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.”
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.