I lean back on the steel screen fencing of the market, watching as vehicles cruise past on the road. Throngs of people bustle throughout the cloud of barbeque smoke billowing from a grill over the street. Some of them are running errands, others waiting on a bus or chatting with a friend, leaving the rest of us to simply watch as the world goes by. The rhythmic pounding of soca music vibrates from the windows of a vehicle parked against the sidewalk. There’s an energy in the air, the type of atmosphere you feel when you know something exciting is about to happen.
Just then, out of the corner of my eye, a vehicle turns into the side-street before the market that leads to my apartment. Excusing myself from a conversation, I walk back to my apartment around the corner, where the vehicle had parked next to my gate. The passenger seat door opens as Zack Valletta, an old friend from high school, steps out. With his arms outstretched victoriously, it was smiles around as we were reunited again.
“Welcome to the tropics,” I laugh.
After dropping his things in my guest room, we walk back onto the road. There I introduce him to a few of the people gathered around and “making a lime.” Just like that, this whirlwind of a week was off and running.
After a few beers by the road we hopped in a vehicle with Ocean and Cocoa Tea, two local friends of mine we ran into at the street-side barbeque. A short drive later we’re parked on the jetty in The Lance, on the far side of Gouyave. When Zack had mentioned his hearing about the fish in Gouyave, true to Grenadian hospitality, it was in that moment that showing him the jetty and fish market became objective number one.
Fishermen, pedestrians, and children line the edges of the concrete jetty that juts out into the sea. Small, colored fishing boats subtly bob with the rise and fall of the Caribbean Sea, tethered to the concrete posts. A few kids toss fishing lines into the water, peering over the edge before reeling in their hooks with a plastic bottle. Looking back, small houses decorate the hillsides like ornaments on a tree. Gray clouds threaten rain as they pass over the coastal town from the inland mountains and out to the Sea.
The clouds stretch all the way to the horizon, the sun fading into the haze. Although now hidden, the sun’s effects were still present as minutes after its disappearance, the sky began coming to life. At first comes the purple over the mountains, providing an unusual backdrop to the ominous gray clouds lingering over Gouyave. Out over the water, however, the backdrop of color transitions seamlessly as the purple fades to blue, orange, yellow, and even green. The surface of the water reflects that array of color, each transition identifiable by a definitive line, quibbling in the water. Anchored out on the water were a few fishing boats and even a yacht or two, lights blinking periodically, marking their presence in the darkening evening sky.
“Come,” Ocean beckons, in his distinct, raspy voice. “Let’s show you some of the fish in the market.”
Leaving the jetty and stepping into the fish market, a man stands beside a large fish being gutted on a countertop. The pungent aroma of fish fills the market, a stifling reminder to anyone inside where they are. After a brief introduction, a fisherman proudly shows us his largest catch of the day, a nearly four-foot yellowfin tuna. It was the largest catch I’ve seen before, despite admittedly not spending a whole lot of time fishing or even at the fish market. The man proceeds to explain the cleaning process the fishermen undertake in order to get their catches ready for market-sale.
A visit to the fish market being accomplished, we hop back in the vehicle and drive to a nearby bar, next to the newly-built bridge that now joins The Lance with the other, “Downstreet” part of Gouyave. The four of us pull chairs around a small square table, as a round of Stag and Carib beers are placed on it. The conversation shifts to football, to which Zack asserts he is an avid Arsenal fan. Cocoa Tea, a former FIFA referee and the only licensed FIFA official in Grenada, shares his input and experience in the global game. Having officiated matches in various countries across the world, it was amazing as he described the atmospheres of the different stadiums: from RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. all the way to Cutbert Peters Park here in Gouyave.
The conversation soon wraps up, as Cocoa Tea leaves to return home to his family. We part ways with Ocean, after setting plans to meet again. Then it was off to the Fish Friday street festival and a stop by Mansa’s. After all, it was a Friday in Gouyave.
