There’s something about that word, isn’t there?
It brings to mind sunshine, fresh-cut grass, baseball, and burgers on the grill during a 4th of July cook-out.
It’s reveled by children as a time away from school; a time to run wild and free from the responsibilities school places on them.
It’s hot, sunny days jumping in the lake and warm, firefly-filled nights roasting marshmallows by a bonfire.
Each and every one of us have fond summer memories to look back on. Each one of our summer memories may vary, but the question remains the same:
“There’s something about summer, isn’t there?”
As I stated before, at the conclusion of the past school year at St. Peter’s RC and the onset of the summer holiday, I could summarize my feelings in one word: relief.
Relief that I had made it. Relief that I had made it through my first full year not only as a teacher, but as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Relief that I had eight weeks of freedom and escape. Relief that I could now start counting down the months, instead of counting up.
That relief, however, was short-lived.
From the moment the final bell rang and school was officially closed for the summer holiday, I had to hit the ground running. I had various commitments booked throughout the summer, taking me from my first day off in July to my first day back in September…
* * *
You stand on a concrete slab with overgrown weeds threatening to wrap your feet and pull you down. The hot sun bears down through the sporadic, cloud-covered sky. You remain standing silently, hands clasped behind your back and a solemn expression on your face. Beside you were PCVs Deb Campelia and John Lyness, as well as a small Grenadian family delicately dressed in black. Looking up through the dark tint of your shades, a small band equipped with simple instruments played songs of mourning from atop an above-ground tomb. Before them was an open tomb where a casket had been placed and looked after by a pastor in the midst of a gathering of family and friends, all donned in black. Although you did not directly know the deceased, a pit bottoms out in your stomach as you helplessly watch a beloved member of the Peace Corps Grenada family mourn the loss of a loved one.
You gaze into the distance, looking down to the high-standing pink walls of the National Stadium at the bottom of the steep cemetery’s hill. Trucks, vans, and cars navigate methodically through a roundabout, off to their destinations like ants on a hill. On the far side of the road was the Caribbean Sea, its vast and empty expanse taking on the colors of the dark clouds but glimmering in the spots where the sun shone through.
Voices cry out as the casket is slowly lowered into the tomb. Small slabs, much like the one you are standing on, are placed over the tomb and permanently sealed with wet concrete. As the service closes, you scan the faces of the gathering. Women holding each other arm-in-arm, men with hands placed on the shoulders on their confused and somber-faced children. Many of the gathered wear thick black shades, not unlike the pair you are currently wearing, as if to try and hide the pain.
You turn and step down into the weeds, high-stepping through the overgrown cemetery and onto the adjacent road as you leave the congregation. Walking down the hill toward the Stadium, you place your hands in your pockets as something you heard recently echoes in your mind.
It was a quote, by Jamie Anderson, that reads like this:
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
* * *
The waves crash on the rocks, a soft mist sprays on you as you cling to the rough and misshapen volcanic cliff-side. Delicately balancing barefoot on the uneven rock, you inch along one step at a time to the edge where the cliff meets the beach. When the tide pulls the water back to the Sea, you turn and after a faithful leap, your feet stick into the soft-soaked sand. Stumbling forward, you laugh as you join the others in reaching a previously-unknown destination.
Throwing down a towel, you fall back on your backpack and take a look around. Tucked in between two cliffs, you find yourself on a secluded little beach-head seemingly straight from the Tom Hanks movie Castaway. Trees and brush look down on you from the U-shaped cliff above, protectively shading you from the bullying heat of the sun. In front of you large, jagged rocks protrude from the Sea as bright blue waves crash up the shore. To the right is the cliff-side you climbed down, around which the red-roofed city of St. George’s can be seen tucked into the blue-green Grenadian mountains in the distance.
Laying all around you, various friends you’ve come to call family lay out on towels and bathe in the water. Some of them you’ve known for over a year, others just a week. Of all different ages, backgrounds, sizes, and nationalities, you’ve all come together for one purpose only: to celebrate.
To celebrate the conclusion of a successful Camp GLOW: Girls Leading Our World, (see A Cause Worth Dancing For).
