The plane accelerated on the runway and I held my breath. I knew that the moment the wheels lifted off the ground at Miami International Airport, only time would tell when I would set foot on American soil again. The plane lifted off and goosebumps ran down my arms because it was then that my 27-month commitment to the Peace Corps became reality.
After sleeping through most of the flight, I looked out of the window and waited to see what part of St. Lucia I would see first. Through an overcast and cloudy sky, the peaks of two mountains protruded through. It was Gros Piton and Petit Piton, the staple landmarks of St. Lucia letting me know that I have arrived.
Myself and the other Peace Corps Trainees got off the plane and were greeted by a group of Peace Corps staff and current volunteers. We boarded two vans and drove about two hours through the rugged and mountainous terrain. The sides of the road were crowded with shrubs, bushes, and trees as we passed through small towns and villages. The homes were painted with vibrant colors like that of the homes I saw in Ecuador, but had the humility and simplicity of the homes from my time in South Africa. Yet that being said, the homes were purely and uniquely Caribbean. It was incredible that at one moment we driving through a valley next to a mountain, and the next moment we took a turn that opened up to a view of the Caribbean Sea. In fact, I was so invested in taking in the scenery around me that it took me about 45 minutes to realize that the driver was on the right side of the vehicle!
We arrived at Benedictine Abbey in Castries and placed our luggage in our designated rooms before the Arrival Meeting that night. The Seminary we stayed in sat atop a hillside that overlooked the town of Castries and its surrounding hills. The next couple days were spent in Training Sessions that covered everything from introductions and interviews by Peace Corps staff, vaccinations, safety and security information, to how to use the Medical Kit to treat a wide variety of illnesses that can be contracted in the Caribbean. I spent my free time with the 33 other Peace Corps Trainees by going to the local beach, listening to music, and watching movies; but mostly we passed the time sharing stories and learning more about each other. We have such a diverse and impressive group of Trainees in Eastern Caribbean 89 (EC 89). We range in age from 20-69 and quite literally come from all parts of the U.S. Hometowns range from Los Angeles and Washington State, to Minnesota, Boston, Virginia, southern Florida, and just about everywhere in between. The other Trainees’ resumes are really quite impressive, and I am honored and humbled to be able to take part in this journey with such a great group of individuals.
This past weekend we left the Seminary and went to Desruisseaux to meet the host families we will be living with for the next six weeks. I am now living with my host mother Julie, a retired school teacher and avid cook, who loves to watch game shows such as Family Feud (she has American TV). We spent the weekend traveling to the Saturday market, where I had my first jelly coconut and making sure I drank it like a local (straight from the nut and not with a straw). Julie showed me the proper way to eat a mango, peeling back half of the skin and eating it straight from there. That being said, eating a mango is as messy as it is delicious! Yesterday afternoon we ate local foods at Popo’s Pork Place and listened to the country western music. However, their country is similar but not quite the same as the country music we listen to back in the States, as it is uniquely Caribbean in its own way. It was at Popo’s I had my first taste of black pudding, something that if you’re really curious as to know what it is, I’ll let you look it up. This morning I went to an Evangelical service that Julie attends at the church down the street. The three-hour service began with a small group Sunday school session that was essentially a Bible study before the service got going with live worship music and preaching. St. Lucians are a very spiritual and religious people, and attending this service was an enlightening experience in and of itself.
Before I arrived to St. Lucia, I had always heard about how warm and welcoming the people here are. This has certainly held to be true, as the locals here have been nothing but friendly and inviting. The food has been nothing short of phenomenal, albeit some interesting menu options. The wet season just began so the weather is hot and humid; the rain comes down hard, but vanishes as suddenly as it comes. Tomorrow is Whit Monday so we have the day off before Phase I of the Pre-Service Training truly gets underway on Tuesday. Anyhow, this evening Julie is going to teach me how to make mango juice from the mangos we bought at the market yesterday. So until next time…