The next day was spent visiting the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. Hosting a visitor from home serves as good of an excuse as any to visit the refreshingly cold, clear waters in the center of the natural rainforest. The scene never ceases to the blow me away, seeing the water crash over the double-decker falls engulfed in a lush forest, its pools sparkling a shimmering green in the penetrating sunlight.
After returning back to Gouyave, the rest of the evening was spent awaiting the celebrative arrival of Mr. Killa, a Gouyave native and the first foreign winner of the International Soca Monarch Competition in Trinidad, with his hot hit “Run Wid It” (aside: the night he won the ISM, and the consequential celebration in the streets, is a whole other story in and of itself. Mr. Killa’s victory puts him on par with 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and Gouyave native, Kirani James). Hundreds of people turned out at the park to see Killa and the other Grenadian soca artists perform and celebrate the historical victory.
Consequently, due to the nature of Zack’s first two days on the island, a lazy Sunday was in order.
But not too lazy.
Late on Sunday afternoon, after watching an Arsenal match on my laptop, we made our way to the park. The sun once again hides behind a floating blanket of clouds. The grass on the field is a faded green. The dusty brown dirt is breaching through the patches of grass; a poignant reminder that the island is still very much in the midst of the dry season.
A bright orange Ultimate frisbee disk is flung back and forth between us. Plucking it from the air in stride, Zack flings it back to me. Catching it in front of my eyes, I turn to the three children flying a kite a few feet away. A small boy was looking up curiously, his plastic-bag-kite falling to the ground in front of him.
“You wanna try?” I ask, as he nods quietly.
Flinging the frisbee softly towards him, he drops his stick of thread and slaps his hands together, fumbling with the frisbee before it bounces to the ground.
“Oh! You almost had it!” I laugh.
The boy picks up the disk, tossing it toward Zack almost naturally, who catches it with ease.
“Hey! That’s a pretty good throw there,” Zack responds, as an accomplished, excited smile cracks across the boy’s face.
The older boy and girl that were with him leave the kite on the ground and walk over to join. In short time, a friendly game of catch unfolds, as the frisbee is tossed around between the five of us.
On the far side of the field, a few men are gathering on the grass. They stand in a circle, kicking a football back and forth between them, the newcomers tying their cleats on the ground. Slipping away from the frisbee game, I make my way toward them.
“Got room for two more?” I ask Ronnie, a local friend from the basketball court.
“Yeah, man,” he smiles. “Come join.”
Leaving the frisbee with the kids, Zack and I ease our way into the pick-up football match that was starting. Jogging to the far end of the field back-ended by the river, I take up a defensive position. After all the Sunday nights on the basketball court here, I hadn’t delved much into the pick-up football scene. I knew a few names and faces, but otherwise it was yet another step into unchartered territory. Consequently, it took a few possessions just to figure out who was on my team and who was not.
After a few possessions, the goalkeeper on the opposite side of the field lines up the ball in front of him. Running up to it with a boot, the ball is launched in my direction.
“This is my chance for a header!” the thought races in my mind as I run back, following the trajectory of the ball.
The ball sails easily through the air, looming larger as it reaches to me. Planting my feet and jumping from the ground, I strain my neck out for the ball and…
Nothing but air.
The ball passes over my head, landing at the feet of an attacker behind me with a free shot at the small-cage goal. My heart stops, time seemingly slowing down as his foot connects with the ball sending it…wide of the net. With a heavy sigh of relief, my heart resumes beating.
“Must get it,” a teammate encourages me. “Must get it.”
Just your daily reminder that white men can’t jump, I suppose.
A few possessions later the ball is passed to Zack, who is on the other team. He glances up, surveying the field and striking the ball with the outside of his foot. The ball bends around a defender to one of his teammates, a murmur of surprise rumbling across the field as the players realize that at least one of the white boys can play.
The ball is passed across the field to Ronnie, who I immediately break to defend on the sideline. He dances quickly with the ball, as I break down my momentum toward him. Following his movements best I could, I matched him stride for stride, step-back for step-back.
“Eh, Eh!” A voice calls. “White boy is fast!”
