There’s that old idea that if you put a letter in a bottle and cast it out to sea, it will cross the entirety of the ocean to its recipient on the other side. As the Christmas season is fast approaching, messages are being sent from all across the world. Trees are being decorated, the old-time carols of Bing Crosby and Dean Martin are playing around the clock, and schools are preparing to close for the holidays.
Last week, I attended a Christmas tree-lighting in my community. There were toys for the children and holiday performances by a steel pan band and a dance group. After spending the night watching the performances, playing dominoes with a few of my students, and shooting pool at the bar, you can say I’ve caught the Christmas spirit. Consequently, I wanted to share with you that next week I will be returning home for the holiday. This time I will be home for two weeks, as opposed to the all-too-brief six day hiatus that was Christmas 2017.
Last year, I figured six days would be all I needed reuniting with friends and family before returning to Grenada. But those six days went by like a flash and just as I had stepped off the plane into the frigid Cleveland air, it seemed I was stepping back into one. When I left for Grenada, I was by no means mentally, physically, or emotionally ready. Those six days were a stark reminder of all that I had given up to be down here. Truthfully, it hurt more saying goodbye the second time than it did the first. So when I finally got back to Grenada, I was overwrought with homesickness and it wasn’t until school started again that things began to go back to normal.
Now it’s hard to believe that 2018 is nearly over and I’ll be going back home again for Christmas. This year was supposed to be the long-haul, the difficult and longest stretch of time away from home in the grand timeline of my service. Although 2018 did bring some of the most challenging and difficult experiences of my life, this year has been nothing short of incredible. I have gotten to explore some pretty amazing places, but more importantly have met some even more amazing people.
I became fully established in my host community of Gouyave, which I can now comfortably call ‘home.’ I no longer stress over the things that I worried about when first trying to integrate. People recognize me, as I recognize them. Early on in my service, I would hustle home from school, anxious to return to the comfort and privacy of my own apartment. Now, I hardly find a reason to rush home at all, oftentimes stopping on the side of the road for half-a-dozen conversations along the way. The activities I originally did just to ‘show face,’ in the community, such as playing basketball or shooting pool, have become things I now enjoy and look forward to each week. In fact, I no longer feel right if I don’t do those things, as they’ve become such an integral part of my routine.
As it pertains to school, I am tremendously proud of the progress my students have made this past year. At the onset of the new school year in September, I took on an intimidating workload of struggling readers. Over the course of the term, we’ve had some unavoidable challenges that led to a number of days away from school. Nonetheless, for the past month since we’ve returned, my students have blown me away with how much they’ve retained and progressed in the short time I’ve had them. For some, I am now covering lessons that it took my students all of last year to complete. Although at times they drive me crazy, in the way that kids have a way of doing, my work with them has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my life. They truly brighten up my day; my time away from them during the teachers’ strike proved that to me.
Anyhow, I digress. Ultimately, it’s amazing to me how much has happened in a year that seems to have gone by so fast. There’s been moments of pure joy, but not without moments of immense sorrow. But as the great inspirational coach Jimmy Valvano once said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.” That being considered, God knows I’ve had plenty of full days down here. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t trade any bit of this experience for the world. It’s been a tough, wild ride, but each day living and working down here reassures me that this was exactly the experience I was looking for.
However, I am very much looking forward to coming home. As much as I have come to love it here, I’m ready for a break to re-charge the batteries. After all, the holiday season is meant to be spent with the ones you love and I fully intend to do just that. So with that I wish you nothing but joy and happiness this Christmas season. If you’ll be traveling home, I wish you a safe and successful journey. If you’ll be staying where you are or enjoying it in your own company, I hope it’s a time of well-deserved rest and reflection. Before we know it, we’ll be back to our routines and the year will be 2019.
I’m grateful for what 2018 has taught me, but I look forward to what 2019 will bring. As this year closes and the next one begins, I also want to thank you for taking the time to read these posts. Whether you’ve only read one, five, or all, I appreciate the support as it helps me still feel connected when I’m so far from home. I hope you take away as much from these stories, as I’ve taken away from experiencing them.
So again, I wish you and your family all the best during the holiday season, in the new year, and the many years to come. Consider this a simple Christmas wish, coming to you as a message in a bottle.
Scott William King
P.S. I recently went on a hike to the Welcome Stone in St. Patrick’s. From there, you can see the various islands that make up the St. Vincent Grenadine chain. I have included pictures from the hike below. Enjoy!