my presence in their lives will have as much of an effect on their life as much as their presence has already affected mine.

Education: Having been exposed to the school systems here and around the world, I am so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up and be educated in the United States. My education was something I had taken for granted, as if it was owed to me. Every child is deserving of an education, but that doesn’t mean every child receives a proper one. After witnessing a third-grader respond blankly to an alphabet letter or listening to a seventh-grader struggle through a children’s book, I have realized I am beyond blessed to have received the education I did. I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve it more than these kids, though, as only the time and place in which I was born was the determining factor.

FaceTime: Thank God for 21st century technology. FaceTime has played a pivotal role in my service so far. Who knows where my mental health would be if not for being able to see my family and friends from home on FaceTime. To those family and friends that I have connected with already: know that those conversations lift my spirits more than you realize. (And yes, I did take screenshots so look for yourself in the slideshow). For those I haven’t FaceTimed with yet: feel free to reach out as I am always looking forward to seeing a familiar face.

‘The G-Unit’: The group of Peace Corps Volunteers on Grenada, or the ‘G-Unit’ as we affectionately call ourselves, have been a tremendous support system throughout this whole journey. I couldn’t have asked for a better and more admirable group of people with whom to share this experience. Each and every one of us is motivated to accomplish the goals that Peace Corps sets out for us, but we certainly are having a fun time doing it. They have become my family away from home and I wouldn’t want to be stranded on an island with anyone else.

My Family and Friends: You miss a lot of things when you are far from home, and become grateful for things you didn’t realize you had taken for granted. But you miss nothing more than your family and the friends you left behind. Words cannot describe how excited I am to being able to see them again in just two short weeks. I am forever grateful for how supportive you have all been throughout this journey. That being said, I will see you all very soon!

This Peace Corps Experience: This experience has been everything I could have asked for and more. There are certainly a tremendous amount of ups and downs, but each one provides a learning experience. To me, joining the Peace Corps and living abroad in a foreign community was the ultimate challenge. But as much as it has been a challenge, it has also been that much of a rewarding experience. No two days are alike, and for that I am grateful. I have already learned so much, and have become grateful for things I may had originally not given a second thought.

I hope you all had a pleasant and enjoyable Thanksgiving. I certainly did.


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