To celebrate the new friendships made during that incredible, sleep-deprived week.
To celebrate the collaboration between Peace Corps Volunteers and local counterparts, counselors, and friends.
To celebrate the recent birthdays of three PCVs: Sarah Bowman, Riley Doerrler, and Hannah Melin.
To celebrate the Close-of-Service of two of our own, PCVs Sarah and Riley.
Drinks are passed around and turns are taken bathing in the Sea. Stories are shared, laughs are abundant, and pictures are taken. A crab curiously pokes its head out from the sand, only to scurry back to its burrow, paying no mind to the chaos outside…
* * *
You’re sitting on a worn-down couch, the kind where you have to sit on the edge so as not to get swallowed in. Cards are being passed around the coffee table. A plate with a greasy slice of Papa John’s pizza and breadsticks rest on the nightstand to the right of the couch.
The crickets, as they always do, sing their chorus through the screen door and windows outside. Reggae tunes subtly play from a small blue-tooth speaker on the corner of the table. Various Volunteers are scattered about the room. Two laying down on the other couch to the left. Three others sit in the high-backed chairs of the dining table, surrounded by the boxes of take-out pizza and a few bottles of rum and juice. The rest crowd around the card-laden coffee table as a competitive game of Egyptian Rat-screw ensues.
You’re back in St. Lucia, where your Peace Corps journey all began, with many of the people who began the journey with you. After being separated about a year ago (almost to the day) and sent to different islands across the Eastern Caribbean, you were all brought back to St. Lucia in for different reasons, yet ironically, for the same reason: to aid in the training of the incoming group of new Peace Corps Trainees.
Some of you belong on the Volunteer Advisory Council, to which you belong as the Volunteer representative of the island post of Grenada. Others were brought in as part of their role with the ICD&I Committee, newly formed by your EC89 peers to facilitate conversations and address the questions and concerns related to diversity and inclusion among Volunteers. Earlier in the day you sat on a few panels to answer questions the new group of Trainees have about Peace Corps service in the EC. It was odd, honestly, that all of a sudden you realize you have all the answers to the very same questions you had just one year ago.
No longer the newbies in Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean, you are among the seasoned veterans with a whole year of experience living, working, and teaching in the EC. Since that day just a year ago when our individual site assignments were revealed and we were swept off on our own, it’s been hard to stay in touch. But being back in the same room with these people, it was like we had never left our small, St. Lucian host-community of Desruisseaux.
With all the training sessions being done for the day, it was finally time to relax and enjoy our brief time together again. Being full-fledged Volunteers living across various islands and no longer within our greater cohort, the times we are together come far and few between. Consequently, these occasions call for indulging in take-out pizza from the capital and a bottle of rum or two while playing a competitive hand of cards to pass the time.
* * *
“Bus stop!” You call from the back of a half-empty bus veering fast around the bend.
It jolts to a stop and you stumble out, reaching into your pocket and paying the fare to the driver, who speeds off down the road. Turning around, you walk in between two weather-beaten bars to the beach on the other side. Rain is falling soft and cold, so you hustle across the dirt path to one of your early St. Lucian stomping grounds. A little restaurant sits just off the beach, tarps pulled down around the seating area and flapping in the wind. Two figures are sitting with their backs turned, but you recognized them all the same.
“Julie! Lady Zeph! Good afternoon!” you call as you step up to the restaurant.
“Ooooh, Scott!” Julie, your St. Lucian host mother hops up, embracing you in that warm, familiar hug.
Formalities and greetings aside, you all jump in a car and take off for a new place to grab lunch. It’s a special occasion after all, reuniting with your first host mother and her best friend, who in her own right was like a second mother to you. Arriving in a quiet, little air-conditioned restaurant, you sit down with the two women who although you were a stranger on their doorstep, welcomed you into their homes and cared for you as if you were their own. You order and share a meal; retired teachers themselves, they laugh as you share tales of your first year teaching in a Caribbean classroom. You explain how you’ve utilized the lessons they taught you those first few weeks from classroom advice to home-cooking. You brag a little bit about the local dishes you’ve now made, citing all the baking you did together during those seven weeks in Desruisseaux. You laugh about how word had gotten around back then, too, as it didn’t take long until you were arriving home from training to find fellow Trainees cooking with everyone’s favorite host mom Julie.