Encouraged by the comment, I stick with him as he turns in toward the center of the field, kicking the ball through a web of running bodies to a teammate. Ricocheting off his teammate, one of my teammates intercepts the ball, weaving it back through the midfield. A defender crashes on him quickly, jarring the ball loose from his possession and bouncing it my way. Keeping another teammate of mine in the corner of my eye, I stop the ball under my foot and pass it toward him to continue the counterattack.
Following the rush downfield, I crash toward the weak side of the goal as a shot rebounds off a defender’s foot. Adrenaline pumps fast through my veins as I see the ball bounce once again toward me. With full momentum going forward, I strike the ball with my inner right foot toward the goal, taking my shot. But to no avail, the goalie bats it away.
“Ahh, that was my chance at glory!” I smirk to Zack, who was laughing as he ran past.
At one point in the match, the ball was inadvertently launched off the field and into the river behind one of the goals. Jogging over to the edge of the riverbank and peering down several feet, the ball was drifting under the bridge and out to the Sea. As a few players scrambled to retrieve it, I turn back towards the field. The players still on the field were sprawled out across the grass in various positions, taking advantage of the moment’s rest. Looking up, the clouded sky was cast with that familiar, bright purple color. Forested mountains loomed in the distance, palm trees protruding from the blanket of trees, silhouetted against the darkening sky. Behind me, the surface of the Sea’s distant horizon seemed to be brimming over the top of the concrete wall, reflecting the sky’s radiant color.
I shake my head in subtle disbelief, goosebumps raising down my arms. Who would have thought I’d ever be in a position like this?
A pick-up football match on an open field.
A backdrop of rugged, green mountains.
A soft, running river adjacent to the field streaming into the Sea and completing an awe-inspiring panoramic view.
These are the scenes that I hope never to forget.
The following morning, it was time for school. Currently a school teacher back in Cleveland, Zack has plans to teach abroad next year. With these plans in motion and having observed the British school system when he studied abroad in London, he was excited to attend school with me. My principal, counterpart, staff, and students didn’t mind him tagging along. In fact, they welcomed “Mr. Zack,” in typical Caribbean fashion, bringing him forward in front of the whole school assembly for a proper introduction and warm applause.
Our Language Arts lessons for the day covered writing friendly letters. My counterpart and I divided the class into group-tables based on their skill levels, with assignments catering for the differentiated abilities in the class. My counterpart, Ms. Pierre, centered her attention on the “focus group” of the day, (that day being the table with the struggling readers). Meanwhile, I directed my attention to the other three tables. Much to the students’ excitement and satisfaction, Mr. Zack was even able to lend a helping hand, guiding some of the students along in their work.
After lunch, he observed my pull-out lessons with the struggling readers, during which we covered compound words. Using whiteboards, markers, pencils, and a worksheet, I ran them through simple exercises combining small words together to make compound words.
“I love what you guys are doing,” Zack told me and my counterpart, the afternoon bell having rung and the students scattering in different directions for the day. “That’s textbook for differentiated learning. I have to do the exact same thing myself back home.”
“Any tips or suggestions on what more we can do?” Ms. Pierre asks, always seeking fresh insight and ideas for the classroom.
An educational conversation ensues, as we share in the common themes and struggles of our classrooms. A conversation, honestly, that applies to just about any primary school across the globe.
How can we best engage our students’ differentiated learning?
Whether resources are strong or slim, one thing is for certain: creativity is the lifeline of education.
For the rest of the week, Zack was on his own. After adjusting to the bus system in the few days he was here, he set out on a search for all the sights and sounds of Grenada. He ventured to two waterfalls, two beaches, an underwater sculpture park, a chocolate factory, a national forest, and explored the confines of an old military fort and agricultural processing plant. He soaked up the history, the culture, and the way things are in the Caribbean. He laughed at the bar, shot pool, rode buses, conversed with locals, visited the markets, enjoyed the beaches, and hiked the waterfalls.
“Where’s Mr. Zack?” the students and teachers alike would ask me during those days he was away.
