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.