* * *
Your phone vibrates in your pocket. Pulling it out, a text message alert pops across the screen.
With all the rain we are having it is HIGHLY possible for our water systems to be blocked.
PLEASE HAVE A 3 DAYS SUPPLY OF STORED WATER.
START STORING NOW!
“Great,” you sigh sarcastically, slipping your phone back into your pocket.
You turn and push through the doors and step back out into the heavy rains that have been falling since you woke up that morning. You hadn’t ever seen rains like this before, thinking back to seeing the parking lot of the National Stadium under at least a foot of water while you were on your way to town.
Nonetheless, you pop open your large umbrella and hustle around the Carenage, the horseshoe-shaped harbor of St. George’s, over to the nearest shopping center. Going straight to the jugs of water on the corner bottom shelf, you grab four of them and waddle over to the check-out counter. Once the transaction is processed it sinks in how ridiculous this is about to look..
Here you’re going to have four large jugs of water.
But only two hands.
And one large umbrella.
Of course this is the one time you didn’t bring your backpack with you to town.
So you tuck your large umbrella under your arm, pick up the four jugs of water and walk out into the pouring rain. Ignoring the funny looks that come from being a foreigner walking in the torrential rain, carrying four large jugs of water with an unused umbrella tucked under his arm, you turn the corner and flag down the first bus you see.
The funny looks don’t bother you much. After all, it wouldn’t be worth explaining that you live here, not to mention in the area currently being hit with the most flooding, where you hadn’t re-stocked on water since the last time the water was shut off.
So you climb onto the bus, taking up the whole first row with the jugs of water, dripping wet.
“Can you take me to the airport?” you ask.
The conductor looks at you, a puzzled look on his face. You can’t blame him, as he had to be wondering what the foreign kid with nothing but four jugs of water and an unused umbrella needed to go to the airport for.
What he didn’t know, however, was that was the day your parents were to arrive in Grenada.
And to think you told them that during rainy season the showers don’t last any longer than a few minutes.
The next few minutes turned into hours as the rain kept falling. You waited outside as the airport periodically lost power with the storm. You scan the flight monitor frequently when the power came back on, knowing their flight was supposed to land early in the afternoon, but it was continually being shown as delayed.
You’re told from someone that the plane came in for landing but pulled back up due to poor visibility and flew on to Barbados. With an uneasy feeling, you take a seat by the bar in the waiting area. An hour passes by, then another. You’ve never been concerned about flights before, always having a take-things-as-they-go approach to flying. But this time it was a little different: you’ve never seen a tropical wave and flooding like this before and can’t imagine how someone could possibly land a plane in such conditions. This goes without mentioning that your parents, whom you hadn’t seen since Christmas, were on one of those flights scheduled to land. But you keep a positive mind and patiently wait alongside the others passing the time in the waiting area.
A few hours later, the rain lightens up as night begins to fall. The sky fades from gray to black and the orange lighting of the street lamps illuminate the puddles of standing water all around you. A number of re-directed flights finally land, alongside the one holding your parents, four and a half hours after its initial arrival time. You stand in the mass of people outside as a soft rain drizzles down, passengers re-uniting with friends and family in the waiting area all around you. Another hour passes as you continue watching the doors, awaiting your reunion with those two familiar faces set to come out of those airport doors.
The taxi you hired, making the most of the downtime, goes off on another service for the second time, knowing he can still return in time to take me and my guests home. As you glance over to a man wrapping up his sister and nephew in a joyous hug, you look up when the doors open yet again. This time, however, it’s the two most formative people in your life, the one’s who’ve raised you into who you are, the one’s you hadn’t seen since Christmas eight long months ago, that are the one’s walking through the door. They pause momentarily as they step outside, scanning the faces of the crowd. You raise your hat and wave it, catching your mother’s eye. The suitcase and backpacks were dropped and after a quick dash through the crowd, you’re wrapped up in that old, familiar hug that only a true mother can give.
* * *
To be continued…