“He’s seeing the island,” I responded once, after being asked by a fellow teacher.
“He’s taking the busses on his own?” the teacher replied, a look of surprise in his eyes.
“Yeah, I think he got a good feel for them this weekend.”
“Oh-ho! He’s out with the Grenadians, boy,” he laughs, shaking his head.
I spent the remainder of my week attending to my obligations at school, including conducting the third “Story Night at the R.C.” My counterpart for the event, Teacher Rita, and I decided to switch things up a bit. Earlier in the week, Zack shared with me an online resource: www.storylineonline.net. It’s a website with short video logs of various celebrities reading their favorite childhood stories, a goldmine of opportunity for an event like Story Night. We decided to utilize the website for Story Night, watching a reading of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, a cute story about a Donkey that accidentally turns himself into a rock with magic pebble. For the follow-up activity, the families and students created their own “alternate endings,” coming up with all sorts of outrageous scenarios that one might imagine would come from a donkey finding a magic pebble.
Between school and Zack’s solo island adventures, the rest of the week flew by, as we filled in the down-time in the evenings playing dominoes, cards, and shooting pool at the bar.
All in all, I must say, it was amazing watching Zack’s experience unfold right before my eyes.
It was almost like re-living my first few weeks on-island, a time where I was still figuring out my way in this new, exciting, foreign world. I made plenty of mistakes, the same mistakes Zack was “almost” making. But that all comes with being caught up in the free, unbridled spirit of excitement that comes with living abroad. It amazes me how seamlessly he was able to sit-in on the authentic, roller-coaster experience of Peace Corps all jam-packed into one week.
However, it is this experience: one where I can live so freely, so vividly, so exotically, yet purely authentically, that I’ve come to cherish. My mind has been on this a lot lately, particularly with how open my lifestyle has been here. This recent perspective comes with special consideration, especially now as I look towards the future.
This summer, after closing my Peace Corps service in August, I will continue my studies at the University of Nevada-Reno. There I will serve as a Peace Corps Coverdell Fellow, a partnership the University and Peace Corps have only just recently made. All things considered, although still far from home in Cleveland, I firmly believe that this is the right destination for me at this point and time in my life. I will be earning my Master’s degree in Media Innovation, exploring techniques and strategies and the relationship between storytelling and digital media. I’m excited for what’s to come in my time there.
However, while things are moving fast in that direction, my eyes are still on the clock. Thankfully, I still have a few months to go. Looking back on my second year, it’s been nothing but an enlightening experience thus far. I’m impressed each day with the astounding progress my students have made in their reading already. I’m enjoying how the Volunteers on-island are coming together, founded in a common mission of improving literacy rates across the country. I’m savoring the cultural explosions that seemingly occur almost every weekend. I’m relishing in the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny, waterfall, beach, forest, and town on this island and foster new friendships along the way.
It’s these experiences, in all their intensity, that I wish could last forever.
Experiences like Zack’s final day, sun-soaked and spent on the white sands of Grand Anse beach. We had a Volunteer Advisory Council meeting in town, (a position from which I’ve recently been retired and succeeded by PCV Paige Simianer), so what better way to make of a meeting in town than by spending the rest of it on the beach after? Immersed in the international crowd that comes from a life with Peace Corps Volunteers, there was a diverse mix of PCVs, locals, and ex-pats passing through over the course of the day.
In the evening, Zack and I found ourselves in an intense game of paddle ball. Invigorated, we teamed up against PCV Brianna Kennedy and her friend from Lebanon, who we had just met that day. As the sun glowed into the hillside coast stretching on the horizon, we jumped, dove, spun, and leapt through the sand. The games were spirited and exciting, so much so that it wasn’t long before it drew the attention of a few local children who wanted to join.
It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in a long time.
Zack’s visit reminded me how unique this time in my life is.
A time where each day is a new adventure to be had, a new story to be written.
A time so intense, so vibrant that the only way to absorb it is by experiencing it the way Zack did: unbridled and free.
Unbridled and free.
That’s got a ring to it, doesn’t it?